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Questions for Oral Answer - Tuesday, 18 Dec 2007

Questions for Oral Answer - Tuesday, 18 December 2007

Questions to Ministers

Electoral Finance Bill—Prime Minister’s Comments

1. JOHN KEY (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does she still stand by her statement, 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”?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister): Yes, if they expect to spend big money like the member does on electioneering.

John Key: Does the Prime Minister accept that what constitutes an electoral advertisement is so unclear and so highly debatable that groups opposed to Government policies are going to be told by their lawyers to shut up completely over the whole of the election year; and is that not exactly what the Government wanted all the way along, to silence its critics?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: No; and no.

John Key: Why is it her Government’s policy that for someone like Tim Shadbolt to spend $300,000 in January next year using the slogan “Bring down the Government” will constitute a corrupt practice in the law, for which Mr Shadbolt could lose his mayoralty, be sent to prison for up to 2 years, and be fined up to $100,000?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I am sure that when Mayor Tim is more fully acquainted with the facts, there will be no such need.

John Key: Why will Tim Shadbolt not be subject to the law this Government is going to pass this afternoon, which quite clearly says that if someone, as a third party, spends over $120,000 in the electoral period using the slogan “Bring down the Government”—which the Electoral Commission has already indicated would mean the Labour Government—that person would be in breach of the law; and maybe the person who does not understand the law is not Tim Shadbolt but is actually the Prime Minister?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I would hope that the Leader of the Opposition would be advising people to follow the law, not dodge it as he did with regard to the Exclusive Brethren.

John Key: Well, is that not exactly the point: if Mr Shadbolt follows the law he can spend $120,000, and if he spends more than $120,000 he will be subject to a fine of $40,000, will potentially go to jail for 2 years, and will lose his mayoralty; and is that because the Government cannot hack criticism any more?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: The National Party managed to exceed the allowable limit last time and, as far as I can see, the Leader of the Opposition is not in jail.

John Key: If the Prime Minister wants New Zealanders to have freedom of speech, and if she is happy for people like Tim Shadbolt to run their cases in the court of public opinion, why is she going to have some legislation passed this afternoon that will limit Tim Shadbolt’s campaign to $120,000 or less—and she should not shake her head, because she knows that that is the truth?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: What I know about the truth is that Tim Shadbolt can run as many issues as he likes.

Metiria Turei: Does the Prime Minister agree that any concerns held by the community about campaign finance law reform are best resolved by a wide-ranging, open, and primarily democratic process of review?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: As the member knows, it is the Government’s intention, supported by the Greens and New Zealand First, I understand, and by United Future, to have a review of campaign funding.

John Key: Where has this country got to, when a blind vendetta led by her Government sees somebody like Tim Shadbolt, a man standing up for his community, potentially being packed off to jail; and is that the reason this Government is increasingly becoming so unpopular that even its own supporters do not like it any more?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: If the Leader of the Opposition wants to give the Mayor of Invercargill some advice, he should please tell him that he can spend as much as he likes on issues advertising.

John Key: Can the Prime Minister explain, then, why Mr Shadbolt will not be in breach of the law if next year he spends in excess of $120,000on a campaign where his advertisements are headed with the slogan “Bring down the Government”?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: If Mayor Tim sticks to the issues, he will be within the law.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Madam Speaker—

Hon Member: Pay it back.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: You can pay the GST back now.

Hon Member: I did.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: No, you did not, and the Inland Revenue Department should be prosecuting you. The Inland Revenue Department should be prosecuting you, because you have not paid it.

Madam SPEAKER: Would the member please be seated; I am on my feet. This cross-chat across the Chamber leads to disorder. Would the member please just ask his supplementary question.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I am very happy to—

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Do you support Tim Shadbolt?

Madam SPEAKER: I have just said that that sort of behaviour leads to disorder. I will be asking members to leave the House if it happens again.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Which division of law covers the issue of free speech: the electoral law, or the censorship, copyright, and defamation laws of this country; which of the two divisions are we talking about when we talk about free speech in New Zealand?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: What the electoral law talks about is paid speech. The National Party, with its secret donors and trusts, wants to be able to spend whatever it likes in order to buy an election, as Mr Key tried to do last time with the Exclusive Brethren.

Paediatric Oncology Service—Wellington Hospital

2. BARBARA STEWART (NZ First) to the Minister of Health: Can he assure the House that a decision on the future of Wellington’s paediatric oncology service will be reached today and that the matter will not be subject to further time-wasting reviews?

Hon JIM ANDERTON (Associate Minister of Health) on behalf of the Minister of Health: I am pleased to inform the House that the management of the Canterbury District Health Board and the Capital and Coast District Health Board have today reached an agreement on the delivery of paediatric oncology services. This agreement will now go before the boards for formal ratification. The full announcement of details will be made at 4 o’clock today.

Barbara Stewart: Is it true that the provision of other specialist services at Wellington, such as paediatric neurology and paediatric surgery, are also under review; if so, when will these reviews be completed?

Hon JIM ANDERTON: I have no advice on that, but I can say to the member and to the House that managers and clinicians from both boards believe that, in this case, one joint service will be better than two smaller units, making better use of resources and expertise, and that collaboration between the boards in setting up the new service has been positive and could offer a new way of working for all other small, specialised services.

Sue Kedgley: Does the Minister believe that the majority of New Zealanders would prefer to have a $10 per week tax cut or fully functioning paediatric, neurology, oncology, and other health services for children?

Hon JIM ANDERTON: Most of the surveys I have seen and most of the personal conversations one has with people would indicate that the priority is for high-quality services such as health and education.

Hon Peter Dunne: In the event that the announcement this afternoon is for a single service located on the Christchurch campus, what advice has he received about patients coming from the lower end of the North Island, the period of travel time involved, and the impact on their medication as they travel south for treatment in Christchurch?

Hon JIM ANDERTON: I cannot give the member that detail; I understand that it will be announced at 4 o’clock. But my impression from the reports I have had late in the afternoon is that there will be a service administered in Wellington.

Barbara Stewart: Would he agree that children who require such specialist services do not have the luxury of having time on their side, and can he assure their families that treatment will be available immediately, if not in Wellington, then in Christchurch or Auckland?

Hon JIM ANDERTON: The full details of timing will be given this afternoon, at 4 o’clock—and I am not privy to them—and they have to be ratified between now and then by boards. But I can say that I know that the previous Minister and the current Minister have pressed very vigorously for this high-quality service. I expect that that will be the service that is implemented.

Barbara Stewart: Will the Government increase funding for travel and accommodation for the parents and siblings of affected children who have to travel to other centres for treatment; if not, why not?

Hon JIM ANDERTON: My experience in the health system is that where it is necessary for patients to travel to another district health board area for services that have been approved, the travel is funded by the district health board.

Electoral Finance Bill—Consequences of Overspending

3. Hon BILL ENGLISH (Deputy Leader—National) to the Minister of Justice: Is it the Government’s policy that any person who knowingly spends more than $120,000 in an election year encouraging people not to vote for the Government should be liable for imprisonment of up to 2 years and a fine of up to $100,000?

Hon ANNETTE KING (Minister of Justice): Any person who knowingly breaks any law must be prepared to face the consequences.

Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I ask you to rule on whether the Minister has addressed that question, which was put down on notice. It is an important issue for the debate to be held later today, for all the parties in this House. I suggest to you that that answer was a bit light, because it could be an answer to any particular question about any particular law, when the question was quite specific.

Madam SPEAKER: I think the Minister did address the question.

Hon Bill English: Is it the Government’s policy that any person who intends to spend over $12,000 in an election year on publicity that could be construed as political advertising must register as a third party, appoint a financial agent, and meet a number of other requirements, and if that person does not do that, then he or she will also be liable for imprisonment of up to 2 years and a fine of $100,000?

Hon ANNETTE KING: Yes.

Hon Bill English: Can the Minister confirm that if Southland interests want to continue their campaign of criticism of the Government policy for the funding of polytechs, then they will be bound to register as a third party if they intend to run one more advertisement after 1 January, because the threshold is in fact $12,000 of spending?

Hon ANNETTE KING: If Southland and Mayor Tim wish to undertake advertising and stick with the issues, none of this will apply to them, any more than it would apply to their saying do not privatise accident compensation, do not privatise the roads, do not privatise our prisons, do not privatise our schools—all of which are National Party policy. As long as they stick with the issues, they are not covered.

Hon Bill English: Is the Minister aware that if the police suspect that Southland interests are going to spend over $12,000 and are not registered as a third party, then the police have powers under the Electoral Finance Bill to search the Invercargill City Council or Mr Shadbolt’s home to find evidence of whether they have broken the law?

Hon ANNETTE KING: I do not believe that Mayor Tim or his council would be so silly as to get themselves in that situation. They will stick with the issues. I suggest that the member should stop scaremongering.

Hon Bill English: Does the Minister intend to read the bill, or to advise the Prime Minister to read the bill, where it defines a political advertisement as any form of words that encourages voters to vote for or against a party by reference to views, positions, or policies, which would certainly include a campaign that refers to the Government and criticises its policy over funding polytechs, thereby making Southland interests liable to up to 2 years’ imprisonment and a fine of $100,000, even if they are spending only $12,000?

Hon ANNETTE KING: Both the Prime Minister and I have read the bill. I can say to the member—

Hon Bill English: It’s about time.

Hon ANNETTE KING: Oh, “Mr Nasty”!

Madam SPEAKER: Be seated, please! This is the last warning. I do not care whether you are on the front bench of either side of the House; you will be asked to leave. Would the Minister please just stick to the question.

Hon ANNETTE KING: I am very happy to. Both the Prime Minister and I have read the bill. I say to the member that the Electoral Commission will be charged with making decisions on whether publications by third parties fall into the definition of an election advertisement, not Mr English and not me.

Hon Bill English: Is it the Government’s policy that the definition of an election advertisement is so wide and so uncertain, and that the liabilities for breaking the law are so severe, that they will have a chilling effect on criticism of the Government, and it will take brave leadership, such as that of Mayor Tim Shadbolt, to run a campaign against the Government in an election year?

Hon ANNETTE KING: No.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: What is the special feature of this law that suggests that in the 3 months out from an election the activity would be legal—and, therefore, within the electoral law of this country—and soundly placed, but if it is in the 9 or 10 months before an election, it is somehow wrongly placed; what is the special feature that gets it from one position, which the National Party supports, to one that it does not?

Hon ANNETTE KING: It is a simple matter of a large amount of money that the National Party intended to spend, pretending that it would not have influenced the vote before the 3 months were up but would have influenced it after the 3 months. That is the nonsense we have had from the National Party.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Just to get this clear, is the Minister saying that if an activity was undertaken in, say, next September, for a November election, then it would be OK, but, under the National Party interpretation, if it happened in April it would not be OK; what is the special feature about that, which is so much a matter of angst in the Opposition ranks today?

Hon ANNETTE KING: That is a very good question; it goes right to the heart of this debate. The answer is that the National Party had planned to spend a lot of money between January and September—and therefore not counting in terms of an election—but once it got to the magical 3 months it would spend in that period, and say that was OK. Everyone knows that was a nonsense.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Notwithstanding which month the expenditure occurs in, is it a fact that in 2008 such expenditure will attract GST, and therefore must be paid?

Hon ANNETTE KING: We have explicitly put into the bill that the expenditure does incur GST. You see, the National Party did not pay it, and has not paid it, but we have made sure that it cannot make the mistake next time. It is in the bill.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Has the Minister of Justice—seeing as she occupies that most distinguished and important role—made submissions to the Minister of Revenue, because, clearly, the head of the Inland Revenue Department is not enforcing the law? If GST is outstanding, then legal action should have been taken against the National Party.

Hon ANNETTE KING: No, I have not made such representations, but I suggest that maybe the member, having raised the issue in front of the Minister of Revenue, might like to take it up with him.

Treaty of Waitangi—Settlement Progress

4. DAVE HEREORA (Labour) to the Minister in charge of Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations: What recent progress has been made on Treaty of Waitangi settlements?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister in charge of Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations): Very good progress has been made. On Sunday an agreement in principle was signed with Waikato-Tainui relating to the tribe’s Waikato River claim. Last week an agreement was signed in principle with the Port Nicholson Block Claims Team to settle all outstanding historical claims of Taranaki Whānui (Wellington). The way in which we settle historical grievances in a peaceful and constructive way is something we should be proud of as a nation.

Dave Hereora: What other recent progress has been made in settling Treaty of Waitangi claims?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: We have signed four agreements in principle in the last 6 months and we are due to sign another one this coming Saturday. Attempts are also being made to put together a comprehensive settlement to the central North Island forest claim. With each of these settlements we move forward, looking to the future to consolidate our gains, and take full advantage of our growing prosperity.

Te Ururoa Flavell: Tēnā koe, Madam Speaker. Kia ora tātou. What formal negotiations took place with other Waikato River iwi who have significant rights to the Waikato River when the Crown was reaching agreement with Waikato-Tainui?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Waikato-Tainui negotiators led a process that covered all other iwi with claims to the Waikato River. Agreement was arrived at in terms of structures that involve those iwi at crucial levels of the proposals. One part of the river where Waikato-Tainui have pretty much exclusive claims is dealt with separately in the settlement, but all those other iwi have been involved in the process in recent weeks.

Te Ururoa Flavell: Does the Minister consider that those discussions are sufficient enough to protect the interests of other Waikato River iwi?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Yes, I do. There has been very broad agreement, involving a meeting that I was at, as well. Of course, if any residual issues remain, they can be dealt with through the ongoing negotiations towards the deed of settlement and then in the process of the bill proceeding through the House.

Te Ururoa Flavell: Is the Minister aware of any concerns from any other Waikato River iwi that they have not been adequately consulted with and that their interests have not been protected in the agreement in principle; if so, what would he consider they should do to address that?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Any iwi with remaining concerns certainly can approach myself directly as the Minister, or the two lead negotiators for Waikato-Tainui, Tuku Morgan and Lady Raihā Māhuta. But I would suggest that one must not keep looking for some extremely small dissident group. One can find such groups anywhere, whether in Pākehā or Māori, and they cannot stand in the way of the vast majority consenting to an agreed solution.

Environment, Ministry—Curran Appointment

5. GERRY BROWNLEE (National—Ilam) to the Minister of Justice: When will the State Services Commission publicly release its investigation into the engagement of Clare Curran by the Ministry for the Environment?

Hon ANNETTE KING (Minister of Justice): When the report is completed.

Gerry Brownlee: Has the Minister seen a draft of the report; if so, does it detail evidence from the Hon David Parker and from the former Minister David Benson-Pope; if not, why not?

Hon ANNETTE KING: No, I have not seen a draft of the report.

Gerry Brownlee: Is the Minister aware of whether the State Services Commission has heard evidence from Heather Simpson, or any other ministerial staff, to determine the role of the Labour Government in the appointment of Clare Curran by the Ministry for the Environment; if not, why not?

Hon ANNETTE KING: No.

Gerry Brownlee: Is it true that the Labour Government has required that this report is not released while the House is sitting and is determined to have this report released right under the eve of Christmas in order to avoid the sort of scrutiny that it should come under?

Hon ANNETTE KING: No, and I quote back to the member his own comments he made on Radio Live on 5 December: “We expect a factual document to get right to the heart of it, and I think we have got to give Mr Rennie and those who are putting the report together a bit of space.” That is what they have got. We have not seen the report. The Government has not received it, and we have not had input into it in the way the member is implying.

Gerry Brownlee: Does it concern the Minister that at the time I made my statements Mr Rennie had been on the job for quite some time, and, in fact, had indicated that this would be a report that took perhaps 2 or 3 weeks, but it is now well over that time, and it therefore looks very much as though this Government has decided that this report will not see the light of day while there is likely to be severe scrutiny of it?

Hon ANNETTE KING: No. The terms of reference for this inquiry were released by the State Services Commission just over 3 weeks ago on 23 November. I am told there are a number of people who needed to be interviewed, and the State Services Commission wanted time to interview, and complete the report—

Gerry Brownlee: You’re hiding it!

Hon ANNETTE KING: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I take great exception to that interjection from the member. It goes right to the heart of my integrity.

Madam SPEAKER: Is the member asking for the member to withdraw that?

Hon ANNETTE KING: I certainly am asking him to withdraw and apologise.

Gerry Brownlee: I withdraw and apologise.

Tertiary Education—Funding

6. LESLEY SOPER (Labour) to the Minister for Tertiary Education: What recent reports has he received on tertiary education funding?

Hon PETE HODGSON (Minister for Tertiary Education): I have seen many, many reports. Last Friday the Tertiary Education Commission published its investment plans for eight universities, 20 polytechs, 38 industry training organisations, three wānanga, and dozens of private training organisations. This marks a major change in the way tertiary education is funded in this country. Public comment to date has been very positive indeed, although members will note that the Mayor of Invercargill is troubled.

Lesley Soper: Why is Mayor Tim Shadbolt troubled, and would the Minister care to comment on his meeting with representatives from the Southern Institute of Technology earlier today?

Hon PETE HODGSON: Mayor Tim Shadbolt thinks that we are cutting the out of region provision of distance learning too hard, when, in fact, we are investing to about the same extent next year as we were last year. Furthermore, the Tertiary Education Commission has decided to increase provision—listen to that—in Southland by 12 percent. That decision is not covered in the media and is not to be found on the airwaves but everyone seems to think it is a good thing. As for the meeting with those from the Southern Institute of Technology, I think they would say it was a good one and an honest one. However, honest differences remain, and I see we need to build more trust between the Government and the Southern Institute of Technology than exists at present to better resolve issues, and we will do that.

Dr Paul Hutchison: Is rebel Cabinet Minister Damien O’Connor going to be punished for contradicting Government policy when he told the Sunday Star-Times that provincial polytechs should be able to offer courses outside their regions, and why has the Minister punished four South Island polytechs serving rural areas—the Southern Institute of Technology, Tai Poutini Polytechnic, Aoraki Polytechnic, and Telford Rural Polytechnic—when all have offered quality, relevance, innovation, and value for money?

Hon PETE HODGSON: Changes for each of the polytechs have been happily negotiated; they are happy about them. Aoraki Polytechnic says it’s happy. Telford Rural Polytechnic says it’s happy. The Southern Institute of Technology is not happy because we reduced its out of region provision by more than it had anticipated. We are in discussion, differences remain, and it is really important that we get a better idea of one another’s point of view. National’s Southland MPs keep putting out press statements saying they are on to it, but I have yet to hear from either of them—not one of them. Neither of them has rung me, written to me, or been in touch with the Tertiary Education Commission. They have not done anything except put out press statements.

Dr Paul Hutchison: I seek leave to table the Southland Times article that states: “… Lesley Soper has accused Southern Institute of Technology chief executive Penny Simmonds of ‘game-playing’ …”.

Leave granted.

Dr Paul Hutchison: I seek leave to table the Tertiary Education Commission’s report of 14 December, demonstrating that five rural polytechs are losing money.

Leave granted.

Dr Paul Hutchison: I seek leave to table the latest Sunday Star-Times, in which Damien O’Connor contradicts his own Government’s tertiary education policy.

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

Eric Roy: I seek leave to table 28 letters I have received from students who are gravely concerned about the restrictions of the—

Leave granted.

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: I seek leave to table a copy of Mayor Tim’s most famous book, which adequately sums up this entire issue.

Leave granted.

Corrections, Department—Confidence

7. SIMON POWER (National—Rangitikei) to the Minister of Corrections: Does he have confidence in his department; if so, why?

Hon PHIL GOFF (Minister of Corrections): Yes; much more so than I would have had when the department was underfunded and in crisis under the former National Government. Escapes are down to one-sixth of what they were under National. Drug taking has more than halved and effective action has been taken to secure prisons, provide effective programmes, and expand employment—to name just a few improvements.

Simon Power: Why was it that trainee prison guards were able to twig that one of the other trainees had served jail time because she “knew a bit too much about prison”, yet the Minister’s department had no idea of that, at a time when there is a year-long inquiry into corruption amongst prison staff at Rimutaka Prison that has already seen 12 officers suspended—and by the way, when is the report on that inquiry coming?

Hon PHIL GOFF: I guess one of the ironies of life is that the newspaper that ran that story had employed a journalist for a long time, and then subsequently found out he had been making up stories rather than doing interviews. Look, it is a sad fact of life that some people are very dishonest. That woman was dishonest. She changed her name, and she did not reveal, as she was required to, her criminal convictions. That matter was drawn to the attention of the Department of Corrections, which sacked the woman before she set foot back within a prison again. That could have happened to any Government department that follows the same lines as the Department of Corrections. The Department of Corrections behaved absolutely appropriately.

David Benson-Pope: What progress has been made in reducing the level of serious assaults in prisons?

Hon PHIL GOFF: I was surprised to see a beat-up on Television One on Saturday night on prison assaults, when the facts, as given to the television channel, were that serious assaults are down by 69 percent on the rate that occurred a decade ago, and that New Zealand prisons have one of the best records in the world, notwithstanding the fact, of course, that the people we put in prison are often dangerous, violent offenders—that is why they are there. Let me make one last comment. The corrections department is now recording every assault, however minor it is and even if it is alleged, with the help of 3,000 closed-circuit television cameras that have been put into prisons since 2001. So the department now knows exactly what is happening within the prisons.

Simon Power: Why has it taken a coroner’s hearing for corrections to reveal that it failed to pass on to the Parole Board genuine information that offending by Graeme Burton was occurring in prison and that his probation officer was overloaded with too many high-risk offenders for one person to manage, and for the department to admit, despite previous denials from Barry Matthews, that had it not lost a week then Karl Kuchenbecker may still be alive—or does the Minister disagree with Paul Kuchenbecker’s reported comments in the weekend’s Dominion Post that they “might [as well] have just pulled the trigger themselves.”?

Hon PHIL GOFF: I acknowledge that serious faults in both the Department of Corrections and the New Zealand Police led to Mr Kuchenbecker’s death. I think that it is absolutely unfair to say that was a matter of intent on the part of the department. A bad mistake was made. But if the member wants to worry about Mr Burton, I will tell him Pāremoremo prison’s security was so bad under the former National Government that Graeme Burton was one of the many prisoners who escaped from that prison. Nowadays nobody escapes from it.

Simon Power: What does he think of the former Minister of Justice who passed legislation through this House that allowed offenders to be paroled after serving only one-third of their sentences, which has meant that Peter McNamara will be freed after serving just over 2 years of a 7-year sentence, even though the Parole Board report indicates he has shown no remorse and continues to maintain that he is innocent?

Hon PHIL GOFF: What I think of the former Minister of Justice is that there were a great many things that were extraordinarily beneficial in the Sentencing Act and the Parole Act. For example, somebody like Burton—to use that example again—would once have been given 7 years’ and then 10 years’ imprisonment. He is now serving for the whole of his natural life, as, indeed, William Bell is. I think the former Minister made a very wise decision when saying that safety needed to be the paramount consideration, because what happened under the National Government was that even if a prisoner was regarded as extraordinarily dangerous, the prison system was compelled to release that person at two-thirds of his or her sentence, regardless of the risk of reoffending. That risk is now the paramount consideration.

David Benson-Pope: Is the Minister aware of evidence of cellphones continuing to be smuggled into prisons and of their misuse; if so, what is being done to address that issue?

Hon PHIL GOFF: Cellphones have been a serious problem. In fact, the overall use of telephones has been associated with the commission or organisation of crimes from within prison. Not only has the prison system cracked down on contraband—I think that over the last 3 or 4 years it has probably quadrupled the amount of confiscated contraband—but also it is now bringing in a cellphone jamming system that will be progressively implemented in every prison in the country, which will prevent that practice happening. Again, that is something that never happened under a National Government.

Simon Power: Why did the Minister claim in the House last week that the current prison muster of 7,828 is “practically identical” and “tracking very close to those predicted” for December, when the Ministry of Justice has advised that it is actually 214 above the level forecast?

Hon PHIL GOFF: I have news for the member: not only is the prison muster tracking the level that was forecast very closely but it is now, actually, below the level forecast. The member is absolutely wrong in what he is saying, and he needs to put up the evidence instead of making opportunistic claims that very rarely ever see the light of day in terms of the evidence needed to back them up.

Capital and Coast District Health Board—Ministerial Intervention

8. Hon TONY RYALL (National—Bay of Plenty) to the Minister of Health: What was the “direct ministerial intervention” that the then chair of the Capital and Coast District Health Board sought to ensure did not arise again, as referred to in her letter to the Minister of 14 June 2007?

Hon JIM ANDERTON (Associate Minister of Health) on behalf of the Minister of Health: The letter that the member is referring to, and does not quote fully, from the chair of Capital and Coast District Health Board to the Minister of Health, states: “I am very appreciative of your decision”—that is the point that the member did not quote—“but at the same time determined to take steps to ensure that the need to seek direct ministerial intervention does not arise again.” The chair of the Capital and Coast District Health Board was referring to support of its projected deficit, which at that time was around $11 million for 2007-08, and appears to be thanking the Minister, and the Government, for their help.

Hon Tony Ryall: Why was the Government prepared, 6 months ago, to act to approve a blowout in the Capital and Coast District Health Board deficit, but was not prepared to act to fix the problems at the district health board?

Hon JIM ANDERTON: The chair, at the time of writing that letter, did not wish to seek additional deficit support, but the Minister signalled that, if necessary, further deficit support would be provided. The Government has acted to support the district health board with a review of clinical governance and the implementation of the recommendations arising from that review. The Ministry of Health has commissioned an independent review of the district health board’s financial systems. Ministry of Health officials are part of the steering group for the regional clinical services, and, as everyone is well aware, the Government has added additional support to the new board, a new chair, a Crown monitor, deficit support as needed, and assistance from the Ministry of Health. That, I dare say, is more support than the previous National Government ever gave in its whole term of office.

Hon Tony Ryall: Were any other Ministers involved in the approval to extend the deficit?

Hon JIM ANDERTON: I do not have any advice on that, but, normally speaking, in these matters the Minister of Finance would, of course, be consulted.

Hon Tony Ryall: As the Minister has now given the Capital and Coast District Health Board’s new board 4 months to fix the problems at Wellington Hospital, what are the benchmarks that he will measure the new performance of the board against?

Hon JIM ANDERTON: I do not have the details in front of me, but if the member wants to have that information I am perfectly happy to see that he gets the details.

Jo Goodhew: Is it likely that Mr Hodgson was too busy acting illegally by intervening in aged-care negotiations, in a manner described by the judge of the judicial review as “wrecking the ship”, and that his priority was to attempt to force unionisation on the aged-care workforce, rather than spending time on the woes of the Capital and Coast District Health Board?

Hon JIM ANDERTON: It is interesting that a party that claims that it will represent all New Zealanders is actually making a statement that it is illegal in some way to try to assist among the lowest-paid workers in the community. This Government is always proud to do that, and it is interesting that the National Party is staking itself out in a position of opposition to that kind of action.

Hon Tony Ryall: I seek leave to table the declaration of the High Court that Mr Hodgson acted unlawfully in forcing unionism on aged-care workers.

Leave granted.

Early Childhood Education—New Centres

9. PAULA BENNETT (National) to the Minister of Education: How many early childhood education centres have opened this year?

Hon CHRIS CARTER (Minister of Education): I am advised that 132 early childhood centres have been licensed this year.

Paula Bennett: Why did the Prime Minister officially open the Jump and Jive centre in Manukau in March this year, in a flourish of staged publicity, only to have it still closed today because of air pollution concerns that cannot be substantiated?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: Our Prime Minister is a very regular visitor to early childhood centres and schools. This year, for example, the Prime Minister has visited over 40 schools or early childhood centres, including opening Whangamata’s free kindy in June, Mount Albert kindy’s new playground centre in September, and the Cambridge early learning centre in November. We are very fortunate to have a Prime Minister who is so interested in education.

Paula Bennett: What are the regulations around air pollution standards for early childhood centres, and why is Jump and Jive not open when it has had an independent report done that states that it is all clear?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: All early childhood centres are required to have a health clearance. The Jump and Jive childcare centre, which the member refers to, has undergone that. There were concerns about air quality. The location of that particular centre, on an intersection, has raised those concerns, but I am pleased to tell the member that the ministry will be meeting with that centre tomorrow to discuss a health report that has just been done.

Dianne Yates: What support is the Labour-led Government making available this year to increase access to early childhood education?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: We are doing a great deal. We are providing $16 million this year to build new and expanded community-based early childhood services. We have, so far this year, allocated $9.6 million to create an additional 385 places. In the next few weeks I will be announcing further grants across the country for more spaces, in our very active programme of creating early childhood education for Kiwi kids. And, of course, we have our very popular and effective 20 free hours policy, which all 3 and 4-year-olds in New Zealand can access.

Hon Brian Donnelly: Can the Minister tell the House what effects upon the early childhood participation rates of 3 and 4-year-olds the implementation of the 20 free hours policy has had at this point in time?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: I am delighted to do so. Over 77,000 children and their families are accessing the 20 free hours—[Interruption]

Madam SPEAKER: It is impossible to hear. I will have to ask for the answer to heard in silence.

Hon CHRIS CARTER: All kindergartens are now offering this service. Forty-five kōhanga reo have now opted into the free early childhood education scheme, as well. Eight-three percent of all 3 and 4-year olds enrolled in early childhood education are accessing the 20 free hours. This is a great policy, benefiting thousands of Kiwi families. Of course, the member who asked me a question earlier, Paula Bennett, said on Radio New Zealand National on 24 June that the National Party would get rid of the 20 free hours policy.

Paula Bennett: Did the Prime Minister insist that she would open the Jump and Jive childcare centre on 16 March only if stunt children were bused in for her photo opportunity?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: That is from the member who would abolish the 20 free hours policy! I remind the House again that our very busy Prime Minister has visited over 40 early childhood centres and schools this year.

Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. The entire ACT caucus is sitting here quietly, and we would just love to hear the answer to that question. We could not hear a thing, and we want to know about the stunt children.

Madam SPEAKER: No, I am sorry. I could hear the answer that time. [Interruption]

Rodney Hide: Point of order—

Madam SPEAKER: Please be seated, Mr Hide. The member who is about to ask a question unfortunately has an extraordinarily loud voice, which does make it very difficult, on occasions, for others to hear. If members would please get themselves under control, I would ask Paula Bennett to ask the question, please.

Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. With the greatest respect, the test is not whether you can hear the answer—

Madam SPEAKER: Well, it is partially, Mr Hide. Please sit down. Would the Minister please, in summary, address the question.

Hon CHRIS CARTER: The only stunt being pulled is the silly question from the member. The Prime Minister was responding to a request from a private early childhood provider to open its centre. All arrangements to do with that were made by the owners of the early childhood centre.

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I think it is not unreasonable that the Minister does answer this question, and he is avoiding it.

Madam SPEAKER: I am sorry, Mr Brownlee, but I think that on this occasion he did actually address the question. He did address the question.

Gerry Brownlee: With all due respect, Madam Speaker, this childcare centre is not open, because the ministry will not allow it to be. So the question relates to what happened on the day it was opened by the Prime Minister.

Madam SPEAKER: I am sorry, Mr Brownlee. Please be seated. Members are not always satisfied with the answers given by Ministers. The Standing Orders do not require them to be so. On this occasion the Minister did actually address the question. It may not have been to the satisfaction of the member, or it may not have been the answer the member wanted, but the Minister did address it.

Paula Bennett: Can he confirm that the Government used Jump and Jive childcare centre as a photo opportunity for its leader, even busing in stunt kids to try to make the photos look good, but will do nothing to help the centre, which has been closed for 9 months despite having met all the regulations?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: No, I cannot.

Paula Bennett: I seek leave to table a photo of those stunt children on the opening day.

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

Hon CHRIS CARTER: I seek leave to table a transcript from Radio New Zealand National on 24 June 2007, which states that the National Party’s early childhood spokesperson, Paula Bennett—

Leave granted.

Family Violence—Campaign for Action Programme

10. DARIEN FENTON (Labour) to the Minister for Social Development and Employment: What reports has she received regarding the Government’s Campaign for Action on Family Violence?

Hon RUTH DYSON (Minister for Social Development and Employment): I have seen reports that say that the campaign has a lot of New Zealanders thinking, talking, and acting against family violence. Of the 900 people surveyed, 87 percent recalled the campaign and, of those, 94 percent agreed with the campaign message. Over half had discussed the ads with someone, and one in five reported taking some direct action as a result. Just 3 months since the launch of the campaign, individuals and communities across our country are coming together to say that family violence is not OK.

Darien Fenton: What additional investment has the Government made to support services that prevent and reduce the impact of family violence?

Hon RUTH DYSON: Our Government has invested heavily in child and family services to ensure that all those who are affected by family violence are supported to rebuild their lives. Additional funding just this year includes a $5 million campaign response fund to support family violence services that are experiencing a higher demand as a result of the campaign, over $20 million to boost the ability of community organisations to deliver those services, and over $11 million to enhance the health sector response to family violence. Ongoing investment is a key priority, and we will continue to work with the sector to ensure that needs are met.

Sue Kedgley: Does the Minister agree that it is ironic that the excellent advertisements being screened on television as part of the Government’s anti-violence campaign are being interspersed around television programmes that are literally packed full of violence—up to 18 episodes of violence an hour in some programmes—and given the overwhelming evidence that high levels of violence on television increase the culture of violence, why will the Government not take action to reduce the amount of violence on television as part of its anti-violence campaign?

Hon RUTH DYSON: I think it is important for people to differentiate between violence that is part of a news programme that reflects reality and violence that is part of a drama or other situation. We all must get clear that any real violence, particularly that inside a family, is not OK.

Greenhouse Gas Emissions—Comparative Statistics

11. Hon Dr NICK SMITH (National—Nelson) to the Minister responsible for Climate Change Issues: How does the expected level of greenhouse gas emissions, including those from deforestation, for this year compare with net emissions in 1999 when Labour took office and the Kyoto base year of 1990?

Hon DAVID PARKER (Minister responsible for Climate Change Issues): A spike in deforestation of Pinus radiata is expected over the Christmas period. [Interruption]

Madam SPEAKER: I think the Minister has made his point, but he should address the question. [Interruption] I know it is Christmas, but we will now have the supplementary question.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Does the Minister think it is a joke that New Zealand’s net emissions have gone up 12 million tonnes over the last 4 years and that New Zealand got a near-bottom ranking in the climate change index report issued at the United Nations conference in Bali; and how is that consistent with his Government claiming that it is to be a world leader on climate change and that somehow we are on track to carbon neutrality—does this graph I am holding look as if we are on track to carbon neutrality?

Hon DAVID PARKER: I confidently expect that deforestation will decrease very significantly next year.

Hon Mark Burton: Can the Minister please indicate to the House what the Labour-led Government is doing to reduce emissions, including those from deforestation?

Hon DAVID PARKER: The Labour-led Government has, of course, introduced an emissions trading scheme, which every party but ACT has supported in its first reading. Of course, the first sector to enter the emissions trading scheme will be forestry.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Why is it that for every year since records began in 1951 New Zealand planted more trees than we felled, but in 2004, 2005, and 2006 we lost 3 million trees each year, and this year we are projected to lose an expected 6 million trees; and with this appalling record at home, how can New Zealand have any credibility in international negotiations when trying to persuade developing countries to stop deforestation?

Hon DAVID PARKER: Despite the deforestation the member refers to, the total number of hectares in forestry in New Zealand has increased. When we compare 1999 with now we see that the numbers of hectares in forestry is higher. Further, as I said previously, deforestation will decrease substantially next year.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: How is it that not only is Australia delivering higher incomes to its citizens but also its net emissions from 1990 are 4 percent and it is on track to meet its Kyoto Protocol obligations, whereas in New Zealand net emissions are 23 percent over their 1990 levels and every official agrees that we will not be able to meet those Kyoto Protocol targets?

Hon DAVID PARKER: Australia’s carbon dioxide emissions have increased by more than New Zealand’s, except in respect of deforestation. The Australian Federal Government has been able to take advantage of some very severe rules against deforestation in Queensland. I repeat what I said earlier, which is that deforestation emissions from New Zealand will decrease substantially next year.

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: Is it correct that Australia’s prosperity has been largely built on growing coal and gas exports and that under the Kyoto Protocol the liability of exports lies with the countries importing the coal and gas, not with Australia, whereas with New Zealand and our exports such as dairy, the liability obviously lies with New Zealand?

Hon DAVID PARKER: I can indeed confirm that. The very large amounts of emissions that are caused by Australian exports of coal and gas are not counted by Australia in its Kyoto Protocol balance; our emissions from increasing agriculture are.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: To the Minister—

Hon Phil Goff: Why doesn’t the member stick up for New Zealand for once instead of trying to knock it?

Hon Dr Nick Smith: I just want some basic answers from a Government that has failed. They are a bunch of failures across there.

Madam SPEAKER: Would the member please be seated. We will have this question and answer in silence.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Does the Minister accept the advice of officials that there is no realistic way that New Zealand can now get emissions back to 1990 levels; if so, can he state how New Zealand will meet its obligations under the Kyoto Protocol, noting that it comes into effect in just 14 days’ time?

Hon DAVID PARKER: As I have said previously to this House, the current estimate prior to emissions trading of our deficit during the first commitment period is 45 million tonnes. We expect, as a consequence of the emissions trading and other proposals we have brought into effect this year, that that deficit will decrease to a tonnage in the high 20 millions or early 30 millions – plus.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: So how will you do that?

Madam SPEAKER: Would the member please leave the Chamber. I have warned members so many times, and the courtesy was given to that member—no one interrupted when he was asking his question.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: He still hasn’t answered it.

Madam SPEAKER: The Minister can continue answering his question.

Hon Dr Nick Smith withdrew from the Chamber.

Hon DAVID PARKER: In respect of that balance of 25 to 30 million tonnes, New Zealand will take responsibility for those emissions by purchasing emission reductions using Kyoto Protocol mechanisms.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: Is the Minister’s reply to Dr Cullen’s question about coal exports not rather inconsistent with New Zealand’s position, whereby our coal exports, for which other countries have to take responsibility, are increasing all the time and the Government is giving a subsidy to the coal industry by not requiring its coal seam methane emissions to come into the emissions trading scheme ever, despite the fact that under the Kyoto Protocol New Zealand is accountable for those coal seam methane emissions; and will the Minister reconsider that part of the emissions trading system?

Hon DAVID PARKER: In respect of the first part of the member’s question, it is, of course, necessary to have a global agreement in respect of emissions reduction for it to be effective. Some of our coal exports go to Japan and it takes responsibility for the emissions that result. Increasingly in the future other countries will also be taking responsibility for their emissions of burning coal, including the coal that they import from New Zealand. In respect of the question about methane seam gas in coalfields, that is an issue I am willing to look at again. I would say that the preliminary advice I have had on that since I raised the question following the member’s questions to me outside the House is that the quantity of coal seam methane emissions is very low and that the cost of measuring might exceed the environmental benefit.

Capital and Coast District Health Board—Deaths of Hawke’s Bay Patients

12. HEATHER ROY (Deputy Leader—ACT) to the Minister of Health: On what date did he first learn of any of the deaths of the three Hawke’s Bay District Health Board patients who died in Hawke’s Bay Hospital while on Wellington Hospital’s waiting list for heart surgery, as reported on the front page of the Hawke’s Bay Today newspaper on 8 December 2007, and what action, if any, did he take?

Hon JIM ANDERTON (Associate Minister of Health) on behalf of the Minister of Health: I am advised that the chair of the Hawke’s Bay District Health Board indicated in a telephone conversation with the Minister on 13 November that the chair held information relating to deaths in Hawke’s Bay. The Minister indicated this to his officials on the same day. The officials began immediately following up with the Hawke’s Bay District Health Board. On Monday, 19 November, both the Hawke’s Bay District Health Board and the Capital and Coast District Health Board provided written reports to the Ministry of Health that indicated that actions were already in place to increase access to cardiothoracic surgery at the Capital and Coast District Health Board.

Heather Roy: Why has the Minister’s response to these tragic deaths been to attack me for not passing on details, when there is a mandatory reporting requirement for any death of a person on a waiting list?

Hon JIM ANDERTON: As far as I am aware, the member was claiming publicly to have information that would have been of assistance to officials in any investigation into these matters. As I said to her the last time she asked this question, she actually then instigated an Official Information Act request to the hospital board that she claimed she had information on in the first place. That seemed to be entirely inconsistent, and not very responsible for a member of this Parliament.

Heather Roy: Is the state of the health system so poorly that it takes an Opposition MP and a Hawke’s Bay Today journalist, Kate Newton, to bring such serious failures at Capital and Coast District Health Board to light, because the Minister’s approach is to cover up, and to attack those who are exposing the truth?

Hon JIM ANDERTON: I think it is irresponsible of any member of this House to define a hospital, to describe a hospital in the New Zealand health system, as a “killer hospital”; that is what I think is irresponsible. The Minister acted immediately. There was no delay in that. The reports were made back to the Ministry of Health. That is on the public record.

The plans that were made by the Capital and Coast District Health Board have been implemented, and more operations are actually being delivered. I must say, as a New Zealander, that I am proud of the hospital system in this country. My experience and the experience of thousands of my constituents who have gone through it have been universally good. We can expect incidents in our hospitals from time to time—of course we can—but, by and large, we have an excellent hospital system and we should be proud of it.

ENDS


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