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Questions AndAnswers - Tuesday, 19 February 2008

Questions AndAnswers - Tuesday, 19 February 2008

Questions to Ministers

1. Community Sector and Government—Relationship

[Uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing.]

1. Hon TARIANA TURIA (Co-Leader—Māori Party) to the Minister for the Community and Voluntary Sector: How is the “genuine partnership” between the community and voluntary sector and the Government expressed, when the relationship is contractual and controlled by the Crown agencies?

Hon RUTH DYSON (Minister for the Community and Voluntary Sector) : Our Government set out its commitment to strong and respectful relationships with community and voluntary organisations in the statement of Government intentions in 2001. Since that time we have established the Office for the Community and Voluntary Sector, implemented online information about building relationships between the Government and the sector and about funding practices, launched the Keeping it Legal resource to ensure community groups understand their legal responsibilities, and launched Good Practice in Action to showcase examples of best practice. More recently we have launched a new sustainable funding model for community groups that deliver essential social services.

Hon Tariana Turia: How will the Minister respond to the request for direct resourcing to iwi and tangata whenua providers as a genuine commitment to partnership, as stated by Enid Leighton, the general manager of Ngati Awa Social and Health Services on Radio New Zealand Nationalyesterday morning?

Hon RUTH DYSON: I have no difficulty at all in organisations such as the one the member referred to being funded via a departmental appropriation, but I do not support the notion of having a direct line-item budget to such organisations.

Hon Marian Hobbs: What reports has the Minister seen regarding alternative approaches to building partnerships between the Government and the community and voluntary sector?

Hon RUTH DYSON: I have seen an approach that rejects the concept of partnership outright. This approach was described as based purely on competitive tendering, where the Government is really just a purchaser of services. That will cut right back on capacity funding. That is the policy of the Leader of the Opposition, Mr John Key. His party is too insecure to build a relationship with the community and the voluntary sector. The National members are afraid to raise expectations, because they do not want to deliver results.

Sue Bradford: Will the groups that receive full funding from the Ministry of Social Development under the new initiative be allowed to advocate politically, not at the Government’s expense but for the people on issues they serve, without risking the loss of funding?

Hon RUTH DYSON: Yes.

Hon Tariana Turia: Why does the Government continue to have a different range of bed-night costs between tangata whenua organisations and mainstream organisations, as stated on Radio New Zealand yesterday?

Hon RUTH DYSON: The difference is not between tangata whenua and other organisations; the difference is between family members and contracted organisations.

Hon Tariana Turia: What strategies are being considered to enable tangata whenua to provide solutions with equitable funding, given the current imbalance to tangata whenua organisations within the community and voluntary sector?

Hon RUTH DYSON: I am delighted that the most recent of many initiatives has included a large number of tangata whenua organisations, and that specific funding is there not just to fully fund the contracted services but also for capability.

2. Cabinet Appointments and Honours Committee—Chair

[Uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing.]

2. JOHN KEY (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Is she the chair of the Cabinet appointments and honours committee, which considered the nomination of Owen Glenn to be an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister) : Yes.

John Key: Was she or any other Minister present at the Cabinet committee aware that Mr Glenn had loaned the Labour Party $100,000 after the 2005 election, when they made the decision to recommend him for the honour?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I certainly was but, of course, the honour was made irrespective of such factors.

John Key: Why did the Prime Minister not correct Labour Party President Mike Williams’ statement made after Mr Glenn received his New Year’s honour that Mr Glenn had made no financial donation to the Labour Party since 2005, when that statement was clearly not true?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Because I was overseas and had no knowledge of it at the time.

John Key: What assurances can she give the New Zealand public that Mr Glenn did not receive his honour as a mark of gratitude for bailing out the New Zealand Labour Party when it had to pay back $880,000 it took from taxpayers to pay for its pledge card?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: In fact, an honour is given in spite of such factors, and I would draw the member’s attention to the editorial in the New Zealand Herald on the matter on 1 January entitled “Honoured donor to our politics”, which went on to state that Mr Glenn “thoroughly deserves one of our highest national honours”. It further stated that he “doubly deserves his honour because he appears to have made no secret of his contribution.”, unlike the 3 million bucks’ worth of private contributors who fuelled the National Party’s campaign in 2005.

John Key: Can the Prime Minister confirm that she has approved Mr Glenn’s appointment as New Zealand’s consul in Monaco, and that she has, as reported this morning, told the Minister of Foreign Affairs to “get on with it”; if not, what is the position in regard to that appointment?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: No and no. The position, as I understand it from Mr Peters this morning, is that he is considering whether an appointment should be made at all to such a position.

John Key: How did the Prime Minister become aware of Mr Glenn’s interest in the honorary consul position; was it because the matter was raised directly with her by Mr Glenn, or was his request relayed to her by Labour Party President, Mike Williams?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Certainly there has been no conversation by me with Mr Glenn on this matter. I am aware that he has had breakfast with Mr Peters and it has been discussed. Where in the ether it came to me I do not know.

John Key: Why is it that the Prime Minister seems to be struggling to either remember or reconcile any statements in regard to this matter, when Mr Glenn’s memory seems to be fully intact?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: That is a bit rich from the man who could not remember opening the email he knew he had received from the Exclusive Brethren.

John Key: How does it look to the New Zealand public when the Government that spent most of last year arguing about the need for transparency in electoral donations has, through its party president, denied that Mr Glenn had made any financial donations to the Labour Party since the 2005 election, a statement we now know to be untrue, while at the same time she has given Mr Glenn a New Zealand honour and seemingly promised him a job as honorary consul in Monaco, and does she agree with the rest of the New Zealand public that this is looking very murky, indeed?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: The only thing that looks murky is the National Party putting all its money into secret trusts, including by the end of December last year, scurrying around the anonymous donors, such as the Waitemata Trust run by Mr Bob Brown, business partner of Murry McCully, and getting as much fuelled away in secret as it could before the 1 January deadline for new rules.

3. Community Groups—Sustainable Funding Model

[Uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing.]

3. MARTIN GALLAGHER (Labour—Hamilton West) to the Minister of Justice: How will the new sustainable funding model for community groups help to support victims of crime?

Hon ANNETTE KING (Minister of Justice) : This Government is committed to strengthening support for victims, and recent announcements show that. They include the establishment of a central contact point for victims, including a website and an 0800 number; increased assistance to Victim Support; the establishment of independent victim advocates; and further funding to non-governmental organisations to deliver anti-violence programmes. But that is not all. Further announcements will be made over the coming weeks.

Martin Gallagher: Has the Minister seen any reports on the Government’s actions to support victims?

Hon ANNETTE KING: Yes. I have seen a supportive release from Victim Support, and I am advised that the response from the non-governmental organisations has been very positive. I have also seen Simon Power’s press release, which claims that this Government has ignored victims of crime. As usual, he is wrong. Since we became the Government we have strengthened and extended victims’ rights in the Victims’ Rights Act 2002, which replaced the old Act that was passed by the previous Labour Government in 1987. We have ensured that victims’ views are given formal recognition in the criminal justice process in the Sentencing Act, the Parole Act, and the Bail Act. We have also provided for the needs of vulnerable witnesses and victims in the Evidence Act. The list goes on. I put that record next to the National Government’s 1990s record, which looks very slim indeed for victims.

Simon Power: Why did it take so long for the Government to announce last week that it would be developing a charter of victims’ rights when the Prime Minister first proposed this measure in 1994; and when will she be making progress from simply making announcements about “developing” and “consulting” on these 14-year-old policies?

Hon ANNETTE KING: I realise that the member was not in Parliament in 1994, so it is a little hard for the Prime Minister to have put in place a charter of victims’ rights, but what we did when we became Government was to pass an Act of Parliament by 2002. The National Government had 9 years to do something for victims, and did nothing. So I have to say that I would put our record alongside National’s any day of the week.

Ron Mark: Will this new charter of victims’ rights include the reinstatement of lump-sum payments to victims of crime, which is something that New Zealand First called for during the third reading of the 2008 bill that she spoke of; and will it include the recognition of victims who have been defrauded of a lifetime’s funding so that they are recognised as of victims of crime, which is something that Nick Smith moved an amendment on in 2008 and which New Zealand First strongly supported and her Government roundly rejected? Will this new charter include those two factors?

Hon ANNETTE KING: The issue of compensation for victims is one of the recommendations from the select committee’s inquiry into victims’ rights—an inquiry that was strongly supported by New Zealand First and other parties in this House except the National Party. That recommendation, as was announced last week, has been sent to the Law Commission for it to give us advice on compensation for victims. We will have that advice later this year.

4. Political Parties—Meaning of “Donation”

[Uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing.]

4. Hon BILL ENGLISH (Deputy Leader—National) to the Minister of Justice: Is it the Government’s policy that the value of substantially more favourable than commercial terms and conditions for credit is considered a donation to a political party?

Hon ANNETTE KING (Minister of Justice) : Yes, and the Government made the law specific in that respect in the recently passed Electoral Finance Act—something that was opposed by the National Party. It also made the law specific in terms of identifying previously secret donations from trusts.

Hon Bill English: Does the Minister agree, then, that the Labour Party president, Mike Williams, was completely incorrect as chief administrator of Labour Party funds when he said yesterday: “An interest free loan is not a donation under any electoral act, it is an interest free loan and we have a lot of them, mainly from rich branches of the Labour Party … it shouldn’t be treated as a donation”; if she does not agree with him, why not?

Hon ANNETTE KING: I am not going to comment on Mr Williams’ comments, but I will say to the member that under the previous Act, the old regime, that was very unclear, and, of course, what this Government has done is to make it very clear indeed. Of course we have also make it clear about secret donations from trusts, because that was not clear at all, not to most people—except for those in the National Party, which was very, very keen to use secret trusts whenever it possibly could in order to garner as many votes as it could without people knowing where the money was coming from.

Sue Moroney: Has the Minister seen any reports about donations to secret trusts?

Hon ANNETTE KING: Yes, I have. Like most people I read with amazement the story in the Sunday Star-Times where Ruth Laugesen reported that a former major anonymous donor to the National Party told the Sunday Star-Times that the party president had approached previous anonymous donors, seeking donations before the law took effect. So that party, which says it believes in transparency, wanted to thwart the Act before it came into effect by gathering as many anonymous donations as possible. Well, so much for transparency!

Hon Bill English: Why is the Minister not aware that the Electoral Act 1993 makes it quite clear that an interest-free loan would be counted as a donation, and that the Electoral Finance Act 2007 simply re-enacts similar wording; and how come the president of the Labour Party, as of yesterday, still did not know that an interest-free loan is a donation and should have been treated as a donation under the law that we have had during the past 15 years?

Madam SPEAKER: Before the Minister responds, I am seeking to find where the ministerial responsibility is on this. Could the member please paraphrase his question. The Minister has no responsibility for party matters, but would the member please clarify the question for me. Thank you.

Hon Bill English: Is the Minister not aware that the Electoral Act 1993 makes it clear that an interest-free loan is a donation and should be treated as such, and that the 2007 law she has just referred to does not change the law in any significant manner; and will she get the Ministry of Justice to advise the president of the Labour Party that for the last 15 years interest-free loans have counted as donations?

Madam SPEAKER: There are at least three questions there.

Hon ANNETTE KING: First of all, I disagree with the member’s interpretation of the old Act and the new Act. I can tell the House—and I know that New Zealand First will be interested in this—that the new Act makes it clear that the sort of activities that Mr Clarkson was involved in at the last election would not be able to occur now.

Hon Bill English: Is she concerned that in the light of Mr Williams’ statements yesterday about both the status of interest-free loans and the extent of the use of interest-free loans by the New Zealand Labour Party, the Labour Party may have been failing to report such donations for up to 15 years; if so, will she be asking her officials or those of the Electoral Commission to investigate?

Hon ANNETTE KING: I have no responsibility for the actions of the Labour Party, and I have no evidence to back up the claim made by the member. But perhaps we could go back and say “Let’s disclose all those people who donated anonymously through secret trusts.”—up to $1.2 million through one particular National Party trust. Perhaps we should break that open and show what has been going on in New Zealand.

Hon Bill English: Is she aware—

Hon Phil Goff: Quit while you’re ahead.

Hon Bill English: Quit while you’re behind, Phil. [Interruption]

Madam SPEAKER: This chipping across the Chamber causes disorder.

Hon Bill English: Is she aware the comments made by the president of the Labour Party referred to interest-free loans, mainly from rich branches of the Labour Party; and does she think that her officials should advise the president of the Labour Party that he should declare all pledge card loans, so the public can know whether one of New Zealand’s major political parties is complying with the law?

Hon ANNETTE KING: There are several questions there, and in relation to the first one, no.

Hon Bill English: Given her view, stated to this House, that an interest-free loan is, in fact, a donation, does she believe that the comment made by the president of the Labour Party after Owen Glenn received his New Year’s honour, saying that Mr Glenn had not made a donation was misleading, and probably deliberately misleading?

Hon ANNETTE KING: My name is not “Mr Nasty”, like that member’s; he is always throwing insults around people. To say that people deliberately mislead is not something I am going to comment on.

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. [Interruption]

Madam SPEAKER: Points of order are heard in silence.

Gerry Brownlee: Do you seriously consider that that was an answer to the question, or even an attempt to address it? She simply said: “My name is not ‘Mr Nasty’ ”. Perhaps she would like to tell us what her middle name is, inside the Labour Party?

Madam SPEAKER: I would say, Mr Brownlee, that that is an entirely inappropriate comment to direct to the Speaker. The Minister was asked for her opinion. She gave it. It may not be satisfactory to the member, but that is what the Standing Orders permit.

5. Cluster Munitions—Lebanon

[Uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing.]

5. DIANNE YATES (Labour) to the Minister of Defence: What contribution has New Zealand made to the multinational effort to clear cluster munitions in Lebanon?

Hon PHIL GOFF (Minister of Defence) : Over the last 12 months the New Zealand Defence Force has done an outstanding job in clearing nearly a third of a million square metres of land in southern Lebanon and destroying more than 1,800 unexploded cluster bombs and munitions. But, just as importantly, New Zealand is one of the seven countries leading preventive action aimed at banning the use of cluster munitions, which cause unacceptable harm to civilians. This week we are hosting the largest ever disarmament conference, here in Wellington, which aims to progress towards a treaty against the use of cluster munitions.

Dianne Yates: What have New Zealand’s actions meant for the people in Lebanon and beyond who have suffered from the use of cluster munitions?

Hon PHIL GOFF: The work of the New Zealand Defence Force has meant that people living in the area cleared by the Defence Force can go about their daily lives, without the worry that they or their children will be killed or maimed by unexploded munitions. More widely, the initiatives taken by New Zealand and other countries towards a treaty against the use of cluster munitions have the potential, in future, to protect and save the lives of thousands of civilians who might otherwise be causalities.

Dianne Yates: What does he hope will be the outcome of this week’s conference in Wellington on cluster munitions?

Hon PHIL GOFF: The hope is that the 122 countries attending the conference here in Wellington will make progress towards agreement that will lead to the negotiation of a treaty, in Dublin in May, that bans cluster munitions, which have unacceptable effects on civilian populations. We hope, basically, that this treaty will do what the Ottawa Convention did to landmines—that is, get a large number of people to sign up to dispose of, and not use, cluster munitions, and have even those countries that are not part of the process feel that the stigma is such that they will no longer use cluster munitions.

Keith Locke: I seek leave to table a table from the New Zealand Superannuation Fund, showing a $21 million investment in cluster bomb manufacturer, Lockheed Martin.

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

Keith Locke: I seek leave to table a document from the Norwegian Government Pension Fund, showing that it has disinvested in eight manufacturers of cluster bombs.

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

6. Hawke's Bay District Health Board—Apparent Tensions

[Uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing.]

6. Hon TONY RYALL (National—Bay of Plenty) to the Minister of Health: Which clinicians at the Hawke’s Bay District Health Board have told him that there are “continuing apparent tensions within the present board and its clinicians”?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE (Minister of Health) : My primary responsibility is for the overall health and well-being of the people of Hawke’s Bay. I have received correspondence from a number of clinicians concerning Hawke’s Bay District Health Board, and from others. However, I am not prepared to breach the confidence of the persons who provided me with necessary information without their consent, at this time. There are clearly tensions within the present board. Information on this has also been widely reported in the media.

Hon Tony Ryall: Is it not the case that the Minister will not detail the people who gave him this false information because he is joining the whitewash to protect his colleague Annette King; or did he just make it up?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: No; and no.

Lesley Soper: Has the Minister any information on the financial position of the Hawke’s Bay District Health Board?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: A great deal. I am concerned and disturbed by the apparent trends. In July last year the forward projection from the district health board was that at the end of this financial year the fiscal outcome would be in balance. The most recent projection for this outcome is now for a deficit of $7.7 million. To correct this, clearly requires a united and fully functioning Government structure, management, and clinical team.

Barbara Stewart: Does the Minister consider that working on a “day-to-day basis” is in the best interests of either the patients or the staff of the district health board; if not, why is the appointment of a chairman being delayed indefinitely?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: As the member may be aware, there is a governance review process under way, and I do not mind saying to the House that I had earlier expected to receive that report from the director-general at an earlier time. I am advised that there have been significant delays in that process for legal reasons, and with the recent deterioration of the situation the member may have a point.

Chris Tremain: How can the New Zealand health community trust the Minister when Dr David Lawson, a senior surgeon at the Hawke’s Bay District Health Board said: “Mr Cunliffe implied that the clinical staff at HB Hospital were unhappy with the board …”, and “This could not be further from the truth.”; I ask the Minister what game he is playing, and what the reason is for trying to drive a wedge between the board and senior management staff?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: The good doctor may wish to consult some of his senior clinical colleagues, who have written and spoken to me in completely the opposite direction.

Lesley Soper: Is it true that the chair of the district health board was quoted in this morning’s Dominion Post as saying the Minister “is trying to set the scene to bag the district health board.”?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: Apparently so. Such reported press statements are, of course, not the normal way in which district health board chairs communicate with their Minister. It is perhaps indicative of the tensions I alluded to earlier, and I expect not to see this style of communication repeated.

Craig Foss: How can the health community trust the Minister, when the chairman of the senior medical staff at the Hawke’s Bay Hospital, John Rose, said the Minister’s statements “took me … by surprise. We’re not aware of any tension between the senior clinicians and our board. It would appear this statement is completely unfounded.”?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: The gentleman concerned has clearly not consulted his colleagues thoroughly, many of whom have consulted me.

Heather Roy: On what date will the Minister announce his appointees to the Hawke’s Bay District Health Board and allow it to form the required committees to plan and to provide some certainty to its staff and the Hawke’s Bay public, or does he intend to leave it vulnerable and set up to fail, as part of a deliberate campaign to discredit the board and its chair?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: In respect of the last part of the question, no, and I take exception to the implication. In respect of the first part of the question, as soon as is practicably possible, consistent with due legal process.

Hon Tony Ryall: Is not what is happening here typical of Labour—driving an imaginary division between the clinicians and the board as the start of the whitewash to protect Annette King and scapegoat the Hawke’s Bay District Health Board?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: No.

Chris Tremain: I seek leave to table the article in this morning’s Dominion Post, which says “Surgeons dismiss—

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

7. Family Violence—Initiatives

[Uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing.]

7. SUE MORONEY (Labour) to the Minister for Social Development and Employment: What is the Government doing to prevent and reduce the impact of family violence?

Hon RUTH DYSON (Minister for Social Development and Employment) : Our Government established the Taskforce for Action on Violence within Families to eliminate family violence in our country. One of the task force’s achievements is the media campaign. Its key phrase “It’s not OK” has already struck a chord with New Zealanders, and people are taking action as a result. The second phase of advertising, which started last Sunday, calls on male perpetrators of partner violence to change their behaviour. I commend the courage of the men who tell their real stories in the ad, in order to show that it is OK to ask for help. The ads are not airing in a vacuum. The task force’s ongoing programme of action will strengthen and support the campaign.

Sue Moroney: How will last week’s announcement regarding sustainable funding for community groups help prevent family violence?

Hon RUTH DYSON: A well-funded non-governmental organisation sector is critical if we are to prevent family violence, and because it understands its communities and the families who live in them, it is likely to be the first port of call for help. The new sustainable funding model will provide community providers with more certainty, and they will be able to spend more time focusing on the outcomes that their services deliver. Heather Henare of the National Collective of Independent Women’s Refuges said that this policy “should provide greater relief and certainty to Refuges throughout the country.”

8. Housing—Affordability

[Uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing.]

8. GORDON COPELAND (Independent) to the Minister of Housing: Has she read the 2008 International Housing Affordability Survey by Demographia, an organisation she has previously referred to as “reputable”; if so, does she agree that it makes “the pathway to affordable housing abundantly clear: remove Metropolitan Urban Limits … and other artificial restraints on the availability of residential land”; if not, why not?

Hon MARYAN STREET (Minister of Housing) : Yes; and, no, I do not believe that simply removing the restrictions on urban sprawl is the answer to housing affordability—and neither does the public of New Zealand.

Gordon Copeland: Why, when Hugh Pavletich of Demographia, Arthur Grimes of Motu Economic and Public Policy Research Trust and the chairman of the Reserve Bank, a former Reserve Bank governor, Don Brash, Ian Page of the Building Research Association, Owen McShane of the Centre for Resource Management, and David Chaston of www.interest.co.nz all identify urban growth boundaries and other artificial restraints on land availability as the principal drivers of New Zealand’s severe housing unaffordability crisis, leading to land banking, does the Government choose to ignore that and to concentrate on peripheral matters—ignoring the central issue?

Hon MARYAN STREET: I can only assume that those people whom the member has referred to take that position because they lack imagination. Secondly, we are engaged in a much more multi-pronged approach to the issue of housing affordability than that Demographia report recommends.

Darien Fenton: Who was the author of the quote referred to by the member in the primary question?

Hon MARYAN STREET: The quotation actually comes from Dr Don Brash, and appears in the introduction to the survey. I note that Dr Brash’s tendency for flip-flops has been maintained by the current leader of the National Party, John Key, who promised to scrap the affordable housing project in Hobsonville but now claims he always supported it.

Pita Paraone: Tēnā koe, Madam Speaker. Does the Minister agree that improving housing affordability involves addressing both the supply side and the demand side of the issue, and that simply removing the metropolitan urban limits, as was suggested, is a simplistic solution that addresses only one part of the complex issues around housing affordability?

Hon MARYAN STREET: Yes and yes.

Gordon Copeland: Does the Minister acknowledge that privately owned homes dropped from 67.7 percent of all homes in 1996 to just 62.7 percent in 2006, which is a drop of 7.4 percent on this Government’s watch; and do not those figures make a mockery of the Government’s stated aim to create an ownership society for New Zealanders?

Hon MARYAN STREET: There are all sorts of figures around the homeownership debate. What is clear is that there has been a reduction in homeownership, and it is precisely that issue that this Government is actively engaged in addressing.

Phil Heatley: Why has the Minister’s “imaginative”, “multi-pronged” approach achieved absolutely nothing concrete for the 100,000 struggling first home seekers over the last 5 years—there have been absolutely no tax cuts to help people service a mortgage, none of the promised shared-equity houses is available, and none of the affordable homes in Hobsonville or Tāmaki is available—and why, after 5 years, does she not have a single, measurable run on the board when it comes to affordable housing?

Hon MARYAN STREET: It is patently obvious to anybody who considers this issue that the house price increase has been exacerbated over the last 5 years; the last 5 years have been critically problematic, for a range of reasons. This Government has addressed some demand-side measures, and is now looking to address supply-side measures. That takes some time to put into effect, because houses take a little while to build.

Phil Heatley: Will these promised shared-equity houses, these promised affordable homes, and these promised tax cuts actually appear only in election year—too late for 5 years’ worth of first home buyers, and far too late for Labour?

Hon MARYAN STREET: The Government is engaged in a thoughtful and progressive timetable to address the issue of housing supply. The key point is to build more houses, and that is where we are going.

Phil Heatley: Does the Minister not consider that her “thoughtful”, “imaginative”, and “multi-pronged” approach has actually delivered nothing for first home buyers in the last 5 years; that they actually do not believe she will provide anything for them with her empty promises of affordable homes, shared equity, and tax cuts; and that voters will dump her and her Government for doing nothing for 5 years?

Hon MARYAN STREET: One of the things this Government has done that has been particularly significant is to introduce KiwiSaver, which allows some provision for a deposit—to be matched by the Government—to be made available for first home buyers. That kind of measure is a critically important one going forward, and one that will bear fruit in the future. I have to say that the Opposition voted against such long-term recovery measures. It needs to come up with its own solutions to a long-term future problem.

Phil Heatley: I seek leave to table the KiwiSaver rules, which show that that provision is not due for another couple of years, either.

 Leave granted.

Gordon Copeland: I seek leave to table homeownership statistics for 1960-2006.

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

9. Fonterra—Capital Restructuring Proposal

[Uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing.]

9. R DOUG WOOLERTON (NZ First) to the Minister of Agriculture: What recent reports, if any, has he received regarding Fonterra’s capital restructuring proposal?

Hon JIM ANDERTON (Minister of Agriculture) : I have received various reports over the past few days, including advice from the chair of Fonterra that the board has decided to defer a shareholder vote on its capital structure and to consult further with farmer shareholders.

R Doug Woolerton: Does the Minister think the proposed capital structure, which if implemented would see farmers holding just a 65 percent stake in the new company, with the rest likely to be snapped up by foreign investors, is in the national interest; if so, why?

Hon JIM ANDERTON: It is in New Zealand’s national interest for our largest company to have global scale and reach, but also for it to be based in New Zealand. There are exciting international opportunities in the dairy industry, and Fonterra’s shareholders must decide themselves how best to take the company forward in order to take advantage of those opportunities.

R Doug Woolerton: Is the Minister concerned that Fonterra will wage a mammoth public relations campaign with farmers’ own money, under the guise of the “genuine consultation process”, to ensure that the necessary 75 percent support for the restructuring plan is achieved?

Hon JIM ANDERTON: I understand that Fonterra intends to work through a programme to 2010 with its shareholders to enable them to make an informed decision by that time. As I have said, the Government has worked with Fonterra to ensure that we retain the national interests of New Zealand, and the entity Fonterra as a New Zealand corporation, but also that there is opportunity for Fonterra to develop in the interests of New Zealand. All of these matters are, in essence, in the hands of the stakeholders of Fonterra itself, which must own the problems and challenges it faces, as well as the solutions.

R Doug Woolerton: Will the Minister actively work to ensure that Fonterra remains in New Zealand hands; if so, what steps will he take to ensure that it remains in New Zealand control?

Hon JIM ANDERTON: It is important for the House to understand that the Government has never endorsed any package that Fonterra has put forward. We have, in fact, been committed to seeing that Fonterra grows as a New Zealand company. We have worked through with Fonterra a number of measures to safeguard both its ongoing development as a New Zealand corporation, and farmer ownership and control. Both of those matters, of course, are in the hands of the shareholders of Fonterra themselves.

10. Electricity Supply—Cook Strait Cable

[Uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing.]

10. GERRY BROWNLEE (National—Ilam) to the Minister of Energy: Does he stand by his statement in the House on Thursday 14 February 2008, in relation to Pole 1 of the high-voltage direct current (HVDC) link across Cook Strait, that “Until I received a phone call late last year, 24 hours before it was retired, we were told that it had many years of life left in it.”; if not, why not?

Hon PETE HODGSON (Minister for Economic Development) on behalf of the Minister of Energy: Yes, the Minister does. In fact it may well that its life is not at an end even yet. It is entirely possible that Pole 1 will be switched on again sooner than later.

Gerry Brownlee: How can the Minister stand by his statement when he and his colleagues have received regular briefings, reports, and memos from Transpower and the Electricity Commission over the last few years stating that the high-voltage direct current (HVDC) link was old, unreliable, and in need of either major repair or, preferably, replacement?

Hon PETE HODGSON: Actually, those reports go back longer than the last few years. Speaking on my own behalf, I can remember receiving them when in Opposition. The long and short of it is that this pole is now 30 years old and it will need to be commissioned at some time. The Electricity Commission and Transpower are trying to work out when that will be, and in the meantime they are looking to see whether they can get the pole partially switched on again. Of course, there is another pole that shifts a lot more electricity than Pole 1 did in the first place.

Dave Hereora: When was the Minister first questioned in the House on this matter?

Hon PETE HODGSON: The Minister was first questioned by the National Party on this matter last week—more than 4 months after Transpower publicly advised its intention. The House has had dozens and dozens of question times since that announcement, but National has decided to fire its guns only when the talk is about turning Pole 1 back on, not off.

Gerry Brownlee: Can the Minister confirm that Pole 1 is unlikely to be turned back on because no insurer in the world would be prepared to take the risk; that the southern lake levels are very, very low—in fact, at 1992 levels—that inflows are worse than in 1992; that in the North Island there is a huge deficit between available electricity and demand; and that with only one pole left, it would be impossible, even if the lakes were full, to meet the demand in the North Island at peak on cold days with big demand?

Hon PETE HODGSON: I think I counted seven questions. I will have a go at a few of them, if that is OK with Madam Speaker. The long and short of it is that lake levels are low for this time of the year—they are certainly below average. On top of that we have the well-rehearsed problems of a high water temperature in the Waikato River, outages in the Taranaki district, and so on. The fact of the matter is that despite all of that, the electricity system is coping rather well. The option exists for Pole 1 to be turned on again. The issue of insurance will be resolved either with an insurer or by self-insurance, or perhaps Pole 1 will not be turned on for engineering reasons. The long and the short of it is that the system is coping well and folk are ahead of the issue, instead of the situation in 1992 when by June we had ourselves a calamity because no one was paying attention.

Gerry Brownlee: Do the publicly stated comments from the power company chief executives that uninterrupted security of electricity supply to businesses and households cannot be guaranteed this winter stand as a testament to Labour’s complete failure to future-proof security of supply despite the grand pronouncements from that Minister that the Electricity Commission would do exactly that?

Hon PETE HODGSON: I am not aware of any year—there may have been some, but I am not aware of any—when any electricity generator has said in February that it can guarantee supply through the winter. It is generally not possible in our system. That is why we have a spot market, that is why we have businesses that take positions on the spot market, and that is why the lights have not gone out in this country since we came very close to that point back in 1992 under National.

Gerry Brownlee: What barriers to complete replacement of the HVDCPole 1 of the Cook Strait cable stand in the way of Transpower getting on to the project with some urgency?

Hon PETE HODGSON: I regret I cannot give the member a good answer to that question because it is an operational question. But I can assure him that there is no shareholder problem to its making the investment when it is needed.

Gerry Brownlee: Could the Minister confirm that the reason Transpower has not gone ahead with the project is that it does not have sign-off from the Electricity Commission under the electricity governance rules, and that the Electricity Commission is itself nothing more than a mouthpiece for the Minister, so that, in effect, the shareholding Minister for Transpower is saying “Go ahead, we have no objection”, but, on the other hand, the Minister responsible for the Electricity Commission is saying “Hold it all up, we don’t want to do it.”?

Hon PETE HODGSON: The member kind of gets up and makes it up. The long and short of it is that if one wants to make a transmission investment in this country, one should involve the Electricity Commission in that. The commission asks a bunch of questions—and I have some of the questions in writing from the general manager of the Electricity Commission. The commission’s role is to test the validity of investment, and the two parties will, no doubt, continue to talk until they reach a resolution. I would imagine that would be sooner rather than later.

Gerry Brownlee: Can the Minister confirm that Transpower made its application to the Electricity Commission in September of 2005 and is still waiting to hear back?

Hon PETE HODGSON: No, I cannot confirm that. I can confirm the opposite, which is that the Electricity Commission and Transpower New Zealand continue to remain in discussions on this, that, and the other bit of the transmission capital investment programme of New Zealand’s transmission company. Transmission is being built up and down the country under this Government, and that will continue, but it will be done a bit at a time. When one bit is done, another bit will be done. That has always been the case, and it will continue to be the case.

Gerry Brownlee: I seek leave to table papers in my possession that show that the Government has known about this problem and the very, very serious nature of it since July of 2005 and has done nothing about it since.

 Leave granted.

Peter Brown: Does the Minister appreciate that as a result, in part, of these questions in Parliament and various media reports and speculation with regard to lake levels, some people—the retired vote mainly, living on fixed incomes—are getting very nervous and apprehensive about prices and security of supply when it comes to electricity; and if the Minister does appreciate that, can he give the House some advice on what he would like to say to those retired voters?

Hon PETE HODGSON: The member may recall that the Minister was asked last week whether he would give a guarantee about security of supply this coming winter or, indeed, any winter, and he answered, of course, that he could not offer that guarantee. One cannot do so when we have a system that is based on the range of fuels that we use. Indeed, very few countries can. As far as the price is concerned, I point out that although there have been upward price movements in recent years, without any doubt, the consumers that the member rises to speak on behalf of are, of course, not subject to the stock market. They simply carry through the winter with the same prices they have in the summer.

11. Freedom of Expression—Beijing Olympic Games

[Uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing.]

11. KEITH LOCKE (Green) to the Minister for Sport and Recreation: Has he received any reports as to whether the free speech rights of New Zealand athletes participating at the Olympic Games in Beijing are being violated by the New Zealand Olympic Committee’s demand that our athletes must agree in writing beforehand not to make statements or demonstrations regarding political, religious, or racial matters; if not, why not?

Hon CLAYTON COSGROVE (Minister for Sport and Recreation) : I have received varying reports on this issue. I have expressed my reservations to the New Zealand Olympic Committee and can advise the House that the New Zealand Olympic Committee board today advised that it has agreed to recommend to the Athletes Commission that clause 7.1(c) in the athletes’ agreement be amended so that it is consistent with the Olympic Charter.

Keith Locke: I appreciate the Minister’s intervention; will he be pushing for not only clause 7.1(c) but also clause 7.1(d), which prevents any of the athletes writing blogs while they are in Beijing, to be eliminated, as we have a situation where Australia and Canada do not prevent their athletes from writing blogs?

Hon CLAYTON COSGROVE: I am not aware of the particular clause that the member is referring to. I believe that the debate was around clause 7.1(c). I am advised that that clause was signed off over 8 years ago and is reviewed before and after each Olympics with the Athletes Commission, but, as I say, I am advised today that the board will recommend to the commission that the clause be consistent—like with other nations—with the Olympic Charter.

Keith Locke: Does the Minister agree—and I think he might—that one of the benefits of giving the Olympics to China was to be able to put the spotlight on the human rights situation there and, hopefully, to improve it, and that it would help if the athletes going there, including New Zealand athletes, are able to criticise any human rights abuses they see?

Hon CLAYTON COSGROVE: I am aware that Beijing’s winning of the hosting of the next Olympic Games provides a superb showcase for the Olympic movement and for world sport. As to the other issues that the member raises, I have no responsibility for foreign policy.

Hon Peter Dunne: In light of the last answer, can the Minister advise the House why it is that successive New Zealand Governments and sporting bodies have been very keen to speak out when they have seen situations in other countries that they do not approve of, but have been remarkably loathe over the years to speak out about similar situations in China; why is there such a double standard?

Hon CLAYTON COSGROVE: I think it would be appropriate for the member to address that question to the sporting bodies he seeks an answer from.

Keith Locke: Would it not help the situation for sporting bodies if the Government were to set an example of encouraging free speech and not create a climate around the coming free trade agreement, where it is all softly softly on criticism of the gross human rights abuses that occur in China today—and we have examples of the Nick Wang case and other cases?

Madam SPEAKER: The last two questions have been quite broad and stretched the limits of ministerial responsibility, and I think that one goes right outside it. Does the Minister wish to—

Keith Locke: Well, the Minister may wish to say something.

Madam SPEAKER: But it is not his responsibility to say it. The member could ask him outside the Chamber, however.

12. Truancy—Targeting of Students

[Uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing.]

12. ANNE TOLLEY (National—East Coast) to the Minister of Education: Does he stand by his statement in the House last week that “All students who are legally obliged to be in school are being targeted.”; if so, why?

Hon CHRIS CARTER (Minister of Education) : Yes. the Ministry of Education has the responsibility of ensuring that all New Zealand children receive their right to an education. Children who are absent from school for 20 consecutive days will now be automatically identified by the new $6.4 million ENROL system.

Anne Tolley: If he does believe that all students who are legally obliged to be in school are being targeted, then why does the Ministry of Education memorandum I tabled last week show that non-enrolled students who are in contact with Child, Youth and Family and the police will no longer be targeted by the private provider who is paid to get students back into school?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: The contracted provider that the member refers to deals with cases where locating the student is the most pressing issue. For students under Child, Youth and Family care, under police investigation or, indeed, under the Ministry of Health, locating them is not an issue. Those students require complex case management, and it is more appropriate that they are managed directly by the ministry than by the private provider.

Moana Mackey: What improvements has the Labour-led Government made to truancy services?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: A great many. A full review of truancy services was undertaken in 2006, and additional funding of $2 million has been allocated to support local schools. That has enabled cases to be dealt with more quickly and the underlying causes of non-attendance to be better addressed. The new $6.4 million ENROL system now available to all schools gives us the ability, for the first time ever, to track every pupil nationwide.

Anne Tolley: Why does the Ministry of Education memorandum I tabled last week show that non-enrolled students—that is, not just truants but non-enrolled students—who have been excluded from school will also no longer be targeted by the private provider who is paid to get students back into school?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: I stress again that the member seems to be unable to grasp that the purpose of the Non-enrolment Truancy Service—“NETS”, as it is known—is to track and trace pupils. The ministry then deals with them. The students whom the member is referring to are being dealt with by the ministry.

Anne Tolley: How can the Minister suggest that Child, Youth and Family social workers will be the ones required to ensure students are enrolled in school, when Child, Youth and Family itself does not even know how many kids under its care are missing from school, because it says that it is the foster parents’ responsibility to keep those children in school?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: The member, again, failed to grasp the points I made in my earlier answers. It is the responsibility of the Ministry of Education to place those children who are under Child, Youth and Family or the police in school, and it is actively doing that. It is pointless to have a system in place to locate pupils, when we already know the location of the pupils she is referring to.

Anne Tolley: If the Ministry of Education is going to have to deal with the most at-risk and complex cases of non-enrolment, then how is it going to do that, when its own memorandum states that the ministry does not think it is well-enough resourced to carry out the job?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: We are clearly talking at cross-purposes here. I would be delighted to see the member at the end of question time, to explain just how the Non-enrolment Truancy Service works, because she seems to be unable to grasp it in question time.

Anne Tolley: Why, according to this ministry memo, are the most at-risk students—that is, those in contact with Child, Youth and Family, those in contract with the police, and those who have been excluded from school—the very ones ignored by the contract between the Government and the private provider, and why are those cases dumped on the ministry, which says itself that it does not have the resources to handle them?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: The contract is for an agency to trace missing pupils. We know where those pupils are; they are under the care of other Government agencies. What is the point of getting an agency focused on pupils? Its task is to find missing students. Those students are not missing. Their cases are complex and difficult, as the member said, but we actually know where they are.

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. It is a requirement that you have set out, Madam Speaker, that Ministers do address questions. Presumably the address should be an answer. The question arises here as to whether you are prepared to accept that saying that we have a contract to find missing pupils, then saying that we actually know where they are raises the question of why there is a contract in the first place.

Madam SPEAKER: No, I listened very carefully to the answer.

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: You see, Madam Speaker, that reveals the problem the Opposition has. The students whose whereabouts we know are not the ones whom the contract is about, which is what Mr Carter has just been explaining frequently to the member opposite, who received a “fail” pass in her first outing.

Madam SPEAKER: The Minister addressed the question, I thought, at length.

Hon CHRIS CARTER: In order to enlighten the member, I seek leave to—

Madam SPEAKER: If members wish to remain in the Chamber for the rest of the day, they will hear this point of order in silence.

Hon CHRIS CARTER: In order to enlighten the member, who seems unable to grasp what—

Madam SPEAKER: No, what is the point of order?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: I seek leave to table Consultation on ‘Staying at School’. It is a book I tabled last week, but I would like to table it again for the benefit of the member.

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

ENDS

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