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Questions And Answers – Tuesday, 4 March 2008

Questions And Answers – Tuesday, 4 March 2008


1. Health, Minister—Confidence

1. JOHN KEY (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does she have confidence in the Minister of Health?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister) : Yes.

John Key: What does it say about the state of health care in this country when 13 members of the senior medical advisory committee at Waitemata District Health Board feel compelled to issue a public statement complaining about, amongst other things, treatment delays, postponed operations, and a severe shortage of beds; if the senior doctors working at Waitemata District Health Board no longer have confidence in the system, why should the public of New Zealand?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: As someone who has been a Minister of Health, I know the demand for resources is infinite. I am sure that the Leader of the Opposition is not in the business of promising everybody everything they want—unless, perhaps, he is.

John Key: Why will the Prime Minister not answer the question—these are the 13 senior members of the medical council at the Waitemata District Health Board who have gone public and said they have major concerns about their confidence in the health system; if she is not prepared to answer the question, why does she not let someone else answer it, because the people of New Zealand deserve to know whether they can have confidence in the health system?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: If the member really wanted an answer to that question, he would have put it down in a primary question. I invite him to do so.

John Key: [Interruption] I take it if the Prime Minister did not answer on two goes, she will not answer on three.

Madam SPEAKER: Order! Supplementary question, John Key.

John Key: What does the Prime Minister therefore have to say to New Zealand women operated on unsuccessfully by a surgeon who was appointed by the Whanganui District Health Board without it doing the basic background checks?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: That was an appalling state of affairs. I note the specialist also got registration through the totally autonomous Medical Council.

John Key: What is the Prime Minister’s response to the people of Hawke’s Bay who are outraged that her Minister has sacked the democratically elected district health board, promoting legal challenges from all five of the region’s local authorities?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: It is very important that the Government is assured that a board can deliver quality health services for Hawke’s Bay, which clearly the dysfunction in this board and in its relationships with its staff have stopped it doing.

Sue Kedgley: Does the Prime Minister agree that the sacking of the Hawke’s Bay District Health Board has exposed the political reality that district health boards exist to be a rubber stamp to the Minister of the day, to take the rap when things go wrong, and to be swiftly removed from office if they step out of line or challenge the Minister of Health in any way; if not, why not?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I would not have thought such a conclusion could be drawn from the fact that one board has been dismissed, and a good commissioner put in, since 1989.

Rodney Hide: How does the Prime Minister intend to allay the understandable concern that the Minister’s appointee Peter Hausmann was abusing his board position to arrange a sweetheart deal for himself and employed the Minister’s husband to help him out on that sweetheart deal, and that the Minister has now sacked the entire board in order to cover up what is a stinking and corrupt mess?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I very much look forward to the release of the report commissioned by the Director-General of Health on this matter. I note that its release was held up because the last board took out an injunction against it. That was Mr Atkinson and other National Party friends, who did not want the truth to come out.

John Key: How can New Zealanders possibly have confidence in the New Zealand health service run by the Prime Minister’s Government, when in just the last few weeks we have seen the following: a report released that shows the chance of having a medical mishap in New Zealand hospitals is one in seven; the Health and Disability Commissioner slam the Whanganui District Health Board; an independent, external review of Auckland’s mental health unit document a string of serious failures; seven doctors at the Waitemata District Health Board go public about the state of their hospital; and the Prime Minister herself not even bother to answer questions about what is wrong with the health system?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I invite the member to look at comparative information about how the Kiwi health system stacks up. It stacks up very well against international comparisons. I will say without fear of contradiction that most of us have family members or close acquaintances who have been delivered lifesaving care by the Kiwi health system, and long may that be the case.

2. Marine Biodiversity—Reserves

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

2. METIRIA TUREI (Green) to the Minister of Conservation: Can she confirm that only 0.3 percent of New Zealand’s marine environment is protected in marine reserves, compared to 32 percent of our total land area currently protected for conservation purposes; if so, does she think this is sufficient to allow for the protection and recovery of marine biodiversity and ecosystems?

Hon STEVE CHADWICK (Minister of Conservation) : No; that figure is not accurate, because marine reserve legislation extends only to the 12-mile nautical limit. Within that limit, 7.6 percent of the marine area is protected by marine reserves. We are currently working to further increase that figure, through the Marine Protected Areas Policy, which creates a network of protection of 14 coastal regions throughout New Zealand.

Metiria Turei: Why has the Government chosen not to implement the Marine Protection Areas Policy in the exclusive economic zone, using the benthic protection areas as justification for this, when these areas have been conclusively shown by National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research scientists to “coincide strongly with areas of low biodiversity …”, and therefore these areas in particular offer worse protection than selecting areas at random?

Hon STEVE CHADWICK: I referred to that issue in my first answer, but I want to mention also that benthic protection areas are only one of a range of tools that may be used to protect marine biodiversity, and they are useful in protecting a range of seafloor habitats.

Moana Mackey: What work is the Government undertaking to further improve protection for marine life off New Zealand’s coast?

Hon STEVE CHADWICK: The Labour-led Government has added 15 new reserves since 2000, and a further two are currently being finalised. We have also created a network of marine protected areas in 14 coastal regions. Community groups are now working in four of these regions to identify what areas should be protected and how. That is great, and it is under way right now.

R Doug Woolerton: Can the Minister advise us whether she intends to make the West Coast area from Maunganui Bluff to Cape Egmont a marine mammal sanctuary, and has she consulted Māori on this issue?

Hon STEVE CHADWICK: At the moment the West Coast area is the first area that we have gone out on, on the Marine Protected Areas Policy. There was a great discussion at the first meeting, held in the last couple of weeks, so we will wait until the end of those discussions with the community and with marine fishermen.

Metiria Turei: Is the Minister concerned that the recent revision of the Crown Minerals policy, with its aim to “minimise the regulatory impact on industry.” will further fuel the Government-promoted rush of mining permits in the marine area, when we still have pathetic regulation to protect the marine environment, including no oceans policy after 7 years of talk; and does she agree that the Government would do well to apply the theme of Seaweek—“One ocean - it starts with me”—to its own policies and practices?

Hon STEVE CHADWICK: I am pleased the member mentioned Seaweek, which was launched just last week; there are a range of activities going on over Seaweek this week. I think it is through consultation on the marine protected areas that we are going to see interest in the mining applications, as well as in the areas around the country where we may be expecting further applications.

Metiria Turei: Does the Minister agree that the protection of marine biodiversity includes the significant whale populations that migrate through New Zealand waters; if so, will she take heed of the creative Sails for Whales petition signed by over 6,000 New Zealanders, which was presented to me and to her today on the steps of Parliament, and which called for much more to be done to stop the continued, unjustified slaughter of whales, including the sending of a navy vessel to observe whaling operations?

Hon STEVE CHADWICK: Yes, I was also on the steps to receive the petition. I think it is a great democratic tool for people to show their level of concern about whaling in the subantarctic seas, and it will be a great support for my work when I go to the International Whaling Commission in June. I thank those who undertake those democratic processes to show us their level of concern. But, no, we will not be sending a vessel to the subantarctic seas, as we have mentioned before.

Metiria Turei: I seek leave to table a photograph of the four large signed sails that were placed in Parliament grounds today.

 Leave granted.


3. District Health Boards—Tendering Process

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

3. Hon TONY RYALL (National—Bay of Plenty) to the Minister of Health: What rules or principles govern the tendering process of multimillion-dollar contracts by district health boards, and does he believe these were followed by the Hawke’s Bay District Health Board in relation to its community services proposal?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE (Minister of Health) : District health boards are required to adhere to guidance provided by the Office of the Controller and Auditor-General and Treasury, the Ministry of Health’s operating policy framework, and the district health boards’ own board procurement and provider selection protocols and policies. From the information currently available to me, I do not believe that these processes were followed at all times by the Hawke’s Bay District Health Board. In his recent report, the Auditor-General concluded that the Hawke’s Bay District Health Board’s policies do not comply with good public sector practice. The Director-General of Health has commissioned an independent review of the governance practices of the Hawke’s Bay District Health Board, and I look forward to receiving that report on 17 March.

Hon Tony Ryall: Can the Minister explain why, that at the same time Annette King was telling Cabinet that Mr Hausmann should be appointed to the board, and that he understood how to manage his conflicts of interest, Mr Hausmann was colluding with the chief executive to make changes to tender documents in order to benefit his own company over all others; surely, even this Minister must see that for the Labour cronyism it is?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: I note that at all times the former Minister of Health followed the appropriate Cabinet processes for the appointment of that director. I suggest that the member wait until he sees the final report from the director-general before committing his own reputation in defence of certain parties.

Lesley Soper: Is the Minister satisfied that all required tendering and procurement processes were followed in relation to the contract with Royston Hospital for elective surgery?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: No. Although I do not have access to the material that may be the subject of the director-general’s review, I am aware of allegations of inappropriate governance processes that cause me great concern. Some of those allegations were contained in submissions made to me last week that have now been made public—I repeat, some of them.

Barbara Stewart: Will the inquiry into alleged conflicts of interest at the Hawke’s Bay District Health Board reveal the extent of management mishandling of the contract tendering process as distinct from board dysfunction; if not, why not?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: As I have not seen a draft or a copy of work in progress of that governance report, I, like the member, will wait for the final on 17 March.

Hon Tony Ryall: Is the Minister aware of the email that shows that chief executive Chris Clarke instructed staff to send draft tender documents to Mr Hausmann—who had indicated he would be a bidder—some weeks before the tender process opened, and before any other bidder saw the documents; and is this acceptable behaviour?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: As I have already confirmed, I do not have access to the material that may be the subject of the director-general’s independent review, but I do note that the member seems to be labouring under some misapprehension that it is my role to defend Mr Hausmann, which it is not.

Hon Tony Ryall: Is he aware of this email that shows that Mr Hausmann, appointed by the Labour Government, having received this confidential draft tender document, proposed changes that would benefit his company, and is that what he would expect of someone being appointed to the board of that very district health board?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: In the first place, may I reconfirm to the member and to the House that my decision of recent weeks did not turn on which parties may or may not have acted correctly, but is predicated on the level of overall conflict and dysfunction at that district health board. In the second instance I wonder whether the member is drawing upon material that is covered by a confidentiality deed, subject to lawyers’ undertakings, in respect of the director-general’s independent process.

Hon Tony Ryall: Is he aware from this email that the chief executive agreed to alter the tender documents in precisely the terms proposed by Mr Hausmann, at a time when no other bidder had such access, and is that a proper and ethical process?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: I think the public will find it very interesting, when the final director-general’s report comes out, just exactly what has been doctored by whom.

Hon Tony Ryall: Is he aware that the final document that went out to all tenderers incorporated the changes proposed by Mr Hausmann, whose company was the eventual successful party, and does he think that all potential bidders were fairly treated equally in this process?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: May I firstly confirm that I do not have access to the material that is in the director-general’s draft report, and, secondly, may I reconfirm to the House that my decisions in respect of the Hawke’s Bay District Health Board do not turn on the proprieties or otherwise of any one individual, but rather, on the overall level of conflict and dysfunction surrounding that board.

Hon Bill English: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. There is a standard in this House that when a Minister gives an answer it should be truthful. In successive answers the Minister has just contradicted himself. In this answer he said that he had no access to the draft material in the report being done by the Director-General of Health. In a previous answer he intimated that material was going to come out showing that someone had altered the minutes of no doubt some significant meeting. He cannot say both things to the House within 3 minutes—first, that he does not know about the material, and then on the other hand, give details and quote from that material.

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: The Minister clearly said he had not received details. In his previous answer he said he would welcome the report appearing, and he would expect that the report would show exactly who doctored what. I note the highly sensitive reaction from the Opposition front bench on that matter.

Hon Bill English: Dr Cullen’s explanation is completely irrelevant. The fact is the Minister made two directly contradictory statements about his access to the material. The House has the right to know which one it should believe, because it cannot believe both.

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: Mr English himself tried to cover his own butt by saying the Minister intimated certain things. What in fact happened was that members on the Opposition front bench inferred certain things, which might imply certain knowledge on their behalf.

Madam SPEAKER: This is a matter of debate, it is not a point of order, and undoubtedly there will be opportunities to do that.

Hon Tony Ryall: Does the Minister recognise that the email from Mr Hausmann proposing changes to the tender document, to his advantage, is a smoking gun showing that there is something rotten and improper in the relationship between the management of this district health board and Mr Hausmann, and does he condone this sort of activity within a public organisation?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: When the director-general’s review is finally published, having been delayed by the board acting at the request of the chairman, I think we will see which smoking guns are pointed at whom.

Hon Tony Ryall: Does the Minister realise that this stench of cronyism all began because of Annette King’s foolish and senseless promotion of Mr Hausmann, and does the Minister have any idea why Annette King was so keen to appoint this man?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: Any appointments that may have been made before my time as Minister are of little concern to me in this instance. I have acted—[Interruption]

Madam SPEAKER: Please continue.

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: I have set out the grounds of my decision in respect of the Hawke’s Bay District Health Board upon taking careful advice and considering all possible options. Those grounds have nothing in particular to do with the appointment to which the member refers.

Hon Tony Ryall: I seek leave to table the emails and documents mentioned in my questions.

 Leave granted.


4. Electricity—Supply

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

4. LYNNE PILLAY (Labour—Waitakere) to the Minister of Energy: What reports has he received in relation to projected energy supply for the coming winter period?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Minister for the Environment) on behalf of the Minister of Energy: The Minister has received the latest hydroelectricity report, which shows that lake levels are in a much better position this week than they were in last week.

Lynne Pillay: What reports has he received about the state of energy generation in New Zealand that are less reliable?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: Gerry Brownlee said that the Whirinaki plant is running “flat out”. By “flat out”, did he mean 100 percent? If so, he was 94 percent wrong. At that time, during February, the Whirinaki plant was running at 6 percent of its maximum output. Although 6 percent might be a high activity level for Mr Brownlee, it is very, very low for an energy system. When he was told he had made an error, he said that Contact Energy was trying to put a bit of gloss on a very big turd.

Peter Brown: Is the Minister aware that Origin Energy has recently stated that there is potential for large oil and gas discoveries in the Canterbury basin; and, noting the Minister’s concern over fossil fuels, will he advise whether he believes that to be good news for New Zealand and New Zealanders?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: The Minister is sorry that the Minister answering on his behalf has not been briefed on that matter, and so is not aware of that detail.

Gerry Brownlee: Can the Minister confirm that even if the southern lakes were now to fill, the Cook Strait cable is not strong enough to take sufficient electricity across to the North Island to meet winter peaks, and that there would have to be considerable expansion of thermal generation, which his Government is so very opposed to?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: Absolutely not, and anyone who has any knowledge of the area would know that that was the case. That question confirms what was said in the Herald on Sunday about that member, which was that he never checks his facts, that he had claimed something that flew in the face of common sense, and that it was a very poor effort for a would-be Minister of Energy. I would say something quite a lot stronger, but it would not be parliamentary. I just do not understand whether that member is stupid or whether he plays, but I think it is probably that he is just stupid.

Peter Brown: I seek leave to table, in order to enlighten the Minister answering on behalf of the Minister of Energy, a copy of the press release issued by Origin Energy only a few days ago.

 Leave granted.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I think that, in the interests of having certain standards in this House, it is not appropriate for a Minister to call someone like Gerry Brownlee stupid. After all, everybody knows he is doing his best.

Madam SPEAKER: As the member knows, that is not a point of order.

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I think the member misunderstood. The Minister was referring to Trevor Mallard.

Madam SPEAKER: We know that was also not a point of order. Can we move on now, please.

5. Taxation—Australia - New Zealand

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

5. Hon BILL ENGLISH (Deputy Leader—National) to the Minister of Finance: Does he still stand by his statement: “If, as some have suggested, New Zealanders are fleeing as tax exiles to Australia, one can only conclude that those individuals are functionally innumerate, and we are probably better off without them.”; if not, why not?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Finance) : The statement I made in July 2005 was correct in that respect, given the substantial number of taxes payable in Australia that do not even exist in New Zealand. Of course, if Mr Key got his wish when he said he would love to see New Zealand wages drop, then the arithmetic would change considerably, but not for the better.

Hon Bill English: What would the Minister say to the Bunnings Warehouse staff who went on strike a couple of weeks ago because the starting rate in New Zealand is $12 an hour, and for the same job with the same employer in Australia it is $18 an hour; and if he did talk to them, does he agree with their union’s view that tax cuts would make no difference to that gap? [Interruption] I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. You have allowed that member up the back to interject on, I think, most questions through this question time. That is unusual. If we in National interject on answers, we are brought to task. Apparently, Government members are now allowed to interject on questions continuously.

Madam SPEAKER: I will ask the Minister the Hon Dr Michael Cullen to answer the question. That was a question, and you raised a point of order. Members interject across the House all the time, not only on the member who asked the question. I ask members to restrain themselves, but I am sure that no member in this House would want there to be no interjections.

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I would have some sympathy with the Bunnings Warehouse staff, but I would point out to them that $12 an hour is the minimum wage from 1 April, that that reflects eight increases in 8 years, that the National Party has opposed every one of those increases in the minimum wage, and that the only time National increased the minimum wage when it was in Government was when New Zealand First forced it to.

Charles Chauvel: What factors have led to the halt in the growth of the wage gap with Australia since 2000?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The Labour-led Government has increased the minimum wage eight times in 8 years, as I have said. We have invested heavily in skills training; we have cut business taxes, which will allow businesses to invest in wages and productivity; we have helped more New Zealanders get into jobs than ever before; and there has been a 25 percent real increase in household income. During the 1990s the wage gap between New Zealand and Australia grew by some 50 percent. It has barely moved at all under this Labour-led Government.

Hon Bill English: In the light of the Minister’s comment that New Zealanders who go to Australia are functionally innumerate and we are better off without them, does he believe we are better off without the 13 nurses, 10 teachers, 31 managers, 15 builders, and five electricians, as well as the other 600 people who are leaving each week?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Certainly, one would like to keep those people. There are 48 people I would certainly substitute for any of those, any day of any week.

Hon Bill English: Is the Minister aware that the average number of people leaving per annum under Labour has been 19,800 compared with, under the previous National Government, 9,800?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I am aware that every year National was in power the number of people leaving for Australia grew. I am aware that that number peaked out in about 2000, and I am aware that it turned around dramatically. I am aware that it has grown again, and I am aware that the National Party has not announced a single policy that would have any effect on that growth, because tax cuts cannot close the gap on real wages between Australia and New Zealand—it is an impossibility.

Hon Bill English: Can the Minister explain why, under Labour, New Zealand has lost more than the total number of registered voters in Mt Albert, Dunedin South, Wigram, Mt Roskill, Dunedin North, and Rongotai—the seats of Labour’s front bench—as all have gone to Australia?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: What I am aware of is that New Zealand’s net population has grown very substantially over the last 8 years. Indeed, that is one of the reasons we have seen such a strong housing market for most of that period of time. I am aware that that contrasts significantly with the 1990s under a National Government, and I am aware that National has no answers on these issues except, apparently today, to flog off our strategic assets to foreign control, which Mr Key clearly supports.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: In the interests of getting these New Zealanders to return to New Zealand, what is the likelihood of that happening if they were to hear that a senior Opposition member of Parliament—namely Mr Key—is advocating a drop in wages?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I think they would be appalled to learn that the Leader of the Opposition proposed that New Zealand wages should drop, then tried to explain himself by saying he meant that Australian wages should drop, then tried to say he did not mean it at all, then tried to say he did not say it, then got people to ring up the newspaper to try to get the reporter sacked.

6. Hawke’s Bay District Health Board—Conflict of Interest

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

6. Hon TONY RYALL (National—Bay of Plenty) to the Minister of Health: Does he have confidence in the inquiry into alleged conflicts of interest at the Hawke’s Bay District Health Board, and why?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE (Minister of Health) : Yes. Although this is an independent process and I have not seen any drafts or been briefed as to details of any of the panel’s findings, I have total confidence in this review process. I am advised that the review panel’s report, which has been requested by the Director-General of Health, will be available to me on 17 March.

Hon Tony Ryall: Is the Minister aware that the material revealing secret emails between Hausmann and the executive, in which Hausmann changed the tender documents to his advantage, was withheld from the inquiry by both parties and came to light only after independent forensic analysis in London of the back-up tapes; and what does that say about the balance of truth in this inquiry?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: I repeat that I have not been briefed on material that is in the draft or final report, or in any of its versions. That is for good reason, and that is to preserve the independence of the report. We all look forward to receiving the report, and we all look forward to seeing what it says about whom.

Hon Tony Ryall: Would the Minister retain his confidence in the executive of the Hawke’s Bay District Health Board if he knew that documents were withheld and came to light only because of forensic computer analysis in Britain?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: The primary question was as to my confidence in the director-general’s review process, and I maintained that I have a high degree of confidence in that. As to the relationship between the executive and the board—

Hon Bill English: Answer the question.

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: —that is now a matter, I say to Mr English, for the commissioner whom I have just appointed.

Hon Tony Ryall: Would the Minister have confidence in the chief executive of the Hawke’s Bay District Health Board if it was confirmed to him that this information was withheld and came to light only because of specialised forensic analysis in Britain of the back-up tapes, which were mysteriously damaged?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: I repeat that the appropriate governance relationship here is between the board, or in this case the commissioner, and the chief executive. It is not for Ministers to interfere in the management of chief executives, who are technically only the lead employees of boards.

Hon Tony Ryall: Why was the Minister happy to release material from Mr Hausmann and Mr Clarke in an attempt to mislead the public, when Mr Hausmann and Mr Clarke had their collusion exposed only by forensic computer analysis?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: That question is so full of allegations as to be almost impossible to answer, but let me do my best. I took advice as to the proper process in respect of the public disclosure of both submissions tendered to me in terms of my public request. I acted upon that advice by making both submissions public. I note that both the parties that made submissions are likely to be the subject of the Director-General’s draft report.

Hon Tony Ryall: Can the Minister confirm that his commissioner has terminated the legal action of the previous board that was seeking to ensure all information was made available, and can we take it that this is yet another step in the Government’s plan to cover up the stench that has been involved here?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: I am glad the member has asked that question, because it gives me the opportunity to reiterate that my sole motivation here is to ensure the sustainable delivery of health services to the people of Hawke’s Bay. Regardless of whomever the Director-General’s review proves to be right and wrong, my concern is that the people of Hawke’s Bay are not the casualties of the unholy mess that has surrounded this dysfunctional board.

7. Overseas Trade Performance—Reports

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

7. MARTIN GALLAGHER (Labour—Hamilton West) to the Minister of Trade: Has he received any reports on New Zealand’s overseas trade performance?

Hon PHIL GOFF (Minister of Trade) : Yes. Last week Statistics New Zealand released the most recent figures for New Zealand’s merchandise trade. The January figures saw our exports reach the highest-ever level for January. Merchandise exports reached $3.1 billion, 24 percent or nearly $600 million up on the equivalent figures for January 2007.

Martin Gallagher: Has the Minister seen any commentary on overall trends in recent trade figures?

Hon PHIL GOFF: Yes, I have seen this report from the BNZ Economy Watch entitled “Trade Picture Developing Nicely”, dated 29 February. The report states that “The broad themes in recent merchandise trade releases have been of solid export performance, easing import demand, and—as a result—steady improvements in the trade balance.” The report goes on to say that “January’s figures, out this morning, proved no different, with the annual deficit improving for the sixth consecutive month”.

Martin Gallagher: What has been the impact of this export growth on New Zealand’s trade balance?

Hon PHIL GOFF: There has been a marked trend in the right direction. The year to January 2008 saw the deficit reduced to $4.8 billion, an improvement of $1.2 billion on January 2007 and of $2.2 billion on January 2006.

8. Clean-coal Technology—Progress

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

8. GERRY BROWNLEE (National—Ilam) to the Minister of Energy: Does he stand by his statement made to the national power conference that “There is a degree of wishful thinking and exaggeration around how close clean-coal technology really is.”; if so, why?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Minister for the Environment) on behalf of the Minister of Energy: Yes; and to complete the Minister’s quote: “If the Government was to apply the same brave assumptions to new technology renewables as are relied upon by some coal proponents, we would be pilloried.”

Gerry Brownlee: Is it the Minister’s usual practice to rely on New Scientist magazine editorials to guide his thinking in energy matters, rather than the advice of experts such as the chief executives of the Government’s own energy companies; and is that further evidence of the Minister having “less thirst for knowledge than his predecessor and a resistance to discussing matters of detail”, which was stated recently by a former electricity commissioner, Roy Hemmingway?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: Although the acting Minister might have a different view of Mr Hemmingway’s very generous comments about him, he thinks Mr Hemmingway was clearly wrong in this instance. The Minister of Energy has looked extensively at this issue, and, basically, anyone who can read knows that we will not have full sequestration of carbon out of those plants in the next 3 to 5 years as has been predicted by some foolish people in the coal industry in New Zealand.

Gerry Brownlee: Can the Minister then tell us why his associate, the Minister for State Owned Enterprises, has approved so much funding being spent by New Zealand energy companies on exactly the issue of carbon dioxide sequestration from coal?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I am advised that my colleague the Minister for State Owned Enterprises does not direct on operational matters, but he has supported the purchase of long-term supplies of lignite in order to get in front of the changes that are occurring in energy in the world. One could be foolish and say we will just leave it there, we will not secure the future, and we will not get in front of the technology, which is what the member seems to be implying, or we could take a long-term approach and secure what I understand will be something like 400 years worth of energy supply in New Zealand when the technology is cracked.

Gerry Brownlee: Can the Minister confirm that the diesel-fired plant at Whirinaki had to operate six times during February, burning over 1 million litres of diesel, and does the use of this so-called reserve generator, which is meant to be used in a one-in-60-year dry year event, indicate the huge gap between the Government’s stated renewable energy goals and the very real increase in reliance on thermal generation that has occurred since the first day Labour became the Government?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I am glad that the member has corrected his assertion from 1 million litres a day to 1 million litres in February. He cannot seem to make up his mind between a day and a month. It might just be a minor fact or trifle to that member, but my view is that running the Whirinaki plant in the short term, during peak periods, in order to conserve water in the South Island, was a wise thing to do.

Gerry Brownlee: Can the Minister confirm that the Electricity Commission was entirely the creation of the Labour Government, and that it is staffed primarily by people with close Labour ties, such as a former economist to Michael Cullen, Peter Harris, a former Labour deputy leader, David Caygill, a former Labour Cabinet Minister, Stan Rodger, and a former Labour candidate, David Close; if so, when will his Government apologise to the New Zealand people for telling them that this organisation would secure supply, because their supply has never been more tenuous than it is at the moment?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: Yes, I can confirm that the commission was set up by the Labour Government. I can confirm that the general manager of the organisation is someone who is very close to the deputy leader of the National Party; if one was suggesting that there was cronyism, that appointment certainly would not have been made. That member should go outside occasionally during the weekend in the South Island, see the rain, and know that the situation is not tenuous.

Peter Brown: Noting the answers to the earlier questions, is the Minister aware that, on a global basis, 40 percent of electricity is generated from coal; if he is aware of that, would he confirm that it is absolutely essential that we address the issue of carbon dioxide emissions from coal, in order to solve the greenhouse gas problems?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: The member is absolutely right. It is essential both internationally and for the long-term future of New Zealand. It is my opinion that New Zealand cannot be a leader in this technology. A number of other countries, including Australia, will have a leadership role in the development of the sequestration technology, and the hydrogen fuel cell technology, which will almost certainly also flow from the use of coal. We do not need to lead in that area, but we will be major beneficiaries.

9. Working for Families—Number of Families Benefitting

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

9. RUSSELL FAIRBROTHER (Labour) to the Minister for Social Development and Employment: How many New Zealand families are benefiting from Working for Families?

Hon RUTH DYSON (Minister for Social Development and Employment) : In total 370,000 families received the Working for Families tax credit in the last tax year—that is three in four New Zealand families with dependent children—and by the end of this tax year we expect the number to be even higher. Alongside other Labour-led Government initiatives, such as paid parental leave, 20 free hours of early childhood education for 3 and 4-year-olds, and reduced doctors’ fees and prescription charges, Working for Families is enabling New Zealanders to make a choice about work and caring that best meets their family needs.

Russell Fairbrother: What reports has the Minister seen regarding support for the Working for Families package?

Hon RUTH DYSON: I have seen some reports that appear to show confusion in the National Party about whether it has a policy on Working for Families. Firstly, in May 2005 the leader of the National Party said: “The next National Government will redesign this complex, bureaucratic and costly welfare monster,” And again, last year, he said National will “take higher income families out of the Working for Families loop.” But then last week his revenue spokesperson admitted that National has so far failed to develop any policy at all on the Working for Families package. It is clear that the National Party has been struggling to develop policy in this area. It is less clear whether this is because its members cannot agree, they do not understand, or they do not want to tell New Zealanders what their real intentions are.

10. Police Response—Graeme Burton

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

10. SIMON POWER (National—Rangitikei) to the Minister of Police: Is she satisfied with the response of police to the threat posed by Graeme Burton before 6 January 2007; if not, why not?

Hon PHIL GOFF (Minister of Corrections) on behalf of the Minister of Police: As determined by the Independent Police Conduct Authority report, there was fault with police handling of aspects of the Burton case during November and December 2006. I am sure everyone concerned would wish to express their deep regrets for any shortcomings in the response on this occasion. I again express my condolences to Karl Kuchenbecker’s family. The police have responded positively to the findings of the report and they are working on putting the recommendations of that report in place.

Simon Power: Has anybody from the police directly acknowledged the “failings in the system” that the Independent Police Conduct Authority identified in its report, when police could have provided information to the probation service in November 2006 that would have led to the recall of Burton?

Hon PHIL GOFF: Yes. The Minister of Police, to begin with, has made the comment that it is absolutely vital that the agencies learn what they need to do to try to prevent such a tragedy happening again. The Wellington superintendent has also expressed recognition that the criticisms were valid. Of course, as the member knows well from former answers to questions in the House last year, actions have been put in place, including an amendment to the Parole Act, to make sure that any systemic weakness in the system is addressed, and the police have indicated that in accepting that criticism they need to do better in terms of following up warrants for arrest.

Jill Pettis: What did the authority report on the actions of the police officers in arresting Graeme Burton?

Hon PHIL GOFF: Although the Independent Police Conduct Authority had some criticisms of police actions, Justice Goddard had no criticisms at all about the behaviour of the officers concerned. Indeed, she said that they put public safety ahead of their own safety. She found that in shooting Burton the officer was using reasonable force to defend himself and others and that there was no other option available to the police. I think in that respect of the police response we can all be proud of the way those two officers reflected the responsibilities and the normal conduct of police officers in these circumstances.

Simon Power: Will the police take full responsibility for the handling of Burton, when the Independent Police Conduct Authority’s report appears to confirm the statement of Department of Corrections chief executive Barry Matthews’ back in 2007: “We got two warrants, gave them to the police, and nothing happened. And we are actually getting blamed for the fact that for some reason the warrants were not executed by the police.”?

Hon PHIL GOFF: There were two warrants issued and, notwithstanding the fact that this was over the Christmas period, given the seriousness of the allegations made about Burton it was unconscionable that those warrants were not acted upon earlier by the police. I think they accept that.

Simon Power: Has the Minister followed the example of the former Minister of Corrections, who personally apologised to the Kuchenbecker family for the failings of his department in this tragedy; if not, why not?

Hon PHIL GOFF: The member would have noted that in my answer to his primary question I repeated that sense of deep regret about how that came to pass. We give our condolences to that family. I do not want to draw the family into this situation; they have suffered an incredible tragedy. I think everyone in this House would share those regrets that the system did not work as well as it should have and would want to join in an apology to them for the failure of the system.

11. Teachers—Training

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

11. DAIL JONES (NZ First) to the Minister of Education: What action, if any, is he taking to improve resources and on-the-job training for trainee teachers following the release of a Ministry of Education review that found a “significant minority” of teachers gaining full registration fell short of the required standard?

Hon CHRIS CARTER (Minister of Education) : There is no Ministry of Education review that made that claim, but the Labour-led Government is always seeking ways to improve the quality of New Zealand teachers. In September 2007 the Government released a discussion document on initial teacher education entitled Becoming a Teacher in the 21st Century. One hundred and four submissions were received, and I am expecting advice soon from the Ministry of Education about those submissions. I need to remind the House that the vast majority of New Zealand teachers are among the best in the world—as demonstrated by the high achievement of New Zealand students in the recent international OECD rankings, where our students ranked highest in the English-speaking world in mathematics, science, and literacy.

Gordon Copeland: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. The Minister’s response puzzles me, somewhat. All of us know that we have to produce evidence to the Clerk’s Office for primary questions. The member’s primary question mentioned a review by the Ministry of Education, but the Minister said there was no such review. That seems to me to be out of order.

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: The member is required to produce authentication, which, undoubtedly, the member did, and that authentication would have been a front-page story in the New Zealand Herald. But that story is incorrect, as the Minister pointed out. It is not actually a review, in the same way that when that paper described, I think it was, 42.9 percent of Māori voters as wanting to go with the National Party, it was describing four people out of seven in its poll.

Madam SPEAKER: I think that addresses the question.

Dail Jones: Is the Minister concerned that the report Becoming a Teacher in the 21st Century—which was presented by the previous Minister of Education, Steve Maharey, and presumably is a report from the previous Minister—is considerably alarming, and that as many as several thousand graduate teachers have entered the teaching workforce since 2000 after receiving this Government’s “variable quality” teacher education; and would he agree that if a “significant minority” of those new teachers have competency issues, then parents should rightly have concerns about the quality of the education their children are receiving?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: We have received 104 submissions on the report that the member quoted from. We are assessing those submissions at the moment. The New Zealand Herald seemed to cut and paste from the submissions, which were on the website of the Ministry of Education, and then purported that to be an exclusive, which is rather an astonishing story.

Hon Marian Hobbs: What steps has the Labour-led Government taken to improve the quality of beginning teachers?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: It has taken a number of very important initiatives. In addition to reviewing the initial teacher education, our Government has been very active in supporting beginning teachers. The steps that we have taken include a beginning teacher time allowance to release new teachers for professional development; the introduction of the specialist classroom teacher position responsible for the induction of new teachers; and the establishment of the New Zealand Teachers Council, with a wide mandate to improve teacher standards. Just recently, for example, the council issued new graduating teacher standards for trainee teachers, which are designed to lift professional standards. We have increased the allowances paid to tutor teachers, which encourages people to become mentors for beginning teachers.

Te Ururoa Flavell: Tēnā koe, Madam Speaker. Kia ora tātou. What action will the Minister be taking towards the recommendation from the Education and Science Committee that “Teachers should be awarded full registration after two years’ employment only if they have demonstrated that they are able to raise consistently the achievement of their students.”?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: I am looking very carefully at the inquiry that the select committee has done into making the school system work for every child. I want to assure the member, though, that we have in place already very good criteria for teachers to have their professional competencies checked. Every teacher in New Zealand, every year, undergoes a competency test. There are three levels: beginning teachers, fully registered teachers, and experienced teachers of over 5 years’ service. So there are lots of checks and balances in place to make sure that we get the very best quality of teaching and learning in our schools. As I said in my primary answer, that is evidenced already by the very high scores that New Zealand students achieve in international comparisons.

Dail Jones: Would the Minister consider introducing an even better scheme—namely, a student loan abatement scheme—to encourage qualified New Zealand graduates to enter and remain in the teaching profession here in New Zealand and not go overseas, as a means of reducing these problems; if not, why not?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: That is a very interesting idea, and I myself was a graduate who was bonded under that type of system. We are looking at a variety of ways to encourage New Zealand graduates to stay in New Zealand. One very encouraging thing, of course, is that they do not pay interest on their student loans if they stay in New Zealand.

Te Ururoa Flavell: Is the Minister aware of the comments of Professor Mason Durie in describing the disparity between the achievement of Māori and non-Māori as a “long-term education debt”, and what investment will the Minister be making into teacher training in order to rectify that debt and prevent it from translating into the wasted resource of continued poor outcomes in Māori education?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: Considerable investment has already taken place to try to lift the achievement of all New Zealand students—not least of all the extra $4 billion that the Government has invested in education in the 8 years that Labour has been in Government; and not least of all the 5,000 extra teachers we have put into New Zealand schools, the 55,000 new classrooms, the 36 new schools; and so it goes on. There has been a lift in the achievement of Māori and Pasifika students, but the member is quite right: there is still a way to go to get all of our students, particularly those from the Māori and Pacific communities, to achieve their full potential. Schools Plus aims to do that.

12. Social Development, Ministry—Contracts

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

12. JUDITH COLLINS (National—Clevedon) to the Minister for Social Development and Employment: Is she satisfied with the Ministry of Social Development’s system for awarding contracts?

Hon RUTH DYSON (Minister for Social Development and Employment) : Yes, I am satisfied that the Ministry of Social Development has a system in place that is consistent with the Government’s best-practice guidelines. The document Guidelines for Social Services Contracting sets out the standards and procedural requirements for the full contracting cycle, including the selection process. I expect the Ministry of Social Development to follow these guidelines in all instances.

Judith Collins: Would she expect Work and Income staff to check bankruptcy notices before they award wage or training subsidies to employers; if so, can she explain why, in 2002-03, Work and Income Porirua awarded a contract to Graham Carden to train 12 beneficiaries in karaoke over the Christmas holiday period, even though he was an undischarged bankrupt at that time?

Hon RUTH DYSON: No, I cannot, and I would expect that if the member had wanted such detail of an operational nature, she may well have wanted to raise those issues in the primary question; but as she hasraised them, I will be happy to provide that information for her, when I have it available to me.

Sue Moroney: What are the principles for contracting social services set out in the Guidelines for Social Services Contracting?

Hon RUTH DYSON: Guiding principles for all Ministry of Social Development social services contracts are that these contracts will contribute to the achievement of Government outcomes and objectives; meet Government and public expectations of accountability, transparency, and value for money; be responsive to the needs of clients, the labour market, and the community; strive for quality outcomes for clients, families, and the broader community; and minimise risks associated with the services.

Judith Collins: Can the Minister explain why the Ministry of Social Development’s chief executive now says that all 12 signed agreement forms between individual beneficiaries, Work and Income, and Graham Carden’s company have now disappeared, even though the Department of Internal Affairs began investigating Mr Carden in 2005, and he was jailed in 2007 for fraud relating to false grant applications—how is it that every single client application form and record has disappeared?

Hon RUTH DYSON: I refer the member to my answer to her previous supplementary question.

Judith Collins: Why would Work and Income pay Graham Carden $50,000 in wage and training subsidies when he was an undischarged bankrupt and had already pleaded guilty to two other charges of trading while insolvent; and what assurances can the Minister provide that the scheme, which has paid out over $300 million since 1999, is properly monitored when contracts are awarded to undischarged bankrupts and when client records in relation to those contracts just seem to be disappearing?

Hon RUTH DYSON: I refer the member to my answer to her previous supplementary question.

Judith Collins: I seek leave to table a bankruptcy notice for Graham Carden.

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

Judith Collins: I seek leave to table a newspaper report, headlined “Former league boss traded while insolvent”.

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

Judith Collins: I seek leave of the House to table the reply under the Official Information Act that that Minister’s chief executive gave to our office regarding this very case.

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

ENDS


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