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Questions And Answers – Thursday, 6 March 2008


Questions And Answers – Thursday, 6 March 2008

1. Crown Financial Statements—Main Features

1. CHARLES CHAUVEL (Labour) to the Minister of Finance: What are the main features of the Crown Financial Statements to the end of January 2008 released today?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Finance) : Today’s Crown accounts for the first 7 months of the financial year show the operating balance in deficit by $394 million, which is some $4.2 billion below forecast. This primarily reflects the lowering of forecast returns for the Crown financial institutions, as a result of the equities market disturbances in January, and a substantial revaluation of the Accident Compensation Corporation’s claims liability, a largely technical adjustment.

Charles Chauvel: What will be the impact of the headline operating deficit on the Government’s ability to meet its obligations to New Zealanders?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Because the Government has resisted calls as recently as yesterday to squander the so-called surplus, we will be able to meet our obligations to New Zealanders. When times are hard, we will not have to cut superannuation as Bill English did on 1 April 1999. Every day in Government is about making choices, and we have made choices for the future and kept our eye on the long term.

Hon Bill English: What is the Minister’s response to the statement in the Monetary Policy Statement from the Reserve Bank that any tax cuts over and above the $1.5 billion he mentioned just a couple of months ago would have an inflationary effect; and does he intend to back down on his promise made just a couple of months ago that there would be tax cuts in excess of $1.5 billion?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I will be considering carefully what the Reserve Bank says, and will continue to take into account its views. Of course, it is making certain assumptions about a certain date and a specific fiscal year. But I do note, of course, that $11.5 billion in tax cuts was promised as recently as 16 months ago by Mr Key. But perhaps clarification will be issued, and an apology for the APN chief executive.

Hon Peter Dunne: Does the Minister’s answer to the previous question, and his comments about Governments meeting their ongoing obligations, mean that the tax cut programme that he foreshadowed as being announced in this year’s Budget will continue?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Yes, there will be a programme. The exact nature of the works to be performed and the length of the programme are yet to be decided.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: If the Minister still believes, then, that tax cuts are affordable, despite the provision made for them being less than the deficit we have just heard of, will he be funding them by borrowing, by cutting services or, instead, by taxing pollution and waste as the Greens advocate?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: It is important to note that although the operating surplus is actually in deficit for the first time for 15 years, the operating balance exclusive of gains and losses is still in very substantial surplus. As I have explained for some years, it is those measures that are more important. Operating surpluses reflect the movement in revaluations and the movement in gains and losses on Crown financial institutions. As the superannuation fund becomes larger, the volatility of the operating surplus will grow, as those unrealised gains and losses tend to become larger because of market fluctuations.

Charles Chauvel: Has the Minister received any reports on the link between the operating surplus and tax cuts?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I have received many. When the operating balance hit $11.5 billion just 16 months ago, Mr Key told New Zealanders that they were being overtaxed by $2,875 per year, and that all of the operating surplus could be delivered back to them in tax cuts without cutting Government spending. I am awaiting Mr Key’s press statement announcing that the National Party policy is now tax increases. Given the events of this week, that is quite possible.

2. District Health Boards—Tendering Process

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

2. Hon TONY RYALL (National—Bay of Plenty) to the Minister of Health: Would it be appropriate for a district health board chief executive to send a copy of draft tender documents to one potential bidder for comment and amendment without treating other potential bidders in the same way; if not, why not?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE (Minister of Health) : That would depend entirely upon the circumstances and the nature of the documents under discussion.

Hon Tony Ryall: Is the Minister aware that as a result of winning the community services contract in Hawke’s Bay by breaching Audit Office guidelines, Mr Hausmann and district health board chief executive Mr Clarke began negotiating a junket around the world together called a study tour; and is that OK by this Minister?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: I have no knowledge of the facts to which the member refers, and I would be happy to reflect upon them.

Lesley Soper: Would it be appropriate for a Crown entity to consult with private parties at an early stage of development of a potential public-private partnership concept?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: In theory, quite possibly yes. That would depend upon the probity and governance processes in place around any such consultation. It is frequently the case that in the early stages of designing projects, consultation is carried out with different parties to ensure the feasibility and quality of any future tender process.

Barbara Stewart: Did the Minister authorise the release of confidential emails, one of which was tabled yesterday; if so, why have they not been made available to all parties?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: No. The emails were not mine to authorise, nor was I aware of their source or, in fact, of whether they had been obtained in breach of any confidentiality obligations or non-disclosure agreements. But if the member does find out how Mr Ryall obtained supposedly secret emails, perhaps she could let Dr Brash know.

Lesley Soper: What was the actual situation in relation to early contact between Mr Atkinson and Mr Hausmann?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: We simply do not know the answer to that, and we await the findings of the independent—[Interruption] But wait, there is more. There is a lot more; there is a lot, lot more—patience, patience.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. Not only can we not hear what is going on, at this end of the House, but behind me, on my right, it looks like a Hitler youth meeting, with people waving their hands as though in salute to some former leader. Frankly, that behaviour ill-behoves parliamentarians, and I would ask you to make them stop it.

Madam SPEAKER: I agree with the member. If that behaviour starts again, with the loud barracking that is going on, members will be asked to leave the Chamber.

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: It may, for example, ultimately prove to be the case that Mr Atkinson was himself involved in the request for proposal process with Mr Hausmann at a very early stage. I repeat to the House that I have not seen any drafts of this report, nor have I been briefed on its contents, but any speculation by members opposite in advance of the release of the report in my view would be uninformed, unwise, and unfair.

Hon Rick Barker: Has the Minister seen or heard of any reports from the Hawke’s Bay District Health Board that the Opposition MPs are claiming that Deborah Houston was dismissed for being a whistleblower?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: Yes. I have seen a copy of the settlement document negotiated between the chief executive and Ms Houston, which says, inter alia: “The Hawke’s Bay District Health Board confirms, and Ms Houston accepts, that the restructuring that led to Ms Houston’s position being disestablished was genuine and was unrelated to the protected disclosure.”

Hon Tony Ryall: Does the Minister regard it as ethical that the chief executive was negotiating a contract that included the benefit of a trip around the world for himself?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: I cannot form a view on the ethics of a particular matter when the contents of such are not in my possession.

Hon Tony Ryall: Is the Minister aware that the chief executive officers of at least two other district health boards were intended to go on the same junket, and will he investigate what offers were made?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: It is my proposed course of action in the first instance to receive the director-general’s independent governance review report. If there are matters that either I or the Auditor-General need to follow up pursuant to that, I shall be happy to do so.

Hon Tony Ryall: Is the Minister aware that this information came to light only because of the whistleblower, who lost her job because of her integrity?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: As I am advised, some 50 jobs were lost in the restructuring at the Hawke’s Bay District Health Board, and, as Ms Houston has herself signed this settlement document, which states that she was not restructured because of the protected disclosure, it would appear that the member opposite is calling into question Ms Houston’s integrity himself.

Heather Roy: How many times did the Minister go to Hawke’s Bay and meet with the board to see for himself how dire the situation was, or call the chair to Wellington for discussions; if the answer is none, is that because he is taking all his information from his cronies and it is much easier to persecute the sacked board from afar, rather than to go to Hawke’s Bay, look the board members in the eye, and hear the truth?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: In the first instance, I took careful advice as to how I should properly handle a conflict situation in a district health board, and I followed that advice. In the second place, if the member wishes to discuss cronyism, then she may wish to raise it with Mr Tremain and Mr Foss, who met regularly with Mr Atkinson.

Heather Roy: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I ask for your advice. I fail to see how the Minister addressed in any shape or form my question about how many times he met with the board or called the chair to Wellington over this situation.

Madam SPEAKER: I thought that he did actually address the question.

Hon Tony Ryall: Will the Minister inquire as to when the study tour was first discussed; was it before or after tender documents were offered to Annette King’s appointee, Mr Hausmann?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: My answer to the member’s previous question stands.

Madam SPEAKER: No, would the Minister please clarify his answer.

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: That answer was that I shall await the report of the director-general’s independent governance review panel, and both I and the Auditor-General will then consider what further action is appropriate.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Is the Minister aware that Ms Houston’s settlement could be set aside if she was improperly coerced into signing it, and has she brought such an action; if not, what does he make of her failure to do that, in the light of the claims made by Mr Ryall?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: I thank the member for his question. I am aware of no attempt by Ms Houston to seek any form of redress in respect of that settlement, and I can only conclude that Mr Ryall is either misrepresenting or calling into question the integrity of Ms Houston.

3. Overseas Investment—New Zealand Dairies Ltd

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

3. R DOUG WOOLERTON (NZ First) to the Minister of Finance: Is the Government considering an application by Nutritek Overseas PTE Ltd for consent to acquire shares and the effective ownership and control of New Zealand Dairies Ltd?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Finance) : Yes.

R Doug Woolerton: Has the Minister approved the application by Nutritek Overseas PTE Ltd to acquire shares and the effective majority ownership and control of New Zealand Dairies Ltd?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Two Ministers make that decision: me and Mr Parker. I am not aware yet whether Mr Parker has cons idered the papers.

R Doug Woolerton: Why is the Government favourably considering an application that gives a grouping of Russian businessmen, who are probably ex-KGB operatives, a share of New Zealand’s critical dairy industry?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: New Zealand Dairies is a relatively small player. It is also one that has been in significant financial trouble in recent times, and the consideration of the approval will be given, in part, against that kind of background.

R Doug Woolerton: Does the Government favour Russian businessmen over our hard-working farmers, who are having this asset virtually stripped from them?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: From the farmers’ perspective—although I know there are concerns from farmers—the key issue is what price they get for the milk. There is a very real possibility that they will get a higher price for the milk, in terms of a change in ownership, than they would otherwise get.

4. Electoral Finance Act—Election Advertising

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

4. Hon BILL ENGLISH (Deputy Leader—National) to the Minister of Justice: Is it Government policy that the electoral law should allow public money from Vote Parliamentary Service to be used to produce and publish election advertisements; if so, why?

Hon ANNETTE KING (Minister of Justice) : The expenditure of public money from Vote Parliamentary Service is the responsibility of the Minister in charge of that vote. The Electoral Finance Act sets out the rules relating to election advertising.

Hon Bill English: Has the Minister seen a widely distributed email from the general manager of the Parliamentary Service, which says that under the Electoral Finance Act passed by the Government parties can legitimately use money from Vote Parliamentary Service to pay for election advertisements in an election year; and why did Labor change the law to allow this to happen?

Hon ANNETTE KING: I have seen the email from Geoff Thorn, and I have also spoken to him about his email. It is a very sensible email to all members giving advice of the overlap between publicity and election advertising. He informs me he has no examples to give me of how this would work, but he is trying to warn people to be very careful when they are using parliamentary funding to make sure that they do not run up against the Electoral Finance Act. He goes on to tell members where they can get advice from.

Hon Bill English: Was the intention of changing the law so that Labour could put out a publication like this glossy booklet in my hand—fully paid for by the taxpayer, with the parliamentary crest on it—which is undoubtedly an election advertisement because under section 5 of the Electoral Finance Act it can reasonably be regarded as encouraging or persuading voters to vote for Labour, and which is paid for by Parliamentary Service?

Hon ANNETTE KING: I suggest to the member that the Electoral Commission will make that decision. But I can also say to the member that this booklet was put out in 2007 before the Electoral Finance Act was passed, just as this pamphlet in my hand from Nick Smith, which could be said to be electioneering, was put out before the Electoral Finance Act was passed. I suggest to the National Party and the Labour Party that they get advice from the Electoral Commission.

Hon Bill English: Can the Minister confirm that this booklet actually—[Interruption]

Madam SPEAKER: Order!

Hon Bill English: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I am sure that the odd interjection during a question is acceptable to the House, but continuous barracking does make it difficult to be heard.

Madam SPEAKER: Thank you. I had already dealt with it, Mr English, but it was not continuous barracking. It was a sole intervention and it will not be heard again while you are asking your question.

Hon Bill English: During the previous question there were half a dozen interventions.

Madam SPEAKER: If, in fact, members want no interventions during questions or answers, I would be delighted. Otherwise, I will manage that process.

Hon Bill English: Can the Minister confirm that this booklet, distributed this year even if it was produced last year and therefore is covered by the law, is just like Labour’s pledge card that was put out before the 2005 election—it is an election advertisement produced during an election period and paid for out of taxpayer funding—and the only difference is that this is now legal because Labour passed the Electoral Finance Act?

Hon ANNETTE KING: This booklet put out by Labour was distributed last year. It was approved in October last year, paid for in November last year, and distributed last year, just as this pamphlet by Nick Smith was put out last year and has a date of 1 December last year on it. I say to the member that both distributors of these booklets should perhaps get advice as to whether this year they would contravene the Electoral Finance Act, and that is in the hands of the Electoral Commissioner.

Hon Bill English: Can the Minister confirm that because this booklet was distributed this year and is probably an election advertisement, it therefore requires the authorisation of Mike Smith, the general secretary of, and financial agent for, the Labour Party; and will she ensure that her own party follows the authorisation rules the way it expects everyone else in the country to?

Hon ANNETTE KING: I assure the member that I expect the Labour Party, the National Party, and any other party to follow the law of this country. This would also have to have an authorisation on it if it was to follow the law. What we get from National Party members are double standards. They bring one booklet into the House that was released last year and raise it; they do not bring in another booklet that was released last year and highlight that. My advice is that they go to the Electoral Commission to get advice on whether those publications are counted, because everyone ought to be very, very careful.

Hon Bill English: Given the Minister’s enthusiasm that everyone should keep the law, can she explain why, under the Electoral Finance Act, the financial agent of a candidate or a party must include his or her full home address on any authorisation, and does she agree with Labour Party president Mike Williams, who said a few weeks ago that people expressing concerns about this provision of the law were “a bit paranoid”?

Hon ANNETTE KING: I think the issue of putting proper addresses on authorisation came out of the Exclusive Brethren pamphlets, where addresses at which no one lived were put on. Fake addresses were put on, and the National Party supported that. The Exclusive Brethren were the National Party’s mates, it was their money supporting the National Party, and the National Party thinks there is something wrong with being upfront and honest about saying who a person is and where he or she lives.

Hon Bill English: Can we take it that the Minister has confirmed that the law passed by her requires that any authorisation must include the residential address of the financial agent; and has she seen this CD of Labour’s campaign song, distributed last night and authorised by Mike Smith, general secretary of the Labour party, which does not state his home address but the Labour Party headquarter’s address?

Hon Member: Is that where he lives?

Hon Bill English: Is that where he lives, and why should that party not comply with the Draconian law it expects everyone else to comply with?

Hon ANNETTE KING: No, I have not seen that. I ask the member whether the DVD that John Key put out, which is still in circulation, has a name on it? Does it have an address on it? It could certainly count against the Electoral Finance Act. I want to know what is written on it. I ask the member to produce one in this House so we can see it.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Seeing as the Minister is clearly dealing with historic costs, could she tell us, in respect of the foreshore and seabed issue, who paid for the numerous hoardings outlining that it would be “Kiwi not Iwi”—but apparently in 2008 it is anybody, anywhere, any time—and could she also confirm that the National Party’s recent update of their current song is an old replay of Dean Martin’s “Born to Lose”? Who is paying for that?

Madam SPEAKER: The Minister must answer the question where ministerial responsibility lies.

Hon ANNETTE KING: I am searching for that. I have to say it was an excellent question and we all know that the Parliamentary Service paid for those billboards. National Party members used taxpayers’ money, then, as we know, mounted a campaign against other parties last year and the year before, trying to pretend that their hands were clean. They never were.

Hon Bill English: When will the Labour Party start taking responsibility for its own compliance with its own law and take this document, which was distributed last week at the Waikato University open day and is almost certainly an election advertisement, and also this CD, which clearly does not comply with the law that the Government passed; when will Labour take responsibility, recall these materials, and get a legal opinion on whether it can keep distributing them?

Hon ANNETTE KING: I have no doubt that the Labour Party will be taking its responsibilities very seriously. But what we have not heard—[Interruption]

Madam SPEAKER: David Bennett will leave the Chamber, as will Chris Auchinvole. I am tired of the constant barracking. I saw and heard you two at this time. Members simply must keep it down.

 David Bennett withdrew from the Chamber.

 Chris Auchinvole withdrew from the Chamber.

Hon ANNETTE KING: I am sure the Labour Party will take its responsibilities very seriously. But I have to question whether the person asking the question today also takes the National Party’s responsibilities seriously. If he does he will send this booklet to the Electoral Commission and get a ruling on it. The member said it was distributed last year, but it is still available today. I want to know whether the National Party will also send the DVD from John Key to the Electoral Commission. It came out last year, some people still have it, and it can still be played this year. It was given out—and listen to this—in central Auckland in January. Will the National Party send that DVD to the Electoral Commission? Then maybe we will take these questions a bit more seriously.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. When you said that I could ask my question, Mr English interjected four more times, with no regard for anybody else. He has not been here very long and has not performed in the time he has been here, but I think he should actually have some respect for other political parties and give them the right to ask questions in the same way as he was demanding that right just a few minutes ago.

Madam SPEAKER: Yes, I agree. All members, including those on the front bench, should please get themselves under control and give respect to others so they can be heard.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. The Minister of Justice has three times accused me of breaking the law. I give this House an absolute assurance that the entire distribution of that newsletter, as I have done every year I have been a member of Parliament, was to every household in Nelson last November, and not one has been distributed elsewhere.

Madam SPEAKER: I thank the member, but that is not a point of order.

Hon ANNETTE KING: Speaking to the point of order—

Madam SPEAKER: No, it is not a point of order.

Hon ANNETTE KING: I said that I did not accuse—

Madam SPEAKER: Please be seated, or the Minister will be leaving this Chamber.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Could the Minister advise the House as to whether she has received any reports on the requirement for a street address for those people who are authorising advertisements, and how it will affect, for example, the Exclusive Brethren Church, which takes its directions directly from the United States and does not have a domicile in New Zealand, which I understand would comply with the law?

Hon ANNETTE KING: No, I have not received any advice on that, but it is a very interesting idea, and, obviously, I think the Exclusive Brethren—

Gerry Brownlee: Just make the Labour Party comply; that would be a good effort and good leadership from the Minister.

Hon ANNETTE KING: Well done, I say to Gerry. That is the best speech he has made all week, and he did not even have to leave the safety of his seat to do it. In response to the question, I say that no, I have not received any advice on that, but I would say to the Exclusive Brethren that if they are planning the sort of campaign they had last year, they too ought to get advice from the Electoral Commission.

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: Can the Minister assure the House that it will not be considered an election advertisement for a newspaper to carry a story that purports to be a clarification that was not given with the consent or, indeed, I believe, the knowledge of the journalist who ran the original story, the editor at the time, or the local management of that newspaper, but was at the behest of the chief executive of the organisation, on demand for the National Party; and can she further clarify that the organisation that owned the newspaper, APN, will not be required to register as a third party?

Madam SPEAKER: It is hard to see where the ministerial responsibility lies for that. [Interruption] No, I am sorry. Can we move on now—

Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I am reluctant to argue with you, but this is a very important point. The Minister has been repeatedly asked for her interpretation of the Act by the National Party. You have allowed all of those questions. Dr Cullen has again asked for her interpretation of the Act as to whether something is in or out. He has asked for an assurance in that area, and it is my view that that question is within the rules, just as all the others that you have allowed have been.

Gerry Brownlee: I think you have ruled appropriately because, quite obviously, Dr Cullen and others would know that the Minister’s answer is simply to go and ask the Electoral Commission or go to the courts, because she has given the House absolutely no elucidation as to her own views on these matters at all.

Hon ANNETTE KING: I would be grateful for your ruling in this respect, because in these questions when I am asked for my personal opinion, it does not count when it comes to election advertising, it is the Electoral Commissioners’ view that counts, so I suggest that maybe you might like to rule out all questions asking for my opinion about what is in and what is out.

Madam SPEAKER: I understand. [Interruption] No, this is a good point of order and it does raise the issue of when opinions are sought that, in effect, are asking for a legal interpretation. Now, all members know that is not permitted under our Standing Orders. I give notice, therefore, that I suggest you think carefully about the way in which questions are phrased, because the matter has been raised. If legal opinions are called for, they will not be permitted.

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. If you are going to say that members cannot ask questions that may require a legal opinion, how do we then question the intention of a Minister who brings a bill to the House that subsequently seems to be quite troublesome, when we are told frequently by the Clerk’s Office that the commentary of bills is the place where courts may go to find out the very intention of Parliament? Surely the intention and understanding of the Minister would be also of relevance to the courts in interpreting this stuff. Are you saying that rather than saying we want the Minister to interpret, we should simply ask what the intention was? It seems to us that it was pretty clear that the intention was, in the case Mr English raised, for someone to put a residential address on a piece of election collateral and that the Labour Party has now said that person does not have to, effectively—and we can only assume that this is what the Minister meant when she said that common sense would prevail throughout this.

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: The Standing Orders are actually quite clear. Standing Order 371(2) states: “Questions must not seek a legal opinion.” That does not mean to say that people cannot ask Ministers what the intent of legislation was. But actually to ask, as I indeed asked Mr English on a number of occasions, is a particular thing and illegal. That, of course, is improper and you quite rightly ruled out my question, but I am still grateful to get it in.

Madam SPEAKER: I thought you might be. It is not the point, however, and members ask out-of-order questions on all sides of the House slightly too often. May I refer members, for those who are interested, to Standing Order 371(2), which makes it quite clear. As I also made clear in my ruling, it may not be beyond the wit of some of you to be able to frame your questions and give your answers in terms of the Standing Orders. It is not for the Speaker to advise you on how to do either, however much she would like to on occasions.

Hon Bill English: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. There is just one other matter we should clarify. You said in your original statement that asking an opinion of the Electoral Commission may affect your ruling. I think it is important for the whole House to understand that the Electoral Commission can only give an opinion; it cannot give a ruling, and, in fact, if the law says people have to have a residential address, even if the Electoral Commission says that is not right, the courts are the final arbiter of this law and no one is protected by an Electoral Commission opinion, any more than he or she is protected by the Minister’s opinion.

Hon Trevor Mallard: It might be helpful in this particular area to let the House know that I have been advised that section 4(1)(b) of the Act indicates that a body corporate address can be appropriate.

Madam SPEAKER: That was not exactly relevant to the point of order, but I thank the member for his information. Certainly it is legal opinions that, the Standing Orders say, cannot, in fact, be given by members. What the law may well say and who should interpret it is a matter for the law, and, as has been pointed out by Mr Brownlee, I presume reference to the commentary is what, in fact, could be given in those instances. But it is not, according to our Standing Orders, for people to give legal opinions in this House. That is a role for the courts.

5. Youth—Reoffending

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

5. MOANA MACKEY (Labour) to the Minister for Social Development and Employment: What action, if any, is the Government taking to reduce reoffending of young people dealt with by the Youth Court?

Hon RUTH DYSON (Minister for Social Development and Employment) : This week I introduced the Children, Young Persons, and Their Families Amendment Bill (No 6). The improvements in this bill will ensure that we have the most up-to-date and effective legal framework for responding to offending by children and young people. This includes introducing two new longer sentence options for the Youth Court, which will ensure that young people can get enough support and treatment to make long-term change.

Moana Mackey: What reports has she seen regarding support for the Children, Young Persons, and Their Families Amendment Bill (No 6)?

Hon RUTH DYSON: In January I heard John Key announce with great fanfare that he was committed to these changes. He called the bill “long-overdue legislation”. He said that National considered it “a matter of priority to pass it”. I think the New Zealand public would be very surprised to hear about what has been subsequently described as a “freakish about-face” by Mr Key. When the bill was before Parliament yesterday, what did he and National do? They voted against the legislation. It is yet another case of the leader of the National Party telling the public what he thinks they want to hear, and doing exactly the opposite when he thinks no one is paying attention.

Hon Tariana Turia: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I understand that the Standing Orders state that Ministers’ replies are meant to be concise and to the point. We have been subjected to a number of speeches this afternoon.

Madam SPEAKER: I thank the member. I ask members to take note of that very legitimate intervention. Has the Minister finished her answer?

Hon RUTH DYSON: Yes.

Simon Power: How does the Minister reconcile Labour’s 2002 pledge card promise to provide “More support for proven programmes to cut youth offending.” with the fact that of the 1,550 health and education assessments funded for first-time youth offenders in the year 2006-07, only 41 percent were actually completed?

Hon RUTH DYSON: I absolutely agree with the member that that needs to continue to be a priority, and I expect him within his own caucus to promote support for alternatives that improve our youth justice sentencing. I am sorry that he got rolled on this issue.

Ron Mark: What is the Minister’s solution to the case of the 15-year-old who in November 2006 kicked and stomped a man almost to the point of death, who the judge could have referred to the District Court for sentencing, but did not, because it, in his words, had been the offender’s 15th birthday on the day he had carried out this vicious assault, and who consequently received from that Youth Court judge a sentence of only 6 months supervision? Does she not accept that one of the reasons that young people who are dealt with by the Youth Court are reoffending is the Youth Court’s continued failure to send serious, repeat young offenders to the District Court, where they can be more appropriately dealt with?

Hon RUTH DYSON: The age at which a person should be referred to the adult justice system is an area of disagreement between the member who has asked the question and myself. I look forward to his continued principled contribution through the select committee process.

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: Did the chief executive of Hawke’s Bay District Health Board comply with both the district health board’s procurement policies and public sector good practice when he awarded a $1.1 million contract to a subsidiary of Peter Hausmann’s Healthcare New Zealand without an open tender; if not, does he agree with Audit New Zealand’s conclusions about this arrangement?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE (Minister of Health) : I am advised that the Wellcare contract in question was a joint contract between the Ministry of Social Development, Hawke’s Bay District Health Board, and Wellcare, and that no district health board employee was known to be involved in the selection of Wellcare as the service provider. However, I have no reason to doubt the Auditor-General’s conclusion that procurement policies at the Hawke’s Bay District Health Board did not comply with good public sector practice. I also note that the Auditor-General will consider the results of the director-general’s review, and any further work being carried out on the Auditor-General’s behalf, before deciding whether further inquiry is warranted—an approach I commend to Mr Ryall.

Hon Tony Ryall: Can the Minister confirm that Audit New Zealand’s opinion is highly critical of the way that the chief executive handled this latest contract with Annette King’s appointee, Mr Hausmann, and that there was no evidence of formal conflict of interest procedures having been undertaken, the district health board’s procurement policies were not followed, and there was no documented explanation of why there was no open tendering process?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: I can confirm that the Auditor-General’s report is highly critical of a wide range of governance processes around the Hawke’s Bay District Health Board, a matter which, in the end, the Minister has to hold the board accountable for.

Russell Fairbrother: Has the Hawke’s Bay District Health Board prudently managed its resources, and is the district health board adequately funded?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: I am advised that the Hawke’s Bay District Health Board funding has increased by over 100 percent since this Government came into office, from $180 million to over $380 million. However, despite this increase the board was still unable to reach a break-even position, and its deficit has recently seriously deteriorated. In this regard, I note that the board was recently able to spend some $342,000 on legal expenses—a figure, I am assured, that would have bought for the people of Hawke’s Bay some 21 hip replacements or 45 angioplasties.

Chris Tremain: Can the Minister explain why Minister King’s appointee, Mr Hausmann, told the Hawke’s Bay District Health Board in April 2006 that this $1.1 million contract had been implemented through a tender process that had been notified in the local press, when this was clearly not the case?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: Without going back to the documents, I can no more explain that than I can explain why certain board members omitted to disclose on the board’s register of pecuniary interests why they had shares in Royston Hospital or its parent.

Craig Foss: Can the Minister explain why Mr Hausmann started communicating with Hawke’s Bay District Health Board staff on behalf of his company, Wellcare, in early August 2005, but only declared his interest in this company to the district health board in late February 2006—7 months after his first dealings with staff?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: I am not prepared to look through the director general’s governance review process. I imagine that that, along with a wide range of other evidence, is the subject of that review.

Craig Foss: Is it acceptable for a district health board’s chief executive officer to approve a $1.1 million contract with a board member’s company without an open process, and without reference to his board, as reported by Audit New Zealand and the Auditor-General; and is the Minister confident that this is not another case of something rotten with Labour?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: In the first place, it has nothing to do with Labour, and, in the second place, it would appear to be no more serious than the chairman of a district health board being involved in letting a contract to personal contacts and having that overruled by the Commerce Commission, or overwriting the minutes of an audit committee meeting after failing to tender a contract to Royston Hospital.

Craig Foss: I seek leave to table the district health board’s board minutes where the chief executive officer said that the Wellcare contract was put out to tender.

 Leave granted.

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: I seek leave to table a settlement document from Deborah Houston confirming that she was not disestablished for any reason around the—

 Leave granted.


7. Free-trade Agreement—New Zealand - China

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

7. KEITH LOCKE (Green) to the Minister of Trade: Will an outline of the proposed free-trade agreement between New Zealand and China be made public before the signing ceremony takes place in Beijing in early April; if so, when will that outline be made available?

Hon ANNETTE KING (Acting Minister of Trade) : Details of the agreement will be made publicly available at the time of signature. The text of the agreement and the accompanying national interest analysis will be tabled in the House following signature and will be available on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade website. It would not be appropriate to make any substantive detail of the free-trade agreement publicly available until the approval process in both countries is completed, and until then the agreement cannot be considered final.

Keith Locke: I wish the Minister would forget about the free-trade agreement altogether; however, is the Minister telling the House that the New Zealand public will have virtually no idea what is in this agreement until it is signed, even though we will be giving preferential treatment to a country that has a most oppressive Government, has virtually no labour law, and has a very low-wage economy?

Hon ANNETTE KING: First of all, the negotiations for this agreement have been taking place over 3 years. Stakeholders in terms of this agreement have had consultation all along the way. The public of New Zealand will see what is in this agreement, because it requires the approval of this Parliament before it becomes final. So the ability for the public to see what has been negotiated will be very obvious indeed.

Martin Gallagher: Would this be the normal process for such international treaties?

Hon ANNETTE KING: Yes. This is the normal process for treaties that this country signs. They come before this Parliament, for its final agreement on them.

Keith Locke: Does the Minister not admit that she is actually wrong, in that the House will not be approving this treaty, because treaties are approved by Governments according to our system, and in that although there will be some implementing legislation, we will see, as was the case with past free-trade agreements like the Thailand - New Zealand free-trade agreement, for example—where the legislation was minimal, and it just stated there would be a preferential tariff and the details would be worked out by Cabinet later—that any select committee involvement is purely advisory?

Hon ANNETTE KING: No, I do not agree with the member. This House will decide on whether there is a free-trade agreement with China at the end of the day. I believe that most members in this House will vote for it.

Peter Brown: Does the Minister regard China as a low-wage economy and as having major human rights problems?

Hon ANNETTE KING: China is a country that has one of the fastest-growing economies in the world. There have been huge increases in standards of living in that country over the years. It does have problems with human rights, but those are issues that we raise with the Chinese whether or not we have a free-trade agreement. This Government and the parties in this Government, over many years, have been free and frank about our views on human rights. That will not stop, whether or not we have a free-trade agreement.

Keith Locke: Following on from that, will there actually be any clauses on labour and environmental standards in China associated with the planned free-trade agreement, as there were in the Thai - New Zealand free-trade agreement—although China might not be as keen as Thailand was on that—if so, will there be any legislative implementation of those labour and environmental standards, because there was not in the Thai - New Zealand free-trade agreement?

Hon ANNETTE KING: As I said in an earlier answer, I will not go into details at this stage, because we are still negotiating with China. But let me assure the member that the New Zealand Government would not contemplate any agreement that would provide a threat to the wages and conditions of New Zealand workers. Our minimum labour health and safety laws are not for negotiation.

8. Hospitals—Confidence

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

8. Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN (National—Northcote) to the Minister of Health: Why would the public have any confidence that hospitals in the Auckland region will cope with demand for services this winter, considering they are currently running at capacity?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE (Minister of Health) : They can have confidence because capacity is increasing. This includes an additional 68 new beds opening between North Shore Hospital and Waitakere Hospital, and the Auckland District Health Board has also recently opened 69 new beds. In the last quarter, the three Auckland district health boards saw 100 percent of triage 1 patients—that is, the most serious cases—immediately.

Dr Jonathan Coleman: Why, then, would anyone believe that the situation in greater Auckland emergency departments will be anything other than a meltdown this winter, when we are not even out of summer and already, according to today’s New Zealand Herald, there are patients lying in the corridors of emergency departments across the city; and does the Minister realise that Waikato Hospital is now full to bursting, as well?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: The member, I recall, was a medical professional himself. He should not—

Hon Member: Not for long, really.

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: —not for long, really—run down the efforts of clinicians. I am advised that January and February were record attendance months for some years for the Auckland District Health Board, and that quite often there is variation in the inflows to such hospitals.

Darien Fenton: Has the Minister seen any plans that would send patients in their droves through the doors of emergency departments?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: Yes. I am aware that should the National Party ever become Government, it would allow general practitioner fees to skyrocket, thereby sending primary medical care out of the reach of many New Zealanders—

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. Much as most people would understand that in these straitened times that Labour Minister may wish he were in the National Party, Mr Cunliffe is not, and never likely to be. So for him to stand up and purport to be reading National Party policy, when in fact what he is reading is a gross misinterpretation of that policy, is plainly wrong and well outside the responsibilities he has as a Minister.

Madam SPEAKER: Would the Minister just confine his answer to his ministerial responsibility—or maybe he has finished his answer? Thank you.

Dr Jonathan Coleman: Does the Minister agree with Helen Clark’s quote from 1996 that “our hospitals must be ready to cope with the problems. It just isn’t good enough to have basic services break down …”; if so, rather than just patronise the House, can he explain why, after $5 billion of extra spending, we still have the same old issues of failing emergency departments, bed shortages, staff shortages, and compromised patient safety—is it not time he admitted that after 9 years of Labour, it has no hope of fixing this problem?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: I can confirm that the answer to the service delivery challenge is unlikely to be found in the following quote: “You are not subsidised to go to your accountant or your mechanic—

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

Madam SPEAKER: Please be seated. Members know that when another member rises on a point of order, they are seated.

Gerry Brownlee: You asked the Minister to constrain himself to the areas for which he is responsible. For him to stand up and start an answer by saying that “he considers”, and then start reading from a document that is a report of someone else’s policy, or is purported to be, is not within his responsibility.

Madam SPEAKER: I thank the member, but the Standing Orders require that Ministers respond to areas within their ministerial responsibilities. If the member has received reports that come within his or her ministerial responsibility, the Minister is entitled to comment. However, what Ministers are not responsible for, and are not permitted to comment on, is direct activities inside another political party.

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: It may be helpful if I rephrase. In addressing the member’s question, I say that I have seen a report as to the reasoning behind a likely further pressure on the influx of primary care patients to emergency departments. The report states: “You are not subsidised to go to your accountant or your mechanic.” That quote was from John Key, explaining why he wants to raise general practitioner fees.

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. The questions that have been posed to the Minister relate to serious overcrowding in at least three hospitals in the northern part of the country—very serious overcrowding. There are people in corridors, and even a report that they may have to start leaving people in ambulances for treatment because there are no hospital beds for them, and he wants to quote some little thing that has come out of the Labour research unit relating to general practitioners. Why cannot he answer the questions for the area he is responsible for?

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: The Minister was not quoting some little thing that came out of the Labour research unit; he was quoting a National Party policy release.

Madam SPEAKER: I listened carefully, and it certainly was within the context of the primary question relating to overcrowding and the circumstances that contribute to that.

Hon Tariana Turia: Tēnā koe, Madam Speaker. Tēnā tātou. What action will the Minister take with Auckland hospitals to address the suboptimum care, identified by Auckland Professor Peter Davis, to which Māori and Pasifika populations are being subjected?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: I can confirm to the member that Māori and Pasifika health care is a priority for this Government and that we are working very hard, through additional investment, to turn around the disparities that grew shockingly through the 1990s, that great progress has been made, and that there is more work to be done.

Dr Jonathan Coleman: Does the Minister realise that rather than constantly dodging direct questions and failing to give direct answers, he needs to focus on the fact that things have become so bad at North Shore Hospital’s emergency department that corridor spaces for trolleys—that is, corridor spaces—are now being numbered like in some sort of makeshift refugee camp—

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I listened to that question for some time, and nothing in it remotely resembles the proper way of asking a question in Parliament. The member should not be allowed to get away with it just because he is inexperienced and does not know what is going on around here.

Madam SPEAKER: The problem with a lot of the questions, particularly the supplementary questions, is that they are statements. I am afraid that that is a problem with all parties, not just one party in this House. Would the member please ask a succinct question that does relate to the primary question.

Dr Jonathan Coleman: Does the Minister realise that things have become so bad in the North Shore Hospital emergency department that corridor spaces for trolleys are now being numbered, like in some sort of makeshift refugee camp; and is this the first-class health system that Helen Clark promised New Zealand?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: What I can confirm to the member is that the request for additional beds in the Waitemata District Health Board area that was put forward by a number of doctors last week has already been more than exceeded. They asked for 62, and they are already getting an additional 68 beds this year. I say to Dr Coleman that I know that is right.

Dr Wayne Mapp: What would the Minister say to Carol Wilson, the manager of the North Shore Hospital emergency department, who says she is so concerned about the way hospitals will manage in winter, and who asks today in the New Zealand Herald: “My God, what’s winter going to be like?”; and when will the Minister hold your appointee, Kay McKelvie, the chair of the Waitemata District Health Board, to her promises to solve the crisis in the hospital?

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. Have you made a recent appointment to the New Zealand public health system?

Madam SPEAKER: No. The member should have known better.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: That member is an experienced member, and he is asking questions improperly.

Madam SPEAKER: I agree with the member. Members who have been here for some time should know that they do not drag the Chair into the debate, in either questions or answers.

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: I hold all boards and chairs to account for the integrity of service delivery. In the case of Waitemata District Health Board, I notice that it has balanced its budget, usually met its elective output targets, and is building 68 new beds before this winter.

Dr Jonathan Coleman: Why does the Minister continue to mislead the House by saying that there will be 78 new beds at the Waitemata District Health Board by the end of August, when he knows full well that the funding application for this new Lakeview ward is not being submitted until August and the ward will not be built for 2 years at the earliest; and is he really telling us that under Labour a numbered place on a trolley in a corridor or a stretcher in the back of an ambulance actually counts as a bed?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: The member should try grommets. I said 68 beds, not 78.

9. High Court—Digital Recording and Transcription

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

9. LOUISA WALL (Labour) to the Minister for Courts: What are the benefits of installing digital recording and transcription in High Court courtrooms?

Hon RICK BARKER (Minister for Courts) : The key benefits of this technology are that participants can speak at a normal speed, meaning that trials can be heard more quickly. This technology is estimated to reduce court hearing times by between 20 and 30 percent. The new system was used in a recent murder trial in Wellington, where it was a key contributing factor in reducing the trial time from an expected 8 weeks to 4 weeks. The trial time was cut in half. This technology has enormous potential benefits in reducing court waiting times. Another benefit will be the ability to transfer the transcription of a local trial to another part of New Zealand, if local transcription staff are unavailable.

Louisa Wall: Kia ora. In addition to this technology, what other initiatives are being undertaken in the High Court to assist case throughput?

Hon RICK BARKER: Our range of initiatives includes new pre-trial processes, whereby conferences are held 1 to 2 weeks before the trial date to ensure that everything is ready; regular review of pending cases in the District Court destined for the High Court, to identify an early trial date, rather than waiting until the case reaches the High Court; regularly held inter-agency meetings at a national level to resolve any issues holding up a trial—for example, technical issues around methamphetamine science—implementation of a national roster; flexibility for judges in cases; and better use of settlement conferences and mediation in civil matters, which results in more cases being settled without needing a full hearing.

10. Schools—Children not Enrolled

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

10. ANNE TOLLEY (National—East Coast) to the Minister of Education: Does he stand by his statement in the House that “One student not enrolled in school is one too many.”; if so, why?

Hon CHRIS CARTER (Minister of Education) :Yes; because I believe all young New Zealanders should be educated.

Anne Tolley: Why does a newsletter from NETServe, the business contracted by the Minister of Education to trace the lost tribe of 6,000 non-enrolled kids, show that the Government has changed its policy and that the contractor paid to get students back in school will now not be targeting those aged 14 years and 9 months and over?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: I would be very happy to meet with the member later to go through the contract that NETServe has. We have been over this issue once in the House already. The object of NETServe’s contract is to locate missing students, and that is what it is required to do.

Sue Moroney: What specific measures is the Labour-led Government taking to re-engage truant children in education?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: The Labour-led Government has been very active in addressing truancy issues. The measures taken have included a complete review of truancy services, which led to enhanced funding; school-to-work programmes like Gateway and Youth Apprenticeships, and there is much more to come with Schools Plus; the new $6.4 million ENROL system, which will, for the first time ever, give us accurate and constantly updated enrolment information once all schools have been operating it for a year; and the school engagement initiative, which is now in place in more than 90 schools nationwide.

Anne Tolley: Why will the Minister not answer the question: why has the Government changed its policy, so that the contractor paid to find students and get them back into school will now ignore cases where the students are aged 14 years and 9 months and over?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: I am not aware of that detail of the contract. I would be happy to discuss it—[Interruption] I would be very happy to discuss it with the member afterwards, and I would welcome her giving me some information about it.

Anne Tolley: How can this Government tell us that it will keep kids at school until they are 18 when, at the same time, it is changing its policy and signing contracts that will mean non-enrolled students aged 14 years and 9 months and over will be put into the too-hard basket, and that the lost tribe of 6,000 will only increase?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: About 3 weeks ago the member made allegations about the Non-enrolment Truancy Service that proved to be incorrect. I would welcome her giving me the information about that contract. I hope that she has her facts right this time.

Anne Tolley: Does the Minister think that the public will agree with the writer of the newsletter, who stated: “The change is something that some of you may find difficult.”; and is it not actually more difficult to believe this Government’s rhetoric about keeping students in school—

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. A question that begins “Does the Minister believe that the public will agree with the writer …” is just about lost right then and there, on the basis of being inappropriate for this Parliament. It is purely an opinion, and it is a secondary opinion, about what the Minister thinks the public opinion is.

Madam SPEAKER: I agree with the member, but the Standing Orders do allow opinions to be given. So if an opinion is sought, an opinion, undoubtedly, will be given, and the answer will be judged on the value of both opinions.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I hate to disagree with you, but the member is asking the Minister whether he agrees with the public opinion. Which part of that is the Minister’s responsibility? The public opinion is no one’s responsibility in that context, and that is the point I am making.

Madam SPEAKER: One can ask for an opinion about anyone on anyone else’s opinion. I would value a little more specificity. I know that it might take some of the fun out of it for some members, but opinions can be sought and will be given. If members could also please make their questions and answers succinct, that would be of assistance to everyone.

Anne Tolley: Does the Minister think that the public will agree with the writer of the NETServe newsletter, who stated: “The change is something that some of you may find difficult.”; and is it not actually difficult to believe this Government’s rhetoric about keeping students in school until they are aged 18, when it is changing its policy to ignore those aged 14 years and 9 months and over, those who are involved with Child, Youth and Family, those who are involved with the police, and those who have been excluded from school?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: I would not agree with the writer if, in fact, the member is quoting the newsletter correctly. I would remind the House that the member misquoted the Non-enrolment Truancy Service last time she quoted it. She has just misquoted it again now, when she said that we are not interested in children who are under the care of the police or Child, Youth and Family. That is totally incorrect, and it is the same false allegation as she made last time. If the member is correct—and that is a very big “if”—I assure her in the House that this Government is determined to see that every New Zealand child who should be in school is there. If the provision she refers to is written in the contract, then it will be changed.

Hon Tariana Turia: Tēnā koe, Madam Speaker. What action will the Minister be taking to address the obvious disconnection and alienation that one in five students are experiencing at school—or does he believe the fault lies with New Zealand children and New Zealand families?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: The Government is absolutely committed to seeing that every young New Zealander gets the chance to be educated to his or her full potential. That is why we have launched this year Schools Plus, which is a programme about catching the very students that the member has described who are currently not succeeding in our system. By revolutionising secondary education, we hope to lift the skills of all young New Zealanders, so that they become an asset not just to our country but to themselves as well.

Anne Tolley: Can the Minister confirm that the actual situation after more than 8 years of a Labour Government is that there is a lost tribe of 6,000 non-enrolled students; the Ministry of Education has already complained that it is under-resourced to deal with the most complex cases involving the police, Child, Youth and Family, and excluded students; and now the Government has signed a contract that means the ministry will also have to deal with all students over the age of 14 years and 9 months?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: Once again the member is not giving the facts to the House. In respect of the so-called lost tribe of 6,334 students, which she and her leader John Key quoted, subsequent examination—as I have already explained to this House last month—proved that 50 percent of them were already enrolled in another school and another 25 percent were the children of people who had migrated out of New Zealand. So the number actually decreased to about 750 students, and we are actively searching for them.

Anne Tolley: I seek leave to table the NETServe newsletter that outlines the changes.

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

Anne Tolley: I seek leave to table the contract with NETServe that I tabled last week, which the Minister clearly has not read.

 Leave granted.


11. Newborns—Numbers

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

11. DARIEN FENTON (Labour) to the Minister of Statistics: Has he received any reports about the number of newborn babies in New Zealand?

Hon DARREN HUGHES (Minister of Statistics) : Yes, indeed. I have received a report from Statistics New Zealand that shows that last year 64,040 babies were born in New Zealand—the highest number for 44 years. One hundred percent of these babies are born into a country where there are 14 weeks’ paid parental leave, 20 free hours of early childhood education, free before-school health checks, and low doctor and pharmacy fees, and where three out of four families can get Working for Families tax credits. We have a plan for the future for these new Kiwis.

Darien Fenton: Has the Minister received any reports on the birth rate in New Zealand?

Hon DARREN HUGHES: Yes, I have. This 44-year high in our birth rate means a replacement rate of—[Interruption]

Madam SPEAKER: No one can hear anything that is happening.

Simon Power: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. The Minister does not often get an opportunity to speak, and I would like to hear what he has to say.

Madam SPEAKER: Yes, we will now hear him in silence.

Hon DARREN HUGHES: It is not as much fun in silence, Madam Speaker. This 44-year high in the birth rate, which is 2.2, is above the required replacement rate. This is particularly good news, I can tell the member, as similar countries to ours have a birth rate below the replacement rate. I refer to countries such as the United Kingdom, France, Italy, Japan, and—the Opposition will be delighted to know—even Australia.

12. Building—Consent Process

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

12. Hon Dr NICK SMITH (National—Nelson) to the Minister for Building and Construction: Does he stand by his statement in the House on 6 November 2007 that the building consent process is “going swimmingly well”?

Hon MARYAN STREET (Minister of Housing) on behalf of the Minister for Building and Construction: The statement the member refers to related to the Quality Regulation Review project and the 11 projects that my department has under way, and the Minister stands by that statement.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Does the Minister think the building consent process is going swimmingly well for homeowners and builders, who are now confronted with 110 pages of forms and documents—like this application pack in my hand from the Rodney District Council—for even the most minor building consent, or was his “swimming” comment a reference to the tsunami of paperwork the Government has now imposed on that sector?

Hon MARYAN STREET: I have clarified what the comment “going swimmingly well” referred to. In respect of the paperwork that the member has told us about, the Government is responding to industry requests to reduce compliance costs, including looking at ways to reduce delay and increase flexibility in the building consents process. We are actively working with local government, building associations, and a range of other stakeholders in developing pragmatic solutions to that.

Hon Tariana Turia: Tēnā koe, Madam Speaker. What is the Minister doing to ensure that consistent advice is provided by local authority officials about building consent processes, certification, and the Building Act, in order to prevent increased costs, further delays, and inconvenience to families?

Hon MARYAN STREET: The Department of Building and Housing is working with local authorities in order to ensure that their accreditation means that exactly the kinds of concerns the member has raised can be addressed swiftly. Government money is, in fact, being applied to local government to make that happen.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Is the Minister aware that when this new, 110-page building consent application pack, over half the documents of which are from the Government’s Department of Building and Housing, is multiplied by the 70,000 building consents a year, it would amount to 40 tonnes of paper or a 1-kilometre high pile; and does he see any irony in the fact that these documents all have stamped on them “New Zealand Government—everyone can have sustainability”.

Hon MARYAN STREET: The kinds of requirements that are now being put in place, including the accreditation of local authorities, have been established in order to address concerns about building quality and the issues that gave rise to leaky homes. The fact that there is some paperwork to go with that we do not apologise for.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: How does this Minister match her rhetoric in her speech in Nelson that the Government is determined to improve home affordability with the fact that since she gave that speech the Nelson City Council has increased its building consent fees by 50 percent, the Tasman District Council has increased its building consent fees by 35 percent, and the Dunedin City Council has increased its building consent fees by 59 percent; are not these dramatic fee increases, which arise from Government policy, also contributing to the problem of inflation, which sees homeowners facing record high interest rates?

Hon MARYAN STREET: I am advised that most builders do not mind paying, in the case of the Nelson City Council, another $100 for a consent, if it results in a quality and prompt decision on their building consent. I ask that member whether he is criticising the Nelson City Council and other local bodies for making investments to improve their building services and consent processing times.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Can I ask this Minister, her having raised the issue of leaky homes, why on earth she and her department have not taken advantage of Bob Clarkson’s advice given on TVNZ that he could fix up all the leaky homes problems for $20,000, despite the fact that that would leave most of the leaky home problems $100,000 short?

Hon MARYAN STREET: I take the point that the member is making, and I draw the attention of the House to the fact that the leaky homes problem has resulted in costs to homeowners of something in excess of $1 billion. The whole improvement in the Building Act was done to address that.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Does the Government accept responsibility for the Building Act 2004, which has seen this huge growth in paperwork in the building industry? The Wellington City Council has stated: “A typical house plan 4 years ago was 3 A3-sized plans and 30 supporting pages. Under the Government’s new Building Act, developers are now required to file 12 A3 pages and up to 300 pages of documentation.” If the fault is not that of the Building Act 2004, who the heck’s is it?

Hon MARYAN STREET: I think what that member needs to take into account is not simply any costs arising from the Building Act and the requirements we now have to ensure that we have proper homes that do not leak, but the costs of not complying with the Building Act.

Madam SPEAKER: We are on the last question. We will have it in silence. If there are any interventions members will leave the Chamber.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Can the Minister explain how a 50 percent increase in building consent fees at the Nelson City Council, a 35 percent increase at the Tasman District Council, and a 59 percent increase at the Dunedin City Council—all after the Government had promised to improve housing affordability—will help home affordability for average Kiwi families?

Hon MARYAN STREET: I have already addressed one part of the question by saying that it would appear on good authority—from builders—that they do not mind paying the extra $100 if their consent is processed swiftly, which is exactly what the accreditation process was set up to deal with. The other thing in relation to the question is that if the member thinks building consent processes contribute to housing affordability, his outlook is even more narrow and limited than I imagined.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: I seek leave to table the Registered Master Builders Federation submission to the Commerce Committee on the home affordability crisis.

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

Hon Dr Nick Smith: I have in my hand the Rodney District Council’s 110-page building consent application pack. I seek—

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

Hon Dr Nick Smith: I have in my hand the Nelson City Council’s announcement of a 50 percent increase in its building consent fees.

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

Hon Dr Nick Smith: I have in my hand the Tasman District Council’s announcement of a 35 percent increase in its building consent fees.

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

Hon Dr Nick Smith: I have in my hand the announcement by the Dunedin City Council of a 59 percent increase in its building consent fees.

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

ENDS


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Transport Policies: Nats' New $10.5bn Roads Of National Significance

National is committing to the next generation of Roads of National Significance, National Party Transport Spokesperson Simon Bridges says. More>>

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Gordon Campbell: On Why Labour Isn’t Responsible For Barnaby Joyce

As a desperate Turnbull government tries to treat the Barnaby Joyce affair as a Pauline Hanson fever dream – blame it on the foreigners! We’re the victims of the dastardly New Zealand Labour Party! – our own government has chosen to further that narrative, and make itself an accomplice. More>>

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Rail: Greens Back Tauranga – Hamilton – Auckland Service

The Green Party today announced that it will trial a passenger rail service between Auckland, Hamilton and Tauranga starting in 2019, when it is in government. More>>

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Housing: Voluntary Rental Warrant Of Fitness For Wellington

Wellington City Council is partnering with the University of Otago, Wellington, to launch a voluntary Rental Warrant of Fitness for minimum housing standards in Wellington, Mayor Justin Lester has announced. More>>

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