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Questions And Answers – Wednesday, 12 March 2008

Questions And Answers – Wednesday, 12 March 2008



1. Public Service—Ideas

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

1. JOHN KEY (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does she stand by her response, when asked whether her Government got many of its ideas from the New Zealand Public Service, “No. It is a very blunt answer but it is true. We generate the ideas.”; if not, why not?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister) : Yes.

John Key: If the Government does not get its ideas from the Public Service, why has the biggest-growing sector of the New Zealand economy since 2000 been Government administration?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Of course, someone has to work up and develop the brilliant ideas of the Labour Government, like KiwiSaver, Working for Families, the emissions trading scheme, the Energy Strategy, 20 hours’ free early childhood education, and many others I could name.

Hon Darren Hughes: Has the Prime Minister received any reports on extravagance in the New Zealand Public Service?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: As a matter of fact, I have. I did see reports about videos having been made for the Department of Work and Income in which the then chief executive, Christine Rankin, appeared on one occasion as the mother-in-law at a mock wedding, and on another dressed in a full length fur-trimmed silvery coat, climbing on to a wharf. The mind boggles. That was in 1999. The employees who saw the video were warned by Mrs Rankin not to talk to the media. She is of course now a very prominent member of the National Party.

John Key: Does the Prime Minister think—[Interruption]

Madam SPEAKER: The question will be heard in silence. Anyone who interrupts will be asked to leave the Chamber.

John Key: Does the Prime Minister think that all of the reports and strategies being produced by the Public Service are of good value, important, and necessary?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: They surely are an awful lot better than having no ideas, no policy, no strategy, and not even being able to understand a simple statement made yesterday about an upfront $700 million investment in innovation in the primary sectors, which is totally supported by those sectors and opposed by Her Majesty’s Opposition leader.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Can I ask the Prime Minister as to whether on the question of the acquisition of ideas she intends to avail herself of a supplier of ideas as set out in this complaint made to the chief executive officer of APN, which is the owner of the New Zealand Herald, which states: “However, the potential effect is to portray all New Zealand newspapers owned by APN as subservient to political interference. The risk is that the readers will perceive the Herald … as open to National Party influence.”; will she avail herself of that outlet of ideas—namely, APN, which runs so much of this country’s print media, as everybody knows, and as I have told people for a long time?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: It would be very difficult to borrow ideas from the National Party, because there are not any. I hope that on this side of the House we never go down the low road that those members went down in their bullying of a junior journalist and an editor of a regional paper.

Tim Barnett: Has the Prime Minister seen any reports of extravagant conference expenditure by Government departments?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: As a matter of fact, I did. A quarter of a million dollars was spent by the Department of Work and Income on a conference for staff at a resort hotel in Taupō in 1999. Of that, $168,000 was spent on chartering planes, and the Audit Office found the travel arrangements for the course had a “secretive flavour”, which was “inappropriate”. The chief executive who organised those arrangements was none other than Mrs Christine Rankin, who is now a prominent member of the National Party, and if someone can enlighten us as to where she is on its list, we will be all ears.

John Key: Does the Prime Minister think that the report produced today by the Families Commission, which is to spend around $500,000 on telling people that they should value parents, is of good value, necessary, and worthwhile, when Dr Prasad stated: “Such messages might be self-evident, but they are still worth repeating.”; and would the Prime Minister like to tell New Zealand families who are struggling to make ends meet that it is far more important that things like that report are produced than that they have an opportunity to make their mortgage payments?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Perhaps the Leader of the Opposition is the only member in the House who does not think that good parenting is important. Better parenting might save us all a lot of money on the criminal justice system down the track.

John Key: Is the Prime Minister aware that in the quarterly employment survey the number of core bureaucrats has risen from 26,200 to 36,000, which is an average of about 3,300 per parliamentary term under Labour, and will she tell the House whether that number will increase; can she confirm that under a National Government, where there will not be an increase in core bureaucrats, the savings will be over half a billion dollars, and what does she think New Zealanders would prefer: more money to be spent on front-line services and tax cuts, or more money to be spent on core bureaucrats?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Of course I cannot confirm any of the member’s figures. I can say that of the total growth in Public Service numbers, 15 percent occurred in policy departments and 85 percent was in the front-line departments and agencies. I can say, furthermore, that the slippery figures I have read about in a certain speech today do not own up to the fact that the Ministry of Education, for example, grew because the whole of the Special Education Service was brought into it, and that the Ministry of Health grew because National’s wasteful health bureaucracy, the Health Funding Authority, was done away with. Further, and finally, I can confirm that yes, the numbers in Statistics New Zealand were greater in 2006 than in 2000, because it was a census year.

John Key: If the Prime Minister values the Public Service so much, why did she blame Treasury for not letting her Cabinet and caucus know there was room for tax cuts, when her own Minister of Finance got exactly that advice in an incoming briefing, described it as ideological burp, and did not want a bar of it; is it not a situation where, under a Labour Government, if one works for the core bureaucracy, “You’re damned if you do, and you’re damned if you don’t.”?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: My recollection is that Treasury said tax cuts could be afforded if we were prepared to cut expenditure in other places. That is the National Party’s policy, not ours.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: On the question of the acquisition of ideas, does the Government intend to adopt the latest stance of the National Party on KiwiSaver—namely, to abolish it, despite this country’s serious personal debt problem, a move that every journalist is saying National has just announced today?

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. It is inappropriate that Mr Peters raises spurious and, frankly, wildly inaccurate assertions in a question, and it is particularly inappropriate to do so in this question, where there is no resemblance between his question and the primary question asked by Mr Key or the questions subsequently answered by the Prime Minister.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: The second line of the primary question reads: “got many of its ideas from”. That puts into question where the Government acquired its ideas—[Interruption] I know it would not have acquired them from Mr Carter. He is bereft of any ideas. In fact, he is a standing joke where he comes from. But my point refers to the line: “got many of its ideas from”. That is where the issue was put into question, and it is no use being embarrassed by the consequences.

Madam SPEAKER: The primary question was very broad, and therefore it is likely to attract supplementary questions that are broad. I ask the Prime Minister to address the question.

Gerry Brownlee: Madam Speaker, I take you to Standing Order 371(1)(b) and ask you for your ruling on that in relation to Mr Peters’ question, which makes inference, offers imputation, and is, to say the very least, an ironical expression.

Madam SPEAKER: That would probably rule out most of the supplementary questions. I ask Mr Peters to perhaps—as some of us may have forgotten what his original question was—rephrase his question in a manner that is consistent with the Standing Orders.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Madam Speaker, I would be delighted to do so. On the issue of where—and I quote the primary question—“her Government got many of its ideas from”, does the Government intend to abolish the KiwiSaver scheme, a move that today every journalist is telling me is the National Party’s latest pronouncement?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: With the uptake of KiwiSaver fast approaching half a million New Zealanders, the Labour-led Government will be backing KiwiSaver all the way, not trying to scuttle it, undermine it, and eliminate it as the National Party would do.

John Key: Is it still her Government’s No. 1 priority that the fastest-growing part of the economy should be Government administration; if so, how does she reconcile that with the facts that New Zealand families today are paying very high prices at the petrol pump, have not had a tax cut for 8 or 9 years, are struggling to make ends meet, and are struggling to get by in life—do they not deserve a bit of a break after 9 years?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: In case the Leader of the Opposition has not noticed this, I tell him 70 percent of Kiwi families have had substantial tax relief under Working for Families. The Government’s highest priority is to grow the economy and to give a charge to the huge food and pastoral sector, which generates more than half our export earnings. The Leader of the Opposition now says he totally opposes the fund we announced yesterday and he would disband it.

Rodney Hide: In respect of the uptake of ideas, does the Prime Minister believe that a Government should accept good ideas wherever they come from if they are good, and that is why this Government supported ACT’s anti-red tape bill, the Regulatory Responsibility Bill, at least as far as its referral to the Commerce Committee?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: For once, I agree with the member. If there are good ideas, we should not be embarrassed about taking them up. Good ideas are not something the Government says it has a monopoly on.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I seek leave to table a letter from the New Zealand Herald’s journalists chapel to APN’s chief executive officer, Martin Simons, complaining about political interference by the ownership in the New Zealand Herald’sreporting.

 Leave granted.


2. Fast Forward Programme—Reports

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

2. Dr ASHRAF CHOUDHARY (Labour) to the Minister of Agriculture: What reports has he received on reaction to the Government’s Fast Forward programme announced yesterday?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Leader of the House) on behalf of the Minister of Agriculture: Business New Zealand said “The Government and partnership industries involved are to be congratulated for this bold move.” DairyNZ’s chairman, former National MP John Luxton, said it represented a significant commitment to maintaining the profitability, competitiveness, and sustainability of New Zealand’s pastoral and food industries. The investment has also been welcomed by Zespri, Fonterra, the Meat Industry Association, Meat and Wool New Zealand, PGG Wrightson, Horticulture New Zealand, and Crop and Food Research, amongst others.

Dr Ashraf Choudhary: What calls has the Minister seen for further investment in agriculture research and development?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I have seen a report concerning a National Party policy paper that called to “boost research and development, especially in agriculture.” I have also seen a call to scrap the Fast Forward fund, which came from the leader of the National Party, Mr John Key.

Hon David Carter: Can the Minister confirm that AgResearch is New Zealand’s largest agricultural research centre and that it received more money under National in 1999 than it currently receives under Labour in 2007-2008, and is this not just another case of rhetoric around this issue because it is driven by desperation around the polls?

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. You would have heard a complaint by a National Party member on that side with respect to the phrasing of questions. The money that was given to AgResearch in 1999 was in the 1998 Budget. It was not a National Party measure, but a New Zealand First measure. I ask the member to get his facts right.

Madam SPEAKER: That was a point of information.

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I can confirm that for many years Governments have tended to switch the priorities in research and development funding out of the agriculture area. What is now clear is that we need a vast boost in funding into agriculture research, not least for sustainability reasons given the pressures that agriculture faces. How can National Party members get up and say that this is a bad thing and then call for increased funding for agriculture research and development? How can National members get up and say that we should have public-private partnerships and then oppose the biggest public-private partnership in research ever announced in New Zealand?

Dr Ashraf Choudhary: Has the Minister seen any further reports in support or in opposition to further investment in agricultural research and development?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I have seen continued reports of growing support for these moves. I have also seen various reports that the Leader of the Opposition is now avoiding answering questions on this issue, and refusing to admit the obvious—that he got it wrong. Capital will be used, as well as interest; the so-called great financial trader cannot work out the difference between capital and interest.

Gordon Copeland: Has the Minister thought of suggesting to the Minister of Forestry—in fact, himself wearing a different cap—that thought be given to the creation of a research fund, based on the Fast Forward model, for the forestry sector, given the fact that we continue to export thousands of tonnes of unprocessed logs and in spite of talking for more than 20 years now about the importance of processing in this country, and thereby moving those exports up the value-added chain?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: That is not under survey at the present time, but it is true to say that part of the reason we export so many of our logs in an unprocessed form is that we face very high tariff barriers for processed wood products in a number of key markets. It is therefore crucial to negotiate trade deals that will deal with that kind of issue.

Sue Moroney: Has the Minister seen any reports about funding more research by selling State assets?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Yes, indeed. The Opposition, I understand, announced that it would fund increased investment in research and development in agriculture by simply selling off Landcorp. Of course, again, that is interesting, because in selling off a State asset the only thing that makes sense is to devote that result to paying off debt—as I am sure Mr English appreciates, and as he himself has said on a number of occasions.

Hon David Carter: How many Landcorp farms have been sold under Labour in the last 9 long years; and why is it OK for Labour to sell such Landcorp farms and not OK for National to do so?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The problem for the member is that National at one point was saying that it would sell Landcorp. What Landcorp has been doing is selling and buying—[Interruption]

Madam SPEAKER: Would the member please repeat his answer. It is impossible to hear.

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Landcorp has been selling and buying in order to consolidate its resources in the land area.

Hon David Carter: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I quite specifically asked the Minister how many Landcorp farms had been sold under Labour, over the last 9 long years.

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: It may seem like 9 long years to the member; it is actually less than 8½.

Hon David Carter: Point of order—

Madam SPEAKER: Well, the Minister, I thought, originally addressed the question. I asked him to further elucidate. He did so.

Hon Damien O’Connor: I seek leave to table an article from New Zealand Farmers’ Weekly, dated 10 March, which quotes Mr Carter, when Minister of Agriculture stating: “I would sell Landcorp …”.

 Leave granted.

Hon David Carter: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. For the sake of clarity, I just point out that I rang Mr Alan Emerson, the author of that article. That is not a direct quote of mine, at all.

Madam SPEAKER: Well, as members know, that is not a point of order.

3. Hawke’s Bay District Health Board—Conflicts of Interest

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

3. Hon TONY RYALL (National—Bay of Plenty) to the Minister of Health: Will he undertake to ensure the release of version 1 of the director-general’s report into conflict of interest allegations at the Hawke’s Bay District Health Board; if not, why not?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE (Minister of Health) : No, I cannot give the member that assurance; the release of any draft copies of the report is entirely a matter for the director-general and the review panel, acting on advice from Crown Law. The member is clearly attempting to discredit a time-honoured natural justice process. There is no version 1 of the report. There are draft copies of the report, as are required of any such inquiry process. I repeat for the record: I have neither seen the draft copies, nor been briefed on them.

Hon Tony Ryall: Does the Minister understand that unless he can give an assurance that this information will be released, it will be in the public interest for this information to be made available so that the public can draw its own conclusions from this sorry mess of an inquiry?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: It is very difficult to understand how the member could leap to judgment about an inquiry, the results of which he says he has not seen and he cannot legally have access to.

Russell Fairbrother: Is the Minister aware of claims that a draft copy of the report “largely exonerates the board”, as the member claimed yesterday?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: Yes—by the member Mr Ryall. But, of course, that begs the question of how he would know and why he will not repeat the claims outside the House. It is very clear to me that the member opposite is trying to undermine and discredit an independent review process, and he is also undermining the integrity of the neutral public servants who are responsible for that process. I repeat that there is nothing unusual or secretive about a review process such as the one being followed. For example, I draw the member’s attention to the report of the Ombudsman, Mel Smith, into aerial spraying in west Auckland, which followed exactly the same process of circulating an initial draft for correction of any factual errors.

Russell Fairbrother: What does the Minister say to the allegations that the director-general’s review is one big cover-up, and that the draft copy of the report is being supressed?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: I repeat categorically that there is no cover-up. Those allegations impugn the integrity of the public servants conducting the review. This is an independent report to the Director-General of Health by an independent panel, and I draw the attention of the member opposite to the statement made in 2001 by Chief Ombudsman Sir Brian Elwood. In commenting on draft reports such as this one, he said: “it must be remembered that decision-makers are accountable for the advice they act upon and not for early drafts generated …”, which they have not seen. He went on to say: “However, if the end result of disclosure of drafts is to prejudice the quality of the reports … then the wider public interests of effective government administration would not be served.” Mr Ryall should reflect on Sir Brian’s words.

Hon Tony Ryall: Does the Minister consider it an independent inquiry when the Director-General of Health investigated these matters in 2006 and concluded that there was nothing remarkable in Mr Hausmann’s behaviour; and given that the director-general would look a complete idiot if the facts in version 1 were set out publicly, can the Minister see why the director-general is himself so keen to suppress this version?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: I have confidence in the director-general, and I have confidence in the independence of this review process. The member might care to take notice of the comments of his colleagues who have been banging on at the Labour Government for the last few months about preserving the neutrality of the public service—something that the member is doing his best to undermine.

Hon Tony Ryall: How can it be an independent inquiry when this is the same director-general whose ministry, according to Annette King, said it was OK to appoint Mr Hausmann when he was already working on a $50 million deal with the very district health board he was being appointed to; and can the Minister see why the Ministry of Health is using a suppression order to prevent the release of information that will further demonstrate that his ministry was stupid or incompetent?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: I draw the member’s attention to the following brief quotes: “Public service neutrality must be fiercely guarded.” That was said by Gerry Brownlee. John Key said: “Democracy can only suffer when appointments are made for political reasons rather than the person’s ability to do a good job.” What a shame it is that the National Party does not apply the same standards to junior journalists or to a director-general’s independent review panel.

Hon Tony Ryall: Why on earth did Annette King appoint Mr Hausmann to the board when there was clearly a massive conflict of interest that should have alerted Mrs King, the director-general, and everyone else that this was a bad idea?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: The member cannot have it both ways. He is freely admitting that any potential conflicts were disclosed, that mechanisms were put in place to deal with them, that the appropriate independent advice confirmed that that was satisfactory, and that Minister King has publicly released to the National Party and the news media all the relevant Cabinet documents. How much more transparent can one get?

Hon Tony Ryall: How can it be an independent inquiry when at the core of the inquiry is the appointment of Mr Hausmann to the Hawke’s Bay District Health Board on the recommendation of Annette King and the Ministry of Health, which is apparently leading this inquiry?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: As I have said before in the House, the member seems to be labouring under the impression that I carry some kind of torch for Mr Hausmann, which I do not. My decision around the Hawke’s Bay District Health Board was that there was a board squabbling amongst itself and with its own management team—a situation of chaos that could not continue. But I will judge the members of the board without fear or favour, on the basis of the evidence that is produced by an independent process.

Heather Roy: Does the Minister expect the review panel report to comment on the role of management and the chief executive in the conflict of interest issues at the Hawke’s Bay District Health Board; if not, was it not management conduct, which allowed Peter Hausmann to get away with what he did, that was the very reason for the review?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: Although the draft review and the final review are, I am told, a matter of governance, the relationship between a board and its senior management team is no doubt relevant. The member sorely, sorely tempts me to disclose some of the many pieces of information that the good people of Hawke’s Bay have sent to me since I made my decision.

4. Free-trade Agreement—New Zealand - China

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

4. KEITH LOCKE (Green) to the Minister of Trade: How can he give an assurance that the proposed free-trade deal between New Zealand and China will not “provide a threat to the wages and conditions of New Zealand workers” when wage rates in China are so much lower than they are here?

Hon PHIL GOFF (Minister of Trade) : New Zealand jobs and living standards depend on the exports of our goods and services. By removing impediments to our exports, which the proposed China free-trade agreement will do quite dramatically, we increase the volume and value of those exports. That will clearly be good for growth and employment, and it will be good for wages. That is a benefit, not a threat to New Zealand workers.

Keith Locke: Why are we giving preferential treatment to a country that abuses the rights of its citizens, lacks basic environmental standards, and has children working in sweatshops for a few cents an hour?

Hon PHIL GOFF: If I look at the member’s first question, the clear implication is that we should not be trading with countries where the wage rates of workers are lower than ours. That would eliminate our taking of exports from any developing country. I understood that the Green position was to try to close the gap between the developed and the developing world. If we were not to trade with those countries where wages are lower, and lock them out of the markets of the affluent countries, that relegates those developing countries to being poor forever and unable ever to develop. That does not make sense.

Keith Locke: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. My question was not about all trade agreements and whether anyone is for or against trade agreements as such; it was about a free-trade agreement with China eliminating tariffs.

Hon PHIL GOFF: The question, as set down in the Order Paper, clearly talks about why will it be good for us, when wage rates in China are so much lower than they are here. The implication of that is clearly that we are endangering our country if we ever trade with countries that have wage rates lower than our own.

Nandor Tanczos: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I will just ask for your assistance, Madam Speaker, because it seems to me that the implication of what the Minister just said is that he can continue to answer the first question put to him when other questions are asked. So we ask a supplementary question and he just re-answers the first question.

Hon PHIL GOFF: Clearly the supplementary question was a continuation of the theme in the first. I addressed that theme, and I am happy to answer any further questions from the member.

Madam SPEAKER: Yes, it was consistent. The supplementary questions have to relate—or should relate—to the primary question.

Hone Harawira: Kia ora. Has the Minister seen comments by the New Zealand Chinese Association president, who says there will be little benefit for China in a free-trade arrangement with New Zealand, which would remove any remaining tariffs on Chinese clothing and footwear coming here; and, given the history of Māori workers suffering severe impacts from the removal of tariff protections in the 1980s and 1990s in textiles, clothing, footwear, car assembly, meatworks, forestry, and railways, can he tell the House exactly which sector of Māoridom in this country will benefit from a free-trade deal with China?

Hon PHIL GOFF: If I can just pick up a couple of examples from the member. He mentions forestry, fisheries, and farming. There are a great many Māori business interests and workers in those areas. Those are exactly the areas that will be the key beneficiaries of a free-trade agreement with China. As the member himself pointed out in quoting the president of the New Zealand Chinese Association, at the moment 95 percent of the goods coming into New Zealand, by value, come in duty free. That is not the case with our exports to China, where most of our major exports are covered by tariffs of between 10 percent and 20 percent. There will be huge benefit to New Zealand industries by the removal of those tariffs, and a prime beneficiary will in fact be Māori businesses and Māori workers.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: Is it part of the Government’s climate change strategy to encourage New Zealand manufacturers to outsource their manufacturing, and its jobs, to China, where products will be made with inefficient and dirty coal-fired power stations rather than with New Zealand’s mainly renewable electricity; if so, how will that help reduce global emissions?

Hon PHIL GOFF: The answer to the problem of greenhouse gas warming of the world has to be a multilateral answer. That is why we have the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and why all countries, including big developing countries like China, have to play their part in that. The solution to that problem is through that mechanism, not by putting up artificial impediments to trade.

Sue Kedgley: Will the Minister, given the inevitable increase in food that will come in from China as a result of this so-called free-trade agreement with China, ensure that New Zealand consumers can avoid buying Chinese food if they so wish and support local growers instead by introducing mandatory country of origin labelling of fresh food, as supported by 37,000 New Zealanders in a petition to this House; if not, why not?

Hon PHIL GOFF: To correct the member, actually the big flow of trade in food that will occur after this free-trade agreement is likely to be in the opposite direction—from New Zealand to China, not from China to New Zealand. In regard to food standards, a free-trade agreement makes no difference at all to the stringent requirements that are placed on the importation of food into New Zealand. Whether we have a free-trade agreement or not, those standards are in place and those standards will be upheld. In regard to mandatory labelling, if that were to be brought in universally the key loser in that would be New Zealand. For example, mandatory labelling in the United States of our beef, when mixed with products from within the United States, would hugely increase the cost to our industry, lowering the value of those exports to New Zealand, and therefore impacting negatively on jobs and incomes, which Keith Locke said before he was concerned about.

Keith Locke: Does the Minister stand by his commendable statement in the House last Thursday that this Parliament will get to vote on the free-trade agreement as a whole, or is he reverting to earlier statements that Parliament’s involvement will be narrower and cover only implementing legislation?

Hon PHIL GOFF: The member is well aware of the procedures that occur in this House. There will be tabled in this House, at the time of signing, the free-trade agreement and the national interest analysis. That will go to the Foreign Affairs, Trade and Defence Committee. That committee will then hold hearings on submissions, and look at what the implications of that agreement will be, but, of course, before any free-trade agreement comes into effect there has to be enabling legislation for the tariff changes. That will be under the umbrella of a New Zealand – China free-trade agreement bill, and unless, and until, that bill is passed by the House, the free-trade agreement cannot come into effect. So what Mrs King said on my behalf last week is exactly right.

Keith Locke: I seek leave to table a US national labor committee document about children getting 55c an hour.

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

5. Hawke’s Bay District Health Board—Conflicts of Interest

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

5. Hon TONY RYALL (National—Bay of Plenty) to the Minister of Health: Why did the Director-General of Health join Peter Hausmann’s Healthcare New Zealand in seeking to renew a suppression order relating to the Hawke’s Bay District Health Board inquiry?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE (Minister of Health) : That is a matter for the director-general, and it would be as improper for me as Minister as it would be for the member opposite to politicise a senior independent public servant in this way. However, I am advised there are two separate proceedings seeking an injunction. I repeat that the review process being followed by the director-general, assisted by the Crown Law Office, is a proper process in the interests of natural justice.

Hon Tony Ryall: Does the Minister understand that the High Court has made it clear that the order of suppression does not apply to fair and accurate reporting of statements made in the House?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: The High Court’s judgment is a matter of record, and the member should try some, for a change.

Hon Tony Ryall: Does the Minister realise that if I quote from material from version one of the report, then that will not be a breach of any suppression order?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: The member’s relationship with the judicial process is one for the member, and not one for which I am responsible.

Hon Tony Ryall: Why did the Government agree to one of its political appointees, someone who is beholden to the Minister for his job, investigating this matter, rather than involving the independent Auditor-General, especially given that the allegations involve conflicts of interest and various political links—a Labour Party appointee, associates of the previous health Minister, and the chief executive of the health board, who used to work for the Prime Minister?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: I can confirm to the House that I did not appoint any member of the independent review panel. The members were independently appointed by the director-general, acting in his capacity as a senior and neutral public servant. I have not even been told by the director-general what is in the draft, so I am at some disadvantage compared with the member, who seems to have obtained some kind of leak.

Hon Tony Ryall: Does the Minister see the parallels with the “lying in unison” inquiry, whereby an inquiry by the Department of Labour found nothing wrong but an independent inquiry discovered the full sorry mess, for which people were held accountable?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: No, and if the member is going to so desperately clutch at straws, he should make sure they are not crooked before he clutches them.

Hon Tony Ryall: Does the Minister see the parallels with the Ingram inquiry, where for weeks on end he defended a report that was found to be completely inadequate despite his repeated assurances, and can he confirm that as a result of that independent investigation Mr Field now faces legal charges?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: I am no more responsible for Mr Field than I am for Mr Hausmann. I well recall answering a number of futile, confused questions from the Opposition that wasted precious House time and got the Opposition nowhere. I must say there is a slight sense of déjà vu.

6. Capital and Coast District Health Board—Kenepuru Hospital Emergency Services

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

6. BARBARA STEWART (NZ First) to the Minister of Health: Does—

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. It is the duty of a party leader to control his or her troops. The National Party cannot go on with 12 or 13 people every day shouting out when they feel like it. Nobody in this Parliament—least of all me—objects to the rare humorous interjection, in particular, but this constant barrage is not what this Parliament is used to. Mr Key has a duty to bring them into line.

Madam SPEAKER: The chipping across the Chamber when Barbara Stewart was trying to ask her question was unacceptable. If the member had not got to his feet, I was about to. We will now hear Barbara Stewart’s question in silence.

BARBARA STEWART: Does he support the decision by the Capital and Coast District Health Board to terminate Kenepuru Hospital’s 24-hour emergency coverage; if so, why?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE (Minister of Health) : No, I do not. I am advised by the board, however, that it did not decide to terminate emergency coverage; it reduced the hours as a response to a short-term staff shortage, in order to guarantee patient safety. I have received a number of representations from local members—in particular, the member for Mana, the Hon Luamanuvao Winnie Laban. I have reflected those concerns to the district health board. I have been advised that the district health board is urgently investigating options to reopen the 24-hour service on a permanent basis. I look forward to urgent progress.

Barbara Stewart: Is the Minister aware that the new regional hospital is likely to be too small to cope with future demand, even before its completion; if so, will consideration be given to further developing Kenepuru Hospital; if not, why not?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: I am advised that with the excellent progress that has resulted from the Government’s primary and preventive health care strategy, the hospital on the Newtown site will be adequate when completed.

Louisa Wall: Kia ora, Madam Speaker. Is there any provision for people who attend Kenepuru Hospital at night for emergency services?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: Yes. I should make it clear that all people presenting to the department between the hours of 11 p.m. and 8 a.m. are assessed by the duty manager, who is a registered nurse, and, if appropriate, a paramedic. If any person needs emergency attention, he or she will be immediately taken to Wellington Hospital. To date, the services of the paramedic have not been needed.

Barbara Stewart: Is the Minister aware that project plans for the Capital and Coast District Health Board’s medical services have always included “refurbishing, increasing and maximising use” of Kenepuru Hospital; will the Government be providing additional funding for that; if not, why not?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: The allocation of the district health board’s resources is a matter for the board to decide. It is certainly my view that the Kenepuru site will continue to play an important role in the network run by the Capital and Coast District Health Board.

Barbara Stewart: Will any funds raised by the sale of excess land at the Kenepuru site be used specifically for the redevelopment of Kenepuru Hospital; if not, why not?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: There are certain protocols around the use of the proceeds of capital sales, which the Capital and Coast District Health Board is cognisant of—rather more, I might add, than it appears the Hawke’s Bay board was in its similar case.

7. Finance, Government—Actual and Forecast Costs

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

7. Hon BILL ENGLISH (Deputy Leader—National) to the Minister of Finance: What are the forecast finance costs for the Government in 2008, and what were the actual finance costs in 2007?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Finance) : Economic and fiscal forecasts, including finance costs, are based on financial years, not calendar years. Therefore, there are no actual figures for 2007 or forecast figures for 2008. But to assist the member in the House, I shall give figures that are at a point in time: the gross sovereign issue debt at 30 June 2007 was $30.9 billion, and it is forecast to be $33.3 billion at 30 June 2008.

Hon Bill English: Can the Minister confirm that the cost of servicing the Government’s debt will be about half a billion dollars more for the fiscal year 2008 than it was for 2007, and does not this confirm the facts elucidated yesterday that the Government is borrowing more money when he is giving speeches saying that borrowing is a very bad idea?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Yes and no. I shall explain the “no” for the member—but I am sure he could find it out if he looked a bit harder. The Government for some years has been following a very consistent and constant bond issuance programme of about $2.5 billion per year. The reason for that is to smooth it over the forecast period in order to avoid market disruption, and to avoid variable maturation dates, and so to achieve, actually, reduced long-term borrowing costs bya constant programme. But, of course, the repayments reflecting past borrowings come in lumps. In the current year there is practically no bond repayment, and therefore the gross sovereign issue debt rises. On the other hand, the Government has more cash on hand, so the net position is not affected. So gross finance costs rise, but on the other hand the Government’s finance income also increases.

Hon Bill English: Does not that simply underline the fact that the Government is borrowing $2.7 billion this year, and it is spending an extra half a billion dollars of taxpayers’ money on servicing that debt; why does he not put that in his speeches, instead of carrying on as if he has never borrowed a cent?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I have just explained to the member that the Government, in order to actually reduce its long-term borrowing costs, has a constant borrowing programme. Repayments are variable. On the current forecast, for example, in a couple of years’ time the outstanding gross sovereign issue debt will be significantly lower than it is forecast to be at 30 June this year. The money we hold in cash is not actually being kept underneath the mattress where it is not earning any interest; it is actually earning interest at the same time. It is put into the short-term money market.

Hon Bill English: Given that the Government is borrowing $2.7 billion this financial year, what is it borrowing it for: its proposed tax cuts, its spending increases, infrastructure spending, or investing on the money market—which one?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I am tempted to say it is so that we can build a brick wall that that member can keep hitting his head against. I have just explained that we are borrowing a constant amount each year, because that reduces our long-term debt-servicing costs. We are borrowing because we have, apart from anything else, debt repayments to make from time to time, and, secondly, it has never been the Government’s policy to fund all expenditure, in terms of investment, out of current income.

Hon Member: A new announcement.

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: That is not a new announcement. If the member looks at every Budget I have presented, he will see that, over the forecast period, we have projected going into cash deficits. There is nothing new. It is just that he has never bothered reading the Budget documentation before.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: If we are borrowing to roll over debt—adduced debt at that—over a period of years, then are we, in fact, increasing our borrowings or reducing them?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Reducing them. Indeed, we have reduced the Government’s gross debt from over 30 percent of GDP to under 19 percent of GDP at the present time. We have moved into a net asset positive position for the first time in New Zealand’s history. Had we put out $11.5 billion of tax cuts, as Mr Key called for less than 18 months ago, Mr English would be asking how come the Government’s borrowing position had gone up by $15 billion during the current year.

Hon Bill English: Given that the Minister could not answer the question about what he is borrowing for, why does he not read page 40 of his half-year update, where Treasury states that he is “increasing borrowings to meet the cash shortfall”; and does that cash shortfall arise from promising too much spending, from infrastructure spending, or from trying to store up cash for his tax cuts next year?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I invite the member to read page 40 again. It applies over the 4-year period. Every 4-year forecast has shown movement into cash deficit and, therefore, borrowing. The Government, I repeat, has never argued that we should in a normal year cover all expenditure, including capital investment, out of current income. What National has argued is that we should be borrowing for the Superannuation Fund and borrowing for tax cuts.

Hon Bill English: Why did the Minister say in his speech that any reference to borrowing is always associated with tax cuts when someone else says it, but when he talks about borrowing it is, apparently, normal management of the Government’s books?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Because although the member thinks he is very clever, right next to him sits the man—[Interruption]

Madam SPEAKER: It is impossible to hear. Members say “Answer the question.” We will hear the answer in silence so that we can all hear the answer. [Interruption] The member will leave the Chamber if he interrupts when the question is being answered.

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Because Mr Key has argued that gross debt should be lifted to 25 percent of GDP, with an increase long term of borrowing costs of $700 million a year—[Interruption]—and he has yet to mention any major item of spending, other than tax cuts, to explain the need for an increase in borrowing.

Madam SPEAKER: I am sorry, Mr English, but you heard me explicitly say that courtesy would be shown—that the answer would be heard in silence so that all could hear it. You deliberately interrupted when the Minister was speaking. I am very sorry to say it, but I gave my ruling.

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. Mr English was responding to material that Dr Cullen was putting to Parliament under the veil of absolute silence, and with apparently no contest, that was totally wrong. You cannot expect us to sit here quietly in any circumstances and allow the Minister of Finance, the Deputy Prime Minister, free range to say something completely false about us and a position taken by members on this side of the House.

Madam SPEAKER: No, I am sorry, Mr Brownlee. I very rarely ask members to hear questions and/or answers in silence. That comes only after a period when it has been very difficult for members to hear. All members in the Chamber are entitled to hear the answers and the questions. I made that ruling because it was impossible to hear the particular answer, because of the shouting that was taking place. Members are entitled to hear that answer. If they do not agree with it, there are other supplementary questions—there are other ways to make the interventions. My ruling was done in that context, and therefore I stand by it as a warning to members that all members are entitled to hear questions and answers.

Hon Bill English: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I accept your ruling and I will leave the Chamber, but I just want to say that I think we are getting into a bit of difficulty here with the arbitrary selection of particular exchanges that have to be heard in silence. It was the method in this House under previous Speakers that questions were asked in silence, and answers were subject to reasonable interjection. That has now changed to the situation where barracking is allowed during questions. Every time I ask a question I get consistent barracking from a noisy group of members opposite. Madam Speaker, you have this practice now of intervening in particular exchanges. There was no particular tension to the exchange between me and Dr Cullen. Other exchanges today have been so noisy that members could not hear the answer. My suggestion would be that we revert to a predictable and simple rule such as the one we used to have.

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Speaking to the point of order, the problem with that suggestion, Madam Speaker, is that you have—quite rightly, in my view—reverted to the former rulings, which obtained for many, many years in this House. The difficulty was, of course, that it was a one-sided exchange. The members opposite got to ask their questions in complete silence, then Ministers were greeted by a barrage of noise the moment they rose to their feet. That is not exactly fighting on a level playing field.

Madam SPEAKER: I think that was actually the difficulty with that rule. The other thing is that members on the front benches face each. I also look at the members at the back who are about to leap to their feet to say they cannot hear what is being said. As Speaker, I have to take account of the interests of all members in the House, not only those who sit on the two front benches.

 Hon Bill English withdrew from the Chamber.

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I seek leave to table Mr Key’s statement that National supports “a notional debt of GDP to around about 25 percent, so that’s gross debt.”

 Leave granted.

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. The deputy leader of the National Party has, obviously, accepted your ruling and has left the House. I note, though, that immediately following question time we have the Budget Policy Statement. Mr English is also our finance spokesperson. It would be appreciated if you could consider allowing his reintroduction to the House in time to participate in that debate.

Madam SPEAKER: Yes. The normal practice is that if members who have been asked to withdraw from the Chamber accept the ruling of the Chair, they come back at the end of question time. Certainly, Mr English can return at that point.

8. Education, Ministry—Confidence

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

8. ANNE TOLLEY (National—East Coast) to the Minister of Education: Does he have confidence in the Ministry of Education; if so, why?

Hon CHRIS CARTER (Minister of Education) : Yes, but I am sure the Ministry of Education, like all of us, can always do better.

Anne Tolley: Why did the ministry’s non-attendance prosecution trial, launched in 2004, see just four prosecutions last year and only 24 in total over the last 4 years, when it released truancy figures last year showing that under a Labour Government truancy had increased by 20 percent since the beginning of that trial, which sees 31,000 truants absent in any one week?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: Once again, the House is presented with some statements by the member that, under scrutiny, do not bear up to the facts. The fact is that boards of trustees choose to prosecute parents, and there have been approximately 24 cases where parents have been prosecuted on the decisions of boards of trustees. As for the truancy figures the member quotes, they have been disputed and addressed in this House on a number of occasions by me. She has simply made the figure up. In fact, we cannot possibly know how many students were truanting, because it was not until this year that we established an electronic enrolment scheme that would finally tell us, for the first time ever, how many students were missing from New Zealand schools.

Hon Marian Hobbs: How has the Labour-led Government, through the Ministry of Education, delivered for all New Zealanders?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: The Labour-led Government has increased funding for education by a whopping 72 percent since it has been in Government. This huge additional investment has enabled us, since 1999, to introduce 20 free hours of early childhood education for all 3 and 4-year-olds and increase teachers’ pay by 40 percent. We have employed more than 5,000 additional teachers above raw growth, built 34 new schools and 1,500 new classrooms, tripled funding for industry training, and introduced modern apprenticeships and no-interest student loans. We have invested an amazing $4 billion extra a year into the education system. This is a very solid record of achievement that stands in stark contrast to National’s dismal and mean record in the 1990s of bulk funding, demoralised teachers, and grossly indebted students.

Anne Tolley: If the Minister is serous about cracking down on truancy, why does his ministry not know how many truancy prosecutions were taken by schools last year or how many district truancy workers there are on the ground throughout New Zealand; and why has the ministry’s crackdown on truancy in problem regions resulted in only 24 prosecutions in the last 4 years?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: On the one hand, the member says that we do not know how many prosecutions there are, but then, on the other hand, she quotes the figure of 24, which I gave just a couple of minutes ago. I remind the House that boards of trustees make the decision to prosecute parents. Prosecution is the final stage of a very long process of trying to get kids back to school. Of course, boards would be reluctant to reach that point without trying other things like mediation and intervention. In the end, though, that is a decision for the boards, not for the Ministry of Education.

Anne Tolley: Why is it that a Government that talks tough on truancy does not know how many prosecutions there are, does not know how many truancy officers there are, and itself prosecutes only 24 cases in 4 years on its new streamlined process, yet it watches over a 20 percent increase in truancy, which is climbing to 31,000 truants in any one week here in New Zealand?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: Where does the member get the figure of 31,000 from? Does she simply make it up? I remind the House again that for the very first time ever at the end of this year we will be able to tell how many students have been truanting in New Zealand. We have never been able to know that before. Why will we be able to know it? Because this Government has invested in an electronic enrolment system that every school in New Zealand is now on. We have invested in education. We have not bulk funded; we have not cut funding for education. We believe that education is the key to lifting all New Zealanders to their full potential.

Anne Tolley: The Minister asks where I get my information from. I seek leave to table the report from the ministry showing that 31,000 truants in any one week—

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 Minister’s answer to written question No. 1434, which shows that the ministry does not collect any data on how many front-line truancy officers there are in New Zealand.

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 answer to written question No. 1436, which shows that the ministry does not collect any numbers of the prosecutions—

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

Hon CHRIS CARTER: I seek leave to table a document showing that of the figure the member has given the House, 51 percent of those children were actually found to be at school and another 25 percent were found to be the children of people who had migrated from New Zealand, and that actually we had less than 1,000—

 Leave granted.


9. Superannuation—Rate Changes

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

9. LYNNE PILLAY (Labour—Waitakere) to the Minister for Social Development and Employment: What reports has she received on changes to rates for New Zealand superannuation?

Hon RUTH DYSON (Minister for Social Development and Employment) : I have recently announced new rates for New Zealand superannuation that come into effect on 1 April and show that a married couple receiving superannuation or the veterans pension will be better off by $700 a year. Around 510,000 older New Zealanders will benefit from these increases. Under our Government, superannuation has increased by 8.5 percent over and above the cost of living increases. I am delighted to say that senior citizens really are better off under a Labour-led Government.

Dr Pita Sharples: Tēnā koe, Madam Speaker. Tēnātātou katoa. Has the Minister read the advice released yesterday by the Child Poverty Action Group, which suggests that although New Zealand’s superannuation is a great success story in preventing hardship amongst the elderly, many poor children have been left out of the bulk of the Working for Families package by being denied the in-work tax credit—230,000 of them—and when will her Government pay as much attention to the needs of its youngest citizens as to those of its oldest?

Hon RUTH DYSON: Yes, I have read the report the member refers to. It is not true that those on benefits with children do not benefit from the Working for Families package. They benefit from two of the three components. They do not benefit from the in-work tax credit, because they are not in work. That payment was to ensure that work did genuinely pay. The number of families who are dependent on the benefit system has now substantially reduced since the living standards report to which the Child Poverty Action Group report referred to. I just remind the House of my earlier point that under Labour the difference for a married couple on superannuation is $34 a week more than it would have been under a National Government. There is the difference between Labour and National on superannuation.

Peter Brown: Will the Minister tell the House how New Zealand superannuation compares with the average wage in this country?

Hon RUTH DYSON: I certainly can. Under the legislation, the New Zealand Superannuation and Retirement Income Act, Labour committed to ensuring that New Zealand superannuation for a married couple never dropped below 65 percent of the average wage. Under the confidence and supply agreement with New Zealand First that percentage has been increased to 66 percent. This year the newly adjusted rate of superannuation will be 66.23 percent, compared with what it would have been under National, where it would have been 61 percent of the average wage. That is a huge difference.

Dr Pita Sharples: I seek leave to table a release from the Child Poverty Action Group, “Children need to share a poverty prevention success story”.

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

10. Inland Revenue Department—Child Support Debt

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

10. JUDITH COLLINS (National—Clevedon) to the Minister of Revenue: Is he satisfied with the way that the Inland Revenue Department responds to notifications from custodial parents when their former partners with child support debt are either entering or leaving New Zealand; if not, why not?

Hon PETER DUNNE (Minister of Revenue) : In general, yes.

Judith Collins: How does the Minister think the Inland Revenue Department should have responded in the case of a mother who, in January this year, provided the department with the flight details of her Australian-based former husband and father of her two children who has ignored his child support obligations for 10 years, owes over $20,000 in child support, earns A$86,000 a year, and comes and goes from New Zealand as he pleases; why, despite being handed all the information on a plate, did the Inland Revenue Department do no more than meekly ask this man as he was about the leave the country whether he would like to make a voluntary payment?

Hon PETER DUNNE: It depends on the quality of the information provided. In reality, the legislation that was passed in Parliament last year, which the member’s party opposed, will make it easier for us to make those collections in the future.

Moana Mackey: What are the benefits of the changes to allow a partial write-off of late payment penalties, and how successful have they been?

Hon PETER DUNNE: The measures I referred to in the earlier answer that the member’s question seeks information on have been extremely successful. In fact, as a result of that legislation, around 80 percent of liable parents whom we wrote off some debt for in the year to 31 December, had actually had a debt that was more than 1 year outstanding. Of those parents, a further 70 percent have subsequently reduced their debt levels. What that means is that more child support is being paid and getting through to more children. That has to be successful.

Judith Collins: Why did the Inland Revenue Department inform the woman on 14 January that it was going to take action and that the father of her children “will be in for a big surprise on the 23rd of January when he tries to leave the country”, only to do no more than ask him whether he would like to pay off his debt, and why did the Inland Revenue Department not do more when it had exact details of when and where he would be, and for weeks in advance?

Hon PETER DUNNE: As the member well knows, I am by law not permitted to discuss individual cases, but if she cares to raise it with me privately I am happy to have that followed through by officials.

Judy Turner: Does the Minister agree that a huge number of parents who are categorised as “liable” by the Family Court are just parents who want to be involved in the day-to-day care of their children, but cannot because current Family Court law results in denoting one parent as a part-time carer and the other as having full-time financial obligations; does he believe that a presumption for shared parenting—a policy promoted by United Future—would dramatically reduce the number of parents in the child support system, as well as ensure that children had more meaningful relationships with both parents after separations?

Hon PETER DUNNE: I am not responsible for the Family Court aspect of childcare policy, but I do agree very strongly with the member’s contention that most parents do want to be involved in the care of their children, and that shared parenting is in fact a very positive step forward. I congratulate her on the work she has done in promoting this, and hope that it will be possible to make greater allowance for shared parenting arrangements in the future.

Judith Collins: Why does the Minister not instruct the Inland Revenue Department to make greater use of its existing power to apply for arrest warrants in order to prevent these deadbeat dads from walking away from their financial obligations to their very own children; and why does this particular Government he supports put so-called freedom of movement rights above the rights of good custodial mums and their children—why are those rights more important?

Hon PETER DUNNE: In fact, since I have been Minister, the department has made greater use of its powers to seek arrest warrants. One of the interesting consequences has been that whenever that has occurred, in all but four cases we have been able to get repayments made. Only in four cases have we had to resort to arrests. So the complaint the member makes has actually been overtaken by events.

11. Energy—Security

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

11. LESLEY SOPER (Labour) to the Minister of Energy: What recent reports has he received on energy security?

Hon DAVID PARKER (Minister of Energy) : Transpower has today announced that Pole 1 of the high voltage direct current inter-island electricity grid link will be available for service, for northward flows, at times of peak demand this winter if it is needed. This restores yet another layer of protection in the unlikely event, for example, that the other Cook Strait link fails. There are many other substantial grid improvements occurring through the country. Capital expenditure on the grid this year is approximately $400 million, up from $60 million per annum in the 1990s. This six-fold increase is very substantial, and the power system’s resilience is improving substantially year by year.

Lesley Soper: What other recent changes have been made to improve energy security?

Hon DAVID PARKER: This week the Minister for the Environment released, under the Resource Management Act, the new national policy statement on electricity transmission, and this adopted recommendations by the board of inquiry chaired by Justice Salmon. I have today released a revised Government policy statement on electricity governance to the Electricity Commission, to implement the New Zealand Energy Strategy as we head towards 90 percent renewable electricity. Of course, last week Mighty River Power—

Hon Dr Nick Smith: It’s going down—it’s gone down every year.

Hon DAVID PARKER: No, it is not—rubbish! Of course, last week Mighty River Power announced it has resource consent for, and is proceeding with, another 130-megawatt, renewable, geothermal power station. The Government’s clear, sensible transformation of the energy sector to a sustainable and affordable future really is proceeding apace.

Gerry Brownlee: Has the Minister seen the Marsh report of last September, commissioned by Transpower, which led to Transpower shutting down the Pole 1 link, and in that report has he seen the risks that were outlined of recommissioning Pole 1—those being a major fire in the station with a high chance of spreading mercury vapour into the atmosphere, and the contamination of land from oil or mercury spills, with a suggestion that it was not a case of if, but when, those might happen—if so, what can he say to the House to assure New Zealanders that should the link be required this winter, everything has been done to mitigate against those prospects that were so real last September?

Hon DAVID PARKER: Here we have it again—scaremongering from Mr Brownlee. Last month he was telling us that the lights were going out—

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. It is unusual, I know, but the Minister is off on the wrong track so I will help him. I have in my possession here a document: Risk Analysis: Pole 1 HVDC Line, with the words “Transpower Limited”, “Marsh”; “Final Report”,dated September, which does outline the risks I have suggested. It does talk, for example, of the release of free mercury following earthquake or fire that will cause vapour to be released to other parts of the substation building and the external atmosphere. This is the reason why the pole was closed down. I have asked the Minister what has changed. I now seek leave to table this document, in order that he may answer factually.

Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought. Is there any objection? Yes, there is objection. Would the Minister please give his answer.

Hon DAVID PARKER: Yes, I have read the report, and here we have Mr Brownlee scaremongering again. Last month he told the country that the lights were going out—

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. You have asked that we do not interject too unreasonably when a Minister speaks, so I intend not to do that. But it is appropriate, Madam Speaker, that you keep his answer to a factual basis related to the question. I asked him what has changed. There is no scaremongering in that. I did not write this report; I simply read it. The Minister claims that he has read it, so what has changed?

Madam SPEAKER: I think we should just let the Minister give his answer.

Hon DAVID PARKER: Yes, I have read the report, and here we have Mr Brownlee scaremongering again. Last month—

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

Madam SPEAKER: Points of order are heard in silence.

Gerry Brownlee: You have asked that we respect the question and answer process; I am doing that. For the Minister to stand up and say that because I am reading a report that has been provided to him—a report that did see the entire operation of Pole 1 shut down last September, a report that indicates the huge risks around the operation of this pole—I have asked him, simply, what has changed. That is not scaremongering; it is unreasonable for you to allow the Minister to answer the question in that light.

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: Can I suggest that the member himself is now starting to become disorderly. He raised this point of order in exactly the same way he raised the point of order on exactly the same introduction to the answer previously given. To do that, therefore, is in fact questioning your previous ruling, Madam Speaker, that the Minister should be allowed to answer. This is a robust exchange, and if the member cannot take it he should not ask robust questions or try to give his Budget Policy Statement speech by way of a point of order.

Madam SPEAKER: Yes. I think if we allowed the Minister to continue—the Minister is allowed to give opinions under the Standing Orders—I am sure he will factually address the question if he is given an opportunity to do so.

Hon DAVID PARKER: Yes, as I said, I have read the report, and I repeat again that the last lot of scaremongering from Mr Brownlee said that the lights were going to go out and that cold showers were imminent. His scaremongering was as erroneous then as it is now, as were his embarrassing mistakes about Whirinaki. Of course, Mr Brownlee’s answer to security of supply—

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. The Minister is addressing a question, and he is going into all sorts of stray ground. The reality is that the security of New Zealand’s electricity supply is still precarious. No one other than the Minister would argue otherwise. The fact is that Whirinaki did burn a million litres of oil, and he is not answering the question.

Madam SPEAKER: Please be seated. I want the Minister to finish his answer, and then I will judge whether it was an answer in terms of the Standing Orders. If there is one more interruption by way of a point of order on matters I have already ruled on, the member will be leaving the Chamber.

Hon DAVID PARKER: Of course, Mr Brownlee’s prescription in respect of security of coal is shown in his Web video podcast entitled: “Sexy coal”—I kid members not. If members look at the National Party website, they will see the “Sexy coal” podcast. It is unbelievable and it just shows how out of touch National members are. They do not know what they believe in. Nick Smith is calling for decreases in electricity emissions—

Hon Dr Nick Smith: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. My colleague Gerry Brownlee asked a very serious question. The Cook Strait cable is one of the most important pieces of infrastructure that New Zealand has. We know that a failure in another country led to significant mercury poisoning for a significant portion of the population, and that, because of the insurance risk associated with that, the Cook Strait cable, Pole 1, was closed down last year. My colleague Gerry Brownlee has repeatedly sought an answer from the Minister as to whether those safety issues have been addressed.

Madam SPEAKER: I thank the member. The member is repeating the former point of order. I have given the member a lot of latitude on this. It is essentially the same point of order. Obviously, the Speaker is not the judge of the quality of the answers. However, I would ask members to allow the Minister to finish answering the question.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: What!

Madam SPEAKER: The Speaker, as I said, does not judge the quality of the answer. The Minister, as I hear him—as much as I can—is addressing the question. It may not be to the satisfaction of the members, and I will not take another point of order on the ruling I have already made. I think this was the third or fourth.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. A very clear Standing Order states that Ministers are to answer questions within their ministerial responsibility. I have listened very carefully to the Minister’s answer. He has recited all sorts of things that Mr Brownlee did or did not say. Can you explain to the House—and exactly the same issues arose when you asked Mr Bill English to leave—that Ministers—

Madam SPEAKER: Please be seated, Dr Smith.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: I am just asking you to enforce the Standing Orders.

Madam SPEAKER: I cannot do what the member asks until I hear the answer. If there is one more intervention I will ask the member to leave the House. Before I can rule I need to hear the answer.

Hon DAVID PARKER: As I was saying, Mr Brownlee’s answer in respect of security of supply is more coal. We have Nick Smith calling for decreases in electricity emissions while National’s spokesperson on energy, Mr “Sexy Coal” Brownlee, is calling for more. It really is amateur hour on the Opposition benches.

Madam SPEAKER: That did not address the question.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Thank you!

Madam SPEAKER: Would the Minister please address the question.

Hon DAVID PARKER: The issues as to the safety of the high-voltage direct current (HVDC) link are well addressed by the detail of the material that has been released by Transpower. If the situation was as dire as Mr Brownlee says it is, of course Transpower would not be able to insure against the risk. It can insure against the risk, which proves that that risk is not too high.

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I have not suggested there was any risk; the Government’s own report has said there is a risk. I seek leave again to table that report.

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

Peter Brown: Has the Minister read any recent reports by Dieter Helm, an Oxford University economist and British Government adviser, where, putting it briefly, he suggests that the effect of rising oil and gas prices is leading to big increases in coal burn in China, India, and the USA; knowing that and accepting his answer of positive security of supply, can the Minister tell the House that there will be, in the future, energy prices at a reasonable and affordable cost?

Hon DAVID PARKER: I have not read the exact report that the member refers to, but I have read similar reports, and I agree that one of the impacts of higher oil and gas prices has been to cause more coal to be burned internationally. That reinforces one of the points I previously made in this House, which is that although carbon capture and storage is not yet here, and although it is a very expensive technology and therefore is not central to New Zealand’s interests, it is important for the world, and we wish that technology development well.

12. Housing New Zealand Corporation—Waiting List

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

12. PHIL HEATLEY (National—Whangarei) to the Minister of Housing: How many applicants are currently on the Housing New Zealand Corporation waiting list?

Hon MARYAN STREET (Minister of Housing) : Housing New Zealand Corporation advises me that as at 29 February 2008 the number of applicants on the waiting list was 9,875. This figure includes 2,435 applicants already living in Housing New Zealand houses who are seeking a transfer.

Phil Heatley: How many of these thousands of needy families are locked out of a home by an official, written corporation policy where 6,000 market-rent tenants “have no legal responsibility to advise the corporation of the purchase of an investment property”?

Hon MARYAN STREET: I would be keen to hear, if that member has any details of cases that he would like to furnish me with, how that is being applied, and to whose disadvantage.

Lynne Pillay: What initiatives is the Labour-led Government taking to reduce the waiting list? [Interruption]

Hon MARYAN STREET: No, it has not. We have a targeted acquisitions programme. We are making better use of the State houses that we do have. We are providing housing through the Housing Innovation Fund. In fact, there are many initiatives—too numerous to mention here—but it does have to be said that it takes a lot longer to build and acquire Housing New Zealand Corporation properties than it does to sell them.

Phil Heatley: Why is it that if any of the 6,000 State house tenants paying a market rent buys an investment property or a holiday home, that tenant has no legal responsibility to Housing New Zealand Corporation; or does the Minister think that State house tenants should be able to own rental properties and holiday homes while thousands languish on the waiting list?

Hon MARYAN STREET: I am absolutely clear that the priority for this Government and Housing New Zealand Corporation is to house the most vulnerable in our society. There is no difference to that policy from this Government. If there are occasions that can be called fraud that are to do with subletting—where there are instances of people abusing the privilege that a Housing New Zealand Corporation house provides them—then I would like to know about that so the appropriate steps can be taken.

Phil Heatley: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. My question was about the policy that tenants can have investment properties. It was nothing about fraud. This is actually legal practice, according to the Minister. Could I please have an answer about the legal practice of people being able to have investment properties when they are State house tenants?

Madam SPEAKER: The Minister addressed the question.

Phil Heatley: Can the Minister confirm that this policy, which states: “There is no requirement for the tenants who are paying market rent to declare investments such as interest in properties.”, means that up to 6,000 State house tenants can quite legally be landlords themselves under the Labour Government rules; if not, what does this policy mean?

Hon MARYAN STREET: I draw to the attention of this House the fact that some 94 or 95 percent of State house tenants are on income-related rentals. The remaining few percent, who are on market rentals, have been tenants for a very long time. They have probably been Housing New Zealand tenants since long before this Government came into power.

Madam SPEAKER: Would the Minister please address the question.

Hon MARYAN STREET: I can talk about the policy of this Government, which is to house the most vulnerable. If the policy to which the member refers exists within the corporation, then I will do my best to address that when I have the appropriate information.

Phil Heatley: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. You asked the Minister to address the question. Should I repeat the question so that the Minister can address it?

Madam SPEAKER: No, the Minister did address the question.

Phil Heatley: I seek leave to table the reply to written question 10585, which includes “6,000 tenants pay market rent”.

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

Phil Heatley: I seek leave to table the financial review containing “Market rent tenants have no legal responsibility to advise of an investment property.”

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

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. What are we to make of a member of Parliament rising to his feet and seeking to table a page of Hansard? In respect of the question that member has just asked, the first publication was to do with a written question, which becomes part of the record. The member is grossly wasting Parliament’s time.

Madam SPEAKER: What members can do is agree or not agree, and they did not agree. It is a matter that is before the Standing Orders Committee as to documents that members ask to table in this House. I personally think it is time we looked at it.

1. Protected Disclosures Amendment Bill—Submissions

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

1. CRAIG FOSS (National—Tukituki) to the Chairperson of the Government Administration Committee: How many submissions have been received on the Protected Disclosures Amendment Bill?

SHANE ARDERN (Chairperson of the Government Administration Committee): The Government Administration Committee is considering the Protected Disclosures Amendment Bill in the name of the Hon Annette King. Submissions were called for and advertised in the major daily newspapers on 3 November 2007, with the closing date for submissions—

Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. This is a very, very narrow question, which asks “How many …”. The answer is a number; it is not a description of other activity.

Madam SPEAKER: One cannot insist on a particular type of answer to the question. I am sure the member will get to how many submissions there are.

SHANE ARDERN: I am happy to help the Minister. I am sure he is anxious to hear the answer. The committee received four submissions: one oral, and three written.

Craig Foss: What reasons for amending the Protected Disclosures Act 2000 did the person known as the whistleblower in the Hawke’s Bay District Health Board case—a person who had sought protection under that Act—provide in her submission?

Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I think there are two reasons that question should be ruled out: firstly, the supplementary question does not relate to the primary question, which asked about a number; and, secondly, it asked for the disclosure of material that has not yet been reported to the House. Therefore, it would be inappropriate for it to be reported in this way.

Simon Power: In fact, the primary question related specifically to the Protected Disclosures Amendment Bill, which is a subject that was being addressed by the chairperson of the committee.

SHANE ARDERN: The reference was to the whistleblower, who gave an oral submission in public to the select committee.

Madam SPEAKER: Thank you. The chairperson of the committee is not responsible for the views of submitters to the committee. The chairperson is responsible only for the process. Any question relating to the process is in order, but any question that relates to the substance of the submission is out of order. So that supplementary question was out of order.

Craig Foss: I seek leave to table a document from the person known as the whistleblower in order to background her issues in relation to the district health board.

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

ENDS


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