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Questions And Answers – Thursday, 13 March 2008

Questions And Answers – Thursday, 13 March 2008

1. KiwiSaver—Enrolments

1. MOANA MACKEY (Labour) to the Minister of Finance: How many young people have enrolled in KiwiSaver?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Finance) : As at 29 February, 113,084 people aged under 25 were enrolled in KiwiSaver. Over 75,000 of those were young workers aged between 18 and 24, and an additional 37,000 were less than 18. By and large, those young people would not have been existing savers prior to the scheme’s launch, so it can be counted as adding additional savings to New Zealand’s record.

Moana Mackey: Has he seen any reports on support for KiwiSaver as announced in Budget 2005?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I have seen a report suggesting that take-up among young New Zealanders would be low because “a lot of young people are not thinking 30 years ahead”. That report comes from Mr Key, the same man who initially said the KiwiSaver scheme was “terribly designed”, “fatally flawed”, and “a glorified Christmas club”, and then later said that it was going to be successful. We are still waiting to find out what his position is on the KiwiSaver scheme.

R Doug Woolerton: Can the Minister confirm, as he had previously estimated in the House, that had New Zealand introduced compulsory superannuation in 1997, as had been proposed by New Zealand First, Kiwis would have in the order of $100 billion invested now; and would he also agree that although KiwiSaver is better late than never, the New Zealand economy would have been much healthier if Kiwis had saved in the time between 1997 and the start of KiwiSaver?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Clearly, there would have been an improvement in savings. It would have been even greater, of course, had a former National Government not scrapped the Labour Government’s compulsory savings scheme in 1976. That scheme was based, incidentally, on contributions of 4 percent from the employee and 4 percent from the employer.

Moana Mackey: Has the Minister seen any reports on projections for KiwiSaver enrolments?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Initial projections suggested that 270,000 people would join by 30 June this year. Mr Key was reported as saying he doubted that, and that take-up would be low. In fact, we have now seen some 470,000 people join in the first 8 months of the scheme.

Madam SPEAKER: Supplementary question, the Rt Hon Winston Peters.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I am awake and Mr Carter never is.

Madam SPEAKER: That is not a question. Does the member have a question, please?

Rt Hon Winston Peters: He cannot help himself. He sits there, sniping away. He is described by the agricultural sector as being the invisible man—but not in this House, unfortunately.

Madam SPEAKER: Order!

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Is it not important that on the issue of long-term savings for this nation there be an agreement across the political divide, and what reports does the Minister have on that?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: That would be highly desirable, but unfortunately when one is wrestling with jelly one realises that it is hard to reach a successful conclusion to the match. This is what we are doing at the moment with the National Party on KiwiSaver. National refuses to state its position, when it has voted against KiwiSaver in Parliament some 40-odd times.

2. Financial Statements, Crown—Gross Sovereign-issued Debt

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

2. Hon BILL ENGLISH (Deputy Leader—National) to the Minister of Finance: What was the level of gross sovereign-issued debt in 2000 and 2007, in millions of dollars, as recorded on page 23 of the Government’s Financial Statements for the year ended 30 June 2007?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Finance) : In 2000, gross sovereign-issued debt was $36.04 billion, or 32.4 percent of GDP, as recorded on page 23 of the Government’s Financial Statements for the year ended 30 June 2007; at 30 June 2007 it was $36.15 billion, or 21.7 percent of GDP.

Hon Bill English: Does the Minister agree that the figures he has just quoted show that the amount of debt in 2007 is about the same as it was in 2000, when Labour entered office, and does that not strain the credibility of his recent statements that he “seized the opportunity” to lower debt, when in fact he has not paid off one dollar?


Hon Dr Nick Smith: Slippery Cullen.

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: But at least I have never been convicted of contempt of court. First, that debt has lowered from 32.4 percent of GDP to 21.7 percent of GDP. The Government is in a far better position to service that debt. Second, the figure of course included settlement cash. Excluding settlement cash, it dropped from $36 billion down to $30.9 billion at 30 June 2003. Third, net debt, which perhaps more accurately reflects the Government’s exposed position—

Hon Bill English: Ah, you’re changing that.

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: No. Net debt is what we owe, minus what is owed to us—just like we have in a household, if the member can understand that simple matter. Net debt has dropped from $21.4 billion to $4.4 billion, which is a $17 billion reduction in net debt in nominal terms.

Hon Paul Swain: Was the Minister’s test that personal tax cuts should not be funded from increased borrowing defined clearly in the 2008 Budget Policy Statement?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Yes, it was. Page 7 of the Budget Policy Statement states that the Labour-led Government’s personal tax package will be consistent with its overarching goals. The Budget Policy Statement went on to state that the package will be consistent with the Government’s medium-term approach to fiscal policy of having gross debt, excluding Reserve Bank settlement cash as a proportion of GDP, broadly stable at around 20 percent. Mr Key has committed National to lifting that to 25 percent of GDP.

Hon Bill English: Can the Minister now confirm that his test for the tax cuts is not whether he actually borrows money, because of course he is borrowing money this year as we speak, but to keep gross debt at somewhere round the range of 20 percent, which is quite a different test and will enable him to borrow money when he is cutting taxes?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: For some years now the Government’s medium-term fiscal target has been debt of around 20 percent of GDP, and we have achieved that target. Now what we have to do is keep around that target. The National Party is promising to lift that to 25 percent of GDP, and the only thing it is promising to do, apart from freezing all public servants, is to cut taxes. It is clear what the extra borrowing is for.

Hon Bill English: What is the Government’s extra borrowing this year of $2.7 billion for?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I tried to explain this to the member yesterday, and Mr Key clearly understood what the Government is doing. The Government is borrowing at a constant rate because that helps the market and reduces our long-term borrowing costs, therefore cash is building up in the year when we are not paying off debt, which is this year; and in years when we are paying off debt at higher than the average rate, then that position comes into the opposite situation.

Hon Bill English: Does the Minister recall saying that if debt-servicing costs increase, that means he would have to cut investment in health and education, and given that his debt-servicing cost has increased half a billion dollars this year—a matter of fact, not conjecture—can he now tell us which services are going to be cut to fund that half-billion-dollar increase?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: As I explained to the member yesterday, this year we are borrowing the same as last year, and as we plan to probably borrow next year, but we have no debt repayment this year. Therefore, we see gross debt go up, but net debt does not. We have more cash on hand; we are earning on that cash. The member has cited the gross finance cost servicing figure, not the net cost after the Government’s interest income.

Hon Bill English: Why does the Minister persist in pretending that he is not borrowing, that debt-servicing costs are not going up, when he is borrowing, and they are going up, and pretending that if someone else does it, it is very bad, but if he does it, it is pragmatic management of the Government’s books?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I do not ever recall saying that the Government is not borrowing. At least twice every year while I have been the Minister of Finance, I have published documentation showing the Government is borrowing. The member cannot just make it up, and then say: “Ah,the member has confirmed …” what I have already said twice every year, which I also say every time I am in front of the Finance and Expenditure Committee, and every time I have answered a question in this House. He thinks he is being very clever saying it. It is interesting that our medium-term debt target is the same percentage that that member had when he was Leader of the Opposition.

Rodney Hide: What is it that determines total Government spending in the years ahead, and does the Minister think it a good idea that we have a firm target or a limit to set total Government spending in the medium term?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Part of Government spending is generated by a very wide range of pressures and demands and political choices. This Government made the choice to fund Working for Families; it made the choice to fund 20 hours’ free early childhood education; it made the choice to fund interest-free student loans; it made the choice to fund assistance to business, and so on. It is clear that in the long term, Governments will face some increased spending pressure as the demographic changes start to really bite. If one has committed oneself to a ceiling based on a different demographic situation, at that point one must be delivering poorer health and poorer superannuation services. That is why the superannuation fund is there to offset some of that future cost of superannuation.

Rodney Hide: I get only one supplementary question. Just to clarify, does that mean that anything goes in terms of overall total Government spending?

Madam SPEAKER: That is not a point of order; that is a supplementary question. Are you asking a supplementary question? You have two supplementary questions.

Rodney Hide: No; I was just making a point.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: With regard to Mr English’s questions, has there been a change in the accountancy rules for the Government, Government departments, and Treasury in the last 9 years; if not, how can the Minister explain why those series of questions have been put in the first place?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: There has been a change because we have moved from general accounting practice to international financial reporting standards. Although that has had an impact on some of the headline figures, actually it makes no difference to the trend, and the differences are not relevant to the kinds of strange questions that Mr English is raising.

Hon Bill English: Why does the Minister not just admit that by his own measure when he says he has paid off debt in fact he has not, and when he says he is not borrowing, in fact he is?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I repeat that I have never said “We are not borrowing.” When we reduced net debt from $21 billion in 2000, which was about 20 percent of GDP, to $4.4 billion to day, which is about 3 percent of GDP and one of the lowest levels in the developed world, and on top of that we have a superannuation fund that puts us into a strong net asset position and he has promised in the past billions of dollars of tax cuts, how on earth can he start criticising the Government for not having been fiscally strong?

3. Human Rights—China

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

3. KEITH LOCKE (Green) to the Minister of Foreign Affairs: Does he agree with the United States State Department’s latest report, released on Tuesday, that China is “authoritarian” and continues to “deny … citizens basic human rights and fundamental freedoms”?

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Minister of Foreign Affairs) : I want to thank the member for asking my third question in 3 years and to tell him that New Zealand is a sovereign nation that forms its own views and assessments of other countries and nations.

Keith Locke: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. That does not answer any question. That could be a response to any question asked in this House; it does not address the specific question on the Order Paper.

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: With the greatest respect, Madam Speaker, we do not have our minds made up by Pol Pot or the Russians invading Afghanistan, or anybody else. Since 1947 when we adopted the Statute of Westminster, we have progressively been confident enough to make up our own minds on all these international issues, and that is what covers this question he is asking.

Madam SPEAKER: That does address the question.

Keith Locke: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. It does not answer the question; it is just a generality that could be used to answer any question that any member asks a Minister of Foreign Affairs.

Madam SPEAKER: No, ruling on the point of order—[Interruption] Would those members who are walking around the Chamber please be seated. It is very distracting when members are addressing points of order. The Minister’s answer did address the question; it can be applied to the specific question that was asked. It was within the bounds.

Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I actually rise to say that this raises a serious point. If the Minister was asking this question, he would be declaring it a constitutional outrage, that he had never heard anything like that in any Western democracy ever, and that in any other Parliament the Minister would be asked to stand up and answer the question. If members think about it, it is no wonder that he has had only three questions to answer in 3 years while taking the baubles of office because he has never answered one, yet.

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: That may well be true but you would still rule that the Minister had addressed the question.

Madam SPEAKER: Absolutely, it was the same point of order. I did listen carefully and to the additional information the Minister gave—he addressed the question.

Keith Locke: Does the Minister then agree with the Chinese Foreign Minister who claimed that raising human rights issues during the Olympics is anti-China; if he does not agree with the Chinese Foreign Minister, when will he be “speaking out”—to quote the US State Department’s report—against the Chinese Government’s continuing to “harass, detain, arrest, and imprison journalists, writers, activists, and defence lawyers and their families.”?

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: In recognising important areas of difference between New Zealand and China on human rights, it does not follow that ending economic relationships, political dialogue, or sporting contact with China is the best way—

Rodney Hide: Who wrote this?

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: I wrote this—not a fool like that member, obviously, otherwise it would be unmitigated drivel if it came from him. I do not want to drop Mr Locke on his head like the dancing partner of Rodney Hide, but I want to say that New Zealand athletes will have the same rights as all Olympic athletes and that would apply to any other Olympic Games. Hopefully too, the athletes can count on the support of all New Zealanders when they compete.

Keith Locke: When the Minister refers to economic relationships is it the case that his failure to specify any human rights violations in China and to speak out publicly against them has something to do with him as the Minister being muzzled by the Government in its pursuit of a free-trade agreement with China?

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: Of all the terrible rumours about Winston Peters, none of them has been about me being muzzled. The fact is we acknowledge that economic reforms in China and a freer trading environment have lifted hundreds of millions of Chinese above the poverty line. But there are examples of human rights not having progressed at the same pace, and we have consistently, always, encouraged the Chinese Government to do better.

Keith Locke: To be more specific, has he received reports that China’s migrant construction workers labouring to revamp Beijing for the Olympics—workers who are mostly poor migrants from the countryside—face routine exploitation, work in dangerous conditions, have no access to medical treatment, often go unpaid, and have no right to strike or have independent trade unions; and will he publicly condemn this rather than give some vague, gentle encouragement of China?

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: At the last election, and at every election for quite a few years, I promised, like most members of Parliament, my responsibility and my efforts and energy to the progression of the social and economic welfare of New Zealanders. I have not spent all my time trying to find some problem in some far-flung country and sought to make it the main concern of this Parliament.

Keith Locke: Will the Minister make any public criticism of a most immediate event, and that is the suppression of a protest by hundreds of Tibetan monks in Lhasa, Tibet yesterday; if not, why not?

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: Successive foreign affairs Ministers from this country have made New Zealand’s view on human rights very clear to China and any other nation that we might have some concern about. But that said, we do not intend to jeopardise the whole future economic and foreign policy relations of this country by picking up on some attack of the nature that Mr Locke has been notorious for, including, for example, supporting the invasion of Afghanistan by the Soviet Union, and supporting, of all things, the killing fields and Pol Pot.

Keith Locke: I seek leave to table an article in this morning’s Dominion Post, headed: “Chinese quell monks’ protest with tear gas”.

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

Keith Locke: I seek leave to table the US State Department report on human rights violations by the Chinese regime.

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

Keith Locke: I seek leave to table this week’s Human Rights Watch report on the very poor conditions faced by migrant workers working on the Olympics.

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

Keith Locke: I seek leave to table yesterday’s report of the Chinese Foreign Minister, claiming that any criticism of China’s human rights is anti-China.

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

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: I seek leave to table two documents that go to the core of the background of the questioner. The first is an article referring to his support for the Soviet communist attack on Afghanistan in 1980.

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

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: I seek leave to table a document showing the member’s support for the regime of Pol Pot.

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

Nandor Tanczos: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I seek your guidance on the Minister’s answer to the last question. On numerous occasions you have pulled Ministers up for extraneous matter contained in their answers, and it seems to me that it cannot be acceptable for a Minister to bring up some made-up story about what my colleague has said, simply as a means of distracting the House from the fact that he has been given a script by the Government and he is too afraid to say what he really believes.

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: I can see why he is going, but the fact of the matter is that I am prepared to table the two pieces of evidence I have, and Nandor knows that I have those documents, so why is he lying to the House?

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: The point of order was actually raised out of time. It should have been at the time of the question and the answer.

Madam SPEAKER: Yes, the point of order was raised out of time, but I think it is appropriate that I just remind members at the beginning of question time that questions and answers should be consistent with the Standing Orders, and superfluous observations of many sorts that we hear are really not acceptable because they do lead to disorder.

Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I observe through the answering of questions that the Minister Winston Peters was reading his answers from, I assume, official documents carefully prepared. I ask him through the House to table those documents so we can see the answers that he rifled through that he did not read.

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: Ministers are perfectly allowed to read from the notes prepared for the answering of questions, but those notes are not of themselves the official documents referred to in the Standing Orders.

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: Sometimes, despite the longstanding tradition that people should be able to ad lib their answers, I sometimes wish Mr Hide would stick to his script rather than let his tongue roll around in his mouth, and see what happens next.

Madam SPEAKER: That is not a point of order. May I say, of course—ruling on Mr Hide’s point of order—that all Ministers tend to read out answers. If the Minister did have an official document, then obviously that raises the point, but he did not, as I understand what he was saying. It was an answer to the question.

Keith Locke: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. There is a constitutional issue that comes out of the Minister’s answers, and that there has been some discussion during the last couple of years of the role of the leader of New Zealand First. This concerns the party being outside the Government, the Minister of Foreign Affairs being outside Cabinet, and when he answers questions in which capacity is he answering those questions. It seems, unfortunately, that he cannot exercise his role as leader of New Zealand First in opposing the China free-trade agreement, and I wonder whether there is some way through this to allow him to be able to speak his mind a bit more freely.

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: There is no merit in the point of order at all. Questions can be addressed only to Ministers, and they can reply only as Ministers. I would love you to rule, Madam Speaker, that we could ask questions in the House of leaders of parties, unrelated to any ministerial responsibility. I am sure that each day on this side of the House we would have lots of questions trying to find out what National Party policy is.

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: With respect, Madam Speaker, I do not think you should have allowed the member’s point of order to go on that long. The point of order was thoroughly spurious, but I will tell the member that New Zealand First’s views on foreign policy and domestic policy are well known, unlike those of the Greens, who are now struggling for a populist issue and who are going to oppose the free-trade agreement.

Madam SPEAKER: I thank the member. The point of order was not valid. Questions can be asked only of Ministers, and the questions have to relate to the Minister’s ministerial responsibility. In this instance they clearly did.

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

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

4. Hon TONY RYALL (National—Bay of Plenty) to the Minister of Health: Will the director-general’s inquiry into the Hawke’s Bay District Health Board cover the role of management in dealing with conflicts of interest; if not, why not?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE (Minister of Health) : For the information of the member, I was asked the same question yesterday by Heather Roy, to which I replied: “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.” None the less, I fully expect the member to continue his desperate attempts to undermine an independent review.

Hon Tony Ryall: Would the Minister be concerned to hear that leaked findings of the review team’s version one report say: “There were significant barriers to a vendor other than Healthcare New Zealand succeeding with the proposal. Healthcare New Zealand and Peter Hausmann, on the other hand, knew what was required as it had seen the February 2005 board paper, which set out what the Hawke’s Bay District Health Board wanted.”?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: Of course, the difference between the member and me is that he thinks he has the report and I do not, because he is violating Speakers’ ruling 32/4, which says that he should exercise his privileges only in exceptional circumstances, not to protect his cronies.

Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. It is unacceptable that a Minister can get up and say that a question is outside the Standing Orders. If it is outside the Standing Orders, he should take a point of order and ask the Speaker to rule. That was not an answer to a question.

Madam SPEAKER: The Minister made reference to a Speakers’ ruling, and I have made reference to that Speakers’ ruling in the past on matters related to this one. For the benefit of those who are interested, I advise it is Speakers’ ruling 32/4. Of course members’ rights to freedom of speech in this House are not curtailed, but members are reminded in the Speakers’ ruling that it is only in exceptional circumstances that they would go against a court order. However, it is, at the end of the day, in the judgment of the individual member as to what he or she says or does.

Hon Bill English: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I am concerned that your ruling may have given the impression that a member has gone against the court order. That is not in fact the case. In fact, the court order concerned quite explicitly says it does not cover the fair reporting of statements made in Parliament. So there is no question here of an MP using privilege to breach a court order; the court order does not apply in this circumstance.

Madam SPEAKER: I thank the member. I was not making that implication, at all; I was merely reiterating to members a ruling that has been made before. It is for members to decide whether it applies.

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. The Minister should answer the question without reference to the cover of your previous ruling, which does not apply in this case.

Madam SPEAKER: Well, if he wishes to. I think he had two parts to his answer, as I recall it. But does the Minister wish to readdress the question?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: Continuing from the previous answer, I was asked the same question yesterday, and I said then in my answer that the report, I am told, was on matters of governance but may include the relationship between the board and the management team. I would invite the member, if he is confident that his material does not breach a court order, to read the same material out in the corridor after question time.

Hon Bill English: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. In his previous answer the Minister made a remark that I believe is unparliamentary. He alleged that a member of Parliament was using the privilege of the House to “protect his cronies”—those are the words he said. I believe those words are quite unparliamentary. I have never heard that allegation made before. The member is not actually using privilege, in any case, and the Minister should be required to withdraw that allegation.

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: I think this particular line of questioning over some weeks has been accompanied by direct statements from that member, and certainly from other members on the National front bench, about the protection of cronies and, indeed, other people. It is a little rich to now raise the issue when somebody on this side has used the phrase.

Hon Bill English: It was the Minister’s allegation that a member was using privilege. Now, the use of privilege in this Parliament is something that we all take seriously, and I will repeat what I said before. I have not heard the accusation made in this Parliament before that an MP is using privilege to protect his or her cronies. In fact, the statement is wrong; the member is not doing something that requires privilege. The Minister should be asked to withdraw his allegation that privilege has been used for some kind of self-interest.

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: Everything said in this Parliament is subject to parliamentary privilege. If one cannot say that, then one cannot even use the phrase “protecting cronies” in regard to almost anything else. The fact is that what is said in this House is privileged, and members use that on occasions to say things that, if they said them outside the House, they would be subject to legal sanction for.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Madam Speaker, we are in great danger here, if you are to accede to Mr English’s request, of so restraining the rights of members of Parliament as to in fact end up with an abuse of our rights, which we have had since 1688. Just because Mr English is sensitive about some things, that is no reason for you to tighten the Standing Orders. But, more important, Mr Ryall has been invited countless times to go outside this House and say what he has said here. The fact that he does not do so might add some substance as to whether we should believe him.

Madam SPEAKER: I thank members for their contributions. I shall reserve my ruling on this matter, because it is obviously one of some importance to everyone. Now, can we proceed?

Sue Moroney: Is the Minister concerned by continuous attempts to undermine the independent director-general’s review?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: Yes. I am aware that yesterday some former board members of the Hawke’s Bay District Health Board attempted to undermine the director-general’s report by falsely stating that I would be in breach of no less than the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act if the review were released without giving them 7 days to review it. I will soon seek leave to table advice from Crown Law relating to this matter. That was a clear act of desperation from a group of individuals who first sought to slow down the process by taking out an injunction, and who are now attempting to further delay the release of the independent report. I am also aware that yesterday the National Party claimed that a draft of the report exonerated the former board. Why, why, why are members across from me working so hard to undermine this review? What are they afraid it will say?

Heather Roy: Why was it, when I asked exactly the same question as the primary question yesterday, that the Minister said I sorely—sorely—tempted him to disclose some of the many pieces of information that the good people of Hawke’s Bay have sent to him since he made his decision; and why does he not put on record the information he has, and who supplied it, that makes him think he is so right when the good people of Hawke’s Bay think he is so wrong?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: The member’s question is an important one, and it is precisely because I am seeking to ensure the independence of the director-general’s review report. I am therefore unwilling to put in the public domain any material that I have independently received, lest the two be confused.

Hon Tony Ryall: Would the Minister be concerned if the leaked findings from the review team say of Annette King’s appointee: “Peter Hausmann did not provide adequate disclosures to the board of his interest in the community services initiative.”, and in particular that “He assisted in drafting both the RFP itself and the board paper that recommended that the initiative should be adopted.”?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: In the sense of neither my decision to replace the board of the Hawke’s Bay District Health Board, nor, as I have previously said, any relationship I may have with the board in my position as Minister of Health, in no case am I seeking to protect Mr Hausmann. Mr Hausmann is accountable for his actions in exactly the same way as all other members of the board will be.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Why does the Minister not ask Mr Ryall to table the information from which he is reading—which is clearly improperly obtained—so that all the rest of the members of this House and the public can know what on earth he is talking about; would he simply ask that question now and seek leave for that to happen?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: For the information of the member, I tell him that I have previously asked the member opposite to declare what information he has received and how he has received it, and, further, to restate his questions outside the House. I do not think he has been straight enough with the public to do so.

Hon Tony Ryall: Why did Annette King appoint Mr Hausmann and say that his conflicts would be well managed, when it is clear that this Government appointee was drafting board paper and amending tender documents; if that is “well managed”, what would a badly managed conflict of interest look like?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: One report I can refer to is the Auditor-General’s report on the Hawke’s Bay District Health Board, which goes to the year ended 30 June 2007, and which in sections 4 and 5 goes through large numbers of governance failures at the board. I think that that speaks for itself. All I can say is that I look forward very much to making public the independent report of the director-general, whatever it says about whomever it says it.

Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I think the Minister of Foreign Affairs is unwell, and is showing his normal diplomacy in repeatedly calling out unparliamentary language across the House about Mr Ryall. I think, and ask you, that he should be required to withdraw and apologise for what he said.

Madam SPEAKER: I did not hear what was said, because there was so much interchange across the House. Did the member make an unparliamentary comment?

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I was paying attention to my colleague here and rightly ignoring Mr Hide. But if I did say something unparliamentary, I apologise.

Sue Moroney: What reports has the Minister seen that express confidence in his decision to replace the board with a commissioner?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: I have received a number of messages and seen reports from the people in Hawke’s Bay. Some of these comments include an editorial in the CHBMail, which states: “The CHB Mailhas battled issues of transparency with the Hawke’s Bay District Health Board for the last 3 or so years, and it believes it is about time that the board was revealed for its discrepancies.” Comments from concerned citizens include: “I believe on the balance of the evidence to date your decision regarding the Hawke’s Bay District Health Board was the correct one.” Another comment was: “What the public needs to know about is the level of inappropriate expenditure by the board. I am sure my situation is only the tip of the iceberg.” My personal favourite is: “In central Hawke’s Bay, well known for voting National, it is said ‘If you put a monkey up with a blue ribbon, they will vote for it.’ No offence is intended to Mr Tremain.”

Hon Tony Ryall: Would it surprise the Minister to know that the review panel has indicated it will not be dealing with the district health board management’s involvement in the conflict of interest, nor will it be dealing with the whistleblower’s concerns, so what sort of inquiry can the public expect to get when neither of those vital issues is being considered?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: In respect of the second part of the question, I previously tabled in the House a settlement document from the whistleblower, which says her retrenchment had nothing, absolutely nothing, to do with the member’s question. In respect of the first part of the question, yes, I probably would be surprised, because I have not seen the report, and I advise the member himself to wait till next week.

Hon Tony Ryall: Why did the Government design an inquiry that would not look at the actions of the district health board management, because if Mr Hausmann was allowed to write the board paper, then someone in management let him do that?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: As I have repeatedly told the member, the whole point of the inquiry is that it is an independent inquiry, and therefore the Government does not control how it is done.

Hon Tony Ryall: Does the Minister not realise the public is not going to buy his argument about an independent inquiry, because the people know that he tried to shut down the Hawke’s Bay District Health Board from criticising his jack-up inquiry, and that that is the reason it got the chop?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: The reasons the board got the chop were that it could not manage a spiralling budget deficit, that it had virtually the entire senior management team on the point of walking out, and that it thought the way to manage a relationship with the Crown was through the pages of Hawke’s Bay Today. The management is not responsible for the persistent breakdowns in the governance process, and I invite the member to choose his words carefully so that he can do it on the basis of evidence that I will put in the public domain next week.

5. Transport Investment—Waikato

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

5. SUE MORONEY (Labour) to the Minister of Transport: What investment has the Government made in transport in the Waikato region?

Hon ANNETTE KING (Minister of Transport) : Since 1999 the Government has invested close to $1.2 billion in land transport in the Waikato region. In 2007-08 the Government forecasts to invest a further $200 million. This is a 70 percent increase on what the National Government invested in the region in 1999, as demonstrated by this graph that I am showing the House now. This is the investment into Waikato under a Labour Government.

Martin Gallagher: What reports has the Minister read on the Government’s commitment to the Waikato region?

Paula Bennett: Desperate!

Hon ANNETTE KING: I heard an interjection from the backbench member, saying “Desperate”. It was desperate times under a National Government, because certainly the Waikato region could not get any investment into transport. I have seen comments from David Bennett, National Party MP, saying that the Government lacks commitment to the Waikato region in respect of land transport. I do not know where he has been; it is obviously not in his own electorate. This Government has invested considerably into infrastructure in the Waikato region, and all the National Party built was stone walls. I ask the member Rick Barker to hold up this graph, which shows this Government’s investment into transport as a percentage of GDP. [Interruption] That has got those members going, because there are the facts and they do not like the facts.

Martin Gallagher: Has Land Transport New Zealand in effect withdrawn funding for two sections of the Waikato Expressway?

Hon ANNETTE KING: No, it has not, because funding for Hamilton and the Huntly bypass has not yet been allocated. In fact, Land Transport New Zealand has not received formal funding applications for either project. Land Transport New Zealand has asked Transit to go back and have a look at these very high-cost projects before it submits its final funding applications, in order that we get value for money. I would have thought that every person in this House would want value for money, or is it just National Party rhetoric when its members talk about that?

6. Families Commission—Confidence

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

6. JUDITH COLLINS (National—Clevedon) to the Minister for Social Development and Employment: Is she satisfied that the Families Commission is focused on its role as an advocate for New Zealand families; if not, why not?

Hon RUTH DYSON (Minister for Social Development and Employment) : Yes. The Families Commission has consulted widely to identify issues that are of concern to New Zealand families. As a result, it has developed a work programme to advocate for families in key areas that have been identified by families as important to families.

Judith Collins: Does she think it is good use of taxpayers’ money for the Families Commission to spend more than $500,000 on a pre-election advertisement telling people that they should value parents—a message that even the commission said yesterday was self-evident?

Hon RUTH DYSON: Yes. Unlike that member I do support parents and a campaign so that the rest of New Zealand supports parents. The Families Commission - led campaign is in partnership with community-based family support agencies such as Barnardos, Plunket, and Relationship Services, and I commend both the message and the campaign to that member and her party.

Lynne Pillay: Why has the Families Commission launched a campaign to promote the value of parenting?

Hon RUTH DYSON: The Families Commission has called on all New Zealanders to do more to support parenting, following research that indicated that some parents felt undervalued. Sadly, the attitude of the member asking the primary question and her party indicates that those parents may have been right. In contrast to the National Party, our Government values parents. That is why we have invested in initiatives such as the Working for Families package, paid parental leave, and 20 hours’ free early childhood education. These are all policies that support parenting and parents, and all policies that the National Party has opposed.

Judith Collins: Why did the Families Commission recently appoint a public relations company “to review the Families Commission’s reputation and communications as part of its planning for a new approach to public relations for the Families Commission”, and can the Minister explain how the average Kiwi family benefits from such brand-building exercises for the benefit of the commission?

Hon RUTH DYSON: As it is a relatively recently established commission, I think it is important that the first phase of its long-term work is evaluated to ensure that it is delivering in both advocacy and promotion in terms of Government expectations. Through the last 3 years’ research and work the member alluded to, and through the consultation with families, the commission has now focused on preventing family violence. I ask whether the member will oppose that. The commission is also focused on supporting parents, and I ask whether the member will oppose that. The commission is also focused on improving families’ life balance, and I ask whether the member will oppose that, as well.

Judith Collins: Is the Minister familiar with the Families Commission report on the 2007 Families Day, which noted: “The Families Commission is competing in a cluttered space, where there is a risk of not being seen.” and “Families Day provides an opportunity to differentiate from other competing Government agencies.”, and can she explain what those other competing Government agencies are and why the Families Commission is in competition with them?

Hon RUTH DYSON: As an advocacy Minister in our Government over the last 8 years, I have noticed exactly the same problem—that nearly every week is an awareness week for some cause or another. But I would challenge that member to say that any one of those weeks is not worthy of support. The key aim should be to ensure that the value of promoting families is recognised.

Judith Collins: What does it say about the focus of the Families Commission when that same report on the 2007 Families Day stated: “While there was a concerted effort to gain media support for Families Day, there was little interest from mainstream media outlets.”, but in the next paragraph the report writer suggests “extending Families Day from a 1-day event to a week-long event” followed by yet another paragraph noting that it was necessary to ask: “What is the objective or purpose of Families Day/Week?”

Hon RUTH DYSON: I think that shows a highly commendable level of confidence in the New Zealand media. The fact that the report writer suggests that the media may well move from its inability to focus on a 1-day event to focus on a week-long event is very commendable.

Judith Collins: Oh well, the Lord loves a trier! Why is the Families Commission advertising so much this year that it was compelled to seek advice to ensure that it did not breach Cabinet guidelines on political advertising in the Electoral Finance Act—who is the Families Commission really advertising for this year?

Hon RUTH DYSON: As has been repeated many times in this House, any agencies that are involved in the publication of Government initiatives would be wise to seek advice to ensure their publications do not conflict with the Electoral Finance Act. The basis of the question is hugely ironic, given that that member challenged the Families Commission for underspending at a select committee this week—it is bizarre!

Judith Collins: I seek leave to table Valuing Parenting, a programme of action at a total cost of $883,000.

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

Judith Collins: I seek leave to table the Families Day 2007 report and recommendations.

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

Judith Collins: I seek leave to table Senate Communications’ letter to the Families Commission.

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

7. Accident Compensation Corporation—Te Rūpeketanga Trust

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

7. Hon TARIANA TURIA (Co-Leader—Māori Party) to the Minister for ACC: What contracts is Te Rūpeketanga Trust currently receiving from the Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC), and what is the total amount of contract funding being provided to Te Rūpeketanga Trust from ACC?

Hon RUTH DYSON (Minister for Social Development and Employment) on behalf of the Minister for ACC: The trust has three contracts with ACC: the first for employment maintenance, the second for transitional job search, and the third for work-ready programmes. The contracts were effective from 24 January this year. All three are on a fee-for-service basis.

Hon Tariana Turia: Is it appropriate for an organisation that is only 8 weeks old to receive fee-for-service contracts, and why did ACC not have confidence in the ability of existing organisations in the health sector to administer those contracts, rather than it wasting money on setting up yet another bureaucracy?

Hon RUTH DYSON: My understanding from advice received from ACC is that the three contracts were actually transferred from a previous organisation to a new organisation, which was set up as a marae-based organisation because the previous provision of service did not attract any clients.

Louisa Wall: Kia ora, Madam Speaker. What actions is the Labour-led Government taking to ensure that Māori are participating in ACC schemes?

Hon RUTH DYSON: As the House will be aware, Māori have traditionally had a low uptake of ACC entitlement. Our Government is taking steps under the Māori access strategy to address that, such as appointing community-based kaiāwhinato assist Māori access to the scheme by providing information on ACC matters; piloting six Māori community relationship organisations, again working with ACC at a local level, to promote access to the scheme; and targeting communication and resources through Māori media.

Hon Tariana Turia: The contract with Te Rūpeketanga Trust is for the area from New Plymouth right down to Wellington; what relationship will other Māori health providers have with Te Rūpeketanga Trust, and why has another tier of bureaucracy been added to the relationship between ACC and Māori services in implementing the Māori access strategy?

Hon RUTH DYSON: My understanding is that the trust is now marae based, which it was not previously under its former incorporation. It is working with NgātiRuanuiTahua Society, and is linked closely with its health clinic and primary health services, which is a good thing. But actually the trust’s contracts are not for health service provision; they are for employment maintenance, transitional job-search, and work-ready programmes.

Hon Tariana Turia: How concerned will the Minister be to know that a substantial amount of funding has been given to someone who provided Māori policy advice to ACC that resulted in ACC establishing these contracts with that same person, and is this another example of conflict of interest in awarding contracts?

Hon RUTH DYSON: The situation that has been outlined by the member could raise concern about potential conflict of interest. On the basis of the information provided in that question, I am sure the corporation will be investigating any such potential conflict of interest.

8. Housing New Zealand Corporation—Confidence

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

8. PHIL HEATLEY (National—Whangarei) to the Minister of Housing: Does she have confidence in the Housing New Zealand Corporation; if so, why?

Hon CHRIS CARTER (Minister of Education) on behalf of the Minister of Housing: Yes; because the Housing New Zealand Corporation works hard to provide housing for New Zealanders with the greatest housing need.

Phil Heatley: Will the Minister continue to publicly support the corporation’s policy that the 6,000 market rent tenants have “no legal responsibility to advise … of … the purchase of an investment property”, and therefore support State house tenants being landlords themselves if they want to be, or will she change that policy?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: That is a bit rich coming from a member of a party that established market rents as the norm. It was during the 1990s that the so-called “McCully tenants” were enrolled and given tenancies of State houses. Of the new tenants in State houses, 99 percent are income-related renters. For that member to grandstand in here, seeking a headline by talking about market renters, when his party put them in our houses is a bit rich.

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I ask you to consider the answer the Minister has just given. He was asked a very specific question: does the Government intend to change the policy that allows wealthy State house tenants to own properties that they then put into the rental market, thereby being State tenants and landlords at the same time? It was a simple question. The Minister made no attempt to answer it; he simply railed against all sorts of things that he imagined—

Madam SPEAKER: Thank you, Mr Brownlee; I have got the point. I must say it was difficult to hear all of the answer. The first bit did not seem to be very relevant, but I thought the Minister got there. If he would like to add to his answer, he may. I must say that risks are run. As members know, they cannot require a particular answer. But if answers are prefaced by comments that are not seen as relevant, then, obviously, members will raise this issue.

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I think that may have been a suggestion that Mr Heatley had introduced irrelevant material—

Madam SPEAKER: Please be seated. I was addressing the answer in terms of the point of order that I thought the member had raised. In other words, I was asking the Minister whether he would please like to add to his answer.

Hon CHRIS CARTER: Mr Heatley and other members of this House know that once people are in a State house, they are there for as long as they want to be. Their assets are assessed, and they pay a market rent when they no longer require subsidised housing. The Housing New Zealand Corporation no longer puts market renters into our houses; it was Mr Heatley’s party that did that. They are the legacy we have inherited. We are actively trying to move them on. We have been pretty successful, but there are still a few “McCully tenants” left.

Phil Heatley: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. Could you just clarify this matter going forward. Yesterday the Minister of Housing said that 91 percent of State house tenants were income-related tenants, meaning that there are about 6,000 market rent tenants. This Minister said before that 99 percent were income-related renters, meaning that there are only 1,000 market rent tenants.

Madam SPEAKER: That is not a point of order. Please be seated while I am on my feet, if you want to stay in this Chamber! It is not a point of order. If the member wishes to elicit further information, then there are supplementary questions available to do so. It is not for the Speaker to clarify the questions or answers of members.

Hon Steve Maharey: What steps has the Labour-led Government taken to meet the housing needs of New Zealanders?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: We have taken many steps. We have introduced income-related rents to make housing affordable, and we have increased the number of State houses by 7,652 to make up for the 13,000 that National hocked off—mostly to its speculator mates. We have introduced the Welcome Home Loan scheme, which has allowed 3,231 people to buy their first home. Through the Housing Innovation Fund, working in partnership with local government and other housing organisations, we have created hundreds of new housing opportunities. We have retrofitted 15,993 State houses. We have spent millions of dollars on community renewal, transforming suburbs in Christchurch, Auckland, Wellington, and Rotorua. We have many more exciting projects like those in Hobsonville and Tāmaki.

Barbara Stewart: How can the Minister have confidence in the Housing New Zealand Corporation, which advised a couple on one income with three young children who meet the criteria for obtaining housing assistance that no properties were available anywhere in Canterbury, and that when they become homeless next Monday their best option for finding accommodation would be a camping ground?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: I anticipated that this question might come from New Zealand First, and I applaud the party for raising it. I would like to clarify the situation of this particular case. The information I have from officials is that the family applied for housing only yesterday, they have accommodation until 20 March, they appear to have sufficient income and funds to rent from the private sector, and they want a particular house in a particular suburb in Christchurch. They will be treated in the priority system, where they deserve to be.

Phil Heatley: Can the Minister confirm that average household income across New Zealand is about $70,000 before tax, or roughly $50,000 after tax, which is well above that of those low-income earners whom one would expect to see on the State housing waiting list?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: I can confirm what I said earlier: 99 percent of our new tenants in Housing New Zealand Corporation homes are on income-related rents—that is, they require a rental subsidy because they are on a low income. It would be great if we could move out the 6,000 other tenants, whom Mr McCully and his mates put in our houses; then we would have a smaller waiting list.

Phil Heatley: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I asked the Minister whether he could confirm that the average household income is about $70,000 before tax, or $50,000 after tax. I did not ask anything about market renters or income-related renters. Can he confirm that that is the average household income?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: Yes, I can confirm that it is the average income, but I would also like to remind everybody that we have Working for Families, and, depending on how many children a family has, Working for Families would affect their income, as well.

Barbara Stewart: Can the Minister confirm that despite the Housing New Zealand Corporation telling this young Christchurch family that they should consider moving to a camping ground, the corporation has a number of vacant State houses in the province set aside for refugee families as they arrive, and can she tell the House why this Kiwi family is being treated as second-class citizens by the Housing New Zealand Corporation?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: I can confirm, if we are talking about the same case—and I would be happy to talk to the member afterwards about it—that that particular family applied for a house only yesterday, and that they have accommodation until 20 March. I am proud that our Government provides housing support for the 750 refugees we take every year as part of our international outreach to people who are very unfortunate. New Zealand is one of only 12 countries in the world that does that, and I am proud to be a Kiwi in a country that looks after refugees.

Phil Heatley: How does the Minister justify the Housing New Zealand Corporation renting to a couple in Glen Innes jointly earning a household income of $90,116 after tax, and the couple in Panmure together earning $95,212 after tax, when close to 10,000 very low income families are on the waiting list?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: I assume those are two of “Murray McCully’s tenants”, and I wish they would buy a house and move on so that we could put other people into those houses. I also wish we had the 13,000 State houses that Mr Heatley and his mates hocked off to their developer mates; then we would have no waiting list at all.

Phil Heatley: How does he justify renting to the New Plymouth tenant who personally earns $89,544 after tax, to the Nelson household earning $127,348 after tax, or to the Papakura couple jointly earning a household income of $89,908 after tax; perhaps he would like to consider those households in light of the other household that is destined to go into a camping ground?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: I guess we have just heard about a few more of “Mr McCully’s tenants”. I wish those people would move out of our houses and buy their own homes, so that we could put some people who have a real housing need into those houses.

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. We do not normally get too wound up about these things, but I think it is inappropriate for this Minister to continually refer to some people as “Mr McCully’s tenants”. The Labour Government has been in office for 8½ years. Those people are Housing New Zealand Corporation tenants. If he were to apply the strict measure of them all, they are the Minister of Housing’s tenants—if that is how this Minister wants to go. But might I also say that this Minister is being asked very, very specific questions, and his political comments do not help the House maintain the sort of order and decorum we should have, when he resorts to the sorts of silly comments he is making.

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: The Standing Orders require a Minister’s answer to be concise. The Minister could, of course, have said: “Those tenants who were given State housing when Mr McCully was the Minister of Housing and any people, no matter what their income, could get a State house as long they paid a market rent.” But that is rather long; “McCully tenant” is a lot briefer and more to the point.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I seek to have the Minister set out the actual facts. The couple did not approach the Housing New Zealand Corporation a day ago; they have sought to see the corporation for the last 2 weeks, and I think that is a rather important point.

Madam SPEAKER: Well, that is a slightly different point of order, but perhaps the Minister can address it when he is asked a question. As members know, the Standing Orders do not actually require specific answers to questions; they require them to be addressed. I would also prefer that members, when asking and answering questions, respected other members in the House.

Phil Heatley: How did it ever get to the point that, after 8 years of a Labour Government, it will still house tenants earning $80,000, $90,000, or $100,000 a year after tax, and allow those same State house tenants to purchase their own rental properties if they want, when so many genuinely needy families languish on the waiting list with next to no chance of ever getting a State house?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: We have got to this point because that member and his party filled up our houses with people who could afford to pay market rents. I find it quite cynical for him to ask a question like that.

Phil Heatley: I seek leave to table information from financial review questions on tenants with after-tax incomes of $80,000, $90,000, and $100,000.

 Leave granted.

Phil Heatley: I seek leave to table a document stating that market rent tenants have no legal responsibility to advise of owning an investment property.

 Leave granted.

9. Education System—Reports

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

9. H V ROSS ROBERTSON (Labour—Manukau East) to the Minister of Education: What reports has he received about the success of the education system?

Hon CHRIS CARTER (Minister of Education) : I have seen two reports. One report records a 90 percent satisfaction rate from parents about the support provided to their children by the special education section of the Ministry of Education. The second report is from John Key, who claims education staffing numbers are out of control. Mr Key alleges that he spent the summer holidays researching each major area of Government policy. Clearly he did not read the education briefing very well. If he had, he would know that in 2002 the Special Education Service was merged with the Ministry of Education. Statistically this increased the Ministry of Education’s staff but actually created no new positions. I would be happy to brief the Leader of the Opposition if he was not able to grasp the information from his background material. Perhaps he has already forgotten what he read over summer.

H V Ross Robertson: Can the Minister tell the House what further reports he has seen about extra staff for our education system?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: The Ministry of Education has introduced significant enhancements to truancy services this year. A new contract has been signed with the Non-enrolment Truancy Service, and the Ministry of Education has picked up responsibility for managing the most difficult cases and indeed has hired 10 extra staff to do this work. According to the Leader of the Opposition we should not have hired those extra staff. Does Mr Key want me to sack the 10 new truancy staff in order to cut staff numbers in the Ministry of Education? I guess his answer would depend on which audience he was talking to.

Anne Tolley: How can the Minister talk about a successful education system when the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study on the literacy levels of New Zealand 10-year-olds shows that despite employing 40 percent more bureaucrats, this Government has not lifted the literacy levels of the average 10-year-old since 2001?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: I am very glad that member has raised the question of the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment scores, because New Zealand comes top in the English-speaking world in literacy, numeracy, and science—a very proud record. Why does that member want to keep knocking the successes of our education system?

Dail Jones: When does the Minister expect to count among his successes a teacher education system that cannot be criticised as it is in the review entitled Becoming a Teacher in the 21st Century: A Review of Initial Teacher Education Policy of September 2007, which states: “Initial teacher education providers are in a difficult position because there has been no explicit statement of what newly qualified teachers are expected to know and be able to do. Whilst a number of bodies are involved in assuring the quality of initial teacher education, there is no shared understanding of requirements for newly qualified teachers.”; and when does the Minister intend to remedy this problem so that he can count it as a success?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: I am very glad the member raises that question too, because the New Zealand Teachers Council last year set in place protocols that absolutely address that question about having a checklist for teacher trainees to have completed before they enter the teaching workforce.

10. Police—Firearms

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

10. CHESTER BORROWS (National—Whanganui) to the Minister of Police: Is she satisfied with police policies and practice relating to the safe handling of their firearms?

Hon ANNETTE KING (Minister of Police) : In general, yes. On occasions incidents occur where police firearms are handled in a manner that does not meet the required standards. But in such cases, I am advised that police undertake a full investigation in order to prevent similar events from recurring.

Chester Borrows: Can she confirm that police still have no idea where two Glock pistols are after they were couriered from Warkworth to Wellington in December and never arrived, and why should the public be comforted by the claim that neither parcel on its own contained enough components to construct a working pistol, when two fully working pistols could be assembled from the two parcels, and both parcels are still missing?

Hon ANNETTE KING: I can confirm that the pistols are still missing and that inquires are continuing.

Chester Borrows: Does she stand by the statement from police that: “In all the years of transporting firearms around the country this is the first time one has gone missing.”; if so, can she also confirm that two police rifles and four pistols were also lost from an unsecured trailer that was being towed by a police vehicle in the Bay of Plenty in 2005?

Hon ANNETTE KING: I can confirm that since 2005 there have been two reported incidents involving the loss of firearms. Firearms were lost from an unsecured trailer in the Bay of Plenty in 2005. All the firearms were subsequently recovered in a short time. The second incident is the one the member outlined in his previous question.

Chester Borrows: Can she confirm that late last year a live round was fired inside the Palmerston North Police Station during a training session with the new Bushmaster rifles, penetrating an internal wall and flying over the head of an officer sitting in an adjacent office?

Hon ANNETTE KING: No, I cannot confirm that. That may well be the case, and I am happy to get the information for the member. But I do need to tell the member that, as he would be aware as a former police officer, the police undertake considerable firearms training. In fact, they do a total of 24 hours per year.

Hon David Carter: They need a bit more, then.

Hon ANNETTE KING: Although members opposite want to scoff and laugh at the police, I do not. I take the matter seriously.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Oh, come on!

Hon ANNETTE KING: They are scoffing and laughing at the police. The police handle firearms every day of the week. They handle them with care, but we have to note that they are human beings and sometimes there are errors. Even the members opposite make mistakes sometimes.

Chester Borrows: Can she confirm that Graeme Burton was carrying a baton identical to that used by police when he was captured, and can she give a categorical assurance that as far as the police know he did not have a police firearm or other police equipment in his possession at any time following his release from prison in July 2006?

Hon ANNETTE KING: No, I cannot confirm that, but I would direct the member to the Independent Police Conduct Authority report on the Burton case.

Chester Borrows: Can she confirm that since 2000 there have been at least four instances where unintentional discharges have resulted in injury to police officers, including an officer who was shot in the abdomen by another officer during a role play when live ammunition was inadvertently used, a leg injury caused by a loaded shotgun that accidentally went off when it was left on a bench during a training scenario, and a foot injury that was caused by an officer discharging his pistol while holstering it?

Hon ANNETTE KING: No, I cannot confirm those incidents, other than the ones I have already outlined today. I really do not know where this questioning is going. Is the member trying to show that over the years and the hours and the days that the police handle firearms, they are incompetent? I do not believe that that is the case. I believe that the police handle these weapons—

Hon Dr Nick Smith: No—just the Minister.

Hon ANNETTE KING: No, the Minister does not handle the weapons and never has handled the weapons. Mind you, one would be very tempted if one had one, with regard to the member for Nelson! One would be very tempted, indeed. I do not know where the member is going with his questions. The police undertake considerable training in firearms, and they take considerable care with them as they know how lethal those weapons are. In any incident that occurs, inquires take place so the police can learn from it. I would much prefer to see a culture where they learn, rather than have someone stand up in this House and try to name, blame, and shame them. I think it would be much more helpful to support the police rather that try to make cheap political points.

11. Family Courts Matters Bill—DNA Testing

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

11. JUDY TURNER (Deputy Leader—United Future) to the Minister for Courts: Why has he refused to include DNA testing to determine parentage in the Family Courts Matters Bill despite his own admission that “The Government agrees in principle with the policy intent” of the proposal?

Hon RICK BARKER (Minister for Courts) : The Family Courts Matters Bill is about increasing the openness of Family Court proceedings and approving the efficiency and effectiveness of the Family Court by making changes to processes and procedures. The member’s issue raises a significant policy issue that will need to be fully worked through before the Government decides to introduce further amendments to the legislation. In fact, on 22 November I wrote to the questioner and explained to her that the issue of mandatory DNA testing is a justice policy issue, and that it warrants further consideration by the Ministry of Justice, which will report back when the work is complete.

Judy Turner: Will the Minister admit, given he had recently described the bill to the Social Services Committee in a letter as an omnibus bill, that if he wanted to make changes to allow the court to order paternity testing in this bill, as recommended by the Law Society and the Law Commission, there is nothing to stop him from doing so; and can he explain to children out there why he cannot be bothered to make changes that would allow them to know who their fathers really are, or could he explain to the Law Society and the Law Commission why they are wrong?

Hon RICK BARKER: The issue of mandatory samples for paternity testing also involves the issue of the use of force. Common law does not necessarily permit the sample or blood tissue to be taken from a person without his or her consent. The New Zealand Bill of Rights Act gives people common law rights about personal liberty, about trespass, and about privacy. Those are rights that children have as well as adults. Legislation about paternity testing needs to find the appropriate balance between the interests of the mothers, fathers, and children.

Judy Turner: Given that both the Law Commission and the Law Society have recommended that the law be updated to allow paternity testing, and that I have offered him my fully drafted member’s bill to action those recommendations, is the Minister now out of excuses; and does he plan to introduce legislation to address this legal loophole and finally create certainty for families?

Hon RICK BARKER: I have made it very clear that the issue is an important one, will be considered, and will come on to the Government’s programme. It needs to be fully considered. The member’s bill takes a very narrow interest in it, and does not deal with the wider issues.

Judy Turner: I seek leave to table my bill set down for consideration, which is the Family Proceedings (Paternity Orders and Parentage Tests) Amendment Bill.

 Leave granted.

12. Māori Trustee—Independence

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

12. Hon TAU HENARE (National) to the Minister of Māori Affairs: Is the Māori Trustee intended to be independent of the Crown?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA (Minister of Māori Affairs) : Yes.

Hon Tau Henare: If, as the Minister says, the Maori Trustee is independent of the Crown, how is the Crown able to purloin $35 million out of the general purposes fund?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: The Maori Trustee will be included on the fourth schedule of the Public Finance Act. This is currently not the case. The other issue is that the $35 million that will come out to support this is money earned on interest—it is in the general purposes fund. It is technically recognised by Crown law as the Maori Trustee’s money.

Moana Mackey: Will the Minister ensure the Māori Trustee’s independence under the Māori Trustee and Māori Development Amendment Bill?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: Yes. At present the Māori Trustee is an office conferred on an employee of Te Puni Kōkiri. The bill will establish the Māori Trustee as a stand-alone entity that is separate from Te Puni Kōkiri. This will underline the independence of the Māori Trustee in carrying out his or her responsibilities.

Hon Tau Henare: Can the Minister confirm that the Māori Trustee’s general purposes fund is made up from income generated by, and derived from, beneficiary money?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: The Maori Trust Office Regulations 1954 require the Māori Trustee to pay set interest rates on beneficiaries’ money in the common fund. Those rates are 3 percent for balances less than $5,000; 4 percent for balances between $5,000 and $50,000; and 5 percent for balances over $50,000. The bill will remedy the interest differential by requiring the Māori Trustee to review on a quarterly basis the interest rates paid, taking into account market rates and similar types of investment.

Hon Tau Henare: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I ask your assistance, Madam Speaker. Without my going through my question again, do you think that that reply addressed the question?

Madam SPEAKER: Yes, I think it fully addressed the question.

Hon Tau Henare: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. My question was: “Can the Minister confirm that the Māori Trustee’s general purposes fund is made up from income generated by, and derived from, beneficiary money?”. The Minister went on about something completely different—

Madam SPEAKER: I am sorry to interrupt the member but I have ruled on that. Yes, the Minister did go on, and I thought he was addressing the issue. If the member wishes to ask another question of the Minister, he should feel free to do so.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: What does the Minister understand by the term “independent of the Crown”; and as a precedent would he follow the Quality Inn deal of 1991, when the Māori Trustee put in three-quarters of the money for one-quarter of the dividends, ownership, and action, which was supported by the then National Party—then when the Hawaiians flogged off that share it was owned by the Singaporeans, which was also supported by the National Party—and does he regard that as being an example of being independent of the Crown?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: That is a very good question. It was an outrageous situation that Tau Henare helped to put Māori people in.

Hon Tau Henare: As the Minister said in answer to my question in the House last Tuesday that the Crown Law Office advised him that the general purposes fund is owned by the Māori Trustee and that no other person has a claim over it, how does he think he can purloin the $35 million out of the general purposes fund?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: I am not too sure why the member is waxing on about purloining, because this is about injection and progressing Māori into the future. This is about ensuring that they have a fund to use when they cannot get access to banks or anything else. What is wrong with that, and why is that member moving against this legislation? The legislation is positive for Māoridom.

Hon Tau Henare: How many trustees will be appointed by the Minister of Māori Affairs to the new Māori Business Aotearoa New Zealand entity, and has the Minister shoulder tapped anybody to be a part of the new team?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: There will be trustees appointed by the Minister, just as is done with judges and other people. It will go through a process. At the end of the day, a lot of the Māori farmers who are very supportive of Labour and the Māori landowners will certainly put names up, as we would expect. This is about progress. I remind that member that in 1996 he stood up and said he would halve the Māori unemployment rate and it moved up to just under 20 percent. He stood up and said the same thing again in 1998. I tell the House that this Māori Trustee—

Hon Tau Henare: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. With respect, how can that be addressing the question?

Madam SPEAKER: The member is right. The first part did, but the second part certainly did not address the question; it went off on a tangent.

Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I know that you have just ruled on this matter, but investment in Māori enterprise—the extensive amount that has occurred under this Government as a result of Treaty settlements and a number of things—has resulted in a substantial decline in Māori unemployment, whether or not the National Party likes it.

Madam SPEAKER: I thank the member, but I have ruled on the matter.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: On the question that Mr Henare asked as to whether the trustees would be shoulder tapped, did the Minister hear Bob Clarkson’s interjection that it depends on how much money they get, and can he confirm that none of them will ever be appointed from the Blue Chip group of companies, which are so beloved of Mr Clarkson?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: The best people will be appointed.

Hon Tau Henare: Can the Minister confirm the statement made by the Hon Shane Jones that the proposed Māori Business Aotearoa New Zealand entity will receive millions of dollars purloined from the Crown Forestry Rental Trust and the PoutamaMāori Business Trust; if so, what right does he have to purloin money set aside for use in Treaty settlements to give to his personal appointees to use as a Labour Party slush fund?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: That is an outrage. I know full well that Mr Jones, who went to Harvard University, is too wise to say that nonsense. At the end of the day, the member is making it up, again. I remind that member that the Māori Trustee will be included on the fourth schedule of the Public Finance Act, which is not currently the case. The reporting obligations for bodies included on the fourth schedule of the Public Finance Act reflect the independence of these organisations. Examples include Ngāi Tahu Ancillary Claims Trust, the New Zealand Fish and Game Council, and the New Zealand Lottery Grants Board. I ask the member what is wrong with that.


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