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Questions And Answers – Tuesday, 14 April 2008

Questions And Answers – Tuesday, 14 April 2008

State-owned Enterprises—Government Policy on Sale or Retention

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

1. Hon PAUL SWAIN (Labour—Rimutaka) to the Minister of Finance: What is the Government’s policy on the sale or retention of State-owned enterprises?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Finance) : I am happy to put the member’s mind at rest. The Government is committed to retaining State-owned enterprises. We will not sell off State-owned enterprises; indeed, we have bought back the rail-track and a great majority of Air New Zealand, and the Government is seeking an agreement to purchase Toll NZ’s rail and ferry operations.

Hon Paul Swain: What reports has he seen on alternative proposals relating to the sale or retention of State-owned enterprises?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I have seen a surprisingly large number of them. For example, I have seen a report stating that there was no reason why the Government owned the electricity State-owned enterprises or Air New Zealand. I have seen reports indicating support for a partial sell-down of State-owned assets. I have seen a report stating there will be no asset sales in the first term of a hypothetical new Government, but no guarantees. I have also seen a report of a commitment to delay asset sales to inoculate the issue so it could be sorted out in the second term. All of these statements were made by Mr John Key.

R Doug Woolerton: Can the Minister confirm that the retention of Auckland International Airport in New Zealand shareholders’ hands will ensure the continued flow of revenue in the order of $101.9 million to the Manukau City Council, the Auckland City Council, and New Zealand individual shareholders, rather than to the Canada Pension Plan?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The key to the retention of Auckland International Airport in New Zealand ownership will assist in the flow of revenue to New Zealand rather than offshore, and it will be hard to see how that will be counterbalanced by the potential inflow of capital, asthat capital was not required for the expansion of Auckland International Airport.

Hon Bill English: Has the Minister seen reports that State-owned enterprises have sold assets they owned in Australia, that there are a range of sale and lease-back arrangements where State-owned asset property has been sold to others who have leased back the assets, and spin-off companies sold by State-owned enterprises, and does he agree with Laila Harré, the political commentator, who said that Labour should get its own house in order before it starts lecturing everybody else about asset sales?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I understand Mr English’s sensitivity because he does not agree with Mr Key’s latest version of policy in that regard. It is interesting that on this occasion National did not put the monkey up, it put the organ-grinder up. But, of course, to take the first only, Meridian Energy invested in Australian assets under the clear understanding it would sell those at some point, and sold them at a whacking great profit of $800 million over and above valuation.

Hon Paul Swain: Has he received any reports on how to dilute public ownership of State-owned enterprises without outright sale?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Indeed, for example I saw a report of a call by Mr English for partial floats last year, calls to allow State-owned enterprises to issue equity instruments to the private sector, and calls to issue hybrid debt instruments with some of the features of equity. All of these would significantly weaken public control and, indeed, the suspicion is that the Opposition is promising not to sell the family silver, it is simply exploring the options of how it can melt it down instead.

Heather Roy: What is the Government’s policy on private investors selling their shares in former State-owned enterprises, like Auckland airport, that were sold when the Rt Hon Winston Peters was Treasurer?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: From my memory, Auckland airport was never a State-owned enterprise; central government held shares in Auckland airport. I am pleased to see that Mr Peters has seen the light on these matters and now opposes the sale of shares offshore.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Can the Minister of Finance remember the September speech made by Jim Bolger in 1997 when he referred to “springtime coming”, and without consultation with the coalition partner announced the sale of four State assets being worked on, including Auckland airport, and that the National Party wanted to sell the airport to all and sundry internationally, but at least I made sure that 80 percent—and it should have been 100 percent—went to New Zealanders, and that when that 80 percent was sold—

Hon Members: It’s too long!

Rt Hon Winston Peters: —yeah, but it will get better as it gets longer—it was oversubscribed by 2 ½ times, as I told those members it would be, but of course they have still not learnt, even now?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I do indeed, and I also remember the member creating the dissolution of that Government as a result of the proposed sale of Wellington airport shares.

Heather Roy: How can the Minister justify the $40 million cost to the Government’s own superannuation fund as a result of his Government’s decision to block the sale of private shares in Auckland airport to a Canadian pension fund, or has the Government just measured the impact in terms of votes won and votes lost?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: What a fascinating question. The notion that Ministers making decisions under the Overseas Investment Act would consider, as a crucial part of that decision making, whether the superannuation fund was going to make a short-term profit or loss on the transaction is a fairly horrendous suggestion.

/NR/rdonlyres/CCFCD353-BBCF-4C17-83EE-278FD659B293/82220/48HansQ_20080415_00000072_.pdfFull transcript of Questions for Oral Answer for Tuesday, 15 April 2008 [PDF 204k]

2. Government Policy—Statement

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

2. JOHN KEY (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does she stand by her statement that “Our job in Government has been to stop New Zealand running the race to the bottom, and to aim for the top.”?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister) : Yes.

John Key: When the Prime Minister referred to stopping “New Zealand running the race to the bottom” is she aware that the record under her Government is New Zealand falling further in OECD per capita incomes, record low productivity growth rates, the massive drop in housing affordability, collapsing business consumer investor confidence, and the list goes on, and if she does think it is the role of her Government to stop these things, why has she spent the last 9 years in office doing next to nothing about it?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: What I am aware of is that the IMF predicts that New Zealand will continue to grow faster than the United States economy and that of the whole European zone, as it has over the past 8 years. I am fascinated that the member chose to talk about productivity, because I am informed that last year labour productivity growth on an economy-wide output per hour worked basis rose to a 7-year high.

John Key: When the Prime Minister referred to aiming “for the top”, is she aware that the record under her Government is that interest rates have doubled, fuel and food prices are now rising faster than inflation, a record number of New Zealanders are leaving—79,000 last year—our current account deficit has been rising and is extremely large, household debt has nearly doubled to $168 billion under her watch, and if she does think it is the role of her Government to stop these things, why has she spent the last 9 years in Government doing next to nothing about it?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I am also aware that household wealth has risen considerably and that average household income has increased by 25 percent in real terms. When I talk about running the race for the top, unlike that member I do not, of course, mean doubling the amount of money spent on private education,.

John Key: Is—

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: The MP for King’s College.

John Key: Well, the member is the one who went to a private school. I am just trying to help him out. We are here to help. Vote National, and Government members will be able to sing karaoke any time they like, I am sure! Is any Minister in her Government—any one of them—spending any time worrying about the economy and things that matter to New Zealanders, or are they just a bit too busy engaging in low-grade personal attacks on me?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I think there is probably a one-word response to that question: “diddums”.

Hon Peter Dunne: With regard to the previous question, where in the so-called race to the top does the Prime Minister rate the business tax cuts introduced from 1 April this year as a direct consequence of the confidence and supply agreement with United Future, which were the first such business tax cuts in two decades?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I thank the member for his question because I think those business tax cuts are very significant. I am conscious they were made pursuant to a confidence and supply agreement with United Future when we undertook to work together on those issues. Those cuts have been made in the expectation—

Rt Hon Winston Peters: And who else?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: —that they will help the further growth and development of our economy, and made also with support from New Zealand First.

Hon Jim Anderton: Has the Prime Minister received any reports that the largest single investment in research and development in the New Zealand primary sector economy of up to $2,000 million was named “a gimmick” by anybody in this House?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I am aware that the largest single investment in research and development in our country’s history has been opposed by the National Party, as it opposed the business tax cuts, Working for Families, cheaper doctors’ fees, 20 hours’ free early childhood education, and many other measures that help both businesses and the ordinary hard-working Kiwi family.

John Key: Has the Prime Minister seen the latest copy of North and South, which shows that middle-income households are now rationing milk to their children—for income reasons, I might add, rather than weight reasons—and does she think that if her Government had bothered to cut taxes for those families who were not eligible for Working for Families they would in fact now be able to give their children the milk they need; if she does think that that would have helped, why have those families had to wait 9 years for a tax cut?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I cannot say that I have read that particular magazine, but I know that those families have certainly benefited from our Government’s commitments to lower doctors’ fees. They have also benefited from a prudent approach to running the economy, unlike that member’s policy of borrowing for tax cuts, which most people think is just plain crazy because it will put up their mortgage interest rate.

John Key: Is the Prime Minister telling New Zealanders that under her Government this is as good as it gets, in which case does she need them to tell her that they are paying double the interest rates under Labour, that they cannot afford to fill up their car or go to the supermarket checkout, and that they are going without, and why does the Prime Minister not do something about those people rather than creating songs on Saturday nights?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Nothing could be more evidenced than the fact that that member is happy to dish it out but he cannot take it. What I know is that average household income is up 25 percent in real terms under a Labour Government, but there are families who are squeezed, and there is no way that this Labour Government will borrow for tax cuts, like John Key would, because that would put up people’s mortgages.

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: Has the Prime Minister seen any reports suggesting that the best way of dealing with families who cannot afford the price of milk, which is set internationally, is to double the assistance to private schools?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I have indeed heard that Mr Key has a policy of doubling funding for private schools. I give this commitment: the first priority of a Labour-led Government is our public and integrated schools.

/NR/rdonlyres/CB3E017D-B292-40CC-BF23-A794567EBAF3/82222/48HansQ_20080415_00000153_.pdfFull transcript of Questions for Oral Answer for Tuesday, 15 April 2008 [PDF 204k]

3. Violence, Youth—Gangs

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

3. Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First) to the Minister of Justice: Does she agree with the reported statement that gangs are becoming a part of the solution to youth violence; if so, why?

Hon ANNETTE KING (Minister of Justice) : I have seen a statement in the New Zealand Herald today attributed to Pita Sharples of the Māori Party. Although I would like to believe that gang members have reformed and now wish to become part of the solution to youth violence, I have seen no evidence to show that they are anything other than part of the problem. However, there may be individual ex-gang members who undertake worthwhile work with young people.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Does she share the view of most of the population of this country, which is that gangsters are helping to create the problem with violent criminal offending and are not providing the solution, and that rather than having constant hand-wringing about gangs and an acceptance of their existence, the time has time to outlaw gangs that have a serious criminal record?

Hon ANNETTE KING: I agree with the member that gangsters are helping to create the problem rather than the solution. However, I do not believe the answer is just a straight outlawing of gangs. The members of any outlawed gang would just change its name or morph it into another form, which is why I launched only this month the organised crime strategy, which takes a whole-of-Government approach to the combating of organised crime. That is where we will find gang members—they are involved in organised crime—and we need the resources of many agencies to fight that at many levels.

Ron Mark: Has the Minister heard about the marae-based hui between such gangs as the Mongrel Mob, Highway 61, Black Power, and Hell’s Angels that Dr Sharples promotes; if so, whom does she believe those hui benefit the most: the young people whom the gangs have got hooked on the drugs they manufacture and distribute; or the wider community, who have had a gutsful of the gangs’ drug-dealing and violence; and could it be that just as we have seen in the overseas situations with gangs internationally, gangs are using those hui to put aside their traditional rivalries in order to work together to maximise their profits?

Hon ANNETTE KING: As I have already said, I have not seen any evidence that gang members, involved in organised crime as they are, are anything other than a problem. I would hate to think that they are able to use forums like meetings on marae as a method of recruitment or to have respectability to cover up their real activities. However, I would leave it to the wise judgment of the people who are on those marae in terms of deciding whether the people they invite there have a good cause or otherwise.

Ron Mark: Has she seen any evidence, as a result of all these hui or of the assertions by Dr Sharples, that gangs need to be part of the solution, or that gangs are shutting down their dope-growing operations, shutting down their tinny houses, and handing over to the police gang members who supply dope and P to kids, or that gangs are de-patching and disbanding, or does she, like me, think that Dr Sharples and his cohorts are simply running a great public relations campaign?

Hon ANNETTE KING: No, I do not believe that Dr Pita Sharples would run a public relations campaign. I think that Dr Sharples genuinely believes what he says, but I say to him that I have not seen evidence of gang members being reformed to the extent that they want to be part of the solution. In fact, I have seen the opposite of that, in terms of gang members moving to other parts of New Zealand, setting up near prisons, recruiting young people, and using them to become the next wave of gang members. I would be happy if what Dr Sharples says was true, but I have not seen evidence of it.

Dr Pita Sharples: Can the Minister confirm that the Government is giving funding to gang leaders with whom I am working on these projects?

Hon ANNETTE KING: No, I cannot confirm that, but I can confirm that the member is quite wrong in a statement he made today that the Government is just creating bureaucracies when it comes to tackling youth violence. The member is quite wrong about that. In fact, if he looks at the approach that has been taken towards youth gangs in South Auckland, west Auckland, and central Auckland, he will see it has been to work with many agencies, including non-governmental organisations, not to set up more bureaucracies but to take the resources, personnel, and funding and put them together to work in a way whereby they help to reduce the activity of those youth gangs.

Dr Pita Sharples: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I am in a dilemma, Madam Speaker, as I know that the Government is funding gang members to work with some of us in the community, yet the answer I have been given from the Minister, who is the Minister of Justice and the Minister of Police, is that she does not know that.

Hon ANNETTE KING: Speaking to the point of order, Madam Speaker, I said that no, I could not confirm the first part of his question. I am happy to get information about that. No doubt there will be members of gangs who are part of non-governmental organisations, but that is not what the member was reported as saying in the New Zealand Herald this morning.

Ron Mark: I know that New Zealand First has been allocated its number of supplementary questions but I seek leave to ask one more supplementary question, extra to our entitlement.

Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought. Is there any objection? There is objection.

/NR/rdonlyres/72EBDEDD-D4CE-426E-95F4-950C7587B46A/82224/48HansQ_20080415_00000246_.pdfFull transcript of Questions for Oral Answer for Tuesday, 15 April 2008 [PDF 204k]

4. Election Advertising—Government Department Material

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

4. Hon BILL ENGLISH (Deputy Leader—National) to the Minister of Justice: Is it Government policy that political parties may electioneer with advertising material produced by Government departments; if so, why?

Hon ANNETTE KING (Minister of Justice) : No.

Hon Bill English: Can the Minister tell the House just what it was that Ministers said about the Electoral Finance Act and electioneering that led the Labour Party President, Mike Williams, to believe that the use of taxpayer-funded Government department material in the Labour Party’s election campaign is perfectly fine, and how is anyone supposed to avoid the conclusion that Ministers and the president of the Labour Party have been looking to misuse the public purse to get themselves re-elected?

Hon ANNETTE KING: Nothing.

Hon Bill English: Can the Minister give the House a reassurance that Mr Mike Williams, who is also a member of the boards of Genesis, ONTRACK, which is the company that owns the railway tracks, the Auckland Regional Transport Authority, GNS Science, and Transit New Zealand, is not using those positions in order to help the Labour Party get re-elected?

Hon ANNETTE KING: Mike Williams is a member of a number of boards. He acts in an honourable way, just as National Party members whom we have appointed to boards do.

Hon Bill English: If Mike Williams, the President of the Labour Party, believes that it is just fine to use Government department pamphlets in Labour electioneering material, why would we conclude that he does not think it is just fine to use his many very high-profile director positions to achieve exactly the same thing?

Hon ANNETTE KING: If Mike Williams had thought it was OK, I am pretty sure he knows now it is not OK. But I need to say to that member that sometimes members of branches of political parties, including, sometimes, members of Parliament, say things at Labour Party conferences and National Party conferences that they do not really mean. For example, we can always remember what Maurice Williamson said: “If some people can’t lose weight no matter what, how come there were no fat people in Nazi concentration camps?”. Of course, John Key had to apologise for that comment. I am sure Maurice Williamson did not mean to say it, but sometimes people say things they do not really mean.

Hon Bill English: Why should anyone take seriously Helen Clark’s promise that material produced by Government departments will not be used by the Labour Party, when she would have been discussing exactly these issues with Mike Williams, the President of the Labour Party, for the last 2 years; when she would have been directing staff in her own office, who have been sending out emails about this material; and when Labour before the last election promised to count the pledge card as an electoral expense, then, 2 days after the election, withdrew that promise?

Hon ANNETTE KING: Because everything the member has said is total rubbish.

Hon Bill English: How can Parliament rely on the Labour Party to comply with the electoral law, when earlier this year it said it had asked the Electoral Commission about pamphlets that it had put out, when actually it had not; when Mike Williams, the President of the Labour Party, has said that Labour would use Government department pamphlets for electioneering; and when Mike Williams, the President of the Labour Party, tried to hide an interest-free loan from the public? And why is it that every time something goes wrong, Mike Williams seems to be to blame?

Hon ANNETTE KING: I have no responsibility for the Labour Party in this Parliament.

Hon Bill English: Was the Minister or any other Labour Minister present at the workshop session where the Labour Party discussed using Government department pamphlets; if any Ministers were there, why did they not tell the Labour Party that it was not allowed to do it?

Hon ANNETTE KING: Because people were at the Labour Party conference as members of the Labour Party. Also, what was said is not what was reported in the newspapers.

Hon Bill English: Can the Minister confirm whether there were Ministers at the workshop session, and why does the Labour Party continue—

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. The Minister of Justice has no responsibility for the fact as to whether any other Ministers were present at any workshop—indeed, anywhere, at any time.

Madam SPEAKER: Yes. I let the previous question go because I thought it was marginal, but that one was right outside ministerial responsibility. Would the member rephrase the question, please.

Hon Bill English: Has the Minister seen reports that she was present at the workshop, but Labour continues to work to the standard where it will do anything that it can get away with, and this issue is being resolved only because it was raised by the media—Labour was caught, so it had to do something about it?

Hon ANNETTE KING: No. I think most people in this Parliament wonder whether the National Party really has any interest in anything happening in New Zealand other than the Electoral Finance Act, which it bangs on about day after day because the Act has hurt it. It is unable to do the cheating it did in the last election; it is unable to get in the pockets of big financers and spend as much as it likes. Here we have a whole lot of sour grapes from a member who would be king if he could.

Hon Harry Duynhoven: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I wonder whether you could ask the Minister to repeat the answer, so that, without all the barrage, we can hear what the content was.

Madam SPEAKER: No. I ask members to please respect the right of free speech in this House—which is frequently mentioned. The right of free speech means the right to be heard.

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I wonder whether you would reflect on your ruling with regard to the supplementary question from Bill English. Although you did not rule, you suggested that you were concerned about the nature of it. Mr English was simply trying to establish whether Ministers of the current Government were participating in a forum, or a gathering, of people who were attempting to rort the law in this country. That should not be an unreasonable question in this House.

Madam SPEAKER: It may not be; it is a matter of debate. Question time relates to ministerial responsibility, and questions that stray into party activities of whatever party is mentioned are not.

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I appreciate that, but I did not ask for an immediate response, because I think the matter is worth considering. The reality is that this Minister, who was being questioned about not only herself but her ministerial colleagues, is responsible for the Act. It is not unreasonable for the Opposition to expect the Minister—

Madam SPEAKER: I agree with the member, but the question was not related to the Act. I am happy to reflect on the matter, but I cannot change the Standing Orders. Question time relates to ministerial responsibility, but I am happy to reflect on the matter and give a ruling.

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. The question could not have arisen if it were not for the Act, and given that the Act exists—

Madam SPEAKER: I have said to the member that I will consider it. If he wishes to put his views further in writing to me, then I am very happy to consider them, but I do understand his point.

/NR/rdonlyres/A3047E04-728C-4245-B24E-E79E90616359/82226/48HansQ_20080415_00000301_.pdfFull transcript of Questions for Oral Answer for Tuesday, 15 April 2008 [PDF 204k]

5. Mokihinui Hydro—Resource Consent

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

5. METIRIA TUREI (Green) to the Minister of Conservation: Does the Department of Conservation plan to submit on the resource consent applications for Meridian Energy Ltd’sMokihinui Hydro Proposal; if so, will the department be advocating for the protection of the river?

Hon STEVE CHADWICK (Minister of Conservation) : Yes; and yes it will be, because the Conservation Act provides a statutory role for the department to advocate for conservation, heritage, and historical values.

Metiria Turei: Is the Minister concerned that Meridian has suppressed a report that it commissioned from Landcare Research entitled Calculating Biodiversity Offsets for the Mokihinui Hydro Proposal, which basically states that there is no way that Meridian can mitigate the destructive effects of the dam on the river, the biodiversity loss, and the elimination of native species?

Hon STEVE CHADWICK: I am aware of the reports that Meridian commissioned, and that it did commission that research. However, I have not seen that research, so it is inappropriate for me to comment, at this stage.

Hon Marian Hobbs: Have there been other hydro schemes where agreement was able to be reached to protect the important values of the rivers, while allowing hydro generation to continue?

Hon STEVE CHADWICK: Yes, there have been. It is not always possible to reconcile conflicting generation and conservation values. Where feasible, though, the department works with energy companies to agree on the conditions for resource consents that protect the river values, while allowing significant renewable energy generation. One example is the Dobson hydro scheme on the Arnold River.

Metiria Turei: Now that the Minister is aware of Meridian’s secret report that it has refused to distribute, despite being asked, will she be urging the Minister for the Environment to use his powers under the Resource Management Act to call in the resource consent applications, because this is a biodiversity issue of national interest—that all New Zealanders should be able to enjoy the unique wildness and intrinsic values of this river—and perhaps even be urging him to experience the river through rafting or other trips, as I did last week?

Hon STEVE CHADWICK: That is a matter that falls within the responsibility of the Minister for the Environment.

Metiria Turei: Now that the Minister is aware of this secret report that shows there is no mitigation for the damage that this dam will do, I ask again whether she will assure this House that she will use her powers to refuse Meridian Energy’s application for Department of Conservation concessions to fell large swathes of native podocarp forest and drown an area of 330 hectares of conservation land—one of the largest attacks on native forest on conservation land since her Government ended native forest logging, with the Greens help, in 1999?

Hon STEVE CHADWICK: I believe at this stage—with only a concession lodged—it is far too early for me to give my opinion.

Metiria Turei: Does the Minister agree that the protected wilderness rivers are not renewable, that species in decline are not recoverable, as her Government continues to destroy their habitat, and that New Zealanders who appreciate the outdoors and our unique native species—

Rt Hon Winston Peters: That’s not right!

Metiria Turei: —even ones like that member—will not accept large hydro dams like that proposed on the Mōkihinui River?

Hon STEVE CHADWICK: I agree that the Mokihinui is a river gorge ecosystem of regional and national importance. The department is preparing an assessment of the specific values and the impact of that river.

Metiria Turei: I seek leave to table the report that Meridian Energy has actively suppressed and refused to distribute.

 Leave granted.

/NR/rdonlyres/00351487-5B31-4071-9439-C2AF8B4F4524/82228/48HansQ_20080415_00000382_.pdfFull transcript of Questions for Oral Answer for Tuesday, 15 April 2008 [PDF 204k]

6. Electricity—Supply

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

6. GERRY BROWNLEE (National—Ilam) to the Minister of Energy: How confident is he that New Zealand will get through the coming winter without electricity shortages?

Hon DAVID PARKER (Minister of Energy) : I am advised there is a low likelihood that we will have serious electricity shortages this winter—less than 5 percent probability. For that low probability to become a reality, the current severe drought would have to extend beyond autumn, or an unexpected major failure of large thermal plant would have to occur.

Gerry Brownlee: Has the Minister seen the Transpower statement yesterday that stated that the hydro lake levels are down to just 65 percent of average, thus putting them in the minzone level set by the Electricity Commission, and that the Electricity Commission itself has raised its risk meter to high, which indicates that New Zealanders face a grave risk of cold showers, no heat, and browned out factories; if so, what conservation plans does he think should be put in place now, or will he continue with his own view that there is no problem?

Hon DAVID PARKER: I am aware of the steps that the Electricity Commission and Transpower have taken—in fact, I go over those issues daily. But it is not correct to say that as a consequence of the minzone being breached there is a serious risk of brownouts and cold showers.

Charles Chauvel: What improvements have been made under this Government to the management of winter electricity supplies?

Hon DAVID PARKER: Since the Labour-led Government established the Electricity Commission we have better and more transparent information about lake levels, security margins, and trigger points for more action. As a consequence of this system, Transpower and the industry are already better managing the situation, as evidenced today by comments made by the Major Electricity Users Group.

Gerry Brownlee: What is the purpose of the minzone and the Electricity Commission risk meter if it is not to warn New Zealanders that there are likely to be electricity shortages this winter; and why does the Minister continue—against the opinions of so many others who have been in the industry for so many years—with his own particular view on this matter?

Hon DAVID PARKER: The minzone is triggered when, based on historic inflow records going back over 70 years, there is 1 year out of those 70 years of records that, if the position was to be replicated this year, would result in an electricity shortage—1 year in 70. That is why the risk of that becoming a reality is less than 5 percent at the moment.

Gerry Brownlee: Does the Minister recall explaining to the House in February that the reason we had an impending electricity crisis was a unique combination of events—the Stratford station was out but is now back, Pole 1 was out but is now partially back, and the Waikato had warm temperatures that have now cooled—and if most of the unique combination of events have improved, will he admit that the problem is due in no small part to Labour’s failure to see sufficient new generation being built to ensure security of supply?

Hon DAVID PARKER: No, because it is not so.

Peter Brown: Noting those answers, is the Minister aware that power prices are a significant concern to the general public, and can he assure the House that should lake levels not improve to the degree hoped for, he will take early precautions to ensure that power prices do not go through the roof?

Hon DAVID PARKER: Household consumers are not exposed to the spot market, so whatever happens to spot market prices over winter will not affect them. Of course, it is important that in a time of water shortage, the price increases in order to encourage those large industrial users who do have a choice about whether they use more or less power—

R Doug Woolerton: What about the oldies?

Hon DAVID PARKER: Well, the oldies are actually residential consumers, generally.

Gerry Brownlee: Is it the Minister’s position that there is no prospect or possibility of serious electricity shortages this winter—just a slim 5 percent chance?

Hon DAVID PARKER: As I have said, the probability of a serious shortage this winter is less than 5 percent.

Gerry Brownlee: After 48 percent in residential price increases over the last 6 years and millions of dollars of consumer levies in payment to the Electricity Commission, why can the Minister not give the simple assurance to the House that the lights will stay on, the heating will stay on, and industry will not be disrupted this winter?

Hon DAVID PARKER: No Minister of Energy can give an absolute assurance of that, because no Minister of Energy controls the weather. Were it otherwise, that member would have to look out for lightning bolts!

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I seek leave to table the latest weather reports and also the winter energy storage graph, which suggests that it has been raining and it has been pouring but old man Gerry—

 Leave granted.

/NR/rdonlyres/36D45A7A-9A69-409C-9FE2-2B268EC8E27A/82230/48HansQ_20080415_00000450_.pdfFull transcript of Questions for Oral Answer for Tuesday, 15 April 2008 [PDF 204k]

7. Fish Stocks—Depletion

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

7. Dr PITA SHARPLES (Co-Leader—Māori Party) to the Minister of Fisheries: What did he mean in the reported comments made on Waatea News that chartered vessels hired by Māori plunder the fish until there are none left; and what penalties will be imposed on these people for plundering the fish stocks?

Hon JIM ANDERTON (Minister of Fisheries) : My reported comments on Waatea News were taken from the Treaty Tribes Coalition conference on Māori fishing interests, held in Napier last week. At the conference I was asked by the Māori owner of a fishing company why the Government allowed large chartered vessels to come into our waters and, in his words, “vacuum-clean up all the fish”. In my response to the fisher, I pointed out that Māori quota owners were significant users of large chartered vessels to catch their quota. I further pointed out that my attempts to bring amendments before this House to ensure that we have a more precautionary approach to fisheries management have been blocked by commercial Māori fisheries interests, whose position has been supported in this House by the Māori Party.

Dr Pita Sharples: Which Māori can the Minister identify as the commercial plunderers of their resource; and what role does his ministry have in ensuring that plundering does not occur?

Hon JIM ANDERTON: Māori interests have 40 percent of the fisheries in New Zealand. The commercial fisheries interests in this country know that many of our stocks—hoki and orange roughy in particular—have been fished down, so that quota has had to be reduced. I am now in the position of not being able to make decisions in a precautionary way because commercial interests, including Māori and the Māori Party, will not support precautionary principles being put into the legislation.

Dr Pita Sharples: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I specifically asked which Māori the Minister could identify.

Madam SPEAKER: The Standing Orders do not require Ministers to answer in a specific way the questions that are put. The Minister, I thought, did address the question at some length, but if he wishes to add anything else he is perfectly entitled to do so.

Hon JIM ANDERTON: As an example for the member, I advise him that last year I closed the orange roughy 7B fishery because the stock biomass was estimated to have dropped to 17 percent of its original state. That was in addition to earlier closures of the Challenger Area and Puysegur Bank orange roughy fisheries. The Māori fishing interests, along with Pākehā interests, have been fishing in those waters. They have been overfishing to the point where I have implemented precautionary principles in terms of the total allowable commercial catch, and the Māori Party has opposed those measures in this House.

Pita Paraone: Given the view of most New Zealanders, including Māori, on the importance of the need to ensure the sustainability of our country’s fish stocks, would the concern he expressed on Radio New Zealand National pertaining to Māori commercial fishers and the plundering of fish by their chartered vessels be addressed if the same vessels and all other similar vessels were to be crewed by crews that were at least 75 percent comprised of New Zealanders?

Hon JIM ANDERTON: That is an interesting proposition, and some people in the commercial industry in New Zealand would support that. In truth, of course, it would have severe practical implications for Māori fishers as well as for other commercial fishers. But if the member wants to pursue that and get support for it from the industry, then my door is open for talks about it.

Dr Pita Sharples: Does the Minister agree with the Te Rūnanga a Iwi o Ngāpuhi chairperson, Sonny Tau—that is, the chairperson of the rūnanga of the largest tribe in New Zealand—that the Minister’s comments smack of election-year Māori bashing; if not, why not?

Hon JIM ANDERTON: I do not think that anyone in this House thinks that I am seriously after the Māori seats or that I am seriously concerned about what anyone might think about the principles I have adopted in terms of the fisheries. What I am saying to the member very clearly is that the Māori interests in commercial fishing should emulate some of their people among the recreational and customary fishers, who are just as concerned about Māori plundering the fishing stocks as they are about Pākehā plundering them.

/NR/rdonlyres/10C5A2D3-B63F-4E70-8FB3-0725ED101820/82232/48HansQ_20080415_00000531_.pdfFull transcript of Questions for Oral Answer for Tuesday, 15 April 2008 [PDF 204k]

8. Election Spending—Government Department Material

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

8. Hon BILL ENGLISH (Deputy Leader—National) to the Minister of Justice: Is it Government policy that if a political party uses advertising material produced by Government departments it should count towards their spending cap under the Electoral Finance Act 2007; if not, why not?

Hon ANNETTE KING (Minister of Justice) : I refer the member to section 67 of the Electoral Finance Act and to the State Services Commission’s guidelines on department advertising and publicity campaigns.

Hon Bill English: Has the Minister seen the statement made by the secretary of the Public Service Association (PSA), Brenda Pilott: “We would have a concern at any political party using public service material for political ends, it’s really important actually that the political parties keep their politics out of the public service during election year.”; and if the secretary of the PSA knew that using Government department pamphlets for electioneering was wrong, then why did the Ministers who were at the workshop not know that?

Hon ANNETTE KING: Yes, I have seen those comments.

Hon Bill English: Can the Minister confirm that if the Labour Party runs out of Government department pamphlets and it is looking to use the video of Ministers singing at its congress as a political ad, then it will have to be authorised by the Labour Party if the public are to regard it as supporting the Labour Party?

Hon ANNETTE KING: I think that even Labour Party members are still allowed to communicate with their members. But after listening to Dr Lockwood Smith singing last night, I wonder whether they might think that perhaps it should actually be censored rather than authorised.

Hon Bill English: Has the Minister seen reports that video footage of Cabinet Ministers singing at the Labour congress is available on YouTube; and can she tell the House whether this is now a political advertisement supporting the Labour Party and, therefore, it requires authorisation, or is it, in fact, an attack on the Labour Party and, therefore, it does not require authorisation?

Hon ANNETTE KING: No, I have not seen that on YouTube. But I have seen a video of John Key walking through a Pacific Island market in Porirua, where he was asked why National did not support increasing the minimum wage, and I think he said something like he could not remember whether he supported it.

Hon Bill English: In light of the comments by the Labour Party president that it is fine to use Government department material for electioneering, why should the public not believe that Labour always intended the material produced by Government departments to be available for electioneering, and that that is why it has directed Government departments to carry out their publicity campaigns?

Hon ANNETTE KING: Because that is plain wrong, it is a lie, and it has been made up by that member. We have had a diet of this for weeks—made-up stories by Bill English that he peddles around New Zealand as the truth.

I seek leave to table these documents from the National Party website, which need to be on the record of the House because the National Party has now removed them from its website, having had them on illegally for 3 months.

 Leave granted.

/NR/rdonlyres/90E98D27-BE0D-4865-AADD-C987D116AF1B/82234/48HansQ_20080415_00000604_.pdfFull transcript of Questions for Oral Answer for Tuesday, 15 April 2008 [PDF 204k]

9. Science and Innovation—Government Support

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

9. MOANA MACKEY (Labour) to the Minister of Research, Science and Technology: What action has the Government taken to support science and innovation in New Zealand?

Hon PETE HODGSON (Minister of Research, Science and Technology) : More than can be listed in answer to an oral answer. Perhaps the two biggest recent changes have been the 15 percent tax credit, which began earlier this month, and the New Zealand Fast Forward programme—a $700 million investment in the pastoral and food sector announced a month before. In addition, just last night the Royal Society of New Zealand announced big changes in its role, with the New Horizons programme and the new Rutherford Foundation, of which the Government is a funding partner; the list goes on and on.

Moana Mackey: Who else is supporting these efforts to build and promote the science sector?

Hon PETE HODGSON: Pretty much everyone: Business New Zealand, Science New Zealand, Export New Zealand, the university sector, Federated Farmers, this sector, that sector, this corporate, that corporate; but not the New Zealand National Party. Yesterday National said: “Helen Clark’s government has failed to recognise the true scale of the investment that this country must make, and the need for these commitments to be long term.” That is a very curious statement. This is the very same National Party that voted against the research and development tax credit, and the very same National Party leader who said that the $700 million endowment in the New Zealand Fast Forward programme was a gimmick.

/NR/rdonlyres/D8964457-3AC9-4005-BD6A-F8DEF9ACE3E3/82236/48HansQ_20080415_00000659_.pdfFull transcript of Questions for Oral Answer for Tuesday, 15 April 2008 [PDF 204k]

10. Junior Doctors’ Strike—Disruption to Services

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

10. Hon TONY RYALL (National—Bay of Plenty) to the Minister of Health: How many patients may have their specialist appointments or elective surgery disrupted if the junior doctors’ strike goes ahead next week?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE (Minister of Health) : I am advised that the district health boards are making contingency plans and that the first priority is patient safety. Life-preserving services arrangements have been concluded with the Resident Doctors Association to ensure that acute and emergency services are covered. Further contingency planning does involve postponing some elective surgery. That contingency planning suggests that around 800 patients may have their elective surgery postponed, and more than 5,500 could have a specialist appointment postponed.

Hon Tony Ryall: Now that the Minister has confirmed to the House that well over 6,500 patients will have their care disrupted by the junior doctors’ strike, which will make the waiting list even longer, does the Government propose to take any action?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: Last time I looked, 5,500 plus 800 was less than 6,500. Be that as it may, the district health boards and the Resident Doctors Association were today continuing their bargaining, as they should do.

Lesley Soper: Has the Minister received any updates on the positions of the two parties?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: Yes. I am advised that the Resident Doctors Association has asked for a 40 percent increase over 3 years. I am further advised that the district health boards have offered a 4.08 percent increase over each of the next 2 years, and have further offered to discuss a wide range of terms and conditions. I call on both sides to progress their discussions in good faith with a view to ensuring the long-term health benefits of all New Zealanders through a sustainable and well-functioning health system.

Hon Tony Ryall: What will be the likely cost of paying senior doctors to cover the rosters of junior doctors?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: Considerably less than the cost of meeting the demand for a 40 percent pay increase.

Barbara Stewart: Is the Minister concerned about the effect of the proposed junior doctors’ strike in the Hawke’s Bay, especially in light of the fact that Mr Ryall has given up asking written questions on the Hawke’s Bay District Health Board, with a mere three written questions having been asked in the past 9 months?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: Obviously, I am concerned that all New Zealanders should be able to maintain confidence in a high-quality and safe health system. That concern also underlies my recent decision in regard to the Hawke’s Bay District Health Board. It is of interest that Mr Ryall’s recent adventures in that regard appear to have been designed for the camera rather than the coalface; however, I note that even those theatrics have tailed off, now that he has had the opportunity to read the independent review report.

Hon Tony Ryall: Is the Minister aware that yesterday the district health board chief executives discussed proposals that senior doctors be paid $500 an hour extra, on top of their current pay rates, for filling in for junior doctors, which would mean that some doctors would be paid $650 an hour to cover junior doctor rosters during the 2-day strike; and is not this more evidence of the health workforce crisis after 9 years of neglect from the Labour Government?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: In the first place, there is no crisis. There are more doctors and nurses in New Zealand’s health system than there were when this Government took office, and a considerable resource injection has assisted workforce development. It is not appropriate for me to set the terms of discussions between senior doctors and the district health boards, but I would like to express my appreciation of the senior medical specialists, who are using good faith to cover a strike that will put considerable inconvenience on them and on other hospital workers.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: What reports has the Minister got, or is getting prepared, in respect of any likely strike in the Hawke’s Bay, or is it the case that having learnt of Mr Ryall going around the press gallery and promising a neutron bomb that turned out to be a Tom Thumb, he is now not too concerned about it?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: The length of the member’s fuse is no business of mine.

Hon Tony Ryall: Is it not another sign of the health workforce crisis in New Zealand when this Government is going to pay up to $650 an hour to senior doctors who cover for junior doctors on strike—cancelling thousands of specialist appointments and many elective surgeries—and is spending $100 million a year on filling vacancies with locums?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: In the first place, the member should get himself acquainted with the facts. I am advised that the true cost of locums is about $24 million a year, not $100 million—or does that member believe every press release from the Resident Doctors Association?

Hon Tony Ryall: How can the Minister account for his inconsistency in being involved in the senior doctors’ strike but not being involved in the junior doctors’ strike?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: There is absolutely no inconsistency. In the first place, I facilitated a meeting. In the second place, I did so only after the senior doctors’ negotiations had dragged on for nearly 2 years. The junior doctors’ talks have been substantively under way since just before Christmas. The member cannot have it both ways: either he stands for the delivery of elective services for New Zealanders, or he stands for being a drama queen about strikes.

/NR/rdonlyres/90C35EE6-4396-4579-80C5-8911AA81DBD7/82238/48HansQ_20080415_00000685_.pdfFull transcript of Questions for Oral Answer for Tuesday, 15 April 2008 [PDF 204k]

11. Education System—Reports

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

11. Dr ASHRAF CHOUDHARY (Labour) to the Minister of Education: What reports has he received on support for New Zealand’s public education system?

Hon CHRIS CARTER (Minister of Education) : I have seen reports advocating that funding should be almost doubled for private schools. This would remove funds from the 96 percent of pupils who participate in State education. In a recent television interview the National leader, John Key, called the current funding policy “elitist”. I assume this means that Mr Key does not agree with decile funding, which provides extra resources for the most at risk pupils. No doubt his comments reflect that old Tory philosophy of “reward the rich, punish the poor”.

Dr Ashraf Choudhary: What other reports has the Minister seen about proposals to increase public funding for private schools?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: I have seen universally negative comments. For example, the president of the New Zealand Educational Institute, Frances Nelson, said that National’s policy did not make sense, and that “The taxpayer and the children of New Zealand deserve better,”. The New Zealand Secondary Principals Council chairman, Arthur Graves, a fine principal from the West Coast, said that the policy is “a deliberate attempt to undermine and rob public schools and essentially provide a tax break for the rich,”. Under Labour, education funding is up 80 percent since 1999. That is $5 billion more each year towards ensuring that every child gets a quality education—not just those children whose parents can afford to pay private school fees

/NR/rdonlyres/CD42E16E-A21B-4A5B-93EB-A59FD5069010/82240/48HansQ_20080415_00000768_.pdfFull transcript of Questions for Oral Answer for Tuesday, 15 April 2008 [PDF 204k]

12. Immigration Service—Confidence

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

12. Dr the Hon LOCKWOOD SMITH (National—Rodney) to the Minister of Immigration: Does he have confidence in the New Zealand Immigration Service?

Hon CLAYTON COSGROVE (Minister of Immigration) : Yes, but there is always room for improvement.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: How can ordinary law-abiding Kiwis have confidence in the Immigration Service when since 1 January 2000, under Labour, 282 people have been eligible for deportation from New Zealand, yet only 76 people have actually been deported?

Hon CLAYTON COSGROVE: They can have confidence in the Immigration Service because my advice is that between 1999 and this year there have been far more deportations than there were under that member’s Government prior to then.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: How can taxpayers have confidence that the Immigration Service is doing all it can to safeguard law-abiding Kiwis when under Labour, even after factoring in the number of deportation notices issued and the decisions of the courts and appeal authorities, only about one in three people still eligible for deportation actually get deported?

Hon CLAYTON COSGROVE: I am advised that in terms of the deportation cases considered and notices issued by the Minister, for the calendar year 1999 nine cases were considered and seven notices were issued. That compares with 2007, when 42 cases were considered and 38 notices were issued. A number of factors lead to deportation. Under this Government, the public can be very, very confident that those cases will be actioned, but they have to go through the proper legal processes.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: Can the Minister confirm that under the Immigration Act 1987, people are eligible for deportation if they commit serious criminal offences within a period of up to 10 years after arriving in New Zealand?

Hon CLAYTON COSGROVE: Indeed, and I also state that those deportations have to go through the proper processes and are subject to appeal before being signed out.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: How can people have confidence in the Immigration Service when, under this Labour Government, over 160 people who may have committed violent criminal acts and victimised ordinary law-abiding Kiwis have not been deported from New Zealand when they should have been?

Hon CLAYTON COSGROVE: I cannot confirm that, at all. The member makes the assertion. He also makes the assertion that they should have been deported and they were not. They are also subject to appeal rights and proper legal process.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: How can ordinary law-abiding Kiwis have confidence that their safety is not being put at risk by the decision not to deport a man who has committed two counts of indecent assault—the most recent of which was while he was out on parole for the first indecent assault—who has committed aggravated robbery, assault, drug offences, multiple counts of burglary, robbery, and theft, and who in fact has a criminal record of at least 38 such convictions, for which the police sought his deportation; why has the Government blocked that person’s deportation?

Hon CLAYTON COSGROVE: Again, I say that the Government does not block deportations. The member makes an assertion. Deportations are subject to appeal. There are a number of factors involved. I will say that in terms of preventing risk to New Zealanders, we have one of the most advanced passenger profiling systems in the world. When, for instance, someone rocks up at a particular airport and is flagged before checking in his or her bags—

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: You issue deportation notices and then don’t deport them.

Hon CLAYTON COSGROVE: The member does not like the answer, but I will try anyway. When someone checks in his or her bags at the airport, if there is a flag that is checked with Immigration New Zealand, then the person will be handed back his or her bags and will not get on the plane. Under this Government, that is about expanding New Zealand’s border control right across the globe, not just waiting until something happens in New Zealand and then dealing with it.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. My question was specifically about deportation. The Minister’s answer just talked about removal. As Minister of Immigration, he should know the difference between deportation and removal.

Madam SPEAKER: I am sorry; from what I could hear of the answer I think the Minister addressed the question.

Peter Brown: Noting those answers, will the Minister confirm that the new Immigration Bill that is currently before the select committee, and which has emanated from the confidence and supply agreement between Labour and New Zealand First, will improve the situation no end inasmuch as handling deportations, removals, and the various other problems that Immigration New Zealand is faced with is concerned?

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: It hasn’t worked, Peter.

Hon CLAYTON COSGROVE: I will address an interjection from the Dr Lockwood Smith, who said that it has not worked. I tell him that the bill has not actually been passed through the House. It cannot work because it has not been passed. That is a relatively simple legal tenet that a senior member of that man’s standing should know. But to answer the member’s question, I say that, yes, I believe that the bill will improve the situation. The bill will streamline a series of process. But, of course, deportations are exceptionally complex. They are still subject to appeal, even under the Act, because there are various considerations. So the bill will not be a panacea to expedite deportations in the way that that member wants.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. During the time Mr Brown was asking a question, numerous comments came from the National Party suggesting that he go home. With the greatest of respect, that is likely to lead to unruly behaviour in this House, given that so many of the National members owe their presence here to the fact that some other people in Parliament allowed their parents to come to New Zealand. They all sit there now, arrogantly thinking the country is theirs and does not belong to a worthy person like Mr Brown, who has been a high-paying taxpayer and a very worthy citizen for decades in New Zealand.

Madam SPEAKER: I thank the member for his comment. Comments from time to time do lead to disorder. Unfortunately, that is not unknown in the Hou

ENDS


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