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Questions And Answers - Wednesday, 16 April 2008

Questions And Answers - Wednesday, 16 April 2008

1. Household Incomes—Reports

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

1. JOHN KEY (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does she stand by her statement made yesterday that “there are families who are squeezed”; if so, when did that fact come to her Government’s attention?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister) : Yes; it actually came to my attention in the 1990s, when unemployment and poverty rose to the worst levels experienced in our country since the Great Depression. My Government has been working for 8½ years to address those issues.

John Key: Does the Prime Minister recall seeing in the Budget papers last year a comment from her Minister of Finance that if there was overspending of Budget allowances they would “risk an interest rate response from the Reserve Bank, the exchange rate staying higher for longer, and a more pronounced economic slowdown”?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I do not recall every sentence of the Budget document, but I am aware that the Reserve Bank has not raised the official cash rate since July last year.

John Key: Given that the Prime Minister reads her papers, why, if she will have noticed that and had had those kinds of discussions with the Minister of Finance, did she agree with him to an overspend of $4 billion in that Budget, and on the back of that is she prepared to take responsibility on behalf of her Government for the fact that New Zealanders have now seen interest rates double under Labour’s watch?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: There seems to be something of a misapprehension in the member’s question. This Government has gross Crown debt down to around 18 percent. That member has advocated that it should rise to 25 percent, which I am advised would lead to extra Government spending on debt servicing of around $700 million a year. Everything I see suggests that Kiwis find his policy of borrowing for tax cuts to be simply crazy.

John Key: Does the Prime Minister realise that the debt to GDP ratio has fallen, for the most part because GDP has grown, and nominal debt has largely been exactly the same; and, secondly, does the Prime Minister acknowledge that overspending in a Budget will put pressure on inflation and on interest rates, and on the back of acknowledging that is she prepared to give an assurance to the House that she will rein in Government spending in this year’s Budget?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Firstly, I am pleased the member has noticed that the economy has been growing a lot under a Labour Government. It has grown faster since 1999 on average than that of Australia, the United States, and the OECD average, and it is forecast to keep growing in the next year faster than the United States or the euro zone. Secondly, I would note that for roughly one-third of the time a National Government was last in office, interest rates were higher than they are today.

John Key: Will the Prime Minister acknowledge that if the Labour Government had rolled out National’s proposed tax plan in 2005, which not only was affordable but would have delivered about $40 per week to someone on the average income, and if New Zealanders had $40 or more in their pay packets, do you think they would be able to pay for the food increases that were highlighted in the Dominion Post and the New Zealand Herald today, and do you think they would be in a better position to service the mortgages—

Hon Trevor Mallard: “Do you think”—get the question right.

John Key: —that member might not care about New Zealand households, but I do—which have doubled under a Labour Government?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Of course, the Government offered far more support to families than the $40 the member is talking about. My recollection is that for a family with two children on $35,000, the Working for Families package is worth $199 in tax relief a week. The National Party opposed the Working for Families package and continues to oppose it.

John Key: Can the Prime Minister give the House an assurance that all four of Michael Cullen’s tests will be met when he rolls out his proposed tax cuts in the 2008 Budget, taking into consideration that one of them is in relation to inflation and that yesterday the CPI data released shows that inflation was at 3.4 percent, or will she not worry about that because she has given him the one test, which was: “Dr Cullen, cut taxes or look for a new job.”?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I have every confidence that the Minister of Finance will meet his tests, and I know he will not be borrowing the member’s policy of borrowing for tax cuts, because that is just crazy.

Rodney Hide: Does the Prime Minister agree that the best way to assist working families being squeezed is to let them keep more of their money through tax cuts, which would also provide for even stronger growth that would further help those families?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: With respect to the member, I think a range of policies is important. There will be a tax cut in this year’s Budget. A programme will be set out. That has to be set alongside the Working for Families package, cheaper doctors’ fees, the 20 hours’ free early childhood education, and many other measures the Government has put in place to relieve pressure on families.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: How does the Prime Minister explain her railing against Mr Key’s questioning when on all the fundamentals that have been announced by the National Party, its policy in respect of the economy of this country is identical to Labour’s; and that being the case, where is the problem here as being explained by the Prime Minister in her answers?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: The problem may be that the Leader of the Opposition is in the process of swallowing so many dead rats that they are starting to come out of his ears.

/NR/rdonlyres/EC081A45-D967-4602-8A74-DF64105BE82C/82409/48HansQ_20080416_00000086_.pdfFull transcript of Questions for Oral Answer for Wednesday, 16 April 2008 [PDF 219k]

2. Schools—Literacy Improvements

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

2. SU’A WILLIAM SIO (Labour) to the Minister of Education: What reports has he received on literacy improvements in our schools?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Minister for the Environment) on behalf of the Minister of Education: The most recent evaluation of the Labour-led Government’s Literacy Professional Development Project confirms very significant improvements in the reading and writing ability of the estimated 55,000 students whose teachers have been helped by the $15 million initiative. Students on the programme improve their reading and writing skills at approximately twice the normal rate, with the progress being made by the bottom 20 percent being about double that of the other students on the programme. It is a real case of a gap being closed.

Su’a William Sio: What practical support to lift student achievement does the Literacy Professional Development Project provide?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: Since the inception of the Literacy Professional Development Project in 2004, it has worked with 4,412 teachers working in 391 schools. It is a 2-year programme, with professional development facilitators going into each school to teach the teachers how to use tools that are proven to raise literacy skills. It has been very successful to date. A new cohort of 1,124 teachers in 103 schools began the project in February. We are looking forward to seeing the excellent results from the first two cohorts being replicated again.

Anne Tolley: Why is this Government gloating about its achievements in improving literacy, when the results from last year’s National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA) exams show quite the opposite—that, in fact, one in four students could not even meet the NCEA level 1 literacy requirement, which is a shameful record of failure after 9 long years of a Labour Government?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: When this Government came into office, 50 percent of students could not pass School Certificate English. If the member wants us to drop standards in the way that she is suggesting, in order to let students through, I can tell her that we will not take that approach. I also say to the member that her policy of exams for 6-year-olds just will not run with this Government.

Anne Tolley: I seek leave to table a document from the national qualifications framework school profile showing that one in four New Zealand students could not meet the level 1 literacy requirement.

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

/NR/rdonlyres/99E678FE-AF4A-4565-BB38-8A13D8BE3A10/82411/48HansQ_20080416_00000165_.pdfFull transcript of Questions for Oral Answer for Wednesday, 16 April 2008 [PDF 219k]

3. Electoral Finance Act—Meetings

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

3. Hon BILL ENGLISH (Deputy Leader—National) to the Minister of Justice: Has she attended any meetings in the past week at which issues related to the Electoral Finance Act 2007 were discussed; if so, did she make any contributions to those meetings?

Hon ANNETTE KING (Minister of Justice) : Yes, as the Minister of Justice I have attended several meetings in the past week at which the Electoral Finance Act was discussed, and I participated in all discussions.

Hon Bill English: Can the Minister confirm reports that she failed to speak up at a Labour Party congress meeting on the Electoral Finance Act when the suggestion was made that material produced by Government departments should be used for Labour Party electioneering, and that this practice has been stopped only because the media brought attention to the plan and the Prime Minister intervened to try to stop it?

Hon ANNETTE KING: There is no ministerial responsibility in relation to that question.

Hon Bill English: What confidence can the public have in the administration of the Electoral Finance Act in the light of Labour’s very poor record of breaching electoral law, and in light of the fact that the Minister of Justice, who is responsible for the Act, took part in a session at the Labour Party conference focused on working out how to rort it?

Hon ANNETTE KING: I believe that New Zealanders will have confidence in the Electoral Finance Act if members of this Parliament, particularly Bill English, stop trying to stir up trouble and stop trying to make it into a political issue because they do not like what the Electoral Finance Act does in terms of them cheating the New Zealand public at the last election.

Hon Peter Dunne: At any of the meetings the Minister has participated in in the last week has there been discussion about some of the problems that are now becoming apparent with the operation of the Act in respect of the interpretations being placed upon its provisions by the Chief Electoral Office and others; if so, would she be prepared to consider convening a meeting of all parties to discuss the issues that have emerged to see whether common ground can be reached on amendments needed to make this Act workable so that the people of New Zealand can decide the next election, not the courts?

Hon ANNETTE KING: At meetings there have been discussions about issues that have been raised in this Parliament in terms of problems. In terms of the member’s suggestion that there ought to be a meeting of all parties, I would certainly listen to any suggestion, but I have to say to the member that unless such a meeting was entered into in good faith by every party in this House, I think it would be a waste of time.

Hon Bill English: Has the Minister seen reports such as that on the Ministry for the Environment from late last year indicating that Ministers’ offices and the Prime Minister’s office were coordinating Government department publicity for election year, and can she confirm that it has always been part of Labour’s plan to shut down its critics and use taxpayers’ resources and Government departments to run its election campaign?

Hon ANNETTE KING: I certainly cannot. That is yet another one of Bill English’s malicious fabrications, which this House has been subjected to over many weeks.

Hon Bill English: Is it a malicious fabrication that the Electoral Finance Act led to a decision yesterday that an MP’s newsletter probably breaches the Act, and if an MP’s newsletter breaches the Act, then probably every press release put out in Parliament breaches the Act; and what will she do about that, given that it is her legislation, which has been designed to shut down anyone who criticises Labour?

Hon ANNETTE KING: Can I say in respect of that issue that the ACT member concerned did exactly the right thing in seeking clarification. It would depend what a member puts in his or her newsletter. A newsletter is not open slather; it is not able to be used to electioneer just because it is called a newsletter. That member did the right thing and I suggest that Bill English follows her example.

Hon Bill English: Can the Minister remind the House whether 4 months after the Electoral Act 1993 was passed—which was the last time the electoral law was revised—the following things happened, as have happened this year: a ruling that the Government had breached its own law; two high-profile cases of the Government’s party president getting the law absolutely wrong; and a Government Minister issuing a press release saying that the law is an ass and needs a serious and urgent rewrite, as Minister Peter Dunne issued today?

Hon ANNETTE KING: No, I cannot recall exactly what happened after the 1993 Act was brought into force, but I am advised that every amendment that we have ever had to the Electoral Act has led to problems in terms of interpretation. It does take some time for things to settle down and I expect the same will happen with this Act.

Hon Bill English: Why would anyone believe that a committee of all parties would bring about changes to this law, when we had a committee of all parties called Parliament all last year, where all the issues that have now turned out to be very difficult were raised with Labour and with that Minister and she refused to make any changes whatsoever, and when those parties that supported her in the legislation have now discovered they did not understand the law and are now trapped and paralysed by it as well?

Hon ANNETTE KING: Unfortunately, the member constantly makes things up. Obviously, I was not the Minister of Justice throughout the year when the bill was being debated. Also, the member said that absolutely no changes were accepted; I would ask him to speak to Christopher Finlayson, as some of his amendments were accepted. This is the second thing the member has got wrong. Unfortunately, he has a habit of making things up in this Parliament.

Hon Bill English: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. Last week we had a discussion about the Standing Order that prevents the use of epithets and other discrediting statements in the answers to questions. I pointed out at that time that it was becoming a habit of the Government. Of course, Parliament can tolerate some of that, but not when it becomes a consistent feature of every answer, as is has been from this Minister.

Hon ANNETTE KING: Speaking to the point of order—

Madam SPEAKER: No, I can rule on this; it is all right. The member has a good point and I will be listening very carefully to both questions and answers, which are covered by the Standing Orders.

/NR/rdonlyres/6FCF68A1-27F3-4FE0-B35D-D656BB5A6431/82413/48HansQ_20080416_00000202_.pdfFull transcript of Questions for Oral Answer for Wednesday, 16 April 2008 [PDF 219k]

4. Immunisation—Meningococcal B

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

4. LESLEY SOPER (Labour) to the Minister of Health: Why has the Government ended the meningococcal B mass immunisation campaign?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE (Minister of Health) : The answer is simple: there are now fewer cases of meningococcal B disease. At its peak there were 370 cases per year. Last year that had reduced to just 47. As a result of this dramatic reduction, expert clinical advice was that there was no longer a need for a mass immunisation campaign. Meningococcal B disease is insidious: it can kill, maim, and leave permanently damaged those who contract it. The meningococcal campaign is an example of a health service reacting to and successfully taking action on a serious matter.

Lesley Soper: Do the clinical results of the vaccination programme support the decision to intervene?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: Yes. There is clear evidence that the vaccination campaign reduced and curtailed the meningococcal B epidemic. That means dozens of New Zealand children now have limbs and have escaped brain damage, who would not have if the battle had not been fought and won. To quote expert Dr Nikki Turner: “The disease was only very slowing waning when the vaccine was introduced. If we’d not used the vaccine, we would have had a lot more children with the disease while we were waiting for the rates of infection to drop.”

Sue Kedgley: Will the Minister commit himself to releasing all of the official data on the meningococcal vaccine and its implementation, so that we can get beyond the spin and allow independent researchers to asses whether it was effective, why 46 fully immunised children developed the disease and some died, why the number of deaths from meningitis has not declined since the vaccine was rolled out, whether it was wise to target a million children rather than at-risk groups, and also how many serious adverse effects have occurred as a result of the vaccine?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: To take the first of those questions, there is, I understand, a comprehensive peer-reviewed study shortly to be released on the campaign, and it does show that the estimated disease rate was 3.7 times higher in the unvaccinated group than in the vaccinated group, and that the vaccine had an overall effectiveness rate of some 73 percent.

Sue Kedgley: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I thank the Minister for his answer, but the question asked whether he would commit himself to releasing all of the official data.

Madam SPEAKER: I have to remind the member, as I have done in the past—and not only that member but other members—that a supplementary question is normally one supplementary question. There were several questions there, and therefore the Minister had the choice as to which one he answered.

/NR/rdonlyres/442875F1-2356-4604-84F7-AD99983EB807/82415/48HansQ_20080416_00000281_.pdfFull transcript of Questions for Oral Answer for Wednesday, 16 April 2008 [PDF 219k]

5. Violent Crime—Increase

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

5. SIMON POWER (National—Rangitikei) to the Minister of Justice: What is she doing about a rate of increase in violent crime that now places violent crime at the highest level ever in this country’s history?

Hon ANNETTE KING (Minister of Justice) : The Government is undertaking a wide range of activities to address violence in our society. Violence can be divided into two categories: domestic violence and non-domestic violence. Action has been taken to address both, but there is a current emphasis on domestic violence. That is because the increase in violence was almost entirely driven by the increase in recorded domestic violence, which was 31.5 percent compared with the increase in non-domestic violence of 1.4 percent.

Simon Power: Can she confirm that the primary question was the same one put by the Hon Phil Goff in this House on 11 October 1994, when violent offences numbered 44,580, and can she confirm also that by 1999 this figure had dropped by 11 percent, only to rise under Labour by another 43.6 percent to 56,983 offences in 2007, which was actually the “highest level ever” in this country’s history?

Hon ANNETTE KING: It is fair to say that violence in New Zealand has been rising over many years; in fact, violence has been rising in most countries over many years. But I say to the member that, in the last decade, the highest number for the most violent crime, which is murder, occurred in 1997.

Simon Power: How can she claim that Labour is doing something about violent crime, when statistics released today from her ministry show that since 1999 the average length of prison sentences for violent offences has fallen by 8.5 percent, including 11 percent shorter sentences for indecent assault, 17.5 percent shorter sentences for aggravated robbery, 7.5 percent shorter sentences for assault by a male on a female, and 17.6 percent shorter sentences for assault on a child?

Hon ANNETTE KING: The decision on the length of a sentence—as that member, as a former lawyer, well knows—is not in the hands of the Government. In fact, it is made by the sentencing judge at the time, who takes into account all circumstances. But I can assure the member that in relation to violence in New Zealand—particularly as the member is more interested in non-domestic violence than he is in domestic violence; he does not seem to think that domestic violence is so important—we have increased the number—

Simon Power: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. The Minister is better than that. She will know that I will take offence at any statement that might be taken to mean that I view domestic violence as somehow less serious than any other form of violence.

Madam SPEAKER: Yes, I agree. Would the Minister please withdraw and apologise.

Hon ANNETTE KING: I raised domestic violence and non—

Madam SPEAKER: Order!

Hon ANNETTE KING: I am answering the question.

Madam SPEAKER: No. I have asked for a withdrawal and apology, which is what I heard the member ask for.

Hon ANNETTE KING: I withdraw and apologise.

Madam SPEAKER: Thank you.

Hon ANNETTE KING: The reason why I highlight domestic violence is that the majority of the increase in the statistics of violence in New Zealand has been related to domestic violence. It is a serious issue for New Zealanders. In the last decade—for which the member was quoting figures and trying to highlight that somehow the Government is responsible for all this—there has been over a doubling of the number of reported cases of domestic violence, and there has also been over a doubling of prosecutions against domestic violence. So let us recognise that the issue has been taken seriously in New Zealand, that there is prosecution, and that there is certainly a concentration on it by many agencies. To say that nothing is happening in relation to addressing violence is quite untrue, and I say to the member that many things are being done by this Government to address violence, both domestic and non-domestic.

Hon Phil Goff: Can the Minister confirm that, quite contrary to what Mr Power has just said, the 2002 Sentencing Act considerably increased sentences for the worst and most violent criminals, including broadening the scope of preventive detention—indefinite detention—putting a minimum sentence of 17 years for aggravated murder, and allowing sentences of up to 30 years in the worst cases?

Hon ANNETTE KING: Yes, I can confirm that. And I can confirm that the Minister of Justice then was the member who asked the question, who followed a Minister who had not taken those issues seriously and had not changed the sentencing of our most violent criminals.

Simon Power: Is she surprised by the vicious and unprovoked attack on six tourists on the streets of central Christchurch, which resulted in knife wounds and broken bones, when since 1999 that area has experienced a 23 percent increase in intimidation and threats, a 26 increase in grievous assaults, and a 43 percent increase in serious assaults?

Hon ANNETTE KING: I am not surprised; I am horrified at those sorts of attacks on tourists and New Zealanders in the streets of our country. Among the things we have to face up to in this country is some of the causes of street violence. It has been pointed out in the latest crime statistics that alcohol was at the basis of most crimes in New Zealand. It is an issue that this Parliament needs to reconsider, in my view, at some time in the future. Certainly, as one who did not vote to lower the drinking age, I think that at some stage we will have to face up to the fact that there is a problem in this country in relation to alcohol and violence in our homes and on the streets.

Gerry Brownlee: How bad have things become when the Mayor of Christchurch was able to say at the start of this year that “Walking around the streets after midnight is not something I’d recommend to people. It’s crazy out there.”, after an analysis of crime statistics per head of population showed that Christchurch central has the country’s highest rates for violent crimes, including all types of assault, sexual attacks, burglary, car theft, and property damage; and what is she doing to ensure that her Government does something about helping the people who have to live in that zone?

Hon ANNETTE KING: The Government has taken quite a number of measures, including increasing the number of police staff we have on the streets, and working with local authorities in terms of what they can do in relation to liquor bans and stopping alcohol from being sold at all hours of the day and night. But the Government works in partnership on these issues, because everybody knows that not one Minister, or one Government, or one Parliament on its own will address the issue of violence in our homes or on our streets. It becomes a joint problem for all of us to work on.

Gerry Brownlee: If the Minister genuinely believes what she has just said, why are 24-hour alcohol sales available from so many outlets in Christchurch, and why has her Government granted 363 off-licences in Christchurch—more than twice the number available in Wellington—and will she advance legislation around conditions of licence that might give some relief to city councils and residents living in these difficult parts of New Zealand?

Hon ANNETTE KING: I say to the member that if he were prepared to help me with that, and if the Opposition were prepared to work with the Government on that, I am certain that we could tackle the issue of outlets, sale, and availability of alcohol. I have not seen any great desire for that sort of assistance to be given to the Government to date, but if there is a view in this House that we ought to be doing something about outlets—and Christchurch does have a particular problem, but it is not on its own—then I think this Parliament ought to look at doing that.

Nicky Wagner: What does the Minister say to the scores of concerned citizens who have called my office in the last week, worried about the recent spate of violence in Christchurch; citizens who include parents who have forbidden kids to use their local park or to walk on the streets, people working in dairies who are worried about being robbed, and elderly women who are too frightened to turn on the lights in their houses in case they attract offenders?

Hon ANNETTE KING: I would tell that member to say to her constituents that they should not get things out of proportion or be scared into believing that Christchurch is not a safe place to live in. By any comparison internationally, it certainly is. They can take assurance from the fact that this Government, along with New Zealand First in terms of our agreement, has recruited and is recruiting many more additional police to be on our streets. Christchurch is getting its fair share of that police resource, including some of the 250 community constables with high visibility—frontline police, I say, whereas some in the National Party think community constables do not constitute frontline police. That is part of what this Government has been providing.

Ron Mark: What sort of message is sent to young, violent thugs when a 15-year-old who has taken part in a beating of a man to the point where the police thought they had a body on their hands, and who did the majority of the damage to the victim by repeatedly kicking and stomping on the victim’s head, is not sent by the Youth Court judge to the District Court for sentencing, as is provided for under the Children, Young Persons, and Their Families Act, because in the judge’s words it “was his 15th birthday when the event was going down.”, which effectively resulted in his being given a far more lenient sentence in the Youth Court, presumably as a birthday present?

Hon ANNETTE KING: Although the member may find that obnoxious, I am not prepared to criticise a decision of a Youth Court judge. Certainly, it is not my role to do that, and I was not there to hear the evidence, or what was given, in terms of that case. I believe that in the main our judges do a very good job, and we are well served by the judiciary in New Zealand.

Ron Mark: Has the Minister read the sentencing notes of one of the two accomplices of the aforesaid young person, in which the Youth Court judge states that most of the damage was inflicted by the 15-year-old, and can the Minister explain to the House why, after making repeated requests for the sentencing notes of the Youth Court judge, New Zealand First has been unable to get those notes, and after requests to Judge Becroft, the Principal Youth Court Judge, we have still not received those notes after at least a year; can the Minister offer a comment as to how it serves the best interests of the youth justice system to have the youth justice system hiding behind the secrecy laws?

Madam SPEAKER: I am sorry, but the member has been warned before not to give speeches in the guise of questions. I would ask that in future the member Mr Mark ask his question succinctly.

Hon ANNETTE KING: No, I cannot give the member an answer, mainly because of the principle of judicial independence in New Zealand, whereby I cannot direct a judge to provide that member with sentencing notes—or with anything else, for that matter. I think we really do need to uphold that judicial independence, so that we do not have politicians telling judges what to do, or, for that matter, politicians telling the police what to do. I think that is an important constitutional principle in New Zealand, and I am sure that the member understands that only too well.

Ron Mark: I seek leave to table the sentencing notes of one Dylan Raymond Shannon Corbin in the District Court in Christchurch.

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

Ron Mark: I seek leave to table a letter from my office to the registrar of the Youth Court, seeking the sentencing notes of that 15-year-old.

 Leave granted.

Ron Mark: I seek leave to table a blank page, which represents the answer we got.

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

Ron Mark: I seek leave to table a letter to Judge Becroft, asking for an explanation of the way—

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

Ron Mark: I seek leave to table the reply from Judge Becroft, which totally missed the point.

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

Ron Mark: And I seek leave to table a further letter to Judge Becroft, pointing out that he totally missed the point.

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

/NR/rdonlyres/7F7F5C84-ED01-49BA-A101-0A3393282A38/82417/48HansQ_20080416_00000315_.pdfFull transcript of Questions for Oral Answer for Wednesday, 16 April 2008 [PDF 219k]

6. Genetic Modification, Royal Commission—Government Response

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

6. JEANETTE FITZSIMONS (Co-Leader—Green) to the Minister for the Environment: Does he agree with his predecessor the Hon Marian Hobbs’ response to the Royal Commission on Genetic Modification in which she said the Government accepted “the broad outline of the Royal Commission’s strategy of preserving opportunities while proceeding with caution”?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Minister for the Environment) : Yes.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: Can the Minister confirm that after 7 long years the Government has implemented only 20 of the 49 recommendations of the commission, as revealed in a research report released today by the independent thinktank Sustainable Future?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I have received a copy of the report. I am advised that the report may be overly conservative in its assessment of how the Government has implemented the royal commission’s recommendations. However, I have asked officials to provide me with a substantive briefing on it. I am also advised that the report may not fully reflect New Zealand’s current regulatory environment. The regime for assessing applications for GM research in New Zealand is one of the toughest in the world, and this is probably reflected in the fact that no applications have been received for conditional or full release of GM organisms. In fact, a number of New Zealand researchers are doing that experimentation outside the country because of our tough regime.

Jill Pettis: Can the Minister advise the House what recommendations the Government has addressed?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I am advised that the Government has addressed the recommendations of the royal commission that it is possible to address at this time—for example, establishing a bioethics council, amending the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act to allow a conditional release, enhancing the role and processes of institutional biological safety committees, extending the ministerial call-in powers to include cultural, ethical, and spiritual considerations, developing a long-term biotechnology strategy for New Zealand, and the list goes on. There are, of course, recommendations that cannot be addressed at this point in time—for example, an application of conditional or full release of a GM organism would be required in order to initiate a number of the recommendations.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: Can the Minister confirm that all of the commission’s recommendations, which were designed to preserve opportunities for non - GE growers to continue to produce what their markets demand, without being compromised by the release of GE organisms, are among the 29 that have not been implemented; if so, will he commit to doing something about it?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I will take the member’s word, but I am not absolutely certain on the question of 29 recommendations. No, I am not prepared to do so. What would be required for some of those recommendations to be implemented would be a successful application. I am not prepared to initiate that sort of application, or to guarantee its success.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: In the event of a release, how are bee-keepers supposed to know where and when to locate their hives in order that their 10,000 tonnes of honey produced each year remain GE free, when there is no public information about where such crops might be grown, no systems to keep crops separate or to label anything, and great confusion over where liability will lie in the event of contamination; and is the Minister happy to see decimated this $58 million export industry, which is already threatened by the varroa bee mite and the biosecurity amendment legislation?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: The answer to the last part of the question is no. As to what I am prepared to do with it, I am prepared to continue to work closely with my colleague the leader of the Greens in order to implement our cooperation agreement.

/NR/rdonlyres/BA0AD9ED-4819-486A-B665-E28664A8C9B3/82419/48HansQ_20080416_00000428_.pdfFull transcript of Questions for Oral Answer for Wednesday, 16 April 2008 [PDF 219k]

7. Social Development, Ministry—Non-governmental Organisations

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

7. JUDITH COLLINS (National—Clevedon) to the Minister for Social Development and Employment: Is she confident that all moneys paid by the Ministry of Social Development to non-governmental organisations in the 2006-07 financial year were used appropriately; if not, why not?

Hon RUTH DYSON (Minister for Social Development and Employment) : The responsible Minister for Social Development and Employment reports to Parliament annually on the results achieved through funding distributed to non-governmental organisations. The report for the year in question was tabled by my predecessor, the Hon Steve Maharey, in September last year. In addition, all ministry contracts with non-governmental organisations include reporting requirements to ensure ongoing monitoring of service delivery. Providers are accountable for their expenditure and must have audited financial records. Therefore, I am confident that the systems are robust and complied with by the responsible Minister, the ministry, and non-governmental organisations.

Judith Collins: Is she confident that funding provided by the Ministry of Social Development to the Combined Beneficiaries Union in the 2006-07 and 2005-06 financial years, funding that made up almost 40 percent of the total of the Combined Beneficiaries Union’s revenue, was spent appropriately; if not, why not?

Hon RUTH DYSON: I am aware that a number of allegations and concerns have been raised internally within the Combined Beneficiaries Union, and that the Ministry of Social Development has implemented the appropriate investigations. To the best of my knowledge no inappropriate use has taken place. If the member has any additional information I would be very keen to receive it, because like her I share the view that taxpayers’ money should be used appropriately.

Judith Collins: Can she confirm that the serious allegations she referred to were made against the office manager of the Combined Beneficiaries Union regarding his misuse of this taxpayer funding to pay his personal bills, including dental examinations, cosmetic dentistry, tenpin bowling, and parking infringements, and how is it appropriate for this person to be living the life of Riley while beneficiaries struggle every day?

Hon RUTH DYSON: I am aware that allegations have been made about the person within the Combined Beneficiaries Union and that those allegations have been investigated appropriately. But I do not share the member’s view that it is all right to damage the good name of a person who does not have the opportunity to have the protection that we do within Parliament in the same way as she did against a man whom she made allegations about in Parliament last month, which turned out to be totally without substance. I do not recommend doing that to an individual from within this House.

Judith Collins: Is the Minister then aware that these allegations include that this money was illegally spent on car registration and repairs on the manager’s girlfriend’s car, a microwave for his girlfriend, and accommodation for himself at two different hotels on the same night, and what action will she be taking to ensure that organisations funded by her ministry are using that funding appropriately?

Hon RUTH DYSON: I will just repeat that I am aware of allegations that have been made, and I am confident that the ministry has investigated them appropriately. Last month Ms Collins launched a particularly vicious attack against the Ministry of Social Development in the same way as she is doing, implying an action, today. That allegation turned out to be totally without substance, and I would strongly recommend against the member doing it again. She owes the ministry an apology for that, and it may well turn out to be exactly the same situation today.

Judith Collins: Why did it taken an allegation of misappropriation for her ministry to request the Combined Beneficiaries Union to undertake conviction checks of its staff, put in place processes and procedures to prevent future allegations of misappropriation, and keep records of cases for which funds were applied—surely these are standard procedures that any ministry should be requesting be put in place before it pays out taxpayer funding in this way?

Hon RUTH DYSON: As the member and her colleague from Nelson will know, it is possible to have a conviction and still remain in employment. [Interruption]

Madam SPEAKER: Well, that is one each, so let us just get back to asking the question and giving the answer without the innuendo.

Judith Collins: From what the Minister said today it sounds that she is not aware of some of the allegations, but has the Minister then seen this pile of documents, including invoices, as alleged, for the grocery shopping, the dental records, and the car registration; if she has not, would she, in fact, receive those and do something with them other than the personal attacks that she has just indulged herself in?

Hon RUTH DYSON: In respect of the last point, actually stating a fact is not offensive, nor is it a personal attack. I was stating a fact—that it is acceptable, in a civilised society, for a person to have a conviction and remain in employment, as was the case in the example the member raised herself in her supplementary question. I have not personally seen the papers. I do not think it is necessary for me to personally investigate, because I am satisfied with the quality of investigation undertaken by the ministry, which is aware of the allegations the member has referred to.

Judith Collins: I seek leave of the House to table a report on the state of the Combined Beneficiaries Union accounts.

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

Judith Collins: I seek leave to table the Ministry of Social Development’s letter to the Combined Beneficiaries Union stating that it was very unhappy with the situation.

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

/NR/rdonlyres/DFC9BE3D-3D88-4B55-96AB-6917C9BCE81D/82421/48HansQ_20080416_00000479_.pdfFull transcript of Questions for Oral Answer for Wednesday, 16 April 2008 [PDF 219k]

8. Central North Island Forests Iwi Collective—Resources

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

8. TE URUROA FLAVELL (Māori Party—Waiariki) to the Minister in charge of Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations: What are the water and geothermal resources that are referred to in the proposed settlement with the central North Island iwi collective?

Hon SHANE JONES (Associate Minister in charge of Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations) on behalf of the Minister in charge of Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations: Although we have not reached a deed of settlement at this point, the terms of agreement signed on 22 February focus on forest and forest land, while providing the opportunity to discuss additional cultural and commercial redress.

Te Ururoa Flavell: Are the issues in respect of water and geothermal resources also under the definition of “cultural redress”?

Hon SHANE JONES: As I said, the Crown has received a terms of agreement. Obviously, what the other party seeks to enjoy as redress will be teased out in the inevitable negotiations.

Te Ururoa Flavell: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. The issue of cultural redress was raised by the Minister in respect of cultural elements within the settlement. I asked for a definition of it. I am sure that as a part of the negotiations the Minister should have a closer idea about what the definition might be. That was the gist of the question.

Madam SPEAKER: As I have explained on several occasions to the member in the past, you cannot require a specific answer to a question. If you do, if you wish that, and other members do, please get the Standing Orders changed. It would help me immensely. The Minister did actually address the question, if not to the member’s satisfaction.

Dave Hereora: What reports has the Minister seen on reaction to recent progress on the central North Island iwi collective negotiations?

Hon SHANE JONES: The signing of the terms of agreement and the receipt by the Crown of the proposal from the central North Island iwi collective have been welcomed enthusiastically by the iwi involved. The strong support for the process outlined by Mr Flavell in his statement to the press must be noted. Naturally, we also welcome support from Aotearoa tuatahi, New Zealand First. It is important to note that since the terms of agreement were signed in February, Te Pūmautanga o Te Arawa has agreed to work with the collective. All iwi concerned should be congratulated.

Te Ururoa Flavell: What come-back will other tribes have to the water and geothermal resources if they have claims in respect of water and geothermal resources, when these same resources are being included in a proposed comprehensive settlement in which they have no part at this point?

Hon SHANE JONES: The terms of agreement outline the expectations of one party to the negotiations. The negotiations lie between the Crown and the Māori tribes, not the Māori Party. The full import, extent, and meaning of the redress will be teased out in the context of these negotiations, of which Te Pūmautanga o Te Arawa are now a part, but it would be wrong to pre-empt the content or final direction of those negotiations as a consequence of a question from the Māori Party.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Has the Minister received any reports of support in this House for the process that Dr Cullen has undertaken, and do they include the Māori Party, because there are many involved in Māoridom in the central North Island who believe that this is their best opportunity ever to have this matter resolved with some sense of expediency?

Hon SHANE JONES: It is a matter of fact that Mr Flavell was present at the Tūwharetoa hui where this suggestion, this proposal, was put forward. We have decided to conclude that that represents his support, unlike the actions of the party’s co-leader Tariana Turia, who is about to apologise to NgātiPorou for insulting them over their seabed and foreshore settlement.

/NR/rdonlyres/14851AA1-B5E9-417C-9CB1-88235C0B220F/82423/48HansQ_20080416_00000549_.pdfFull transcript of Questions for Oral Answer for Wednesday, 16 April 2008 [PDF 219k]

9. Emissions Trading Scheme—Carbon Charges Exemptions

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

9. PETER BROWN (Deputy Leader—NZ First) to the Minister responsible for Climate Change Issues: Which transport operators, if any, will be exempt from carbon charges under the Government’s proposed emissions trading scheme?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Minister for the Environment) on behalf of the Minister responsible for Climate Change Issues: The emissions trading scheme will be phased in over time to cover all gases and all sectors. Oil companies are amongst those that will be required to account for their emissions. We would expect those costs to be passed on to operators in the transport sector operating in New Zealand.

Peter Brown: Can I take it from that answer that coastal shipping will not be exempt; if that is so, at the current activity levels, can the Minister give the House an approximate idea of what the coastal shipping industry would pay by way of carbon charges?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: Yes, the member can take that understanding; my understanding is that the cost will be in the order of $10 a container. Of course, the introduction of the emissions trading scheme will mean that the relative position of coastal shipping vis-à-vis road transport will be greatly enhanced.

Louisa Wall: Kia ora, Madam Speaker. How will the emissions trading scheme help New Zealand to reduce its emissions?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: The scheme is a means by which New Zealand can meet its obligations under Kyoto in a very flexible and cost-effective way—one that is best both for businesses and for households.

Peter Brown: Is the Minister aware that our coastal shipping competes against foreign operators in so much as their vessels carry coastal cargo whilst they are traversing New Zealand waters, and can he advise whether foreign vessels will be up for carbon charges under the proposed emissions trading scheme?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: It is my understanding—and obviously I was relatively recently briefed on this matter—that, as is the case with GST, they would not be. But I am also advised that the member concerned is working very well with my colleague the Minister of Transport on the coastal shipping strategy in order to try to rebalance some of those relativities. I will just say that $10 per container is a pretty minor part of the difference in costs faced.

Peter Brown: I would just like the Minister to confirm that cargo that goes from one port in New Zealand to another port in New Zealand and is carried by a New Zealand coastal ship will cost more than the same container, or whatever it is, that goes from the same port in New Zealand to another port in New Zealand when it is carried by a foreign ship; do I have a correct understanding there, and if I have, then what is the advantage in that for New Zealand?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: As that member is aware—and is much more aware than most members of the House are—that is already the case to a much greater extent than is involved in the emissions trading scheme.

/NR/rdonlyres/A41DD9AC-32BB-4427-B1AF-8D1581B3E01D/82425/48HansQ_20080416_00000611_.pdfFull transcript of Questions for Oral Answer for Wednesday, 16 April 2008 [PDF 219k]

10. Immigration System—Policy

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

10. PANSY WONG (National) to the Minister of Immigration: Does he stand by his statement that New Zealand’s immigration system is tough and the policy is “we choose them, they don’t choose us”?

Hon SHANE JONES (Associate Minister of Immigration) on behalf of the Minister of Immigration: Yes.

Pansy Wong: Was this the reason for the introduction of the new global investor and professional investor policies last year, with investment thresholds of $20 million and $10 million, which have not attracted a single application?

Hon SHANE JONES: The member is correct that those two policies have now been turned into programmes, but they were introduced late last year, and we need to allow time to pass, because the spending of that degree of money—$10 million and $20 million—requires judiciousness.

Pansy Wong: It’s going to take a long time—

Madam SPEAKER: Would the member just ask the question.

Pansy Wong: What is the logic that leads the Minister to think that taking a previous $2 million investment threshold that attracted just three successful applications, and raising it to $20 million and $10 million, would somehow attract a lot more applications?

Hon SHANE JONES: In 2005 there was a policy whereby $2 million would be deposited with the Government, with a return equal to the rate of inflation. As a consequence of the necessary funds having been increased, it is not necessary to constrain the destination of that money into Government-held stock.

Pansy Wong: Why did the Minister feel there was a need to cap the number of investors at 800 a year, when Labour’s failed investor category policy previously attracted just three successful application in 2005 and 2006 and when the new global and professional investor policies have not attracted a single application?

Hon SHANE JONES: There are actually three segments to the policy the member refers to. In the third policy, where it is necessary for $2.5 million to be served up, we have had 15 expressions of interest. In respect of the other policies, it takes time before a person decides to commit to investing $20 million. Time will tell.

Pansy Wong: How does the Minister think this policy will be described by the chairman of the association of immigration consultants, given that he has described the policy that attracted three successful applications as a total failure?

Hon SHANE JONES: I have not seen that report, but I look forward to that particular member and his ilk being regulated in the new immigration bill. I record for the House the fact that during the late 1990s there was a scheme where one could use $1 million, it got on to a merry-go-round, people ended up in court, and they were responsible.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Could the Minister advise the House as to whether it is his view or the Government’s view that if they had got into a savings regime many, many years ago—decades ago—we would not be reliant upon these so-called overseas investment categories or classes, and that half the reason why we did not is that the National Party opposed such measures?

Madam SPEAKER: I do not know about the second part of the question, but the first part is in order.

Hon SHANE JONES: It is a matter of fact that we have a deficit in relation to our savings. We wait with bated breath to see what the other side of the House is ever going to say about that constructively.

Pansy Wong: Why should the public and the immigration industry have any confidence in Labour’s ability to run the investors’ category given that its changes to the previous National Government policy have seen the number of successful applicants drop from over 1,300 in 2001-02, to just three in 2005-06, and to zero in 2007-08 under the new global and professional investor categories?

Hon SHANE JONES: As I said, this policy has been around since late 2007, and whether or not the member agrees with it, people require time to undertake due diligence and express the usual level of prudence that we would imagine would be shown when one is spending $10 million or $20 million. For the category with a $2.5 million sum of money, expressions of interest are flowing. No one thought it would be instantaneous, given the $20 million threshold.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Has the Minister got any reports that at one point in our recent history Canada, and Montreal in particular, had more Chinese millionaires than any other country, except that the millionaires all had the same million—a revolving-door policy that the National Party had duplicated here in New Zealand, and which Pansy Wong knows all about?

Madam SPEAKER: Again, the first part of the question is in order.

Pansy Wong: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I take exception to knowing anything about revolving doors. Unlike New Zealand First, I am actually very naïve about those scams.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: It is not often that a member of Parliament gets up and displays his or her ignorance, but the member just said that she had no idea what the party she joined, the National Party, was doing on immigration when it had its million-dollar investor categories. If National members can share that, then it just shows how perversely stupid they have become.

Madam SPEAKER: No, the member has taken exception. Would the Minister please just withdraw and apologise.

Hon SHANE JONES: The rules concerning the—

Madam SPEAKER: Would the Minister please just withdraw and apologise. The member took exception to what you said.

Hon SHANE JONES: I withdraw and apologise.

Hon Darren Hughes: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I do not think that Ms Wong had taken offence at what Mr Jones had said.

Madam SPEAKER: My apologies. Would whoever offended whom please apologise so that we can move on.

Hon Paul Swain: On the basis of that, Madam Speaker, I think the Minister should withdraw his withdrawal and apology.

Madam SPEAKER: No, I am sorry. If the Rt Hon Winston Peters gave offence, would he please just withdraw and apologise so we can move on. The House has become somewhat sensitive.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I withdraw and apologise.

Madam SPEAKER: Thank you.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. Can I say with respect that this is plain ridiculous. I have given you some facts of history here, and you are asking me to withdraw the fact that I have mentioned. It is well known that that happened—that within 1 day the money would be in a bank account and out of it again within 24 hours.

Madam SPEAKER: The point was, as I understand it, that the member thought it was personal reflection upon her being associated with an illegal scheme. That is why in her statement she requested that it be withdrawn and apologised for. The member has done that.

Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I think we are at some risk of having a problem here, because what the Rt Hon Winston Peters did was indicate that something occurred that was widely known at the time—it was well reported in newspapers—and it was as a result of a policy introduced by the National Government. For the member to say that she was ignorant does not mean, I think, that Mr Peters should have been required to apologise. She said she did not know what was going on. She was probably the only member in the whole House not to know, but I do not think Mr Peters should be required to apologise for the fact that Pansy Wong had not followed the facts in New Zealand.

Simon Power: I think the point here is that the member Pansy Wong took offence at what Mr Peters said. On that basis the Standing Orders require that he should withdraw and apologise. The implication that the Minister makes in respect of knowledge or otherwise is immaterial to the fact that offence was taken.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: The practice was not illegal. That is the very criticism I have. It was facilitated by their ignorance of how to run a proper immigration policy. The money could be in one person’s account one day, then it could be in the next applicant’s account the next day. It was not illegal. So what is the member complaining about and why have I been asked to withdraw and apologise?

Simon Power: Because she took offence.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: So what?

Hon Trevor Mallard: Adding further to the member’s point, I think you in your summary suggested that he suggested that she was somehow involved. I think there is a definite difference between awareness and involvement, especially when something is not illegal because it was designed that way by National. [Interruption] Well it was designed by National and given effect to in that way, and if that member does not know that, then he is nearly as naive as the member sitting behind him.

Pansy Wong: The Rt Hon Winston Peters started with a statement along the lines of “in Canada, full of Chinese migrants” and then he made an insinuation that scams were going on, and my name was attached to that whole insinuation. I am deeply offended that another Minister then started to excuse the right honourable Minister by using a very obvious tactic that has been used for a long time in the House to reflect on Asian migrants and Asian New Zealanders in New Zealand.

Hon Trevor Mallard: I now take a lot of offence at what that member is saying. It is quite clear from the record that a former Minister in a National Government, Mr Delamere, was involved in something that, in the end, was found not to be illegal. He had been involved in the design of that scheme. To say that it is somehow a reflection on the people he duped, the people he took money from, and it is a reflection on Asians to say that people in this House should tell the truth about what went on is, I think, very, very offensive. It is far too politically correct to say, as the member Pansy Wong appears to want to say, that Asians were not involved in rorts. They were.

Madam SPEAKER: Would the member just make his point of order.

Hon Bill English: This is ridiculous.

Madam SPEAKER: It is becoming ridiculous. I do agree with the Hon Bill English. I will look at the Hansard and work out who said what to whom. I just make the observation that at the moment the House appears to be going through a particularly sensitive phase whereby people take offence at implications whether or not they are intended. I ask members to be very clear about what they say when they are asking questions and making replies.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Point of order—

Madam SPEAKER: We are moving on. I think we have had enough discussion on this matter. I am reserving whether the member should have withdrawn and apologised. I need to look at the whole record.

Simon Power: He did.

Madam SPEAKER: The member did. I appreciate that he did that and that he has now raised that larger issue. Thank you.

Hon Annette King: Has the Minister seen any reports on an immigration policy introduced—

Ron Mark: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I am sorry, Madam Speaker, but we did not actually get to the Minister’s answer to that question.

Madam SPEAKER: If the member wishes to rephrase his question—I think we have all forgotten what it was—in a way that does not give offence, and just ask the question, we can then move on.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. With the greatest respect to you, I am not going to be told that I cannot ask a question wherein I put out there the facts known by every member of Parliament—except one, apparently.

Madam SPEAKER: I did not say that, Mr Peters.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Secondly, I will not tolerate everybody getting so sensitive that the moment members’ feelings are hurt, whether or not that is justifiable, they can have you require the other member to withdraw and apologise. It is just wrong. It is not parliamentary. You will ruin the whole House if you carry on in that way, in view of these rulings. So I put it to you now—

Madam SPEAKER: Please be seated. I have made that point, but the fact remains that if someone does think there is a personal reflection, then there has to be a withdrawal and apology—that is the rule. Members may or may not agree with that, and they always have the opportunity to change it. I think those who are listening to this will make their own judgments on that, as well. Would the member please just put his question.

Hon Bill English: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I think we just heard a threat from someone who is not just a member of the House but a senior member of the House. I know that on occasions when I have got a bit heated about things and have made that kind of approach to the Speaker, it has been dealt with pretty severely. In fact, I think on one occasion I might have been thrown out for it. I do not think there should be any exception for Mr Peters. He said to you directly: “If you keep making those sorts of rulings, it will ruin the House.” That is understood by everybody here as a threat of disorder because he disagrees with your rulings. That is unacceptable.

Hon Darren Hughes: Speaking to the point of order—

Madam SPEAKER: Well, it is members’ day, so you can take as long as you like.

Hon Darren Hughes: Madam Speaker, Mr English’s point might have some validity if he had not just finished barking at you—as soon as he came back to the House—to fix this problem. We let that go because you had just made comments about our needing to get past sensitivities so that we can get back to the business, but it is a bit rich for the deputy leader of the National Party to interject on the Speaker and bark an order at her, then, as soon as another member says something he does not like, to take great objection to that. I think we should just get on with question No. 11.

Madam SPEAKER: And that is what I rule. We move on. Would the member please ask his question.

Pansy Wong: I seek leave to table the answer to a question for written answer that shows that the category for which the Minister was so proud to have 12 expressions of interest—

Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? Yes, there is objection. Supplementary question, the Rt Hon Winston Peters?

Pansy Wong: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker.

Madam SPEAKER: We still have supplementary questions. You may put a point of order after the supplementary questions, which is the normal practice. Are there any further supplementary questions? No. Well, the member can make her point of order, if there are no further supplementary questions.

Pansy Wong: I seek the leave of the House to table a Cabinet paper that shows that the 2005 investment policy is attracting minimal interest.

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

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Supplementary question—

Hon Tau Henare: He’s just found one.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: What, a doozy like Tau?

Hon Tau Henare: At least I’m not anti-Asian.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Oh no, but Tau is anti-work—that is what he is. That guy was never ever going to talk to the National Party or be any part of it. Do members remember that?

Madam SPEAKER: The interjections are starting to create disorder. Please, let us have the question.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: What reports does the Minister have that gave the Government the criteria for the policy it now has in place that learnt from the mistakes made when we had a million-dollar investment category with no checks on whether the million dollars was particular to that applicant, or applied to other applicants as well?

Hon SHANE JONES: I can point out to the member that during the 1990s a host of investors fell victim to a range of scams. He has referred to one of them.

Pansy Wong: I seek leave to table a statement from the chairman of the New Zealand Association for Migration and Investment that describes the previous 2005 investment policy as a total failure.

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

Pansy Wong: I seek leave to table the written answer from the Minister that confirms that no residence application has been—

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

Pansy Wong: I seek leave to table the answer to question for written answer No. 2744 (2008).

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

/NR/rdonlyres/DB7D3E6E-A70C-4F8A-BF74-5C66E0556FE3/82427/48HansQ_20080416_00000671_.pdfFull transcript of Questions for Oral Answer for Wednesday, 16 April 2008 [PDF 219k]

11. Unemployment Benefit—Reports

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

11. RUSSELL FAIRBROTHER (Labour) to the Minister for Social Development and Employment: What reports has she received on the number of New Zealanders receiving an unemployment benefit?

Hon RUTH DYSON (Minister for Social Development and Employment) : In 1999 there were over 161,000 people on the unemployment benefit. That number is roughly equivalent to the population of Hamilton. There are now fewer than 20,000 people in receipt of an unemployment benefit. That number is less than the population of Masterton. That is a fantastic outcome for 8 years of a Labour-led Government.

Russell Fairbrother: What reports has the Minister received on the number of people on the domestic purposes benefit?

Hon RUTH DYSON: I have seen a report that indicates that the Labour-led Government is supporting more sole parents to get off benefits and into paid work. Since the introduction of the Working for Families package in 2004, the number of people on the domestic purposes benefit has fallen by nearly 13,000. That is the largest fall in the number receiving the domestic purposes benefit since it was introduced in 1973. That is quite a contrast to the rising number we saw in the 1990s.

Hon Tariana Turia: Can the Minister tell us whether she has any reports about the number of young Māori who are unemployed and under the age of 25 years?

Hon RUTH DYSON: I can certainly give the member, firstly, some figures, and, secondly, my assurance that I share her concern that despite the dramatic drop in the number of Māori unemployed, including young Māori unemployed, the numbers are still disproportionate to those for the rest of the population and are too high. Currently just over 7,000 Māori are on the unemployment benefit. That number has fallen from a staggering 44,000 in December 1999, so 37,000 Māori have moved off the unemployment benefit in those years.

Hon Tariana Turia: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. My supplementary question specifically asked about the number of young Māori, who make up the majority of the population. Can I have the figures for young Māori?

Madam SPEAKER: No. As the member well knows, one cannot expect a specific answer to a question, particularly to a supplementary question because no notice has been given to the Minister.

Barbara Stewart: Does the Minister have accurate figures for the number of teenagers aged between 15 and 19 who are receiving the unemployment benefit, and can she assure us that every effort is being made to ensure those young people find employment; if not, why not?

Hon RUTH DYSON: The number of under-20-year-olds on the unemployment benefit has dropped by 16,441, or 94 percent, since 1999, and has dropped by 493, or 31 percent, just in the past year. So at the end of March the total figure was 173. I give that member, as I have the member who asked the preceding question, my absolute commitment—a view shared by my ministerial colleagues and the Mayors Task Force for Jobs—to ensure that this investment remains in our young people, so that their futures will be brighter. That will continue.

Russell Fairbrother: What reports has she received on the reasons that people move off the unemployment benefit?

Hon RUTH DYSON: Not surprisingly, although it may be news to the National Party, the main reason for people leaving the unemployment benefit is to enter paid work. In the last 8 years, 8.8 percent of all unemployment benefit cancellations were the result of a transfer to the sickness benefit, and less than one-third of 1 percent of all unemployment benefit cancellations were the result of a transfer to the invalids benefit. Those figures should finally put to rest the accusation that the Opposition spokesperson on social welfare consistently makes that these outstanding figures of the reduction in those on the unemployment benefit are as a result of a transfer to another benefit. That is not true; they are the result of people moving into paid work.

Judith Collins: Why has she not done more to help the 60,000 working-age people who, according to the ministry’s own benefit fact sheets, have been on the unemployment benefit, sickness benefit, invalids benefit, or domestic purposes benefit for more than 10 years; and can she tell the House why the ministry no longer retains the benefit history of those long-term beneficiaries, as per her answer to written question No. 01522?

Hon RUTH DYSON: The number of people on the unemployment benefit has dropped dramatically—by 94 percent in the last 8 years. The number of people on the sickness benefit has dropped considerably, and the member should know that, tragically, a large number of people will be on the invalids benefit for a long period of time because they are seriously and permanently impaired. I support their having permanency in the only form of income they are able to receive.

/NR/rdonlyres/ECF68846-C17A-4D2B-944B-932E5C2AABE5/82429/48HansQ_20080416_00000776_.pdfFull transcript of Questions for Oral Answer for Wednesday, 16 April 2008 [PDF 219k]

12. Charities Commission—Registration Process

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

12. SANDRA GOUDIE (National—Coromandel) to the Minister for the Community and Voluntary Sector: Is she satisfied with the Charities Commission’s process to register a charity; if so, why?

Hon RUTH DYSON (Minister for the Community and Voluntary Sector) : No. I have advised the chair of the Charities Commission that I expect to see a significant reduction in processing times from those currently being achieved, and in the size of the backlog of applications. I expect all complete applications for registrations that are received by the commission on or before 30 June of this year to be processed by the end of the year, and their charitable status to be backdated to 1 July.

Sandra Goudie: Why had the Charities Commission registered only 2,920 charities as at the end of February 2008—over 5,000 applications are currently waiting to be registered—when it had expected to complete 25,000 by now, and does that not prove that progress to date is woefully inadequate?

Hon RUTH DYSON: I completely agree, and that is why I answered the primary question in the way I did. I am satisfied that measures are in place to improve the performance, and the member can have my assurance that they are being very closely monitored.

Sandra Goudie: How can the Minister guarantee the tax-exempt status of the more than 5,000 applications currently waiting to be registered, when the registration process is reported to take around 140 days; and what will she do to ensure that legitimate not-for-profit charities are not suddenly landed with a tax bill?

Hon RUTH DYSON: I have two points in answer to the member’s question. First, her estimation of the processing time is a little exaggerated, but I still share the primary concern that she has expressed in her question, and I give this House an assurance that any applications that are received prior to 30 June of this year will be processed by the end of the year—that is my expectation—and, second, that the charitable status of those organisations will be backdated to 1 July.

Sandra Goudie: Is the process taking so long because the Charities Commission is spending so much time “weeding out” groups that use their tax-free funds for what the Minister wants to stop—that is, supposed political lobbying?

Hon RUTH DYSON: No, that is incorrect. My understanding is that very few organisations have become embroiled in the dispute about what their primary purpose is and what role advocacy plays in their activity. The legislation, and I personally, strongly support the right of organisations to be both charitable and have advocacy functions, but advocacy cannot be their primary purpose; it can only be part of their activity, to back up their primary purpose, which is to be charitable.

Russell Fairbrother: Why is the Government establishing a charities register?

Hon RUTH DYSON: Having a charities register is an important step towards protecting the reputation of charities and bolstering public trust. A charities register will provide consistent and detailed information about registered charities and the way they use resources. Members of the public will be able to search for information held on the register—for example, the name and address of a particular registered charity.

Sandra Goudie: How long will it take to register all of the applications if the estimated 25,000-plus charities apply for registration, and does she believe that, as one accountant calculated, with 41.2 applications being processed a week, it will take four decades?

Hon RUTH DYSON: It is my expectation that all applications received prior to the end of June will be processed by the end of the year, and those organisations will have their charitable status backdated to 1 July.


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