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Questions And Answers – 28 May 2008

Questions And Answers – 28 May 2008


1. Tasers—Issue to Front-line Police

1. RON MARK (NZ First) to the Minister of Police: Can she say when the Commissioner of Police will release his decision on whether to issue Tasers to front-line police; if not, why not?

Hon RICK BARKER (Acting Minister of Police) : The decision on whether to issue Tasers to front-line police is currently with the Commissioner of Police, who is giving the matter careful consideration. The commissioner’s decision will be released in due course—hopefully, within the next 2 to 3 months.

Ron Mark: Does the Minister recall informing the House more than 7 months ago that the commissioner was “on track … to look at [the Taser] report on 14 December” last year; and can she explain what is causing the delay in the decision being made public?

Hon RICK BARKER: The decision to issue the Taser requires due consideration, and that consideration should not be rushed. The matter is being considered by the commissioner.

Ron Mark: Is the Minister aware of the concerns of the Police Association that police are facing more and more volatile and dangerous situations every day, and are being subjected to a record amount of serious assaults; and is she not concerned that this “due consideration”, which is causing undue delays, is putting the safety of front-line officers at unnecessary risk?

Hon RICK BARKER: Of course, all of Parliament would be concerned about assaults and violence against police officers. The Taser matter is being considered by the Commissioner of Police, who is an independent person. He will take as long as he wishes to consider the report and report back. It is a significant report requiring due consideration, and it should not be rushed.

Simon Power: Can the Minister confirm that, as the Minister responsible for the Police budget, she would have to approve capital expenditure for the purchase of Tasers if they were to be issued to front-line police; and if the commissioner does recommend the roll-out of Tasers, will she approve that spending?

Hon RICK BARKER: The answers are, first, yes, and, second, I will not anticipate the decision of Cabinet.

Ron Mark: Are the police seeking further information before issuing the decision; and given that the Taser report was a collaborative effort involving New Zealand Police staff from the operations group evaluation team, the police policy group at Police National Headquarters, the staff safety tactical training team at the Royal New Zealand Police College, external research contractors—including MMResearch—the crime and justice research centre at Victoria University of Wellington, and an experienced justice sector researcher, can the Minister tell the House what more information and consultation Police National Headquarters needs?

Hon RICK BARKER: I can indeed confirm the lengthy list the member read out, but I can also say that the inquiry is being supported by an independent medical advisory group, chaired by Peter Robinson, which will also provide advice to the police. I am not at a point to be able to say what matters it is considering, other than to say that the matter is being given careful consideration, as it should be.

Keith Locke: Is the Minister concerned at the introduction of the Taser, when people are dying regularly in North America because of it—most notably, the chap who was Tasered at Vancouver airport, but also the six people who died in 1 week late last year in North America—and in view of the fact that a UN commissioner has declared the Taser a weapon of torture that goes against the UN convention against torture, which New Zealand has signed?

Hon RICK BARKER: All the matters that the member has referred to were taken into account at the commencement of the trial. All those matters will be taken into consideration during the trial and in the conclusion.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Arising from the last question, is it a fact that many more people in North America die from bullet wounds than from Tasering, and is it not the case that more people are likely to survive a confrontation with the police if they are Tasered than if they are confronted by armed police who are capable of shooting them?

Gerry Brownlee: What’s the question?

Rt Hon Winston Peters: That is the question. I will start it again, if the member likes.

Madam SPEAKER: I think the Minister understands the question.

Hon RICK BARKER: I can confirm the member’s contention that a handgun or a rifle is designed for one purpose only, which is to deliver lethal force; a Taser is not.

Keith Locke: I seek leave to table an Amnesty International report from October 2007 about 291 people dying after Tasers were used against them.

 Leave granted.

Keith Locke: I seek leave to table an article from the Ottawa Citizen showing excessive use of Tasers.

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

/NR/rdonlyres/811739F9-AEBF-486A-BD87-8C39E4D47485/84666/48HansQ_20080527_00000011_.pdfFull transcript of Questions for Oral Answer for Tuesday, 27 May 2008 [PDF 214k]

2. Ministers—Confidence

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

2. JOHN KEY (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does she have confidence in all her Ministers; if so, why?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister) : Yes; because they are all hard-working and conscientious Ministers.

John Key: Why does the Prime Minister have confidence in the Minister of Education, when the number of education bureaucrats has increased by nearly 40 percent since 2000 and the actual number of teachers has increased by only 12 percent in the same time frame, and what does that say about her Government’s priorities?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I would advise the member to look rather carefully at his figures, because he might want to consider the incorporation into the ministry of the Special Education Service, for example.

John Key: How can the Prime Minister have confidence in the Minister for Tertiary Education, when he has overseen a Budget increase of $22 million, or 44 percent, at the Tertiary Education Commission for the next financial year?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: In case the member has not noticed this, I say there is a major improvement and change programme going on in tertiary education, driven by the commission.

John Key: Why should the Tertiary Education Commission receive a 44 percent increase in funding for the next financial year, when it has had a 25 percent turnover of staff, has blown the budget for consultants and contractors by three times last year, and has undergone constant restructuring; and why does she have confidence in her Minister, when he is simply propping up a failing bureaucracy?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: The whole point of the tertiary reforms is to bring better quality tertiary education and get rid of the drivel that was allowed to be funded under National’s funding model.

John Key: Why should the New Zealand public have any confidence in her Minister of Health and her Government’s spending priorities in health, when the percentage increase in the number of front-line doctors and nurses still lags behind the increase in district health board bureaucrats, which now number over 10,200 according to answers given by the Hon David Cunliffe to written questions?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: It is not my practice to accept prima facie a single figure that member uses.

John Key: Does the Prime Minister accept, then, that I did not ask whether she has confidence in me but whether she has confidence in David Cunliffe, who actually wrote in answer to a written question that there are 10,200 bureaucrats?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I am pleased that the member did not ask me whether I had any confidence in him, because clearly the answer is “None.”

Heather Roy: How can she have any confidence in her Minister of Education, when he has kids stuck in shipping containers such as those at Longbeach School, and when he acts on complaints only when they are raised in Parliament or on the Campbell Live television programme?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I am somewhat disappointed that a member of this Parliament, namely that member, would give comfort to a school that put children in conditions that clearly would not be in conformity with the health and safety legislation.

Rodney Hide: How can she have confidence in her Minister of Finance when he takes core Government spending of $34 billion, increases it to $61 billion in just 10 years—an increase of 80 percent, when prices have gone up by only 30 percent—gives a tax cut worth a block of cheese 2 weeks out from the election, and then says there is no room for any more cuts because he has spent the money?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I am delighted that that question has been asked, because I am awaiting the answers to some other questions. How does another political party fund $1.5 billion towards Telecom, fund taking all local bodies’ infrastructure spending on its books, driving up the national debt, and promise bigger tax cuts than the Government’s? I want to know what the National Party’s plan is. Does it have one? Have the National members figured it out themselves?

Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I want to know the answer to those questions too, but I do not think that for the Prime Minister to ask questions of the National Party actually addressed my question.

Madam SPEAKER: Given the way in which the question was asked, it really asked for an opinion. It seems that with these questions, which are very broad, we do get very broad answers. In that instance, unless the Prime Minister wants to add anything else, I say she has addressed the question.

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I very directly addressed the member’s question. We take pride in having funded many thousands more teachers, doctors, nurses, and health professionals of all kinds. We take pride, along with our confidence and supply partners, in funding a decent rate of New Zealand superannuation for our older citizens. Those are among the primary reasons why Government spending is up. I am proud of that.

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. Mr Hide’s question was very specific. It certainly had one or two qualifiers to it, but it basically asked the Prime Minister whether she has confidence in the Hon Michael Cullen. She has not expressed an answer to that.

Madam SPEAKER: I did not hear a question like that. The question was very broad. I judge that the Prime Minister did address that question—twice.

Hon Pete Hodgson: Was the Tertiary Education Commission originally comprised of many staff around many offices throughout New Zealand in an earlier organisation called Skill New Zealand?

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. Surely one cannot accept a question from a Minister that begins with the statement “The Tertiary Education Commission”, and goes on in the nature of a speech. If the Minister has a question he should get it out, fast.

Madam SPEAKER: Let us hear the Minister’s question.

Hon Pete Hodgson: Can the Prime Minister confirm that the Tertiary Education Commission was originally comprised of many staff around New Zealand in an earlier organisation called Skill New Zealand; that those staff were not always well skilled for a modern tertiary education system; that that in part explains the high turnover rate that the Tertiary Education Commission has been experiencing; and that it is not very often that the National Party criticises the Government for a reduction in bureaucracy?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I am prepared to accept entirely the facts the Minister has put on the table.

Hon Chris Carter: Can the Prime Minister confirm that the total number of new teachers above roll growth that have been employed under the Labour-led Government is 6,024, which is more than twice the total number of bureaucrats in the Ministry of Education?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I am sure the numbers that the member has given are right, and further, I am sure that very few of those teachers would want the National Party’s policy of bulk funding, national testing, and performance pay for teachers.

John Key: Does the Prime Minister have confidence in the Minister of Immigration, who last week told the House that he had no knowledge of serious staff misconduct within the Immigration Service, yet who at the same time had signed out a number of answers to questions for written answer that outlined precisely such serious misdemeanours; and was her Minister misleading the House or is he really so incompetent that he does not read his own answers to his own questions?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I understand that the chief executives—and there have been several of them—at the Department of Labour have kept Ministers generally informed about employment issues.

John Key: I seek leave to table answers from the Minister of Health regarding the number of bureaucrats in district health boards.

Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table those documents. Is there any objection? There is objection.

/NR/rdonlyres/6CFDD8AA-364C-4E3B-BB5E-4641B04D740C/84668/48HansQ_20080527_00000095_.pdfFull transcript of Questions for Oral Answer for Tuesday, 27 May 2008 [PDF 214k]

3. New Zealand - India—Free-trade Agreement

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

3. DARIEN FENTON (Labour) to the Minister of Trade: What progress is being made towards a free-trade agreement with India?

Hon PHIL GOFF (Minister of Trade) : Excellent progress is being made. Last week, together with the Minister of Agriculture, I met with the Indian Commerce Minister, Kamal Nath, and we agreed that after two very positive and constructive meetings on a possible free-trade agreement, the study group set up to look at that agreement should make recommendations and report before the end of the year. We also agreed that negotiations should begin shortly after that. In fact, Mr Nath expressed the hope that those negotiations could be concluded as early as the end of next year.

Darien Fenton: What would be the value to New Zealand of a free-trade agreement with India?

Hon PHIL GOFF: Obviously it would be an extremely valuable outcome for a free-trade agreement to take place. India is the second most populous country in the world. It has an economic growth rate of about 8.5 percent, and an increasing number of people who have middle-class status and middle-class consumption patterns. Although our exports to India have grown significantly, they are still small, largely because of tariff and non-tariff barriers preventing the entry of our food and beverage exports. The removal of those barriers would create significant new market-access opportunities for our exporters. Even the National Party would have to agree with that.

Darien Fenton: What is the reason for increasing Indian interest in a trade agreement with New Zealand?

Hon PHIL GOFF: The first reason, I think, is that we have put a lot of hard work into developing that relationship with India and with the current Minister, but also several factors have clearly helped. First is the fact that we have negotiated a comprehensive and high-quality agreement with China, and that is clearly assisting our efforts in getting the same sort of agreement with India, not to mention Korea and Japan. Second, the change in world commodity supply means that far from our high-quality food products being seen as a threat to swamping a market, there is a need on the part of countries like India to try to achieve food security. That is clearly helping not only our food and beverage exporters but also other exporters like agritech and biotech industries, which can assist countries like India quite strongly.

/NR/rdonlyres/7C8F7BC2-8B69-4886-BD5C-DDBECE5A9F3C/84670/48HansQ_20080527_00000205_.pdfFull transcript of Questions for Oral Answer for Tuesday, 27 May 2008 [PDF 214k]

4. Electoral Finance Act—Operation

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

4. Hon BILL ENGLISH (Deputy Leader—National) to the Minister of Justice: Does she believe that the Electoral Finance Act 2007 is working well; if not, why not?

Hon PETE HODGSON (Minister for Economic Development) on behalf of the Minister of Justice: Yes. As with all new legislation, there is a bedding-down period during which the legislation is understood and implemented.

Hon Bill English: Did the Minister expect that one of the effects of the Electoral Finance Act would be that Treasury at Budget time would have to get legal advice on whether Budget documents breached the Act, and did she expect that the advice given to Treasury and the Minister of Finance would be that to use the phrase “Labour-led Government” in the Budget documents would make them an election advertisement?

Hon PETE HODGSON: I would note in passing that whether or not the Government has a moniker of “Labour-led” in front of it, the Budget has gone down rather well in this country.

Hon Bill English: Has the Minister of Justice advised the Minister responsible for Ministerial Services that, following the advice from Crown Law to Treasury that the phrase “Labour-led Government” makes a publication an election advertisement, it is now likely that the Department of Internal Affairs, through Ministerial Services, has illegally published hundreds of electoral advertisements on behalf of the Labour Party, because it has published documents that include the phrase “Labour-led Government”?

Hon PETE HODGSON: To the best of my memory, the Prime Minister opined earlier this year that in the course of this year Government advertising would be subject to the view of the Auditor-General, and, to the best of my knowledge, that is the case.

Hon Bill English: Is the Minister aware that the Department of Internal Affairs, through Ministerial Services, funds Government websites that have published hundreds of documents that include phrases such as “Labour-led Government”, and that, according to her Electoral Finance Act, if those documents are election advertisements, then the Department of Internal Affairs has breached the law; and should she not take advice on that?

Hon PETE HODGSON: I am sure we can cross that hypothesis when we come to it, but in the meantime let it be said that this Budget is the sort that we would never receive from a National-led Government.

Hon Bill English: Was it the intention of the Labour Government to write the Electoral Finance Act in such a way that it would prevent unions affiliated to the Labour Party from campaigning against the National Party at the next election, and does the Labour Government intend to take any action to change the situation?

Hon PETE HODGSON: The High Court has recently determined what it thinks the word “person” means. The Electoral Commission will decide whether the Amalgamated Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union, or any other union, is or is not a third party. That union is of the view that, whether it is or it is not, it will be campaigning on workers’ rights, because it knows that the National Government will take to them with an axe.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Has the Minister received reports suggesting that New Zealand should abandon the belief—held for over 100 years—that money alone should not be allowed to win elections irrespective of manifestos, policies, or political commitments, or, above those, political personalities?

Hon PETE HODGSON: It would seem to me that the idea of buying an election is contrary to the history of this country, but it certainly is contrary to the culture of it. That was, none the less, what National Party members attempted to do in the 2005 election. They got their mates out there; they got themselves the thick end of $2 million—

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. With respect, I do not think that question time should be ruined by the cacophony of sound that I am hearing from some terribly uninformed people whose only contribution to politics these days is to shout out at question time. There are far too many doing it, particularly those seated to my right and behind me. It would not be so bad if it were humorous or halfway intelligent, but it is not.

Madam SPEAKER: Yes. I remind the House that members have a right to hear both the questions and the answers. So would members please make their contributions a little more quietly.

Hon PETE HODGSON: I was simply suggesting that New Zealand has never bought, and I think will never buy, the idea that someone who is wealthy can get access to power because of that wealth. It is contrary to democratic principles. It is, none the less, what the National Party and its Brethren mates attempted to do in the 2005 election, when $1.2 million was put to that cause. That is one of the reasons why the Electoral Finance Bill became the Electoral Finance Act.

Hon Bill English: How can any member of Parliament, political party, or member of the public have faith in the Crown Law advice on this legislation, when in court last week Justice MacKenzie slated Crown Law advice by making it clear that the word “person” means what the law says it means, whereas Crown Law had given different advice; and when, at a meeting between MPs and the Electoral Commission last week, the Electoral Commission suggested that all party logos, no matter how they are displayed, may constitute election advertisements that need authorisation—a reversal of the position it took a couple of months ago?

Hon PETE HODGSON: The National Party is well known for doing U-turns, but it doing one in the course of one question is something I have not come across before. The first half of the member’s question was designed to show that Crown Law knows what is what, and the second half to show that it does not. Why does the member not decide, one way or the other, what he thinks?

/NR/rdonlyres/D66C905B-264D-471D-9838-F807C22CCB2D/84672/48HansQ_20080527_00000241_.pdfFull transcript of Questions for Oral Answer for Tuesday, 27 May 2008 [PDF 214k]

5. Budget 2008—Child Poverty

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

5. TE URUROA FLAVELL (Māori Party—Waiariki) to the Minister of Finance: Does he agree with Dr Stephen Poletti from Auckland University’s Economics Department that Budget 2008 continues to leave behind the 150,000 children and their parents who have the greatest needs in the country, when he states that “There has been no base benefit increase, and the in-work tax credit still is denied to the children who are in most hardship.”; if not, why not?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Finance) : No; one, those people on benefits have annual adjustments on 1 April, which does not apply to many low-income earners; two, all 150,000 children and their parents benefit from the indexation of Working for Families tax credits and the bringing forward of those tax credits; and, three, the in-work tax credit, surprisingly, is for those in work.

Te Ururoa Flavell: Does the Minister agree with Gordon Campbell that the reduction in the amounts allocated for sickness benefits, widows benefits, unemployment benefits, and, most significantly, special circumstances, which has been undertaken in a climate of ongoing neglect of beneficiaries, is the kind of tight-fistedness to the most needy that is shameful for a Labour Government; if not, why not?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The projections for some benefits show the numbers falling and therefore a reduction in expenditure on those benefits—that is a matter for some celebration. We now have 145,000 fewer people on working-age benefits than we had in 1999. This Government believes that is a remarkable success, not a sign of failure.

Charles Chauvel: Has the Minister seen any proposals to change the structure and the design of the tax cuts announced on Thursday?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I have seen an awful lot of proposals. I heard a proposal from Dr Pita Sharples for a zero tax rate after $25,000 a year. That would cost $8.5 billion a year. It would make it rather difficult to afford anything for beneficiaries at that particular point. Then I have seen proposals from Mr Key that clearly imply the cancelling of the second and third round of increases to the bottom threshold to redistribute that money to those on higher incomes. Finally, I have seen suggestions of cancelling employers’ contributions to KiwiSaver to give further tax cuts.

Gordon Copeland: Does the Minister accept that the tax threshold movements in Budget 2008 would need to move to $47,000 for 33c and to $74,000 for 39c if adjusted for the movement of 23.8 percent in the CPI since 1 April 2000, and that the actual movements of just $40,000 and $70,000 from 1 October therefore leave about one million taxpayers paying more tax in real terms than they did in 2000?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: No. The full effect of the tax adjustment from 1 October is as follows. For those on the top tax rate, the amounts at that top tax rate are about the same. The change for those on around $50,000 a year is that the package gives $10 a week more. For those on $30,000 a year, on the implementation, the package gives $20 a week more. This package does more than indexation but is biased towards those on lower incomes.

Te Ururoa Flavell: Does the Minister consider that an investment in the elimination of child poverty will have compounding benefits to the whole of society that would be seen in improved health, educational performance, family well-being, and employment prospects; if so, why has his Budget done little, if anything, to eliminate child poverty?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: This Government has taken tens of thousands of children above the poverty line through the Working for Families package because the first large increase in those payments went to all children of low and modest-income families. The $10 a week increase on 1 July last year went to all low-income families, including those on benefits. The indexation to the tax credits goes to all low-income families, including those on benefits. Of course, with a movement in the threshold, that does not apply to those who are already below that threshold but affects those above that threshold. That is the inevitability of moving thresholds by indexation.

Te Ururoa Flavell: What has happened over the weekend for him to change his mind and suggest that he might now help those single beneficiary families in hardship when the Budget he announced last week left them out?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Nothing; that work was already under way before the Budget announcement by Treasury looking at where the largest pressure points were.

/NR/rdonlyres/EB215CDB-8BA8-4660-B6D0-29B4AD7373DD/84674/48HansQ_20080527_00000313_.pdfFull transcript of Questions for Oral Answer for Tuesday, 27 May 2008 [PDF 214k]

6. Immigration Service—Oughton Report

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

6. Dr the Hon LOCKWOOD SMITH (National—Rodney) to the Minister of Immigration: Can he confirm that he was briefed on the Oughton report on 14 December last year?

Hon CLAYTON COSGROVE (Minister of Immigration) : As I have advised the member on a number of occasions, I was advised in general terms for the first time on 14 December 2007 about historical individual employment matters. I was advised that there had been an independent investigation carried out by David Oughton and that the matter had occurred under, been dealt with, and closed by previous chief executives. I repeat once again that I did not receive a copy of the Oughton report, or the covering letter, until they were publicly released by the chief executive on 24 April 2008.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: When briefed on 14 December was he briefed about the terms of reference to the Oughton inquiry, the first of which relates to Government residence policy and not employment matters, and was he briefed on the recommendations of the Oughton report, the first of which required ministerial action to consider “special treatment” for applicants for residence who had missed out as a consequence of unlawful decision-making by his department?

Hon CLAYTON COSGROVE: On 14 December I was briefed on the following points: that there had been an independent investigation into historical employment matters; that it concluded that Mary Anne Thompson had not sought to influence decisions about her family residence application; that disciplinary action had been taken against another Department of Labour official; and that the matter had occurred, been dealt with, and been closed by previous chief executives. That was all I was briefed on.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: If it is a fact that he was never briefed on the Oughton report until 24 April 2008, how, given the last question, could he have been briefed on the references from that report in December of last year; is that chronologically, logically, or rationally possible?

Hon CLAYTON COSGROVE: I am not qualified to make analysis of the rationality or lack of rationality of members, but I think the member is correct in the statement he made.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: Is it correct that the Minister told Parliament on 14 May: “I was briefed on 14 December 2007 by the chief executive, for the first time. I expressed my concerns to him, but I also noted, quite properly, that these were employment matters,”; if so, what made him note as an employment matter Oughton’s first recommendation that special treatment was required to deal with applicants who missed out on residence because of the unlawful decisions of his department since such special treatment to grant residence outside policy requires his specific intervention?

Hon CLAYTON COSGROVE: I will try again. I was not briefed on the issues that the member raises.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Yes, you were.

Hon CLAYTON COSGROVE: If the member in the front row would just keep calm, I will take him through it again—I know that calmness is a difficulty for that member. I have advised the member—

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Just tell the truth.

Hon CLAYTON COSGROVE: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I take exception to Dr Smith’s rather incoherent and illogical comments. I am insulted by them and I would be grateful if he could withdraw and apologise.

Madam SPEAKER: Would the member withdraw and apologise, please.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: I withdraw and apologise. I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. Earlier in the Minister’s answers he advised the House that, indeed, on 14 December he did receive a briefing on the report. For him now to stand up in response to my colleague Dr Lockwood Smith and say that he was not briefed is a contradiction and requires clarification by the Minister.

Madam SPEAKER: Well, if the Minister can just give his answer without interruption, we might get that clarification.

Hon CLAYTON COSGROVE: I will repeat again: I did not receive the Oughton report. I will go through what I was briefed on, on 14 December, and I will do it slowly for the member’s benefit.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Got any pictures?

Hon CLAYTON COSGROVE: No, I do not have any pictures. Firstly, that there had been an independent investigation into historic employment matters. Secondly, that it concluded that Mary Anne Thompson had not sought to influence decisions about her family’s residence applications. Thirdly, that disciplinary action had been taken against another Department of Labour employee. Finally, that this had been dealt with and closed by previous chief executives. That was the sum total of the briefing. The member tries to assert otherwise. That is his spin and his assertion; it is not the facts.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: Did his chief executive officer, Christopher Blake, brief him adequately on the Oughton report; if so, why did he find that it contained wider issues than just employment issues, when he read it after its public release in April this year?

Hon CLAYTON COSGROVE: I am pleased that, finally, we have got through to the member and he acknowledges that the first time I saw the report and its attachments was when it was publicly released. We have, indeed, made progress.

Gerry Brownlee: We don’t believe that.

Hon CLAYTON COSGROVE: Well, that is what the member said, so I take it that it has finally got through.

Gerry Brownlee: He is giving you a chance to get your story right.

Hon CLAYTON COSGROVE: Well, if the blunderbuss in the front row could cool down we will get to the point. The bellows do blow in the front row.

Madam SPEAKER: Would the member please sit down. We have had the chipping across. Let us have an answer now in a way that we can all hear it.

Hon CLAYTON COSGROVE: I have confidence in my chief executive, and I note this. He was appointed about 2 weeks, I think, before me, and my estimation in terms of what he advised me was that he was in the process of wading through all sorts of information for the first time, and coming to grips with it, and he briefed me as he believed to be appropriate. I also note in the New Zealand Herald of 23 May a piece written by Christopher Blake, and I quote from it—it may help the member distinguish between the accountabilities of the chief executive and the Minister: “There has been much debate about appropriate roles, responsibilities and accountabilities in these matters. Let me make it clear that in all these operational issues, responsibility rests solely with me as the chief executive.”

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: Is it correct that the Prime Minister expressed concern that her Government was being blindsided—I think to use her words—by these issues, and does the Minister consider, when the Prime Minister considers it a serious problem for her Government that it is being blindsided, that if his chief executive officer has not properly briefed him he should be disciplining that person; if so, what has he done to rectify this matter with his chief executive officer?

Hon CLAYTON COSGROVE: The Prime Minister, like me and other Ministers, has a number of people looking at those issues, including the Auditor-General’s inquiry. I think the Prime Minister, in her reference to being blindsided, noted that she was blindsided by a range of new information that has since come to light. I as Minister was not briefed on that information, and previous Ministers were not briefed on it. As to Mr Blake’s conduct, I think Mr Blake, as a new chief executive officer trying to get to grips with a range of historic issues that had been dealt with and closed by his predecessors, acted as best he could, and I have confidence in him. I also note that when Mr Blake briefed me on 14 December, he noted that he had been—and I will say it again slowly for the member—in contact with the State Services Commission. Later on, when he briefed me further, he noted that he had taken rather an extraordinary step to seek—

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Oh, he briefed you again.

Hon CLAYTON COSGROVE—keep calm—to seek legal advice from the Crown Law Office as to whether he could open the matter if he were of a mind to do so. He was advised he could not. Further, that chief executive officer then embarked on a robust review of the Pacific branch. Then there was further State Services Commission involvement, a police inquiry, and now there has been an Auditor-General’s inquiry. I would say that Mr Blake has acted appropriately. The question for the Auditor-General and others is whether previous chief executive officers have.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: When his chief executive officer, Christopher Blake—as he has just now reminded us—advised him that he had taken legal advice from the Crown Law Office as to whether he could reopen the matter, did his chief executive officer let the Crown Law Office see the Oughton report prior to its giving him advice that the matter had been dealt with.?

Hon CLAYTON COSGROVE: I have no advice on that particular point. What I can confirm to the member—unless he would like to answer his own question, which might be physically impossible—is that Christopher Blake, the chief executive officer, after the 14 December advice to me, advised me that he had taken the extraordinary step of asking the Crown Law Office for an opinion as to whether, if he was of a mind to, he could reopen the matter. The advice he got was that he could not, unless there was further new information.

/NR/rdonlyres/B7550F5E-9BFF-4AD6-B175-752FC38BFFF4/84676/48HansQ_20080527_00000374_.pdfFull transcript of Questions for Oral Answer for Tuesday, 27 May 2008 [PDF 214k]

7. Sustainable Development—Action

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

7. MOANA MACKEY (Labour) to the Minister of Research, Science and Technology: What action has he taken to foster sustainable development in New Zealand?

Hon PETE HODGSON (Minister of Research, Science and Technology) : We have boosted our investment in research and development in last week’s Budget by $205 million over 4 years. This is a large and carefully targeted increase in funding, which I anticipate the National Party will vote against later this week. Another change in science is also coming into play. Last month the 15 percent tax credit on all qualifying research and development expenditure by the private sector began, and it is predicted to increase private sector investment in research and development very significantly indeed. The National Party voted against that, too.

Moana Mackey: Why has the Minister, in noting the increase in Budget 2008 of $205 million over 4 years, not also advised the House about the more than $700 million of capital expenditure in research, science, and technology?

Hon PETE HODGSON: That is a good question, and I apologise for my oversight. It is, of course, mostly the New Zealand Fast Forward funding of $700 million to be matched by the private sector, much of which will increase our research effort in the pastoral and food sectors. National’s leader, John Key, called that investment—which is the biggest in New Zealand’s history—a gimmick. Later this week National, we think, will vote against this, too.

/NR/rdonlyres/D3B02849-6E76-4D3B-8E13-1646A532695A/84678/48HansQ_20080527_00000486_.pdfFull transcript of Questions for Oral Answer for Tuesday, 27 May 2008 [PDF 214k]

8. Non-custodial Prison Alternatives—Effectiveness

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

8. SIMON POWER (National—Rangitikei) to the Minister of Corrections: Is he satisfied with the effectiveness of non-custodial alternatives to prison; if so, why?

Hon PHIL GOFF (Minister of Corrections) : Yes. Imprisonment remains the only option for more serious offenders from whom the public must be protected. Those prisoners are, of course, spending much longer in prison than they did under that member’s Government previously. However, where the offence is such that the judge does not regard the offender as posing a significant risk, and where the alternative sentence would be a very short sentence in prison, the judge now can choose a non-custodial sentence. Why am I satisfied with the choosing of non-custodial sentences? Firstly, because the compliance rate is very high; secondly, because there is a much lower rate of reconviction for people who have served a home detention sentence rather than one in prison; and, thirdly, because it relieves the burden on the taxpayer of putting offenders into prison for a short period of time, whereby they lose their jobs, their families have to be supported, and the cost is three times as high as that of home detention.

Simon Power: Is it worth saving the cost of a few prison beds when last year 48 offenders absconded from home detention—offenders who included a rapist, an arsonist, drug manufacturers and dealers, violent robbers, and burglars—and can the Minister confirm that five of those offenders are still on the run, including one who first absconded in December 2005, 2 months after the last election?

Hon PHIL GOFF: What I can confirm is what the member did not say, which is, firstly, that there is a 98 percent rate of non-absconding, and, secondly, that there is a 98 percent rate of compliance. The actual numbers the member is talking about are 48 out of 2,500, which means that home detention has a far better track record than many other forms of custodial sentences, particularly in terms of non-reconviction and non-reoffending afterwards. That makes the community safer.

Martin Gallagher: What is the basis for the Minister’s statement that more serious offenders are now serving much longer sentences?

Hon PHIL GOFF: Under the 2002 legislation, the minimum sentence for aggravated murder moved from 10 years to 17 years, with some sentences being as long as 30 years. Preventive detention was broadened, and the number of people on indefinite detention has been increased where public safety is a factor. Under the parole legislation people, on average, were doing 52 percent of their prison sentences under National; now they are doing 72 percent of their prison sentences.

Simon Power: Is it worth saving the cost of a prison bed by allowing a former high school teacher to serve a 1-year sentence on home detention, when he was convicted of indecent assault against four of his female students—a decision that left the mother of one of the victims “absolutely gutted”?

Hon PHIL GOFF: The decision as to who gets a non-custodial sentence is made by the judge, who hears the facts of the case and sums up the level of risk. I remind the member that although most people on home detention today are there for the less serious offences, under back-end home detention, which was introduced and carried through by the National Government, most detainees were people who had committed very serious offences, and who were serving sentences of more than 2 years in prison. Under this sentence, nobody is sentenced other than those who would have had a very short prison sentence, which indicates a low level of risk.

Martin Gallagher: What evidence is there that New Zealand’s sentencing regime is somehow soft compared with those of other developed countries?

Hon PHIL GOFF: There is absolutely none at all. Over the last 20 years the New Zealand prison population has increased from 91 per 100,000 people to 188 per 100,000 people. Since the early 2000s the number of new prison beds has increased by over 2,300. If one looks at the rate of imprisonment in New Zealand, one sees it is much higher than the rates in Australia, the United Kingdom, and most European countries. The idea that New Zealand has to have a much higher percentage of people in prison just does not stand up against the facts. It makes sense to keep the worst offenders in prison for longer, which is what we are doing, and to have the less serious offenders doing their sentence in a non-custodial way, which produces a lower rate of reconviction and reoffending.

Simon Power: In order to save a prison bed, is it worth allowing a Hāwera man, who admitted violently shaking a 6-month-old baby boy to the point of unconsciousness, to be sentenced to 9 months’ home detention, when the judge said that if it had not been for a change in the sentencing legislation he would have had no trouble in sending him to jail?

Hon PHIL GOFF: Let me reiterate that the decision as to whether an inmate goes into a non-custodial or custodial sentence is, in fact, made by the judge himself or herself. If the judge in that case decided to put the offender into a non-custodial sentencing regime, then it was because the judge did not regard the person as being a risk or as warranting being kept in a prison situation. That is the end of the facts.

Simon Power: Does the Minister stand by his statement that “I think the general view of New Zealanders is that persistent and serious violent offending, whether against children or anyone else, is not the sort of offence that should rightly be considered for home detention”; if so, can he now categorically state that the 28 percent of home detainees with violence convictions are all minor, first-time offenders?

Hon PHIL GOFF: I can reiterate what the member already knows but pretends not to: the only cases that receive home detention are those cases where the judge, taking account of the injunction on him or her that the safety of the community must be the paramount consideration, regards the offender as being of a very low level of risk and as being more appropriately placed under a non-custodial sentence than a custodial one.

Simon Power: Why did the Government promise New Zealand First it would review the types of offenders who are being placed on home detention, and then promptly ditch that review after making home detention a stand-alone sentence?

Hon PHIL GOFF: The home detention sentence was reviewed, and we decided that the people who were being let out of jail early to go on home detention by the National Government, people who were rapists, murderers, serious robbers, and violent offenders, ought not to get that discount. That is why back-end home detention was scrapped—the very home detention that was introduced and supported by Tony Ryall, who since pretends that he is tough on crime.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Because of the nature of that question I was rather keen to hear the answer, as New Zealand First was mentioned. All I heard was a cacophony of screaming from Mr Ryall, Mr Mapp, Nick Smith, and the whole hundred yards down there and from behind us, and we could not hear the answer. I would like to know that on the very wise intervention we made, with respect to Mr Goff, there was an answer. I have yet to hear it.

Madam SPEAKER: Would the Minister please repeat his answer. We will have it in silence so that we can move on.

Hon PHIL GOFF: It is ironic that those who were interjecting were the very people who supported the previous soft policies. The answer that I gave was that the previous policy of back-end home detention allowed inmates out of jail at a discounted sentence. They were inmates who had invariably committed very serious offences, including rape, murder, robbery, and serious violence. That aspect of home detention—back-end home detention—has been scrapped by this Government, and the current home detention, on a judge’s sentence, is for those who are at the less serious end of offending: those whom the judge determines to be low-risk, and who otherwise might have had a prison sentence of only a couple of months.

/NR/rdonlyres/041D8298-F5EE-4335-BE7D-D3703AFFE63E/84680/48HansQ_20080527_00000513_.pdfFull transcript of Questions for Oral Answer for Tuesday, 27 May 2008 [PDF 214k]

9. Education Delivery—Efficiencies

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

9. Dr ASHRAF CHOUDHARY (Labour) to the Minister of Education: What reports has he received on efficiencies in the delivery of education?

Hon CHRIS CARTER (Minister of Education) : I have seen a report alleging that the number of staff employed in the Ministry of Education has grown at three times the rate of teacher numbers. This discredited argument has been raised in the House a number of times, including today by John Key. The truth, of course, is that the ministry merged with the Special Education Service in 2002, absorbing 1,300 staff, and with the Early Childhood Development Board in 2003, absorbing 83 staff. Since 1999 the Labour-led Government has employed 6,024 extra teachers over and above those required for roll growth, more than double the total number of staff employed by the Ministry of Education. These misleading comments from National leader, John Key, may well disguise his real agenda of slashing teacher numbers to fund his extravagant tax cut promises.

Dr Ashraf Choudhary: What extra resources were invested in our schools in Budget 2008?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: Schools’ operation funds will increase by $171 million over the next 4 years. This is the largest-ever Budget increase to school operations funding since the abolition of bulk funding. We will also fund 10 extra staff who will be working to track truants to get them back to school, 15 extra specialist staff to support blind and vision-impaired students, and 21 new staff to support children identified in our new Universal Newborn Hearing Screening Programme. Perhaps Mr Key could tell this House, as well as the parents of those children, how the sacking of these 46 new staff will help to fund his multibillion-dollar tax promises.

Anne Tolley: How efficient is this Government in delivering education services, when in 2005 it promised that every new entrant class would have only 15 students to one teacher, yet here we are, 3 years and another broken promise later, and all across the country there are new entrant classes with more than 15 students?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: I did not appreciate that literacy was a problem for that member, but had she read the Budget she would have seen that we have committed funds to having a ratio of 1:15—another Labour promise fulfilled.

/NR/rdonlyres/8A9793D0-B4EB-4D58-A82C-9D62F58F4B54/84682/48HansQ_20080527_00000594_.pdfFull transcript of Questions for Oral Answer for Tuesday, 27 May 2008 [PDF 214k]

10. National Certificate of Educational Achievement—Confidence

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

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

Hon CHRIS CARTER (Minister of Education) : Yes; the National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA) has been recognised by domestic and international educationalists, business, and parents as a modern, well-researched assessment system that is preparing young New Zealanders well for the 21st century.

Anne Tolley: What is his message to students and parents of students who have been sitting this modern and well-researched NCEA, when, after 4 full years, nearly a third of all internal assessments are still being incorrectly marked in that the marking is either too lenient or too strict?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: Any figures given by that member in the House have to be taken as suspect because so often her figures have been wrong. All I can say is that NCEA has been welcomed by educationalists, parents, and business as a modern education assessment tool. We have educationalists arriving from the United States and from all of the European Union countries to look at our system. I understand that the UK is moving towards a similar system. NCEA is working, and it is getting better.

Hon Marian Hobbs: What improvements has the Labour-led Government made to the operation of NCEA?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: Frankly, too many to list comprehensively. But let me tell the House, and, particularly, the member Anne Tolley, about three particular initiatives in this year’s Budget. First of all, we introduced certificate endorsement last year—it comes into effect this year—which, initial research shows, is motivating students very well. From this year we will randomly sample 10 percent of internally assessed student work for external moderation by subject experts, so that we can be sure that schools are applying consistent, fair, and transparent national standards. Finally, we have made available national assessment reports for parents, so that they can check how their child’s school is performing in delivering assessment to the national standard. It is no wonder that the Business New Zealand Chief Executive, that well-known Labour supporter Phil O’Reilly, said that NCEA is a very good system that gives employers news they can use, by showing the areas a student does well in.

Dail Jones: Why, then, after so many years of NCEA, does the teaching of computing still lack a curriculum and its own purpose-designed achievement standards, as stated bythe New Zealand Computer Society, and why, so many years after the introduction of NCEA, is there an absence of meaningful computer standards, as stated by the Post Primary Teachers Association President, Robin Duff,; what does the Minister intend to do to resolve this basic problem with the teaching of computing?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: I am really glad the member asked that question. I was expecting Anne Tolley to ask it, because she put out a particularly silly press statement yesterday on this very subject. We have a technology curriculum, which has assessment standards in it. Computer studies are part of that assessment. We are working closely with the New Zealand Computer Society to finalise sector-wide agreement on those standards. Before standards are brought in, they have to have the agreement of all stakeholders, people have to be comfortable with them, and, most of all, they have to be accurate and valid. Technology standards are already in place. Computing standards will be in place very shortly.

Anne Tolley: When nearly one-third of internal assessment is incorrectly marked, what assurance will the Minister give to students that their marker got it right, given that many were told that they had failed their internal assessment, and missed out on a university course because of that failure?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: I receive reports every week from the New Zealand Qualifications Authority, the organisation that runs NCEA. I have never ever heard that figure before. I am wondering whether the member simply made it up. I remind the House of the parts of the Budget I have outlined relating to NCEA, including the employment of more assessors who can take samples from every school—the sort of bureaucrat, I suppose, Mr Key would suggest should be slashed so that he can have his tax cuts. The NCEA system is world-class. People come from around the world to look at our assessment system. We are making the system more efficient every year, including dealing with the issues that the member raises. She has a right to raise them, but I ask her to please get her facts right.

Anne Tolley: What has now changed, when for 4 years the Government has persisted with teacher-picked sampling despite vocal opposition to it, and when now, in the fifth year, it has finally decided to have true random sampling to ensure that internal assessment is being correctly marked?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: I will tell members in this House what has changed. New Zealand has a Government that believes in education. It has a Government that has invested an extra $5 billion in education. It has a Government that has employed over 6,000 extra teachers above any increase required by roll growth. It has a Government that has built 42 new schools. It has a Government that continues to make NCEA a world-class assessment system.

Anne Tolley: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I am not sure that the Minister actually addressed the question. I asked a specific question—what had changed. There has been one teacher-picked sampling in 4 years, and now, in the fifth year, the Government has decided to do random sampling. My question was quite specific in that it asked what had changed. What we got from the Minister was a great tirade about how much money he has put into the education system.

Madam SPEAKER: I understand the member. The Minister’s answer was very general. He did lightly touch on the issue in the question at the end. Maybe the Minister would like to give us a fuller explanation.

Hon CHRIS CARTER: I am sorry, Madam Speaker, but I am so proud of what our Government has done for the young people of New Zealand with our extra $5 billon for education. NCEA was introduced in 2002. Like any system, it has been refined over time. We learn as we go, and I assure this House and the students and parents of New Zealand that NCEA is a world-class assessment system. People come from all over the world to look at how successful it has been. Of course, like any system, we can make it better, and we continue to be committed to doing so.

Anne Tolley: Why should parents have confidence that this Minister can fix the system by finally introducing true random sampling, when his Government has made guinea pigs of their children for 4 years by endorsing teacher-picked sampling, which has seen a third of internal assessment being marked either too high or too low?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: The member continues to bandy around statistics that I, the Minister of Education, have never heard before. I am briefed every week by the New Zealand Qualifications Authority, I have visited over 90 schools since I got the job, and that statistic has never been given to me. I can only quote Business New Zealand’s Chief Executive, Phil O’Reilly, who said that NCEA is a very good system that gives employers news they can use, by showing the areas a student does well in. This system is valued and appreciated by educationalists, parents, schools, and business. The member should be helping to promote education, not tearing it down.

Anne Tolley: To be helpful to the Minister, I seek leave to table a report that the New Zealand Qualifications Authority presented to the Education and Science Committee 2 weeks ago that contains the figures and deals with the issues I have raised in my questions.

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

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. There was a very interesting little exchange there. As Mrs Tolley was seeking leave to table the document, the Minister of Education audibly said across the House that he looks forward to reading it. I know that he can get the document from other sources, and, no doubt, his staff are scrambling for it now, but Mr Mallard probably did not understand what was going on on the front bench—

Madam SPEAKER: That is not a point of order. Would the member please be seated. I am sure that the member can privately give it to the Minister. The House has made its decision.

/NR/rdonlyres/3BD90B52-8C9C-4147-87BF-C79ADACA0BA4/84684/48HansQ_20080527_00000629_.pdfFull transcript of Questions for Oral Answer for Tuesday, 27 May 2008 [PDF 214k]

11. Budget 2008—Income Gaps

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

11. SUE BRADFORD (Green) to the Minister of Finance: What advice, if any, has he had as to whether last week’s Budget will increase or decrease the income gap between beneficiaries and waged workers?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Finance) : I thank the member for her question and note both the Green Party and the Māori Party holding the Government to account for the Budget, unlike the National Party. I received advice that the general overall measure of inequality is not worsened by the Budget measures on taxation. If we take the case of a single person on the equivalent invalids benefit, grossed up to the equivalent tax levels at present, that person will pay $12 a week less in tax on 1 October. Obviously, that does not flow through to a person actually on the invalids benefit. However, a person on the invalids benefit is guaranteed annual indexation to cover increases in the cost of living; a person on a low income is not, and often does not receive that in New Zealand in modern times. It should also be noted that, of course, beneficiaries with children receive the indexation of the family tax credits, and the reduction in the bottom rate and the big increase in the threshold means that many single beneficiaries will be able to earn more at a lower tax rate than was previously the case, particularly those on unemployment and sickness benefits.

Sue Bradford: Is it not the truth, however, that at a time of very rapidly rising food, fuel, and housing costs, and despite a recent Ministry of Social Development report that shows beneficiaries are actually worse off now than they were after National’s 1991 benefit cuts, the Minister delivered a Budget that is actually guaranteed to make the gap between beneficiaries overall and wage workers grow?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I do not think that follows necessarily, because, as I say, beneficiaries are guaranteed compensation for those price rises. That does not always apply to those people who are on low earned incomes. The fact that there is a gap, of course, is part of the incentive for people to move off benefits if they are able to do so. There are pressure points for some beneficiary families, and the Government is looking at ways of effectively addressing those pressure points.

Su’a William Sio: Has the Minister received any advice of the effect on inequality of scrapping the cuts for low and modest income earners and steps 2 and 3 of his tax-cut package in order to give bigger tax cuts to the highest income earners?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Yes, indeed. The package in the Budget leads to the standard measures of inequality, which are the Gini coefficient and, occasionally, something that is called the 80:20 test—that is, the comparison of the 80th percentile versus the 20th percentile—are not effected negatively by the tax package. Any change to that package, by, for example, as Mr Key seems to be hinting, taking away the further moves at the bottom-end and transferring those to the top-end, will clearly worsen inequality.

Sue Bradford: Why does the Minister think that tinkering around the edges of the benefit system, as he suggested on the weekend, will be enough to deal with deepening poverty and the gap between wage workers and beneficiaries, when the annual 1 April CPI increase is so small that it does not even touch on the depth of the need out there, and when the system has lost the discretion it used to have through the special benefit, which allowed Work and Income to top up people enough so that they could survive from one week to another, but that is all gone?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: If prices are increasing significantly, then the increase on 1 April is not small. The increase on 1 April is exactly the measured increase in the Consumer Price Index, and therefore compensates as best as any average can, because individual circumstances vary, for those price movements. The member refers to the study, but, of course, the study ignores the fact that the real incomes have risen for those in employment and, therefore, if benefits increase by only the cost of living, then the gap widens. The Labour Party clearly stands for labour; that is why we are called the Labour Party.

Sue Bradford: Does the Minister accept Treasury’s projections that unemployment numbers will drop significantly over the coming year, despite the recent job losses and rising oil and food prices, or have those figures been used just in order to claim that we can afford $10.6 billion in tax cuts?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I do not generate the Treasury forecasts in any shape or form; they are generated independently on Treasury’s own best estimate of what happens. Ministers of Finance do not create their own numbers in that regard. That is one of the big differences between being a Minister of Finance and being an Opposition spokesperson on finance.

12. Housing New Zealand Corporation—Confidence

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

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

Hon MARYAN STREET (Minister of Housing) : Yes; because I support the hard work that the corporation does to house some of our most vulnerable families.

Phil Heatley: Does the Minister agree with Steve Maharey, who said: “Government agencies have no business holding conferences in luxury resorts.”, and “Social agencies should be helping the disadvantaged rather than spending money on exclusive conferences.”; if so, why did 94 corporation staff spend 2 days this month at the luxury Tongariro Lodge under her watch?

Hon MARYAN STREET: I absolutely agree that a State housing agency should be looking after State tenants. The purpose of the conference was to improve the service to those tenants.

Hon Steve Maharey: What are the Labour-led Government and Housing New Zealand Corporation doing to help to house some of New Zealand’s most needy families, away from Tongario?

Hon MARYAN STREET: This Government has done a number of things, including reintroducing income-related rents, and, through Housing New Zealand Corporation, housing some 200,000 vulnerable people.

Phil Heatley: How does it, as she just said, improve the lot for the 10,000 families on the waiting list and State house tenants who are living in squalor to do these things at the luxury conference: “promoting consistent delivery strategies”, “critically reviewing processes”, and “enhancing capability and delivery mechanisms”; how will help those poor people?

Hon MARYAN STREET: The cost for this conference was some $250-odd a night for accommodation, food, and venue hire. That was not a luxury price. The other important thing is that if the member had got his facts right, he would see that these people—94 of them—came from across the country to that place to talk about the corporation’s strategic vision, its goals, and how it might improve service delivery. If that is the upshot of this conference, done at cheap rates, then I am all for it.

Madam SPEAKER: It is impossible to hear the questions or the answers at the moment.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: What on earth are Housing New Zealand Corporation staff doing following the example set by the National Party caucus, which has its retreats not in Wellington, where its members have offices that are paid for by the taxpayer, but in Queenstown, Picton, Rotorua, and Taupō, all at luxury hotels?

Hon MARYAN STREET: They are not following that example. This conference cost $65,000. If the National Party is going after $65,000 from managers in Housing New Zealand Corporation, then, firstly, whose tax cut will that fund? Secondly, how many State houses are members opposite expecting to sell in order to fund whatever their tax cut promises might be?

Phil Heatley: What does she think the thousands of desperate families on the waiting list, or those who live in squalid boarding houses, think about 94 of the corporation’s staff spending 2 days at the luxury Tongario Lodge?

Hon MARYAN STREET: These are the people whom we are expecting over the next 5 years to insulate and retrofit 21,000 remaining State houses. If this process allows them to do that better, then I am all for it. They have to do these things because we require them to retrofit housing in order to ramp up our service to our State housing tenants.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Does that complaint come from the same party that allowed Christine “I now care for kids” Rankin to hold a conference for the Department of Work and Income at Wairākei, costing over $250,000; or have the National members all been struck down with amnesia?

Hon MARYAN STREET: I absolutely concur with the point the member is making. Further to that, I say $65,000 for a conference might, I think, on the back of an envelope, equate to a 1.5c tax cut, but I am not sure. So if that is what the National members want, then I reiterate: how many nurses, doctors, and teachers will they cut, and how many State houses will they sell to fund a tax cut promise that we have not heard about yet?

Phil Heatley: Whatever happened to Helen Clark’s pledge that “Labour will be a very careful custodian of taxpayers’ money—no more squandering public money on luxury resorts.”, and how many, if any, alternative quotes did the corporation get from less exclusive venues?

Hon MARYAN STREET: I am advised that the costs for this conference were at a very competitive rate, that the corporation struck a competitive rate with that organisation for comprehensive coverage—

Madam SPEAKER: It is impossible to hear the Minister’s answer. You have had your fun. You ask yourselves for other members to be quiet by saying “Shh” when your member asks the question. You should have the courtesy to let the rest of us hear the answer.

Hon MARYAN STREET: Further to my answer, I would say that the National Party cannot talk about conferences. It did send its housing spokesperson, Phil Heatley, to a private sector housing conference just recently, which I refused to go to because of the cost. The conference featured Don Brash, but that does not matter. The cost to each attendee was $1,495 for the day.

Phil Heatley: I wish to make a personal statement.

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

Hon Trevor Mallard: Can he indicate what it is about.

Madam SPEAKER: Can the member indicate what it is about.

Phil Heatley: It is about the fact that I was a guest speaker there.

Madam SPEAKER: Does the member still wish to make his statement?

Phil Heatley: No, I think the House gets the point.

Madam SPEAKER: Are there any further supplementary questions? Phil Heatley—

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. We heard the member seek clarity as to why Mr Heatley wanted to make a personal statement. He has said he was actually a speaker at this conference. We would like to know the details of the sort of engagement that would require a person to be a speaker, yet pay $1,000—unless it is the case that he is totally useless.

Madam SPEAKER: I asked the member whether he wished to still continue with his statement. He said no, he did not. The matter rests there.

Phil Heatley: What does she think that desperate families who are living in squalid conditions do in their free time—gourmet dining, trout fishing, or just “sitting in front of an open fire over a four-course evening meal, recounting the day’s activities”; and just how out of touch is this Government?

Hon MARYAN STREET: I presume the member is quoting from a website, because I have seen the conference programme and that question does not bear any relationship to it. So instead of misleading the public and listeners as to the content of the conference, that member would be better advised to say something about the 19 or so presentations that actually happened at that conference, to improve the services that we deliver to Housing New Zealand tenants.

Phil Heatley: I seek leave to table PQ 45209 about corporation staff at luxury Tongariro Lodge.

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

Phil Heatley: I seek leave to table a statement “Agencies have no business holding conference in luxury resorts” by Steve Maharey .

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

Phil Heatley: I seek leave to table a statement “The party is over … for Government organisations” made by Helen Clark in l999.

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

ENDS

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Rail: Greens Back Tauranga – Hamilton – Auckland Service

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

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Housing: Voluntary Rental Warrant Of Fitness For Wellington

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

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Treaty: Agreement In Principle Signed With Moriori

“The Crown acknowledges Moriori was left virtually landless from 1870, hindering its cultural, social and economic development. The Crown also acknowledges its contribution to the myths that the people of Moriori were racially inferior and became extinct." More>>

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Susan Devoy: Call For Inquiry Into State Abuse Reaches UN

Race Relations Commissioner Dame Susan Devoy is in Geneva and has asked a United Nations committee to urge the New Zealand government to initiate an inquiry into the physical and sexual abuse of children and disabled people held in state institutions. More>>

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(Not National): Cross-Party Agreement On Pike River Re-Entry

The commitment was signed this afternoon by the leaders of Labour, United Future, The Maori Party, and the Green Party and, together with the earlier commitment by New Zealand First, means that there is now a Parliamentary majority behind the families’ fight for truth and justice. More>>

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