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Questions And Answers – Wednesday, May 28 2008


Questions And Answers – Wednesday, May 28 2008

1. Government Departments—Spending


1. JOHN KEY (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does she stand by her statement that her Government wanted a culture of “moderation, thrift, and service to the public”; if so, is she confident that that is understood by all Government entities?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister) : Yes; and yes—including by the Housing New Zealand Corporation over the past 24 hours.

John Key: Does the Prime Minister agree with the statement of her Minister of Housing in the House yesterday that the Housing New Zealand Corporation conference at the luxurious Tongariro Lodge was “worth it” and she was “all for it”; if not, why not?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: For the record, I believe that the venue was inappropriate. That point of view has been put to the chair of the Housing New Zealand Corporation board, and he concurs with it completely, as does the Minister.

John Key: Is the Prime Minister saying that the Minister of Housing, when she came to the House yesterday and defended that conference at the luxurious Tongariro Lodge, was completely and utterly wrong?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Some good may come from officials getting together from time to time, but it should not be at a lodge like that.

John Key: Did the Prime Minister have any discussions with the Minister of Housing following her endorsement of the conference, and is that why Maryan Street has changed her tune overnight and is now admitting that the Tongariro Lodge conference was “not a good look”?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I have made it clear throughout that the choice of that accommodation was inappropriate.

John Key: Can the Prime Minister confirm the statement made by the Minister of State Services on the radio this morning that both he and the Prime Minister were “outraged” by the Housing New Zealand Corporation conference at Tongariro Lodge; if so, why did the Minister of Housing tell the House yesterday that the conference was “worth it” and she was “all for it”?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I can confirm what the Minister of State Services said. I know that the Minister of Housing does not believe that the venue was appropriate. But, of course, newer members—like Kate Wilkinson—do not always express themselves in the way that they should.

John Key: Does the Prime Minister think that the recent $350,000 golden handshake for the chief executive of Transpower, Ralph Craven, is an example of thrift and moderation, when so many New Zealand taxpayers will be struggling to pay their power bills this coming winter because of the tough economic conditions?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: No; that sum is not appropriate. The new chair of the board, who had no responsibility for the sum, has said as much. Nor do I think it is exactly moderation for the Leader of the Opposition to have 36 staff in his office.

/NR/rdonlyres/DC236D8A-DEC7-451E-9716-4183D684DCFA/84740/48HansQ_20080528_00000011_.pdfFull transcript of Questions for Oral Answer for Wednesday, 28 May 2008 [PDF 197k]

2. KiwiSaver—Reports

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

2. Hon PAUL SWAIN (Labour—Rimutaka) to the Minister of Finance: What recent reports has he received on support for the KiwiSaver scheme?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Finance) : I have received a large number of reports in support of it. There is one source from which I have received a substantial number of reports, both in support for, and in opposition to, KiwiSaver in general and specific elements within it. Mr Key has said that he was against KiwiSaver, and then he was for it. Then he was against it, and yesterday he was for it, but, perhaps, not quite in full.

Hon Paul Swain: Has the Minister received any reports on public confusion resulting from conflicting statements on support for KiwiSaver?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: By sheer chance, yes. I have seen an article in the Wanganui Chronicle, where Mr Chester Borrows supports Kate Wilkinson’s position that National opposes employer contributions to KiwiSaver. Then of course yesterday Mr Key appeared to support employer contributions, but what he actually said was: “at pretty similar levels to now.”—whatever that means. Perhaps it is all best summed up by this masterpiece from last year: “Well, we are looking at all the options around KiwiSaver. We don’t really like the existing scheme, in the sense that we think, um, the first mark 1 version of it worked, you know, was probably gonna be successful and not too bad.” Or, in other words: “Beam me up, Scotty!”.

Hon Clayton Cosgrove: Has the Minister received any reports on the importance of clear communication around support for KiwiSaver?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Indeed, I have seen a report from Newstalk ZB in Christchurch this morning, where the distinguished journalist Mr Barry Soper said of Kate Wilkinson’s statements opposing elements of KiwiSaver: “When, in fact, we ran a story on that on Newstalk ZB we had the spin doctors from the National Party ringing up saying ‘You are wrong—she didn’t say that.’ And I said well, in fact, I was there. I heard her say it, so did everybody else at the meeting … finally we had John Key this afternoon coming out and saying Kate Wilkinson had got it wrong.” By 2 o’clock yesterday Mr John Key had issued a press statement, saying Mrs Kate Wilkinson was wrong. Perhaps in the end, however, it was really Kate Wilkinson who was right. But who would know?

/NR/rdonlyres/D93933C3-A220-4375-A59B-503D10AA8F37/84742/48HansQ_20080528_00000071_.pdfFull transcript of Questions for Oral Answer for Wednesday, 28 May 2008 [PDF 197k]

3. Immigration Service—Misconduct Cases

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

3. GERRY BROWNLEE (National—Ilam) to the Minister of Immigration: Were cases of misconduct within the Pacific division included in answers to written parliamentary questions the Minister signed out in April, May, and November 2007, detailing substantiated cases of improper behaviour and corruption within the New Zealand Immigration Service as a whole?

Hon CLAYTON COSGROVE (Minister of Immigration) : Yes. I am advised that the statistics quoted in answers to written parliamentary questions to the previous Minister of Immigration in April and May 2007, and to me in November 2007, included cases of misconduct from across the Immigration Service, including the Pacific division. I am also advised that, as outlined in my answer to written questions from Dr Lockwood Smith in November 2007—and contrary to what that member then claimed in a media statement of 21 May 2008—there have been no substantiated cases of corruption in the Immigration Service since 2002-03. However, there have been substantiated cases of improper behaviour.

Gerry Brownlee: Does the Minister think it was credible for the previous Minister, David Cunliffe, to claim he was unaware of corruption within the Pacific division and the wider Immigration Service in 2007, when at the very time that David Oughton was conducting his inquiry Mr Cunliffe was signing off written questions acknowledging 36 substantiated cases of improper behaviour and corruption in the Immigration Service, including the Pacific division; if he does think that, why does he keep pushing the line that there was no problem, and that Ministers did not know?

Hon CLAYTON COSGROVE: I have just said to the member that I have advice that since 2002-03 there have been no substantiated cases—which is what the member puts forward—of corruption across the Immigration Service. There have been, of course, cases of improper conduct. I am advised that the previous Minister raised concerns with the chief executive, and sought assurances that the department was treating the matter properly. Because they were statistics, he did not—which is what the member, I assume, would want Ministers to do, or what he would do if he were a Minister—delve into individual cases. A number of checks were done in terms of rechecking the process. I note that in July 2007 the investigations unit, as a further check in terms of further-removed independence, was taken from the Immigration Service and placed within the corporate unit in order to ensure its robustness.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Has the Minister received any reports of a party in Parliament that has for years pointed out the corruption and duplicity of the Immigration Service, including its issuing visas under a tree in India and issuing false university degrees out of Dhakar, only to elicit from the previous questioner’s party an allegation that that person and party were racist and xenophobic; and is it not a bit rich that National members have now decided to take up the cause?

Madam SPEAKER: I am not sure about the latter part of the question; the Minister will address the first part.

Hon CLAYTON COSGROVE: Many of those events pre-date my time, but as Mr Peters is an honourable and senior member of this House I take him absolutely at his word, and I agree with his last statement.

Gerry Brownlee: Has the Minister seen the Auditor-General’s report on the Department of Labour, which was tabled in this House on 9 November 2006, into that particular year, which stated that the Immigration Service had identified two frauds, and that the occurrence of these frauds in the notification process highlights the absence of a department-wide fraud policy, and that notes further that a consistent approach to dealing with breaches has not been established—and it still has not been established? And can he see a picture building here of Ministers being told about problems of improper behaviour and corruption inside the Immigration Service, but choosing to do nothing, then denying all knowledge of the problem, and then claiming it ought to be simply an employment-related matter?

Hon CLAYTON COSGROVE: There are two separate distinctions. When individuals’ employment matters are brought to Ministers’ attention—say, those in respect of Ms Thompson—they are rightly, as has been stated publicly by the chief executive when I took over, Christopher Blake, matters for the chief executive. If the member is saying that if he were Minister of Immigration he would get involved specifically and practically in individuals’ cases, then he would be in breach of the law. Can I also tell the member that following my predecessor raising concerns in December 2006, the department commissioned an independent review of its internal investigations unit. That review in 2007 found that the unit operated “at the upper end of Public Service practice”. On 23 July 2007, as I have previously stated, under my predecessor, the department transferred the investigations unit from the Immigration Service to the corporate division in order to provide further robustness. There is a difference between putting one’s sticky fingers in individual employment matters and operating appropriately in conjunction with the chief executive.

Gerry Brownlee: Does the Minister really think it is credible for him to tell this House that in the presence of officials he becomes a quiet, shy, and retiring Minister who, upon hearing that his chief executive was seeking Crown Law advice about illegal decision-making in his department, decided in his shy and demure way that he did not need to know what it was all about, and that he best not ask any questions about it?

Hon CLAYTON COSGROVE: I assume I am addressing my answer to Gerry Brownlee, or is the author of the question Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith? Unlike what that member suggests should have happened, I acted in my capacity, lawfully. When my chief executive briefed me on 14 December on an individual and particular employment matter, and advised me that he had already contacted the State Services Commission, and then, post that, advised me that he had taken the extraordinary step of asking for legal advice from Crown Law to determine whether, if he was of a mind to reopen the matter, he could do so, even though it had been closed under previous chief executives, and had been advised that, legally—a word that is distant from that member—he could not, I chose not to break the law, and acted appropriately by not delving into individual employment matters.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: How can the department overcome improper behaviour and corruption within it, when MPs such as Jonathan Coleman make such improper representations for totally inappropriate applicants of the type that the Minister has had to deal with, and how did Nick Smith get into the country?

Madam SPEAKER: Ignore the last part of the question.

Hon CLAYTON COSGROVE: Tempting though it is, Madam Speaker! As to the first part of the member’s question, in fairness, every member of this Parliament is entitled to make representations on behalf of constituents or individuals, and, in fairness, we have all made those representations—including me as a constituency member. We take people at their word. However, once we find out about nefarious goings-on involving a constituent, it is helpful if we assist the department in its inquiries. In Mr Coleman’s case, he has some expertise in smoking people out.

Gerry Brownlee: Why, when answering the previous question, did the Minister indicate to the House that he had been briefed about an individual’s employment matter within the Immigration Service; does he now expect the House to believe that he did not ask who it was about and what the issue was? And why has he come to this conclusion after a suggestion that he was acting in an incompetent fashion, when, in fact, he has been telling the House for weeks that he was never briefed along those lines?

Hon CLAYTON COSGROVE: Yesterday I was asked a similar question by Dr Lockwood Smith—

Hon Darren Hughes: PhD.

Hon CLAYTON COSGROVE: —PhD—and I replied as follows. When I was briefed on 14 December 2007, I was advised of the following: firstly, that there had been an independent investigation into historic employment matters; secondly, that it had 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 a Department of Labour employee; and, fourthly, that these matters had occurred under, and had been dealt with and closed by, previous chief executives. The member may wish to revisit the Hansard from many weeks ago, where I have made these statements plain in respect of Ms Thompson, or he may wish to check with the author of the question.

Gerry Brownlee: Can the Minister deny that the officer from the Immigration Service who was disciplined in this matter had dealt with immigration matters relating to family members of Mary Anne Thompson?

Hon CLAYTON COSGROVE: When the Oughton report was released—and I saw it for the first time after it had been released—those matters were dealt with within it. As to when I was briefed and what I was told about the specificity of that matter, before the Oughton report was released I had not been advised of the specificity of that official.

Gerry Brownlee: Oh, come on!

Hon CLAYTON COSGROVE: Because the member continues to say it does not make it a fact. I say again to that member that I am very confident—and I look forward to interacting with the Auditor-General—that I acted legally. I question whether that member, if he were ever a Minister, would act in the same way.

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. That was a very long answer, and the Minister most certainly did address the question, but it appears that he did not listen to what the question was. He was asked specifically whether he can deny that the Immigration Service officer who was disciplined was, in fact, disciplined over his dealings with immigration cases relating to the family of Mary Anne Thompson. It is a simple question—yes or no. One cannot, as a Minister, on the one hand say: “I didn’t know anything.”, then a few minutes later say: “Well, I was briefed, and I did know that it was Mary Anne Thompson who was cleared.”, without asking the question: “Cleared of what and why?”.

Madam SPEAKER: I think the member was right that the Minister did answer the question in a very roundabout way.

Hon Member: Loquacious.

Madam SPEAKER: “Loquacious” may well be the word, but he is not the only member who has that problem. The Minister did address the question, and, as members know, they cannot always get the answers they want. Does the Minister want to add anything?

Hon CLAYTON COSGROVE: I think the answer the member seeks is self-evident and public.

/NR/rdonlyres/16661FF0-5403-4E3F-8914-DCAAC58B0390/84744/48HansQ_20080528_00000110_.pdfFull transcript of Questions for Oral Answer for Wednesday, 28 May 2008 [PDF 197k]

4. Overseas Investment Act—Operation

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

4. R DOUG WOOLERTON (NZ First) to the Minister of Finance: Is he satisfied that the Overseas Investment Act 2005 is working in the best interests of New Zealand in the wake of Russian company Nutritek being allowed to create New Zealand’s first totally foreign-owned dairy producer; if so, why?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Finance) : I thank the member for his question. I am still awaiting a National Party question on the Budget! The answer is yes; because the acquisition of the additional New Zealand Dairies Ltd shares by Nutritek is likely to result in the creation of new job opportunities, the introduction into New Zealand of new technology or business skills, increased export receipts for New Zealand exporters, and added market competition and greater efficiency in New Zealand—all of which are criteria under the Act.

R Doug Woolerton: Does the Minister of Finance agree that the reputation of our dairy industry and the associated “Made in New Zealand” brand is of vital economic importance to our country; if so, why does he not consider those reputations to be important enough for Ministers to take them into account when judging overseas investment decisions?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I think it is fair to say that a long time was taken by Ministers over this decision, and a whole range of such factors were taken into account. In particular, a number of accusations that had been made were carefully investigated by officials.

Sue Bradford: Does the Minister agree that this decision will mean that New Zealand taxpayers give Russian-owned Nutritek some $12 million over the next 5 years to cover the Kyoto Protocol cost of its greenhouse emissions; and would it not be better to keep our dairy industry in New Zealand hands, and to have the industry pay its own way instead of receiving taxpayers’ subsidies?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The owners of this business will be subject to exactly the same laws as any other owner of any primary sector business within New Zealand.

R Doug Woolerton: Is the Minister aware that Nutritek will not introduce any technical skill or expertise to New Zealand Dairies Ltd that cannot be found in New Zealand; and can he confirm that the takeover application contains no guarantee that value-added projects will be undertaken by Nutritek in New Zealand?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I can confirm that Nutritek is a specialist in a range of activities, including dairy products for babies, and other matters; that it has a significant research capacity offshore; and that the takeover has been welcomed by the head of the dairy section of Federated Farmers.

R Doug Woolerton: What consideration, if any, was given by his office and the Overseas Investment Office to the extensive and detailed submission opposing Nutritek’s application that came from three of the founders of, and largest shareholders in, New Zealand Dairies Ltd, whose submission was also supported by three-quarters of the farmers supplying milk to New Zealand Dairies Ltd?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I can assure the member that very careful consideration was given to all of those submissions, and, indeed, Ministers received quite full reports on a number of the accusations and submissions that were made.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Can the Minister confirm that New Zealand First wrote to Ministers to urge them not to allow Nutritek to take over the company, arguing that the decision would set a precedent that would allow the dairy industry to be taken from the hands of those who had invested in it, and from the country that has nurtured it through regulation and international agreements over many years?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I can confirm that that letter was received. I think Ministers determined that the basis on which that letter had been written was not factually correct in that, indeed, New Zealand Dairies Ltd is not a farmer cooperative like Fonterra; it is a processing plant and processing company. Of course, the restructuring of the dairy industry by the Dairy Industry Restructuring Act did envisage that there would be new entrants into the business, and that some of those entrants would be from offshore. The one that was most commonly talked about at the time, of course, subsequently collapsed, or went into considerable decline, initially.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Is the Minister not concerned that this takeover sets a precedent, enabling the start of a big foreign campaign to buy out the New Zealand dairy industry, and to trade off our priceless image overseas; and is he aware that, unlike the case of the railways, both our dairy industry and our image will be irretrievable after the Government has sold it off?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I see no precedent in this sale, or any suggestion at all, that, for example, Fonterra is going to pass to overseas interests, or Tātua is going to pass to overseas interests; they are completely different companies in structure from the one that Nutritek has bought. Nutritek will be a relatively small player. It should be noted, for example, that although there have been some concerns about the possible mixing of products coming out of Nutritek here with offshore products, that is equally possible at the moment with powdered milk supplies from New Zealand.

Hon Jim Anderton: Does the Minister have any information about the assets that Fonterra, as a representative of the New Zealand dairy industry, is purchasing in other countries, and what would our reaction be if Fonterra were stopped from purchasing those assets?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Fonterra has acquired assets in China, in Chile, in other South American countries, I believe, and in Australia. Indeed, it is engaged in a major expansion of its international organisation. It is very hard for us to say to foreign-owned companies that they cannot buy any part of the New Zealand dairy industry, when the largest single player and trader in dairy products in the world is busy trying to buy up milk supply in other countries.

R Doug Woolerton: I seek leave to table my letter to the Minister on this issue, dated 13 March 2008.

 Leave granted.

/NR/rdonlyres/5A512358-6E5B-419E-BFE9-CFA767579C50/84746/48HansQ_20080528_00000201_.pdfFull transcript of Questions for Oral Answer for Wednesday, 28 May 2008 [PDF 197k]

5. Housing New Zealand Corporation—Conference

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

5. PHIL HEATLEY (National—Whangarei) to the Minister of Housing: Does she stand by her statement in relation to Housing New Zealand Corporation’s recent conference at a luxury fishing lodge, “I am all for it.”; if so, why?

Hon MARYAN STREET (Minister of Housing) : I am all for Housing New Zealand Corporation achieving its aims of improving service to State house tenants, but I have reminded the chair of Housing New Zealand Corporation that in achieving those aims the choice of venue for any conference must be both cost-effective and appropriate.

Phil Heatley: Has the corporation also held conferences at the equally luxurious Heritage Hotel and Spa du Vin and other luxury lodges; if so, when was it, how many went, and how much did it cost?

Hon MARYAN STREET: I am happy to find out the answers to those questions for the member, but I can say that the appropriateness of any venue has been drawn to the attention of the chair and the Chief Executive of the Housing New Zealand Corporation for future use.

Phil Heatley: Does the Minister stand by her endorsement of the conference on Campbell Live last night, saying “It’s just nit-picking.”, or does she now support David Parker, who says “This sort of thing is not to happen.”—or is David Parker nit-picking as well?

Hon MARYAN STREET: I agree with David Parker’s assessment of the situation. The requirements of appropriateness and cost-effectiveness have been drawn to the attention of the corporation.

Phil Heatley: Will the Minister, or will the Minister not, allow a conference at this venue again, or at any other high-class venue, because on Campbell Live she said she would do so if it stacked up, but David Parker said: “I will be making it absolutely clear this sort of thing is not to happen.”?

Hon MARYAN STREET: I have written to the chair of Housing New Zealand Corporation seeking such an assurance, and I advise the House that in reply to that letter I have received the following assurance from the chair of Housing New Zealand Corporation: “There will be no repeat of the use of high-profile venues that fail to reflect the corporation’s commitment to reasonable caution in spending on internal conferencing.”

Phil Heatley: Has she compared the visitors’ book at Tongariro Lodge, where a staff member wrote: “It was an excellent place.”, and drew a big smiley face next to the comment, with the visitors’ books at the squalid Māngere boarding houses?

Hon MARYAN STREET: No.

Phil Heatley: Will she now phone Carlos Maxwell and Israel Roberts and their 8-month-old son Franklin at their Māngere boarding house, where they say: “It’s dirty. There are thieves and there are rats.”, and tell them she now realises that a warm sit by the fire at Tongariro Lodge or that playing croquet and pétanque at Heritage Hotel and Spa du Vin does not help them?

Hon MARYAN STREET: If I remember correctly—and my recollection may be faulty—that particular family has been housed by Housing New Zealand Corporation.

Phil Heatley: I seek leave to table Minister Street’s statement that does not rule out further conferences being held at flash venues.

Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? Yes, there is objection. [Interruption] Members will leave the Chamber if they interrupt during points of order.

Phil Heatley: I seek leave to table Minister Parker’s statement that squashes that.

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

Phil Heatley: I seek leave to table the website of the Heritage Hotel and Spa du Vin luxury conference centre.

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

/NR/rdonlyres/393FCE6F-2BFB-4366-A7E0-98AC05CE5EDC/84748/48HansQ_20080528_00000279_.pdfFull transcript of Questions for Oral Answer for Wednesday, 28 May 2008 [PDF 197k]

6. Invalids and Sickness Beneficiaries—Paid Employment

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

6. SUE BRADFORD (Green) to the Minister for Social Development and Employment: What advice, if any, has she had as to whether invalids and sickness beneficiaries with, or recovering from, mental illness are being pressured into paid employment to the detriment of their health?

Hon DARREN HUGHES (Associate Minister for Social Development and Employment) on behalf of the Minister for Social Development and Employment: I am advised that most people want to work, and with the right support they can. This Government is committed to understanding and responding to people’s individual circumstances. We certainly do not compel into jobs people who are too ill to work. However, we will not stop somebody who wants to have a go.

Sue Bradford: Why was a disability resource centre in Whakatāne given a $400,000 contract to place around 20 people with, or recovering from, mental illness in local pack-houses, when they had no experience of working with people in that kind of situation?

Hon DARREN HUGHES: What is important in that example, in Ōpōtiki in the pack-house, is the network of services available to both the employer and the workers who have gone to work there. Everybody who is on that scheme undergoes a full screening assessment before he or she goes into the programme. There is a full 2-week pre-employment training programme and daily contact with those providers while in the job, including right down to ensuring there is transport for the people involved to get to work each day.

Martin Gallagher: What has the Government done to strengthen the ability of Work and Income to provide support to clients who wish to work?

Hon DARREN HUGHES: The focus of Working New Zealand is on supporting people to gain the skills that lead to work, provide effective support to keep them in work, and make sure that it leaves them and their families better off. That includes collecting more accurate information to better match people to appropriate services, consulting with general practitioners to help us design a new medical certificate, and developing our staff training packages to increase our expertise so we can work better with clients.

Judith Collins: Can she explain why in just 5 years the number of people receiving a sickness or invalids benefit for depression has increased from 4,825, in 2002, to a staggering 11,690, in 2007, and the number of people on a sickness or invalids benefit for stress has increased from 5,014, in 2002, to almost 7,500, in 2007?

Hon DARREN HUGHES: Because more people are being diagnosed with those conditions. So the next important question is what we then do to help those people in those conditions to have the support they need to get back to work, and that is what the Government is focusing very hard on. But it is true that there are more people in our society and community today diagnosed with those conditions.

Sue Bradford: Why, if the support for these beneficiaries being pushed to work in the pack-houses was so good, were they sent there without the responsible agency or Work and Income consulting the relevant psychiatric medical staff in relation to whether these people were actually fit for work?

Hon DARREN HUGHES: I think the first point is that all those who are participating in this programme have volunteered to go on it. They have said they want to work, with the support to do that, so they have made a decision for themselves that they want to do it. That is when the network of support across those mental health services that I mentioned kicks in. But I do understand that a couple of people have approached the employer directly and not gone through Work and Income, and it may have been that they have not been connected up with the services that are available. We are working to ensure that we identify people in that situation and offer them the services that are there, because we want this to work for people who are living with a mental health condition but may be able to undertake some employment.

Sue Bradford: Does the Minister not understand the kind of power and control that a Work and Income case officer can actually exert over a person with a long-term mental illness or recovering from a long-term mental illness; and is the Government so desperate to get invalids beneficiaries off its books and into the pack-houses that it does not care that, for example, one such affected person ended up back in the acute psychiatric unit at Whakatāne Hospital, because the person tried to work and became so unwell because of the pressure that Work and Income had exerted to force the person into this inappropriate job?

Hon DARREN HUGHES: I just repeat that people who participate in this do so voluntarily. Nobody who is too ill to work is being coerced or compelled to work, and the supports are meant to be there for them if they make that decision to go into that employment situation.

/NR/rdonlyres/512C094A-6CE3-493C-A072-7F5A6A3C36A8/84750/48HansQ_20080528_00000342_.pdfFull transcript of Questions for Oral Answer for Wednesday, 28 May 2008 [PDF 197k]

7. Electricity—Supply

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

7. GERRY BROWNLEE (National—Ilam) to the Minister of Energy: Does he stand by his statement made in the House on 15 April 2008 that there is a “less than 5 percent probability” we will have serious electricity shortages this winter; if not, what is the probability today?

Hon DAVID PARKER (Minister of Energy) : Yes, that statement was accurate. I went on to say that I was advised that for that low probability to become a reality the current severe drought would have to extend beyond autumn, or an unexpected major failure of large thermal plant would have to occur.

Gerry Brownlee: Has he seen the recent reported comments of independent energy consultants who put the risks of a 1992-style blackout as high as 30 percent, and that lines companies have warned customers that power could be cut, without warning, for at least 30 minutes; if so, is he prepared to indicate what he now thinks the risk of that occurring might be?

Hon DAVID PARKER: The first point I would make is that my understanding is there were not rolling blackouts in 1992. The second point I would make is that the industry is acting responsibly. We are seeing some of the major users back off a little, as a consequence of the higher spot price, which is, of course, one of the intended effects of that system. Contact Energy, I am also pleased to tell the House this afternoon, has announced that it is recommissioning 100 megawats of its New Plymouth station, which it closed at the end of last year; and that will help, too.

Dr Ashraf Choudhary: Has generating capacity increased to improve security of supply under this Labour-led Government?

Hon DAVID PARKER: The demand for electricity goes up by around 150 megawatts a year. Last year more than 550 megawatts was added to the system, and this year another 300 megawatts has been connected—with more on the way. Generation security margins have improved, but, nevertheless, in an extremely dry year such as this, things get tight.

Gerry Brownlee: Has the Minister seen the comments of Alan Seay of Meridian Energy, that consumers should prepare for price rises this winter because of the severe electricity shortage; and bearing in mind that residential prices have risen already by 50 percent in the last 5 years, how much extra cost does he expect that hardworking Kiwis will be paying this winter to keep the lights on and the house warm?

Hon DAVID PARKER: I am sure that commercial users who are exposed to the spot price will, of course, be paying higher prices this year. In other years the price they pay is far lower than the average and far lower than paid by domestic consumers.

Gerry Brownlee: Is the Minister telling House that Mr Seay of Meridian Energy is wrong and that prices for electricity will not be rising for domestic consumers this winter?

Hon DAVID PARKER: No, I did not say that, but I have previously said, and I say again, that domestic users are not exposed to the spot price for electricity; to the extent that the spot price is high this year, that impacts mainly on commercial users.

Gerry Brownlee: Is the Minister telling the House that Mr Seay, who is the representative of Meridian Energy, telling the media and anyone who wants to listen, that New Zealanders can expect to pay much higher electricity costs this year, has got it wrong in implying that households will be affected, and that the Minister is saying household electricity prices will not rise this year?

Hon DAVID PARKER: I have not said that household electricity prices will not rise this year—indeed, I am sure there have already been some price rises in the residential sector this year. But that is not necessarily connected to the winter power shortage, which impacts mainly upon the spot price and commercial users.

Gerry Brownlee: Is the Minister then telling the House that electricity price rises for domestic consumers this year have nothing to do with the shortage of supply?

Hon DAVID PARKER: I am not aware of any residential users who are exposed to the spot market.

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. That is not an answer; it is not even addressing the question. The question was about residential customers, and the Minister has been at pains today to explain that residential customers are not exposed to the spot market. Indeed, his answer to this question was exactly that. My question asked whether household prices will rise this winter as a result of the shortage. There would be a simple answer, I would have thought, for a Minister who is so much on top of his portfolio!

Madam SPEAKER: I think in the line of questioning that has been pursued that the Minister did address the question. As I have said before, members do not always get the answer they want, but if the member wishes to ask another question, there are more supplementary questions.

Gerry Brownlee: Will domestic electricity prices rise this winter as a result of the shortage of electricity?

Hon DAVID PARKER: As I have said previously, I do not expect that the current shortage of water in hydro lakes will have a material effect on residential prices.

Gordon Copeland: Is the Minister of the view that the risk of future electricity shortages could be reduced if lines companies were permitted to invest, without limitation, in new generation and in retailing, given that the Commerce Act ensures that profits from the lines themselves are now well controlled?

Hon DAVID PARKER: The Government has been relaxing the restrictions on the ability of lines companies to invest in generation, and it has a bill before Parliament to relax considerably those restrictions. We are not completely abandoning any restrictions, because if we did that, the danger would be that the major generator retailers would gobble up some of the lines companies and we would have less competition, overall, in the market.

Gordon Copeland: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I guess that that, in a way, addressed the question, but the question was not really asking whether generators and retailers could buy a lines company; it was asking whether he was prepared to allow lines companies to invest in generation and retail.

Madam SPEAKER: I think the Minister did actually address the question, as you indicated, but obviously not in the way you wished.

/NR/rdonlyres/BBCA5885-916D-483E-9E58-42D1B9DE1903/84752/48HansQ_20080528_00000403_.pdfFull transcript of Questions for Oral Answer for Wednesday, 28 May 2008 [PDF 197k]

8. Employment Relations Act—Alternative Approaches

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

8. SU’A WILLIAM SIO (Labour) to the Minister of Labour: Has he received any reports on alternative approaches to the Government’s Employment Relations Act 2000?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Minister of Labour) : Yes, I have. I have seen a report that under National we could expect quite significant changes and that there was nothing wrong with the Employment Contracts Act. That report was from John Key. I have seen another report in which Kate Wilkinson said that National will not repeal the Employment Relations Act but rather will just tinker around the edges. I have seen a further report in which John Key confirmed that National would not make significant changes, but then in the same interview proceeded to confirm that National’s policy would be the same as the one it promoted in 2005. That leader of the National Party cannot keep to a line from the beginning to the end of an interview.

Su’a William Sio: What other reports has he had on labour relations policy?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: Kate Wilkinson, in a fit of truth, announced National’s position on KiwiSaver to employers at an employment relations breakfast. She said that National does not support employer contributions to the scheme.

Hon Member: She didn’t!

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: She did; that is exactly what she said. I was there; she was asked the question. Members are saying she did not say that. She was asked a very direct question, and she said the National Party does not support compulsion. That is what she said.

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I wonder whether we could get a clarification from the Minister. He has just said he was at that particular forum, and it is a little fascinating to know why nobody was interested in anything he said.

Madam SPEAKER: As we all know, that is not a point of order. I do not want the Minister to respond to what the member has said.

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I have not finished my answer.

Madam SPEAKER: Please complete your answer succinctly.

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: What did we hear yesterday? We heard, apparently, a rapid retreat on the part of the National Party, but it left open two questions. One is whether the National Party would subsidise employers. There was no answer on that.

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. The Minister can take all the time he likes to give any answers he wants, but he cannot propose to this House that he has any ministerial responsibility for National Party policy. The good news is that he will not have any ministerial responsibility for his portfolio shortly.

Madam SPEAKER: The member is quite right; there is no ministerial responsibility for other parties’ policies. There is, however, responsibility to address a question where there may well have been reports about that policy within the public media. Would the Minister please conclude.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I am not certain whether the Minister has responsibility, but I do know that we have no chance down here of working out what the answer might be and the appropriateness of it, when there is a cacophony over here—mainly coming from female voices—of people shouting out “Boring!” It is pretty bad when members think they can keep that up over and over again to the extent that at this end of the House we cannot even hear the answer or the question.

Gerry Brownlee: I want to assure the right honourable member we were not referring to him as being boring.

Madam SPEAKER: That was an unhelpful comment. It is impossible to hear, and just because some members may not wish to listen to the question or the answer, that does not mean other members in the House do not have a right to do so. However, I hope the Minister has concluded—

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: There are about two more sentences.

Madam SPEAKER: I ask him to conclude very succinctly.

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: The first point, as I indicated, was that the report indicated that the question of whether the National Party would continue employer contributions was not answered, and—

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Where’s the responsibility?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I receive reports, and it appears that no one else takes responsibility for National Party policy.

Gerry Brownlee: Table the report!

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I am happy to table the Minister of Finance’s press statement. I am very, very happy to table the report that I received from the Minister of Finance. The other point—and I am getting to it—is that John Key indicated that the level of the employer contribution would be similar to the level now; that is, 1 percent. That would rip $27 a week off the average worker in 2011.

Su’a William Sio: What further reports has he seen on labour relations?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I have seen a further report that announces a 90-day probationary period. That means an “at will” employment policy would apply in New Zealand. For example, a headhunted executive might obtain a visa, move to New Zealand, shift his or her family here, and then be told to ship out after a couple of weeks. Or an employee, as was pointed out by Peter Brown to that conference yesterday, who is sexually harassed in the workplace and takes a personal grievance could then be dismissed without that employee having any rights of appeal at all. That is the policy promoted by Kate Wilkinson yesterday.

/NR/rdonlyres/0D809C5A-783D-4FDA-B776-F96FBA62B225/84754/48HansQ_20080528_00000488_.pdfFull transcript of Questions for Oral Answer for Wednesday, 28 May 2008 [PDF 197k]

9. Work and Income—Doctor-bullying

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

9. JUDITH COLLINS (National—Clevedon) to the Minister for Social Development and Employment: Does she agree with Work and Income principal health adviser David Bratt that the department was very aware of doctor-bullying, and that “It regularly gets brought to our attention”; if not, why not?

Hon DARREN HUGHES (Associate Minister of Social Development and Employment) on behalf of the Minister for Social Development and Employment: Bullying of doctors is unacceptable whatever the circumstances. Work and Income actively encourages any doctors experiencing any issues with beneficiary clients to talk to it so that they can work together towards a solution. Close working relationships between Work and Income and local doctors are absolutely essential, and that is why every region of New Zealand, from a Work and Income point of view, has a dedicated person whose job is to support general practitioners in the community.

Judith Collins: Can the Minister explain why a principal health adviser at Work and Income has confirmed that the department is very aware of doctor-bullying and that it is regularly brought to its attention, when in September of last year her predecessor told my office and the Office of the Ombudsman that it could find no evidence of doctors being bullied, and that there was no evidence of doctors being put under pressure to sign off people for sickness benefits?

Hon DARREN HUGHES: I guess it is because in recent times there has been a much greater level of engagement between Work and Income and general practitioners and their representative organisations to work on this issue of how we move more people who are on sickness and invalids benefits at the present time back into the workforce. That is why, I suspect, he would have answered in that way—because there is a much greater level of dialogue now to try to resolve this issue.

Lesley Soper: Who is responsible for deciding whether a person is eligible on medical grounds for a sickness benefit?

Hon DARREN HUGHES: The answer to that question is doctors. Work and Income case managers have no medical training, and should never try to determine whether a person is too sick to work. Doctors are the only people who can test eligibility for a sickness benefit. We rely on their skills to make that assessment, and it is very important that they are supported appropriately to make that professional judgment.

Judith Collins: Can the Minister explain why her predecessor claimed that a search of the ministry’s correspondence from January 2006 through to June 2007 found no evidence of doctors expressing concern over being pressured to sign people off for sickness benefits, yet today we have the principal health adviser claiming that such concerns regularly get brought to the ministry’s attention?

Hon DARREN HUGHES: From my understanding of it, the member’s request referred to letters of complaint and correspondence from doctors about their feeling bullied, and when that request was put through the system no actual letters were found. We have been having conversations, obviously, with general practitioners—

Hon Bill English: Ha, ha!

Hon DARREN HUGHES: I tell Mr English that it is not a laughing matter; it is a question of engagement with the sector. It is very important that we do that to try to help people. What has happened in that regard is that the information is now available. The quote that the member gave from the principal health adviser at Work and Income related to a specific locum who had raised concerns about what he had experienced at a place where he had been doing some work; it was not a comprehensive report, which is what the member referred to.

Judith Collins: Does the Minister agree that doctors and medical groups have repeatedly said they are under pressure to sign off able-bodied people for the sickness benefit; and now that her department has also finally admitted that, will she commit to releasing the information that her predecessor claimed did not exist?

Hon DARREN HUGHES: Able-bodied people should not be signed off for a sickness benefit. General practitioners are given responsibility for that matter; they make their professional medical decisions on it. We have been working with them to give more clarity around the issue of medical certificates. Since 2005 we have encouraged general practitioners to get a second opinion if they are not happy. In the case of bullying, which the member has mentioned, the second or third question on the form that general practitioners are asked to fill out specifically asks whether they are the best person to make the decision, and whether a second opinion should be sought from a specialist. Next month we will be releasing a handbook to assist general practitioners in making decisions about whether people are too sick to work.

Judith Collins: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I do not believe that the Minister addressed the issue as to whether the Minister for Social Development and Employment will release the information that her predecessor claimed did not exist.

Madam SPEAKER: I thought the Minister did actually address the question quite fully.

Judith Collins: Is it not true that the doctor referred to in the Dominion Post today is just the latest in a long line of doctors to claim that they have been pressured into signing people off for sickness benefits; and now that the Minister’s department has finally admitted it, will she commit to reviewing the assessment process for sickness and invalids beneficiaries in order to prevent it from happening?

Hon DARREN HUGHES: Taking the last point first, I have already said that we have a new handbook for general practitioners—it will be released, hopefully, by the end of next month—that will assist in that regard. But I do not accept her assertion that a long line of general practitioners are lining up to say that. The general practitioner featured in the Dominion Post is a locum who worked temporarily in the town of Levin, in my constituency, who claims that people were being shifted from the unemployment benefit to the sickness benefit. The National Party claimed that it was a case of deckchairs being moved around. The truth is that since Labour has been in Government 1,109 fewer people in the town of Levin are on the unemployment benefit, and only 39 more people are on the sickness benefit. So that claim is wrong by a factor of 30. I am proud of that record.

Judith Collins: Does she agree with Work and Income’s principal healthadviser that Work and Income needs more training in this area; and does that admission confirm that the concerns that I and others have raised over the years were actually well founded?

Hon DARREN HUGHES: The answer is no to the second point, because the member continues to say that unemployment has not fallen in New Zealand—that we have just moved people from the unemployment benefit to sickness benefits and invalids benefits. That is not true. There are more people in work today and fewer people on the dole. But there is always a need for more training. This area is increasingly an area of focus for the Government. Now that we have been able to reduce unemployment down to less than 19,000, we are focused on how we can assist people on sickness benefits and invalids benefits to get back into work, and how we can support them by providing the wrap-around services that they need. Of course, there is a need for increased training to make sure we are doing the right thing by people in the community. I look forward to the member’s support for our new handbook.

Judith Collins: I seek leave, following the challenge from the Minister, to table “Benefit scam—doctors accuse Winz” from the New Zealand Herald of 26 July 2004.

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

Judith Collins: I seek leave to table a letter from the Hon Steve Maharey dated 27 September 2007, which states that there is no correspondence.

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

/NR/rdonlyres/0421EC42-0E8B-4B3F-8909-7685336314AE/84756/48HansQ_20080528_00000550_.pdfFull transcript of Questions for Oral Answer for Wednesday, 28 May 2008 [PDF 197k]

10. Emissions Trading Scheme—Support

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

10. Hon MARIAN HOBBS (Labour—Wellington Central) to the Minister responsible for Climate Change Issues: What reports has he received on support for the emissions trading scheme?

Hon DAVID PARKER (Minister responsible for Climate Change Issues) : The Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment says that the emissions trading scheme bill must proceed and that there is no reason to delay it, the Wind Energy Association says that delay risks deterring investment in electricity generation, the Council of Trade Unions says that it is time for industry to step up to the plate on climate change, and the Sunday Star-Times says that it is vital that the emissions trading scheme goes ahead, but still National says delay.

Hon Marian Hobbs: What reports has the Minister seen of people who said that they supported the emissions trading scheme but who have now flip-flopped?

Hon DAVID PARKER: I have seen an item in Carbon News where Nick Smith stated that National will not vote for the emissions trading scheme, even if National gets all of its so-called key principles into the legislation. National has now admitted that it had no intention of supporting this scheme, and its so-called key principles are exposed as key excuses. It seems that the rumours are true—National is making policy according to the way the wind blows, as we have seen this week on KiwiSaver.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Can the Minister confirm that he intends to push the emissions trading scheme bill through Parliament without resolving the very basic and fundamental issue as to whether processors or farmers will be responsible for agriculture emissions because it is this Government’s political objective to get this bill passed so that it can have some great Helen Clark legacy, rather than actually delivering an emissions trading system that will work, and that that is the Government’s greater priority?

Hon DAVID PARKER: I expect that the legislation, when it comes back to the House, will have as its default position the existing position in the bill, which has the point of obligation being the agricultural sector. However, there are some who say that the point of obligation, if it can be practically done, is better at the farm level. Therefore, the bill will allow that decision to be changed between now and about 2010, should—[Interruption] No, not at all. The default position can be changed. That does not mean to say that the legislation is not fit to proceed.

Hon Peter Dunne: Has the Minister seen reports that Horticulture New Zealand advised the select committee this morning that the regime as currently planned would impose an additional $40 million cost on the industry, presumably to be borne by consumers, and has he seen the report that Meat New Zealand last week advised the select committee that it expected the regime to increase meat prices by 180 percent; if he has seen those reports, can he advise the House how New Zealand households will be compensated for those increased costs?

Hon DAVID PARKER: I will deal with the latter of those two matters. That suggestion is so nonsensical that the people should be pilloried who turned up to the select committee and said it. We are told week after week, month after month, and year after year that New Zealand food prices for export commodities are set by the export commodity price, because that is what drives price as that is where most of the product goes. It just defies logic that anyone can then turn up to a select committee and say that that will all of a sudden be different because of an emissions trading scheme, and that food prices in New Zealand will double.

Hon Peter Dunne: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. My question was in two parts; the second part related to compensation. The Minister said he would deal with the second part, and then proceeded not to.

Madam SPEAKER: Normally, Ministers are obliged to answer only one supplementary question, but if the Minister wishes to add anything he can do so.

Hon DAVID PARKER: I replied to the second of three parts that were contained in the question. In terms of compensation issues, as the Prime Minister has already said, issues relating to compensation for households relating to electricity prices are under consideration.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: I seek leave to table the complete statement that was made to Carbon News, which was consistent with John Key’s speech on the emissions trading scheme, and that was that the—

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

Hon DAVID PARKER: It appears there might be two documents, so I seek leave to table the one that states that National will not vote to pass the legislation, even if its six key demands are—

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

/NR/rdonlyres/B1E38A3A-0C96-4D97-B1B5-FC52CF5ED0EA/84758/48HansQ_20080528_00000677_.pdfFull transcript of Questions for Oral Answer for Wednesday, 28 May 2008 [PDF 197k]

11. Longitudinal Immigration Survey—Results

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

11. H V ROSS ROBERTSON (Labour—Manukau East) to the Minister of Statistics: Has he received the results of the Longitudinal Immigration Survey?

Hon DARREN HUGHES (Minister of Statistics) : Yes, I have. The Longitudinal Immigration Survey interviewed over 7,000 migrants. The survey is being conducted in three waves. The first wave contains information from interviews with migrants conducted 6 months after they took up permanent residence, and the second and third wave interviews will take place 1 year and 3 years later.

H V Ross Robertson: What were the key findings about the reasons that migrants chose New Zealand as their home?

Hon DARREN HUGHES: I am very pleased to tell the House that 93 percent of respondents were either satisfied or very satisfied with their decision to make their home in New Zealand. The most common reasons that permanent migrants chose our country as their new home were the relaxed pace of lifestyle, followed by the climate and the clean, green environment, and the desire to provide a better future for their children. The survey also reported the relative ease of finding employment. This Labour-led Government is planning for the future, and is committed to New Zealand being a great place to live for all our people.

/NR/rdonlyres/719D6912-474D-4EE4-A5AD-9265C5BB0BEA/84760/48HansQ_20080528_00000729_.pdfFull transcript of Questions for Oral Answer for Wednesday, 28 May 2008 [PDF 197k]

12. Television New Zealand—Charter Funding

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

12. Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN (National—Northcote) to the Minister of Broadcasting: Why is he proposing to remove Television New Zealand’s control of funding under the Television New Zealand charter?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Minister of Broadcasting) : Because I expect results, so I expect added value from all of the funding. I want to ensure that the use of funding is appropriate, and I want to see charter-supported programmes being aired at appropriate times. Charter funding is expressly for the airing of programmes that would otherwise not be shown commercially. If a company gets something in a competitive tender, it would in any event be shown on free-to-air television, so subsidising programmes from charter funding does not add value to the television that Kiwis get.

Dr Jonathan Coleman: How did the Minister let a situation arise where the charter money that Labour told us would deliver more non-commercial local public broadcasting content could be misused by Television New Zealand (TVNZ) to buy coverage rights to the Olympics; and how can the public have any confidence in a Minister who says that taxpayer money will be used for one thing, but then it gets blown on another?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I had not indicated that. I was not party to the previous memorandum.

Darien Fenton: What other funding decisions have already been made in the broadcasting portfolio recently?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I announced that Radio New Zealand will receive $10.9 million extra over 4 years, in addition to its $29 million annual baseline funding to maintain its core services. Additional funding recognises the broadcaster’s significant and successful public service role domestically and internationally, with its Internet service. This Labour-led Government continues to invest in the arts, culture and heritage, and broadcasting, because they all contribute to the expression of the unique national identity of New Zealand, even if Tories hate them.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I wonder whether the Minister can smoke out the answer to this question. Is TVNZ still funding Botox and other such beauty treatments for its on-screen staff, and given the evident lack of success of such treatment, will he assure us that TVNZ will not waste any more money attempting to perform miracles?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I do not know any of the operational detail of Botox and its use, but I understand that there is a member on the front bench of the National Party with whom he could consult about it.

Hone Harawira: Kia ora, Madam Speaker. What concrete plans does TVNZ have in place to consult with the wider Māori community on how best to reflect Māori interests in the proposed new TVNZ charter, given the fact that no consultation was undertaken with the wider Māori community in the appointment of the kaihautū position, no consultation was undertaken with the wider Māori community in the decision to move its premier Māori news programme to midnight, and no consultation was undertaken with the wider Māori community in the decision to move Te Karere to its current slot?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I think the member is being slightly less than generous about the changes in the general Māori broadcasting area under this Government. I think there has been a significant and magnificent change. TVNZ does not always get it right, but I remind the member, because he clearly does not watch, that the latest change has actually been a positive one.

Dr Jonathan Coleman: Why is it that despite the public having been promised more local content on TVNZ as a result of the charter, the total number of hours of local content on TVNZ dropped by nearly 900 hours—from 5,800 hours in the year before the charter, to 4,900 hours last year?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: Total local content hours have increased to 10,784. It is important that New Zealand children have access to quality New Zealand programmes, and I am pleased that there has been a 52-hour increase for them. The point I want to make to members is that local programming is nearly double what it was in 1999, but at that point National was attempting to sell TVNZ.

Dr Jonathan Coleman: How is content screened by TVNZ different now, compared with before the charter, and how will it be different again after the latest charter review; and if the Minister cannot tell us that there is a real difference, does he realise that that is the final confirmation that the centrepiece of this Government’s broadcasting policy has been a failure?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I think it is fair to say that since the charter, there has been some improvement, but not enough. After these changes, I expect, as a result of programme by programme approvals, that it will continue to improve. And it should improve, because $15 million is a significant investment.

Hone Harawira: Has the Minister seen the comments in the New Zealand Herald article entitled “Haere ra to Maori funding?”—and I quote: “Maori programming has always been on the back-burner at TVNZ.”—and other criticisms describing the newly appointed kaihautū position and other Television New Zealand initiatives as being a “mudguard policy. It’s all shiny on the outside and crap underneath.”; and what confidence does such feedback give him that Television New Zealand actually understands its charter requirements to reflect Māori interests, is able to meet those charter requirements, or, indeed, even wants to?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: No.

Dr Jonathan Coleman: Which Minister is actually responsible for monitoring the performance of TVNZ against charter objectives; and does this Minister realise that the decision to remove control of charter funding from TVNZ goes to show that the responsible Ministers have not been holding TVNZ to its charter obligations for the past 5 years?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I am; I am not satisfied that the company has acted satisfactorily and I have changed it.

Dr Jonathan Coleman: Has TVNZ previously been able to account fully for use of charter money in a way that meets the expectations of the Minister and his predecessors; if not, what have successive Ministers done about it?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: My predecessor entered into a memorandum of understanding with TVNZ. I am not satisfied that that is tight enough.

ENDS


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