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Questions And Answers – Thursday, 29 May 2008

Questions And Answers – Thursday, 29 May 2008

1. Carbon Neutrality and Sustainability—Goals

1. JEANETTE FITZSIMONS (Co-Leader—Green) to the Prime Minister: Does she still aspire for New Zealand to be carbon neutral and “the first nation to be truly sustainable”, as she said in her statement to the House in February last year?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Deputy Prime Minister) on behalf of the Prime Minister: Yes.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: Why, then, was there no mention at all of carbon neutrality in either her speech on the Budget, or the Budget speech made by the Minister of Finance last week, in contrast to the numerous mentions by both of them of tax cuts?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The Minister of Finance’s excellent speech referred on a number of occasions to sustainability issues, including some excellent initiatives that have been agreed between the Government and the Green Party.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: How is it credible for her to maintain the façade of carbon neutrality, and world leadership in sustainability, when during the last 9 years emissions have increased by 14 percent, one of the highest rates in the developed world; when 75 percent of new electricity generation built has actually been thermal, resulting in the largest drop in the proportion of renewables of any Government in New Zealand history; and when the last 4 years has seen a massive loss of forest area and the first years of deforestation since records began in 1951?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: As the New Zealand economy has grown faster than almost any other developed world economy over the last 8½ years, it is not surprising that the emissions have grown, Of course, one of the reasons for wanting to see the emissions trading scheme in operation as soon as possible is to start reducing that growth in emissions, and, indeed, to reduce emissions over the longer term. Some of the thermal new build, of course, was to retire existing thermal capacity. I well recall the National Party calling on many occasions to accelerate the building of thermal power stations in the past—Mr Gerry Brownlee most certainly did—in order to ensure security of supply. In 2008, of course, there has been a very significant drop in the rate of deforestation because of the emissions trading legislation, which is due to come into force in the forestry sector, back-dated to 1 January.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: While it is significant that in the Minister’s answer he claimed as the Government’s contribution to sustainability only those things that have been put forward by the Green Party, how can the Prime Minister continue to say that she is committed to carbon neutrality, when earlier this month she further delayed cows, cars, and coal having to pay for their emissions, leaving the taxpayer to pick up the bill and for the climate to suffer?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: To correct the member—and I do not want to appear crotchety on these matters—I did not say in my answer that all the sustainability issues were those from the Green Party. Indeed, it is fair to say that the initiative around the buy-back of the rail system was very much one of the Minister of Finance’s, but he is too modest to say that himself. On those other matters, it is clear that there are pressures around petrol prices. Consumers are very worried about that. Petrol prices have doubled in the last 6 years at the pump, and that is already achieving significant gains. One might note recent reports, for example, about people buying smaller cars rather than larger cars, and reducing their consumption in that regard.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: How can the Prime Minister claim to be committed to sustainability, let alone our being the first sustainable nation in the world, when the Department of Conservation has just sacked 60 staff, greenhouse gas emissions have continued to rise, water quality of our rivers and streams is often not safe for kids to swim in—and is getting worse—the Government takes pride in its largest road-building programme that this country has ever seen, Hector’s dolphins waiver on the edge of extinction, no preparations have been made for an end to cheap oil, and the gap between the rich and the poor in this country has widened, undermining our sense of community and our commitment to the common good; is this what she meant by “truly sustainable”?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: No, not at all. Indeed, the member is wrong. In the more recent measures around the gap between rich and poor, the surveys that were done discount most of the recent moves around Working for Families, for example, and do not take those properly into account. In the case of the Department of Conservation, it outspent its budget. It failed to control properly its expenditure. It does not get rewarded for that by increased spending to continue to maintain the levels at which it was overspending. That is not sustainable Government spending.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: Given that the Prime Minister said last year that sustainability and climate change have become the compelling issues of our times, can we take it that her Government’s abandonment of those issues illustrates that for her Government this time is now up and it is no longer fashionable?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I realise that we are starting to approach the election period, when a great deal of political positioning begins to take place, but a Government that is supporting the Waste Minimisation (Solids) Bill in the name of Mr Nandor Tanczos, a Government that is attempting to pass the Climate Change (Emissions Trading and Renewable Preference) Bill, a Government that has bought back the rail system, in part for environmental reasons, and a Government that has a Water Programme of Action, has not abandoned sustainability. We will never meet the high standards of the member in that regard, because I have a suspicion that they would be like Sir Roger Douglas’ standards in economic growth—if one met them, they would change upwards yet again.

/NR/rdonlyres/D80D9926-7A67-4755-A34D-11887B4F699B/84800/48HansQ_20080529_00000048_.pdfFull transcript of Questions for Oral Answer for Thursday, 29 May 2008 [PDF 188k]

2. Election Advertising—Publicity

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

2. Hon BILL ENGLISH (Deputy Leader—National) to the Minister of Justice: Is it Government policy that publicity may count as an election advertisement if it refers to views, positions, or policies that are or are not held, taken, or pursued, whether or not the name of a political party is stated; if so, why?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Leader of the House) on behalf of the Minister of Justice: It is the Government’s policy to abide by the decisions of the relevant authorities.

Hon Bill English: Can the Minister then confirm the Government’s policy is that, as expressed in the Electoral Finance Act, if a group runs an advertising campaign on an issue relevant to this year’s election and it is one on which political parties hold different opinions, then that group may well have to register with the Electoral Commission as a third party, or run the risk of committing an illegal act?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: As I said, it is the Government’s position to abide by the decisions of the relevant authorities. In that case it would be the Electoral Commission’s decision.

Hon Bill English: Is the Minister aware that the Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union is planning a workers’ rights advertising campaign focused on this year’s election, and can she confirm that if the Electoral Commission refuses to register that union as a third party, then the union’s campaign is likely to be illegal under the Electoral Finance Act?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I am not here to offer legal opinions. The Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union will have to seek its own legal opinion and, indeed, be guided by the opinions of the Electoral Commission. I am sure that union will obey the law; if it does not, then the law, of course, will follow through in its consequences.

Hon Bill English: Why is the Minister so sure the Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union will follow the law, when statements made by the general secretary of that union and Labour Party councillor Andrew Little say that regardless of whether the union is registered as a third party, it will carry out a campaign, and when, according to the law, it is quite likely the campaign would be illegal if the union is not registered as a third party?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The member would do well to listen to my answer. I said if the Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union does not obey the law, then the law will follow through in terms of its consequences. The Government will certainly not interfere in those matters.

Hon Bill English: Is the Minister aware that if David Benson-Pope stands as an Independent in Dunedin South, as widely reported today, then the Electoral Finance Act would prevent him from putting out publicity that states: “Vote for me, but give Labour your party vote.”, unless his publicity is authorised by the Labour Party?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I am confident that that situation will not arise.

Hon Bill English: Would the Labour Party be willing to authorise David Benson-Pope’s publicity, if it states: “Vote Labour on the party list, and vote for me as an Independent.”?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I am perfectly happy to answer the question, but there is an issue of principle here. The Minister of Justice is not responsible for the Labour Party, even though, of course, the Labour Party is responsible for justice.

Madam SPEAKER: Yes, that is correct. Maybe the member would like to recast his question.

Hon Bill English: Sorry, Madam Speaker. I did not hear what the problem was.

Madam SPEAKER: The problem is quite simply, as you should have heard, Mr English—and if people would keep their comments down, then everyone could hear—is that the question was not within ministerial responsibility.

Hon Bill English: Has the Minister reflected on the possibilities that Labour has passed an Electoral Finance Act that would stop the Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union from running a workers’ rights campaign, something that anyone would expect that union to be able to do in a democracy—and it is probably not pleased about that—and that the Act would almost certainly stop David Benson-Pope from campaigning for the Labour vote if he was an Independent, which, I suppose, the Labour Party would be pleased about?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I am grateful to the member for making it clear that, in his view, if the Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union runs a programme on workers’ rights, that is a campaign on behalf of the Labour Party and against the National Party. [Interruption]

Hon Bill English: Well, that is what they are saying. How does the Electoral Finance Act promote participation in democracy, as it claims to do in its purpose section, when 6 months before an election and almost halfway through the regulated period the Electoral Commission, which the Minister referred to as the body that is meant to make the decisions, says that the definition of an election advertisement is “a large grey area”, and that anyone who wants to have an opinion about an issue in an election year had better get a lawyer first?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The member has been around politics long enough to know that every party has always had to use lawyers to interpret what is appropriate in terms of advertising expenditure. In the past, under the Electoral Act there have been many cases after elections that have depended upon those legal interpretations. What we can say about the Electoral Finance Act in that regard is that it prevents people from trying to buy an election. Indeed, I call upon the Green Party to support the fact that it has reduced visual pollution this time compared with that in the last election period.

/NR/rdonlyres/89B7EE8E-6572-4074-A0CE-4FB12595CCA5/84802/48HansQ_20080529_00000108_.pdfFull transcript of Questions for Oral Answer for Thursday, 29 May 2008 [PDF 188k]

3. Digital Development—Initiatives

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

3. Hon PAUL SWAIN (Labour—Rimutaka) to the Minister for Communications and Information Technology: What reports has he received on new initiatives for digital development?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE (Minister for Communications and Information Technology) : I have received a report from the Independent Financial Review saying “… it was no surprise to see a more sensible plan than National’s to push broadband in last week’s Budget.” The Labour-led Government’s plan includes a $500 million - plus starting 5-year investment in a 10-year vision of delivering fibre or fast bandwidth to the home, the refreshed Digital Strategy 2.0, and today’s announcement of the Digital Development Council.

Hon Paul Swain: Given that I am a former Minister, I should know the answer to this: what other reports has the Minister seen on the alternative plans for digital development in New Zealand?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: The former Minister should be forgiven—there are so many. I have seen one recently that says that National’s plan is “widely dismissed” in the telecommunications sector. Quite simply, National has not contributed at all to the national debate that has reshaped the telecommunications sector in the 9 years that it has been in Opposition. Its naivety and ignorance shows.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: What conclusions has the Minister reached in respect to the policy of allowing a monopoly like that of Telecom, which has price gouged New Zealand businesses and consumers for the last 18 years without competition, despite the fact that Treasury recommended back in 1998 that there be serious competition to Telecom, and which, further, has put $1 million into the National Party’s account? What would be wrong with allowing that company to have a monopoly? [Interruption] Oh yes, they did.

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: The member makes an important point that the lessons of history appear to be slowly learnt and quickly forgotten.

/NR/rdonlyres/50012073-1F1E-491A-B2D3-CC4E0AE4EFA6/84804/48HansQ_20080529_00000183_.pdfFull transcript of Questions for Oral Answer for Thursday, 29 May 2008 [PDF 188k]

4. Immigration Service—Corruption Cases

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

4. GERRY BROWNLEE (National—Ilam) to the Minister of Immigration: Does he stand by his statement to the House yesterday that “there have been no substantiated cases of corruption in the Immigration Service since 2002-03”?

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

Gerry Brownlee: Is he then saying that the Auditor-General got it wrong when he found cases of fraud identified in 2005-06 and reported to this House in 2006?

Hon SHANE JONES: No; Audit New Zealand in its annual financial review did refer to the existence of fraud cases.

Gerry Brownlee: Could the Minister explain how he expects New Zealanders to believe anything he says if a Minister is prepared to stand in the House on one day and in a very pious fashion say there were no cases of fraud other than those in 2002-03, but a Minister then comes in the next day and says that the following year the Auditor-General found cases, which he mentioned in his report, and he was right; perhaps he would also like to explain why the then Minister, the Hon David Cunliffe, a man widely believed to be running the show, signed out over two dozen letters outlining fraud in 2007?

Hon SHANE JONES: I reiterate my earlier answer: there have not been any substantiated cases of corruption.

Gerry Brownlee: Would the Minister like to take the time to explain to the House what he sees as being the difference between fraud and corruption?

Hon SHANE JONES: I would invite the member to consult the dictionary over there. There are no substantiated examples of corruption. The department, with its internal robust processes, has uncovered wrongdoing, and there do exist small matters of fraud.

Gerry Brownlee: Does the Minister stand by the statement that the Minister of Immigration, David Cunliffe, did not know of serious misconduct and corruption within the Pacific division, even though the Residence Review Board publicly released multiple reports in June and September last year saying the Pacific division was repeatedly breaching the principles of natural justice, administrative fairness, and so on; if so, if the Minister was aware of all this evidence—or was not aware of all that evidence—what was he doing during his period as Minister, or was he simply doing nothing and, far from running the show, just ignoring the show?

Hon SHANE JONES: I repeat again, one, there are no substantiated examples of corruption and, two, there is an internal robust investigation process located in the corporate division of the Department of Labour; and if the member has any other concerns, I would alert him to the fact that the Pacific division is going through a review.

Gerry Brownlee: Does the Minister feel a little bit set up in having to put the incredible proposition that Ministers of Immigration were unaware of the problems within the Pacific division of the Immigration Service after the Auditor-General had explicitly highlighted the problem, the Residence Review Board had publicly released details of widespread, repeated wrongdoing, his own chief executive had launched an independent inquiry into illegal decision-making involving the head of the Immigration Service, and Ministers had signed off over 40 written questions detailing the size of the problem, and all of that in less than 1 year; so why should New Zealanders believe him any more than they believe the other two Ministers in this case?

Hon SHANE JONES: A welter of claims have been made there by Mr Brownlee. There are four reviews or investigations—tahi, rua, toru, whā. That ought to be enough for Mr Brownlee and the rest of New Zealand.

Hon Dover Samuels: How about a Māori lesson?

Gerry Brownlee: No, the poor fellow is the fall guy sent out there. It is surprising to us that Michael Cullen did not answer the question today, but I think we know why. Is not the Government spin on these immigration scandals just that, with Ministers claiming they cannot be involved, they cannot know, and they cannot ask questions because all these were simply employment matters—yet yesterday we had the Prime Minister, the Minister of Housing, and the Minister of State Services all piling into the Housing New Zealand Corporation and even suggesting that the chief executive should have her pay docked?

Hon SHANE JONES: For the benefit of the House, I say that one, in the year 2007, in April, independent investigators were called in and they concluded that the processes in the Department of Labour to uncover wrongdoing were at the upper end of good practice in the State sector; two, there are a wide range of claims, and no doubt they will all be exhaustively looked into in the many reviews under way.

/NR/rdonlyres/AE82BA8A-840C-49FA-A983-36E610893E8B/84806/48HansQ_20080529_00000219_.pdfFull transcript of Questions for Oral Answer for Thursday, 29 May 2008 [PDF 188k]

5. Meridian Energy—Mill Creek Project

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

5. Hon PETER DUNNE (Leader—United Future) to the Minister for State Owned Enterprises: Does he consider the publication How to make a submission in support of Project Mill Creek, a brochure prepared by Meridian Energy advising people how to make submissions supporting its plans for a wind farm in Ōhāriu Valley, to be appropriate behaviour by a State-owned enterprise; if so, why?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Minister for State Owned Enterprises) : The decision to release the publication is an operational issue that was taken by the board of Meridian Energy. I do expect Meridian Energy to comply with the Resource Management Act 1991, and the State-Owned Enterprises Act 1986, and I am advised that the brochure does not contravene either of those Acts.

Hon Peter Dunne: Does the Minister consider it acceptable that a State-owned enterprise should be using public funds to attempt to inflate the number of favourable submissions on its cause, to then influence the course of a resource consent process being carried out by the Wellington City Council?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: Inviting people who are supportive to have their say in an appropriate manner is an advantage to democracy, not something that is wrong.

Gerry Brownlee: Can the Minister confirm that Meridian Energy has had to have recourse to this particular action because it cannot trust the Resource Management Act to deliver it the opportunity to contribute to the Government’s very ambitious renewable energy target, and that had the Government taken steps to ensure that the Resource Management Act was reformed to make renewable energy a greater priority, then this sort of action might not need to be taken?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: That decision was made in about 2005 and legislated for at that point. My understanding is that in Meridian Energy’s experience, every application it has made has been approved.

Hon Marian Hobbs: Has the Minister seen any reports about State-owned enterprises and their responsibilities to the communities they operate in?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: Yes, I have. I have seen a report from last year that the Hon Bill English would like to sell the companies, whereas a report from John Key this year stated that he would sell only the assets. In fact, I understand that he has recently been discussing sale and lease-back arrangements with Australian financiers for State-owned enterprise—

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Labour did that with Transpower.

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: Well, I say to Dr Smith that some of us can understand the difference between a lease and lease-back, and a sale and lease-back.

Hon Peter Dunne: Does the Minister’s answer to my earlier supplementary question mean that it is now, in his view, perfectly appropriate for any State-owned enterprise to use taxpayers’ money to go out and campaign for a cause that it sees as important, even though there might be substantive public opposition; if so, where does he draw the line in terms of what is acceptable and what is seeking to influence the course of a particular regulatory decision?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: As Minister for State Owned Enterprises I am very reluctant to intervene in operational decisions of this sort made by State-owned enterprises. One would have seen that by the repeated evidence from Dr Don Elder attacking the Government, using Solid Energy money.

Hon Peter Dunne: I seek leave to table the document How to make a submission in support of Project Mill Creek.

 Leave granted.

/NR/rdonlyres/ECF9F503-51CB-42A1-8D34-5A9950F5F78E/84808/48HansQ_20080529_00000286_.pdfFull transcript of Questions for Oral Answer for Thursday, 29 May 2008 [PDF 188k]

6. Housing New Zealand Corporation—Conference Venues

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

6. PHIL HEATLEY (National—Whangarei) to the Minister of Housing: Where were the Housing New Zealand Corporation conference venues each year between 2000 and 2008, excluding the conferences at the Hotel and Spa du Vin in 2003 and at the luxury Tongariro Lodge earlier this month?

Hon MARYAN STREET (Minister of Housing) : The Housing New Zealand Corporation has advised me that the property improvement team has held six annual conferences since its formation in 2002. These conferences have been held at either the Millennium Hotel Rotorua and Blue Baths, or the Huka Village in Taupō—not Huka Lodge.

Phil Heatley: Why, under Labour’s watch, have successive housing Ministers allowed conferences to be held at luxury venues year in and year out, given Helen Clark’s 1999 pledge that “Labour will be a very careful custodian of taxpayers’ money—no more squandering public money on luxury resorts.”?

Hon MARYAN STREET: I have written to the board chairperson, who has replied to me with the following assurance: “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: Did the Minister get advice from the Prime Minister not to defend the Tongariro Lodge conference before Tuesday’s question time or after Tuesday’s question time; if before, why did she ignore that advice?

Hon MARYAN STREET: I have been the beneficiary of the Prime Minister’s advice before, during, and after.

Phil Heatley: Did the Minister get advice from the Prime Minister not to defend the Tongariro Lodge conference before Tuesday’s question time—before Tuesday’s question time?

Hon MARYAN STREET: I received the Prime Minister’s advice before, during, and after.

Phil Heatley: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I actually used up two questions there with a specific question: “Did the Minister get advice … to defend the Tongariro Lodge conference”—to defend it—“before Tuesday’s question time?”. She talked about advice about it—

Madam SPEAKER: No, I am sorry; I listened very carefully, because the member constantly questions whether Ministers respond to questions correctly. I take special notice, and the Minister addressed the question.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Did the advice that the Minister received from the Prime Minister resemble the advice that was given to Kate Wilkinson—say no to compulsion before and during the meeting, and say yes to it after it?

Madam SPEAKER: Well, the Minister has no responsibility for the National Party. She can address the question as it relates to housing.

Hon MARYAN STREET: The Prime Minister’s advice to me has been consistent throughout.

Phil Heatley: Why should the chief executive be the only person to have her pay docked for running a conference that, only 2 days ago, the Minister was “all for”; and why should she be made a scapegoat for waste that successive housing Ministers have overseen?

Hon MARYAN STREET: The treatment of the chief executive is a matter for the board.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Given that successive housing Ministers have been put at issue here, why did the Prime Minister make that statement back in 1999; and what was the record for the previous 9 years in respect of the competence of the Housing New Zealand Corporation?

Madam SPEAKER: No, there is no responsibility for what the Prime Minister does, but there certainly is in terms of the Housing New Zealand Corporation’s previous practice. So the Minister may address that part.

Hon MARYAN STREET: I have sought comprehensive information about the Housing New Zealand Corporation’s conference bills. I can say to that member that, as Audrey Young put it in the New Zealand Herald the other day, this conference is “in the shade” compared with Christine Rankin’s price tag of $235,000 for a conference held under the National Party’s watch.

Phil Heatley: In light of that, why has the chief executive conceded that there has been “a pattern” of inappropriate venues, when Helen Clark’s 1999 pledge card railed against a “culture of waste and extravagance”; or is that pattern and culture alive and well under this Government after 9 years?

Hon MARYAN STREET: I have sought an assurance from the board chair that there will be no repeat of use of high-profile venues, and I have been given that assurance.

Rodney Hide: Does the Minister defend the use of taxpayers’ money for staff on these annual conference trips to take luge rides, riverboat trips, and “luxury” lunches, and, indeed, to have a supply of gambling chips for the casino; if she does not defend it, what has changed since Tuesday?

Hon MARYAN STREET: I will not condone or defend any inappropriate behaviour by staff. This is a matter for the chief executive to deal with.

Phil Heatley: I seek leave to table the New Zealand Herald article that reports that Housing New Zealand Corporation staff take a trip to a plush venue every year.

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

Phil Heatley: I seek leave to table the quote from the Housing New Zealand Corporation’s chief executive that “A pattern has developed.”

Madam SPEAKER: Well, where did it come from?

Phil Heatley: I seek leave to table that quote from a New Zealand Press Association report.

Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? Yes, there is. I ask members to please identify the document first. That would help members work out whether to grant leave.

Phil Heatley: I seek leave to table a press release from Helen Clark that states that Labour will drive a culture change, and that the State will lead by example.

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 made in this House by Maryan Street: “… I am all for it.”

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

/NR/rdonlyres/BBC12319-2DE9-45FC-86D8-0A42730E7C6E/84810/48HansQ_20080529_00000344_.pdfFull transcript of Questions for Oral Answer for Thursday, 29 May 2008 [PDF 188k]

7. Marine Energy Projects—Government Assistance

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

7. SUE MORONEY (Labour) to the Minister of Energy: What assistance has the Government provided to marine energy projects in New Zealand?

Hon DAVID PARKER (Minister of Energy) : Wave and tidal power look set to join our already abundant array of renewable electricity resources. Today, the first grant from the Government’s Marine Energy Deployment Fund has been announced. This will cause New Zealand’s first marine electricity generation project to proceed. The grant of $1.85 million to Crest Energy will result in marine electricity generation from turbines in the Kaipara Harbour—another step towards carbon neutrality.

Sue Moroney: What reports has the Minister seen of further interest in developing New Zealand’s wave energy potential?

Hon DAVID PARKER: The Australian company Carnegie Corporation and a Scottish company, Ocean Power Delivery, are separately considering the western coast of New Zealand for testing their wave technologies. Carnegie Corporation is reported as saying it is attracted to New Zealand by the Government’s commitment to renewable energy. Two other New Zealand - designed marine electricity generation devices are also under development. I note that the World Energy Council estimates that wave power from the oceans could produce around twice the world’s current electricity production. Obviously not all wave power could or would be harnessed, but it shows the enormous potential of this new technology.

Gerry Brownlee: Can the Minister tell the House whether wave power electricity generation is providing commercial quantities of electricity anywhere in the world, and, if so, how much; does he think that his commitment to wave power will mean New Zealand’s reliance this year on a broken-down Cook Strait cable and an asbestos-riddled gas plant at New Plymouth will mean the lights will stay on; and will Meridian Energy increase its power prices?

Hon DAVID PARKER: Referring to the first part of the question, I understand that there are commercial-scale marine electricity generation devices being deployed at the moment off Portugal, but that they are still in their infancy. Of course, this Government is bringing forward these technologies through the likes of our development fund. In terms of the member’s question as to the comments that the member made yesterday in respect of spot prices increasing the price of power for residential consumers, the member will probably have seen a report of the comments made today on Radio New Zealand National by Mr Baldwin, the chief executive of Contact Energy, saying the opposite of that.

Peter Brown: Can the Minister confirm that the Australians already have a marine energy generating device working off the coast of Sydney that not only produces electricity but also, as I understand it, converts saltwater into fresh water?

Hon DAVID PARKER: I am not sure whether one is located off Sydney, but I have actually seen one of the tidal devices under development in Australia that can be used for either generating electricity or desalinating water. So yes, the member is absolutely correct.

/NR/rdonlyres/906D16B6-7D2F-419F-8F94-DC8B0D0F3AFE/84812/48HansQ_20080529_00000436_.pdfFull transcript of Questions for Oral Answer for Thursday, 29 May 2008 [PDF 188k]

8. Hospitals—Capacity

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

8. Hon TONY RYALL (National—Bay of Plenty) to the Minister of Health: Has he been informed that “Auckland's public hospitals are so full they could struggle to deal with a major emergency.”, and what action will the Government be taking, if any?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE (Minister of Health) : Yes, I have, and I want to acknowledge all of the hard-working and dedicated staff behind the headline. A number of hospitals are reporting an increase in acute activity. This is why all district health boards have winter plans developed and in place. It is also why the Government is focusing on a number of initiatives at primary care level to reduce patient inflows.

Hon Tony Ryall: Is the Minister aware that Wellington Hospital has announced just now that it is full and has 17 patients on temporary trolleys in its emergency department because there is nowhere for them to go, and that elective surgery is being cancelled; and how will this hospital cope when the winter flu season actually strikes?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: Yes, I am. I am also aware that Wellington Hospital also has an emergency management plan in place.

Louisa Wall: Kia ora, Madam Speaker; tēnā koutou katoa. Does the Government have contingency plans for major emergencies in areas such as Auckland?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: Yes. All district health boards have emergency management plans in place, which are linked into a national health emergency plan led by the Ministry of Health. In May last year the ministry ran a very successful cross-Government pandemic planning exercise. New Zealand is considered to be a world leader in this area.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Does the Minister not realise that there has been an emergency in the public wards of Auckland hospitals for the last decade, in that in some of those wards every patient has a hitherto Third World disease, having themselves come from the Third World; and who on earth is responsible for that?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: I recall that flows of inbound migrants have been relatively consistent across Governments. It is also true that the current Government has clarified for all district health boards that only New Zealand permanent residents, citizens, and temporary residents on work permits for periods greater than 2 years qualify for subsidised health care.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Is the Minister aware that, for example, in Auckland there are whole wards full of patients with tuberculosis, a condition we had thought we were on top of in this country; that those patients in the main got here without any medical check at all and were released early so that they could be “with their people”; that this all happened under the National Government; and that when this was raised with it, it accused the questioners—namely me and my party—of being racist and xenophobic; who is responsible for that?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: Ultimately the public of New Zealand, for electing that party at that time. Let us hope they have learnt from that experience.

Heather Roy: Has the Minister been informed that the bed shortage at Wellington Hospital is so severe that patients have been transferred to local private hospitals following their surgery; and where else are patients being transferred from public to private hospitals?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: This Government takes a pragmatic view of the complementary provision of private health-care services, particularly for elective procedures, where it is important that there is a predictable flow of patients. I understand that is also the policy of the member’s party.

Heather Roy: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. It is very pleasing to hear that the Labour Government has suddenly become very pragmatic, but the Minister failed to answer my question, which asked whether he had been informed that patients were being transferred post-surgery from public to private hospitals, and where else that was happening.

Madam SPEAKER: I think the Minister did address the question.

Barbara Stewart: Is the Minister aware that in August 2007 his ministry’s principal medical adviser said that there was a steadily increasing demand on acute services, and that health services had not changed sufficiently to cope with that; if so, why is it that 10 months later, and with the flu season imminent, nothing seems to have changed in Auckland?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: I am advised that a considerable amount has changed in Auckland and, in particular, in the Waitemata District Health Board, where some 70 new beds have come on stream, or will come on stream before August 2008.

Hon Tony Ryall: Is the Minister aware that the Prime Minister, when in Opposition, said: “We know that winter brings an increase in health problems; it happens every year. But our hospitals must be ready to cope with the problems. It just isn’t good enough to have basic services break down.”, and that she then said that money was the answer; if so, can he explain why, after 9 years of Labour and after doubling the health budget, Labour has not fixed any of these problems?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: Under this Government the health budget has more than doubled in nominal terms. There are more than 4,000 new nurses and more than 2,000 new doctors, and we have completed the largest capital building programme in New Zealand’s health sector history.

Hon Tony Ryall: Is he aware that Helen Clark in Opposition said to Grey Power: “Just over the last week we’ve seen how badly equipped our hospitals are to deal with the basic needs of care. When the winter crop of influenza, bad asthma, and other problems hit last week, our hospitals in many centres just couldn’t cope. Patients were left in armchairs, corridors, operating theatres, and conference rooms because there just weren’t enough beds.”, and after 9 years and $6 billion extra why does an old person who gets sick in Wellington today have to languish on an emergency department trolley?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: It is good to see the member taking such a close interest in the Prime Minister’s every word. The Government has implemented a number of programmes to assist with patient flows during the winter months, including, recently, a nationwide emergency department workshop and initiatives to improve quality and efficiency, and I have emphasised to the sector the importance of regional and national collaboration in strengthening health services.

Hon Tony Ryall: Is the Minister proud that an OECD report on New Zealand’s health workforce says that when it comes to retaining our own doctors in New Zealand, this country is the worst in the OECD?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: The member may also be aware that New Zealand has the highest general diaspora per capita in the OECD, other than Ireland. New Zealanders have always done OEs. Three-quarters come back. There is no change there.

Hon Tony Ryall: Has the Minister yet got the message from Helen Clark, whom he is busy challenging Phil Goff to succeed, that it is now time for him, instead of worrying about Mr Goff’s progress, to worry about the health system in New Zealand, where thousands of people cannot get the care they need because this Government dumps them off hospital waiting lists?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: How nice to have the member back to asking questions. I have been missing him for the last 2 weeks. I suggest that he focus on the issues, rather than on idle surmise about the inner workings of the Government.

/NR/rdonlyres/FDEAC53F-BE9F-41DE-BF34-BBD4F83D9043/84814/48HansQ_20080529_00000479_.pdfFull transcript of Questions for Oral Answer for Thursday, 29 May 2008 [PDF 188k]

9. Viet Nam Veterans—Memorandum of Understanding

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

9. RUSSELL FAIRBROTHER (Labour) to the Minister of Veterans’ Affairs: What is the Government doing to honour its commitments through the memorandum of understanding to Viet Nam veterans?

Hon RICK BARKER (Minister of Veterans’ Affairs) : Yesterday we all heard the Prime Minister deliver the Crown apology to Viet Nam veterans. This weekend is Tribute 08, the commemoration weekend honouring Viet Nam veterans and their families. Of the many other things the Government is doing, I will highlight but one: the free, one-off, comprehensive medical assessment of every single veteran of the Viet Nam War. This is under way now, because the veterans’ health is of paramount concern. These medical checks will provide essential information on the current health status of Viet Nam veterans as a group. I encourage all Viet Nam veterans, healthy or not, to register with Veterans Affairs New Zealand and to take advantage of this one-off offer.

Russell Fairbrother: What ongoing work is the Government involved with so as to improve services to veterans?

Hon RICK BARKER: I will highlight just three. Firstly, the Government has agreed to establish an expert panel to review the scientific evidence on an ongoing basis and make recommendations on the list of prescribed conditions and the level of war disablement pensions. Secondly, the Government has announced the reorganisation of Veterans Affairs as a one-stop shop for veterans. Thirdly, the Government is commencing the rewrite of the War Pensions Act.

/NR/rdonlyres/D287DBBF-8540-4DCD-80A5-EAF5C3110760/84816/48HansQ_20080529_00000582_.pdfFull transcript of Questions for Oral Answer for Thursday, 29 May 2008 [PDF 188k]

10. Non-custodial Sentencing—Effectiveness

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

10. 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 RICK BARKER (Minister of Internal Affairs) on behalf of the Minister of Corrections: Yes. As the Minister stated in answer to this exact question on Tuesday, imprisonment remains the only option for more serious offenders whom the public must be protected from, and those people are serving significantly longer sentences than was the case under the previous National Government. However, where the circumstances of the offences are such that the judge does not regard the offender as posing a significant risk, the judge has the choice of either a short prison sentence or a non-custodial sentence. The risk of offending during non-custodial sentences is sharply reduced by the use of electronic monitoring. Actual absconding or reoffending remains at a low level.

Simon Power: Is it worth saving a prison bed by allowing an alleged paedophile facing 12 child sex charges, including the alleged abduction and rape of a 6-year-old girl, to be released on electronic bail, when he has since been charged with breaching his electronic bail eight times, including by allegedly hosting two children’s birthday parties for boys under 3 at his Napier home?

Hon RICK BARKER: The decision on whether to use a custodial sentence or a non-custodial sentence is the judge’s and the judge’s alone. If judges decide that people have to go to jail, they will, and there are beds there waiting for them.

Simon Power: Is it worth saving a prison bed by allowing a New Plymouth man to be granted continued electronically monitored bail, when he is accused of holding two knives to a woman’s throat as he raped her three times, allegedly stabbing her repeatedly and threatening to kill her infant son, who was sleeping in another room, and all the while counting down the minutes until he would kill her?

Hon RICK BARKER: What I can say is that of those people who are given a non-custodial sentence, 98 percent are non-absconding. There is good control. Secondly, these are judicial decisions. The judges are in the best position to make the decisions. If a judge decides that a person has to be held on remand in jail, or has to go to jail, there is a bed there waiting for that person.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Having heard the examples that the judiciary found warranted a non-custodial sentence, why is the Government not writing to the head of the courts and to the Chief Justice to let them know that the idea that the judges can ignore the intentions of Parliament is one that we will not accept?

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I hesitate to raise this matter with my colleague, but the questions asked by Mr Power did not apply to people who had received a sentence; they applied to people who simply had been charged and had been granted bail by the judge.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: That is not really relevant. The reality is that the charges should have meant that the person was such a danger to society that he was kept in custody awaiting the court hearing. That is what some of these judges are overlooking.

Hon RICK BARKER: The member might say that, but there is an important convention in this country, and that is the separation of the powers of Parliament and the powers of the judiciary. If that member feels that he can make better decisions than the judges, I suggest he applies for a position as a judge so that he can make those decisions. We must maintain our conventions.

Simon Power: Is it worth saving a prison bed by granting bail under Labour’s new bail laws to a Christchurch man facing charges of manufacturing methamphetamine who then continued to make P while on bail, and does the Minister agree with the sentencing judge, who said: “It was quite ridiculous, really, that you were granted bail.”?

Hon RICK BARKER: It would be quite inappropriate for me to comment on the judgment of a judge.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Why does the Minister think it is a conflict, in terms of the separation of powers principle, to inquire of judges as to why they are not abiding by the law written by this Parliament; what is to stop him from doing that?

Hon RICK BARKER: Parliament writes the law, and the judges have discretion as to how they apply the law in terms of sentences. If the judges wish to remand people in prison as they await their trials, then they are able to do so. If they wish to grant them bail, they are able to do that, as well. It is for the judges to make the decisions. They are best placed to do that.

Simon Power: Can the Minister confirm that the Government refuses to answer my written questions regarding how many accused have breached electronic bail, only stating that “Cabinet will soon be making determinations in respect of these matters.”; and does that mean that the Government is planning to expand the electronic bail scheme, or to ditch it?

Hon RICK BARKER: The member can draw neither of those conclusions.

/NR/rdonlyres/045E7495-D4A6-4DEE-9E36-7AA85C530BA0/84818/48HansQ_20080529_00000608_.pdfFull transcript of Questions for Oral Answer for Thursday, 29 May 2008 [PDF 188k]

11. Fishing Industry—New Zealand - China Free-trade Agreement

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

11.SUE BRADFORD (Green) on behalf of JEANETTE FITZSIMONS (Co-Leader—Green) to the Minister of Fisheries: Is he satisfied that the fishing industry is taking all opportunities available under New Zealand’s trade agreement with China?

Hon PETE HODGSON (Minister for Economic Development) on behalf of the Minister of Fisheries: No, it is not taking all opportunities yet, self-evidently. But the Seafood Industry Council has supported the development of the free-trade agreement and welcomes the opportunity to increase exports to Chinese consumers.

Sue Bradford: Can the Minister confirm that Talley’s Fisheries ships chilled, gutted fish to China for thawing, processing, and rechilling, only to ship it back to New Zealand for sale; and is that how the fishing industry contributes to the Prime Minister’s goal of carbon neutrality?

Hon PETE HODGSON: New Zealand fishing companies have been exporting to China for years, and a proportion of that product is inevitably processed further and onsold to Japan, North America, and Europe. That has been going on for some time in China and in any other continent in the world. Our fishing industries are international.

R Doug Woolerton: Can the Minister confirm that New Zealand exporters of frozen fish products have to wait until 2012 or 2013 to benefit from tariff reductions under the China free-trade agreement, and that the Chinese exporters of the same product to New Zealand have not faced any tariffs for decades?

Hon PETE HODGSON: I can confirm the latter, although there is virtually no seafood imported from China, whereas China is about 10 percent of New Zealand’s export market—from memory, it is worth a little over a quarter of a billion dollars.

Sue Bradford: Is the Minister concerned that the practice of shipping fish from New Zealand for processing in China—where wages are lower and workers do not have the same rights to organise as we have here in New Zealand—will only increase under the preferential trade deal; and with Talley’s Fisheries’ proposed new processing plant on the West Coast now being uncertain, how many workers’ jobs are on the line?

Hon PETE HODGSON: I think the member may be a little confused. To the best of my knowledge, re-exported fish would not attract any tariff as it entered China in the first instance, but would in the country of destination, whichever country that might be. The overwhelming proportion of seafood consumed in New Zealand is processed in New Zealand. The fish that may be re-exported back to New Zealand is typically produced in a large-scale processing plant that supplies seafood to markets all around the world, including New Zealand as one of the smaller destinations.

Peter Brown: Given those answers, can the Minister assure the House that the free-trade agreement with China will not lead to any more foreign charter vessels being operated by our fishing companies than at present; and, if there are to be more, can he confirm that the ships will be in sound order and that the wages and conditions will be compatible with New Zealand wages and conditions?

Hon PETE HODGSON: It is a matter of fact that in the squid fishery, which is where nearly all of the foreign vessels operate, the majority of those vessels come from Korea and Taiwan, as I recall the situation. I am not aware of a large Chinese presence in New Zealand, and I am not aware of any changes to that presence as a result of the free-trade agreement.

Sue Bradford: If shipping fish from New Zealand to China for processing, then shipping the fish back here to our supermarkets for retail sale is an example of his Government’s global trade agenda in action, then surely it is time to admit that the resulting carbon “fin print” of these fish, the race to the bottom on wages, and the threat to jobs here in New Zealand make the whole situation a disaster, not just for our country but for the planet?

Hon PETE HODGSON: Let me offer a different tack. I am the member of Parliament for Dunedin North. Cadbury’s and Gregg’s are both in my electorate. Both of those companies are food companies; they both import, then re-export products. That is the nature of trade.

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: Can the Minister confirm the current situation is that fish exports to China bear tariffs, and that fish exports to China that are re-exported back do not; and that under the free-trade agreement fish exports to China will eventually not bear tariffs, which is an improvement that is more likely to see fully processed fish be exported to China?

Hon PETE HODGSON: Yes, I can confirm that is the case.

/NR/rdonlyres/618490A0-F247-4B9A-A370-7C59DC2F040B/84820/48HansQ_20080529_00000675_.pdfFull transcript of Questions for Oral Answer for Thursday, 29 May 2008 [PDF 188k]

12. Work and Income—Doctor-bullying

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

12. JUDITH COLLINS (National—Clevedon) to the Minister for Social Development and Employment: Was the Associate Minister for Social Development and Employment correct yesterday when, in relation to doctor-bullying, he said “We have been having conversations, obviously, with general practitioners”; if so, over what period of time did the conversations take place?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA (Associate Minister for Social Development and Employment) on behalf of the Minister for Social Development and Employment: Yes; Work and Income has always had a relationship with the medical profession, and under this Labour-led Government it is working more closely with doctors than ever before.

Judith Collins: Was Work and Income’s principal health adviser correct when he said that the Government was very aware of doctor bullying and that it “regularly gets brought to our attention”, and if he was correct, then how does the Minister justify her Government’s repeated denials that doctor bullying exists?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: Bullying of doctors is unacceptable, whatever the circumstances. Work and Income encourages any doctors with concerns to make contact with the organisation. The 13 new health and disability coordinators have been put in place to give doctors a direct contact to discuss any concerns.

Judith Collins: Was the Associate Minister being disingenuous yesterday when he claimed that my request referred to letters requested under the Official Information Act, and that although he found no letters, there had been “conversations”; and given that the original request was for responses to doctors’ concerns about pressure to sign off people for sickness benefits, including oral advice, does she now agree that her predecessor’s response did not meet the spirit of the Official Information Act?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: No, the Associate Minister was not being disingenuous. In the response to the Official Information Act request, which that member forwarded, it clearly states: “The Ministry of Social Development went to great lengths to search over 4,000 pieces of correspondence; 54 letters had the word ‘doctor’ in their title. None of these letters related to bullying of doctors.” That is the difference between a formal letter of complaint and a conversation.

Judith Collins: Can she confirm that her predecessor received an Official Information Act request on 17 April 2007, which specifically requested all information responding to doctors’ concerns about pressure to sign off people for sickness and invalids benefits, including any oral information; if so, can she explain why her predecessor refused to answer this request for 6 months, and answered only when the Ombudsman became involved, and then claimed that a search of correspondence found no evidence of doctor-bullying; and does she really expect anyone to believe that there was no evidence, when doctors have been raising this issue for years, and even Work and Income’s principal health adviser has now accepted that the issue regularly gets brought to its attention?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: Yes; there was a response to the Official Information Act request, and there is a clear difference between a formal letter of complaint and “conversations”. The bullying of doctors is unacceptable, and when people tell Work and Income they are too sick to work, then Work and Income tells those people that a medical certificate is required from their doctor. There are all of those aspects. Since the implementation of Working New Zealand, we are having more conversations with doctors, so, of course, they raise a range of issues.

Judith Collins: How credible is it that her predecessor claimed to find no evidence of doctor-bullying, after the Ombudsman forced him to search through records between January 2007 and June 2007—

Hon David Cunliffe: Boring!

Judith Collins: —it is interesting the Minister of Health finds bullying of doctors very boring—whereas this issue had been raised repeatedly, including in April 2007, by Christchurch general practitioner Dr Alisdair Webb; and now that David Bratt from the ministry has let the cat out of the bag, is it not time for the Minister to come clean and release all information on doctor-bullying, rather than trying to hide it?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: As I said earlier, since September last year every region in New Zealand has had a dedicated person whose job it is to support general practitioners. The Minister is not hiding away, because the coordinator is the key. We need to stick to the facts and be clear on the facts, because that member said that most people on the unemployment benefit were being put on the sickness benefit. The member’s claim that people are accessing sickness benefits too easily is not supported by the figures. Between March 2007 and March 2008 overall sickness benefit numbers have reduced by over 2,000. Unemployment benefit numbers have also dropped, to 19,034—a reduction of over 9,000. That is a reduction rate of 88 percent since 1999.


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