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Questions And Answers - Wednesday, 30 July 2008

Questions And Answers - Wednesday, 30 July 2008

Questions to Ministers

1. Endosulfan—Ban

1. SUE KEDGLEY (Green) to the Minister for the Environment: Will he act to ban the toxic insecticide endosulfan, which has been prohibited in the European Union, but which is still sprayed on tomatoes and other food crops, as well as parks and playing fields, in New Zealand; if not, why not?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Minister for the Environment) : In order to ban it I would need to call the application in. The application does not meet the test highlighted in Justice Potter’s 2003 decision in the Mothers Against Genetic Engineering case.

Sue Kedgley: Can the Minister confirm that for the second time in 3 years New Zealand’s meat exports to South Korea have been rejected because of contamination with endosulfan residues; and even if his Government is not worried about our children playing in contaminated playing fields and sports fields or eating contaminated food, will he not at least use his powers under the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act and act to protect our meat export trade and our clean, green image?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I can confirm that a shipment has been rejected from Korea, and that that is an issue. The question is how we deal with the longer-term issue around the use of endosulfan. It is my opinion that the Environmental Risk Management Authority, supplemented with expert scientific advice, is the appropriate body to make that decision. I think transferring the decision making to a politician risks there being a lack of expert knowledge, which was highlighted by the member herself when she called for a ban on water in 2001.

Hon Marian Hobbs: What extra resource has been applied to assist the management of chemical contamination?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: The Government has appropriated $1.158 million extra in this year’s Budget for the Environmental Risk Management Authority, of which almost half is to double the number of reassessments per year of chemicals of concern to the public of New Zealand.

Sue Kedgley: Has the Minister seen reports that endosulfan has been linked to congenital physical disorders, mental retardation, and deaths in farm workers and villagers in developing countries in Africa, southern Asia, and Latin America; if so, why on earth would his Government allow an insecticide that has been banned or heavily restricted in more than 50 countries around the world to be used on our sports fields, on our playing fields, on our golf courses, on our bowling greens, and, of course, on our food?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I think the member is aware there is a process going on within the Environmental Risk Management Authority to make a decision as to whether this chemical should be more heavily restricted or banned. I am prepared to let the experts take it through that process. As the member is aware, she can make a submission on the chemical, as can every other New Zealander who wishes to.

Sue Kedgley: Can he confirm that despite the Environmental Risk Management Authority process, he actually has powers under the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act to override the Environmental Risk Management Authority decision and to intervene, as he pointed out himself recently, if there is a risk that the big picture, as it affects New Zealand at a national and an international level, may be insufficiently taken into account; and surely he would agree that the risk endosulfan poses to our meat trade is sufficiently big picture, even if the health of New Zealand is not, that he therefore has powers to override or call in the Environmental Risk Management Authority decision?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: In order to call in the Environmental Risk Management Authority decision I have to indicate that I do not have confidence in that organisation to make that decision properly. I do have confidence in it.

/NR/rdonlyres/3F0873A0-6E45-476B-A3FB-363E540E1EC8/91026/48HansQ_20080730_00000027_.pdfFull transcript of Questions for Oral Answer for Wednesday, 30 July 2008 [PDF 231k]

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2. Foreign Affairs, Racing Minister—Confidence

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

2. JOHN KEY (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does she have confidence in the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Minister for Racing; if so, why?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister) : Yes; because he is a hard-working and conscientious Minister.

John Key: What assurances did the Prime Minister seek and what assurances did she receive from Mr Peters at their meeting yesterday?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I sought an assurance of lawful behaviour and I received that assurance.

John Key: Is the Prime Minister telling the House that the standard she now requires of Ministers is simply that they can assure her that they have committed no illegal acts; if not, what other requirements does she have of her Ministers?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Members would expect me to uphold the Cabinet Manuel that says that Ministers should behave appropriately and responsibly in their portfolios, and generally maintain a good standard of behaviour.

Hon Jim Anderton: With regard to the questions about portfolio responsibilities that she has just been asked, has she seen a report from Duncan Garner of TV3 that says: “National’s keeping a telephone book of ideas and proposals under wraps” in the hope that “news hacks with attention disorders move on quickly”; if so, could this be the reason why National is not asking questions in this House about substantive policy issues?

Madam SPEAKER: Please be seated. The first part of the question was all right. As for the second part, there is no ministerial responsibility for what other parties think in the House.

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. How is the first part in any way related to the actual question that has been asked, which relates to confidence in the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Minister for Racing?

Madam SPEAKER: The question is a very broad and general one, and the supplementary questions tend to follow suit. I call the Right Hon Prime Minister but ask her not to address the second part of the question.

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I did indeed see the report referred to, as I saw a report in yesterday’s New Zealand Herald by Colin James that said that—

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I am just reflecting again on your ruling that the question is broad and supplementary questions tend to be broad, etc. The honourable member over there asked a question about a report that Duncan Garner—great reporter that he is—had made on TV3 about some aspects of National Party activity. That can in no way whatsoever relate to this question.

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: Of course if that were so, then a very large number of questions that we have had about reports about New Zealand First activity would also be completely out of order. If members care to go back over many questions they have asked, they would see that the Prime Minister is expected to be both omniscient and, on occasion, omnipotent. For her to be asked whether she has seen a report is a perfectly legitimate question.

Madam SPEAKER: I have heard enough. Thank you, I think the member has explained himself well. I have always tended, particularly with general substantive questions, to allow very broad interpretations for those questions that follow up and are related. If, in fact, members wish me to have a much narrower interpretation, then I will reflect on that and report back to the House. But Mr Brownlee I have ruled on this matter. If you wish to raise a different point of order, that is fine; if it is the same point of order, it will be taken as challenging the ruling of the Speaker.

Gerry Brownlee: I won’t do that.

Madam SPEAKER: Thank you.

John Key: If getting an assurance from Mr Peters that he had committed no illegal acts was all that the Prime Minister achieved yesterday in their 1-hour meeting, what on earth did they discuss for the other 59 minutes?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I think that is simply answered: I do not recall the meeting going for an hour.

John Key: Can the Prime Minister confirm the explanation she gave at her press conference on Monday that “As long as Ministers are in their position, I retain confidence in them.”, and can we take that to mean that the strongest endorsement she can give the Minister of Foreign Affairs is that she has confidence in him because he is there?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: The member will get caught up in his own tautology if he is not careful. It is perfectly self-evident that if a Minister is in the job, I have confidence in that Minister.

John Key: Can the Prime Minister confirm that she intends to apply the same test to Mr Peters as she applied to David Benson-Pope—that is, when she said: “it’s not enough just to be capable, you’ve got to be credible.”; and will she confirm that she finds all of the statements made by Mr Peters in the last week to be credible?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Certainly a lot more have been credible than the ones I have heard from that member, who has taken every side of every issue. But I can say, in respect of the comparison that the member is trying to draw, that, of course, the issue of credibility I was drawing attention to in the case of the aforementioned member was one where I had been told one thing and another turned out to be the truth.

Hon Jim Anderton: I seek the leave of the House under Standing Order 4(1) to suspend Standing Orders so that I can put a question to the leader of the National Party asking him to itemise every donation the National Party has received from secret trusts, and how the National Party and its allies used that money.

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

Rodney Hide: Can the Prime Minister assure the House—[Interruption]

Madam SPEAKER: Would the member please ask his question.

Rodney Hide: The Minister for Education—

Madam SPEAKER: No, would the member please—

Rodney Hide: —has to be the saddest—

Madam SPEAKER: Please, Mr Hide, be seated, otherwise I will ask you to leave the Chamber. I was trying to ensure that the member could ask his question, so I will ask that his question be heard in silence.

Rodney Hide: Thank you, Madam Speaker, I appreciate that.

Madam SPEAKER: Would you just ask the question.

Rodney Hide: Can the Prime Minister assure the House that the standard she has applied to the Rt Hon Winston Peters’ staying on as Minister is the same standard that she would apply to her own Labour Ministers; if so, have her own high standards now slipped so low that it is simply enough for John Tamihere, David Benson-Pope, or Lianne Dalziel—any number of Ministers—to assure her that they have not broken the law?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I can assure the member that I will give each case fair consideration, on its merits.

Madam SPEAKER: Are there any more supplementary questions? I will call question No. 3.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. That, surely, cannot be it.

Madam SPEAKER: The member knows that that is not a point of order. If we have any more of those sorts of points of profile, I will consider them to be creating disorder in the House.

Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. It might help the member if I tell him that that certainly is not it.

Madam SPEAKER: That is not a point of order. Please be seated. The same applies.

Gerry Brownlee: Perhaps we should seek leave to suspend the proceedings of the House, using the same procedure Mr Anderton just asked for, to allow Mr Peters to actually give the explanations to the House that he has been promising for some days now. He told everyone that today would be the day.

Madam SPEAKER: Is the member seeking leave?

Gerry Brownlee: I seek leave.

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. A member cannot seek leave on behalf of another person; that is long since established.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Point of order—

Gerry Brownlee: Point of order—

Madam SPEAKER: We have a competition here. I think the Rt Hon Winston Peters was, marginally, on his feet first.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. It goes on seniority, Gerry, and brains—sit down. I gave a press conference last Friday. I recommend you read what I said, Madam Speaker, as opposed to what those people up there in the press gallery thought I said.

Madam SPEAKER: The member knows members should not bring the Speaker into the debate or the discussion. There is a general debate where these matters can be fully expressed in the appropriate way. This is question time.

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. If I was unable to seek leave, because you accepted Michael Cullen’s offering in his point of order, why did you put Mr Anderton’s leave, which was also an expression of the House’s will?

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: Mr Anderton sought leave himself to ask a question.

Rodney Hide: In which case, I seek the leave of the House to explain what has been happening to the money in New Zealand First, and the shenanigans that have been going on.

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

/NR/rdonlyres/1A1F5247-9367-45F3-98A5-7156A4FBDC2B/91028/48HansQ_20080730_00000083_.pdfFull transcript of Questions for Oral Answer for Wednesday, 30 July 2008 [PDF 231k]

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3. 1080 Poison—Review

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

3. GORDON COPELAND (Independent) to the Minister of Conservation: Will she undertake a comprehensive review of her department’s use of aerial 1080 drops, following the news that seven kea have died after eating that deadly poison?

Hon STEVE CHADWICK (Minister of Conservation) : I am advised that the Department of Conservation constantly reviews its biodiversity operations to take account of new information and improve the overall outcomes. The reason that we know about these kea deaths is because the Department of Conservation initiated the research to see whether there was a problem. Now we are considering what adjustments can be made accordingly.

Gordon Copeland: Can the Minister confirm that the killing of endangered and protected native birds is always illegal in New Zealand, and does she expect her department to face charges, or is it the case that the Department of Conservation now considers itself above the law?

Hon STEVE CHADWICK: No deaths occurred intentionally. Deaths occurred in only one of three areas under this operation, which affected only one population of kea. Kea are rare but are not critically threatened with extinction. We have to conduct pest control operations if we want to boost their numbers. Doing nothing is not an option.

Moana Mackey: Are kea threatened by the pests being targeted in 1080 operations?

Hon STEVE CHADWICK: A recent study showed that in an area that had not been subjected to any pest control, the chicks and the eggs in 40 percent of kea nests were eaten by predators; 1080 operations kill possums and stoats, both of which are predators of kea.

Eric Roy: How can the public possibly have any confidence in the Minister and the Department of Conservation, when in one week its officers shot a takahē, mistaking it for a pūkeko, and in the next week we learnt that seven kea were killed in a botched poisoning operation?

Hon STEVE CHADWICK: In reference to the first part of the question, the Department of Conservation staff are devastated by the outcome of that experience, and I reject the assertion of that member opposite. He was in a party that did nothing for 10 years about 1080 poison. If the members think they knew the risks about it, why did that member not speak to his Minister at the time and say that that operation should have been stopped. They did nothing because they knew the benefits.

R Doug Woolerton: Does the Minister know of any viable option to 1080 in the control of possums in our forests?

Hon STEVE CHADWICK: There are other options, like bait controls on the ground, with traps, but the difficulty is that when there is difficult terrain—high, mountainous terrain—people cannot be expected to get up there and put out traps. So 1080 is the only real option. Farmers know the benefits, because of tuberculosis control.

Hon Peter Dunne: With reports that the water supplies of areas like Kūmara on the West Coast, and Levin, are being threatened by aerial use of 1080, and with reports today that avian genocide of kea is now occurring as a result of indiscriminate 1080 drops, what will it take for the Minister and her department to review the policy of aerial distribution of 1080 in favour of more ground-based and safer distribution?

Hon STEVE CHADWICK: I would not call the deaths of seven out of 29 kea, in a survey, genocide, at all, but it is of concern. We have to learn from our own research carried out by our own department. As to the water aspect of that question, we know that 1080 breaks down once it is mixed with water. That is why no levels of 1080 beyond acceptable minimum levels have ever been found in drinking water. If we could find another option that was better than 1080 poison, of course we would use it, yet only last year the Environmental Risk Management Authority concluded that it was the best agent to use for pest control.

Gordon Copeland: Is the Minister aware that the labelling of 1080 states: “may be fatal. Repeated oral exposure may cause reproductive or developmental damage.”, and that some pregnant women feel forced to leave their homes—as recently happened in Karamea—and is it not time to bring an end to the aerial application of this deadly poison in favour of alternative ways of controlling possums, stoats, and weasels?

Hon STEVE CHADWICK: I would like to refer the member to my previous answers; I think his questions have all been answered. I want to reiterate that it was only last year, in 2007, that the Environmental Risk Management Authority review concluded that the benefits of 1080 outweigh the risks, including those of aerial operations.

Gordon Copeland: I seek leave of the House to table the labelling that is contained on a 1080 container.

 Leave granted.

Gordon Copeland: I seek leave of the House to table a paper by Clare St Pierre, of the Waikato, concerning the alternative pest control methods that avoid 1080, at a cheaper cost.

 Leave granted.

/NR/rdonlyres/5DCED8FC-FEE5-478C-9F29-309426209F00/91030/48HansQ_20080730_00000165_.pdfFull transcript of Questions for Oral Answer for Wednesday, 30 July 2008 [PDF 231k]

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4. Electioneering—Government Departments

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

4. Hon BILL ENGLISH (Deputy Leader—National) to the Minister of Justice: Does she stand by her statement “Government departments are there to inform the public legitimately about what programmes are available for them. They are not there to electioneer on behalf of any political party.”; if not, why not?

Hon PETE HODGSON (Minister for Economic Development) on behalf of the Minister of Justice: Yes.

Hon Bill English: Was the Minister advised that after an investigation by the State Services Commission, Commissioner Iain Rennie, as recently as 10 July 2008, had to send out a memo to chief executives of 120 State agencies telling them that the use of the term “Labour-led Government” in departmental material and on websites was not appropriate under the Electoral Finance Act; and was this the Government’s intention when it passed the Electoral Finance Act?

Hon PETE HODGSON: I am aware that the State Services Commission has sent out guidance to its various agencies on a number of occasions, including on 10 July. All of that information has been made available to the National Party, in the interests of transparency I suspect.

Hon Bill English: Can the Minister explain why, when the legal advice on this matter was so clear, the Minister of Finance left the term out of all the Budget material, but the State Services Commission has found 13,600 uses of the term “Labour-led Government” on Government department websites; and can she explain how this phrase, as extensively used by the Labour Party, has found its way into departmental material when the legal advice was so clear that it was not allowed to appear in the Budget?

Hon PETE HODGSON: Why do I not actually read out the advice that the member refers to, so that we can all be clear of its nature.

Hon Members: Just answer the question.

Hon PETE HODGSON: Are the members all right? The State Services Commission stated that “each situation needs to be examined by content”. It stated: “In general, referring to the political composition of the Government of the day, e.g., Labour-led, will not be relevant or appropriate to include on websites.” It also stated: “In addition, reference to the policies of a political party will usually not be appropriate.”, etc. In other words, they are guidelines, and I hope that they are well followed.

Hon Bill English: So can the Minister confirm that despite the State Services Commission advising 120 agencies that the use of the term “Labour-led Government” is not appropriate, to use its words, it has been used 13,600 times on taxpayer-funded websites; if this is a breach of the Electoral Finance Act, is she concerned that under section 67 of the Electoral Finance Act, which bars the publication of electoral advertisements by Government departments, this law appears to be being breached so widely?

Hon PETE HODGSON: The member is of the view that somehow there is a brightline here, and what I have tried to do in my response is to indicate that the State Services Commission has said that each situation needs to be managed by content. If it has gone on to say that it would not be relevant or appropriate to include that term on agencies websites, then one assumes that as times goes by they will take them all off. One thing is clear: they will not need to take off the words “National-led Government”, because we have not had one of those for a while, and we will not, in my view, for a while yet.

Hon Bill English: Given that Government departments appear to be ignoring the advice from the State Services Commission, does that account for the fact that the Department of Internal Affairs, through Ministerial Services, is publishing these unauthorised election advertisements, which were distributed by Labour MPs as recently as Monday, containing not only the phrase “Labour-led Government” but also “two ticks”, which is definitely an electoral advertisement—

Hon Members: Ha, ha!

Hon Bill English: —and it is published by the office of the Prime Minister; and can the Minister explain why this should be allowed to proceed under the law passed that was passed by the Minister, and pushed by her Government, to stop exactly this sort of activity?

Hon PETE HODGSON: It kind of goes without saying that I do not know about the piece of paper that the member is holding up. What I will say is that when that member was the leader of the National Party, two ticks was just about a landslide.

Hon Bill English: Can the Minister then confirm that the State Services Commissioner has told State agencies not to use the term “Labour-led Government”, that the Minister of Finance and Treasury are the only people who have taken any notice of that direction because they did not put it in the Budget, that despite that advice the term appears 13,600 times on websites that are fully taxpayer-funded, that the term also appears in an advertisement produced by the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet this week, and therefore the Labour Party is using Ministerial Services’ money to break its own law?

Hon PETE HODGSON: I have been asked to confirm either four or five things. The first of them I confirmed in my answer to the first supplementary question. The third is a piece of data that comes from the member who asked the question and I am certainly not confirming that, because he normally does not get his facts right. As for the bits in between, I have forgotten what they were.

Hon Bill English: I seek leave to table the results of a State Services Commission search of Government websites that record 13,600 examples.

 Leave granted.

Hon Bill English: I seek leave to table 10 blanked pages, which is the legal advice given to the State Services Commission on which it bases its direction to departments not to use the term “Labour-led Government”.

 Leave granted.

/NR/rdonlyres/70D113C4-F1D7-433A-A610-1E862066D203/91032/48HansQ_20080730_00000237_.pdfFull transcript of Questions for Oral Answer for Wednesday, 30 July 2008 [PDF 231k]

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5. Health Infrastructure—Reports

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

5. LESLEY SOPER (Labour) to the Minister of Health: What recent reports has he received on investment in health infrastructure?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE (Minister of Health) : Today I announced the approval of an $80 million revamp for Taranaki Base Hospital. This revamp is the latest in a large hospital development, and the rebuilding programme is the largest in New Zealand’s history. Since Labour took office seven new hospitals have been built and eight have had major upgrades. Ten specialist facilities and three more redevelopment projects are almost complete, and a further four major capital projects have been approved and are under way. What a great Labour-led Government.

Lesley Soper: How does spending on hospital capital upgrades under the current Labour-led Government’s tenure compare with the spending under previous administrations?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: It is more than three times the previous National Government spend. Over $1.5 billion has been invested in 33 building projects that will benefit patients from Kaitāia to the deep south, including a major rebuild of Auckland Hospital, a new base hospital for Invercargill, a new base hospital in the Wairarapa, a new women’s hospital in Christchurch, a new hospital in South Taranaki, a new hospital in central Otago, the new Horowhenua health centre—the list could go on and on. How about the National Party front up and reveal its secret phone-book-sized agenda for health so the public can compare the difference.

Dr Jonathan Coleman: When will the Minister deliver on the Government’s broken promise to rebuild and replace ward 27, Wellington’s inadequate and outdated psychiatric unit, and how many more suicides in the community will there be before this Minister stops bragging and takes action?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: The Government has invested significantly in mental health facilities around the country, including the new facilities in the region of the member’s own district health board—the Waitemata District Health Board—and the decisions about the Wellington-based hospital are a matter for the Capital and Coast District Health Board.

/NR/rdonlyres/A892C769-4369-484D-A819-9027CFF8F6A1/91034/48HansQ_20080730_00000306_.pdfFull transcript of Questions for Oral Answer for Wednesday, 30 July 2008 [PDF 231k]

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6. Effective Interventions Package—Operation

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

6. SIMON POWER (National—Rangitikei) to the Minister of Justice: Does she stand by the statements of the Prime Minister when launching the Effective Interventions package in 2006 that it was designed to “address the fast growing rate of imprisonment New Zealand has been experiencing” and to “make our communities safer”?

Hon RICK BARKER (Associate Minister of Justice) on behalf of the Minister of Justice: Yes, although if the member had quoted the Prime Minister in full, he would have seen that she actually addressed the issue of how some offenders are sentenced and how some serve their sentences. One way of ensuring that our communities are safer is to have the most serious criminals in prison for longer. For example, the non-parole period for aggravated murder now starts at 17 years rather than 10 years as it was under a National Government.

Simon Power: Can the Minister confirm that one of the initiatives to save prison beds was the use of electronic bail for those accused who had been denied ordinary bail, and that it was expected to be granted to upwards of 1,000 defendants per annum in order to save 120 prison beds a year; and can she confirm that after the first year only 99 applications have been granted, saving just 26 beds?

Hon RICK BARKER: I cannot confirm the precise details, but I can confirm that what the member says in general is true—that people are using electronic bail. But that is a judicial decision made in the light of the circumstances by those who are best placed to make those decisions.

Simon Power: Can the Minister confirm the contents of a briefing paper for justice sector chief executives, which states that initial estimates for saving 120 beds by the use of electronic bail were “optimistic” because over two-thirds of those remanded are lower-level offenders who do not spend long enough in custody for them to realistically apply for e-bail, meaning that “most defendants placed on EM-bail thus far have been facing lengthy remands on often serious charges”?

Hon RICK BARKER: I cannot confirm that from off the top of my head.

Simon Power: How can electronic bail “make our communities safer”, when officials concede that it is primarily being used to release those accused of serious charges back into the community; and does not that explain why one in five have breached electronic bail, such as the accused paedophile who, while on e-bail, allegedly held birthday parties and sleepovers for preschool children, and why over one in 10 have simply run away?

Hon RICK BARKER: I make the point to the member that defendants are innocent until proven guilty, and that defendants being assessed for bail have to be assessed as to whether they are a real and significant risk. Those decisions are made by the judiciary.

Simon Power: Can the Minister confirm that the electronic bail scheme cost $5 million to set up and costs $3.2 million a year to run, all to save 26 prison beds, yet keeping those offenders in prison would have cost $2.4 million a year, would have avoided putting public safety at risk, and also would have saved the taxpayer nearly $1 million?

Hon RICK BARKER: I can explain to the member that putting people in prison, even for a short term, means there is a much higher risk of those people committing offences when they come out. People who serve a community-based sentence or who are kept out of prison are at a much lower risk of committing further offences. What does the member want— people put in prison for a long period of time, and, therefore, a higher risk of their committing offences when they come out?

Ron Mark: Why should the country be at all concerned about the fast-growing rate of imprisonment that New Zealand is experiencing; why should we care; why should we not just lock more people up?

Hon RICK BARKER: Because, in terms of non-custodial sentences, it is quite clear from the Department of Corrections’ figures that approximately 32 percent of those serving community-based sentences reoffend within 12 months, compared with 44 percent of those who serve short-term prison sentences. The whole point of this scheme is that by keeping people out of jail for short periods of time we run a much lower risk that they will reoffend. Less reoffending means fewer victims of crime. What does the member want—more people in prison, more reoffending, more victims?

Simon Power: Does the Minister agree that Ministry of Justice officials were right when they warned that targeting electronic bail at those already refused bail “conflicts with the fact that such defendants are more likely to have characteristics or criminal histories that would make them unsuitable for release on bail with electronic monitoring”; if so, why was Phil Goff rolled when he recommended to Cabinet in March 2005 that “I do not propose electronic monitoring as a condition of bail be reconsidered at this time.”?

Hon RICK BARKER: Coming back to the bail point, I re-emphasise for the member that people are innocent until proven guilty, and that, in assessing risk, one has to be sure that a person is not a real and significant risk. In the recent decision on bail, one of the judges said there was a “need for a proper inference to be drawn from proved facts, as opposed to the Court engaging in speculation or guesswork …”. Electronic bail has worked very well.

Ron Mark: In view of the answer to my previous supplementary question, has the Minister seen reports that show that 85 percent of all inmates paroled are back inside within 5 years, that the cost of violence currently stands at $3.14 billion—and that excludes the personal cost to the victims affected—and that the cost of crime in general on our streets is now $10.33 billion, although the cost of maintaining prisons is only $1.05 billion; if she has seen those reports, why has she not come to the same conclusion as New Zealand First that it is far safer and far more cost-effective to lock them up?

Hon RICK BARKER: I think we are hearing a new policy from New Zealand First, which is that the moment someone is convicted that person is locked up, and he or she will never get bail, will never be released, and will spend his or her whole life in prison. That, of course, means that that person will not have any chance to reoffend. At those rates, the prison numbers would swell dramatically. Let us face it: people commit crimes, they are sentenced, and they go to jail. What we have found is that for people serving short-term sentences the risk of reoffending is much higher than for people serving community-based sentences. What this Government has done for serious offenders is to provide for longer prison sentences, and we see people being sentenced to 30 years’ imprisonment before they can apply for bail. We have got tough on those tougher crimes.

 Question time interrupted.

/NR/rdonlyres/099A5CDD-5370-4EC2-8AB5-BD06921E8871/91036/48HansQ_20080730_00000341_.pdfFull transcript of Questions for Oral Answer for Wednesday, 30 July 2008 [PDF 231k]

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7. Disabled Students—Learning Needs

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

7. Dr PITA SHARPLES (Co-Leader—Māori Party) to the Minister of Education: Is he aware that the IHC has taken a complaint to the Human Rights Commission, claiming that Government action creates barriers to disabled students learning on the same basis as other students, and how can such action occur when the Education Act 1989 requires that people who have special educational needs have the same rights to enrol and receive education in State schools as people who do not?

Hon CHRIS CARTER (Minister of Education) : Yes, I have received a letter from the IHC advising me that it intends to lodge a complaint under Part 1A of the Human Rights Act 1993.

Dr Pita Sharples: What response has the Minister made to the report Human Rights in New Zealand Today: Ngā Tika Tangata O Te Motu, which found that the participation and achievement levels of some groups, such as disabled children and young people, are not known?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: The Ministry of Education is working with me at the moment on guidelines for boards of trustees and principals, to ensure that every child has access to his or her neighbourhood school. The Labour-led Government put out our New Zealand Disability Strategy in 2001, which focused very much on ensuring that children have the right to go to their neighbourhood school.

Hon Mark Burton: What steps has the Government taken to ensure that all students with disabilities can access educational opportunities that meet their needs?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: In 2007 and 2008 the Government will invest $437 million in special education services, which include school transport assistance, targeted funding for special needs, specialist teaching positions, and school property modification for students with special needs. The Ministry of Education and the IHC will work together in mediation before the Human Rights Commission, should the letter be lodged, to identify those areas where the system needs to be improved. I assure the House again that the Government is absolutely committed to seeing that children can go to their neighbourhood school.

Dr Pita Sharples: In the light of the Minister’s last answer, what action has he taken, following last year’s submission from the Inclusive Education Action Group, which advised him that disabled children and their families continued to experience discrimination and a second-rate education at school, forcing some disabled children to move back to more segregated settings as a result of ineffective educational practices that do not meet the challenges of inclusion?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: I have twice met personally with the IHC to discuss those matters. I have directed ministry officials to work on legislation we hope to bring to the House that will give greater clarity and guidance to boards of trustees about how they can ensure that children have access to their school if they live in the area.

Dr Pita Sharples: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. My question referred to action regarding the conditions for intellectually handicapped children within open, mainstream schools, not to the meetings that the Minister has had. So could he respond to that question, please.

Hon CHRIS CARTER: I was trying to assure the member that we are taking very concrete actions. I laid out in one of my previous answers the work we are doing in providing teacher-aide support and physical modification of schools for children with disabilities. We are also looking at transport. Many of the students whom the member refers to are not able to travel on public transport, so they are provided with special transport. What is most important is that we give guidance and advice to boards of trustees and principals about the necessity of making sure that their school is accessible to all of the students in the areas.

Dr Pita Sharples: What work plans has the Ministry of Education introduced to implement the New Zealand Disability Strategy—Making a World of Difference: Whakanui Oranga—with the objective to promote the participation of disabled Māori?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: I have made reference to the $437 million of special education funding that is currently going into our education system to ensure the very point the member is making is addressed: that students with disabilities have access to the public education system.

/NR/rdonlyres/741EB7C9-DCF3-4E2B-BF07-3ABF68A8FDBD/91038/48HansQ_20080730_00000548_.pdfFull transcript of Questions for Oral Answer for Wednesday, 30 July 2008 [PDF 231k]

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8. Truancy—Increase

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

8. ANNE TOLLEY (National—East Coast) to the Minister of Education: Can he confirm that the truancy rate increased from 2.9 percent in 2002 to 4.1 percent in 2006 according to the Ministry of Education’s attendance, absence, and truancy reports; if so, what are the reasons for this 41 percent increase in the truancy rate?

Hon CHRIS CARTER (Minister of Education) : Yes, I can confirm those figures, but I would like to remind that member and make clear to the House that had she read the document carefully it explains in very clear terms that taking a snapshot of a particular time period in a school in the education system can distort totally, with the circumstances often compounded by particular events that are happening, or weather conditions, and so on. We are moving towards an electronic system, now in place in every school in New Zealand, which will give us an accurate account for the very first time of just how many students are truanting.

Anne Tolley: Why is it that despite truancy increasing by 41 percent since 2002 under Labour, we still have a Minister running a Ministry of Education who does not know how many front-line district truancy officers are actually out there dealing with truancy around New Zealand?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: Why does that member never listen to the answers; she just has her script in front of her. As I explained a few minutes ago, taking a snapshot, year by year, of how many students are away in a particular week is not an accurate way of reading truancy. In 2006, for example, which the member makes reference to, we had the tangi of the Māori Queen in that particular week, and we also had a severe storm experience in Dunedin. Those events naturally distorted the number of students who were in school in that particular week. We are moving towards an electronic system. ENROL, our new electronic system, is now in every school. At the end of this year we will know for the very first time how many students have been away from New Zealand schools. We have invested an enormous amount of money in truancy support services. The member, of course, never gives any credit for that. All she does is read her script prepared by the National Party research unit.

Madam SPEAKER: Would the Minister like just to address the question of the number of truancy officers, which was—I think—the substance of the question.

Hon CHRIS CARTER: We have 89 district truancy services contracted to work in each of our territorial authorities. We have another six staff at the ministry who provide special support for schools.

Hon Member: “Wassup!” Minister?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: I would like to say that what is up in our schools is that we are dealing with truancy.

Dr Ashraf Choudhary: What steps is the Government taking to ensure secondary students are more engaged in education?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: Very concrete steps have been taken. We have done a complete review of district truancy services and school-to-work programmes like Gateway and Youth Apprenticeships that have come into our schools to engage students in learning. The Schools Plus programme announced by the Prime Minister in February involves fundamental changes in secondary education. This revolution in schooling includes developing a much wider range of pathways to keep students engaged and achieving for longer. It will create stronger partnerships between schools and their communities, and provide better support for at-risk students. National’s answer might be boot camps; ours is education.

Dail Jones: Can the Minister confirm that it is absolutely vital to reduce the truancy rate of students using all means possible, because it is these truants who tend to turn up in New Zealand prisons as inmates as early as their mid-teens at a cost of $80,000 per annum each to the taxpayer?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: I can absolutely confirm that. We need to invest in services that provide support to schools, students, and their families to keep students in education; and we have to develop an educational programme and system for the 21st century that engages students in learning. Boot camps are not the answer; innovative, interesting, and effective programmes are.

Anne Tolley: Is the Minister honestly telling the House that this Labour-led Government is fighting a 41 percent increase in truancy and spending $4.3 million on district truancy services every year, yet he cannot tell us how many truancy officers are on the front line fighting truancy, and he cannot give any indication from the district truancy services as to how well they are doing their jobs, because they do not have to report against any performance measurement?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: I thought I had already told the House how many truancy personnel we have out there. We have 89 groups contracted in our territorial authorities, we have six officials at the ministry who are dealing with a case by case support for schools, we have put $2 million into the schools with the greatest risk of truancy, and we invest $4.5 million a year in district truancy services. Why does the member never listen to answers?

Anne Tolley: What sort of responsible Minister has truancy increasing in his own electorate but still does not require schools to report to the ministry the number of prosecutions they carry out each year, which means that nobody knows how many prosecutions in total are taken against parents of truant children?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: Prosecutions for truancy are the responsibility of boards of trustees. Look, truancy is a serious business. That is why we did a complete review of the services, that is why $4.5 million a year every year goes into district truancy services, and that is why we have invested $2 million more in the most at-risk schools. We have the Student Engagement Initiative running in 100 schools for $1.8 million a year, we have six full-time staff at the ministry working on this, we have the electronic attendance register now in many schools so we know instantly every day how many students are there, and we have the $6.4 million ENROL scheme. What more does the member want? Truancy is a serious business—we are taking it seriously and we are doing something about it. Her party just wants to set up boot camps—that will really encourage kids to go to school!

Anne Tolley: Why is it that the Minister’s predecessor mused about raising fines for parents of truant children at the beginning of last year, and the Minister himself said in December last year that we should look into this, yet the Ministry of Education told the Education and Science Committee that there are no plans whatsoever to change the law and raise the fines from the ridiculously low level of a maximum of $400 for parents who allow their children to skip school repeatedly?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: We will bring an education amendment bill into the House in August. Let us hope that that member and her party support it, because it will address a whole range of issues, primarily about making the school system more effective and engaging for students’ success. I remind the House again that we have done a full review of truancy services and we have brought in all sorts of programmes, systems, and resources to try to deal with it. We believe in actually doing something about the problem, not giving out slogans like “Boot camps will solve truancy.”

Anne Tolley: How does his ministry plan to reduce truancy by 20 percent over the next 5 years, when although the Minister seems to know how many people are working on it in the ministry, he does not actually know how many people are out there on the front line in the offices—that is, the number of officers fighting truancy—does not know how well they are performing, does not know how many prosecutions any or all schools throughout New Zealand are undertaking, and one can get a larger fine for littering in some areas than for allowing one’s children to repeatedly miss school?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: What I do know is that this Government has invested $4.5 million in district truancy services, which are working in every territorial authority in the country; we have put $2 million aside for extra staff to work in the most at-risk schools; we have the Student Engagement Initiative running in 100 different secondary schools in the country; we have six full-time staff at the ministry working with those schools; we have the electronic attendance register going in schools so that we know on a daily basis whether the students are there; and we have set up for the first time ever an electronic system called ENROL, which every school in New Zealand is now on. Why cannot the member just give us some credit for the actions we have taken? All she and her party have come up with is boot camps for naughty kids.

Ron Mark: Why is the Minister speaking in such derogatory terms about military-style training for young people when currently Judge Becroft is hailing as a success the Youth Quest operation, which is run along military lines in Paraparaumu; when Graeme Dingle, who received so much funding from the Ministry of Social Development, has been asked by the ministry to assist in establishing further such programmes; when the Canterbury Youth Development Corporation is working with the Ministry of Social Development right now to set up another military-style training facility in the South Island; and when I have just heard recently of another one being proposed in Auckland? Why is this Minister the only one out of all the ministers who seems to have such a derogatory and negative view of the Limited Service Volunteers scheme and all the good work his people are doing out there in the community?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: The initiatives the member has just raised are all excellent initiatives. Indeed, in my own electorate of Te Atatu, Kelston Boys High School runs a really good service academy. These are opportunities that students opt into. The sorts of students we are talking about here are opting out of school. These students are disengaged from learning; they have not chosen to go into the opportunities that the member raises. To drag those kids off the street and throw them into a boot camp, as the Leader of the Opposition has suggested, will not engage them in learning. We are talking about opportunities that capture the attention and interest of young people, not that punish them.

Ron Mark: I seek the leave of the House to table information that shows that Judge Becroft actually used Youth Quest as a sentencing option—

 Leave granted.

Anne Tolley: I seek leave to table answers to written questions from May showing that the Minister of Education does not know the number of truancy officers who are currently employed.

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

Anne Tolley: I seek leave to table a document, which is the Minister’s answer to a written question, showing that district truancy officers do not have to report against any performance indicators.

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

Anne Tolley: I seek leave to table answers to estimates questions showing that the Ministry of Education does not have any plans to change—

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

Anne Tolley: I seek leave to table the reply to a written question showing that the Minister admits that he does not know the number of prosecutions that schools are making for truancy.

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

/NR/rdonlyres/F09FF0F4-9497-4EEA-8410-55BF975B2652/91040/48HansQ_20080730_00000607_.pdfFull transcript of Questions for Oral Answer for Wednesday, 30 July 2008 [PDF 231k]

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9. Employment Relations—Reports

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

9. DARIEN FENTON (Labour) to the Minister of Labour: What reports has he received on employment relations?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Minister of Labour) : I have seen a report showing that, under a Labour-led Government, incomes for New Zealand’s lowest paid have gone up by 71 percent—more than four times what they went up in 9 years under the former National Government. I also note that the increase in the minimum wage was opposed by the National Party. The report further states that, since 2002, 130,000 parents have taken advantage of paid parental leave—again opposed by the National Party—millions of working Kiwis now have 4 weeks’ leave a year, which is something that John Key has promised to abolish, and the real incomes of New Zealanders have increased by 25 percent since 2000.

Darien Fenton: What other reports has the Minister received about employment relations?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I have seen recent reports that show the National Party, in a partly secret agenda, would review the Holidays Act, especially the issue of relevant daily pay—even though Kate Wilkinson has said that would result in a reduction of pay for sick people—and that it would introduce “fire at will”. The National Party will not spell out all of the details of its secret agenda, but it is plain to see who is to be trusted.

Darien Fenton: Has the Minister seen any further reports about employment relations?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: Yes, I have seen an enormous debate, and it goes to the length of the secret agenda. Yesterday Colin James reported that John Key said the agenda had 34 pages, but yesterday John Key’s media people were running around the press gallery telling members of the press that it was only 14 pages. So what is the debate? Was there really a 34-page secret agenda, which has now been edited down to 14, or was it just another case of John Key getting the details wrong again? The related question is why he was so scared to have the media at his Ōrewa speech. Was he outlining the secret agenda again, or is he just generally a chicken?

Gerry Brownlee: That’s out of order.

Madam SPEAKER: It is out of order. [Interruption] Does the member take offence?

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: You are meant to uphold the Standing Orders.

Madam SPEAKER: Would the Minister please withdraw his last reference.

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I withdraw.

Madam SPEAKER: Thank you.

/NR/rdonlyres/1FF5527B-D027-4EB3-9644-36C74A422C3B/91042/48HansQ_20080730_00000719_.pdfFull transcript of Questions for Oral Answer for Wednesday, 30 July 2008 [PDF 231k]

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10. Māpua Site—Contamination Clean-up

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

10. Hon Dr NICK SMITH (National—Nelson) to the Minister for the Environment: Is he satisfied with the Government’s management of the chemically contaminated site at Māpua, noting yesterday’s critical report by the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Minister for the Environment) : As the House is aware, I have very high standards and there is always room for improvement in the ministry’s performance. However, if we look at the “before” picture and the “after” picture, I think people would agree that significant progress was made at Māpua.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Does the Government accept responsibility for this botched clean-up at Māpua, noting that it was meant to take 18 months but took over 3 years, that it was meant to cost $6 million but ended up costing over $12 million, that the consents held by the Ministry for the Environment were breached, and when there are ongoing pollution issues around contamination by both mercury and copper?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: In answering that question I think one has to point to Dr Smith and ask him whether he supports the clean-up, because he voted against the funding for it, just as he voted against the funding to clean up the Tui mine and the Waiwhetū Stream. One has to ask whether the National Party has a secret agenda on contamination as well, and that it is just to keep it all dirty.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I thought that this was question time where we asked questions of Ministers. The Minister chose to ask questions back and not to address the fundamental question, which was very simple and asked whether the Government accepts responsibility for the failings identified by the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment.

Madam SPEAKER: Yes. Would the Minister like to address the question?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I think there are at least four reports yet to come: one OSH report, one report from the Ministry of Health, a final validation report, and a final report from the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment that has not yet been received. When those reports are received they will be considered by the Government, and we will consider action as a result.

Hon Damien O’Connor: Could the Minister explain why the Māpua toxic site was left to contaminate the local environment, without any attempt to remediate the problem, under 9 years of a National Government, while Nick Smith was MP for Tasman, was Minister of Conservation, and did nothing about it?

Hon Dr Nick Smith: I seek leave to table the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment’s report, which states the decision to proceed with the clean-up was made in 1999 by me as a member of Cabinet.

 Leave granted.

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I entirely agree with the member. There was a useless member for Tasman, who could not convince the Government to spend the money—

Madam SPEAKER: The member knows the Standing Orders, and in future would he please just address the question without his superfluous comments, particularly adjectives.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Why did the Minister’s ministry allow releases of DDT, Lindane, nitrate, and ammonal nitrogen, in excess of the limits in the resource consent?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: There is some validation work to occur to see whether that happened at all, and I think—

Hon Dr Nick Smith: The Parliamentary Commissioner said, yes, it did.

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: Well, the Parliamentary Commissioner suggested that it might have happened.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: Does the Minister think that the Ministry for the Environment should have advised that there was a conflict of interest when the council that owned the land, and stood to benefit from maximising the value of the land by cleaning it up to residential standards, was also a decision maker as to whether it should have been cleaned up to those standards—a process that increased the risk that the toxins would simply be transferred from the soil to the air and the water, as it appears they probably were?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I understand that it is even more complicated than that, in that the local authority was the original applicant for the original consent. It is fair to say that this was more of a rescue mission, on the part of the Ministry for the Environment. I think that it is something that could have been better managed right from the beginning.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: What is his response to the president of the Māpua and Districts Community Association, which accuses the Government of using residents as guinea pigs, and a concerned neighbour of the contaminated site, Annette Walker, who trusted the Government to carry out the clean-up properly, but says they have been betrayed?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I will supply all those people with the final reports when they are available.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: To the—[Interruption] Oh, I know that Minister has gone. This is the death of him. He is gone. Chris will be happy to take your job, Damien; this is the final nail in Damien’s coffin! What action will be taken in respect of the breach, by the Ministry for the Environment, of the resource consent, in the adding of over 13 tonnes of copper sulphate to this fragile estuarine environment; if no action is taken, what signal does this send regarding compliance with resource consents?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: That is an allegation that has been made, and it is something that will be considered—

Hon Dr Nick Smith: The PCE concluded.

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: Well, the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment has a report that is effectively an interim one, which will be considered when it is finalised.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Why did the Minister approve of the resource consent being held by the ministry—

Hon Clayton Cosgrove: Because you’re hopeless.

Hon Damien O’Connor: You did nothing.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: We know you have goofed, guys—we know the community is angry. [Interruption] Yes, that is right. Oh, so the Government is proud of Māpua?

Hon Members: Yes.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Yes? My question to the Minister—

Hon Clayton Cosgrove: I think he’s going to blow.

Hon Ruth Dyson: Is there a question—they are so embarrassed.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: I think they are a bit sensitive. Why did the Minister approve of the resource consent being held by the ministry, when as the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment concludes, this resulted in a clear conflict of interest and put the local council into the impossible position of not being able to take enforcement action against breaches of the resource consent?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I submit to the House that it is less of a conflict than it was originally, when the local council was the organisation that held the consent.

Hon Darren Hughes: Can the Minister confirm that the outgoing Minister of Conservation in 1999 made a beeline to the incoming Labour Minister for the Environment in that year, and advised her to halve the costs of the funding that was available in order to make sure the clean-up of Māpua could take place—and that that former Minister was Dr Nick Smith?

Hon Dr Nick Smith: I was right.

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: Dr Nick Smith claims that he was right. I find it hard to believe that any member of Parliament would be that stupid.

/NR/rdonlyres/2532C737-E386-4B4E-9060-26420B292155/91044/48HansQ_20080730_00000759_.pdfFull transcript of Questions for Oral Answer for Wednesday, 30 July 2008 [PDF 231k]

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11. Electricity Transmission—Investment

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

11. DAVE HEREORA (Labour) to the Minister of Energy: What reports has he received on investment in electricity transmission?

Hon DAVID PARKER (Minister of Energy) : Transpower reports that it will spend $450 million this year on grid improvements. That is part of the $3.5 billion of investment in electricity transmission projects due in the coming years. It is on top of the billions of dollars that generators will spend on new renewable projects. Transpower says that investment in electricity generation and transmission infrastructure is on a scale that this country has not seen for 30 years. Under a Labour-led Government electricity security margins continue to improve.

Dave Hereora: What reports has the Minister seen on the Waikato to Auckland transmission project, which all of those in the industry agree is necessary?

Hon DAVID PARKER: I have seen an email, which I will seek leave to table at the end of this question, reporting on a meeting between a member of this House and the Waikato lobby group opposed to Transpower’s new pylons through to Auckland. This member has been telling the lobby group—and this is a quote from the email report of the meeting—“The only way to stop the pylons going ahead is to change the Government.” He has not said that to Aucklanders, who know that the project is needed to ensure Auckland’s security of supply. It is a case of one story for Waikato voters and another story for Auckland voters—different stories for different audiences. The member is well known for telling people what they want to hear: it is Mr John Key.

Peter Brown: Has the Minister read the recent report by the Electricity Commission entitled Market Design Review—Options Paper; if he has, how does he react to its stating, in essence, that network charges have remained relatively static since 1999, but, in contrast, the energy component of customers’ bills has been rising sharply, with the largest increase being felt by residential users?

Hon DAVID PARKER: I first respond by thanking the member for that question. I am surprised that it has not been raised earlier by other members, because, as I said at the select committee, I think it is a very proper concern to raise. I am concerned about prices, and I am particularly concerned about the matter that the member referred to, which is the ever-widening gap between residential and industrial prices.

Gerry Brownlee: Can the Minister confirm that he just told the House that security of electricity supply has improved under a Labour Government, even though we have had 4 years of very tight supply in the period that Labour has been in Government; and can he further explain why there has been a 48 percent price rise for domestic consumers over the last 5 years, and given his previous answer to Mr Brown, what does he intend doing about it?

Hon DAVID PARKER: In respect of security margins, there is absolutely no doubt that security margins are improving year by year. Indeed, I would note that the worst electricity disaster in the last couple of decades was during the time of the National Government, which oversaw a period when the lights went out in Auckland for 2 weeks.

Peter Brown: Does the Minister concur with the view that our electricity industry is in a sad state, when the same report that I have referred to states: “in winter 25 per cent of homes had living room temperatures below 16°C (compared to World Health Organisation recommendations for adequate warmth of 21°C in the living room, and 18°C for other rooms);”?

Hon DAVID PARKER: I do accept that there are problems with heating and fuel poverty for some people in New Zealand. I would note that that is one of the reasons why we have improved the minimum requirements under the building code—to make it more affordable for people to heat their houses. I would also note that in the last 9 years we have retrofitted approximately 42,000 houses in order to improve their heating efficiency. We have ramped those programmes up, and are expecting to do about 30,000 homes in the forthcoming year alone.

Gerry Brownlee: I seek leave to table a document produced by the Electricity Commission showing that security of supply has been declining for the last 5 years, during a period when the price for residential consumers has risen sby some 48 percent.

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

Hon DAVID PARKER: I seek leave to table an email from New Era Energy concerning a private meeting between John Key and New Era that states that he said that a change of Government was the only way to stop—

 Leave granted.

/NR/rdonlyres/F5103EB0-711E-44E0-A178-CA1D091A5963/91046/48HansQ_20080730_00000857_.pdfFull transcript of Questions for Oral Answer for Wednesday, 30 July 2008 [PDF 231k]

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12. Elective Surgical Discharges—Totals

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

12. Hon TONY RYALL (National—Bay of Plenty) to the Minister of Health: Can he confirm that elective surgical discharges since district health boards began have been 108,541 in 2001, 105,721 in 2002, 102,942 in 2003, 106,575 in 2004, 106,583 in 2005, 107,923 in 2006, and 114,098 in 2007?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE (Minister of Health) : Yes, I can confirm that the number of people receiving elective surgical treatment has increased significantly under this Labour-led Government, alongside increases in acute procedures, capital investment, and workforce investment, and despite changes to clinical practice and definitions.

Hon Tony Ryall: Why is it that after 7 years and $5.5 billion of extra funding, the amount of elective surgery in New Zealand has not kept up with our country’s population growth, meaning that sick people have less chance of getting the surgery they need under Labour than they had previously?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: As I indicated in my primary answer, much of the significant investment made by this Government has gone into other areas of health care, such as capital investment, district health board budgets, workforce investment, and a whole raft of improvements to the system.

Jill Pettis: What steps has the Labour-led Government recently taken to increase the number of elective surgical operations actually undertaken?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: This year’s Budget allocated an extra $160 million, with that funding providing an additional 5,000 elective surgical discharges a year. The money will also give approximately 24,000 extra patients first specialist appointments, diagnostic testing, and community-based procedures. New Zealanders know that they can trust Labour to deliver on health—unlike the National Party, which apparently has a phone book - sized policy agenda that it is hiding from the public.

Hon Tony Ryall: Can the Minister confirm that under Labour’s district health board model, from 2001 to 2006 elective surgical discharges actually fell, and despite the panicked injection of $60 million by Pete Hodgson elective surgical discharges under Labour have still not even caught up with New Zealand’s population growth?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: What I can confirm is that the proportion of the total adult population getting elective surgical discharges in 2001-02 was 199 per 10,000, and in 2006-07 that had grown to 207 per 10,000.

Hon Tony Ryall: How does he respond to a Dunedin ear, nose, and throat surgeon who says, in his words: “Many working-class people are struggling to borrow money to have operations privately, because they know they would never get seen in the public system.”, and is that how Labour treats the people whom it says it represents?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: The feedback I get from my colleagues who actually hold clinics with working-class people is that they have not had cases of people fronting up to complain about a lack of hip operations, knee operations, or cataract operations in many a long month or year. That stands in vast contrast to the queues of crippled Kiwis who were lining up under that member’s maladministration.

Hon Tony Ryall: If everything is so good, why do his own officials say that patients have to be sicker in order to qualify for surgery, and is that not more evidence of Labour using yesterday’s solutions for tomorrow’s problems?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: I would be happy to give that member a very specific answer to that question if he had asked anything specific in the question, but if he wants to trot out pure rhetoric and vague references there is not much I can say.

Dr Jonathan Coleman: Would the Minister explain why fewer operations were performed in the Waitemata District Health Board area in 2007 than in 2001, and given that the district health board population has increased by 14 percent over 6 years, is he concerned that sick working-class people now have less chance of getting surgery in Waitematā than they had previously?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: How nice it is to hear from the next National spokesperson on health. What I know from visiting that member’s district health board is that there has been a considerable capital investment programme in Waitematā that has seen the addition of new bed space, new wards, new staffing rosters, vacancy rates going down, and operation numbers going up. The feedback that I get from the people of the Waitematā area is that they are very happy, in general, with their district health board.

Hon Tony Ryall: I seek leave to table a schedule that shows that per head of population New Zealanders are getting less access to vitally needed surgery than previously.

- Leave granted.

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: I seek leave to table a series of data summarising progress with elective surgery under this Government.

- Leave granted.

ENDS

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Lyndon Hood: Social Welfare, Explained

Speaking as someone who has seen better times and nowadays mostly operates by being really annoying and humiliating to deal with, I have some fellow feeling with the current system, so I’ll take this chance to set a few things straight.. More>>

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Deregistered: Independent Board Decision On Family First

The Board considers that Family First has a purpose to promote its own particular views about marriage and the traditional family that cannot be determined to be for the public benefit in a way previously accepted as charitable... More>>

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Transport Policies: Nats' New $10.5bn Roads Of National Significance

National is committing to the next generation of Roads of National Significance, National Party Transport Spokesperson Simon Bridges says. More>>

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Gordon Campbell: On Why Labour Isn’t Responsible For Barnaby Joyce

As a desperate Turnbull government tries to treat the Barnaby Joyce affair as a Pauline Hanson fever dream – blame it on the foreigners! We’re the victims of the dastardly New Zealand Labour Party! – our own government has chosen to further that narrative, and make itself an accomplice. More>>

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Rail: Greens Back Tauranga – Hamilton – Auckland Service

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

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Housing: Voluntary Rental Warrant Of Fitness For Wellington

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

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