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Questions And Answers – Tuesday, 5 August 2008

Questions And Answers – Tuesday, 5 August 2008


1. Pacific Region—Electoral Systems


1. R DOUG WOOLERTON (NZ First) to the Minister of Foreign Affairs: Has he been involved in discussions on electoral systems in the Pacific?

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Minister of Foreign Affairs) : Yes. There have been several discussions relating to constitutional reform in Tonga. There have been discussions relating to electoral petitions in the Cook Islands and Samoa, and there have also been discussions about the international community’s call for fair, open, and free elections to be held in Fiji by March 2009.

R Doug Woolerton: Has the Minister held any discussions about compliance with electoral law, in the Pacific?

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: Yes, I have. I have had cause to have several discussions about a particular case. During an electoral petition hearing a claim of organised push-polling was conducted on behalf of a candidate, involving the Exclusive Brethren church and scores of workers, which, because of the nature of push-polling, was an election expense. The allegation of push-polling was denied in the court, yet the candidate himself admitted at the weekend’s National Party conference the help of 150 Exclusive Brethren members. This means that the National Party committed perjury, which is a serious offence.

R Doug Woolerton: Is the Minister aware of other incidents in the Pacific that contravene electoral laws?

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: Yes, there are a number of cases. But one case in particular involved an undeclared cheque of $250,000 from Fay Richwhite to the National Party in 2002. A second case reported was that National Party money was funnelled through a law firm’s trust fund, controlled by a former National Party president.

R Doug Woolerton: Are there any cases in the Pacific where misrepresentation has caused particular concern?

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: Yes, there was the case in 2005 where the candidate had described himself as a New Zealand sporting representative, which could be true only if New Zealand fielded a pocket billiards team before the First World War.

Rodney Hide: In light of the Minister’s expert knowledge of electoral discussions in the Pacific involving the Exclusive Brethren—

Ron Mark: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. That member is old enough, and has been in this House long enough, to know that starting a supplementary question with the words “In light of” is not appropriate. He should start with a question, and leave it at that.

Madam SPEAKER: I thank the member and I am sure all members will take note. Would the member please ask his question.

Rodney Hide: How come the Minister of Foreign Affairs is such an expert on electoral systems in the Pacific that he knows all about what the Exclusive Brethren were doing with Mr Clarkson, and all about the funding of New Zealand First and other political parties, but cannot take the opportunity like he promised to do in this House to explain what happened to the cheque for $25,000 that he solicited just before the election in 2005 from Sir Robert Jones that was then deposited in the Spencer Trust—administered by that member’s brother—which hundreds of thousands of dollars have gone through; he cannot tell us anything about what happened to that $25,000, but he is an expert on everyone else?

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: I tell the member who is dressed as a cockatoo every day in this House that the evidence given by Malcolm Wright, as eventually published by the New Zealand Herald when it finally got its mind around it, said three things: first, I was not there when the subject was raised; second, I was annoyed and angry when it was raised; and, third, I was not there when any money was paid over to a trust. Those three critical factors are the total answer to this question, but I say that a member who has failed to declare an office expense in Wellington of $20,000—for which today I will table the landlord’s letter, showing 9 years’ free rent was paid for by the head of the Business Roundtable in Remuera—should not be asking any questions in this House, and, better still—[Interruption] I say “Over here Rodney; don’t look over there, but over here.” I say to the member that, better still, he should go and get some legal advice from Stephen Franks, but I know that he has left the party.

Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. That was all very interesting but why does not the Minister just explain what happened to the $25,000, which was the question I asked.

Madam SPEAKER: The Minister addressed the question, and as members know they may not always like the answer.

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. During my answer I heard a call from the back of the House and I recognised the voice. It is the one who told his campaign team and his legal advisers that he had no knowledge of the Exclusive Brethren. However, of course, he told the National Party, in a flippant moment of honesty just over the weekend, that he did. So perhaps the perjurer can get up now and apologise.

Madam SPEAKER: Would the member please be seated. That is not a point of order. If members could please, when they raise—[Interruption] That was not a point of order. If members wish to raise points of order they must relate to what is in the Standing Orders and that there has been some breach of the Standing Orders. They are not used for speeches and comments. That is not what question time is for; it is for questions to be asked and addressed.

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. He made a totally unparliamentary and, above all, untrue comment.

Madam SPEAKER: Is the member then asking for it to be withdrawn and apologised for?

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: Yes.

Madam SPEAKER: Then the member should ask for that without a large explanation. The member has sought that it be withdrawn and apologised for. Would the member who made the comment please do so, so we can move on.

Bob Clarkson: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker.

Madam SPEAKER: Would the member who made that comment please withdraw and apologise before I take the next point of order. I did not hear who the member was.

Bob Clarkson: Point of order, Madam Speaker—

Madam SPEAKER: Please be seated. While I am on my feet, members are to be seated. Now would the member who made that comment please withdraw and apologise. No one will own up to it. OK we have a new point of order then.

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. Mr Clarkson made the comment. We all heard him. Now, will he please withdraw and apologise.

Madam SPEAKER: No, we did not all hear him, and that was the point. It was why I said that I did not hear who made the comment. I asked the member who made it to withdraw and apologise. Would the member please do that.

Bob Clarkson: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. Can I speak to that?

Madam SPEAKER: Will the member withdraw and apologise. Then we will take the point of order.

Bob Clarkson: I will not withdraw; I want to explain.

Madam SPEAKER: Thank you. The member will not withdraw and will not apologise.

Bob Clarkson: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. You allow this member to tell lies in this House—

Hon Members: Oh!

Bob Clarkson: He did tell a lie; I am sorry. He is listed in the papers in Tauranga as a liar—

Madam SPEAKER: I am sorry, would the member please be seated. This is equally not a point of order. If members wish to have this exchange, then they should have it outside this Chamber or in the context of a general debate. Now we will move on.

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I have asked you to ask the member to withdraw and apologise. He has indicated that he is the party who is the subject of my complaint, and the Standing Orders require him to withdraw and apologise or you will treat him accordingly. Please, I am asking for you to apply the Standing Orders and the Speakers’ rulings.

Madam SPEAKER: The member knows that when, in fact, the member asks for a comment to be withdrawn and apologised for, then the member should do so. I ask the member once more to do so. We would like his continued presence in the House.

Bob Clarkson: Madam Speaker, I am sorry; I am not withdrawing and apologising. If the Minister is allowed to be corrupt in this place, then that is all there is to it.

Madam SPEAKER: Then I ask the member please to withdraw. Thank you.

 Bob Clarkson withdrew from the Chamber.

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. While we are being sticklers for these sorts of things, you will have heard during the exchange of points of order that the Rt Hon Winston Peters referred to the exiting member as a perjurer. That is totally unparliamentary. It does not require the member to be offended; it is an offence to the whole Parliament when that sort of abuse is hurled around the place.

Madam SPEAKER: I am sorry, I did not hear that. I will ask the member to withdraw and apologise if he used that term.

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: I withdraw and apologise. I seek leave to table a document.

Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table a document—

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker—

Madam SPEAKER: The member has withdrawn and apologised.

Gerry Brownlee: No, he cannot table a document—we do not know what it is.

Madam SPEAKER: Please be seated. Will everyone just settle. The member asked for a point of order, and he wants to table a document. Would he please now explain what the document is.

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: It is a letter from the landlord in respect of the ACT party’s taking $20,000 per annum and failing to disclose it.

 Leave granted.

/NR/rdonlyres/96B0AF3E-3FFF-4713-A3F2-D2DFF41915F8/91541/48HansQ_20080805_00000045_.pdfFull transcript of Questions for Oral Answer for Tuesday, 05 August 2008 [PDF 225k]

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2. Government Borrowing—International Situation

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

2. JOHN KEY (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does she stand by her statement yesterday, in relation to Government borrowing: “Oh I just think it’s mind-bogglingly stupid to go out and be borrowing in the time when the international markets are in crisis”; if so, why?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister) : Yes, in respect of increasing debt to GDP ratios to pay for tax cuts, as appears to be the National Party’s policy.

John Key: Can the Prime Minister confirm that the Government is currently borrowing $32.5 billion, and that over the next 3 years it intends to increase the level of this debt, despite the worldwide credit crunch; and does she consider this to be mind-bogglingly stupid?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: The key issue, of course, is the debt to GDP ratios. I notice that contrary to the National Party’s intention to increase these ratios, over the forecast period of the Budget that the Labour Government has delivered these debt to GDP ratios are consistently falling.

R Doug Woolerton: Can the Prime Minister remember other instances in the past of Governments raising debt levels, and can she tell us who did it and what the result of that policy was?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Probably the worst example was the National Government of Sir Robert Muldoon, which went into huge borrowing—Think Big—which caused this country a lot of grief with blowout in fiscal deficits. I expect that is why some of my colleagues have labelled the Leader of the Opposition “Muldoon’s mokopuna”.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: Does the Prime Minister agree that what is particularly mind-bogglingly stupid is borrowing for white elephant new motorways when we have totally run out of cheap oil, vehicles on State Highway 1 in Auckland are down by 8,000 a day on last year, and overall public transport use is up 9.4 percent in Auckland, or does she not agree because Labour is throwing billions at new motorways too?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: The situation that the leader of the Green Party outlines certainly justifies the fact that the Labour Government has increased spending on public transport more than 15 times over what it was when it was elected in 1999, but one might take a little more interest in the National Party’s infrastructure plans if its leader were able to give the slightest idea what he was borrowing the money for, and he has not been able to come up with a single example.

John Key: If that is how the Prime Minister describes an Opposition party that would want to, in Government, raise its debt to GDP target by 2 percent, how would the Prime Minister describe a Government that raises its debt to GDP target by 5 percent?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I am looking at tables from the Budget documentation here that shows net core Crown debt, including the New Zealand Superannuation Fund financial assets, to be absolutely stable at around 6.1 percent over the forecast period—positive.

John Key: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I asked the Prime Minister how she would describe a situation where a Government raised the debt to GDP target by 5 percent. I wonder whether the Prime Minister could address that.

Madam SPEAKER: I thought the Prime Minister did address it.

Peter Brown: Does the Prime Minister agree that any party that seriously contemplates borrowing for road funding, as has been reported, would at the very least have supported legislation that ensured that all the revenue collected from the petrol motorist went into the transport account, as the recent amendment to the Land Transport Management Act does—$570 million per year?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: The member raises a good point, because I understand that the National Party voted against that very sensible legislation and, of course, past National Governments have been perfectly happy to take money off the motorist and use it for everything else but the transport system.

John Key: Would it be helpful for the Prime Minister if I reminded her that when she came into office in 1999 the first thing her Government did was raise the debt target from 25 percent of GDP to 30 percent of GDP, and when she was asked why that was, she said that it gave Michael Cullen the option of using additional debt to finance the Crown’s activities?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I know that the facts are going to hurt the Leader of the Opposition, but I am looking at debt to GDP ratios from 1999, 35.6 percent; year 2000, the first year of the Labour Government, 32.9 percent; 2001, 31.4 percent; 2002, 29.1 percent; 2003, 27.7 percent; 2004, 25.3 percent; 2005, 23.5 percent; 2006, 21.6 percent; and 2007, 18.2 percent. What about that does he not understand?

Gordon Copeland: Does the Prime Minister agree that it would be prudent and desirable to borrow for roads, hospitals, rail upgrades, port upgrades, schools, etc., provided that a source of funds were available to repay those loans—for example, the sell-down of about 20 percent of our State-owned enterprises to Kiwi-only investors; and would that not be the right thing to do, if for once we put the interests of this country first, rather than socialist ideology on the part of the Labour Party mixed with timidity on the part of the National Party?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I suggest to the member that the relevant issues here are around the debt to GDP ratios, but I know that the member has given his vote to the National Party to cast, except for confidence and supply, which I thank him for, and therefore I assume he has some insight into the National Party’s real plans to sell our State-owned assets, like Kiwibank.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Does the Prime Minister have any reports that would give her a sense of déjà vu that this is a case where the Opposition is prepared to borrow and hope, and hopefully work it out sometime after the election if it can fool enough people before it?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: It seems to me that the Opposition achieved the incredible triple whammy at its conference of stating it was quite happy to borrow much more at a time of international financial turmoil, quite happy to cut spending in core areas, and quite happy to privatise. Let us campaign on those things now!

John Key: Does the Prime Minister recall seeing a statement from the Leader of the Opposition back in 1994—one Helen Clark—when the debt to GDP ratio was at 56 percent, in which she made the comment that the Government was putting an undue emphasis on debt, repaying it at the expense of our failing services and infrastructure demands in New Zealand?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Of course, in the 1990s National managed to run high debt, and cut public services, and start charging ordinary Kiwis to go to a public hospital, and State tenants market rents for their houses, and it cut superannuation, and introduced an extortionist student loan scheme. That Government certainly sold the people of New Zealand down the river, just as Mr Key’s private plans would sell the people down the river.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Has the Prime Minister received any reports from someone no less than the deputy leader of the National Party, who suggested that his leader does not quite “understand”, and how is it likely—

Hon Dr Nick Smith: He never said that.

Rt Hon Winston Peters:Well, he did on the secret tape.

Hon Member: No, he didn’t.

Rt Hon Winston Peters:Oh, yes he did. And what are the chances—

Gerry Brownlee: Do your homework

Rt Hon Winston Peters:I don’t have to. We have the tapes. What reports does the Prime Minister have from no less a person than the deputy leader of the National Party, Bill English, that says his leader does not “understand”; and what is the likelihood of a leader ever defending a policy that he cannot understand?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I did indeed see those comments reported, and I have to assume that because Mr Key did not understand Working for Families he went, without Mr English’s consent, on to Agenda and just said: “No, no, I’m not going to change that.” So, having said he would not change that, having claimed he would resign if he touched New Zealand superannuation, it seems to me that the obvious target for his savings is the roughly $1.5 billion a year he would save by wiping the tax credits for KiwiSaver, and the $2 billion a year that goes into the New Zealand Superannuation Fund, and I expect that Mr Key will be under a lot of pressure to explain why he would weaken the savings and superannuation position of ordinary Kiwis in order to pay for tax cuts for his rich mates.

John Key: Could the Prime Minister explain why it was a good idea in 1994, when debt to GDP was 56 percent, not to repay debt but to invest in infrastructure, but it is not a good idea to invest in infrastructure now when, according to Treasury, we are in recession, when 80,000 people left New Zealand last year to live in another part of the world, when our wages are in the bottom third of the OECD, when the wage gap between New Zealand and Australia has blown out to 35 percent and is on its way to 60 percent, and when—quite frankly—New Zealanders have given up confidence in her Government’s economic plan?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: It is such a good idea to have good plans for infrastructure—not no plans, like that member has—that this Government has doubled the amount it spends on roading every year, has increased by 15 times per annum the amount spent on public transport, and in nine Budgets has committed three times as much to the public health infrastructure as National did in the previous nine Budgets. No amount of shrieking from the rattled Leader of the Opposition and his deputy can take away the fact that he committed tremendous tactical and strategic errors at his conference by wanting to go out and substantially lift debt to GDP ratios, and cut spending, and privatise.

John Key: Can the Prime Minister answer the question, since we are all ears and we are happy to have the discussion: when is the election date?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I suspect that the Leader of the Opposition is starting to hope that the date is as far as away as possible.

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I seek leave for the House to adjourn to proceed immediately to a general election.

Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought; is there any objection?

Rt Hon Winston Peters: That was last week’s plan! Is it a fact that the Working for Families or KiwiSaver schemes are so complex that an ordinary member of Parliament could not understand them, as suggested in a secret tape recording we heard over the weekend; and again, how is it likely that a leader would defend those policies if they are too complex for him to understand?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Mind boggling as it is, apparently what the member says is true, because we have it on the authority of Mr English, who said: “If you push something up it’s gonna drop. If you give people cash, they have high marginal tax rates. OK, that’s it. You can’t get round that. Don thought he could but he couldn’t. So did John, actually—but you can’t.”

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I seek leave for the Standing Orders of the House to be put aside for a 1-hour debate so that Mr English can explain to Mr Key what these issues are about.

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

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. Last week, Mr Brownlee was pretending the Government was trying to put off a confidence vote. Now he is trying that yet again, by wanting to take an extra hour’s debate.

/NR/rdonlyres/6A8C5FFF-2469-44BB-83E8-383AA7431123/91543/48HansQ_20080805_00000134_.pdfFull transcript of Questions for Oral Answer for Tuesday, 05 August 2008 [PDF 225k]

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3. National Debt—Comparison with OECD Countries

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

3. CHARLES CHAUVEL (Labour) to the Minister of Finance: What is New Zealand’s national debt, and how does it compare with other OECD countries?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Finance) : I thank the member for his excellent question. It was such a good question that the National Party tried to adjourn the House for the general election to avoid it being asked—only a minute ago. As at 31 March 2008 New Zealand’s national debt, as measured by a negative net international investment position, was 86 percent of GDP. Only Iceland had a higher level of national debt on such a measure, and with the decline of the value of the New Zealand dollar we can expect to see New Zealand’s national debt increasing as a percentage of GDP.

Charles Chauvel: Can the Minister explain the consequences of this high national debt and what the Government is doing to address this problem?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: New Zealand’s high national debt reflects a very long period of very low savings by New Zealanders, and that means we have structurally high interest rates, which increase the cost of living for New Zealanders and the cost of capital for New Zealand businesses. Irrespective of the stage of the monetary policy cycle, we have structurally high interest rates in New Zealand. To tackle that high level of indebtedness, this Government has introduced KiwiSaver, which is leading to a major shift in the savings pattern of New Zealanders—some 750,000 New Zealanders have now joined KiwiSaver. We have also introduced a task force on strengthening the capital markets, to build stronger capital markets for New Zealand’s future.

Hon Bill English: Can the Minister explain why, when Government gross sovereign issue debt was 30 percent, he said it was prudent; when it was 27 percent he said it was prudent; when it was 25 percent he said it was prudent; when it got under 20 percent he said it was prudent; but when someone says it might be 22 percent, he says that is hilariously, ridiculously reckless?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: It is clear that the member does not understand this—as he does not understand Working for Families, which is “communism by stealth”, we learnt from Mr Key not so very long ago. What, of course, this Government has not done is to borrow for tax cuts, which Mr English is promising to do. The last time we saw a Government promise to lift debt in order to pay for the groceries was under Mr Key’s self-professed adolescent hero Sir Robert Muldoon.

Hon Bill English: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I asked a very specific question related to a series, actually, of statements made in Budgets—which are documents tabled in this House, so the Minister would know about them—about why he said debt was prudent at 29 percent, at 27 percent, and at 24 percent, but was reckless at 22 percent. It was quite a specific question, and he did not even bother to try to address it.

Madam SPEAKER: Does the Minister wish to add anything more to his answer?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I am proud of the fact that we have under-promised and outperformed on every occasion. That member continues to over-promise and underperform.

Hon Jim Anderton: Is there any difference between an ordinary person who sells his or her house to pay off the mortgage and ends up with nowhere to live and a country that sells all its assets to pay for tax cuts and then, after the assets are all sold, cannot afford to continue the tax cuts because there are no further assets left to sell?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: No, essentially not. When assets are sold, then, of course, the future revenue stream is also foregone, which is the answer to the question that Mr Copeland was trying to raise previously. It is extraordinary that Mr English should have mused about the desire—

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Who sold Air New Zealand?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Who bought back Air New Zealand is this Minister of Finance; the member seems to have forgotten that. In fact, I am the Minister of Finance who bought back Air New Zealand, bought back New Zealand rail, and helped to set up Kiwibank—and those members over there dribbled with envy and spite about that reassertion of the role of the Government in New Zealand’s sovereignty.

Hon Bill English: I seek leave to table the list of 17 State assets sold by Labour when Michael Cullen and Helen Clark were in Cabinet.

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

Charles Chauvel: Madam Speaker—[Interruption]

Madam SPEAKER: Would members please keep the level of noise down. It is very difficult to hear.

Charles Chauvel: What other reports has the Minister seen on New Zealand’s debt position?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I have seen a report that argues that even though New Zealand has the second-highest national debt in the OECD, it does not have a debt problem. The report calls for more borrowing and high deficits, and it foreshadows the sale of Government assets. Of course, in respect of that last part, National did not count on resistance; hence the forced confession outside the National Party caucus room today. What New Zealand needs is not that kind of programme but more savings and more investment that is funded out of our own savings. It does not need National’s one big new idea, after nearly 9 years in Opposition, for economic growth: more borrowing. That is the one idea it has thought up in nearly 9 years.

/NR/rdonlyres/9FEE23AF-6076-4185-93BC-A353624B1A6C/91545/48HansQ_20080805_00000273_.pdfFull transcript of Questions for Oral Answer for Tuesday, 05 August 2008 [PDF 225k]

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4. Election Advertising—Parliamentary Funding

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

4. Hon BILL ENGLISH (Deputy Leader—National) to the Minister of Justice: Is it Government policy that election advertisements can be paid for with parliamentary funding; if so, why?

Hon ANNETTE KING (Minister of Justice) : It is Government policy to follow all appropriate legislation in relation to electoral financing and parliamentary spending.

Hon Bill English: Is the Minister concerned that the New Zealand Labour Party appears to be using large amounts of taxpayer-funded Parliamentary Service money to pay for election brochures like the one entitled “A fair economy for a strong future”, which on Friday last week was declared an election advertisement by the Electoral Commission; if she is not aware of that, why not?

Hon ANNETTE KING: The Labour Party is following the rules as they are set out, and they are open and transparent. I would put that up against the over $700,000 of parliamentary expenditure by the National Party—more than any other party in this Parliament—in 1 year, on activities that it did not declare and that were hidden. Nobody knows where the money has gone, except, as Nicky Hager said, Crosby/Textor has certainly got some of it.

Hon Jim Anderton: In respect of the advertisement referred to, is it possible that sometimes a party, in the words of the National Party’s spokesperson on finance released this morning, “does not choose its words well”; if so, is it more serious to say what one’s party intends to do publicly, or to say what one intends to do privately and then deny it publicly?

Hon ANNETTE KING: We have had months of that sort of cant from the National Party. Of course, there are times when members and parties do not choose their words well. Sometimes they are even forced to go outside the caucus room and apologise. The deputy leader of the National Party said today that he did not mean to suggest that he would sell Kiwibank if elected, and that he did not mean to undermine the credibility of his own leader when he hinted that his leader did not fully understand. What the National Party does constantly is to say things behind closed doors in secret and do things differently in public, and we know what the word for that is.

Hon Bill English: Can the Minister of Justice tell us whether she means that this election brochure, now declared to be electioneering by the Electoral Commission, will count as an election expense for the Labour Party, or will Labour do what it did last election, which was to promise to count the pledge card before the election, then remove that undertaking straight afterwards?

Hon ANNETTE KING: I have no doubt that the Labour Party will do what is right. I stand by the Labour Party’s record of repaying money to the Parliamentary Service—unlike the National Party, which still has not paid back its GST. National is the outstanding party in this House that has not honoured what it ought to have done. It has been given an easy ride, in my view, by the media, who have not looked at National’s behaviour. The media has criticised every other party in this House except the National Party, who should have known about GST—it claims to have experts over there on all matters financial, but obviously it did not understand it.

Hon Bill English: Has the Minister seen the letter, dated 26 June 2008, from Mike Smith, the general secretary of the Labour Party to the Electoral Commission about this pamphlet, which says that it is an election advertisement for the Labour Party and that he is entitled to promote it; and why is it that her law allows the secretary of a political party to have unlimited access to public, taxpayers’ money, which is meant to be in the charge of the Prime Minister’s office?

Hon ANNETTE KING: I do not believe that situation would be any different to Mr Key having a say over the parliamentary money that he is doling out to secret consultants, pollsters, Crosby/Textor, and other agents of the 36 staff whom he employs—unaccountable, not known by New Zealanders. Labour is upfront about what it is doing and it declares what it is doing.

Hon Bill English: Can the Minister tell us whether, when the Prime Minister said on Radio New Zealand after the pledge card debacle: “There will be no more pledge cards.”, that what she actually meant was that instead of Labour producing a small card with promises on it using taxpayers’ money and trying not to declare it, it would in fact produce a large brochure without promises on it using taxpayers’ money and try not to declare it?

Hon ANNETTE KING: I would like to remind this House that Bill English was once the leader of the National Party. I wonder whether members know that he used taxpayers’ money—parliamentary money—to put full-sized hoardings up and down New Zealand promoting National’s policy. It was OK for Bill English to do that, yet he criticises every other party. I draw the member’s attention to this document, which was put out by the ACT party. It has the House of Representatives crest on it, it is authorised for election purposes, and it was put out about what the ACT party will do—it was allowed to do that. Let me look at this one—the Green Times, put out by the Green Party. It was authorised and bears the House of Representatives crest—it is allowed to do that. It is honest and open and shows people what the party is doing. I compare that to the National Party, which is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars of taxpayers’ money and not disclosing it to the public.

Madam SPEAKER: Members are reminded that the questions are meant to be succinct, as are the answers.

Hon Bill English: Does the Minister not understand that the difference between those documents from ACT and the Greens that she just produced and this one is that the Electoral Commission has said that this one is an election advertisement; is that kind of misunderstanding the reason why all four parties that supported the Electoral Finance Act have now been found to have breached it, and why three of them are being investigated by the police—including Jim Anderton and Winston Peters—and can she give an undertaking that the supporters of the Government will show up for the police interviews and answer the questions honestly?

Hon ANNETTE KING: The last part of that question is nothing but an insult to the integrity of members in this House. To imply that those members would not face up to the police and answer questions honestly is an insult, and it is not worthy of that member. Maybe he would like to tell the people of New Zealand who paid for this pamphlet. It says: “You stay, we pay—National.” It is an election advertisement; National just happened to put it out last year, so it did not count.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Is the Minister aware that failure to pay GST is a criminal offence punishable by imprisonment, and, second, that the reason Macalister Mazengarb was not giving the money over in 2002 was that it was told not to hand it over until the National Party replaced Bill English as leader?

Madam SPEAKER: The second part of the question is not relevant, but the first part is.

Hon ANNETTE KING: In relation to the first part of the question, I believe that is correct. I am not sure about the second part, but another National Party leadership change is on the cards, especially when we look at the way the leadership team is performing at the moment—the left hand does not know what the right hand is doing.

/NR/rdonlyres/A216889A-F886-4A9D-927B-908F2257E237/91547/48HansQ_20080805_00000338_.pdfFull transcript of Questions for Oral Answer for Tuesday, 05 August 2008 [PDF 225k]

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5. Waste Disposal—Policies

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

5. TE URUROA FLAVELL (Māori Party—Waiariki) on behalf ofHon TARIANA TURIA (Co-Leader—Māori Party)to the Minister for the Environment: What assurance can iwi have as a result of the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment’s report on the Levin landfill that waste disposal policies will not create new environmental hazards?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Minister for the Environment) : I regret I am unable to answer the member’s question, because, until 2 o’clock today, a copy of the report was not available to me.

Te Ururoa Flavell: Does the Minister believe that the concerns of Muaūpoko and NgātiPareraukawa were ever properly recognised, concerns which they raised over many decades about the longstanding pollution caused by the sewage discharge that has compromised the health of their streams, affected their marine environment, and poisoned their tuna; and what practical difference will the report make to tangata whenua?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: Again, I regret I cannot give an informed answer to the question. The normal—

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. It is a somewhat perplexing situation to have a Minister stand up and say he cannot answer a question that was lodged this morning, after some 2½ hours—at least—of his knowing that the question was to be asked, when, in fact, the lodgment process requires documentation to support the question. The question refers directly to the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment’s report on the Levin landfill. Clearly, the report was sighted this morning when the question was lodged. What is it about the Minister’s office that makes it so useless that it cannot get hold of this report to give him a bit of a briefing so that he can come to the House and say more than: “I’m sorry but I can’t answer that.”?

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: That air-laden load of bluster had absolutely nothing to do with the Minister’s answer. The Minister made it clear that the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment had not sent a copy of the report to his office. It may strike Mr Brownlee as very, very strange, but Mr Mallard and other Ministers have a tendency to read reports before answering questions about them.

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: Speaking to the point of order, Madam Speaker, I can tell the House that it is my understanding, from the brief time I have had available to consider the matter, that this report relates to the Horizons Regional Council and the local district council, not to the Ministry for the Environment. That is the reason why the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment has not sent me a copy. Of course, the report was not tabled until 2 o’clock today, and, therefore, was not generally available until that time.

Gerry Brownlee: That is just not a credible position for the Minister to take. He knew at 11 o’clock this morning that he had to answer a question about this report. Is he honestly telling us that he sat behind his desk and said: “Oh well, I haven’t got the report, so I can’t answer any questions on it.”? Would we not expect a Minister of the Crown to work out that it might be a good idea to ask for it?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: We have a process in this Parliament—the member will get to it at some stage—and it is that we have parliamentary officers who table reports. It is their choice to give reports to people beforehand, if they are affected. In this particular case, we understand, from checking with the Office of the Clerk, that the report relates to a regional council and a district council, and not to my ministry. That is why I do not have the report.

Te Ururoa Flavell: I understand the Minister’s explanation. Although I am sure that Mr Brownlee pursued the matter in a far better way than I can, I would like to seek the leave of the House to hold over our question until tomorrow. We submitted the question on the basis that the Minister had the report; the rest of the questions are almost irrelevant in this context.

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

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I wonder whether you might consider your own authority in this matter. It seems to me to be fundamentally unacceptable for the Minister to say that because the relationship between his ministry and the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment is very bad, he cannot pick up the phone and ask for a report a couple of hours before it is tabled in Parliament—bearing in mind that we are looking at changes to the Standing Orders that will mean that documents are often given out before they are tabled and published in Parliament. You, Madam Speaker, are in a position to be able to say that this question should be answered, and that it can be answered tomorrow. You can rule in that way.

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: I do not know why Opposition members are now trying to filibuster in the House, their having said that Government members were trying to avoid any votes! The question the member now raises would set a very, very difficult precedent. It would mean that anybody could put down a question about any document, whether or not the Minister had access to it, on the assumption that the Minister then would have to rush out and find the document, in order to be able to give an answer at 2 o’clock. That would be an impossible and stupid position to put any Government in.

Hon Members: Madam Speaker—

Madam SPEAKER: No, no. I am sorry; I have heard enough on this.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Point of order—

Madam SPEAKER: No, there have been—

Hon Dr Nick Smith: It is a new point of order.

Madam SPEAKER: Well, let me rule on the other one, and then I will take Dr Smith’s new point of order. The Minister was entitled to answer the question in the way in which he did. As members know, the document was tabled, and it referred more to local authorities than to the Minister. But the Minister was perfectly entitled to answer in the way in which he did. Also, he is not responsible—no Minister is—for the actions of local authorities.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. The House needs to know that the report was placed on the website of the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment at 9 o’clock this morning, when it was provided to me.

Madam SPEAKER: That may well be true, but it does not alter the point of order. [Interruption] No, I have ruled on this point of order.

Te Ururoa Flavell: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. In doing some of the research for this question today, my staff advised me that the report about the environment management review was actually released yesterday—

Madam SPEAKER: Well, that is all very interesting, but, as I have said—I am sorry; please be seated—the Minister was perfectly entitled to answer in the way that he did.

Te Ururoa Flavell: Is it still possible, despite the discussion earlier, to seek leave to have the question moved to tomorrow—to have another shot?

Madam SPEAKER: You have sought leave; you may seek it again. Is there any objection? Yes, there is objection.

Te Ururoa Flavell: What penalties exist for local authorities such as the Horowhenua District Council, which was found in the report of the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment on the Levin landfill to have a history of resource consent condition breaches on the site, some of which have been recurring?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: If the member cares to put that question down as either an oral question tomorrow or a written question, I would be happy to answer it.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: What does it say about the Government’s priority for the environment, when the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment releases a substantive report on the poor management of a landfill for which the Minister has responsibility, but, after the lodging of a question and after the report being available on the website, the best answer the Minister can give the House is “Oh, I haven’t seen the report yet.”?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: This Minister was out of the building at the time. In fact, I rang your office, Madam Speaker, in order to inquire about this question, and even then I was not informed that the report was about to be tabled.

Te Ururoa Flavell: What confidence can NgātiPareraukawa, Ngāti Raukawa, and Muaūpoko have in the recommendation of the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment for them to be formally included in the neighbourhood liaison group, when the local authorities were found to be non-compliant by failing to convene meetings of that same neighbourhood liaison group—at least one a year—and by failing to provide members with a copy of the annual monitoring reports?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: Far be it from me to take any responsibility whatsoever for local authorities, which of course I cannot. I think the answer is “Not much.”

/NR/rdonlyres/BC41D359-A20E-497C-A676-0EC8EA8BB83E/91549/48HansQ_20080805_00000420_.pdfFull transcript of Questions for Oral Answer for Tuesday, 05 August 2008 [PDF 225k]

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6. Corrections, Department—Confidence

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

6. SIMON POWER (National—Rangitikei) to the Minister of Corrections: Does he have confidence in his department; if so, why?

Hon PHIL GOFF (Minister of Corrections) : Yes; because of the significant improvements that have occurred in the Department of Corrections, compared with what occurred 10 years ago when National was in Government. The escape rate has fallen by 84 percent, positive random drugs tests have fallen from 34 percent in 1998 to 14 percent last year, serious assaults on staff are down by 90 percent, and much more is being done in terms of providing employment, training, and dealing with drug and alcohol addiction in order to assist inmate rehabilitation.

Simon Power: What does he say to the victims of convicted murderer Antonie Dixon when he has been able to post entries and photos on to a website from behind bars, including comments about attacking two women with a samurai sword and photos of his “Gangster Killer Club” tattoo; and is the partner of Dixon’s victim not right to conclude that for a murderer behind bars, Dixon is still able to get exactly what he wants?

Hon PHIL GOFF: No, absolutely not. The very fact that he is behind bars means that he is removed from being a threat to public safety. Let me pick up on the member’s point about the photographs on the Internet. They were not posted from within the prison, because prisoners do not have access to the Internet, as the member knows. However, it is my understanding that the photographs were taken within the prison, probably by a cellphone. The member is well aware, of course, that this Government has made huge advances in preventing the use of cellphone technology within prisons and in preventing the entry of contraband into prisons. In fact, this Government’s record, as I think even the member would acknowledge, is far better than the record of the Government he was part of in the 1990s, which failed on all of those fronts.

Hon David Benson-Pope: Can the Minister give us more detail of the progress that has been made in cellphone blocking and the monitoring of prisoner telephone calls from pay phones?

Hon PHIL GOFF: There has been excellent progress. In fact, I was at the corrections Ministers conference in Australia a couple of weeks ago, and I found the Australians were very keen to be briefed by New Zealand on its progress, because they said they have not been able to make any progress in this regard and they thought New Zealand was the most advanced corrections jurisdiction anywhere in the world. We now have in place three prisons where cellphones cannot be used because of jamming technology. We have the other prisons where that will be rolled out to, in terms of jamming technology, by February of next year. That puts New Zealand ahead of any other Western country in terms of cellphone jamming.

Simon Power: Does he agree with the statement made by the Prime Minister 2 years ago when an inmate was found to be writing letters and getting someone to post them on a weblog, and she said: “It used to be that when you were put away, you were put away from society.”; and what has changed from the prison system that the Prime Minister described to the one that he runs, which seems to allow inmates to get information on to the Internet for social networking?

Hon PHIL GOFF: What has changed is all of the things that I set out in my primary answer to that member. When people are put away from society and jailed in a prison now, instead of about 80 prisoners a year escaping, that number has fallen to one-sixth of that level. What has changed is that instead of contraband once being so easily able to be smuggled into the prison, that system has been tightened up with a change to a single point of entry, the use of drug dogs, and so on. A whole lot of positive things have been done since that member was in Government, when the Department of Corrections was so bad that the National Party’s only answer was to privatise it in the hope that the private sector would do better, all the while running down the public sector so that it performed very badly. The department has improved vastly since then.

Simon Power: Does he agree with this statement: “The point I am making is that it does not matter a damn whether one has private or public prisons in that sense. What really matters is the way in which those prisons are operated.”—a statement he made in this House on 9 November 1994?

Hon PHIL GOFF: As it happens, in preparation for a discussion earlier in the day with the member I went back and read all of those speeches. What I am saying today in opposition to the privatisation of prisons is exactly the same as what I was saying 14 years ago, when the member was still at school, as I recall.

Simon Power: Can he confirm that some of the country’s worst offenders are planning to sue his department for distress and humiliation because it lost a file containing their details in the street; and what about the distress and humiliation experienced by victims when over $35,000 has been paid out in compensation to inmates so far, with over $4 million in claims to be adjudicated under the law that he said would stop such claims?

Hon PHIL GOFF: Before that law was put in place—the Prisoners’ and Victims’ Claims Act—prisoners did sue routinely, and the money was not able to be recovered from them at all. I think the biggest payments were made as a result of the behaviour management regime that was put in place when Nick Smith was Minister of Corrections. The Act states that any money that is payable, first, goes in terms of outstanding fines reparations, secondly, goes in terms of the cost of any legal services provided, and, thirdly, goes to victims if they claim for it.

Simon Power: What does it say about his department that the first it heard of Dixon’s MySpace page was when it was approached by the media, and the first it knew about losing a file on the street containing details of serious offenders was when it was approached by the media?

Hon PHIL GOFF: What it says, in terms of the information on the website, is that Department of Corrections staff do not sit around all day doing nothing but following the Net.

/NR/rdonlyres/3FE97D79-3175-406F-9950-0B93EC845461/91551/48HansQ_20080805_00000485_.pdfFull transcript of Questions for Oral Answer for Tuesday, 05 August 2008 [PDF 225k]

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7. Human Rights—China

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

7. KEITH LOCKE (Green) to the Prime Minister: What concerns, if any, has her Government expressed to the Chinese Government about its continuing clamp-down on dissent, contrary to promises made to the international community to improve human rights by the time of the Olympics?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister) : The Government regularly raises the issue of human rights with the Chinese Government at all levels of government—most recently in July. I personally raised with the Premier during my visit in April the issue of human rights and the need for restraint and dialogue in respect of Tibet.

Keith Locke: Does she think that brave pro-democracy campaigners, like those attacked by police near Tiananmen Square yesterday, deserve the support from democratic nations like New Zealand, and what is her Government doing to support such people at such time of the Olympics?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I have heard only media reports of the particular matter to which the member refers. I will, obviously, seek further official advice on that, and then a judgment will need to be made as to whether this is something the New Zealand Government would specifically wish to raise with the Chinese authorities.

Keith Locke: Has the New Zealand Embassy in Beijing experienced any delays in getting approval for its diplomats to visit China to assess the human rights situation there; if so, what was the nature of the delays and problems that the embassy experienced?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I do not have any recent advice on this. I have some recollection that it has not been easy for diplomats to be able to enter Tibet, but I have no other recent advice.

Keith Locke: Will the Prime Minister be advising New Zealand’s Olympic athletes to wear face masks in the lead-up to their events, as the US Olympic team is doing, in order to protect them from air pollution that is well in excess of World Health Organization standards?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: No, I will not be offering that advice. I was interested to see on media reports at the weekend that for whatever reason—perhaps stronger winds or perhaps the fact that factories have been closed for some time—the air did appear to be clearing and there were even signs of blue in the sky.

Keith Locke: I seek leave to table a recent report on the China Olympics Human Rights Act passed by the US Congress recently, which asks the US President to publish strong statements condemning China’s human rights abuses.

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

Keith Locke: I seek leave to table an item from Sky News yesterday about the dangers of asthma attacks, skin conditions, infections, and sickness—

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

/NR/rdonlyres/26A30C99-A649-42EC-A9D9-3D677AE37B47/91553/48HansQ_20080805_00000556_.pdfFull transcript of Questions for Oral Answer for Tuesday, 05 August 2008 [PDF 225k]

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8. Hongi—Tame Iti

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

8. GERRY BROWNLEE (National—Ilam) to the Minister in charge of Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations: What did his hongi with Tame Iti, at the signing of the terms of negotiations with Tūhoe last week, symbolise?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister in charge of Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations) : The fact that Mr Iti came to Parliament as part of a 400-strong delegation from NgāiTūhoe to sign terms of negotiations with the Crown. He was, of course, one of the signatories.

Gerry Brownlee: Does he recall the comments of the Hon Trevor Mallard earlier this year when he stated “I cannot believe that any responsible politician in New Zealand would endorse Tame Iti in the way that John Key did …”, and has he heard what Mr Mallard thinks of his endorsement of Tame Iti by not just one hongi but, in fact, a trio of hongi last week?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I am sure that the member will find out sooner or later in his life that after the first time it is much easier.

Gerry Brownlee: Does he agree with Trevor Mallard when he stated in the same speech, “any decent leader would have had the backbone to turn round, go the other way, and not greet Tame Iti,”; if so, does his trio of hongi with Tame Iti last week indicate that he is not a decent leader and has no backbone, because he did not take the strongly worded advice of his wise colleague?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I do recall that earlier in the year Mr Key was wandering around the Treaty House grounds at Waitangi looking for a friend, and found one. Mr Tame Iti was the only one available at that time. I was standing in a formal line for a formal pōwhiri. To have declined to hongi in that situation, when reconciliation was the purpose of the entire function, would have been grossly discourteous, in my view.

Gerry Brownlee: Does the Minister think that his explanation about these two situations—first, John Key going to Waitangi and being greeted by Tame Iti by way of a hongi, then Tame Iti coming to Wellington to be greeted by Dr Cullen by way of a hongi not just once but three times—is in essence the same thing; if so, will he now apologise to Mr Key for the injudicious remarks of the Hon Trevor Mallard?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: There is only one deputy leader in this House who needs to apologise to Mr Key every day, and it is not me.

Gerry Brownlee: Is not his justification of his trio of hongi with Tame Iti, and his condemnation of John Key’s singular hongi with Tame Iti, another example of there being one standard for Labour and another standard for everyone else, just like the Rt Hon Helen Clark’s saying that tax cuts were the promises of a visionless and intellectually bankrupt people, until, of course, she herself decided to announce tax cuts, and just like the Rt Hon Helen Clark lecturing Fiji about free speech and human rights, until she unleashed on the New Zealand people the Electoral Finance Act, which is designed to shut down anyone who wants to attack Labour; and will he not finally admit that Labour members’ positions are constantly riddled with contradiction and the use of facts designed to suit themselves?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: In the member’s case, his wind fills the room, not his sneeze.

Gerry Brownlee: I would take a point of order to ask the Minister to give an answer, but I guess that when one is caught, one is caught. I instead seek leave to table this very fetching photo of Mr Iti greeting, by way of a hongi, Dr Cullen.

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

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker.

Gerry Brownlee: I’ve sought leave.

Madam SPEAKER: I have already put it, and it was declined.

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: Before granting leave—and I am happy do so—I want to be sure that I will not have a question from Mr English tomorrow claiming that the photo is an advertisement under the Electoral Finance Act.

Madam SPEAKER: It is impossible to hear. I will put the question again. Leave is sought. Is there any objection?

 Leave granted.

Gerry Brownlee: I seek leave to table another two photographs of Dr Cullen hongi-ing Tame Iti.

 Leave granted.

/NR/rdonlyres/02F8E173-5B0E-447C-B34B-9871BE38B8AF/91555/48HansQ_20080805_00000598_.pdfFull transcript of Questions for Oral Answer for Tuesday, 05 August 2008 [PDF 225k]

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9. Working for Families—Reports

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

9. RUSSELL FAIRBROTHER (Labour) to the Minister for Social Development and Employment: What recent reports, if any, has she received on the Working for Families package?

Hon RUTH DYSON (Minister for Social Development and Employment) : I have received a press statement from the National Party finance spokesperson, Bill English, saying that the Working for Families package would remain unchanged if National became the Government, so that families would have “certainty about their incomes.”

Russell Fairbrother: Has the Minister received any other reports on the Working for Families package?

Hon RUTH DYSON: I have received a subsequent report from Mr English saying that National actually wanted to change Working for Families, but it could not do it “without taking money off them.” He continued: “punters are keen to keep it. … The last thing we want is to spend the whole election campaign with families of four on TV saying ‘Mr Key’s taking money off us’. You can’t do that. … So later on we’re gonna have to have a bit of a sort out. Yeah, we’re gonna do something, but we can’t do it now.” And he has just confirmed it in the House.

Russell Fairbrother: Has the Minister received any other recent reports on the Working for Families package?

Hon RUTH DYSON: I have seen transcripts from Television One’s Breakfast programme and the Agenda programme, where the National leader, Mr Key, also gave conflicting statements about the fate of Working for Families should National become the Government. So, far from National providing certainty for families, the signals from Mr Key and Mr English are that the fate of Working for Families would be extremely uncertain under a National-led Government.

/NR/rdonlyres/50515D1A-1712-4BC6-9D33-AE5E7283F85E/91557/48HansQ_20080805_00000661_.pdfFull transcript of Questions for Oral Answer for Tuesday, 05 August 2008 [PDF 225k]

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10. Health, Ministry—Staff Numbers

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

10. Hon TONY RYALL (National—Bay of Plenty) to the Minister of Health: How many fulltime-equivalent staff were employed by the Ministry of Health in 2000, and how many are employed now?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE (Minister of Health) : I am advised that as of 30 June 2001 there were 1,007 fulltime-equivalent staff employed by the Ministry of Health. As at 30 June 2008 there were 1,430 fulltime-equivalent staff. Directly comparable information on staff numbers prior to 2001 is not available as it was prior to the Health Funding Authority and Health Benefits Ltd joining the Ministry of Health. However, I have signalled to the director-general that future output gains should be driven by reprioritisation rather than through significant further fulltime-equivalent staff growth.

Hon Tony Ryall: Why is it that under Labour the growth in bureaucrats at the Ministry of Health and district health boards is higher than the growth of front-line doctors and nurses in New Zealand public hospitals, and should not the priority be in getting more care for New Zealanders instead of more money into the bureaucracy?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: The member opposite often misrepresents the statistics. Let me reclarify for the member that the growth in front-line medical staff, doctors and nurses, has been higher than the growth in support staff across the system since Labour took office.

Lesley Soper: Can he confirm that the overall proportion of health spending that goes to the Ministry of Health has actually declined under this Labour-led Government, and does he agree with suggestions that public servants employed by the ministry could be sacked in order to pay for tax cuts?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: In answer to the first part of the question, absolutely yes. I can confirm that the overall proportion of health spending that goes to the ministry has remained consistently below 2 percent during Labour’s time in office, and is lower today than it was when it took office in 2000. We can only assume that the National Party wants to discredit the Ministry of Health so that National can justify savage cuts to employee numbers in order to pay for its massive tax cuts. I also note that health appeared nowhere in John Key’s list of top 10 priorities, and, in fact, the only mention of it at the National Party conference that I saw appeared to be National’s commitment to privatise more of it.

Hon Tony Ryall: Is the Minister’s admission in the House today that he has asked the Director-General of Health to prioritise future needs of the ministry within current staffing levels an admission that under the failed leadership of Helen Clark and Annette King, the Ministry of Health bureaucracy has grown like Topsy, sucking financial resources that should have been going into the front line to deal with the endless waiting that New Zealand patients suffer under?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: Between 2001 and 2006 staffing numbers grew hardly at all. I am absolutely unashamed to say that this Government remains committed to value for money for the New Zealand public, just as it does to increasing the level of services provided free or at low cost to New Zealanders through our fine public health system, and that will continue to be a priority for this Government, unlike the Opposition that could not get health anywhere in its top 10 list of things to do, even after Bill English’s apology.

Hon Tony Ryall: With the Government’s own data showing that the Ministry of Health has grown by 182 percent in the time of the Labour Government, is his admission today that he has raised this issue with the Director-General of Health not an indication that Labour has put too much priority on growing the bureaucracy at the expense of front-line services for New Zealanders?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: This member is just slippery with figures. The only way he could possibly construct 182 percent out of the facts in the health system is if he added up a whole lot of entities that were formerly outsourced from the ministry, counted that as the baseline, and, after they were absorbed, compared the total. The New Zealand public deserves a whole lot better disclosure from the National Party than that member’s slippery figures, secret phone books of policy, and the truth slipping out in inadvertent conversations.

Katrina Shanks: Did any of the Minister’s many bureaucrats tell him how bad it is for mums to be on the West Coast, when recently a West Coast woman who was having contractions 5 to 10 minutes apart and was 34 weeks pregnant was asked to drive herself over Arthur’s Pass, in winter, with a $40 McDonald’s voucher, to Christchurch Hospital because the West Coast District Health Board is once again experiencing staff shortages and cannot provide specialised maternity services?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: It is a really good idea for members, if they want to talk about maternity services, to put it down in the primary question. However, I will address that question. Labour’s primary concern is for the health and safety of mothers and their babies. Therefore, it is important if a particular pregnancy is a high-risk, that delivery take place in a hospital with a full range of back-up services. Right at the moment it is deemed that the safest place for that to be is Canterbury.

Hon Tony Ryall: She had to drive!

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: It is not the mother’s fault, and no one other than that member has suggested it. It is also true that this Government is working with district health boards to form strong regional clinical networks to ensure that we have a full range of increasingly specialised services available all the time. That is the right and responsible thing to do. What this Government will not do is to try to cover up issues by prejudicing patients’ safety.

Hon Tony Ryall: Is the Minister saying that even though he has over 1,400 staff in the Ministry of Health, not one of them drew to his attention the story in the Christchurch Press today that a West Coast woman who was having contractions and who was 34 weeks pregnant had to drive herself across Arthur’s Pass to Christchurch Hospital and was discharged with a $40 McDonald’s voucher, having been told that that would feed her and her husband for 3 days, and was then sent back to the West Coast and told that a rental car would be the best option—he has 1,400 bureaucrats and not one of them drew to his attention what was a leading story in the Christchurch Press today; is that the reason why he has spoken to the Director-General of Health about reprioritising those 1,400 people?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: The questions get more and more desperate. Of course I heard about the woman, which is why I was happy to answer the question. The point is that it bore no resemblance to the primary question. The health system in New Zealand is appropriately extensive. It involves over 60,000—60,000—front-line and support health workers nationwide, it delivers nearly 20 percent of the Government’s budget, and it provides tens of thousands of procedures every week to New Zealanders who need them. The difference for the public to understand this year is that under Labour it is the size of the need that counts, not the size of the wallet.

/NR/rdonlyres/C0C08AFB-F219-432D-B4ED-85E7B76B1C85/91559/48HansQ_20080805_00000699_.pdfFull transcript of Questions for Oral Answer for Tuesday, 05 August 2008 [PDF 225k]

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11. State-owned Enterprises—Performance

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

11. SUE MORONEY (Junior Whip—Labour) to the Minister for State Owned Enterprises: What reports has he received on the performance of State-owned enterprises?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Minister for State Owned Enterprises) : I have received a report that shows that at the end of the 2007 financial year the total revenue from State-owned enterprises was $7.8 billion. One example of a successful State-owned enterprise is Kiwibank, which has nearly 600,000 customers. These are great results and show that Kiwis are switched on to Kiwibank because it is New Zealand - owned and is supporting its local community by paying its tax here and keeping its profits here in New Zealand.

Sue Moroney: Has he seen any other reports on the value of State-owned enterprises?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: Yes, I have. I have seen conflicting reports on the merits of ownership of State-owned enterprises. On the one hand I have seen public reports saying that there are no plans to sell State-owned enterprises, while on the other hand I have seen reports of private conversations with conservative activists that suggest that Bill English would seek to sacrifice the kiwi to the dingo, eventually. What is clear is that the secret agenda of the National Party is slowly unravelling, and Bill English needs to come clean both to the New Zealand public and, evidently, to his leader. As recently as this morning he did not know what he had said, and he was apologising shortly after 10 o’clock for something that he said he did not say at 8 o’clock.

Gordon Copeland: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I just wonder whether the Minister could think again about the response he gave when he said that the revenue from State-owned enterprises last year was $7.8 billion. Revenue normally means the profitability after tax, etc., of those companies. Did he mean $7.8 billion or $780 million? Could he just clarify that please.

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: The member, I understand, is an accountant. If he cannot tell the difference between revenue and profit, he should hand in his certificate.

Gerry Brownlee: When the Minister said on the Agenda programme on 17 June 2006: “something that we could do and something that I’m quite keen on is that as the SOEs develop the new businesses, especially those that are done in partnership with people in the private sector, we could well have floats of the subsidiary … that could help give a bit of depth to our capital markets and get some transparency around those companies, and I think that would help.”, was he in fact indicating that a post-election Labour Government—God forbid, and most unlikely—would put on the block for sale the DHL - New Zealand Post courier business?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: If the member had read further into the transcript, he would have found that I am absolutely committed never to sell part of the core business of our State-owned enterprises, whereas National Party members have said: “It’s all on the block; it’s a question of when, not if.”

Gerry Brownlee: I seek leave to table a document showing that when Michael Cullen and Helen Clark were in a Labour Government they sold New Zealand Steel for $327 million.

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

Gerry Brownlee: I seek leave to table a document showing that when Michael Cullen and Helen Clark were in a Labour Government they sold Petrocorp for $801 million.

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

Gerry Brownlee: I seek leave to table a document showing that when Helen Clark and Michael Cullen were in a Labour Government they sold State Insurance.

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

Gerry Brownlee: I will cut things short. I assume there will be objection to all of the 17 documents on this list, which show some $9.5 billion of asset sales while Michael Cullen and Helen Clark were in Cabinet.

/NR/rdonlyres/61D6F678-5A49-4DF2-B181-A237287A3E8C/91561/48HansQ_20080805_00000770_.pdfFull transcript of Questions for Oral Answer for Tuesday, 05 August 2008 [PDF 225k]

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12. Immigration New Zealand—Confidence

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

12. Dr the Hon LOCKWOOD SMITH (National—Rodney) to the Minister of Immigration: Does he have confidence in Immigration New Zealand?

Hon CLAYTON COSGROVE (Minister of Immigration) : Yes, but there is always room for improvement.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: Is it correct that the group manager, service international, Mr KerupiTavita, a personal friend of Mary-Anne Thompson, and headhunted by her to oversee the Pacific and refugee operations of Immigration New Zealand, signed off $30,000 of fraudulent claims for his executive assistant; and is he the same KerupiTavita who worked in Helen Clark’s prime ministerial department and who later failed to blow the whistle on the activities of Taito Phillip Field when he was in receipt of significant information passed on to him by the Apia branch of the Immigration Service?

Hon CLAYTON COSGROVE: I can confirm that Mr KerupiTavita was indeed the person who signed expenses outlined in the media. I cannot confirm the latter; I do not have that knowledge. The member will have to ask the Prime Minister.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: Can the Minister confirm that the Buddle Findlay Chemis inquiry into a possible conflict of interest resulting from Mr Tavita appointing Ms Mai Malaulau to head the Pacific division of the immigration service when the two had been involved in a private company together found that that Mr Tavita had not only authorised the $400 gift for himself against explicit departmental policy but also was approving significant expense claims by Ms Malaulau when the $1,000-a-day contract he had given her specifically ruled out claims for expenses?

Hon CLAYTON COSGROVE: I can confirm that in essence the Buddle Findlay report of—

Gerry Brownlee: What’s the badge?

Hon CLAYTON COSGROVE: Is the member OK? It is not a McDonald’s badge. I do not think Gerry has had his baked beans this morning. In essence the Buddle Findlay report found the following: at all relevant times Mr Tavita had no interest in Pacific Edge International, the consultancy firm in which Ms Malaulau and Mr Tavita’s wife were directors, and in which Mr Tavita had until recently been a director; the relationships between Mr Tavita and Ms Malaulau, and others involved, were fully disclosed at all relevant times; Ms Malaulau had the right experience and qualifications for the work, and her pay rate was within the range typically charged within the Public Service. However the report also found that because of various relationships and the potential for perceived conflicts of interest, it would have been more prudent and appropriate had Mr Tavita played no role, or a lesser role, in the negotiations between the department and Ms Malaulau.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. The Minister shared all sorts of interesting information with us, but I actually asked him whether Mr KerupiTavita authorised a $400 gift for himself against explicit departmental policy, and also authorised expenses for Ms Mai Malaulau when the $1,000-a-day contract he had negotiated with her specifically ruled out claims for expenses. The Minister did not cover any of that.

Madam SPEAKER: The member knows he can ask a question but cannot require a specific answer. All the Minister is required to do is address the question, and he did.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. Could you please explain to the house how the Minister addressed that question?

Madam SPEAKER: As I heard, his answer to the first part addressed it, and then he went on to explain the knowledge he in fact had.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. This is an important issue. I asked the Minister very explicitly about the approval of payments. The Minister totally ignored that in his answer. I recognise he does not have to satisfy me in his answer, but he does have to address the question. The question had nothing to do with the answer he gave. The question asked whether Mr Tavita approved explicit payments.

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: The member has now relitigated twice your ruling. You rule on whether a question has been addressed; it is not for you to get into a debate with members about the basis on which you arrive at that decision. This is not a debate between members and the Speaker.

Madam SPEAKER: I have ruled on the matter and I did listen very carefully. The Minister did, in fact, address the question, and the way he did that related to the question that was asked. As I said, if members want specific answers, I am sure any Minister would be pleased to enforce that, if the Standing Orders, which the members are responsible for, said that.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: Is it correct that convicted fraudster PelesaVisesio-Skelton testified that her boss, Mr KerupiTavita, never questioned her fraudulent claims, including overseas travel expenses, accommodation at luxury hotels, and hiring rental cars, not to mention a flat-screen TV and DVD player; and why would not any responsible senior manager question the need for his assistant to buy herself a flat-screen TV and DVD player,at the department’s expense?

Hon CLAYTON COSGROVE: The events the member speaks of occurred around 2005, I believe, and were investigated, and the person—

Gerry Brownlee: When David Cunliffe was Minister.

Hon CLAYTON COSGROVE: I ask the member to be just easy. In respect of Ms Skelton, the member will also know that within 10 days of the department starting an investigation into inconsistencies with her accounts her employment was terminated, matters were then investigated and placed before the police, and she was indeed convicted. I will say, though, that there are currently four separate reviews, and the matters the member discloses are indeed less than appropriate professional management. Of course, when senior managers sign off accounts, they should indeed check those. That is why there are four inquiries. I am assured by my chief executive, who, like me was not around at the time, that these processes will form, and are forming, part of the Pacific review, and proper and strict processes will be investigated and put in place. Equally, if the member wants to pursue these matters, he has, I believe, four lines of inquiry that he can place matters before.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: Will the Minister now answer the question I asked him before: can he confirm that the group manager of service international, Mr KerupiTavita, authorised a $400 payment for a gift for himself, against explicit departmental policy, and also approved significant expense claims by Ms Mai Malaulau, when the $1,000-a-day contract that he had signed with her specifically ruled out claims for expenses?

Hon CLAYTON COSGROVE: I do not have the specifics in front of me, but I believe I can confirm that there was a gift—I am not confirming the amount—that was signed out to that individual. I agree with the member—[Interruption]—it was not in place at the time; it was Mr Blake—that those processes were not as professional or as strict as they should have been. What is occurring now is that the chief executive has assured me that, as part of the Pacific division review, he is looking at those various processes to ensure that they are strict, professional, and appropriate. If there are further questions as to the efficacy of accounts that were signed off that were not dealt with in the police investigation and the court judgment, then there is an Auditor-General’s inquiry, a State Services Commission inquiry, and a Pacific division review, and the police are involved in a fourth investigation.

ENDS


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