Questions and Answers - 30 Mar 2010
(uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing)
TUESDAY, 30 MARCH 2010
QUESTIONS FOR ORAL ANSWER
QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS
Accident Compensation—Pre-existing Degenerative Conditions
1. Hon JIM ANDERTON (Leader—Progressive) to the Minister for ACC: What changes have been made to ACC coverage relating to the presence of “pre-existing degenerative” conditions?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH (Minister for ACC): There has been no change to the legislative cover. The Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC) will do more elective surgery this year, at about 50,000 procedures, than the average of about 43,000 procedures per year under the previous Government, and approximately 80 percent of applications are being approved. There had always been a contentious issue on the margin between what is an accident and what is a pre-existing degenerative condition. I remind the member opposite that over 50,000 people were declined elective surgery funded by the accident compensation scheme during the previous Government. Most of them were declined because they had a degenerative condition.
Hon Jim Anderton: If, as the Minister says, there has been no change in policy, can he explain why the number of complaints that have been sent for formal review against ACC’s decision to refuse accident compensation cover has increased by 65 percent since National came to office, when compared with the average for the 4 years prior to the election in 2008?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: There has been an increase in the number of elective surgery cases taken to review. I am monitoring that closely. I have noted that the actual proportion of cases going to review where the decision of ACC has been overturned has actually declined. It is critical that these decisions are made on medical and not cost grounds, and I intend to continuously monitor that to ensure that New Zealanders are receiving the accident compensation support that they are entitled to receive.
Hon Jim Anderton: How is it that ACC seems to know the full financial details out to 2019, which support its scenario that accident compensation is in a financial crisis, when in response to written questions to the Minister neither he nor ACC can answer any questions concerning data on pre-existing degeneration or a decline in cover classification, or concerning data on the proportion of claims for the treatment of shoulder injuries that have been declined due to a finding of preexisting degeneration, and when there is a whole list of similar unanswered questions where information is lacking that I will seek the Speaker’s leave to table, because it is too long to go through in a supplementary question?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: I was not sure whether the member was asking a question or seeking leave. He made the claim—
Grant Robertson: Or you could just answer.
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: I am happy to answer the question. The member seems to make the assertion that ACC does not have financial challenges. I point out to the member that in the 2007-08
year, the annual reports signed by Maryan Street showed a loss of $2.4 billion. In the year following that, ACC made a loss of $4.8 billion. Only members opposite would pretend—
Hon Jim Anderton: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I asked a very specific question about why ACC is not able to answer a whole range of very pertinent questions about accident compensation and the corporation’s refusal to cover claims. The Minister has gone off on a tangent that I submit to you does not in any way address my question.
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: In his question, the member made specific assertions that were incorrect about ACC not having financial problems and not being able to look forward. When members make those sorts of false assertions, it is quite proper for a Minister to want to put the record correct.
Mr SPEAKER: This is the dilemma that we get into. If the honourable member had asked precisely the question that he said he had asked without the little preamble bit, I could have asked the Minister to answer it. But the dilemma is that the question was not quite as precise as that.
Michael Woodhouse: What response does the Minister have to the case of Mr Neville Toohey, who last week barricaded himself in Christchurch Cathedral over ACC’s declining of his elective surgery?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: Firstly, I would note that Mr Toohey’s claim was declined in 2008, which reinforces the fact that there has always been some contention around what is an accident and what is a degenerative condition. I also note that Mr Toohey did not take up the option of seeking an independent review within 3 months of that decision, despite being properly advised of his right. He was also given an independent hearing of his case, but he failed to turn up and gave no reasonable explanation for his absence. Taking up his review rights, which are free, would have been a more constructive way for Mr Toohey to test the ACC’s decision to decline surgery for his back problems.
Hon Jim Anderton: Why did we go from a level of reviewed accident compensation claims that was remarkably consistent for 4 years prior to the election of the National Government in 2008 to a 65 percent increase in 1 year; was it the result of an accident, was it the result of bad luck, or was it the result of bad policy?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: The member’s statistics are selective. I remind the House that 80 percent of the applications for elective surgery are being approved by ACC and that 50,000 elective surgeries will be provided this year, as compared with an average of 43,000 per year under the previous Government. I say to the member that the amount of elective surgery that is being provided is properly meeting the requirements of the accident compensation statute.
Hon Ruth Dyson: I seek leave to table the advice given to the select committee by the Ministry of Health from the transcript of that advice about the transfer of $60 million worth of surgery from the accident compensation scheme to—
Mr SPEAKER: Am I to understand that the member seeks to table advice to a select committee?
Hon Ruth Dyson: That’s right.
Mr SPEAKER: Has the select committee reported to the House?
Hon Ruth Dyson: Yes.
Mr SPEAKER: Therefore the information is readily available to the House. I do not think we need to waste the time of the House on that.
Budget 2010—Tax System
2. CRAIG FOSS (National—Tukituki) to the Minister of Finance: How will Budget 2010 make the tax system fairer?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): A stream of bad decisions taken by the previous Labour Government over recent years—
Hon Darren Hughes: I raise a point of order—
Mr SPEAKER: I do not need to hear the point of order. I simply say to the Hon Bill English that when he is asked “How will Budget 2010 make the tax system fairer?”, to start with “A stream of bad decisions taken by the previous Government” is hardly answering the question asked, and it is out of order.
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The Budget will seek to undo a stream of bad decisions made by the previous Government. The previous Labour—
Hon Darren Hughes: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: Members may not have noticed, but a point of order was called, and any interjections during a point of order will see someone out of the House.
Hon Darren Hughes: As you pointed out, Mr Speaker, the question on notice, which comes from the Government side, is clearly about Budget 2010. You made an intervention, which the Minister deliberately flouted, and the Minister’s answering questions like that will lead to disorder. He can give a solid answer based on that primary question.
Mr SPEAKER: Absolutely. I agree with the honourable member that there is no need to start answering the question that way. It is bound to lead to disorder. Once the Minister has given an answer, he knows he can probably make some comment, but to start answering that way is inconsistent with the Standing Orders. The Minister should start by telling us what he is planning to do with tax in the Budget, as the question asks.
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Budget 2010 will seek to undo a stream of decisions made by the Labour Government that allowed too many New Zealanders to essentially choose the rate of tax they will pay. Labour did this by creating a proliferation of different tax rates across different entities, and this has undermined the wider sense of fairness in the tax system. We want to make sure that people pay the statutory tax rates and do not exploit the opportunities provided by the previous Labour Government for higher-income taxpayers to pay less tax.
Craig Foss: What options are available to the Government to reduce inequities in the tax system?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The Government has the option of simplifying the tax system. The previous Government left us with a proliferation of tax rates where, for instance, it set the top personal tax rate at 39c, the trust rate at 33c, company rate at 30c, and the rate on high-income investors at 30c. It may not be possible to bring all these rates into line, but we can reduce the number and spread of the tax rates so that the system is fairer to New Zealand taxpayers.
Stuart Nash: How is it fair that, under details of the tax package leaked by the Government to the Sunday Star-Times, someone on $150,000 gets a tax cut nine times as large as someone on $50,000?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The member will have to wait for the details of the package, as I pointed out to him previously. He needs to bear in mind that under his Government a self-employed person on $150,000 could virtually pick what tax he or she paid. We want to fix that unfairness.
Craig Foss: What measures will demonstrate that the Budget has produced a fairer tax system?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: There will be a number of ways in which people will be able to judge it. People will be able to use standard measures of equity such as Gini coefficients, or ratios between different quartiles of income earners, or look at how actual households benefit from the changes. We will look at eliminating the glaring inequities in the tax system that the previous Government left behind. I can also indicate that we expect the overall effect of the package to be pretty much neutral across different income levels.
Stuart Nash: Does he consider a tax cut package that delivers $2 a week tax cut to almost 70 percent of all taxpayers while delivering $90 a week to the top 1 percent is a fair package?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I would not believe anything that Labour said about a tax package that has not been announced.
Mr SPEAKER: I am not sure I heard exactly what the Minister said in that answer. I believe he said he would not believe anything someone said. The question asked how certain reductions in
taxation were fair. The Minister can certainly dispute the figures given, but to do it in such a way that I perceive to be derogatory to the questioner is not acceptable. The question was a fair one. It might have been wrong but the Minister can point it out if it is wrong, without being derogatory.
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The member is simply putting up a hypothesis. He cannot possibly know what the tax package is, because the details have not been decided.
Energy and Resources, Minister—Statements
3. Hon PHIL GOFF (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does he agree with all recent comments by his Minister of Energy and Resources?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Deputy Prime Minister) on behalf of the Prime Minister: The Prime Minister is not familiar with every comment made by the Minister. If the member were more specific, he might be able to help him.
Hon Phil Goff: Does he agree with Gerry Brownlee that although the National Party never forewarned the public that it was intending to mine in protected and highly sensitive conservation areas, it told the mining industry up to 2 years before the election that it intended to do that?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: No.
Hon Phil Goff: I take that answer means that he rejects the—
Mr SPEAKER: The member is asking a question.
Hon Phil Goff: After undertaking to remove protection from highly sensitive environmental areas in the conservation estate, did National ever receive financial contributions from the mining industry?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The Government has not undertaken to remove highly sensitive areas from protections against mining. What it has done is put out a consultation document proposing the removal of some areas from schedule 4. The Government has not made any decision to do that.
Hon Phil Goff: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The question asked whether the National Party had ever received financial contributions from the industry—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: I do not need assistance on this. If that is what the member had asked, he might have got a different answer, but that is not what the member asked.
Hon Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. It is also the case, as I am sure you will appreciate, that the Prime Minister has no ability to answer in the House for the National Party.
Mr SPEAKER: That is a perfectly valid point of order.
Hon Phil Goff: Why did the National Government tell the mining industry that it intended to mine in the highly sensitive and protected conservation estate, but never bother to tell the public?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The member’s allegation is simply not true.
Hon Phil Goff: How many more times must the hapless Gerry Brownlee be forced to contradict inaccurate statements of fact and figures—
Hon Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. You have been very hard, quite correctly, on Ministers who make derogatory comments about members asking questions. I think that should also go for members opposite who ask questions.
Hon Phil Goff: Speaking to the point of order—
Mr SPEAKER: No, I do not need further assistance on this. The member makes a perfectly valid point of order, but if, as Speaker, I intervened every time a situation like this arose, I would be intervening far too often. I play the advantage rule, somewhat, and I am sure that once the member introduces that kind of language into a question, a pretty free answer will follow, and members know that.
Hon BILL ENGLISH: In answer to the question, I say not nearly as often as the hapless Mr Goff, who is pulling smaller crowds than his finance spokesperson at the moment.
Hon Phil Goff: Will the Prime Minister take the opportunity while Gerry Brownlee is in Mexico to announce a back-down on mining Great Barrier Island and the Coromandel; if not, when will he announce that back-down?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The Government is following a fully transparent process. It has published a discussion document. In a matter of 4 or 5 weeks’ time submissions on that document will close, and then the Government will make decisions.
Hon Phil Goff: In regard to that very transparent process, does the Prime Minister stand by his own comment in the Prime Minister’s statement on 9 February that “Notwithstanding the public consultation process, … the Government will … make significant changes to Schedule 4.”; if he is determined to do that, why go through the farce of bothering with consultation, at all?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: We are going through the process of consultation because growing this economy will always involve some difficult trade-offs. It is important that we test how much New Zealanders value, in this case, conservation areas against the possibility of the economic growth that can flow from mining. The Government does not shrink from facing those particular challenges.
Health Services—Improving Front-line Services
4. Dr PAUL HUTCHISON (National—Hunua) to the Minister of Health: What reports has he seen in relation to improving health services?
Mr SPEAKER: A specific issue was missing from the question that the member read out. I believe he left out the word “front-line”. I invite the member to repeat his question.
Dr PAUL HUTCHISON: Thank you. What reports has he received in relation to improving front-line health services?
Hon TONY RYALL (Minister of Health): I am pleased to inform the member and the House that I have received a report that New Zealand last year saw the single biggest increase in the number of patients benefiting from elective surgery in any calendar year. In 2009 almost 135,000 patients received elective surgery, which is an increase of more than 12,000, or 10 percent, on the number who received elective surgery in 2008. This increase is a great reflection on our surgeons, nurses, and dedicated staff throughout the New Zealand public health system, who are working so assiduously to improve front-line services for New Zealanders.
Dr Paul Hutchison: Has this large increase in the number of people receiving elective surgery been achieved by delivering less complex elective operations?
Hon TONY RYALL: No, it has not. The advice I have received is that the average case weight, which is a measure of complexity, has remained unchanged. I also advise the House that amongst the specialities that have seen increases in elective patients treated, cardiothoracic patients are up 18 percent, orthopaedic patients are up 9 percent, general surgery patients are up 6 percent, and patients needing plastics and burns surgery are up a remarkable 25 percent.
Hon Ruth Dyson: How does this report relate to the report released just last week of 66 people in Timaru waiting for surgery longer than the required 6 months, and which further states that as a punishment he has taken $450,000 from that district health board? How will that cut help those people get their surgery quicker?
Hon TONY RYALL: I say to the member opposite that when the news is that 12,000 extra patients received surgery last year than under the previous Government, we know that this Government is providing more elective surgery for New Zealanders. The one thing those 66 patients in Timaru know is that, unlike under the previous Government, they will not be one of 30,000 New Zealanders culled off hospital waiting lists.
Hon Ruth Dyson: How does this report relate to the report released last week of the Prime Minister being booed and called a traitor by a large crowd in Levin, due to health cuts—the first time in living memory that a Prime Minister has been booed in Levin?
Hon TONY RYALL: I observe that they were probably the same protesters who made very good use of the reverse side of one of the billboards, which said: “Darren Hughes for Ōtaki”. Those billboards were not very effective in 2008, and I do not think they will be much more effective now. What is effective is the representation of Nathan Guy, the MP for Ōtaki.
Dr Paul Hutchison: What other initiatives is the Government planning in order to improve access to elective surgery?
Hon TONY RYALL: It is very clear that one of the best ways to deliver more elective surgery is to separate emergency surgery from elective surgery, because elective surgery is often stopped or cancelled when theatres are needed for emergencies. The Government has already announced that it is building an elective centre at Greenlane Clinical Centre. I also advise that it is investigating a dedicated elective centre at North Shore Hospital, and expects to make an announcement in relation to Hamilton at some time in the future.
Question No. 3 to Minister
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Deputy Prime Minister): I seek leave to table a Labour Party postcard with mining hats on it. These postcards were dropped in mailboxes in Wellington—
Mr SPEAKER: Is this a genuine document?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Yes, it is. It is out of a mailbox.
Hon DARREN HUGHES (Senior Whip—Labour): The Labour Party would be happy to give consent to that, provided that the Minister could tell us whether it was delivered to his home in Dipton or—
Mr SPEAKER: I invited that; I blame myself for this loss of order. I am troubled, though. I do not think I am about to put leave to table a postcard. I do not think it is in the spirit of documentation that provides the House with information.
Mining in Conservation Areas—Impact on Economy
5. METIRIA TUREI (Co-Leader—Green) to the Minister of Finance: What will the impact of the proposal to mine protected schedule 4 land be on the New Zealand economy?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): The proposal itself will have no impact on the New Zealand economy, but should the Government follow through on the process and remove some land from schedule 4, then I would expect that successful mining on that land would have the same impact as successful mining does on any other land—that is, it would create jobs for New Zealand families, and create wealth for New Zealand so that it can provide better public services and a better community.
Metiria Turei: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The question was very specific; the Minister is using weasel words to avoid answering it directly. The issue here—
Mr SPEAKER: Order!
Metiria Turei: —is that the question was specifically about mining—
Mr SPEAKER: The member will resume her seat immediately, and cease to interject. If she reads the primary question she laid down, she will see “What will the impact of the proposal to mine protected schedule 4 land be on the New Zealand economy?”. There is no way there can be a precise answer to that question; it is basically seeking an opinion, and the member knows that when she seeks an opinion, the answer will never be very precise.
Metiria Turei: Has the Minister sought any advice about the economic impact of mining in schedule 4 land on revenues to the Crown?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I am not familiar with the matter of whether any assessment of economic impact has been broken down in terms of revenue for the Crown. But I can reassure the member that the Government is committed to lifting our economic growth, because that is how we get better jobs and better public services. We are quite happy to have a vigorous discussion with New Zealand about some of the more challenging trade-offs we need to make to achieve that.
Metiria Turei: So is the Minister confirming to this House, and to the New Zealand public, that he has sought no advice about the impact of mining on schedule 4 land on income, royalties, taxes, or jobs, in either the mining industry or the tourism industry?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: That is a different question from the one asked earlier, which was about the impact on revenues for the Government. Some pretty well-established work has been done on the wider economic impact of mining, and of course the Minister of Tourism is interested in the impact on tourism. I point out that the Minister of Tourism recently opened a new visitors centre at the Martha Hill mine on the Coromandel, because tourist numbers are growing so fast that that a better visitors centre is needed.
Metiria Turei: How can the Minister have the confidence about any impact on the New Zealand economy, when his own Minister of Tourism said in this House that he sought advice, but has none, on the impact on the tourism industry; and when his Minister for Energy and Resources does not know whether the value for just one mining proposal will be $1.5 billion or $4 billion?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The member is dealing in a series of hypotheses, and we can all debate who has a better hypothesis than someone else. I might say that the impact of mining on the Department of Conservation estate approved under the previous Government appears to be positive when that mining has turned out to be successful, because it has provided jobs for New Zealanders. The decline in tourism in recent years has not been due to mining in the Department of Conservation estate; it has been due to the global recession and a high exchange rate.
Metiria Turei: Has the Minister sought advice about the economic impact of international newspapers and their criticism of New Zealand, like that of the Guardian, when it said that the “clean, green” Kiwi brand amounted to “a ‘shameless two fingers to the global community’ in the face of a dirtier reality.”?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: A few newspapers reflect the traditional practice of the Greens, which is to advertise to the world that New Zealand is nothing like as positive a place as almost all other New Zealanders believe that it is. But that is just the way that the Greens do business. We do not worry about the economic impact of that; we are getting on with growing our economy, and with providing jobs for families, and better public services.
Metiria Turei: How can the public have confidence in the Minister of Finance, when he is not interested in the economic impact—as he just confessed to this House—or the fiscal impact of international condemnation, on a $20 billion-a-year tourism industry?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: As Minister of Finance and as an interested New Zealander, of course I have an interest in what other people say about us. I have to say that a couple of leader writers—one article in two different newspapers—have shown a lot less combined negativity than the Green Party has about New Zealand, about what a dirty place we are, about how no one cares about the environment, and about how we would be much better if there were no economic growth. I do not agree with any of that. We are getting on with the job of proving that the Green Party is wrong.
Metiria Turei: How can the New Zealand public trust his management of the New Zealand economy, when his Government is trading off a known $20 billion a year tourism industry against who the hell knows what?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: We do not deal in those kinds of generalities, and I do not think anyone is suggesting that the whole tourism industry is being traded off against one or two other items of economic growth. There has been a vigorous discussion about mining, tourist numbers are rising, particularly from Australia—they have been going up quite rapidly—and we are looking forward to a very positive tourism season through the winter. It is all part of the Government’s attempt to grow the economy, provide sustainable jobs for families, and improve our public services.
Welfare Reforms—Advice Received on Future Focus
6. Hon ANNETTE KING (Deputy Leader—Labour) to the Minister for Social
Development and Employment: Did she agree with the advice she received on the Future Focus package?
Hon PAULA BENNETT (Minister for Social Development and Employment): I received a great deal of advice on the package. I agreed with most of the advice, but some of the advice I did not agree with.
Hon Annette King: What research was provided to her that accurately quantifies the size of behavioural change expected from beneficiaries arising from her Future Focus policy decisions?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: A great range of research. For example, one research paper I saw was that a Swedish controlled experiment found that postponing the medical checks on sickness benefits by 1 week increased the duration of compensation by 6.6 percent.
Hon Annette King: I seek leave to table a document. It is the regulatory impact statement of the Social Assistance (Future Focus) Bill, which says that no research was available to do what the Minister said it could.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is no objection. Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Hon Annette King: Why would the Government put in place a policy when it is not backed by research, when she cannot determine how many people would shift from benefits as a result of the policy, when the so-called savings of $200 million over 10 years have been discredited, when Treasury opposes parts of it, when the Attorney-General said it does not create a fairer benefit system, and while 168,000 unemployed people are out there wanting jobs?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: Because for far too long we have ignored long-term welfare dependency in this country. For far too long it was put in the too-hard basket, whilst 250,000 New Zealanders sat on welfare at the best of economic times under the previous Government.
Mr SPEAKER: It would be helpful if I could hear answers. I ask members to be a little more reasonable.
Katrina Shanks: Has the Minister seen any other reports about advice provided to Ministers?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: Yes, I have seen a number of reports where Treasury advised the previous Government that plenty of money was available for tax cuts, for example. I have also seen reports of Treasury advising that Working for Families would be ineffective in delivering on its key target of making work pay. A particular favourite of mine is a quote directly from Michael Cullen: “I have a very good relationship with Treasury. However, unlike the member opposite, I have no intention of being Treasury’s poodle.”
Charles Chauvel: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: A point of order has been called. I apologise, but I could not hear the member calling for a point of order, such was the noise from some of his colleagues.
Charles Chauvel: That was a very lengthy answer, but it related entirely to matters outside the Minister’s area of responsibility.
Mr SPEAKER: The Minister was commenting on reports she has seen about the Government acting on or ignoring advice. I believe that is what she was answering to the House. It was difficult for me to hear, but I believe that was in the answer she was giving to the House, which seemed to me to be in order.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. It was a little hard to hear, but I think she referred to members opposite as poodles. I think, coming from a dachshund, that is pretty—
Mr SPEAKER: If the member had wanted me to take action on his point of order, he just blew it.
Hon Trevor Mallard: No, it’s all right.
Mr SPEAKER: I am on my feet. I am not going to—
Hon Member: Better than a tiger.
Mr SPEAKER: I ask the member not to do that. [Interruption] I am still ruling on a point of order, and I ask members on both sides of the House to respect that. I did not hear what the Minister
said. If she applied a derogatory term to the Opposition, then she should not do so. Likewise, the Hon Trevor Mallard should not use a point of order to make that kind of comment. Let us call it one all at this stage and come back to having a little more reasonable order.
Hon PAULA BENNETT: I would like to finish my answer, because I was interrupted by the point of order.
Mr SPEAKER: I will let the Minister finish that answer.
Hon PAULA BENNETT: It was a direct quote from Michael Cullen, who said: “I have a very good relationship with Treasury. However, unlike the member opposite, I have no intention of being Treasury’s poodle.”
Hon Annette King: On what actual date did she personally consult with the Māori Party on the final version of the Future Focus policy, which she made a claim about earlier today?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: I first met with Dr Pita Sharples on 26 November, from memory. I consulted with the whole Māori Party on 16 February. The policy has been through the normal process many times, which has been available to the Māori Party, but those two dates come to mind at this time.
Hon Annette King: In light of that answer, I ask who is accurate—Tariana Turia, her Associate Minister, who said this morning that she was consulted at the last minute; or the Minister and the Prime Minister, who said today that the Māori Party was consulted from late last year and given a chance to give some feedback? Both cannot be right.
Hon PAULA BENNETT: As is the way with something this big and with this much detail, it changes all the time. I think that Minister Turia saw the last paper last week, and that is where her comments came from. The Prime Minister was obviously quite correct in his comments when he said that a lengthy consultation process had been done.
Catherine Delahunty: I seek leave to table the National Party benefits policy from the 2008 election—
Mr SPEAKER: The member knows that that is an abuse of the Standing Orders.
Environment Canterbury—Stakeholder Response to Review
7. JACQUI DEAN (National—Waitaki) to the Minister for the Environment: What response has he received on the review of Environment Canterbury from key stakeholders, including the Canterbury mayors and councils, the local government association, Ngāi Tahu, and environmental organisations?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH (Minister for the Environment): The 10 mayors and territorial councils of Canterbury have been unanimous in their view that the Government needed to act and that commissioners needed to be appointed. The Local Government New Zealand president has said there is a need for swift, drastic action by central government. Ngāi Tahu said they recognise the need for intervention and reluctantly support commissioners being appointed as a temporary measure. The Environmental Defence Society has said the Government must act, and the Water Rights Trust from Canterbury has said Environment Canterbury is just not up to the job. That is why today the Government has acted decisively.
Jacqui Dean: What additional powers is the Minister giving to the commissioners to get on top of water management in Canterbury?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: Mr Speaker—
Mr SPEAKER: I ask whether this question anticipates legislation, because I am not 100 percent certain that it can. I must seek some advice on whether a question like that can anticipate legislation. I accept it on the basis that obviously a policy decision has been made, which the Minister can be questioned on. I apologise.
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: The Government has announced today its response to the report, which includes giving legislative status to the Canterbury Water Management Strategy. The Government also intends to give three additional powers to the commissioners. The first is to fast-track the
completion of Canterbury’s water management plan. Frankly, it is an indictment that after 18 years there is no plan for water in Canterbury. Secondly, the commission will be given a decision-making role on water conservation orders in Canterbury under Part 2 of the Resource Management Act and also in respect of the Canterbury Water Management Strategy. The third power the commission will have is to be able to instigate targeted moratoria of water takes in areas where the resource is either close to becoming, or is currently, over-allocated.
Brendon Burns: Can the Minister confirm that he has acted to end a democratically elected council in Canterbury after a review that, in less than a month, interviewed fewer than 20 stakeholders, iwi, local mayors, and council chief executive officers, none of whom consulted their councils?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: The Minister of Local Government and I actually chose to meet with every one of the 10 territorial councils, from Waitaki in the south to Kaikōura in the north. Every one of those 10 councils said to us they supported the Government taking this step. This decision has not been taken lightly. I remind members opposite that when faced with problems with the Rodney District Council in 2000, National in Opposition supported legislation through all stages to appoint commissioners in respect of those particular problems.
Jacqui Dean: What steps has the Minister taken to ensure greater central government direction on freshwater management?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: The Government is of the view that greater central government direction is needed on water management. That is why one of the first things we did in Government was to support the Land and Water Forum. Although most councils have managed water without national direction, this Government is committed to using both national environment standards and national policy statements to ensure that there is greater central government direction. It is our view that these measures, as well as the measures taken in the Canterbury region, are needed to deliver the step change that is required in New Zealand’s freshwater management.
Jacqui Dean: What are the next steps for the Government to deliver on improving water management in Canterbury?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: This afternoon I will be introducing the Environment Canterbury (Temporary Commissioners and Improved Water Management) Bill. I am pleased to have the support of the ACT Party, United Future, and the Maōri Party. Once the legislation is passed—
Hon Darren Hughes: Surprise, surprise!
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: Members opposite should reflect on the history of the Rodney District Council legislation, when, in 2000, the National Opposition gave support to it. Once the Environment Canterbury bill is passed, the Government will finalise the remaining commissioners and their terms of reference before gazetting the commencement date for the transition of those functions.
Health Services—Minister’s Statements
8. Hon RUTH DYSON (Labour—Port Hills) to the Minister of Health: Does he stand by all his statements about health services?
Hon TONY RYALL (Minister of Health): Yes, including the statement that Labour had culled 30,000 people from hospital waiting lists.
Hon Ruth Dyson: How do his statements relate to the concerns expressed by Kathy James, Clinical Adviser, Health Care Aotearoa, who says that “Vulnerable patients will get sicker and more will go to hospital under proposed funding cuts for family-doctor groups,”?
Hon TONY RYALL: The Government has been quite clear: we want to support front-line services in general practice, and we will be moving resources in order to increase the subsidies for general practitioner visits.
Hon Ruth Dyson: How can he justify spending $6 million preparing business cases for integrated family health centres—his flagship policy—when the primary-care network covering most of Auckland has just ditched those centres in its proposal?
Hon TONY RYALL: The Government inherited a situation where the previous Government had made very little progress in implementing the primary health care strategy. So this Government is seeking to do that; it will provide better, more convenient services for New Zealanders.
Nicky Wagner: What other front-line services are improving?
Hon TONY RYALL: Front-line services are improving in many parts of the public health service. They are particularly helped by the 1,100 extra nursing personnel in the public health service.
Hon Ruth Dyson: How does he explain to the people of Palmerston North, Feilding, and Levin that, despite Nathan Guy’s advocacy, their 24-hour district nursing service is under threat, the diabetes lifestyle centre is under threat, sexual health services are under threat, and the STAR 3 rehabilitation centre for people under 65 is due for the chop, as well?
Hon TONY RYALL: Despite the Government increasing MidCentral District Health Board’s budget by $26 million this year, the Government has inherited significant challenges with that district health board. There are a number of options on the table, and decisions are still to be had, but I am determined that the people of that area should have certainty about their services, and that the district health board should not career into financial crisis.
Tasers—United Nations Human Rights Committee Recommendation
9. TE URUROA FLAVELL (Māori Party—Waiariki) to the Minister of Justice: Ka whakaae te Kāwanatanga ki te tūtohutanga i te purongo o te Komiti o te Whakakotahitanga o ngā Iwi o te Ao e kī nei “The State party should consider relinquishing the use of electro-muscular disruption devise (EMDs) ‘TASERs’ ”; ki te kore, he aha ai? [Will the Government agree to the recommendation from the United Nations Human Rights Committee report that “The State party should consider relinquishing the use of electro-muscular disruption devices (EMDs) ‘TASERs’ ”; if not, why not?]
Hon SIMON POWER (Minister of Justice): No. Tasers are an important tool to ensure the safety of police officers and the public, particularly since New Zealand is one of only six countries in the OECD that does not routinely arm its police force. The Government has no plans to relinquish their use. I am confident that the procedures and processes in place are sufficient to meet any concerns.
Te Ururoa Flavell: He aha te whakautu a te Kāwanatanga ki ngā āwangawanga o te Komiti Whakatika Tangata o te Kotahitanga o te Ao— [What is the Government’s response to the concerns of the United Nations Human Rights Committee—]
Hon Simon Power: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: I suspect that the problem is that there is no interpretation. Let me see whether we can sort that out instantaneously, otherwise I may have to ask the honourable member to repeat the question in English. Sadly, the Speaker cannot translate—much to my regret. Let me just see whether we can check why the interpretation is not coming through. I ask the honourable member to start the question again. If we do not get the interpretation, I regret to do it and hope that he is not offended, but I will have to ask him to ask his question in English. I ask him to start again, if he would not mind.
Te Ururoa Flavell: He aha te whakautu a te Kāwanatanga ki ngā āwangawanga o te Komiti Whakatika Tangata o te Kotahitanga o te Ao, e pā ana ki te noho tārewa o ngā kēhi tae noa ki te 2011 mō te hunga kua hāmenetia e te Operation Eight; ā, he aha hoki tāna ki te tūtohutanga o te komiti, kia kaua e waiho i ngā kēhi nei kia tārewa mō te wā roa?
[What is the Government’s response to the concerns of the United Nations Human Rights Committee about cases involving suspects arrested during Operation Eight being held over until 2011; and what is his response, as well, to the recommendation that these cases not be held over for a lengthy period of time?]
Hon SIMON POWER: The matter the member refers to is currently before the courts. It is not appropriate for me to comment at this time, other than to say that those arrested during Operation Eight are being accorded all their fair trial rights. This is one of the matters in respect of which the United Nations Human Rights Committee has asked for an update from the Government in 1 year’s time.
Te Ururoa Flavell: He aha te whakautu o te Kāwanatanga ki tā te ripoata o te komiti e kī nei, me kaha aro atu te Kāwanatanga o Aotearoa ki te whakakore i ngā mahi aukati i te iwi Māori i roto i te whakatinanatanga o te ture? [What is the Government’s response to comments in the committee’s report that the Government of New Zealand should increase its efforts to prevent discrimination against Māori in the implementation of justice?]
Hon SIMON POWER: I do not accept the assumption that there is an institutional discrimination against Māori in the administration of justice. However, the overrepresentation of Māori in the criminal justice system is a particular concern of this Government. The Government has identified four priority areas to reduce offending and reoffending. One of those is alcohol, and the others include antenatal and maternity treatment, and programmes to address behavioural problems in young children. Again, this is one of the matters in respect of which the committee in New York has asked for an update in 12 months’ time.
Keith Locke: I seek leave to table the final report of the United Nations Human Rights Committee in which the criticisms of Government policy—
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is no objection. Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Conservation, Department—Advocacy Role
10. CHARLES CHAUVEL (Labour) to the Minister of Conservation: Does she think the Department of Conservation should have an advocacy role for conservation at any public forum or in any statutory planning process?
Hon KATE WILKINSON (Minister of Conservation): The department should and does have an advocacy role, and this is generally provided for in section 6(b) of the Conservation Act 1987— namely, “To advocate the conservation of natural and historical resources generally:”.
Charles Chauvel: Given that as of her press conference with Gerry Brownlee 8 days ago the Minister of Energy and Resources can decide whether diggers will be allowed on schedule 4 land, is it not the reality that she now has no control of her portfolio?
Hon KATE WILKINSON: No.
Charles Chauvel: Does she share the concerns of the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, interviewed on Radio New Zealand National yesterday, about the adequacy of the consultation process over mining schedule 4 land; and does she agree with the commissioner that sharing her decision-making power with the Minister of Energy and Resources is like letting the Minister of Forestry decide whether to cut down trees in national parks?
Hon KATE WILKINSON: Access to the conservation estate cannot occur without the Minister of Conservation’s signature. It cannot occur now and it will not occur in the future. However, the question of access is addressed in the discussion paper. It is a discussion paper and if the member has any concerns, I suggest he make a submission on the consultation paper. Submissions close on Tuesday, 4 May at 5 p.m.
Charles Chauvel: Will she advocate for the hundreds of people who rallied in front of the House at lunchtime to send her a message that once land has schedule 4 protection, it is not up for trading to her more powerful caucus colleagues?
Hon KATE WILKINSON: I have already had a delegation from that protest march in my office straight after the protest, and I suggested to them, as I suggest to that member, that this is a discussion paper and that input is welcome.
Charles Chauvel: Will she advocate for the 1.5 million people of the Auckland region who have no immediate access to a national park, and did she advocate on their behalf against mining Great Barrier Island and the Coromandel rather than simply doing as she was told by her higher-ranked Cabinet colleagues?
Hon KATE WILKINSON: I am not quite sure whether that member understands English, but this is a discussion paper—
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. You have made other rulings about terms of abuse, and I invite you to reflect on that answer. It was not an answer to the question. It was a straight question and it received a barrage of abuse.
Mr SPEAKER: Oh, that it were a straight question!
Hon KATE WILKINSON: As explained, the document is a discussion paper. It is inviting submissions. We will see those submissions when the consultation is over, and we will make decisions, if any, accordingly.
Crown Research Institutes—Changes
11. COLIN KING (National—Kaikōura) to the Minister of Research, Science and
Technology: What recent announcements has he made about changes aimed at ensuring New Zealand gets the best from its Crown research institutes?
Hon Dr WAYNE MAPP (Minister of Research, Science and Technology): Yesterday the Prime Minister and I announced the Government’s response to the Crown Research Institute Taskforce. In short, the Government will be implementing all the major recommendations of the taskforce. In particular, it will give the institutes a longer and more strategic focus, which will be of great value to New Zealand business and to New Zealand science.
Colin King: Has the Minister received any reports about these changes?
Hon Dr WAYNE MAPP: Yes. Feedback has been very positive. Business New Zealand noticed that businesses would be particularly pleased with the opportunity to collaborate. I would also note that the Labour Party said yesterday: “Giving the Crown research institutes a clear directive to strive for breakthroughs to benefit New Zealand will be a key part of our economic transformation.”, and, of course, that is exactly what these reforms will do.
David Shearer: Even given the changes to the Crown research institutes, does he accept that achieving a step change in the economy requires substantial new investment in research, science, and technology in the 2010 Budget, and what assurances can he give the scientific community of that new funding?
Hon Dr WAYNE MAPP: I guess the questioner will have to wait for the Budget.
Colin King: What other initiatives are under way to better support science?
Hon Dr WAYNE MAPP: There have been a number of initiatives. For instance, last year there were significant increases in funding for the Health Research Council, the Marsden Fund, and the Crown Research Institute Capability Fund. Of course, we appointed the Chief Science Adviser to the Prime Minister, and we established core priorities, and there is more to come.
Education, National Standards—Minister’s Statement
12. Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Labour—Hutt South) to the Minister of Education: Does she stand by her reported statement in regard to national standards that “criticism has been based on misinterpretations”?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY (Minister of Education): Yes.
Hon Trevor Mallard: What misrepresentations led to Professor Hattie criticising the standards in February this year because, as he said, they do not recognise that children need to learn at their own pace, that bright children would be neglected, that the standards are at best a data-free educated guess about what students should know, and that an emphasis on benchmarks may lead to teachers hiding student failure?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY: In addition to that Professor Hattie said national standards offer the most wonderful opportunities for refreshing and reinvigorating an already top-of-the-world system. He said of standards that if implemented well, they can make a difference, but he also said, much more tellingly, we cannot defend a system where one in 10 schools are deemed to be failing.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. It was a pretty simple question about misinterpretations, and I do not think quoting other things from Professor Hattie addressed or answered that question.
Mr SPEAKER: The member makes an interesting challenge, because in respect of misinterpretation the Minister added further comments made by Professor Hattie, which gave further information about his interpretation of national standards. I do not believe that that was inconsistent with the Standing Orders. I think it was a reasonable answer to the question.
Louise Upston: What reports has she received of members of Parliament indulging in misrepresentations?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY: I have received two reports on misinterpretations.
Hon Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I do not accept that question as being in order, at all.
Mr SPEAKER: The member makes a very good point. The Minister is not responsible for members of Parliament. [Interruption] Before I come to the Hon Trevor Mallard, I will give the member a chance to ask a supplementary question that is in order.
Louise Upston: What reports has she received of others indulging in misrepresentations?
Mr SPEAKER: The Minister can be responsible only for issues to do with education. I have given the member a second chance.
Louise Upston: Sorry; can I have one more go?
Mr SPEAKER: Under the “three strikes and one is out” policy, this is it.
Louise Upston: What reports has she received about misrepresentations?
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Supplementary question, Trevor Mallard.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Is she allowed to stay, or does she have to go?
Mr SPEAKER: I did not mean it in that manner. I meant that I would rule out her chance to ask another supplementary question.
Hon Trevor Mallard: What misinterpretation led to Hamilton East School stating that it had reported to parents on the basis of national standards but had not moderated its results with those of other schools?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY: Mr Speaker, the primary question was about criticism of the national standards being based on misinterpretations. From the sentence that the member has just read out, I see that as a perfectly responsible report to parents.
Mr SPEAKER: It seems that if that is the case, though, the Minister could answer along those lines. It would seem that the supplementary question is related to the primary question, and the Minister was asked about what misinterpretation was involved in that course of action.
Hon ANNE TOLLEY: I do not see that there was any misrepresentation. In fact, the school has been very open with its parents.
Mr SPEAKER: That seems to be a perfectly reasonable answer.
Hon Trevor Mallard: In light of that answer, is the Minister stating that moderation is not necessary; if so, how can her standards, which involve teacher judgment, be described as national standards?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY: I have not stated that moderation is unnecessary. In fact, as I have talked around the country, I have talked about the moderation that currently happens in primary schools, and about the fact that benchmarks that are different from national standards and from existing assessment techniques will also be used for moderation. That statement from that school to parents is not a criticism of national standards.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Is moderation between schools necessary before reports are made to parents under her national standards?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY: Moderation is currently carried out in primary schools, and it will continue. In fact, they use it all the time. They will apply the same standardised criteria, using their current assessment tools. They will use external references, which will now be national standards, and they will use nationally standardised criteria, which are exemplars that are produced from the national standards.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. That was about the simplest question I could have asked. It asked whether there was a necessity for moderation between schools.
Mr SPEAKER: To simplify this, I invite the member to repeat his question, without the loss of a supplementary question.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Thank you, Mr Speaker. I might need to be given some leniency, because I asked the question a while ago. The essence of the question I asked was: do schools have to moderate between schools before they report to parents to full national standards for reporting?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY: They may.
Hon Trevor Mallard: How is it possible to have a national standard if a school does not moderate its results with other schools?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY: They will continue to do what primary schools do now, which is to provide moderation using, as I have explained, the various reference points that they use for moderation now. [Interruption]
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: Before I call the member on a point of order, I say the member has been asking a series of serious questions, and I ask his colleagues to allow the Minister to answer. It was rude to their own colleague who asked the question for them to make so much noise that I could not even hear the Minister’s answer. If the Minister recollects the question I invite her to answer it again, because I could not hear the answer.
Hon ANNE TOLLEY: The answer that I gave to the member who asked the question, and who has asked the same question in a number of different ways, is that schools will continue to use the moderation that they currently use. It happens in schools now. They use various reference points to moderate, and they will continue to do that. But the national standards will now provide a nationally consistent reference point, and the exemplars that are developed from that will also provide a second reference point, in addition to the reference point used from the existing assessment tools.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am reluctant to push this once more, but again we had a very good description of what happens within schools. But the question of whether schools are required to moderate between schools, which was the essence of the question— which I think I have now asked three times—was not addressed.
Hon ANNE TOLLEY: I have said on a number of occasions that schools will use the practices they currently use, and that includes working in clusters, which is inter-school moderation.
Mr SPEAKER: We will not conduct a debate on the answer by way of a point of order. A point of order was raised, and I listened to the Minister in response to it. I think that is a fair conclusion to that exchange.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I seek leave to table the Tapanui School newsletter of 5 February, which includes a statement of that school’s position on national standards.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is objection.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I seek leave to table the Taipā Area School’s newsletter, its principal’s welcoming newsletter of 5 March, which includes that school’s position on national standards.
Mr SPEAKER: Before I seek leave for that document to be tabled, could I humbly ask the member how many more such documents he may seek leave to table.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Quite a set. I am happy to do them as a group, if the Government says yes.
Mr SPEAKER: The Speaker may, in fact, not put leave. The member has a choice. I will put leave on this occasion for the Taipā Area School document. Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is objection.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I seek leave to table a bundle of reports from schools, from their principals and from their boards of trustees, giving those schools’ positions on national standards.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that set of documents. Is there any objection? There is objection.