Questions and Answers - February 19
strong>QUESTIONS FOR ORAL ANSWER
QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS
1. KEVIN HAGUE (Green) to the Minister of Health: Does he think fraud in the publicly funded health sector is serious and if so would he investigate any allegations of fraud if they were raised with him?
Hon TONY RYALL (Minister of Health): Yes, and yes. In relation to the dispute between the Southern District Health Board and the Dunedin general practitioner organisation South Link Health, this matter has been under dispute for over a decade. It involves an argument over $5 million or $6 million of savings generated through laboratory and pharmaceutical contracts during the 1990s and whether there was an agreement on how those services would be reinvested back into health services. This has remained a complex dispute. The district health board has advised me that it has received advice that it is best to pursue this as a commercial matter, but it has also referred the issue to specialist forensic accountants to see whether any illegality was involved.
Kevin Hague: When did the Minister first become aware of concerns that South Link Health may have misused public funds in excess of $5 million that were intended for patient services but were instead spent on other things without authorisation?
Hon TONY RYALL: To the best of my recollection and the advice that I have received, I became aware of that issue in November 2013 as a result of a management letter from the Auditor- General. On the wider issue of the dispute, I have been aware of that for quite some time.
Kevin Hague: Is the Minister quite sure that he was not made aware of it in 2010 and briefed on the legal advice that had been received by the Southern District Health Board that suggested there was the possibility of fraud?
Hon TONY RYALL: I have no recollection of that, and we have got no record in our office of such a briefing.
Kevin Hague: Is it not true that even though he knew that the Southern District Health Board had legal advice that fraud may have occurred, he as Minister personally discouraged the district health board from taking this allegation to police in 2010?
Hon TONY RYALL: I do not have any recollection of being aware of it, so I cannot have actively discouraged the district health board. What I would have required, of course, would have been for the district health board to act on whatever advice it had. I am advised that that letter of November 2010 was not clear-cut. It actually says there could be elements of fraud or there could be elements of commercial dispute.
Kevin Hague: Is it not true that even though the district health board had repeatedly asked for assistance from the Ministry of Health on this matter, beginning in December 2010, no ministry action was taken at all until it became clear that the Office of the Auditor-General was going to refer to potential fraud in its report on the Southern District Health Board in 2013?
Hon TONY RYALL: That is not the information I have received. My understanding was that the matter was considered by the audit and compliance people at the Ministry of Health and that there were negotiations that I think the ministry was involved in trying to facilitate in 2011 but that did not go anywhere.
Kevin Hague: What interactions did the Minister have with the Office of the Auditor-General over its management letter to the district health board in 2013, and what was he seeking?
Hon TONY RYALL: When I received that management letter, I then asked for a meeting with the Office of the Auditor-General to discuss its concerns further and to get a better understanding of the information and concerns that it had. I was able to discuss those with the chair of the district health board, and, as he advised the Health Committee today, my strongest advice to him was that if it believed there was sufficient evidence of fraud, then it should refer that to the Serious Fraud Office.
Kevin Hague: What dealings has he had with South Link Health since he was made aware of these allegations of potential fraud in 2010?
Hon TONY RYALL: I have no recollection of being made aware of those, and there is no record of that. What I can say to the member is I have met South Link Health on a number of occasions, since it is a leading general practitioner organisation.
Kevin Hague: Why, given that a massive question mark ought to have remained in his mind about a potential fraud, did he, in June 2012, describe the executive director of South Link Health, Professor Murray Tilyard, as having “great entrepreneurialism and innovation” and being a “prophet in his own land”?
Hon TONY RYALL: The member can sort of cast as many aspersions as he likes and make allegations. When I became aware of the management letter on the issue of fraud, I met as soon as I could with the Auditor-General, and I have made it very clear to the chairman of the Southern District Health Board that if he believes there is sufficient evidence of fraud, then that must be referred quickly to the Serious Fraud Office. And, as the member will know from my earlier answer, it has been referred to forensic auditors for that very purpose.
Kevin Hague: I seek leave to table a page from the New Zealand Doctor website. It is protected behind a paywall, so most members will not have access to it. It is entitled “South Link groups in growth phase”, and it refers to the Minister’s interaction, as in those quotes.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that particular document that is not easily available to members. Is there any objection to that being tabled? There is none. It can be tabled. Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Hon Annette King: In this meeting with the Auditor-General, did he seek at any time to have any mention of the word “fraud” removed from the Audit Office report to the select committee?
Hon TONY RYALL: It is not the responsibility of the Minister of Health to direct the Auditor- General in what they do. [Interruption] No, no, I have no recollection of asking them to remove the word “fraud”. The member can cast as many stones as she likes but, actually, she was the Minister at the time that most of this contract stuff was happening.
Hon Annette King: Point of order, Mr Speaker—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I have a point of order, which I want to hear in silence.
Hon Annette King: I seek leave to show that, in fact, this problem started in 1995-96—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! That is using the point of order system simply to continue a political debate. The member has got a question coming up shortly. She should use that opportunity, with supplementary questions, to continue the debate.
Health Services—Standard of Care
2. Hon ANNETTE KING (Labour—Rongotai) to the Minister of Health: What recent reports has he seen on inadequate standards of health care in New Zealand?
Hon TONY RYALL (Minister of Health): The vast majority of reports I receive on the standard of health care in New Zealand are very positive. However, I have seen a recent report about a small group of women whose experiences with maternity services in Counties Manukau were disappointing. It is unacceptable if any mother feels unwelcome or disrespected by maternity services, and I have asked the district health board to report to me on what action it is taking to address these concerns.
Hon Annette King: Why was the so-called increase in funding to Hutt Valley District Health Board not sufficient to prevent a recent audit report showing that conditions at the maternity ward, the mental health unit, and the children’s ward were so concerning that they were labelled as high risk, with staff shortages, overcrowding, and a recurring flea problem that had been there since he became the Minister?
Hon TONY RYALL: Our Government has given the Hutt Valley District Health Board an additional $59 million in the last 5 years. We have also supported much stronger auditing processes in district health boards. I am advised in respect of Hutt Valley District Health Board that it is addressing the issues that have been raised. New lino has been installed and the maternity unit has apparently been fumigated. I have to remind the member that fleas were reported at another hospital back in 2007 and in a hospital facility back in 2002. Who was the Minister of Health then?
Hon Annette King: Why was the so-called increase in funding to Counties Manukau District Health Board not sufficient to address the serious shortcoming in maternity care, including bed shortages, inappropriate care, overcrowding, and vulnerable women being sent home 4 hours after giving birth, after his promise for longer stays for mothers in hospitals—the promise he made in 2008-09?
Hon TONY RYALL: Over the last 5 years we have given the Counties Manukau District Health Board $265 million worth of additional funding. There was a major review of maternity services that was commissioned in 2012. It identified that there were significant problems with dealing with vulnerable mothers, particularly new, Pacific, and Māori mothers. This research has been undertaken to inform the district health board, and I am sure we are going to see improved services as a result.
Hon Annette King: I seek leave to table a document sent to me under an Official Information Act request from Counties Manukau, showing that over 4 years there has been no improvement in the length of stay for vulnerable mothers—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Leave is sought to table an Official Information Act request that has been sent to the member—
Hon Trevor Mallard: No. A reply, not a request.
Hon Annette King: It was a reply.
Mr SPEAKER: A reply. I apologise. Is there any objection to that particular document? There is objection.
Hon Annette King: Why should mental health patients in Christchurch be forced to live in Portacom and caravans, which both health professionals and board members are concerned about, even going—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I do not want your colleague there to continue holding up pieces of paper, which is leading to disorder.
Hon Annette King: We’re allowed to.
Mr SPEAKER: I have asked the member to desist from doing so. That is the end of the matter.
Hon Annette King: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. For the many, many years that I have been in this Parliament, the use of visual aids—including your allowing me to use them only a few weeks ago—was permitted. Why is it not permitted now?
Mr SPEAKER: Because it is leading to disorder. A visual aid might be one thing. To hold up lots of pieces of paper—copies of the newspaper—is not helping the order of this House. I have
made a ruling. If the member wishes to carry on with her supplementary questions, I suggest that she do so.
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! This is a point of order. It will be heard in silence.
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: Could I point you to Standing Order 109—
Mr SPEAKER: 109?
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: —109, Mr Speaker—and it says this: “A member may use an appropriate visual aid to illustrate a point being made during the member’s speech, provided that the aid does not inconvenience other members or obstruct the proceedings …”. The second point says: “Such an aid may be displayed only when the member is speaking to a question before the House and must be removed from the Chamber at the conclusion of the member’s speech.” I would put it to you that the visual aid itself was innocuous. It was directed at the member’s question that was being asked, and it has been a tradition to use visual aids as long as they are removed relatively quickly after the speech.
Mr SPEAKER: I invite the member to look very carefully at that particular Standing Order. What it says is that the member can use a visual aid, if the member specifically needs a visual aid to help that member make a point with a supplementary question. What we were seeing was an additional member of Parliament, not the member asking the question, using the visual aid, which was, in my opinion, leading to disorder. If—[Interruption] Order! If the member asking the question finds that it is absolutely critical to making the point she is making, I will allow that member but not any other member to use that aid to assist the Hon Annette King.
Hon Annette King: Thank you, Mr Speaker. It is critical to my question. Why should mental health patients in Christchurch be forced to live in Portacom and caravans, which both health professionals and board members are concerned about—even going so far as to label the proposal as “low-life ghetto”—when he was aware of the unprecedented demand for mental health services in Christchurch since the earthquake and has washed his hands of the problem?
Hon TONY RYALL: We have been strongly supporting the Canterbury District Health Board since the earthquake. In the last 5 years $201 million worth of extra funding has gone into the Canterbury District Health Board. There are significant housing issues in Christchurch, which are being dealt with and work is under way in that area, but I do welcome any thinking the district health board can have about how it might be able to provide services for some of those more vulnerable people in the community on a temporary basis until a more permanent accommodation can be provided.
Hon Annette King: Has he received—[Interruption] Yes, yes, we have just heard from the “Brains Trust”. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Does the member want to continue with her question?
Hon Annette King: Has he received any reports from front-line health professionals that on numerous occasions patient safety is compromised due to care rationing, patients missing out on care or having their treatment delayed, and reports that reportable events are often not getting past front-line managers? Has he received any of those reports?
Hon TONY RYALL: I am sure that I have read some of the newspaper clippings that the member is using for those reports, but also I have seen reports of people waiting 3 days on end under bright fluorescent lights at hospital emergency departments during the term of the previous Government. Next week, we will be announcing the best performance ever by emergency departments in the New Zealand public health service.
Hon Annette King: I seek leave to table an email I have received from a health professional working in a tertiary hospital, setting out exactly what I have just put in my question. I am sure that the Minister has also received it—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Then we do not need any further explanation. Leave is sought to table an email received by the member from a health professional. Is there any objection to that email being tabled? There is objection.
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: I seek leave to table a set of statistics from New Zealand Doctor. I am advised that it is similarly limited in its availability as Mr Hague’s information from New Zealand Doctor was, from behind a paywall. This is a set of statistics that notes as its headline: “Labour’s King gains as Ryall slips in popularity”.
Mr SPEAKER: Well, I am going to let the House decide. Leave is sought to table that particular information from behind a paywall. Is there any objection? There is objection.
Hon Member: They don’t like it.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! And I do not like the noise levels of the interjections, either.
Economic Programme—Support for Vulnerable New Zealanders
3. SHANE ARDERN (National—Taranaki - King Country) to the Minister of Finance: How is the Government balancing its focus on responsibly managing its finances with addressing some of the most challenging social issues facing vulnerable families?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): The Government has been clear since it became the Government that the 50 percent jump in Government spending in the 5 years to 2008 was unsustainable. In setting a path back to surplus, we rejected the option of aggressively cutting spending. Instead, we took the time to understand the drivers of existing spending and whether the spending was delivering results, and to ensure that results were delivered. At the same time, we put significant resourcing and effort into improving the lives of the most vulnerable New Zealanders, particularly children. We are not doing that by throwing taxpayers’ money around indiscriminately. We are attempting to resolve the complex and persistent problems that mean some of our children have lives that sap their sense of opportunity.
Shane Ardern: What are some of the social issues the Government is addressing to improve the lives of the most vulnerable New Zealanders?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The Government has set out what it believes those social issues are, but, more than that, it is publishing results in order that the public can hold us and the public service to account for achieving something for the most vulnerable New Zealanders. The Better Public Services targets are particularly challenging because they cover some of New Zealand’s most persistent problems, like long-term welfare dependency, vulnerable children and the amount of violence that they suffer, the need to build skills and employment so these young New Zealanders have real opportunities, and also crime reduction and making our communities safer. Overall, we are making good progress towards meeting these results and further updates will be published tomorrow.
Shane Ardern: What kinds of social issues affecting the most vulnerable New Zealanders did this Government inherit in 2008?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: There were a number of long-standing social issues making the lives of New Zealanders miserable in 2008. They are set out clearly in the Salvation Army’s state of the nation report of February 2008. It said: “The social outcomes which we as New Zealanders have achieved over the past five years”—that is, under the previous Labour-led Government—“were somewhat mixed and in some areas quite disappointing.” The report noted that in 2008 more children appeared to be at risk of harm, more young people were engaged in petty crime, there was more violent crime, and the number of people going to jail was rising at a significant rate. I do not think that any of those trends could be seen as progress. The Salvation Army noted in 2008 that New Zealand households were chronically indebted.
Shane Ardern: What else do reports say about the serious social challenges facing New Zealanders when this Government took office, and particularly the fiscal policy approach to dealing with those issues?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The Salvation Army said in its report in 2008 that perhaps the most disappointing aspect was that New Zealand had invested huge amounts of money in core areas of social spending but the spending seemed to have contributed very little to New Zealand’s social progress. This was not said by the then Opposition’s spokespeople; this was from the people from the Salvation Army. The report listed billions of taxpayers’ dollars that had been spent, and then listed many indicators that were going backwards—rising numbers of referrals to Child, Youth and Family Services, more children in Child, Youth and Family Services care, rising youth offending, rising teenage pregnancy and abortion rates, continuing educational inequality, and early childhood enrolment rates lower than 65 percent. Funnily enough, in 2014, almost all of these indicators are turning positive, when the Government has been very careful about its spending but instead has focused on its effectiveness.
Jacinda Ardern: In light of the Deputy Prime Minister’s line of questioning around the Salvation Army report, I seek leave to table a graph from the Salvation Army demonstrating—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member will resume her seat. That report was certainly available to all members.
Commerce (Cartels and Other Matters) Amendment Bill—Passage
4. Hon CLAYTON COSGROVE (Labour) to the Minister of Commerce: When does he expect the Commerce (Cartels and Other Matters) Amendment Bill to be passed into law?
Hon CRAIG FOSS (Minister of Commerce): It is my expectation that this bill will be passed this year.
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: Given the serious concerns of supermarket suppliers that were raised last week in the House by the Hon Shane Jones and subsequently by the Food and Grocery Council, and given that he admitted yesterday in the House that he knew of concerns regarding the behaviour of supermarkets towards suppliers well before it was raised here last week but did nothing, why has he not expedited the passage of this bill?
Hon CRAIG FOSS: The serious concerns raised by the Hon Shane Jones of alleged blackmail, of alleged extortion, of alleged retrospective payments are not part of the Commerce (Cartels and Other Matters) Amendment Bill. Some of those allegations actually should be referred to the police, as I advised the member yesterday, but they are ongoing matters.
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: Given that he is not prepared to expedite this legislation and that he admitted, and I invite him to check his Hansard from yesterday, that he knew of these concerns prior to Mr Jones raising them in the House, what is he prepared to do, if anything, in the interim to ensure that supermarket suppliers and ultimately consumers get a fair go and are protected?
Hon CRAIG FOSS: As I have answered in this House, I was not aware of any commentary about blackmail, extortion, or retrospective payments a week or so ago before the member raised them in the House.
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: Will he accept the offer I made to him in writing prior to Christmas last year and support my Supplementary Order Paper 408 to the cartels bill, which amends section 36 to ensure that when excessive market power is wielded, based on consequences regardless of intent, it can be acted on by the Commerce Commission?
Hon CRAIG FOSS: Yes, I thank the member for the Supplementary Order Paper and his letter. I also look forward to him replying to my various letters to him. What the Supplementary Order Paper asks for, and I am still considering advice on this one—and a similar issue was raised at the Commerce Committee as this bill went through the select committee. The committee, as a whole, unanimously agreed with the officials’ recommendation that such a proposal as outlined in the member’s Supplementary Order Paper probably should go through a full policy process.
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: Given that the Minister continues to drag his feet on legislation he is responsible for, such as the Insolvency Practitioners Bill, which has languished on the Order Paper for 46 months, the Consumer Law Reform Bill, which languished for 25 months, the Financial
Markets Conduct Bill, which languished for 23 months, and the Commerce (Cartels and Other Matters) Amendment Bill, which was introduced 28 months ago and counting, when can I expect a decision on a simple matter of support or otherwise for a Supplementary Order Paper?
Hon CRAIG FOSS: The member mentioned the Financial Markets Conduct Bill. That was passed last year. The Financial Reporting Bill was passed last year. The Patents Bill was passed last year. The legislation on international cooperation between the Commerce Commission and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission was passed last year. The biggest consumer law reform in decades was passed last year. We are working currently on the consumer credit legislation as well as the bills the member mentioned. I look forward to Labour’s continuing support for these bills, although I am not sure of that support because that member has yet to reply to one letter from me seeking Labour’s position on these bills.
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Although I accept there were some lengthy examples—
Mr SPEAKER: If the member is going to argue—[Interruption] Order! If the member had asked that question, I could have helped him.
State and Social Housing—Building and Redevelopment Initiatives
5. ALFRED NGARO (National) to the Minister of Housing: What progress is the Government making in growing the Community Housing sector and redeveloping Housing New Zealand homes to better match today’s housing needs?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH (Minister of Housing): We are making excellent progress in growing the community housing sector, with an all-time record number of houses to be built this year. We have got projects like Weymouth, with 282 homes; like the Matanikolo Housing Project, which I opened last week with the Pacific Islands Minister, Sam Lotu-Iiga; and around a dozen others that through the Social Housing Fund will enable us to treble the size of this sector over 3 years. Housing New Zealand Corporation’s redevelopment projects are also gaining real momentum such that the Government will this year directly build more houses than in a decade. This includes the Infill 500 project in Auckland, the new developments at McLennan and Hobsonville, and the 700 new houses that are being built in Christchurch over this year and next year.
Alfred Ngaro: What specific initiatives is the Government taking to improve the quality and safety of homes?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: Our first major goal was to insulate every State house that could be, and we successfully completed that project last year with 48,000 homes done. That is on top of the 244,000 homes that have been insulated under the Warm Up New Zealand: Heat Smart programme. We also last year embarked on a $30 million driveway safety programme, where over the next 4 years we will install fences, signage, gates, and mirrors on 13,000 State houses to address New Zealand’s poor record of hospitalising a child every fortnight and killing a child every 10 weeks in vehicle driveway accidents. We are also trialling a Housing Warrant of Fitness scheme on Housing New Zealand Corporation homes to ensure we have a far more systematic approach to ensuring the quality of our State houses.
Alfred Ngaro: How are his housing agencies assisting the Government to achieve its goal of reducing the incidence of rheumatic fever by two-thirds by 2017?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: New Zealand’s acute rheumatic fever levels are 14 times the OECD average, and the rates are 25 times and 44 times higher for our Māori and Pacific Island families respectively. I noted the interjection from Labour members opposite, but I note that in 9 years Labour did nothing. Poor housing contributes significantly to the risks, and that is why the Government has changed the social housing allocation system to support this important health goal of reducing the incidence of this disease by two-thirds. In August we set up a fast-track system in Auckland for families at high risk of rheumatic fever. We had planned on extending it after 1 year to other high-risk areas, but on Monday Cabinet decided to bring this forward. On 1 March this fast19 Feb 2014 Questions for Oral Answer Page 8 of 16 track system will also apply to eight further district health board areas, covering tens of thousands of families.
Phil Twyford: What advice has he received on the number of non-functioning power points in State houses, or the number of dripping taps or smoke alarms that go beep in the night, and, if these are in fact a problem, why does he as Minister of Housing not just issue an instruction that they be fixed, instead of announcing a pilot scheme; and why will he not tackle the real problem here, which is substandard housing in the private rental market?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: I want to say that substandard housing in the State sector was a huge problem for this Government when we came into office in 2008, and the last members in this House whom I am going to get a lecture from about the quality of housing are members opposite. In respect of the member’s claim that all we need to do to get quality housing across those 69,000 State houses is write a letter to the Housing New Zealand Corporation, actually, what you need is a proper system for measuring quality. That is why what we have announced in the trial today ensures that up to 50 different areas of houses are checked on a 3-year rolling basis—so that we can ensure that our State houses are of a high quality.
Supermarkets—Management of Supply Contracts
Hon SHANE JONES (Labour): What documentation, if any, did he and his office prepare prior to 12 February 2014 regarding the behaviour of supermarkets towards suppliers, and when was that documentation prepared?
Hon Members: Who’s the question to?
Mr SPEAKER: The question is to the Minister of Commerce. [Interruption] Order! If the member wants an answer to his question, then I suggest—
Hon SHANE JONES (Labour): I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I will gladly ask this question, and my four other questions, to the Minister of Commerce.
Mr SPEAKER: No. Order! The member will resume his seat. He should have done it correctly in the first place.
6. Hon SHANE JONES (Labour) to the Minister of Commerce: What documentation, if any, did he and his office prepare prior to 12 February 2014, regarding the behaviour of supermarkets towards suppliers, and when was that documentation prepared?
Hon CRAIG FOSS (Minister of Commerce): I am not aware of any documents prepared by my office regarding the behaviour of supermarkets towards suppliers. However, I have received reports from officials on supermarket issues. These reports did not contain information about the behaviour raised by that member alleging blackmail, alleging extortion, and alleging retrospective payments in the New Zealand supermarket sector.
Hon Shane Jones: When he makes contact with the Commerce Commission, what will he do to ensure that the Commerce Commission vigorously embraces section 98 and protects the anonymity of New Zealand - based suppliers, given that they are being leaned upon over in Australia?
Hon CRAIG FOSS: The Commerce Commission is perfectly able to carry out its duties as prescribed in the Commerce Act in and around issues such as confidentiality, as the member raised just then.
Hon Shane Jones: When will the Minister exercise his powers under section 99 and secure Australian assistance to ensure that this Commerce Commission investigation does not falter because of threats and intimidation by Australian-based supermarket owners?
Hon CRAIG FOSS: Once again, I understand the member has made a complaint to the Commerce Commission. I, for one, follow due process. I look forward to the outcome of that due process from the Commerce Commission, and we will see what comes of that.
Hon Shane Jones: Does he think it enhances or undermines the Commerce Commission processes if Woolworths’ Australian chairman, Mr Ralph Waters, is found to be calling New
Zealand suppliers and discouraging them from participating in this legal process lest they face dire consequences in his supermarket in Australia?
Hon CRAIG FOSS: What enhances the Commerce Commission processes is due process and not members grandstanding on issues that they will not repeat outside the House and making serious and inflammatory allegations of blackmail, of extortion, and of retrospective payments that, quite frankly, we are yet to see backed up.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. That was a very clear question, which went to the actions of a particular individual Australian—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] No. Order! The Minister addressed that question to my satisfaction.
Hon Shane Jones: Name one single action this Minister has effected to stand up for New Zealand - based suppliers in the face of adverse action from the supermarkets?
Hon CRAIG FOSS: At least one: adherence to the Commerce Act, in which, actually, the particular section we are talking about was last addressed by the Labour Government in 2001, was considered in 2008, and was actually left alone. Adherence to due process is absolute, and I await the outcomes.
Question No. 7 to Minister
Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Labour—Hutt South): I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I know this question has been approved by you, but I ask that you look at it carefully and see whether it does meet this House’s standards for acceptance.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I think on this occasion there is a question around the wording of the question. It should have been raised with me a lot earlier, and I might have made a decision. But at this stage it has been accepted on to the Order Paper and I am going to allow the question to proceed as it is written.
Street Racing, Illegal—Results of Legislative Changes
7. MIKE SABIN (National—Northland) to the Minister of Police: What results have Police recorded since new laws were introduced by the Government in 2009 to combat illegal street racing?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY (Minister of Police): More good news. I am pleased to advise that the legislation introduced by this Government in 2009 to deter illegal street racing and antisocial boyracing behaviour is working very well. The number of infringement notices issued by police for illegal street racing has fallen from around 2,700 in 2009 to 1,380 in 2013. That is a reduction of nearly 50 percent—a 50 percent reduction. Over the same period the number of 15 to 24-year-olds killed on our roads has fallen from 105 to 66. This Government’s crackdown on boy racers has resulted in our streets being safer and fewer young lives being needlessly lost on our roads.
Mike Sabin: What changes did this Government make in 2009 to deter illegal street racing?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY: The 2009 law changes gave the courts the power to seize and destroy the cars of repeat offenders. It gave local councils greater powers to outlaw boy racers cruising in the streets, and made it easier for police to impound vehicles caught racing. We made these changes to send a strong message that antisocial and dangerous driving behaviour will not be tolerated by our communities. Of the 10,000 offences since 2009, only 242 offenders are now on the second strike.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: How many cars crushed so far?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY: Just patience, Mr Peters, just patience—
Mr SPEAKER: Order!
Hon ANNE TOLLEY: Thirteen drivers have received three convictions and three cars have been destroyed. This shows that the changes that we made in 2009 are having a strong deterrent effect, and the young drivers know that there are consequences.
Question No. 4 to Minister
Hon CLAYTON COSGROVE (Labour): I seek leave to table two letters. The first is a letter to the Minister of Commerce of 20 February 2013 regarding the Financial Markets Conduct Bill. The second is a letter of 9 March 2013 regarding the Commerce (Cartels and Other Matters) Amendment Bill. He may want to read his correspondence file.
Mr SPEAKER: Can I assume both those letters were written by the member?
Hon CLAYTON COSGROVE: Correct.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table two letters written by the member to the Minister. Is there any objection? There is objection.
Question No. 4 to Minister—Amended Answer
Hon CRAIG FOSS (Minister of Commerce): I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. In light of that information, if that is correct then I need to correct my earlier answer—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Can I just ask the Minister to stick to the rules. He is asking to raise a point of order. Would he simply get on and raise the point of order.
Hon CRAIG FOSS: I seek to raise a point of order regarding my earlier answer to question No. 4 from the honourable member.
Mr SPEAKER: I take it that now the Minister is seeking leave to correct an answer. Leave is sought to change an earlier answer given in this House. Is there any objection to that course of action? There is none.
Hon CRAIG FOSS: I thank the House. In the light of that information, obviously I have received some replies from the Hon Clayton Cosgrove.
Foreign Affairs, Ministry—Cost of Investigation into Leaked Cabinet Papers
8. Hon MARYAN STREET (Labour) to the Minister of State Services: What was the total cost of the Rebstock inquiry into the leaking of internal documents from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade and how much of that was paid to Paula Rebstock?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON (Attorney-General) on behalf of the Minister of State
Services: The Minister is advised that the cost to the State Services Commission of the inquiry is $513,434.95, including litigation costs. Of this total, $208,916.79 has been paid to Paula Rebstock.
Hon Maryan Street: Does he consider the report to have been robust and worth the expenditure?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: It is important to note that the inquiry was initiated not by Ministers but by the commissioner in accordance with section 8 of the State Sector Act. As to whether the findings were robust, yes, the Minister believes they were, because it confirmed that the leak had come from a former Labour Party staffer working for the State Services Commission. It found that person X had the papers, that person X scanned the papers of the exact same size as the Cabinet papers when they were in his possession, that person X could not explain what he had scanned or why it was saved into the system, and when asked whether he gave Cabinet committee papers to someone who was not authorised to receive them, he responded: “I don’t know.”
Hon Maryan Street: Have any issues of natural justice or other shortcomings in the report been raised with him, given a QC’s opinion that the report “is quite unfair from a legal perspective, contains numerous flaws, contains what we see as basic errors of fact, is often misleading, has omissions, and was flawed and unjust.”?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: There have been issues that have been aired in public on those particular points, which could be the subject of judicial review. The Minister is sure that the Attorney-General would feel that it would be inappropriate to answer those questions, but on the core issue about politicisation of the Civil Service by the Labour Party, the report is very robust indeed.
Hon Maryan Street: I seek leave to table a memorandum from Bruce Corkill QC to Derek Leask, dated 8 November 2013, which contains all of those quotations that I just mentioned to the House.
Mr SPEAKER: Just to clarify—
Hon Christopher Finlayson: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. It would appear on the face of it that she is leaking a document that is subject to legal professional privilege. She would at least have to say in this House that Mr Leask gives her permission to do so.
Mr SPEAKER: I will just clarify for the benefit of the House before I put the leave to table this memorandum—has Mr Leask has given his authority for it to be tabled?
Hon Maryan Street: On 27 January this year, Mr Leask released a public statement and attached to it was the memorandum from Bruce Corkill QC.
Mr SPEAKER: Then if it has been released publicly, I fail to see why it is necessary for it to be tabled in the House today.
Hon Maryan Street: It is not available publicly in the common understanding of things. It has been reported in the media—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The quickest way of moving this forward is to say that leave is sought to table a memorandum from a solicitor—whose name I have now forgotten—but it concerns Mr Derek Leask. Is there any objection to that memorandum being tabled? Yes, there is.
Hon Maryan Street: Why was the evidence presented to the Rebstock inquiry by the prestigious senior civil servant Sir Maarten Wevers that communications from senior heads of mission to relevant departments, chief executives, and even Ministers was common practice, appropriate, and even important ignored by Paula Rebstock, when the reputations and careers of two senior officials have been curtailed or seriously compromised through unfounded accusations in her report?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: It is important to note, as I said earlier, that this was an investigation initiated by the commissioner. It was an independent inquiry. The findings were independent. It would be inappropriate to start commenting on it. If people have a grievance, then they can always seek judicial review.
Hon Maryan Street: I seek leave to table the statement by Sir Maarten Wevers tabled to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade investigation dated 12 February 2013.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table the statement by Sir Maarten Wevers to that inquiry. Is there any objection? There is objection.
Hon Maryan Street: Does the Minister uphold the need for free and frank advice from civil servants; if so, how does he reconcile the Rebstock report and its chilling impact on senior public officials throughout the Public Service with that fundamental principle and does he still believe that the report is worth the money spent on it?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: Yes, indeed the Minister does. The Minister also upholds the core principle that we have an independent Civil Service, and it would be really good if the Labour Party could talk to its activists and tell them not to politicise the Civil Service and use TVNZ headquarters as campaign headquarters, because it is their disgraceful behaviour that has caused this problem.
Health Services—Patient Information Portals and eHealth Ambassadors
9. Dr PAUL HUTCHISON (National—Hunua) to the Minister of Health: What announcements has the Government made about e-Health Ambassadors and their role in promoting patient portals?
Hon TONY RYALL (Minister of Health): Last night we announced seven e-Health Ambassadors, and these e-Health Ambassadors are general practitioners who will work closely with the National Health IT Board to encourage other general practitioners to establish patient portals in their practices this year. A patient portal is an online service that allows a patient to securely login
and do things like check their latest laboratory results, order a repeat prescription, or send a message directly to their GP—all from the convenience of their home.
Dr Paul Hutchison: How will these e-Health Ambassadors assist the roll-out of patient portals?
Hon TONY RYALL: All of the e-Health Ambassadors either are using a portal in their own practices or are in the process of introducing one. The ambassadors will be able to talk to fellow general practitioners about the benefits of the portals for patients in clinics and provide guidance and support to these general practitioners as they establish their own portals. Currently, we know about 15 to 20 percent of practices are offering a patient portal service, and with the leadership and guidance of these e-Health Ambassadors we hope to get around half of practices offering this service by the end of the year.
Internal Affairs, Minister—Information Security
10. Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Labour—Hutt South) to the Prime Minister: Further to his response of “No” as to whether he received an assurance from Mr Dunne that he had not made a copy of the draft Kitteridge Report on the GCSB available to a Fairfax reporter, in Oral Question No 11 on 12 February and that he “accepted him at his word”, in a supplementary answer to the same question, in what context did Mr Dunne give his word that he did not make said report available to the reporter?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): It is “GCSB”. I will save you having to read it out. As I advised the House last year, I was aware that Mr Dunne had made statements to the media where he categorically ruled out that he played any part in leaking the report.
Hon Trevor Mallard: So, therefore, did he rely on a media report or media reports of Mr Dunne denying making the Kitteridge report available to a Fairfax reporter to establish that Mr Dunne had “given his word” on this matter; if not, how did Mr Dunne give “his word”?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I saw the statements the member had made to the media and in the House and accepted them as good enough.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Did he say on 7 June 2013 that he could not accept Mr Dunne’s assurances made earlier that day to the media that he had not made the draft Kitteridge report available to a Fairfax reporter?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Most probably, but a lot of water has flowed under the bridge since then.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Does the Prime Minister stand by this statement: “I want to believe him, but the problem is unfortunately the inquiry doesn’t rule him out and I can’t dismiss the possibility that he has because of the information contained in the report.”? Does he stand by those comments, and what has changed now?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I do stand by those statements, in the same way that I want to believe all the comments the member made about the Owen Glenn donations.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Did the Prime Minister decide not to seek Mr Dunne’s direct answer on the question of whether he made the draft Kitteridge report available to a Fairfax reporter because if Mr Dunne told the truth and admitted making it available, he could not reappoint him, and if he denied making it available, Mr Dunne would have been misleading him and therefore equally unappointable; if that was not the reason, why did he not ask Mr Dunne?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I say to Chief Inspector Clouseau, no.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Does the Prime Minister stand by this statement: “He has advised me that he remains unable to fully meet the inquiry’s requests and, accordingly, he offered, and I have accepted, his resignation as a Minister.”? If he stands by that comment, what has changed now?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Yes, I stand by that statement. As I say, I also relied on the assurances the member gave in the House, in the same way that I am relying on the assurances that Mr Peters has given over the Owen Glenn affair.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. That is the second time the Prime Minister has introduced extraneous matters into his answers.
Hon Members: Oh!
Rt Hon Winston Peters: No, no; let me finish. Let me finish. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! It is a point of order. It is required to be heard in silence.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: It does not fit the parliamentary requirement to be terse and to the point when it comes to answers. But, more important, as we all know, he went out and made all those allegations before the 2008 election, but we are back now, and it is too late.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member was doing marginally well when he started his point of order; he certainly was not by the time he finished.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Does he feel more comfortable having his Government propped up by a member currently before the High Court following a prima facie case of electoral fraud being established, or by one who has repeatedly declined in this House opportunities to deny being the person who made the draft Kitteridge report available to a Fairfax reporter because to do so would involve telling the same lie he told to reporters? [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order!
Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! This is a point of order.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: I would ask you to think very carefully about whether or not it is in order for the last part of that question to be introduced to the House. It is an unreasonable accusation. All members in this House are to be treated as honourable members at all times.
Mr SPEAKER: No, I do not need the assistance of the member Trevor Mallard. Because of the noise, I could not actually hear the part to which I know the member is objecting. I would have thought the Prime Minister would actually be able to respond quite satisfactorily to the question. I call on the right honourable Prime Minister to do so.
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I refute the assertions made in the member’s question, but I do say this. At least we have actually got a Government, which is a lot better than that member has an Opposition, because none of them is here today. Goodness knows where they are.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. During that exchange of comments a bit prior to Mr Key answering that question, Mr Banks made a thoroughly unparliamentary statement. He should be asked to withdraw and apologise audibly.
Mr SPEAKER: Well, I certainly did not hear any comment that I considered unparliamentary coming from the Hon John Banks.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. With respect, what has that got to do with it? We heard it, I heard it, this member back here heard it—we all heard what he said, and you should be relying upon my complaint. If you want to get to the bottom of it, I will tell you what he said, but that is what he did.
Mr SPEAKER: No, that will not be necessary. The best way forward is that I am going to ask the Hon John Banks, if he did make a remark, to withdraw that remark for the benefit of the House.
Hon John Banks: Definitely not. Definitely not, Trevor.
Mr SPEAKER: Then I can take the matter no further.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Mr Banks called Mr Mallard a liar. We all heard it and he should be asked—
Hon John Banks: That’s true.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Now he says it is true. Now he says it is true.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: This clearly goes right to the point of the question. The question itself made a very similar assertion. There is no proof one way or the other. The member asking the question therefore left himself open to the same suggestion that he had just made about another member—my point I raised before.
Mr SPEAKER: And I think that is a reasonable point, but the more important point is that I asked Mr Banks whether he made an unparliamentary comment. He said he did not, and Mr Banks’ word will be taken.
Tracey Martin: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! This is a point of order. It will be heard in silence, but I just want to caution the member. If we are relitigating the matter that has been discussed, that is a direct challenge to a ruling I have given, and the member would give me no choice but for me to then ask her to leave the Chamber. Does the member want to raise a fresh point of order?
Tracey Martin: I do. Can I please seek clarification from you either now or after question time, as a new member of Parliament. When a member of the Opposition rises and gives their word that a statement was made and that is not accepted, yet when a member who is accused gives their word and it is—I am not seeking clarification now, but it would be helpful for those of us who will be here after 2014.
Mr SPEAKER: I am happy to take the member through this matter after question time.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Following Mr Banks’ interjection, I called him a liar. I withdraw and apologise for that because I, unlike him, am an honest member.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I thank the member for trying to assist the order of the House. Question No. 11—Gareth Hughes.
Gareth Hughes: It’s time to go back to the real issues, eh? [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! It is members’ day that the members are using up. I have called Gareth Hughes.
Gareth Hughes: Thank you, Mr Speaker. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Can we please get back to continuing with question time. Question No. 11—Gareth Hughes.
GARETH HUGHES (Green): My question is to the Minister of Energy and Resources and asks: does he think New Zealanders are paying too much for their power? [Interruption] I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. This a primary question on notice. I am trying my best to hold the Government to account and to focus on real issues to New Zealanders, and no one can get a look-in.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The difficulty is—[Interruption] Order! The member is making a reasonable point. He has the privilege of asking question No. 11 today, and it will be heard in reasonable silence.
11. GARETH HUGHES (Green) to the Minister of Energy and Resources: Does he think New Zealanders are paying too much for their power?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES (Minister of Energy and Resources): Obviously consumers will always want to pay less for electricity, but I think that prices reflect the environment we find ourselves in, with increased—significantly increased—investment in transmission and infrastructure. If consumers are worried about price, they should look back to the last Labour- Greens Government, which saw steep power price increases that this Government has halved since taking office.
Gareth Hughes: Does he support the idea of Kiwis generating their own power rather than having to pay rising electricity prices and paying for the electricity companies’ profits when bills have gone up 22 percent under his Government?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: Well, of course, solar has got its place, but the reality is that the Green Party’s policy of wishful thinking just does not stack up. This is a Government that has invested significantly and seen significant investment in transmission and lines and has, of course, halved the steep increases we saw under the last Government.
Gareth Hughes: Is he telling families like the Hugheses—no relation—in Nelson, who recently received a monthly power bill of $1.80 after installing solar on their roof, that they have made a bad decision?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: What I say to the Hugheses—I am glad they are no relation—is that if they shop around they will see increasingly sharp competition, which is not reflected in the
quarterly survey prices. Meridian is offering $100 credit and 10 percent to 12 percent prompt payment discounts. Contact is offering similar 10 percent to 15 percent prompt payment discounts. But I can only agree with Mr Binns of Meridian when answering questions from Mr Hughes that he simply cannot follow the economics of solar and it just does not stack up.
Gareth Hughes: Is this Minister, who is off tonight on his oil-drilling world tour, going to spend election year standing up for big oil and power companies’ profits at the expense of cleaner, cheaper, smarter electricity for New Zealanders and thousands of green jobs?
Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am sure that that outburst was entertaining for the member, but where was the question? There were assertions all the way through that, which are totally unreasonable. It might be member’s day and people will waste time. Once we start these things, then we seem to have trouble getting off the treadmill. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! No, I do not need the assistance of the member. The question was way off the mark and made allegations that are not helpful to the order of the House. I was not, and I am not, going to rule the question out of order, but if the Minister gives a relatively political reply, I will not be surprised.
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: Well, I am very disappointed in those snide remarks from the member given that a core value of the Green Party is to engage respectfully without personal attacks. But let me come back to those important issues that the member talks about. We have halved the steep increases in the power prices that we saw under Labour and the Greens. We have seen significant— in the billions of dollars—investment in transmission, in lines, and we are seeing increasingly sharp deals from the power companies, which actually are not passing on their increasing costs in their prices.
Aged Care, Residential—Standard of Care in Rest Homes
12. BARBARA STEWART (NZ First) to the Associate Minister of Health: Is she satisfied with the current level of care in rest homes?
Hon JO GOODHEW (Associate Minister of Health): The majority of providers do a very good job. However, when issues do arise the Ministry of Health and district health boards respond swiftly to make sure that the immediate situation is addressed and the risk of it happening again is minimised. To support the aged-care sector in providing higher-quality care, today I announced that all aged residential care providers have signed up to the use of the comprehensive clinical assessment tool interRAI 6 months ahead of the deadline. Already 720 registered nurses have been trained in the use of this tool and have completed over 10,000 assessments. This will lead to more consistency and higher-quality care.
Barbara Stewart: Is she aware of recent reports of elderly rest home residents in the Waikato who have received care “not more than that of a concentration camp” and that they have sustained “wounds conducive to physical abuse”, as reported in the Waikato Times recently?
Hon JO GOODHEW: I am aware of a recent article in the Waikato Times that did outline 12 complaints that had been made. I am able to say that some of those complaints were substantiated and that, in fact, it was the swift response on the part of the auditing agencies that actually brought about an improvement in each of those facilities. Regrettably, sometimes situations that none of us would want do occur. What is important is how we respond to that and that we make sure they cannot continue to occur.
Barbara Stewart: Does she agree with the New Zealand Nurses Organisation that “A lack of regulation around staffing levels was a major concern”; if not, why not?
Hon JO GOODHEW: No, I do not agree with that, and the reason I do not agree with that is that when a rest home is audited, it is audited on whether, irrespective of how many staff are used, it is providing high-quality care to the residents. In fact, that is the bottom line for these residents— whether they are getting quality of care. I can, however, also add to that that the Waikato District Health Board funding into aged residential care has gone up by 22 percent since 2009-10. So it
appears that, in fact, extra money is going into the situation. But it is the quality of care, not the numbers of people providing it, that really counts.
Barbara Stewart: Does she agree with the Service and Food Workers Union that aged care is undervalued and underfunded; if so, what is she doing about it?
Hon JO GOODHEW: What I am able to tell the member and this House is that spending on aged residential care since 2008-09 has gone from $744 million to $953 million forecast for this year. That is a 28 percent increase over 5 years. So what I am saying is that in the end it is the quality of care that counts, because certainly any lack of quality is what causes complaints in our system.