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Questions Of The Day Transcript - 3 October 2002

(Uncorrected transcript - subject to correction and further editing)
Questions 1-12 3 October 2002



Knowledge Wave Economy--Business Ventures

1. DEBORAH CODDINGTON (ACT NZ) to the Minister for Economic Development: What has been his response to the views of Harvard business strategy guru Professor Michael Porter who spoke at last year's Knowledge Wave conference about the creation of business clusters, and does he stand by his July 2001 statement that Professor Porter's vision for New Zealand "needs to become a reality"?

Hon. JIM ANDERTON (Minister for Economic Development): Yes. When I said that about Michael Porter I was referring specifically to his comments on marine clusters. The Labour-Progressive Government has implemented the first programme of industry and regional development in a generation, and this includes a business cluster programme. Only 2 weeks ago Industry New Zealand announced $540,000 for the first round of funding for 20 business clusters.

Deborah Coddington: In the light of Michael Porter's comments last month when he said: "I am much clearer now about what I really think. Where Governments can't be involved is trying to steer competition or pick clusters.", will the Minister assure this House that, consistent with his support for Porter's vision for New Zealand, this Government will stop picking winners and handing out corporate welfare?

Hon. JIM ANDERTON: The member might like to consult with her leader about the merits of picking winners versus picking heaps of losers.

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Hon. Richard Prebble: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Ministers can give any answer they like, but one answer they cannot give is one that is mere abuse. That answer did not attempt to answer the question at all; it was mere abuse. I think the Minister should come back and have a crack at answering the question, which is to do with Michael Porter.

Mr SPEAKER: I think the Minister might well be able to add just a little further to what he said.

Hon. JIM ANDERTON: In a quote from Richard Prebble's Letter from Wellington about growth and success in New Zealand, he suggests that economic growth in New Zealand at the moment is 4 percent. I would have thought that that was as good an achievement as any member of the ACT party could possibly accept.

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The question clearly is being asked of the Minister for Economic Development. How can that Minister reasonably be answering a question in the House by referring someone to the newsletter from the leader of the Act party, unless she is saying that the ACT national policy would be far better than he can deliver?

Mr SPEAKER: The Minister may well be saying that, and that is his judgment. I however have to address whether he has addressed the question. He did.

Hon. Richard Prebble: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. With respect, I do not believe that the Minister has addressed the question. The question that he was asked was, given that the reason he is supporting clusters is that he says Dr Porter is in favour, given that Dr Porter says that actually he thinks that Governments cannot cluster businesses, why is he continuing to do it. That is the question. Whether the economy is running at 0 percent or 4 or 8 percent has nothing to do with whether this Government should, sometime in the future, finance clusters. The Minister has not addressed the question, at all.

Mr SPEAKER: I did think so, because he was asked to respond to a particular person's views and he did that by giving another person's views. That has been done many times in this House.

H V Ross Robertson: In the Minister's initial reply he mentioned marine clusters, so can he say what the Government is doing to support them?

Hon. JIM ANDERTON: In one sense we are following Mr Porter's advice, who acknowledged to the Knowledge Wave conference that he was addressing in Auckland that clusters around the world, and particularly in America, had proved very successful in lifting the economic performance of industry and the nation. That is what our Government is doing, but we have identified 180 business clusters, of which nine are marine clusters. Industry New Zealand has funded five of these clusters, and is working with all nine. In this financial year Industry New Zealand will support 30 further clusters, with half a million dollars of funding and the publication of a cluster-building manual, training for cluster facilitators, a cluster conference, and technical advice and support. If that is not good enough for Michael Porter, I do not know what would be.

Dr Don Brash: Given that Professor Porter now recognises that Government support for clusters is unlikely to assist economic growth, why does Industry New Zealand still propose to increase its funding of such clusters, as reported in the New Zealand Herald earlier this week?

Hon. JIM ANDERTON: Apart from the fact that I did not say what the member has suggested I am saying, the fact that he suggests that some academic--in this case Professor Michael Porter--and other commentators on economic investment and development can make a mistake, is not news to me. It might be to the member who asked the question.

Deborah Coddington: I seek leave to table an interview with Michael Porter.

Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that interview. Is there any objection? There is.

Economic Development--Regional Employment
2. GEORGINA BEYER (NZ Labour--Wairarapa) to the Minister of Social Services and Employment: What initiatives is the Government taking to work actively with local government on regional employment growth and economic development?

Hon. STEVE MAHAREY (Minister of Social Services and Employment): This Government is committed to working in partnership with key groups to overcome problems facing New Zealand. I am pleased to announce that yesterday, together with my colleagues from the Ministry of Economic Development and local government, I signed a memorandum of understanding with the Mayors Taskforce for Jobs. Through the memorandum of understanding the mayors taskforce, which involves now two-thirds of the mayors in this country, the Government will commit itself to working jointly on employment and economic development initiatives aimed at youth.

Georgina Beyer: What is the primary goal, as set out in the memorandum of understanding?

Hon. STEVE MAHAREY: Clause 1 of the memorandum details a commitment to a shared goal. That goal states: "by 2007 all 15 to 19-year-olds will be engaged in appropriate education, training, work, or other options that will lead to long-term independence and well-being." The target group is 15 to 19-year-olds. This Government will not leave New Zealand with the legacy of neglect that we inherited in 1999. We affirm the mayors' commitment to zero waste of young New Zealanders.

Hon. Dr Nick Smith: Noting that all the spin and fuss about yesterday's announcement was about only 200 jobs, or about 0.2 percent of current unemployment, why does the Government not focus on the substance--like the decision of his colleague Chris Carter to reject, against the advice of the mayors of Nelson, West-Coast, and Tasman, the Dobson hydro scheme--that would have far more meaning for regional development?

Hon. STEVE MAHAREY: The member may like to consult his own mayors, because they are involved in this initiative. It is not their understanding that they are doing anything other than embarking on a very, very significant development in ensuring that all young New Zealanders between 15 and 19 are on a pathway to a qualification and a job. This is a real commitment.

Rt Hon. Winston Peters: Is the date the Minister set, in terms of achievement at 2007, because of the Government's emerging tiredness and incompetence; which will mean that by 2007 another Government will be required to fulfil the ambition he expressed?

Hon. STEVE MAHAREY: This Government is in the habit of setting a lot of long-term goals, because we intend to be here a long time.

Matt Robson: How will the memorandum of understanding advance the Labour-Progressive Government's programme of regional economic development?

Hon. STEVE MAHAREY: Mayors throughout this country have welcomed the Government's commitment to regional development. In particular, this has been led by my bench colleague, Mr Jim Anderton. In the memorandum these words appear: "We are committed to partnering with the local community to facilitate the development of local strategies that respond to local opportunities and that integrate social, environmental, and economic concerns."

Hon. Bill English: What does that mean?

Hon. STEVE MAHAREY: I know that the member opposite does not know what that means, because he does not understand anything to do with triple bottom line accounting; but the mayors do, and that is why two-thirds of them are now signed up to work with this Government and not the Opposition.

Dr Muriel Newman: Has the Minister seen any research from anywhere in the world that shows that local government creates sustainable jobs better than the private sector; if not, why does not the Government simply lower taxes and reduce compliance costs so that small businesses around New Zealand can create the 17,000 jobs that our unemployed young people need?

Hon. STEVE MAHAREY: I think that the lesson we have learned from the experiment of market-led reforms in the 1980s and 1990s is that a partnership between the private and the public sector works well. In fact, we have the experience of 104,000 jobs created over the last 2 1/2 years.

Question No. 3 to Minister
Hon. BILL ENGLISH (Leader of the Opposition): I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. We take a good deal of care in lodging questions, as the Clerk's Office requires, and as we believe will make Parliament work efficiently, including ensuring that on published diaries Ministers are available to answer those questions. Clearly, something urgent must have come up, or the Prime Minister would otherwise have been here, according to her published diary, so I seek leave to defer the question until the next sitting day.

Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to defer, is there any objection? There is. Reference to absence of members is not something that I encourage at all. I would now like to have the member ask the question.

Hon. TREVOR MALLARD (Minister of Education): I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. If the members opposite were awake in time, on the radio this morning, they would have heard where the Prime Minister was.

Building Standards--Mediation
3. Hon. BILL ENGLISH (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: When she told the House on Tuesday that "The Government is working with interested parties to develop proposals aimed at assisting homeowners affected by (leaky homes) to access mediation.", were homeowners included as one of the interested parties; if so, how?

Hon. TREVOR MALLARD (Minister of Education), on behalf of the Prime Minister: Mr Speaker--

Rt Hon. Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. When a similar question was asked of the Prime Minister yesterday it was referred to Mr Hawkins. [Interruption] I knew we would get to nail them on the facts sooner or later. The reality is that that was excused as being the appropriate Minister. We are now told 1 day later that there is a more appropriate Minister for the same question that is almost identical to the one yesterday. What is it to be with this Prime Minister and this Cabinet over there?

Mr SPEAKER: The member knows the answer full well. I have ruled on many occasions that the executive can decide who answers the question.

Rt Hon. Winston Peters: You are right, they can.

Hon. Richard Prebble: When she's not here, anybody can.

Rt Hon. Winston Peters: Mr Prebble may be right.

Mr SPEAKER: I have ruled on this matter. I do not intend to have this carried on further. Anyone in the executive can answer the question if it is directed to him or her by the executive.

Rt Hon. Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. For consistency in your rulings, and the behaviour of this Cabinet and the Prime Minister, which of the principles laid out in the Standing Orders and Speaker's rulings, the primacy of the Minister or the discretion of Cabinet, will you rule on in the future. We have had a good example--

Mr SPEAKER: I ask the member to be seated. I have ruled on this matter and I will not rule again. I have ruled three or four times. The executive can decide who answers the question. It is their right to do so. I am ruling that the Minister can answer appropriately.

Hon. TREVOR MALLARD: On behalf of the Prime Minister I reply to the question that includes a quotation from the Prime Minister, unlike yesterday. Formal discussions prior to the decision to proceed with establishing a mediation service involved those parties whose cooperation was necessary to make the service feasible. Since then, the Prime Minister has been advised that discussions are proceeding with representatives of other parties, including homeowners.

Hon. Bill English: Can the Prime Minister advise the House which of the Government's statements we are to believe; the one made by George Hawkins at the press conference yesterday that homeowners had not been consulted, the one made by him last night on the Holmes programme when he said: "Homeowners had been consulted", or her weasel words today that leave us none the wiser?

Mr SPEAKER: Apart from one of the adjectives the Minister may reply.

Hon. TREVOR MALLARD: Mr Hawkins is a hard-working progressive Minister. Mr Hawkins, unlike members opposite, does work between lunchtime and dinner time. [Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: I say only once more that when I am on my feet no one will speak or someone will have an early weekend. The Minister will now address the question just a little bit more.

Hon. TREVOR MALLARD: It is obvious to anyone who realises that one press conference was at half-past 12 and one Holmes show at 7.30 that every hard-working Minister had been working during that period, including the very hard-working Mr Hawkins.

Lynne Pillay: How will homeowners benefit from mediation?

Hon. TREVOR MALLARD: The problem for many homeowners is that the likely cost of pursuing their legal remedies may well be excessive in relation to the likely return. The Government will therefore put in place a service that gives people another option.

Brent Catchpole: In view of the fact that the Government is prepared to spend $4 million on mediation, and that financially distressed owners of leaky homes will still have to pay building advisers and lawyers about $5,000 in total to help them prepare for mediation, which may never take place, and still may not resolve their problem, what consultation with interested parties has been undertaken to make the $4 million immediately available to such homeowners by way of legal aid to enter into a dispute resolution procedure that will enable them to pay their advisers without court proceedings having been commenced--

Mr SPEAKER: The question is far too long. There is sufficient there for the Minister to comment.

Hon. TREVOR MALLARD: I thank the member for his suggestion. However, I suggest to him that an assessment of the damage, an estimate of the cost of remediation, and an evaluation of the likely liabilities of various parties, would be very useful to homeowners in that situation.

Hon. Richard Prebble: Can the Government confirm whether one of the interested parties it consulted was Local Government New Zealand, in that Local Government New Zealand may have a legal liability to homeowners with leaky homes that could run into hundreds of millions of dollars, and if Local Government New Zealand was one of the interested parties, can he also confirm that no local government in New Zealand has accepted any legal liability, and no local government, council, or representative, will turn up to the Government's mediation, and that being the case, what will be the point of it?

Hon. TREVOR MALLARD: Yes, no, and he is wrong.

Hon. Bill English: What does the Prime Minister think of the comment from the Director of the Consumers Institute who has described the mediation proposal as a "shoddy, weak proposal", and can she explain why she has done a deal with Local Government New Zealand and the Master Builders--the very people to whom homeowners will be looking for cash payments, because of their liability? Who is she trying to protect?

Hon. TREVOR MALLARD: In relation to the first part of the question the Consumers Institute can be offered a briefing on the service. Anyone who listened to the Director of the Consumers Institute today will be clear that he does not understand what is being put in place. On the second part of the question, most New Zealanders, as ratepayers, have an interest in local government not paying millions of dollars to lawyers who are mates of the National Party and are promoting a highly legalistic solution. We are hearing regularly from someone who used to be the partner of a National Party back-bencher who claims to be an expert. He wants millions and millions of dollars put in his own company's pocket.

Rt Hon. Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I want to take you back to your ruling yesterday and relate it to Speaker's ruling 116/1. It is your right not to allow a Minister to abuse the process of referrals. That is on page 116. I now refer to Speakers' rulings 115/2, 115/3, 115/4, 115/5, and 115/6. All those paragraphs relate to the appropriate person who is judged to be responsible. It is not open-ended to allow Government members to appoint or depute any old Minister to answer a question. I come back to my point. Having looked again at what you have just said, all of a sudden how could it be appropriate for the Minister of Education today to be the responsible Minister, having regard to the Speakers' rulings I have mentioned, when yesterday the Minister of Internal Affairs, at all points, at all times day and night, and in all mediums, is the one the questions have been referred to. On looking at the Standing Orders and Speakers' Rulings, and having conferred with my colleague Gerry Brownlee, I must say that for the life of me I cannot follow the ruling that has been given.

Hon. TREVOR MALLARD: The first point I would like to make is that today, and for the last fortnight, the Minister of Education has also been the Acting Minister of Finance and has been taking an interest in that area. I want to make that clear to members. The other point that members should be aware of is that the quote that was provided yesterday was a quote from an Auckland lawyer, and not the Prime Minister, and referred to both the Minister of Internal Affairs and the Prime Minister. The quote that is used today is a quote from the Prime Minister, and therefore the person acting for the Prime Minister in this matter should be the person answering the question.

Hon. Richard Prebble: I want to make two points. The first one, for both Mr Peters and Mr Mallard, is that the fact that Mr Mallard is Minister of Education and has been Acting Minister of Finance is quite irrelevant. When he gets up on behalf of the Prime Minister he is answering on behalf of the Prime Minister, so that is not a relevant question, but it may be for the Government, when considering who to allocate the overall question to. The second is that at some point the House should defend the Speaker. It is not a matter for the Speaker to decide who a question is to be allocated to. That is a matter for the executive, and if the executive decides to make a shift that the House does not think is good, that is its responsibility. But we really want to get on with question time.

Mr SPEAKER: I thank the member. He has made both the points that I would have made myself.

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Notwithstanding the comments from Mr Prebble, I think it would be useful if you, at another time--perhaps before the start of the House's proceedings next Tuesday--considered those points that Mr Peters raised regarding Speakers' rulings 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 on page 115 and Speaker's ruling 116/1. Speaker's ruling 116/1 does confer a duty--

Mr SPEAKER: Order!

Gerry Brownlee: No, here is the book.

Mr SPEAKER: Please be seated. I am standing. Be seated. Speaker's ruling 116/1 is not engaged at all. As I ruled yesterday, the question of transfer is a matter for the Government's judgment, not the Speaker's. I am not going to be brought into that debate.

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.

Mr SPEAKER: It had better be a new one, because my patience is very tried. I want to get on with question time.

Gerry Brownlee: That is fine. The second part of Speaker's ruling 115/5 is a strong constraint on what you have just suggested, because it states: "The arrangement of administrative responsibilities within Cabinet is an internal arrangement, and the Minister responsible for each portfolio answers the appropriate question." We have published portfolios. Ministers carry warrants. We are given a schedule of Minister's responsibilities, and we have a right, as an Opposition, to pose questions in this House to the appropriate Minister. If we are just going to be batted off every day, and when a Minister gets himself in deep trouble and starts to be unable to handle a particular issue some other cavalry Minister has to come in, where is democracy going?

Mr SPEAKER: The member has gone far too far with his last comment. I made my judgment and I make it again. I have nothing further to add.

Responsible Gambling Bill--Gaming Machines
4. SUE BRADFORD (Green) to the Minister of Internal Affairs: How many non-casino gaming machines have been licensed, and how many new gaming machines have been introduced to licensed casinos, since the introduction of the Responsible Gambling Bill?

Hon. GEORGE HAWKINS (Minister of Internal Affairs): The Department of Internal Affairs publishes, on a quarterly basis, the number of licensed gaming machines on non-casino sites. The bill was introduced on 19 February 2002. There were 21,012 gaming machines licensed on 31 December 2002. The number of licensed machines as at 30 September 2002 was 23,002--an increase of 1,990. With the opening of Hamilton's Riverside Casino in September, a further 3,000 casino gaming machines were added. Dunedin Casino has also increased the number of its machines by 10 since the introduction of the bill. Sky City Casino received approval prior to February for further expansion--230 machines, but these are not in place yet. The Casino Control Authority is responsible for licensing casinos and approving changes to their machine numbers.

Sue Bradford: Is the Minister aware that, of the 5,280 new problem gamblers who sought help from the Problem Gambling Foundation this past year, 72 percent of them cited gaming machines as the primary source of their difficulties; if so, why is he not taking urgent action to institute a moratorium on new gaming machines?

Hon. GEORGE HAWKINS: It is an unfortunate fact that most people with problem gambling are those who use the gaming machines at casinos and non-casino sites. The bill that is going through the committee at the moment actually deals with some of those issues, and the sooner that bill gets through the better.

Dianne Yates: What precisely does the Responsible Gambling Bill do to respond to community concerns for non-casino gaming machines?

Hon. GEORGE HAWKINS: The Responsible Gambling Bill provides for a local community veto on the establishment of new gaming machine sites after 17 October 2001, the day the bill was announced. It also introduces a new limit of nine machines on new gaming-machine sites established after that date. It also provides a mechanism for imposing a cap by region or nationally on the number of non-casino gaming machines.

Lindsay Tisch: What is the rationale of TAB and racing club gaming machine proceeds being used for stake money for horse racing while non-casino operators are required to turn at least a third of gaming proceeds for community purposes?

Hon. GEORGE HAWKINS: The money going to the community is something that the non-casino people have fought for very hard. The other matters are for the Minister for Racing.

Marc Alexander: Does the Minister agree that the proceeds from non-casino gaming machines provide valuable financial support to local sport and recreational groups, even more so now given the decision by Sport and Recreation New Zealand to abolish the $4.5 million community sports fund?

Hon. GEORGE HAWKINS: Many local sports groups benefit from non-casino machine profits, and communities will have to weigh up whether they want more of those machines or whether they want to enact the veto that local government will have.

Sue Bradford: With the Lotteries Commission itself blaming the growing number of gaming machines for a 6.1 percent drop in sales, will the Minister do anything to force community rather than private distribution of the profits from pokies so that the community funding shortfall can be made up?

Hon. GEORGE HAWKINS: I am looking at all possibilities to make sure that there is sufficient funding. Obviously, if people bought more Lotto tickets we would do a lot better. But it is interesting to note that there are a lot of non-collected prize winnings that have come back to the commission for redistribution.

Immigration--Prohibited Immigrants
5. Rt Hon. WINSTON PETERS (Leader--NZ First) to the Minister of Immigration: Why did the Acting Minister say, in answer to a supplementary question to oral question number 3 on 1 October, that 6179 people remain in New Zealand having been declined refugee, asylum or immigrant status over the last three years when on the figures he gave in answering the primary question, that should be 5974, a discrepancy of 205 people, and why can't he say specifically how many dependants are associated with those applications?

Hon. DAMIEN O'CONNOR (Acting Minister of Immigration): I apologise to the House, and acknowledge the fact that the member is correct and that there are in fact 205 fewer people who remain in the country than the figure I provided to the House on Tuesday. The figure of 5,974 includes principal applicants and dependants.

Rt Hon. Winston Peters: How can he get up in the House today and tell us it includes dependants when yesterday he did not know that, or is he thoroughly confused--[Interruption] I know I have struck a nerve here. We all know I have struck a nerve here, and I can assure members that it will get much worse.

Mr SPEAKER: Senior members know full well that while a question is being asked, there can be no interjection. Of course, if there is, there will be a reply, and they can expect that. There is not to be any interjection. I ask the whips to impose that.

Rt Hon. Winston Peters: Why was it that when the Minister was asked that question just the other day, he could not answer it, yet he claims today he can; was it not the case that his department had again misinformed him?

Hon. DAMIEN O'CONNOR: I have apologised for that. As New Zealanders right throughout the country will know from the term of Government when that member was Treasurer, it is not always possible to get the figures right the first time.

Rt Hon. Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. This may well be the worst Parliament in Western democracy when it comes to question time in the House; it clearly has deteriorated to that. I cannot think of any Parliament--Canada, the UK, the United States, or Australia--that tolerates that sort of appalling, irresponsible behaviour from a Minister. There was no attempt whatsoever to answer the question properly, and what he did say was wrong.

Mr SPEAKER: Let me just say that as far as I was concerned, the Minister apologised for an error he made. I cannot see anything wrong in doing that. I have made many mistakes, and I like to think I can apologise, too. The Minister did acknowledge the mistake, and he has said so this afternoon.

Hon. Roger Sowry: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. There has been a convention that when a Minister inadvertently misleads the House by answering a question and getting his or her numbers wrong or something similar, as soon it comes to the Minister's attention, he or she comes down to the House, takes a point of order, and corrects the record. The Minister does not wait for a question to be asked the next day in order to correct the record. The Minister should have taken a point of order at the beginning of question time and corrected the record then. At the very least, if it was brought to his attention yesterday, he should have corrected it yesterday. If we are to have that new standard, Mr Speaker, then I think you need to rule on that.

Mr SPEAKER: I will now. There is no new standard. The Minister was under a definite obligation to come down to the House and apologise, and he did that today. I agree with the member that as soon as a Minister discovers a mistake, he or she must do that. I have already talked to the Minister about that matter.

Hon. Richard Prebble: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am not attacking the Minister, because I agree with you that he has apologised, but I think it is a useful point. However, I am not sure how you have left the matter. The point being raised by the Hon. Roger Sowry is that the technically correct thing for the Minister to do in this situation--when all he has done is to attempt to do some mental arithmetic--is to apologise at the first opportunity. Are you saying that if he worked out the correct figure yesterday, he should have come back with it to the House yesterday?


Hon. Richard Prebble: Now we are in a situation where, from a question from Mr Peters, it would have become apparent at the point the calculations were done that the figure was wrong. Are you saying that at the beginning of question time in the House the Minister should have taken the opportunity to set the record straight, or is it appropriate for him just to wait and do it in the way he did?

Mr SPEAKER: That is absolutely correct. I have already talked to the Minister, and, in future, as far as I am concerned, I would expect him to come down to the House and correct the record as soon as possible. If he left it till today, then perhaps he should have made the correction at the start of question time so as not to have caused this particular problem.

Hon. Roger Sowry: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I think we are now in a worse situation in the sense that if you have already talked to the Minister, one assumes that you talked to him before question time, because you certainly have not talked to him during question time. So the Minister knew. He then chose to sit and wait to apologise during question time--and the Minister nods--rather than take a point of order at the beginning of question time. If you talked to the Minister before question time, one has to ask why he did not take the advice and make the correction at the beginning of question time and why you did not ask him to make a statement, rather than let this sort of ambush occur during the question.

Mr SPEAKER: All I can say is that I did tell the Minister that he had to make the apology to the House. In future I will take note of what the member said, and that is the way it is to be done in future.

Jill Pettis: What measures has the Government undertaken to reduce the backlog of people applying for refugee status?

Hon. DAMIEN O'CONNOR: The Government has invested more than $3 million over the last 3 years, which has resulted in the waiting time for determination being slashed from 3 years, under the National-led Government, to an average of 4 to 6 months now. We are on track to further reduce this waiting time to 3 months by the end of this year.

Hon. Murray McCully: How does the percentage of asylum seekers being detained following the recent issuing of new operational instructions compare with the percentage detained prior to those instructions being issued, and what effect is that likely to have on the number of asylum seekers remaining in New Zealand after their refugee applications have been declined?

Hon. DAMIEN O'CONNOR: The investment we have made means that the first determination will be made a lot faster, thereby those people who have made applications will know whether they are able to stay in this country or whether they have to leave, as the ministry will determine.

Rt Hon. Winston Peters: Given that yesterday the Minister was asked what the specific number of dependants is, and he has again been asked today, would he now tell us at long last, what the figure is?

Hon. DAMIEN O'CONNOR: The answer I gave to the original question of 5,974, which that member pointed out to me, includes principal applicants and dependants.

Rt Hon. Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. That is why this place becomes so frustrating. I have asked that Minister, on two different days, a question about the number of dependants allied to the people who are remaining--not the principal applicant, but the dependant, a child usually in most cases. Today, the second day, and with the full resources of the department and all the $86 million it is spending a year, the Minister still refuses to answer that question. Why bother to have question time if a Minister can get away with that again?

Hon. DAMIEN O'CONNOR: Speaking to the point of order, I say that if the member wants to put that question down in writing I will be more than happy to ask the department whether it can ascertain what the figure is. It is however difficult, given that those figures do vary from day to day.

Rt Hon. Winston Peters: I seek leave to table the Hansard of yesterday's question No. 3, which asks why that figure, when it relates to the dependants, was not given to the House. Perhaps I could ask that Minister and his department to get off their backsides and start giving this House some accountability.

Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.

Painted Apple Moth--Eradication, West Auckland
6. JUDY TURNER (United Future) to the Minister for Biosecurity: Has he or his ministry asked for any advice from the Ministry of Health relating to public health concerns in connection with the aerial painted apple moth spraying in West Auckland; if so, what was the nature of that advice?

Hon. JIM SUTTON (Minister for Biosecurity): Yes, the Auckland District Health Board has provided a health risk assessment in relation to the painted apple moth eradication programme. This assessment was reviewed by the Ministry of Health and indicates that the programme does not pose a significant health risk to the people of west Auckland. In addition to the health risk assessment, Ministry of Health officials have participated in advisory groups during the development of the painted apple moth programme.

Judy Turner: Will the Minister consider implementing a system whereby those most affected can be funded to use their own general practitioner, rather than being referred to a specialist contracted to the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry who is unknown to them?

Hon. JIM SUTTON: We already have a situation in place where, with $10 million voted for the year 2002-03 to allow for the expansion of the health support and monitoring service currently operating, under this service residents with health concerns can make appointments to be assessed and have an appropriate management programme implemented. Obviously management programmes will vary according to the needs of individuals, but can vary from provision of advice to avoid exposure, through to temporary relocation outside the spray zone. I think it appropriate at this stage to say that the provision of specialist advice is probably the most appropriate way to approach it.

David Cunliffe: Has the Minister received any advice as to the formulation of the spray in question--4A,48-B?

Hon. JIM SUTTON: The answer is yes, the active ingredient of 4A,48-B is a common soil bacterium commonly known as BTK. In addition to that, 4A,48-B contains a number of inert ingredients, all of which are registered for use in New Zealand in either food or cosmetic products.

Shane Ardern: In the light of the health report why did the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries spend so much time mucking about with an investigation into some burnt moths being spread around, with the notion that that might frighten off the painted apple moth, or the contents of burnt moths being placed in a pvc pipe with copper wires--that might have the effect of sending them back to Australia--or any other hocus pocus cures that might take place that have been suggested to the Minister?

Hon. JIM SUTTON: I thought for a moment the member had joined the Green Party. I assure members that the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries would have spent no longer investigating such proposals than they merit.

Ian Ewen-Street: Given that some $10 million has been allocated to addressing public health considerations concerning the painted apple moth, when will the Minister concede that 4A,48-B has huge negative public health implications, and that the public has a right to know that the 40-odd chemical ingredients that constitute 4A,48-B outweigh the commercial interests that want to keep them secret?

Hon. JIM SUTTON: As the member has been told previously, the formulation of 4A,48-B is a highly valued trade secret. Release of the formulation by the Government would jeopardise future access to this and future essential and environmentally friendly spray materials. The formulation has been made available to officials--including health officials--to ensure they have all the information necessary to properly identify and respond to any health issues.

Shane Ardern: I seek leave to table a media report by Owen McShane, outlining the amount of time, money, and all other various activity that took place around the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries investigation.

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

Building Standards--Locating Builders
7. Dr WAYNE MAPP (NZ National--North Shore) to the Minister of Internal Affairs: How will the voluntary mediation service proposed by the Government help Laura's leaky home case reported in The Dominion Post today, where she can't actually track down the builders?

Hon. GEORGE HAWKINS (Minister of Internal Affairs): While the builder in Laura's case may not be able to be found after 12 years, there may be other parties with responsibility for her house problems that can be involved in mediation. The Government has announced that it is setting up a mediation service for people with leaky buildings. If people responsible for those problems are reluctant to become involved in mediation the Government will look at ways to facilitate a more effective uptake of the procedure.

Dr Wayne Mapp: Is the Minister saying that it is Laura's responsibility to track down all the parties, including builders, or will the Government provide direct assistance to ensure that people appear before mediation; if so, how, and be specific?

Hon. GEORGE HAWKINS: I am not saying that at all.

David Parker: Is the Minister aware of any reports of successful mediation where affected parties have reached a satisfactory agreement resulting in leaky homes being repaired?

Hon. GEORGE HAWKINS: Yes, ideally we hope that Laura of Khandallah will achieve a result similar to Ron and Janet of Hamilton, as reported on the recent edition of Fair Go. That couple owned a--

Gerry Brownlee: Oh, so they will all be on TV?

Hon. GEORGE HAWKINS: That member should listen, this is good news. Ron and Janet owned a $300,000 townhouse that was leaking. The repair bill was $100,000. After a 21/2 year impasse Ron and Janet went to mediation with the council, the council's insurers, and two building inspectors. A satisfactory agreement has been reached. Ron and Janet are looking forward to having their home repaired by March next year.

Dail Jones: Is the Minister now saying that all owners of leaky homes should take action against their councils; is he confirming that the councils are now liable for these leaky homes, such as in the mediation that he has mentioned; will he support all these people who will need building reports and legal assistance to go into mediation with the councils and their insurers; and is he saying all councils have admitted liability and that all council's insurers will pay, as was the case in Fair Go?

Mr SPEAKER: There were three questions there. The Minister may comment on two.

Hon. GEORGE HAWKINS: As the cases will be different, and the circumstances of water entering houses will be very different in many cases, people will take whoever they need and who they see as responsible for the leaky homes to mediation.

Deborah Coddington: Can the Minister be specific and tell this House how he will get people to turn up to voluntary mediation, when local government representatives, builders, architects, and the Building Industry Authority, in fact, anyone who might be responsible for new homes leaking, are not required to turn up?

Hon. GEORGE HAWKINS: I think it is already very clear that local government, and the building industry, want to play a part in this and are supporting mediation, so that will cover a lot of the situations that are present now.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: Given that the Ministers of Internal Affairs during the second half of the 1990s--the critical years of poor building--were National's Warren Cooper, United's Peter Dunne, and New Zealand First's Jack Elder, will the Minister convene a public inquiry so the public can have the opportunity to ask those former Ministers why they did nothing to avert this crisis; if not, why not?

Hon. GEORGE HAWKINS: While I am very tempted to, we just want to solve the problem.

Marc Alexander: Can the Minister give the House an assurance, on record, that the taxpaying public will not be left to assume any financial liability as a result of the building industry's failure, if it turns out that the mediation service fails to provide homeowners with adequate outcomes and the apportionment of compensation from those deemed responsible?

Hon. GEORGE HAWKINS: There have been many suggestions of compensation--some from the National Party. This Government will not make young people who are paying back student loans subsidise $600,000 houses when they have not had any part in the problems that have been caused.

Dr Wayne Mapp: In the light of the fact that Laura is on income support, can the Government guarantee to her that it will be using some of the $4 million set aside by Cabinet, or legal aid, to enable her to access this voluntary mediation?

Hon. GEORGE HAWKINS: Even though Laura's case started when National was in Government and continued for 9 long years, this Government will make sure that mediation is available to all people who qualify--and, hopefully, Laura will.

Dail Jones: I seek the leave of the House to file the appropriate document to establish that this leaky homes debacle was affected by changes in legislation prior to 1996.

Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.

Glivec--Pharmac Funding
8. STEVE CHADWICK (NZ Labour--Rotorua) to the Minister of Health: What progress has PHARMAC made towards funding the drug Glivec for sufferers of chronic myeloid leukaemia?

Hon. ANNETTE KING (Minister of Health): Pharmac has advised that it has reached a provisional agreement with Novartis to fund the cancer drug Glivec for a wide group of New Zealanders. Pharmac is asking for submissions on its funding proposal, which is subject to the outcome of consultation and final approval by the Pharmac board. Following consultation, and assuming approval, the starting date would be early December.

Steve Chadwick: Can the Minister say whether all chronic myeloid leukaemia sufferers, for whom the leukaemia and the blood foundations have been lobbying, will receive funding under Pharmac's provisional agreement?

Hon. ANNETTE KING: Yes, I can, and Pharmac has advised me that the use of this drug as a first-line therapy would be a first in the world.

Dr Lynda Scott: Could the Minister reassure patients that we will not see the Australian situation--where, after the announcement on funding, access has actually been markedly restricted from what was announced--because the entrance and exit criteria that will apply to patients who will receive Glivec in New Zealand will be described?

Hon. ANNETTE KING: The criteria naturally will be set by Pharmac. But I can tell the member--it is in the company's press release--that Pharmac is making Glivec available to groups of patients that the Australians do not make it available to. I see the member nodding.

Heather Roy: How many patients died of chronic myeloid leukaemia between the time of Glivec becoming available in New Zealand and yesterday's announcement of funding; and what explanation does she have for this time lapse?

Hon. ANNETTE KING: I could not tell the member how many people died from myeloid leukaemia. However, the prognosis of myeloid leukaemia is not the best, and people are likely to die from it. I can tell the member that it has been a relatively short time in terms of a very complex drug, and in terms of getting the priorities correct for the funding of this drug. The funding ought to be based on evidence, and that is what Pharmac has used.

Sue Kedgley: Is pressure on the pharmaceutical budget the reason that Pharmac subsidised an environmentally destructive chlorofluorocarbon-producing asthma inhaler, when there are more effective chlorofluorocarbon-free inhalers available; if not, what is the reason?

Hon. ANNETTE KING: No, I cannot confirm the member's assumptions. I do know that Pharmac looks for the best available drugs at the right price.

Dobson Hydro Scheme
9. Hon. Dr NICK SMITH (NZ National--Nelson) to the Minister of Conservation: Why did he not visit the site of the proposed Dobson hydro scheme on the West Coast before ruling out a law change to allow the dam to be built and saying he had no intention of entertaining the idea?

Hon. CHRIS CARTER (Minister of Conservation): Because I had enough information to make a judgment.

Hon. Dr Nick Smith: Noting that 77 percent of the West Coast is conservation land, and that the area in question amounts to only 0.03 percent of that area, and that Transpower last winter issued a warning of power voltage outages for the top of the South Island, does he think the people of Nelson, Marlborough, and West Coast will thank him for protecting this healthy stand of gorse, when their lights go out?

Hon. CHRIS CARTER: I am confident that future generations of New Zealanders, especially people living on the West Coast, will be pleased that I have saved this significant piece of ecological land.

David Benson-Pope: Why was the Card Creek ecological area established?

Hon. CHRIS CARTER: The National Government formally created the original reserve in 1983, on the recommendation of an independent scientific committee of the Forest Service, for the purpose of preserving, and I quote from the Gazette of that time: "an example of forest on a wide valley floor, including nikau, and an unusually high proportion of kahikatea and matai". It is not gorseland.

Gerrard Eckhoff: Does the Minister prefer coal-fired power stations or renewal hydro on this gorse-covered land in the West Coast to help meet New Zealand's energy needs?

Hon. CHRIS CARTER: I can confidentially report that I love conservation land of high value.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: What effects on the Government's biodiversity goals would follow from the policy espoused by the National Party of allowing the destruction of one area of ecological value in return for a mere change of ownership papers for another?

Hon. Dr Nick Smith: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. One it is not true--

Mr SPEAKER: That is not a point of order.

Hon. Dr Nick Smith: --and the Minister has no responsibility for National Party policy, which I would be happy to take leave of the House to espouse.

Mr SPEAKER: No, I carefully sought advice on this one. The question asked about a hypothetical situation. The Minister can comment briefly, but he has to stay within the bounds of the Standing Orders.

Hon. CHRIS CARTER: It would have a very poor effect.

Larry Baldock: In the light of the depletion of the Maui gasfields, and projected dry-year shortfalls in the electricity generation capacity, does the Minister agree that hydro schemes are a good way of addressing this problem; if so, will he reconsider his decision regarding the proposed Dobson scheme?

Hon. CHRIS CARTER: There are two questions there. The first is whether I consider the hydro schemes beneficial. In the right context, they are. The second is whether I am prepared to reconsider my decision on this issue. The answer is no.

Hon. Dr Nick Smith: Noting that paragraphs 3.4 and 3.5 of the Cabinet Office Manual require all Ministers to support Government decisions, how can he explain the comments made by his ministerial colleague Damien O'Connor criticising his decision?

Hon. CHRIS CARTER: A free and frank exchange of views is a very healthy thing in a democracy.

Hon. Damien O'Connor: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am quite happy to explain what I said. It was not criticism; it was an explanation--

Mr SPEAKER: That is not a point of order.

Gordon Copeland: Given that the Minister of Energy recently advised this House that he would work to remove obstacles for new hydro schemes going ahead, did the Minister consult the Minister of Energy before he made his decision?


Hon. Dr Nick Smith: I seek leave for the member for West Coast - Tasman to ask a supplementary question?

Mr SPEAKER: That is a reasonable request. The member can seek leave himself, but I will allow the question.

Hon. Damien O'Connor: Is the Minister of Conservation aware of another hydro project, the N________scheme that was over an area with far less ecological value than the Card Creek area, but was turned down by the National Government?

Hon. CHRIS CARTER: Yes, and I am delighted to report that Denis Marshall--the best National Party conservation Minister, in my view, that we have ever had--strongly supported that decision.

Hon. Dr Nick Smith: I seek the leave of the House to table a Transpower notification to all upper - South Island connected electricity customers, warning of voltage outages in future.

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

Hon. Bill English: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. One of the ways in which order is maintained in the House is when conventions are adhered to that are not always strictly in the Standing Orders, and one of those has been that when leave is asked to table documents, it is turned down sometimes because it is a press clipping, it is readily available in another arena, does not need to be tabled in the House, and it is unusual, indeed, for an objection to be put forward like that for this kind of document. I wonder whether the Minister concerned may be willing to reconsider his objection, because it would help the running of the House to allow the usual free flow of information.

Hon. Trevor Mallard: Could I ask that you put that question about leave again.

Mr SPEAKER: Before I do that, tabling is a privilege. No member has to explain why he or she denies leave. Is leave denied? It is not.

Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.

Early Childhood Centres--Establishment
10. HELEN DUNCAN (NZ Labour) to the Minister of Education: What support is available for groups wanting to set up early childhood centres?

Hon. TREVOR MALLARD (Minister of Education): This morning I launched the Early Childhood Development Website Licensing Advice On-line. It is the first time that all the information required for setting up, licensing, and running a centre has been gathered in one place. It will contribute to achieving the goal for increased participation in quality early childhood education services.

Helen Duncan: What advice does the website provide?

Hon. TREVOR MALLARD: It provides comprehensive advice on regulatory requirements funding, staffing, employment matters, budgeting, and policy development. It sets out a 12-step process to work through, including deciding what sort of centre is needed, building design, and purchasing equipment. The advice will help with feasibility planning to make sure centres that start are sustainable.

Phil Heatley: How can he possibly be supporting early childhood centres, when his Government's policies on funding and pay parity failed to create a level playing field for all early childhood centres, no matter what their ownership model?

Hon. TREVOR MALLARD: That is an interesting approach, especially given the fact that the number of young people in private centres under this Government has gone ahead like rapid fire.

Hon. Brian Donnelly: Is it true that the differential between rate 2 and rate 3 funding has been made even greater through the latest funding formulae, and that this will mean that any new early childhood providers--other than kindergartens--will have extreme difficulty in hiring and retaining qualified teaching staff?

Hon. TREVOR MALLARD: Yes. That is why we are having a funding and regulatory review.

Donna Awatere Huata: Can the Minister explain the point of helping new groups set up early childhood centres when his new funding policy is driving high quality, well-established, centres out of business--the play-and-learn centre in south Auckland being just one example--and why is he opening centres with one hand and closing them with the other?

Hon. TREVOR MALLARD: Very few high quality centres are being driven out of business. This Government stands for quality, and if people cannot shape up, they will have to ship out.

Sue Bradford: Is the Minister concerned about the adequacy of funding for early childhood centres once they have been set up, and will he implement the recommendation of the early childhood education plan working group to revise funding levels upwards, to take into account the real costs faced by all early childhood education centres?

Hon. TREVOR MALLARD: There is a funding review as well as a regulatory review occurring now, and the member will be aware, because she voted for it, that there was a substantial increase in funding to early childhood centres, both rate 2 and rate 3, in the last Budget.

Employment Agreements--Auckland Allowance
11. PETER BROWN (Deputy Leader--NZ First) to the Minister of State Services: Can he confirm if any public sector employment agreements contain an allowance in recognition of the additional costs of residing in the Auckland area; if so, how many?

Hon. TREVOR MALLARD (Minister of State Services): No, but the reason for that is that there is not a central repository of this information.

Peter Brown: Is the Minister aware that the police were denied an Auckland living allowance, on the basis it would create a precedent in the public service; does the Minister believe that he is acting in good faith, and will he recommend to his colleague that the issue is rectified?

Hon. TREVOR MALLARD: I note that the State Services Commissioner has indicated in his annual report last year that some people say there should be a loading paid for Auckland--so it is a matter that is recognised--but, under the system that has been set up, it is a matter for individual employers.

Russell Fairbrother: Does he think there should be an allowance in employment agreements in recognition of the cost of living in Auckland.

Hon. TREVOR MALLARD: Where it is difficult to attract or retain staff in Auckland because of the cost of living, there could well be a case for an extra allowance. That would be a matter for the chief executives. Some of my comrades in the union movement have mixed views about regional rates.

John Key: Have any unions representing Government departments sought allowances to recognise the additional cost of living in Auckland; in which case, and if so, which unions?

Hon. TREVOR MALLARD: I am sort of taking by implication that the police might have. [Interruption] But I could do maths and accounting and the member never could. I am aware of the case from Peter Brown just now, but that was the first inkling I have had of it.

Peter Brown: Does the Minister not recognise that this is a very serious problem, particularly in regard to the police, and if the police were paid an Auckland living allowance we would not only solve the recruitment problem, but we would avoid the ridiculous situation where police people from Tauranga and other places have to go to Auckland to help out?

Hon. TREVOR MALLARD: Throughout the State sector--I know in education--extra payments have been made for hard-to-staff places. For example, in south Auckland, teachers are paid in some schools an extra allowance over and above the agreed rates by way of extra units to teach in those schools. The precedents are there, and it may be that we should hold police rates in some areas and increase them in Auckland.

Mental Health (Compulsory Assessment and Treatment) Act
12. Dr LYNDA SCOTT (NZ National--Kaikoura) to the Minister of Health: Does she believe the Mental Health (Compulsory Assessment and Treatment) Act 1992 is working well and does not need to be amended; if so, why?

Hon. ANNETTE KING (Minister of Health): The last amendment to the Act was in 1999, less than 3 years ago. While some people have been calling for a review, I have not received any official advice to do so. However, I have requested a report from the mental health directorate of the Ministry of Health on whether there is any need to change legislation or practice, and I am awaiting its response. I would also welcome any information that member may wish to provide to show that there is a need for a change to the Act.

Dr Lynda Scott: Will the latest case of yet another young man being found not guilty on grounds of insanity of the death of a family member lead her to heed the calls for changes to the grounds for, and process of, committal under the current Mental Health Act; if not, why not?

Hon. ANNETTE KING: I do not wish to mention any particular case. The ministry's advice to me is that it is often the provision--

An Hon. Member: You used to!

Hon. ANNETTE KING: No, I did not! Often the problem is that the provisions are not being used that are in the Act already. That is often the problem we have. If the provisions in the Act were used, then maybe we would not have some situations.

Dr Ashraf Choudhary: Since becoming Minister, what changes to practice and protocols have been made to deal with issues arising out of high-profile cases?

Hon. ANNETTE KING: I asked the Mental Health Commission to review all district health boards practice and protocols as they relate to information families can receive. As a result of this review, the Ministry of Health has developed, in consultation with stakeholders and a reference group, a national statement and information checklist for district health boards on privacy and information sharing. District health boards have been informed, and have given a time frame for implementation.

Barbara Stewart: How many people with mental health problems cared for in the community and in their own homes have committed suicide in the last 5 years, and if she does not have the figures can these please be provided on the next sitting day?

Hon. ANNETTE KING: I could perhaps do even better than that. If the member wishes to ring my office, and if we have those figures, I will provide them immediately.

Heather Roy: Can she guarantee that no psychiatric patient, either under compulsory or voluntary treatment, will end up sleeping on the floor or in hospital corridors in the future as has been happening in the Hawke's Bay, in Hillmorton Hospital in Christchurch, and in Wellington hospitals; if not, why not?

Hon. ANNETTE KING: No, I cannot. In fact, it has often been practice that patients do sleep on the floor in mental institutions, not just under this Government but under many previous Governments.

Sue Bradford: Will the recent tragic case in which the staff at the Tiaho-Mai acute mental unit had insufficient time to assess a patient who went on to kill a close relative because the unit was understaffed and it had exceeded its capacity lead the Minister to increase that capacity of mental health services in Auckland generally; if not, why not?

Hon. ANNETTE KING: The member knows that the answer to that is "yes". The majority of the mental health funding for this financial year will go to Auckland because it has been traditionally underfunded.

Dr Lynda Scott: How many more families have to suffer the tragedy the Ellis and Burton families have had to suffer before we admit that families must be more involved in the assessment, diagnosis, and treatment of those with a serious mental illness, and that for this to happen we need amendments to the Mental Health Act?

Hon. ANNETTE KING: I ask that member to provide me with the sort of amendment she thinks we need to the Act. After all, the amendment in 1999 under her Government was to ensure that parents and family members did get more information. Having made an amendment, if it not working, then one would have to ask why. Is it because the practice is not working, or is the law not working? I have yet to be shown that it is the law. The member is asking for a law change. Maybe it is a practice change that we need, not a law change.

(Uncorrected transcript - subject to correction and further editing)

End of Questions for Oral Answer.

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