Questions Of The Day Transcript - 14 November
(Uncorrected transcript - subject to correction and further
Questions 1-12 14 November, 2002
QUESTIONS FOR ORAL ANSWER
QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS
Constitutional Monarchy--Government Policy
1. Rt Hon. WINSTON PETERS (Leader--NZ First) to the Prime Minister: Is it the Government's policy to accept that New Zealand is a constitutional monarchy?
Hon. Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Leader of the House) on behalf of the Prime Minister: This is not a matter of Government policy--New Zealand is a constitutional monarchy.
Rt Hon. Winston Peters: If that is the case, when she said on Morning Report on Monday, 11 November: "Speaking for the Governor-General, who is not often able to speak for herself on this matter ...", was this statement based on prior consultation with the Governor-General, was it based on prior consultation with the Queen, or is she just plain above the Queen, the monarchy, and every other law in this country?
Hon. Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: No, the Prime Minister is well aware that she is neither the Queen, nor the Governor-General. There are some matters--[Interruption]--I would not do that in that context. In this particular respect, I assume the member is speaking about comments in relation to the pan-Pacific Asian congress.
Simon Power: Was the Prime Minister aware that the documentary entitled New Zealand, The Royal Tour--which stars her, courtesy of the New Zealand taxpayer--refers to her as New Zealand's head of State; and given that the last time we checked that position was actually held by Queen Elizabeth II, has she attempted to have the programme corrected; if not, why not?
Hon. Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The first in the series the member refers to is called Jordan, the Royal Tour. It was premiered in April 2002, and featured Jordan's King Abdhul II. The decision to retain the title "royal" was that of the programme's producers, not the Government.
Nandor Tanczos: Given the review of the practices of the palace currently being undertaken in Britain, and the ensuing debate about the relevance of the monarchy today, does the Prime Minister agree that a public debate in this country on our constitution would be both timely and desirable?
Hon. Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I think the issue of what the butler saw--or, for that matter, felt--is irrelevant to New Zealand's constitutional status.
Hon. Peter Dunne: When the Minister allegedly comments on behalf of the head of State, as she did in the situation referred to in the primary question, is she doing so on the basis of communication with the head of State, to ascertain her opinion, or on the basis of what she thinks her opinion might be on a particular subject?
Hon. Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: It would be fair to say that it is probably on the latter ground rather than the former. I have no information in front of me to give an assertion more directly.
Rt Hon. Winston Peters: Does the Prime Minister not understand the constitutional significance of her position and that of the Queen, is she just plain ignorant of it, or does she not give a darn about it, given that we have been told today that she had no authority whatsoever to make the claim that she speaks for the Governor-General?
Hon. Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The Prime Minister was merely saying something that all members of this House know. There are some occasions on which the Governor-General is in a difficult position to defend herself even against totally inappropriate attacks, such as those mounted by one or two politicians in the recent case. This is not what one would call a king hit.
Whanganui River Power Station--Moutoa Gardens
2. Hon. BILL ENGLISH (Leader--NZ National) to the Prime Minister: With whom has she discussed the protests at Moutoa Gardens opposing the Whanganui River resource consent application by Genesis, and what were the contents of those discussions?
Hon. Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Leader of the House), on behalf of the Prime Minister: I have spoken to many people, including ministerial colleagues, the Mayor of Wanganui, officials, and the chair of the Whanganui River Maori Trust Board, Mr Archie Tairoa.
Hon. Bill English: What undertaking was given by the Prime Minister or her Government to Ken Mair or to local kaumatua, when Ken Mair is quoted in today's Dominion Post, saying that the Crown has given an assurance that it will take the appropriate action to override resource consents that are currently being heard?
Hon. Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The undertaking that was given was that the Government would enter into negotiations with the iwi over the status of the Whanganui River and the claim thereto. Those negotiations have begun, and they may well take some time. The outcome of those negotiations will be implemented and honoured.
Jill Pettis: What progress has been made in advancing the treaty negotiations for the Whanganui River claim?
Hon. Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I am advised by the Minister in charge of Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations that discussions have already commenced, and that a further meeting is scheduled for next week.
Stephen Franks: Did the Prime Minister discuss with any of the people supposed to guard our constitutions and our freedoms under law--like the Solicitor-General or the Chief Justice, or even the Governor-General--the reported assurance given by her Ministers that a court decision will be overturned if necessary to appease one party to litigation, which chose to occupy land instead of providing any evidence, or even discussing the case with the other side?
Hon. Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I will take the last matter first. There was no illegal occupation of land. The people on Moutoa Gardens were operating according to a lawful permit, and were therefore acting perfectly within the law, and perfectly according to legal principle in expressing their views. Under this Government, it is not illegal to express one's point of view. It is also perfectly competent for the Government to enter into--
An Hon. Member: Unless you are Kit Richards.
Hon. Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I note the Opposition's view that legal protest is now no longer to be countenanced by the Opposition. We shall pass on from that. In relation to the first part of the question, the undertaking is that a settlement that is arrived at will be implemented. That does not mean overturning a consent. If the member cares to think through the issues, he will see that there are other ways in which consents may be altered--for example, by consent.
Dail Jones: Will the Minister clarify his answer and confirm that any decision made by the Environment Court or any other resource consent authority will be upheld by this Government?
Hon. Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Decisions are upheld, but later decisions can be taken in the light of applications or variations on the part of the applicants. That often happens in consent processes.
Jeanette Fitzsimons: In her conversations with Whanganui iwi, has the Prime Minister seen any indication that they are aiming to deprive New Zealand of massive amounts of electricity, or are they merely trying to raise the minimum flows to protect the ecological and spiritual values of the river?
Hon. Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I think it is fair to say that it is not possible to give an absolute answer to that question, because the interpretation of what that means depends upon what one thinks is the amount of diversion that may reduce the amount of electricity generated or that is necessary to preserve the spiritual values of the Whanganui River. Clearly, those issues are ones that need to be explored as part of negotiations, and, of course, that is one of the reasons that I suspect that negotiations will take some time.
Hon. Bill English: Is the Government aware of whether the claimants in Whanganui are going to pursue their concerns about the river through the consent process or through the treaty claim process, or is it the case that they have the option to do either?
Hon. Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I think that there is something very important that the House needs to understand. One thing that the iwi was originally seeking was for the Crown to direct Genesis to withdraw its defence against the appeal being made against the consent. The Crown has not conceded that. It is now for the iwi to decide whether it wishes to proceed with its appeal. Should it proceed and lose, then obviously Genesis in the interim will be able to operate according to the new consents.
3. STEVE CHADWICK (NZ Labour--Rotorua) to the Minister for Food Safety: What reports has she received regarding New Zealand's organic food certification?
Hon. ANNETTE KING (Minister for Food Safety): New Zealand certification of organic food has recently been recognised by the US Department of Agriculture's national organic programme. This allows the application of the department's organic seal on New Zealand organic agricultural products when all regulations have been met, and it will secure our growing organic export market to the United States.
Steve Chadwick: What other agreements regarding New Zealand's organic certification have been reached?
Hon. ANNETTE KING: The decision of the US Department of Agriculture follows the European Union's acceptance of New Zealand's official organic assurance programme. New Zealand is one of the few countries to gain third-country listing, which means that there is a Government-to-Government agreement between the European Union and the New Zealand Food Safety Authority for New Zealand organic products exported to European Union member countries. I commend the efforts of officials and the organic product exporters of New Zealand. It is recognition of our evidence-based approach to certification that is internationally trusted and respected.
Judith Collins: In view of the fact that the Government's announcement, on 8 November, of this new organic certification has made it to only one New Zealand daily, the Southland Times, is she disappointed with the performance of the "Burns unit"?
Hon. ANNETTE KING: I do not see how this has anything to do with anything the Government puts out. Whether newspapers decide to use it is another matter, but I think it is very good. I would have thought that the National Opposition would be welcoming it and putting it in their taxpayers' newsletters to all their constituents.
Ian Ewen-Street: Given that the New Zealand organic industry paid for the setting up of this accreditation scheme, and continues to pay the full cost of its operation by the Field Safety Authority, can she see any justification for the organic industry having to subsidise the genetic engineering industry to fund the operation of the mediation service being mooted as a way of facilitating coexistence of genetically engineered and organic agriculture in New Zealand; and if so, can she explain why the genetic engineering industry should be treated preferentially?
Hon. ANNETTE KING: No, I cannot comment on that. All I can say is that the programme is at the request of the industry and it is fully funded by it.
Question No 4 to
GERRY BROWNLEE (NZ National--Ilam): I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. A couple of words appear to have disappeared from this question since I last saw it this morning. It may make greater sense if those words were put back in, and I seek leave to do so. It is simply making it clear that it is wanting to know about instructions the Minister has given, and that it is to Genesis Energy.
Mr SPEAKER: I have in front of me here the question that was submitted by the member himself and it is exactly as it is worded here.
GERRY BROWNLEE: OK. A lot of that is by negotiation as you know. [Interruption] No, it is true. It is a fact.
Mr SPEAKER: Everybody can make mistakes. What does the member want to do? Do you want to proceed with the question?
GERRY BROWNLEE: No, I have not made a mistake.
Mr SPEAKER: Just a minute.
GERRY BROWNLEE: I will proceed with the question.
Mr SPEAKER: The question has been listed exactly as submitted.
GERRY BROWNLEE: Yes, OK. Thank you.
Whanganui River Power
4. GERRY BROWNLEE (NZ National--Ilam) to the Minister for State Owned Enterprises: What instructions or advice have been given to Genesis about continuing with its resource consent application relating to the Whanganui River?
Hon. TREVOR MALLARD (Acting Minister for State Owned Enterprises): None.
Gerry Brownlee: Is the Minister concerned that the Government's surrender to the demands of the protesters at Moutoa Gardens has brought the resource management process into total disrepute, put at risk 4 percent of the country's electricity generating supply, and potentially damaged the bankability of the State-owned enterprise, Genesis Energy; if not, why not?
Hon. TREVOR MALLARD: No, not at all. It is not true and therefore irrelevant.
Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Which bit was not true?
Mr SPEAKER: The member asked a question, the Minister addressed the four parts he was asked to address, and gave, I think, some very specific answers. I am not here to judge the relevance of the answer. The member will get another supplementary.
Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. We have been through this before. We can ask supplementaries that have several tranches to them. There are some important points here. We are facing a unique situation. The Government has told us today in this House that, even if the courts and the due process give a property right to Genesis Energy, the legislative process is prepared to take it away. At least the Minister could acknowledge the damage that will do.
Mr SPEAKER: That is not a point of order.
Mark Peck: Has the Genesis Energy board acted appropriately in seeking a new resource consent?
Hon. TREVOR MALLARD: Yes. The Companies Act requires the board to act in the best interests of the company. The State-Owned Enterprises Act requires all State-owned enterprises to operate as successful businesses.
Metiria Turei: Is the Minister satisfied that Genesis Energy is meeting its obligations under section 9 of the State-Owned Enterprises Act, which reads: "Nothing in this Act shall permit the Crown to act in a manner that is inconsistent with the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi." in respect of Genesis Energy's resource consent concerning the Whanganui River and the issues raised by the Whanganui iwi; if so, why?
Hon. TREVOR MALLARD: Yes, I am satisfied, and I am satisfied that Genesis Energy is acting properly. There are balancing mechanisms around the treaty issues.
Stephen Franks: Will the Government undertake to reimburse all the parties other than Genesis Energy the millions in costs they have incurred so far, and will incur as the case winds on, as well as the things they have done in reliance on agreements reached with Genesis Energy, the lawful consent holder, if the decision and the consent could mean nothing standing against the Hon. Tariana Turia's political whim?
Hon. TREVOR MALLARD: I will not comment on the last comment because it is clearly irrelevant.
Mr SPEAKER: The questions are not irrelevant.
Hon. TREVOR MALLARD: No.
Gerry Brownlee: Will it be the taxpayer who wears the losses that will be incurred by Genesis when the Government legislates across its resource consent to honour the agreement Margaret Wilson has now entered into with the Moutoa Gardens protesters?
Hon. TREVOR MALLARD: Firstly, no agreement has been reached on the substantive issue. Secondly, if the member is the spokesperson in that area, I suggest that he reads the Act.
Gerry Brownlee: I seek leave to table a letter from Margaret Wilson to Mr Archie Taiaroa of the Whanganui River Maori Trust Board in which she makes it very clear that Genesis will lose any resource consent rights by legislation.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that letter. Is there any objection? There is objection.
John Carter: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Any member has a right to turn down leave to table. Mr Mallard turned that leave down on the grounds that the statement made by Mr Brownlee was incorrect. If that is so, it may be appropriate for Mr Brownlee to seek leave to re-read the letter so that it is exactly as he said so. Leave could be sought again.
Mr SPEAKER: No, no reason is needed to deny leave.
5. DAVID BENSON-POPE (NZ Labour--Dunedin South) to the Minister of State Services: What steps has the Government taken to improve public access to e-government services?
Hon. TREVOR MALLARD (Minister of State Services): This morning the Prime Minister launched the e-government portal, www.govt.nz, a one-stop shop to more than 3,500 Government services. It has been designed with the public in mind and allows quick and easy access to a vast range of central and local government information and services. Surveys have shown that New Zealand remains amongst e-government world leaders like the USA, Australia, and Canada.
David Benson-Pope: Could the Minister detail the types of services that will be available online?
Hon. TREVOR MALLARD: Examples include Census 2001 information that should be helpful for people to get their facts right; applying for visas to stay longer in New Zealand; customs clearance services for businesses; a parental leave calculator; community grants information; results from the New Zealand Qualifications Authority; and career advice. This will be a huge advantage to people who live in remote areas and to people who run small businesses. It will mean lower compliance costs, and it is accessible to people with visual disabilities.
Richard Worth: In the context of e-government services, why has the Government committed itself to the GoProcure programme, when the price of the system is still "under negotiation", according to the e-government unit head?
Hon. TREVOR MALLARD: I suggest that Maurice Williamson's laptop would have that information for the member, and he should probably consult in that area. The answer to the question is that there is a commitment to go forward, subject to a final satisfactory price being negotiated, and that is continuing at the moment.
Certificate of Educational Achievement
6. Hon. RICHARD PREBBLE (Leader--ACT NZ) to the Minister of Education: Can he guarantee NCEA marking levels will be consistent between schools - that an "excellence" in one school will be the same as one in another; if not, why not?
Hon. TREVOR MALLARD (Minister of Education): The moderation system to ensure the consistency of internally assessed standards for the National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA) is more thorough and valid than any past system of internal assessment, including School Certificate, Sixth Form Certificate, and university bursary subjects. I remind the House that a higher proportion of the NCEA is externally assessed than in the current system. Therefore, students, parents, and teachers can be more confident that marks are an accurate reflection of achievement. The moderation system includes an audit of internal structures of schools, processes, and checking of samples of marked work by national moderators. The checking, so far, of 29,800 pieces of student work has shown that in 86 cases, the moderator has confirmed a school's judgment. That is slightly above the proportion for external examiners under School Certificate.
Hon. Richard Prebble: How can pupils, parents, and employers have any faith in the NCEA, when we have comments like this one from Westlake Girls High School, which states that the 12 schools on the North Shore have been meeting regularly to discuss moderation, and "in spite of this, we cannot guarantee inter-school comparability, and teachers continue to make a wide range of professional judgments about the quality of the same piece of work." Is it not the reality that the NCEA is not an exam but a lottery?
Hon. TREVOR MALLARD: That, I say to Mr Prebble, is why we have moderation that comes after that process.
Helen Duncan: Can the Minister tell the House what moderation was in place to ensure consistency of marking under School Certificate, Sixth Form Certificate, and University Entrance and Bursaries Scholarships, and how that compares with the moderation now in place under the NCEA?
Hon. TREVOR MALLARD: In School Certificate there was internal and external assessment. For the internal assessment, schools submitted their results to the New Zealand Qualifications Authority. There was no checking that the work was marked to the national standard. Grades for Sixth Form Certificate were generated from the school's achievement in School Certificate the previous year. Schools made their decision about the rank order, using internal assessment. Once again, there was no checking to ensure that the marked work was at a national standard. This is a substantial improvement on that process. The woodwork teacher never taught at sixth-form level, and so he would not know.
Mr SPEAKER: That last comment was totally unnecessary to the answer.
Hon. Dr Nick Smith: Why has the Government dumbed down the NCEA by removing percentage marks, as originally approved by National, and by not recording failure to achieve in an exam, which is then not included in the record of learning, in line with the Labour notion that everybody is a winner?
Hon. TREVOR MALLARD: As I have previously told the member, the result certificate produced annually will show "not achieved".
Hon. Brian Donnelly: Can the Minister explain why, on a significant number of occasions, teachers have used assessment exemplars directly from his ministry's website for NCEA assessment, only to have moderators reject their assessments because the materials used were substandard?
Hon. TREVOR MALLARD: There were a number of draft exemplars that were left on the website longer than they should have been.
Bernie Ogilvy: Does the Minister think it is fair that students who fail a standard are able to be reassessed, whereas a student who achieves the standard, but wishes to try for "merit" or "excellence" may be refused that opportunity if schools follow his advice; and is he likely to reconsider that position?
Hon. TREVOR MALLARD: I accept that there is an anomaly as a result of that. The restriction was designed to limit workload in the initial stages, and to stop repeat reassessments more often than would otherwise be the case. I would expect in the review that will happen in about 2004 or 2005 that that question will be addressed, because people will be more comfortable with the concept of reassessment at that point.
Meridian Energy Ltd--Network Utility
7. JEANETTE FITZSIMONS (Co-Leader--Green) to the Minister for the Environment: Has Meridian Energy Limited applied to the Ministry for the Environment to become a network utility operator under the Resource Management Act 1991; if so, will she grant Meridian Energy requiring authority status if the company is deemed to be a network utility operator?
Hon. PETE HODGSON (Minister of Energy), on behalf of the Minister for the Environment: Meridian Energy has asked the Government for a regulation prescribing Project Aqua as a network utility operation for the purposes of section 166 of the Resource Management Act. The Government has not received any application for requiring authority status for this project from Meridian.
Jeanette Fitzsimons: If Meridian Energy became a requiring authority, then would not every other generator have to be granted the same status and powers, and does the Minister think it appropriate that private businesses that generate electricity ought to be able to access the compulsory purchase powers of the Public Works Act, and override local planning rules through the use of designations?
Hon. PETE HODGSON: As I recall, in an amendment to the Act in 1993, or thereabouts, the industries that were listed as network utility operators excluded electricity generation, which is why, if any electricity generator does want to apply for network utility operation status, it would need to prove, or show to the satisfaction of the Government, that it is network-utility like. As far as I am aware, since 1993 we have so far received one such application, and that is the one that came in from Meridian Energy.
David Cunliffe: Would the granting of requiring authority status change in any way the ability of the Environment Court to examine all relevant issues?
Hon. PETE HODGSON: No, it would not. The debate about Project Aqua is properly the debate about the effects on the Waitaki River. Requiring authorities still have to apply for Resource Management Act consents from regional councils in the usual way. At the local authority level, the public can still make submissions, as they can under normal Resource Management Act consent processes. Decisions made by requiring authorities are appealable to the Environment Court. There, of course, the case would proceed unaltered, as it were, in terms of the process. The House may be interested to know that there are about 120 utility operators that have requiring authority status.
Gerry Brownlee: Is Project Aqua an important part of New Zealand's ongoing electricity supply security and, without the designation requested by the power company, Meridian Energy, would not be able to proceed even to Resource Management Act consent for the project?
Hon. PETE HODGSON: In respect of the last part of the question, I do not think the member is right. I do not think there is anything to stop Meridian from lodging consents prior to it receiving the Government's decision on whether it will be granted network utility status. As to the first point about whether Project Aqua is important for the nation's energy supplies, yes, it is. I think that is rather self-evident.
Hon. Ken Shirley: Can the Minister assure the House that none of the State-owned enterprise generators will be given advantage over their non - State-owned enterprise competitors by the granting of powers or designations that enable them to require the redesignation of land in district plans and powers to compulsorily acquire land?
Hon. PETE HODGSON: I most assuredly can, without any hesitation, give that assurance. The question in front of the Government, when it comes to Cabinet level, will be whether Project Aqua, which from memory is about 60 metres long and 80 metres wide, is a sufficiently network-like to be worthy of consideration.
Jeanette Fitzsimons: Does the Minister agree that the whole idea of requiring authorities is outdated, and that the provisions in the Resource Management Act simply discourage companies from seeking socially and environmentally appropriate solutions, and will she initiate a review of the New Zealand situation, unique in the world, where private companies have access to the right of Crown pre-emption of land?
Hon. PETE HODGSON: I do not think that any review of the Resource Management Act in this regard is called for. The issue in front of us is whether a long stringy thing, be it a pipeline, a Project Aqua canal, an irrigation system, a gas line, or whatever it might be, can be stopped in its tracks because one person decided not to sell no matter the price.
Public-private Partnerships--Executive Director's
8. Hon. MURRAY McCULLY (NZ National--East Coast Bays) to the Minister of Broadcasting: Can he advise the House how the KPMG report tabled in Parliament on Tuesday concluded that Dr Armstrong's Paris trip expenses totalled $875, omitting any reference to a $1,432 interpreter, a $1,824 chauffeur-driven limousine and a $2,514 airfare, and can he now give an assurance that a thorough and complete review of Dr Armstrong's expenditure will be undertaken across the three relevant Crown entities?
Hon. STEVE MAHAREY (Minister of Broadcasting): As the KPMG Peat Marwick report clearly states, theirs was an audit of expenses claimed by Dr Armstrong, and not of expenditure directly invoiced to TVNZ by suppliers. The Auditor-General will conduct a review of all expenditure across the three entities, and the Government welcomes that action.
Hon. Murray McCully: In the light of the Minister's advice that the Auditor-General has, on his own initiative, decided to do what Opposition members have been urging the Government to do, is it still the Government's position, as stated by the Prime Minister, that Dr Armstrong has been "sent to hell and back over a $1,032 from TVNZ, and $360 from New Zealand Post", and that we should "move on"?
Hon. STEVE MAHAREY: According to Public Audit Act inquiries by the Auditor-General in the end are always at his or her discretion. He or she decides whether to make an inquiry. I think Dr Armstrong has paid heavily, certainly more than Mr Wall and Mogridge in the floppy hopeless way that that member went around investigating it when he was the Minister of Tourism.
David Parker: What expectations does the Minister have of Television New Zealand in relation to the Auditor-General's review?
Hon. STEVE MAHAREY: I would expect that TVNZ and the other two entities will fully cooperate and provide any information that is even marginally relevant to the Auditor-General's investigation.
Rt Hon. Winston Peters: What credibility did the Minister think would attract to an investigation that found that the total cost of visiting Paris--not the cheapest place in the world to go to--was $875, a cost that would seem excessively reasonable even in 1891, let alone last year, and, second, what gives the Prime Minister the right to tell the rest of Parliament that something so absurdly understated is, nevertheless, the reason that we should drop the inquiry and carry on with her view that her friends are above investigation?
Hon. STEVE MAHAREY: I take the member back to the KPMG Peat Marwick report, which, if he reads it, clearly states that this was an audit of the expenses that were claimed by Dr Armstrong, not by the suppliers who are claiming. Can I say once again that Dr Armstrong has lost two of his posts--that is, at TVNZ and at Industrial Research Ltd. He has paid an extremely high price for this incident.
Deborah Coddington: In view of the fact that the Auditor-General will now conduct a review across the three Crown entities, despite the fact that the Prime Minister was satisfied with the KPMG Peat Marwick audit, will the Minister assure the House that Dr Armstrong's travelling companion, Kristy McDonald QC, will have her expenses, and, more importantly, her disbursements relating to three Crown entities audited; if not, why not?
Hon. STEVE MAHAREY: My understanding is that Kristy McDonald's expenses in relation to TVNZ, which is my responsibility, were paid out, as they should be, by the chief financial officer. Those expenses have all been checked and approved.
Hon. Murray McCully: Can the Minister confirm that the purpose stated by Dr Armstrong to TVNZ executives for the Paris trip was to explore, with a French broadcaster, opportunities for a joint venture English language television station in Bulgaria, and could the Minister briefly update the House on the progress that our State broadcaster is making with this exciting initiative?
Hon. STEVE MAHAREY: I am afraid I can confirm that the expenses were incurred because Dr Armstrong wanted to go to Paris to explore opportunities in the broadcasting area. Whether that exploration took him as far afield as Bulgaria, I do not know. Perhaps the member and myself should go to Bulgaria and examine how we are doing at this present time.
Rt Hon. Winston Peters: Is it the Government's intention to pursue a prosecution if there are illegal claims or double-dipping involved in the case of both Armstrong and McDonald?
Hon. STEVE MAHAREY: What we have said consistently through this whole affair is that, if there is money that should be repaid it will be repaid. If there is activity--[Interruption] If things do lead to a point where something has been done that is criminal, then of course that will be pursued as well. But to set the member's mind at rest, I am assured that Dr Armstrong will repay New Zealand Post the $360 that he wrongly claimed on accommodation last year. My colleague the Minister for State Owned Enterprises has informed me that all expenses of all directors of New Zealand Post are scrutinised by a subcommittee of that board, and that when Dr Armstrong shifted his residence from Auckland to Wellington he ceased claiming expenses for accommodation in Wellington.
Rodney Hide: In the light of TVNZ's admission in today's Dominion Post that TVNZ acquired its WestpacTrust Stadium corporate box at Dr Ross Armstrong's suggestion, does he stand by his answer to oral question No. 7 yesterday in respect of the corporate box that he as Minister is "working on the assumption that if there was extravagance, then TVNZ would ask for money back.", and does he not think that the corporate box for TVNZ, given the list of people who have been enjoying the comforts of that box, is extravagant?
Hon. STEVE MAHAREY: Yes, I do stand by my comments yesterday that if the box was misused, then that should be part of the investigation as well. In other words, if it added up to extravagant misuse then, yes, it should be investigated as well. I have asked that TVNZ do explore why it needs corporate boxes, and to investigate whether it should be selling them.
Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. With respect, I ask through you; the actual question was whether Dr Ross Armstrong would be asked to give the money back, and I do not think the Minister was clear on that.
Mr SPEAKER: The Minister did address the question.
Refugee--Investigations of Eligibility
9. Rt Hon. WINSTON PETERS (Leader--NZ First) to the Minister of Immigration: Exactly what investigations is she conducting with regard to Mohammed Saidi, and why?
Hon. DAMIEN O'CONNOR (Associate Minister of Immigration), on behalf of the Minister of Immigration: The Minister is not undertaking any investigations. That work is the responsibility of others, who will report to the Minister in due course. The nature of those investigations is confidential and ongoing.
Rt Hon. Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. You would know from the background in respect of this man and these questions that the Minister in the past has given this House an assurance that investigations are under way. For the Associate Minister to rise and say pedantically that the Minister personally is not conducting investigations, but someone else is, does not take this question and the House seriously.
Mr SPEAKER: Please be seated. I heard the Minister, and he gave that as the first sentence of his answer. He had more to carry on with, and I invite him to do so.
Hon. DAMIEN O'CONNOR: That work is the responsibility of others who will report to the Minister in due course. The nature of those investigations is confidential and ongoing.
Rt Hon. Winston Peters: Why can the Minister not plainly tell the rest of this country why a lying, cheating forger and fraudster who has left a trail of welfare demands upon the people of this country, has illegal passports, and deceits--[Interruption]--I am not talking about the Minister, but I could be.
Mr SPEAKER: Order!
Rt Hon. Winston Peters: Well, he started it.
Mr SPEAKER: I know. I want the member to continue.
Rt Hon. Winston Peters: If he is looking for trouble, he has come to the right place. How could someone who a detective seriously believes is involved in people-smuggling and possible drug smuggling, and who has lied in respect of interpreters and other evidence before all manner of courts, be declined refugee status and then be given permanent resident status, when all this evidence of false behaviour has emerged already, and what on earth is the Minister doing in the management of her Mickey Mouse department?
Mr SPEAKER: There were 31/2 questions there. The Minister may address two of them.
Hon. DAMIEN O'CONNOR: I will attempt to answer them. There is a difference in this country between accusations and proven facts. It is important that these accusations are investigated thoroughly. Those investigations are under way, and I would like to repeat to the House the words of the Minister that, "the risk associated with comment on details of the case or the accusations is the risk of judicial review or appeal if anything that I should say is construed as a predetermination or bias, if we are called upon to make a revocation decision."
Rt Hon. Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. This very matter arose last week, and I am seeking a ruling on it. What this Minister is now literally saying is that if she seeks that haven or refuge we may not ask a question on any refugee, asylum seeker, or immigrant in New Zealand. I cannot believe that this Parliament has been subjected to that sort of decision, either from you as Speaker or in the Standing Orders. We are asking serious questions, but the logic of what the Minister is saying, and as the Minister of Immigration said last week, is that we cannot ask any questions about any of these three categories of people, otherwise, as the final potential arbiter of whether they stay, she will be compromised. That cannot be the legal position.
Mr SPEAKER: A Minister is perfectly entitled to answer in any way he or she sees fit. Members can always ask questions, but they may not be satisfied with the answers.
Martin Gallagher: For the benefit of the House, could the Minister outline the process that allowed a failed refugee status claimant to remain in this country?
Hon. DAMIEN O'CONNOR: Failed refugee claimants may be able to appeal to the Removal Review Authority. That tribunal is an independent statutory body whose role is to consider the humanitarian circumstances of individual cases and to decide whether they can remain in New Zealand.
Rt Hon. Winston Peters: Notwithstanding what the Minister has just said, is it not a fact that if there is proven criminality, and apparently at both the Refugee Status Appeals Authority and at the High Court that was found, then that would override the decision of the last authority that gave this crook permanent residence in this country?
Hon. DAMIEN O'CONNOR: If those accusations are proven the Minister has the right to remove that person and revoke the residential status.
Accident Compensation Corporation--Injury
10. NANAIA MAHUTA (NZ Labour--Tainui) to the Minister for ACC: What progress is being made towards the Government's aim of reducing the incidence and severity of injuries in New Zealand?
Hon. RUTH DYSON (Minister for ACC): I had pleasure in recently releasing the Government's draft New Zealand injury prevention strategy for public comment. Preventive measures to reduce the number of new injuries and the severity of injuries include safety education, enforcement of safety laws and regulations, and creating environments that reduce the likelihood of injuries occurring. The draft strategy outlines ten key objectives, including raising awareness of and commitment to injury prevention, developing effective interventions, providing greater coordination of activities, and ensuring appropriate resources.
Nanaia Mahuta: How has the community responded towards the Government's initiatives to reduce the incidence and severity of injuries?
Hon. RUTH DYSON: A wide range of groups across all sectors has responded very enthusiastically. In fact, they are initiating injury-prevention measures themselves in partnership with Government agencies. The latest example I would like to mention is the guidelines on the safe use of all-terrain vehicles, which are used on many New Zealand farms. Federated Farmers was a keen mover on that initiative which was developed in collaboration with other groups, including the Occupational Safety and Health Service and the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry. My colleague Jim Sutton launched the guidelines in Parliament earlier this week.
Dr Paul Hutchison: Why does the Minister expect anyone to believe her Government's injury reduction efforts will work, given that the Accident Compensation Corporation injury statistics reveal that between 1996 and 1999 moderate to severe injuries significantly reduced by over 15,000 compared with the Government's record, whereas between the years 2000 and 2002 moderate to severe injuries significantly increased by 10,000; and why should anyone have confidence that her Government strategy will work?
Hon. RUTH DYSON: I congratulate the initiatives that obviously the previous Government introduced so successfully, and hope that member will use the shared wisdom and experience of his colleagues to contribute to the injury prevention strategy.
Peter Brown: If the Minister is so confident that her strategy will work, why do we need such draconian legislation as the new health and safety in employment legislation?
Hon. RUTH DYSON: As that member well knows from his experience on the relevant select committee, the 1992 health and safety in employment legislation was a driver in reducing the injury rates in New Zealand. I am sure that the proposed amendments will achieve the same purpose.
Dr Muriel Newman: Can the Minister deny that despite claims of success in reducing the numbers on long-term accident compensation, the truth is that many recipients have simply been switched on to the invalid benefit, causing a 25 percent explosion in numbers since Labour became the Government, resulting in 66,095 invalid beneficiaries, by far the highest in New Zealand's history?
Hon. RUTH DYSON: Yes, I am able to confidently deny those allegations.
Marc Alexander: Is the Minister concerned by reports that reductions in the tail of long-term accident compensation claimants have been achieved through the heavy handed and mercenary tactics of the Accident Compensation Corporation subsidiary, Catalyst Injury Management Ltd; and has she investigated those claims?
Hon. RUTH DYSON: I am certainly concerned about any such allegations, and as the member may know from a press release and a column I wrote recently for the Sunday Star-Times a variety of initiatives are in place to ensure that those concerns are appropriately investigated.
Dr Paul Hutchison: I seek leave to table the Accident Compensation Corporation Consequences document published on August 2002 showing moderate to severe injuries significantly increased under Labour.
Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Gordon Copeland: United Future missed out on a supplementary question in No. 4, we wonder whether Marc Alexander could have another one on No. 10 please.
Mr SPEAKER: There is no reason that the member cannot seek the call, he is entitled to. [Interruption] Yes, that is right, I called No. 11, but if Mr Alexander wants to seek another question I will give it to him.
Marc Alexander: Does the Minister collect any information on the times taken to process accident compensation claims, and, if so, can she report on any improvements on some of the delays reported and the time taken to respond to requests for social assistance?
Hon. RUTH DYSON: As Minister I do not personally collect that information, but it is certainly part of the key performance indicators required to be collected by the corporation, and I am happy to ensure that the member receives that information.
Health and Safety in Employment
11. Hon. ROGER SOWRY (Deputy Leader--National) to the Minister of Labour: Does she consider the Health and Safety in Employment Amendment Bill allowing fines of up to $250,000 on organisations that rely on volunteers is acceptable; if so, why?
Hon. TREVOR MALLARD (Minister of Education), on behalf of the Minister of Labour: Scaremongering by that member is common but not generally believed. As he knows--
Mr SPEAKER: The Minister will address the question please. He has been asked a specific question.
Hon. TREVOR MALLARD: As the member knows, the bill clearly states that the court must take into account the ability of any offender to pay. That is why, except in the most serious cases, fines imposed for offences against the current Act have seldom exceeded $5,000. The House should also be aware that from 300,000 employers and 11,000 investigative accidents last year, only 143 resulted in a prosecution. As the member is also aware, consultation will result in clarification of the bill currently before the House.
Hon. Roger Sowry: Has the Minister seen the statement on the website of Swimming New Zealand that states, in relation to the Health and Safety in Employment Bill "If passed, the impact could be so far-reaching, the financial viability of some national sporting organisations could be affected."; if she has seen this, why does she think this legislation is such a good idea?
Hon. TREVOR MALLARD: I cannot confirm on behalf of the Minister that she has seen that particular comment, but I can assure the House that I have given to my colleague, the Minister for Sport and Recreation, undertakings that the prosecution approach will not include volunteers in any charitable fund-raising, including working bees for schools, sports clubs, and hobby clubs. The prosecution function will not include volunteer sports coaches for schools and sports clubs, nor will it include parents and other volunteers supervising school activities. That was not the intention of the legislation.
Lynne Pillay: What is the intention of the bill?
Hon. TREVOR MALLARD: The intention of the bill is to reduce the appalling rate of workplace injury, illness, and death in this country. The bill achieves this by providing comprehensive coverage, employee participation provisions, and effective enforcement. I regret that the Opposition is prepared to accept workers dying on work-sites all the time because of slack legislation.
Peter Brown: Will the Minister tell us how many volunteers this legislation will embrace, and give us some idea of the accident rate amongst volunteers?
Hon. TREVOR MALLARD: I do not have the information on the second part of the question in front of me at the moment, but the group of volunteers that the legislation is mainly aimed at are those who worked alongside paid employees in lots of places.
Sue Bradford: Is the Minister aware of the many community organisations using volunteers who have been working for some time--for years, in fact--for better protection for volunteers in their workplaces, and that have already put in place the type of process and practices to improve volunteer health and safety that are proposed in the new legislation?
Hon. TREVOR MALLARD: I am informed that the Minister is aware of that, and she wants to thank the Green Party for its positive work for the protection of volunteers. Having an over-arching requirement on the department to work to ensure that proper protections are in place for all volunteers is something that is important.
Gordon Copeland: Why has the Minister ignored the submissions from the Salvation Army, the Federation of Voluntary Welfare Organisations, and the Inter-church working party on taxation, requesting that the provisions in the Health and Safety in Employment Bill, in relation to voluntary organisations, should be withdrawn and dealt with separately, in a less onerous and expensive manner?
Hon. TREVOR MALLARD: It is fair to say that that matter was dealt with by the select committee, not the Minister.
Hon. Roger Sowry: Can the Minister explain why Labour members Helen Duncan, Judith Tizard, Harry Duynhoven, and Lynne Pillay, just 2 weeks ago, voted to include volunteers in sporting organisations in the legislation, given that she has now told the Minister for Sport and Recreation that these will be removed?
Mr SPEAKER: The Minister has no responsibility for how members voted, but the Minister may comment if he wishes.
Hon. TREVOR MALLARD: On behalf of the Minister of Labour, it is clear that there is still some confusion amongst the Opposition in this legislation, and to have belts and braces, and to make sure that even the Opposition can understand it, there might have to be some minor technical amendments.
12. LARRY BALDOCK (United Future) to the Minister of Finance: When he responded to a supplementary question on Tuesday by "noting" a statement that "if the full cost of roading had to be borne by the excise duty, the excise duty would have to be doubled", was he referring to doubling the amount that is currently transferred to the National Roads Fund, or to doubling the amount currently collected from the petrol-buying motorist?
Hon. Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Finance): I was referring in that question quite explicitly to claims by the Automobile Association before the election that if the full costs were borne by the excise duty, the excise duty would have to be dealt with.
Larry Baldock: Does the Minister appreciate that many New Zealanders are weary of plans to pay for much-needed roads by tolling regimes, when they consider that taxes they pay at the petrol pump are not being used for transport-related expenditure; if so, what plans does he have to address these concerns?
Hon. Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I am very well aware of the concerns, but I think that, to some extent, the Automobile Association shot itself in the steering wheel before the election, when it stated that the true cost was something like twice the total revenue at present from excise duty. The Government has no plans to double that excise duty. If there is an acceleration of motorway development in the Auckland region via means of public-private partnerships, it is quite reasonable for Aucklanders to pay a significant proportion of that cost, not just the rest of the country.
Hon. Roger Sowry: Does the Minister expect United Future to vote for the Government's next Budget, even if there is no increase in money in the National Roads Fund?
Hon. Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The agreement we have with United Future is on confidence and supply for 3 years. I have found United Future to be a party upon whose word one can rely absolutely. I also find it raises very interesting ideas and suggestions, which the Government seriously considers. I wish the National Party did something of the same on occasions.
H V Ross Robertson: By how much is the 4.2c a litre excise tax increase introduced this year expected to rise, and how will it be spent?
Hon. Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: When introduced, the increase this year is expected to raise $142 million a year. All that money will go directly on roading. Any problems as to a repeal of that increase, as made by the National Party, will simply mean that expenditure in roading will have to be reduced.
Peter Brown: Will the Minister confirm specifically that he has no intention whatsoever of diverting the excise tax that goes into the consolidated fund into roading, and is it true that the only way that United Future can get anywhere is if it makes that a condition of its agreement on supply and confidence?
Hon. Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I think the member is asking whether I will take more money out of the consolidated fund to spend on roading. The answer to that is no.
Keith Locke: Does the Minister think it is somewhat ironic when some road user organisations first complain bitterly about petrol taxes going into the consolidated fund, then express horror at any suggestion that petrol taxes might rise to cover the full social, economic, and environmental costs of road transport activity?
Hon. Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Yes. It could be described as a serious tactical error by the Automobile Association in its campaign.
Larry Baldock: In contrast to his reply to my question on Tuesday, can the Minister acknowledge that he understands that spending on road infrastructure is not like spending on health or welfare, because better roads will lead to a reduction in the $3.4 billion that road accidents cost this country, and the estimated $1 billion that congestion in Auckland and Tauranga is costing our business community?
Hon. Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The member makes some reasonable points, but, from some years of experience, I say that all my ministerial spending colleagues like to describe their proposals for extra spending as investment.
End of Questions for Oral Answer.
(Uncorrected transcript - subject to correction and further editing)