Questions Of The Day Transcript - 3 December, 2002
(Uncorrected transcript - subject to correction and further
Questions 1-12 3 December, 2002
QUESTIONS FOR ORAL ANSWER
QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS
1. DAVID CUNLIFFE (NZ Labour--New Lynn) to the Minister of Finance: What reports has he received on business confidence?
Hon. Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Finance): The latest National Bank Outlook showed confidence improving for a fourth consecutive month, especially the all-important "Own Activity" index, which jumped eight points last month to net 31 percent positive. Investment, employment, and export intentions are also buoyant.
David Cunliffe: Can he identify any threats to business confidence?
Hon. Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Yes. The accusation that business in New Zealand has the same lack of principles as the National Party must have been damaging to confidence, and, indeed, it was pointed out that when Mr Alexander Downer did the same thing as Bill English just did, he lost his leadership of the Australian Liberal Party very soon after.
Dr Don Brash: Has the Minister seen the report in last Friday's Business Herald that indicates that 90.9 percent of the chief executives surveyed did not believe that New Zealand has a growth strategy to sustain business success, and what does he propose to do to convince the business sector that the Government is serious about faster economic growth?
Hon. Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The member reminds me of those querulous back-benchers who used to say "Give us a strategy" when they were getting worried about the future. The facts speak for themselves. The economy is growing at 4 percent plus per annum, and those chief executives, I am pleased to say, are paying taxes well in excess of Treasury and Inland Revenue Department forecasts.
Hon. Brian Donnelly: What is the reported trend in the current balance of payments, and what are the likely effects of such a trend on business confidence?
Hon. Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The present trends and forecasts are for some deterioration in the balance of payments, particularly due to the international circumstances we are facing. The domestic economy is picking up much more strongly, but that does not seem to be impacting upon business confidence in all the key indicators of business's confidence about its own prospects, which is the one that is usually the better predictor of behaviour.
Question No. 2
GERRY BROWNLEE (NZ National--Ilam): I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. This question was taken down to the Clerk's Office this morning, and it was initially intended that it go to the Prime Minister because it dealt with the statement made in the Speech from the Throne, which is, of course, the statement from the Prime Minister's Government--
A Government Member: No, it's not.
Mr SPEAKER: I ask the member to carry on.
GERRY BROWNLEE: I cannot ignore the comments that have just been made. Quite clearly the statements in the question were in the Speech from the Throne. The Speech from the Throne is the comment to the nation and to the Parliament from the Prime Minister's Government. They therefore are surely comments that the Prime Minister would be more intimately knowledgable about than any other member. I refer you to your Speaker's ruling 20/3 (Supplement), which sets out the circumstances in which the Speaker might determine that a question has been inappropriately transferred. I suggest that the circumstances outlined in your ruling apply in this case.
Mr SPEAKER: Just because something is in the Speech from the Throne does not mean the Prime Minister has to answer it personally. It is up to the Government.
JOHN CARTER (Senior Whip--NZ National): I seek leave that question No. 2 in the name of the leader of the National Party, the Hon. Bill English, be directed to the Prime Minister.
Mr SPEAKER: That is a perfectly reasonable request. Is there any objection? There is.
2. Hon. BILL ENGLISH (Leader of the Opposition) to the Associate Minister of Finance: Will he confirm the commitment in the Speech from the Throne which said that "any proposal from the board of Air New Zealand for changes to its present ownership profile will have to meet national interest tests and pass existing competition tests without any form of intervention by the government", and was he aware Air New Zealand was negotiating with Qantas when that statement was made?
Hon. TREVOR MALLARD (Associate Minister of Finance): Yes, I can confirm the Government's commitment; and, yes, I understand that the two parties have been in discussion at least intermittently since May 2001. The Stock Exchange and the public were advised in May this year that those talks were ongoing. The Speech from the Throne was in August.
Hon. Bill English: Has the Government made an assessment of the impact of this proposed deal on the travelling public and on exporters; if not, why not?
Hon. TREVOR MALLARD: Not yet.
Graham Kelly: Does the Government intend to maintain majority ownership in Air New Zealand?
Hon. TREVOR MALLARD: Yes. I refer all members to the Speech from the Throne, in which the Government emphasised its commitment to maintaining long-term majority ownership of Air New Zealand in Government hands. I contrast that with the approach of the people opposite, who wanted to sell 49 percent of Air New Zealand to an overseas company--and now they are whingeing about it.
Hon. Peter Dunne: With regard to the reference in the Speech from the Throne to "without any form of intervention by the Government", can the Minister advise when the Government first was made aware of the details of the Qantas - Air New Zealand arrangement announced last week; secondly, whether there has been any discussion, informal or otherwise, between the Government and either Qantas or Air New Zealand, subsequent to that announcement?
Hon. TREVOR MALLARD: As to the date--Monday last week. Since that time I understand that officials have had some discussions as to the supply of information, but the Government certainly has not.
Rt Hon. Winston Peters: With respect to the details, has the Minister had an opportunity of seeing the comments made by Mr Dunne with respect to the Deputy Prime Minister of Australia's reported comments? Whose version of events is correct, Mr Dunne's, or the Deputy Prime Minister of Australia's?
Hon. TREVOR MALLARD: I will not get into the middle of that one. I understand that Mr Dunne may have been relying on media reports, which are sometimes as inaccurate in Australia, as in New Zealand.
Stephen Franks: In view of the Minister's answer that the Government would not make a conclusion yet, what more information does it need before deciding whether Qantas--which has ruthlessly crushed its competition in Australia--is a suitable monopoly partner for Air New Zealand, controlling the New Zealand market?
Hon. TREVOR MALLARD: I am not in a position, I think, even in the current time, to rebut part of that question. I understand that the substantive information arrives with Treasury next week.
Jeanette Fitzsimons: How is it in the national interest to have our national carrier's most aggressive competitor obtain a 22 percent stake in our national carrier, and a 50 percent say in the management of prices, schedules, and access to Air New Zealand's business plans and information on route profitability?
Hon. TREVOR MALLARD: Again, I am not in a position to rebut or comment on the accuracy of any of those statements. I remind the House that the Government has not indicated any support for this proposal.
Hon. Bill English: When will the Government be doing an assessment of the effects of this proposal on costs for the travelling public and for exporters, and will it take the impact on those costs into account when it makes a judgment about the national interest?
Hon. TREVOR MALLARD: Two areas are being worked on. One is the national interest, which Mr Swain works on, and then there is the area of the Commerce Commission. The matters the member referred to, I think he is aware, are those matters that are dealt with by the Commerce Commission, and this Government will not lean on that organisation.
3. LARRY BALDOCK (United Future) to the Minister of Conservation: What is his response to the view reported in the Timaru Herald that the Department of Conservation's goal to eradicate not just some, but all Himalayan thar from the Aoraki-Mt Cook National Park is "not good practice and the department should know better"?
Hon. CHRIS CARTER (Minister of Conservation): I disagree with the relevant article in the Timaru Herald. The target density for Thar within the Aoraki-Mt Cook National Park is set by the Himalayan thar control plan, which was approved in 1993 by the then National Minister of Conservation, Dennis Marshall, and continued by his National Party successor, Nick Smith. For the National Park the density was set at zero. I agree with the decisions of those two previous Ministers of Conservation.
Larry Baldock: Does he consider that the total elimination of thar is absolutely critical for conservation, when overseas hunter-tourists would have paid $10,000 apiece for the trophy heads of the 12 bulls that were culled last month alone by the Department of Conservation?
Hon. CHRIS CARTER: By statue, I am obliged to seek 0 numbers of thar within the national park. In addition, I say to the House that there are ample opportunities to hunt those thar. In fact, the Department of Conservation notified recreational hunters over a 2-month period just prior to the cull that there were opportunities--even within the national park--to shoot those animals.
Gerry Brownlee: Does the Minister agree that the containment of thar in a heavily fenced area for trophy hunting, as advocated by the Hon. Jim Sutton, is a good idea; if not, why not?
Hon. CHRIS CARTER: Containment within the feral range is quite a good idea, but outside the feral range it is not legally possible.
Martin Gallagher: Has the Minister seen reports that the Himalayan thar is on the World Conservation Union's redlist for endangered species?
Hon. CHRIS CARTER: Yes, I have seen a report to that effect, in the Press on 21 September. However, the claim is wrong.
Ron Mark: Have he and his department not learnt anything from the international exercise undertaken by some countries to help the Sultan of Oman save the oryx; and does he not consider that the decision of his Government to totally eliminate and exterminate the thar could jeopardise any potential for restocking in the Himalayas?
Hon. CHRIS CARTER: This Government has made no such decision, nor did the previous Government. We have contained thar within a feral range, in which recreational hunters have an opportunity to shoot them, as well.
Gerrard Eckhoff: What is the Minister's view on the presence of brown and rainbow trout in national parks, which are non-indigenous species that have decimated our native fish-stocks; and will the Minister and the Government follow a consistent policy of extermination of such species?
Mr SPEAKER: That is very wide of the original question. The Minister may comment very briefly.
Hon. CHRIS CARTER: I am not quite sure what the relevance of rainbow trout is to thar, but I am very proud of the record of the Department of Conservation in eliminating pests that are destroying our natural environment.
Jeanette Fitzsimons: What opportunities exist in thar in areas outside national parks and world heritage areas, where the target density is not 0, and where native species are not threatened with extinction?
Hon. CHRIS CARTER: Thar are probably the only mammalian pests in New Zealand that we could actually exterminate. We have made a decision not to do that, but to contain them within a feral range, so that recreational hunters and others can enjoy hunting them.
Larry Baldock: Does this Department of Conservation policy therefore mean that even the thar on the privately owned and fenced Bendigo Reserve will eventually suffer the same fate; if so, does that not send a discouraging message to tourist operators and other entrepreneurs who want to create sustainable business opportunities from New Zealand's unique setting?
Hon. CHRIS CARTER: The law on game parks is clear. That is that wild animals cannot be kept outside their feral range. The owner of that park was given an extension of time to allow him to relocate his operation to within the feral range. He has chosen not to do so.
4. Dr MURIEL NEWMAN (ACT NZ) to the Minister of Police: What is his response to the reported comments of departing Auckland police constable, Matt Allin, that "too much effort was put into traffic-type policing at the expense of fighting other crime"?
Hon. GEORGE HAWKINS (Minister of Police): I do not agree with the constable's reported comments. Road policing is core police business. New Zealand has made great strides in road safety over the past decade. Our road toll is on track to be at the lowest level since 1965, despite an increase of vehicles on the road of almost 19 percent since 1991.
Dr Muriel Newman: Given that real per capita spending on traffic policing has increased 8 percent and the road roll is coming down, why has he cut core police spending by over 1 percent, leading to an increase in crime, and why can he not fund core police properly so that we can see reductions in the crime rate, as well as in the road toll?
Hon. GEORGE HAWKINS: The crime rate has reduced--
Hon. Richard Prebble: There are no leaky buildings, either!
Hon. GEORGE HAWKINS: No leaky police stations, either! In 1996-97, 482,000 crimes were committed. We are now down to 436,000 crimes in 2001-02. That is a reduction of almost 50,000.
Tim Barnett: What reports has he received with regard to trends in road fatality statistics?
Hon. GEORGE HAWKINS: As of 8 a.m. Monday this week there were 366 road deaths this current calendar year. This compares with 400 at the same time last year.
Hon. Tony Ryall: In the light of the fact that Constable Allin's resignation adds to the Auckland staffing crisis, does the Minister now consider his decision to cancel the recruitment of 240 police officers at the beginning of 2001 as one of the main reasons that Auckland is understaffed by over 130 police officers as we speak?
Hon. GEORGE HAWKINS: One of the causes was the Martin report that National brought in when 540 police jobs were going down the gurgler.
Ron Mark: If the Minister will not listen to the comments of Matt Allin, will he not admit that all over the country policemen and policewomen are saying that despite the wonderful success of his highway patrol unit, they are continually being diverted from proper policing matters and fighting crime to attend traffic accidents, to issue tickets, and to patrol roads--something that we all thought the strategic traffic unit would be doing, not front-line bobbies who are trying to deal with bashings, muggings, murders, and burglaries?
Hon. GEORGE HAWKINS: I repeat that road policing is core police business, and those officers also deal with road safety, and they also come across criminals' used vehicles.
Marc Alexander: Is the Minister concerned that the exodus of police staff in the Auckland area will not only incur the cost of recruitment replacements, but also losses of $20,000 for each police officer who is training but then leaves the force, and what does he intend to do about it?
Hon. GEORGE HAWKINS: Yes, I am always disappointed when people decide to leave the police force, but I have to say that with regard to the retention rate of those leaving the force, we are losing fewer police out of Auckland than we are out of the rest of New Zealand.
Jeanette Fitzsimons: Is the Minister aware that if personal use of cannabis was decriminalised this would release an additional 30 police in Auckland to combat serious offences such as assault, burglary, and theft--[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Every member in this House is entitled to ask a question. That is why we have a democracy, and every member will have his or her question heard in silence. Would the member please begin again.
Jeanette Fitzsimons: Is the Minister aware that if personal use of cannabis was decriminalised this would release an additional 30 police in Auckland to combat serious offences such as assault, burglary, and theft; if so, will he support calls for cannabis law reform?
Rt Hon. Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. That question, usually asked by Tandor, is seeking an opinion for which there is no intellectual authority at all. Therefore, the question should be ruled out of order.
Mr SPEAKER: I was about to rule the question out of order for that very reason.
Jeanette Fitzsimons: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Could you remind the House that members who have been here for more than 3 years should have their names pronounced correctly.
Mr SPEAKER: That is a fair comment. All members should try to pronounce other members' names correctly.
Dr Muriel Newman: Is the Minister confident of his decision to focus police resources on traffic at the expense of fighting crime, in light of the fact that, while traffic-fine revenue collected by the police has doubled to $95 million a year, crime against people and property is escalating, especially in Auckland?
Hon. GEORGE HAWKINS: I am confident that the New Zealand Police are doing a good job. All crime has come down over the last 5 years, and the road safety figures show that the police are doing a jolly good job.
Jeanette Fitzsimons: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am sorry, but I am not sure whether the Minister actually answered my question. It was--
Mr SPEAKER: I said that he did not have to answer it because it was wide of the subject.
5. DIANNE YATES (NZ Labour--Hamilton East), on behalf of Hon. MATT ROBSON (Deputy Leader--Progressive), to the Minister for Industry and Regional Development: What reports has he received from his Ministry on the state of the regional economies, and what do these reports indicate?
Hon. JIM ANDERTON (Minister for Economic Development): I have been supplied with the most recent National Bank regional trend survey to September 2002 that shows that year-on-year growth for all New Zealand's 14 regions has been positive. Seven regions are growing at over 4 percent--led by the Gisborne Tairawhiti region, which is growing at 5.4 percent. Twelve of the 14 regions are growing at over 3 percent. Over the last 2 years Southland has experienced stronger growth than at any time since the 1970s, and Gisborne Tairawhiti is leading New Zealand's growth for the first time since 1978.
Dianne Yates: How do these figures compare with other year-on-year figures?
Hon. JIM ANDERTON: In 1998, the last full year of the National Government, which was supported by ACT, nine regions had negative economic growth. Northland had negative 0.1 percent, Gisborne was negative 0.5, Manawatu-Wanganui negative 0.5, and Otago negative 1.3. Southland was negative 1.4, which goes a long way to explaining why the National Party has trouble getting votes in regional New Zealand.
John Carter: Does the Minister accept that, in the case of Northland, his regional partnership programme has been an abject failure, so much so that at a recent forum the mayors and regional council chairmen advised that they now greet any statement by him, as a Minister, with absolute cynicism?
Hon. JIM ANDERTON: I will send the member for the Far North the letter that I received, and the article written by the Mayor of the Far North, that said that this Government is the first Government in 100 years that has given positive support to North Auckland.
John Carter: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. If the Minister is to send anything to the "member for the Far North", could he send it to me as the member for Northland, as well?
Mr SPEAKER: Yes, I am sure he could.
Martin Gallagher: Has the Minister received any reports on the successes that are underpinning this strong, strong economic growth?
Hon. JIM ANDERTON: There are many examples of strong businesses adding to the New Zealand economy because of the actions of this Government. In the Wellington region we have been working with Cloud 9, the screen production company that was going to leave New Zealand. In the last 12 months Cloud 9 has contributed $25 million to the New Zealand economy with shows such as the The Tribe. Efforts by Australian states to get Cloud 9 to move are failing due to the partnership between the Government and business, which is promoted by this Labour-Progressive Government.
Rt Hon. Winston Peters: Would the Minister admit that better commodity prices and lower exchange rates have been the reason for any recovery in the provincial economy, and those two things alone--on which the Government has had no effect whatsoever in terms of input--or does he have some other measures that have been so pronounced in their effects on the provinces; if so, what were they?
Hon. JIM ANDERTON: Of course, commodity prices, the level of the exchange rate, and the level of interest rates have contributed to economic success in regional New Zealand. Those causes have been there before, but for the first time, even in the face of a relatively significant recession in many OECD countries, this country is doing better under this Government than it has for years under similar circumstances.
Hon. Richard Prebble: Was the Minister reading from the National Bank report of 2 November, in which case, why did he not read on to where, regarding the regions, it states: "From whoopee to whoopsie", which finds that the rural regions dropped 0.4 percent in economic activity in the September quarter, and accounted for the six largest declines in economic activity in the country; or is it his position that he, personally, is responsible for all good news but any bad news is just the responsibility of market forces?
Hon. JIM ANDERTON: All members of this Government are responsible for positive effects on the New Zealand economy. Is the member suggesting that the highest levels of economic growth in recent history are disastrous when they come off 0.4 percent, considering that in the period when that member's party was supporting the previous National Government, the results were clearly disastrous for this country?
6. Hon. BILL ENGLISH (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does she stand by her reported comments on Newstalk 1ZB that the leaky buildings crisis is just a "beat-up"; if so, why?
Rt Hon. HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister): The magnitude of the problem was the point being debated. It appears that the number of homeowners affected is not as large as some have implied. Nonetheless, for those affected, the problem is serious, which is why the Government has set up special dispute-resolution procedures.
Hon. Bill English: When the Prime Minister said that as there were only a thousand phone calls to the 0800 line, it was not a big issue, did she have in mind a person who wrote to the New Zealand Herald and said: "I'm sure Helen Clark and George Hawkins sleep well at night. They don't lie awake worried about the effect that staying in the house might have on their 5-month-old baby. They don't see all their dreams of trying to save money to get a better life for their family going down the drain."; and what does she say to that person, if that were just one of those 1,000 phone calls?
Rt Hon. HELEN CLARK: What I had in mind was that Don Hunn's report put the size of the problem at approximately $240 million. The Leader of the Opposition joined the beat-up, talking about $3.8 billion.
Mahara Okeroa: What reaction was there to the original media reporting of the issue? [Interruption]
Rt Hon. HELEN CLARK: One could equally say, in response to that interjection, that there was none from the then Government when the Independent ran a front-page feature on the issue in June 1999. Research then shows that the New Zealand Herald first ran articles in May 2001. The first statements that can be traced from the National Party concerning those articles were from a new back-bencher, Miss Collins, in September this year. Six days later, the Leader of the Opposition woke up.
Stephen Franks: Precisely which of the reports in the New Zealand Herald of leaky homes was false, to justify her claim that the New Zealand Herald was running a beat-up, or was it simply because the loss of a family home and savings is so infinitely boring to a double-income, double-housed, no-kids couple--
Mr SPEAKER: I have no objection to the asking of questions, but I do not want people's personal details brought into it. I do not think it is desirable in this House. Perhaps the member would rephrase the question. The first part of it was perfectly in order.
Stephen Franks: The second part of the question is: was it simply because the loss of a family home and savings, multiplied many times--
Hon. Richard Prebble: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I have actually read the account in the New Zealand Herald--and the interview--of the interview with Mr Holmes, and in fact one of the crucial parts of this interview was that the Prime Minister lives in a 100-year-old villa, which she says is well built, and that she is OK; so I think it is perfectly all right to ask her: "Well, if you're OK, why aren't you concerned about other people who cannot afford a 100-year-old villa?"?
Mr SPEAKER: If that is what the member had said, it would have been in order, but that was not what he said. Perhaps the member can restate his question from the beginning.
Stephen Franks: Precisely which of the reports in the New Zealand Herald of leaky homes was false, to justify her claim that the New Zealand Herald was running a beat-up, or was it simply because she was well housed in a 100-year-old villa that she found it infinitely boring that families were losing their homes and savings, and so described the New Zealand Herald as banging on?
Rt Hon. HELEN CLARK: For homeowners affected it is a serious issue, which is why the Government has set up an assessment and dispute resolution procedure. The issue is the extent of the problem.
Hon. Bill English: Now that the Prime Minister appears to regret her graceless comments about homeowners, does she have enough grace to apologise to them for the offence that she has caused?
Rt Hon. HELEN CLARK: Now that the Leader of the Opposition has woken up and shown he has less punch than Judy, what I say again is that it is the magnitude of the problem that is the issue, and the Government is working to assist affected homeowners.
Education--Gifted and Talented
7. JILL PETTIS (NZ Labour--Whanganui) to the Minister of Education: What support has the Government made available to assist gifted and talented children to reach their potential?
Hon. TREVOR MALLARD (Minister of Education): This Government has put up $1.2 million to fund specific programmes for gifted and talented children, amongst a number of other initiatives in the area. Seventeen programmes around the country have been approved and will be run by schools, either on their own or in clusters, or by other organisations. The content of the programmes varies, and includes developing a mentoring programme for girls gifted in science, the development of a virtual classroom and holiday camp for gifted boys, and a programme for developing musical talent in gifted students from age 9 to 13. We believe that helping these children achieve their potential as this country's future leaders is a critical element of building the knowledge economy
Jill Pettis: What initiatives have been put in place to encourage schools to focus on the learning needs of gifted and talented students?
Hon. TREVOR MALLARD: As well as the initiatives I indicated before, this Government has either put in place or is looking at a range of other initiatives including funding to increase the number of gifted education advisers, a national coordinator to provide schools with development and support, working with the Teachers Council to ensure that teacher training programmes include responsiveness to the needs of gifted and talented students, changing the national administrative guidelines for schools to include a specific requirement to cater for this group of students, and publishing a booklet for parents to help them form positive partnerships with their schools in support of gifted education.
Phil Heatley: Why are the Government and the Minister so proud of this funding, and so scathing of National, when it has taken 3 long years to eventuate, and it ends up being a measly $1.2 million; why are they so proud of that?
Hon. TREVOR MALLARD: This Government is very proud of the work it is doing in this area. I hope that by the time some of the kids in primary schools, who are affected by this policy, are adults there might be a decent Leader of the Opposition.
Hon. Brian Donnelly: Can the Minister confirm that the policy work for gifted and talented education was initiated by New Zealand First during its term in Government, in response to a policy vacuum at the time, and if this is indeed the case, why has it taken so long for his Government to come up with any funding for such an important area of education?
Hon. TREVOR MALLARD: I can confirm that the initial policy work was initiated by that member when he was an Associate Minister. Unfortunately it was then left to Nick Smith. It drifted; it was not funded. Further quality policy work had to be done, and that has resulted in the policy that is being announced now, and will be announced into the future.
Immigration--Prime Minister's Comments
8. Rt Hon. WINSTON PETERS (Leader--NZ First) to the Prime Minister: Why did she say on TV3 News on Wednesday 20 November 2002 "It sounds like he's now leaping from xenophobia to homophobia", and what was the purpose of that comment?
Rt Hon. HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister): The purpose was to reflect on the nature of the member's comments.
Rt Hon. Winston Peters: Was the Prime Minister aware when she made that comment on a television programme, asserting a certain category had not existed for 3 years, that the Minister of Immigration was aware of two pieces of correspondence, one of which she had written a reply on, asserting that the category was in existence, and further, had asked the person she wrote to, through her staff, to begin an email campaign to join this debate, and if she was not aware of that, why has she not sacked this incompetent Minister for either misleading her--
Hon. Members: Ha, ha!
Rt Hon. Winston Peters: --lies are not a laughing matter--or the media in this country on this issue?
Rt Hon. HELEN CLARK: It is not clear from the many comments Mr Peters has made on this matter whether he was opposing admission of homosexual partners in toto, or whether his problem was the mistake of an official in referring to a defunct category.
Rt Hon. Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I see the angle this Prime Minister is trying to take. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: While points of order are being heard, they will be heard in silence or I will be asking some people to leave. I will not put up with that. The member is entitled to raise a point of order.
Rt Hon. Winston Peters: My point of order is very, very clear. The word "homophobia" refers to "homo" being "man" and "phobia" being an aversion or hatred--in short, an aversion or hatred of men. I say to the Prime Minister that it is not my problem. It may be the problem of someone who is closer to home. I am referring to a category that the Prime Minister was surely aware of, the family homosexual category, which you will recall Lianne Dalziel claimed had not been in existence for the 3 years prior to her making that statement on that day. My point is simply this. The Prime Minister has information in front of her. She has had plenty of opportunity to check with the Minister of Immigration as to whether that category exists. If she wants to put a spin on it, totally devoid of any issue I am raising, then I will say again that homophobia is an aversion to men.
Mr SPEAKER: Please be seated. That is not a point of order. The member is merely commenting on an answer that has been given.
Lynne Pillay: How did the Prime Minister interpret Mr Peters' comments?
Rt Hon. HELEN CLARK: At the time, they appeared to be an attack on the ability of a homosexual partner to be treated in the same way as a heterosexual partner. With reference to the comments made in the House by the member just now, who said that he has no problems at all with homosexual partnerships, I refer him back to his comment made in 1985, which even opposed homosexuals giving blood.
Rt Hon. Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Firstly, the Prime Minister was happy to ignore you, as she has done without check on many occasions in the past. The rest of us must follow a different rule.
Mr SPEAKER: Please be seated.
Rt Hon. Winston Peters: I will finish my point.
Mr SPEAKER: I do not care. I am on my feet. The member will not make those sorts of comments. I try my very best to rule fairly for all members of Parliament. I will not have those sorts of insinuations made about me. The member will withdraw and apologise.
Rt Hon. Winston Peters: I withdraw and apologise. My first point was this. Despite you saying you wanted order, the Prime Minister has carried on regardless. [Interruption] The teacher's pet can run, but he will not go anywhere in the polls, will he? That member is the country's No. 1 political loser. My second point is this. Since day 1 on this issue, I have merely asked why such a category should be in existence. The Minister of Immigration has denied its existence, even though she has been aware of the facts, which is why I asked the Prime Minister to justify the actions of that Minister, who, in the 6 months prior to the question being asked, has apologised twice for her department using that category.
Mr SPEAKER: The member has not raised a point of order. The member is commenting on the Minister's answer.
Rt Hon. Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: Is this a point of order about this matter? I have ruled on this.
Rt Hon. WINSTON PETERS: You might have ruled on it, but you are getting into a rather sensitive area, when a Prime Minister can seek to deviate from a question, and raise issues about people's various sensitivities on matters like this. If the Prime Minister wants a free forum on this, she has come to the right place--let us make no bones about it.
Mr SPEAKER: This is an oral question and answer time. We will not have comments made on answers given. I do not rule on that; I rule on whether the questions are addressed.
Gerry Brownlee: Does the Prime Minister stand by her comments made in the February 2001 Prime Minister's statement, that, "as promised, we have also eased the English language test requirements to make New Zealand a more attractive destination for immigrants."; if so, why has her Government reacted to Winston Peters' so-called xenophobic comments with such a huge policy U-turn?
Rt Hon. HELEN CLARK: The Government has reacted to problems in getting adequate settlement and employment prospects for migrants with a poor knowledge of English.
Rt Hon. Winston Peters: Why did the Prime Minister allow herself to make those comments, when she must have known from Lianne Dalziel that the category I complained of had been used in the 6 months prior to the television programme, and if the assertion given in the Minister's own apology that it was demonstrably false 3 years ago is not correct, why did she not sack that Minister?
Rt Hon. HELEN CLARK: What I know--[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: The Prime Minister has been asked a question, and did not even have the chance to say one word before there were interjections. I want to hear a reasonable amount of an answer before any interjections are made.
Rt Hon. HELEN CLARK: What I know is that the homosexual family category was in place when that member was Deputy Prime Minister. It was then removed by his former colleague Mr Delamere because it was discriminatory. The inference I have taken from Mr Peters' remarks is that he does not support homosexual partners being treated on the same basis as de facto partners.
Rt Hon. Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. You have sat me down twice on this point of order. The Prime Minister has used an identical tack and you have found no fault whatsoever in her comments. I have told you twice that my question related to an outmoded category, asserted by the Prime Minister as not to be used, being used 6 months prior to the Prime Minister answering that question on television. If you are going to let her get away with that--
Mr SPEAKER: Please be seated. I allowed the Prime Minister to answer a question. I thought that she was addressing the question she was asked. She is entitled to use that. She was not straying from the question that was asked. The member might not like the answer. He could ask another one.
Rt Hon. Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: I will not have very much more of this.
Rt Hon. Winston Peters: You can make any threat you like, but I will not have this Prime Minister giving an interpretation of how I personally feel on issues that are not related to, or have anything to do with anything I have said in this question time. That is not within her province as a Minister.
Mr SPEAKER: Please be seated. The member is going too far. He is now warned that he is not to make any further reference to that point. The Prime Minister was answering a question. She was addressing a question that was asked.
Building Standards--Confidence in Minister
9. Hon. BILL ENGLISH (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does she have confidence in the performance of Hon. George Hawkins; if so, why?
Rt Hon. HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister): Yes, and considerably more than the member's colleagues have in him.
Hon. Bill English: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. You have often ruled out extraneous material in questions and answers. I seek your guidance on whether you will allow Government Ministers to continue answering questions in the same way.
Mr SPEAKER: They are not doing that. I took that is an ironic expression. Perhaps in a strict interpretation, it as out of the Standing Orders. However, I took only the first part of the answer, which was a straight answer to the member's question.
Hon. Bill English: Can she explain why George Hawkins, having been formally advised of the leaky building crisis on 30 April, despite 250 stories in the New Zealand Herald before that date, took another 6 months to write to the Building Industry Authority asking for an explanation as to why he was not informed earlier, and does she believe that his public explanations give the public confidence?
Rt Hon. HELEN CLARK: As I alluded to in an earlier answer, there was a great deal of media comment before any politician, Government or Opposition, ever took up the issue.
Murray Smith: Was Mr Hawkins' ignorance of the well-publicised reports and articles on the leaky building issue during 2001 in particular, due to his inability to cope with his workload, or was it just a case of eyes wide shut?
Rt Hon. HELEN CLARK: I say again that there appears to have been a lot of media articles to which no politician reacted. The Minister was not formally advised until April this year.
Ron Mark: How can she possibly continue to express confidence in that Minister, whilst about him accusations and controversy continue to swirl on a day-by-day, hour-by-hour basis, or is it simply, as many Maori are already commenting, there is one rule for Dover Samuels and other rules for others?
Rt Hon. HELEN CLARK: I intend to treat that with the contempt it deserves.
Hon. Bill English: Does she believe that George Hawkins knew about the leaky building crisis before 30 April, and does she believe that he should have been reading the paper, the correspondence across his desk, and the advice from his Department of Internal Affairs' officials, or would George Hawkins have to be hit by a falling balcony before he found out?
Rt Hon. HELEN CLARK: As the questioner's response to media articles was not exactly hasty, it might be a case of the pot calling the kettle black.
Rt Hon. Winston Peters: Seeing that the Prime Minister thought she would deal with my colleague's question by answering that she would treat it with the contempt it deserves, can I ask what Dover Samuels actually did to get sacked, and what Mr Hawkins and Ms Dalziel have done to keep their jobs?
Mr SPEAKER: The first part of the question is outside the question, but the Prime Minister may comment.
Rt Hon. HELEN CLARK: The Minister was formally advised on 30 April. The Government has taken many steps to address the issue since.
Rt Hon. Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I did not ask her about the Minister being advised. I asked what Dover Samuels did to get sacked and what Mr Hawkins did to retain his job.
Mr SPEAKER: I ruled the first part of that question out.
10. HELEN DUNCAN (NZ Labour) to the Minister of Transport: What changes is the Government making to the transport sector in New Zealand?
Hon. PAUL SWAIN (Minister of Transport): Today I released the Government's New Zealand Transport Strategy and introduced the Land Transport Management Bill. The New Zealand Transport Strategy allows, for the first time, all modes of transport--road, rail, sea, and air--to be looked at in an integrated way. The Land Transport Management Bill will allow for long-term planning, introduce more flexible ways of funding land transport projects, and change the objectives of Transit and Transfund.
Larry Baldock: When the Minister states in his media statement released today, entitled "Land Transport Management Bill Introduced": "The current short-term, narrowly focused approach to land transport funding is not working. If we are going to address our transport deficit we need to take a more creative approach.", is he acknowledging the error of this Government's and previous Governments' ways, in diverting revenue from petrol and excise tax into the consolidated fund, which has led to our current transport deficit?
Hon. PAUL SWAIN: No. I think the member misses the point. In the past, we have funded transport projects on a very narrow basis. For the first time, the strategy in the bill says that all modes of transport can be looked into when we are trying to solve New Zealand's transport problems.
Hon. Roger Sowry: Why does the legislation that he tabled today spell out separate consultation by Transit, regional councils, local territorial authorities, Transfund, and the Land Transport Safety Authority, with "every iwi or hapu that may be affected by their decisions", and does he believe that this will add any costs or delays to projects?
Hon. PAUL SWAIN: The reality is that consultation occurs under the current regime, and, in fact, consultation with every iwi and hapu was part of the Transit Amendment Act that was passed by his Government in 1995.
Jeanette Fitzsimons: With reference to the question from Larry Baldock, can the Minister confirm that most countries take some general revenue, in the form of a petrol tax or road user charge, so New Zealand is not unusual, and can he also confirm that the 1997 Land Transport Pricing Study found that the environmental and social costs created by road users, and paid for by the general taxpayer, amount to more than the contribution from petrol tax to the general coffers?
Hon. PAUL SWAIN: With regard to the first question, yes, most OECD countries take funding from petrol taxes into the consolidated fund. We are unusual in the sense that we split it and allow it to go to transport before it all goes to the consolidated fund. With regard to the second question, I cannot confirm that actual report, but I think the member makes a good point. That is part of the studies that are currently under way, and I am hoping that we will be doing further work in order to be able to report progress on that in the not too distant future.
United Nations Charter
11. KEITH LOCKE (Green) to the Prime Minister: Does she believe the United Nations Charter allows governments to conduct anti-terrorist pre-emptive strikes in other nations; if not, will her Government support any move by Prime Minister John Howard to amend the United Nations Charter to allow such strikes?
Rt Hon. HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister): What is permissible under international law in this area is debatable. The likelihood of the UN charter as such being amended appears remote.
Keith Locke: Was the Lange Government correct to tell the French that pre-emptive strikes, such as that against the Rainbow Warrior, were contrary to international law, as would be--I hope she agrees with me--any American pre-emptive strike against Iraq?
Rt Hon. HELEN CLARK: It is impossible to see any parallel between the two situations. One is hypothetical, suggesting that a group of terrorists somewhere might be sitting with a map of a country's Parliament House and planning how to bomb it. The other was an actual act of terrorism that was carried out against a peaceful organisation called Greenpeace in a peaceful country called New Zealand.
Dr Wayne Mapp: Under what circumstances would the Government support a direct strike on a terrorist cell that posed an imminent and direct threat if, first, international diplomacy had not been able to deal with the threat, and, second, the host nation had failed to deal with that terrorist threat?
Rt Hon. HELEN CLARK: I will treat the member's question as serious, because we get into a whole lot of hypotheses about what, if, when, and how. The question that arises is, firstly, whether a nation would have such information anyway. If it did, would its first recourse, if it were in a regional partner nation, be to that nation and its forces to see whether they were prepared to cooperate in doing something about it. If they were not prepared to cooperate in doing something about it, knowing of an imminent threat, one clearly has a rather more serious situation on one's hands; they would appear to be condoning the planning of a terrorist attack, which is a very serious issue indeed. One then has a complete breakdown of relationships between countries. That is why I think that the way Mr Howard's comments have been interpreted has been to read far too much into them, and I do not think he ever took his chain of logic as far as that.
Hon. Ken Shirley: Would she be prepared to authorise a pre-emptive strike against a known terrorist threat, if that were the only option to save the lives of New Zealanders; and, in view of that, is she prepared to support John Howard's initiative to amend the UN charter to determine rules of engagement for those situations?
Rt Hon. HELEN CLARK: That is the kind of hypothetical question that Mr Howard got into difficulty answering, and I do not propose to go down that track because I cannot see a set of circumstances that would lead to New Zealand taking such a decision.
Keith Locke: Would the New Zealand Government be prepared to give the Indonesian Government the right to pre-emptively strike New Zealand, if it deemed that by hosting, for example, West Papuan freedom fighters who have engaged in activity with arms we were hosting terrorists and they had the right to strike us?
Rt Hon. HELEN CLARK: Again, it is a highly hypothetical and unlikely situation, because New Zealand will not be prepared to harbour any terrorists on its territory. That is why we have gone to a great deal of trouble to pass legislation on this--legislation that the member was not very supportive of.
12. Hon. ROGER SOWRY (Deputy Leader--NZ National) to the Minister of Social Services and Employment: Does he stand by his reported comments made last week that four weeks holiday a year could cost the economy hundreds of millions of dollars; if not, why not?
Hon. STEVE MAHAREY (Minister of Social Services and Employment): The introduction of a policy of 4 weeks minimum annual leave will always involve the consideration of the balance between productivity increases occurring in the economy and the cost to employers, and there will always be a cost.
Hon. Roger Sowry: Why did he say on Friday: "Labour would not be moving to introduce the bill this term of office. That's because we don't think employers, at this time, are in a position to take on 4 weeks in addition to other changes in their environment."?
Hon. STEVE MAHAREY: Because that is the Government's policy. The Government's policy is that we will not be introducing legislation on increasing holidays to 4 weeks in this term, but of course that does not bind us for the future.
Dr Ashraf Choudhary: What is Government policy on 4 weeks minimum annual leave?
Hon. STEVE MAHAREY: If I can elaborate on what I have just said, while 4 weeks minimum annual leave may be desirable, careful consideration would always have to be given to the benefits in terms of workers' health and productivity, and the impact of additional costs on employers. Labour's pre-election policy did not include provision for a minimum of 4 weeks annual leave in this term, but that does not bind us for the future.
Craig McNair: Why was the Government prepared to make it a priority when Labour was dependent on the Alliance, and not a priority when the Labour Government is not dependent on the Alliance; and what do we call that?
Hon. STEVE MAHAREY: It has not been Labour Party policy to introduce 4 weeks minimum leave. When we were in coalition with the Alliance, it was not our policy, and it is not our policy this term. But that does not bind us for the future.
Jeanette Fitzsimons: In considering the cost of 4 weeks' annual leave, has the Minister included the total economic cost to New Zealand of fatigue and stress, and the cost to parents and families of not being able to have sufficient time to spend with their children during holidays?
Hon. STEVE MAHAREY: That is an excellent point. That is why--when or if a change is made to 4 weeks' holiday--Parliament will need to weigh up the benefit to workers' health, productivity in the economy, cost to employers; all of those things will need to be considered together.
Paul Adams: Does the Minister agree that a move to 4 weeks' leave per year would increase the total cost of wages and stretch the staffing resources of small businesses, in particular, at a time when continued growth and job opportunities have already been hampered by skill shortages--according to the Department of Labour in its post-election briefing?
Hon. STEVE MAHAREY: They are all good points. I go back to the centre of this debate. When the Government thinks about changing the number of holidays available to workers, of course, it has to weigh up all the points that members are raising in the House.
Hon. Richard Prebble: Mr Speaker--
Mr SPEAKER: No that party has had its allocation.
Hon. Roger Sowry: Does the Minister stand by his comments on Friday that: "It would be irresponsible of the Government to allow the bill to go to select committee if there was no intention of passing it into law."
Hon. STEVE MAHAREY: Yes, I do. But I welcome the comments by the Prime Minister that suggest that perhaps the way to deal with Mr Robson's bill would be to ensure it goes to a select committee, if it does go, at the same time as the Government bill on holidays issues.
Hon. Richard Prebble: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I have just done a count. I make it that we had seven questions.
Mr SPEAKER: Well, we have eight, but as it is our first day back, I will be generous.
Hon. Annette King: Teacher's pet.
Hon. Richard Prebble: Thank you, Mr Speaker. There are advantages to supporting the Speaker.
Hon. Richard Prebble: Is the reason the Minister stated that 4 weeks' holiday a year could cost the economy hundreds of millions of dollars, the fact that he has received a report from the Labour Market Policy Group dated 15 October that says that an increase in annual leave has two offsetting effects: it increases costs to employers, thereby lowering the demand for labour; it also lowers workers' wages, and an extra week's holiday represents an additional 2 percent cost to employers? If that is so, is there any reason to reconsider the Government's decision to stick with 3 weeks' annual holiday leave?
Hon. STEVE MAHAREY: Yes, I have received that kind of advice from the Labour Market Policy Group. But it would be a bad decision to decide, on the basis of what the cost might be to employers at any one time, to turn down the notion of an increase in holidays. Otherwise--as my bench mate has just said--no one would have any holidays at all, on that argument.
Hon. Roger Sowry: I seek leave to table Mr Maharey's comments when he said it would be irresponsible to allow the bill to go to the select committee.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is.
End of Questions for Oral Answer.
(Uncorrected transcript - subject to correction and further editing)