Questions Of The Day Transcript - 17 December
(Uncorrected transcript - subject to correction and further
Questions 1-12 17 December, 2002
QUESTIONS FOR ORAL ANSWER
QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS
New Zealand Post Ltd--Chief Executive
1. RODNEY HIDE (ACT NZ) to the Minister for State Owned Enterprises: Did New Zealand Post Limited chief executive Elmar Toime seek a reference from former ECNZ chief executive Dr Roderick Deane before employing Mr Drew Stein; if so, did Dr Roderick Deane comment on Mr Stein's ability to control expenditure?
Hon. MARK BURTON (Minister for State Owned Enterprises): I am advised that a verbal reference was sought and given, but, obviously, as this is an operational individual employment matter, I am not party to its details.
Rodney Hide: Given that Dr Roderick Deane, in pointing out Mr Stein's weaknesses as well as his strengths, advised Mr Elmar Toime that Mr Stein had a tendency to be a spendthrift with other people's money, would the Minister not think at that point that Mr Toime--the chief executive officer of New Zealand Post--was on notice to check this man's expenditure like a hawk; if not, why not?
Hon. MARK BURTON: As I indicated in my first answer, I am not party to having details of any verbal reference given or asked for.
Russell Fairbrother: What measures were taken, once concerns about expenditure became apparent?
Hon. MARK BURTON: New Zealand Post instigated an independent investigation into the appropriateness of expenditure, and established a safe process for staff members to express their concerns. Indeed, it was New Zealand Post that released the PricewaterhouseCoopers report and put in process, remedies to address the structural and procedural deficiencies identified. The Auditor-General concluded that "New Zealand Post took appropriate steps to address the issues arising from the investigation of the allegations."
Hon. Murray McCully: Can he confirm that the reason that Mr Toime hired Mr Stent, notwithstanding some unsatisfactory references, was that his then chairman, Dr Ross Armstrong, directed him to do so, and can he also confirm that Dr Armstrong was a vocal champion of both Mr Stein and Transend?
Hon. MARK BURTON: No, and no.
Rt Hon. Winston Peters: Given that the Minister has said that he is "not a party" and therefore "not responsible", what is he responsible for, and when will this Parliament, having given him 4 hours' notice, get some responsibility from that Minister--owing to a democratic Parliament?
Hon. MARK BURTON: As the member I think actually knows, under the provisions of the State-Owned Enterprises Act, I am directly responsible for the appointment of the board, along with the other shareholding Minister; and that is a responsibility I take very seriously. As he equally, I am sure knows--
Rt Hon. Winston Peters: No, I don't know that.
MARK BURTON: Well, I am surprised. I am pleased to have been able to inform the member. What he should also be aware of, is that it is absolutely inappropriate for a Minister to engage himself or herself in the individual employment matters of any employee of an individual State-owned enterprise.
Murray Smith: Does the Minister intend to ask Mr Stein to follow the example set by Dr Ross Armstrong, and repay some of the extravagant expenses incurred while he was managing director of Transend, in the light of the six-figure payout to Mr Stein and his continued employment as a consultant?
Hon. MARK BURTON: As I have indicated, his direct employment and even continued contract with New Zealand Post is a matter between the organisation and Mr Stein. I have made my personal views on the matter clear, several times today.
Rodney Hide: In the light of the Minister's concerns about the extravagant expenditure at Transend, has he asked the chief executive, Mr Elmar Toime, whether he took part in any of the trips or enjoyed any of the hotel accommodation that has come under such heavy criticism from the Auditor-General's department; if not, why not?
Hon. MARK BURTON: I am assured that, indeed, Mr Toime was very much instrumental in ensuring--
Gerry Brownlee: Just answer the question. Did he go or not?
Hon. MARK BURTON: If the member would be quiet, I would. Show a bit of discipline!
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Or someone will be leaving. The Minister is entitled to answer the question.
Hon. MARK BURTON: I am assured that indeed Mr Toime was instrumental in ensuring that the policies and practices required of the wider New Zealand Post company and board were applied to Transend, in putting it right.
Hon. Roger Sowry: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Minister insisted on some quiet while he answered the question. He did not answer the question. The question was quite specific. It asked whether Mr Toime had been on any of the trips, or enjoyed any of the hospitality that was referred to in the report. The Minister in no way addressed that question.
Mr SPEAKER: I agree. The Minister should address the question.
Hon. MARK BURTON: I have had no cause to address that specific question to Mr Toime, because I have the assurance of the board that Mr Toime was directly responsible for ensuring the implementation and adherence to New Zealand Post's policies, which the board--which monitors him--and I expect him to adhere to.
2. Rt Hon. WINSTON PETERS (Leader--NZ First) to the Minister of Immigration: Did she say with respect to Ahmed Zaoui "The fact that he was picked up ... represents the security system working well," and why?
Hon. LIANNE DALZIEL (Minister of Immigration): Yes. I said that the detention regime we have in place enables the Immigration Service to consider the level of security risk when determining whether to issue a permit at the border, detain at Mangere, detain in a corrections facility, or release on conditions.
Rt Hon. Winston Peters: Given that the alleged terrorist destroyed his documents on the plane, and gave himself up to authorities, how did he get through our customs border to become a cost for the New Zealand taxpayer, post-9/11 and post-Bali?
Hon. LIANNE DALZIEL: The quote the member used in his primary question was made in response to an assertion to an Auckland lawyer that it represented a security breach. He did not technically enter the country, because he was not granted a permit. I was simply referring to the fact that he is being detained in a corrections facility, and I described the hierarchy of immigration responses at the border--the most serious one being the one that was adopted.
Rt Hon. Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. If the Minister wanted to contest the quote, she should have done that on the primary question, not the secondary one. The secondary question relates to how he got through customs, to be a charge for the New Zealand taxpayer. I suggest that was not answered, and that that incompetent Minister should resign.
Mr SPEAKER: There is no validity whatsoever in the point of order.
Luamanuvao Winnie Laban: What immigration measure has the Government adopted to improve New Zealand's border security?
Hon. LIANNE DALZIEL: The Government has adopted the advanced passenger processing system, which will be in place early next year. That will enable travel document checks to be completed and transmitted electronically to New Zealand before passengers board their flights. That effectively shifts the border offshore, and enables those who might present a security risk to be prevented from boarding the flight.
Hon. Murray McCully: Has the Minister received any officials advice that confirms the view expressed publicly by Dr Paul Buchanan of Auckland University, that if Mr Zaoui's background has been correctly reported no third country might be prepared to accept him; if so, what is that advice?
Hon. LIANNE DALZIEL: I have not received advice on that particular matter. However, I can say that there was a letter received in my office that implied I had received direct representations from a particular organisation. It appeared to make a claim for political asylum for the individual, which is a matter that neither I nor the Government can consider under the Immigration Act. It is a matter for the refugee status branch, and, on decline, for the Refugee Status Appeals Authority. I can confirm that those provisions were introduced in the Immigration Act in 1999.
Hon. Ken Shirley: Why has the Labour Government not yet implemented the advanced passenger processing procedures that most other countries now have in place, to screen people before they board a plane bound for New Zealand? Why is the Labour Government dragging its feet on that very basic anti-terrorism measure?
Hon. LIANNE DALZIEL: The funding for the advanced passenger processing system was approved in this year's Budget. We are working with the Australians--who are, in fact, the only country in the world with the advanced passenger processing system--in order to have it in place early next year.
Keith Locke: Is the Minister aware that Ahmed Zaoui was elected a member of Parliament just before the Algerian military coup launched to stop his party, the Islamic Salvation Front, from becoming the Government, that in exile he was a very prominent spokesperson for the front, and that when he arrived in New Zealand he was very open about who he was when claiming political asylum?
Hon. LIANNE DALZIEL: No, I cannot confirm any of that information. However, I am concerned that an MP would approach an individual such as that and raise expectations that the Government can, or will, intervene. I advise that member to leave this matter to the appropriate authorities.
Rt Hon. Winston Peters: Can the Minister explain why her department attempted to conceal the true identity of the suspected terrorists from the New Zealand public, and why did the department not put him on the first plane back to where he came from--namely, Malaysia, where no doubt Dr of similar religious faith, would know what to do with him?
Hon. LIANNE DALZIEL: I am unable to confirm any details of the particular case. I can confirm that inquiries are being undertaken by the appropriate authorities and that speculation is unhelpful when matters of security are involved. I can also advise the member that yes, the Immigration Service was asked about somebody who allegedly arrived in New Zealand on 11 December. Given that I was briefed on 6 December, I think they got their date wrong.
Rt Hon. Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I seek leave for the Minister to answer that question again. There is no use giving a ruling before I have made a point of order.
Mr SPEAKER: I have not attempted to do that.
Rt Hon. Winston Peters: I was just getting on to it. I seek leave--
Mr SPEAKER: Would the member please be seated. I will not have any rudeness like that, at all. Naturally enough, I am consulting the Clerk. I have not made a ruling at all. The member will now proceed without making those sorts of comments.
Rt Hon. Winston Peters: Just before I do--
Mr SPEAKER: No, please proceed, or the member will be out.
Rt Hon. Winston Peters: I seek leave for the Minister to explain what she meant in her last comments about 11 December. Nothing so far in my question, or any other question, relates to that date or time, and I am interested to know whether it is a matter of significance.
Mr SPEAKER: The member is perfectly entitled to seek leave. Is there any objection?
Hon. LIANNE DALZIEL: The opening words of the member's question were: "Why had the Immigration Service not responded to the media inquiry?".
Mr SPEAKER: The member has asked for leave to ask something further. Is there any objection? There is objection.
Race Relations Commissioner--Mediation
3. Hon. BILL ENGLISH (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Was her chief of staff, Heather Simpson, informed by the then Race Relations Conciliator, Mr Gregory Fortuin, that he was going to mediate between the different factions of the Alliance; if so, when?
Rt Hon. HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister): No.
Hon. Bill English: Did she at any stage before the matter became public, tell Mr Fortuin that she thought it was inappropriate that he should mediate between the different factions of the Alliance; if not, why not?
Rt Hon. HELEN CLARK: No.
Dr Muriel Newman: Given the four senior appointments that have now been given to Mr Fortuin, does she accept that he has four very good reasons to keep his mouth shut, or is she so confident of her position that she would be happy for Mr Fortuin to tell all?
Rt Hon. HELEN CLARK: It is up to Mr Fortuin how he handles the matter. He has no instructions from me.
Rt Hon. Winston Peters: Is it true that neither the Prime Minister nor Heather Simpson, at any point in the mediation process, had any knowledge whatsoever that it was going on?
Rt Hon. HELEN CLARK: As I said in answer to a question on Tuesday of last week, it was learnt about after it began.
Hon. Bill English: Did she have any discussions, briefings, meetings, or phone calls with Mr Fortuin during the period of time he was mediating for the Alliance, and did they discuss any aspect of the mediation at all?
Rt Hon. HELEN CLARK: I have no recollection of any of the above.
Rt Hon. Winston Peters: If, then, her answer is that she did know about the mediation process going on, why did she not stop it immediately?
Rt Hon. HELEN CLARK: I hear about many things as Prime Minister. It registered. I was busy with other things.
4. DAVID CUNLIFFE (NZ Labour--New Lynn) to the Minister of Revenue: How has the Government moved to make it easier for salary and wage earners to claim their tax refunds?
Hon. Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Revenue): And now for some serious matters. People no longer have to contact the Department of Inland Revenue to confirm their refund if it is less than $200. Up till now, the limit has been $50. This will save wage and salary earners time and effort, and allow the commissioner to better focus his resources on more important issues.
David Cunliffe: How many taxpayers will benefit from the change?
Hon. Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: An estimated 128,000 will benefit directly. More will benefit indirectly, as fewer taxpayers will have to contact the Inland Revenue Department, reducing pressure on the call service.
Dr the Hon. Lockwood Smith: Has the Minister done any work on how he could make it easier for the more than a quarter of a million families who pay between $1 billion and $1.5 billion in PAYE tax and then have to apply for various forms of family assistance tax refunds to get roughly $1 billion of it back; if so, what has he done, and, if not, why not?
Hon. Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: My colleague Mr Maharey and I are looking at a number of those issues. The system, of course, was massively further complicated by the creation of a two-tier family support system in the late 1990s.
Iraq--New Zealand Nuclear Free Zone
and Arms Control Act
5. KEITH LOCKE (Green) to the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade: Has the Government assessed whether any New Zealand association with, or involvement in, a possible US-led attack on Iraq would be consistent with our obligations under the New Zealand Nuclear Free Zone Disarmament and Arms Control Act 1987, especially in light of recent Bush administration announcements on the possible use of nuclear weapons; if not, why not?
Hon. PHIL GOFF (Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade): Yes.
Keith Locke: Has our Government raised with the Bush administration its concern about the United States' declared "first strike" strategy as it may be applied to Iraq, or is it soft-pedalling our anti-nuclear campaigning in order to facilitate a free trade deal with America?
Hon. PHIL GOFF: Any New Zealand action with our defence forces internationally always has been, and will continue to be, consistent with our obligations under the New Zealand Nuclear Free Zone, Disarmament, and Arms Control Act. When the member refers to "first strike", if he is alleging that the United States has threatened a first nuclear strike against Iraq, what he is saying is not consistent with the document on the new weapons of mass destruction strategic plan that was released by President Bush in the last week.
Graham Kelly: Does the New Zealand Nuclear Free Zone, Disarmament, and Arms Control Act prevent deployment of New Zealand defence forces in coalition operations with the forces of nuclear-armed states?
Hon. PHIL GOFF: New Zealand's deployments in the United Nations or coalition operations are not prevented by the Act. The Act prevents New Zealand from manufacturing, acquiring, possessing, or having control over any nuclear explosive device, or aiding or abetting any person to do so. New Zealand forces have been deployed many times on coalition operations with defence forces from nuclear states.
Dr Wayne Mapp: Why did the Government decide at the time of the announcement of the United Nations inspections against Iraq to deploy both our Anzac frigates and an Orion aircraft to assist in Operation Enduring Freedom against international terrorism, and was the intention of the Government to force Iraq to comply with UN resolutions by standing alongside our allies and friends?
Hon. PHIL GOFF: The deployment of the frigate and the proposed deployment of the P3 and the C130 aircraft have nothing to do with Iraq. Those deployments were made in relation to Operation Enduring Freedom--a campaign against terrorism. There is an explicit clause that they will not be deployed in any action against Iraq.
Hon. Peter Dunne: In the event that the United Nations Security Council sanctions military intervention against Iraq, what would be the steps to be followed by the New Zealand Government in determining whether it chose to be part of any such force that was brought together under that mandate?
Hon. PHIL GOFF: New Zealand would not be involved in any action against Iraq unless that action was mandated, multilaterally, through the United Nations and as a last resort after a serious and unremedied breach of Security Council Resolution 1441. In the event that such a decision was made by the United Nations and an approach was made to New Zealand for a contribution, obviously we would seriously consider it. As I have indicated previously, the contribution would be more likely to be in the medical and logistic area, than in the combat area.
Hon. Ken Shirley: Does he see any hypocrisy or double standard with HMNZS Te Kaha serving as part of an interdiction force in the Gulf, when the high command of that interdiction force is based on a nuclear propelled US aircraft carrier; and, if it is good enough for us to align ourselves and shelter under that technology, why do we ban the visit of such ships to our ports and territorial waters?
Hon. PHIL GOFF: The answer to the first question is no. The answer to the second is that we have exercised and operated in coalition arrangements alongside nuclear states--the United Kingdom and the United States--on a number of occasions. What the nuclear free Act does is prevent the harbouring or deployment of nuclear weapons, and the visit by nuclear ships to New Zealand ports. It does not relate to the Gulf area.
Ron Mark: Has the Government had any discussions with the US Government on provisions or protocols for ensuring that New Zealanders currently deployed with weapons inspection teams are extracted prior to any US-led attack, what have been the results of those discussions, and what protocols are in place?
Mr SPEAKER: The first two questions can be answered.
Hon. PHIL GOFF: New Zealand, as the member knows, has eight members with the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission team and is shortly to have 10. Yes, there are contingency plans. If it is necessary to withdraw members of that commission and the International Atomic Energy Agency, as the member will also be aware, there are many nations that make up that inspections team, and certainly it would be impossible to conceive of the United States attacking Iraq while those members are within the country.
Keith Locke: How can the Minister say that the United States does not have a first-strike approach, when the document sent from the American Embassy on 11 December states quite clearly in the first paragraph that the United States will "resort to all of our options when confronted with what it deems to be a biological or chemical attack."?
Hon. PHIL GOFF: The member has just contradicted himself. He says, first, that there is an intention for a first strike, and then he admits, in the second part of his question, that it would be in response to an attack on the United States or other countries by weapons of mass destruction. That is not first strike.
6. DAVID BENSON-POPE (NZ Labour--Dunedin South) to the Minister of Education: What changes is the Government making to property provision for intermediate schools?
Hon. TREVOR MALLARD (Minister of Education): The Government has committed around $49 million to bring intermediate schools up to new property standards over a period of time. Schools have been advised of a new property guide that will determine the quantity of property a school needs to deliver an effective learning and working environment in the 21st century. The new guide provides for an average 29 percent increase in property entitlement over the old accommodation code. In the next year 14 intermediate schools will have their property deficiencies addressed.
David Benson-Pope: For what will the new spending be used?
Hon. TREVOR MALLARD: The guide recognises the value of retaining home rooms as well as the need for specialist teaching and learning spaces, such as for music, science, computers, dance and drama, and the need to increase library and administration spaces. There is also a significant increase in the hall space area so that physical activity-- which has sometimes been lacking, especially in wet weather--at intermediate schools can go on.
Hon. Dr Nick Smith: Will this announcement be like his 2001 Budget, where he boasted about $401 million for school property, but which the annual report shows was underspent by $140 million, leaving schools all over the country with insufficient classroom space for students; and when will he start delivering on his statements about school expenditure on property?
Hon. TREVOR MALLARD: One of the interesting things that has occurred as this Government has taken over the school property area--we have given schools increasing flexibility as to spending--and given them certain budgets over a 10-year period, is that they have often decided to take longer to spend their entitlements. We have been surprised. We thought that would happen for only 1 year, but it has continued into another year. We have found that schools are spending their money wisely rather than the spend-up and waste that used to occur when that member was Minister.
7. Hon. MURRAY McCULLY (NZ National--East Coast Bays) to the Minister for State Owned Enterprises: Does he accept the findings of the Auditor-General's report in relation to the New Zealand Post Limited subsidiary Transend, or does he dismiss this as a continuation of the "innuendo unsigned and unattributed statements half truths and personally motivated witch hunts." which he complained of in March of this year?
Hon. MARK BURTON (Minister for State Owned Enterprises): Yes.
Hon. Murray McCully: Given that the serious concerns around Transend have been in the public arena since early 2001, and that he has been strongly critical of those who have pursued this matter, could the Minister outline the steps that he personally has taken in that time to address those serious concerns and outline the successes he has achieved?
Hon. MARK BURTON: First, I want to correct one matter. I have been critical of some of those who have engaged in personal attacks and innuendo during that time. However, in the meantime I have been very supportive of those, particularly New Zealand Post, engaged in getting the Mander process under way for staff, the PC report in order to look at the processes and practices under review, and the recommendations and changes that have been implemented as a result of those processes.
Mark Peck: Are there lessons to be learnt from this inquiry and its findings, and what has the Minister done about it to date?
Hon. MARK BURTON: Yes, indeed, I fully agree with the Controller and Auditor-General's comments in relation to lessons to be learnt, and I have written to the company boards for which I have responsibility, bringing this report to their attention, and seeking assurances from them that they, and all their subsidiaries, have appropriate monitor policies and practices in place.
Rodney Hide: Will the Minister be having a word with Mr Elmar Toime, given that the Controller and Auditor General found that Mr Drew Stein did not have the delegated authority to sign the lease on the Bray house, given that Mr Elmar Toime told the Finance and Expenditure Committee on 12 December 2001 that Mr Drew Stein signing that lease was "within management delegation"; or is it OK for him to lie to that select committee?
Hon. MARK BURTON: I certainly do not want to respond to the latter part of that--[Interruption] I am sure it is. The member could usefully contribute to the House by observing that all the recommendations and issues raised by the Auditor-General are, in the end, signed up with one simple line in the document: "These matters New Zealand Post has addressed in its policy and practice."
Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My question was: "Will he be having a word, given that the man lied to the select committee?". The Minister did not address that question one iota.
Mr SPEAKER: If the member has that sort of allegation, it is done in a different way by writing to me directly. The member cannot use those terms in the House in that way. The member, however, has many ways in which to ask the question.
Rt Hon. Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: The member is in the middle of a point of order at the moment, and he is entitled to finish.
Rodney Hide: My question was this. We heard from the Minister that he accepted all the findings of this report. This report found that Mr Stein did not have the delegated authority. We were told on 12 December from Mr Elmar Toime that he did have the delegated authority. I am asking the Minister if he will be having a word with his chief executive, given that contradiction, and he will not answer.
Mr SPEAKER: I have to judge whether the Minister addressed the question. He did. Whether the quality of the answer is what satisfies the member is, of course, a matter for debate.
Hon. Dr Michael Cullen: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. That is a very important point. The member, in the point of order that he just--
Rt Hon. Winston Peters: I raised my point of order first.
Mr SPEAKER: I am sorry. It is perfectly valid; Mr Peters did call for a point of order and I sat him down because Mr Hide had not finished his point of order. I will allow Mr Peters to have his point, then Dr Cullen.
Rt Hon. Winston Peters: In my time in this House, whilst one may not agree with Mr Hide making the statement he did in respect of Mr Toime, the reality is that if he wants to make that statement I do not believe that it is right for you to stop him. If he wishes to say that somebody is lying--and this House has had ample precedent of that in the past--and with respect, he may not make it about a member of Parliament, but he can make it about a person outside of this House, and I think he was improperly and incorrectly stopped by you, or is this a new precedent we will have from here on in?
Hon. Dr Michael Cullen: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The member did not say that the person had lied, he said that he had lied to the select committee. That makes it a breach of privilege matter. Further than that, to raise the point I was going to raise, in the last part of Mr Hide's point of order he referred to that being a contradiction. There is an enormous difference between a contradiction and a lie. [Interruption] If the member does not understand that he does not understand anything. If the Minister had been asked to comment on the contradiction as to whether that matter would be raised, that question would have been perfectly in order.
Mr SPEAKER: It is perfectly in order to accuse a person outside this House. If anything there has always been a right of free speech in this House. But there is a proviso. Under Standing Order 397(b), it is a contempt of this Parliament to deliberately attempt to mislead the House, or a committee, by way of statement, evidence, or petition. That then becomes a matter of privilege. That is why I ruled in that way.
Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I ask your advice, given that we are dealing with this issue. Given that Mr Toime is already before the Privileges Committee for misleading that committee on another matter, what does he suggest I do with this second example of having misled the committee?
Mr SPEAKER: The member knows perfectly well what he should do. He should read the Standing Orders. I am prepared to enlighten him in my room afterwards.
Murray Smith: What medication is the Minister taking for the clear case of Hawkins disease from which he is suffering, and which leads to Cabinet Ministers--
Hon. Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. You were temporarily distracted--
Mr SPEAKER: I was.
Hon. Trevor Mallard: --from the beginning of that question, and it was clearly out of order.
Mr SPEAKER: I want the member to ask the supplementary question. I warn him that he must keep within the Standing Orders, as every member must. He has now been here long enough to know that.
Murray Smith: What medication is the Minister taking for the clear case of Hawkins disease from which he is suffering--
Mr SPEAKER: Order!
Murray Smith: Is it your ruling that that is out of order?
Mr SPEAKER: I think that ironic expression is not appropriate in the asking and answering of questions. I will carry on with the next supplementary question. The member might like to get another try later.
Hon. Murray McCully: In the light of the Auditor-General's report, does he still stand by his description of Transend, in the audit of May 2001, as "a shining example of a State-owned enterprise business"; if not, why not?
Hon. MARK BURTON: It is a matter of record that the enterprise concerned has raised a considerable amount of return. The problem outlined in this report [Interruption]--and I welcome the opportunity to repeat it--relates, clearly, to the behaviour of a few individuals whose conduct was outrageous. That is what the report says. The member knows it. It does not take away from the fact that the company has returned good dividends.
Murray Smith: Does the Minister admit that the failure to include a confidentiality provision in Mr Stein's employment contract, which led to him being given an $80,000 sinecure, was a gross oversight on the part of Transend's board; and in what way will he hold the board to account for such a serious oversight?
Hon. MARK BURTON: The only board relating to Transend is a management administrative board. The substantial governance responsibility sits with the New Zealand Post board, which has taken all necessary remedial action. I have confidence in that board.
8. GRAHAM KELLY (NZ Labour) to the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade: What support is New Zealand giving to the recovery and reconstruction of Afghanistan?
Hon. PHIL GOFF (Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade): New Zealand has provided over $3 million of development assistance to Afghanistan. That assistance has included support for education programmes through the United Nations Children's Fund, procurement of essential medicines, support for New Zealand non-governmental organisation activities, and help with de-mining. New Zealand has, of course, also assisted militarily in the campaign against terrorist groups there, and with peace-keeping through the International Security Assistance Force.
Graham Kelly: What was the nature of the assistance to the United National Children's Fund, which he recently announced in Kabul?
Hon. PHIL GOFF: While in Afghanistan, I offered a further $500,000 grant on behalf on New Zealand to the United Nations Children's Fund. That will assist with early childhood development, teacher training, and accelerated classes for older children denied education under the Taliban regime. There is obviously an enormous need in those areas, with three million children going back to school under the interim Government, including over a million girls whom the Taliban extremists would not allow to be educated. Education is critical to the process of rebuilding Afghanistan.
Dr Wayne Mapp: In the light of the fact that terrorism has yet to be defeated in Afghanistan, or, for that matter, on the waters of the Gulf, will New Zealand consider the further deployment of the SAS to Afghanistan, in support of defeating that very terrorism?
Hon. PHIL GOFF: The member will be aware that the small size of an elite group like the SAS can only do so many rotations before the need for regeneration. Currently, we have a frigate in the Gulf as part of our contribution. We will soon have a P3 Orion surveillance aircraft, and after that, a C130 transport aircraft. I would not rule out the possibility that the SAS might be involved again.
Dail Jones: What was the cost of the Minister's trip to Afghanistan, and instead of wasting that money on his trip why was it not spent on direct aid to assist with reconstruction in Afghanistan?
Hon. PHIL GOFF: I am not sure of the cost of a business class fare to the Middle East and back. However, I can tell the member that the cost of a half-star hotel in Kabul with no water and minus-12 degrees temperature was very small.
Keith Locke: What steps has the Minister taken to make sure that all of our aid money will go to good causes such as the education of women, as he has described, or de-mining programmes, and that none of it ends up in the pockets of the warlords who still control most of the country?
Hon. PHIL GOFF: The chief assurance for that is that most of our finances are not channelled through the Government, but through non-Government organisations and multilaterally through organisations such as the United Nations Children's Fund. To connect that with the former question, obviously when one goes up and sees these things on the ground one gets an idea of what is being delivered to New Zealanders for the contribution that they have made in both the de-mining and the education area. I was more than satisfied that we are getting very good value for our money and giving real assistance to the people in Afghanistan, who have suffered far too much.
Food Standards Australia New Zealand--
Tropical Fruit Irradiation
9. SUE KEDGLEY (Green) to the Minister for Food Safety: Did New Zealand support Australia New Zealand Food Standards Authority application A443 which would permit the irradiation of specified tropical fruits and facilitate access to New Zealand markets for Australian tropical fruit growers; if so, why?
Hon. DAMIEN O'CONNOR (Associate Minister of Health), on behalf of the Minister for Food Safety: The New Zealand Government has not yet been asked to form a view on application A443 to Food Standards Australia New Zealand. The application has been dealt with by Food Standards Australia New Zealand, which makes its own independent assessment of the application before referring its decision to Ministers on the Australia - New Zealand food regulation ministerial council. I understand that the recommendation of the Food Standards Australia New Zealand board, which has three New Zealand members, will be provided to the ministerial council.
Sue Kedgley: Can the Minister confirm that New Zealand can obtain tropical fruit from countries that are not infested with hundreds of varieties of fruit fly, as Queensland is, and that, therefore, do not require irradiation, and, further, that there are safe and effective alternative heat and cold treatments available that can be used instead of methyl bromide in irradiation, and so forth, and will he therefore assure this Parliament that he will turn down the recommendation of Food Standards Australia New Zealand that the overwhelming majority of consumers already reject; if not, why not?
Mr SPEAKER: The question was a little long, but I will allow it.
Hon. DAMIEN O'CONNOR: There were a number of questions in there, but I will attempt to answer one or two of them.
Mr SPEAKER: The Minister may answer two of them.
Hon. DAMIEN O'CONNOR: The ministerial council will consider this application very, very seriously. We are aware of the potential biosecurity risks to this country of bringing in the fruit fly. Any approval will still be subject to Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry approval for any of those fruits. I can assure that member that we will try to minimise the risk to human health by any methods that are used, be they methyl bromide, or the irradiation that may be approved after thorough consideration.
Lynne Pillay: What reports has the Government received about the safety and effectiveness of tropical fruit irradiation?
Hon. DAMIEN O'CONNOR: Unlike ethylene oxide, irradiation is not carcinogenic. Another alternative is steam sterilisation, which the previous member referred to. It is 100 percent effective against fruit fly. We will therefore consider whether to support the use of irradiation once we have all the information and can make a science-based decision.
Dr Lynda Scott: Is the Minister aware that while she is worrying about the irradiation of tropical fruit, we have a much bigger potential risk to our health in non-sterile rubber gloves used by dentists, doctors, nurses, and others, which are not irradiated, have no standards applied to them, and could be carrying all sorts of horrible hitch-hiking bugs from Asia, and what will the Minister do about that risk?
Hon. DAMIEN O'CONNOR: On behalf of all the doctors and dentists, I am sure they do their very best to ensure the highest standards of hygiene, whether or not they use rubber gloves. I remind the member that there is still the old-fashioned method of washing one's hands properly.
Sue Kedgley: Given that the proposal to irradiate fresh tropical fruit is highly controversial, and was opposed by the vast majority of 1,000 submitters, will she commit to initiating a process of public consultation and debate in New Zealand before agreeing to this proposal, or does she think it is acceptable to introduce a controversial new technology, which the previous Labour Government banned, without first obtaining the consent of New Zealanders?
Hon. DAMIEN O'CONNOR: When the advice comes through to the ministerial council, each Minister will have 60 days to consider the advice that has been given to him or her. If any of the Ministers throughout Australia or New Zealand wish to have a review of that, it will hold up the process. I consider that the current robust regime will adequately deal with this application, and the advice that we get.
Dr Lynda Scott: I seek leave to table an article from the Marlborough Express entitled "Third World Rubber Gloves a Threat".
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that. Is there any objection? There is.
Health and Safety in
Employment Amendment Bill--
10. Hon. ROGER SOWRY (Deputy Leader--NZ National) to the Minister of Internal Affairs: What advice has the Fire Service Commission received regarding the Health and Safety in Employment Amendment Bill, particularly relating to volunteer fire fighters?
Hon. LIANNE DALZIEL (Minister of Commerce) on behalf of the Minister of Internal Affairs: In December 2001, the Fire Service Commission received advice from the United Fire Brigades Association about the concerns of volunteer firefighters. Those concerns were that volunteer firefighters could be prosecuted. The Fire Service Commission has sought and received advice from the Department of Internal Affairs and the Occupational Safety and Health Service that should allay those concerns. The Occupational Safety and Health Service has agreed to work closely with the United Fire Brigades Association and the Fire Service Commission.
Hon. Roger Sowry: Does the Minister of Internal Affairs agree with the statement of Don Roper, United Fire Brigades Association executive director, in relation to the Health and Safety in Employment Amendment Bill, when he said: "If the bill goes through in its present form there will be a marked reluctance to assume leadership roles in the volunteer brigades. This will severely impact upon the efficiency of the brigades, many of which are already having difficulties recruiting and retaining members."; if not, why not?
Hon. LIANNE DALZIEL: No.
Helen Duncan: What additional responsibilities have been identified in relation to the Fire Service Commission, in respect of the proposed amendment, and what has been the Government's response.
Hon. LIANNE DALZIEL: Specific areas that have been identified relate to training, monitoring volunteers' exposure to hazards, and monitoring their health in relation to any exposure. Accordingly, an additional $1.2 million has been allocated to the Fire Service Commission in anticipation of the bill.
Peter Brown: Noting those answers, does the Minister accept that all volunteer firefighters will have to be checked by the Fire Service Commission for work-related stress that might be obtained in their paid employment, otherwise the Fire Service Commission could well be sued for a large amount of money?
Hon. LIANNE DALZIEL: No.
Deborah Coddington: If this bill goes through, why should the United Fire Brigade Association's 8,000 volunteer officers risk thousands of dollars in fines, or even jail, by saving buildings--when they would be safer staying at home watching television?
Hon. LIANNE DALZIEL: Section 51 of the Act provides that no offence is committed where an individual takes any action necessary for the protection of a person and that action causes harm. Not one firefighter has been prosecuted in the almost 10 years that the Act has been in force.
Sue Bradford: Can the Minister confirm that the new legislation is not intended to increase the personal liability of volunteer firefighters; and that when they are acting in the normal course of their duties it would be most unlikely for them to be liable for prosecution in any way, shape, or form?
Mr SPEAKER: I cannot understand members. Any member has a perfect right to ask any question in this House, and the Minister can give an answer--[Interruption] I say "Yes" to the member. That is democracy.
Hon. LIANNE DALZIEL: Yes. The intention of the coverage is to recognise that the work and wellbeing of volunteers is as important as that of employees.
Hon. Peter Dunne: Is the Minister aware that large numbers of volunteer firefighters are currently reassessing their role in the light of this prospective legislation; if so, has she asked the Fire Service Commission to report on what the implications might be, both for fire safety and for wider resourcing, if a significant "chunk" of the volunteer fire force were simply to pack up and go home?
Hon. LIANNE DALZIEL: I am aware of a number of the letters written in respect of volunteer firefighters. The firefighters have raised the concern of their fear that they themselves will be prosecuted while undertaking normal duties as firefighters. I can assure the member that that is not the case.
Hon. Roger Sowry: Given the Minister's answer to the primary question--when she said she had received advice that volunteer firefighters would not be prosecuted--is she prepared to release that advice; if so, will she do so before the bill is debated in the House this week?
Hon. LIANNE DALZIEL: I have already advised the House that section 51 provides that no offence is committed when an employee--and, in this case, a volunteer--takes any action necessary for the protection of a person and that action causes harm to that person. I believe that it is highly relevant that not one prosecution has followed for professional firefighters, who have been covered by this legislation for nearly 10 years.
Hon. Roger Sowry: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. That answer in no way addressed anything like the question asked. The question asked was whether the Minister would be prepared to release the advice that she alluded to in her first answer--advice that she said would allay firefighters' concerns. The question had nothing to do with the fact that if they are saving someone's life they will not be prosecuted, but they are liable for prosecution if they are saving only someone's property.
Mr SPEAKER: No. I rule that the Minister did address the question. I thought she read out a section of the Act. She is perfectly entitled to do that. It might not satisfy the member, but that is the answer she gave, which addressed the question.
Hon. Roger Sowry: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Minister was asked whether she would release the advice, not whether she would read a section of the Act. The issue is whether she will release the advice that the Minister of Internal Affairs received--which she referred to in her primary answer--that she said would allay the concerns of volunteer firefighters. By standing up and reading a section of the Act she can in no way answer the question: will she release the advice--yes or no?
Mr SPEAKER: No, that could have been the advice given to the Minister. I do not know that. I have to judge whether the question was addressed. It was.
Hon. Roger Sowry: It was not.
Mr SPEAKER: I am warning the honourable member. I am having this matter challenged again, and this is the last time.
Hon. Roger Sowry: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Minister made it very clear in her primary answer that she had received advice. It was not part of the Act. It was advice that she, answering on behalf of the Minister of Internal Affairs, said she had received, and that would allay the concerns of firefighters. The question asked whether she will release that advice. I cannot see how standing and reading a section of the Act in any way answers whether she will release advice--and how that addresses the question.
Mr SPEAKER: I cannot go on constantly having members litigating answers with me. It is over to Ministers how they answer questions. I cannot judge their answers; I have to ask whether they addressed the question. Yes, this answer did.
11. Dr ASHRAF CHOUDHARY (NZ Labour) to the Minister for Ethnic Affairs: What initiatives has the Government undertaken to engage with New Zealand's ethnic communities?
Hon. CHRIS CARTER (Minister for Ethnic Affairs): On Sunday the Government hosted the first in a series of listening forums for ethnic communities. Almost 200 members of the Arab and Urdu - speaking communities attended the two meetings in Auckland. The purpose of this initiative is to give ethnic communities the opportunity to put their views, their issues, and their ideas directly to the Government.
Dr Ashraf Choudhary: What issues did the Muslim communities raise at the forum?
Hon. CHRIS CARTER: Those attending the forum raised instances of racial abuse and discrimination in schools and on the streets. They made a plea to New Zealanders not to blame all Muslims for the actions of the New York and Bali terrorists. I ask that members of this House consider the sensitivities of this vulnerable community, when commenting on issues such as immigration.
Pansy Wong: Does the Minister intend to tell ethnic communities, on his tour, such as Chinese, Korean, and Indian, that the Government values them and welcomes them as contributing members of the New Zealand community, but simply does not want more of them to enter this country under the newly announced immigration English criterion?
Hon. CHRIS CARTER: I am meeting with the Korean community in February, and am looking forward to a free and frank exchange of views.
Rt Hon. Winston Peters: In respect of these initiatives taken by the Government with regard to ethnic communities, when will this Government actually engage with Maori, or have they become, all of a sudden, second-class citizens, whilst their Maori members over there sit on their backsides and allow the population of Maoridom to be superseded every 8 years by foreigners coming to New Zealand?
Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I think it was the Minister of Maori Affairs who called out to the Rt Hon. Winston Peters, in the middle of his question, to sit down.
Mr SPEAKER: I did not ask the member to sit down. The Minister is perfectly entitled to answer the question.
Rodney Hide: No, no. What I am saying is that that is an unacceptable--[Interruption] We could not hear the question, because of that shouting. But what is the point: are we to allow a Minister of the Crown to tell a member, halfway through his question, to sit down?
Mr SPEAKER: That was out of order, and the member will stand, withdraw, and apologise for that comment.
Hon. Parekura Horomia: I withdraw and apologise.
Rt Hon. Winston Peters: I want to repeat my question.
Mr SPEAKER: The member may do that.
Rt Hon. Winston Peters: In respect of the ethnic communities with which this Government is engaging and communicating, when will this Government actually engage and communicate with the Maori people, who have rapidly become second-class citizens in this country, having their population itself superseded every 7 or 8 years by foreigners, and when will the Government talk to its Maori members of Parliament and ask them to do something, for the first time since they have been in Parliament, about that?
Hon. CHRIS CARTER: This Government seeks to engage in dialogue with all New Zealanders. I am pleased to report that the Minister of Immigration, for example, is currently engaging in a series of meetings with the Maori community.
Metiria Turei: What is the Minister doing to foster the survival of the various languages of our ethnic communities, given that in the 2000 census, almost 200,000 people who live in New Zealand were born in non - English-speaking countries, and that by our own experience of te reo in Aotearoa, the maintenance and enhancement of language is a powerful social force--a vehicle for contribution to our society--and therefore the means of regaining dignity?
Hon. CHRIS CARTER: This Government recognises that proficiency in language is a very positive and useful thing. We have a proud tradition of supporting language nests for other languages, and curriculum review in schools is an ongoing process.
12. MARC ALEXANDER (United Future) to the Minister of Corrections: Is he satisfied that parole board decision-making processes and their outcomes are sufficiently robust and accountable?
Hon. MARGARET WILSON (Associate Minister of Justice), on behalf of the Minister of Corrections: The Parole Board is a statutory independent body. Therefore the Minister is not responsible for the board's decisions or its decision-making processes. However, he is responsible for ensuring that parole conditions are actioned appropriately, and is satisfied that in most cases this occurs. I note that in the last financial year, 2,393 inmates were released.
Marc Alexander: Can the Minister explain why a man who had 11 convictions for burglary, one for presenting a firearm, 18 for fraud, 21 for theft, and seven for stealing vehicles and aggravated robbery, before the age of 19, could be given parole, only to then murder three people--nearly four; and what questions has the Minister put to the Parole Board to ascertain its rationale?
Hon. MARGARET WILSON: I understand that the Minister has requested an urgent report on that case, but he has not received that report yet. As such, he is constrained from commenting further on the details until sentencing and appeal processes in this case are concluded.
Jill Pettis: What changes have been made to parole conditions under this Government?
Hon. MARGARET WILSON: Under the previous legislation--the Criminal Justice Act--special conditions could be imposed only on an offender's parole; if he was released prior to his final release date. The new Parole Act, introduced by this Government, means that offenders can now be held right up to their final release date, and we can still then have special conditions imposed on their release.
Hon. Tony Ryall: Has the Minister heard suggestions that William Duane Bell had failed to report to his parole officer, for some 2 months before the murders at the Returned Services Association, was known to be a heavy methamphetamine user; and why was no action taken by his probation officers, which may have prevented the tragic death of three New Zealanders?
Hon. MARGARET WILSON: I understand that those allegations are the subject of the urgent report that the Minister of Corrections has called for. Once he has received that report, I am sure a statement will be made.
Ron Mark: Given that inmates seem to be able to wander in and out of our prisons these days, would the Minister not agree that even if William Bell had been kept in custody, under this Government's track record, there is no guarantee that he would have stayed there, and what is the Minister doing to get control of what is clearly becoming a dysfunctional department?
Hon. MARGARET WILSON: I know there is concern about the matters that have been raised, but I will just make one point. It is always dangerous to exaggerate the situation. In my understanding, there has been only five break-outs from prison this year.
Stephen Franks: What value should we place on ministerial answers about robust and accountable parole outcomes, when best estimates are that as few as one in five criminals who re-offend on parole are recalled to serve their sentences, when there are still no published figures for offending on parole--despite ACT's questions for over 3 years--and when only a fraction of parole breaches are even followed up, as the Bell - Returned Services Association murder case now shows us so tragically?
Hon. MARGARET WILSON: I have no knowledge of the specific matters that the member has raised. If he wishes to put them in a written question form, I am sure that if that information is available, it will be made available to him.
Marc Alexander: Can the Minister assure us that violent offenders will not be given the benefit of the doubt in respect of parole and sentencing, and that double, or even triple, murderers will not get concurrent sentences, thereby effectively giving a two-for-one or three-for-one discount?
Hon. MARGARET WILSON: I note that it is for the Parole Board to make the specific decisions, so it would be inappropriate to give a decision on its decision-making. However, it does act in accordance with the provisions of the Act. The safety of the community is a paramount concern under the new parole legislation.
End of Questions for Oral Answer.
(Uncorrected transcript - subject to correction and further editing)