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Tuesday’s Questions and Answers for Oral Answer

Tuesday’s Questions and Answers for Oral Answer

(uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing)

Questions to Ministers:

1. Thai Migrants—Government-funded Holiday

2. Privy Council—Referendum

3. Land Transport Management Bill—Transport Strategy

4. Privy Council—Supreme Court

5. Community Housing—Supply

6. Free-trade Agreement—United States

7. Genetic Modification—Votes Health and Education

8. Immigration Service—Conduct

9. Truancy—Policy

10. Government Revenue—Increases

11. Domestic Purposes Benefit—Mâori

12. Small Businesses—Compliance Costs

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Thai Migrants—Government-funded Holiday

1. DIANNE YATES (Labour—Hamilton East) to the Minister of Immigration: Has a migrant Thai couple received a Government-funded holiday to Thailand, as stated by Rt Hon Winston Peters?

Hon LIANNE DALZIEL (Minister of Immigration): No. The individual whom he named was a New Zealand resident married to a New Zealand citizen. There is no evidence that he has breached any immigration rules with regard to eligibility for anything. Allegations about New Zealand citizens or residents receiving benefits or student allowances while out of the country should be made to the Ministry of Social Development. It is the Customs Service database that is used for Ministry of Social Development data matches, not that of the New Zealand Immigration Service.

Dianne Yates: Have there been other instances of incorrect information being given about immigration cases, and why is it important that information is verified before allegations are made?

Hon LIANNE DALZIEL: It is important that verification is given so that the truth of the matter can be got to. There was another example I would like to bring to the House’s attention. It was alleged that Mohammed Saidi made false representations about where he was from. The advice I have is that that allegation came from a woman who said he said that to her—

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Yes, his wife.

Hon LIANNE DALZIEL: Yes, it was from the woman he married, not the New Zealand Immigration Service. He is alleged to have said that he was really Italian. To have said that he was Italian may be immoral, but it is not illegal.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I thank the Minister for setting up an own goal, and I ask her whether that man was the man who spent a month on remand at Paparoa prison on charges of rape and breaking and entering, which were laid by his wife; is it a fact that he left here on 6 July 2003 for Thailand; is it a fact that he is on a 30-hour adult education programme at Linwood College, which is a course that is free of charge to New Zealand residents, and that he is a beneficiary, I might add; is it a fact that he is receiving a student allowance, which is a very difficult thing to get; is it a fact that since July he has been paid $1,423.81, and that, if he stays until his return date, which will be in January next year, he will have picked up a further $3,000; and how on earth can someone (a) get into the country, (b) get a student allowance, and (c) be abroad picking up that allowance when he is not fulfilling any of the requirements? Here is the icing on the cake: his wife is also a beneficiary.

Mr SPEAKER: There were a number of questions asked there. The Hon Lianne Dalziel can reply briefly.

Hon LIANNE DALZIEL: The individual concerned is a New Zealand resident. His wife is a New Zealand citizen. The member should direct questions about benefit matters to the appropriate Minister.

David Benson-Pope: Have there been any other examples of incorrect information that make it difficult for immigration groups to respond to allegations in Parliament?

Hon LIANNE DALZIEL: Yes. It was alleged in Parliament that an asylum seeker had gone missing from an Auckland Refugee Council hostel in May this year. That was not correct. I now have a copy of a trespass notice issued against that individual by the Auckland Refugee Council, in order to keep him away from the hostel because he had no basis for being there. I also have a copy of a letter that the Auckland Refugee Council sent to me, which says that it is quite clear somebody used the letter to Winston Peters to go to some lengths to blacken the council’s reputation—and that is not good enough.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: First of all, is it not a fact that three women wrote to that Minister about the first person—who, she said, had some Italian connections—one of those women was his wife; the second was his paramour, with whom he had a baby, and the third was another paramour with whom he had a baby, and the Minister has still done nothing about this person; second, how can someone be on both the benefit, in the case of the wife, and on a student allowance, in the case of the husband, who is in Thailand now, and have no one check up; and, third, when will this Minister get on top of her job so that—

Mr SPEAKER: Two questions are allowed, and the member has had two. He then went on to ask a third. He has finished the two questions allowed inside his supplementary question.

Hon LIANNE DALZIEL: The answer to the first question is that, yes, I received correspondence from the wife of the individual concerned, and, yes, she did make it very plain to me that he told her he was Italian rather than Moroccan. As I said before, it may be immoral to mislead people about one’s ethnicity, but it is not illegal.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: So is this man, who is lying to all and sundry including his wife and others, a matter of comedy as far as this Minister goes, despite the fact that he is not worthy of being in New Zealand in the first place and is being paid for by the taxpayer; but, more seriously, what sort of a Minister tolerates someone who seeks to bribe an applicant for sex, as we will see in question No. 8 here today, in order to escape both her own responsibility and that of any official—no one was prepared last night to front on the Holmes show and defend themselves? She should resign.

Mr SPEAKER: The Minister may respond to the questions.

Hon LIANNE DALZIEL: With regard to Mohammed Saidi, as that member well knows, because I have answered questions in the House—[Interruption] Excuse me. That was the first question.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Minister is seeking to identify one person in particular, and I am raising the issues of three people in particular as examples of her gross negligence.

Mr SPEAKER: The member asked two questions. The Minister, at the moment, is attempting to answer one of them.

Hon LIANNE DALZIEL: The first question asked whether I felt that it was a matter of amusement that Mohammed Saidi said that he was Italian in order to inveigle his way into the affections of a New Zealand woman. I do not think that that is funny; I think that it is ironic that the member raised the question about him, commenting upon his ethnicity in that way.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I just heard an allegation from Mr Mallard. It is an allegation that is frequently repeated in this House, and I do not mind. I can take it, and I can give it out better than most of them. The point is that he has repeated an allegation that is demonstrably untrue. He knows full well that I was captain of the Auckland Mâori side, and that the allegation is a lie. So would you ask him to cut it out?

Mr SPEAKER: I just say that personal comments are never helpful, they do not improve the standard of debate in the House, and they will cease.

Hon LIANNE DALZIEL: As I was saying, I do not find it amusing that people are afraid to front up to their own ethnicity, and parade themselves as coming from another country because they are ashamed of who they are. With respect to the second question, no, I do not find it acceptable that any member of staff of the Immigration Service would offer information in exchange for sexual favours, and that person has, quite rightly, been dismissed from the Immigration Service.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I seek to table the background documents in respect of the Thai man that the Minister referred to, and that the primary question referred to—bank accounts, airline bookings—

Mr SPEAKER: Leave has been sought—

Rt Hon Winston Peters: —the full hundred yards.

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

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Before Mr Peters had finished saying what his documents were, you were asking the House to grant him leave. I think it is not unreasonable that he be allowed to list the several documents that he was asking to release.

Mr SPEAKER: The member did indicate that they related to the case raised in this question. I thought he said that quite satisfactorily. Leave has to be brief and seek the position concerned. Mr Peters quite rightly sought that leave. I will put the leave again.

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

Hon LIANNE DALZIEL: I seek leave to table a letter from the Auckland Refugee Council talking about the jealousy and pettiness behind the attempt to sabotage the organisation.

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

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Privy Council—Referendum

2. Hon RICHARD PREBBLE (Leader—ACT) to the Attorney-General: In light of the poll in today’s New Zealand Herald that shows 79 percent of New Zealanders want a referendum on whether to abolish appeals to the Privy Council, will the Government now agree to let the public decide by holding a referendum; if not, why not?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Leader of the House), on behalf of the Attorney-General: No. It is the Government’s view that referenda should be used sparingly, and that this does not present a case for it.

Hon Richard Prebble: In which case, how does the Government claim to have any mandate to change the constitution, in that Labour got 41 percent of the vote last election, and the Greens, who are supporting Labour, stated their public position at the last election as being that they would not agree to do away with the Privy Council unless Mâori agreed; so how is there any moral basis for the Government’s intention to do away with this important part of our constitution?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The Labour Party went to the electorate with a clear policy in this regard. I might contrast that with the 1987 election and the subsequent sale of State enterprises.

Tim Barnett: Were referenda used in Australia, Canada, Hong Kong, or Ireland to determine whether to leave the Privy Council?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: No, referenda were not used in those circumstances in those countries—[Interruption] Legislation in one sense or another is always passed by a majority in this Parliament. That is how it gets passed.

Richard Worth: Does the Attorney-General, in light of her constitutional responsibilities, feel proud of the fact that she is flying in the face of public opinion, both as evidenced by the poll taken in the New Zealand Herald and the fact that 75 percent of the submitters who appeared before the select committee were opposed to scrapping the Privy Council; and, if the emotion is not pride, what is it—arrogance perhaps?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: No, the Attorney-General is proud to assert that New Zealand is an independent nation and perfectly capable of arranging its own final court of jurisdiction. Despite the incompetence of one or two lawyers produced within New Zealand, we are confident that there are plenty who are able to fulfil judicial office.

Dail Jones: Why does the Minister persist with the Supreme Court Bill when the Government’s own consultative process has indicated that the vast majority of the sectors of our community oppose the abolition of appeals to the Privy Council, and also the haste with which this matter is proceeding; if the Minister believes there are sectors that support this legislation, would she tell the House who those sectors are?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The Government does not accept that assertion about the vast majority of people. We are certainly aware of many members on the opposite side of the House who have supported the abolition of appeals to the Privy Council in the past.

Dail Jones: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I asked the Minister who the sectors were that supported the legislation. I did not need to know about any other members of this House, and that aspect of the question was not answered.

Mr SPEAKER: I thought the Minister did address the question, but if the Minister wants to comment about sectors, he may.

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Unlike the legislature in Hong Kong, election to this Parliament is based upon individual votes, not sectors.

Nandor Tanczos: When have constitutional issues been subject to a referendum in this country?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Extremely rarely—usually in relation to the Electoral Act or related matters such as the proposed 4-year term of Parliament. Referenda were not used in New Zealand, for example, with the abolition of the Legislative Council or similar kinds of constitutional reforms in the past.

Hon Peter Dunne: Noting the Minister‘s reference to the sparing use of referenda, and the fact that referenda were not called to determine whether we should retain the MMP system or to deal with the numbers of members of Parliament, and now will not be called on the Supreme Court Bill, can the Minister indicate the types of constitutional issues that the Government would envisage being subject to a referendum?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I think the one area where it is clear referenda are sometimes held in New Zealand is in relation to major changes to the Electoral Act. The reason for that, of course, is that the Parliament and the Government seek support from the public on matters about Parliament itself, in terms of its own arrangements. The courts are, in the end, creatures of Parliament and of statute.

Hon Richard Prebble: Has the House understood the Minister’s answer correctly to be that because the Irish and some other Commonwealth countries and Hong Kong did not use a referendum, therefore New Zealand should not—is that the argument; or is it just that this is an issue about which the Government wishes to be nationalistic, and it does not trust the country to be able to make a decision in a referendum on whether it wants a Privy Council? Is that the real reason—that the Government does not trust the people?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: This Government certainly trusts the people. At the last election the Labour Party by itself received as many votes as National, New Zealand First, and ACT combined.

Hon Richard Prebble: I seek leave of the House to table the results of a poll that show that 80 percent want a say on a new court.

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

Nandor Tanczos: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am not meaning to be presumptuous, but it has become a practice in this House for senior members to try to table papers that the Standing Orders clearly say is not the intention. Speaker’s ruling 114/1—

Mr SPEAKER: Could I point out to the member that he is quoting Speaker’s rulings. Standing Orders are different. Standing Orders are actually the rules; Speaker’s rulings are the interpretation. It is perfectly in order to seek leave to table a document, and anybody has a perfect liberty to say “No”.

Hon Richard Prebble: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The member raises quite a good point that probably the tabling of documents has become abused. It occurred to me in this case that the Government was so out of touch that it does not even know what is in the—

Mr SPEAKER: No. That is a good try for a Tuesday.

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Land Transport Management Bill—Transport Strategy

3. LARRY BALDOCK (United Future) to the Minister of Transport: Is he satisfied that the Land Transport Management Bill will contribute positively and equally to all the goals listed in the New Zealand Transport Strategy, which are: “assisting economic development, assisting safety and personal security, improving access and mobility, protecting and promoting public health, ensuring environmental sustainability”; if so, how will it do this?

Hon PAUL SWAIN (Minister of Transport): Yes, I am satisfied that the provisions of the Land Transport Management Bill will contribute to all the objectives of the New Zealand Transport Strategy.

Larry Baldock: How can the bill assist economic development and therefore the Government’s stated goal of returning New Zealand to the top half of the OECD, if the purpose of the bill is not to achieve an efficient transport system as well as an integrated, safe, responsive, and sustainable one?

Hon PAUL SWAIN: The purpose of the bill sets out what the Government is trying to achieve. It is fair to say that after some discussion at the Transport and Industrial Relations Committee the word “efficiency” was included in the bill, and I think that improves it. But, ultimately, the decisions will have to be made by the board and it will have to weigh up all these factors and try to take them into account in order to advance New Zealand’s transport system.

Hon Mark Gosche: What comment does the Minister have about the changes made to the bill by the select committee?

Hon PAUL SWAIN: The committee has done a very good job. There is no doubt that the bill is now a better bill. For example, the committee has simplified and clarified the consultation requirements; it has, as I said, included the word “efficiency”; it has included more flexible arrangements for tolling and public-private partnerships; and emphasised the need for more strategic transport planning in the suggested changes to the regional land transport strategy. This shows a good effort from a select committee.

Hon Roger Sowry: Given that the changes made in the committee were done by the Labour and the Greens, with National, New Zealand First, and ACT opposing those changes, and given that, since the bill has been reported back, the Road Transport Forum, Business New Zealand, the Manufacturers Association, and the Automobile Association have all said that this bill fails to deliver, why is the Minister so optimistic?

Hon PAUL SWAIN: Because I am an optimistic kind of person.

Peter Brown: Noting those answers and that the Minister has on public radio, only this day, stated that the Auckland Harbour Bridge cannot be tolled under this bill, can the Tauranga Harbour Bridge be tolled under this bill, or any of its leading roads, as being advocated by United Future?

Hon PAUL SWAIN: The select committee, as I understand, spent a lot of time considering this matter. Some changes were made to the bill to bring in some flexibility around words like “operationally linked to” and “physically linked to”, with the opportunity for an arrangement for another bridge in Tauranga to be built, if the community so wishes.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Minister was asked particularly whether the Tauranga Harbour Bridge could be tolled under this proposal. He did not answer that question, and it is key to this issue. It is not whether the people up there suggest some new bridge be built, the question is whether it will be tolled—yes or no.

Mr SPEAKER: The issue does not have to demand a yes or no answer, but the Minister should address that part of the question.

Hon PAUL SWAIN: If there were a desire in the local community to have a new bridge and part of the tolling arrangements was to put a toll on the existing bridge, that would come forward as a proposal. It would then basically be up to the Minister and the Government to decide whether that was an exceptional circumstance to allow that to occur.

Deborah Coddington: How will economic development be advanced by this bill, when earlier this year the Minister admitted that the Green Party’s control over transport was the price his Government paid for the 4c increase in petrol tax last year, and given this bill was written by a Green Party staffer, who then went out and formed a lobby group to campaign against business interests that opposed the bill?

Hon PAUL SWAIN: I admitted to no such thing, and the bill was not written by that person.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: Has the Minister seen the New Zealand Institute of Economic Research report on decoupling economic activity and transport growth, which notes that decoupling has the potential to develop both greater economic efficiency and environmental benefits, and has he seen any acknowledgement of this from people who are complaining about the Land Transport Management Bill?

Hon PAUL SWAIN: I will answer the second question first. No, I do not recall having seen any, but I have read a number of reports about decoupling and I think the important thing that the bill does, which is what the strategy does also, is to take a multimodal approach and to recognise the fact that we are going to have to look across all modes if we are to try to solve New Zealand’s transport problems. We are not going to solve the problems by motorwaying our way out of the problem.

Hon Peter Dunne Will the Minister acknowledge the contribution made by United Future members to the proposals in the bill regarding alternative funding proposals for new roading developments, which subsequent to the bill’s reporting back have been acknowledged by both the Mayor of Auckland and the Greater Wellington Regional Council as providing them with positive steps forward to initiate long-overdue roading projects in their areas?

Hon PAUL SWAIN: Yes, I will acknowledge that. The reality is that as the bill went in, the public-private partnership arrangements were far too inflexible. With good discussions, in particular with United Future, we have come up with some lease arrangement options that are very similar to the Melbourne link. It is highly confusing for people who are criticising the bill to say that this will not produce a public-private partnership arrangement. We have only to look at Melbourne to see such a situation occurring, and I want to thank United Future members for their support in making this a better bill in this regard.

Peter Brown: In light of that question and the Minister’s answer, will he tell the House whether United Future members are correct when they state: “Ten years of funding has already been announced and allocated, and the only way to get the road built and the second bridge built”—and I add the words “in Tauranga”—“quickly is to see it toll funded.”; are they correct in saying the funds have already been allocated for the next 10 years?

Hon PAUL SWAIN: It is true to say that Transit funds have been allocated over 10 years but this is reviewed on an annual basis, for a whole pile of reasons—for example, sometimes the roads cannot be built in time. So there is a whole review that goes on each year, and the 10-year plan is updated as a result. The reality is that the bill does allow tolling options where communities want them, and I thought that was something New Zealand First would support.

Peter Brown: I seek leave for the Minister to reconsider his answer, because his officials will say that the funding is indicative only.

Mr SPEAKER: The member cannot seek leave on behalf of anybody else.

Larry Baldock: Is the Minister aware of all the data that supports the claims of the land transport sector, that an efficient transport system will contribute to economic development and GDP growth; and if he is, why is efficiency not included in the purpose of this Act?

Hon PAUL SWAIN: Yes, I have seen a lot of that argument, and arguments have been made very, very strongly by United Future members, I must say. After careful consideration the select committee has included the word “efficiency” when it comes to the way in which Transfund operates, in terms of its funding. I think that is a good addition to the bill, and improves it overall, relative to the state of the bill before it went in.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: Is the Minister proud of presiding over a landmark change in transport direction, which for the first time encourages a multimodal approach, takes account of social and environmental issues early on, ensures transport planners look at both supply and demand, and will result in safer streets, better public transport, and less heavy freight on our roads?

Hon PAUL SWAIN: Yes I am. I think that this transport strategy and now the Land Transport Management Bill are a major step forward, and I want to acknowledge the work and support of the Greens in achieving that.

Peter Brown: In light of the Minister’s earlier answer with regard to the Tauranga harbour bridge, will he at all consider recommending to Transfund that funds are made available to fund that harbour link project as has been advocated in Tauranga?

Hon PAUL SWAIN: Under legislation I am specifically not allowed to recommend any project at all, and I think that that is a key point that perhaps the member has missed. It is important that Ministers do not get involved around specific projects. If that is the case, then we get ourselves into all sorts of difficulties. I think the way the bill is now balanced is very, very good, and I thank the committee for its work.

Larry Baldock: Is the Minister aware that the addition of efficiency criteria to the bill’s purpose clause, and not somewhere in another part of the bill, would help to dispel the concerns of the land transport sector that a disproportionate amount of the revenue collected from road users will be spent on non-road initiatives; if so, how else does he propose to mitigate these concerns?

Hon PAUL SWAIN: I have read a lot of the comment about the bill, and I have to say that it would be almost impossible to mitigate some of the criticisms that come from some sectors, because the reality is that a lot of people are still locked into the old ways of thinking. The new ways of thinking are to look at transport across a range of modes. That is what will get New Zealand back up to the top half of the OECD.

Larry Baldock: Does the Minister therefore conclude that in looking at transport across other modes means that we do not have to look at it efficiently; if so, can he explain that?

Hon PAUL SWAIN: I do not agree with that, and that is why the select committee wisely put efficiency in clause 20 around Transfund’s objectives.

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Privy Council—Supreme Court

4. Hon BILL ENGLISH (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: How does she reconcile her statement that establishing the Supreme Court is “not major constitutional change” with her reported statement in August 2000 that the constitutional effects of dropping the Privy Council were vast; and why has she changed her position since August 2000?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister): The second statement referred to is not a direct quote, but if it was ever made it is not a view I now hold. That is because I do not believe that changing the top appeal court’s location is a major constitutional issue, and nor did the member in the past.

Hon Bill English: On what advice and what expertise did the Prime Minister rely in coming to her conclusion that creating a new Supreme Court in New Zealand is not a major constitutional change, or did she just take her own advice because it happened to suit her?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: It is perfectly clear that no one’s rights of appeal to a layer across the Court of Appeal are being taken away, unlike the proposal that member supported in 1996.

Hon Bill English: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I asked the Prime Minister a direct question that asked on whose expertise and advice did she rely, or did she rely on her own. She made no attempt to answer that question.

Mr SPEAKER: Perhaps the Prime Minister could just slightly clarify her answer.

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Over a long period of time I have read a great deal of advice on this subject and have formed my own view.

Russell Fairbrother: What has happened in the policy development process since August 2000?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: A great deal has happened. A public discussion document on the subject was issued in December 2000, and submissions were invited. After a number of meetings and reflections on submissions a ministerial advisory group was established in October 2001 to develop a detailed proposal. It reported in April last year. The policy of establishing a Supreme Court was included in Labour’s election manifesto. In December 2002 a bill was introduced. After a full select committee process it is due to pass today—10 months later. This has been a full and proper process with integrity.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: When the Prime Minister says that she has spent a long time studying this subject, and that she has read widely it, is that what led her to say that the last time Mâori went successfully to the Privy Council was in 1927; if so, is she not aware of the fact that there was a decision last year in the case of Taito, James Bennett McLeod, and 10 others v The Queen that affected hundreds of New Zealanders, on the question of legal aid—a case brought successfully by a former clerk-assistant of this House, Ellis—and three-quarters of those people were Mâori; is she not aware of that, and if she is aware of it then she clearly must be quoted on radio today as telling lies; if she is not, could she explain why she is ignorant on the matter?

Mr SPEAKER: The suggestion that the member is telling lies is out of order, and will be withdrawn and apologised for.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I apologise. I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Prime Minister is telling everyone around New Zealand that the last time Mâori went to the Privy Council was in 1927; everybody who knows something about the law knows full well that a former clerk-assistant of this House brought the case.

Mr SPEAKER: Just because the member made a particular statement does not mean that she is telling a lie; anyway, that is out of order in this Parliament.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I left her an alternative. I asked whether she was either telling lies or ignorant on this matter. Surely she could get up and say that she was not telling a lie, but that she was “just plain ignorant on the matter”.

Mr SPEAKER: The member is being smart. I would like the Prime Minister to now answer the question.

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I take it from the member’s question that the matter he refers to is one around legal aid. The statements I have made relate to issues particularly pertaining to Mâori, and I would not regard that as one such.

Stephen Franks: If it is not a major constitutional change—

Ron Mark: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I apologise to my honourable colleague. Could you explain to the House why it is that you continue to call the Prime Minister by the title “the Rt Honourable”, when she is the very person who seems to not want to have anything to do with the Privy Council or its titles. Has she given you instructions to continue to refer to her as such, or is she intending resigning the title?

Mr SPEAKER: That is precisely the same reason I call the member’s leader “the Rt Hon Winston Peters”. That is the title applied to those members. I recognise those titles in this House.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. With respect, members are asked at the start of a session by what title they would like to be referred. We are all asked that. I said I would like to be referred to by the title that was conferred on me by the Queen. No doubt the Prime Minister said likewise. But she is in there for some things and not there for others.

Mr SPEAKER: At the start of each session I write to every member and ask them how they wanted to be referred to. Until they advise me differently I will carry on doing that.

Ron Mark: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.

Mr SPEAKER: Well, this is really a frivolous point of order.

Ron Mark: Well, that is precisely the answer that I was seeking. I wanted to know why you were continuing to refer to that title. I would have thought that the Prime Minister has long since written to you and said that she rejected the Privy Council and no longer wished to be referred to as “the Rt Honourable”.

Mr SPEAKER: The member is being totally frivolous and will shortly leave the House if he goes on like that.

Stephen Franks: If it is not a major constitutional change to sack an entire independent top court so we can “mature as a nation” and replace it with a new court, every member selected by the Attorney-General to “develop an indigenous law for New Zealand”, in the Attorney-General’s jargon, what kind of change to the courts would constitute a major constitutional change?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: A major change was proposed in 1996, which was to take always altogether a level of appeal above that of the Court of Appeal in New Zealand. I say that the Supreme Court would be staffed, I would hope, from the most senior judges in New Zealand, appointed with no consideration whatsoever to politics, and everything to distinction and merit.

Hon Bill English: Is the Prime Minister feeling popular and modest when she has discovered that no one outside the Labour Party caucus agrees with her view that this is not a major constitutional change, and can she confirm that the main reason she has turned down a referendum is that she thinks the people are too stupid?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: In this country referenda are used sparingly. I understand there have been 10 in the last 85 years. The last one in 1997 cost $9 million for a 92 percent rejection. Neither Canada nor Australia held a referendum when they changed their top court structure, and I do not believe that one is justified here.

Nandor Tanczos: If the Prime Minister thinks that it would be a more significant constitutional change to end the right of appeal to the Privy Council, without replacing it with something like the Supreme Court, as proposed by National in 1996, is she aware whether that proposal included a proposal for a referendum?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: It certainly did not include any such proposal, but then that proposal in 1996 was advanced by a man the Leader of the Opposition now calls an aggressive republican.

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Community Housing—Supply

5. LYNNE PILLAY (Labour—Waitakere) to the Minister of Housing: What reports has he received on improvements in social housing provision?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY (Minister of Housing): The Housing New Zealand Corporation annual report, which was tabled today, records that almost 30,000 people were assisted into State housing last year; 2,500 State rental properties were added to the portfolio; 2,600 older State houses have been insulated and retrofitted; 450 State houses have been modified, and over 89 percent of State tenants are now benefiting from an income-related rent, saving households up to $60 a week.

Lynne Pillay: What initiatives are under way to further improve social housing provision further?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: One of the most exciting is the Government provision of $63 million to encourage local government in charitable social housing provision. A series of workshops are currently being held around the country to develop social housing partnerships. The $63 million fund, which we hope will be complemented by resources from other groups, will ensure that we have a great deal more social housing to help low-income families.

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Free-trade Agreement—United States

6. Hon BILL ENGLISH (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Will she be asking President George W Bush to add New Zealand to the list of countries with which the United States of America is negotiating bilateral free trade agreements when she meets him at the APEC summit next week?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister): I will register New Zealand’s interest and ongoing dialogue on trade issues from the multilateral to the bilateral level. I expect that the main focus of the meeting will be on the many positive things New Zealand and the US are doing together.

Hon Bill English: When will the Labour Government give up on its relentless official optimism, behaving as if trade negotiations have almost started, if they have not actually already started, when the truth is that there will be no negotiations about a free-trade agreement, and why can she not be honest about that?

Rt Hon Helen Clark: That is not a view the Government accepts. I note also that other commentators have stated that the US does trade agreements only where it believes there is a net economic benefit to the US. It does not do them as a favour to everyone else. It does them as a favour to itself. Those words came from the Leader of the Opposition after his trip there in June.

Hon Richard Prebble: Why will the Prime Minister not concede to this House that the proper way to interpret the US Ambassador’s speech last week, when he said that New Zealand would not get a free-trade agreement, is that the United States does not accept the way in which she and other members of her Government continually give the public of New Zealand an optimistic view of our trading prospects, when the real reality is that the world trade talks have collapsed, that every other member of the Cairns group of free traders has a prospect of a free-trade agreement with the United States, and New Zealand under her administration has never been more isolated?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Last week the ambassador most certainly did not say that New Zealand would not get a free-trade agreement. This Government, with the strong support of other advocates for New Zealand—and I include the Rt Hon Jim Bolger in that—will continue to mobilise business and congressional support in support of New Zealand, a very old friend of the United States.

Rod Donald: Will she guarantee that her Government will never weaken our foreign investment laws, our quarantine rules, or our GE labelling rules, or abolish Pharmac in order to get a bilateral trade deal with the US, as the Australians have been asked to do by the United States, let alone sell out on our foreign policy and our nuclear-free status?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: New Zealand has vital national interests to protect when it enters into discussions and it is important that they are protected. I would also say that in respect of foreign policy, these positions are arrived at over a long period of time and, as I have seen a range of newspaper editorials from one end of the country to the other saying, long-considered and popular foreign policy positions are not to be thrown aside lightly.

Hon Bill English: Can we take it from the Prime Minister’s answers that the Government position now is that it will show up for free-trade negotiations with the US, even if the US has said that it will not?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Obviously, it takes two to tango, but I am confident that this country has very substantial support within the United States, and we will continue to work on the relationship.

Hon Bill English: Does the Prime Minister intend to tell President Bush, when she meets him, to stop trying to push New Zealand around?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: What I will say to the President is that the relationship between my country and his is one of great value to us, and we will continue to give it the highest priority.

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Genetic Modification—Votes Health and Education

7. JEANETTE FITZSIMONS (Co-Leader—Green) to the Minister for the Environment: When she said on television that genetic engineering “will pay for health. It will pay for education.”, how much does she expect genetic engineering to contribute to the health and education budgets in which years, and on what evidence does she base her predictions?

Hon MARIAN HOBBS (Minister for the Environment): Taking the full quote in its context, it is clear I was referring to the need for a growing economy to pay for health and education, and biotechnology has a part to play in a growing New Zealand economy.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: When she said in the next sentence: “It will pay for the things we belong to.”, which things that we belong to did she mean will be paid for by GE: was it the World Trade Organization, was it the free-trade agreement with the United States, or is there some other thing we belong to that the New Zealand people do not know about?

Hon MARIAN HOBBS: I reiterate, I was referring to the need to have a growing economy. I would like to draw that member’s attention to a speech given by the managing director of Wrightson over the weekend, who said that millions of dollars would be lost to New Zealand agricultural research if the moratorium continues.

Dr Paul Hutchison: Given that AgResearch had to pay over half a million dollars on two occasions for GE research applications aimed at cures for serious diseases, why has her Government given way yet again to irrational Green pressure and made compliance costs much more onerous for medium and high-risk GE medical research into containment?

Hon MARIAN HOBBS: The changes proposed in the New Organisms and Other Matters Bill, which I hope we pass this afternoon, are designed to allow us to move forward with the need to protect the environment and the health and safety of our people. I agreed with the speaker when he stated in this morning’s New Zealand Herald: “The reality is that commercial release in New Zealand of GM crops in the near future is extremely unlikely. We should follow a cautious evidence-based scientific approach to GM …”, and that is what this Government is doing.

David Parker: In view of a recent report from the Government’s Growth and Innovation Advisory Board that identified agriculture and forestry as the two sectors offering the most potential growth and innovation in the New Zealand economy, has the Minister seen any information that suggests that GM forms part of that potential?

Hon MARIAN HOBBS: Yes, I have. Last weekend, John Palmer, the chairman of Wrightson Ltd, a New Zealand company, referred to that report and told his company’s annual meeting that the moratorium must expire because “technical innovation has always driven progress in New Zealand farming, and it is biotechnology, possibly including genetic modification, that is a key to realising much of the future potential identified in the report.”

Jeanette Fitzsimons: Has the Minister read the Trust and Country Image report from Otago University, which states that, according to the authors’ market research, the prospect of GM being used in farm animals that produce meat or milk for food, or for pasture plants to feed such animals, received an almost universal highly negative reaction in markets; how does she think that will assist an economy that is so reliant on meat and dairy exports?

Hon MARIAN HOBBS: Yes, I have. I have read the report from cover to cover, and I like taking out just one sentence in it: “This report advocates that we continue on a case-by-case basis, taking into consideration on each case marketing evidence that may be there.”

Jeanette Fitzsimons: If the Minister believes there is already good evidence to show that genetic engineering will be so good for the economy, why does she think that the chief executive of the Insurance Council of New Zealand said: “It's like Sars or terrorism—you can have a minor risk or you can have a potentially catastrophic risk. At the moment, insurers are unable to calculate the risk. What they do know is that a worst-case scenario makes it an unsustainable piece of business.”?

Hon MARIAN HOBBS: The answer to that is, as with Severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) and other things, when one cannot totally tell at the beginning, the Insurance Council is very reluctant to insure in the early months. Member will notice with Sars that it started to be insured within 5 weeks.

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Immigration Service—Conduct

8. Dr MURIEL NEWMAN (ACT) to the Minister of Immigration: On what date did she first learn that the New Zealand Immigration Service had dismissed an immigration officer who had sought sexual favours in return for helping a woman with her immigration application, and does she consider it acceptable that the Immigration Service never called the police?

Hon LIANNE DALZIEL (Minister of Immigration): I was first notified of this matter on or around 3 October 2003. Whether there is sufficient evidence of criminal activity, which would involve a referral to the police, as opposed to misconduct amounting to grounds for dismissal will be a matter of judgment on a case-by-case basis. As a result of concerns I had about allegations around misconduct, I asked the Minister of State Services just before Christmas last year to invite the State Services Commission to review the procedures that the Immigration Service has in place for internal investigations. This has now been completed and the recommendations are being implemented.

Dr Muriel Newman: Can the Minister tell the House exactly how many complaints were received against that officer and whether he continued working as an officer while that particular complaint was investigated?

Hon LIANNE DALZIEL: In answer to the second part of the question, the answer is “yes”. With regard to the first part of the question, the advice I have is that a complaint was first received from an immigration consultant, who said that he used inappropriate language in dealing with her. Then the complaint that has received the publicity was received from the student. I am also advised that a subsequent complaint was laid after he had been dismissed.

Katherine Rich: Will the Minister now request that the police investigate the “sex for residency” scandal; if not, why not?

Hon LIANNE DALZIEL: The individual concerned was the subject of an external investigation that the Immigration Service sought when the two complaints were originally received. At the time the complaints were received, it did not appear that there was sufficient evidence of criminal activity warranting referral to the police. With regard to the external evaluation of the situation, the investigators reported back to the Immigration Service that, on a question of balance, there were grounds for dismissal for misconduct. That dismissal took place. The individual concerned then consulted a lawyer.

The lawyer then made a complaint to the Immigration Service that a personal grievance was to be pursued. The last correspondence was with the lawyer, in May. We are still waiting for them to nominate a date for mediation.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Why is that, under the Minister’s leadership of the Immigration Service, we have within her service sex maniacs, fraudsters, and conspirators who seek to break the law with others—all of whom were identified by her officials at the last estimates hearing of a parliamentary select committee; and why were not all of those cases referred to the New Zealand Police or is she seriously involved in a cover-up?

Hon LIANNE DALZIEL: Given that the individual concerned had been employed by the Immigration Service for 8 years, the member can answer that question.

Mr SPEAKER: No. I ask that the Minister develop that answer a little more fully, please.

Hon LIANNE DALZIEL: That member was employed 8 years ago, and the Immigration Service received a report identifying that, on a balance of probabilities, he had breached the code of conduct. He was dismissed for that reason. We are awaiting further advice from his legal counsel about the setting down of a date for mediation. I think that it would be inappropriate to go into any further detail until the matter is finally resolved.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I have asked this Minister why this very serious behaviour, repeated across a number of officials in a number of different areas—all cases of criminal behaviour—has not been referred specifically to the Minister of Police. This is not a matter of wrongful dismissal or a grievance situation; this is a criminal matter. I ask her to tell me which of the 13 cases were referred, and which were not.

Mr SPEAKER: No. I have ruled that the Minister, after I asked her to develop her answer, did address the question. That will obviously not satisfy everybody, but an answer has been given.

Katherine Rich: Is the decision on whether to press charges better made by the police rather than the Minister’s own immigration officials; and why will she not call in the police to undertake an investigation into what is a “sex for residency” scandal?

Hon LIANNE DALZIEL: The member can define it as such, if she likes. There have been 25 members of Immigration Service staff dismissed since 1999, for a range of reasons—not all criminal offences—from giving precedence to certain clients to failing to turn up to work, providing a fraudulent medical certificate in relation to absence from work, misappropriating money, behaving fraudulently, and processing applications improperly. [Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: The member will now stand, withdraw, and apologise for that comment. He is very lucky not to be leaving the House.

Hon Trevor Mallard: I withdraw and apologise.

Dr Muriel Newman: Can we take it from the Minister’s answers that her Government’s policy is that immigration officers seeking “sex for residence” from would-be immigrants are guilty of sexual harassment rather than bribery and corruption; if not, what is her Government’s policy?

Hon LIANNE DALZIEL: The Government’s policy is that it is unacceptable for any official to make demands of any customer or client of any Government department. This Government will not tolerate fraud at any level. I approached the Minister of State Services in December last year and asked for a full report to be done on the way the Immigration Service deals with internal complaints. This Government is in the process of implementing recommendations, which we have addressed and which no other Government has addressed before.

Katherine Rich: What signal does she believe this case sends to migrants, and is this the reason that the department is keeping the matter in-house, if not covering it up?

Hon LIANNE DALZIEL: The message this sends to would-be migrants is that if they are in any way treated inappropriately by any member of the Immigration Service, then this Government will act.

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9. JILL PETTIS (Labour—Whanganui) to the Minister of Education: Is the Government taking any steps to ensure that students stay engaged in learning and therefore reduce the level of truancy; if so, what?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Minister of Education): Yes, the Government is expanding its existing suspension reduction initiative to include schools with very high rates of early leaving exemptions, supporting a pilot project designed to streamline and make more cost-effective truancy prosecution, and developing new data and tracking systems to ensure that parents can deal immediately with unexplained absences. This will, inter alia, involve emails and text messages.

Jill Pettis: Could the Minister advise the House of the aim of the pilot project that is looking at the prosecutions process for truancy?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: The project has been developed in conjunction with the Crown Solicitor’s Office in Auckland, and is aimed at providing schools and the police with a cost-effective and speedy process for dealing with truancy when other means have failed. Funding for this will be up to $30,000 in the first year. However, it will still require the prosecutor to turn up in court, unlike Nick Smith’s pathetic performance.

Mr SPEAKER: The last three words were unnecessary.

Simon Power: How can the Minister say he is ensuring students stay engaged in learning and is reducing truancy, when he intends to reduce the number of rural schools in places like Taihape, thus making it more difficult for students to attend schools?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I have made no such decision to reduce the number of schools in the Taihape area. In fact, I have had quite positive discussions with the local member on the subject.

Bernie Ogilvy: Noting the Minister’s efforts to tackle truancy by seeking to engage students in school, will he also consider increasing the sanctions for parents of recidivist truants from a $150 maximum fine to an amount that reflects the cost to the taxpayer of educating that child, such as a per-day amount of $18.85 for primary school students and $27.48 for secondary school students; if not, why not?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I am not an expert on the law, but I understand that separate prosecutions can be taken on a daily basis, and therefore the $150 could apply—[Interruption] I am sorry, I will take the advice of the member that that amount can occur. The key, as far as I am concerned, is to make examples of a few parents, but the really important thing is to ensure that kids are engaged. The work of Russell Bishop, , John Hattie, and others is showing that good work within schools can result in engagement and in kids wanting to be there, and that makes a difference.

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Government Revenue—Increases

10. PETER BROWN (Deputy Leader—NZ First) to the Minister of Revenue: What licence fees, Government charges, taxes, or levies have increased since 1999, and by how much?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Revenue): Most levies, licence fees, and Government charges will have been reviewed since 1999. Nearly all of these are not my responsibility as Minister of Revenue. The main tax change has been the new 39c tax rate in incomes over $60,000, and related changes. In order to assist the member, if he cares to put down a written question to the Minister of Finance, I will do my best to ensure a coordinated answer is prepared.

Peter Brown: Noting that answer, is he aware that since Labour became the Government, income tax has gone up, fringe benefit tax is up, trust income tax is up, resident withholding tax is up, tobacco tax is up, petrol tax is up, an import fee has been introduced, the Accident Compensation Corporation petrol levy is up, alcohol tax is up, the Accident Compensation Corporation employment levy is up, the Accident Compensation Corporation motor vehicle levy is up, birth, death, and marriage certificate fees are up, drivers’ licence renewal fees are up, the fire service levy is up, the fishing licence levy is up, the cattle slaughtering levy is up—

Mr SPEAKER: Order!

Peter Brown: I have nearly finished.

Mr SPEAKER: All right. If there are two more, the member can have the last two.

Peter Brown: The export education levy is up, and the fund withdrawal tax for superannuation is up; and does he believe that is compatible with the promises he made before he got into Government?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I am amazed at my ability to get things up, but could I point out to the member that in the last poll I saw, approval of the Government’s economic performance was 67 percent for, and 28 percent against.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. This is the second time today that a senior Minister has stood up and started to give, by way of the biggest part of the answer, some latest poll on the matter. That is not the answer.

Hon Richard Prebble: This paper has the latest poll.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Yes. That cannot be an answer. The member asked about a matter, and the first thing the Minister said about the primary question was that he was the Minister of Revenue” and that the member should put a question to the Minister of Finance—which he also is, officially, I might add, though there is not much evidence of that—then he gave that as his first answer.

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Speaking to the point of order, I say that the question has to be put to Ministers in terms of their portfolio responsibilities. This question was put to the Minister of Revenue. If the member had put the question to the Minister of Finance, then I have the responsibility as Minister of Finance for all those areas in some form or another. As Minister of Revenue, I am responsible only for direct taxes, indirect taxes, and related matters.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: With more than a billion dollars a year additional revenue from new and increased taxes and levies, why has the Minister done nothing to reverse the 42 percent increase in income tax as a proportion of gross wages for average production workers since he has been Minister, as shown by OECD research published this year?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: That data is highly debatable in terms of assumptions. The important point is that tax, as a proportion of gross domestic product (GDP), has risen only very slightly during that period, and we are still well below the OECD average in that regard. If the member wants to wait until next year, I am sure he will find the Government making some significant moves to assist families—low to middle income families with children. He, of course, will not qualify under either head.

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Domestic Purposes Benefit—Mâori

11. KATHERINE RICH (National) to the Minister for Social Development and Employment: How does he reconcile his statement that the increase of Mâori on domestic purposes benefit was due to “MSD tidying up their records” with his previous statement that it was due to “age structure”; and when did he first become aware of this increase of Mâori on the domestic purposes benefit?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY (Minister for Social Development and Employment): First, the statistics do not show an increase of Mâori on the domestic purposes benefit; they show an overall decline in domestic purposes benefit numbers. Second, the number of people without an ethnicity code dropped from 12,386 in 1999 to 1,178 in 2003. This renders any ethnicity comparison between 1999 and 2003 meaningless. Third, population, age structure, and fertility patterns, combined with labour markets dissipation and marriage status, explain most of why young Mâori are disproportionately represented on the domestic purposes benefit.

Katherine Rich: In light of the fact that there has been a rise of Mâori on the domestic purposes benefit, invalids and sickness benefits, and the percentage of Mâori on unemployment benefits has increased, will he stick to his statement that the rise of Mâori on domestic purposes benefit is solely due to “WINZ tidying up their records”?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: The figures show that back in the 1990s the National Party was not asking the department to code people on the basis of ethnicity. Therefore, in the years we have been in Government we have been asking for those figures to be cleaned up. We have seen a change in the number of people who are recorded as being Mâori who have the domestic purposes benefit. Overall, the numbers on the domestic purposes benefit have gone down by 1 percent since we have been the Government.

Georgina Beyer: How has the number of people on the domestic purposes benefit changed since 1999, and what has the Government put in place to assist people on the domestic purposes benefit to move into employment?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: The number of people on the domestic purposes benefit as sole parents has declined from 104,199 to 102,146 since we have been the Government. The annual personal development employment plans and more active case management that we have brought in will ensure we move people into work as family circumstances allow. This is a marked change from ignoring people until their youngest child turns six or 14, as the previous Government did.

Katherine Rich: While the Minister has offered two different explanations in 2 days for rising numbers of Mâori on the domestic purposes benefit, is he concerned that after 4 years of closing-the-gaps-like programmes, the gaps are widening, not closing, for Mâori?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I know it is complex to hold two explanations in one’s mind at once, but it is not that difficult.

Mr SPEAKER: That is not the way to answer the question. The Minister will answer the question asked.

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: It is clear that the explanation as to why there is an apparent change in the number of young Mâori on the domestic purposes benefit does need for us to understand how the stats are being collected, and it does mean that we understand the basic explanations of population change, and so on. Both those explanations are needed. But I repeat, the numbers of people on the domestic purposes benefit have gone down since we have been the Government.

Dr Muriel Newman: In light of the rising trend of Mâori women on the domestic purposes benefit, does he share the concerns of the Chief Youth Court Judge, David Carruthers, who recently outlined here in Parliament the clear link between increasing fatherlessness and increasing crime; if so, given that Mâori are already over-represented in crime statistics, can he tell the House what action he intends to take?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: There is no rising trend, but the Government is very concerned about people who are on a benefit for any length of time, rather than earning a living and getting on with their lives. That is why, in all cases of all beneficiaries, we have been introducing a very vigorous programme, which has given us the lowest unemployment rate in 16 years.

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Question No. 10 to Minister

PETER BROWN (Senior Whip—NZ First): I seek leave to table a full list of the tax increases.

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

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Small Businesses—Compliance Costs

12. MARK PECK (Labour—Invercargill) to the Minister of Statistics: What is Statistics New Zealand doing to reduce compliance costs incurred by small businesses in completing requests for statistical information?

Hon JOHN TAMIHERE (Minister of Statistics): Statistics New Zealand has been doing a huge amount in recent years to reduce the time and effort required of small businesses to provide statistical information. It is estimated that extended use of sampling and administrative data will mean that in the year 2004, 60 percent of New Zealand’s smallest businesses will receive no questionnaires at all from Statistics New Zealand and a further 17 percent will receive only one simple request to update basic descriptive information.

Mark Peck: What feedback has the Government received on the need to reduce statistics compliance costs?

Hon JOHN TAMIHERE: The Ministerial Panel on Business Compliance Costs made a number of recommendations in this area. On this side of the House we listen to small business people, we know that completing statistical returns is time consuming and frustrating for them, so we have done something about it. Statistics New Zealand initiatives in this area are just another example of this Government’s commitment to take action to reduce compliance costs, rather than just talk about it.

End of Questions for Oral Answer

(uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing)

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