23 November 2005 - Questions and Answers
Questions and Answers for Oral Answer - Thursday, 24 November 2005
Uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing. For corrected transcripts, please visit: http://www.clerk.parliament.govt.nz/hansard
Questions to Ministers
Student Loans —Voluntary Repayments
1. Dr DON BRASH (Leader of the Opposition) to the Minister of Finance: When he told the House last week that, in relation to his interest-free student loan policy, “The actual costing will be $202 million a year by 2008-09 in terms of the impact on the operating provisions.”, what assumption was he making about the rate at which voluntary repayments would occur?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Finance): None, because the assumptions underlying that statement were made by officials.
Dr Don Brash: Does the Minister consider the assumptions made by officials to be still realistic, given that many people are already reducing the payments on their student loans to the bare minimum, and in some cases withdrawing payments they have already made; if so, why?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: In terms of the first element, the assumption is that the level of voluntary repayments fell from that, to make the level fall from 18 percent of the value of compulsory repayments to 2.25 percent of compulsory repayments. That is already built in to the estimate. As to the second, of course, anybody who is silly enough to do that, such as the gentleman referred to yesterday—[Interruption]—Well, yes, because people are paying interest at the moment on their new increased student loan, and, unless they are earning at least 11 percent beyond the 39 percent tax rate, they are actually losing on the deal.
Dr Don Brash: Does he accept that even the modest changes in the rate of voluntary repayments would significantly increase the cost of his interest-free student loan policy, given the fact that a third of total student loan repayments are currently voluntary?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The last statement is incorrect according to my information, but I think the member perhaps missed my secondary answer. There has already been an assumption of a large reduction in the level of voluntary repayments built into the estimate I gave him—from 18 percent of the value of compulsory repayments down to 2.25 percent of the value of compulsory repayments.
Dr Don Brash: Would the Minister be so kind as to table for the benefit of the House the assumptions underlying his $202 million estimate for 2008-09, given that the original assumptions made by Treasury on 22 June this year estimated a cost of some $390 million on the basis of very low voluntary repayments, and we now have a figure of $202 million on similarly low assumptions of voluntary repayments?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I will try to get that information for the member as quickly as I can in that respect. Of course, updated information will be included in the December Economic and Fiscal Update, and I will be happy to release all that at that time. But what the member is probably continuing to do is to repeat Mr Key’s mistake of not allowing for the fact that there is already a substantial interest rate write-off under the current scheme—not just because people who are students are not paying interest, but also because of the way in which the compulsory repayments are structured to ensure that 50 percent goes towards the repayment of capital.
2. GEORGINA BEYER (Labour) to the Minister for Economic Development: What steps is the Government taking to promote New Zealand product exports to Asian markets?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Minister for Economic Development): The world’s first New Zealand concept centre, the New Zealand Focus, has recently opened in Hong Kong. The centre operates out of a 6,800-square-foot property in the heart of Causeway Bay, Hong Kong. The centre is a great platform for New Zealand exporters to reach Hong Kong and Greater China markets.
Georgina Beyer: Can the Minister enlighten the House on what New Zealand products and services are featured at New Zealand Focus?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: The ground floor of the centre is home to a retail area showcasing New Zealand food, beverages, and natural health products. The mezzanine floor provides a showcase for New Zealand education and travel, and the top floor offers an area for exhibitions, business presentations, functions, and other promotional opportunities.
Gerry Brownlee: Why has it been so hard to get space, then?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I agree that some people who were being promoted by a back-bench member in his party were found not to be of suitable standard to go there, but a company like Fisher and Paykel has a fully-functioning kitchen to show off its products, and it is a great opportunity to grow the $2.2 billion worth of exports we already make annually to China and Hong Kong.
Question No. 3 to Minister
JUDITH COLLINS (National—Clevedon): I note that the Minister for Social Development and Employment, the Hon David Benson-Pope, is not here to answer the question today. I seek leave of the House to have the question held over until he is able to answer.
Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought. Is there any objection? There is objection. Would the member please ask the question.
JUDITH COLLINS: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. Will the Minister who will be answering on behalf of the Hon David Benson-Pope be offering his or her opinion, or an answer on behalf of him as such?
Madam SPEAKER: That is not a matter for the Speaker to deal with. The member, of course, has the option of not asking the question at this time, if she so chooses.
Social Development, Ministry—Childhood Experiences
3. JUDITH COLLINS (National—Clevedon) to the Minister for Social Development and Employment: What specific evidence was the Ministry of Social Development referring to on page 22 of its latest annual report, which stated: “Evidence shows that positive adult outcomes are built on positive childhood experiences, and poor child outcomes can be difficult to overcome as children become adults.”?
Hon RUTH DYSON (Associate Minister for Social Development and Employment (CYF)), on behalf of the Minister for Social Development and Employment: I have been advised that the evidence referred to in the Ministry of Social Development’s annual report includes findings from both New Zealand and international studies. They include the development and evaluation of the Early Start programme, Professor David Fergusson’s 25-year longitudinal study, the Krueger study from Princeton University in New Jersey, and the Leonard Masse and Barnett study from New Brunswick.
Judith Collins: Is it Government policy that abuse against children is still abuse and totally repugnant, whether it occurred today or many years ago; and does he support that policy?
Hon RUTH DYSON: Yes and yes.
Lynne Pillay: Does the Minister have any evidence of any New Zealand programmes that have had success in building good child outcomes?
Hon RUTH DYSON: I have been advised that the evaluation of the Early Start programme in Christchurch shows that it has been very successful in lowering the incidence of behavioural problems, raising early childhood attendance, and reducing the numbers of Child, Youth and Family Services notifications.
Judith Collins: Does the Minister think the police finding that there is a prima facie case that he assaulted at least two boys in his care might undermine his ability to be the Minister for Social Development and Employment, which has amongst its central purposes to ensure the protection and safety of children?
Hon RUTH DYSON: As the member should be aware, it is entirely inappropriate for any Minister to comment on police findings in that way.
Tariana Turia: How will this Minister address the fact that 250,000 children who are living in poverty will not get any direct benefit from the Government’s in-work payment, and nor will they benefit from the raising of the threshold for family support and the reduction in the rate at which it abates?
Hon RUTH DYSON: The member raises a very valid issue, and I am personally—and I am sure I am joined by my colleagues—very proud of the significant reduction in child poverty that we have made in New Zealand over the last 6 years, and am committed to continuing those policies.
Judy Turner: Does the Minister agree that grandparents who are lovingly raising their grandchildren in an effort to provide positive childhood experiences are important; if so, why does the State fail to support those families by refusing kinship caregivers the same financial support as foster-caregivers currently receive?
Hon RUTH DYSON: I most certainly agree with and share the value that the member, as indicated in her question, places on grandparents who are raising their grandchildren when the children’s own parents are not able to do that. However, for a long time New Zealand society has not accepted the fact that family members should be paid in the same way as non - family members for providing that sort of support. But we have made significant progress, and will continue to make progress, in providing more appropriate support for grandparents in that position.
Judith Collins: Is he aware in his role as Minister for Social Development and Employment that, often, children who are victims of violence do not tell trusted adults at the time of the abuse, because of the trauma, fear, guilt, and embarrassment associated with abuse; if so, would he now like to take this opportunity to apologise to his former students?
Hon RUTH DYSON: Yes and no.
Judith Collins: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. The Minister Trevor Mallard should not call his fellow Minister a scumbag, and he should be asked to withdraw and apologise.
Madam SPEAKER: I am sorry but I did not hear any comment of that sort, because of the amount and level of noise in the House.
Hon Dr Michael Cullen: My colleague did use an unparliamentary term. It was not about the Minister, obviously, but about the member. He should be required to withdraw and apologise for it.
Madam SPEAKER: Thank you. I ask the member to withdraw and apologise.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I withdraw and apologise.
Judith Collins: Might a poor child outcome result from taking a motherless 14-year-old child, who is living in a troubled home that is affected by family violence, then subjecting that child to having his hands tied to a desk and jamming a tennis ball like this into that child’s mouth, while a classroom of other children look on; if so, would he now like to take another opportunity to apologise to his victim?
Hon Dr Michael Cullen: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I am sure that you know what the point of order is going to be. The question assumed that the Minister was guilty of that offence. The member might care to demonstrate whether it is a physical possibility by putting the tennis ball in her mouth right now—it is one of the bigger ones around the House.
Judith Collins: The Acting Prime Minister has asked that I demonstrate that this ball can be put in a mouth. Here is the ball. He might like to show us by putting it in his mouth. It is a deflated tennis ball. It can be done, and it was done.
Hon Dr Michael Cullen: That is utterly outrageous, particularly from somebody who ripped off the Casino Control Authority in respect of her expenses overseas. The Minister is entitled—[Interruption] We can always make accusations in the House, can we not, under parliamentary privilege.
Madam SPEAKER: As you know, there are meant to be no interruptions during anyone’s points of order, and there were interruptions when members from both parties were making their points of order. The members have raised very valid points of order in terms of the nature of the question. I rule, however, that the member can ask the Minister that question. Just to clarify, I rule that a hypothetical question can be put to a Minister.
Hon Dr Michael Cullen: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. The question asked the Minister to apologise to the victim. That assumes that the matter occurred.
Madam SPEAKER: That is not a point of order. The hypothetical question has been put. There is an assumption in that question. The member has made that assumption. That can be addressed in the answer.
Hon Dr Michael Cullen: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. Can you explain to me what is hypothetical about the assumption that the Minister was actually guilty of the offence? I know there was an “if” at the start, but if the question was: “If the Minister of Finance had taken $5 million out of the public accounts and put the money into his private account, would he now care to apologise for that action?’’, well, I have not done it, which is pretty obvious given the nature of my clothes.
Rodney Hide: I actually rise in support of the Hon Michael Cullen. Of course, a hypothetical question cannot be asked in this House, but the question actually was not put as a hypothetical question. Michael Cullen was making the point that it is not possible to put a tennis ball in a student’s mouth. That is actually not true; it is not easy, but 19 students—in fact, the entire class of that day—told the police that it did happen. The question was not hypothetical; it was an actual question.
Hon Bill English: Madam Speaker, you have now ruled on this question twice. You have given your ruling, and the Leader of the House keeps challenging it, and that is challenging your authority and the objectivity of the Chair.
Madam SPEAKER: I thank the member for his assistance in this matter. A question can be phrased in hypothetical terms. It cannot be stated, however, as a question of fact. I ask the member, so that we have total clarity on this in the House, to re-ask her question in those terms.
Judith Collins: Might a poor child outcome result from taking a motherless 14-year-old child, who is living in a troubled home that is affected by family violence, then subjecting that child to having his hands tied to a desk and jamming a tennis ball into that child’s mouth, while a classroom of other children look on?
Hon RUTH DYSON: I would like to make two points in relation to that question. The first is that the member should know, had she read the relevant police report, that those alleged events are the subject of—and I quote the words of the district commander—“conflicting evidence”. The second point is that poor outcomes for children and adults are contributed to by a number of factors, including poverty, insecurity in housing, and lack of access to primary health care. That is why it has been a priority for our Government to reduce those factors, and to support children, young people, and families to develop the resilience to overcome such situations.
Hon Dr Michael Cullen: Might a poor outcome also result from suddenly being subjected to continual bullying at school, as, for example, a number of people were by Aaron Tasker, Phil Weaver, and, most of all, Gordon Anderson—three of the people who were responsible for those accusations against the Hon David Benson-Pope?
Hon RUTH DYSON: I can absolutely confirm that that is correct.
Madam SPEAKER: Question No. 4, Jeanette Fitzsimons. [Interruption] I remind members that, if they wish to remain in the House for the rest of the session, when a question is called it is heard in silence, please.
Fisheries, Minister —Bottom Trawling
4. JEANETTE FITZSIMONS (Co-Leader—Green) to the Minister of Fisheries: Has he taken any steps since becoming Minister of Fisheries, or does he plan to take any steps, to advance the policy that the Progressive party committed to, in the 2005 Vote Environment survey, to “Support and actively promote a global moratorium on bottom trawling on the high seas.”; if so, what steps?
Hon JIM ANDERTON (Minister of Fisheries): Upon becoming Minister of Fisheries I asked officials to further examine the issue of bottom trawling on the high seas. I have concluded that action to better protect the ocean floor environment is both necessary and urgent. New Zealand would be prepared to support, in principle, the concept of a global moratorium, if such a proposal had sufficient support from States to be a practical and enforceable option. However, indications from the United Nations in just the last few weeks make it very clear that such conditions do not exist. In the absence of international support for a moratorium, New Zealand is seeking support, through a United Nations General Assembly resolution, for targeted bans on bottom trawling in vulnerable areas while effective management frameworks are being developed.
Jeanette Fitzsimons: Does the Minister acknowledge that international consensus on a matter requires some leadership to get it going, and will he ensure that, when the issue comes up at the United Nations General Assembly next week, New Zealand will speak strongly in favour of a moratorium on all parts of the high seas where there are no rules protecting vulnerable ecosystems, until such rules are in place?
Hon JIM ANDERTON: New Zealand has expressed and will express its concern about unregulated bottom trawling. But I want to point out to the member that no nation, including this one, can do that on its own. To unilaterally close high-seas fisheries to our own industry only opens the way for others to exploit the fisheries. So we are working with other fishing nations to develop an effective regional fisheries management organisation in our part of the world with stringent controls over bottom trawling. We believe that a regional fisheries management organisation will be the best way of dealing with this matter. Today, while members are sitting here in Parliament, officials from New Zealand, Chile, and Australia are meeting in Wellington to progress discussions for a regional fisheries management organisation, and a full meeting of nations in this region will be held in Wellington in February next year.
Phil Heatley: If the Minister does promote a blanket moratorium on bottom trawling on the high seas, will he also promote a global moratorium on oil, gas, and mineral mining, and on the laying of communication and electricity cables on the seabed, and would that be a practical and achievable option?
Hon JIM ANDERTON: I made it very clear that the only way in which a moratorium on this matter of fisheries, or on any other matter, would be workable was for all nations to agree. If they will not, then it is not a practical option, and anyone with a reasonable mind would agree with that.
Jeanette Fitzsimons: Does he acknowledge that regional fisheries management organisations—and I welcome the news that we are proceeding with that development, because it is a good idea—take years to negotiate, more years to set up, and still more years to implement rules, and does he agree that, until those rules are in place, if there is to be anything left at the end that is worth protecting, we do need an overall control?
Hon JIM ANDERTON: Yes, I agree that international agreements—even regional ones—take time. But the alternative is to try to get a majority decision through the United Nations General Assembly. That decision has to pass with a significant majority. When it has passed with a significant majority, then one has to get all States to ratify it, and if anyone thinks that is an instant process, he or she should have a good look at history. In reality, the regional organisation is the best way we can progress this, and New Zealand and this Government have taken a number of steps in terms of protecting sea mounts and so on. We will continue to work with the industry to have it cooperate in that regard. I am happy to send the member information about the steps that New Zealand is taking and the progress that is being made.
Jeanette Fitzsimons: Has he inquired of his colleagues and officials as to why New Zealand did not support Palau’s call at the Pacific Islands Forum in October for a moratorium on high-seas bottom trawling in areas where no effective protection exists, in line with the Government’s stated position as well as that of the United Kingdom, France, and others?
Hon JIM ANDERTON: No, I have not had a report on that matter. I will get one and provide information to the member, but again I say that New Zealand is at the forefront of management of its fisheries. It is recognised internationally as one of the leaders in this area, and it will continue to be so on my watch in this Government’s term of office. I do not think we need to take a backwards step or be compared negatively to any nation in the world in terms of our protections of our fishery environment.
Police Decision—David Benson-Pope MP
5. Hon TONY RYALL (National—Bay of Plenty) to the Minister of Police: Will she assure the House that in relation to the police decision not to prosecute the Hon David Benson-Pope, Mr Benson-Pope was treated in the same way as any other New Zealander would have been treated; if not, why not?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Leader of the House) on behalf of the Minister of Police: On behalf of the Minister of Police I am advised that the decision not to prosecute the Hon David Benson-Pope was made by the Southern Police District commander, Superintendent George Fraser, in line with normal police procedure. To quote Superintendent Fraser: “Mr Benson-Pope is being treated no differently from any other person who might have similar matters raised about them.”
Hon Tony Ryall: In making their decision not to prosecute, despite a prima facie case, did the police consult the Solicitor-General, a man who recommended against prosecution of the Prime Minister but for the prosecution of a National MP?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: My understanding was that certainly consultation took place with the Crown solicitor in Dunedin. I am not aware whether there was consultation further up the line in Crown Law.
Hon Tony Ryall: Is it now police policy that they will no longer prosecute child abuse cases where they happened a long time ago and the child was too scared to complain about it at the time?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: No.
Hon Tony Ryall: Was it not clear to the Minister of Police, from reading reports, that her police staff thought there was enough evidence that Mr Benson-Pope did abuse those children?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: In this Government the Minister of Police plays no role in questions around police prosecutions. I hope that that will be a tradition continued by all future New Zealand Governments.
Hone Harawira: Ko te take kâhore koe e hâmenehia i a David Benson-Pope he tohu mô taua kôrero, arâ, kotahi anake te ture mô te katoa, â, mçnâ e kore koe e whakaae ki tçrâ, ko tçnei pea te tohu hônore mô râtou e mâ ana wâ râtou kiri?
[An interpretation in English was given to the House.]
[Is the decision not to prosecute the Hon. David Benson-Pope an example of “one law for all”; or is this what we understand to be white privilege?]
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: No, my understanding is that police have made decisions not to prosecute some similar events in the far north in the past.
Hon Tony Ryall: When we consider the list of Labour Ministers investigated by the police—Helen Clark, John Tamihere, Dover Samuels, and now David Benson-Pope—why is it that there is always enough evidence to prosecute everyone else but them?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I repeat, the prosecutions are decisions taken by the police—[Interruption] Well, if members opposite want to call Superintendent Fraser a liar, they can do so, but I suggest they do it outside.
Hon Tony Ryall: Will the full police report be released; if not, why not?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: If the police receive an Official Information Act request they will consider that request under the statutory provisions. They will make that decision.
Rodney Hide: Can the Minister confirm that the conflicting evidence that the police had before them was 19 students who were there on the day, independently all confirming that David Benson-Pope tied a student’s hands to the desk and jammed a tennis ball in his mouth, as against David Benson-Pope denying that it happened, and can he also confirm that the police were considering charging David Benson-Pope, not just with assault, but also with making a false statement to the police and attempting to pervert the course of justice?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: No, I cannot confirm that, but I can confirm that other students have recalled that the principal accuser repeatedly hit out at students, pulled student ears until the webbing bled, regularly kicked students in the spine, hung a student out of an upper storey window, repeatedly broke a boy’s glasses, and physically assaulted teachers. If that is what Mr Hide is relying on, good luck to him!
Judith Collins: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I thought that the Minister just before, in answer to one of the questions from the Hon Tony Ryall, said that the report would not be released. Was that right?
Madam SPEAKER: Is this a supplementary question? Does the member want to clarify what—
Hon Tony Ryall: It is an important point.
Madam SPEAKER: I am sure it is, and a question should be asked.
Hon Tony Ryall: The report on “paintergate” was released by the police at the time they made the announcement of their decision. The report on the Benson-Pope case has not been released at that time, and it should be released.
Madam SPEAKER: That is not a point of order, but if the member wants to ask a supplementary question, please do so.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. The difficulty we have is that Ruth Dyson, during the course of her answer to my colleague, said that the member would know if she had read the police report. How can my colleague know what was in the police report if the Minister will not release it? That is why I would challenge the Minister. To be consistent with what Ruth Dyson said, why does the Government not release the police report so that the public can see the truth?
Madam SPEAKER: That may well be, but it is not a point of order.
Hon Dr Michael Cullen: It would be terribly helpful if the point of order actually related to what I said. What I said was that if people apply for the report from the police, the police will deal with that request under the Official Information Act. It is a matter for the police, not the Minister.
Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. A moment ago the Minister appeared to be quoting from the police report. If that was the case, I ask that he table the police report.
Hon Dr Michael Cullen: No, I was not; I was quoting from a summary of a range of evidence sent to Mr Benson-Pope about the accusers. I am happy to table that document, with leave.
Madam SPEAKER: Is leave being sought—
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Why not the police report?
Hon Dr Michael Cullen: I do not have it. The police have the report. The National Party seems to be under the impression that Ministers of Police read the actual, original police reports. Those are matters for the police. This is not a police State.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Point of order—
Madam SPEAKER: No, I have heard enough. The point of order has been ruled on. I understand that the current matter before the House is to seek leave to table that document. Is there any objection to that? [Interruption] I will take one point of order at a time. [Interruption]
Madam SPEAKER: I am sorry, but obviously—as members have raised this issue two or three times—there is some difficulty in hearing in the Chamber. On occasion I also have had difficulty in hearing. I ask members to please not talk when others are asking questions, and I also ask that they keep the level of noise down when Ministers are answering them; otherwise, we will not make progress. I ask the Minister once again, finally, to describe the document.
Hon Dr Michael Cullen: The document I have in my hand is a summary, in particular, of a range of submissions sent to Mr Benson-Pope by ex-students, relating particularly to the people who have made the accusations. I am happy to table the entire document.
Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is objection.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. While Dr Cullen was attempting to table the document the first time, a barrage of interjections was coming from Nick Smith, and that is the reason members could not hear what was being described. He was doing that while Dr Cullen was on his feet making a point of order. You have ruled very clearly on what happens in these matters.
Madam SPEAKER: Yes, I have. I know that it is a Thursday, but all members are now on their last warnings. We like to have a bit of give and take in the House, but unfortunately that has been abused.
Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. In answering that question, the Minister named three individuals and made very serious allegations against them. Unfortunately, the Minister has mixed up the three individuals with another student. I suggest to him that he be very careful with his evidence, and I invite him to stand on the steps of Parliament and say that he stands by what he just said in the House today.
Madam SPEAKER: That is not a point of order, as the member knows.
6. Hon TONY RYALL (National—Bay of Plenty) to the Minister of Health: In the event of a bird flu pandemic, who will treat the sick being cared for in their homes?
Hon PETE HODGSON (Minister of Health): The answer is pretty much all of us. It will be family members first, of course, because in a worst-case scenario endless flying squads of health professionals simply will not be available. So it will be family, friends, neighbours, volunteers, plus those who staff any community-based assessment centres and those who staff any mobile responses that emanate from those centres.
Hon Tony Ryall: Does the Influenza Pandemic Action Plan envisage medical workers calling on sick people in their homes who need medical treatment, or will critically ill people be required to travel to assessment centres, thus spreading the disease and putting themselves under further stress?
Hon PETE HODGSON: I think the answer will depend on the stage of phase 4 that we are in. At the beginning of the pandemic we will attempt to keep people away from hospital and treat them at home with ambulatory services that are available. Should the pandemic worsen, then it is inevitable that people will go to hospital and be admitted—at least until hospitals cannot cope any further, at which point they will cease to cope.
Ann Hartley: At this early stage what can families in their homes best do to prepare themselves?
Hon PETE HODGSON: In the event of a pandemic, hand-washing and drying will be the most important measure to prevent the spread of infection—I stress, the most important. Families who teach their children this now will be best prepared when a pandemic comes. The information that went out on Monday or Tuesday morning—about 10,000 copies of this leaflet have gone out to pharmacies, general practitioners, and so on—is a way of beginning to raise further the awareness as to the importance of basic measures such as hand-washing and drying.
Hon Tony Ryall: Is he aware that this decision about whether to treat people at home could be made right now and that it is fundamental to saving lives in a pandemic?
Hon PETE HODGSON: The member makes a mistake in his logic, and it is this: it is a good idea to keep a few options open in order that we do not head down cul-de-sacs. But current thinking, and it will, I think, persist somewhat for some time anyway, is that community-based assessment centres and mobile response teams emanating from them will be the best way of augmenting assistance given to victims in the first instance by their families, friends, and neighbours.
Dr Jackie Blue: Is the Minister comfortable with the situation he described on radio this morning—that no one is in charge of our preparations for a pandemic?
Hon PETE HODGSON: The member misrepresents the position. I was asked whether it was a good idea to have one Minister in charge of pandemic planning, which was an idea that came from the United Nations, and I said “No”. In this country we are sufficiently good at whole-of-Government planning that that is a better way for us to manage it. And I might say there has not been a Cabinet meeting since the election that has not discussed the pandemic.
Dr Jackie Blue: Why will the Government not increase the national supply of antibiotics, which have a shelf life of up to 3 years and which are necessary for the treatment of secondary infections, when most other countries are already doing so?
Hon PETE HODGSON: We will. What we will not do is stockpile those antibiotics, as we have stockpiled Tamiflu under lock and key, because if one does that, then the chances of running into expiry dates are too high.
Hon Tony Ryall: Is the Minister relying on district health boards to organise medical care for those suffering at home, and is he prepared to accept those plans, including this document I have in front of me from the Bay of Plenty District Health Board and Lakes District Health Board, which have not one mention of actually treating anybody who is ill during the pandemic?
Hon PETE HODGSON: It might be helpful if I remind the member that his questioning is entirely about halfway through phase 4 of a pandemic, and we are part-way through phase 1. But since the member raises the issue of the preparedness of district health boards, he may be interested to learn that district health boards have all sent their plans in to the ministry, that the response to those plans back out to the district health boards is happening on Monday or Tuesday, and about 2 weeks after that every district health board’s emergency planner will be gathered in Wellington to take it to the next step. Planning is in progress, planning will continue, and planning began 2 years before that member decided to ask questions about it.
Environment Court—Case Management
7. STEVE CHADWICK (Labour—Rotorua) to the Minister for Courts: What initiatives has the Government put in place to improve case management in the Environment Court?
Hon RICK BARKER (Minister for Courts): I have implemented several initiatives, including a new case management regime, extra judicial and administrative resources, and contemporaneous digital evidence recording. There is also now a stand-alone Environment Court with three registries in Auckland, Wellington, and Christchurch, devolved from a central registry based in Wellington.
Steve Chadwick: How effective have those initiatives been?
Hon RICK BARKER: Very effective. The court has dealt with a significant backlog of matters arising out of the notification of district plans throughout the early 1990s. The caseload in the Environment Court has been more than halved, from 3,137 cases at the end of June 2001 to 1,566 cases as at June 2005. Hearings are now being held within 6 months generally, compared with up to 24 months in 2001.
Foreign Affairs, Minister—Immigration Briefing
8. Dr the Hon LOCKWOOD SMITH (National—Rodney) to the Minister of Immigration: Has his department provided a briefing to the Minister of Foreign Affairs on Government immigration policy; if so, when?
Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE (Minister of Immigration): Not to my knowledge. My department works closely with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade. However, the Minister is briefed by his own officials.
Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: Is the Minister concerned then by reports that his colleague the Rt Hon Winston Peters is likely to lead a major debate on immigration at the Commonwealth Foreign Ministers meeting in Malta today; if not, why not?
Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: Any questions about the statements of the Minister of Foreign Affairs should be directed to that Minister.
H V Ross Robertson: What communication is there between his staff and the staff of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade?
Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: Department of Labour immigration officials have close working relationships with their Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade colleagues in New Zealand and offshore. They share information and work together on matters of joint interest. These include free trade, security, and the facilitation of genuine travellers to New Zealand. In some parts of the world Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade posts issue temporary visas.
Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: Is the Minister confident that Mr Peters will accurately reflect the immigration policies of the Government, in light of Mr Peters’ frequent accusations of Labour’s ministerial incompetence and failures in the area of immigration, and why has he taken no measures to ensure that Mr Peters does reflect Government policy?
Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: I have no ministerial responsibility for that member’s past comments, but I am confident in the whole-of-Government processes that underlie international meetings.
Hon Brian Donnelly: Can the Minister confirm that New Zealand First negotiated within the confidence and supply agreement a provision to review all of our immigration laws with a view to fixing up what the previous Minister of Immigration Paul Swain described as a dog’s breakfast?
Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: I can confirm that, in part because of discussions with New Zealand First but in part because of our own views, a comprehensive review of the Immigration Act is under way, and I will be releasing a discussion document to that effect shortly.
Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: If, as has just been revealed by the New Zealand First member, the Minister of Foreign Affairs considers our immigration policies to be a dog’s breakfast, what—
Hon Brian Donnelly: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I just want to take the opportunity to point out that it was Paul Swain, the previous Minister of Immigration, whom I referred to as saying that the laws were a dog’s breakfast.
Madam SPEAKER: I thank the member. That is not a point of order; it is a point of information.
Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: Has the Minister taken the trouble to seek any assurances at all from Mr Peters that he will accurately reflect the Government’s immigration policies, given the New Zealand First support agreement that requires Mr Peters to support Government policy only in his ministerial portfolio of foreign affairs, and does he now think that perhaps he should have sought some assurance from Mr Peters?
Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: I repeat that I have confidence in the whole-of-Government processes that underlie international meetings, and, as is my usual practice, I will continue conversations with my colleague the Minister of Foreign Affairs.
Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: Has the Minister taken the trouble to advise Mr Peters that repeating his publicly stated view that Asian immigrants are responsible for “theft, fraud, fighting, assault, intimidation, vehicle crashes, disorder, domestic stabbings, and a sideline of extortion and weapon-carrying” may not be helpful to New Zealand’s standing with Asian members of the Commonwealth; if not, why not?
Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: I repeat that I have no responsibility as a Minister for that member’s historical statements.
Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: Does this new, inexperienced Minister of Immigration take any responsibility for his portfolio at all, or does he wipe his hands of what is going on in his portfolio area in Malta today?
Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: Of course I take responsibility for the actions of my department, and I am confident in the whole-of-Government processes that underlie international meetings.
Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I just ask you whether you have a view on how soon this Parliament should be acquainted with the complexities of the arrangements that the Government now has. We have had the Prime Minister making it very clear that Mr Peters and Mr Dunne have no responsibility for any Government action outside of their portfolio responsibilities. Now we have the junior Minister Mr Cunliffe standing up and saying that he is comfortable with the whole-of-Government approach, which clearly encompasses Mr Peters representing issues other than his portfolio responsibilities in the international forum.
We have a role—and while Michael Cullen might want to say that the constitution is evolving, the role of the Opposition in scrutinising the Government is not going to change constitutionally—and we have to have clear and concise understandings of who is responsible for what in order to be able to discharge that duty. I suggest that the Speaker has a role in ensuring that Parliament knows what the Government arrangements are, so that that scrutiny can take place.
Madam SPEAKER: I thank the member for his comments. It is not for the Speaker to express a view on those matters. That was not a point of order, but I thank the member for his contribution, and perhaps we can now move on.
Information Technology—Broadband Capacity
9. MOANA MACKEY (Labour) to the Minister for Information Technology: What is the Government doing to improve high-speed capacity broadband in New Zealand towns and cities?
Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE (Minister for Information Technology): On 1 November we launched a contestable $24 million Broadband Challenge fund. It will stimulate partnerships with the community and the private sector in order to provide very-high-speed, open-access broadband to towns and cities around New Zealands, and to extend the reach of broadband into underserved areas.
Moana Mackey: What interest has been shown by communities in the Broadband Challenge fund?
Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: It has been very pleasing. Yesterday I spoke at the Digital Cities and Regional Networks conference in Wellington, which was attended by around 150 mayors, local government officials, community organisations, and entrepreneurs. They were interested in taking advantage of the new fund, and I expect that levels of interest in partnerships to lay open-access fibre around New Zealand will be high.
Apples—Australian Market Access
10. Hon DAVID CARTER (National) to the Minister for Trade Negotiations: Has he taken any action to gain access to the Australian apple market for New Zealand growers, or is he waiting for the Australian import risk assessment, which Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer assured the New Zealand Government 4 months ago would be “weeks, not months” away?
Hon JIM SUTTON (Minister for Trade Negotiations): I have taken every opportunity for that, including at this month’s APEC meeting, where I discussed the issue with Foreign Minister Downer. He told me the import risk assessment will be released imminently. Since June, when we took the unprecedented step of formally inscribing the Australian apple issue on the agenda of the World Trade Organization’s Committee on Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures, the web of World Trade Organization precedents has been closing ever more tightly around Australia in this matter.
Chris Tremain: Has the Minister received any reports on the number of orchardists who will exit the industry within 12 months if this Government does not make any progress on this issue?
Hon JIM SUTTON: No. As Minister for Trade Negotiations, I have received no such reports. I could suggest to the member he may care to put down a question to the Minister of Agriculture.
Nathan Guy: What communication has he, or any other Minister inside or outside of Cabinet, had with the Australian officials about apple access since the election?
Hon JIM SUTTON: I have just advised the House about the discussions I have had with Alexander Downer on this matter this month. In that capacity, he was standing in for the Australian Minister of Trade, Mark Vaile, who was indisposed. My colleague Phil Goff was also present and participated in that meeting. Aside from that, I have no doubt that every New Zealand Minister who has had official contact with our Australian counterparts in recent times would have referred to this matter.
Jill Pettis: Can the Minister advise the House why New Zealand does not take retaliatory action against Australian imports of agricultural produce?
Hon JIM SUTTON: It would not be in New Zealand’s interest to engage in a tit-for-tat policy on market access. Such an approach would not be in accord with New Zealand’s commitment to fair rules - based trade and, in fact, would put us in breach of the very obligations we are asking the Australian Government to honour. We do have a robust and scientific quarantine system, which we apply without fear or favour on the basis of science—not, I may say, political science.
Craig Foss: How many more orchardists need to see their livelihoods disappear while we wait, before this Government initiates full World Trade Organization action?
Hon JIM SUTTON: The industry got very used to waiting while the previous National Government was in power and did not do a blind thing about this matter. Since then, however, the pressure has been reapplied and Australia is slowly, but surely, being dragged down by the weight of international law in this matter.
Hon David Carter: Will the Minister take this opportunity to assure the House that over the next few months, before the Prime Minister puts that man out to pasture, he will give this matter his most urgent attention?
Hon JIM SUTTON: I am flattered that the member should think that this would be the last opportunity to resolve that question. I can assure the House yet again that the Government is continuing, and will continue, to do everything within its power to advance our interests in this case. Of course, we have very much in mind the interests of every single New Zealand pipfruit producer.
Hon David Carter: Does the Minister stand by his comments in the House on 31 May this year, when he referred to New Zealand First’s trade policy as “shonky protectionism”; if not, why not?
Hon JIM SUTTON: I am sure my comments would have been totally apt at that time, but New Zealand First has come a long way since then.
11. R DOUG WOOLERTON (NZ First) to the Minister of Finance: What initiatives, if any, is the Government planning to undertake to improve real wages for New Zealand workers?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Finance): Real wages have increased about 10 or 11 percent so far, but the Government is seeking to increase them further by raising labour productivity. There is a whole range of initiatives, including such matters as the business tax package in the 2005 Budget, substantially increased funding for workplace training, the development of an overall strategy in terms of foundation skills in the workplace, the refocusing of tertiary education on quality and relevance, and, of course, the review of corporate taxation that Mr Dunne and myself are beginning at this time.
R Doug Woolerton: Will the average New Zealand worker benefit more in real terms by cutting the highest personal tax rate from 39c to 33c in the dollar, or from increasing the minimum wage to $12 an hour, as outlined in the Government’s confidence and supply agreement with New Zealand First?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: To be honest, I do not think that I can actually do that sum in my head as quickly as this. I can say that the increase to the minimum wage obviously helps those at the bottom end of the labour force in terms of incomes. A reduction in the top marginal rate helps those at the top end, by definition.
Craig Foss: What economic conditions, as referenced in the Labour - New Zealand First confidence and supply agreement, need to be in place in order to permit the minimum wage to be increased to $12 an hour; and when does he expect those conditions to be in place?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Those will be conditions particularly around the ability of employers to withstand a reasonably strong growth in the minimum wage. Of course, the Government has a role to play in that, because quite a significant proportion of people on low wages are indirectly paid by the Government—for example, those in the aged-care area. I think the member will find that by the time Mr Barker beats him next time around, we will be pretty close to that $12-an-hour level.
R Doug Woolerton: Does the Minister believe that initiatives to grow our exports, such as the dedicated export year and a more competitive company tax rate, will in the long term produce higher wages and greater productivity than simply cutting personal tax rates?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Yes, I do think that that is true. But of course the Government has also signalled that it is looking to think in terms of a major structural review of the corporate taxation area, not a mere tinkering around its edges.
Craig Foss: Is it an objective of this Government to narrow the difference between the real after-tax wages of New Zealanders and Australians?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: That certainly is a long-term ambition. I note that the largest growth in the difference between those incomes occurred between approximately1983 and 1993.
Hon Brian Donnelly: Which would be better for workers such as those in the elder-care sector, who are currently earning as little as $9.50 an hour, and those working in the lowly paid fast-food industry: cutting tax rates from 39c to 33c in the dollar, or raising the minimum wage to $12 per hour?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Clearly, for those people it is raising the minimum wage, since the top tax rate, which cuts in at $60,000 a year, has absolutely no impact upon them, at all. Even for those who believe in the trickledown theory, an awful lot of drips would have to go an awfully long way before they got down to those people.
12. PHIL HEATLEY (National—Whangarei) to the Minister of Fisheries: Has he been advised of Forest and Bird’s Best Fish Guide, which states that no New Zealand fishery is sustainable and no commercial fisheries have a management plan; if so, what, if anything, does he plan to do to address those assertions, given his Ministry’s role of ensuring fisheries are sustainably managed?
Hon JIM ANDERTON (Minister of Fisheries): Yes, I have seen the Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society’s Best Fish Guide, and I dispute its assertion that no New Zealand fishery is sustainable. New Zealand leads the world in its fisheries management. That is not to say, of course, that we have always got it right, or that there have not been mistakes. But there have been some very real successes in fisheries management, and every day we continue to know more about our fish stock, and increasingly do a better job of managing it. I can advise the House today that the Ministry of Fisheries has prepared the first of three pilot fisheries management plans—for the southern blue whiting, Coromandel scallop, and Foveaux Strait oyster fisheries. Those will be released publicly next week. If they prove to be a success—and I encourage all stakeholders to engage in their implementation—then I hope we can extend those plans through the quota management system, to ensure that a long-term approach is taken to the sustainability of our fisheries for future generations.
Phil Heatley: Is the Minister concerned at all that the Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society will undermine the domestic seafood market with its irresponsible comments—that there are no fish that consumers should eat—if so, what direct action will he take to put the record straight so that the domestic seafood market is not damaged?
Hon JIM ANDERTON: I have been encouraging all stakeholders in the fishing industry, both commercial fishers and non-governmental organisations, to meet with me and exchange views. I am certainly encouraging the fishing industry and the non-governmental organisation area to work more cooperatively together to improve the environment for fisheries in this country—and that includes the Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society.
Phil Heatley: Will the Minister actively assure the Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society that contrary to its Best Fish Guide, the over $30 million in fishery management and conservation levies his ministry collects from Kiwi fishers is well spent by his ministry in managing the fishery?
Hon JIM ANDERTON: I think there will always be contention about how well spent Government revenue is. But by and large, in my short experience so far of looking carefully at what is being done by the Ministry of Fisheries, I think the ministry does a very good job with the funds it has. It is managing our fishing and marine environment and resources extraordinarily well.
Metiria Turei: Does the Minister not agree that organisations like the Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society that provide a critical service to this country in encouraging consumers to take responsibility for the effects of their consumption of our natural resources, such as fish, are right to raise these issues for the public to give consideration to; and will he ensure that in the strategy for managing the environmental effects of fishing that was proposed before the election there are clear standards and rules to protect the fishing industry and the fisheries themselves from exploitation, and to protect the further unnecessary death of animals caught in by-catch?
Hon JIM ANDERTON: Of course, it is a free country, and the Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society is entitled to its view. The idea of a guide to properly inform people about the status of fisheries in New Zealand is a good one, provided that it is produced as a result of robust scientific process, as is the case in other parts of the world. The Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society, in my view and in view of the advice I have received, has not used robust scientific process to make its assessments.
Phil Heatley: So can the Minister then clearly confirm that he opposes and disagrees with the Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society’s claim, and does support his ministry’s spending of the $30 million in levies that is collected from Kiwi fishers?
Hon JIM ANDERTON: The levies collected from the fisheries industry are used for the research and development of the fishery resource in New Zealand. It is my considered opinion that we probably—almost certainly—need to spend more than that, but that is a matter that the Minister of Finance and I will have discussions on at a later date.
Phil Heatley: Why, then, did the Minister remain silent over the Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society’s media beat-up about the Best Fish Guide over a fortnight ago that asserted that over 69 seafood species are poorly managed by his ministry, when it spends $30 million of fisheries management levies, and will the Minister remain silent now?
Hon JIM ANDERTON: I do not imagine that the criticism I have given in a public forum like Parliament is exactly remaining silent.
Phil Heatley: That’s today; what happened a fortnight ago?
Hon JIM ANDERTON: The member might like to listen. On the day that that release was made, there was a discussion between the fisheries management and myself, and it was determined that we would put the chief executive officer of the Ministry of Fisheries, who is not only well qualified in fisheries management but is a marine biologist with very senior qualifications, into the public arena to debate that issue with those from the environmental non-governmental organisations who wanted to do that. I watched that exchange very carefully, and I think that the Government and the ministry were represented very, very well by the chief executive officer in that debate.
Uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing. For corrected transcripts, please visit: http://www.clerk.parliament.govt.nz/hansard