Questions And Answers - December 7 2005
Questions And Answers - December 7
( Uncorrected transcript—subject to
correction and further editing. For corrected transcripts,
please visit: http://www.clerk.parliament.govt.nz/hansard
Social Development and Employment, Minister—Police Decision
1. Dr DON BRASH (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Why has she referred the actions of the Hon David Benson-Pope’s press secretary to Ministerial Services yet taken no action against the Hon David Benson-Pope himself in relation to the selective leaking of police documents?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister): Because the staff member concerned initially denied to media that his office was the source of the information in the Herald on Sunday.
Dr Don Brash: Why has the Prime Minister taken no action against Mr Benson-Pope, who having delayed the scheduled release of the police file by several days, authorised its selective leaking to accommodate his own political interests, and does she accept his assurance that he was under no restraints about what he could do with the file, despite his having previously said that its release date was a matter for the police?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: It is a matter of judgment by Ministers as to what they put in the public arena.
Dr Don Brash: Has the Prime Minister asked Mr Benson-Pope for a full explanation as to why he authorised the deliberate leaking of parts of the police file over the weekend, having previously delayed the scheduled release by the police for several days for his own political interests; if so, what was the explanation given to her?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I repeat that it is a matter of judgment by Ministers as to what they put in the public arena and what legal action they choose to take to protect their reputation.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Does the Prime Minister think it is fair that someone should be able to remember something that happened 22 or 23 years ago, when a leader of a political party in this country could not remember talking to the Brethren church 4 days ago? [Interruption]
Madam SPEAKER: As members have indicated, that question was not relevant to the original question. I rule the question out of order.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. If I were to interpose in that question whether the Prime Minister had received any reports on the issue of fairness, would it then be in order?
Madam SPEAKER: It does not relate to the principal question.
Dr Don Brash: Did Mr Benson-Pope give the Prime Minister a categorical assurance that he had absolutely nothing to do with his press secretary’s denying any involvement in the leak of the police file, given that Mr Benson-Pope himself had clearly made a decision to authorise the leak, and has she accepted such an assurance?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Yes, and yes.
Dr Don Brash: What is the point in keeping a Minister of the Crown whose actions have been deliberate and deceitful, and whom the media and the public no longer trust?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I do not accept the assertions in the member’s question.
Pharmaceuticals—Disparity with Australia
2. BARBARA STEWART (NZ First) to the Minister of Health: Is he concerned at the growing disparity in Government expenditure on pharmaceuticals between New Zealand and Australia, which now spends more than twice the amount per capita on pharmaceuticals that New Zealand does; if not, why not?
Hon PETE HODGSON (Minister of Health): No, I am not. Australia spends more money on pharmaceuticals than does New Zealand, but New Zealand and Australian drug volumes are broadly equivalent—the reason being that New Zealand’s drug purchasing is more cost-effective. Last year, for example, drug volumes in New Zealand rose by about 11 percent, whereas costs rose by only about half that amount, thus allowing precious health dollars to be spent elsewhere.
Barbara Stewart: Does he think that New Zealand’s proposed increase in pharmaceutical investment of $11.85 per person over the next few years is adequate, when compared with Australia’s proposed increase of $50 per person and when taking into account that an ageing population will inevitably require more medications; and is he committed to closing that gap in funding, or will it continue to widen?
Hon PETE HODGSON: I suspect that the member is a little out of date. Yesterday, the Australian federal health Minister said that the Government wants to save up to $850 million a year in Australia—a figure that is much higher than New Zealand’s entire drug budget.
Ann Hartley: Does the Government have any aspects of drug expenditure under review; if so, why?
Hon PETE HODGSON: Yes, we do. As a result of our confidence and supply agreement with the United Future party, a long-term medicine strategy project is now being undertaken by the Associate Minister of Health, Peter Dunne. I am delighted that New Zealand First, apparently, is showing interest in that area of endeavour, as well.
Jo Goodhew: Will the Minister allow the patients to come forward to tell their stories about how their lives have been damaged by the Government’s medicines policy, or will he continue to shut those people out of the ministry’s in-house deliberations?
Hon PETE HODGSON: I shut nobody out of anything, so long as my diary fits.
Sue Kedgley: Does he share the concerns of the previous Minister of Health that the direct marketing of pharmaceuticals to consumers—which, of course, happens only in New Zealand and the United States—is driving up the demand for pharmaceuticals that are still under patent and exposing a greater number of people to the risk of adverse effects from pharmaceuticals; and will he therefore take steps to curtail the direct-to-consumer marketing of pharmaceuticals, as the previous Minister promised publicly she would do, back in 2003?
Hon PETE HODGSON: The member may be aware that the Government’s approach to direct-to-consumer advertising is to resolve those matters in a trans-Tasman forum.
Hon Peter Dunne: Does the Minister concur with the view that one of the reasons that lies behind the proposed national medicine strategy is to ensure not only the ongoing quality usage of pharmaceuticals but also to ensure that the issues addressed by the member asking the primary question regarding price and other forms of availability are factored into national policy, so it does not just come down a strict rationing decision?
Hon PETE HODGSON: Precisely.
Barbara Stewart: Is the Minister aware that in the 18 months to May 2005, the Australian Government listed 38 new drug subsidies on its pharmaceutical schedule against nine in this country, and if so, what action does he intend to take to improve the availability of new drugs to New Zealanders?
Hon PETE HODGSON: The member may not be aware of a bunch of press statements that came out from Pharmac yesterday as a result of its annual report, but it is a matter of fact that there are more products on the New Zealand drug schedule than there are on the Australian schedule.
Te Wânanga o Aotearoa—Ministerial Briefings
3. Hon BILL ENGLISH (National—Clutha-Southland) to the Minister for Tertiary Education: Can he confirm that an April 2002 briefing to the Associate Minister of Education and the Minister of Education contained this statement regarding Te Wânanga o Aotearoa: “Ministry officials have stressed the need for increased governance involvement, oversight and financial management and planning.”; if so, which Ministers and officials were responsible for ensuring those concerns were acted on?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister for Tertiary Education): Yes. The quote referred to is one used to describe the advice from officials to the council of the wânanga that the officials are working with. Those officials were those from the Ministry of Education. The responsible Minister at the time was, of course, the Associate Minister of Education (Tertiary Education).
Hon Bill English: Has the Minister seen a report dated 18 June 2003, to Steve Maharey and Trevor Mallard, outlining officials’ concerns about poor governance, conflicts of interest, and financial mismanagement, and their concern that there was a lack of progress on dealing with these issues; and why did the Government wait another 2 years before taking decisive action to sort out problems in the wânanga, when Ministers knew the facts in 2003?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I do not recall seeing that particular report. Action had been taken in May 2002 in respect of the appointment of a Crown development adviser.
Marian Hobbs: What action was taken to assist the wânanga council to improve its “governance involvement, oversight and financial management and planning”?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: As I said, a Crown development adviser was appointed in May 2002. In addition, other advisers were brought in to assist with the development of rules. The problem is that often rules are adopted—including rules around conflict of interest—but those rules are subsequently breached.
Hon Bill English: Does the Minister stand by his statement, made on National Radio, in respect of the work done by officials and Ministers: “None of that worked. We can agree on that. It didn’t work.”; if so, who is accountable for the multimillion-dollar failure of officials and Ministers to safeguard taxpayers’ money spent on the wânanga over the last 5 years?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I would have thought that the person primarily accountable was, of course, the chief executive, Mr Rongo Wçtere, who is now on leave.
Hon Bill English: Why did the Labour Government make Shane Jones the chair of Parliament’s Finance and Expenditure Committee, when he was a member of the wânanga audit and finance committee, where one of his responsibilities was policy on credit card use, which the Auditor-General described in his report, released yesterday, as unacceptable?
Madam SPEAKER: I note that the Minister has no responsibility for that appointment. That appointment was made by the committee. Would the member please submit another question.
Hon Bill English: Has the Minister seen reports that Labour MP Shane Jones, now chairman of Parliament’s Finance and Expenditure Committee, was a member of the wânanga audit and finance committee during the period covered by the Auditor-General’s report, and that one of his responsibilities was policy on credit card use, which the Auditor-General describes in a whole chapter of analysis as “unacceptable”?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Yes. I am advised that he also resigned in frustration at the lack of progress being made, whereas—[Interruption]—peace to that member, too—as recently as June of this year, Mr English appeared to have learnt nothing about the failures at the wânanga.
Marian Hobbs: Has he received any other reports on governance issues at the wânanga?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Yes. I have received reports with comments: “The answer here for the wânanga is that the Government stops trying to take it over.”, “The wânanga is not in a financial crisis and has not been.”, and “They are good. They are courses that do have value. They do reach a lot of people.” Those comments came from the Hon Bill English in June this year.
Hon Bill English: Why does the Minister keep saying in the media that the council of the wânanga has changed from the time when the Government threatened to sack it, when only one of the existing five members of the council is a new appointment, and the rest of them, including the chairman, are long-term members of the council who were there right through the period investigated by the Auditor-General, or are close associates of Rongo Wçtere; why does he keep misleading the public about that?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Far more than five members have ceased to be members of the council, and, as that member should know very well, one can be a member of a body and still be a minority within it.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Can I ask the Minister whether the quotes he quoted in the last supplementary answer bar one were made on a Mâori radio station, and whether that is the explanation for the inconsistent comments that he has heard from Bill English—it is one of those things one says to brown people as opposed to when one speaks on National Radio?
Hon Bill English: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. The Minister is not responsible for any of those issues and cannot answer the question.
Madam SPEAKER: The second part of the question was not in order, but the first part was.
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Yes, indeed.
Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. How can Dr Cullen be responsible for where quotes are made? That would be one question. The second question is what else was there in the part that you have picked out that made it comply, when there is clearly no ministerial responsibility for what a member of the Opposition has said.
Madam SPEAKER: The Minister, in making the quotes, therefore made himself responsible for those quotes, and therefore a question directed at them was, in fact, in order—but not the second part; the first part was in order.
Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker.
Madam SPEAKER: Is it a new point of order?
Gerry Brownlee: It is a clarification on your ruling. You have just ruled that, by using the quote, the Minister himself is responsible for the quote. How can that be?
Madam SPEAKER: He is responsible for it to the extent that the veracity of that quote can always be challenged by another member. So I would ask the Minister to address it to that extent. It is the veracity of those matters that he is responsible for.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. A technique that is repeatedly used by Ministers to avoid the Standing Order and make quotes of the sort Dr Cullen made is to give a big, long quote then, right at the end, put the name of the Opposition member who is associated with it. If they put the name at the front end, the matter would clearly be out of order, and you would intervene to say it was outside the ministerial responsibilities. I would just ask you, as Speaker, to wake up to that technique, and to ensure that both the intent and the meaning of the Standing Orders are complied with, and that that technique is not used just as a mechanism for Government Ministers to be able to misquote Opposition members.
Madam SPEAKER: I thank the member for his comments, but, as I have ruled, a Minister can be challenged or questioned on any quote he makes. That is what happened in this instance, and that part of the question should be addressed now.
Ron Mark: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. We down here on the cross benches have been unable hear everything, and in the points of orders we have actually lost track of what the question was. I ask whether we could have the question asked again, please.
Madam SPEAKER: I think the member makes a very valuable point. The level of noise in the Chamber through chatting or commentary on questions or answers does make it very difficult for other members to hear. I tend to allow members to respond robustly, but when it impedes the hearing of other members I will intervene more often. For the purpose of the members who did not hear the question, I ask that the question be repeated—but only that part of it that was in order.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Were the quotes the Minister supplied made on a Mâori radio station, and does he have any explanation for that?
Madam SPEAKER: Not the last bit.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Were the quotes made on a Mâori radio station; if so, which?
Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. Can you explain to us where ministerial responsibility applies in this case. If members of the House are able to ask silly questions such as: “Where did you get the quote from?”—and no one is disputing the quote; the issue here, as Dr Smith pointed out, is the misuse of the quote, and that misuse is well outside the Standing Order—[Interruption]
Madam SPEAKER: Would members please respect the member on his feet who is making a point of order.
Gerry Brownlee: The Minister of Mâori Affairs hardly ever speaks normally.
Madam SPEAKER: That was not necessary, either. Would the member please just make the point of order.
Gerry Brownlee: The point is that no one is disputing the quote; the issue is that the quote is being used in a way that is outside the Standing Orders. If you allow this question, it simply runs away from the intent of question time. Question time is to scrutinise Ministers, not comments made by members of the Opposition.
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Apart from anything else, if members wish to have this point of order applied, then, of course, that would have ruled out Mr English’s question to me about whether I had seen reports that Mr Shane Jones had been involved in doing something. I am afraid that Opposition members, if they get a ruling on this in the way they are seeking at the moment, will find asking some questions in the future very difficult indeed.
Madam SPEAKER: I will rule on the point of order. The Minister has used quotes; therefore, the Minister can be asked about those quotes. There is nothing unusual in members quoting someone else and being challenged when they do in fact make that quote.
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Yes. I am advised that the comments occurred on the Willie Jackson programme. It does seem to me to be important that one has one press statement for all.
Hon Bill English: Can the Minister explain the conflict of interest inherent in the Crown’s appoint of Mr Graeme McNally as the development adviser to the wânanga, when the wânanga is audited by the Auditor-General by statute, the Auditor-General has delegated Deloitte’s to carry out the audit of the wânanga, and Mr Graeme McNally, on whom the Crown has relied for advice over several years, is a partner in Deloittes—the firm that does the audit and should have uncovered all the financial mismanagement that the Auditor-General uncovered?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I am advised that the conflict was not known to the Minister at the time that Mr McNally’s appointment was made. Mr McNally, of course, had been appointed—
Hon Bill English: So no one found out what auditing firm he was from?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The Mr Angry act will not do in this respect. Mr McNally had been used frequently in terms of tertiary institution monitoring, and very successfully. When the conflict became clear, Mr McNally’s appointed ceased.
Hon Bill English: How long did it take two Ministers of Education, one Minister of Finance, and 350 officials, all being paid tens of thousands of dollars, to work out that Mr Graeme McNally, a partner in Deloitte’s and auditor of the wânanga, was the same Mr Graeme McNally who was paid $127,000 by the Government to give the Government advice on the wânanga, and is not that a direct and fatal conflict of interest?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Rather too long, in my view, but significantly less than the time that member has taken to discover there is a financial problem at the wânanga—because he still does not think there is one.
Hon Bill English: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I asked the Minister how long it took three Ministers and 350 officials to work out that Graeme McNally, a partner in Deloitte’s, was the same Graeme McNally that the Government had appointed to give independent advice on the wânanga, and the Minister did not answer that question.
Madam SPEAKER: The Minister addressed the question by saying, as I heard it, “too long”. Question No. 4, Moana Mackey. [Interruption] I am sorry but one more interjection during a point of order, or when a member is asking a question, and the member will be asked to leave the Chamber.
National Certificate of Educational Achievement—Examinations
4. MOANA MACKEY (Labour) to the Minister of Education: What recent reports has he received on progress with the NCEA exam season?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY (Minister of Education): The exam season is going smoothly. The sitting of the National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA) exams is now complete, and scholarship will finish this Saturday. Marking is now under way and is progressing as anticipated. To ensure consistency and fairness, early in the marking process a sample of scripts is marked and checked. The marking schedule is altered if necessary. That is exactly the process that was put in place earlier this year, and it is working exactly as expected.
Moana Mackey: What is being done to ensure a high level of transparency around NCEA and scholarship exams?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: During the year the New Zealand Qualifications Authority held 272 workshops around the country involving 4,000 lead teachers. Prior to exams the authority sent information directly to parents and schools. Since exams began the authority has provided regular updates to the public, including a press briefing, five media statements, numerous media interviews, and an exam hotline, 0800 NCEA. Since marking began the marking schedules of just nine, so far out, of 335 standards have required attention. These have been identified early and dealt with. This means that the marking schedules for less than 2 percent of all of the questions for all of the standards in all of the subjects have required some attention.
Hon Bill English: Is the Minister aware that at a select committee hearing this morning the Ministry of Education disagreed with the public statements made by the New Zealand Qualifications Authority over how the marking is happening, and when the ministry was asked whether it agreed with Karen Sewell’s statement that there was an expected distribution of results, the ministry official said: “No, it’s not quite like that.”, so whom do we believe?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: What we believe is that this is a standards-based system, and people are working towards a standard. The member has often raised the notion of scaling, so can I point out to him that scaling cannot take place until all the marks are in. All the exams have to be marked for scaling to take place. I know that the member has never marked exams, but he has to understand that that is when scaling can take place and not before.
Hon Bill English: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I asked the Minister a direct question, which was whether he was aware of the disagreement between the Ministry of Education and the New Zealand Qualifications Authority. He did not actually refer to that at all, and I request that he answer it.
Madam SPEAKER: Yes, the member is correct. Would the Minister address that part of the question, please.
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: Until I can check that matter, given the member’s track record, I will not reply to the question.
Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. How is that reply in any way in order and how will it help order in the House?
Madam SPEAKER: Certainly, the Minister’s reply that he should check was in order; the throwaway line about his reference to the member was not. So I ask that member to stand and withdraw that part.
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I withdraw the last part of the answer.
Moana Mackey: What advice has he received that students and parents can have confidence in the exam system?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: The Post Primary Teachers Association (PPTA) recently passed a motion of confidence in the National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA). Graham Young from the Secondary Principals Association, early this week, said that “problems were being recognised early and rectified promptly”. Karen Sewell, the acting Chief Executive of the New Zealand Qualifications Authority, said: “The process we put in place this year is working as expected.” In other words, those who set, sit, and administer the exams are confident the process is working. The only person who is seeking to undermine this confidence is Bill English, and he should take his own advice and let young people sit their exams and teachers do their marking.
Social Development and Employment, Minister—Police Decision
5. JUDITH COLLINS (National—Clevedon) to the Minister for Social Development and Employment: Does he stand by his statement in the House yesterday when he said: “Can I stress that I believe I have acted in a perfectly upfront way in all matters, and have not been deceitful.”; if so, why?
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE (Minister for Social Development and Employment): Yes, as I said in the House yesterday, although I was not aware of any restraint placed on me with regard to the files in my possession, in hindsight I recognise that releasing details was not the wisest course of action. At the time, the material was given to a Sunday newspaper to provide a more accurate analysis of the number of students who supported me, and did not support the allegations against me, than the misinformation provided to the House last week by Rodney Hide.
Judith Collins: If, as the Minister says, he has acted in a perfectly upfront way in all matters and has not been deceitful, why is it that he changed his story yesterday, when he said he did not recall the alleged events, from his statement made in the House on 12 May when he said: “I find such allegations ridiculous and I refute them.”; or is that because he no longer stands by his statement made on 12 May?
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: I can confirm that my statement made in the House yesterday was to the effect that I am one of the 19 people who either do not recall the alleged events or do not believe they happened.
Judith Collins: When the Minister authorised his press secretary to leak selective parts of the police report to a Sunday newspaper, what did he tell his press secretary to say to the media in case they asked where the leak came from?
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: I gave no instructions, other than being completely honest with the media, to my press secretary.
Judith Collins: Does the Minister stand by his press release on Sunday, which stated that the police report vindicates his position, and how is that not deceitful, given that the police report showed there were nine credible witnesses to the incident and that the police believed them?
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: Yes, I do stand by the statement. The prime reason is that 19 individuals, including myself, in that class either have no recollection of any such alleged incident or refute it absolutely.
Judith Collins: Does the Minister stand by his statement to the House yesterday: “Can I stress that the analysis that was released was in no way selective.”; if so, would he please explain how neglecting to include any evidence that might point to his guilt is neither selective nor deceitful?
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: Yes, and that document contained reference to statements not in support of me.
Judith Collins: Does the Minister stand by his press release on Sunday: “Now that the investigation has concluded, he does not feel constrained talking about the case.”; if so, why will he not front up to the media and talk about the case?
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: I point out to the member that the police investigation recommended no further action, and, for me, that is where the matter rests.
Judith Collins: What did the Minister mean when he told the House, on 12 May, that he refuted the allegation and he found the allegation ridiculous?
Madam SPEAKER: I listened carefully to the member’s question. The Minister is not responsible for actions or what was said on 12 May, in the previous Parliament, when he was the Associate Minister of Education. I ask that the question be rephrased so that it is consistent with the Minister’s ministerial responsibilities.
Judith Collins: When the Minister told the House yesterday that he had no recollection of the incident, and he was one of the 19 people who could not recall it and did not believe it had happened, did he mean the same thing as saying that he refuted the allegation and found it ridiculous?
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: The questioner has mixed up two statements in that question. What I said to the House yesterday was that I am one of the 19 people in the class who either do not recall the alleged events or do not believe they happened.
Social Development and Employment, Minister—Police Decision
6. RODNEY HIDE (Leader—ACT) to the Minister for Social Development and Employment: Has his office received the transcript of the police interview he had on 21 September, where he said “the sort of activity that I’m being accused of, of forcing a tennis ball into someone’s mouth would be as unacceptable then as it is now and I was not, I have never committed such an offence.”, and does he stand by his statement in the House yesterday that “I am one of the 19 people who either do not recall the alleged events, or do not believe they happened.”?
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE (Minister for Social Development and Employment): Yes.
Rodney Hide: What event has caused the Minister not to remember what he categorically denied to the police less than 3 months ago, and can he remember providing a signed statement to the police denying that he stuffed a tennis ball into the mouth of one of the students?
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: My statement to the police is a matter of public record.
Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. The fact that the Minister’s statement is on the public record in no way addresses my question. He could stand up—as he will probably now do—and say that in answer to every question. He actually has to address the question.
Madam SPEAKER: Yes, he addressed the question by stating that the statement in the police report was a matter of public record. That addressed the question.
Rodney Hide: No, it does not. With the greatest of respect—
Madam SPEAKER: I am sorry, it does address the question. Would the member please be seated. I know that the answer may not satisfy the member, but it did address the question.
Judith Collins: When the Minister said yesterday to the House: “I am one of the 19 people who either do not recall the alleged events or do not believe they happened.”, in which camp does he fall—is he one who cannot recall it or is he one who thinks it did not happen?
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: Both.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Why can the Minister—
Madam SPEAKER: I have warned members that when a member is asking a question it is heard in silence.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Why can the Minister not remember every detail of every school day 23 years ago and show a memory superior to that of the leader of the National Party, who could not remember a month-old conversation with senators, or a 4-day-old conversation with the Exclusive Brethren?
Madam SPEAKER: No, that question is not in order.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. With respect, I am asking the Minister why he cannot remember every detail of every school day 23 years ago, because that is the core of this issue—whether there is any memory of the event about which the National Party complains. Now, according to the National Party, he should be able to remember those, and I am asking him whether there is any obvious reason why he cannot.
Madam SPEAKER: If the question relates to the statement of yesterday, then it is in order, but the Minister is not responsible for anything that happened in the past. He is responsible for his ministerial responsibilities.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. The key issue is that he says he cannot recall, and that does not relate just to yesterday; it relates to 23 years ago. I want to know why he cannot remember every detail of every school day on which he was professionally occupied 23 years ago, because the National Party thinks that that is a fair question to be asked of this Minister—when its leader cannot remember conversations held 4 days ago.
Madam SPEAKER: I am sorry, but that question does not relate to the Minister's ministerial responsibilities in the way it is phrased, so I ask for the next supplementary question.
Judith Collins: Can the Minister just explain to the House what he meant by saying that he was both a person who did not recall the alleged events and a person who did not believe they happened—how can he be both?
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: I would have thought that that was self-evident. I do not have any recall of the alleged events, nor do I believe they happened.
Rodney Hide: Now that the Minister has changed his mind and can no longer remember whether he jammed a tennis ball into the mouth of one of his students—and according to Mr Peters that must have been a fairly regular sort of occurrence—
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. With respect, that cannot be in order, particularly in regard to myself. There is only one member in this House who could have a tennis ball put into his mouth—and that is Rodney Hide.
Madam SPEAKER: Both those references to tennis balls were out of order.
Rodney Hide: Now that the Minister has changed his mind and can no longer remember, categorically, whether he jammed a tennis ball into the mouth of one of his students, has he contacted the police to change his statement in which he categorically denied sticking a tennis ball in a student’s mouth; and, if he has not contacted the police to change his statement, why has he not?
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: I have had no further direct contact with the police.
7. Hon TONY RYALL (National—Bay of Plenty) to the Minister of Health: How many calls were made to Plunketline (excluding calls transferred from Healthline) in the month of October 2005, and how many of these were answered?
Hon PETE HODGSON (Minister of Health): The total number of calls answered in October was 5,155. The non-response rate, however, was over 80 percent. The non-response rate is why I announced last week that the Government will contract directly for a Plunketline service. The tender process is now under way.
Hon Tony Ryall: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. The Minister failed to answer the question. I have been specific, because I have some information here that he could have confirmed. I asked about the total number of calls and the number of calls that would have been answered, excluding the Healthline transfers, and he has given me a figure that includes the Healthline transfers. I think he should address the question and provide the information that was sought. The question has been on notice for some hours.
Madam SPEAKER: I would ask the Minister to address the question.
Hon PETE HODGSON: I put all this information into the public area last week. If the member wants to know the number of calls answered by Plunketline that came directly to Plunketline in the month of October, the answer is 3,425. The reason I gave the higher number is that a number of calls are made to Healthline and then directed to Plunketline, and it seemed to me that it would give the member a better idea.
Hon Tony Ryall: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I am sorry to labour this point, but we do need to have the information. There were two questions: how many calls were made to Plunketline, and how many calls were answered? We know that 3,425 were answered. Now the Minister should be able to tell us how many were actually made.
Madam SPEAKER: I think that the Minister, through both his answers, has addressed the question, but the member may like to redirect a supplementary question.
Hon Tony Ryall: No, no, Madam Speaker. The question was on notice and is quite specific.
Madam SPEAKER: The Minister, however, has addressed the question. Ministers are not required to answer specifically with yes or no answers. They are required, however, to address the question.
Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. When the Speaker is speaking to this House, it is requirement that members of Parliament sit down—even if the member is a Government poodle like Mr Peters.
Madam SPEAKER: Mr Hide, you always spoil your points of order with irrelevant comments. Yes, you were right that members should remain seated, but I was not on my feet. Can we recommence with a supplementary question from the Rt Hon Winston Peters—no, a point of order first.
Ron Mark: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. In the light of Mr Hide’s point of order, I also remind you that you have already given a final warning for people who interject whilst a point of order is being made. Whilst the Hon Tony Ryall was making his point of order to you Mr Hide interjected, calling Mr Peters a “poodle” across the floor of the House. That was an interjection during a point of order, after a final warning, and I ask that you exercise your authority and chuck him out of the House as he deserves—he has nothing to offer.
Madam SPEAKER: No, he was actually on his feet making a point of order, but he made an irrelevant comment in the course of it.
Ron Mark: He made the comment long before the point of order was taken by him, Madam Speaker. He was sitting in the seat, as he is now, talking while you were talking and hearing a point of order.
Madam SPEAKER: Thank you, Mr Mark. I missed that, but I will be listening in the future.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Does the Minister have any reports on Plunketline’s success over the years, particularly in the year 1999 when National’s leader, Jenny Shipley, shut it down?
Hon PETE HODGSON: I certainly have. The issue around funding for Plunketline in the late 1990s, when the member who asked the primary question was in Cabinet but when the member who asked the first supplementary question had already left the Government, was a mean and foolish part of our recent history, characterised by, amongst other things, Plunketline shutting down for months through lack of funding.
Hon Tony Ryall: I seek leave, before I seek the call to ask another supplementary question, to table the answer to question for written answer No. 8978, which shows that last month 3,425 calls to Plunketline were answered out of a total number of calls of 26,453. That is why he would not tell me the information.
Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? Yes, there is objection.
Lynne Pillay: How did the previous National Government support Plunketline?
Hon PETE HODGSON: Very badly. [Interruption]
Madam SPEAKER: That question is not in order.
Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. The House needs to know that that was a patsy supplementary question from a junior Labour Party back-bencher, written on a piece of paper—
Madam SPEAKER: That is not a point of order. The member will be seated.
Hon Tony Ryall: When only 3,425 calls were answered out of 26,453 calls made last month—87 percent of calls to Plunketline are going unanswered, and it has got worse since the Healthline and Plunketline merger—why has it taken this Government so long to realise that Annette King’s merger was a complete and an utter failure?
Hon PETE HODGSON: The House may be interested to learn that McKessons, who run Healthline, and Plunket, who run Plunketline, wrote to the Ministry of Health in August 2003, stating: “We want to assure you that we share your desire to ensure a fully functioning, integrated national Healthline service.” People thought it would work, and when Plunket came to the Government a few months ago and said it would take a direct contract in preference to that, we said it would be fine by us.
Hon Tony Ryall: Why has the Government ignored endless correspondence from Plunket regarding dissatisfaction with Annette King’s merger of Plunketline and Healthline, and why did the Government arrogantly ignore the concerns of Plunket and of the desperate parents who were trying to get help?
Hon PETE HODGSON: I say again to the House that Plunket believed that an integrated service would work and said so in writing, and that is why it was embarked upon. It is clear, after a bit of learning by doing, that a direct contract between the Government and Plunket, which will be tendered for in due course, will work better.
Lynne Pillay: How does this Government’s support for Plunketline compare with recent history in respect of dissatisfaction with service?
Hon PETE HODGSON: What an excellent question! It is now known that Plunket was so frustrated with the previous National Government that two rallies were organised in the late 1990s. Plunketline was shut down, through lack of funding, in 1999. It was then opened again, but only for part of the day and only at $400,000 a year. That was the level of support that National was prepared to give Plunketline when the member who asked the primary question was a member of Cabinet. When there was a change of Government the funding was doubled to more than $1 million, and now Healthline and Plunketline, between them, are working with about $10 million. There is a much higher level of support now than there was when the member who asked the primary question was a member of the executive.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: How many calls—
Lindsay Tisch: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I understand that New Zealand First has four supplementary questions and that it has taken four. It is not entitled to any more.
Madam SPEAKER: I thank the member. That is correct.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. You will recall, Madam Speaker, that you ruled out the first two supplementary questions. That being the case, we have one to go.
Madam SPEAKER: They still count, though.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: How can you count a question that has been ruled out? Usually one is given the right to rephrase the question, which is a privilege that you did not extend to me. I seek leave to ask one more question.
Madam SPEAKER: I was going to suggest to the member that he can always seek leave. Leave is sought. Is there any objection? There is objection.
Hone Harawira: He aha ngâ mahi kua wakaritea e te Kâwana i çnei tau 2005 ki te 2006 kia ôrite ai te utu o ngâ nçhi, arâ, wçrâ o Te Rôpû Tiaki Tamariki a Plunket, me Ngâ Nçhi Mâori â-Rohe, ki ngâ nçhi e mahi ana mô ngâ Pôari Hauora â-Rohe?
[An interpretation in English was given to the House.]
[What provisions has the Government considered for the years 2005-06, to ensure that nurses working outside district health boards, such as Plunket or Mâori community health workers, receive salaries on a par with district health board nurses?]
Hon PETE HODGSON: Some nurses are employed by the Government and some nurses are employed through non-governmental organisations. The Government is responsible for the setting of the salaries of the first group of nurses.
Hon Tony Ryall: How, when the Minister is reported as saying he was shocked to discover that only one in seven calls to Plunketline were being answered—saying: “You couldn’t rate it as a success.”—can he explain those comments, when Mrs King said on behalf of the Government, in light of facing the same rate of unanswered calls earlier this year, that she was pretty relaxed about the situation that six out of seven people calling Plunketline could not get anyone to answer the phone?
Hon PETE HODGSON: The hope has been, and had been for some time, that an improved use of software and triaging facilities would improve the non-response rate. That has proved, with the experience of time, not to be the case.
Hon Tony Ryall: If this Labour Government cannot even arrange a decent telephone service to deal with 26,000 phone calls—[Interruption]
Madam SPEAKER: Would people please keep their chatter down. [Interruption] Those were not interjections; they were comments—[Interruption] Then I am sorry, but half of this side of the House will have to go, too. The interjections have been the problem, but members do keep the level of chatter at unacceptable levels.
Hon Tony Ryall: If the Government cannot arrange a decent telephone service to deal with 26,000 phone calls from desperate parents who need some advice, how can the public have any confidence at all that this Minister could manage the hundreds of thousands of phone calls that would need to be answered during a possible bird flu pandemic?
Hon PETE HODGSON: What the member does not know, and neither do I, is how many people are not getting through. We do know how many phone calls are not being answered. Plunketline invites people to ring back. Plunket has, apparently, analysed how many phone numbers the unanswered calls come from, and it estimates that the unmet demand is much lower than the unanswered calls would indicate.
8. SHANE JONES (Labour) to the Minister of Finance: What recent reports has he received on the KiwiSaver scheme?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Finance): I received recently a report outlining the recommendations of the United Kingdom Pensions Commission that the British Government establish a national pension savings scheme similar to the KiwiSaver model. The similarities have led the British media to dub the model “BritSaver”.
Shane Jones: Do any aspects of the United Kingdom Pensions Commission report vary substantively from the approach taken by this Government?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Yes; there is one particularly important difference. The British commission proposes to increase the age of eligibility for the publicly funded pension from 65 to 67. That is not something this Government is considering, notwithstanding the equivocation on many occasions on this point from the current Leader of the Opposition.
Question No. 11 to Minister, 16 November —Amended Answer
Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE (Minister of Immigration): I seek leave to correct a statement I previously made to the House.
Hon TONY RYALL (National—Bay of Plenty): I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. What is it about?
Hon David Cunliffe: It is in response to a previous question.
Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought. Is there any objection?
RODNEY HIDE (Leader—ACT): I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I am just trying to help the Minister. It would help members enormously if the Minister would explain a little more, rather than just saying he is going to correct something he said in the House in answer to some question. I ask the member to give a fraction more detail.
Madam SPEAKER: Yes; would the Minister clarify why leave is being sought.
Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE (Minister of Immigration): I seek leave to correct a statement I previously made in the House in response to a question for oral answer on 16 November 2005.
Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought. Is there any objection?
GERRY BROWNLEE (Deputy Leader—National): I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. The rule, I understand, is that a Minister makes a correction at the first available opportunity. We have had a day and half of sitting since that particular day. We have also been sitting here today since 2 o’clock—we have had over an hour today—so we would be inclined not to grant that leave. The Minister has, of course, the opportunity to make a ministerial statement to correct his position.
Madam SPEAKER: I thank the member, and I think the course of action would be to deny the leave, but I will put the question. Leave has been sought. Is there any objection? There is.
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Leader of the House): I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I would like some clarification because this is an important point for Ministers. If one has given an incorrect answer to the House, one seeks leave to correct it, because otherwise one is potentially exposed to a breach of privilege charge. I assume, of course, if leave is being denied, that no member is then in a position to bring a breach of privilege charge.
GERRY BROWNLEE (Deputy Leader—National): The point is that the correction should come at the first available opportunity. We have had all day yesterday, and we have had today. The Minister cannot tell us that this is the first moment that he knew about it. If he knew about it at the start of the House sitting today, he should have brought it up then.
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Leader of the House): I am sure the member is right that, certainly, the matter could have been raised earlier today. But then, of course, I assume, if you accept that that is a hard and fast rule, that we will no longer have any points of order raised at any time other than immediately after the offence occurred—which has been a frequent occurrence already in this Parliament, let alone in the previous Parliament.
GERRY BROWNLEE (Deputy Leader—National): Madam Speaker, that is not a matter for you to consider at all in this, because this about a Minister who, after considering a question on notice, comes to the House 4 hours after he got the question, makes a mistake in the answer, then apparently does not find out about it until quite some number of days later—10 or 12 days later—then comes to the House at 2 o’clock, knowing that the mistake has been made, but waits until his question comes up on the sheet to correct it. The correction should have been made right at the start. The courteous thing would have been for his office—[Interruption]—to make some sort of analysis of his answer on the day, so that we would not be in the position of asking a question that might very well relate to that actual mistake.
RODNEY HIDE (Leader—ACT): This is a very important point. The rule exists that a Minister is required to make a correction at the earliest possible time— [Interruption]—because we actually want to have correct answers in this House. What appears to be the case here is that the Minister has bothered to make a correction only because he is getting a subsequent question, and that is entirely out of order—and, indeed, I suspect, a potential breach of privilege—because Ministers do not come down and correct their answers when they are caught; they come down and correct their answers as soon as they become aware of the need to do so. The easy course of action for the Minister is to do this—[Interruption] Mr Peters has interrupted three times. Madam Speaker, it is very hard to give a point of order when Mr Peters is sitting on the cross benches chipping away three or four times.
Madam SPEAKER: Yes, I agree with you, and I would have to ask that member to leave the Chamber. There have been so many warnings. I know that this will deny some people an opportunity, because he does have a question to him on the Order Paper, but as members have raised the matter I have to ask the member to leave.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I seek leave to return to answer my question.
Madam SPEAKER: No, I am sorry.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Can I seek leave to return to answer my question?
Madam SPEAKER: I have asked the member—[Interruption] I am sorry, but Mr Brownlee will be joining him very shortly! As I said, there will be very few of us left at the rate we are going. I have warned this House on several occasions yesterday and today that constant chipping in is not acceptable. I let chatter go, as long as it is not too loud, but that chipping in via interjections is unacceptable. I am asking the member to leave. He has sought leave to come back for his question. Is there any objection to that? No. The member will please now go, and return for his question.
Rt Hon Winston Peters withdrew from the Chamber.RODNEY HIDE: The easy way forward for the Minister is, in seeking leave, to explain why today is the earliest possible opportunity for him to correct the answer.
Madam SPEAKER: I thank Mr Hide. That is the obvious point.
Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE (Minister of Immigration): It is because, quite simply, the error was not detected until the processing of an answer to a parliamentary question today.
Madam SPEAKER: The normal course of action is that as soon as one becomes aware of that, one should take the earliest opportunity to explain. That should, in fact, have been taken at the beginning of question time, as was indicated. It was not, but leave was sought. Leave has been denied. The member can now approach the Speaker in writing to explain what has happened—that is what has happened in the past—to determine whether there has, in fact, been any breach of privilege.
Immigration—Priority of Applications
9. Dr the Hon LOCKWOOD SMITH (National—Rodney) to the Minister of Immigration: Are immigration representations made by members of Parliament given priority over other immigration applications?
Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE (Minister of Immigration): Immigration representations are not applications.
Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: Why, when answering a question in this House on 16 November in respect of some of the 438 immigration appeals made in the past 3 years by the honourable Taito Phillip Field, did the Minister tell the House that I had made “In the realm of 80 in the last 3 years.”?
Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: The member must have ESP, because that was precisely the point I was attempting to clarify for the House in my point of order. In fact, the member made only 21 representations during that 3-year period, and I take this opportunity to apologise to the member for overstating his hard work.
Jill Pettis: How many representations were made to the Minister of Immigration in the last financial year, and how many standard immigration applications were made in the same period?
Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: In 2004-05 around 4,000 ministerial representations were received, with approximately one-fifth originating from members of Parliament. In the same year over 400,000 immigration applications were made to the Department of Labour.
Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: Is it correct that his own department had established on 19 October—not long before that Minister answered the question in this House—that I had, in fact, made 21 immigration appeals in the last 3 years, and why did he choose to give this House an erroneous figure almost four times higher than the correct figure?
Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: Quite simply, because I made an error. I have previously apologised to the member for overstating his efforts.
Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: Is it correct that on 16 November he also told the House that I had “put a higher number of cases before the Minister than most members of this House have done.”, and did he simply make up the figure of “80 in the last 3 years” in an attempt to support a false statement; if not, where did the figure of 80 come from?
Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: As I have already clarified, that figure was an error, and the member is now quite correct. He did not, in fact, make more representations than a majority of members.
Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: Does this set the standard we can expect from this Minister of Immigration—that if he wants to score a political point, he is prepared to just pluck out of the air any figures that might happen to suit his political purpose?
Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: No.
Health Care—Role of Nurses
10. DARIEN FENTON (Labour) to the Minister of Health: In what ways is the Government supporting a greater role for nurses in health care?
Hon PETE HODGSON (Minister of Health): New regulations mean that from tomorrow qualified nurse practitioners will be able to prescribe a range of new medications. This move not only encourages the professional development of the nursing sector but is also a key part of the Government’s work to provide timely, flexible, high-quality health-care for all New Zealanders.
Darien Fenton: What would a nurse have to do to qualify to prescribe medication?
Hon PETE HODGSON: Quite a lot. Apart from the 3-year undergraduate degree that nurses must undertake, they then also should undertake a 2-year masters degree in the scope of practice for which prescribing rights are sought, followed by several years of clinical practice. Some non-doctor professionals, such as midwives, already prescribe. There is only one prescribing nurse in New Zealand at the moment, but about 100 nurses are now preparing to apply when the regulations change tomorrow.
Sue Kedgley: Is he concerned that by July of next year most full-time primary health-care nurses will earn around $160 less than district health board nurses for a 40-hour week, and what specific steps is he taking to bring about pay parity for those primary health-care nurses who are paid through the public health system, so that there is not a mass walk-out of primary health-care nurses next year?
Hon PETE HODGSON: We are not taking any specific steps, because we are not the employers. However, the member will be aware that this Government has a very high commitment to primary health-care, and that commitment has been matched by substantial funding increases in recent years.
11. Hon MURRAY McCULLY (National—East Coast Bays) to the Minister of Foreign Affairs: Why did he tell the New Zealand Press Association at the APEC meeting that he would raise our “$2 billion” trade deficit with China in his meeting with the Chinese Foreign Minister, and what proposals, if any, did he advance at the meeting to address the issue?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Minister of Foreign Affairs): In a pre-APEC interview with Ian Llewellyn from the New Zealand Press Association, which took place in Wellington several days prior to my leaving for APEC—not at APEC, as the member falsely asserts—Mr Llewellyn canvassed with me a wide range of hypothetical issues that might be raised in my meeting with my Chinese counterpart, including our trade deficit with China. On further investigation, of course, I realised that the Foreign Minister in China is very much like the Minister of Foreign Affairs in New Zealand: he does not handle trade matters. He was accompanied by one Bo Xilai, who is the Commerce Minister, who later that day had full bilaterals with Mr Goff and Mr Sutton. That is the reason why I did not raise the matter with him when I saw him.
Hon Murray McCully: Has he seen the description of his performance at the APEC meetings carried by the New Zealand Herald as that of “a politician whose role is now so circumscribed by his ‘colleagues’ that he is little more than a post box through which his international counterparts must route their requests to where the real foreign policy decisions are made”, and what reassurances can he give the House today that he is not just acting as a postbox for Miss Clark and Mr Goff when he meets with overseas Ministers?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: I have most certainly seen the New Zealand Herald editorial, which is in line, of course, with the 68 it wrote against me about the wine box—and it was wrong. It has never apologised. It does not have a shred of integrity when it comes to that, but more important, I have seen this. It is a series of emails that shows that the National Party had the New Zealand Herald doing its work—[Interruption] oh, yes—from one Peter Keenan, who worked for Don Brash. This email states things like this: “One place to argue the case would be the New Zealand Herald’s ‘Perspective’ page.” I will read on further—no, members should listen to this; it is good stuff.
Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. It may have escaped your attention, but not ours, that Mr Peters goes not only around this country but around the world, claiming to be this country’s Minister of Foreign Affairs. He has been asked a question about his activities as Minister of Foreign Affairs, and we are getting a history lesson on the greatest debacle of any politician in this country, the wine-box affair, and now on some spurious emails, which have absolutely nothing to do with his role as Minister of Foreign Affairs—unless, of course, he wants to admit that he is just the postbox he is accused of being.
Hon Dr Michael Cullen: Unfortunately, perhaps, the member failed to listen to his colleague’s supplementary question, which specifically referred to the New Zealand Herald article and comments about the member.
Madam SPEAKER: I will rule on the point of order. Although the member may have been discursive, he was addressing the question, because it did refer to that particular newspaper.
Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. Does that mean that if in a question to a Minister we were to mention a particular publication, the Minister could simply produce it and start reading it, because that is what he appears to be doing—just reading a few pages out of the New Zealand Herald, taking up a bit of time—
Madam SPEAKER: No, I am sorry, Mr Brownlee, but we had not actually heard the answer to the question. As I said, perhaps the Minister could address it more succinctly and relate the relevance of the emails to the question, which was about the New Zealand Herald.
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: I most certainly will. Hear this: “We could use a slot we have available, a free slot, in the New Zealand Herald for you. Text to be in by this Friday.” That is from Peter Keenan to Don Brash, Gerry Brownlee, Murray McCully, Wayne Mapp, Pansy Wong, and Richard Long. It just shows what a scurrilous piece of ragtag journalism we have to live with.[Interruption]
Madam SPEAKER: No, I agree with the member. That is drawing a long bow with the conclusion.
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I am being asked to comment on a New Zealand Herald editorial. I am giving some reasons why those comments are not worth the paper they are written on.
Madam SPEAKER: Yes, but it was your description at the end of that answer that was unacceptable.
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: The point is that these very illuminating emails also discuss how they will get me on side with the National Party, post-election. Now, what does that tell us?
Madam SPEAKER: That is not relevant to the question that was asked.
Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. Perhaps it would help if the Minister were prepared to tell the House whether he considers himself to be a postbox, or, in his case, an inbox.
Madam SPEAKER: That is not a point of order. [Interruption] Please, we wish to hear what the member has to say.
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: Just in case the public did not hear that, and, not being a plagiarist, nevertheless I will—
Madam SPEAKER: Mr Brownlee asked a question for the Minister to respond to—
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: That is right. Just in case—[Interruption] It was a question.
Madam SPEAKER: I ask the member to sit down, and I apologise. I thought it was a supplementary question. It was a point of order in the form of a question. The point of order itself was not a point of order. It was invalid, and it would have been as a question. So there is no question to answer.
Hon Jim Anderton: Does the Minister have any further reports about why he might have been misinterpreted, or his role as Minister of Foreign Affairs misunderstood, by so many people?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: That is an extraordinarily insightful question. Can I just say that a New Zealand Herald correspondent who went to that meeting at APEC gave a full commentary on a meeting she was not at. She said that all sorts of things happened, to the extent that I had to contact the embassy in question to confirm that the discussion reported in the New Zealand Herald did not happen. I challenged that New Zealand Herald writer to correct it, and she would not. That tells us what that newspaper’s editorials and commentary are worth.
Keith Locke: Is not New Zealand’s trade deficit with China larger than it should be because Chinese exports are subsidised through wages being kept at a very low level, unions being banned, and through very little money being spent on workplace health and safety or environmental protection, as we saw in Harbin a week ago; and what is the Minister doing to end these subsidies, which are to our disadvantage?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: Although our discussions were wide-ranging—
Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order—
Hon Dr Michael Cullen: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I wonder whether you could explain what the ministerial responsibility ofr the Minister of Foreign Affairs is in relation to ending Chinese subsidies in matters of this sort. At the very outside it is a matter for the Minister of Trade or the Minister for Trade Negotiations, not a matter for the Minister of Foreign Affairs.
Madam SPEAKER: Yes, and I assume that that was to be the point of your point of order, Mr Brownlee.
Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I was going to ask you to pay attention to the answer given by Mr Peters, because quite clearly he does want to answer as a Minister, in the House, well outside his designated portfolio areas.
Madam SPEAKER: I thank the member and ask Mr Locke whether he wishes to rephrase the question so that it is within the specific area of ministerial responsibility.
Keith Locke: Could I just speak to the point of order?
Madam SPEAKER: All right. The member may speak to the point of order.
Keith Locke: I think that my question shows that trade questions do have a Minister of Foreign Affairs dimension to them, because my question did concern issues of human rights, union rights, environmental protections, and workplace health and safety, all of which should come within the framework of the Minister of Foreign Affairs as well as of the Minister for Trade Negotiations. Therefore, I think it is up to the Minister of Foreign Affairs to answer such questions.
Madam SPEAKER: I will rule on the point of order first. The Minister is not speaking to the point of order, is he?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: No.
Madam SPEAKER: The question was about a trade deficit and Chinese trade practices, so there is a relevance to the question. But, of course, the Minister in his reply is responsible only for his ministerial responsibility.
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: I am able to report that although our meeting was gracious, elegant, and went long overtime, and that the Foreign Minister for China, Minister Bo Xilai, was terribly positive about our communications, we did not have time to cover every other area of the portfolio that is represented in Cabinet. Therefore, I have not written any report on that matter.
Hon Murray McCully: Does he stand by the statement made in the House 2 weeks ago on his behalf that “the Minister of Foreign Affairs accepts that seeking a free-trade deal with China is one of our highest foreign policy goals”; if so, how did the Minister of Foreign Affairs manage to have a formal meeting with the Chinese Foreign Minister without once raising what he accepts is our highest foreign policy goal?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: The plain fact is that the Minister of Foreign Affairs for China, like the Minister of Foreign Affairs for New Zealand, does not cover trade and commerce matters. Hence he leaves it to his colleague Minister Bo Xilai, and he did that for the afternoon meeting with Mr Goff and Mr Sutton. There is nothing extraordinary about that. Over half of the Foreign Ministers in the 21 APEC economies do not cover trade. It is only the New Zealand Herald and the Opposition that find this extraordinary; the rest of the world finds it normal.
Hon Murray McCully: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I asked a very specific question of the Minister starting in this way: “Does he stand by the statement made in the House 2 weeks ago on his behalf …”, and then I repeated a passage from Hansard. Those of us who have been here for a while will have heard many sermons from Mr Peters about the accountability of Ministers and about the requirement to provide fulsome and accurate answers. I was wondering whether you might like to suggest that an answer that complies with the Standing Orders and gets a little bit closer to the loftier sentiments for which Mr Peters has been such a fervent advocate in the past, might be called for in relation to such a specific question.
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: It is a fact that I am on record demanding accountability for Ministers. That is what I demanded on the wine-box inquiry and got expelled from the National Party—does the member remember—whilst they covered for their rich, fraudulent mates.
Madam SPEAKER: That is not an answer. Would the Minister please be seated. I thought the Minister was talking to the point of order. I listened to the question, and I thought the Minister did, in fact, address the substance of the quote of the question. The Minister may not have answered with a yes or no answer, but he is not required to do that. The Minister did address the substance of the question.
Hon Murray McCully: Has the Minister seen the New Zealand Herald column by political editor Audrey Young regarding the APEC meetings, which states: “Under a private agreement between Peters and Labour, the only person who can supersede Peters is Clark. But Goff came close this week, in substance if not form, in what amounted to a very messy beginning.”, and what can he tell the House about that private agreement?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: I can tell the House that I went to all the arranged bilateral meetings at the APEC conference in Korea. Not one journalist went to one of them. I ask the public of this country to answer this question: would they believe a witness in a jury box who was not at the scene, or someone who was?
Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. That answer is not acceptable. It can hardly be reasoned that it was addressing the question. It was certainly verbiage that came out of his mouth, but it did not address the question. I call the House’s attention to a statement by Mr Winston Peters earlier this year—9 February, in fact—when he said: “it is up to the Speaker to ensure that the Minister does his duty and answers the question. I cannot conceive of any Western democracy where the Minister could behave as incompetently as that and get by question time and still survive.” I think asking Mr Peters to live by his own standard is not an unreasonable request. You should just ask him to remember what the question was and focus his answer on that.
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: Madam Speaker, my point is—
Madam SPEAKER: Speaking to the point of order—
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: No, I am answering the question as the member asked me to.
Madam SPEAKER: No, would the member please sit down. I was distracted just for a second because I was trying to recall whether the question, in fact, was addressed to the Minister’s ministerial responsibility or was, in fact, addressed to another arrangement. So it would certainly assist me if we could start again. The member could ask the question and then we could get the answer.
Hon Murray McCully: Has the Minister seen the New Zealand Herald column by political editor Audrey Young regarding the APEC meetings, which states: “Under a private agreement between Peters and Labour, the only person who can supersede Peters is Clark. But Goff came close this week, in substance if not form, in what amounted to a very messy beginning.”, and what can the Minister tell the House about this private agreement?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: The comments made by Audrey Young in the New Zealand Herald are baseless, false, and without any merit whatsoever. In particular, she has never had a conversation with me about that, and has never attended one bilateral meeting that I have attended. Her comments, in terms of their veracity, are of the nature of her comments made back in July where she claimed that we were in secret talks with National.
Metiria Turei: Did the Minister advise the Asian leaders at the APEC meeting that on 19 May of this year during the Budget debate, the leader of New Zealand First referred to Asians as “ying tongs”; if so, what was their response? Perhaps some clarification of the volume of Hansard in which his statement is made might be necessary for the Minister?
Madam SPEAKER: No, that is fine.
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: I have no idea whatsoever as to why that member—having got in contact with the brotherhood in Europe, I might add, to raise the question with Prime Minister Clark—[Interruption]
Madam SPEAKER: That is not relevant to the answer.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I draw your attention to Standing Order 377(2) that a “reply to any question must be concise and confined to the subject-matter ...” and there must not be discreditable references to any member of the House. This member has, time after time, breached Standing Order 377.
Madam SPEAKER: I thank the member for referring to that. I note, however, that both questions and answers do not always comply with that, but perhaps in future we will have a stricter standard on both.
Metiria Turei: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. The Minister did not deal with, or in any way address, the question concerning his statements recorded in Hansard—
Madam SPEAKER: He has not finished answering it. Could we just allow the Minister to have an opportunity to reply succinctly.
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: In a long career I have made many speeches in this House, and I am surely not required to remember every one of them. Mind you, they are works of art, and I can see why my colleagues have been studying them very closely. But I want to make this point very clear: if the National Party wants to throw the rubbish it is throwing around, it will get the kind of treatment it is getting right now.
Madam SPEAKER: That is not an answer to the question.
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: It is an answer. I am saying that I do not recall the content, line by line, of every speech I have ever made.
Madam SPEAKER: Fair enough.
Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. How on earth was that answer in any way consistent with the Standing Orders—
Madam SPEAKER: I am sorry, Mr Brownlee—
Gerry Brownlee: He gets a question asked by the Green Party, and his answer is some sort of attack on the National Party. The man is clearly struggling in his job. He set a high standard for himself; he is not meeting it. All he has to do is answer the question, but—
Madam SPEAKER: Please be seated. I did pull the Minister up for what was irrelevant to his answer. He then did address the question, at the end.
Gerry Brownlee: He attacked us at the end.
Madam SPEAKER: No, he did not attack you at the end. I have ruled on this matter.
Hon Murray McCully: Does the Minister not accept that when he is superseded at public functions, as he was at the Japanese Embassy function last night by Mr Cunliffe, that will simply reinforce the impression in the eyes of overseas Ministers that he is merely a postbox to the real decision makers; and will he reconsider the practice of his being so superseded by Ministers like Mr Cunliffe?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: That comment is absolute drivel because the person who spoke there was from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade and works for me—one Mr McKinnon. That has been the practice that the Government has followed for a long time; otherwise, I would have to go to every embassy, nearly every night, to make a speech. I know they would welcome that, but I have not got the time!
Hon Murray McCully: What did happen at APEC that caused his colleague Mr Goff to tell the media about Mr Downer questioning Mr Peters’ status as Minister of Foreign Affairs, to correct his statements about Chinese students, to rebuke him for browbeating the Chinese Minister, and to refer to him as Cabinet’s mother-in-law; before publicly appealing to the media to give him a fair go; and does the Minister expect to receive that sort of assistance from Mr Goff in future?
Hon Phil Goff: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I ask you to ask the member to authenticate most of what he has said, because most of it is totally untrue in the way he has put it.
Madam SPEAKER: That is not a point of order. The Minister can respond.
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: I can understand why a party of perpetual bridesmaids would have problems understanding the concept of a mother-in-law. As for the other comments that Mr Goff so rightly complains about, they are a fiction concocted by the media, as I will point out in the general debate coming up shortly.
Hon Murray McCully: I seek the leave of the House to table media reports to verify each of the assertions I made in respect of Mr Goff.
Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table various media reports. Is there any objection? There is.
Ron Mark: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. Through you, could I seek the opportunity for Mr McCully to seek the leave of the House to ask the Minister of Foreign Affairs another supplementary question, because so far this has been such a one-sided, lopsided affair—
Madam SPEAKER: That is not a valid point of order. The member cannot ask, on behalf of another member, for leave.
Ron Mark: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. You were probably not able to hear because of the noise, but I said “Through you” could I offer the invitation for them—
Madam SPEAKER: The member knows that is unacceptable. He has been here long enough to know that.
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. To be fair and reasonable, and after all Parliament is the master of its own destiny, we were promised fireworks, and we are still waiting, and it is day 2.
Madam SPEAKER: The member has made that point. Please be seated. That is not a point of order.
Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. My point of order is simply that there would have been fireworks but the cracker turned out to be a fizzer.
Madam SPEAKER: That is equally not a point of order, and perhaps we can now desist from attempts at humour through points of order.
Phil Heatley: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker.
Madam SPEAKER: This had better be a valid point of order; otherwise, the member will be leaving the Chamber.
Phil Heatley: My point of order is that I believe that it is time for the Minister of Foreign Affairs to leave the House.
Madam SPEAKER: Yes, that is quite correct. That is a valid point of order.
Paid Parental Leave—Changes
12. SUE MORONEY (Labour) to the Minister of Labour: What changes have recently been made to the paid parental leave scheme?
Hon RUTH DYSON (Minister of Labour): As one of a list of family-friendly moves by this Government, the successful paid parental leave scheme has been extended to 14 weeks from 1 December. This latest extension follows on from the December 2004 increase in entitlement from 12 to 13 weeks.
Sue Moroney: Are further changes being planned to the paid parental leave scheme?
Hon RUTH DYSON: As a matter of fact, yes. Further extensions to the scheme are planned, with a bill referred to the select committee last evening to extend paid parental leave to self-employed people. The bill reflects this Government’s strong commitment to support working families. Well over 2,000 self-employed people each year are expected to benefit from the move.