Questions And Answers - Tuesday, 12 Sep 2006
Questions And Answers - Tuesday, 12
Questions to Ministers
Election Advertising—Auditor-General’s Draft Report
1. Dr DON BRASH (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does she stand by her statement regarding the Auditor-General’s draft report into election campaign advertising expenditure paid from parliamentary appropriations that “it’s all very well for the Auditor-General to make up rules after the event when parties have gone to the referee before they kicked the ball”; if so, what steps will her Government take once his final report is presented?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister): I agree with that statement from New Zealand First’s Peter Brown, which the member has just quoted. As I have previously advised, we will consider the report when it is presented.
Dr Don Brash: Can she confirm the statement made by her ministerial colleague Pete Hodgson on radio this morning, in relation to the Labour Party pledge card, that “No, we won’t be paying the money back.”; if so, what is the point of the Auditor-General’s report if the Labour Party has already made up its mind to ignore it?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I can confirm that if spending is within Parliament’s rules there is no reason to pay it back. The Auditor-General appears to be questioning the rules themselves. He has, of course, signed off audit certificates for exactly such spending under the same relevant rules in the past.
Dr Don Brash: If the Auditor-General does, in his final report, declare the use of the Labour leader’s budget to pay for the pledge card to be unlawful, will she as Prime Minister ask the Labour Party to pay the money back?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I have made it clear that if spending is within Parliament’s rules, there is no reason to pay it back. The Labour Party considers it neither fair nor a process of natural justice to change the rules after the event.
Hon Phil Goff: What differentiates the commitment card put out by Labour in 2005 and that put out by National in 2002, and has she heard any offer from the National Party to pay back the cost of that commitment card by National in 2002 if the two are the same?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: They are the same rules and exactly the same form of publication. I stress that the same Auditor-General in 2002 gave an unqualified certificate of audit to that spending in 2002, and there was no reason to believe that the same approach would not be taken in 2005.
Dr Don Brash: What message is she and her Minister attempting to send about the important role of the Auditor-General, given that she refused to meet him in April of last year when he sought to avoid any misunderstandings about the use of a leader’s budget, and when one of her Ministers says that the Labour Party will defy the Auditor-General before his report is even finalised?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: The message I am sending is that political parties are entitled to consistency in the application of the Auditor-General’s findings, and they are also entitled to a process of natural justice. I also point out to the member that the purpose he attributed to the Auditor-General’s seeking meetings was not the one in the Auditor-General’s letter. The Auditor-General sought to discuss his draft report, which he had already discussed with members of the parliamentary Labour Party before writing it. Further, he sought a meeting only with representatives of the two large parties and Labour did not think that was appropriate. If the Auditor-General was going to meet with parties, he needed to seek to meet with all parties and not just with two.
Dr Don Brash: How can she reconcile her Government’s expectation that taxpayers should meet their obligations to the Inland Revenue Department and that beneficiaries should repay any overpayments received from Work and Income with a statement made by one of her Ministers that the Labour Party will not repay the $446,000 used to fund the pledge card, even if the Auditor-General finds that that payment was unlawful?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: The Labour Party plays by the rules. In no material respect had the rules changed between 2002 and 2005. The Auditor-General gave an unqualified audit certificate to the 2002 spending—and that was the same Auditor-General with the same rules and the same kind of material. The signal we are sending is that we expect consistency and natural justice to apply.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: What, on the issue of election spending, would be the consequences of a political party colluding with a third party to evade the Electoral Act by ensuring material being published was not attributable to that political party?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I have made clear my view that great lengths were gone to, to ensure that the $1.2 million of spending to which the member refers was not attributable.
Dr Don Brash: Has the Prime Minister seen the statement by the Auditor-General in the Herald on Sunday, in relation to unlawful payments from party leaders’ funds, that “… the remedy is to reimburse it. That’s the end of the matter as far as we are concerned.”; if so, will she follow his advice?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: That may well be a remedy where spending occurred outside the rules. But where spending has occurred within the rules—the same rules that led the Auditor-General to give an unqualified audit certificate at the previous election—then no consistency is being applied if there is an attempt to change them after the event.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: What would the Prime Minister, on the question of the issue of election spending—and, indeed, what would the people of New Zealand—make of a political party providing legal assistance to a third party that had publicly declared its intention to solicit votes for that particular political party, in order to ensure the political party could avoid having the costs of that campaign attributed to its campaign costs?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: If that were indeed true, it would suggest that the level of collaboration between that political party and that other third party funding source did indeed occur, although we note that it has been denied in the past.
Dr Don Brash: Who should interpret the rules around the use of taxpayers’ funds, if not the Auditor-General?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: My understanding is that the Auditor-General’s problem is with the rules themselves. However, I point out that he gave an unqualified audit certificate to spending under exactly the same material rules in 2002. So one has to question why a different approach is being taken now.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Does the Prime Minister deem it in the public interest to be aware of the involvement of political parties, in collusion with third parties, seeking to avoid the import of the Electoral Act when it comes to election campaign costs?
Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. It seems to me that that is a question very wide of the mark of the original question. In any event, what relevance would the Prime Minister’s opinions have in this particular case?
Rt Hon Winston Peters: The issue at the forefront of the original question is the issue of election spending. That being the case, the Prime Minister is giving her opinion in respect of every answer thus far. My question is no different.
Gerry Brownlee: With respect, Madam Speaker, Dr Brash’s question goes to the heart of the expenditure of Parliamentary Service funds by the Labour Party for election purposes. That is quite a different matter from that raised by Mr Peters. More specifically, it asks the question about the Labour Party’s response to the Auditor-General’s report.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I want to add just one point. If Mr Brownlee’s objection had any merit, he would have raised it in respect of my first and second questions. He did not, and therefore he is caught by the precedent.
Madam SPEAKER: Thank you for your assistance in this matter. The Standing Orders require that Ministers give their opinions on matters of ministerial responsibility. It may well be that the member wishes to rephrase the question, but the way it was phrased it would not appear to have ministerial responsibility.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Has the Prime Minister had any reports as to the import, and the longstanding import, of the Electoral Act in respect of the public interest and being aware of the involvement of political parties, in collusion with third parties, seeking to avoid the import of the Electoral Act when it comes to parties’ election campaign costs?
Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. That takes us back to the content of the primary question. Although the Prime Minister can be asked whether she has seen a report—of course any Ministers can be asked whether they have seen reports—surely the report must have some relevance to the question that is being asked. The relevancy, of course, would be the Auditor-General’s report. Further, the question is highly hypothetical and invites the Prime Minister to comment, when clearly if any such report has been produced, it is hypothetical and not factual. In essence, my point of order is that the question being asked must relate tightly to the primary question. To go as wide and as general as that seems a little bit too much.
Madam SPEAKER: I do not need any further assistance on this matter. The question is broad but it does relate to the central issue in the question asked. As the member is aware, of course, hypothetical questions are in order under the Standing Orders.
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I have made clear my concern about the use of third party funding in the last election campaign, and I look forward to working with other parties on ways of ensuring that in future our election process is not subjected to those sorts of pressures.
Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I think a lot of the difficulties that might appear to exist around this particular issue could be solved if you, yourself, took a particular course of action. I ask whether you could consider releasing the minutes of Parliamentary Service Commission meetings from the early part of 2003 right up until the final part of 2004, where several aberrations of the rules relating to this matter were discussed by members and circulated, largely because of the concern over spending in the 2002 election and a subsequent commitment from all parties to stick rigidly to the rules for 2005, with the further addition that where such a spending breach occurred—as in the case of the $446,000—responsibility for that spending would lie directly with either the party leader or its members.
Madam SPEAKER: I do not need any help. As the member is aware, that is a matter for the Parliamentary Service Commission. It meets tomorrow, I think, so it is a matter that could be addressed there.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. With respect, the real point at issue here is whether a select committee report or otherwise constitutes the law of this nation, and it most certainly does not. The question is absolutely and utterly irrelevant.
Madam SPEAKER: With respect, that was not a point of order.
2. DIANNE YATES (Labour) to the Minister of Education: What reports, if any, has he received on efforts to ensure students can learn the skills they need to become active participants in New Zealand’s democracy?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY (Minister of Education): The new draft curriculum identifies the competencies and values that enable young New Zealanders to live together in a diverse and democratic society. This includes children understanding the value of integrity and how to act ethically. In addition, the social studies curriculum gives children the opportunity to learn how the systems of government work and reflect different types of decision making.
Dianne Yates: What other reports has he seen about opportunities for students to participate in learning about democracy in New Zealand?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I have seen a Sunday Star-Times report of a school student, push polling on behalf of the National Party. The report tells of a Hamilton woman receiving a call from a teenager who purported to be conducting a political phone poll. The young person admitted he was encouraged to ridicule people when they did not respond in the appropriate way. It turned out that the teenager attended a local Exclusive Brethren school, and the poll was a “homework assignment” for his class. That is hardly an example of teaching young people how to act ethically.
Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. It is a very interesting answer from the Minister. Many of us read the Sunday Star-Times article, and I would ask him to table his evidence that verifies the names of the individuals who are party to that story. Otherwise, of course, we are left believing that it is just a piece of fiction.
Madam SPEAKER: No, that is not a point of order.
Hon Bill English: Given that the Minister has referred to the new draft curriculum, can he explain to the House, now that he has a new draft curriculum, how he will tell whether it works for individual children in lifting their learning?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: Of course, the core of any education system is how we teach, what we teach, and how we assess. So three major strands of work are around the process of training teachers, of developing a new curriculum, and of new assessment tools at the primary school level and the National Certificate of Educational Achievement at the secondary school level.
Metiria Turei: Does the Minister agree with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization that quality education must include “values and civic education, especially for human rights and democracy, peace, and universally shared values such as citizenship, tolerance, non-violence, and dialogue among cultures and civilisations”; if so, will he reconsider the draft curriculum’s complete failure to mention Te Tiriti o Waitangi—this nation’s founding document—and consider making the study of civics an integral and compulsory part of our curriculum?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: There are a lot of questions in there, and I guess at the headline level I would agree with the earlier statements in relation to the Treaty that have been canvassed here. There is a consultation process going on. As I have said to the member, there is an opportunity for her to make a submission around the Treaty issues. The issues of civics, of course, are covered throughout the history and social studies parts of the curriculum. Of course, schools these days with this style of curriculum have the ability to make use of those areas of learning through a whole range of curriculum areas.
Dr Pita Sharples: Tēnā koe, Madam Speaker, tēnā tātou katoa. How can students respect and understand Te Tiriti o Waitangi as a basis of our modern democracy if it is not discussed as a key feature of the school curriculum?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: They cannot.
Dr Pita Sharples: Would the Minister agree that removing maths from the school curriculum will lead to students becoming proficient in maths; if not, why does he think that removing the Treaty of Waitangi from the school curriculum will lead to a greater understanding, by students, of the nature of our democracy?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I would agree with the first part of the question. As to the second part, it has not been removed. I would also remind the member of four things: one, it is in the Act; two, it is in the goals; three, it is in the guidelines to schools; and, four, it will be embodied in a Māori version of the curriculum next year.
Election Campaign Spending Cap—Police Inquiries
3. GERRY BROWNLEE (Deputy Leader—National) to the Minister of Police: Did the Police seek and receive a legal opinion or advice from the Crown Law Office in relation to the investigation into an alleged breach of the campaign spending cap in section 214B of the Electoral Act 1993 by the New Zealand Labour Party; if not, why not?
Hon ANNETTE KING (Minister of Police): I am advised by the police today that in the course of their investigations the police requested Crown Law advice on all allegations in regard to section 214B of the Electoral Act 1993.
Gerry Brownlee: Why, when the Crown Law Office advice to both the Chief Electoral Officer and the Auditor-General made it clear that the pledge card was an election expense, did the police seem to reach the opposite conclusion of that, despite receiving legal advice from the same authority?
Hon ANNETTE KING: I draw the member’s attention to the advice given by the Solicitor-General on 8 March 1993 that the commissioner cannot be subject to binding policy directions in respect of the enforcement of criminal law in any particular area or type of offending. The legal opinion also states: “It is entirely a matter for the Commissioner to direct a law enforcement strategy in respect of types or places of crime”. In other words, I have no responsibility for the decisions that the police make in terms of whom they will or will not prosecute.
Gerry Brownlee: When acting deputy commissioner Roger Carson announced that the police had decided not to prosecute Labour, saying: “Crown Law’s involvement in this case has been and continues to be to provide legal advice to assist with the various investigations but decision-making is and has been entirely a matter for Police,”, did he mean that the police had received Crown Law advice and decided to ignore it; if not, what did he mean?
Hon ANNETTE KING: I cannot answer for acting deputy commissioner Roger Carson. I have no knowledge of why the police made the decisions in the way they did. As I pointed out, that is entirely their decision to make, not one that is made by the Minister of Police in any way, shape, or form.
Gerry Brownlee: Is the Minister concerned that the police’s grasp of electoral law was so poor that the Chief Electoral Officer met with the police after they had announced their findings in the investigation into Labour, to make it clear to them that he thought they had got it wrong; if not, why is she not concerned about that?
Hon ANNETTE KING: No, I am not concerned about the judgment of the police, at all. I suppose if I wanted to—but I have not—I could have questioned why the police did not charge the National Party for not paying its GST, because they also made it clear, in Roger Carson’s comments, that the inclusion of GST was stipulated to all political parties and that that was made clear before the election. The reason the police were not in the position to charge the National Party was that National claimed there was no written agreement with its advertising company, and therefore the police did not know whom to charge.
Gerry Brownlee: Does she agree with the statement contained in the police area report on the investigation: “Essentially, the Labour Party says the Electoral Act did not apply, so there is no wilful contravention.”; can she explain when the Labour Party became the arbiter on when laws apply and when they do not?
Hon ANNETTE KING: At the end of the day, those who decide whether the law applies will be those in the proper position to do so. However, I note that the police said: “This issue that has involved all political parties could be resolved by a simple rule that prohibits the use of Parliamentary Service funds for advertising during the 3-month period preceding a general election.” The police went on to say that the Auditor-General, in his review of June 2005, said that following the 2005 election, comprehensive guidelines should be written to provide direction on expenditure under parliamentary rules for political advertising. That is what the police said.
Gerry Brownlee: I seek leave to table the Parliamentary Service rules that make it abundantly clear that Parliamentary Service funding should not be used for election purposes, and to table with that document the minutes of meetings from 2003 right through to the end of 2004, in which all political parties agreed they would stick to those very clear rules for the 2005 election.
Gerry Brownlee: Does the Minister of Police agree with the statements also contained in the police area report that “A brochure expounding the virtues of supporting a particular political party is permitted to be published and distributed at Government expense.”; if so, how does she reconcile that with the findings of the Auditor-General and the Crown Law advice—completely the opposite of the police—which was given on at least two occasions?
Hon ANNETTE KING: I do not have justify it. I am the Minister of Police.
Gerry Brownlee: I seek leave to table the area report that makes it very clear the police decided not to prosecute on the basis of comments made to them by the Labour Party.
Gerry Brownlee: I seek leave to table a document that shows the police believed that the Parliamentary Service rules, which were abundantly clear to almost all other parties, did not exist.
Hon ANNETTE KING: I seek leave to table the opinion of the Solicitor-General, dated 8 March 1993, which makes it clear that the commissioner decides whether a person, or a crime, would be prosecuted—not the Minister of Police.
Ingram Report—Review of Immigration Matters
4. Dr the Hon LOCKWOOD SMITH (National—Rodney) to the Minister of Immigration: Has he reviewed the immigration matters covered in the Ingram report?
Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE (Minister of Immigration): Yes. A number of immigration matters are covered in the Ingram report, which I have read on a number of occasions.
Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: If that is the case, does he stand by his answer to this House of Tuesday, 5 September that “Paragraph 123 of the Ingram report indicates that that email”—that is, the second email from the immigration branch manager in Apia, Mr James Dalmer, about Taito Phillip Field’s involvement with Thais in Samoa, dated 9 May— “was passed to the immigration intelligence unit and to the department’s Pacific division.”, given that paragraph 123 makes no mention whatsoever of that email, but, rather, discusses the work done by Mr Siriwan for friends of the Field family in Samoa?
Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: I confirm that, according to the advice I have received from the department in respect of the Ingram inquiry, Mr Dalmer passed to the immigration intelligence unit and to the Pacific division, on 9 May—10 May in New Zealand—the content to which the member refers. My notes refer to paragraph 123. I will be happy to check that that accords with the Ingram inquiry report.
Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: Let me ask the Minister again: what did the manager of the immigration intelligence unit do with the information he received from the Apia branch manager, James Dalmer, on 10 May, when Mr Dalmer discussed with the manager of the intelligence unit detailed information about Taito Phillip Field’s involvement with the Thais in Samoa; to which specific sections within the operational arms of his department was that information passed by the intelligence unit?
Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: I am advised that because the incoming email from Mr Dalmer was copied to a number of places, the immigration intelligence unit played its normal role, which is to provide background assessment, and not to take specific actions.
Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: Does he stand by his answer of 5 September, when he was asked what the immigration intelligence unit had done with the fourth set of confirmed information, dated 9 June, about Taito Phillip Field’s involvement with the Thais in Samoa, when he said: “Once again, this is very simple: it passed it through to the operational division—in this case the manager of the Pacific division, who, he said, attempted to pass it through to the private secretary in the Minister’s office.”; if that answer was not correct, precisely who did the immigration intelligence unit pass that information on to?
Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: On the last sitting day of the House, I took a point of order to correct confusion between two titles—that of the manager of the Pacific division and that of the group manager service international. I confirm to the member that it was the group manager service international who attempted to pass that information to the Minister’s office—as per my point of order on the last sitting day.
Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I think it is important for the record that it show that the Minister, on the last sitting day, actually corrected an answer he gave on 6 September, and made no attempt whatsoever to correct his answer of 5 September.
Madam SPEAKER: I thank the member but that is a debating issue. But if the member has another supplementary question.
Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. Seeking the leave of the House to correct something is a privilege that members have. It is something that is routinely granted to Ministers on the basis that they may not have all of the information they need put in front of them. But it is surely not acceptable—and does not become just a matter of debate—when a Minister says: “Oh, I sought leave to correct the matter on the 6th.”, when, in fact, we know that the matter that he is talking about relates to another day. The Minister should, at least, be asked to clarify which of those particular days he is talking about. This is a very, very complex matter. It is a matter that has had a lot of taxpayer money spent on it, and is the subject of a member being stood down from Parliament. I think it behoves the Minister to get it right.
Madam SPEAKER: I thank the member. Disputing or making some commentary on what a Minister said is, in fact, a debatable matter. Of course, the matter could be clarified through a supplementary question.
Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: As the Ingram report reveals that on four separate occasions that Minister’s immigration intelligence unit received information about Taito Phillip Field’s involvement with Thais in Samoa, will that Minister tell this House whom the immigration intelligence unit, paid for by the taxpayers, passed that information, received four different times, on to—who in his operational divisions did it pass that information on to?
Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: I am advised that the immigration intelligence unit was aware that the group manager service international was dealing with the matter.
Maternity Services—Rural Women
5. BARBARA STEWART (NZ First) to the Minister of Health: Has he received any reports indicating that maternity services for rural women are at crisis point and urgent action is needed to improve the situation; if so, what action, if any, is he taking as the Minister responsible?
Hon PETE HODGSON (Minister of Health): Yes, I have seen the media statement by Dr Don Simmers over the weekend that the member refers to. The entire section 88 maternity services notice is under review by the Ministry of Health in consultation with the New Zealand Medical Association, the Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners, the New Zealand College of Midwives, and others. I can assure the member that the issues facing rural New Zealand are on the agenda as part of that review, not least because of Dr Simmers’ comments.
Barbara Stewart: Does he consider it satisfactory that, for example, Queenstown women are faced with travelling for 3 hours to Invercargill, or for 4½ hours to Dunedin, to give birth, because of the absence of local medical expertise?
Hon PETE HODGSON: What Dr Simmers suggests in Queenstown, for example, is working well in other parts of Southland—for example, Gore, which has a level 2 maternity facility that has 80 to 100 births each year. The Southland District Health Board is keen for local practitioners to provide a greater level of service. It has held meetings in Queenstown about this and is happy to work with local practitioners.
Moana Mackey: What reports has he received on maternity outcomes for women in New Zealand?
Hon PETE HODGSON: Maternity outcomes for women are such that the number of maternal deaths in New Zealand in the 10 years to 2003, which is the period for which I have the latest statistics, has fallen from 17 to 7 per 100,000 live births. This is tremendous progress and is a testament to the work of New Zealand’s world-class maternity workforce.
Barbara Stewart: Does he consider that the Canadian and Australia solution of training doctors in rural areas to perform instrument-assisted deliveries, caesarean sections, and neonatal and maternal emergency care could be used in New Zealand?
Hon PETE HODGSON: Prospectively—and, of course, a lot of general practitioners in rural areas have some obstetric experience. The point being made by Dr Simmers is that they are getting older, and that is the issue that needs to be addressed in the review.
Barbara Stewart: What assurances of improved services can he offer women in provincial centres such as Wanganui, Greymouth, and Gisborne, where specialist cover is described by the New Zealand Medical Association as, at best, “less than ideal”?
Hon PETE HODGSON: There are certainly problems in Wanganui at the moment, as the member will be aware. The problems in Greymouth were last month; this month it has two obstetricians. The same thing can be said for Masterton, which ran into difficulty last year; those situations are also resolved. In other words, from time to time someone retires and a gap appears.
Radiographers’ Strike—Health Services
6. Hon TONY RYALL (National—Bay of Plenty) to the Minister of Health: What effect is the radiographers’ strike having on elective surgery and emergency departments of public hospitals, and how many patients will be affected by this industrial action?
Hon PETE HODGSON (Minister of Health): As a result of thorough planning by district health boards affected, the impact of the strike has thus far been mitigated significantly. Regardless, the impact on patients will be substantial. It is something I hope both parties will remember when they finally resume talks.
Hon Tony Ryall: What did the Minister mean when he told the media today that this is not a big strike—involving only 200 or 300 people out of a workforce of 70,000—when this strike has brought 14 public hospitals to their knees, with thousands of patients being turned away, and why does he not measure the strike by the number of patients affected instead of the number of people causing the chaos?
Hon PETE HODGSON: If the member had been attending to all of the part of the press conference he refers to, he would have seen that I did.
Maryan Street: What protections are in place to ensure that patients needing very urgent attention can be cared for in the event of a strike?
Hon PETE HODGSON: Under reforms introduced by the Labour-led Government, both district health boards and unions are required by law to provide life-preserving services in the event of a strike. They have been arranged for the current strike, and I can advise the House that to the best of my knowledge these services have so far been called on four times today. I thank all health professionals working in our public hospitals. The next 2½ days will be difficult and the Government appreciates the efforts of all involved.
Hon Tony Ryall: Given that the Minister told the striking radiographers and the district health board that he wishes them “every good luck” to resolve the strike, what would he say to the thousands of patients affected by the strike, some with cancer and other life-threatening conditions, and would he wish them every good luck?
Hon PETE HODGSON: I repeat the remarks I made earlier, that under reforms introduced by the Labour-led Government, both district health boards and unions are required by law to provide life-preserving services in the event of a strike. So far today, to the best of my knowledge, there have been four such incidents—I think all of them were in Canterbury—and no doubt others will occur as the week goes by. So far those life-preserving services have been provided without difficulty.
Hon Tony Ryall: What action, besides wishing the strike parties “every good luck”, is the Minister taking to get these 14 hospitals working again, and does he think that taxpayers are paying him $1,000 a day as Minister of Health to sit on his hands and rely on the goddess of chance to fix this crisis?
Hon PETE HODGSON: Let me introduce the member to a fact that he is clearly unaware of, which is that I am neither the employer nor the employee.
Hon Tony Ryall: When, in order to fit the thousands of patients affected by the strike back into the system, other patients will be pushed over the 6-month waiting list cut-off, does the Government not realise that Minister Hodgson’s inaction will worsen the waiting list cull, which is up to 27,000 patients already?
Hon PETE HODGSON: The member speaks in thousands more than will be the case.
Hon Tony Ryall: Will the Minister confirm that yesterday he issued a call for the strike parties to return to the negotiating table—and they did not; and does he not realise that across provincial New Zealand, thousands of patients face disruption and suffering from his neglect and faith in the goddess of chance?
Hon PETE HODGSON: Yes, I am aware that people who are already sick are having their lives further disrupted by the strike action, and I say to both parties that I urge them to take that into account when they next meet.
Jo Goodhew: What would the Minister say to Michael Gordon of Timaru, who has had his urgently needed surgery to remove malignant brain tumours delayed because of the strike; would he say “every good luck” to that man?
Hon PETE HODGSON: I would say to that man that if the service he needs is a life-preserving one, then under New Zealand law he will get it.
Overlander Rail Service—Petition
7. SUE KEDGLEY (Green) to the Minister of Finance: Has he been informed that thousands of New Zealanders have signed a petition to overturn the axing of the Overlander rail service; if so, is he prepared to offer any support to save the service?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Finance): Yes, and not at this point, because I am still to see a sensible proposal for a rescue package.
Sue Kedgley: Has the Minister travelled on the Overlander recently and experienced the spectacular journey through the volcanic plateau and the 1,000-year-old virgin rimu forests, and over 14 viaducts and through the tunnels that make up the engineering marvel that is the Raurimu Spiral; if not, will he agree to take the journey so that he can see firsthand the huge tourism potential of the service before this Government allows it to be axed?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: No, I do not usually have 12 hours to travel from Auckland to Wellington, and the pleasure sounds like too much for my elderly soul to manage.
Keith Locke: Is the Minister aware that the newly launched passenger rail service between Adelaide and Perth is so popular that people have to book 2 or 3 years ahead; is it not folly to axe the North Island’s last long-distance passenger train just as other countries, for various reasons—not the least of them being climate change—are investing heavily in passenger rail?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I do not think the climate change argument is very impressive. First of all, part of the route requires electricity. The marginal generating capacity for that is thermal power, which is highly inefficient. Secondly, for the rest of the route, a very large diesel pulls a very small number of passengers.
Peter Brown: Is the Minister aware that patronage of the Overlander has recently increased somewhat; that being the case, will he consider more seriously a modest subsidy for a modest length of time?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The passenger usage has increased because the route will be closed and people are taking their last chances. That could lead to what one might call an “Irish solution” of continuing to announce the closure of the route every so often, in order to increase the patronage. However, I do not think that would work terribly effectively. Sooner or later, people would wake up to the con job.
Sue Kedgley: Is the Minister aware that tourists taking the Overlander, such as the six I met yesterday, have had the most extraordinary difficulty in discovering that there was such a service, and have said that perhaps the aim was to discourage them from using the service rather than to encourage them; if, come September 30, New Zealand does lose its last significant long-distance passenger rail service, would the Government be willing to fast track another suitable operator into running the service, by making a clear statement that ONTRACK would grant that operator fair access to a reliable track at a reasonable cost?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The last part is obviously a matter for ONTRACK and not for the Government. It is not the last long-distance passenger rail service. It may be in the North Island, but there is another island to the south, where there are two long-distance passenger train services still in operation—not to mention, of course, the Otago Excursion Train Trust, which has operated very happily and very successfully for many years. As I said at the start, I am awaiting a sensible proposal. Some discussions will occur later this week; whether the proposals we see are sensible is another matter. What I am not prepared to do is to sign in advance a blank cheque for anything, on the grounds that carrying something like 70,000 passengers a year—and that is not 70,000 every day for a year; that is 70,000 over the entire year—warrants a subsidy of nearly $2 million a year.
Sue Kedgley: I seek leave to table four documents. The first is a letter from the Mayor of Ruapehu District, supporting the service and pointing out that 13,000 passengers disembark in Ruapehu District, bringing in $4.3 million to the economy.
Sue Kedgley: I seek leave to table a letter from the Mayor of Hamilton City, strongly supporting the continuance of the service and expressing the council’s strong disappointment with the New Zealand Government.
Sue Kedgley: I seek leave to table a letter from Colin Meads of Te Kūiti, heartily endorsing the petition urging the Government to support the Overlander service.
Sue Kedgley: I seek leave to table hundreds of comments that I picked up yesterday, which were written by New Zealanders and tourists at the Station Cafe and state, for example, that the Overlander is one of the great train journeys of the world, comparable with journeys through the Swiss Alps and the Canadian Rockies. Another states that it is the most beautiful train ride in the world, that this service must not be left to die, and that those who promote such a backwards step should hang their heads in shame.
Keith Locke: I seek leave to table three letters from mayors. The first is from Bob Harvey, Mayor of Waitakere City, totally supporting the saving of this historic train service.
Keith Locke: I seek leave to table a letter from Mark Ammon, Mayor of Waitomo District, also supporting the service.
Keith Locke: I seek leave to table a letter from the Mayor of Palmerston North City, Heather Tanguay, stating how important the service is in bringing tourists.
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I just wonder whether any of the Greens have letters to table from any mayors offering to spend any money in support of the service.
Madam SPEAKER: That is not a point of order.
National Certificate of Educational Achievement—Pass Rates
8. Hon BILL ENGLISH (National—Clutha-Southland) to the Minister of Education: What proportion of school-leavers leave school without achieving level 1 NCEA?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY (Minister of Education): Under the National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA), students leave school with a record of learning, which shows how many credits they have attained. The introduction of NCEA has meant that for the first time in 20 years we are seeing a significant drop in the proportion of students leaving school with no or very low qualifications, and an increase in the standards that students are achieving. In 2005, 73 percent of school-leavers achieved level 1 NCEA or above. This is a vastly better system than was School Certificate, which divided students fifty-fifty between those who passed and those who failed.
Hon Bill English: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. Since about 11 o’clock this morning the Minister has known what the question would be, because it was printed on the question sheet. The question was quite direct and short, and it asked him what proportion of school-leavers leave school without achieving level 1 NCEA. I know that that information is publicly available and easily understood, but the Minister did not address the question, at all.
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I noticed that the member leant across to talk to members so he may have missed the part where I said that in 2005, 73 percent of school-leavers achieved level 1 NCEA. I think he can do the calculation between that figure and 100 percent.
Hon Bill English: Can the Minister confirm that the proportion of students leaving school with no qualification was 20.7 percent in 2004, and that in 2005 the proportion of those who left school without level 1 NCEA rose to 27.3 percent?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: The member continues, I think, to confuse how NCEA actually works. What students get is a record of learning that tells us how many credits they have achieved. Thirteen percent of students leave school with few or no qualifications that are going to do them any good at all. But the rest of them who do have a record of learning can make use of that record to either progress on to level 2 or 3, or perhaps leave school and start at, say, the local bakery on some kind of industry-related qualification, making use of what they have achieved, and as demonstrated in their record of learning. That is how the system works.
Hon Marian Hobbs: What advantages does the NCEA have over the previous pass/fail School Certificate system?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: NCEA sets clear standards, recognises excellence, and delivers meaningful information to parents and employers. Under NCEA, students accumulate credits that build towards formal qualifications over a number of years. A major advantage of NCEA is that those who leave with partial attainment can still use their credits to build towards a qualification. In 2004 nearly 80 percent of students in this cohort did just that, putting their credits towards apprenticeships and polytechnic courses. The latest figures show that students are attaining higher levels of achievement under NCEA, that far more students are leaving school with a university entrance qualification, that more students are staying in school until year 13, and that 67 percent of school-leavers are achieving beyond level 1.
Dr Pita Sharples: How does he account for the fact that the social report announced that in 2004 only 47 percent of Māori school-leavers left school with qualifications higher than NCEA level 1, while 74 percent of European and 87 percent of Asian students left school with qualifications higher than NCEA level 1, and have Māori ever been asked how this degree of disparity will be addressed; if not, why not?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: The answer to the last question is that, yes, Māori have been frequently asked to give ideas as to how this might be addressed. For example, the Hui Taumata that will take place in October will bring together to Taupō virtually every educator involved in Māori education to discuss that very issue. I can give the member some encouragement by saying that there have been big improvements amongst Māori and Pacific students. For example, in 2002, the first year of NCEA, 35 percent of Māori students left school in year 11. That figure is now 23 percent. In other words, we are beginning to see, in terms of retention and achievement, improvements as demonstrated by NCEA.
Judy Turner: What is the Minister doing, given that boys constitute only 41 percent of NCEA level 2 and 3 passes, to specifically address the educational need for boys and encourage them to stay and be successful at school?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: The research shows that the major problem for boys tends to be in the area of creative reading and creative writing. As they do less well in those two areas of work, that tends to spread across their other subject areas. So we know that if we focus on literacy—which is what we are doing, spreading around $52 million now in that area—we can begin to lift boys’ performance, and the evidence so far is that that is exactly what is happening.
Hon Bill English: Why did the Ministry of Education put out a press statement on 1 September stating that the overall picture for school-leavers is positive, when the number of students leaving schools with no qualification rose by almost 30 percent between 2004 and 2005?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I would have to go back and check those figures, because once again I am not sure whether the member is comparing apples with apples. His comparison usually is around some kind of equivalence between NCEA and School Certificate, and I want to point to the ways those errors can easily be stated. For example, the member in his press release says that 2,200 school leavers in Wellington left with “just level 1 NCEA, or less”. In fact, the number, in the Wellington City area, was 628, so members can see how easily those numbers can be confused.
Hon Bill English: Why did the ministry put out a press release with the heading: “More students leave school with higher qualifications”, and leave out the rather startling information that more students are now leaving school with no qualifications—and significantly more between 2004 and 2005?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: Because more students are leaving school with qualifications! Once again, I will take an illustration of one of the things the member is doing all the time. He is forgetting that in NCEA, students accumulate credits. So, for example, one of the things the member likes to use is literacy, and he uses a snapshot of 2004 or 2005, forgetting, of course, that students from those years stay in the system and achieve at a higher level of literacy later on. So very few students now are leaving school with literacy issues. The percentage is down to about 12 percent now, which is a major improvement. In other words, the member needs to use the system rather than try to compare it all the time with a non-existent system—namely, School Certificate.
Hon Bill English: Is the Minister concerned at all that the number of students leaving decile 1 to 3 schools with no qualifications has risen, between 2004 and 2005, from 33 percent of all school-leavers to 43 percent; and why does he just carry on as if these numbers mean nothing?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I am very pleased that we are now seeing in lower-decile schools, and particularly amongst students who traditionally did not achieve, students who are establishing a record of learning. I can pick two local schools, Wainuiōmata High School and Porirua College, that traditionally, were not schools with a high academic record. Both schools now report vastly improved performance. At Porirua College, for example, students have moved on to achieve scholarships, in a way they never did in the past. That is where I come back to the member. He wants all the time to superimpose a norm-referenced system over a standards-based system, and try to make an unfair comparison between the two. He needs to agree to the notion that NCEA provides for students who formerly had no record of learning at all—because School Certificate did not provide that. Those students now have it, and now can use it as a basis for further learning.
9. JILL PETTIS (Labour) to the Minister of Defence: Has he received a report claiming that defence spending was reduced from 1.8 percent to 0.9 percent of GDP; if so, is the claim correct?
Hon PHIL GOFF (Minister of Defence): Yes, I have seen such a report. It is in the pamphlet I am holding, which was produced by the Exclusive Brethren to support the National Party, and it attributes that cut to the Labour Government. The defence spending cut from 1.8 percent to 0.9 percent of GDP in fact occurred between 1990 and 1997, encompassing the first two terms of the previous National Government. The claim that Labour was responsible for that is just one of the blatant lies promoted by the Exclusive Brethren in support of National at the last election—notwithstanding the Biblical injunction not to bear false witness.
Jill Pettis: What other claims were put out in that report?
Hon PHIL GOFF: There is a long list of claims and I cannot go through all of them. But, again, they are demonstrably untrue. They talk about Labour decimating Defence Force numbers; in fact, the 6,000 cut in Defence Force employees was, again, under the previous National Government. They talk about the rundown in Orion and Hercules aircraft at the very time when probably around $600 million was being spent on modernising them and giving them life extensions. But the truly extraordinary claim in this pamphlet is that Labour preferred appeasement and pacifist ideals. I describe that claim as extraordinary, because it is made by a sect that refuses to take up arms in defence of our country, but that expects others to do so on its behalf. The track record is clear: East Timor, the Solomon Islands, and Afghanistan are just a few of the deployments made under the Labour-led Government, and they prove that Labour’s pursuit of appeasement is nothing but another blatant lie.
Jill Pettis: What has been the increase in spending on defence from 1999 to 2006 in dollar terms, and what is the trend in Defence Force personnel numbers?
Hon PHIL GOFF: These figures, again, contradict the lies put out in the Exclusive Brethren pamphlet. Defence expenditure was $1 billion in 1999; in 2006 it rose to $1.4 billion—an increase of 40 percent. With the $4.6 billion in the Defence Sustainability Initiative in last year’s Budget, Defence Force personnel will increase by an estimated 12 to 15 percent, with actual numbers in the last year alone having gone up from around 10,600 to 11,2000.
Child Support—Collection Rate
10. JUDITH COLLINS (National—Clevedon) to the Minister of Revenue: Is he satisfied with the collection rate of child support from liable parents; if not, why not?
Hon PETER DUNNE (Minister of Revenue): I would always like to see the collection rate for child support be higher, and that is one of the reasons behind the Child Support Amendment Bill (No 4), which is currently before the House. That bill is designed to get more money directly to children.
Judith Collins: Does the Minister believe that the minimum formula assessment of $730 per year, or $14 per week, is adequate to provide for the 7, 8, 9, or even 10 children it currently is providing for?
Hon PETER DUNNE: There will always be issues around the way the formula is developed and applied. The important question is to make sure that the money raised from child support goes to the children. At the moment, $651 million of the $1.1 billion taken in child support is penalties, which never go to the children. My focus is on having the $450 million that is owed for those children directed to them.
Judith Collins: Why has he not increased the minimum child support payment to a level that “better [reflects] the costs of raising a child”, as United Future’s policy promises to do?
Hon PETER DUNNE: The issue of the cost of a child, and the cost of raising a child, is under consideration. I have recently had discussions with the Australian authorities regarding the new formula that they are adopting, and it is something we will look at to see how applicable it is here in terms of a translation.
Judith Collins: Why is he allowing parents with outstanding child support debt to leave New Zealand, when that is directly opposed to United Future’s own policy, which is “do not allow them”—parents—“to leave the country with debt outstanding”; why is it still happening?
Hon PETER DUNNE: We have a reciprocal agreement with Australia regarding the collection of child support obligations on both sides of the Tasman. One of the reasons why we have a large outflow at the moment is the high level of penalties. The Child Support Amendment Bill (No 4) seeks to remove those penalty restrictions for a number of those people, in return for their entering into a repayment regime.
Judith Collins: Why is it acceptable that of the 65,319 liable parents assessed to pay only $14 per week towards the upkeep of their children, 44,339 are not managing to sustain even that $14 per week payment?
Hon PETER DUNNE: That goes back to the point I referred to in the primary answer. We do need to improve collection rates. Where there are impediments, they need to be removed. One of the big impediments for a number of people at the moment is the very high level of penalties. I remind the member that none of the penalty payments go to the children. I would much rather that the focus was on making liable parents pay what they owe, and on having that money directed to the children, to whom it ought to be directed.
Apprenticeships and Trades—Women
11. SUE MORONEY (Labour) to the Minister of Women's Affairs: What reports, if any, has she received encouraging women to enter non-traditional apprenticeships and trades?
Hon LIANNE DALZIEL (Minister of Women's Affairs): Yesterday the human rights commissioner, in the shape of Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner Judy McGregor, launched a publication called Give Girls a Go!. This report tells the stories of young women who, through the Modern Apprenticeships programme, have been able to enter areas of employment, such as joinery and building, that were previously considered off limits for women. The publication also contains favourable comments from their employers, who have seen real advantages in encouraging women into non-traditional fields. I commend the report to the House.
Sue Moroney: What barriers exist in society for women taking up non-traditional roles?
Hon LIANNE DALZIEL: As the report shows, not being aware of opportunities is an enormous barrier to career choices for young women. Unfortunately, there are some groups in New Zealand whose beliefs dictate that men make all the decisions and women are treated as second-class citizens, unable to participate in any areas of New Zealand life. One of these groups is the Exclusive Brethren, whose beliefs limit choices for women, which is why their alignment to a major political party represents such a threat to the advancement of women in New Zealand if its policies were ever to be implemented.
12. Dr JACKIE BLUE (National) to the Minister of Health: Does he have confidence in BreastScreen Aotearoa; if so, why?
Hon PETE HODGSON (Minister of Health): Yes; because it is working tirelessly to protect the health of New Zealand women.
Dr Jackie Blue: What action will he take, now that his ministry has confirmed that, for women from 45 to 49 years of age, a participation rate of only 19 percent has been achieved—and for Māori women it is even worse, at 11 percent—almost 2 years after the age extension programme was commenced, when the accepted target was 70 percent participation of the eligible population?
Hon PETE HODGSON: I am surprised the member does not know, given her background, that the 2-year capacity target since the age extension has been almost entirely met. It is about 98.5 percent met. A further roll-out of this extension will occur in the forthcoming 2 years.
Steve Chadwick: What reports has he received on the success of extending breast screening to 45 to 49-year-olds?
Hon PETE HODGSON: I have received reports that 30,000 women in this age group have already been screened, despite their being recommended as the lowest priority by an expert group on which the National member who asked the primary question once sat.
Dr Jackie Blue: How does the Minister reconcile the Government culling tens of thousands of New Zealanders off waiting lists on the basis that it is unethical to give patients an unrealistic expectation they would be treated, with its promoting to both Māori and non-Māori women of 45 to 49 years of age the false perception that they would be recruited and offered a mammogram so that their breast cancer could be found and treated in a timely way, thus giving them the best chance of survival?
Hon PETE HODGSON: Let me quote the expert advisory group, on which the member once sat. It specifically noted that the current high quality of the programme should be maintained, and that the extension of the programme should be implemented in such a way that it did not undermine the ongoing development of a world-class programme. We are doing just that.
Dr Jackie Blue: What action, not reports, will he take on the fact that 7 years after BreastScreen Aotearoa started, only 45 percent of eligible women, and only 30 percent of eligible Māori women, are being screened, and what will he be saying to the New Zealand women who feel let down, or does he say to New Zealand women what he says to striking radiographers—every good luck?
Hon PETE HODGSON: The member says the programme has been going for 7 years. She forgets to tell the House that the extended programme has been going for 2 years. In that 2 years it has met its targets. Yes, we have achieved only 20 percent coverage in the 40 to 45 years age group, but, then, Australia did not manage to get to 30 percent over 10 years. So I think this programme is working well. The money is going in; there is no shortage of money. Certainly, a number of new facilities have been opened this year. Next month we have, I think, another two or three new mobile services coming in, taking us up to about 10 or 11. This programme is extending as scheduled.
Questions to Members
Crimes (Abolition of Force as a Justification for Child Discipline) Amendment Bill—Review
1. Hon PETER DUNNE (Leader—United Future) to the Member in charge of the Crimes (Abolition of Force as a Justification for Child Discipline) Amendment Bill: Will she consider proposing amendments to the Crimes (Abolition of Force as a Justification for Child Discipline) Amendment Bill to include a defence for parents acting to restrain their children; if so, what form will this amendment take?
SUE BRADFORD (Member in charge of the Crimes (Abolition of Force as a Justification for Child Discipline) Amendment Bill): Yes, I am considering supporting an amendment to my bill to repeal section 59 of the Crimes Act. One of the amendments that I am looking at supporting is to amend the bill so that the bill makes it clear that parents would not be breaking the law if, for example, they were to restrain their child where the child was about to attack people or property, where the child was in danger, or where the parent was putting the child into a room for time out.
Hon Peter Dunne: Is the member considering any other amendments to the bill; if so, what might they be?
SUE BRADFORD: Yes, I am considering at least one other amendment, if not more amendments, to the bill. But that is part of the normal select committee process, and I look forward to working with other members of the Justice and Electoral Committee on amendments. I also welcome the opportunity to speak with the member about this matter in more detail, should he so desire.
Chester Borrows: Supplementary—
Madam SPEAKER: Normally, with questions to members there is one supplementary question. I will take Mr Borrows’ question, but no more questions after that.
Chester Borrows: Will the member agree that most groups, both for and against the repeal of section 59 of the Crimes Act, want the same three things: to send the message that child abuse is wrong, to stop those who seriously assault their children from hiding behind section 59 of that Act, and to prevent good parents who lightly smack their children from being liable to prosecution; will she support such an amendment to her bill because it is not only desirable but also necessary to achieve those objectives?
SUE BRADFORD: I think that most, if not all, submitters on the bill and most MPs would support the first two propositions. The third is more debatable. As to the question of amendments, those will be considered in detail in the select committee, of which the member is a member. So he can be part of working on those amendments with us.