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Questions And Answers Tuesday, 5 December 2006

( Uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing. )

Tuesday, 5 December 2006
Questions for Oral Answer
Questions to Ministers

1. Carbon Neutrality—New Zealand
2. Taxation—Business Tax Review
3. Carbon Neutrality—Energy Strategy Document
4. Climate Change—Conservation Management
5. GE Contamination—Sweet Corn
6. Elective Surgery—Laboratory Workers’ Strike
7. Positive Ageing Strategy—Goals
8. Schooling—Parents’ Right to information
Question No. 4 to Minister
9. Smoking—Anti-smoking Initiatives
10. Biosecurity New Zealand—Confidence
11. Gardasil—National Immunisation Programme
12. Taito Phillip Field—Associate Minister of Immigration

Questions for Oral Answer
Questions to Ministers

Carbon Neutrality—New Zealand

1. JOHN KEY (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does she stand by her statement that New Zealand “could aim to be carbon neutral”?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister): Yes.

John Key: Did she seek advice from the Ministry for the Environment about the feasibility of making New Zealand carbon neutral before she made this statement; if so, what was this advice?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: No. I am pleased to say I am not utterly dependent on others for what I think.

John Key: Is it normal practice for this Prime Minister to make announcements of such significance without seeking advice from her own climate change officials, and does this scant regard for what officials tell her provide a useful explanation of why she has had to abandon her other promise of getting New Zealand into the top half of the OECD?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: It is normal practice to set out one’s aspirations to a Labour Party conference without seeking official advice.

John Key: Has she seen the information released this morning by Statistics New Zealand showing that in the year ended September hydro and wind generation provided the lowest proportion of electricity generation since records began in 1961, and on the basis of this information how can she possibly claim that her Government has a goal of becoming carbon neutral?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Presumably the member would prefer, when there is a shortage of rain, that we not fire up the Huntly station.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: Recognising that international scientific opinion agrees that very major reductions in carbon emissions—such as a reduction of 60 percent by 2030—are needed to prevent climate disaster, will the Prime Minister set targets and dates for reducing our emissions that aim towards that ultimate goal of carbon neutrality?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: The Government has a range of proposals coming out, including within the next 2 weeks. We look forward to the new era of bipartisanship that the new Leader of the Opposition has promised in working on these issues, and to National working constructively—as the Greens have always done—on these issues with the Government.

Hon Peter Dunne: In the light of that answer, is the Prime Minister prepared to consider convening a summit meeting of all political parties with a view on this subject, so that the decisions that New Zealand arrives at regarding future climate change policy, and carbon neutrality in particular, are decisions that all parties can sign up to, rather than decisions promoted by just a few?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I believe that there is, increasingly, some scope for multiparty discussion. I would like to suggest to the member, in response to his suggestion and to others, that we look at holding a meeting early in the new year at which people are certainly welcome to put their ideas on the table, and at which the Government is prepared to share with others the very substantial amount of information it has.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: I seek leave to table a document called Turn Down the Heat, which the Green Party launched last March when it first called for a cross-party accord on climate change.

Leave granted.

John Key: What is the approximate date at which the Prime Minister thinks New Zealand will become carbon neutral if we keep following her Government’s policies of burning ever-increasing amounts of coal while chopping down more trees than we plant?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: A lot earlier than those who are still in climate change denial—like that member—would ever reach it.

John Key: Why, as a Prime Minister with the stated goal of making New Zealand carbon neutral, did she do nothing to advance hydro projects like Dobson or Aqua, yet signed off on an State-owned enterprise burning more coal and firing up a new power plant at the Marsden B facility?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: As I told the previous, short-lived, leader of the National Party, a desire for renewables is not in itself an excuse for environmental vandalism. We are committed to more renewables. We will facilitate that through a proper process.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: Does the Prime Minister think that rapid expansion of the motorway network, while the rail system and public transport investment still lag woefully behind those of other countries, is compatible with achieving carbon neutrality; if so, why?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I am happy to advise the member that public transport spending under this Government is up by around 900 percent on where the last—and we hope it was the last—National Government had it. Secondly, of course the rail system, particularly in Auckland, will need considerable investment. Knowing Auckland, I expect it will be looking to the Government to help.

John Key: If the Prime Minister wants to be taken at her word as being committed to having more renewable energy in this country, maybe she would like to tell the country why we are now burning three times more coal to produce electricity than we were in 1999, why today Statistics New Zealand released information that shows that renewables are at the lowest level of energy production since 1961, and why we are chopping down more trees than we are planting; is it not a fact that when it comes to this Prime Minister, the country should not listen to her rhetoric but should just look at her record?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: The member might reflect on the fact that 2006 was a rather drier year than 1999. Secondly, he might reflect on the fact that virtually all the major projects coming on stream are renewable projects. Finally, if the member wants to be taken at his word, then I will take him at his word when he said in this House that he is not even sure whether climate change is a problem. I ask Mr Key what has changed.

Rodney Hide: What specific work, if any, has the Prime Minister sought from officials to understand what it would take, what it would cost, and when it could be achieved, for New Zealand to be carbon neutral?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Officials are certainly working on that issue. Carbon neutrality is the aspiration, and, frankly, if National members want to talk about bipartisanship on climate change, they had better put some substance into it and get with it, rather than just saying what they think will please the focus groups.

Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I think you know what I will ask. My specific question was what specific work the Prime Minister has commissioned. What I heard back from the Prime Minister was that officials are working on it. Well, they are probably working on lots of things. My question was what specific work she has commissioned.

Madam SPEAKER: As I recall, the question was asking about some specific issues—the member is quite right. The response was that, yes, officials are working on all those issues. So the question in that sense was addressed.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Seeing as the Dobson project has been put at issue here, does the Prime Minister recall what the multiparty position on the Dobson project was, and, in particular, what certain members in the House said about it back then?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I do not recall bipartisanship on the Dobson project, but I do recall National Party members campaigning against Project Aqua.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: I seek leave of the House to have the Climate Change (Government Vehicle Procurement) Bill, a member’s bill in my name, introduced and set down for first reading, as a first small step towards carbon neutrality.

Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought. Is there any objection? There is objection.

Sue Bradford: I seek leave of the House to have the Climate Change (New Zealand Superannuation Fund) Bill, a member’s bill in my name, introduced and set down for first reading.

Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought. Is there any objection? There is objection.

Metiria Turei: I seek leave of the House to have the Climate Change (Airline Emissions) Bill, a member’s bill in my name, introduced and set down for first reading.

Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought. Is there any objection? There is objection.

Sue Kedgley: I seek leave of the House to have the Climate Change (Rail Electrification) Bill, which would require the systematic electrification of the rail network, and is a member’s bill in my name, to be introduced and set down for first reading.

Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought. Is there any objection? There is objection.

Keith Locke: I think the House will like this one. I seek leave of the House to have the Climate Change (National Land Transport Fund and Financial Assistance Rate) Amendment Bill, a member’s bill in my name, set down for a first reading.

Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought. Is there any objection? There is objection.

Nandor Tanczos: In the interests of a cross-party approach to climate change, I seek the leave of the House for the Climate Change (Electricity Fixed Charges) Bill, a member’s bill in my name, to be introduced and set down for its first reading.

Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought. Is there any objection? There is objection.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. It is surely not an acceptable practice to come down to this House, mention bills that no other parliamentary party has seen, put them up for a fast track, and waste Parliament’s time. This practice is unprecedented, and those members should be asked to desist and get on with questions.

Madam SPEAKER: Members are entitled to seek leave; it is for others to judge.

Darren Hughes: Did the Government receive any support from any political parties for the Dobson or Aqua schemes when they were mooted publicly?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Colleagues do suggest that the Hon Nick Smith may have taken a position against Dobson, and that Katherine Rich may have taken a position against Project Aqua.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: I seek the leave of the House to correct the Prime Minister and table the five news releases that I issued on behalf of the National Party that strongly supported the Dobson hydro scheme.

Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought. Is there any objection? There is objection.

Taxation—Business Tax Review

2. SHANE JONES (Labour) to the Minister of Finance: What reports, if any, has he received on the proposals for research and development tax credits included in the business tax review?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Finance): I have received positive feedback on the proposals from a wide range of sources, especially those involved in research and development. For example, nearly two-thirds of submitters on the business tax review supported the research and development credits.

Shane Jones: What other reports has he received on the merits of research and development tax credits?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I received two quite contradictory reports. One report argued strongly for better write-off research and development spending in the purchase of plant and equipment. The second report opposed the use of tax incentives altogether in this area. The first report was from the new National leader, and the second was from the new finance spokesperson, Bill English—contradiction No. 1 for the day.

R Doug Woolerton: Can the Minister confirm that aside from the business tax review being New Zealand First’s policy, it, together with moves to incentivise productivity, research, and development through tax credits, forms part of the confidence and supply agreement between New Zealand First and Labour?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I can confirm that the business tax review is part of that confidence and supply agreement and the confidence and supply agreement with United Future, and I have great confidence that Mr Dunne will supply some answers.

Shane Jones: Has the Minister received any reports of different views on the correlation between tax cuts and economic growth?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I have received two reports. The first report notes that tax cuts are “central to our growth strategy”. The second report expressed doubts about the link between tax cuts and economic growth, stating: “I don’t think tax cuts are a magic bullet. There is no magic link between one and the other.” The first report came from the leader of the National Party, and the second came from the deputy leader of the National Party—contradiction No. 2 for today. Unfortunately, Mr English has not put down a question to me, so I cannot find contradiction No. 3 just yet.

Carbon Neutrality—Energy Strategy Document

3. GERRY BROWNLEE (Deputy Leader—National) to the Minister of Energy: Will the Government’s energy strategy document adopt carbon neutrality as an attainable goal?

Hon DAVID PARKER (Minister of Energy): The draft New Zealand Energy Strategy sets out how New Zealand can advance towards carbon neutrality. Our abundant sources of renewable energy mean that New Zealand is already a leader in sustainable energy. The strategy will set us on a path that will enable us sustainably to reduce our total carbon dioxide emissions—including transport emissions—from energy for the first time in our history.

Gerry Brownlee: Why would anyone believe Labour’s commitment to carbon neutrality, when statistics out today show that after 7 years of a Labour Government we produce the same amount of hydroelectricity and the same amount of wind generation as previously, that the proportion of electricity generated by those renewable sources is as low as it has ever been since 1961, and that we are now generating more than three times the amount of electricity we used to from coal?

Hon DAVID PARKER: As the Prime Minister has already noted, the main reason that thermal generation was so high in recent years was the relative shortage of water. It is true that despite the opposition of the National Party to climate change policy for the last few years, the Government has already brought forward the cost-effective development of wind generation. We have a wind resource that, if not the most cost-effective wind resource in the world, is amongst the most cost-effective, and that has been achieved through the Government’s climate change policy, which, until now, National has opposed.

Charles Chauvel: When will the draft New Zealand Energy Strategy become public for consultation, and what will it achieve?

Hon DAVID PARKER: The draft New Zealand Energy Strategy is to be released on Monday next week, and it sets out the Government’s vision for a cost-effective, reliable, and sustainable energy system. We will welcome feedback from interested groups and members of the public during the submission period, which runs until 30 March next year.

Gerry Brownlee: How can he defend his energy efficiency and climate change strategies, when total electricity generation does not fall but goes up by 4,400 gigawatt hours, and when the share of that powered by coal is over 85 percent?

Hon DAVID PARKER: Electricity consumption in New Zealand has gone up under the Labour Government because we have had strong economic growth during the period of our Government. In terms of the proportion of New Zealand’s electricity that comes from renewable sources, it is true that it has dropped in recent years. It is also true that at an average of around 70 percent of all generation at the moment, it remains the third-highest percentage in the world, but we have an ambition to do even better than that.

Gerry Brownlee: What evidence does the Minister have to dispute the suggestion that it is now much easier to get consent for a thermal power generation project than it is for a renewable power generation project?

Hon DAVID PARKER: I will give one example. The rather convoluted and lengthy hearings procedure for the Marsden B coal-fired power station, for which consent has not yet been granted and may not be granted, is, of course, much lengthier than the average for wind farm applications.

Peter Brown: Does the Minister accept that being carbon neutral will amount to very little on a global basis if the USA, China, and India do not address their carbon emissions; if he does accept that, and noting that he has just been to Nairobi to attend a convention on climate change, can he outline what is expected of those nations?

Hon DAVID PARKER: It remains true that New Zealand is a higher-than-average emitter of greenhouse gas emissions—quite a bit higher than China on a per capita basis. It also remains true that for the world to overcome the climate change challenge, countries like America and China should do their bit.

Gerry Brownlee: Can he confirm that the Climate Change Office has abandoned its pedestrian strategy, because it believes that if the traffic flow is disrupted by more pedestrians it will make it harder for the office to meet its carbon dioxide emission targets?

Hon DAVID PARKER: No.

Climate Change—Conservation Management

4. Hon Dr NICK SMITH (National—Nelson) to the Minister of Conservation: What steps is the Department of Conservation taking, if any, to support the task of “managing DoC areas in a way to offset the effects of climate change”, and of “doing something to mitigate the effects of climate change”, as stated by Alastair Morrison, Director-General of Conservation, on 16 November 2006?

Hon CHRIS CARTER (Minister of Conservation): The Department of Conservation manages one-third of our land mass and could make a significant contribution by adopting land management practices that extract carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store it in permanent vegetation. Work is under way to identify how best we can do this.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: How can such statements on climate change be taken seriously when his department has now been sitting on an application for 18 months by Bay of Plenty Electricity for a hydroelectric station that would require only 0.7 of a hectare, and when every month this renewable energy project is delayed equates to another 3,000 tonnes of carbon into the atmosphere?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: I can report that the Kaituna dam project, which is the one I assume that member is referring to, has been a process that has to be worked through in the area, but I can say that some good news is very close on that project.

Steve Chadwick: What contribution do initial assessments suggest the Department of Conservation could make to achieve carbon neutrality?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: It could make a very significant contribution. For example—based on initial figures—if the Department of Conservation were to commence intensified pest control in the public conservation estate next year, it would offset between 20 million and 40 million tonnes of carbon by the end of 2012. There is also significant potential benefit from native reforestation programmes and from encouraging regeneration on degraded parts of the conservation estate.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Why, when his department’s statement of intent sets a target of 6 months for processing concessions, has it already taken 18 months to consider a consent for only 0.7 of a hectare, and, noting that all of the resource management processes come afterwards and are on top of that, does this sound like his department is taking urgent action on climate change?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: One of the things I think all New Zealanders are proud of is our beautiful natural environment. Protecting that environment is a very important task of the Department of Conservation. I remind the House of my earlier answer that good news might be on the way on the Kaituna project.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: I seek the leave of the House to table a list of all the National Party speeches on climate change listed on its website for the last 18 months—a total of one. I also seek leave to table the speeches on climate change listed on the Green Party website in the last 18 months—a total of 23.

Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought. Is there any objection? There is objection.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Does the Minister consider it consistent with the Government’s talk of transformation of the economy and urgent action on climate change, for his department to take 2 years to process a 0.7 hectare consent that would provide renewable power for 10,000 households?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: It has now grown from 14 months to 2 years. I guess that is another example of how the member can inflate issues. The member and his party have all the zeal of a recent convert. Let us hope their conversion is genuine.

Madam SPEAKER: I do not think that addressed the question. Could the Minister please address the question.

Hon CHRIS CARTER: The House will be confused as to whether we are talking about 14 months or 24 months. I can say that working through any proposal to build an energy project on conservation land, which belongs to all of the people of New Zealand, is a very important question and needs to be looked at carefully. I remind the House again that a decision on the Kaituna project is very imminent.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: I seek the leave of the House to table the timetable for the consideration of the Kaituna hydro scheme, which has taken 18 months to date—

Hon CHRIS CARTER: Oh—ha, ha!

Madam SPEAKER: Look, everybody is on their final warning while points of order are being taken. They are to be heard in silence. Would the member please continue.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Indeed—I will raise the point of order again. I seek leave to table the timetable for the Kaituna hydro scheme, which shows that, to date, it has taken 18 months, and the letter to applicants from the Department of Conservation, showing that it is expected to take a further 6 months.

Leave granted.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Supplementary, Madam Speaker?

Madam SPEAKER: Supplementary? May I just remind members that it is the normal convention to table documents at the end of the question.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: It might have helped if you had reminded Jeanette Fitzsimons—

Madam SPEAKER: The reminder goes to everybody.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Can the Minister explain his decision to reject the Dobson hydro project in 2002 on the West Coast, which would have produced sufficient renewable energy to offset 1 million tonnes of carbon dioxide; and, given the commitment from the director-general to ensure that all Department of Conservation actions are climate-friendly, will this decision be reconsidered?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: Clearly, the member is not aware—but he should be—that the Dobson dam project is going ahead. It is now going ahead with some of its worst environmental effects mitigated. Everyone seems to be happy with the project now; Dr Smith just does not seem to be up with the play.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Is the Minister aware of Statistics New Zealand figures, released today, which show that in the year to September we had the lowest proportion ever of power produced from wind and hydro sources; and, given this figure and the doubling of New Zealand’s greenhouse gas emissions from the electricity sector, will his department now consider the implications of climate change when considering applications for wind and hydro stations on Department of Conservation land—will it consider those factors in future applications?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: The role of the Department of Conservation is to be the guardian of the conservation estate for future generations of New Zealanders. I remind the House that Project West Wind at Mākara was approved by the department; Project Aqua was approved by the department; and Genesis’ Tongariro expansion was approved by the department. Why does the member continue to try to create an image that the Department of Conservation is a block to renewable energy projects? The department looks at each case on its merits.

GE Contamination—Sweet Corn

5. JEANETTE FITZSIMONS (Co-Leader—Green) to the Minister for Biosecurity: Can he tell the House how much of the GE-contaminated sweet corn seed has been planted and in which districts?

Hon JIM ANDERTON (Minister for Biosecurity): An estimated total of 4,420 kilograms of corn seed imported into New Zealand is currently being investigated for possible GM contamination. This includes an additional 2,600 kilograms of possibly contaminated seed that has been identified by the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry following further tracing in the last day. Thus far the ministry’s investigation has identified that approximately two-thirds of the corn seed from these batches was planted in Hawke’s Bay, Gisborne, Blenheim, and Ashburton. The remaining unplanted seed has been secured. Biosecurity New Zealand has checked seed import records for the last year, and has discovered no further discrepancies.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: Can the Minister clarify for the House whether the plants will be destroyed, as announced on Monday, or whether the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry has the power to decide to let them grow to maturity and to harvest them, as it said on radio today?

Hon JIM ANDERTON: Biosecurity New Zealand is consulting with growers and seed producers, as is proper, but unless there are compelling reasons against it, it is almost certain that the unplanted seeds will be destroyed, and that the plants will be removed and destroyed.

Shane Ardern: Will there be an inquiry into the apparent failure of Biosecurity New Zealand that saw contaminated sweet corn seeds breaching our borders despite two consignments having documentation that showed that the parent batches—the seeds that the seeds originated from—had GE-contaminated seed in them?

Hon JIM ANDERTON: Yes, there will be a stringent inquiry into how this event occurred. It seems, on the face of it, to be human error, but although human error is possible, of course, the system—

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Just hopeless.

Hon JIM ANDERTON: Yes, hopeless, as much as it is hopeless when a party’s leader is changed five times in 9 years; members opposite must have got it wrong there, too. [Interruption] It has not changed the leader! I remember that that interjector was deputy leader for 3 days. The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry is conducting a stringent inquiry. There will be accountability here. But I say again that New Zealand is recognised as having one of the strongest biosecurity systems in the world. Many of the systems of countries all around the world would not even have picked up that seeds such as these had been introduced.

Hon Brian Donnelly: Is the Minister aware of any peer-reviewed, substantial research that demonstrates negative health effects from the eating of food with genetically modified components; if not, is it possible that the public is being unnecessarily panicked over the current GE corn fiasco?

Hon JIM ANDERTON: I am aware that the levels of GM contamination here—and I cannot be sure, until the ministry has fully researched the issue, what the GM construct actually is—range between 0.1 percent, which is one seed in 10,000, and 0.9 percent. So the levels are low. I am not aware of any research that suggests that any of this seed is injurious to human health, but I cannot be absolutely sure of that, of course.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: What did the Minister mean when he said it was “almost certain” that the plants would be destroyed, in what situations might they not be destroyed, and is the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry trying to implement its long-held preference for a threshold below which genetic engineering contamination is legal?

Hon JIM ANDERTON: When I say “almost” I mean “almost”, which means that the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry is going through a process of consultation. If one goes through a process of consultation, one has to listen to, in this case, the seed producers, who claim they have a system of control that eliminates GM contamination. The ministry is rather questioning of that possibility, but that is what the seed producers say. We are also consulting with the growers who have planted the seed, none of which has reached a stage at which it is likely to create any long-term problem—as long as the plants are removed before they seed. But when one goes into a consultation process, one has to allow for the possible outcome—to let one’s prejudices be dictated to by the facts of the situation—and we are listening to that. But, as I said in my original answer, unless there are compelling reasons, which I cannot envisage at the moment—but because the consultation process is proceeding, we have to wait to see how that works—it is almost certain, in my view, that the seeds and the plants will be destroyed.

Elective Surgery—Laboratory Workers’ Strike

6. Hon TONY RYALL (National—Bay of Plenty) to the Minister of Health: How many patients have had their surgery deferred as a result of the current strike by laboratory workers, and how long will it take to clear the surgical backlog?

Hon PETE HODGSON (Minister of Health): I am afraid it is not clear at this stage. It is true that acute and elective surgery has been deferred both in the public and private sectors during the strike. However, before the strike district health boards increased their volumes to compensate for the delays expected, and during the strike some more major surgery was replaced by minor surgery that did not require blood products or laboratory tests.

Hon Tony Ryall: Are patients at risk or is care being compromised during the strike?

Hon PETE HODGSON: It is my view that this strike is a more difficult strike than earlier ones. Clinicians have indicated to me through the media or in private meetings that this strike is more concerning because it involves laboratory workers and that the life-preserving parts of the arrangement we have in our society will be used more often. That has turned out to be the case.

Maryan Street: What plans do the district health boards have for recovery?

Hon PETE HODGSON: The district health boards, especially the large district health boards, are confident that they will deliver a full day of surgery tomorrow. That means that normal volumes of surgery will be done. District health boards will prioritise those patients with the greatest needs and they aim to recover much of the lost ground by Christmas.

Hon Tony Ryall: Will the Minister answer the question: does he agree with the statements of the 11 Auckland surgeons, the Medical Council, and others declaring that during this strike patients are at risk and care is being compromised; if not, why not?

Hon PETE HODGSON: I am advised that the strike has exposed a difference between the Code of Good Faith as signed between the Council of Trade Unions and district health boards, and the expression of that code in the schedule of the Employment Relations Act. The Government is anticipating that parties to the code will seek a change to the schedule.

Hon Tony Ryall: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. The question was quite clear. It was not about life-preserving situations; it was clearly asking the Minister whether he agreed with the comments of the experts who say that patients are at risk and that care is being compromised during the strike. We are looking for the Minister to either confirm that or not confirm that.

Hon PETE HODGSON: I think it is undoubtedly the case that there have been compromises made during this strike and that there have also been delays. I hope that we are able to assert, however, that the life-preserving services agreement, which—as a feature of this Government and not of his previous Government—has been important.

Hon Tony Ryall: How can it be safe and not compromising of care when a West Coast woman diagnosed with a cancerous growth on her kidney last month whose operation was cancelled yesterday because of the strike may have to wait another 2 months to find out how bad her cancer is, and how can he suggest that her care is not being compromised?

Hon PETE HODGSON: I am sorry; I did not make it clear to the member. I thought I said in my answer to his earlier question that it is clear that people’s care is being compromised and/or delayed, and he has simply come up with an example of where a woman who might otherwise have received treatment has had that treatment delayed. My own mother is in the same position, I might say.

Hon Tony Ryall: Is he aware that patients whose operations have been cancelled before the laboratory workers’ strike will probably now have to wait until late January or February for their surgery—that is, a 1-month or 2-month delay; and what would he say to a woman diagnosed with bowel cancer 2 months ago whose surgery was cancelled yesterday and who may have to wait another 6 weeks before vital surgery, and all the while her cancer is growing, and he has done absolutely nothing to bring the parties to the table to solve this crisis?

Hon PETE HODGSON: I will just say to the member, as I have said to him before, that I am neither the employer nor the employee. My obligation is to ensure that folk do operate within the law of this land—and, indeed, they do. I will say to the member what I have said to the member earlier in this question, which is that district health boards are of the view that they can recover much of the lost ground before Christmas this year.

Hon TONY RYALL: What is it about his handling of the health portfolio that has meant that this year we have seen the junior doctors’ strike, the radiographers’ strike, the radiotherapists’ strike, the laboratory workers’ strikes, and there are more strikes to come; and does he take any responsibility at all for the thousands of patients whose care has been disrupted while he has this appetite for industrial action?

Hon PETE HODGSON: The member needs to be a little careful with his history. The truth of the matter is that there are fewer strikes under this legislation than there were under the Employment Contracts Act. That is a matter of fact. It is a matter of fact, and I am just saying to the member that the junior doctors have settled. I urge the radiographers and radiation therapists, the laboratory workers, and the district health boards with whom they negotiate to come to an agreement as soon as they are able, and I am hoping that some of them will.

Dr Jackie Blue: Has the Minister heard any reports that there may be a second laboratory workers’ strike starting before Christmas, and what has to happen—does someone have to die as a result of the strikes—before the Minister will step in and take action and responsibility?

Hon PETE HODGSON: There have been 150 strike notices lodged by one person this calendar year. There may be 151.

Positive Ageing Strategy—Goals

7. DARREN HUGHES (Labour—Otaki) to the Minister for Senior Citizens: Has the Government taken any steps recently towards meeting the goals of the New Zealand Positive Ageing Strategy?

Hon RUTH DYSON (Minister for Senior Citizens): Following on from the recent very successful launch of the Supergold card by my colleague and associate the Rt Hon Winston Peters, the Prime Minister announced yesterday the removal of the mandatory on-road driving test for people aged 80 years and over. This will remove the stress of older people taking the test, without unduly compromising road safety.

Darren Hughes: Has she seen any reports of proposals that would be detrimental to the welfare and positive ageing of older New Zealanders?

Hon RUTH DYSON: Actually, I have. I have seen a report suggesting lifting the age of eligibility for New Zealand superannuation to 68 years of age, while at the same time seeking to “inoculate” the issue by publicly promising not to change the age of eligibility, and to be prepared to find a “nuanced way of talking about super issues.” I challenge the new leader of the National Party to confirm that the National Party’s stated policy on superannuation is its real policy, and not just another example of style over substance.

Schooling—Parents’ Right to information

8. KATHERINE RICH (National) to the Minister of Education: What rights do parents have to information about their children’s schooling?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY (Minister of Education): The Labour-led Government is committed to supporting parents to take an active role in their children’s education. The National Administration Guideline 2(iii) states that schools are required to “report to students and their parents on the achievement of individual students”. The best way for parents to be informed about their child’s education is to visit the school. They could also talk to teachers and the principal, look at the latest Education Review Office reports, and visit the school directory website. If parents talk to their school they will gain access to comprehensive information, including what sort of environment the school has, the kinds of teaching programmes in place, and what actually happens in the classroom to benefit students.

Katherine Rich: Why, under his ministerial leadership, is Rangiora High School charging some parents $20 per copy for school reports, and also denying that information if the money is not paid, when it is any parent’s right to know how his or her child is doing in school?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: As I mentioned before, National Administration Guideline 2(iii) states that schools are required to “report to students and their parents on the achievement of individual students”. Therefore, the school is not allowed to take that action, and we will ensure that it does not.

Hon Brian Donnelly: In light of clear evidence that failure of children to develop phonological awareness skills during pre-reading and early-reading stages impacts negatively and significantly upon the development of literacy skills, will the Minister facilitate the creation of appropriate assessment tools and remediation programmes for use in our schools and preschools?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: The member may like to know that the kind of formative assessment approach we take, which is different from the summative approach, which often leads to the kinds of difficulties that the member is pointing out, is, of course, what underlies the whole development of tools such as asTTle, which not only set a benchmark for us to understand where students are up to, but also provide teachers with the very tools that the member is talking about. So good are these tools that today, for example, in Auckland there is a US - New Zealand roundtable discussion on these very matters, with people from France and Britain here as well. We are seen, indeed, as leaders in resolving that issue.

Katherine Rich: What is his response to the school’s argument that the reason for charging some parents for copies of school reports is a limited operations grant, and why are schools under his ministerial leadership seeing communicating with parents about their kids’ performance as a fund-raiser?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: The national guidelines say they must inform students, and they must do it.

Moana Mackey: What is the Government doing to ensure parents have good information about their local schools and are able to get involved in supporting their child’s learning?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: The Government is providing a wide range of information to ensure that parents are well informed and get engaged in their children’s learning. We do this because we know that one of the factors in the outcomes for children is parental involvement or caregiver involvement. Initiatives include such things as the Team-Up and Te Mana campaigns, the school directory web page, asTTLe, as I have just mentioned, which provides very good quality information about teaching and learning, and I intend to do more in this area, extending the information available on the school directory website, supporting home and school partnerships, particularly things that are done through the computer, and developing new resources for parents through Team-Up.

Katherine Rich: Does he think it is an absolute right for every New Zealand parent to get a free copy of his or her child’s school report; if so, will he issue a special instruction to schools to clarify this point, because there seems to be some confusion?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: Yes. We are talking about one school, and it will have that clarified.

Te Ururoa Flavell: Tēnā koe, Madam Speaker. Tēnā tātou katoa. What explanation can the Minister provide to explain the fact that half of the 8,000 non-enrolments notified to the Ministry of Education in 2005 were wrong, and does this give any parent confidence that his or her child is in good hands?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I think this is a problem that arises from the history of us not having an enrolment number for students. That is why I have introduced it, and that is why I am paying $4 million to roll it out this year.

Katherine Rich: Can the Minister assure every New Zealand parent that he or she can and will receive free copies of his or her children’s reports, so they can see how they are performing within New Zealand schools?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: As I mentioned before, the national administration guideline does guarantee that. It requires that schools report to students and their parents on their achievement. Section 3 of the Education Act 1989 states that students have the right to a free education now. That is what schools are required to do.

Question No. 4 to Minister

Hon CHRIS CARTER (Minister of Conservation): I seek leave to table a document relating to question No. 4, where the Hon Nick Smith told us that the Department of Conservation had delayed the Kaituna project for 18 months. I have a document that shows that 6 months of that delay was caused by the applicant. There was a 2-month delay while the applicant provided a fuller application to the department, and a further 4-month delay while the applicant provided the department with comments. Once again, the member was not quite truthful.

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

Smoking—Anti-smoking Initiatives

9. ANN HARTLEY (Labour) to the Associate Minister of Health: What support has he seen for the Government’s anti-smoking initiatives?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR (Associate Minister of Health): Two weeks ago I hosted a breakfast at Parliament that featured two international speakers talking on the subject of misleading terms on tobacco products. It was good to see support from members across the House, including National’s associate health spokesperson Jonathan Coleman.

Ann Hartley: What reports has he seen on the effects of exposure to second-hand smoke?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: I have seen many reports on the harmful effects of exposure to second-hand smoke, and they range from lung cancer to emphysema, heart attacks, and possible concussion. It has also been disturbing to read in a recent publication that British American Tobacco, a company responsible for many of the diseases and conditions mentioned, has close links to the National Party.

Tariana Turia: Is the Minister aware of the statement from the Cancer Society spokesperson Belinda Hughes that it is hypocritical of the Government to support international agreements on the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control while lining its pockets with tobacco industry profits; if so, when will he take action to challenge Crown financial institutions to withdraw any investment in tobacco companies?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: I am aware of the contentious issue of Governments taking tax or duty from tobacco. It is one of the dilemmas that we continue to work through. However, our focus is on reducing the harm from tobacco use, for all groups across this country.

Metiria Turei: What advice has the Minister received regarding links between the National Party and British American Tobacco, and has he had any advice on the impact that such links might have on the capacity of this Parliament to regulate tobacco in the best interests of our own people?

Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: I am advised that, according to a recent publication, on 30 June Don Brash and David Carter met with seven of the top managers of British American Tobacco. This was at a time when the company was working on plans to introduce new, candy-flavoured and alcohol-flavoured cigarettes—a move criticised by the Public Health Association as trying to get children hooked on smoking. I would also like to acknowledge the fact that due to support from parties such as the Greens, this Parliament has been able to make some significant progress on regulating tobacco control in this country. Of course, those steps have all been continually opposed by the National Party.

Biosecurity New Zealand—Confidence

10. SHANE ARDERN (National—Taranaki-King Country) to the Minister for Biosecurity: Does he have confidence in Biosecurity New Zealand; if not, why not?

Hon JIM ANDERTON (Minister for Biosecurity): Yes; as I have already noted today in the House, New Zealand has some of the toughest biosecurity and GM-related controls in the world.

Shane Ardern: Why, then, despite severe criticism 7 months ago from the Auditor-General on staff training, does this latest GM corn breach show that little progress has been made in this area?

Hon JIM ANDERTON: Biosecurity New Zealand, as with all Government ministries, carries out a continuous training programme for key staff. An investigation has been commenced into the errors that were made on this occasion. I have to say that biosecurity staff at the border take their role very seriously. Their work is extremely challenging, given the difficulties in relation to conflicting test results and potentially tiny amounts of possible contamination. Anyone, of course, is capable of making a mistake, even political parties in their consecutive and regular choices of new leaders.

Madam SPEAKER: I do not think the last comment was relevant.

Shane Ardern: If the Minister has confidence in Biosecurity New Zealand, then why did he go against its recommendation to eradicate the varroa bee mite in the Nelson area, when a paper released under the Official Information Act stated that an attempt at eradication would have an 80 percent chance of success?

Hon JIM ANDERTON: Because when I put a question to the scientific advisers in Biosecurity New Zealand and the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry as to the possibility and chance of varroa bee mite reoccurring in the Nelson region or in the South Island, the answer from the scientists was that it would be inevitable. There is nothing about the word “inevitable” that I do not understand.

Shane Ardern: Will funding be an issue in the eradication of the GE-contaminated corn, given that the same paper released under the Official Information Act demonstrated that funding was a significant factor in the Minister’s decision not to go ahead with an attempted eradication of the varroa bee mite despite an 80 percent chance of success?

Hon JIM ANDERTON: We are confronted with a wide range of possible biosecurity incursions, coming from half a million containers, 4 million tourists, the wind, the sea washing on our shores, and the inevitable millions of possible incursions arising from those factors. The expenditure on the saltmarsh mosquito programme this year was $11.5 million, $4.5 million was spent just in terms of management of the varroa bee mite, and $12 million was spent on didymo, Styela clava, and painted apple moth. In addition $76 million was spent on pre-border and border management. If the member wants an unlimited budget for biosecurity, before he ever gets near the Treasury benches he should have some discussion with National’s spokesperson on finance and see how that works.

Shane Ardern: In the light of that answer, given that 1.8 tonnes of contaminated seed made its way across the border and given the big long list of other incursions the Minister just read out, such as didymo in the South Island—

Madam SPEAKER: Just ask the question.

Shane Ardern: —which is now in 26 rivers, will the Minister give the House an assurance today that funding will not be a problem in the eradication of the GE corn incursion?

Hon JIM ANDERTON: Of course, funding is not a problem in this incursion, because the funding required would be rather small in comparison with some of the other figures I have worked out. But I can assure the House that I will not be taking advice from the member. He advised me, in terms of didymo in the South Island, to nuke the rivers; I have not taken that advice, either.

Shane Ardern: Has the Minister or his ministry looked at the issue of compensation for farmers who may be affected by the planting of this corn if he or the ministry is going to destroy it?

Hon JIM ANDERTON: The issue of compensation is always on the table when Biosecurity New Zealand takes action to protect New Zealand on biosecurity issues that are not the fault of the owners of property who might have goods or services confiscated. Biosecurity New Zealand will be looking at that as this matter evolves.

Gardasil—National Immunisation Programme

11. BARBARA STEWART (NZ First) to the Minister of Health: Can his ministry include Gardasil in the national immunisation programme earlier than 2008, given the Cancer Control Council’s opinion that the vaccine offers a unique window of opportunity to address inequalities around cancer; if not, why not?

Hon PETE HODGSON (Minister of Health): I can confirm that the next time changes will be made to the National Immunisation Schedule will be in 2008, and that Gardasil is under consideration for inclusion at that time. However, I must also say to the member that there are other vaccines under consideration, including one for pneumococcal disease, which includes meningitis.

Barbara Stewart: Are the Ministry of Health’s deliberations into the addition of Gardasil to the National Immunisation Schedule related solely to financial considerations?

Hon PETE HODGSON: They are certainly not related solely to financial considerations, although both effectiveness and cost-effectiveness are taken into account. If we have to buy it, we have to be able to pay for it.

Sue Moroney: What is the process for implementing a major vaccination campaign?

Hon PETE HODGSON: Implementing a change to the National Immunisation Schedule takes 12 to 15 months after a decision is made to include a new vaccine. Information for patients, training of health professionals to administer the vaccine, and establishment of the safety regime around the vaccine are all required beforehand. These are matters that are well understood by the immunisation community.

Barbara Stewart: Is the Minister aware of the reported association between the incidence of cervical cancer and socioeconomic deprivation; if so, is it morally acceptable that Gardasil is currently available from general practitioners at around $450, which puts it well beyond the reach of many of the people who would benefit from it most?

Hon PETE HODGSON: I think the member makes a good point, but I say back to her that whether or not we have Gardasil, this country will continue to need ongoing cervical screening. I say further that that screening needs to reach more assertively towards parts of our population that tend to access it less. That is what we will need to do with screening, no matter what we do with Gardasil.

Taito Phillip Field—Associate Minister of Immigration

12. Dr the Hon LOCKWOOD SMITH (National—Rodney) to the Minister of Immigration: What information did the former Associate Minister of Immigration, Hon Damien O’Connor, possess about Taito Phillip Field’s involvement with failed refugee applicants prior to 17 June 2005?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE (Minister of Immigration): I have addressed similar questions in the House on a number of previous occasions. I refer the member, for example, to my response on 13 September 2006. [Interruption]

Madam SPEAKER: I ask members to come to order. Would the Minister please address the question in more detail.

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: On 13 September 2006 I said, in response to a very similar question, that the director of service international attempted to contact the Associate Minister, but that it is not the case, according to the Ingram inquiry, that the information intended for the Associate Minister reached him.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: What information did the then Minister of Immigration, the Hon Paul Swain, provide to Mr O’Connor about the serious concerns Mr Swain knew were held by senior management at Immigration New Zealand about the number and nature of immigration submissions made on behalf of failed refugees by Taito Phillip Field, prior to Mr O’Connor’s intervention in the case of failed refugees Siriwan and Phanngarm?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: I am advised that the department holds no information on any information passed directly from the Minister to the Associate Minister at that time.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: What information did the Hon Phil Goff provide to Mr O’Connor relating to his personal knowledge that failed refugee Sunan Siriwan was working on Taito Phillip Field’s house in Samoa, given that Mr Goff met and spoke to Mr Siriwan while Mr Siriwan was working on the floor of Mr Field’s house in Samoa in March 2005?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: I am advised that the department holds no information on that matter.

Peter Brown: Is the Minister able to confirm that the findings of the immigration review proposed the tightening up of immigration process, including the failed refugee problem, and can he also confirm that this is exactly what New Zealand First has been advocating for years?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: I suspect that the question may be somewhat out of the scope of the primary question, but, certainly, the New Zealand First Party has been extremely helpful in regard to the Immigration Act review.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: What information did Ross Robertson MP provide to Mr O’Connor relating to his personal knowledge that failed refugee Sunan Siriwan was working on Taito Phillip Field’s house in Samoa, given that not only did he see Mr Siriwan working on the floor of Mr Field’s house in March 2005 but also he socialised with both Mr Field and Mr Siriwan in Samoa at that time?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: I am advised that the department holds no information in regard to that question, but that the matter was covered in the Ingram inquiry.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: How credible is it that two Cabinet Ministers, including the then Minister of Immigration, and a third Labour member of Parliament all possessed information about Taito Phillip Field’s involvement with failed refugees, yet not one of those four people passed on their information to the Associate Minister Damien O’Connor?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: Although the Minister of Immigration has no ministerial responsibility for what members of this House might say to each other, I recall that those members have all provided evidence to the Ingram inquiry, which finds no substance to that member’s allegations.

( Uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing. )

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