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Questions and Answers - Wednesday, 16 May 2007

Questions and Answers - Wednesday, 16 May 2007

Urgent Questions

Member’s Resignation—Confidence of the House

1. Hon BILL ENGLISH (Deputy Leader—National) to the Prime Minister: What assurances can she give, as the leader of the current coalition of Labour, United Future, and New Zealand First, that the Government commands a majority in this House?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister): There is not such a coalition; there is a Government arrangement, put together after the last election, that rests on two confidence and supply agreements and on an abstention agreement with the Green Party. That is why the Government continues to enjoy the confidence of the House.

Questions to Ministers

Accident Compensation—Levy Rates

1. Hon MARK GOSCHE (Labour—Maungakiekie) to the Minister for ACC: Has she received any recent reports concerning ACC levy rates?

Hon RUTH DYSON (Minister for ACC): Yes, I have. I have seen a report recently in which the National Party leader, John Key, claims that accident compensation levies are “rising rapidly” and “going through the roof”. Despite that claim being demonstrably wrong and deliberately misleading, Mr Key used it to justify his plans to return to the flawed policies of the 1990s and privatise accident compensation.

Hon Mark Gosche: How do today’s accident compensation levy rates compare with rates from earlier years?

Hon RUTH DYSON: The levy for the average self-employed person has come down by 6 percent, the earners rate has reduced by 7 percent, and the average employers’ levy has dropped by a massive 43 percent, since National’s costly privatisation experiment.

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Hon Mark Gosche: Has the Minister seen any reports that explain why the current accident compensation scheme is so much more affordable than private schemes?

Hon RUTH DYSON: Yes, I have. I have seen a report that lists some of the higher expenses of private insurers, including marketing costs, agents’ commissions, profit loadings, and the cost of an industry regulator, all of which means that about only 60 percent of what is collected from premiums is available to meet claims, compared with nearly 90 percent under the accident compensation scheme. That leaves me wondering why National wants to go there, unless it is simply a payback to its financial backers in the insurance industry—as demonstrated by the leaked email from the Insurance Council prior to the last election.

Peter Brown: In terms of reports, is the Minister aware of the Law Commission’s report that expresses concern about the accident compensation regime that physiotherapists work under; if she is aware of it, is she pleased that Labour and New Zealand First are working together to have an independent review to address such issues?

Hon RUTH DYSON: I can certainly confirm that I am pleased that that agreement was reached among Labour, Progressive, and New Zealand First as part of the confidence and supply agreement, and also that the review is on track.

Budget 2007—Corporate Tax Rate

2. Hon BILL ENGLISH (Deputy Leader—National) to the Minister of Finance: Why is he cutting the corporate tax rate, and why now?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Finance): I am sorry. The member will have to wait just one more day to find out what is in the Budget.

Hon Bill English: Can the Minister confirm that his ability to pass a Budget, including a cut in the corporate tax rate, now depends on the Greens abstaining on a vote of confidence, because he has lost his majority with New Zealand First and United Future; and has the Government consulted with the Greens about their views on a billion-dollar company tax cut?


Charles Chauvel: What reports has the Minister seen on reductions in business taxation in recent years?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Since coming to office in 1999 we have introduced a raft of measures in this area, including reductions in fringe benefit tax in the specified superannuation contribution withholding tax, greater interest deductibility for companies, zero rating of GST on financial services, introducing an exemption on tax in overseas income for new migrants, and allowing high depreciation for low-value assets. We have also introduced tax concessions for the racing industry, and I note that the National Party voted against almost all of these reductions in taxation.

R Doug Woolerton: Can the Minister confirm that reviewing the business taxation regime is part of the confidence and supply agreement with New Zealand First, and that New Zealand First has consistently lobbied the Government to reduce the current rate of corporate tax?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I can confirm it was a condition of our confidence and supply agreements with both New Zealand First and United Future.

Heather Roy: Does the Minister agree that it is good tax policy design to align the top personal tax rate with the company rate, and what is the logic of maintaining—in fact, widening—the differential between the company rate and the top rate of personal taxation?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: At a theoretical level there are advantages. Actually, very, very few countries align the top two rates, and many countries have much wider differentials than New Zealand. In Australia, for example, the differential is between 45c and 30c in the dollar.

Hon Bill English: Does the Minister expect to be having discussions this afternoon with the Greens in order to ensure that the Government can rely on their support for a billion-dollar corporate tax cut, or have they promised to back Labour, no matter what?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I spend many afternoons having discussions with the Greens. I think this afternoon is not one of them.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: Can the Minister tell the House on what conditions the Greens’ abstention on confidence and supply is based, and can he comment on whether the conditions regularly flip-flop according to the Government’s numbers, or whether it is actually based on policy?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The agreement is based on good faith and on working in a direction that is consistent with the policies of both parties. The Greens remain consistent even in areas where I wish they would actually change their position and support the Government. But they have always been in good faith in terms of their relationships with the current Government. We are on track, I think I can say, on a range of key issues.

Hon Bill English: Does the last answer mean that the Minister no longer believes all those sarcastic and sometimes funny things he has been saying about the Greens?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I prefer to say, funny and sometimes sarcastic.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: Can the Minister also confirm that the Greens’ cooperation agreement with the Government is based on a great deal more than good faith and actually includes a considerable amount of policy that is a precondition to our continued abstention on confidence and supply?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: There are specific references to areas around energy, sustainability, transport, and other policy areas, and the Labour-led Government and the Green Party continue to work closely together on those matters. The Government has absolutely no doubt—unlike, obviously, the National Party—about the good faith on which the Green Party works.

Hon Bill English: Can the Minister confirm that, whereas at the moment his numbers to pass the Budget rely on confidence and supply agreements with both United Future and New Zealand First, by tomorrow his numbers to pass the Budget will depend on a confidence and supply agreement with New Zealand First, a confidence and supply agreement with United Future, and a cooperation agreement with the Greens?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: We have rested on those since the last election, and that is the nature of MMP politics. The National Party has never learnt how to operate MMP politics.

Hon Bill English: What can New Zealand expect from the 2008 Budget, which the Minister has already started talking about, when in this one he was pushed into a company tax cut by United Future and savings incentives by New Zealand First, and when, clearly, in the 2008 Budget he will be pushed into all sorts of weird economic policy by the Greens?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: We work carefully and closely with other political parties. The member will find out tomorrow what is actually in the Budget. Until that member learns that there are other parties in this House, he has not got the faintest hope of ever being part of a Government.

Hon Bill English: Why has the Government decided to make a cut in the company tax rate its top priority when people on the average wage used to pay 19 percent of their income as tax when he came to power, and now those people pay 22 percent of their income as tax, which means that the average tax on the average wage has gone up by about 12 percent?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Actually, for an average wage worker with two children the tax wedge on that household is now down to the second lowest in the OECD, and is about an eighth of what it was under the National Government.

Hon Bill English: Does the Minister expect to have to modify any policy immediately after the Budget because the Government’s majority now relies on the Greens abstaining from confidence and supply votes, whereas previously its effective majority relied on New Zealand First and United Future alone?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: No, and the last statement is incorrect. Since Taito Phillip Field left the Labour Party he is quite wrong in that regard.

Exports—Export-Capable Firms

3. MARYAN STREET (Labour) to the Minister for Economic Development: What is the Government doing to increase the number of export-capable New Zealand firms?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Minister for Economic Development): The Government is supporting those firms through injecting funds into New Zealand’s global talent network, Kea. An amount of $1.8 million over 3 years will mean the expansion of a network of influential New Zealand expatriates, strengthening the links of this network back to New Zealand. and using those connections to grow the number of export-capable Kiwi firms.

Maryan Street: What support is the Government providing to new exporters?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: Business Mentors New Zealand will recruit up to 100 additional people to act as mentors for exporters with support from Export Year 2007. Just like Beachheads and Kea, this programme uses a network of experienced exporters to give Kiwis a head start into exporting. I note that these policies are supported by John Key—one of the few things that he has got right. It is just a pity that Mark Blumsky and Katherine Rich keep bagging them.

R Doug Woolerton: Is the Minister concerned about the growing number of New Zealand exporters who are heading offshore; if not, why not?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: Heading offshore to sell one’s products is very good.

National Certificate of Educational Achievement—Random Checking of Internal Marking

4. KATHERINE RICH (National) to the Minister of Education: Does he agree with the statement of Bali Haque, deputy chief executive of the New Zealand Qualifications Authority, on the decision to start randomly checking schools’ internal NCEA marking: “The positive is that it’s happening now.”; if so, why?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY (Minister of Education): Yes; I think the decision to pilot the random sampling of moderation of internal assessment as announced by the New Zealand Qualifications Authority on 12 March is a positive move. The addition of random sampling as a further quality assurance check for current moderation systems was a response to the “post-assessment moderation”part of the 2005 review.

Katherine Rich: Why was random sampling not made part of the National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA) moderation model 6 years ago, when the New Zealand Qualifications Authority failed to act on official advice from the Rhoades report in 2001, which noted that failing to have a decent sample of randomly selected school work would undermine the validity and reliability of the whole NCEA moderation model?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: Because people did not agree with the recommendation made in the Rhoades report at that time. But the same issue was picked up in 2005, and that is what is being implemented now.

Moana Mackey: What progress has been made in responding to the 2005 reviews of NCEA?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: That is a good question, because it is important to put each of these changes into the context of the fact that there was a major review of NCEA in 2005, and over the past 14 months I as the current Minister have been engaged in working with the New Zealand Qualifications Authority and the Ministry of Education through the issues raised by that review. We have addressed about 168 recommendations to date. There are 14 that are on-going in nature. We have made a number of changes, obviously, in the operation of NCEA, which means that it is working extremely well now, and we have been making changes in design—for example, the record of learning and results notes are clear that the internal assessment results are on line earlier, the grey-point average is no longer recorded, the profiles of expected performance have been refined, and I am about to announce in the next few weeks the last of the recommendations and how they will be addressed.

Hon Brian Donnelly: Would the Minister agree that whilst it is important in any national assessment system to have high levels of reliability, which random checking will assist, it is just as important to achieve high levels of validity, which standards-based assessment caters for somewhat better than norm-referenced assessment?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: The member is exactly right. This standards-based assessment, of course, does provide for a more valid form of assessment than one that simply takes an aged cohort and strings it out along a bell curve.

Katherine Rich: Why did the Minister and the New Zealand Qualifications Authority fail to act on official advice, again, in 2004 to implement random sampling for the moderation of NCEA internal assessment—advice given by the State Services Commission to “improve the validity of moderation”; why is he only just now announcing a whole raft of changes to NCEA that totally contradict everything he said about NCEA since he has been the Minister?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: If I can just put these comments back into context for the member, who is also new to the role, as I am—that is, there was a major review in 2005 and we have been steadily working through 168 recommendations to date. Fourteen are ongoing, with the last few to be addressed in the next few weeks, and I am sure she is looking forward to those.

Katherine Rich: How come the Minister and the New Zealand Qualifications Authority have been scurrying about, implementing a pilot for random sampling to check internally assessed work for NCEA, when only 5 months ago both of them were saying that the assessment model was “robust and reliable” and there was no problem?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: If I can put these comments back in the context that I have to keep putting it for the member, we have been unrolling a range of recommendations since 2005. I think in fact the use of the 3 percent sample of the scripts that were coming in from borderline decisions was a robust and very useful model, but the recommendation in 2005 is that we should carry on and address random sampling, and that, of course, is what we are doing.

Katherine Rich: What context can one put his statements in so they do not look like a flip-flop, when only 5 months ago he was saying that the assessment model was “robust and reliable” and now he is implementing a pilot to demonstrate the exact opposite?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: It is a bit strange for a member from that party to talk about flip-flops. I think that every single major policy that National has stood against over the last little while has now been flip-flopped on. So I am sure they do not want attention drawn to that. I just go back to the fact that we have been unrolling a range of recommendations since 2005. We are just about at the end of them. I know that when they are finished the member will welcome them and begin to support the NCEA. After all, Mr Bill English was one of the people who helped to introduce it.

Katherine Rich: Does the Minister accept, when he is discussing the unrolling of a raft of changes to NCEA, that those changes completely contradict everything he has been saying about NCEA since he has become Minister, in particular that random sampling of marked work for internal assessment is now required, when only 5 months ago he said there was no problem and that everything was robust and reliable?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: Since I have had this job I have been firmly in favour of standards-based assessment—

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Oh, is it Trevor’s fault?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: —as my predecessor was, and as was Dr Nick Smith when he was in Government. I understand that the National Party has always consistently supported the notion of standards-based assessment. I am sure the current spokesperson does too, and that is why she is looking forward to the finalisation of the few remaining recommendations.

Child Abuse—Child, Youth and Family Discretion

5. JUDY TURNER (Deputy Leader—United Future) to the Associate Minister for Social Development and Employment (CYF): Will she be giving directions to Child, Youth and Family Services similar to the proposed police discretion not to prosecute when force is used by parents or caregivers against a child when the offence is considered to be so inconsequential there is no public interest in proceeding with a prosecution; if so, what is that advice?

Hon RUTH DYSON (Associate Minister for Social Development and Employment (CYF)): No, because Child, Youth and Family does not bring prosecutions—that is the role of the police. Child, Youth and Family’s role is to support families to ensure that children and young people are safe. I have confidence that social workers, although working in an often complex and difficult environment, are committed to meeting the highest standard of professional practice.

Judy Turner: Will the Minister be recommending any protocols to her department so that it can determine what was in the mind of any parent accused of using force against children?

Hon RUTH DYSON: No. There is no need for those sorts of guidelines because Child, Youth and Family’s statutory role is already defined in the Children, Young Persons, and Their Families Act 1989. The Act provides a definition of a child or young person in need of care and protection, as well as a definition of abuse.

Russell Fairbrother: What support does Child, Youth and Family provide for parents when action against a child by a parent or caregiver is brought to Child, Youth and Family’s attention but is considered to be so inconsequential as to require no statutory intervention?

Hon RUTH DYSON: Child, Youth and Family works closely with community services to ensure that the appropriate support referrals are made in a timely way when necessary. There is also a proactive approach of working with communities, families, and individuals to promote positive parenting through a range of inter-agency programmes.

Judy Turner: Do the guidelines used by her department focus on the amount of force used, which is not reclassified in the new amendment to section 59, or on the intention and thinking of the parent, which will be changed in today’s amendment?

Hon RUTH DYSON: The member seems to be confusing section 59 of the Crimes Act, which is actually a defence against an assault charge brought by police, with the statutory role as outlined in the Children, Young Persons, and Their Families Act.

Rodney Hide: Can the Minister confirm for the benefit of parents and, indeed, children up and down New Zealand that should the anti-smacking bill pass into legislation, a parent smacking his or her toddler will be committing an offence under the Crimes Act, irrespective of the directions to Child, Youth and Family and irrespective of whether the police decide to prosecute?

Hon RUTH DYSON: This member has also demonstrated his lack of understanding of section 59, which is a defence against an assault charge. Nothing in Sue Bradford’s bill, which Parliament will be debating later this afternoon, changes the legality or otherwise of smacking.

Health Services—Rating

6. Hon TONY RYALL (National—Bay of Plenty) to the Minister of Health: Does he stand by his earlier statement rating the health system 5½ out of ten, and why?

Hon JIM ANDERTON (Acting Minister of Health): The member asked the same question on 1 May, and my reply will be the same. I mark the health system as continually improving and expanding because the Labour - Progressive Government, assisted by its support parties, has always made health investment a continuing high priority and will continue to do so. As an indication of that, the Commonwealth Fund, a highly regarded American foundation, in a report recently released, compared the New Zealand health system with that of five other higher income nations and found our system best for patient-centred care and No. 2 for efficiency. This nails the myth about low productivity that the misinformed regularly spread.

Hon Tony Ryall: Does he recall the statement of Annette King in 2004 in which she crowed that New Zealand had scored top overall place in the respected Commonwealth Fund’s survey of five developed countries’ health systems, and how does he explain the latest report, released overnight, which shows New Zealand has fallen from No. 1 to No. 2 to No. 4 over successive reports?

Hon JIM ANDERTON: One of these days, the shroud-waving Mr Ryall will find something good to say about the health system of New Zealand—

Madam SPEAKER: The Minister should address the question.

Hon JIM ANDERTON: If he wants a comparison—say with the United States of America, which has the most developed economy in the world—I will tell him New Zealand spends one-third less per capita on its health system, for a much better result than the Americans get. When I hear Mr Ryall praising the productivity of the New Zealand health system against that, I will almost be gobsmacked by the positivity that he displays, for once in his life.

Ann Hartley: On what basis does the Government claim that the health system is continually improving and expanding, and would he like to give examples?

Hon JIM ANDERTON: There are so many examples that I would not think the House would give me enough time to give them. Just a few examples are that immunisation rates are up, infant mortality is down, smoking is down, breast screening is up, mental health services are way better than they were, there are more nurses, there are more doctors, there is more transparency, there is better primary health care, there are lower doctors’ fees, there is more elective surgery, and there is a longer life expectancy—and, of course, there are more complaints from Mr Ryall.

Hon Tony Ryall: Has he seen the press statement of the Hon Pete Hodgson in which he crows that New Zealand rated second in the 2005 overall survey of health systems, and can the Minister explain how it can be that after the Government has spent an extra $4 billion each year, New Zealand’s rating has fallen year on year; what makes him think spending another $750 million on the health system tomorrow will reverse that trend?

Hon JIM ANDERTON: I would have thought rating between one and four in a comparative table with Australia, Canada, Germany, the United Kingdom, and the United States was pretty good news. If Mr Ryall does not believe me, he should listen to what the report says: “The U.S. can learn from what physicians have to say about practices that can lead to better management of chronic conditions and better coordination of care. Information systems in countries like Germany, New Zealand, and the U.K. enhance the ability of physicians to monitor chronic conditions and medication use. These countries also routinely employ non-physician clinicians such as nurses to assist with managing patients with chronic diseases.” This is a testament to the productivity of the New Zealand health system, and one day Mr Ryall is going to give praise where it is due, instead of being the ambulance chaser that he is.

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: In view of the last question by Mr Tony Ryall, is the Minister aware that only a couple of weeks ago, on radio, the Opposition spokesperson on finance, Mr English, said we needed to spend about $600 million to $700 million a year more on health just to keep pace with demand?

Hon JIM ANDERTON: Nothing would surprise me about the inconsistency of the Opposition. It continually asks for more spending while promising to give away even more money, which the Government then will not have to spend on the health system, as this Government has done.

Hon Tony Ryall: If it is all so good, why has New Zealand dropped from first, to second, to fourth?

Hon JIM ANDERTON: New Zealand is first in one of the six categories. It is second in another category, third in another, and equal fourth in the rest. I would have thought that one of these days that kind of record might actually get through even to Mr Ryall as being a very good performance on the world stage.

Hon Tony Ryall: Will the Minister of Health, Mr Hodgson, be returning from Wales, where he has been advising the Labour Party there on how to form a stable Government, and has he told the Labour Party—

Hon Annette King: Pause for laughter!

Hon Tony Ryall: I will restart the question. Will the Minister—[Interruption]

Madam SPEAKER: Please be seated. Would the member please just ask the question, and would the other members please have the courtesy to listen to it without intervention. Just ask the question straight.

Hon Tony Ryall: Will the Minister be returning from Wales, where he has been giving advice to the Labour Party there on how to form a stable Government, and has Mr Hodgson told the Labour Party there that it too must now rely on the Greens?

Hon JIM ANDERTON: As far as I know, Mr Hodgson comes back on Monday. I do know that he has been enjoying, from a distance, the silly questions that Mr Ryall asks and the very good answers that the Acting Minister is giving to him in the House.

Dr Jackie Blue: Can the Minister explain why, according to a recent international review of 25 countries—which included Australia, the United Kingdom, the USA, and most of the European Union—with a combined population of almost 1 billion people, only Poland invests less than New Zealand in cancer medicines; and is he at all concerned that New Zealanders’ access to cancer medicines could best be described as Third World?

Hon JIM ANDERTON: This Labour-Progressive Government, with the assistance of its support parties, has increased the investment in health by 59 percent in the period it has been in Government. It ill behoves a party that promises to give away tax cuts to the richest New Zealanders, and that would inevitably be cutting health expenditure to this country, to call for even more expenditure. If the member had a modicum of economic understanding, she would know that National’s leadership has promised it will not have that money to spend on the health system in New Zealand.

Hon Tony Ryall: I seek leave to table a copy of the 2004 Commonwealth Fund survey, which shows New Zealand rated as the No. 1 health system.

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

Hon Tony Ryall: I seek leave to table the Commonwealth Fund 2005 survey, which shows New Zealand with the second-best overall health system.

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

Hon Tony Ryall: I seek leave to table the latest Commonwealth Fund survey, which shows New Zealand dropping to fourth.

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

Cancer—Unequal Impact

7. TARIANA TURIA (Co-Leader—Māori Party) to the Minister of Health: What new initiatives will the Government be introducing to respond to the report Unequal Impact, which indicates that Māori women have a 25 percent higher incidence of cancer rates, which is double that of non-Māori women?

Hon JIM ANDERTON (Acting Minister of Health): One important element of this issue has been the uptake by Māori women of screening programmes provided for both breast and cervical cancer. The Government is now spending $73 million on screening programmes, which have seen mortality rates reduce for all women, including a downward trend in cervical cancer for Māori women. For example, the age-standardised cervical cancer death rate for Māori women from 1996 to 2003 decreased by 72 percent, as opposed to 35 percent for non-Māori. The Government is increasing access by Māori women to these lifesaving programmes by pilot programmes for community support services for Māori—both rural and urban—and expanding health promotion resources.

Tariana Turia: What explanation can the Minister give for BreastScreen Aotearoa’s findings that as at December 2006 coverage of all eligible women aged 50 to 69 years was 61.7 percent, while for Māori eligible women it was 41.6 percent and for Pasifika eligible women it was 41.2 percent, and what will he do about such obvious discrimination?

Hon JIM ANDERTON: I think I just advised the House that in relation to cervical cancer, for example, the rate of decline in incidence for Māori women is higher than that even for non-Māori women. Cervical cancer incidence and mortality rates reveal a continuing improvement in the detection and treatment of cancer. Areas of New Zealand have breast cancer screening rates for Māori women of around 70 percent, which is world-leading for any indigenous population. The lessons from this success are being studied for rolling out throughout the country.

Barbara Stewart: Will the specific outcomes required of the New Zealand Cancer Control Strategy be changed to deal more effectively with the disparities and outcomes of cancer between Māori and non-Māori; if not, why not?

Hon JIM ANDERTON: I think it is fair to say that any health administration in this country would be very conscious of the needs of our Māori population. There is always an emphasis on dealing with issues that show any kind of incidence that is higher for one group of the population than for another, and I am sure that that will continue.

Dr Jackie Blue: When the Government has known about the disproportionate number of Māori females diagnosed with cancer as a result of its 2002 New Zealand health survey, when it has had a Cancer Control Strategy for 4 years, when it has had a Cancer Control Council for 3 years, and when we now have the concerning Unequal Impact report, just when can we expect the Minister’s Government to act?

Hon JIM ANDERTON: I am advised that the Government’s cancer control programme now has Māori representation on the Cancer Control Council and has been put into regional governance. Four district health boards, Tairāwhiti, Lakes, Northland, and Whanganui—all of which, of course, have high Māori populations—have a joint programme on better access for Māori to services, including cancer services. Inevitably we will see, as we are already, a decline in the rate of cancer, which is to be supported, for all women in this country, including our Māori women.

Tariana Turia: Despite what the Minister is saying, it is very clear that the report states the opposite, so what will the Minister do to address—as stated by the National Council of Women—the lack of Māori providers contracted to the national screening unit at a regional level, which is a gap in the current system, and what will he be doing to improve health outcomes for Māori women by ensuring more resources are allocated to the regions?

Hon JIM ANDERTON: I do not think there has been a Government in living memory that has provided more assistance to the health system, and for our Māori population in particular. But I have to say that there is an issue of concern for Māori, and that is the rate of smoking by Māori women, which is higher than that for other women. This Government is helping to reduce the incidence of smoking by continuing to expand programmes for Māori women, but we cannot do it on our own. We need the backup of whānau and leadership by Māori women to encourage them to care for their own health. But the good news is that 74 percent of Māori households formerly with smokers and children are now smoke-free. That is more than the 68 percent for non-Māori households. This shows me—and I think anyone who wants to look objectively at this issue will agree—that Māori are taking these issues seriously.

Tariana Turia: Acknowledging that Māori are taking these issues seriously—despite the attempt to blame them for the situation they are in—and knowing that the national screening unit’s two key priorities for 2007 and 2008 are reducing inequalities and improving quality, what action has the Minister taken to respond to the urgent recommendation made by Dr Beverley Lawton of the Cancer Control Council in November 2006 to consult Māori and disadvantaged groups now to ensure maximum impact?

Hon JIM ANDERTON: I think that all the information I have given the House today would indicate that this Government takes the health status of Māori in this population—as well as that of everyone else, of course—very seriously indeed. I just have to say that the Māori I know across New Zealand are taking active responsibility for their own health. They are not in grievance mode, continually suggesting that somebody else is to blame. They are taking responsibility for their own health, and I applaud them for it.

Tariana Turia: What is the Minister’s response to the statement yesterday from Professor Ron Jones of National Women’s Hospital in Auckland that the Government’s decision not to fund the new cervical cancer vaccine is a real tragedy, particularly for Māori and Pacific women who are under-represented in the screening programme and consequently have disproportionately high rates of the disease?

Hon JIM ANDERTON: I do not know whether the member is aware of it, but the Government has prioritised vaccination, particularly for young Māori. Meningococcal disease, for example, has been given funding of $200 million. One of the most important immunisation schemes in the world—

Tariana Turia: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I think we are talking about the wrong issue here. I am asking about cancer screening.

Madam SPEAKER: If the Minister could just perhaps be allowed to finish addressing the question that was asked.

Hon Member: Forget the commercial.

Hon JIM ANDERTON: Well, I am putting it in the context of this Government’s commitment to vaccination. In funding new vaccines this year, the top priority was Prevnar, a vaccination for meningococcal disease. The Government is keeping a close eye on international developments in human papilloma virus vaccines, such as Gardasil. These vaccines will protect against the cervical cancer virus and, as funding comes on stream, more vaccination programmes such as this will be implemented. But it is a bit rich, I think, to criticise this Government for doing more than any other Government because it is not doing even more still—which it is, of course, in its programmes.

Early Childhood Education—Free Hours Places

8. KATHERINE RICH (National) to the Minister of Education: Will there be a place available in an early childhood centre offering 20 free hours for all of the 92,000 eligible 3 and 4-year-olds on 1 July 2007; if not, why not?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY (Minister of Education): The Labour-Progressive Government has provided funding for 20 hours’ free early childhood education for up to 92,000 2 and 3-year-olds currently enrolled in teacher-led centres. I am optimistic that on 1 July we will have a good range of centres offering free early childhood education. I am equally optimistic that over a period of time from then on we will see—just as in the case of the primary health organisations—more and more centres taking up the Government’s offer of funding. What I think New Zealanders need to know, however, is whether the National Party will scrap this policy if it ever has a chance to do so, or whether it will come clean, run a flip-flop, and say that it now supports it.

Katherine Rich: If parents of the 92,000 3 and 4-year-olds the Minister says will benefit from this policy turn up and demand 20 hours’ free on 1 July 2007, can he confirm that his own officials have told him that there is no way there will be spaces nationally for all those children?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: It may be useful for me to just remind the member how this actually takes place. People do not just turn up on 1 July. People fill out an attestation form and take it along to their early childhood centre. There are currently 259,000 forms on order all around the country, so they will have lots to choose from. They take that form along to the centre. The centre then passes that on to the Ministry of Education to register the number of parents it wants funded for 20 hours’ free, and that is how the centre gets the money.

H V Ross Robertson: Can the Minister tell the House whether he has seen any reports at all proposing that the policy of 20 free hours’ early childhood education be abolished?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I think that by now the whole country is on tenterhooks waiting for the National Party to finally come clean and announce that what is on its website is in fact its policy, or—just like some ongoing soap opera—that this will be the latest of its flip-flops.

Katherine Rich: Does it concern the Minister that the Ministry of Education’s own modelling shows that in one scenario 72 percent of areas will not have enough places for the extra children, under the 20 free hours policy, with Wellington, Canterbury, and Auckland being the regions most at risk; and why does he wax lyrical about handing out 259,000 forms when there are supposedly only 92,000 places, which his officials say cannot be filled?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I want to stress to the member that I am not handing out 259,000 forms; the early childhood centres are ordering those forms, which shows how high the interest is. I refer the member to the fact that she is looking at modelling that shows the growth in early childhood. When we started this policy of 20 hours free, 86,000 3 and 4-year-olds were in early childhood centres; there are now 92,000. At the end of this policy in 2012, when we have rolled out all of the numbers of trained teachers and have built a whole range of new centres, there will be a whole lot more 3 and 4-year-olds in early childhood centres. Is it not a fantastic policy? The member should try agreeing with it.

Katherine Rich: Why does the Minister continue to promote the 92,000 figure when having access to 20 free hours is not the same as actually getting it, and when his own officials tell him that “Northland, Gisborne, the West Coast, Southland, and Tasman are the regions with the highest proportions of areas not offering ECE” and “Waikato, Hawke’s Bay, and Wellington regions will have the highest proportions of areas that cannot fully cater to the expected demand of 20 hours free”?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I welcome the member’s concern for this policy. It is a policy that, just like the primary health organisation policy, will roll out from 1 July. I am sure the National Party will back it, because it wants to have 20 hours’ free early childhood education for all 3 and 4-year-olds up and down the country. That is what the Government is committed to doing.

Katherine Rich: If the parents of all those 92,000 3 and 4-year-olds take the Minister’s advice, go down to their centres, and enrol, will there be spaces for all those kids or not?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: The Government has provided funding for 92,000 3 and 4-year-olds in early childhood centres all across the country. Because that is the number of kids who are currently enrolled, if all of those centres take up the Government’s offer then all those kids will have a place.

Energy—Renewable Energy Deployment

9. Hon MARIAN HOBBS (Labour—Wellington Central) to the Minister of Energy: What reports, if any, has he received on advances in the deployment of renewable energy?

Hon DAVID PARKER (Minister of Energy): Today the Environmental Risk Management Authority announced its decision to allow petrol blends including bio-ethanol to be sold in single-skin tanks. The Government welcomes this decision. It lowers the cost of introducing biofuels. It is good for consumers’ pockets. It is good news for the environment, motorists, and oil companies, and it is another step towards a more sustainable, carbon-neutral future.

Hon Marian Hobbs: Has the Minister received any further reports on advances in the deployment of renewable energy?

Hon DAVID PARKER: Yesterday it was announced that the Environment Court has given the green light to Meridian Energy’s proposed Mākara wind farm development. The wind farm is expected to produce enough power to meet most of Wellington’s domestic power needs. The Labour-led Government got wind power off the ground in New Zealand with its ground-breaking Projects to Reduce Emissions programme. This undoubtedly brought forward the deployment of wind power in New Zealand by many, many years.

Gerry Brownlee: Can the Minister confirm that the average age of New Zealand’s domestic vehicle fleet is 11 years, and that vehicles over 7 years old cannot run on blends of which more than 5 percent is ethanol, meaning that most of New Zealand’s vehicle fleet cannot run on ethanol blends?

Hon DAVID PARKER: That is, obviously, recent news to that member, but it has long been known that there are technological limitations on the fleet’s catering for blends with a high percentage of ethanol. That is why the initial target has been set at 3.4 percent, which all vehicles can cope with.

Madam SPEAKER: It is very difficult to hear.

Peter Brown: Noting the Minister’s earlier answer, where he seemed to be putting the emphasis totally on renewable energy sources, will he explain—because confusing messages are coming out—where the Government sees gas and oil exploration, and what importance the Government attaches to it,?

Hon Member: Underground.

Hon DAVID PARKER: One of my colleagues quipped “Underground.”! But I note that having a biofuels target of 3.4 percent is hardly an exclusive focus on renewables. I would also say that the Government acknowledges a continuing role for thermal fuels, both in transport and in electricity generation, for some time to come. None the less, we clearly believe there is potential for more renewables, particularly in electricity generation but also progressively in transport.

Benefits—Debt Increase Since 1999

10. JUDITH COLLINS (National—Clevedon) to the Minister for Social Development and Employment: Why has he allowed benefit debt to increase to three-quarters of a billion dollars, which is a 65 percent increase since 1999?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE (Minister for Social Development and Employment): The member will be aware that in 1999 this Government inherited a benefit debt of $450 million from the previous National Government. I can inform the member that the amount is increasing at the same rate as it was when National was in Government. The member will be fully aware that the reason for this is that the Government does not write off debt as the private sector does. I can advise the member, however, that the amount of debt being established under a Labour-led Government, excluding recoverable assistance, has fallen from 1.61 percent of total benefit expenditure in 2001-02 to 1.29 percent of total benefit expenditure in 2005-06. I can also advise that the amount of debt being recovered per year currently stands at $261 million.

Judith Collins: How much of the $750 million debt is due to fraud and abuse of the benefit system, as opposed to overpayments?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: Because of the way that the debt balance is collected, I cannot provide the member with that information at this time. I will be able to do so in the new year. But it is quite important to reinforce the statement I have made to the member on a number of occasions in this House that the ministry has an absolutely zero-tolerance attitude to fraud. It is equally important to point out that a large proportion of this debt is in fact recoverable debt, and that, unlike that member’s party, this Government remains committed to assisting people in need.

Steve Chadwick: What success has the ministry had in reducing the amount of benefit fraud?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: I can advise the House that there is much less benefit fraud today than there has been in previous years. The number of allegations of benefit fraud has fallen by over 36—

Hon Bill English: You’ve just told us you couldn’t tell.

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: I tell Mr English that I am about to tell him, if he would listen. The number of allegations of benefit fraud has fallen by over 36 percent over the last 6 years. Investigations are finding that fewer fraud cases are occurring. The number of prosecutions for fraud has consequently reduced, and the amount of overpayment occurring, which includes cases of fraud, has reduced considerably. This is in large part due to the success of the benefit integrity services section of the ministry.

Judith Collins: Why does the Minister not know just how much of the $750 million owed by working-age beneficiaries—that is, $2,800 per each working-age beneficiary—is due to fraud and how much is due to overpayments?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: I can give some detail that will assist the member. In that debt portfolio, 62 percent of clients have a debt less than $1,000, and 90 percent owe less than $5,000, but the ministry’s systems do not retain individual debt balances for each instance of debt established. This does not mean we do not know how much a person owes, or that the ministry cannot or does not recover the money. Because transactions are applied to a consolidated debt balance, it is not possible at present to use current system data—systems inherited from National, I add—to determine the value of debt owed by a specific category of debt.

Judith Collins: How does the Minister propose fixing the problem, when he does not know how he ended up with $750 million of debt?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: I know how I ended up with the problem, and the reason for it is sitting over there! But I can tell the House that the enhancements necessary—

Judith Collins: Is it acceptable for a ministry that spends $16 billion to have three-quarters of a billion dollars owed to it, and for the Minister to have no clue how that debt was incurred—other than to personally abuse members of this House—and how will he ever get it paid back?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: Well, I am very pleased with the level of recovery, which will continue. But let me reinforce for that member that this Government, unlike the Opposition, remains committed to assisting people in need. If that means people get a loan from the ministry to assist with such essential costs as emergency dental treatment, or school uniforms, or ambulance fees, or safety footwear for work, then while this Government is sitting on the Treasury benches that is what will happen.

Judith Collins: Given that answer from the Minister, perhaps he would like to now explain to us how much of the debt is due to fraud and how much of it is due to benefit overpayment—given that he is so confident as to how the money is spent?

Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: I have already answered that question in my earlier answer.

Gambling Act—Restriction on Internet Gambling Sites

11. SUE BRADFORD (Green) to the Minister of Internal Affairs: Will he be seeking to strengthen legislation to further restrict internet gambling websites such as RaceO as part of his review of the Gambling Act?

Hon LIANNE DALZIEL (Minister of Commerce) on behalf of the Minister of Internal Affairs: The intention of the review of the Gambling Act is to identify and address any anomalies or deficiencies in the Act. The issue of websites such as RaceO will be included in this work.

Sue Bradford: When the Minister advised the House on 27 February of this year that the Department of Internal Affairs would finish its investigation into RaceO in 4 weeks, did he envisage that I would still be able to place a bet on RaceO today, 16 May, and why exactly has nothing happened?

Hon LIANNE DALZIEL: My advice is that the work began on the day the website was identified in order to investigate its legal status in New Zealand. As the member will know, the legislation actually refers to the question of operating remote interactive gambling in New Zealand and also prohibits anyone in New Zealand from advertising or promoting overseas-based gambling. The issue here, and the reason why the investigation has taken longer than the anticipated month, is that some of the key principals reside outside New Zealand.

Sue Bradford: Is the Minister then suggesting that the Government is powerless to stop internationally based gambling websites like RaceO from taking the proceeds of gambling offshore and exposing vulnerable New Zealanders to all the problems associated with gambling at the same time that we are losing control of resources that might help mitigate some of the worst consequences of gambling?

Hon LIANNE DALZIEL: No, what the Government is saying is that there is still an investigation going on, so we do not know the answer to that question. Obviously, the intention of the review of the Gambling Act is to address any anomalies or deficiencies that arise during this investigation, as well as in the wider review.

Sue Bradford: Will there be legislation this year that will address some of the key flaws of the current Gambling Act, and will the legislation include such things as taking the distribution of pokie money out of private hands and putting it into publicly accountable mechanisms, and, for example, subjecting casinos to the Proceeds of Crime Act in situations where fraudulently obtained money is gambled away?

Hon LIANNE DALZIEL: I am advised that the Minister does expect a bill to be ready for introduction later in the year. I think that we have to await the result of the review before we speculate on what it will contain.

Te Puni Kōkiri—Confidence

12. Hon TAU HENARE (National) to the Minister of Māori Affairs: Does he have confidence in Te Puni Kōkiri; if not, why not?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA (Minister of Māori Affairs): Yes, because its employees are hard-working and conscientious people.

Hon Tau Henare: Can the Minister confirm that Te Puni Kōkiri’s Waikato regional office engaged contractors in 2006 to undertake tasks that were actually the responsibility of permanent staff members?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: I cannot confirm that, but I am more than happy to come back with the information.

Dave Hereora: What reports has he received regarding the success of Te Puni Kōkiri in delivering for Māori?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: I have seen several reports that Te Puni Kōkiri has been involved in, showing that show more Māori are working, more Māori are moving into semi – higher skilled occupations, and more Māori are earning more.

Pita Paraone: What is his ministry doing to help address the issues raised in the Unequal Impact report, which shows Māori are 18 percent more likely to be diagnosed with cancer and nearly twice as likely as non-Māori to die from cancer, and does he believe that such figures show a failure to deal adequately with Māori health issues?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: In relation to this matter Māori have always lagged behind and this Government has committed major amounts of resources and funding to ensure that the situation gets better.

Hon Tau Henare: Can the Minister confirm that a contract worth $85,000 was let without tender to a Michael Dreaver because of “their previous experience in the ministry.”?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: That could be quite right, but the issue, as I said the other week, is quite clear. There are those people with the skill base that is needed at the time, and because of the high demand for those people who are skilled in relation to Māori development, the ministry does have a relationship with certain contractors, like other ministries have.

Hon Tau Henare: Is the Minister aware that Te Puni Kōkiri’s own annual reports show that even while Te Puni Kōkiri was increasing expenditure on staff by 58 percent, his ministry also felt the need to increase expenditure on contractors by 243 percent?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: Quite certainly, as I reminded that member before, expenditure on departmental contractors and consultants has decreased over the last 2 financial years. In 2004-05 it was $7.9 million, in 2005-06 it was $6.9 million, and in 2006-07 it is forecast to be just over $5 million.

Hon Tau Henare: Can the Minister confirm that he did not submit a bid in this year’s Budget round for increased funding for Māori Affairs for the second year in a row; and if he did, what can Māori expect from this Budget other than no tax cuts?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: I would remind that member that somebody has to pay, and one thing this Government has been committed to is ensuring that education, health, and those families in need have been well catered for. I would suggest that that member open his ears and listen closely this time, same place, tomorrow.

Hon Tau Henare: Does the Minister stand by his statements to the House last year on 14 March, 17 May, 25 May, and 15 June that advocating for Māori is tiresome; if so, what new career is he looking at now that he is tired of advocating for his people?

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: I am a hard-working Minister and I am always on the road every weekend visiting Māori around this country. I can recall that when that member was the Minister of Māori Affairs one of his great statements was that he never went out after Thursday night because he needed time at home to recuperate. This Minister keeps on going, and the results are showing. I remind that member that he is the past leader of Mauri-Pacific; then he jumped over to this lot, then he went over to that lot, and then he followed Don Brash at Ōrewa, and I have to say to him: “Bye, bye, Tau.”

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: Is it correct that there is a requirement to tender above contracts for $100,000, which contrasts with the previous administration when Mr Tau Henare, as Minister of Māori Affairs, ordered a multimillion dollar contract to Aotearoa Television network without tender?

Hon Parekura Horomia: I recall it very clearly—as a senior bureaucrat, very clearly. But what I recall more is what we have done with Māori television right now.

Madam SPEAKER: Would everybody sit down. Now would members just lower the level of intervention.

Hon Tau Henare: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. How on earth can the Minister answer that question when he was not even in the House then. It is beyond reason that he actually knows anything about what he is doing now, let alone what he was doing when I was here.

Madam SPEAKER: That is not a point of order; it is a matter of debate.

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: I may not have been in the House at that time but I used to visit the Minister of Māori Affairs with high-quality senior public service advice. He and I used to go fishing on Thursday nights. I would try to give him advice and he would not listen. I remind that member that Māori television has survived. It has progressed. It is the closest thing to real Kiwiana in this country, and I have something to do with it.


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