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Questions and Answers - Tuesday, 13 November 2007

Questions and Answers - Tuesday, 13 November 2007

Questions to Ministers

Electoral Finance Bill —Government Departments, Election-year Advertising

1. JOHN KEY (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does she stand by her statement that “I would have thought in election year as usual Government departments would bend over backwards to make sure that nothing they did could possibly be construed as electioneering.”, and what advice, if any, has she received about the effect of the Electoral Finance Bill on election-year advertising by Government departments?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Deputy Prime Minister) on behalf of the Prime Minister: Yes. My understanding is that the bill will shortly be back before the House, which will then enable some informed debate to occur.

John Key: Does she still think that the Ministry of Health is bending over backwards to avoid being seen as electioneering, when it is planning a significant advertising campaign to publicise the benefit of the Government’s Primary Health Care Strategy, and when that advertising campaign will begin in April 2008, 4 months into what the Electoral Finance Bill says is the regulated election period?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Any advertising by any Government department would be expected to be cleared by the Auditor-General in advance. I would assume that the cheaper doctors’ fees and pharmaceuticals would be regarded as even mildly political only if the National Party was promising to increase those doctors’ fees again. Perhaps the member might care to clarify that point now.

R Doug Woolerton: Does the Prime Minister agree with New Zealand First that there is a long history of precedents for Government departments to follow in an election year, and that to stray from those precedents in the Electoral Finance Bill would be to do the very thing that John Key purports to rail against?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Clearly a great deal of advertising is carried out by Government departments as a matter of course. For example, the Inland Revenue Department always advertises things like the due dates for provisional taxation payments. But one would not expect the Inland Revenue Department to act in a manner that would reduce those payments just because it happens to be election year, when they would have to be paid at the end anyway.

John Key: Can the Deputy Prime Minister explain the reference to campaigning that he just used in his last answer, and is it similar to the one that is being told to Ministry of Health staff who man the 0800 number, when they are told to say: “Here are some achievements and milestones in health over the past 6 years. It then may help to tell callers about these.”, and then to list every strategy, plan, and guideline that Labour put out in 2001; and why does the Prime Minister not just admit that this is a taxpayer-funded campaign all right, for the Labour Party?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The Prime Minister advised that even the Deputy Prime Minister occasionally makes a slip of the tongue. The Prime Minister has further advised that unlike the Leader of the Opposition, the Deputy Prime Minister is not afraid to go on Agenda because he is scared in case he does make a slip of the tongue.

John Key: Is the Prime Minister’s policy that Government department’s’ advertising should be exempt from the provisions of the Electoral Finance Bill; if so, why?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: There is no change in relation to Government advertising. Those advertising campaigns have to be cleared through the Auditor-General if departments are all wise about how they approach those matters, particularly in an election year. That would be the expectation by the Government.

John Key: Does the Prime Minster stand by her statement yesterday that “Come election year, particularly as the months go by, government advertising becomes pretty sparse.”, and if she does, can she just explain this to the House: why was it that in 2005, an election year, Government-funded advertising totalled $69 million, an all-time high and much more than was spent in 2003, much more than was spent in 2004, much more than was spent in 2006, and much more than has been spent in 2007 so far?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: My understanding is that there were new entitlements in some areas in 2005, which, of course, the National Party members believe people should not take up. Their idea is that one passes policies to help people but hopes they do not take advantage of them, because that might cost some money.

John Key: Is the Prime Minister frustrated that not only has the Deputy Prime Minister told Parliament this afternoon the truth, which is that Government departments are told in election year to just campaign on behalf of the Government and that the numbers stack up as they have spent more in election year than in any other year, or is the Prime Minister more frustrated by the fact the New Zealand Herald has pointed out to New Zealanders the truth that this Government is a disgrace, and that at the bottom of the page it says that all of this “will be Labour’s epitaph.”, which is being written as we speak?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: That last bit certainly showed that the New Zealand Herald is a totally unbiased media organisation, does it not? It certainly makes that very, very clear! What I am surprised about is that the New Zealand Herald, unlike almost every member of the House, does know in detail what is in the Electoral Finance Bill as reported back. That is a remarkable achievement on its behalf.

John Key: Was the answer to that question not just typical of Labour members? In this case they are blaming the New Zealand Herald. Last week they were blaming Treasury. The week before that they were blaming some other bunch of officials. When will they look in the mirror and realise they are the problem?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: We will stand by an unemployment rate that is the lowest ever recorded in New Zealand’s history. We will stand by 25 percent real household income growth. We will stand by cheaper doctors’ fees and cheaper pharmaceuticals. We will—

Madam SPEAKER: I will ask the Minister to please repeat that answer in silence. I could not hear a word of it.

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: We will stand by the achievements of this Labour-led Government against the complete inability of the National Party to have policy on anything. The man who is asking these questions has refused to go on Agenda because he is scared he will make a mistake when he goes on it.


2. MARTIN GALLAGHER (Labour—Hamilton West) to the Minister of Police: What progress can she report on meeting the current police recruitment target of 1,000 extra sworn police by 30 June 2009?

Hon ANNETTE KING (Minister of Police): I am very pleased to be able to tell the House that we have now reached the 500 mark in recruiting the extra 1,000 sworn police promised under a Labour-led Government’s confidence and supply agreement with New Zealand First. We have reached this target on schedule, despite a tight labour market, and despite the continued attempts by the National Party to ridicule, undermine, and destabilise the recruitment campaign.

Martin Gallagher: What other progress can she report on the recruitment campaign?

Hon ANNETTE KING: I can report that the same National Party, according to John Key, now supports the campaign to add the 1,000 additional police. Of course, this is the “me too” party—the same party that was going to prune police officers by 500 when it was last in office. But, hey, it is good news: it has done another U-turn! It now does not need to have a police policy. All it needs to do is to copy ours, and that is exactly what it is doing.

Ron Mark: Has she seen any reports commenting on the agreement between New Zealand First and Labour not only to budget for police numbers to be increased to provide another 1,000 police staff over the next three Budgets but to achieve ratios comparable with those in Australia by 2010; and, if she cannot find any other reports supporting that proposal, would she conclude, as most New Zealanders do, that the greatest risk to that policy being carried through is the election of a National Government that does not support it?

Madam SPEAKER: The Minister can address the first part.

Hon ANNETTE KING: The member is absolutely right. The new-found commitment to 1,000 extra police by the National Party is real johnny-come-lately stuff, because it opposed this policy every step of the way until John Key had to front up to the Police Association. He had to have something to say, so he grabbed Labour’s policy and turned it into his own. People are not fooled. They will remember the Martin report and National’s desire to cut 500 police out of the New Zealand Police service. That is what the public will remember.

Finance Minister—Confidence

3. JOHN KEY (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does she have confidence in the Minister of Finance?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Deputy Prime Minister) on behalf of the Prime Minister: Yes.

John Key: Has the Prime Minister seen the statement from her Minister of Finance that “tax cuts are largely offered as a political bribe, not because of beneficial economic or social effects.”; if so, how enthusiastic does she really think Michael Cullen is to deliver tax cuts?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: That statement was certainly made about the National Party in the past. It was certainly true about the National Party in the past. The Minister of Finance is very enthusiastic about delivering tax cuts, and these tax cuts will be responsible. We will not be borrowing to pay for them; National would. They will not result in cutting social services; under National they would. They will not result in extra pressure on inflation; under National they would. And they will be constructed in a fair fashion; under National they would not.

John Key: If the Minister of Finance is so enthusiastic about tax cuts and not just following the script he promised his Prime Minister he would follow simply because he was told to otherwise he would lose his job, why did he go on Agenda on Sunday morning and just kneecap the Prime Minister by undercutting every possible argument that could argue the merits of tax cuts; and is it not the truth that he does not want to deliver tax cuts, that he is doing what he is told, and that he is doing it very badly?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: My understanding is that the Minister of Finance went on Agenda because Mr John Key refused to do so because he was too scared, and that left the opportunity open for the Minister of Finance to appear. He availed himself of the chance to point out that the economy has grown very substantially. As a consequence of that it is possible to pay out a dividend to all Kiwis by way of tax reductions. But he did point out that the notion that the economy is suddenly going to go into hyper-drive in terms of economic growth because of modest tax cuts is nonsense.

John Key: Does the Prime Minister agree with her Minister of Finance’s statement on personal tax cuts, when he said: “there will be something for everybody. But that means individual amounts are not likely to be large …”, and is she still confident he will deliver them, given that last time he faced that choice in 2007 he said that his previous promise about small, across-the-board tax cuts and his decision to get rid of them was “not a difficult one”, because a “small tax cut now would be spent and then gone.”?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I think one could be quite clear from the Minister of Finance’s comments that the tax cuts would be bigger than was talked about previously, in that particular respect. But they will be tax cuts that will be couched in a way that is fair to people across the board. The Minister was asked a very interesting question on Agenda: if the tax cuts were spread across the board, would that mean they would be smaller? That question showed a view from the top, because obviously the answer is that tax cuts would be bigger for people on low to middle incomes if they were spread across the board, and smaller for those on high incomes.

John Key: Does the Prime Minister think that the reported applause at the Labour Party conference in response her statement from the conference that personal tax cuts “will happen under Michael Cullen” was (a), a reflection of utter and sheer relief from the delegates who have waited for 8 years for a tax cut, or (b), a recognition that every New Zealander knows that Michael Cullen does not want to deliver tax cuts and will not deliver tax cuts, and therefore they will not be worth the paper they are printed on in the taxpayer-funded Labour pledge card?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: If some of the paper they were printed on was signed by a former leader of the National Party, that could well be true, I suppose, if I were looking at the notes that might be used. I am afraid that the member, like some in the press gallery, shows a misunderstanding of the Labour Party. When the Prime Minister announced tax cuts, there was not immediate applause. When the Prime Minister announced that the Minister of Finance was going to deliver tax cuts, there was applause. That was the significant difference. I will give one guarantee to this House. The Minister of Finance will deliver tax cuts before that member has the courage to go back on Agenda, given his performance last time he was on.

John Key: Does the Prime Minister recall her recent statement on personal tax cuts: “I’d have liked to have done it earlier … but we never had advice that made that possible.”; if so, how does that fit with her statement from the 2005 election campaign, when she said: “we don’t ask Treasury for permission for our policies.”?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Absolutely clearly and easily. Unlike that member, we do not ignore Treasury projections and make up our own just so we can promise $4 billion a year of tax cuts—which were actually impossible in terms of a Treasury forecast at the time.

Treasury—Advice on Risks to Economy

4. JEANETTE FITZSIMONS (Co-Leader—Green) to the Minister of Finance: Does he have confidence in the advice he has received from Treasury over the past 4 years on emerging risks to New Zealand’s economy, and in any economic modelling underpinning that advice; if so, why?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Finance): I am sure that that advice has always been prepared in a professional manner and on the basis of Treasury’s best estimates of the data to hand. Sometimes that advice will be correct; sometimes it will not. The essence of economic crystal balls is that they are opaque.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: Has the Minister asked Treasury for an explanation as to why its forecasts of oil prices have been so wildly wrong for the last 4 years, with successive predictions that oil prices would by now have fallen to $26, to $43, to $51, to $68, and now, with a prediction just 8 weeks ago, to $66, when last week oil spiked at $98, and the average for November so far is $95?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Treasury’s measure of oil price is based on the West Texas Intermediate price of oil, and its forecasts of those are based on prices in the future market for oil. In other words, of course, to the extent to which Treasury has underestimated the increase in prices for oil, so indeed will have all those people who are betting their money on prices for oil, as well.

Charles Chauvel: What is the best way a Government can protect the economy against emerging risks and unexpected shocks?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: By running a strong fiscal position and maintaining a constant focus on the long term—exactly what this Government has done. The main Opposition party is promising to borrow more, which is exactly the wrong response in a time of economic uncertainty of this sort.

Heather Roy: Why has the Minister ignored Treasury’s advice given to him in the 2005 briefing to the incoming Government to reduce the higher marginal rates of 33 percent and 39 percent on personal income, to reduce the high effective marginal tax rates of low to medium incomes—in particular, for secondary earners—and to consider tax reductions alongside potential new spending; and when will he stop blaming Treasury when it is Labour’s ideological blinkers that have left Kiwis paying much higher taxes than have been needed to fund Government services since 1999?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: That last part is certainly untrue. The surplus has grown very substantially only over the last 3 years, or so. On the first part, the member should read the 2005 briefing to incoming Minister more carefully. It actually told us that Treasury’s view was that if the growth in spending was cut back by $500 million each year—in other words, by $500 million, $1 billion, $1.5 billion, $2 billion, and so on—then that money could have been put into tax cuts. Treasury was not proposing additional revenue reduction over and above what the reductions in spending should be according to its forecast. The member, therefore, needs to specify what the $500 million, $1 billion, and $1.5 billion in cuts were going to be, over that period of time.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: Does the Minister have any greater confidence in the oil price predictions of the Reserve Bank, whose predictions for the day’s oil price were successively underestimated by 120 percent in September 2005, by 48 percent in September last year, and still by 30 percent just 8 weeks ago—and here we are, now?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I think there is a very, very high probability that any forecasts are likely to be wrong in this area; it is the nature of the high level of volatility of oil prices over both the short term and the long term. What is equally true is that our economy, and that of most developed economies, have shown much more resilience in the face of these kinds of oil price rises than previously had been thought likely—compared, say, with the events in the 1970s, in that respect. So, in other words, of itself it is not a disaster if it leads to more fuel-efficient cars or the development of alternative fuels; it might actually be helpful for causes that the member and I have a shared interest in.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: What impact does the Minister believe that the Reserve Bank’s consistent underestimating of oil prices has had on its difficulties in controlling inflation?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: To the extent that that flows through to the bank’s view of general price rises—and the Reserve Bank, of course, can look through the one-off effects of a commodity price increase such as oil—that would tend to have led it to a somewhat looser monetary policy than might otherwise have been the case. But I think that probably most would agree that the overall impact has not been huge, in that regard.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: Is the Minister concerned that all the Government’s transport demand assumptions and all its transport investment planning are based on a totally flawed projections of oil prices, or has the Government just given up on this in view of the answer to a written question received today from his colleague Annette King: “Oil price is one factor that may affect the forecast for traffic demand. It is difficult, however, to accurately assess future oil prices or to model the impact of prices on the level of traffic demand.”?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I think the last statement is a statement of fact. Looking over the last 40 years we have seen, in real terms, very large fluctuations in oil prices—and it is worth reminding ourselves that oil prices now are not that much more in real terms than they were when they last peaked at a very high level—and they have not affected, actually, the rate of growth in demand for transport. That in part is a consequence of a stronger economy, people’s leisure preferences, and a range of other factors, particularly as both alternative fuels and alternative vehicles are developed. One thing I do not share with the member, I suspect, is a view that higher oil prices will lead to an abandonment of the private motor car.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: I seek leave to table, first of all, the graph of Treasury projections against reality.

Leave granted.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: Secondly, I seek leave to table the graph of the Reserve Bank’s projections.

Leave granted.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: Thirdly, I seek leave to table the Monetary Policy Statement of December 2005.

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

Jeanette Fitzsimons: I seek leave, finally, to table the Monetary Policy Statement of September 2007.

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

Electoral Finance Bill—Election Advertisements

5. Hon BILL ENGLISH (Deputy Leader—National) to the Minister of Justice: Is it Government policy that the definition of an election advertisement should include any form of words or graphics that can reasonably be regarded as encouraging or persuading voters to vote, or not to vote, for a type of party or for a type of candidate that is described or indicated by reference to views, positions, or policies that are or are not held, taken, or pursued; if so, why?

Hon ANNETTE KING (Minister of Justice): Yes; because clause 5(1)(a)(ii) of the Electoral Finance Bill is a simple extension of the existing definition in the Electoral Act 1993. It extends the definition to include references to types of parties, because in the past some advertisers have tried to get around the Act by avoiding specifically naming the party they do or do not support.

Hon Bill English: How does that definition compare with the definition of election advertising proposed for MPs spending public money and leaders’ office budgets, as set out in the appropriation bill introduced last week, bearing in mind that her predecessor as the Minister of Justice said: “The Electoral Finance Bill needs to align with the review of parliamentary expenditure”?

Hon ANNETTE KING: The definition for MPs is around enabling them to do the work they are required to do as members of Parliament.

Hon Bill English: Can the Minister confirm that the definition of electioneering for MPs spending public money is much broader than the definition for the public, which means one law for the citizens who vote in elections and another much more relaxed law for the MPs who are campaigning in those elections?

Hon ANNETTE KING: As that member knows, MPs have a job to do, whether or not it is election year. They have a job to do to communicate with their constituents, and the legislation enables them to communicate with their constituents. Can I say that it has been drafted in the same way as the interpretation for MPs in the Electoral Act was in the past. We know that secretly the National Party supports what is in the appropriation bill. Just because they do not want to say it publicly does not mean they are doing double-dealing behind the scenes.

Hon Bill English: Given that the definition of electoral advertising in the Electoral Finance Bill means anything that might encourage a voter to vote for any party or candidate, is she satisfied that Government departments that are, as we speak, taking tenders for multimillion-dollar advertising contracts for next year, are clear on whether those Government advertising programmes will be caught by the very broad definition of election advertising in her Government’s bill?

Hon ANNETTE KING: No, Government departments will not be caught, because they will go to the Auditor-General to have their advertising cleared.

Metiria Turei: Does the Minister agree with the Green Party proposals to protect the freedom of speech of non-governmental organisations and other groups by narrowing the definition of third-party election activities, so that it includes only genuine attempts to change the way that people vote; and, in addition, our proposals to promote democratic participation in the election by controlling the big-money spenders, such as the Brethren’s 2005 pro-National campaign, which drown out the voices of other non-governmental organisations and organisations that are legitimate campaigners and have real issues in the election?

Hon ANNETTE KING: I know there are some parties in this House that do not want the voices of third parties to be heard—

Madam SPEAKER: Would members remove those newspapers. I will ask the Minister to give her answer in silence. Members will be asked to leave the Chamber if they interrupt. It is impossible to hear when members barrack.

Hon ANNETTE KING: I know that some political parties in this House do not want small parties like New Zealand First, the Greens, and so on to have their voices heard when it comes to a bill like this. However, I support the right of any party to put up amendments, and also the right of the public to put up amendments. The place for decisions on that to be made is the select committee. If one were to listen to National Party members, one would believe that this bill was done and dusted, that no changes could be made, and that the select committee was a useless body anyway, because it does not believe in it. That is not where this Government comes from, and I know that it is not where the Green Party comes from.

Madam SPEAKER: Dr Nick Smith, I heard you interject, even when I said the question would be heard in silence. There were others, however. They were also mumbling away, getting louder and louder. Next time, I will be asking you or anyone else to leave the Chamber.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. It is reasonable for you to call for the House to be in silence, but there is a quid pro quo, which is that you will reinforce the Standing Orders and prevent a Minister from simply making things up about National’s position. She has no responsibility for that. If you are going to insist on silence, then you cannot expect members to be silent when you are not enforcing the Standing Orders to prevent Ministers from straying into territory for which they do not have responsibility.

Madam SPEAKER: I listened very carefully, Dr Smith. Those were matters of debate. There are supplementary questions to be heard.

Hon Bill English: Can the Minister confirm what she demonstrated in a previous answer to me, that she does not understand how the law will work, even though she is the Minister of Justice—namely, that Government departments running advertising campaigns will either be covered by this law or not, and if there is no exemption then they are covered by it and it does not matter what the Auditor-General says?

Hon ANNETTE KING: No, I will not confirm what the member said.

Hon Bill English: Can the Government make up its mind about this issue, when it was proposed a few days ago, apparently, that there will be an exemption for Government departments doing advertising—meaning they can do what they like and are not covered by the law—but then yesterday it said that Government departments will not be covered; what is the situation for departments that right now are writing contracts with advertising agencies for multimillion-dollar campaigns on sustainability, cheap doctors’ visits, and other Labour policies?

Hon ANNETTE KING: Government departments cannot do what they like. They cannot be engaged in electioneering.

Hon Bill English: What advice have the Ministry of Justice officials or the Minister given to Government departments regarding the legality under the Electoral Finance Bill of the multimillion-dollar advertising campaigns that they are planning to run during the regulated period, which now covers all of election year—what advice have they been given?

Hon ANNETTE KING: To my knowledge as Minister of Justice, I have given no advice yet. I think I have had the job for 5 minutes, so give us time.

Hon Bill English: Can the Minister confirm that these circumstances currently apply: Government departments are writing multimillion-dollar contracts for advertising campaigns to run next year, during election year, and they have had no legal advice about the significance of the changes in the Electoral Finance Bill and whether those advertising campaigns will be caught and counted as election advertising?

Hon ANNETTE KING: No, I cannot confirm that Government departments are busy sending out tenders or planning to run big advertising campaigns in election year, but I do know that since I have been in this House, Government departments, under a National Government and under a Labour Government, have always had advertising campaigns about Government projects. I believe that what the Minister of Finance said today is absolutely right: under a National Government, Ministers never wanted people to know about their entitlements, so they never told them. That way, people never accessed any additional assistance. We do not believe in doing that. We believe that people are entitled to Government help and we make sure they know about it—and they will know about it.

Canterbury District Health Board—Acute Surgery

6. Hon TONY RYALL (National—Bay of Plenty) to the Minister of Health: Why has there been an “unprecedented drop” in demand for acute surgery at Canterbury District Health Board?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE (Minister of Health): During the last quarter there has been some reduction in caseloads of acute surgery at the Canterbury District Health Board. I am advised that it is not possible to say at this stage whether it is a trend or a statistical blip.

Hon Tony Ryall: Where were the resources saved used?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: Firstly, it will depend upon the causes and nature of the reduction, and, secondly, that will be a matter for the district health board to decide.

Tim Barnett: Why is it difficult to predict demand for acute surgery?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: Acute surgery is required in response to unplanned events—for example, traffic and other accidents, heart attacks, and hernias. The numbers of these fluctuate considerably, especially over short time periods. When data that is discontinuous first arises, it is important to assess the extent and causes of the variation.

Barbara Stewart: Is the Minister aware that a former employee of the Canterbury District Health Board is using inside knowledge for financial gain by helping people queue-jump surgery waiting lists; if so, what steps is his ministry taking to prevent such activity occurring elsewhere?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: I can confirm that that is the case, but I can also confirm that the Canterbury District Health Board’s own elective referral centre is free of charge and provides, I am advised, the same information as, or better information than, that provided by the former employee.

Hon Tony Ryall: Can the Minister explain the total contradiction whereby the Government says that pressure from emergency surgery pulls resources away from elective surgery, but when there has been 5 months of less emergency surgery, the Canterbury District Health Board cannot organise itself to fill the gaps with more elective surgery?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: I am advised that in the last 12-month period the Canterbury District Health Board was able to increase its elective surgery by around 5 percent, and we expect to see more.

Hon Tony Ryall: Is it not a fact that the Canterbury District Health Board has not responded with more surgery over this period because, according to its own surgeons, the hospital is in a constant state of gridlock, with staff shortages and full wards; and what will the Minister do about it on behalf of the people of Canterbury, now that he is running the show?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: The Canterbury District Health Board advised that it does not have any current workforce issues. Of course, it is for the board to manage the tension between service demand and carrying surplus capacity. We are very pleased to see that it is doing that, and are gratified to know that the cost of general practitioners would be less than if that member were running the show.

Hon Tony Ryall: Is the Minister having the House believe him when he says there is no crisis, even though senior surgeons like Mr Bagshaw have talked about shortages of staff and the inability to get services done, and other surgeons are quoted as talking about shortages of staff throughout the hospital system, and the gridlock at Christchurch Hospital?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: May I reiterate for the member that the advice that I have received from the Ministry of Health is that the Canterbury District Health Board advises that it does not have any current workforce issues. The Canterbury District Health Board is in the process of managing workflow through Project RED—Rejuvenating the Emergency Department—which is assisting patient flow through patients’ care journey.

Jo Goodhew: Can the Minister confirm that, now that he is running the show, he will explain to the people of Canterbury why less elective surgery was performed in the last financial year than in Labour’s first year of office, and why the numbers are likely to be even worse this year because idle theatres were not utilised over that 5-month period?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: I cannot confirm what is unlikely to occur.

Youth Skills—Government Initiatives

7. Hon MARIAN HOBBS (Labour—Wellington Central) to the Minister for Tertiary Education: What Government initiatives are helping our young people to become better skilled and better placed to participate in our thriving economy?

Hon PETE HODGSON (Minister for Tertiary Education): So far, 13,838 young New Zealanders are undertaking, or have completed already, a Modern Apprenticeship. That is a remarkable turn-round from 10 years ago—10 years ago there were no Modern Apprenticeships. There were none; apprenticeships had been abolished by National—an act of arrant stupidity.

Hon Marian Hobbs: Will the Government meet the target of having 14,000 Modern Apprentices by December 2008?

Hon PETE HODGSON: Clearly we will. We do not know when, but it is probably going to be closer to December 2007 than to the target date. The Government does not mind exceeding its promises. We always meet them, and sometimes we do even better than that.

Sexual Abuse Allegations—Ministry of Education Procedures

8. KATHERINE RICH (National) to the Minister of Education: What specific procedure does his ministry follow when approached by a board of trustees with sexual abuse allegations against a school principal?

Hon CHRIS CARTER (Minister of Education): The Ministry of Education seeks an immediate assurance that the students of the school are safe. All boards of trustees are required to have an appropriate complaints process in place, and these are vetted by the Education Review Office. The Ministry of Education is responsible for providing advice to boards about the proper conduct of investigations and the policies and procedures they have in place. Schools may also seek assistance from the New Zealand School Trustees Association, which is contracted by the ministry to provide boards of trustees with administrative advice. School principals are employed by boards of trustees. All employment-related matters, including the handling of complaints, are the responsibility of the board of trustees in the first instance.

Katherine Rich: Why did not the Ministry of Education, after months of involvement, advise the board of Hato Pāora College that serious sex crime allegations made against the school’s principal should be put in the hands of the police for investigation?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: I am advised by the chair of the board of trustees that she has personally assured the member Katherine Rich that the school is satisfied with the assistance it received and continues to receive from the Ministry of Education. She has further advised her not to upset students and the rest of the school community by attempting to make political capital of this traumatic situation, just as the National Certificate of Educational Achievement examinations are about to begin. Frankly, I think it is a disgrace that a member of Parliament would attempt to get a cheap political headline out of these serious sexual abuse allegations.

Hon Marian Hobbs: What support does the Ministry of Education make available to schools that have experienced such significant incidents?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: When a school experiences a traumatic incident, the ministry’s traumatic incident team contacts the school and offers support. The first step is to seek an assurance from the school that all students are safe. Support is then focused on maintaining normal school activities to the fullest possible extent; providing culture-appropriate and age-appropriate responses; providing support in meeting immediate needs; providing an understanding of what happens next; and providing clear communication to parents, pupils, staff, and the community, where appropriate. Each district has a team of two to six staff who have been trained in this work. Traumatic incident support was independently reviewed in 2001, and schools and early childhood services spoke highly of the support. Support has been offered several times to Hato Pāora College since the first suggestions of difficulty, in August. At this stage, the school has not availed itself of the support offered by the traumatic incident team. The school is being supported by the ministry’s school performance team.

Katherine Rich: What does the Minister say to Kiwi parents who are horrified to find out that when a school board contacts the Ministry of Education to seek advice about how to deal with serious allegations of sexual abuse of students by a principal, the ministry is so out of touch with what parents think that it does not offer the logical advice that the allegations should be put in the hands of the police for them to investigate?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: The ministry took every appropriate step it needed to in this situation to ensure that the students were safe, and to give the board of trustees as much support as possible. Once again, I remind the House that this member has jumped into a very serious situation, a very sensitive situation—a situation that affects parents, students, and teachers at a school—to try to get a cheap headline. She should be ashamed of herself.

Katherine Rich: When the Minister admits that this situation is serious for parents and for students, why cannot his ministry officials give basic advice to schools; are they so busy doing PC hand-wringing that they cannot look at the basic issue, which is that when serious allegations such as this come to the fore, the schools should go to the police to have them investigated?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: I remind the House, again, that since these allegations appeared in August this school has received every appropriate support from the ministry. We have been working with the board of trustees, parents, and the school community to make sure that the students are safe and that this process is handled appropriately and fairly. I remind the House, again, that this is a very serious situation for this school community—the pupils, parents, and teachers involved. That member should be ashamed of herself for trying to get a cheap headline out of it.

Katherine Rich: If this issue is so serious, why was it not put in the hands of the police, who have the skills and knowledge to undertake this kind of investigation? When the board did its investigation it cleared the gentleman, and only after the media brought the issue to the attention of the police were the police briefed enough to go forward and actually investigate it properly.

Hon CHRIS CARTER: Once again, the member is treading into the situation, and she is not giving the House a clear and accurate account of what happened. I do not want to go into the details of this case, because it is currently before the courts. But I can assure the House that the board followed the appropriate steps, including referring the case to Child, Youth and Family, which it is required by law to do. It is my understanding that the police have commented that the board carried out an entirely correct investigation. Subsequently, one of the people who had made the complaint went to the police, and the police got more evidence. But I am already beginning to get into the case, and it is not appropriate for any of us to do that.

Sustainability Programme—Implementation

9. MOANA MACKEY (Labour) to the Minister for the Environment: What steps is the Government taking to implement its sustainability programme?

Madam SPEAKER: If there is any further interchange across the House, the members indulging in it will all leave.

Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Minister for the Environment): The Prime Minister today announced the first four New Zealand regions to trial recycling facilities in public places. They will be Wellington, the far north district, Christchurch City, and Kaikōura. The Government has allocated $4.6 million over 3 years to establish around 600 public recycling bins throughout New Zealand.

Moana Mackey: What other initiatives does he consider will contribute to New Zealand becoming environmentally sustainable?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: There are six initiatives that the ministry is currently involved in, to lead New Zealand towards greater sustainability. They are the household sustainability awareness campaign, the Business Partnerships for Sustainability, the work on enhanced eco-verification, Sustainable Government Procurement, Towards a Sustainable New Zealand: Carbon Neutral Public Service, and Towards zero waste.

Nandor Tanczos: Is the Government committed to the sustainability goal of moving towards zero waste; if so, what initiatives and legislative changes does he support or propose?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: The member’s bill forms an important part of the Government’s goal of moving towards zero waste. We will be supporting it.

Primary Industries 2020 Summit—Paying Attendees

10. Hon DAVID CARTER (National) to the Minister of Agriculture: Does he still expect 550 paying attendees at the Primary Industries 2020 Summit, as he stated in September 2007; if not, why not?

Hon JIM ANDERTON (Minister of Agriculture): No; I have never expected 550 paying attendees to attend the summit, nor have I ever said so. In answer to a written question from the member on 19 September, I advised that I anticipated attendance to be between 200 and 400 paying attendees, and I am confident that this will be achieved. I imagine the member is referring to a figure contained in a forecast summit budget supplied to him as chair of the Primary Production Committee in confidence on 24 September—a confidence that he appears to have breached. Actually, 550 is the maximum capacity of the venue.

Hon David Carter: How many paying attendees are registered to attend the conference, and is he satisfied with the effectiveness of his $1 million Budget bid, which is in excess of a $5,000 subsidy of taxpayer money per attendee, on top of the $850 registration fee?

Hon JIM ANDERTON: This summit of primary industry leaders is long overdue and represents real value for the money for the leaders of our most important industries. As we speak, around 200 paid registrations have been received. The primary industries, I remind the member—who should know this—contribute 17 percent of New Zealand’s GDP and 65 percent of our merchandise exports, so the sector is the engine room of the New Zealand economy and will drive growth into the future. I remind the House that this is the first opportunity since the Agricultural Development Conference in 1965 and the National Development Conference in 1968 for business leaders from all sectors of the primary sector value chain to look collectively to the future, overcome challenges, and maximise opportunities in the global market place. I would have thought the House would celebrate a get-together like this, particularly the National Party, which is supposed to represent these people and has done nothing about them for 30 years.

Dr Ashraf Choudhary: What reports has the Minister seen on the number of primary industry leaders who have attended previous gatherings of the most important industries?

Hon JIM ANDERTON: I have seen reports quantifying the number of attendees, paid or otherwise, of primary sector business leaders who have previously attended events comparable to the Primary Industries 2020 Summit. Those reports confirm that the number of attendees under the National-led Government of 1990-99 was precisely zero. That was because National never did anything in its 9 years in Government to proactively support our most important industries, and as a result of that we lost a decade of opportunity.

Nathan Guy: Does the Minister stand by his answer to written question No. 16093 that negotiations are under way with major potential sponsors, and will he confirm that those negotiations have delivered only a pitiful $20,000 worth of sponsorship; what is this hopeless Minister doing?

Hon JIM ANDERTON: The fact is that under a National Government one had to get sponsors, because that Government paid nothing for any of this. This Government has put up a million dollars to sponsor a conference for leaders who deliver $20,000 million to this economy, and that sounds to me like a pretty good investment—one that National never even got anywhere near to thinking about.

Hon David Carter: Does the Minister think it is acceptable that Dr Penn, a speaker at the summit, as well as having a return business class flight from Chicago, all meals, and 5 nights’ accommodation provided for the summit, will also receive a 4-day holiday in Queenstown paid for by the taxpayer; does he think that is an acceptable use of taxpayer money?

Hon JIM ANDERTON: Of course, we could have got an eminent international speaker here and told him to pay for his own meals. If that is the way the National Party runs conferences like this, then God help us if it ever gets into Government. When we are getting an array of highly qualified international speakers to contribute to the future of New Zealand’s most important economic activity and we hear the drivel we are getting now about paying for meals or for a couple of days’ holiday for these sorts of people, well, I wonder whether the National Party may be reconsidering having David Carter as its spokesperson on agriculture.

Nathan Guy: Why did the Minister say in June this year that some hundreds of farmers will attend the summit, and is it not time to acknowledge that it is nothing more than a $1 million taxpayer-funded ministerial talkfest, subsidised by $5,000 for each attendee?

Hon JIM ANDERTON: The key aim of this summit is to provide a forum that provides quality discussion among key business leaders on the primary sector’s economic, environmental, and social sustainability challenges and opportunities for the next 20 years. This is not a summit for every farmer in New Zealand; it is for the decisions makers of the primary sector industries, of which, of course, apart from farming others like forestry, fishing, and biosecurity are also involved. We have an impressive array of those who are attending, not only of those who have paid to attend but also of those who are addressing the conference internationally and from the domestic market place—something the National party never ever even aspired to put together.


11. RON MARK (NZ First) to the Minister of Police: Does she have confidence in the Police’s ability to act against illegal activity?

Hon PETE HODGSON (Minister for Economic Development) on behalf of the Minister of Police: Yes.

Ron Mark: Would the Minister of Police be concerned if police were unable or unwilling to act against a group whose members had made comments such as “I’m declaring war on New Zealand.”, and “It’s good to kill a Pākehā.”; if not, why not?

Hon PETE HODGSON: Noting that the member has deliberately—and I think quite properly—posed the question hypothetically, the answer is quite clearly that there would be serious dismay in this House and in this country if the police were unwilling or unable to take action. And it is very good of the member to put the counter-factual in front of us: what would have happened had the police not responded?

Ron Mark: Would she be concerned if police were unable or unwilling to act against a group that had undertaken military-style training camp activity using both the IRA and al-Qaeda training manuals, had considered a bombing campaign, and had suggested assassinating a senior politician; if not, why not?

Hon PETE HODGSON: Same answer—and same hypothetically framed question, I need to stress. It is important for us to face the counter-factual—that in circumstances like this, we must have a police force that is able and willing to respond.

Dr Pita Sharples: Tēnā koe, Madam Speaker; tēnā tātou katoa. What did the Minister of Police mean on Native Affairs on Sunday night when, talking about the impact of police actions on Tūhoe, she described the people of Tūhoe as “collateral damage”?

Hon PETE HODGSON: I am afraid I cannot give the member a direct answer to that question, but I can say that this side of the House does not draw a direct Māori connection with these events, or, indeed, a direct Tūhoe connection with these events. Here are the facts: 16 people have been charged; six of them are Māori and, of those six, three are Tūhoe.

Dr Pita Sharples: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. The question was in reference to what the Minister said about the Tūhoe people.

Hon Member: He didn’t finish his answer.

Madam SPEAKER: Would the Minister please complete his answer, then we will be able to assess. But I think he had already addressed the question at the beginning.

Hon PETE HODGSON: I repeat the first few words of my answer: I am afraid I cannot give the member an answer to that question. However, it is fair to say that this side of the House does not draw a link between those events and Māoridom, or those events and Tūhoe. It is true that the alleged training camps were in the Tūhoe rohe, but had they been in the Southern Alps we would not have drawn a link with Ngāi Tahu. The fact of the matter is that three of the 16 people are Tūhoe and 13 are not. Nearly every member of Tūhoe is not involved in this.

Ron Mark: Has the Minister seen any reports that would indicate that killing Pākehā, waging war on our nation, sourcing an al-Qaeda manual, discussing a bombing campaign, and suggesting the assassination of a senior politician would constitute the average New Zealander’s definition of “peaceful intentions”?

Hon PETE HODGSON: I have seen no such reports. I have, however, seen two poll results: one from UMR Insight, in which 13 percent of New Zealanders did not support the police and the remainder either did not have a view or did support the police; and the other, a phone-in poll from last Friday, in which the figure had dropped to 12 percent of New Zealanders who did not support the police and 88 percent who did.

Dr Pita Sharples: What response does the Minister of Police have to Māori lawyer Moana Jackson, who last week resigned as patron of a wing of police recruits in protest at the raids, and who said that the police actions in the Urewera were not “a racially neutral act.”?

Hon PETE HODGSON: I did not see that quote, I am sorry, and I have no comment to make on the gentleman’s decision. I will say, however, on behalf of the Minister of Police, that the Commissioner of Police will be amongst Tūhoe in due course. He will put his head, his mind, and his body in front of those people. He will take from them whatever it is they have to say to them, and he will make to them whatever explanations he feels may be of use. That, I think, is the sort of thing one would expect from a Commissioner of Police, and I wish him well.

Ron Mark: I seek leave to table the results of several opinion polls that show an overwhelming majority of support for the police—

Leave granted.

Immigration Service—Confidence in Staff

12. Dr the Hon LOCKWOOD SMITH (National—Rodney) to the Minister of Immigration: Does he have confidence that no New Zealand Immigration Service staff have been involved in the alleged “cash for jobs” scam claimed to involve hundreds of students, as well as employers and immigration staff?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE (Acting Minister of Immigration): I am assured by the Department of Labour that it is fully investigating these allegations, and will actively pursue anyone who is in breach of the Immigration Act. I await the outcome of that investigation.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: How much confidence can the New Zealand public have in the Immigration Service investigating itself, given that the department found 33 cases of improper behaviour just last year, yet could not identify who was involved in at least 15 of those cases?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: In the vast majority of cases, allegations against Immigration Service staff proved to be unfounded. Moreover, the rate of substantiated claims against Immigration Service officers has dropped by nearly 50 percent in the last 2 years.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: Can the Minister give the House an absolute assurance that no senior persons of the Immigration Service are involved in the scam, given that the alleged mastermind, Alex Ho, names them by job title, and just last year investigators found three cases of corruption, as well as the 33 cases of improper behaviour, within the Immigration Service?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: The Government very clearly has a policy of zero tolerance of any form of corruption in the Immigration Service, but it follows that if one is holding an investigation, one waits to see the evidence that emerges.

Peter Brown: Will the Minister simply clarify that last answer: if an Immigration Service official is involved in this “cash for jobs” scam, will action be taken against him or her immediately, and will he or she be dispensed with?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: It is important not to prejudge the outcome of the investigation, but, hypothetically speaking, if an Immigration Service officer were to be seriously implicated in a matter of corruption, it is a fair bet that he or she would soon be a former Immigration Service officer.


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