Questions And Answers - Thursday, November 2007
Questions And Answers - Thursday, 22 November
Questions to Ministers
1. Hon MARIAN HOBBS (Labour—Wellington Central) to the Minister for Tertiary Education: Has he received any reports on the proportion of New Zealanders holding a tertiary qualification?
Hon PETE HODGSON (Minister for Tertiary Education): Yes, I have. The Ministry of Education advises me that almost 40 percent of all New Zealanders—that is, all New Zealanders—now hold a tertiary education qualification, compared with 25 percent a decade ago. Similarly, about 14 percent have a bachelor’s degree or higher qualification, compared with just 8 percent around a decade ago.
Hon Marian Hobbs: Has the Minister seen any reports that demonstrate how much easier it has become to learn on the job?
Hon PETE HODGSON: Yes; the figures speak for themselves. Since 2000, workplace learning has more than doubled, from about 80,000 trainees per year in 2000 to about 180,000 trainees per year—[Interruption]
Madam SPEAKER: Please be seated. We are at the beginning of question time, so I just ask members to respect each other in the House. Some members may wish to hear the answers to the questions, and the questions being put, so please be considerate of others.
Hon PETE HODGSON: Since 2000, workplace learning has more than doubled, from about 80,000 trainees per year in 2000 to about 180,000 trainees per year in 2006.
Hon Brian Donnelly: Will the Minister confirm that in 1990 New Zealand had the second-lowest tertiary participation rate of the 24 OECD countries, and that the “bums on seats” policies of the 1990s, which were put in place to rectify the situation, took us to fifth in the OECD but did not create close alignment with the economic and social needs of the nation?
Hon PETE HODGSON: I can confirm precisely that history. We were second lowest—above Turkey—as I recall. We were then fifth highest, as the member suggests. But we have some issues around quality, which is why the legislation going through the House at the moment is so very, very important.
Metiria Turei: I seek leave to table a document showing that the number of tertiary students accessing student allowances has steadily declined from the year 2000 until today.
Electoral Finance Bill—Electoral Commission View
2. Hon BILL ENGLISH (Deputy Leader—National) to the Minister of Justice: Does she agree with the chief executive of the Electoral Commission, Dr Helena Catt, that interpreting parts of the Electoral Finance Bill is “almost impossible”; if not, why not?
Hon ANNETTE KING (Minister of Justice): No, I do not; because Dr Helena Catt has advised me that she did not use those words.
Hon Bill English: Is the Minister aware that Dr Helena Catt, in her capacity as chief executive of the Electoral Commission, will be the person to whom anyone should go to get an interpretation of what the legislation means, and that she has said this morning that for almost any piece of the legislation there are three or four interpretations?
Hon ANNETTE KING: Yes.
Lynne Pillay: What other reports has she seen recently in relation to the Electoral Commission?
Hon ANNETTE KING: I have seen the UMR Research telephone survey undertaken by the commission and released yesterday, which shows that 67 percent of those polled support the proposition that any individual or group should be able to run an election-related campaign as long as they are clearly identified and spend within a set limit. The majority of parties in this Parliament—but not the National Party or ACT—have ensured that the bill, as reported back from the Justice and Electoral Committee, does just that.
R Doug Woolerton: Does the Minister agree that any law, including electoral law, requires the participants to do what is morally right as well as what is legally right, and does she think that this is the reason the National Party is having so much trouble interpreting the Electoral Finance Bill?
Madam SPEAKER: No, the second part of the question is obviously out of order. The first part is within the ministerial responsibility of the Minister of Justice.
Hon ANNETTE KING: Yes, I do.
Hon Bill English: What confidence does the Minister believe it gives the public or anyone who wants to take a position in an election year, when the chief executive of the Electoral Commission responsible for enforcing the bill said today: “On any situation where we’ve got one, two, maybe three or four different interpretations, then we run the risk of problems during the time between 1st January and election day.”?
Hon ANNETTE KING: I think the chief executive of the Electoral Commission has made it clear there are two main areas that she has concern about. It is in the interpretation of the words “in his or her capacity as a member of Parliament” and “inducement to vote”. I understand that the select committee did attempt to address this issue. In fact, it was the subject of a meeting between the Ministry of Justice, the Electoral Commission, and the Clerk of the House. Dave McGee provided advice on this issue, and I will table the advice for Parliament to see. He suggested three options. The committee decided to go with his third option. That third option states that if the committee does wish the phrase “in his or her capacity as a member of Parliament” to be used within the legislation, it may wish to provide any guidance or clarification of the meaning of that phrase for the purpose of the bill in the commentary rather than the bill itself. In fact, it is provided in the commentary of the bill, but I can see that it could have further clarification during the second reading debate.
Hon Bill English: What confidence does the Minister think it gives the public, when the chief executive of the Electoral Commission is told this: “It is your problem, because you’re the one in the hot seat, or one of two senior officials in the hot seat, making just those decisions about what the bill means.”, and Dr Catt replies: “Yes, we can’t make them. What we said to the select committee was as it stands at the moment, the advice we would have to give to parties is to seek their own legal advice.”?
Hon ANNETTE KING: Dr Helena Catt has made it clear that the commission would welcome further clarification in the commentary on this bill. I believe that is possible. It is also the role of the Electoral Commission, as was pointed out by the select committee, to give guidance in terms of interpretation as well.
Hon Bill English: How much confidence does the Minister think it gives the public or anyone who wants to participate in democracy next year, when the person who is meant to be the expert on the law says people should go and get their own lawyer; and when they do go to the lawyers they tell people to go and ask the Electoral Commission; and when I have said to the lawyers we will go and ask the Minister of Justice, and the Minister of Justice has said the law of common sense will be applied, not the law that is written?
Hon ANNETTE KING: I believe the law of common sense will apply. There will also be adequate interpretation for the Electoral Commission to be able to make some decisions. I have greater faith in the Electoral Commission’s ability to do that and to work with the Government to do that, than that member has. His whole role has been to undermine this bill so that it is not enacted by next year, for one purpose—and this has been highlighted over and over again in this Parliament by many parties—and that is to allow National’s big backers to spend their money in any way they like to buy the election for a National Government.
Hon Bill English: Has the Minister read the commentary on her own bill, in light of the comments by the chief executive of the Electoral Commission that she finds it hard to define party election expenses—and she is the expert—when the commentary states “The activities that are permissible will need to be confirmed by the Electoral Commission or Chief Electoral Officer case by case”, and when that person has said she does not know what the law means; how stupid is that?
Hon ANNETTE KING: I suggest that the member should not be “Mr Angry”. He should keep calm and read the rest, because he has done what he always does: he did not complete the reading from the commentary. The commentary came from the select committee, and it states: “but we expect that guidance on excluded communication might draw a distinction between communications that make statements of policy, and those that involve inducement to vote for a candidate or a party, or soliciting financial support for membership of a political party.” That is the full quote from the select committee. That is in the commentary. Bill English did not read that out, and I have already made it clear that the Electoral Commission has sought further advice on the words “inducement to vote”. That can be provided in the commentary during the second reading of the bill.
Hon Bill English: Can the Minister understand how frustrating it is for members of Parliament who want to comply with this law when they find that they need to ensure that their activities as a member of Parliament do not constitute a “party” activity and therefore count as an election expense, yet when they try to find out what they are allowed to do by going off to the Electoral Commission and its chief executive and asking her what they are allowed to do, they are told that she does not understand this bit of the law, so they should go and get their own legal advice? If I get it wrong, I am guilty after the fact of corrupt practice and can get kicked out of Parliament—what kind of law is that?
Hon Dr Michael Cullen: It’s exactly what happened in 2005!
Hon ANNETTE KING: I thank the Minister of Finance for that; it is exactly what did happen in 2005—exactly.
Hon Bill English: Is it now the case that MPs who want to comply with this law should go and ask the Electoral Commission’s chief executive, who has said she does not understand it and we cannot rely on what she says, and that we therefore have to go off and get our own legal advice from people who know even less than she does?
Hon ANNETTE KING: I think that any party or member of Parliament who wanted to approach the Electoral Commission would be perfectly able to do so, and I suggest that many people probably will.
Hon Bill English: How can the Parliament have any confidence in the Minister, when it is the chief executive of the Electoral Commission who is meant to decide these things and who is meant to give opinions in order to assist MPs to comply with the law and avoid the penalties of corrupt practice, and when the Minister is telling us to go and ask that person, who has said explicitly today that it is precisely that bit of the law that she cannot interpret; how stupid is that?
Hon ANNETTE KING: I would have a lot more faith, if I were the public, in the Minister of Justice than they have now in the National Party, which was prepared to allow the system to be rorted and to allow a third party to buy it the Treasury benches. That did not work then, and we are going to make sure it does not work next time.
Hon Bill English: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I know that in question time there is the opportunity for Ministers to make political points, just as there is for the Opposition in asking questions, but this is a serious matter. This is about trying to get advice from the Government, which is pushing through the Electoral Finance Bill, about the way MPs can get legal advice in order to comply with the law. There is hardly a more serious issue for the members of this House and for the accountability of the executive. Otherwise we are put in the position where the Government says that the law may mean anything and that by the way, if members break it, they will be kicked out. This is a forum—in fact, the very forum—where MPs should be told by the Minister how to avoid corruption in politics, and she is not answering the questions.
Hon ANNETTE KING: Speaking to the point of order, I say that the member needs to go back and look at his question. He asked: “How can the Parliament have any confidence in the Minister … ?”. I answered the question. The fact that he does not like the answer is not my fault. However, I would add that it is also not my role to interpret the law for individual members of Parliament. That has never been the role of the Minister of Justice. How many former Ministers of Justice on that side of the House had MPs coming to them, and asking them to interpret the Electoral Act as it is now? Not one of them.
Madam SPEAKER: Given the way that the original supplementary question was phrased, the Minister did address that question.
Hon Dr Michael Cullen: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. That was actually a point of order. This side of the House listened to Mr English in complete silence. There was an enormous amount of barracking on the Minister of Justice, but she was still speaking to the point of order at that stage, not giving an answer to a question.
Madam SPEAKER: I remind Mr English that points of order are heard in silence. His was. In future I am afraid that I will be asking members who do not respect that ruling to leave the Chamber.
Gerry Brownlee: Madam Speaker, you have just ruled that Mr English’s question was inappropriate.
Madam SPEAKER: No, I did not make that ruling.
Gerry Brownlee: It was appropriate for the answer that the Minister gave. I know that Mr English is not a new member, but then, the Minister is not a new Minister either. I think she knew full well what was intended by that question. I seek leave for the National Party allocation to be unaltered by Mr English having a second crack at that question. That courtesy is often extended to other people who offer a question that is either directly or inadvertently misunderstood by a Minister.
Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought. Is there any objection? There is objection.
Metiria Turei: Is the Minister aware that the Exclusive Brethren are, right now, running a smear campaign against the Australian Greens, accusing them of immorality and starting race riots, and does she agree that if the Electoral Finance Bill was scrapped, as the National Party wants, then associated groups such as the Exclusive Brethren, with access to millions of dollars, could dominate the election debate—dominate the election debate with lies—and drown out those who raise legitimate issues, thereby undermining their right to freedom of expression?
Hon ANNETTE KING: I agree with the member. In fact, I have also read the press release that has come out of Tasmania in Australia about the Exclusive Brethren’s activity in the election right now. They are accusing the Greens not only of those things but also of bestiality as well. This Parliament has decided we will not have that sort of campaign again, and we will pass a bill that stops the sort of campaigning the National Party supported at the last election, and tried to cover up.
Cardiac Health Care—OECD Statistics
3. JILL PETTIS (Labour) to the Minister of Health: How does New Zealand perform in terms of OECD statistics in cardiac health care?
Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE (Minister of Health): New Zealand’s health professionals should be very proud of the latest OECD figures. New Zealand, as this graph I have here shows, has the best 30-day survival rate for hospital treatment of a heart attack in the entire OECD. It shows that cardiac health services in this country are among the best in the world. The Government is preventing heart disease by tackling obesity, through programmes to improve nutrition and to get people physically active.
Jill Pettis: What other successes are being reported in health?
Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: This Government is getting real results in health and it is tackling the disparities of the 1990s. There has been a 24 percent increase in consultation rates for the elderly, as we have lowered general practitioner fees—something Mr Ryall seeks to reverse. The latest cancer waiting times show that 97 percent of people referred for radiation treatment receive it within 6 months, and 80 percent receive it within the first 4 weeks.
Barbara Stewart: Will the Minister make respiratory illness, including asthma, a priority population health objective in the New Zealand Health Strategy, now that the OECD report has highlighted our shortcomings regarding deaths from asthma?
Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: There is no doubt that investing in primary and preventive health care, including investing in respiratory illnesses, pays big dividends for the welfare of our people and the downstream cost to the health budget.
Dr Jackie Blue: Why is it that according to these latest OECD statistics, New Zealand’s death rate from heart disease is almost 50 percent higher than Australia’s; and is it maybe because Australia chooses to invest upfront in more modern medicines that actually prevent heart attacks and strokes, which is an approach that saves both lives and money?
Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: As shown in this graph, New Zealand’s fatality rates, post - heart attack trauma, are lower than those of Australia.
Barbara Stewart: Is the Minister aware that one in four New Zealand children are affected by respiratory disease; and will that influence his priorities?
Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: Respiratory disease, like diabetes and the other complications of obesity, is amongst some of the primary drivers of ill health in our young people, and it must be addressed.
Electoral Finance Bill—Election Advertisement
4. Hon BILL ENGLISH (Deputy Leader—National) to the Minister of Justice: Is it the Government’s intention that publicity should not be considered an election advertisement under the Electoral Finance Bill if it refers only to “the Government”, and does not mention any particular political party; if so why?
Madam SPEAKER: Right, given the noise at the beginning of the question, we will have this question in silence.
Hon ANNETTE KING (Minister of Justice): It depends entirely on the context in which the term “the Government” is used.
Hon Bill English: Is the Minister aware that this is one of the areas that the chief executive of the Electoral Commission targeted as having one, two, three, or maybe four different interpretations; and to whom do we go to find out what the situation is?
Hon ANNETTE KING: It is certainly not my job to decide, but I think any sensible person would think that this press release, which is headed: “Press release by the New Zealand Government—The Government has approved new investment of $2.8 million to relocate and upgrade the adult orthopaedic ward at Wellington Hospital.”, informed the public, provided facts, was made within months of an election, and was the bread-and-butter job of the Government of the day. It was made by Wyatt Creech.
Hon Bill English: Is the Minister aware of the exchange this morning on Radio New Zealand National during which the presenter said: “That’s a new provision. Can the Government technically be regarded as a type of party?”, and the chief executive of the Electoral Commission, who is meant to decide these things, replied: “Given that there are more than one parties in the Government, then, yes, governmental parties are a type of party, as are parliamentary parties, as are Opposition parties.”? That means the chief executive says the Minister is wrong.
Hon ANNETTE KING: I certainly do not believe that is the case. It depends on the context in which the advertisement is used.
Hon Bill English: What about the context of an ad published in the New Zealand Herald, at least, yesterday by the Imported Motor Vehicle Dealers Association, which attacks the Government, and not Labour; would that ad, which attacks the Government, and not Labour, count as an election advertisement next year?
Hon ANNETTE KING: It is not my job to interpret that.
Hon Bill English: Does the Minister’s willingness to give interpretations that favour the Government, whenever she is asked questions, indicate that she will apply the law of common sense to Labour but apply the actual law of Parliament to everybody else?
Hon ANNETTE KING: No, because the example I gave was the Government of the day, which happened to be a National Government.
Hon Bill English: Given that the Government has had 2 years to consider this law, why can she not tell the House whether the ad I referred to before, which attacked the Government over its policies, would count as an election advertisement?
Hon ANNETTE KING: Because it is not my job to do so.
Electoral Finance Bill—Amendments
5. Hon PETER DUNNE (Leader—United Future) to the Minister of Justice: Is the Government considering further amendments to the Electoral Finance Bill; if so, what are they?
Hon ANNETTE KING (Minister of Justice): I have already signalled one policy change to amend, in clause 17, the date from which third parties cannot list with the Electoral Commission. Any other changes are likely to be technical. Officials are looking at these, and I expect to receive advice soon. I would certainly be discussing any amendments with the member.
Hon Peter Dunne: Does the Minister acknowledge that the Prime Minister’s comments yesterday that the Government was looking at further amendments, the chief executive of the Electoral Commission’s comments this morning about some of the practical difficulties she envisages with the law, and the Minister’s own comments in the House this afternoon in response to earlier questions imply a level of uncertainty that gives strength to the Law Society’s call for the bill to be referred back to the select committee for further consideration?
Hon ANNETTE KING: No, I do not. I have said to the member that I propose one policy change, and it is actually one that has been discussed with parties. It was expected that the correction would be made in the select committee before the bill was reported back to the House, but that did not happen. It ought to be corrected. I am told that there could be some technical amendments. I have not seen them yet. But I know that the member has been here long enough to know that often, in any bill, technical amendments are made to make sure that we have, as the Law Society would like us to have, the best bill possible.
Gordon Copeland: Are the enforcement, penalty, and prosecution provisions of the Electoral Finance Bill sufficient or do they require amendment, having regard to the fact that when the Labour Party exceeded its electoral spending cap for the 2005 election by several hundred thousand dollars, no prosecution followed?
Hon ANNETTE KING: The penalties in the bill are those decided by the majority of members on the select committee. I accept the advice the select committee has given to this House.
Hon Peter Dunne: Do I take it from the Minister’s earlier answers that she is ruling out any significant policy changes being introduced by way of amendment to this bill as it proceeds to its Committee stage, including making reference to an independent review of electoral spending arrangements as part of this bill?
Hon ANNETTE KING: I have signalled the major policy change—if the member wants to call it that—that I would bring in; it is the Supplementary Order Paper. That is the only one that I know of. [Interruption] I do not have that as a Supplementary Order Paper.
Heather Roy: Will the Minister consider introducing amendments to ensure that people exercising freedom of speech who carry a placard, speak through a microphone, or upload a video to YouTube are not criminalised through this bill; if not, is it her intention that New Zealanders who participate in democracy in the way that hundreds of people did yesterday, by protesting outside Parliament with placards and megaphones and by putting up videos on YouTube, will be charged under this legislation?
Hon ANNETTE KING: Eighty people protested outside Parliament yesterday. In fact, I saw more people protest about the change from glass milk bottles to cardboard ones than we saw outside here yesterday. However, those people have the right to protest, and nothing they did out there, in my view, could be seen to mean they could be put in jail or be charged with an offence that would criminalise them, because the law of common sense would apply. Carrying a 1c placard would hardly be seen to be a criminal offence.
State Services Commissioner—Inquiry into Curran
6. GERRY BROWNLEE (National—Ilam) to the Minister of State Services: What are the terms of reference for the State Services Commission inquiry into the Ministry for the Environment’s employment of Labour Party activist Clare Curran, and will the inquiry investigate claims made by Erin Leigh that Ms Curran was “being employed to look after David Parker’s personal political agenda”?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Acting Minister of State Services): The issues to be covered are those outlined in the State Services Commissioner’s letter of 21 November to the Leader of the Opposition. I am surprised that Mr Brownlee welcomed this inquiry yesterday at 3.13 p.m., but resiled from that position this morning before 7.30. National Party flip-flops generally take longer.
Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. That was an interesting response from the Minister, but it very skilfully avoided the question that was asked and surely it cannot be considered to be an address to a question that asks whether the investigation will take account of Ms Leigh’s revelations, which did not come about until the TV3 news broadcast last evening?
Madam SPEAKER: Does the Minister have anything further to add to his answer?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: No.
Gerry Brownlee: Has he seen the damning public statement by Erin Leigh that “the ministry didn’t have much choice about whether Clare Curran was coming to the ministry or not”, and does he think it was the Minister’s naivety that created such a climate of submission among senior executives at the Ministry for the Environment?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I would rather rely on the robust inquiry run by the State Services Commissioner and, in practice, by his deputy to get to the truth of the matter. I would rely more on them to tell the truth than on someone who was not in the room at any time, I understand.
Gerry Brownlee: If Minister Parker did not insist on the appointment of Clare Curran, then why did the Ministry for the Environment phone Erin Leigh after she resigned over this matter to try to persuade her to stay and to explain to her why the Minister wanted Clare Curran in the ministry?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: Erin Leigh had repeated competence issues. She had to fix up the piece of work that she was employed to do six times after complaints from senior officials from a number of departments. As a result of that, someone had to come in and fix up the mess. Clare Curran was employed to do that.
Gerry Brownlee: If Miss Leigh was the person who, according to the Minister, had mucked up the “fart tax”, had caused the carbon tax to be dropped, and had caused the need for change, then why did they phone her after she resigned to explain why the Minister wanted Clare Curran there and ask her to come back?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: The last record of contact that the ministry had with Erin Leigh was when she came in, in an agitated state, for quarter of an hour in order to clear out her desk. It is my understanding that the last non-physical contact was when she sent an invoice to the ministry for that quarter of an hour.
Gerry Brownlee: Did the Minister misunderstand my question? I did not ask when her last contact was with the ministry, I asked him: why did staff in the Minister’s office phone her after she left, ask her to come back, and say they wanted to explain why David Parker wanted Clare Curran in the ministry?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: No.
Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I just want to clarify with the Minister whether he is denying that the Minister’s office phoned Erin Leigh, asked her to come back, and asked for an opportunity to explain why David Parker wanted Clare Curran appointed to the ministry.
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: Speaking to the point of order, Madam Speaker, the question asked whether I misunderstood the question. I said “No”.
Madam SPEAKER: That has clarified it.
Gerry Brownlee: Does the Minister still wish to claim that New Zealand has a politically neutral public service when it is now evident that the Minister had insisted on Clare Curran being appointed in order to fix up and put a Labour spin on ministry documentation, and then, upon becoming worried about what the effect of that might be, attempted to explain to Erin Leigh why he insisted on the appointment of Clare Curran; and does that not indicate that we do not have a politically neutral public service, we have public servants whom Ministers want?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: Ministers have the right to insist on competent advice. That has been established for a long period of time. When something comes to them six times and is criticised by officials not only from the Ministry for the Environment but also from other Government departments, I think that any reasonable chief executive would look for someone who could do the work. When there is someone available to try to fix up the mess who did climate change strategic work for the Australian Liberal Government, I can understand why the ministry employed her.
Greenhouse Gas Emissions—Reductions
7. HONE HARAWIRA (Māori Party—Te Tai Tokerau) to the Minister responsible for Climate Change Issues: Kei te hari koa a ia ki te mārō o te noho here a te Kāwanatanga, ki tana kaupapa whakaheke hau kino tukunga ki te rangi; meina āe, he aha ai?
[Is he happy with the Government’s commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions; if so, why?]
Hon PETE HODGSON (Acting Minister responsible for Climate Change Issues): Yes, but the recently re-released figures on emissions levels reinforce the need for more action.
Hone Harawira: Can the Minister please explain to the House what that action might be, given the findings that New Zealand’s greenhouse gas emissions per capita have actually increased dramatically, from 69 million tonnes in 1999 to 77 million tonnes in 2007—a 12 percent increase over the term of this Labour Government?
Hon PETE HODGSON: Yes, I can tell the member what more action from the Government means. I am pleased to be able to tell the member that the Government has signalled its intention to introduce legislation for an emissions trading system before the year is out. The Minister responsible for Climate Change Issues, on whose behalf I am answering this, has said that he is confident that the current projected deficit can be halved through the implementation of an emissions trading scheme and associated complementary measures. I look forward to the Māori Party’s support for that legislation to go to the select committee.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: When the Prime Minister said that New Zealand would be a world leader on climate change, did she mean that we would lead the world in increasing greenhouse gas emissions; if not, how does the Minister explain yesterday’s United Nations report that showed that New Zealand greenhouse gas emissions had increased by 12 percent from 1999 to 2005—compared with 8 percent for Australia, 5 percent for the US, 2 percent for Japan, and minus 2 percent for the UK over the same period—and the United Nations projections that, under current policy, by 2010 New Zealand’s percentage increase in emissions would be greater than that of any other developed country?
Hon PETE HODGSON: Let me try to answer the member’s question by quoting the Prime Minister from this morning. She said: “the economy [has] kept growing rather faster than predicted.” She also referred to the fact that we have had “deforestation, largely driven by the fact that dairy for example was a much more prosperous land use, … There’s a whole lot of reasons for it. But we now have a substantial and comprehensive program to deal with it, which is considerably in advance of many countries.” I look forward to the National Party voting for the forthcoming legislation to proceed to the select committee; 121 votes in favour of that legislation would be good.
Peter Brown: Is the Minister aware that the Castalia report on the emissions trading scheme that he has just referred to stipulates a number of worrying concerns, such as “substantial economic risk would be imposed on the New Zealand economy and businesses”; if he is aware of that report and the concerns, can he advise what the Government will do in regard to addressing them, or is it simply a case of dismissing them?
Hon PETE HODGSON: I am afraid to say that, in the case of Castalia reports over the years, it has often been a case of our dismissing them. From time to time the Government has taken this, that, or the other Castalia report and subjected it to peer review; it rarely turns out to be good for Castalia.
Hone Harawira: With this Labour Government’s record of actually increasing greenhouse gas emissions by 9 million tonnes during its term in office, can the Minister understand the concern of Greenpeace that this Government seems more concerned about meeting international obligations than actually reducing greenhouse gas emissions?
Hon PETE HODGSON: In the case of the Kyoto Protocol, meeting international obligations and reducing greenhouse gas emissions are pretty much one and the same. The whole idea of an emissions trading scheme is to reduce emissions growth from what it would otherwise be, and the obligations under Kyoto are to take responsibility for emissions no matter what they are.
Hone Harawira: With this Labour Government’s record of increasing air pollution during its term in office, what response does the Minister have to comments from the Independent Motor Vehicle Dealers Association that Labour’s vehicle policy will increase the average age of the vehicle fleet and actually further increase air pollution; and what steps will the Minister be taking either to reverse the Government’s high-pollution vehicle policy or to abandon its plans to reduce emissions?
Hon PETE HODGSON: The answer to the member’s question—with respect—is that I simply do not agree with the way the question has been framed or with the claims that lie behind it. You see, when one is trying to improve environmental standards, it is often the case that those who want no change will use an environmental argument to fight it. The environmental arguments are usually junk, and, in this case, most certainly are.
Jeanette Fitzsimons: Will the Government further demonstrate its commitment to reducing greenhouse emissions by supporting my member’s bill—the Climate Change (Transport Funding) Bill, which was drawn from the ballot this morning—which would gradually change transport funding priorities in order to achieve the Government’s target in the National Energy Efficiency and Conservation Strategy to reduce by 10 percent the number of single-occupant vehicle trips in cities on weekdays?
Hon PETE HODGSON: I am sorry but I am not able to give the member a straight answer to that question. I have not yet had the privilege of reading her legislation. However, in my experience, it is usually the case that the member’s legislation is at least thoughtful in the way that it is put together.
Environment Ministry—Curran Appointment
8. Hon Dr NICK SMITH (National—Nelson) to the Minister for the Environment: Does he stand by his statement on Tuesday this week, in respect of the decision by his ministry to employ Labour Party activist Clare Curran for strategic communications on climate change, that it was “in breach of the operating policy” and that “There is a fast-track authority method that could have been used quite properly in this case, and it was not.”; if so, who does he hold responsible for this breach?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Minister for the Environment): Yes; that is a matter that the State Services Commission is currently looking into.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Which is right: the Minister’s statement on Tuesday that Clare Curran’s appointment was “in breach of the operating policy” or the statement by David Parker yesterday that “Nothing was wrong or inappropriate about Clare Curran’s appointment.”?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: David Parker was referring to his role; I was referring to the ministry’s role.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Why did the Minister firstly tell the House on Tuesday that the reason the current contract was not declared in response to very specific questions from the select committee was that it was in the name of Clare Curran’s company, when that company is not listed in this year’s financial review, then excuse that omission on the basis that the contract was not in that financial year, when the State Services Commission report states that the contract was signed on 16 July and the committee requested all contracts after 1 July; and what explanation can he now give as to why the ministry hid this politically sensitive contract to Clare Curran from the select committee?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: The contract was declared the year before, which was the appropriate time to declare it. It was in the name of Clare Curran’s company. The engagement, which the member asked about at the select committee, was in the previous financial year.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: How does the Minister explain the contradiction between David Parker’s statement in the New Zealand Herald this morning that a ministry official had, at last Thursday’s select committee, “clearly stated he did not direct the ministry to appoint Ms Curran” and the transcript from that select committee meeting, which shows that a ministry official said: “My recollection was that Clare Curran was employed to do a short piece of contract work. We cannot confirm anything further about the matter, but the ministry will get back with details.”; and why are the public again being misled about this Government’s dodgy interference in the ministry’s staffing?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: The Minister did not direct that Clare Curran be employed, just as he did not direct that Anna Hughes, Anna Kominik, or Therese Anders be employed. All of those people were employed. I accept there was a breach. There should have been an approval for not having proper quotes, but there was not. That is being looked into.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. My question was very specific. David Parker said in the New Zealand Herald this morning that the ministry had given evidence to the select committee. I have checked the select committee record, and what David Parker said about what had happened there was not correct. My question to the Minister was why that was the case, and the Minister went off on another tangent. I think the House is entitled to an answer to the very simple question of why David Parker said today in the New Zealand Herald that that happened in the select committee, when that is not supported by the transcript?
Hon Dr Michael Cullen: That then becomes a very simple issue. That Minister is not responsible for what another Minister said about what happened in a select committee. He cannot have ministerial responsibility for that.
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: Adding to what my colleague Dr Cullen has said, I am also not responsible for the New Zealand Herald—fortunately.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: My question to the Minister was how he could explain the contradiction between the statement in the New Zealand Herald and what his ministry official said at the select committee. This is a Minister who is responsible for his select committee officials, so I am asking him to explain why it is that the Minister David Parker is contradicting the ministry officials, for whom Minister Mallard does have responsibility.
Madam SPEAKER: Would the Minister clarify the point for the member. I did think it was addressed, but would the Minister please clarify it.
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I am prepared to elucidate if the House wishes. To date, no person who has been in a meeting with David Parker has suggested that he directed the ministry. Someone who is a sad person, who had six attempts at doing a piece of work, and who was replaced on that job is the only person—other than Opposition members—who has suggested that.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: If the only issue was in respect of Erin Leigh’s performance, why did senior manager Neal Cave also resign in protest over this politicisation of the ministry; and is not what is really going on here that this Government has banked on the issue of climate change as its future chance of getting re-elected, but, as the evidence of the United Nations’ report today shows, its progress has been awful and it has politicised the communications wing of the Ministry for the Environment to try to save its bacon?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: The only person I know who says that Mr Cave resigned for that reason is Erin Leigh. I would prefer to rely on the word of the officials who were present at the time.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: The document I have is the transcript of the select committee hearing last Thursday. I seek the leave of the House to table it, as it contradicts the statement made by David Parker this morning in the New Zealand Herald.
Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is objection.
Commerce Act Review—Economic Transformation Agenda
9. DAVE HEREORA (Labour) to the Minister of Commerce: How do today’s announcements on the outcomes of the review of Parts 4 and 4A of the Commerce Act 1986 contribute to the Government’s economic transformation agenda, in terms of its focus on promoting investment in infrastructure?
Hon LIANNE DALZIEL (Minister of Commerce): I cannot state it better than the acting chief executive of Vector, who said today that the decisions highlighted the Government’s clear intent to provide the right incentives and regulatory certainty for infrastructure companies to invest and innovate with confidence. He said: “The focus on forward looking incentives rather than backward looking means we can concentrate on building the future.” This is precisely the outcome that the Government wanted to achieve with the review, and I believe that the new approach will promote clarity, certainty, timeliness, and predictability for business—all of which are features of a credible and effective regulatory regime.
Dave Hereora: What are the new features of the proposed regulatory framework for businesses that face little or no competition but are important to the economy?
Hon LIANNE DALZIEL: The most significant change that will improve the regulatory environment is that the methods for establishing costs—the input methodologies—will be set in advance by the Commerce Commission, and will be subject to merits review by way of appeal to the High Court. These input methodologies will then provide the basis for implementing appropriate regulatory control, which will include information disclosure, negotiate-arbitrate, and a customised pricing option to replace the thresholds regime. This means businesses will be given certainty, which will encourage them to invest in infrastructure and to innovate, for the benefit of future generations of New Zealanders.
Peter Brown: Noting that answer, is the Minister aware that the airline industry is having long-run battles with our major airports over charges, and can she inform the House whether the proposed review of Parts 4 and 4A of the Commerce Act will address this concern and bring these long battles to an end?
Hon LIANNE DALZIEL: I am very aware of the publicity surrounding those issues, and although I cannot give a cast-iron guarantee as to the outcome of the battle to which the member refers, it does look positive, because the chief executive of Auckland International Airport said, after commending the thorough process that we had adopted, that the airport was “committed to making the proposed legislative environment work to the fullest potential, and we look forward to our airline customers joining us in that commitment.” The chief executive of the Board of Airline Representatives of New Zealand said: “We were just asking for some rules and a referee, and it looks as though we are going to get them.” Our message seems to have got through finally, and we are really appreciative of that.
10. Hon TONY RYALL (National—Bay of Plenty) to the Minister of Health: Has he been advised of any recent reports on hospital productivity?
Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE (Minister of Health): Yes.
Hon Tony Ryall: Is he aware that research by Professor Peter Davis in Auckland University has found that New Zealand’s public hospitals had performed well during the 1990s, had treated more people, and had lower death rates, but that this improvement is not being maintained; why is this?
Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: To quote from the actual conclusion of that study, “other things being equal, a substantial reduction in in-patient bed availability can be effected in national hospital systems” while “largely maintaining access and quality of care. However the workload adjustments that are required may slow improvements in patient outcomes.”
Lesley Soper: What were the outcomes in health in the 1990s?
Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: As the data shows, during the 1990s inequality in health outcomes increased dramatically under National—and it has now started to decline under Labour—because user charges for in-patients and out-patients were introduced, deficits ballooned, and primary care was unaffordable. A survey in 2000 showed that medical specialists spent only 48 percent of their time in public hospitals. [Interruption]
Madam SPEAKER: I will be asking members at the back of the Chamber to leave if the level of barracking continues.
Hon Tony Ryall: What is the Minister’s answer to Professor Davis’s question on Morning Report today, when he said: “I mean, resources have essentially doubled over the last decade.”, and he went on to say: “I think we should now be asking the question: with the doubling of resources, why can’t you now increase elective surgery throughput? Why can’t you reduce emergency department waiting times?”
Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: In the first place, it is correct that this Government has doubled resources. We have done so partly to improve primary and preventive health care, which will pay dividends over years and years to come. Secondly, it is already true that we have shortened patient waiting times. We have increased elective surgery by 5 percent in the last year, and we will increase it another 5 percent in the year coming.
Hon Tony Ryall: Would the Minister like to answer the question from Professor Davis that was broadcast on radio today and explain why we can double resources and not increase elective surgery throughput, and why we can double resources and not reduce emergency department waiting times?
Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: It is very simple: because some of the resources have gone to other places.
Hon Tony Ryall: Whom should the public of New Zealand trust on this information: a Minister in a discredited Labour Cabinet or an eminent professor with impeccable Labour Party connections?
Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: What the eminent professor and the Cabinet share is a very high regard for the Prime Minister. The public of New Zealand decided in 1999 that National’s health policies were a disaster and they overwhelmingly voted them out of office, which is where they remain.
Dr Jonathan Coleman: Does the Minister agree with Dr Cullen’s statement when he wrote to Annette King in 2005, “we cannot currently be confident that the substantial additional resources which have gone into the health system have produced the best results for citizens.”; if he does, what will he do about ensuring that New Zealanders will get some results from the $6 billion of public money that Labour has added to the annual health budget?
Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: The kind of result that the country got under National was a vast increase in inequality in health outcomes, which this Government is turning around. Yes, there are opportunities for further improvement, which we are achieving, and the public has confidence in this Government to deliver that. That is why we are here and why National members will stay on the opposite side of the House.
Vehicle Exhaust Emissions Standards—Health Outcomes
11. JEANETTE FITZSIMONS (Co-Leader—Green) to the Associate Minister of Transport: Does she expect proposed vehicle exhaust emissions standards to reduce the number of premature deaths from air pollution from vehicle exhausts; if so, how many lives does she expect this rule change could save?
Hon HARRY DUYNHOVEN (Minister for Transport Safety) on behalf of the Associate Minister of Transport: Yes. The Minister has not received any advice on the specific number of premature deaths that the proposed rule will prevent, but the Health and Air Pollution in New Zealand report released in July this year found that 500 New Zealanders were dying prematurely every year as a result of vehicle emissions.
Jeanette Fitzsimons: Will the Government stand firm on its proposed schedule for emissions standards in the face of industry pressure from both the Imported Motor Vehicle Dealers Association and, more surprisingly, the Consumers Institute of New Zealand, which both seem to believe that cheap cars are more important than saving lives?
Hon HARRY DUYNHOVEN: Yes. The Government will stand firm on its proposal to improve the quality of the fleet coming into New Zealand by ensuring emissions standards are put in place. It is notable that the proposals being put up by the used-car dealers are simply aimed at having every sector of the car industry pay the costs, except those who import used cars. We are far too used to having shonky, old, worn-out, “clocked” vehicles brought into this country and foisted on the public; it is time we had some better-quality vehicles.
Hon Mark Gosche: What other policies are being developed to address harmful vehicle emissions?
Hon HARRY DUYNHOVEN: The Government is taking action on emissions on three fronts. We have already addressed the quality of the fuel available in New Zealand, and are working towards the biofuel sales obligation. We have addressed the way we use and maintain our vehicles—the Choke the Smoke campaign was one example of that—and we are looking at the quality of vehicles in our fleet, both through the vehicle scrappage scheme trial and the proposed emissions standards rule.
Peter Brown: Noting the earlier answer, how does he justify such a rule coming into being, knowing it will raise the price of an imported school bus from about $40,000 to closer to $100,000, thereby encouraging operators to continue to use the existing buses for a lot longer until they virtually become clapped out?
Hon HARRY DUYNHOVEN: Firstly, I tell the member that something like 200 buses are on the water on their way to New Zealand, and a large number of buses around the country are available for use. Secondly, we should aim at not having our schoolchildren taken around the country in grotty old buses that are cast-offs from other countries and do not meet any environmental standards.
Jeanette Fitzsimons: Will the Government expand the highly successful Auckland Regional Council pilot vehicle scrappage scheme, which has now ended, to help motorists afford to replace the dirtiest, most polluting vehicles, thereby getting them off our roads sooner, saving lives, and making a dent in the 435,000 restricted activity days each year, largely from asthma, caused by particulate pollution in Auckland alone?
Hon HARRY DUYNHOVEN: I think it is very interesting that the member spoke about particulate emissions in her question, because that is one of the real issues—the age of the diesel fleet coming into New Zealand, and particularly the used imports that are not only elderly but often “clocked” as well. But leaving that issue to one side, we have to ensure that we have quality vehicles brought into New Zealand, and the vehicle scrappage trial actually resulted in polluting cars being taken off the roads and disposed of in an environmentally friendly way. An essential part of modernising the vehicle fleet is actually to ensure that older vehicles are removed from the fleet and that good-quality modern vehicles that comply with emissions standards replace them.
Jeanette Fitzsimons: Will the Government be moving with similar resolve then to improve the exhaust emissions of the current fleet on the road by compulsory exhaust emissions testing at warrant of fitness time, given the substantial savings in health costs and the demonstrated fuel savings to motorists from having properly tuned vehicles?
Hon HARRY DUYNHOVEN: Tailpipe emissions testing is already part of the warrant of fitness test. The visible smoke check was implemented in September 2006. Cars with excessive visible exhaust emissions will not get a warrant of fitness, but this issue is one that officials continue to do work on.
Sexual Abuse Allegations—Ministry of Education Procedures
12. KATHERINE RICH (National) to the Minister of Education: Why does he continue to tell the House that the ministry first knew of sex abuse allegations made against the principal of Hato Pāora College on 3 August 2007, when he had been advised that the actual date the ministry was first aware was 1 August when the ministry received a call from the media?
Hon CHRIS CARTER (Minister of Education): The Ministry of Education was asked on 1 August 2007 whether it had been informed of allegations of misconduct against the principal of Hato Pāora College. The inquiring journalist provided no more detail than that, and did not attribute the source of the revelations. In effect, the ministry was being asked whether it had heard a rumour about the employee of the board of a self-managing school; it had not. Indeed, the Manawatu Standard was so unsure of its information that it did not report it until 4 August—3 days after making the call to the ministry, and 6 days after the school had written to the competent authority on sexual abuse allegations, Child, Youth and Family.
Katherine Rich: Who is correct: the Minister, who said on Tuesday and yesterday that the school did not seek advice from the Ministry of Education; or the board chair, who said in August: “We sought advice from all the proper channels—the School Trustees Association and the (Education) Ministry.”?
Hon CHRIS CARTER: The school informed the ministry on 3 August that it had completed investigations. It told the Ministry of Education that it had referred the matter to Child, Youth and Family, which it was required to do. Child, Youth and Family referred it on to the police. I can hear this barrage of interjections from people like Nick Smith; the bottom line is that a process has been in place since 1996, and the Hato Pāora College board followed that process. It did it speedily and it did it appropriately. What is the issue here?
Dianne Yates: What support has the Minister provided to members so that they may familiarise themselves with this case?
Hon CHRIS CARTER: I have now answered six almost identical questions from Katherine Rich on this issue. I have telephoned the member to ascertain what actual information she is seeking. I have arranged for the Ministry of Education to brief her on this case, which it has. I am mystified as to what the member is actually seeking. I remind this House that a protocol has been in place since 1996, and the school followed it in a speedy and appropriate way. At all times the interests of the students have been paramount. Continually dragging up this matter in this House shows no consideration for the welfare of these students, many of whom are currently sitting their National Certificate of Educational Achievement exams. The member does herself no credit.
Katherine Rich: When the Minister continues to say that the school followed all the appropriate steps—and he repeated it today—is he 100 percent sure that the school passed on all the complaints that it was aware of to Child, Youth and Family; if not, why not?
Hon CHRIS CARTER: It is my understanding that the school did so.
Katherine Rich: Did the ministry receive any information or warnings at the time of the principal’s appointment, regarding his suitability for the role; if not, is he sure about that?
Hon CHRIS CARTER: I am not sure about that, but I will certainly be checking it out.
Katherine Rich: Did his ministry receive any information or warnings from representatives of any other schools at the time of the principal’s appointment?
Hon CHRIS CARTER: I am not aware of that, but I will certainly be checking it out.