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Questions And Answers – Wednesday 20 February 2008

Questions And Answers – Wednesday 20 February 2008

1. Cabinet Appointments and Honours Committee—Chair

[Uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing.]

1. JOHN KEY (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does she stand by her answers to oral question No. 2 on 19 February 2008; if not, why not?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister) : Yes.

John Key: When did the Prime Minister become aware that the President of the Labour Party, Mr Mike Williams, had asserted that no donations had been received from Owen Glenn since 2005?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I would think since the matter has been in the public arena, within the last few days.

John Key: Why did not the Prime Minister seek to correct the false impression given by Mike Williams, given that at the point she learnt of the statement she knew it to be untrue?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: When I say in the last few days, it was probably in the course of preparation for question time yesterday that my attention was drawn to that statement, which I think was made on or around 31 December. The member himself may have been in Hawaii at the time, which is probably why he refused to comment on the matter when asked by the New Zealand Herald.

John Key: How does the Prime Minister reconcile the fact that she chose not to correct the statement by Mr Williams, which she knew to be incorrect, with her promise that she would deliver a Government that people could trust and that would be open and accountable?

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Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Of course, no such choice was made. I have made it clear since this matter has come to my attention that Mr Williams made a mistake. This donation of forgone interest will be in the Labour Party’s audited accounts. I note that the National Party’s audited accounts have no track of any donation ever made by Mr Key. Are we to believe that he is just mean, or has he hidden his donations in the Waitemata Trust?

John Key: Further to her response to my question yesterday, has she at any time had any discussions with the President of the New Zealand Labour Party, Mike Williams, regarding the possible appointment of Owen Glenn as New Zealand’s honorary consul to Monaco?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: As I said to the House yesterday, I became aware that Mr Glenn had expressed such an interest. Since becoming aware, I have obviously had that as a matter of discussion with Mr Winston Peters. Mr Williams has also talked to me about it. I repeat that Mr Glenn’s interest was expressed in just the same way that Mr Richard Worth advanced the cause of a friend of his; when Mr Worth wrote to the previous Minister of Foreign Affairs about the matter, he told Mr Phil Goff: “There is an aspect of substantial self-interest behind my request that the New Zealand Government appoint a consul in Monaco.”

John Key: Can the Prime Minister then confirm, subsequent to her answer just a few moments ago, at what point did Mr Williams actually inform her about the conversations that he had had with Mr Glenn; was it before or after they had received the various donations he gave to the Labour Party?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Those donations go back to somewhere around 2003, 2004, 2005, so quite a long time.

John Key: Has the Prime Minister worked out that not only is she wrong, but she is actually continuing to propagate the myth that Mr Williams has been trying to propagate, because, in fact, Mr Glenn gave a donation some time after that, and that may well have been around the time that he was talking about becoming the honorary consul?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: The member is starting to believe his own propaganda. There seems to be a view that being an honorary consul is a plum post. Well, it might be for Mr Worth, who sees it as being in his self-interest to recommend people for the position in Monaco, but for most people they offer to do it because they think they can do something for a country.

2. Meat Industry—Restructuring

[Uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing.]

2. Dr ASHRAF CHOUDHARY (Labour) to the Minister of Agriculture: Has he received any reports regarding the restructuring of the meat industry?

Hon JIM ANDERTON (Minister of Agriculture) : I have seen one report from the Southland Times last Friday of a promise of a so-called “financial umbrella” to help meat companies form a megamerger. The “financial umbrella”, evidently full of a $200 million suspensory loan, the usual meaning of which is a loan at no interest and not necessarily repayable, is to provide capital for a new commercial entity. That is the first suggestion of a subsidy for our agricultural exports since Sir Robert Muldoon was in office, and the person responsible for this financial helicopter, which is to drop money all over the rural landscape of New Zealand, is the leader of the National Party, John Key.

Dr Ashraf Choudhary: What research has he seen to support the use of $200 million of taxpayers’ money to subsidise the meat-processing industry?

Hon JIM ANDERTON: I have seen none, because the analysis has obviously not been done; Mr Key just made the policy up on the spot. The Southland Times report states: “When National Party finance spokesman Bill English ambled across the paddock’’—presumably in his electorate gumboots—“Mr Key quickly told him ‘I’ve just committed you to a suspensory loan’. Apparently unfazed, Mr English replied: ‘As long as it’s under $200 million I don’t mind.’ ” That shows how much effort the National Party puts into its policy announcements. The Leader of the Opposition pulls policy out of thin air, and the party’s finance spokesperson sucks it all up. The result is a $200 million subsidy promise to the meat industry.

R Doug Woolerton: Does the Minister consider it ironic that while the meat industry is trying to emulate the brilliantly successful Fonterra model, by whatever means as we understand it, the board of Fonterra is likely to take dairy farmers back to the failed model of the meat industry by its proposal to list the company and therefore lose the benefits of vertical integration?

Hon JIM ANDERTON: The policy of a former National Government of paying family benefits for sheep practically bankrupted this country, and now the erstwhile leader of the National Party, who aspires to govern this country, promises to take us back to those failed policies, which led to the economic ruination of this country.

Metiria Turei: Can the Minister provide the House with any assurance that a huge monopoly meat processor that is not even farmer owned, as Fonterra is, may drive down prices paid to farmers for their meat, without there necessarily being any reduction in the price charged to families?

Hon JIM ANDERTON: What I can confirm is that if this is a good idea—and that is yet to be tested—then it will stand on its own feet as a proper business case and the farming community will give it its support. If it is not, then the farming community will not give it its support. That is where the idea should stand. The idea of the leader of a political party saying he will fly over New Zealand’s rural electorates in a helicopter and drop money over them is just simply ludicrous.

Hon Phil Goff: Can the Minister confirm that the sort of subsidy being advocated by Mr Key would not only contradict New Zealand’s strong and consistent opposition to agricultural subsidies under both National and Labour Governments since the mid-1990s but also likely be in breach of our World Trade Organization obligations, and therefore could result in a case being taken against us in that particular forum?

Hon JIM ANDERTON: I can confirm that this would be in total contradiction of New Zealand’s consistent leadership in international trade forums against agricultural subsidies, and that a payment such as that advocated by Mr Key and Mr English would likely be deemed to be an export subsidy, thus putting New Zealand in breach of its own World Trade Organization obligations. As a result, we would immediately lose all credibility in global trade negotiations. I wonder what Mr Groser and Mr Hayes think about this—and I would be happy to take supplementary questions from them—whether they support their leader’s agricultural subsidies policy, and, if they do, when they were converted to this mad idea.

Hon Phil Goff: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker.

Madam SPEAKER: Points of order are heard in silence. If members wish to remain in the Chamber, they will hear this in silence.

Hon Phil Goff: I just draw to your attention, if I need to, the fact that when I was getting up to ask that question there was a barrage of comments from the Opposition benches but not one of those members had the conviction to get up and ask the Minister a question.

Madam SPEAKER: That is not a point of order.

Hon Phil Goff: It is a point worth making, Madam Speaker.

Madam SPEAKER: It may well be, but it is not a point of order.

Hon Phil Goff: What reports has the Minister seen of the likely reaction of the European Union to the reintroduction of subsidies for our meat exporters?

Hon JIM ANDERTON: The Southland Times gave us that report—

Hon Members: Did it?

Hon JIM ANDERTON: —yes—which stated: “one of the biggest hurdles would be getting the European Union to accept it.” That was a comment of John Key’s about his own policy announcement. To say that that is an understatement is one of the most understated things I have heard this century. The mere fact that a senior political figure in New Zealand is advocating for agricultural subsidies is in itself the biggest embarrassment for New Zealand in international trade forums in many years.

Sue Moroney: Why will this Government not reintroduce subsidies for agriculture?

Hon JIM ANDERTON: Madam Speaker—[Interruption] If the National members are so keen on the idea, they can tell us why it will be introducing them. For several decades this country tried to subsidise our most important industries in the primary sector. That was under a National Government, and now National apparently wants to take us back to those days. We opposed subsidies then, and we oppose them now. This Government does not make policy on the hoof—literally. We have a clear vision of how New Zealand’s economy will be developed over the long term, and it is not by the worst kind of pork-barrel politics that this report evidences on the part of the National Party.

Hon Trevor Mallard: I seek the leave of the House for one additional supplementary question for the National Party today, on the basis of its—

Madam SPEAKER: No, the member cannot do that, as he knows.

3. Prisons—Overcrowding

[Uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing.]

3. JOHN KEY (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does she stand by her statement that her Government has “worked hard to meet the challenge of accommodating rising prison numbers,”?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister) : Yes.

John Key: Is the Prime Minister concerned that Daniel Crichton, somebody who has previously been refused bail for serious drug charges, has now been released into the community as part of a deal that saw the return of the stolen medals?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I am advised that the police made a decision not to oppose that bail after full risk assessment, and in conjunction with the Crown solicitor. This is, of course, an operational matter for the police, and in the end it is a judge who makes the decision.

Hon Phil Goff: Has the Prime Minister seen statements made in December 2007 that there was a crisis over inadequate numbers of prison cells in New Zealand, and then statements made in February 2008 condemning the Government for oversupply of prison cell numbers; is she aware that both contradictory statements were made by the National Party’s spokesperson on corrections, Mr Power; and does she put this down to confusion or opportunism?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I probably would put it down to both confusion and opportunism. I note that Mr Power has complained both that we have too few prison beds, and now that we have too many prison beds. When he sorts out what his position is, could he let us know?

John Key: Is it not a fact that the safety and security of New Zealanders are now being put at risk because someone whom the courts believed was not eligible for bail has now been released back into the community?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: That is a matter for the courts. The judge makes that decision.

John Key: What sort of precedent does it set when a New Zealander who has previously been refused bail is allowed to be released back into the community because somehow he was the inside snitch on getting back New Zealand’s medals?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: It is not my practice to attack what an officer of the court does. The decision was made by a judge.

John Key: Can the Prime Minister tell the House then whether Daniel Crichton is more or less of a risk to New Zealand society now that he has been released into the community than he was before, when he was not allowed to be released, as a result of giving his information on the medals?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: My response is that that is a matter for the court.

John Key: Can the Prime Minister give an opinion then on how secure she thinks our prisons are when Daniel Crichton was able to negotiate the return of the hottest stolen property in the country from his prison cell?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I have no advice on whether the scenario put to me by the member is true.

John Key: Is the reality of this situation—

Hon Trevor Mallard: This is the man who cuddled Tame Iti!

John Key: You are the one who has spent more time in front of judges than I have.

Madam SPEAKER: If there are any more interjections I will be asking members to leave the House. John Key will please ask the question.

John Key: Are not the simple facts of the situation that a New Zealander who should not have been released on bail, who previously had not been released on bail because the judge decided he was too significant a risk to our community, who was charged with serious drug offences, has now been let out into the community; that he is someone closely associated with the Headhunters gang; and that the only reason that has happened is that he gave information that saw the return of the medals, and is not that an enormous price to pay for the security of New Zealanders?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I do not have advice on that but I do know that John Key’s bail policy is to be seen hongiing a man who is on bail for serious firearms charges.

Ron Mark: Can the Prime Minister give this House an assurance that Daniel Crichton is still facing drug charges; that those charges will be prosecuted by the police to the fullest extent of the law with vigour; and that if the police are successful, no doubt they will be seeking to ensure that he is returned to the cell from which he came?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: My understanding is that the answer to each of the member’s three questions is yes.

John Key: Can the Prime Minister explain what changed between the time when Daniel Crichton was not allowed bail and then, all of a sudden, after giving some information, he received bail?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: The matter is a matter for the court.

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. A short time ago you looked in the direction of the Opposition and said that if there were any further interjections while a question was being asked, then someone would be leaving the Chamber. I understand why numerous Ministers are upset and on the back foot, but they are repeatedly—[Interruption] Well, there you are! They are repeatedly interrupting. Normally, if such an interruption occurred, someone like Mr Carter would be out of the Chamber.

Madam SPEAKER: There have been interruptions from all sides, I am afraid, but you are all on your last warning. Thank you for reminding me, and that goes for both, and all, front benches.

4. Air Force—Air Combat Force

[Uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing.]

4. HEATHER ROY (Deputy Leader—ACT) to the Minister of Defence: Is he confident that the air combat force is being maintained to a level that preserves its market value, and can he confirm that the fleet is still worth the US$110 million that was quoted in the heads of agreement announced on 12 September 2005?

Hon PHIL GOFF (Minister of Defence) : I am advised by the New Zealand Defence Force that the answer to both questions is yes. In terms of preservation, it advises that the A4s are protected primarily by a layer of black latex. That stops any moisture absorbance. Secondly, the Defence Force advises there is a further layer of white latex. The sole purpose of that layer is to reflect the rays of the sun, which would otherwise be absorbed by the black layer. The latex layer is distorted from the effect of the weather, but I am advised by the Defence Force that that has no impact to the detriment of the preservation of the aircraft.

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I do not think that is an acceptable answer from the Minister. Right at the top of our minds is what happens if someone wants to take a test drive?

Madam SPEAKER: That is not a point of order, Mr Brownlee. Points of order that are not points of order and that are repeated create disorder.

Heather Roy: Did the latex coating of the Skyhawks in December comply with the Royal New Zealand Air Force manual guidelines; if so, why, after just 2 months outside, are several of these latex coatings already torn, ripped, and weathered—for example, on these three aircraft on this chart—why does this other chart show only the top half of jets covered, rather than the entire jet; at least one coating visibly thinner than the rest; and why are three Skyhawks still kept indoors, with no coating at all?

Hon PHIL GOFF: Clearly, the member did not listen to the primary answer that I gave to her. Had she listened, she would know that the protective coating is the black latex—I know that members opposite get a bit excited when one talks about black latex! The outer coating is a solar reflective coating, and that coating is to stop the absorption of the sun’s rays. The fact that that layer has distorted, in no way detracts from the preservation of the aircraft. But if the member wants to be briefed by the Royal New Zealand Air Force, I am happy for her to be told directly.

Dr Wayne Mapp: When will the Minister give up this pretence that there is a contract out there just ready to be fulfilled, even though it was signed before the last election, these aircraft have been put in long-term storage, and everyone knows they will eventually be sent to the gas axe?

Hon PHIL GOFF: The Opposition spokesperson on defence says he wants to cut up the planes we currently have an offer on of US$35 million. That is the A4s. If that is an example of the economics being pursued by the National Party, then people should not have confidence in it. But they should not have confidence anyway, because that member was saying 2 years ago that the scrapping of the air combat wing was a disaster, and now he says he supports it.

Heather Roy: Why is the latex coating on the Skyhawks only one-third of the recommended thickness, as set out in the Royal New Zealand Air Force manual NZAP137, to save money; and is the Minister planning to do anything about the deteriorating latex on the jets before they corrode, or will the air force be forced to spend even more of its limited operational funding in patching up his botched sale plan?

Hon PHIL GOFF: I am by no means an expert on the impact of the thickness of latex, I should assure the member. But I can tell that member that the decision taken by the New Zealand Air Force—not a political party trying to make capital out of an issue—was to provide the coating that it is adamant in its statements to me protects those aircraft better than if those aircraft were in the hangars they were previously in. And Dr Mapp knows that, because the Vice Chief of Defence Force assured him of that before the select committee. I am advised by the New Zealand Defence Force that the protection is not only adequate but better than the planes had before.

Ron Mark: Would the Minister be prepared to admit that the disbanding of the Aermacchi squadron was a wrong decision, that it was possibly ideologically driven, and that the most sensible thing the Government could do now is fund the return to service of the Aermacchis; if he does agree with that, could he tell the House when that will happen?

Hon PHIL GOFF: I do not agree with the member, because there is nothing ideological about the disbandment of the Aermacchi wing. If we were not to have an air combat wing, I am told—and in fact have asked the air force to comment to me on it—that the cost of using the Aermacchis for any other purpose was not economic and far, far more expensive than better alternatives for training pilots.

Heather Roy: I seek leave of the House to table two photographs—one of the Skyhawks with the latex peeling away, and the other to show how they should be covered.

Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table those documents. Is there any objection? There is objection.

5. Health Services—Sentinel Events Project Working Party

[Uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing.]

5. Hon TONY RYALL (National—Bay of Plenty) to the Minister of Health: What action, if any, did the Government take to implement a national standardised sentinel events reporting system as recommended by the Sentinel Events Project Working Party in 2001?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE (Minister of Health) : First, let me note my concern that when a serious issue such as sentinel events is raised, some people put the lives of those who have been touched by these events second and their own agendas first. Politicians may argue the details, but real lives have been affected, and we need to respect that when entering debate. Since 2001 the Ministry of Health has been working closely with the district health boards on training in reporting sentinel events and, more important, on how to put procedures in place to learn from those events. The first guidelines in this area were published in September 2001.

Hon Tony Ryall: Why did the Government fail to set up a national system, when that was recommended in this 2001 report and recommended in four reports of the current Health Committee, and why, after the Government sitting on this report for 7 years, should New Zealanders have any confidence that this Government will make our hospitals safer?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: I am advised that the presumption in the member’s question is incorrect. Since 2001, the Government set up, in 2003, an audit system based on HealthCERT to improve the efficacy of individual hospital reviews, and those certifications occur, at a minimum, every 3 years; the district health boards have been implementing local information technology reporting systems, and building infrastructure; the Government further set up, in 2004, the National Health Epidemiology and Quality Assurance Advisory Committee—EpiQual—which was established in particular to look at mortality and morbidity reviews; and in February 2007 the Quality Improvement Committee was established to take over that work, and a budget of some $20 million was allocated to further its work in the sector.

Lesley Soper: Why is the Minister supportive of today’s release of information pertaining to serious and sentinel events?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: It is through transparency that we achieve improvement. Today’s announcement is a watershed moment in health. It recognises the fact that those are areas we need to improve in. In order to make those improvements we need to look openly and honestly at all the information and be prepared to learn from those events.

Sue Kedgley: Does not the release of the data today really just show that the entire system for the reporting of adverse events is still a shambles, with different district health boards using different systems, different reporting requirements, and different definitions, and with some choosing not to report at all; and given that the entire system is still voluntary, meaning it is up to the district health boards to decide whether and what they choose to report, if at all, and given the fact that the Health Committee this morning was given completely different data on adverse events by Capital and Coast District Health Board from what was reported today, how can we have confidence in the figures that have just been released?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: I am advised that since the publication of guidelines in 2001 the effort of the Ministry of Health was about building capability in district health boards and working with each of them to set up their own systems. I am further advised that the function of the HealthCERT division of the ministry has been around individual district health board review processes. However, I agree with the member that an opportunity exists from here forward to ensure ongoing national consistency of data collection and reporting, and that will happen.

Hon Tony Ryall: Does the Minister realise that this is the tip of the iceberg, with his own officials admitting today that many more serious and fatal events have not been included in these numbers, and that some district health boards are unable even to collect these numbers; and what does it do for the public’s confidence in the health system, when no one actually knows how many people are dying needlessly?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: Let us reflect on what these statistics are and are not. They are a 1-year snapshot of the year 2006-07, with 2.2 in every 10,000 hospital admissions resulting in a serious or sentinel event. They are different from adverse event reporting, which is a broader pool, and I am advised that the Quality Improvement Committee and the Ombudsman are comfortable with the national set of standards that is being used to pull these together.

Sue Kedgley: Why is the Waikato District Health Board the only district health board that has clearly reported on the number of deaths—23—caused by its action or inaction last year, and can he help the members of this House by telling us now, clearly and unequivocally, how many people died last year, and how many people became permanently disabled, as a result of an action or an inaction by a district health board?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: Data according to the consistent definitions worked through by the Quality Improvement Committee was released this morning. I agree with the member that the time has come to ensure, going forward, that there are nationally consistent definitions, nationally consistent data reporting, and nationally consistent monitoring of systems.

Sue Kedgley: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I do not think I could have been more plain with my question, which was how many people died, and how many people became disabled last year, as a result of actions—

Madam SPEAKER: The Minister did address the question.

Sue Kedgley: He did not answer the question as to how many people died.

Madam SPEAKER: Would the member please be seated. The member knows full well what the Standing Orders say. The Minister must address the question; the Minister addressed the question.

Hon Tony Ryall: Does the Minister realise that he just said that the time had come for nationally consistent data and for nationally consistent reporting, yet that is the very thing that was recommended to Annette King in 2001? When New South Wales brought in a system to monitor this matter, it saved lives. This Government has done nothing, and what explanation does it have for that?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: May I repeat for the member’s benefit that in 2001 a set of guidelines was published, and the district health boards were assisted to follow them. However, the review process of the district health boards was on an individual basis. I have already agreed with the member opposite Sue Kedgley that more can be done to ensure nationwide consistency in implementation and monitoring, and it will be done.

Hone Harawira: Tēnā koe, Madam Speaker. Tēnā tātou katoa e te Whare. What action, if any, has the Government taken in response to Professor Peter Davis’ 2006 paper in The Lancet, which showed that Māori patients received a lower standard of care in hospital than other New Zealanders, and were more likely to suffer adverse effects?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: The Davis report has fed into the ongoing work of the Quality Improvement Committee, which has five key work streams, and on which I am expecting a further briefing very shortly. I have signalled that this issue is a priority for action, and I have linked that action to the district health boards’ receiving their full budgets in the coming year. The member raises a very important point. During the lost decade of the 1990s, Māori suffered more than any other part of our community did from the explosion of disparities in living standards and health outcomes in this country, and that situation must never be allowed to be repeated.

Hon Tony Ryall: Does the Minister stand by his press statement of earlier today, which stated that, on the basis of this information, New Zealand’s hospitals compared favourably with Australian and American hospitals, when his own officials admitted today at the press conference and in Parliament’s Health Committee that we simply cannot rely on this information for any comparison whatsoever?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: Absolutely I stand by that, in two respects. Firstly, the Davis study is on a like-for-like basis, with comparable studies made available to us through the Commonwealth Fund, and, secondly, those studies show that New Zealand compares very well with countries like Australia and the United States in that we have a lower rate of adverse events.

Hone Harawira: What action, if any, has the Government taken in response to Professor Peter Davis’ recommendation in the same 2006 Lancet study that data should include patients’ ethnicity; and can he tell the House why he is unable to tell us how many people actually died in hospital last year as a result of action or inaction by any of the district health boards?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: In respect of the first part of the question, it is my understanding that patients’ ethnicity is currently collected. In respect of the second part, I will verify the contention and get back to the member.

Hon Tony Ryall: What is going on in our hospitals when the Health and Disability Commissioner says they are unsafe, and these documents today show that basic care is being neglected and New Zealanders are dying needlessly; and is that what the people were expecting when they put Helen Clark in charge in 1999?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: What is going on in our hospitals is that, around the country, dedicated clinicians are seeking to make New Zealanders well. What is going on in our hospitals is that the Government has invested substantially more in facilitating those outcomes to occur. And what is going on in our hospitals is work that needs to continue without the petty point-scoring of the Opposition spokesman.

Hone Harawira: I seek leave to table an article, “Quality of hospital care for Māori patients in New Zealand: retrospective cross-sectional assessment”, by Professor Peter Davis and six other writers.

 Leave granted.

Sue Kedgley: I seek leave to table information from the financial review today of the Capital and Coast District Health Board by the Health Committee that gives completely different data.

 Leave granted.

Hon Tony Ryall: I seek leave to table the report from the Sentinel Events Project Working Party to the Director-General of Health in 2001 that recommended setting up a national standardised system for sentinel events.

 Leave granted.

Hon Tony Ryall: I seek leave to table the Health Committee’s 2004-05 financial review of the Ministry of Health, calling for a national standard on sentinel reporting.

 Leave granted.

Hon Tony Ryall: I seek leave to table the 2005-06 financial review of the Ministry of Health, calling for priority to be given to the setting up of a national mandatory reporting system on sentinel events.

 Leave granted.

Hon Tony Ryall: I seek leave to table yet another report calling for action on sentinel events—the Vote Health estimates for 2006-07.

 Leave granted.

Hon Tony Ryall: I seek leave to table another call for information on hospital-related adverse events to be standardised and nationally reported—the Vote Health estimates for 2007-08.

 Leave granted.

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: I seek leave to table a statement made by the New Zealand nurses association supporting today’s disclosure of serious and sentinel events.

 Leave granted.

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: I seek leave to table a statement made by the New Zealand Medical Association welcoming the release of today’s report.

 Leave granted.

Madam SPEAKER: I remind members that there is to be silence during points of order. It is very difficult for members to hear in order to judge whether to raise objection.

6. Health Services—New Technology

[Uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing.]

6. BARBARA STEWART (NZ First) to the Minister of Health: Is he satisfied with the current processes relating to the acquisition of new technology by the public health system?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE (Minister of Health) : District health boards and the Ministry of Health have a joint process for assessing relative patient benefit from investment in new technologies. Proposals are considered by the National Service and Technology Review Advisory Committee. I am satisfied that the process is thorough and enables close coordination of the evidence. I expect the process can be further streamlined and I am expecting to see significant progress on that this year.

Barbara Stewart: Can the Minister assure us that delays such as Wellington Hospital’s 9-year wait for a third linear accelerator to treat cancer patients will not occur anywhere else in this country?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: I am advised that once the health need for a third linear accelerator for Wellington Hospital had been demonstrated, capital approval was received within 6 months.

Barbara Stewart: Is the Minister aware of new research resulting in new definitions of what constitutes a heart attack, which will lead to a big increase in invasive angioplasty procedures; if so, what contingency plans does he have to ensure that the appropriate technology will be available?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: Health, of course, is a dynamic field. Advances—or claims of advances—emerge all the time. District health boards need to stay abreast of the emerging evidence and assess how they can respond so that patients receive services that best serve the needs of the whole population.

Barbara Stewart: Is the Minister also aware that positron emission tomography scanning is increasingly being used to determine the extent of coronary artery disease; if so, can he advise the public of New Zealand when they will finally have access to this technology?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: I am advised that district health boards agreed last year on the indications for patients requiring positron emission tomography scans. District health board chief executive officers will be considering any further evidence on positron emission tomography scanning in April this year, and will be able to review whether there is any need to change the clinical indications for positron emission tomography scanning.

7. Electoral Finance Act—Enforcement

[Uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing.]

7. Hon BILL ENGLISH (Deputy Leader—National) to the Minister of Justice: Who is responsible for enforcing breaches of the Electoral Finance Act 2007 related to the supply of credit to political parties at better than market rates provision in section 21(2)?

Hon ANNETTE KING (Minister of Justice) : I presume the member does not really mean what he says in the question—that is, that someone should be enforcing breaches of the Electoral Finance Act. I think he meant to ask who is responsible for the enforcement of provisions of the Act, but I am not sure.

Hon Bill English: Can the member recall telling this House during the debate last year that in fact the police are responsible ultimately for enforcing the Electoral Finance Act; in the light of those statements is she concerned about a statement on Monday by the Labour Party President, Mike Williams, that interest-free loans do not constitute donations under any electoral law, and does she believe that he should be investigated by the police in case he is breaching the Electoral Finance Act?

Hon ANNETTE KING: Under the Electoral Finance Act, the Electoral Commission and the Chief Electoral Office have administrative responsibility for aspects of the Act, and the police have the prosecution function.

Hon Bill English: So what action does the Minister expect would be taken by the Electoral Commission or the police when the president of a major party says: “We don’t declare these sort of donations, but we get lots of them.”, and will she be ensuring that the credibility of the Act is reinforced by some show of enforcement of its provisions?

Hon ANNETTE KING: A show of enforcement will be made either by the Chief Electoral Officer or the Electoral Commission, or the police if that is necessary—it is not for me to say that. But what I will say to the member is that up until the end of last year the provisions relating to donations were part of the 1993 Act. That member yesterday asked in this House whether I was aware that the Electoral Finance Act made it quite clear that interest-free loans would be counted as a donation. There is no mention in the 1993 Act of such a thing.

Hon Bill English: If that is the case, can the Minister tell us why the Prime Minister has gone to so much trouble to say that the Labour Party will now comply with that piece of legislation over its interest-free loans?

Hon ANNETTE KING: The law is in effect, and in terms of any donations that were made in relation to the 2007 Act, the Labour Party would certainly be following it.

Hon Bill English: Can the Minister tell us whether the 1993 Act or the Electoral Finance Act includes provisions designed to stop parties from splitting up donations in order to avoid declarations; if so, can she tell us what she thinks of an apparent statement made by the president of the Labour Party that “We get lots of these interest-free loans.”, and that he may be splitting them up so that they do fall under the $10,000 threshold and do not have to be declared?

Hon ANNETTE KING: All those questions raised by the member are hypothetical. I do not have the answers for them, and I do not intend to make it up, which the member is doing.

Hon Phil Goff: Just making it up.

Hon Bill English: So I am making up what Mike Williams said on the record? You have to do better than that, Phil.

Madam SPEAKER: The question please.

Hon Bill English: What credibility does the Minister think she has in answering these questions, when in this House last year she railed against big money in politics and said that the whole point of the bill was transparency, only to find that Labour’s own donor and own president were doing big-money secret deals behind closed doors while she was making those statements in this House?

Hon ANNETTE KING: That is very rich indeed, because Mike Williams has spoken publicly about donations, but the National Party has never answered this question: why were its members scurrying around just before the Act came into force in December, asking for anonymous donations to be made so that they did not have to comply with the new Act? Why do not we have some editorials written about that behaviour? Talk about transparency! What we would like to know is how many anonymous donations those members managed to sneak into their bank accounts before the Act came into play.

8. Wages—New Zealand and Australia

[Uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing.]

8. CHARLES CHAUVEL (Labour) to the Minister of Finance: Has he received any reports on the patterns of wage growth in New Zealand and Australia?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Finance) : Yes. I have seen a report that shows the gap in average weekly earnings between Australia and New Zealand grew from 18.9 percent in 1990 to 28.4 percent in 1999 and since then has barely moved. Under the last National Government average real weekly earnings increased by a total of $1.31 a week in 1990 dollars over that 9-year period. Under 8 years of a Labour-led Government, the rate of increase has been 30 times that level.

Charles Chauvel: Has the Minister seen any other reports on the merits of pursuing higher wages for New Zealand workers?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Yes. Last week I listened on the radio to a strange interview from the leader of the National Party, who called for higher wages, then said he really meant tax cuts. Much more concerning was that he told a business meeting in Northland late last year: “We would love to see wages drop.” We know from question No. 2 today that Mr Key likes to tell audiences what they like to hear, but that is going a bit too far. However, it is consistent with what happened in the 1990s, when in 5 out of 9 years average real earnings fell in New Zealand

Hon Bill English: Is that the best that the Minister of Finance can do, in the face of the fact that in the last 5 years estimated real net disposable income per person—that is, the measure of the income each person has available to him or her—grew twice as fast in Australia as it did New Zealand?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The fact is that despite the minerals boom in Australia, average weekly earnings in Australia are moving barely faster than they are in New Zealand. Under National in the 1990s, average real weekly earnings in New Zealand went from $463 when it became the Government to $464 in 1990 dollars when it left the Government. That is National’s record on earnings growth.

Peter Brown: From that response, can we take it that the Minister shares the New Zealand First view that the Employment Contracts Act introduced in the 1990s had a huge, adverse impact on wages and conditions, from which we have never caught up; if he does agree with that, will he ensure that such legislation will never occur again in this country?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Yes, I do agree with that. The difference between then and now is that in 1990 National promised not to cut wages and conditions, but it did. This time National is promising to cut wages.

9. Environment, Ministry—Confidence

[Uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing.]

9. Hon Dr NICK SMITH (National—Nelson) to the Minister for the Environment: Does he have confidence in the Ministry for the Environment?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Minister for the Environment) : The Ministry is working hard to regain my confidence, and that is the first issue the acting chief executive officer was asked to focus on by the State Services Commissioner.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Why did the Minister’s senior official, Mr Steve Dixon, threaten recycling advocate Mr Warren Snow following his submission to the Local Government and Environment Committee that was highly critical of the Government for failing to deliver on its 1990 election manifesto on waste, and what does it say about the culture of the ministry that such conduct would be seen as appropriate?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I have been briefed on the issue. The official’s behaviour is unacceptable, and I am advised that the official has apologised in writing directly to the submitter. I am also advised that the official’s manager has apologised to the select committee. This is a serious matter. As the member knows, staffing issues are an operational matter for the chief executive, and I have been advised that the chief executive is taking it seriously and dealing with it.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: How is it that his ministry officials see fit to threaten select committee submitters who dare criticise Labour for not delivering on its manifesto, that they are able to delete a key chapter in a state of the environment report that was critical of the Government, that they last year sacked staff linked to National and hired staff linked to Labour—does not this whole series of sad events point to a Government that is using and abusing this ministry for its own political ends?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: There are a number of questions there, and it becomes clear, when one listens, that the member is not aware in which year some events occurred. But leaving that aside, to the substantive question and the latest allegation, I have made it clear that what the official did is wrong. I understand that the matter has been referred to the Speaker, and I think she should deal with it appropriately.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Noting that Mr Warren Snow has an application before his own ministry’s sustainability fund, what was he to make from the threatening comments from his officials about the status of the application for funding due in January, decisions by March, if it was not a message of “Don’t criticise the Government, or we’ll take your money away.”?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: As I have indicated, the comment of the official was inappropriate. I was not aware of the fact that the submitter had an application in. I will seek the chief executive’s assurance that that official is not involved at all in making any decisions in that area.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: What does it say about the culture that this Government has established within the public service that it thinks it is appropriate when someone is making a submission before a select committee that is critical of the Government to make threatening and intimidating comments to that person?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: That is a matter that is being dealt with by both the chief executive as a staffing issue and, I understand, the Speaker.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: I seek leave of the House to table the letter from Mr Warren Snow detailing the threats.

 Leave granted.

10. Health Services—National Medicines Strategy

[Uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing.]

10. JUDY TURNER (Deputy Leader—United Future) to the Associate Minister of Health: What reaction has he received to Medicines New Zealand, the National Medicines Strategy he released in December last year?

Hon PETER DUNNE (Associate Minister of Health) : Medicines New Zealand , which was an outcome of the confidence and supply agreement between the Government and United Future, has largely been positively received by stakeholders in the sector, including the pharmacy sector, the Access to Medicines Coalition, the New Zealand Organisation for Rare Disorders, Pharmac, and district health boards. There is a general view across the medicines sector that there has been a need for an overarching strategy to guide medicines policy in New Zealand for some time, and Medicines New Zealand provides that opportunity.

Judy Turner: What specific steps will be taken this year to implement Medicines New Zealand?

Hon PETER DUNNE: Let me give the member some by no means exhaustive examples. Already the Ministry of Health has begun a review of the Pharmacology and Therapeutics Advisory Committee’s—that is, PTAC’s—appointment protocol and of the operational guidelines, to ensure that Pharmac gets the best advice to inform its decisions. Work has begun on developing a national procurement process for vaccines, and work is also well advanced on what is needed to enhance both electronic prescribing and other prescribing initiatives.

Judy Turner: Why did the Minister consider it necessary to develop a National Medicines Strategy for New Zealand?

Hon PETER DUNNE: New Zealand is amongst a number of countries in the world that are grappling with quite complex issues about the future approach to the provision of medicines adequate to meet the needs of the population. For example, determining the right level of investment in medicines compared with other health services is the subject of ongoing debate in a number of countries. There are no simple answers, but we felt it was necessary to develop a policy approach in New Zealand, in order to try to give us a framework for working through those questions and building a medicines system that is responsive to the needs of New Zealanders and works in their best interests. This strategy, which will be ongoing, achieves those objectives.

11. Work and Income—Towage and Storage Costs

[Uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing.]

11. JUDITH COLLINS (National—Clevedon) to the Minister for Social Development and Employment: Does Work and Income pay towage and storage costs for beneficiaries whose cars have been impounded because they have been caught drink-driving?

Hon RUTH DYSON (Minister for Social Development and Employment) : Beneficiaries can get an advance payment of their benefit or a special-needs grant if they have an immediate and essential need. Work and Income staff will consider all the circumstances, including the effect of the situation on the person’s family or children, whether the person himself or herself can afford to pay, and whether the person will be able to afford the repayments. The amount of the advance will be the least amount required to meet the essential need of the person and his or her family, and the person then has to repay that money out of his or her benefit. The current policies in these areas are unchanged from those developed by Roger Sowry in 1998 and 1999.

Judith Collins: Why did the Minister say in answer to written question No. 20337 in December last year that it was unusual and exceptional for Work and Income to pay towage and car storage fees for beneficiaries, when, in fact, tow-truck drivers around the country told TV3 just yesterday that Work and Income regularly paid them to release cars that have been impounded by order of the police, and in fact direct-credit those payments?

Hon RUTH DYSON: The member confuses two situations: one where there might be illegal activity and one where there may not be. Both of those are situations where the tow-truck company may well have the fees owing paid by Work and Income. I will give the House a real scenario—literally—not from a tow-truck company but from Work and Income records. A woman, “Mary”—that is not her real name—receives the invalids benefit and looks after her granddaughter, who has spina bifida, is on dialysis, and is in the final stages of renal failure. This woman’s car was towed from the Starship Children’s Health car park, despite her having a permit from the hospital for car parking, while she was there getting treatment for her granddaughter. The security company towed the car regardless of the notice. A loan of $100 was given to that woman for the recovery of her car from the towing company. I think that is fair enough; it is a tragedy that Judith Collins does not.

Russell Fairbrother: What would be the alternative approach to dealing with these cases?

Hon RUTH DYSON: The alternative approach advocated by the National Party seems to be for the towing and storage fees to remain unpaid. Let me tell the House what would happen in that situation. After 10 days from when the empowerment finishes, the towing company can sell the car and it would keep the money, so the family concerned would be left with no car, they would continue to repay any money owing to a finance company on the car, and they would descend into more and more debt. So we have no car and more debt for a beneficiary, and a towie with more money in his or her pocket. That is National Party policy.

Judith Collins: Why did the Minister also say that Work and Income could not advise how much had been spent on towage fees, when it turns out that Work and Income direct-credits those tow-truck companies; and why is she using an example of a woman with very serious needs, when we are actually talking about drunk drivers?

Hon RUTH DYSON: As I explained to the member in the answer to my previous question, they are all actually classified under the same heading, and other examples of advances on benefits are also classified under that heading, which is why Work and Income gave me the advice to give her an accurate answer to her question, which I always endeavour to do. Those figures I gave her in answers last year were estimates.

Judith Collins: Does the Minister accept that drunk drivers and disqualified drivers frequently cause car accidents; and how can she justify Work and Income using taxpayer money to help these dangerous and irresponsible people get right back behind the wheel?

Hon RUTH DYSON: It may surprise the member to learn that some families who have beneficiaries amongst their members have only one car per family, and it may well be that in order for that family to maintain their essential needs, which is the criterion for an advance on their benefit, the car may well be needed by another member of the family.

Judith Collins: What does the Minister say to the families of people maimed or killed by drunk or disqualified drivers, when they hear her suggest that these fees owed on impounded cars are just like any other debt, and that it is quite OK for Work and Income to pay up when the driver was drunk, disqualified, or because, in some cases, the car itself has posed a threat and the police have impounded it?

Hon RUTH DYSON: I would say to the House that I support advances of payment to beneficiaries when they meet the criterion, which is that that person or his or her family has an immediate and essential need. I would prefer that to be the way to remedy the situation, rather than the alternative of their having to pay high interest to a loan shark, which the member may well be advocating as a supplementary to her policy, or that the tow-truck company can sell the car and the beneficiary ends up with no car and more debt.

Judith Collins: Is the Minister prepared to instruct Work and Income to cease encouraging disqualified and unlicensed drivers to get back behind the wheel in this way, or will she continue to say that it is just like any other debt, and include drunk drivers along with people who are genuinely in need?

Hon RUTH DYSON: My expectation is that there are no circumstances at all under which Work and Income would assist people to continue to break the law. The advance of their benefit payment is made if they meet the criterion for an essential and immediate need. If the member has a mate who has lied to Work and Income in order to get his or her benefit I suggest that she tables the information, or gives it to me privately, and that person will be dealt with appropriately by the department.

12. Auckland—Northern Busway

[Uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing.]

12. ANN HARTLEY (Labour) to the Minister of Transport: What benefits is Auckland seeing from the opening of the Northern Busway?

Hon ANNETTE KING (Minister of Transport) : In the week ended 17 February, patronage on the Northern Express bus service has increased by 48 percent compared with last year, to 17,967 passengers. This is a magnificent result, and I expect that investment in public transport will continue to pay huge benefits to the quality of life and economic well-being of our largest city.

Ann Hartley: When will the busway be open to high-occupancy vehicles?

Hon ANNETTE KING: The Northern Busway management team is working on developing options to consider the use of high-occupancy vehicles on the busway. At present both Transit and the local authorities involved want to ensure that the busway is working effectively before they give consideration to opening it up to other traffic, but they are working on this issue right now.

Keith Locke: After the success of the busway in reducing traffic over the harbour bridge, will the Government be supporting the current proposal to provide a cycleway over the bridge?

Hon ANNETTE KING: Transit New Zealand and its regional partners Auckland City Council, the Auckland Regional Council, the Auckland Regional Transport Authority, and North Shore City Council yesterday agreed to jointly look at all options for walking and cycling on the Auckland Harbour Bridge. The partners will joint fund the investigation, and consider the connection points at either end of the bridge. The options include but are not limited just to Cycle Action Auckland’s proposal. So they are already on the case, investigating the feasibility of that.

Ann Hartley: How much has the Government invested in the busway?

Hon ANNETTE KING: The Government has contributed $210 million to the total cost of the $300 million Northern Busway project. This is another example of the Government plugging the deficit left by the National Government in the 1990s—where public transport expenditure was capped at $40 million for all of New Zealand. I would like to show the House this graph of just how much money this Government has put into Auckland land transport since we became the Government The difference is very clear indeed.


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