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Questions And Answers – Thursday, July 3 2008

Questions And Answers – Thursday, July 3 2008

1. Rail and Ferry Purchase—Financial Return

1. Hon BILL ENGLISH (Deputy Leader—National) to the Minister of Finance: What is the Government’s best estimate of its ongoing financial return from the purchase of rail and ferry assets?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Finance) : As the Prime Minister said, we are not going into this to make money. Any assessment of financial returns needs to take account of the counterfactual, which was continuing subsidies to Toll, and indeed increasing subsidies to Toll, or major line closures, increased roading costs, and increased greenhouse gas emissions. The exact negotiation, of course, around the rate of return sought from the company, will be a matter of negotiation between the board and the Government.

Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I am sorry, the House is quite quiet, but, sitting here, I could not hear the answer. We have a problem.

Madam SPEAKER: I thank the member. Perhaps those who are responsible for the sound system could enable us to hear, otherwise we might have to forgo question time, which would be a great pity—joking!

Rodney Hide: Given that that was a primary question, and others were similarly affected, could we have the answer again?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I will try to project, but members must realise I have a cold, so I cannot project very much. As the Prime Minister said, we are not going into this to make money. Any assessment of financial returns needs to take account of the counterfactual, which was continuing—indeed, increasing—subsidies to Toll, or major line closures, increased road costs, and increased greenhouse emissions. The actual expected rate of return, of course, is a matter for negotiation between the shareholding Ministers and the new company.

Hon Bill English: Can the Minister tell us whether, in making a commitment of some $1.7 billion of investment, according to the Prime Minister yesterday, the Government has commissioned any analysis of the costs and benefits of purchasing rail and ferry assets; if so, who carried out that analysis and when was it completed?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The member’s attempt to distort the Prime Minister’s answer will not go down at all with me. The investment required at the moment is the money to go into the track system, which the Government already owns—some $460 million over the next 5 years is planned—and the money to go into the operating business, which is $80 million over 5 years for the steady-state case, and probably approximately $300 million for the more aggressive investment programme, or $392 million in total. That compares with something like $12 billion or $13 billion going into roading and public transport subsidies over that period of time. Toll is expecting a total subsidy in 2008-09 of approximately $90 million.

Charles Chauvel: What reports has the Minister received on what could have happened if the Government had not bought back rail?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: For some considerable time we have been unable to enforce the National Rail Access Agreement, and that against the background that to enforce that agreement would have led, in Toll’s view, to the implementation of its plan B, which implied closing, obviously, the Overlander passenger service, the central North Island section of the main trunk line from Te Kūiti to Palmerston North, the Northland line, the Taranaki line, the Hawke’s Bay line, the Napier to Gisborne line, the Wairarapa line north of Masterton, the Picton to Christchurch line, the Greymouth to Hokitika line, the Invercargill to Bluff line, and the Invercargill to Wairio line. That is actually the counterfactual case.

Hon Bill English: Can we take it from those answers that if Toll was going to shut most of its lines, then it was certainly not a viable business; if that is the case, why did the Minister pay $900 million to buy them?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: First, the member has the figure wrong, and, second, he did not listen to the answer. In order to avoid that happening, and for Toll to remain viable without it happening, it was expecting $90 million a year in 2008-09 and probably increasing subsidies every year thereafter.

Hon Bill English: Why is it that after committing to an investment of $1.7 billion the answers from the Minister—despite his having several hours’ notice of a question about the ongoing financial return for the purchase of rail and ferry assets—give us the impression that no calculation has been done of ongoing financial return, and there has been no analysis of the costs and the benefits of purchasing rail, just a public relations and political strategy?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I do love the member getting himself on the wrong side of this issue, day after day. The member again misquotes the investment. He does not understand that the track investment occurred irrespective of purchasing the rolling stock operation. He does not understand that if Toll had retained ownership of the rolling stock operation, it was looking for large—very large—and ongoing subsidies. He does not understand that Toll never met any of the agreements it had with the Crown in terms of the basic elements. Those are the actual counterfactual cases. If National is arguing for private ownership with line closures— “Make my day!”

Charles Chauvel: Has the Minister had any reports concerning the introduction of wide-gauge track or bullet trains in New Zealand?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Yes, I have. I understand that a National Party candidate in the Wellington region, a Mr Paul Quinn, has argued that we should introduce bullet trains between Auckland and Wellington, and reconstruct the entire railway line on a wide-gauge basis. Wide gauge offers very little advantage and probably billions of dollars of investment, and the notion, for example, that we would run a bullet train around the Raurimu Spiral really beggars the imagination.

Hon Bill English: Can the Minister explain to the House and to the public why the board of trustees of Tiaho Primary School has to go through an exhaustive 3-year process, with multiple plans, to get a small amount of money from the Ministry of Education to fix its leaking roofs and sewage-soaked playgrounds, but he has gone and committed $1.7 billion to rail, with no analysis of the costs and benefits, and no calculation of the ongoing financial return?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The member can repeat the figure as long as he likes; that does not make it correct. But from the party that plucked a figure of $1.5 billion out of the air to subsidise, largely, Telecom—and now everybody is realising what a stupid promise that was—that is really rich indeed, when telecommunication companies make large profits without a Government subsidy. Toll could not make a bean unless it had a Government subsidy.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: What reports has the Minister received that suggest the following: “It is completely relevant, because whether or not parliamentarians want to accept it, in taking on this position we have a huge amount of influence in the change of public policy in this country. It might be a bit uncomfortable, but if I am a shareholder of Tranz Rail and I want to get up in this House and start talking about that company, then my shareholding is relevant.”, and, on the issue of Tranz Rail, is this quote relevant?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I understand that those comments were made in the House in 2003 by Mr John Key, in a debate on the Members of Parliament (Pecuniary Interests) Bill. I agree entirely with those comments, for this reason: I can only assume—although the information I have is not such—if that is the case, that he sold his shares in Tranz Rail before seeking commercially relevant information through parliamentary questions in 2002.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Given that Mr Key has told this House that he sold his shares in 2003, but he asked seven questions on this issue in October 2002, where do the facts lie now?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: One can only assume the reference to Tranz Rail in that speech in 2003 was some kind of Freudian slip on the part of the member, Mr John Key.

Rodney Hide: Can we summarise the Government’s policy as this, and contrast it with National’s policy, that irrespective of who owns it, Labour is prepared to commit $1.5 billion over the next 5 years to keep a loss-making business going, which is a cost of $400 for every New Zealander, and that the National Party’s position is that it would not do that, but it would spend $1.5 billion to help a business that does make a profit?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: On the latter the member is patently correct, but on the former, of course, what the member has to take account of is, if there is not an effective and efficient rail system in New Zealand, what are the costs and where do they lie? The principal costs are twofold to start with—that is, more traffic on roads and more accidents on roads. The costs of those lie with the Government, taxpayers, and accident compensation levy payers. The other costs are increased greenhouse gas emissions, and the responsibility for the cost of those lies entirely with the Government, and therefore with taxpayers.

/NR/rdonlyres/E7903029-C6D2-402C-8679-56DAD113C50E/86345/48HansQ_20080703_00000072_.pdfFull transcript of Questions for Oral Answer for Thursday, 03 July 2008 [PDF 212k]

2. Health, Environment, Agriculture, and Local Government, Ministers—Confidence

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

2. Dr RUSSEL NORMAN (Co-Leader—Green) to the Prime Minister: Does she have confidence that her Ministers of health, environment, agriculture, and local government are protecting New Zealanders from any major threats to the safety and security of our drinking-water supply?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Deputy Prime Minister) on behalf of the Prime Minister: There are clearly significant issues with our drinking-water supplies. I have confidence that the Ministers mentioned and others are doing their best to address issues such as the supply, quality, and accessibility of water. Those are complex areas that cover many, many aspects of policy.

Dr Russel Norman: How can the Prime Minister be absolutely confident of the safety and security of our drinking water, when Watercare Services, which supplies Auckland’s water, is warning that there is a threat to the future of Auckland’s drinking-water as a result of dairy conversion in the Waikato River catchment, where it currently gets a significant amount of water and in the future plans to get even more water?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: There are two answers to that point. Firstly, the National Environmental Standard for Sources of Human Drinking Water came into force just last week, and, secondly, the member may not be aware of this but the Minister in charge of Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations is engaged in very extensive negotiations with both Waikato-Tainui and a range of other iwi about a long-term plan for the cleaning up of the Waikato River. We are, of course, already committed to some $36.7 million for the cleaning up of Lake Taupō, as well as to massive expenditure on the nearby area of the Rotorua lakes of some $72 million over time. Expenditure on the river is likely to exceed those two clean-ups combined.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Can he explain why the special Cabinet committee for the Government’s Sustainable Water Programme of Action that the Prime Minister announced in 2003 has never met, and why that lack of ministerial meetings led the Auditor-General to report last year on the poor governance of the programme and little progress being made on water quality; and does that not expose the whole sham of the Prime Minister’s sustainability agenda?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The Prime Minister does not agree with that, because of the importance of the matters being dealt with directly by the Cabinet policy committee. A national policy statement on freshwater management is due out soon for public consultation. A national environmental standard for the measurement of water takes is being drafted at the present time. Submissions are being sought on the national environmental standard on ecological flows and water levels. Some progress is being made in terms of the Dairying and Clean Streams Accord. There are discussions with iwi reference groups, because that is crucial in matters of water. As I said, the Government has committed massive sums to the clean-up of Lake Taupō and the Rotorua lakes already.

Hon Peter Dunne: What assurances can the Prime Minister give the residents of Levin, Kūmara, and Karamea that their drinking-water supplies will be safe, when the Department of Conservation, the West Coast Regional Council, and the Animal Health Board have aerial 1080 poison drops targeted for the water-supply catchments of all three towns in the very near future?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: My understanding is that every attempt is made to ensure that those drops do not contaminate the water supply. I am aware, of course, that some of those interested in hunting use this issue to try to persuade us that the attempt should not be made to wipe out various forms of pest. I am afraid the Government continues to take a different view on that matter.

Hon Peter Dunne: Is the Prime Minister aware that the Environmental Risk Management Authority somehow considers it safe to aerially dump 1080 poison in a public water catchment area provided that it is not dumped on the supply lake and is more than 100 metres upstream, despite sound scientific evidence that 1080 fails to break down adequately in water at typical July winter temperatures; and does she agree that the risk to public health is therefore far too great for such flagrantly reckless operations to continue at this time?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I do not have the information in front of me to be able to give a direct answer to that question.

Dr Russel Norman: How can the Prime Minister be confident as to the safety of drinking water, and how can she be confident that the national environmental standard will be sufficient when Watercare Services, which has to supply Auckland with safe drinking water, clearly does not have confidence in the national environmental standard because it is currently committing resources to fight for a variation in the Waikato regional plan in order to protect the future of the water supply into Auckland; and is it not time we put in place a moratorium on dairy conversion until we can be sure that our water supplies are safe?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Firstly, the member should have listened more carefully to the primary answer. I did not say the Prime Minister was satisfied with the state of water supplies in New Zealand as they currently are. If the Government was satisfied, it would not be doing the immense amount of work that is under way at the present time. On the second matter, I repeat what I said to him before. As part of the negotiations with Waikato-Tainui over their remaining Treaty issues, an enormous amount of work is also going on in both negotiations and background work for a long-term plan for the better administration and clean-up of the Waikato River. What that will lead to in terms of some changes in farming practice is yet to be seen, but the member will have to learn that these matters have to be discussed with iwi interests as well. If they were not, then the Government would certainly end up before the tribunal or in the courts.

Dr Russel Norman: Why does she have confidence, when Shane Cunis, the Watercare Services southern area water supply superintendent, stated in a submission that discharges from just one industrial dairy development in the Waikato catchment involving Landcorp could mean “the nitrate increase and increased risk of protozoa would cause a decline in water quality”, and “If irrigation was allowed for this one project, summer low flows in the Waikato would reduce by a further 13 percent and river nutrient concentrations could go up by 120 percent.”?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The Prime Minister does have confidence in the enormous amount of work being done by Ministers with responsibility in this area. Let me refer the member to one more major Government initiative: the $700 million – plus, and eventually $2 billion, Fast Forward fund. One of its major purposes is to address issues of sustainable farming practices. This country depends very substantially on farm product exports. We have to find a way of making farming sustainable, not a way of closing down farming.

Dr Russel Norman: Does the Prime Minister continue to have confidence in the protection of drinking-water supplies, when Watercare Services’ submission on an application by a Landcorp partnership for a dairy conversion in the Waikato warned that it would result in more algal blooms and algal impact, which would have an impact on the production of safe water—which is obviously Watercare Services’ concern—because it would clog water intake screens, increase coagulant demand, foul filters, increase chlorine demand, produce unpleasant taste, odours, and toxins; and—

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. The reason why you are hearing a rising tempo in the House is that this is not a question any more; it is becoming a speech.

Madam SPEAKER: I draw the member’s attention to the fact that questions and answers should be succinct. We do strive to ensure that that is the case, so I ask the member to please summarise his question.

Dr Russel Norman: The summary of the question to the Prime Minister is: why does she continue to have confidence, when Watercare Services itself has said that all of those nutrients flowing into the river are increasing the algal blooms and making it much more difficult for Watercare Services to supply Auckland, particularly into the future, with clean, safe water—which I appreciate has to take place at the same time as maintaining farm production?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I refer again to my primary answer, from which the member continues to draw a false conclusion to base his pre-written supplementary questions on. In terms of the particular matter that he was referring to and the submission that he made on behalf of Watercare Services, this is clearly a matter for a planning consent that will be considered by the appropriate authorities. This Government has faith in the planning processes, rather than trying in Parliament to pre-empt by prime ministerial fiat those consent processes.

/NR/rdonlyres/551C3F92-52F1-4673-87F4-870C9EC73A96/86347/48HansQ_20080703_00000173_.pdfFull transcript of Questions for Oral Answer for Thursday, 03 July 2008 [PDF 212k]

3. Road-user Charges—Increases

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

3. Hon MAURICE WILLIAMSON (National—Pakuranga) to the Minister of Transport: Did she, following last year’s increases in road-user charges, give Road Transport Forum NZ an assurance that operators would be given a month’s notice of any such increases in the future?

Hon HARRY DUYNHOVEN (Minister for Transport Safety) on behalf of the Minister of Transport: No such assurance was given. The Minister wrote to the Road Transport Forum in April, and again in July 2007, acknowledging the concern of the forum that notice needed to be given of any increase in road-user charges. The July letter noted that officials were working with the forum to investigate ways of increasing the notice of increases in road-user charges while not adversely impacting on revenue. No specific assurance was given as to the nature or timing of any particular measure. Officials subsequently indicated to the forum that the Minister had agreed that an appropriate amendment would be included in a bill being prepared to amend the Road User Charges Act of 1977. Again, no assurance was given as to any change or the timing of that change.

Hon Maurice Williamson: Why does the Minister continue to deny that such an assurance was given to the Road Transport Forum, when an email sent to the chief executive of the forum from the Ministry of Transport on 5 September 2007 said: “I have outlined a proposed solution that the Minister has indicated should be included in an RUC amendment bill to be introduced to the House later this year. The proposed amendment to the RUC Act would mean that 1 month’s notice could be given for any increases in the RUC in future.”?

Hon HARRY DUYNHOVEN: The quote given by the member is quite correct, but he has failed to acknowledge that no assurance was given on timing, or on when, indeed, the change would be put in place. [Interruption] If the members listened to the answer, that would help. The Minister’s response to Mr Friedlander, a former National Minister, will be tabled shortly, if approval is given by the Opposition.

Darien Fenton: What reports has the Minister seen on the road-user charges increase?

Hon HARRY DUYNHOVEN: I have seen a press release issued by the Hon Maurice Williamson in which he says “The increase is estimated to push up the costs of running a 20-tonne truck by more than $56,000 a year.” I am advised that in order for that figure to be even remotely possible, the most common type of 20-tonne truck would need to travel at an average of, wait for it, 330 kilometres per hour—that is, over 200 miles an hour—24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. What utter twaddle!

Hon Maurice Williamson: Why does the Minister of Transport continue to deny that such an assurance was given to the Road Transport Forum, when she actually received a letter from its chief executive, dated 21 September 2007, stating: “The Ministry of Transport has now advised us that you have agreed to a solution being included in an RUC amendment bill to be introduced to the House later this year. My board have asked me to write to you to thank you for listening to our concerns that I raised with you on behalf of our members, and thank you for the steps that you and your officials are taking to address them.”?

Hon HARRY DUYNHOVEN: In response, I shall quote from the reply of the Minister of Transport to that letter: “You will be aware, as I am, that had the Government provided further notice of the increases, there would have been a significant amount of pre-purchasing of road-user charges at the old RUC rates. This large-scale pre-purchasing would have defeated the purpose of the increase. I understand my officials have informed you that, as it stood, an additional $18 million of road-user charges was purchased on Friday”—during the 2-day period between the announcement and the effect’’—when the last increase was put in place, as compared with the Friday of the previous week.” This is about hypothecation; it is actually about the amount of moneys going to roading. Maurice Williamson voted against hypothecation. National wants to be on both sides of the issue: it wants to argue one way to the road-user community—the truckies—and it wants to argue the other way to the taxpayer.

Hon Maurice Williamson: Why should anyone believe that the Minister ever intended to implement the 1-month expiry criterion for road-user charges, when it was actually her own Labour Government that repealed such a provision in the Act, back in March 2002? In other words, it was there, Labour took it out, and now Labour is giving some sort of false promise that it will put it back.

Hon HARRY DUYNHOVEN: The member, clearly, either missed the point or did not understand it. In the notice period of 2 days given for the last road-user charge increase—which, by the way, was the only road-user charge increase to date in the last 20 years—over $18 million of road-user charges were pre-bought. In other words, other road users subsidised the trucking industry, as we have done for years. The other thing worth looking at is the amount of evasion of road-user charges going on in the trucking industry, but I do not expect that the National Party would ever support concern about that.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Why is the Minister troubling the country with this policy, when the alternative is to have every road in this country run by four private companies, as was proposed in the Jim McClay report to the National Party that was adopted by Maurice Williamson when he was Minister of Transport, and as was proposed to a local body conference in Queenstown when he was last Minister?

Hon HARRY DUYNHOVEN: Yes, it is well known that the National Party is wildly in favour of privatisation. But let us look at what has happened to roading. Total Government investment in roading is forecast to be $3.1 billion in 2008-09, compared with an investment of just over $1 billion in the last year of the National Government’s administration of the country. We have invested three times the amount, the money to pay for it has to come from somewhere, and the trucking industry should pay its share in the same way that road users who use petrol pay their share.

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: Does the Minister find it ironic that early this afternoon Mr English was calling for continued taxpayer subsidies of a private rail operator, and Mr Williamson is now calling for taxpayer subsidies of heavy-truck operators; does he recognise a taxpayer-funded money-go-round when he sees it?

Hon HARRY DUYNHOVEN: There is a very old National Party dictum that goes something like “privatise the profits and socialise the losses”. Certainly, in the case of National Party members, what they are about is subsidising their mates.

Hon Maurice Williamson: Does the Minister of Transport have any appreciation at all of just how much financial strain the road transport sector is under at present because of skyrocketing fuel costs; did she not think that now would be the very worst time to hit the industry with what some operators could call a killer punch, or does she just not really care?

Hon HARRY DUYNHOVEN: I cannot put my finger on the direct percentages right now, but—

Hon Member: Why not?

Hon HARRY DUYNHOVEN: —if I am given a moment, I will—the increase will amount to something in the order of 1 percent of the operating costs of the trucking industry. The increase in fuel charges is vastly in excess of that; this increase is a relatively small impost compared with the increase in fuel charges, as the member himself has admitted. Road users who use petrol have had a vast increase in costs. Road-user charges are something like 8 percent of the operating costs of the trucking industry; the increase will be about 1 percent of the costs.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Why did the Minister not have regard to the fact that we need international stabilisation of fuel prices over the short term, before imposing such artificial costs now, which will exacerbate a current and possibly short-term problem?

Hon HARRY DUYNHOVEN: The Minister is right; there are a number of costs that we could consider in terms of running all the roading, automotive, and transport structures in New Zealand. One of those costs is relicensing fees. To give just one example, the cost of relicensing a car in New Zealand is around $200; in most states in Australia the cost is more than $700. The same applies to the trucking industry in terms of licensing costs for heavy motor vehicles. That makes a huge difference, in terms of base costs, before 1 tonne of freight is carried for 1 kilometre, let alone fuel costs. New Zealand has the fifth-lowest fuel costs in the OECD.

Hon Maurice Williamson: Does the Minister not think there is a real conflict of interest here, when on the very day that the Government becomes the owner of the competing mode of land transport—namely, KiwiRail—it socks the road transport industry with a massive increase in Government charges? What is next: a return to the 40-mile limit on the carriage of goods by trucks, or maybe the buying out of trucking companies as well as the ferries, the airline, and the railways?

Hon HARRY DUYNHOVEN: The member is quite right; it was coincidentally on the same day. That is due to the fact that 30 June happens to be the end of the financial year. On the same day, road-user charges were also announced, as was the National Land Transport Programme, which included the State highways forecast—a record $2.7 billion for the development of the New Zealand transport network. The programme more than doubles the 11 percent increase in funding for roading, and provides 24 percent more funding for public transport than was provided last year. Currently, we have increased the amount of money spent on public transport 15 times. I think we are doing really well.

Hon Maurice Williamson: I seek leave to table four documents. The first is an email from the Ministry of Transport saying the amendment would be made last year.

 Leave granted.

Hon Maurice Williamson: The second document that I seek leave to table is a letter from Tony Friedlander to Annette King, thanking her for introducing the amendment last year.

 Leave granted.

Hon Maurice Williamson: The third document that I seek leave to table is a press release from the Road Transport Forum calling the Minister’s action over the increases a deliberate deception.

Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is objection. If members object, would they please shout it out.

Hon Maurice Williamson: The fourth document that I seek leave to table is an amendment made to the Act back in March of 2005 that removed the 1-month notification.

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

Hon HARRY DUYNHOVEN: I also seek the leave of the House to table four documents. The first two are letters from the Minister of Transport to the Road Transport Forum’s Mr Tony Friedlander on the topic of road-user charges

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

Hon Maurice Williamson: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I think the Minister needs to give an indication of the date of those letters.

Hon HARRY DUYNHOVEN: I am very happy to do that—10 April 2007 and 9 July 2007

 Leave granted.

Hon HARRY DUYNHOVEN: The next item that I seek leave to table is a report from Brian Rudman seeking any evidence that the National Party and Maurice Williamson have any ideas at all.

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

Hon HARRY DUYNHOVEN: The last document that I seek leave to table is a statement from Maurice Williamson dated 2 July—yesterday—where he outlines how a 20-tonne truck would incur $56,000—

 Leave granted.

/NR/rdonlyres/E0A23F39-9024-40DF-A671-92DCE736B30F/86349/48HansQ_20080703_00000255_.pdfFull transcript of Questions for Oral Answer for Thursday, 03 July 2008 [PDF 212k]

4. New Zealand Fast Forward—Implementation

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

4. Dr ASHRAF CHOUDHARY (Labour) to the Minister of Agriculture: What further steps are being taken to implement the New Zealand Fast Forward initiative?

Hon JIM ANDERTON (Minister of Agriculture) : This morning I signed a heads of agreement with six cornerstone investor groups—Dairy New Zealand, Fonterra, Meat and Wool New Zealand, the Meat Industry Association, PGG Wrightson, and Zespri. Aquaculture New Zealand and the Foundation for Arable Research also made public commitments to contribute to the New Zealand Fast Forward initiative. This is a unique partnership between Government and industry focused on innovation in the pastoral, food, and related industry sectors. It covers dairy, horticulture, meat, and seafood, and it is the single largest boost to innovation in New Zealand history. The Government has made its contribution, and with today’s signing I am delighted to see the private sector moving to match it.

Dr Ashraf Choudhary: Has the Minister seen any reports of a sector group that will not sign up to the Fast Forward initiative?

Hon JIM ANDERTON: I have not seen any credible sector that is opposed to the fund. Those who are putting their own matching funds into New Zealand Fast Forward include, as I have indicated, Dairy New Zealand, Meat and Wool New Zealand, the Meat Industry Association, Aquaculture New Zealand, Zespri, Fonterra, and PGG Wrightson. There is one group, however, that wants it axed—the National Party sector group. The entire primary sector is evidently wrong! National has a better idea—it is promising to axe the fund; it wants to gallop backwards to the failed policies of the past. Wherever I go in New Zealand our primary sector industries are astonished to find that the National Party is opposed to innovation and is acting to undermine our primary sector industries.

Dr Ashraf Choudhary: What difference will New Zealand Fast Forward make to New Zealand’s primary industries?

Hon JIM ANDERTON: New Zealand Fast Forward will help achieve a step change in our performance among the industries that form the backbone of our economy. For example, Fonterra Chief Executive Andrew Ferrier said today that the New Zealand Fast Forward fund will enable New Zealand to build on our competitive advantage in agriculture and food production, and complement the current investment in primary sector research. Meat Industry Association Chief Executive Tim Ritchie said that New Zealand pastoral sectors have a long history of world-leading innovation, and he went on to say that “The Fast Forward initiative will make a significant contribution to ensuring that this continues, and thereby growing New Zealand's international competitiveness.” We wonder when the National Party will find out anything about those comments. It does not understand.

/NR/rdonlyres/7EAC1105-5866-4264-B517-7968143093B2/86351/48HansQ_20080703_00000374_.pdfFull transcript of Questions for Oral Answer for Thursday, 03 July 2008 [PDF 212k]

5. Maternity Services, Wellington—Review

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

5. Hon TONY RYALL (National—Bay of Plenty) to the Minister of Health: What matters contributed to the decision to undertake an independent review of maternity services in Wellington?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE (Minister of Health) : A recent case at Capital and Coast District Health Board involving an independent midwife was brought to my attention. I was concerned that the district health board’s ability to investigate may be limited because it was not the midwife’s employer. I have asked for the review because I want the specialist review team to look at the interface between the district health board and independent providers, and report to me on whether there are issues that require action in order to ensure public safety and confidence.

Hon Tony Ryall: Why did the Government reject the November 2005 recommendation of the Wellington Coroner that there be an independent review of maternity services following the deaths of two babies in Wellington, and also reject a call for an independent review following the Health and Disability Commissioner’s recommendations for stricter midwifery supervision in hospitals—one of the key failures behind the latest tragedy?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: I do not believe that the key issue unaccounted for in this latest case is that of internal hospital procedures, but I am particularly interested to have regard to the interface between independent and hospital-based midwifery.

Barbara Stewart: Is it true that although Capital and Coast District Health Board investigates all unexpected baby deaths in its facilities, the participation of self-employed lead maternity carers in these reviews is voluntary, and not all practitioners choose to participate; if so, why is such an absence of accountability considered acceptable?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: I am advised that lead maternity carers cooperate actively with the district health board. However, I concur with the member that it is essential that accountability arrangements are rigorous, and this will be covered in the current review.

Hon Tony Ryall: If the Government had acted on the recommendations of the Wellington Coroner, instead of rejecting them, could not this latest tragedy have been avoided?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: What the public will not be able to see is any reference to maternity services in the National Party’s discussion document on health, nor will they be able to find any reference to maternity policy in any National Party document because one has not yet been published. I think that in a case as heartfelt sad as this it is important for us all to focus on solutions rather than politics. [Interruption]

Madam SPEAKER: I do not think the Minister addressed the question. Could he please address the question. Does the member want to ask the question again?

Hon Tony Ryall: If the Government had acted on the recommendations of the Wellington Coroner instead of rejecting them, could not this latest tragedy have been avoided?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: I think it would be as well for all members of the House not to pre-empt the findings of three case-specific reviews currently under way in respect of that case, all of which involve quite proper natural justice processes. I am advised that the Health and Disability Commissioner is investigating, the coroner is involved, and there will, of course, be a serious and sentinel events review by the district health board. I think we should all extend our sympathy to the family, for whom no words can adequately address the suffering they feel, and wait for the facts to come out in the proper way through those processes.

Hon Tony Ryall: What is the Minister doing now that could not have been done after the recommendations of the Wellington Coroner’s report; and, if the Government had acted then on the widespread concern about New Zealand’s maternity services, could not that baby be alive today?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: This Minister acted immediately he received the email from Dr Moala by ringing the doctor and finding out whether there was anything that could be done to help the family, and what the circumstances of that family were. That was a very difficult and moving phone call. I would respectfully contrast that with the actions of the National Party, which received the same email but did not contact either the family or the doctor—

Bob Clarkson: How do you know that?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: —because the doctor told me—but instead, without the permission of the family, leaked the email to the media, in breach of the family’s right to privacy. I think that is one of the saddest and most craven political acts I have seen in my time in this House.

Hon Tony Ryall: Why will no one in the Government take responsibility for the fact that Ministers opposite failed to act on the recommendation of the Wellington Coroner, and if the Government had acted on the recommendations, then this latest tragedy may not have occurred?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: As I have explained to the member, it is too soon to know whether there could be any possible connection between the recommendations of reports of previous years and this case, because we do not have access to the three case reviews that are currently under way on the facts of this case. Now, if it turns out that there are lessons to be drawn directly from those, I give the member and the family my personal assurance that that action will be taken.

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6. Accident Compensation Scheme—Changes

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

6. Hon MARK GOSCHE (Labour—Maungakiekie) to the Minister for ACC: What reports has she received on possible changes to the accident compensation scheme?

Hon PHIL GOFF (Minister of Defence) on behalf of the Minister for ACC: The Minister has seen a report that, following questions in the House yesterday, the National Party was forced to admit that it was planning to open up the accident compensation scheme to private competition, a euphemism for privatisation. She has also seen reports from media, such as Radio Live and Morning Report,that National members have continued to refuse to front up and be open about what their intentions actually are. That is, no doubt, because of Crosby/Textor’s advice that although Australian insurance businesses might like that policy, the New Zealand public certainly will not. She has also seen reports in the that New Zealand business—as against Australian business—reactions to National’s proposals are “surprisingly unenthusiastic”.

Hon Mark Gosche: What other reports has the Minister received on reactions to the idea of accident compensation being opened up to private competition?

Hon PHIL GOFF: There has been a range of reports, almost all of them negative, about National’s proposed privatisation. For example, the convenor of the New Zealand Law Society’s accident compensation committee, Don Rennie, on Breakfast this morning said that the proposal would be bad for accident victims and bad for employers. He asked the very good question, which National should answer, of where, if it is bad for accident victims and bad for employers, the drive is coming from. Another lawyer, John Miller, who specialises in accident compensation claims, says that National’s plans to restructure the system are “a potential disaster waiting to happen”.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Why should New Zealanders struggling to pay their fuel bills, their power bills, and their food bills believe this Government has any idea of the budgetary pressures they are facing when the Government has just increased the accident compensation levy on petrol by 2c a litre, amounting to a 40 percent increase or an extra cost in position of $120 million per year; and how does the Government justify increasing the accident compensation levy on petrol from 2.3c a litre in 2003 to 9.3c a litre today?

Hon PHIL GOFF: The average New Zealander is a bit brighter than the member asking the question. New Zealanders have travelled across the Tasman, and they know that the levies across the Tasman for the very system National is proposing to adopt are two to three times the level of levies in New Zealand.

Hon Mark Gosche: Can the Minister elaborate on comments made by John Miller as to why such proposals would be a disaster?

Hon PHIL GOFF: He makes a lot of points, and I refer to just three of them. The first point he makes is the obvious one—that insurances companies are out to make a profit; that is their bottom line. He says they want to get that money back to Australia to the shareholders, and the quickest way to get the money back is, of course, to reduce the claims that are accepted. He says that they are interested in the quick and the dirty, getting people off the scheme. Now, that is good for the insurance companies, but very bad for the victims. Secondly, he makes the point that I have just made, that the Australian experience has been that the costs are much higher than in New Zealand. Thirdly, he says that he does not believe that the National Party’s system would result in costs going down, but rather going up. He says that while big business might do well out of it, the small businesses—the painters, the carpenters, the motor mechanics, etc—are the ones who will find themselves hard hit by the premiums. So I tell Dr Nick Smith that if he is worried about costs, he should listen to what the experts say. They say that National’s cost structures would be that much higher to the consumers and that much worse for the victims.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: I seek leave to table the accident compensation levy orders showing that they have increased from 2.3c per litre of gas in 2003 to 9.3c per litre today.

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

Hon PHIL GOFF: There is another report I should have mentioned so I will seek leave to table it. It is from Alan Clayton, an Australian compensation analyst, who said that under the National Party’s proposal we would totally lose the range of synergies across various accounts, and that would add to our costs.

Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is no objection. [Interruption] There is objection. If members are going to object, could they do it quickly, please. I know that sometimes members need to consider, but it does help.

/NR/rdonlyres/87BE9357-E04C-4FC1-BA7D-D1F44729D8CD/86355/48HansQ_20080703_00000484_.pdfFull transcript of Questions for Oral Answer for Thursday, 03 July 2008 [PDF 212k]

7. Family Violence—Reporting

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

7. SIMON POWER (National—Rangitikei) to the Minister of Justice: Does she stand by her statement that “I think family violence is being reported more often because people feel more confident to come forward and report it.”?

Hon PHIL GOFF (Minister of Defence) on behalf of the Minister of Justice: Yes, because of the reported increase of 6,000 offences in the violence category in 2007, 5,800 were family violence offences. Many of these would not have been reported but for domestic violence awareness campaigns such as the very successful It’s Not OK and the increased funding that the Government is putting into both agencies and voluntary sector support for victims.

Simon Power: What confidence can victims of family violence have in reporting, when an evaluation of family safety teams, the Government’s flagship policy for responding to family violence by getting agencies to work together and share information, has found that they are struggling, precisely because the agencies involved will not collaborate or share information?

Hon PHIL GOFF: The member, both in his press release exclusively to the Dominion-Post and therefore its misleading headline, and what he said today, does not reflect accurately what the report states. I will quote from the conclusion of the report; this was a report a year into the implementation—it is what is called a formative report: “All three Teams had achieved some early progress, but they had encountered some difficulties.”; again, “Such challenges are not unexpected when implementing inter-agency collaborations.”; and, thirdly, “The National Steering Committee … has since developed measures to provide greater support to the Teams.”

Louisa Wall: Kia ora, Madam Speaker, tēnātātou katoa. What feedback has the Minister had from non-Government agencies closely involved with victims of domestic violence about the progress and direction of the Government’s policies on domestic violence?

Hon PHIL GOFF: Contrary to what the Opposition spokesperson suggests, there has been very positive feedback from people who are actually trying to work to resolve the problem, as opposed to those simply trying to make political capital out of it. Let me quote Heather Hēnare, head of Women’s Refuge, for example. She said that there is enormous support for the initiative that the member tried to rubbish in his comments, and she said that she welcomes the collaboration between agencies, and she said that she is very happy with the direction of the initiative. Heather Hēnare should know; she works in the area trying to improve the situation, rather than the member Mr Power who simply tries to exploit it.

Simon Power: Does the Minister stand by the statement of her predecessor, the Hon Phil Goff, in launching the family safety team pilot on 18 July 2005, when he stated: “a lack of co-ordination and information sharing between agencies has been identified as a critical factor in high-profile domestic deaths … such as those of James Whakaruru and Saliel Aplin and Olympia Jetson.”; if so, does not the same lack collaboration outlined in this evaluation show that this policy is not getting off to the start that the Government thought it would?

Hon PHIL GOFF: To answer the two questions: firstly, the Hon Annette King always stands behind what Phil Goff, whom she deeply admires, has said. The second answer is that the very reason that family safety teams were set up was that there was a problem with a lack of collaboration. In a formative evaluation, the ministry found at the start of the programme that that problem was still there. It has since addressed those problems and it reports that there has been very significant and positive progress.

Te Ururoa Flavell: Tēnā koe, Madam Speaker; kia ora tātou. Does the Minister agree with the Minister of Māori Affairs in his speech about a Māori response to family violence in August 2007, which ended: “Let’s invest the same energy into this critically important kaupapa as what we invest in economic development.”, and what was the scale of investment in the 2008 Budget in the critically important area of kaupapa family violence?

Hon PHIL GOFF: The two things are not inconsistent. They are, in fact, complementary. We need economic development; that takes economic pressure off people. That is why I am very proud that this Government has achieved the highest levels of economic development and growth of any New Zealand Government in the last 30 years. Secondly, I am also proud of this Government because it has invested in this area, as the member knows, and in the very programmes where the Opposition is now complaining about our advances on what used to be done, or rather, what was not done, in the past, when National had the opportunity and did nothing.

Simon Power: Can the Minister confirm, despite her alleged deep admiration for the Hon Phil Goff, that the 227-page independent evaluation of family safety teams was actually completed on 31 August 2006, but was only released publicly nearly 2 years later, after the ministry added a 12-page summary and only after an Official Information Act request from National; and would this report have remained “an internal working document” if it had not been so critical of Government policy?

Hon PHIL GOFF: To the last question, the answer is absolutely yes. It was, if the member had chosen to listen before, a formative evaluative report done right at the start of the project, so that one could work out what the teething problems would be and address them. That was produced for internal consumption. It was, of course, made available under the Official Information Act, and the member would have done well to quote accurately, fully, and in context from it, instead of trying to make political capital out of it.

Simon Power: Can she confirm that the evaluation into family safety teams found that one of the biggest problems was turnover of members from the agencies involved, as well as the delays in replacing vacant positions; if so, can she confirm that things have not improved since then, when, a year after the evaluation, one-fifth of the positions on the family safety teams were vacant and some were vacant for as long 6 months—if the Minister wants to talk about accuracy?

Hon PHIL GOFF: Yes, I can confirm that, and I can confirm it for two reasons. This country has had the tightest labour market that it has had in 28 years. That affects all of my portfolios with a higher level of turnover and a level of vacancies. I can also confirm that the people who work in this area—and in the area of corrections, for example—do a very difficult job in trying circumstances, and it would be better if that member were to try for a moment to support them instead of constantly slandering them in the efforts that they are making while he simply tries to make political capital out of those efforts.

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8. Schools—Limited Speed Zones

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

8. Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First) to the Minister of Transport: Does she stand by her statement that “In terms of relative transport priorities, ‘switching on’ safety around schools must be right up there at the top of any list.”; if so, is she prepared to promote or support legislation to make it easier for local authorities to implement speed zones around schools in the interests of child and general pedestrian safety?

Hon HARRY DUYNHOVEN (Minister for Transport Safety) on behalf of the Minister of Transport: Yes. Safety around schools is very important. Legislation passed in 2003 already allows for lower speed limits around schools. Over 70 schools now have 40-kilometre-per-hour variable speed limits installed, and local authorities are considering further applications. In fact, Land Transport New Zealand has developed guidelines to assist local authorities, following a year 2000 trial in Christchurch to implement these variable speed limits in school zones, and elsewhere around the country there are over 50 such zones in place. The Government obviously supports such initiatives.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Can I ask the Minister whether, despite what the Hon Harry Duynhoven has just said, she finds it acceptable that the Tauranga City Council has introduced a by-law to lower the speed outside schools, which is supported by Western Bay of Plenty police traffic chief Senior Sergeant Ian Campion, yet there still remains a potential risk that Land Transport New Zealand will not support the by-law; and can she assure the House that Land Transport New Zealand does its utmost to support local authorities when they request such changes to be made?

Hon HARRY DUYNHOVEN: I have experience in my own electorate of just such a situation occurring. In that case, after discussion between Land Transport New Zealand, Transit in that case, and the local district council, a decision was reached where the speed limit would be lowered around schools. This matter is regularly reviewed, especially on heavy traffic roads and, I think, every 2 years or so on main routes. Land Transport New Zealand works very cooperatively with local authorities to try to arrive at the safest solution that is consistent with not impeding traffic flows.

Peter Brown: Does the Minister believe that speed zones around all schools should be better advertised, so that they are more readily understood and, as such, become part of the national road safety programme; if so, can the Minister advise what is happening in that direction?

Hon HARRY DUYNHOVEN: A number of initiatives are taking place around schools. I am sure the member will be aware that since February last year, the police have strictly enforced the speed limits within 250 metres of each side of a school’s boundary. That means that if someone drives past a school at more than 50 kilometres per hour, that person will be ticketed. This reflects the Government’s view that speeds around schools are a major public health and safety issue, and school principals have appeared in Land Transport advertising promotions on television, etc. to talk about why speeds around schools need to be reduced.

Sue Moroney: What reports has the Minister seen on the Government’s commitment to safety around schools?

Hon HARRY DUYNHOVEN: There have been a number of reports, but one that I have just received is a letter from councillor Dave MacPherson of Hamilton, advising me of the overwhelming support for the initiatives we have taken to reduce speed to 40 kilometres per hour around schools in Hamilton City. I know that the Minister was a great advocate of that initiative and officiated when the first installation of variable speed signs around schools went live in that city.

Peter Brown: What are Transit’s criteria for decreasing speed limits near schools on State highways, and does the Minister find it acceptable that a long-time campaigner for lower speeds outside Tauriko School was told by a Transit official last year, regarding speed limits, that it would not make a difference even if a child was killed outside the school; and if Transit’s decisions are not influenced by children being killed, what the dickens does influence them?

Hon HARRY DUYNHOVEN: First of all, I find it most regrettable and unacceptable that an official would make such a comment. I want to state that right at the beginning. Transit does have a number of criteria, including, of course, the volume of traffic, the number of vehicles per hour, speeds, etc., and the type of environment in which the school is situated. One of the things that has been done around the country is that for schools in situations where their pupils may be at risk from traffic, a great deal of effort and money has gone into providing things like off-road parking bays, bus parking places off the highways, etc. We do have a real problem in New Zealand, because in many cases we have relatively lightly travelled country or rural roads—or State highways even—with traffic that drives at 100 kilometres per hour, and we have schools with very young children who come straight out from school and on to the road. That is a huge issue. It does take a lot of managing, and Land Transport New Zealand, the former Transit, and local roading authorities work together to try to arrive at the best and safest solution in each individual circumstance.

/NR/rdonlyres/CC24E2FE-3AFC-418A-80CE-1FCCD502ED50/86359/48HansQ_20080703_00000618_.pdfFull transcript of Questions for Oral Answer for Thursday, 03 July 2008 [PDF 212k]

9. Child Support—Enforcement

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

9. JUDITH COLLINS (National—Clevedon) to the Minister of Revenue: Is he satisfied with the enforcement of child support in New Zealand, given that total child support debt has increased from $380 million in 2000 to over $1.27 billion; if so, why?

Hon PETER DUNNE (Minister of Revenue) : Yes. I believe that the Inland Revenue Department does an excellent job, given the practicalities of the world in which we live. Since the child support scheme was introduced in 1992, the department has collected 88.4 percent of the child support assessed—that is as at 31 March 2008. That collection figure compares more than favourably with the 40.7 percent collection rate achieved before the introduction of the 1992 scheme.

Judith Collins: Is it not true that one-third of the $1.27 billion is owed by parents who have taken off to Australia, and that 8,000 of the 11,000 liable parents in Australia owe more than $5,000 each in child support?

Hon PETER DUNNE: What I can tell the member is that, as at 31 March this year, payments were being collected from over 9,000 liable parents in Australia, and the Inland Revenue Department was collecting from approximately 4,650 Australian liable parents in New Zealand. I can also tell the member that between July 2000 and March 2008 the department collected about $30 million from Australian liable parents, and received $44.5 million from Australia for New Zealand parents. The sum collected from Australia in the year ended 30 June was $20.6 million as opposed to $13.3 million last year. So we are actually collecting more, and we are giving more back to parents and New Zealand children.

Judith Collins: Does he agree with a former Associate Minister of Revenue, David Cunliffe, who said that preventing people with child support debt from leaving the country would be “Draconian”; if so, can he explain why it is OK to interrupt the travel plans of people who have not paid their parking and speeding fines, but applying the same principle to child support debt is Draconian, and, therefore, they can come and go as they please?

Hon PETER DUNNE: The member may well be aware that come September of this year we will have good customs data-matching between Australia and New Zealand in terms of who is coming and going. She might also be interested in the following statistics. In the 9 months ended March of this year, the Inland Revenue Department commenced legal proceedings against 91 liable parents. Of those 91, 40 went to examination before a judge, 46 distress warrants and charging orders were issued over property, there were three arrest warrants, and there were two orders for the sale of property. The member may be worried that only three arrest warrants were issued. That is because, normally, about 80 percent of the parents who are affected decide that it is better to pay up on the spot, rather than go through the process that has been outlined.

Nicky Wagner: Is it true that there are numerous instances of the Inland Revenue Department failing to take action against parents who have taken off to Australia, who fail to pay child support, but who can afford to return to New Zealand for holidays. One of my constituents has spent almost a decade pleading for the department to enforce the child support obligations of the father of her two children, even providing flight details at one point. That father has eight children by five women, and stopped paying child support in 2000, when he moved to Australia to take up a highly paid managerial position. What possible reason can there be for allowing this man to ignore his obligations to his children?

Hon PETER DUNNE: I indicated in response to an earlier supplementary question that over 9,000 cases are currently being pursued in Australia, with liable parents based there paying money back to New Zealand. I would simply make the point to the member—my not having the benefit of the individual details she referred to—that often the information that is provided is incomplete, but where it is able to be followed up it is, and that is evidenced by the fact that last year we collected over $44 million from liable New Zealand parents based in Australia. That figure was up from $13.3 million.

Judith Collins: When total child support debt is over $1.27 billion, and one-third of that debt is owed by people who have taken off to Australia, is it not time to adopt the Australian Child Support Agency’s approach to child support defaulters as outlined in its 2008-10 strategic plan, where it promises to increase the number of its departure prohibition orders from 474 last year to 5,000; is Australia a more Draconian country, or does its Government take child support more seriously than his Government does, which is happy to stop people from leaving who have not paid their parking or speeding fines, but cannot be bothered to stop child support debtors?

Hon PETER DUNNE: I would remind the member that the collection rate over the 15 years that the current scheme has been in place is more than twice the collection rate of the scheme that preceded it. I would also remind her that the level of collection is actually increasing. I would also remind her that the number of liable parents being identified is increasing. The responsibility of ensuring that parents meet their obligations to their children is being taken extremely seriously.

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10. Poverty Reduction—Government Actions

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

10. H V ROSS ROBERTSON (Labour—Manukau East) to the Minister for Social Development and Employment: What reports has she received regarding the Government’s action to reduce poverty in New Zealand?

Hon RUTH DYSON (Minister for Social Development and Employment) : Today I welcomed the Ministry of Social Development’s household incomes report, which shows that, on every measure, child poverty has fallen since 2004. The report’s finding confirms that the Government’s policies, including the Working for Families package, are having a real and positive impact on low-income families. I expect to see further improvement in the household incomes report next year, which will include the impact of the April 2007 increases in family tax credits.

H V Ross Robertson: Can the Minister tell the House what the Government is doing to respond to families struggling as a result of food price increases?

Hon RUTH DYSON: In Budget 2008 the Government responded to rising prices by cutting taxes and bringing forward inflation adjustments to Working for Families tax credits. Today I have announced further action targeted at those most in need. Assistance available through special needs grants for food will be doubled, and the limit will be raised for other emergency special needs grants. I also outlined today the next steps towards a core benefit. The Government will remove the stereotyped language and bureaucracy so that people are treated as individuals rather than as categories. This Government’s focus on supporting those on benefits into paid work continues.

Judith Collins: Is she now saying that there will be a single core benefit for all beneficiaries, and is that the same single core benefit that was first promised by Michael Cullen in 1989 when he was the Minister of Social Welfare, and was re-promised by Steve Maharey in 2002 and again in 2005, and is it the same benefit that she is announcing yet again today, or is it just another desperate attempt to hide the massive increases in the numbers on the sickness benefit and the invalids benefit under her watch?

Hon RUTH DYSON: As the member knows, I did say that phase 2 of the core benefit work would be announced before the middle of the year. I apologise to her that I am 4 days late. What has been announced today is a range of service delivery improvements, including changes to the annual review process, which positively affect over 300,000 clients; a new job-matching tool; building integrated case management into service delivery; establishing additional community link centres, where not just several Government agencies work together but also non-governmental organisations; expansion of the health and rehabilitation services; and changes to the way that Work and Income communicates with its clients.

Te Ururoa Flavell: Kia ora anō tātou. What support will she offer to KidsCan to emphasise how significant the issue of child poverty has become, given that the All Blacks endorse this organisation, which, amongst other things, has handed out 240,000 meals a year to disadvantaged children and 17,000 Adidas raincoats to children in 68 low-decile schools around the country?

Hon RUTH DYSON: I understand the point the member is making. The announcements I have made today do two things. First of all, they show that our overall Government policies have, for the first time since the late 1980s, reversed the trend of the 1990s, which was literally when the rich got richer and the poor got poorer. The household income survey today reverses that trend for the first time since the 1980s, reducing that inequality. Secondly, it also acknowledges the very real need that a number of families are feeling at the moment with regard particularly to increased transport and food costs. That is why those additional supports are being released.

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11. Education, Ministry—School Properties

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

11. ANNE TOLLEY (National—East Coast) to the Minister of Education: Is he satisfied that the Ministry of Education is managing school properties well; if so, why?

Hon CHRIS CARTER (Minister of Education) : Generally, yes; but, as the House heard yesterday, there are examples where the Ministry of Education should have done better. I have directed that the property issues brought to my attention this week be fixed with speed. The ministry is reviewing how it manages the school property portfolio, and I am assured that the Secretary for Education is taking a very close interest in this matter.

Anne Tolley: Is the lesson to be learnt from the experience of Tiaho Primary School in Wairoa that if schools have problems with sewage, no heating in classrooms, leaking buildings, and stench-ridden toilets, they should not spend time filling out three property plans, they should not spend $24,000 on consultants, and they should not go to 25 meetings with Ministry of Education officials; instead, they should go to Close Up, because then they will get action overnight from the Minister?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: No. The lesson to be learnt from the experience of that school is that this Government has put over $3 billion extra into school property, is absolutely committed to a first-class education system, is passionate about education, has invested—

Hon Bill English: Wassup!

Hon CHRIS CARTER: I have just been asked what is up. I will tell the House what is up. This Government has put $5 billion extra into education.

Jill Pettis: Can the Minister further outline to the House what investment the Labour-led Government has put into school property?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: I am delighted to tell the House that we have put in a great deal. Since 2001, we have allocated $3.3 billion to schools to upgrade and maintain property, and to build new schools and classrooms. These projects include $18 million for Porirua College for its rebuild, and $31.5 million for the brand new Albany Junior High School. In stark contrast, National’s education spokesperson, Anne Tolley, recently told 200 primary school principals in Auckland that National would not put any more money into education. What she forgot to tell them was that Mr Key has already promised to double the funding for private schools, which educate just 6 percent of our students.

Anne Tolley: Did the Minister ring up the Ministry of Education after watching Television One last night, which showed a Papamoa school that also has leaky buildings; and can he tell the House why, for the second night in a row, he did not front up to explain to the public why his ministry has failed to provide the very basic requirements of classrooms where children are learning rather than shivering and school-grounds where they are not having to dodge sewage?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: What I can tell the House about is a very interesting conversation with the principal of the school at Papamoa. He said he was really embarrassed about last night’s programme. He had not gone to the media, but, funnily enough, Tony Ryall and Bob Clarkson, who had visited the school a week before, did.

Chris Tremain: Will the Minister be ringing the Ministry of Education to ask it to explain why Napier Intermediate School, whose toilet blocks are in such a bad condition that young girls will not go near them, and whose classrooms are so old that they are falling apart, has to continually butt heads against the wall of education bureaucracy, without making any progress; does Napier Intermediate School need to go on television, too, before it will get acceptable toilet and classroom facilities?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: What I can tell the House is that last week I visited Napier Intermediate School. I looked at the facilities that the member has raised, and I am confident that the school is in for a major upgrade.

Jo Goodhew: Will the Minister be ringing up the Ministry of Education and telling it to action the Waitaki Valley School rebuild programme, which was promised 4½ years ago when his colleague Trevor Mallard went around brutally closing and merging schools, but which has seen no progress since then; should the school contact a television station to get the rebuild started?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: I can assure that school, along with every other school in New Zealand, that $3.3 billion has been committed to repairing and expanding schools, and a total of $5 billion extra has gone into education. We are a Government that is proud to support education. I did not tell 200 primary school principals in Auckland last week that my party would not put any more money into education; that is what Anne Tolley told them.

Dail Jones: What action has been taken in respect of Albany Senior High School by the local member of Parliament over the last 6 years, bearing in mind that this school has been planned for a long time, and, despite the failure on the part of the local member—who I understand is Mr John Key—to deal with the Minister—

Madam SPEAKER: Would the member please just ask his question.

Dail Jones: —we now have a situation where senior high school children are housed in prefabs on the old site, and we are running the risk of the new school never being built and young children and their parents being totally disillusioned by the lack of work on the part of—

Madam SPEAKER: The member will please be seated. The member was testing not only my patience but that of every member in the House. Members know that they do not make speeches. If they want to ask supplementary questions, they should think about them before they stand.

Dail Jones: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I was asking a supplementary question. Supplementary questions tend to be heard in a degree of silence. I was being totally put off my effort to point out the failure of John Key to do anything in this area. If the members from the National Party had not raised a continual barrage of noise, I would have been in a much better position to ask my question. I ask you to protect members who are subjected to such barrages when supplementary—

Madam SPEAKER: The member goes on too much.

Hon CHRIS CARTER: I cannot comment on what the local member has done, but I can say that I have met with parents, and I have had extensive dealings with Albany Junior High School. We are working closely with the North Shore City Council and the Auckland Regional Council to work through the consent process. We have set aside over $70 million to have the project completed. The Labour-led Government is committed to resourcing education. It has set aside over $70 million for Albany Senior High School. That shows our commitment to education in this country.

Gerry Brownlee: Can the Minister confirm that John Key has made representations to him, has worked with the local community constructively, and has been joined by his colleague the Hon Murray McCully in trying to get a reasonable outcome in the case of Albany Senior High School?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: I cannot comment on what engagement has taken place locally, but I can confirm that I have had a discussion with Mr McCully and Mr Key, on one occasion, over this issue.

Jo Goodhew: I seek leave to table a report of 6 December 2006 stating the view of a Labour Party spokesman that the Waitaki Valley School had a way forward and was already sorted—

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

/NR/rdonlyres/D05C2A0F-6CA9-4672-BE60-FB4427C7B1EB/86365/48HansQ_20080703_00000767_.pdfFull transcript of Questions for Oral Answer for Thursday, 03 July 2008 [PDF 212k]

12. Immigration, Minister—Mary Anne Thompson

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

12. Dr the Hon LOCKWOOD SMITH (National—Rodney) to the Minister of Immigration: When was a Minister of Immigration first made aware that Mary Anne Thompson was the staff member at the centre of an investigation into unlawful decision-making in the Immigration Service?

Hon SHANE JONES (Acting Minister of Immigration) :I am advised that the former Minister of Immigration was briefed in April 2007 about a situation where Mary Anne Thompson’s family members had obtained residence in circumstances that appeared irregular.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: Just to get this clear, was the Minister of Immigration at the time, David Cunliffe, told that the inquiry involved the head of the Immigration Service, Mary Anne Thompson?

Hon SHANE JONES: I repeat the answer I have been given—

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Answer the question.

Hon SHANE JONES: Mr Smith, just because puku is sitting next to cuckoo, calm down! On behalf of the Minister—

Madam SPEAKER: No—would the Minister please be seated. That is unacceptable. That is just unacceptable. I know that interjections do provoke a response and then we get disorder, which is exactly what happened. So I will ask all members to restrain themselves. The Hon Shane Jones will please just address the question. [Interruption]

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. You brought the Minister to order and warned him, and immediately one or two members, somewhat humorously referred to, have interjected before the Minister has had a chance to respond.

Madam SPEAKER: Yes. Obviously, if the members could reflect on what I said, that would be greatly appreciated.

Hon SHANE JONES: I repeat the answer that I have been given for the House: in April 2007 the former Minister of Immigration was briefed about a situation in which Mary Anne Thompson’s family members had obtained residence in circumstances that looked irregular.

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I wonder whether you would please reflect on the answer just given by the Minister, where he said: “I repeat the answer that I have been given for the House”. He is speaking today as if he were the Minister of Immigration, and therefore he should not be able to preface an answer he gives so as to indicate it may not be the right answer. Clearly, if he says this today, it stands as the words of the Minister of Immigration, given to the House.

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: It must come as a terrible shock to members opposite, but Ministers actually have draft replies to principal questions, which are put down on notice, in the same way that members opposite have draft supplementary questions written out in full for them. The member is simply indicating that he is repeating the previous answer he has been supplied with, on behalf of a Minister.

Madam SPEAKER: Yes. I think, obviously, that the Minister is responsible for the answer. It is just the expression.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: Did the Minister of Immigration at the time, David Cunliffe, give the Prime Minister a heads-up that an inquiry was under way into unlawful decision-making involving the head of the Immigration Service, Mary Anne Thompson?

Hon SHANE JONES: Upon the Minister of the time being informed of such a situation, he was informed that an independent investigation by senior officials within that department was about to be undertaken. I have no advice in respect of what, if anything, was said between him and the Prime Minister.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. The Acting Minister is answering as the Minister, and he should not be able simply to say that he has no advice. The question has been on notice, it is a very specific question, and my question was very clear: did the former Minister of Immigration, for whom he is speaking today—the Hon David Cunliffe—give the Prime Minister a heads-up that an inquiry was under way, involving the head of the Immigration Service. Given the nature of the primary question, it should be possible for the Minister to answer that.

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: Ministers come to the House with prepared information, but that information does not always cover every issue raised in a supplementary question. The member has given an absolutely accurate answer in that case. Members may recall that I gave a very similar answer earlier in the House this afternoon.

Gerry Brownlee: I think the point here is that even Dr Cullen was suggesting at the start of this question that this line of questioning had been going on for quite some time. Indeed, it has. We have, for some weeks now, been endeavouring to find out more and more about this particular situation. The revelations in the answer today from Shane Jones—albeit that it was just advice he got from the department—was in fact that David Cunliffe did know that it was Mary Anne Thompson whom he was advised about. It seems to me that when Government Ministers have taken such a long period of time to avoid answering the question, which has been put in those terms on many occasions previously, it might be the case that matters relating to that—in other words, the involvement of the Prime Minister and the knowledge of the Prime Minister in this situation—are something that Mr Jones was appraised of. If in fact the Government’s policy is simply to pick a Minister who knows nothing so that that Minister cannot say anything to get into trouble, then really that does defeat the point of question time.

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: If the member had a question that was as specific as that, he should have asked that question as the principal question. Ministers cannot be expected to guess in advance every supplementary question the member may ask—particularly when this member keeps asking the same supplementary questions week after week. This at least was a new one.

Madam SPEAKER: As members know, I think that in this instance, certainly the Minister did address the question. If members want to be given a more specific answer, then the matter should be put down in the primary question. The Minister, in this instance, I think, has addressed the question, so we will move on.

Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: Does the Minister believe, given the Prime Minister’s “no surprises” policy, that the former Minister of Immigration, David Cunliffe, would not have alerted the Prime Minister to the fact that an investigation was going on into unlawful decision-making involving the head of the Immigration Service—the former acting chief executive of the Prime Minister’s own department?

Hon SHANE JONES: The Minister of Immigration at that time was briefed, and it was dealt with in the context of being an employment matter. Section 33 of the 0State Sector Act precluded the Minister from overstepping that boundary, and I repeat in relation to a repetition of the question from the member, I have no advice on that matter. It was an employment matter.


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