Questions And Answers August 18
(uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing)
THURSDAY, 18 AUGUST 2011
QUESTIONS FOR ORAL ANSWER
QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS
Financial Markets—Investor Confidence
1. CHRIS AUCHINVOLE (National—West Coast - Tasman) to the Minister of Commerce: What legislative and regulatory steps has he taken to help restore investor confidence in the financial markets?
Hon SIMON POWER (Minister of Commerce): I do not think it is going too far to say that there has been a substantial overhaul of the regulation of the financial sector in order to help to restore investor confidence. This includes establishing the Financial Markets Authority, implementing the last Government’s financial adviser regime, regulating auditors, ensuring trustees and statutory supervisors are licensed, introducing prudential regulation of non-bank deposit takers, introducing finance company moratorium requirements, and requiring financial service providers to be registered and belong to a dispute resolution scheme.
Chris Auchinvole: Does the Government have any plans for further reform?
Hon SIMON POWER: Yes. Last week I released the exposure draft of the Financial Markets Conduct Bill, which is a long-overdue rewrite of our 33-year-old securities law. [Interruption] I am sorry about that. Following consultation on the exposure draft, I intend to introduce a bill into the House before the election.
Welfare Reforms—Minister’s Statement
2. Hon ANNETTE KING (Deputy Leader—Labour) to the Minister for Social
Development and Employment: Does she stand by her reported statement that it would be preemptive to rule anything out because the Government was still working its way through extensive recommendations by the Welfare Working Group?
Hon PAULA BENNETT (Minister for Social Development and Employment): Yes. The extremely popular announcement made by the Prime Minister last weekend was the first response to the Welfare Working Group report. Over the next few months we intend to make clear to the public the direction that welfare reform will take if National has the privilege of leading New Zealand after the election.
Hon Annette King: Who is right: the Minister, who ruled out in March a card that would control the purchase choices of beneficiaries; the Prime Minister, who ruled it in at the weekend; the Minister, who said yesterday the card was only for 16 and 17-year-olds, and 18-year-old sole parents, because they are a special cohort; the Minister, who said she would not rule out an extension of the card to more beneficiaries today; or the Prime Minister, who said there is little interest in extending the payment card to other beneficiaries?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: As I have been quite clear on, my response to that correspondence was on the basis of a letter from one correspondent, which was on something very, very different
from the payment cards that we announced last Sunday—incredibly different from that. Our Ministers are working their way through a range of options. The payment cards will work for those 16 and 17-year-olds, and 18-year-old teen parents. I think they will be really valuable for them in helping them to manage themselves and their money, and, in the case of teen parents, will see their children being better off.
Hon Annette King: What did she mean when she said on Radio New Zealand this morning that there is a difference between a credit card on to which whole or part of a benefit is loaded and which restricts the purchase of alcohol and cigarettes, and a payment card on to which the whole or part of a benefit is loaded and which restricts the purchase of alcohol and cigarettes, or are they the same?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: The member has not quoted me correctly from this morning. The credit card that was being suggested by the correspondent was incredibly different from the payment card for the 16, 17, and 18-year-olds.
Hon Annette King: In light of her comment that extending the payment card to other beneficiaries cannot be ruled out, what work have the Government and her officials undertaken on the cost and the workability of such a card?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: As I have said previously, Ministers are working their way through the recommendations and will be making announcements in due course.
Hon Annette King: How much of a young person’s benefit will be loaded on to the payment card, where will they be able to use it—for example, a farmers market—will it be available to all retailers, will retailers need to make changes to their systems, and how much will that cost them, bearing in mind that it could affect businesses from Kaitāia to Invercargill?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: That is a good question. Around that stuff, we have already introduced the cards for hardship assistance. What used to happen under Labour was that a letter was handwritten and then taken along to a supermarket that the beneficiary had to identify. There was only one place they could shop at, and that was very limiting. We have opened up those cards to, for example, The Mad Butcher and fresh fruit and vegetable shops in the area. Some retail outlets have come on board with it, like Farmers, Glassons, and The Warehouse. We are looking at other retailers that might like to get on board with it. It will give people more choice, and it will work fairly well.
Hon Annette King: Why did she say yesterday that the purchase of alcohol and cigarettes by young beneficiaries is a side issue, when the Prime Minister made a major feature of it in his announcement at the weekend, bringing loud cheers and whistling from the party faithful?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: I think the Prime Minister mentioned the restriction of cigarettes and alcohol once, and he mentioned the word “support” more than 25 times. So, actually, support, and wrapping that around young people, is the main issue, and one that we are proud to be fronting.
Hon Annette King: Did she advise the Prime Minister, before he made the announcement about restricting 16 and 17-year-old beneficiaries from purchasing alcohol and cigarettes, that that is already restricted by law, and it is illegal to sell these to them; if so, did she suggest that a hard line could be taken on those who illegally sell to minors, rather than blaming the young people?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: The restriction of cigarettes and alcohol is also extended to those who are 18 years old who are teen parents as well, through the payment card. I think what the member has not picked up is that they will be getting an in-hand allowance as well. If they really wanted to, they could purchase whatever they liked with that. So the issue is just about what the payment card restricts; it is exactly the point that it is about the payment card, not the in-hand allowance.
3. TE URUROA FLAVELL (Māori Party—Waiariki) to the Minister of Transport: Ka aha ia ki te whakapaipai ake i te āhua o ngā rori i te tuawhenua, he hapori Māori nei te nuinga o ngā tāngata ki reira, ā, e kiia nei e ētahi, he pērā aua rori ki ngā mea o ngā ao pōhara rawa atu? [What will he do to improve the conditions of roads in rural, predominately Māori communities, some of which have been described as of third world status?]
Hon NATHAN GUY (Associate Minister of Transport) on behalf of the Minister of
Transport: This Government is spending over $1.5 billion on State highway maintenance and renewals in the current 3-year funding period—more than has ever been spent before. Much of this is going into rural areas. An example is that 1.1 percent of all kilometres travelled in New Zealand happens in Gisborne, and in return we spend 2.7 percent of the road maintenance budget there. So we think we have the mix about right. More, of course, could always be done, so to complement this spending on maintenance and renewals, last month the Government launched the Road Maintenance Task Force to improve value for money in this area.
Te Ururoa Flavell: Does he agree with Na Raihania, the Māori Party candidate for Ikaroa- Rāwhiti, in his characterisation of several of the roads on the East Coast as “shocking”, “extreme”, and “dangerous”; and will the Minister take up the offer from Mr Raihania, the mayor of Gisborne, and the chair of Te Rūnanga o Ngāti Porou to see the roads in person, as the Minister did recently with the mayor, the chief executive, and councillors of the Far North District Council?
Hon NATHAN GUY: No, I do not agree with those statements. What I can say is that the Government is investing millions of dollars in the Maraenui Hill deviation, which is currently under way in pretty difficult terrain. Of course, the member will know that last year significant investment was made in the Busby Hill deviation, which is making a huge amount of difference for the Gisborne region.
Te Ururoa Flavell: Can he advise where the East Coast roads from Gisborne to Ruatōria, or the roads from Ruatōria to Ōpōtiki and Te Waiariki, are sitting in terms of priority over the next 10 years?
Hon NATHAN GUY: The areas that the member has just raised fall within those two deviation areas, and we are already addressing that issue.
Hon Shane Jones: Kia ora, Mr Speaker. Mehemea e rite ana wēnei moni, pēhea ngā whakaaro o te Minita ki te reo whakahāwea mai i a Lawrence Yule, he koretake ngā moni hei whakatikatika i ngā rori ki tuawhenua? [If these funds were the same, what does the Minister think about the disparaging remark by Lawrence Yule that funds for improving rural roads were hopeless?]
Hon NATHAN GUY: That member should be well aware that we have increased the renewals in the State highway budget from what was invested previously by the Labour Government. We have increased them from $561 million to $633 million. Also, maintenance and operation of State highways has increased from $809 million to $897 million. There is significant investment there, and I tend to disagree with Mr Yule’s comments.
4. Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Labour—Hutt South) to the Prime Minister: Does he stand by his answer to Oral Question No 1 yesterday in relation to unemployed 15 to 19-year-olds, “If we look at the household labour force survey, we see that there are 26,700 people in the 15 to 19-yearold category”?
Hon PAULA BENNETT (Minister for Social Development and Employment) on behalf of the Prime Minister: Yesterday the Prime Minister corrected some answers he gave in oral question No. 1. Phil Goff had asked him whether he stood by his claim that 60 percent of young people not in education, employment, or training are actually at school or at university. As he has never in fact made that claim, and as the statement Mr Goff made—
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Hon Annette King: You’re answering the wrong question.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I say thank you to my colleague for helping. It was a very specific question about a number that the Prime Minister used, which is in the Hansard—and, as far as we could tell, it was uncorrected later—and it is a simple question: does he stand by that? It is nothing to do with anything that Mr Goff said.
Mr SPEAKER: I hear—
Hon Simon Power: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: I will hear the Hon Simon Power.
Hon Simon Power: Thank you, Mr Speaker, I appreciate that. My hearing of the Minister’s answer initially was that she said he corrected part of his answer, and then she went on to describe further, which actually does answer the initial part of the question that Mr Mallard had set down.
Mr SPEAKER: That would be possible as long as the answer that was corrected is the answer that this quote is taken from. I just want the Minister to be sure, because this quote is taken from an answer—I accept absolutely the point made by the Hon Trevor Mallard—and off the top of my head I cannot recollect whether that was the particular answer corrected by the Prime Minister. As long as the Minister is certain that that is the answer that was corrected by the Prime Minister when leave was subsequently granted to correct the answer, then the Minister’s answer is perfectly in order. But I do want her to be sure of that.
Hon PAULA BENNETT: I have been advised that the full quote was corrected yesterday by the Prime Minister when he came back into the House.
Hon Trevor Mallard: In light of the fact that he has corrected that, is he prepared to correct the next sentence of his answer, where he said “Of those, 60 percent are in school, university, training, or study of some sort, which leaves 15,000 in that category.”, given that 15,000 out of 26,700 is 54 percent, not 40 percent?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: This gets to the crux of the problem, where the Opposition is talking at times about the unemployment rate, and at other times about the number of young people not in education or training, and that is why the Prime Minister needed to correct his answer yesterday. The question is whether we are talking about the unemployment rate or the number not in education, employment, or training.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. It was a very nice explanation, but again it was not of the question that was asked. I asked whether the Prime Minister stood by the figure of 60 percent—15,000 out of 26,700—and whether he stood by the fact that it was 40 percent, or whether, like most of us, he makes that 54 percent?
Mr SPEAKER: The quotes are taken directly from Hansard, as I understand it, and if they were corrected, the Hansard would show that. I ask the Minister to focus particularly on the supplementary question that the Hon Trevor Mallard has asked, because it did follow on exactly from this first statement that, of the 26,700 people aged 15 to 19, so many were in certain places. The question asked whether the Prime Minister still stood by that. I ask the Minister to be a little more specific in answering on behalf of the Prime Minister, please.
Hon PAULA BENNETT: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. May I seek clarification? I need the first bit to make sure that I am clarifying that quote. I need to know whether it is the unemployment rate or the not in education or training rate.
Mr SPEAKER: To avoid doubt, I ask the member to repeat his question, if that is possible, please.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I do repeat the question, and I am giving the member the full quote again. It is the next sentence in his answer, and I quote: “Of those, 60 percent are in school, university, training, or study of some sort, which leaves 15,000 in that category.” Given that, 15,000 out 26,700 is 54 percent, not 40 percent.
Hon PAULA BENNETT: The Prime Minister stands by the statement that 60 percent of 15 to 19-year-olds who are classified as unemployed in the household labour force survey are at school, university, or some form of training. Therefore, that is the answer to the question.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Does he still believe that 15,000 out of 26,700 is 40 percent?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: I would not agree with the numbers the member has just given.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: Did not the Minister answer it? She said that she did not agree with it.
Hon Trevor Mallard: She did not agree with the figures I gave. Does that mean—
Mr SPEAKER: Let us come back to order here. We had better not debate this. The member asked his question. He asked whether the Prime Minister still agreed with those certain figures, and I thought the Minister’s answer was that she did not agree with those figures, but I might be wrong on that.
Katrina Shanks: Does the Government consider youth unemployment rates to be a practically useful measure?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: No, because a full 60 percent of 15 to 19-year-olds who are classified as unemployed in the household labour force survey are at school, university, training, or in some other form of study, and are therefore not a particular concern to the Government. On the other hand, a lot of the young people whom we are most concerned about are not technically unemployed, according to the household labour force survey, because they are not out there looking for work. That is why the Government prefers to focus on the “NEAT” measure: that is, young people who are not in education, employment, or training.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Does he agree with Statistics New Zealand figures that show that 58,000 15 to 24-year-olds are not in employment, education, or training; if not, what is the correct figure?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: Broadly, yes.
Hilary Calvert: Supplementary to the Prime Minister—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: I expect members to show some courtesy.
Hilary Calvert: Does he agree with the statement made by the Minister for Social Development and Employment in relation to youth unemployment that “we have seen a dramatic increase in the rate for 16 and 17-year-olds.”; if so, does he think this just confirms how disastrous Labour’s abolition of youth rates has been?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: For the first part, yes. For 16 and 17-year-olds, the unemployment rate has gone from 28.5 percent in June 2010 to 33.6 percent in June 2011. However, it is interesting that for 18 and 19-year-olds the figures were 20.7 percent in June 2010 and 20.7 percent in June 2011. Both figures are too high and of concern; that is why we announced the package of reforms that we did on Sunday.
Katrina Shanks: Who are these young people who are not in education, employment, or training?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: The Prime Minister talked in detail about the 16 and 17-year-olds who are not in education, employment, or training in his policy speech at the weekend. That leaves 18 to 24-year-olds. Of the 50,000 18 to 24-year-olds who are not in education, employment, or training—
Hon Members: 58,000.
Hon PAULA BENNETT: —18 to 24-year-olds who are not in education, employment, or training, I am advised that 70 percent are on a benefit of some sort, not including the domestic purposes benefit. They will be people who are on the sickness benefit, the invalids benefit, or the unemployment benefit. That brings us back to the need for welfare reform, which is what the Government has been focusing on. How can we get a lot more of these people off benefits and into sustainable work?
Hon Trevor Mallard: Why did he criticise Statistics New Zealand by saying its unemployment statistics are “of no value for me”, when he, in fact, got the figures wrong?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: The Prime Minister came in yesterday and corrected one of his answers to a question, which he is now standing by. The other answers he gave were all correct.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The question was very direct as to why he criticised Statistics New Zealand.
Mr SPEAKER: But the member went on to say: “when he got his figures wrong”. The Minister, in answering the question on behalf of the Prime Minister, picked up on that statement included in the question and refuted it, which Ministers are allowed to do.
District Health Boards, Target—Cancer Radiation Treatment
5. TIM MACINDOE (National—Hamilton West) to the Minister of Health: What progress are district health boards making in providing faster cancer radiation treatment for patients?
Hon TONY RYALL (Minister of Health): Great progress. All cancer patients needing radiation treatment are now receiving it within the 4-week world gold standard for radiation treatment. I can inform the House that in the last 2½ years not one patient has been sent to Australia for cancer radiation treatment. Members will recall that not so long ago patients often had to wait up to 15 or 16 weeks to begin their radiation treatment, and many had to travel to Australia. Our doctors, nurses, and community cancer workers have achieved this through improved productivity, the purchase of 10 new linear accelerators, and more staff being provided in our cancer centres. They are doing a great job.
Tim Macindoe: What other progress can the Minister report on better cancer treatment for New Zealanders?
Hon TONY RYALL: The Government is working very hard to improve cancer services for patients. Seven hundred and fifty women have had access to Herceptin treatment, which they would not have got 3 years ago. Our bowel cancer screening programme will begin shortly in the Waitematā District Health Board, and it involves 60,000 people. That is a first for New Zealand. We have also invested more in cancer medicines to treat leukaemia, Hodgkin’s disease, lymphoma, bowel cancer, lung cancer, pancreatic cancer, skin cancer, and prostate cancer. There are still challenges before us, but I think our clinicians are making a lot of progress.
District Health Boards—Funding
6. GRANT ROBERTSON (Labour—Wellington Central) to the Minister of Health: Are district health boards being funded sufficiently to maintain the level of services they provided in 2010/11?
Hon TONY RYALL (Minister of Health): District health boards are being funded with the expectation of providing more overall services, particularly in areas of patient priorities like more surgery, faster cancer treatment, more children immunised, and faster emergency departments. District health boards make decisions within their increased budgets, and, as the member is well aware, the Government has always said that we expect that some programmes will be slowed, scaled, or stopped. All money saved in health stays in health.
Grant Robertson: Was the increase in funding in dollar terms for district health boards in the 2011-12 Budget sufficient to meet the cost of inflation and population growth faced by district health boards?
Hon TONY RYALL: As I have told the member previously, we cannot actually give a firm answer to that at present, because additional funds will flow to district health boards during the financial year.
Grant Robertson: Was Stuart Bramhall, a recently retired senior psychiatrist at Taranaki Base Hospital, correct when she told the Taranaki Daily News that before her retirement, a lack of funding meant her patients “couldn’t be properly cared for”?
Hon TONY RYALL: That is not the information that I have. What I do know is that the Taranaki District Health Board has had an increase of $29 million over the last 3 years, and I think the feedback I am getting from Taranaki is that the services have really improved there.
Hilary Calvert: Given that much of the increased health spending between 2001 and 2006 was eroded by productivity losses of 15 percent for doctors and 11 percent for nurses, does he agree that simply throwing money at hospitals is not the answer; if so, what concrete evidence can he provide for improved hospital productivity since he became Minister?
Hon TONY RYALL: Throwing more money at the health service is not the answer. Actually, the Labour Government doubled the health budget in its 9 years and got fewer operations, so we know that is not the case. We have put in an additional $1.5 billion of new money into health over the last 3 years, but I think if one looks at the record numbers of elective surgeries, the much faster cancer radiation treatment, faster emergency departments, and better preventive health, then one can see the better productivity that New Zealanders have been seeking. Frankly, we could not have achieved that without improved productivity.
Grant Robertson: Was Stuart Bramhall, a recently retired senior psychiatrist at Taranaki Base Hospital, lying when she told the Taranaki Daily News that before her retirement, lack of funding meant patients “couldn’t be properly cared for”?
Hon TONY RYALL: That really is a silly a question. I am sure Dr Bramhall believes what she told the paper. What I can say is that we have put an additional $29 million into the Taranaki District Health Board, and during that time, we have seen quite a significant improvement in the number of staff working there. For example, we have many more nurses working there than we had at that hospital 2½ years ago.
Grant Robertson: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: Point of order, Grant Robertson. [Interruption] A point of order has been called.
Grant Robertson: I appreciate that it was not a question that the Minister liked, but it was a direct question asking whether the clinician mentioned was lying.
Mr SPEAKER: No, no, no. The member knows that he cannot expect a Minister to say yes or no about whether someone is lying. The Minister explained why he disagrees with that clinician, and the Minister is perfectly at liberty to explain why he disagrees with the clinician.
Grant Robertson: Is it acceptable for nursing staff at Taranaki Base Hospital to regularly double-shift and not to have a complete 9-hour break between shifts, as was reported in the Taranaki Daily News story on Monday?
Hon TONY RYALL: The Taranaki District Health Board has had increased funding of $29 million over the last 3 years, and it has more nurses working there than 2½ years ago. How the district health board manages its services, and the way staff move around the hospital to meet those demands, is the responsibility of the district health board. What I can assure the member is that this Government has given the district health board quite a lot of extra money.
Mine Safety, Inspection—High Hazards Unit
7. KEVIN HAGUE (Green) to the Minister of Labour: When will the new chief inspector for mining and additional inspectors in the planned High Hazards Unit become operational?
Hon DAVID CARTER (Minister of Agriculture) on behalf of the Minister of Labour: As soon as possible.
Kevin Hague: What advice has the Minister of Labour received about why her department did not attempt to replace the mines inspector who retired in 2009—noting that that left just two mines inspectors, currently down to one?
Hon DAVID CARTER: I can advise that the Department of Labour has recruited an inspector to fill a recent vacancy, and it will begin immediately to recruit all the other inspectors required for the High Hazards Unit.
Kevin Hague: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The question related to the 2009 action of the department, not to attempts to recruit for that position at that time. The vacancy that the Minister’s answer relates to—
Mr SPEAKER: So that we make more rapid progress, I will invite the member to repeat his question. One of the reasons why I am inviting him to repeat his question is that the primary question was on notice and asked when certain things were going to happen. “As soon as possible.” is not actually a very satisfactory answer. So because I was not very impressed by that answer, I will let the member repeat his supplementary question.
Kevin Hague: Thank you, Mr Speaker. What advice has she received about why her department did not attempt to replace the mines inspector who retired in 2009?
Hon DAVID CARTER: I am not aware of what advice the Minister received about how long it took to replace an inspector, but I am advised that the Department of Labour has recruited an inspector to fill a vacancy. The other inspectors will be recruited as quickly as possible. It is important that we have inspectors with the necessary experience and skill, and that requires these people being sought both locally and internationally. It is therefore not possible to put a date on when that recruitment process will be completed.
Kevin Hague: Is she concerned that some members of the Department of Labour’s mines steering group argued against increasing the number of mines inspectors prior to the Pike River disaster?
Hon DAVID CARTER: As I am answering this on behalf of the Minister of Labour, I am not aware that any officials criticised the intention to increase the inspectorate.
Kevin Hague: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am not sure that I understood the Minister’s response: as he was answering on behalf of the Minister of Labour, he would not be able to answer the question.
Mr SPEAKER: The Minister is answering on behalf of another Minister, and I think his answer was a perfectly fair answer on this occasion. He was not aware of that matter, because he was answering on behalf of another Minister; he was unaware whether there had been any pressure from any officials not to make such appointments. I think he was being very honest with the House. He was saying he did not have absolute information, but was unaware of any such pressure.
Kevin Hague: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I fully accept that. Given that situation, I seek your guidance as to whether it would be reasonable to seek an assurance from the Minister that an answer to that question is given, in fact.
Mr SPEAKER: The member has further supplementary questions, I think, to pursue the matter, and can ask exactly that kind of thing—whether the matter can be checked out further and an answer provided to the member in writing. I mean, that is a perfectly fair supplementary question.
Kevin Hague: What powers will the new chief mines inspector have?
Hon DAVID CARTER: In principle, the chief mines inspector, like the other inspectors, will have the right and the powers to make sure that all our mines operate as safely as possible.
Kevin Hague: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The answer that has just been given describes the function of the new position but not the powers, at all.
Hon Simon Power: I know that the member’s intentions on this subject matter are genuine, as everybody’s are, but using the point of order system to simply relitigate every answer given by the Minister cannot be what the Standing Orders were designed for.
Mr SPEAKER: The member makes a perfectly fair point. When Ministers who are being questioned keep evading answers, I will certainly pull them up. The member cannot use a point of order to question every answer, unless the Minister is clearly trying to avoid answering. If that was happening, I would have no problem, but I think the Minister is doing his best, answering on behalf of another Minister, to give the House reasonable answers. That is why I think the point made by the Hon Simon Power is reasonable on this occasion—and often are reasonable, I should say.
Kevin Hague: Has she sought any advice from the Department of Labour regarding mining companies currently refusing to put in extra exits from their underground mines, as described in the evidence from the Department of Labour’s Michael Firman during the royal commission hearings?
Hon DAVID CARTER: As I am answering this question on behalf of the Minister of Labour, I cannot advise the House today whether the Minister has sought further advice on the matter of exits from mines.
Kevin Hague: Will she consider amending the law so that situations do not arise whereby mining companies can refuse safety recommendations from the Department of Labour?
Hon DAVID CARTER: I am answering the question on behalf of the Minister; that is certainly something she needs to answer, and the member is welcome to put it down as a question. If the Minister of Labour asked for my advice, it would be that she should wait until the royal commission of inquiry has completed its findings before making that decision.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I apologise to the member, but I think we are now getting into a difficult position whereby a Minister has not been briefed, but, worse than that, he is now saying what he, as a Cabinet colleague, would brief the Minister to do. There is no way he can do that. He might want to say: “My colleague the Minister of Agriculture has been briefing me.” I think the problem we have, and it is relatively unusual, is that the Minister does not appear to have the normal briefing notes that go with supplementary questions. All of these questions are ones that any Minister taking this question would have expected today.
Mr SPEAKER: I appreciate the member’s point of order but, in fact, I do not think there is anything in the Standing Orders that prevents a Minister from including in his answer what the Minister did then. The primary question asked: “When will the new chief inspector for mining and additional inspectors in the planned High Hazards Unit become operational?”. The supplementary questions have moved a fair way from that primary question. I am not surprised that a Minister answering on behalf of another Minister would not have all the specific information. I accept that the member is asking in absolute good faith, but I think one has to accept that on a day like this when the Minister could not be present we cannot expect the Minister answering on her behalf to have all that material.
Kevin Hague: Why, given that it is possible, after all, to take action to improve mine safety before the royal commission reports, is the Government not also taking other actions that we know would improve underground mine safety, like reinstating check inspectors, a return to mandatory standards for underground mining, and implementation of the other recommendations from the Department of Labour’s review?
Mr SPEAKER: In calling the Minister to answer that supplementary question I have to acknowledge that it is a fair way from the primary question. The Minister is welcome to do his best with it.
Hon DAVID CARTER: Following the tragedy, the Government instituted an independent operational review, and the recommendation from that review was an increase in the number of inspectors. The Government has acted accordingly.
Hon Damien O’Connor: Will the High Hazards Unit now be able to offer advice to miners and mine companies, or does her department, the Department of Labour, still consider that that exposes it to issues of legal liability?
Hon DAVID CARTER: It would be my expectation that, indeed, the inspectors could give advice to mining companies.
Hon Damien O’Connor: Will the new High Hazards Unit be resourced to visit and inspect underground mines every month, or does she consider this level of monitoring too high, and appropriate only for Chinese underground mines, where this standard applies?
Hon DAVID CARTER: The Minister has not had any advice on how often the inspectors will be able to visit individual mines.
Criminal Procedure (Reform and Modernisation) Bill—Views of Chief Justice and Chief
District Court Judge
8. Hon LIANNE DALZIEL (Labour—Christchurch East) on behalf of CHARLES
CHAUVEL (Labour) to the Minister of Justice: Does he agree with the Chief Justice that the scheme for disclosure by the defence in criminal cases contained in the Criminal Procedure (Reform and Modernisation) Bill is “inconsistent with the defendant’s right to have the prosecution prove its case beyond reasonable doubt” and with the late Chief District Court Judge that punishment at sentencing for procedural non-compliance “is conceptually incoherent and therefore arbitrary”?
Hon SIMON POWER (Minister of Justice): No. The second part of the member’s question is mistaken, because the ability to draw an adverse inference from failure to identify issues in dispute would occur at trial, not at sentencing. Having cleared that up, my answer to that part of the question is also no.
Hon Lianne Dalziel: Does the Minister know whether his colleague the Attorney-General shares the concerns expressed by the judiciary about the Criminal Procedure (Reform and Modernisation) Bill?
Hon SIMON POWER: My memory—and I stand to be corrected—is that the Attorney-General gave the bill a clear vet.
Hon Lianne Dalziel: Does he know that the New Zealand Law Society, the New Zealand Bar Association, and the Criminal Bar Association continue to oppose key elements of the Criminal Procedure (Reform and Modernisation) Bill?
Hon SIMON POWER: Yes, I am aware that two of those entities continue to have concerns. I have met regularly with the Law Society throughout the course of the legislation’s passage. The bill is the result of a decade of consultation with the judiciary and the legal profession, three Law Commission reports, 16 discussion documents, and a draft bill plan, which led to this bill.
Hon Lianne Dalziel: Does he intend to continue to press for the enactment of the bill in light of the continuing opposition just to elements of it from the legal profession and the judiciary; if so, why would he do that, when there is an opportunity to pass it with the agreement of everyone in the House with those bits omitted?
Hon SIMON POWER: In respect of the first part of the member’s question, yes; in response to the second part of the question, I think the member will acknowledge that when a bill comes back from a select committee, I would like to regard myself as having a reasonably open mind as to how matters can proceed,.
Hon Lianne Dalziel: I seek leave to table letters, one dated 12 August 2011 from the New Zealand Bar Association, one dated 15 August 2011 from the Criminal Bar Association, and one from the New Zealand Law Society dated 8 August 2011, all of them concerned about elements of that bill.
Mr SPEAKER: And these are not letters to a select committee; these are letters—
Hon Lianne Dalziel: No.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table those documents. Is there any objection? There is no objection. Documents, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Parents, Teenage—Government Support
9. Hon TAU HENARE (National) to the Minister for Social Development and Employment: What is the Government doing to help teen parents get ahead?
Hon PAULA BENNETT (Minister for Social Development and Employment): We make no apologies for actually targeting our resources to this vulnerable group of teen parents, who desperately need our help. It is a shocking fact that until this Government no one even bothered to count them, let alone do anything for them. The welfare system has been failing them and their
children, and this Government makes no apology for resetting the system in order to give them a helping hand and even a dose of tough love.
Hon Tau Henare: Has the Minister seen any reports on the reliability of the household labour force survey statistics?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: Yes. I actually have—
Hon Rick Barker: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. What does the matter of the household labour force survey statistics have to do with the primary question? That is surely out of order by being well wide of the mark.
Hon Tau Henare: Several questions throughout the week have had the household labour force survey as the basis of the question. This is just a continuation of that questioning.
Hon Simon Power: Any attempt to link empirical and statistical evidence to questions such as how we are helping a particular group to get ahead must surely assist the House in its quest for information on this issue.
Hon Rick Barker: There is no relevance in this particular question to what has happened in the preceding week. That is the assertion of the Hon Tau Henare. Those questions have been and gone. Had the member wished to raise matters of statistics and of the household labour force survey, it should have been done in the primary question. Secondly, it would have been fair enough for the member to raise a matter about household labour force survey statistics if they had been referred to by the Minister in her reply to the primary question, but the Minister made no reference to the matter. There is absolutely no linkage between the two, whatsoever.
Mr SPEAKER: I do not usually rule a question out unless it is perceived that it is unreasonable to put such a question to the Minister. I note that questions asked today—not just those asked last week—linked exactly these two issues. I seem to remember that one particular question—question No. 4 from the member’s own party—referred to unemployed young people aged 15 to 19 years, and then pursued issues to do with the household labour force survey. It would seem that the Hon Simon Power’s point is reasonably well made that in the interests of the House obtaining useful information, for me to rule the question out would be perhaps a little unfair. If it were not possible for the Minister to answer the question, then I think the member would be on pretty reasonable grounds. But I think it would be unreasonable for me to rule it out.
Hon Rick Barker: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I just draw your attention to the question asked by the Hon Trevor Mallard, which made specific mention of the matter of statistics on 15 to 19-year-olds, etc., and therefore it was legitimate. I just say we should be fair about this. If you are going to be very generous—as you appear to be in this particular case—about allowing a question from the Hon Tau Henare with little tangible connection to the primary question other than that the matter has been referred to, then you will have to allow such a question from the Opposition. It will not, therefore, be acceptable for the Minister to say there is no connection to the question. If this question is allowed under this process, then it will substantially widen the scope of questions to Ministers from members of the Opposition in future.
Mr SPEAKER: The member may reflect on the fact that in question No. 7 today there were issues about how closely related the primary question and supplementary questions were. The member raises a good point, and if there were no connection at all, I would say the member is absolutely right that the question should be ruled out. But given the flow of questions in the House over this issue—this matter has been one of the key issues in question time over the last couple of days—it would seem to me to be unreasonable for me to be too pedantic about it. The member is right that, strictly, I could be pedantic and say the primary question and the supplementary question are not sufficiently closely related, but then I would be ignoring the flow of question time and the intention of question time to make sure that the House obtains useful information. There has to be a link, and I believe that the link on this occasion has been well established over the last couple of days. But I hear what the Hon Rick Barker is saying.
Hon PAULA BENNETT: Yes. I have seen a report on statistics relating to the household labour force survey. In fact, I have a report that says David Benson-Pope has put himself at odds with former Minister Steve Maharey about—
Mr SPEAKER: I will not allow a question like that to be used to slag off former members or other members of this House—there is no way in the world. The reason for allowing the question was to see whether valuable information for the House would emerge in relation to the debate about the household labour force survey, young teen parents, and 15 to 19-year-old unemployed people. If it is to be used just to slag off another member, I am afraid that is it.
Earthquakes, Canterbury—Letters of Offer on Red Zone Properties
10. Hon LIANNE DALZIEL (Labour—Christchurch East) to the Minister for Canterbury
Earthquake Recovery: How many letters of offer from the Crown will be sent to insured residential red zone property owners this week?
Hon MAURICE WILLIAMSON (Associate Minister for Canterbury Earthquake
Recovery) on behalf of the Minister for Canterbury Earthquake Recovery: Those who had correctly supplied information will begin receiving letters of offer by the end of this week. It is estimated that just over 3,000 letters of offer will be sent out in this first tranche.
Hon Lianne Dalziel: Why has the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority arranged for a briefing for Canterbury lawyers this evening ahead of the offer going out, yet no such briefing is being made available to the people who will be receiving the offer, meaning they will have to pay to see a lawyer, which the Government will subsidise only if one of the offers is accepted?
Hon MAURICE WILLIAMSON: I am advised that due to the nature of the offers being made there are variations from a standard sale and purchase agreement. What is happening is two documents are going out: one in plain English to the homeowner explaining in general terms what the offer will be, and another to the Law Society to explain to the lawyers how the legal aspects of it will work. That means that when the homeowners have read the plain English and decided whether they want to take the package, they will need to get some legal advice with regards to the offer—
Sue Moroney: Only if they get to accept it.
Hon MAURICE WILLIAMSON: Only if they accept it? Of course it is only if they accept it. That is a stupid interjection. Only if they accept it? Of course they would not do it if they did not accept it.
Hon Lianne Dalziel: I seek leave to table these six documents that I was able to download from the New Zealand Law Society website last night.
Mr SPEAKER: These documents are?
Hon Lianne Dalziel: These documents relate to the Crown acquisition of insured residential red zone properties. None of this information is being made available to people who live in those properties.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is—[Interruption] A point of order is being dealt with. Leave is sought to table those documents. Is there any objection? There is no objection. Documents, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Hon Lianne Dalziel: How is it acceptable that people will not know what their insurer is prepared to offer them to settle the claim, or, indeed, what the Earthquake Commission’s cash settlement might be if the land settlement price under the Earthquake Commission’s arrangement is greater than the purchase price for the land-only option? How is it acceptable that an offer will go out from the Government before any of that information is known to the person receiving the offer?
Hon MAURICE WILLIAMSON: Let us get some facts on the table. Approximately 4,500 residential properties with insurance are located in the red zone. To date, 3,500 of those people have responded to the offer, which means about an 80 percent uptake. I have to say to the member that the individual cases for each individual specific—
Hon Lianne Dalziel: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Last week I tabled the letter. There has been no response to the offer. The offer has not gone out yet. The Minister just said that 3,500 people have responded to the offer. This is what is frustrating to people in the red zone. They have signed a consent form only to receive the offer.
Mr SPEAKER: The member is debating the issue. I sense her frustration, because it sounds like different things are being talked about here. To overcome this problem I invite the member to repeat the question—because I accept the question is a serious question and there is a genuine public interest—just to make sure the Minister is answering exactly the issue the member is raising.
Hon Lianne Dalziel: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I did not have that question written down, so it may not be exactly word for word.
Mr SPEAKER: Well, the best the member can do.
Hon Lianne Dalziel: How can it be acceptable for the Government to send the offer that is being sent tomorrow to people who do not have the information from their insurers as to how much they would cash-settle the building and contents part of the offer, and when they do not know whether the Earthquake Commission land settlement is greater than the purchase price if they accept just the land offer? How can that be acceptable?
Hon MAURICE WILLIAMSON: I am going by advice, but the advice I have is that the offer documents that go out will lay out the process, but then people will need to get advice from their lawyers. That is why the documents that the Law Society posted on its website had the technical and legal explanations on them. Only then will the homeowners determine whether to go ahead with the package.
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: Does he stand by his repeated claims that quake victims’ equity in their homes will be preserved, including the following quote: “I have said consistently since 4 September that it is the equity that people have in their properties that we have an obligation to protect”, given that many Kaiapoi residents in the newly announced red zone—announced today—have calculated that accepting the Government’s purchase offer will mean they are out of pocket by over $100,000 and they have no alternative?
Hon MAURICE WILLIAMSON: Yes.
Hon Lianne Dalziel: Is the Minister aware whether the offer document that will be sent to residential homeowners in the red zone contains details about how much the Earthquake Commission calculation for the land settlement would be if the cost exceeded the cost of repairing the land? It seems to me that if the Minister does not know the answer to that question, then there is a fundamental flaw in the Government’s offer, in that not all of the information will be with homeowners when they receive the offer.
Hon MAURICE WILLIAMSON: As I said in answer to the principal question, those who correctly supplied information will begin to receive letters of offer by the end of this week, and the details of that offer will be in that letter.
Community Groups—Grants from Gaming Societies
11. NIKKI KAYE (National—Auckland Central) to the Minister of Internal Affairs: What announcements has he made today on improving flexibility for community groups receiving grants from gaming societies?
Hon NATHAN GUY (Minister of Internal Affairs): Today I am very pleased to announce a change in regulations that means that gaming-machine societies can make multi-year grants from 15 September 2011. Up until now, the law meant that only annual grants could be made to the community. This is great news for the many sporting, cultural, and charity groups that rely on this funding. It will give them the confidence and the flexibility to focus on long-term projects for the benefit of their communities.
Nikki Kaye: What feedback was received during consultation over this change?
Hon NATHAN GUY: Late last year the Department of Internal Affairs consulted with gamingmachine societies, problem-gambling organisations, and a variety of community, arts, culture, and sporting groups. There was strong support, with 50 out of the 56 submissions favouring the change. Overall, this reflects the Government’s goal of maximising the returns to the community from the proceeds of gambling while minimising harm.
Mine Safety—Underground Mines
12. DARIEN FENTON (Labour) to the Minister of Labour: Does she stand by her statement about making changes to mine safety that “until the royal commission of inquiry makes its findings, we will wait accordingly”?
Hon DAVID CARTER (Minister of Agriculture) on behalf of the Minister of Labour: Yes, but she also stands by her statement on 4 August to this House: “I can confirm that we are certainly taking a close look at the resources and expertise in the department to ensure that it can carry out its role of overseeing the mining sector.”
Darien Fenton: Is her announcement yesterday of a High Hazards Unit an admission that mine safety is inadequate in New Zealand; if so, why did she not take action on the 2009 Department of Labour report that called for new safety measures in underground mining, and the repeated calls from Opposition MPs, mine workers, and unions to do something about the situation in mines since the Pike River mine tragedy?
Hon DAVID CARTER: No. The independent internal review of the department’s inspectorate was ordered immediately after the Pike River tragedy. It actually commended the department’s approach and the work of the inspectors, while also pointing out areas for improvement. The Government has therefore acted.
Darien Fenton: If she is prepared to act now on resourcing a new High Hazards Unit, why would she not also move to strengthen mine safety regulations so the new mines inspectors have adequate standards to enforce?
Hon DAVID CARTER: She has stated categorically in this House that she will wait until of the conclusions of the inquiry are known so we then know some of the causes of the tragedy, be they operational or regulatory. Then the Government will have the opportunity and will respond.
Darien Fenton: What steps, if any, will she be taking to restore mine check inspectors as another essential part of the mine safety triangle, or will that have to wait until 2013 as well?
Hon DAVID CARTER: The first steps taken are the increase in the number of inspectors and chief inspectors. Further work and further involvement of these inspectors will develop as we get the findings of the royal commission.
Hon Damien O’Connor: Does the announcement of the set-up of the High Hazards Unit confirm that her response to me in June 2010, when she said of employers: “They are in a good position to understand the hazards arising in the workplace and are best placed to take steps to control them.”, was fatally flawed?
Hon DAVID CARTER: No, not at all. As I said in answer to an earlier question, immediately after the disaster the department ordered an independent review. We are responding to some of the recommendations of that independent review.
Hon Damien O’Connor: Does the appointment of the High Hazards Unit finally now confirm the view that “the coal industry can no longer overlook the continuing under-resourced and incompetent nature of the existing bureaucratic structure.”, which was a view expressed, indeed, in 1995 by Mr Bill Brazil, a former mines inspector?
Hon DAVID CARTER: No, it does not, but it is appropriate to point out to the House that over the 9 years of the Labour Government it made no attempt to increase the number of inspectors.