Questions to Ministers
New Zealand Superannuation Fund—Funding
1. Hon PHIL GOFF (Leader of the Opposition) to the
Prime Minister: Is the Government considering any changes to funding the New Zealand Superannuation Fund; if so, why?
Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister)
: Yes; because under section 42 of the New Zealand Superannuation and Retirement Income Act 2001, Treasury must, each financial year, recalculate the Government’s required contribution to the fund.
Hon Phil Goff: What is the Prime Minister’s response to comments made by the chief executive of the Superannuation Fund, Adrian Orr, and by Brian Fallow in the
New Zealand Herald
that it is totally misleading to claim that New Zealand is borrowing to pay for the Superannuation Fund, given that he himself has made that claim?
Hon JOHN KEY: It is factually correct. The Government will be borrowing if it continues to make payments into the fund. At the prescribed rate, it will be borrowing $50 million a week to make those funds. Although one does not want to take away from Adrian Orr’s performance or that of the New Zealand Superannuation Fund, let us put a few facts on the table. Between 1 July 2007 and 31 January 2009, the Crown borrowed and paid into the fund $3.4 billion. All of those contributions have been lost, plus a further $1.3 billion. The fund has lost $4.7 billion in 19 months.
Hon Phil Goff: Is the Prime Minister saying in that answer that Brian Fallow and Adrian Orr are wrong to state that it is arbitrary to draw a circle around any one item around the Government’s outlays and to say it is funded by debt, and that we could equally claim that the tax cuts are funded out of borrowing?
Hon JOHN KEY: In answer to the first part of the question, yes.
Hon Phil Goff: Does the Prime Minister understand, given National’s track record in the 1990s of tampering with superannuation—in 1991 and 1999—that his and Mr English’s recent comments both undermined the certainty that people need around planning for their retirement future and the political consensus that superannuation should no longer be a political football?
Hon JOHN KEY: Let me make this assurance. Because the Leader of the Opposition seems to be unable to ask the obvious question, I will ask it of myself: is the Government considering the payments into the fund? The answer to that question is yes. As part of the Budget process I have asked the Minister of Finance to get Treasury to look at the possibility of temporarily contributing a lesser amount to the fund. That is expressly provided for under a section of the Act. Let me say, in answer to the question that the Leader of the Opposition asked, there will be no change to superannuation payments for New Zealanders. They are not linked to this fund. I have made it quite clear that if superannuation was to be cut—and I will make the same claim here in the House today—then I will resign as Prime Minister and resign as a member of Parliament.
Hon Phil Goff: The problem is that the Prime Minister will not be the Prime Minister by the time the problem arises. Does the Prime Minister understand that in 20 years’ time one in four New Zealanders will be in retirement and, therefore, that it makes sense, while the baby boom population is still in the workforce, that we pre-fund the scheme to ensure that the entitlements he promises can be guaranteed for the future?
Hon JOHN KEY: Yes, I understand that, and, yes, I support the pre-funding of superannuation. But the Government also—
Hon Phil Goff: But you’re not going to do it.
Hon JOHN KEY: Well, the Government faces some very difficult challenges, and that means that over the course of the next few years, the Government will be borrowing tens of billions of dollars. The question for the Government is simply whether for a period of time it pays less into the fund in order to take the pressure off its borrowing requirements. I have asked the Minister of Finance, as part of the Budget process, to consider that option.
Recession—Job Support Scheme
JO GOODHEW (National—Rangitata) to the
Minister for Social Development and Employment: What is she doing to help employees in the current economic situation?
Hon PAULA BENNETT (Minister for Social Development and Employment)
: This afternoon the Prime Minister has announced the Job Support Scheme to help keep people in jobs where their company is struggling in a tough global economy. This will support those workers who might otherwise lose their jobs. This Prime Minister is prepared to listen to ideas from outside the Beehive and to back the good ones.
Jo Goodhew: What help will the Government provide for smaller businesses that are also facing hard times?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: Work is progressing quickly on small to medium sized businesses. Their needs are more diverse. Therefore, a scheme was more complex to develop, but this is weeks away, not months.
Hon Annette King: Will the Job Support Scheme be made available to the nearly 600 State employees whose jobs are being cut in the Ministry for the Environment, the Ministry of Social Development, and the Tertiary Education Commission; if not, why not?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: This scheme is for private businesses that are having a downturn in their production. It is not appropriate for it to be for the Public Service. It is for private companies that are suffering a cut in their production, and as a consequence are looking at laying off staff. This is about keeping workers in their jobs.
Jo Goodhew: What groups and organisations has the Government been working with, to develop this scheme?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: We have had great cooperation from businesses and unions. We had cooperation before the Job Summit where a lot of work was done. On the day, a lot of work was done. We heard from National Distribution Union boss, Laila Harré, who said that the Job Summit was a success and a genuinely tripartite process. We promised action from the Job Summit, and we have delivered.
Sue Bradford: Will the new Job Support Scheme be actively and immediately promoted in the retail sector, which employs over 230,000 workers and includes a number of really large companies, where many jobs are being lost every day at the moment?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: If those companies have 100 employees or more, and they voluntarily sign up to the scheme and make an arrangement between them, then, yes, they will fit into the scheme.
Hon Annette King: What advice would she give to workers in a company of, say, 99 workers who are facing the prospect of unemployment and hardship for their families but who do not qualify for the 9-day fortnight package?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: I would say to them “Watch this space.” Thank goodness they have a National Government that is delivering action and not just words.
Hon Phil Goff: Why has the training proposal, which was at the heart of the original announcement, been dropped when it would have allowed workers to upgrade their skills on that 1 day in a fortnight when they were not working? Surely that was the intention of the original proposal?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: After the Job Summit and after looking at the proposal that came from that, the absolute was that we wanted to save jobs. This Government is committed to upskilling and training opportunities, but this measure was about saving jobs and giving employees who had the potential to be made redundant the ability to stay in their jobs.
Hon Phil Goff: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The question was quite straightforward: why was the training proposal dropped. I do not think that question was addressed.
Mr SPEAKER: I think that, in fairness—
Hon Member: She said “Watch this space.”
Mr SPEAKER: No, that was not part of the answer to that question, if I recollect correctly. The Minister did say that clearly there was a change of view and that the focus went on to saving jobs. That may not be exactly the answer the honourable member wanted, but I think it was a reasonable answer to the question.
Hon CLAYTON COSGROVE (Labour—Waimakariri) to the
Minister of Corrections: How many corrections facilities does she expect to be managed by the private sector within the term of this Government?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS (Minister of Corrections)
: No decisions have yet been made on the number of prisons that will be privately managed.
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: Does the Minister agree that the concept of Māori-only prisons is contrary to the concept of one rule for all?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: The issue of Māori-only prisons has not been raised with me before.
Sandra Goudie: Why is the Government considering the private management of prisons?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: In order to deliver the best corrections service for New Zealand. This Government believes that we should not limit our choices. By changing the legislation to allow the private management of prisons, we are giving ourselves a choice.
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: Does the Minister agree with the proposal of her Associate Minister, the Hon Pita Sharples, that the privatisation of prisons “could be a chance for jails to be tailor-made for Māori …”?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: Actually, I agree that it would be an opportunity to bring about better outcomes for Māori, because certainly in the Public Service right now we do not do well enough in corrections.
Te Ururoa Flavell: Tēnā koe, Mr Speaker. Kia ora tātou. Can the Minister confirm that Māori organisations will be able to tender to manage privately managed prisons?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: Yes. All organisations with skills, knowledge, and experience in working with prisoners will be encouraged to tender. This will provide opportunities to Māori organisations that currently work with offenders to consider tendering to manage prisons. Joint ventures may also be considered, where appropriate.
Metiria Turei: Is GEO Group, which ran the Auckland remand prison under National, the same efficient and better-outcome-producing corporation that in the US put a female inmate in the same cell block as male inmates, who then beat and raped her
so that she later took her own life, yet still made a very healthy profit of $61 million of public money?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: I am not aware of the situation to which that member refers, but I would say that there is not a perfect record in publicly managed prisons in New Zealand.
Te Ururoa Flavell: Will specific standards and performance measures be able to be applied to each privately managed prison?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: Yes. A separate contract will be developed for each prison that is tendered for private management. In each contract, specific standards and performance measures will be able to be developed to address the unique environment of each prison. For example, specific standards and measures relating to outcome for Māori offenders, who now make up over 50 percent of our prison population, could be included in contracts.
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: Will she be discussing with her Associate Minister, the Hon Pita Sharples, the implementation of his proposals for Māori-only prisons?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: Mr Sharples has not raised that issue with me, but I am always able to discuss matters with Mr Sharples, at any time.
Community Law Centres—Funding
CHESTER BORROWS (National—Whanganui) to the
Minister of Justice: What actions has he taken to address the shortfall in funding for community law centres?
Hon SIMON POWER (Minister of Justice)
: Community law centres are funded primarily by revenue from the Lawyers and Conveyancers Special Fund, which consists of 60 percent of the interest earned on solicitors’ trust accounts. However, the slowing housing market, coupled with a cut in interest rates, meant they were facing a funding cut of about 68 percent. The Government was not prepared to allow that to happen to such an important service, which is even more vital in difficult economic times. Last night I was very pleased to announce at the annual meeting of the Coalition of Community Law Centres of Aotearoa that the Government will put in place interim measures that will provide them with the same level of funding next year as they enjoyed in 2008-09. I know that many members from all parties have been approached on this issue as part of their constituency work, and I take this opportunity to thank them for their constructive approach on this issue.
Chester Borrows: What actions will the Minister take to ensure that funding of community law centres is more secure in the long term?
Hon SIMON POWER: The Government does not want community law centres to find themselves in the same predicament again in a year’s time. In addition to the interim measure I announced last night, we have also commenced work on finding an enduring funding framework to ensure continuity of services provided by the centres. I intend to involve the Coalition of Community Law Centres of Aotearoa in this work, and I would like to thank Kevin Campbell and his team for their willingness to engage in a constructive way on this difficult issue.
Hon Lianne Dalziel: When does the Minister intend to respond to my letter of 10 February 2009, in which I proposed both the measures he announced last night; and will he accept the offer I made in that letter to work collaboratively with the Government to develop the durable solutions that are needed to ensure the long-term sustainability of the sector?
Hon SIMON POWER: In answer to the first question, I say very soon. In answer to the second question, I say yes.
Question No. 3 to Minister
METIRIA TUREI (Green)
: I seek leave to table a document relating to question No 3, entitled “GEO Group, Inc.: Despite a Crashing Economy, Private Prison Firm Turns a Handsome Profit”, produced by CorpWatch on 1 March 2009, detailing the criminal mismanagement of private prisons by GEO Group.
Mr SPEAKER: Could I ask who produced the article?
METIRIA TUREI: CorpWatch.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is none.
- Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Foreshore and Seabed Act—Review
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Labour) to the
Minister of Māori Affairs: Did Te Puni Kōkiri provide advice on the membership of the Foreshore and Seabed Act review group; if so, did that advice address what should be done if the review group recommended no changes were needed?
Hon Dr PITA SHARPLES (Minister of Māori Affairs)
: Tēnā koe, Mr Speaker. Tēnā tātou katoa. Yes, Te Puni Kōkiri did provide advice on the membership of the review panel prior to the decision being taken to Cabinet; but, no, Te Puni Kōkiri did not provide advice on what should be done if the review panel recommended that no changes were needed.
Hon Dr Michael Cullen: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I want to raise quite a serious point of order at this point. The question I initially submitted to the Clerk’s Office asked whether the Minister stood by his statement that in the event of the Foreshore and Seabed Act review group not recommending major changes they should be sacked and replaced, and I used the exact words the Minister used. That question was declined on the grounds that the Minister had no ministerial responsibility for the Foreshore and Seabed Act review group. We have now been informed that Te Puni Kōkiri provided advice on the membership of that group. I now seek your ruling, Mr Speaker, on whether I can ask the original question.
Hon Rodney Hide: Just because a Minister made recommendations does not make him responsible for the bill.
Hon Dr PITA SHARPLES: I am happy to answer the disallowed question.
Mr SPEAKER: My dilemma is that just because members want to answer questions does not mean that under the Standing Orders they are able to. It is an interesting point that the Hon Dr Michael Cullen has raised, but the point made by the Hon Rodney Hide is relevant. Ministers receive advice from a range of departments, but that does not make them responsible for certain areas. I think we have to abide by the ruling that the Minister of Māori Affairs is not responsible for the issues raised in the question the member originally lodged. I am aware of that difference. I would invite the member to continue to ask supplementary questions relating to the question that has been approved.
Hon Dr Michael Cullen: It will, however, have a reasonably different interpretation from this point on, in that case. Did the Minister discuss with the Attorney-General the membership of the Foreshore and Seabed Act review group; if so, did he support or oppose the inclusion of anyone with expertise in recreational or other access issues?
Hon Dr PITA SHARPLES: The Māori Party had discussions with the National Government in order to set up the agreement and the process. As Minister of Māori Affairs, I had discussions with the Attorney-General about possible candidates for the review group.
Te Ururoa Flavell: What reports is he aware of that suggest that a review of the Foreshore and Seabed Act is necessary?
Hon Dr PITA SHARPLES: I have received a report that was presented to the previous Government by the United Nations special rapporteur Professor Rodolfo Stavenhagen. The report recommends: “The Foreshore and Seabed Act should be repealed or amended by Parliament and the Crown should engage in treaty settlement negotiation with Maori that would recognize the inherent rights of Maori in the foreshore and seabed …”. Unlike the previous Government, this Government respects international expert advice, and listens.
Hon Dr Michael Cullen: In the light of that last quotation, will the Minister therefore explain why he has continually opposed the settlement with Ngāti Porou, which, in fact, gives far more than would have been possible under an application to the Māori Land Court, following the Ngāti Apa decision?
Tariana Turia: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. That supplementary question would hardly qualify as relating to the first question.
Hon Dr Michael Cullen: Supplementary questions can arise out of the answer to the principal question and to supplementary questions. It is the Minister who chose to quote the special rapporteur’s report.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: Dr Sharples said that this Government does pay attention to international agencies that have a view on this sort of thing. To say that that allows the questioner then to start waltzing off into what are basically negotiated arrangements between the Crown and an individual iwi group, I think stretches it. The wider principle is the way in which this country chooses to deal with the issue of ownership around the foreshore and seabed, and that is not related to any specific settlement that might be arrived at, with one iwi.
Hon Dr Michael Cullen: If that supplementary question is ruled out, you should have ruled out peremptorily the actual question that was put to the Minister to elicit that answer—which is, has he seen any reports about the need for a review of the Foreshore and Seabed Act. I might say that it is completely in order, because I take the view that the Minister of Māori Affairs has ministerial responsibility for all matters to do with Māori in his advocacy role as Minister of Māori Affairs.
Mr SPEAKER: I thank all honourable members, because a very interesting point has been raised. I think the Hon Dr Michael Cullen, though, cannot go back and relitigate the original decision in respect of ministerial responsibility. The point raised by the Hon Tariana Turia is a very interesting one, because the Hon Dr Pita Sharples was asked about a report, and he did quote from a report and he said the Government listens. I do not believe, therefore, he has opened up new territory for questioning outside his responsibility. I think it is stretching the linkage between supplementary and primary questions to argue that simply to say that, yes, he had seen that report and the Government listens, does that. It would be my ruling on the matter that he has not really opened up new territory. But I invite the Hon Dr Michael Cullen—
Hon Dr Michael Cullen: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I was going to say that the Minister did quote the report in some detail in that regard. The report, incidentally, did not call necessarily for repeal but possibly for amendment, and called for the Crown to negotiate. My point in my supplementary question was the Crown did negotiate with Ngāti Porou and Te Whānau-a-Apanui. Indeed, a bill is before the House dealing with the outcome of one of those negotiations.
Mr SPEAKER: The member is raising good points of order on the matter. I hope he appreciates that it is a delicate issue, given that it has already had to be dealt with as part of the question process in approving questions. I think, though, I have to continue to rule that just because the Minister refers to a report, he is not saying that those are his
views, but that it was what the report said, and he said that the Government listens. It is my view that that has not opened up new territory. However, I invite the honourable member to ask a further supplementary question without it being deducted from his party’s allocation of questions. I accept absolutely that it is a fairly marginal call. I will not swear by the fact that I am 100 percent right on this, but that is my ruling. I therefore invite the honourable member to ask another supplementary question without it coming off the allocation to Labour members.
Hon Dr Michael Cullen: When will he, as the Minister of Māori Affairs, front up to explain to Māori that even if the Foreshore and Seabed Act is simply repealed, it is most unlikely that the great majority of foreshore and seabed will pass from Crown ownership into customary title, let alone freehold title?
Hon Dr PITA SHARPLES: We have never concealed the possible results of what a review would do, and it is not my right, right now, to talk about the review. It is in progress at this time.
Hon Christopher Finlayson: What other reports has the Minister seen on support for the foreshore and seabed review?
Hon Dr PITA SHARPLES: I have seen reports quoting the Opposition spokesman, the Hon David Parker, saying that the Labour Party wants to be part of the discussion and to engage with the Crown in a constructive way. I have also seen reports of the Hon Shane Jones undermining the review panel, then the Leader of the Opposition calling the review extremely divisive and saying that the review should not proceed. I can only assume that the Leader of the Opposition has a very different definition of “constructive engagement” from his colleague Mr Parker.
Hon Dr Michael Cullen: Does the Minister accept the Court of Appeal ruling in Ngāti Apa, which quite clearly implied that the gaining of customary title, or freehold title, would not be a widespread outcome of any applications to the Māori Land Court; if so, why does he continue to hold out to Māori the prospect of full-scale ownership, on a very broad basis, of foreshore and seabed, which is not a correct position of the likely outcome?
Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The questioner seeks from the Minister, effectively, a legal opinion. That is not appropriate in a question. It is not reasonable to ask that of a Minister.
Hon Dr Michael Cullen: I am not asking the Minister for a legal opinion. I asked him whether he accepts what the legal decision given by the Court of Appeal was, as opposed to what he has been telling people for some considerable time.
Mr SPEAKER: Again, I acknowledge to members of the House that we are in very difficult territory and I do not pretend to have all the wisdom on this, but to ask the Minister whether he agrees or disagrees with a ruling of the court is interesting territory to be getting into. Is it possible for the member to pursue his question in a different form?
Hon Dr Michael Cullen: I think I accept that the Minister cannot answer the question, so perhaps I could ask a different supplementary question.
Hon Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The problem is whether the member can ask the question; it is not whether the Minister can answer it. It is an unacceptable slur on the Minister for the member to stand in this House and somehow pretend that because he has got it wrong by not asking the correct question, somehow it is a slight on the Minister’s ability. It is actually the member’s ability to ask the question that is in question.
Mr SPEAKER: I do not think that that is helpful. This is a difficult issue, because the original question the honourable member put down was ruled out of order on grounds that are important. None the less, I can understand how the member was
concerned about his original question being ruled out. I am therefore trying to be helpful in accommodating the member to ask a reasonable question around the question that is on the Order Paper. I accept, though, that it gets tricky when the Minister brings in additional information, but I ask the member to rephrase a further question.
Hon Dr Michael Cullen: Does the Minister believe that in the event that the Foreshore and Seabed Act is simply repealed—so that the Ngāti Apa decision stands in its entirety—there will be large-scale, successful applications to the Māori Land Court, transferring public foreshore and seabed into customary title and then into freehold title; if not, how does he reconcile that view with the decision of the Court of Appeal?
Hon Dr PITA SHARPLES: I will not pre-empt the findings of the review panel. Unlike the previous Government, I believe in due process, and it will take place.
Te Ururoa Flavell: Has the Minister received any reports about the value of the review of the Foreshore and Seabed Act in enhancing the relationship between the Crown and Māori?
Hon Dr Michael Cullen: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. It seems to me the “protection racket” has to run both ways; how could that question be in order if some of the previous supplementary questions have been ruled out of order?
Mr SPEAKER: I think I have to support the honourable member in this, because although the Minister may be asked about reports he has received, the reports must relate to his ministerial responsibility. The Minister has indicated that he is not responsible for the review; therefore, I do uphold the point of order of the Hon Dr Michael Cullen, and I invite him to ask a supplementary question, if that is what he is seeking.
Hon Dr Michael Cullen: How does the Minister reconcile his last answer to me, about not prejudging the outcome of any court ruling, with his frequent statements, up and down the country, that Māori “own” the foreshore and seabed, and the Act stole it off them?
Mr SPEAKER: Let me make it clear: the Minister is not responsible as Minister for statements he may have made in his role as a member of the Māori Party. In inviting the Minister to answer, I just make that clear, because he would be in breach of the Standing Orders—
Hon Dr Michael Cullen: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I think we have to be very careful, once a person has taken the oath as a Minister and also holds any other position, whether that person can then decide that in any particular case that he was not speaking as a Minister, but really as Dr Pita Sharples.
Mr SPEAKER: This issue has come up on many times, and I do not particularly want to cite all of the Speakers’ rulings that are here. But I wanted to alert the Minister to that, because he would be getting out of order were he to comment on statements he might have made as co-leader of the Māori Party. He is responsible only for what he says as Minister, and he can be questioned only on that directly in the House. There are plenty of Speakers’ rulings I can cite for the honourable member, if he so wishes.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Surely, then, that would rule that question out?
Mr SPEAKER: Only the last part of it.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: Well, the whole question related to comments that Dr Sharples has made as co-leader of the Māori Party.
Mr SPEAKER: If I recollect correctly, the last part of the question talked about reconciliation with comments the member had made. The first part of the question, I believe, was in order.
Hon Tariana Turia: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Can the House have evidence of this information that Dr Cullen is presenting to it, or could he be misleading the House?
Mr SPEAKER: No, no—that is not helpful. Look, this is a tricky question, and I invite the member to repeat that first part of the question, and to add no more, because it will be ruled out of order if he does.
Hon Dr Michael Cullen: If I can remember what I said—does the Minister, in his ministerial capacity, stand by the statements he has made on many occasions that the foreshore and seabed is “owned” by Māori and the Act stole it off them?
Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. That question cannot stand. Helen Clark established in Parliament the principle of separating her role as Prime Minister from her role as leader of the Labour Party. All Dr Sharples has been saying around the country are comments made as co-leader of the Māori Party. Certainly, he would not resile from those comments, because they are Māori Party policy and have been for a very long time. Indeed, they are the sort of sentiment that was the genesis of the Māori Party itself. That question cannot stand as a reasonable question to the Minister of Māori Affairs.
Hon Dr Michael Cullen: Indeed, Helen Clark did make that distinction, when she was being asked questions about the finances and other operations of the Labour Party. This is a question about an issue of public policy, about statements made and actions taken by the Government, and about legislation that the Government is reviewing. The Minister cannot hide all the time as simply being co-leader of the Māori Party.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: It is important to understand that the Minister is free to make statements as co-leader of the Māori Party. That does not impinge on his activities as a Minister. Further, I think the Minister has made it very clear that, notwithstanding his own strongly held personal views and those of his party on this matter, these are matters under consideration by review, and he does not want to make a ministerial statement about them until such time as the review is completed. That is perfectly reasonable.
Mr SPEAKER: I thank honourable members. This is a very interesting area of questioning, and therefore I have allowed the House to take some time to sort it out. I accept that judgments in this area are, by nature, difficult, and I would ask members to respect that. It would be my judgment in this—and as I look at former Speakers’ rulings—that the Minister could be questioned on statements he might have made that impinged on his responsibilities as Minister. The dilemma in this particular case is that we have already established that some of these issues are not his responsibility as Minister. This particular review is not his responsibility as Minister; therefore, he cannot be questioned on comments that relate to that matter, because they are not his responsibility as Minister. I think that is the clear demarcation on this issue.
On that basis, I must say to the honourable member that when he repeated his question it was not the same as the one he had first asked, and I must rule out that question. I allowed him two further goes. I think we have probably given the honourable member a fair go on this question. I do have to rule out that question, though.
Hon Dr Michael Cullen: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I have two further points of order. The first is that it seems to me that we are in significant difficulty around such Ministers as those of Māori Affairs, Pacific Island Affairs, Youth Affairs, and Women’s Affairs—the so-called population ministries. The understanding has always been that the Ministers in that case can be questioned on a wide range of issues of policy relevant to those particular populations. The Minister of Māori Affairs is responsible for input into Government decision-making on all matters of specific relevance to Māori. It would be very hard to argue that the Foreshore and Seabed Act is
not of particular relevance to Māori; it is of particular particular relevance to Māori. If, therefore, the Minister is able to hide, and to argue, in effect, that he has no view as a Minister, no position as a Minister, or no responsibility as a Minister for matters relating to the Foreshore and Seabed Act, then I think we are in an impossible position in the House.
Mr Speaker, once you have dealt with that, I will raise a further point of order, about a further version of the main question that was submitted earlier. It now seems to me that, in the light of your rulings, it should have been allowed.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: I think the difficulty here may well be where this question was directed in the first place today. During the successive terms of the last Labour Government, questions that related to the Foreshore and Seabed Act were routinely transferred away from the Hon Parekura Horomia to the Hon Dr Michael Cullen, who answered them as Attorney-General on the basis that it was his particular area of responsibility. At that time, absolutely no consideration was given by the Labour Government to those wider considerations that should rightly have fallen then to the Minister of Māori Affairs.
Leaving that history aside, and perhaps not wanting to point to it as a precedent, the clear demarcation in this case is that Dr Sharples has made statements that one would expect of political party leaders when talking to a constituency that either supports them or they are trying to gain support from. He has an entirely different function as Minister of Māori Affairs. If the questions were about his strict involvement with the review process as Minister of Māori Affairs, then, yes, of course he would answer. But this question takes it well outside that.
Mr SPEAKER: I appreciate the points that the honourable members have made, because I think they are very good and well considered points. The House, I think, has taken sufficient time on this matter today. Let me make this final point. I, as Speaker, am not involved in determining Ministers’ responsibility in respect of answering questions. It is an independent process conducted by the Clerk’s Office. The assessment was made that, considering all the current Standing Orders and Speakers’ rulings, etc., the question had to be altered this morning on the basis of ministerial responsibility. I think that is where we have got to in ruling on these questions now that the Minister can be questioned only on comments that he has made that relate to, or impinge on, his ministerial responsibilities, and he is not responsible. As the Hon Gerry Brownlee has pointed out, there is nothing new about this, because, as the honourable member Dr Cullen well knows, he himself answered many questions on this area in the previous Government. I think the House should move on.
Hon Dr Michael Cullen: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I still have two points of order. The first is to correct something that you just said, because you will not be aware of the facts. The initial rejection of this question came from the Minister’s office, and then the Clerk’s Office considered the matter. It was the Minister who declined to answer the question, having, of course, led a party into this House formed solely on the basis of repeal of the Foreshore and Seabed Act.
My second point of order, Mr Speaker, is more important. When the original question was rejected a rephrased question was submitted, and it asked the Minister whether he had seen comments by the co-leader of the Māori Party along the lines of dismissal of the review committee, and asked whether he agreed with that. That question was also rejected. Mr Speaker, you have informed the House that we have to accept that this Minister has a peculiarly bifurcated character. In anything that is controversial, he is acting as the co-leader of the Māori Party; in anything that is safe, he is the Minister of Māori Affairs and can be questioned about it in the House. Mr Speaker, I put to you that if we are to have that position, we must be able, on a matter
that is important to Māori and on which Te Puni Kōkiri reports to the Minister, to ask the Minister of Māori Affairs whether he agrees with comments or has seen any reported comments by the co-leader of the Māori Party.
Mr SPEAKER: The House, I think, has heard quite enough on this matter. I think the member knows well that in the previous administration this issue cropped up, and he knows how it was ruled on in the previous administration. I have ruled, and let me make it very clear: I have ruled, consistent with existing Speakers’ rulings and the Standing Orders, that the Minister cannot be questioned on matters that are not his responsibility, or on comments that he might make on matters that are not directly his responsibility.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Has he, as Minister of Māori Affairs, at any time while considering matters that he is responsible for advocating within the Government, resiled from the position that the Foreshore and Seabed Act stole the foreshore and seabed from Māori?
Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. That question challenges the ruling that you have not long given to the House. It works on the basis that by putting Dr Sharples in a position where he can answer only according to the public statements he has made as co-leader of the Māori Party, he then makes those statements as Minister. That is unacceptable, and it is an abuse of the House process. I might say, and state again, that this whole separation issue of responsibilities and authorities was not established in this House by anyone other than Helen Clark, and for the Labour Party to be now trying to skirt round that is, I think, particularly annoying. But, Mr Speaker, that was a direct challenge to the way in which you have ruled on this particular matter, and, I think, ruled quite appropriately that we move forward.
Hon Dr Michael Cullen: Mr Speaker, I must correct the member again. Those matters in relation to the Rt Hon Helen Clark were raised in the context of Labour Party internal affairs for which she, as Prime Minister, had no responsibility. I am not asking the Minister of Māori Affairs anything to do with the internal affairs of the Māori Party. What I am asking about are his views and actions in regard to an issue that has been a central issue in Māoridom for a number of years. If the Minister chooses to hide behind Speakers’ rulings on this matter, then I think the public will draw its own conclusion.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Mr Speaker, I very carefully worded my question, having listened to your ruling. It was a very deliberate attempt to work around the ruling—a ruling that I think it is clear some of us do not agree with. It was an attempt to work around that ruling, and my submission is that I worked around it enough for the question to be in order.
Hon David Parker: When a Minister stands in this House, he stands as part of Cabinet—
Hon Members: Or she.
Hon David Parker: He or she—in this case a “he”—stands as part of Cabinet and has ministerial responsibility on behalf of Cabinet to answer on behalf of the executive. A Minister outside Cabinet is asked, really on behalf of the Government, whether, as a Minister in the Government, he or she accepts that that is the Government policy in respect of propositions that are put to him or her. Those propositions can be statements that are in the press, they can be statements from other politicians, they can be statements from other members of his or her party, or they can be statements of that very Minister when he or she was acting in a different capacity.
Mr SPEAKER: I invite the member to examine the Standing Orders and Speakers’ rulings a little more carefully. Question time does not bring to bear those arguments that the member was just advancing; question time relates very specifically to Ministers’ individual responsibilities. Now I am going to have to rule on this, because the House is wasting a lot time.
Hon Dr Pita Sharples: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: I am in the process of ruling. The honourable member Trevor Mallard has framed a question in relation to the Minister’s responsibilities as Minister of Māori Affairs, and I invite the Minister to answer only in that capacity—as Minister of Māori Affairs.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: I have just ruled.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: Yes, you have ruled, but I just wish to—
Mr SPEAKER: If this is a new point of order, I call the Hon Gerry Brownlee.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: Well, it is a related point of order, I must concede. Mr Speaker, you will recall from the last Parliament that the New Zealand First Party had a policy that was designed to bring much younger New Zealanders into the adult jurisdiction as far as the courts were concerned. That was not Labour Party policy at the time. I recall Mr Peters being asked in this House how he, as Minister of Foreign Affairs, had dealt with the human rights issues around this matter when he was engaged in various negotiations and discussions internationally. At that time the Speaker ruled that there was a distinction between his role as a representative of the Government who advances Government policy, and the position that he had as leader of the New Zealand First Party advancing New Zealand First policy. We have exactly that issue here today. It does not matter how much the Labour Party members might like to twist things round; this was a precedent established by them and their Labour Government.
Hon Dr PITA SHARPLES: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: I will hear the Hon Dr Pita Sharples.
Hon Dr PITA SHARPLES: Thank you, Mr Speaker. I have sat here and listened to attempts at asking me questions, and you have ruled those questions out of order. While the member was asking those questions he impugned my integrity by saying that I am hiding, that I had made statements as a Minister that belong to a party member, that I was hiding, that I did not want to answer the questions, and that I had a relationship with Ngāti Porou that was negative. All those sorts of things will now be published—they are out in public—and not one of them is true. I am sitting here while people criss-cross their rights and wrongs, and my integrity in the public’s eye has gone down the tubes. Mr Speaker, I ask that you now ask Dr Cullen to withdraw and apologise for doing that to my character in this House without providing any evidence whatsoever.
Mr SPEAKER: I think we are getting—[Interruption] I am on my feet. I allowed the honourable Minister to make that point of order, even though strictly it was not a point of order, because I felt he was expressing a legitimate concern about some of the language used in points of order—such as “hiding”. Because we were trying to sort out a difficult issue, I did not come down on that language as hard as I should have, and I personally apologise to the honourable Minister for not having prevented it.
The House has spent a lot of time on this matter. I have ruled that the honourable member Trevor Mallard’s question can go to the Minister, but he can answer it only in respect of his responsibilities as Minister of Māori Affairs. I invite the Minister to respond to that question in his capacity as Minister of Māori Affairs, because that was the way that the question was framed.
Hon Dr Michael Cullen: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: I have ruled and I invite the member to sit down.
Hon Dr Michael Cullen: It is a different point of order.
Mr SPEAKER: I am on my feet, and the member will sit down. I have invited the Minister to answer that question, and I ask him to do so.
Hon Dr Michael Cullen: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I simply invite you to point out to the Minister that if he feels that he could answer those questions, he could always have sought leave to answer them at the time.
Mr SPEAKER: I do not believe that that was adding to the good order of the House.
Hon Dr PITA SHARPLES: As the Minister with responsibility for take Māori, I have always made statements on behalf of that portfolio with full integrity to the position. Any statements I might have made against the Foreshore and Seabed Act I have done as a co-leader of the Māori Party, with passion and conviction in that capacity, but in the capacity of Minister I have played it straight down the line.
Question No. 6 to Minister
METIRIA TUREI (Green)
: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Will members show the Green Party member some modicum of respect as she seeks to ask a question. [Interruption] The member happens to be in the Opposition. That is why I am particularly focused on Opposition members who are making it difficult for her to ask a question.
METIRIA TUREI: My apologies for doing this to you this afternoon, but I seek your guidance on a matter that has not yet been dealt with in this—the forty-ninth—Parliament. I lodged this particular, specific question to the Minister of Māori Affairs this morning because of the specific responsibility of that Minister to advocate for and to uphold Māori participation in public policy issues. It is an issue that is directly a part of his responsibilities. It relates to and impinges on his ministerial responsibility, and it is certainly well within the strict matters of Māori affairs, as Mr Gerry Brownlee set out earlier. However, the question was transferred to another Minister. I know that the previous Government—as we have already discussed—did this on a very regular basis in the previous Parliament, to the great frustration of many members of this House. I am concerned that the National Government is treating this as a precedent, given that the previous Government did it, too.
I would like some indication from you about what right members of Parliament have on behalf of the public to hold a member of the executive to account for the responsibilities of an issue specifically concerning that Minister’s ministerial area and to get an answer from that Minister on those issues. I am very concerned that today’s decision and, indeed, the discussion we have just had looks very much like the Minister of Māori Affairs is being actively constrained from answering such questions. I would very much appreciate your advice on this matter.
Hon Dr NICK SMITH (Minister for the Environment)
: I wish to make two clear points. The first is that changes to the Resource Management Act—which is what the question asks about—are very clearly within my responsibility. If the member had wanted the question to go to my colleague the Minister of Māori Affairs, then she would have asked what advice the Māori affairs ministry, Te Puni Kōkiri, had provided on the Resource Management Act reforms, and that question would have gone to the Minister. The second thing I think this House should reject is the view that as Minister for the Environment I have no responsibility for the role that Māori would take in environmental decisions, because it is my view that every member of this executive has responsibilities that relate to their portfolio in respect of Māori.
Metiria Turei: Speaking to the point of order—
Mr SPEAKER: I have heard sufficient on this matter. I invite the member to sit, because this case is very clear-cut. The member is asking about changes to the Resource Management Act. The Minister of Māori Affairs is not responsible for changes to the Resource Management Act. This is a very clear case and I invite the member to ask her question.
METIRIA TUREI (Green)
: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The question specifically asks about the negative impacts—
Mr SPEAKER: The member will resume her seat. She is now questioning my ruling. This one is very clear. Whereas in the previous case I accepted that it was a more difficult issue, this one is very clear. I invite the member to ask her question.
METIRIA TUREI (Green)
: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Am I to understand that the Government is now able, in any circumstances, to prevent a Minister from answering a question specifically related to his or her portfolio area?
Mr SPEAKER: Not at all. The honourable member is a good member, and she is perfectly capable of framing a question within the responsibility of the Minister of Māori Affairs. She is perfectly capable of framing a question that lies within the responsibility of the Minister of Māori Affairs. This question does not. I invite her to ask her question.
Resource Management Act, Reforms—Māori Input in Decision Making
METIRIA TUREI (Green) to the
Minister for the Environment: Will the Government’s proposed changes to the Resource Management Act have any negative impact on the rights of Māori, iwi, and hapū to have their say over resource management decisions?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH (Minister for the Environment)
: Māori, iwi, and hapū have an important interest in resource management as applicants, as objectors, and also indirectly through the creation or loss of job opportunities, as users of infrastructure, and in exercising their customary rights in such areas as fishing. I have received increased concern from Māori about frustrations at the slow, bureaucratic processes of the current Act in such areas as aquaculture. Māori have no more interest in long, inefficient, bureaucratic processes than any other New Zealander has.
Metiria Turei: Is it not true that the Minister knows that these changes will have a negative impact on Māori and that that is why he is colluding to silence the Minister of Māori Affairs on it?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: I think I know what it will be. The member cannot, in a question, allege someone is colluding. I rule that question out of order.
Hon Dr Michael Cullen: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Could I be quite clear—were you ruling out the word “colluding”, because if that word is ruled out then we really are—
Mr SPEAKER: The member will resume his seat. The member is the most experienced member in this House. He knows that the Standing Orders around debate are different from those around question time, and that to allege someone might have been colluding is not something that has been ruled out in debate. But questions cannot contain such an allegation. It is totally outside the Standing Orders. That is why I have ruled the question out of order.
Chris Auchinvole: How are Māori, iwi, and hapū negatively affected by the current slow and cumbersome process of the Resource Management Act?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: One of the worst aspects of the current Act is how long it takes to develop and change district and regional plans. This has hampered iwi and hapū in having their interests over natural resources recognised and provided for. I think we would all acknowledge that Māori are at the hard edge of the economic downturn in industries such as construction and forestry. Reforms that can get those industries moving again will help Māori keep their jobs.
Metiria Turei: What will stop council plans allowing for, for example, sewage discharge over mussel beds or kai moana beds when, under his reforms, Māori will lose their fundamental right to appeal the plan to the Environment Court?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: The changes in appeal rights cut both ways. As the member would know, the bill I introduced to the House and that was sent to the select committee by, I think, 110 votes to 10 does not remove all appeal rights on plans. It constrains rights to issues of Part 2, the substantive purpose, of the Act, and the substantive example she gives would not be restricted by those changes.
Rahui Katene: What submissions has the Minister received from the Minister of Māori Affairs on the resource management review, and was there any change in policy as a consequence of those submissions?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: The Hon Dr Pita Sharples and the Hon Tariana Turia made very strong submissions to me that the Māori Party would oppose—[Interruption]
Hon Dr Michael Cullen: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Can we be clear whether their submissions were made as co-leaders of the Māori Party or as Ministers?
Mr SPEAKER: I apologise to the Minister for that interruption.
Hon David Parker: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. How can it be in order for the Minister to say what he has been told by people in their roles as party leaders but not for another Minister to reply—
Mr SPEAKER: The member will resume his seat. If the member engaged the brain before operating the mouth, he would realise—
Hon Annette King: That’s very rude.
Mr SPEAKER: I have been rude on purpose because the Minister was answering in the area of his responsibility, which he is entitled to do.
Hon David Parker: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. If the Speaker would put his brain in order, he would realise that the Minister of Māori Affairs was speaking within his!
Mr SPEAKER: I invite the member to reflect a little on what is happening here. It is not helpful. These are tricky issues. They are not new. The previous Parliament had difficulty around these issues of ministerial responsibility, and they are not easy issues. I have tried, in allowing the question of the Hon Trevor Mallard today, to show that questions carefully framed can be allowed, and I have tried to do that in the interests of holding the executive to account.
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I ask you to consider your last statement. You are the Speaker of this House. You have huge respect because of your office, and for you to make statements as you did to Mr Parker, or to any member of this House, and to then admit that you were abusive deliberately, demeans the office of Speaker. I cannot recall—I have been here for only 9 years; I invite comment from other members who have been here longer than me—ever hearing a Speaker use those terms of abuse to a member of Parliament, and I invite you to reflect on that. It reflects on you personally and on your office, and it is offensive.
Mr SPEAKER: I note the point the member has made.
Hon David Cunliffe: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Setting aside the previous point of order, which you will no doubt reflect upon, I seek your clarification and, through you, that of the Minister in his reply as to whether he was referring to the two members concerned in their ministerial capacities.
Mr SPEAKER: I think I can deal with that fairly simply. The Minister can reply because it is his ministerial responsibility. The Minister, in replying, can refer to a range of matters. That is well known.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. This is a somewhat supportive point of order, because I want to note that you allowed the original question,
which was about the Minister of Māori Affairs. Therefore, the question from the Māori Party member was about the Minister of Māori Affairs and his contribution. Therefore, the response can be about only that, and I support both Dr Smiths in the rulings they have made. What we clearly have now is the ability to ask about areas that are not those Ministers’ primary areas of responsibility but to ask about their responsibility in the area of advocacy, in a way, Mr Speaker, which you did not allow earlier.
Mr SPEAKER: We will see.
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: It would be perfectly proper for the member to ask what submissions I had received from anybody and what change I had made to the policy.
Mr SPEAKER: Exactly. I accept the point.
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. With respect, I ask for a ruling from you. The ruling I ask for is whether it is now acceptable for the Speaker in the Chair to throw abuse at members of Parliament. I invite you to give a ruling. I think it is appropriate, given that you admitted you did throw abuse at members of Parliament.
Mr SPEAKER: To the Hon David Parker and to the Hon Clayton Cosgrove, to whom I clearly caused offence, I apologise. I should not have done that. I apologise.
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: The Hon Pita Sharples—
Hon Dr Michael Cullen: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I do not want to prolong this, but an important point is being raised here. You are quite right that the Minister can take submissions from anybody. The Minister is quite right, in that it does not have to be in his ministerial capacity. But if it was in his ministerial capacity, the reason why we are asking is that we are then able to direct further questions on another day to the Minister of Māori Affairs about that matter.
Mr SPEAKER: I cannot rule on hypothetical issues. I invite the Hon Dr Nick Smith to answer.
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: The Hon Pita Sharples, in his role as the Minister of Māori Affairs, made very strong submissions to me that he would oppose any watering down of section 8, the Treaty of Waitangi clause, and, as a consequence, proposals for change have been dropped from the first reform bill. The Minister of Māori Affairs also sought assurances that no changes would be considered to Part 2 of the Resource Management Act reforms, and I gave that reassurance.
Metiria Turei: In reference to the Minister’s response to my previous question, can he confirm, then, that should a council plan contain rules that allow, for example, for a sewage discharge over a kai moana bed where there is a Māori interest in protecting that kai moana bed, that Māori group can go to court—assuming they can afford to lodge a bond, under his reforms—to challenge that rule only if they have the leave of the court or if there is a question of law concerning that rule, but that otherwise, under his reforms, they have no capacity under law to challenge the impact of that rule over their right to protect or use that kai moana bed?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: The member is quite wrong, in two respects. The first is that the security of cost provision is at the discretion of the court; it is not an automatic right, as the member suggests. The second is that the test as to whether a plan can be appealed to the Environment Court is whether it relates to a Part 2 issue, the fundamental principles of the Resource Management Act. If it does, such an appeal is quite in order.
Metiria Turei: Supplementary question—
Mr SPEAKER: I am afraid the member has used her allocation of supplementary questions. She may recollect that one question was ruled out, and therefore the full six questions have now been used.
Metiria Turei: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My records, including the question that was ruled out, identify that the Green Party asked one supplementary question on question No. 2, one supplementary question on question No. 3—
Mr SPEAKER: I will take the honourable member’s word, because my adviser is not 100 percent sure.
Metiria Turei: What will the Minister say, then, to the nine iwi who are currently seeking customary rights orders in the Māori Land Court over issues relating to customary rights in the coastal marine area, who, under the existing Resource Management Act provisions, are able to challenge any rule in the district plan that would impinge on those rights, but whose rights to challenge will be taken away by his reforms because of the constraints around applying to the Environment Court to challenge district plan rules? What are those nine iwi going to do with their customary rights orders that give them rights in that area, now that they cannot even challenge the councils?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: The changes we are making to the Resource Management Act provide for quicker processes, so where Māori want to see changes made to plans, those processes will be sped up. At the moment it is taking, on average, 8 years to make a change in a plan, and that is too long. It is also true that if we are going to speed up that process, there is some constraint on appeal. I think we have the balance about right.
Sentencing and Parole Reform Bill—ACT Party Views
Hon DAVID PARKER (Labour) to the
Attorney-General: Has he received any reports of the suggestion by David Garrett MP that the concerns expressed in the interim report under the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 on the Sentencing and Parole Reform Bill were not his personal views but those of “some oik in Crown Law”; if so, is Mr Garrett’s suggestion correct?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON (Attorney-General)
: Yes, I have seen reports to that effect. An “oik” is an unpopular or disliked fellow pupil, an obnoxious or unpleasant person, a nitwit, or a clot. With respect to Mr Garrett, who has spent the bulk of his career working for victims of crime, I do not really think that that term accurately describes lawyers at Crown Law. When I receive a draft report from Crown Law, I also ask Crown Law to provide source material including case law. After reviewing all the material, I form my own view as Attorney-General on the issue before me. The section 7 report is mine.
Hon David Parker: Does the Minister agree with the
New Zealand Herald
editorial of last Friday, 6 March that said of the “three strikes” proposal: “More fundamentally, the approach is flawed in imagining that putting criminals away for much longer periods will improve the crime rate. It does not.”?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: I refer the honourable member to the section 7 report, where I set out my views in detail and where I say that the proposal raises an apparent inconsistency. I do not think I could be clearer in giving an answer now than I am in that report.
Amy Adams: What other reports has the Attorney-General seen in relation to the reporting requirements under section 7 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: I am aware that a former Labour Party Attorney-General considered the Taxation (Annual Rates, GST, Trans-Tasman Imputation and Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill sufficiently inconsistent with the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act to warrant a report under section 7. That stands in stark contrast to the oppressive Electoral Finance Bill, which restricted freedom of expression, where there was no such report.
Hon David Parker: Has the Attorney-General confirmed with his ministerial colleagues that, as Rodney Hide claimed, the National Party has agreed to support the “three strikes” legislation through all stages in return for ACT’s support for the passage of the Wanganui District Council (Prohibition of Gang Insignia) Bill?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: I have not confirmed anything with any of my colleagues other than by tabling the section 7 report, as I am required to do in accordance with the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act and the Standing Orders.
David Garrett: How many laws passed by the previous Labour Government were considered inconsistent with the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act; and does the Attorney-General think there is some irony in the Labour Opposition’s being so quick to condemn the National Government for supporting the “three strikes” legislation, which would have saved 78 lives had it been in place?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: I am advised that around 30 reports pursuant to section 7 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act were tabled by the previous Labour Government. These reports included reports on the Housing Restructuring (Income-Related Rents) Amendment Bill and the Auckland Regional Amenities Funding Bill. This stands in stark contrast to the Electoral Finance Bill, for which there was no report. Having been in Parliament for 3 years, I am no longer surprised by anything Labour members say or do. I do not consider their behaviour ironic, but merely true to form.
Hon David Parker: Given the Attorney-General’s recently restated high professional standards, how can he be comfortable voting for such ineffective policy when, in his own judgment, it amounts to a clear breach of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: I am surprised that that question was raised by a person who has held this great office. My responsibility under the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act is to provide a report and table it in Parliament. That is my responsibility as Attorney-General, independent of the executive, and that is what I have done.
John Boscawen: Is the Attorney-General saying that when the Electoral Finance Bill was introduced in July 2007 it was, in his judgment, inconsistent with the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act; if so, does he have any idea why the then Attorney-General, the Hon Dr Michael Cullen, failed to advise Parliament of that inconsistency?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: I do not think I can answer the first part of the question, because the member is asking me to give a legal opinion. I will not do so, because that would contravene the Standing Orders. As to the second part of the question, I say that it is impossible to discern what is in the Hon Dr Cullen’s mind, and I will not attempt it.
Dr PAUL HUTCHISON (National—Hunua) to the
Minister of Health: What reports has he received on elective surgery, and what do these show?
Hon TONY RYALL (Minister of Health)
: I have received a number of reports involving elective surgery. The reports confirm that the number of patients receiving elective surgery actually fell in real terms from 2001 to 2007-08. This means waiting lists would have grown significantly if the then Government had not culled thousands of patients from the waiting lists and made it harder to get surgery.
Dr Paul Hutchison: What do these reports say about the amount of elective general surgery provided to New Zealand patients?
Hon TONY RYALL: General surgery was one of the specialties that saw the greatest cuts to patient services. Despite a doubling of the health budget in the last 9 years, the number of patients who received elective general surgery annually actually
fell by seven. So the health budget doubled, and fewer people got elective general surgery.
Hon Ruth Dyson: What further services is the Minister prepared to let district health boards cut as a direct result of his letter of expectation?
Hon TONY RYALL: This Government stands for improving front-line services to patients. I fully expect that there will be some programmes in the health services that will be reduced or removed so that services can go into patients’ front-line care.
Dr Paul Hutchison: How can access to elective surgery have got worse in so many specialties when the health budget nearly doubled, and what can be done to improve access?
Hon TONY RYALL: It is very difficult to explain how the health budget could nearly double from $6 billion to $12 billion, yet there is an actual reduction in the number of New Zealanders getting vitally needed general surgery. I have to leave that explanation to members opposite.
Public Service—Front-line Services
GRANT ROBERTSON (Labour—Wellington Central) to the
Minister of State Services: Is it Government policy to shift resources to front-line public services; if so, how is the policy being implemented?
Hon TONY RYALL (Minister of State Services)
: Yes; chief executives of Government departments are required to take note of the Government’s policy in this area, and where possible they will shift resources to improve the delivery of front-line services for New Zealanders.
Grant Robertson: Why, in light of that answer, is the Government reviewing the future of field staff for District Courts and of fine collections staff, and why has that plan been hidden from the public?
Hon Gerry Brownlee: Oh! How did he find out about it?
Hon TONY RYALL: Yes. Obviously, that plan cannot be hidden from the public if that member is aware of it.
Jacqui Dean: Why is it the Government’s policy to shift resources to front-line services?
Hon TONY RYALL: In the deteriorating economic environment, the New Zealand Government expects the State services to play their part in providing services that meet New Zealanders’ needs. We want to see people and funding move into areas that will deliver best value for money, and the improvement of front-line services for New Zealanders.
Grant Robertson: How does the Minister think that actions such as cutting front-line service jobs at the Tertiary Education Commission and the Ministry for the Environment, and the proposed job cuts at the Ministry of Social Development and the National Library will meet the Government’s Job Summit goals of saving and creating jobs, or are public servants second-class citizens for this Government?
Hon TONY RYALL: We think that New Zealanders would rather have their money that is allocated for the environment, for example, go into front-line services like insulating homes—
Hon Darren Hughes: You cancelled that programme!
Hon TONY RYALL: —just wait, I say to members opposite. We think taxpayers would much rather have their money that is allocated for the environment go into front-line services to insulate homes, invest in clean heating, and clean up streams, rather than into politically correct programmes like a carbon-neutral Public Service.
Grant Robertson: I seek leave of the House to table a Ministry of Justice document entitled “Terms of Reference: Operations Structure Review”, which outlines a review of
the district courts department regional management structure, the collections department field management structure, and the provision of support services in the national office.
Mr SPEAKER: Is there any objection to that report being tabled? There appears to be no objection to that document being tabled.
- Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Economy—Balance of Payments Position
CHRIS TREMAIN (National—Napier) to the
Minister of Finance: What is New Zealand’s balance of payments position, and what implications does this have for the economy?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance)
: The current account deficit has been at, or above, 8 percent of GDP since 2005. The cumulative deficit—that is, the increase in New Zealand’s net foreign liabilities over the 3 years to September 2008—was more than $44 billion. This is testimony to how poorly the foundation for future prosperity has been laid, and, despite the previous Government’s rhetoric about trying to control the balance of payments, we have ended up with it at record levels.
Chris Tremain: What were the growth rates of both exports and imports over the past 5 years?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: For the 5 years to September 2008—the latest period available—export volumes grew by only 1.6 percent per annum. By contrast, import volumes ballooned, growing by 5.2 percent per annum over the same period. Clearly, this kind of economic management is unsustainable.
Hon David Cunliffe: Why did the Government gut KiwiSaver, against Treasury advice, when the savings gap is a principal contributor to the current account deficit; and is the importance of savings not even greater when the recession means it is harder for Governments to run Budget surpluses to partially offset household and business dissaving?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The previous Government left New Zealand with twin chronic deficits—a chronic fiscal deficit and a chronic balance of payments deficit. It actually makes no sense to try to fix the balance of payments deficit by blowing out the fiscal deficit.
Hon David Cunliffe: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I seek your advice, because the Minister is on the public record as having told the Finance and Expenditure Committee of this House that he accepts that—
Mr SPEAKER: What is the order the member is seeking to progress?
Hon David Cunliffe: I am just getting to that. There is an apparent contradiction—
Mr SPEAKER: The member will resume his seat. That is not a point of order. The member’s point of order must relate to the order of this House.
Chris Tremain: What would be the consequences if these balance of payments trends were to continue?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I think anyone can see that the consequences are unsustainable. No country can prosper for long with imports growing at almost three times the rate of exports. This signals that the New Zealand economy will be going through a substantial adjustment, and to ignore that would amount to living on borrowed time. This Government is determined to face up to these realities.
Minimum Wage—Dame Kiri Te Kanawa
Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Labour—Hutt South) to the
Minister of Labour: Can she explain what she meant by her comment to the House on 4 March 2009: “Would you like Dame Kiri Te Kanawa to be on the minimum wage?”?
Hon KATE WILKINSON (Minister of Labour)
: I made that statement to illustrate the absurdity of Darien Fenton’s considering all musicians to be vulnerable workers for the purposes of her member’s bill.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Does the Minister not understand that the minimum wage is a floor, and not compulsory?
Hon KATE WILKINSON: Yes.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I think she meant—
Mr SPEAKER: The member will resume his seat, right now.
Hon Tau Henare: Has the Minister seen any reports on minimum wages for independent contractors?
Hon KATE WILKINSON: I have seen a report arguing that “contractors should be regulated by commercial, not industrial law. … unions should not be able to interfere in commercial arrangements involving contractors”. That report came from the Deputy Prime Minister of the Australian Labor Government, Julia Gillard.
Mr SPEAKER: I call the Hon Trevor Mallard. [Interruption] Would members please show some courtesy; their colleague is trying to ask a supplementary.
Hon Trevor Mallard: You should see us in caucus, Mr Speaker.
Hon Member: Must have been kind to him!
Mr SPEAKER: What does one do! The Hon Trevor Mallard.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Does she not understand that the minimum wage is a floor, and not compulsory?
Hon KATE WILKINSON: I understand that the minimum wage is the minimum wage under the minimum wage legislation.
Carbon Neutral Public Service Programme—Ministry for the Environment Greenhouse Gas Emissions
NICKY WAGNER (National) to the
Minister for the Environment: How much have the Ministry for the Environment’s greenhouse gases declined since the introduction of the Carbon Neutral Public Service programme?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH (Minister for the Environment)
: The previous Government committed $10.4 million to the Carbon Neutral Public Service programme, of which the Ministry for the Environment was the lead agency. Emissions from the ministry, though, have increased from 656 tonnes to 766 tonnes since the programme was launched by the previous Government.
Nicky Wagner: Does the Minister view the programme as good value for money?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: The Carbon Neutral Public Service programme was a “touchy-feely” PC programme that was a total waste of public money. All it aimed to do was to hide the awful record that the previous Government had of ever-increasing greenhouse gas emissions.
Charles Chauvel: Why is the Minister not gravely concerned about cutting the independent environmental advice available to the Government, given that the Government has just contracted out a cost-benefit analysis on the emissions trading scheme to the New Zealand Institute of Economic Research, an analysis that major emitters, including Solid Energy, funded last year, and that reached the astonishing conclusion that taxpayers rather than emitters should bear the cost of New Zealand’s emissions?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: I am not sure what that question had to do with the previous Government’s proud programme of a carbon-neutral Public Service, but I make the following point: the cost of that scheme worked out at over $2,400 per tonne of carbon emission, when under any logical basis and in the Crown accounts carbon is valued at
about $20 per tonne. That simply reinforces the waste of money and the poor programmes of the previous administration.
Nicky Wagner: What will happen to the $10 million that was budgeted for the Carbon Neutral Public Service programme?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: That money has been reprioritised through the Budget process to areas of real value to New Zealanders, like home insulation programmes, clean heating programmes, and programmes to improve water quality, because this Government is about making a practical difference and investing in front-line services that really matter.