Questions to Ministers
Food Labelling—Country of Origin
1. SUE KEDGLEY (Green) to the
Minister for Food Safety: Did New Zealand support mandatory country-of-origin labelling for food at this week’s Australia New Zealand Food Regulation Ministerial Council meeting, and will she be implementing this policy direction in New Zealand?
Hon ANNETTE KING (Minister for Food Safety)
: The Australia New Zealand Food Regulation Ministerial Council did not vote on the implementation of a mandatory country-of-origin labelling regime for food. The council agreed on the development of policy guidelines for Australia, and from that policy a standard may be developed in the future. New Zealand does not support mandatory country-of-origin labelling for food, as we already have policies in place to address that issue.
Sue Kedgley: When the Government has meekly gone along with more than 59 joint Australia - New Zealand food standards, including ones that allow more than 20 genetically engineered commodities and irradiated tropical fruit into our food chain, why is it vehemently opposing a simple standard that will enable consumers to know
where their food has come from—even to the point of threatening to pull out, or to opt out, of any joint standard that might be developed?
Hon ANNETTE KING: New Zealand does not support mandatory country-of-origin labelling because we have in place other legislation that covers that issue. I have to say to the member that New Zealand has not gone “meekly” along in agreeing with other food standards. We are an active part of the organisation, and it is interesting to note that it was New Zealand that led the initiative for food labelling for genetically modified food. That member opposed it at the time; I gather she supports it now.
Steve Chadwick: What recent reports has the Minister received regarding New Zealand producers’ view of country-of-origin labelling?
Hon ANNETTE KING: I have received a letter from Meat New Zealand in which it states that mandatory country-of-origin labelling is unnecessary, difficult to implement and police, and costly to administer, and that it will make food for New Zealand consumers more expensive.
Dr Lynda Scott: Why did the ministerial council then issue a joint communique stating: “The council’s support for country-of-origin labelling is on the grounds of enabling consumers to make informed choices.”, if she is not going to follow through on that statement?
Hon ANNETTE KING: It was the view of Ministers that for them, for Australia, they wanted mandatory country-of-origin labelling. This country has not supported that. We believe voluntary country-of-origin labelling is better, and I understand that has been the position of the National Party for many years.
Sue Kedgley: Why does the Government support mandatory country-of-origin labelling for wine and cheese but not for any other food; does that mean that consumers’ right to know what is in the food we eat is entirely subordinate to trade interests?
Hon ANNETTE KING: There has been a requirement for wine, in particular, to be labelled. That has come from overseas requirements, not from New Zealand’s view on whether we should have mandatory or voluntary labelling.
Judy Turner: Could the Minister let us know of any advice she has received on the cost to New Zealand business if we were to go that way?
Hon ANNETTE KING: It is the view of those who manufacture food that the cost of compliance is very heavy indeed, in that the labelling of food in a mandatory way requires that everything in the food that is from another country be labelled. Maybe a food could be made up of many different elements. That is difficult to identify, so it becomes very costly, and it is much better to ensure that food is safe by using good food regulations.
Sue Kedgley: Why does New Zealand oppose this country-of-origin labelling, when Australians such as the Queensland Premier argue that it protects public health and safety, makes it easier to recall potentially contaminated food, helps to prevent bioterrorism, helps consumers to make informed choices about the foods they purchase, and promotes trade, and when even the Americans are introducing mandatory country-of-origin labelling for fruit, fish, vegetables, and so forth?
Hon ANNETTE KING: As I have told that member, we do not support it because we have other mechanisms for ensuring that people know where their food comes from. The member believes in what we already have in place, because I have a copy of her letter in which she is already using the mechanisms that are in place—that is, the Fair Trading Act—because she believes a manufacturer has not labelled correctly. She is using the very mechanisms that are in place to get some recourse for that.
Iraq—Apology to United States
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Leader of the Opposition) to the
Prime Minister: Will
she retract and apologise for her comments about the United States and the war in Iraq; if not, why not?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister)
: The Government has expressed a principled and consistent position on the war, and is backed by most New Zealanders in so doing. With regard to comments of mine to which offence has been taken, I have apologised for the offence that was taken. I am moving on, and I suggest the member do likewise—as most of his caucus would like him to do.
Hon Bill English: Has the United States administration accepted her apology for her inappropriate comments; if so, how was that conveyed to the New Zealand Government?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I have not asked anybody to accept anything. I have had a message conveyed.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I ask the Prime Minister, in respect of her remarks yesterday when she said “I meant what I said”, what did she mean? Was it, first, that September 11, under Democrat Al Gore, would not have had this consequence for Iraq, or, second, “I leave it to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade to convey it”—that is, the apology—“as they see fit”, or, third, in respect of whether she stood by her comments on 1 April, “Yes my comments about a Gore presidency were appropriate and neither here nor there.”; in which of those three statements is she standing by what she said?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I repeat: my statements were matters of opinion, which were interpreted by some as offensive, and I have apologised for the offence that was taken.
Hon Richard Prebble: Is the real reason that the Prime Minister feels she cannot retract her present inadequate apology that it has already been reported by the
CBS News, the New York
, Asia Pacific Media Services, the
, Brunei online,
, the, the
, Agence France-Presse, and the Pakistan paper
and has she ever been so well reported before?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: It sounds like far more profile than the member will ever have.
Keith Locke: Is the Prime Minister aware of an apology from the German President, Johannes Rau, after he attacked George Bush for claiming, in Mr Rau’s words, “a sign from God to liberate another people”, and Mr Rau continued, “Nowhere does the Bible call for crusades.”?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: No, I am not. But I am aware that in recent weeks many harsh things have been said. I think it is important now that everybody moves on and looks to the rebuilding of Iraq.
Hon Bill English: Can the Prime Minister confirm that she issued the instructions to apologise for the offence taken because John Wood and/or Fred Benson told her that the US required her to apologise?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Absolutely not.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Whilst fully understanding her desire to “move on”, as she puts it, why does she not, in the interests of a fulsome apology, admit that she was plain wrong about her statements?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: As I have said, the statements were matters of opinion. I regret that offence was taken from them.
Hon Richard Prebble: Would it not help us all to move on if the Prime Minister was to now admit that the reality is that there are two apologies: the apology she gives in this House, apologising if others are offended, and the second apology, her grovelling abasement apology in Washington; and if she was to table that apology, would that not
enable us all to move on?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: There was no “if” about it. Offence was taken, and I apologised for the fact that it was.
Hon Richard Prebble: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I did not ask a question about whether offence had been taken. The question I asked was whether there were two apologies and would it not be a good idea if the Prime Minister were to admit that?
Mr SPEAKER: That may have been the question asked, and if it was the Prime Minister addressed it in her answer.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: In respect of her remarks about the war not going according to plan, and the comments about Al Gore and whether he should have been the President, could she tell us now whether she is still of the same opinion—yes or no?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Those are matters of opinion that I will not be repeating. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: That is the only warning today, and the member is very lucky—very lucky.
Hon Bill English: Does the Prime Minister stand by her statement, “I’m really quite puzzled as to why offence would be taken”; and if she stands by that statement why does she stand by it?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I was puzzled, but on reflection I accept that in the middle of a war, with feelings running high, something said somewhere, some time is almost bound to cause offence.
Tertiary Education—Medical Training
DAVID BENSON-POPE (NZ Labour—Dunedin South) to the
Associate Minister of Education (Tertiary Education): What is the Government doing to ensure the tertiary education system can meet the needs of the medical workforce?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY (Associate Minister of Education (Tertiary Education))
: The cap on funded medical students will increase from 285 full-time students to 325 per year, coming into effect in the next academic year. That will significantly boost New Zealand’s medical practitioner workforce. In particular, we intend to promote the areas of general practice and mental health. We need more people in those two areas as we implement the primary health-care strategy and continue implementing the Mental Health Commission’s blueprint. The increase will cost the Government about $4.8 million per annum when it is fully implemented, and the extra places will be shared equally between Otago and Auckland.
David Benson-Pope: What previous consideration has been given to raising the cap on funded medical students?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: The enrolment cap has not changed since 1981. The Health Workforce Advisory Committee recently noted that in 1991 reforms had rejected a developmental approach to the health workforce as “being an aspect of provider capture and an unnecessary interference by the State in the marketplace.” A request was made to the then Minister of Health to raise the cap on funded medical students in 1997. It was, however, considered as premature to raise the cap, according to Mr Bill English—perhaps another example of his inaction, for which he is in trouble with his own caucus.
Dr Lynda Scott: Given that New Zealand is competing in an international market for medical graduates, how will primary health organisations, which take away clinical governance from general practitioners and cap the co-payments they can charge, attract trained general practitioners to bother to stay in New Zealand—they will not?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I understand that the member is wrong on both counts. But as the person responsible for tertiary education, I applaud the Minister of Health for
having a development plan for the health workforce. That was not there in the 1990s, and the problems we face now are a result of the previous National Government.
Dr Lynda Scott: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I asked, in respect of competing in the international marketplace, how that would help doctors to remain here—
Mr SPEAKER: The Minister started off by saying that the member was wrong on both counts. That was, in my view, a direct answer to the question. The member might not agree with it, but that is how questions go.
Sue Kedgley: When will the Government reduce the $9,000-a-year fees that medical students currently pay, which result in an astonishing high average cost of $70,000 for graduating medical students and is driving them to seek higher-paying positions overseas?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: For all students, of course, costs are lower because of such policies as paying no interest on loans. But I think the member obviously has a point that is shared across Parliament. There are some students—vets, doctors, and perhaps dentists, as well—for whom we have halved the fees that were set by the previous National Government. So in addition to the measures we have already taken, we will look at the issues of scholarships and bonding around this particular Budget, and will be reviewing student support. We will have a discussion paper out around the middle of the year to look at those issues.
Immigration Service—Activities Abroad
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First) to the
Prime Minister: With respect to her answer to question number 10 on Tuesday, 8 April, expressing her confidence in the Minister of Immigration, what inquiries, if any, had she personally made regarding New Zealand Immigration Service activities abroad over the last 3 years, before she gave her answer?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister)
: I have no need to make such inquiries as I have confidence that the Minister deals capably with the detail of issues in her portfolio.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Is that so? Well, how come her Minister was advised last year that New Delhi officials within the high commission are allowing directions to be given outside the high commission by an Indian chap wishing to become an instant millionaire by selling visas at $250 a pop to all and sundry—a complaint made to her Minister about which she has done nothing, like everything else she has been asked to look into?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: This Government does not tolerate corruption. Any allegations are investigated.
Pansy Wong: How can she claim that the Minister is capable, when the solution offered by her Minister of Immigration to the embarrassing situation of students queuing up overnight to get their student permits reviewed is to withdraw that same-day service, when many students who are enrolling for 4 to 6 week courses would not be able to do so in future because it takes 5 weeks to do it by post?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I imagine that the Minister and her officials would take whatever steps they deemed necessary to deal with the demand.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Could the Prime Minister tell me whether she thinks it fit that a Minister of Immigration who has been advised of this in respect of immigration officials allowing—and I read from a letter here—someone to sit under a tree outside immigration offices on the street leading to the railway museum in New Delhi to sell visas on their behalf and take instructions from him; if the Minister heard this and has done nothing, should that Minister not simply be fired?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I repeat: this Government does not tolerate corruption, nor has any New Zealand Government ever tolerated corruption. All allegations will be investigated.
Economy Research Fund—Investment
RUSSELL FAIRBROTHER (NZ Labour—Napier) to the
Minister of Research, Science and Technology: How much does the Government invest through the New Zealand Economy Research Fund and how has the level of this investment changed in recent years?
Hon PETE HODGSON (Minister of Research, Science and Technology)
: Since assuming office, this Government has strongly supported this excellent fund established by my excellent predecessor, Maurice Williamson. New funding has more than trebled over that time, and some existing funding has been shifted across. In all, the fund has grown from $5 million to $55 million in 3 short years.
Russell Fairbrother: What are some tangible results from this investment?
Hon PETE HODGSON: There are many, and they are coming thick and fast. In the last 3 years, for example, New Zealand science has made huge strides in identifying how genes control heart-muscle growth, how chemical technology can improve the properties of paint, and how we recognise speech.
Dr Paul Hutchison: Given that
Forced told the
in January: “There is little hard evidence that the public investment in RST is driving high and sustainable economic growth.”, what hard and objective evidence can he give that his Government’s nerve for investment will drive high and sustainable economic growth?
Hon PETE HODGSON: One answer is international comparisons. It is very clear that those countries that invest in research and development put themselves on to a growth path better than those that do not. The second answer is the foundation’s own progress and achievement reports, which have been instituted since I have been the Minister, and which are progressively showing firmer and firmer—but still not firm enough—data on the linkages.
Rod Donald: How much of the fund has been allocated to date to support the development of renewable energy technologies, and, if none has been, will any funds be made available for this purpose in the near future, to help address New Zealand’s energy problems?
Hon PETE HODGSON: I do not know the answer to the first question. The answer to the second is that the new Economy Research Fund is given out on the basis of the quality and relevance of the bid, not on some predetermined predilection for some technology.
Points of OrderQuestion No. 4 to Minister
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First)
: I seek leave to table a letter of 14 February written to the general manager of the New Zealand Immigration Service and counter-copied to Phil Goff, MP for Mt Roskill, setting out six cases of fraudulent activities relating to the New Delhi embassy.
- Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Iraq—Apology to United States
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Leader of the Opposition) to the
Prime Minister: Did she or her Government receive a message from the New Zealand Ambassador to Washington that a two-pronged strategy was necessary to repair the damage caused by her comments about the war in Iraq; if so, what were the two prongs of the strategy?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister)
: I am certainly not aware of the
ambassador delivering such a message.
Hon Bill English: Will the Government make a commitment to the coalition to send peacekeepers to Iraq when that would be a strong signal that she genuinely did want to fix the damage done by her ill-judged comments?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: No peacekeepers have been asked for, but I can advise the member that the Government is active in talking with Washington and other capitals, and the UN, about what kind of assistance can be rendered.
David Benson-Pope: Is New Zealand making plans to contribute to humanitarian and reconstruction relief in post-conflict Iraq?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Yes. As I just advised, diplomatic discussions have been going on for some weeks between New Zealand and a number of Governments, including the American one, and with the UN, and they are continuing. We want to see humanitarian concerns addressed as soon as possible, and for the international community to now pull together to help the people of Iraq. We also want that to be done in a way that involves the UN to the maximum extent possible. I repeat: we have been expressing those sentiments for many weeks.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Given the importance of this matter to her fellow countrymen and women, and to this country’s economy, does she think it right and proper that she should give a total and fulsome apology, and admit that her focus group - oriented comment with regard to Al Gore was plain wrong; in the interests of this nation, are we not all owed that now?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I have answered that and similar questions many times, and I stand absolutely by the position this Government has taken, which is that participation in this war was wrong.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. With regard to the Prime Minister’s answer, I never asked her anything to do with the involvement of New Zealand or otherwise in the war in Iraq. I asked her whether she was prepared to humble herself for the first time for a long time, and make a fulsome apology to the President of the United States.
Mr SPEAKER: That is a debating point, not a point of order.
Hon Richard Prebble: Will she clarify her denial of any knowledge of a two-pronged strategy against the front-page story in yesterday’s
New Zealand Herald, which stated: “The US message—conveyed separately through New Zealand’s Washington Ambassador John Wood and United States - New Zealand Council President Fred Benson—was that a two-pronged strategy was necessary to repair the damage. First, New Zealand needed to set the record straight over Helen Clark’s statements. Second, New Zealand needed to give a clear undertaking to the United States to assist in post-war reconstruction.”; so is the Prime Minister telling us that everything in that statement is not true?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: What I am saying is that the
New Zealand Herald is often wrong. I have received no communication whatsoever from Mr Benson. I am not aware of any communication received in Wellington from Mr Benson. I know that that was not the communication Mr Wood sent. What happened was that I spoke to Mr Wood after he had reported that offence had been taken, and I gave him a verbal authorisation to convey my regrets, sorrow, and apology.
Hon Bill English: Does the Prime Minister still stand by the policy statement of her Government that New Zealand will take no part in the reconstruction of post-war Iraq unless the UN is in control of Iraq, and has she given any undertakings to take part while the US remains in control?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: The Government is having discussions in a number of capitals, and with the UN, about the legal basis for providing assistance. We are very
keen to help the people of Iraq.
Hon Bill English: Has the Prime Minister given any undertaking in the last 2 weeks that New Zealand will take part in post-war reconstruction in Iraq while the US is in charge?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Like most countries, we are talking with many capitals, and the UN, about how we can provide assistance.
Hon Bill English: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I asked a direct question, to which the Prime Minister could have said yes or no, and she did not answer the question.
Mr SPEAKER: Of course, the Prime Minister could have said yes or no, but she chose not to. She addressed the question. I am not here to judge the quality of the answer in any way at all.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. You are quite right to say that, except that in most Parliaments the kind of answer given by the Prime Minister would be simply unacceptable. The Speaker would find it unacceptable, as would the press gallery, and every parliamentarian. If we are to go on with answers that are totally evasive and rely on the Standing Order that allows a member to give any old answer he or she likes, provided an answer is given, then, frankly, this House is being gravely—
Mr SPEAKER: Members cannot—
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I haven’t finished yet.
Mr SPEAKER: Well, I have. I want the member to sit down.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I will be up again when you have finished.
Mr SPEAKER: Members will—
Rt Hon Winston Peters: We have a right to make a point of order in this House, haven’t we?
Mr SPEAKER: Members do not have a right to go on and on.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I haven’t finished.
Mr SPEAKER: I want to say something first. Members cannot prescribe how Ministers answer questions by saying that they should answer yes or no. I know of no Parliament in the world that acts in the way that the member says.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. It is obvious to a lot of New Zealanders—even if it is not apparent to you—that that form of answering is the lowest this House has ever been in my time in Parliament. I have been here long enough to know that when the Prime Minister rose, she was required to answer for her Government. We are now putting up with evasive answers for the first time, and are still being told to refer to ministries, ambassadors, high commissioners, and other people within the Prime Minister’s control. If we are to go on like that, then it is pointless to have any question time at all. We are coming to the end of a long week. We have had some serious issues to do with our foreign policy and long-term economic interests, and we have had no answers at all today as we go to a break. The Prime Minister can laugh, but I am giving my view, and the view of my party, which I believe is the view of a lot of people, both within this House and around this country. We deserve better, and I am asking you to ensure that that happens.
Mr SPEAKER: I cannot do that, because I cannot prescribe how Ministers will answer questions. However, I can say that as far as I am concerned, everything the member said is the sort of thing he can comment on outside the House or in debate.
Hon Richard Prebble: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. With respect, there is something you can do. You are not responsible for Ministers’ answers, but someone has just drawn Speaker’s ruling 128/4 to my attention, which was made by Speaker Gray in 1992. It states: “If the Speaker feels that a Minister is trifling with the House, the Chair can permit a further question or questions to be asked.” I just want to let you know that
when that question was asked, I was thinking about asking a supplementary question about it. Mr English asked a very important question. He asked whether the New Zealand Government was prepared to give aid to Iraq while the coalition of the willing was in charge, or whether it will wait, in the hope that the UN will take charge. The Prime Minister did not have to give a yes or no answer to that, but she should have answered it. It is quite obvious to me that she was trifling with the House. She knew what the question was, but she would not answer it. If I were to ask a supplementary question, I would be using up the quota that you have given me, but if you were to allow some extra questions on this matter, I would most certainly ask that question again.
Mr SPEAKER: Let me just say that I stand by what Speaker Gray said. If there is a distinct trifling with the House, then of course I am going to allow questions. I had to judge the Prime Minister’s answer. I judged that she was addressing the question.
John Carter: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The difficulty we run into now is that if we look at the ruling that Speaker Gray gave in 1992, we see that he is suggesting that if the questioner—the Opposition, or whoever might be asking the question—is not satisfied, there is an opportunity for further questions to be permitted.
Mr SPEAKER: On certain grounds.
John Carter: Yes, on certain grounds. The problem is that under the system we have now of permitting only so many questions per question, and so many questions per question time, we are limited to the questions that we can ask, because we run out of supplementary questions. In circumstances like that, where we are not satisfied, I think it would be appropriate for you, as the Speaker, to allow further supplementary questions to be asked.
Mr SPEAKER: I will look at that particular point, but the very important issue is this: if I judge that Speaker Gray’s ruling stands on a particular answer, then of course I can allow other questions. On this occasion, I do not.
Hon Richard Prebble: Then I seek leave to ask the Leader of the Opposition’s question again, without it being taken away from the Opposition’s quota.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought. Is there any objection? There is.
Stephen Franks: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I seek clarification of your statement when this issue first became the matter of inquiry. I think I heard you say that you do not judge the reply in any way.
Mr SPEAKER: No, I did not quite say that.
Stephen Franks: Then I think it requires clarification. It would be helpful, because it is impossible to apply Speaker Gray’s ruling if you are not judging whether a reply addresses the question. Further—like, I am sure, many New Zealanders—I have been watching the performance of Tony Blair in the British Parliament, and members of the Australian House. I am quite satisfied that question time in this House would be a matter of derision for people making comparisons. They are required to address questions, and this House is reaching a stage where question time is becoming something to be embarrassed about.
Mr SPEAKER: I just want to say that in no Parliament can the Speaker answer questions for Ministers or tell Ministers that they must answer in a certain way. The Speaker can let questions continue—notwithstanding any other rule—if a Minister trifles with the House. But just because members are not satisfied is not a reason for allowing further questions. I might point out that when I watched question time in the House of Commons, there was, I think, just one point of order.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Given the Speaker’s ruling—and just to make sure that we all understand what she has said—can I ask the Prime Minister whether her Government intends to be involved in respect of the reconstruction of Iraq under the aegis of the
United States and the coalition of the willing, or is it her intention to wait until the United Nations is involved? Which is it to be?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: The Government has taken a decision to be helpful. It is exploring how it can be helpful. It has already committed $3.3 million. That will presumably be spent while the US is in Iraq. We are continuing to develop a response on the issue, as most countries are.
Hon Bill English: Has the New Zealand Government made any undertakings to the coalition of the willing, or to the United States Government, that it will take part in post-war reconstruction while the coalition of the willing is in charge of Iraq? Has she made any undertakings in that respect?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I thought that my last answer was very clear. The money we have committed to the UN humanitarian agencies will obviously be spent while the US is in Iraq itself. We are continuing to talk with Governments, including the American one. As the member knows well, New Zealand was not a member of the coalition of the willing. He was a member of the coalition of the barely willing.
Hon Dr Michael Cullen: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Every time the Leader of the Opposition asks a question, he interjects continuously throughout the answer. I do not even think he knows he is doing it. I suggest to you, Mr Speaker, that, following the previous points of order, if there are to be penalty points on this side, then frequent useless points of order and interjections should lead to fewer questions. Contrary to what Mr Peters says, in Australia there are no supplementary questions at all during question time. Members get to ask one question, and the Minister kicks the hell out of them for 5 minutes—if they are lucky.
John Carter: The reason that there are interjections and endless points of order, as claimed by the Deputy Prime Minister, is because the Opposition is not satisfied with the Prime Minister’s answer. As a consequence, she is likely to bring disorder to the House.
Mr SPEAKER: Let me say that as long as I have been here, I do not know when an Opposition has ever been completely satisfied with any Minister’s answers.
GORDON COPELAND (United Future) to the
Minister of Energy: Does he agree that although New Zealand has enough back-up generation capacity at its thermal power stations to meet electricity demand this winter, the depletion of Maui means there may not be enough fuel available to run them?
Hon PETE HODGSON (Minister of Energy)
: I agree with the view expressed by electricity industry spokesperson Dr Patrick Strange yesterday that we cannot yet be certain that there will be enough thermal electricity generation if the winter is dry and cold, but that generators are working very hard to improve the thermal fuel situation by sourcing additional coal and other fuel supplies.
Gordon Copeland: In order to address the potential thermal generation fuel shortage, what action, if any, will he take to assist New Zealand’s thermal electricity generators to acquire extra fuel, such as coal, in sufficient quantities and within the increasingly tight time frame needed to avert electricity shortages this winter.
Hon PETE HODGSON: The member might not be aware that Genesis Energy, Solid Energy New Zealand, Tranz Rail, the Government, the port of Tauranga, and a lot of other people have been working very seriously on the issue, and are starting to make some progress.
Mark Peck: What information does the Minister have on generators’ progress in sourcing further fuel supplies for thermal generation this winter?
Hon PETE HODGSON: My advice is that Contact Energy is on track to switch its
New Plymouth station from gas to fuel oil by June—or at least the first of those stations will be switched by 1 June—and that Genesis has contracted with Solid Energy for a significant increase in coal supplies for Huntly. Genesis is also making plans to import extra coal to meet winter peak demands. I am pleased that generators have agreed to update the Winter Power Taskforce every week on progress in securing thermal supplies, so that that information is made public regularly.
Peter Brown: Will the Minister clarify that he is absolutely certain that in the short term there will be an actual shortage of gas, and not—as rumour is suggesting—a reduced amount because of contractual difficulties?
Hon PETE HODGSON: The amount of gas available that is economically recoverable has been determined by an independent expert. That amount of gas differs from the total amount that is recoverable at some other price.
Stephen Franks: What is the Minister doing to stop the Department of Conservation blocking the mining of huge new West Coast coal deposits, so that next year we do not have to import 600,000 tonnes of coal from our environmentally sensitive friends in Indonesia?
Hon PETE HODGSON: Importing coal from Australia is cheaper than importing it from the West Coast of the South Island.
Gordon Copeland: In order to address the potential electricity supply shortfall this winter, does he have any immediate plans to instigate further electricity conservation measures, such as endorsing the Winter Power Taskforce call for voluntary electricity savings of 5 percent, or encouraging the uptake of alternative energy sources such as solar-powered water heating systems?
Hon PETE HODGSON: I am, of course, working closely with that group, as it comes to that figure of 5 percent, and I am delighted that it is showing the leadership that it is. Of course I endorse that call, as I did roundly yesterday. As for solar water heaters, there may or may not be some announcements before the Budget.
John Carter: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I wanted to raise this point at the end of this question because yesterday I asked you for a considered ruling—which you will no doubt give us when the House resumes after the adjournment—on the issue of the time that the House spent on Tuesday in relation to the answers given by the Prime Minister. Today we have ended up in a similar situation, whereby our leader and others have asked a number of questions because they were not satisfied with the answers given by the Prime Minister. The end result is that we lose the opportunity to ask supplementary questions on other questions. In those circumstances, I wonder whether there is the opportunity for you to permit extra supplementary questions to be asked. Otherwise, we will be cut out of our opportunity to ask a supplementary question on this energy question, for example.
Mr SPEAKER: The member can seek leave, and I presume he is doing so. Is there any objection? There is.
Iraq—Prime Minister's View
Hon RICHARD PREBBLE (Leader—ACT NZ) to the
Prime Minister: What advice, if any, did she take before stating it was “bleedingly obvious” that the war in Iraq was not going to plan, and does she still hold this view?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister)
: I did not need specific advice. There was ample public comment to that effect, including that from a US Army ground commander.
Hon Richard Prebble: Does the Prime Minister not accept that her decisions and statements about Iraq have resulted in New Zealand for the first time ever being opposed to our traditional allies Australia, the United States, and the UK, and that there
will be long-term adverse consequences to New Zealand from her misjudgments?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: No, I do not accept any of that. There were many countries in this sad affair that took a different view from a traditional friend and ally. The obvious examples are Canada—a country also very close to us—and many countries in Europe. What I believe that most New Zealanders feel is what the dean of Auckland cathedral wrote today: that New Zealand retained its integrity as a nation.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Will the Prime Minister admit that she took the advice of a few armchair generals on CNN, that that is hardly the advice structure that the New Zealand Government and Prime Minister should be following, and that as a result she was plain wrong?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Perhaps the member would like to hear from Lieutenant-General William Wallace, the head of the US fifth corps now, who said: “The enemy we’re fighting is a bit different from the one we war-gamed against.”
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Mr Prebble’s question is set down to the Prime Minister, not to a military official from the United States. If she cannot hack it, why does she not give up the job?
Mr SPEAKER: The Prime Minister addressed the question. I call the Hon Bill English to ask a supplementary question.
David Benson-Pope: Here today, gone tomorrow.
Hon Bill English: No, here tomorrow.
Mr SPEAKER: Fortunately, that comment was made before the Leader of the Opposition started to ask the question. If there is any other comment, the member will leave. I am very displeased; the member is a senior whip.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am still waiting for the answer to my question.
Mr SPEAKER: That was not a matter for a point of order.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I asked a supplementary question. I am contesting the Prime Minister’s right to answer it in the way that she sought to, by quoting from a military official. I asked her whether she had an advice structure upon which she as the Prime Minister, the leading Minister of this country, relied. I am waiting for my answer.
Mr SPEAKER: She used the example of a fighting officer in the field to address the question.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Is the American fighting officer in the field a New Zealand official? Is he part of our Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade? Is he part of our Ministry of Defence? If the answer is no, then the Prime Minister’s answer is wrong.
Mr SPEAKER: No, it is not. The Prime Minister’s answer was not what the member wanted to hear, but the Prime Minister addressed the question.
Hon Bill English: Does the Prime Minister accept that her comments damaged our national interests; if not, why did she apologise?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I place great value on the friendship with the United States. I was concerned that offence had been taken, and that is why I moved quickly to rectify it.
Keith Locke: Did the Prime Minister receive advice on whether George Bush’s plan anticipated such strong initial resistance in southern Iraq, American bombs falling on marketplaces and residential areas, many friendly fire incidents, the killing of several journalists, and anarchy in the major cities when the awesome American firepower finally prevailed?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: The member’s question reminds us of the terrible human toll on all sides when war actually occurs. I have had my attention drawn by many
people to many comments about the state of readiness. I do not wish to add further to the debate.
Peter Brown: Noting that the Prime Minister once thought the war was not going to plan, will she tell this House now whether she thinks it has gone to plan?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I am very pleased that the war appears to be virtually at an end.
Hon Richard Prebble: Why does the Prime Minister not simply admit that she has every single issue over the Iraq war wrong, so that today, as the people of Baghdad celebrate their liberation, New Zealand finds itself on the wrong side; if so, in the Westminster tradition, should the Prime Minister not take responsibility and resign, and then we could all move on?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: When the dean of Auckland writes that New Zealand has retained its integrity as a nation, I know that we have done just about everything right. The only resignation being called for is the Leader of the Opposition’s.
Economy—Information and Communications Technology
GEORGINA BEYER (NZ Labour—Wairarapa) to the
Minister for Information Technology: What reports has he received on the potential of the information and communications technology sector to assist with New Zealand’s economic growth?
Hon PAUL SWAIN (Minister for Information Technology)
: The information and communications technology task force, set up under the growth and innovation framework, has delivered an excellent draft report to the Government entitled
Breaking Through the Barriers. It has identified practical ways by which the information and communications technology sector could contribute to economic growth in New Zealand and the importance of the partnership between the Government and the information and communications technology sector to achieve that growth. I have welcomed the report.
Georgina Beyer: What other initiatives in the area of information and communications technology has the Government introduced over the past 3 years?
Hon PAUL SWAIN: There are far too many to mention, so I will just touch on a couple. The Government is funding the roll-out of high-speed Internet to all regions, it is implementing the e-government strategy, and it has improved the telecommunications regulatory regime in New Zealand. This is a visionary, proactive, 21st century kind of Government.
Free-Trade Agreement—United States
Dr the Hon LOCKWOOD SMITH (NZ National—Rodney) to the
Minister for Trade Negotiations: What does the United States trade policy agenda for 2003 say about the possibility of a free-trade agreement with New Zealand, and when does he expect such an agreement to be negotiated?
Hon JIM SUTTON (Minister for Trade Negotiations)
: The US trade policy agenda focuses on initiatives that the office of the US Trade Representative currently has under way. It therefore does not mention a trade agreement with New Zealand. That possibility was explicitly mentioned by Ambassador Zoellick last November, when he said: “We will be soliciting the views of Congress on this matter as we move forward with the Australian FTA.” Those negotiations with Australia have just commenced. The possibility of a free-trade agreement with New Zealand was also raised with the US Trade Representative during testimony in the US Congress Ways and Means Committee meeting on the US trade policy agenda.
Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: Is the reason New Zealand is not included among the
countries with which the United States is proposing to negotiate free-trade agreements in the future—countries including Australia, Morocco, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, and Swaziland—that we are now less relevant, or is there some other reason; if so, what?
Hon JIM SUTTON: As the largest marketplace in the world, the US was always going to have a busy dance card. Aside from the North America Free Trade Agreement, the US has only recently become interested in what Bob Zoellick calls competitive liberalisation. The US clearly has a broad range of reasons for initiating negotiations with many countries, from South Africa to Vietnam—most of which have disagreed with US policies on occasion. We are actively working to encourage the United States to add New Zealand to that dance card.
Martin Gallagher: Specifically, what has the Government been doing to advance the case for a trade agreement in Washington?
Hon JIM SUTTON: We have attracted encouraging support amongst the US business community and in Congress for a trade agreement with New Zealand. Over 250 US businesses have signed a letter to the US administration. Fifty members of the House of Representatives signed a letter prepared by Congresswoman Jennifer Dunn, and 20 senators signed letters to the US President in support of a free-trade agreement with New Zealand.
Hon Richard Prebble: Why does the Minister for Trade Negotiations not admit to this House that since the armchair generalship of the Prime Minister, there is no possibility of a free-trade agreement between New Zealand and the United States of America while Helen Clark is Prime Minister?
Hon JIM SUTTON: I do not believe that the member’s comments are true, at all. It is the Government’s hope and expectation that the relationship with the United States will stay strong, despite our differences over the war in Iraq. If there were any damage, I know that the honourable members of the Opposition would do their level best to maximise it.
Rod Donald: Would this Government ever adopt a trade policy that sacrificed fundamental New Zealand principles such as a multilateral world order, and the right and responsibility of the Government to protect New Zealand’s sovereignty and foster our identity, just so that it could get a free-trade deal with the United States?
Hon JIM SUTTON: This Government has clearly decided it will not sacrifice our integrity, and our right to make principled decisions on foreign policy that serve the interests of our people.
Larry Baldock: Given that the US trade policy agenda in 2003 mentions that the US has concerns over New Zealand’s genetic modification (GM) moratorium as one of the roadblocks to free-trade negotiations, is the Minister confident of New Zealand’s improved ranking when the moratorium is lifted this October?
Hon JIM SUTTON: New Zealand has discussed our approach to GM issues extensively with the United States—an information exchange that has greatly assisted it to understand better the approach we have taken. New Zealand can be proud of our robust, common-sense decision on GM, and of the democratic and open process by which it has been developed.
Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: In what way does the Minister think the Prime Minister’s “bleedingly obvious” comments about what an Al Gore administration might have done differently in Iraq—comments that she has claimed “were measured and acceptable”—and her limited apology for them have assisted in getting New Zealand on to the US free-trade negotiations agenda, which includes 100 countries but not New Zealand?
Hon JIM SUTTON: Apart from noting that the member double-counts quite a
number of those countries, I simply reinforce what I said earlier. If there were any damage from those alarms and discursive events, I know I could rely on the honourable member of the Opposition to try to maximise that.
Points of OrderQuestion No. 11 to Minister
JOHN CARTER (Senior Whip—NZ National)
: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I ask you to give a considered ruling on a matter that I want to draw to the attention of the House. We have a question that is unusual. It has been put down by a member on a local issue within the member’s electorate. The questioner asks the Minister of Land Information for information on what is happening with the Alexandra Holiday Park. I want to raise two points with you. It seems that the House will spend some time discussing this matter, when yesterday the member announced what was to happen, as published in today’s
Otago Daily Times.
Mr SPEAKER: That is not a point of order.
JOHN CARTER: The second point that I want to raise with you is, given that he made the announcement, how was the question authenticated? Was it by his own statement, because that is the only statement that is around at the moment? One wonders whether that means that anybody can put out a statement on any particular point, and then say that this is authentication for a question in the House.
Mr SPEAKER: I do not see any statement of fact in there.
Alexandra Holiday Park—Camping Ground
DAVID PARKER (NZ Labour—Otago) to the
Minister for Land Information: What action is the Government taking to ensure that the Alexandra Holiday Park will continue to be a camping ground?
Hon PETE HODGSON (Minister of Energy), on behalf of the Minister for Land Information: The Government has decided to make a lease available for the property on the strict condition that it must continue to be used as a camping ground. This decision responds to local wishes, as opposed to selling it, freeholding it, and having it not as a camping ground. This decision responds to local wishes to retain the site as a holiday park—articulated strongly, repeatedly, and with unassailable logic by the member for Otago, Mr Parker.
David Parker: What impact will this decision have on the sale price the Government will obtain for the property?
Hon PETE HODGSON: Surprisingly, very little. The value of the long-term lease will be only marginally less than that of the freehold title. Again, the member for Otago was instrumental in drawing this important consideration to the Government’s attention.
John Carter: I seek leave of the House to table the
Otago Daily Times of today, in which Mr David Parker announced the decision yesterday.
- Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Literacy—Progress in International Reading Literacy Study
Hon Dr NICK SMITH (NZ National—Nelson) to the
Minister of Education: Why does he describe the results of the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study released yesterday as “very pleasing” when New Zealand primary schools are ranked second-worst at reading among English-speaking countries and fall behind the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Lithuania?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY (Associate Minister of Education (Tertiary Education)),
on behalf of the Minister of Education: The study, undertaken in 2001, shows that New Zealand primary school students’ overall performance in reading is virtually the same as it was in 1990. However, the results also indicate that far more
work could have been done during the 1990s to further improve the reading literacy levels of all primary school students. This is why the Government has focused on literacy. For example, this year we are investing nearly $12 million to lift teacher professional capability in literacy.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Supplementary question.
Mr SPEAKER: No, the National Party has used up its supplementary questions. Are there any further supplementary questions?
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Mr Speaker, you have effectively eliminated my opportunity to have my first supplementary question. I seek leave of the House to ask a further supplementary question.
Mr SPEAKER: That is a perfectly reasonable request. Leave is sought. Is there any objection? There is.
Dr Ashraf Choudhary: What initiatives have the Government put in place to raise the literacy rate of school students?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: The initiatives include the literacy leadership programme, assisting principals and school literacy leaders to improve literacy levels; the recently released Assessment Tools for Teaching and Learning, helping schools identify specific areas of reading, writing, and innumeracy where students are having difficulty, so problems can be picked up and dealt with early; and finally, better support and resources for teachers to enhance their classroom programmes and practice.
Deborah Coddington: How bad would the reading ability of New Zealand children have to be for this Minister not to be pleased, especially since he thinks being second-worst in the English-speaking world is very pleasing?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: Part of the pleasure that the Minister of Education has is in the assurance that we are maintaining ourselves in terms of comparisons, but I do say to the member that what we are comparing here is not quite what it seems. For example, Dr Smith has put out a release today that compared us back to 1970 until this report. In 1970 the assessment was of fourth-form or 14-year-old students; the 2001 report is of 9-year-old students. For this country, by the time students reach 15 years of age we are third in the world. I think the Minister of Education takes some pleasure from that.
Hon Richard Prebble: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The acting Minister of Education could get a job as the Information Minister for Iraq. We are the second-worst country in the English language, we are behind the Czech Republic and Lithuania, and he gets up and tells us that everything is OK. That cannot be a satisfactory answer.
Mr SPEAKER: That is a very interesting comment for Thursday afternoon. As the member knows, that is not a point of order.
Bernie Ogilvy: Does the Minister accept that the report’s finding of reading literacy rates in New Zealand remaining stagnant over the last 10 years is really an appalling indictment of two consecutive Governments’ 10-year failure in tackling our woeful literacy rates?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: It is an indictment of the National Government during the 1990s, which is why of course we have made literacy such a high priority for this Government.
Hon Richard Prebble: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I think we should allow the Minister to finish. He was asked about two Governments. He has told us about the National Government. Can he tell us now what he thinks of the Labour Government?
Mr SPEAKER: That is trifling with the Chair, because the member did address that part of the question.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. How can it be acceptable in this House that now, in three answers the Minister has given, he has made reference to National’s period of administration, and there has been no step-in by yourself—and
that is all OK—yet you are blocking the opportunity for this side of the House to ask supplementary questions?
Mr SPEAKER: I am not blocking the opportunity at all. I have allocated a number at the start of this session, and that is it.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. It is certainly within your discretion, as pointed out by the Hon Richard Prebble, under Speaker Gray’s ruling where the Prime Minister early in the day evaded questions so as not to include those in the allocation granted to National. That assumption was clearly made earlier in question time, and quite rightly, given the Prime Minister’s answers. I am simply asking you to use the discretion that Speakers’ rulings and the Standing Orders give to allow a perfectly reasonable question on a critical issue.
Mr SPEAKER: Members have to make their own choices as to where their questions lie and where their priorities lie. In asking supplementary questions this Parliament spends more time on questions than any other Parliament I know of.
Bernie Ogilvy: Does the Minister accept that until we make improvements in the basics of education, such as ensuring that all New Zealanders learn to read adequately, we cannot even begin to expect to regain our place in the top 10 of the OECD?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I do.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: I seek the leave of the House to table the first education announcement of the Labour Government to cancel National’s literacy testing.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought for that purpose. Is there any objection? There is.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: I seek the leave of the House to table the previous Government’s strategy that every 9-year-old should be able to read by 2005, abandoned by this Government.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: I seek leave of the House to table the 2001 select committee report on reading, where there are 51 recommendations that the Government has ignored.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: This is now getting to the point where the member can have his last one.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: I seek the leave of the House to table the report that shows that New Zealand has the second-lowest literacy levels of any English-speaking country in the survey.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is.
John Carter: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. We just saw what I think is an extraordinary event. Every member in this House has a right to seek leave to table documents.
Mr SPEAKER: Yes, and I just want to say to the member that I made a mistake.