Order Paper and questions

Questions for oral answer

7. Foreign Charter Fishing Vessels—Ministerial Inquiry

[Sitting date: 11 August 2011. Volume:674;Page:20556. Text is incorporated into the Bound Volume.]

7. DARIEN FENTON (Labour) to the Minister of Labour: What is the timeline of the ministerial inquiry into the treatment of foreign fishing crews in New Zealand waters?

Hon KATE WILKINSON (Minister of Labour) : No time line has been set, as we are still working through the terms of reference and panel membership.

Darien Fenton: Does she consider that the testimony of the Oyang 75 crew, who have suffered serious human rights abuses and breaches of New Zealand labour laws, is an important part of the inquiry; if not, why not?

Hon KATE WILKINSON: I accept that some very serious allegations have been made, and that is one of the reasons why we are having a ministerial inquiry.

Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The question was very clear as to whether their testimony was important.

Mr SPEAKER: I invite the member to repeat her question.

Darien Fenton: Does she consider that the testimony of the Oyang 75 crew, who have suffered serious human rights abuses and breaches of New Zealand labour laws, is an important part of the inquiry; if not, why not?

Hon KATE WILKINSON: It is not my responsibility to judge whether the testimony is appropriate. That is an operational matter, and is subject to the current investigation, which is under way.

Darien Fenton: Why, then—

Hon Annette King: Isn’t it a ministerial inquiry?

Darien Fenton: —yes—is she determined to deport the Oyang 75 crew this Saturday and send them home to fines of up to $5,000 each for breach of contract, while those responsible for the abuses have not been held to account, even though her department’s advice to foreign crew on its website is that New Zealand does not tolerate violence against workers or unsafe working conditions?

Hon Christopher Finlayson: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I make this point of order as the acting Acting Leader of the House. Question No. 7 is a very precise question, and it concerns a ministerial inquiry, but now we are ranging forth into deportation.

Mr SPEAKER: Well, the question asked about the time line for the ministerial inquiry into the treatment of foreign fishing crews. The supplementary questions relate to matters to do with a particular foreign fishing crew. It may be that the Minister does not have particular information, although it is a ministerial inquiry. I do not think it is unreasonable to link these questions to this primary question. Whether the Minister can be expected to have detailed information on any particular element is another matter. I ask the member to repeat her question, because the House has now probably lost track of exactly what it was.

Darien Fenton: Why is she determined to deport the Oyang 75 crew this Saturday and send them home to fines of up to $5,000 each for breach of contract, while those responsible for these abuses have not been held to account, even though her department’s advice to foreign crew on its website is that New Zealand does not tolerate violence against workers or unsafe working conditions?

Mr SPEAKER: Before I call the Minister to answer, I say that I now understand the concern of the acting Acting Leader of the House. That question is focused, I believe, on the Minister’s role as Associate Minister of Immigration. The Minister is being questioned in her role as Minister of Labour. She is welcome to answer what part she can as Minister of Labour, but I accept that she is not responsible under this question as Associate Minister of Immigration.

Hon KATE WILKINSON: Mr Speaker, thank you for answering the question for me. As Minister of Labour I have no responsibility for decisions on deportation.

Hon Trevor Mallard: Did she, as Minister of Labour, ask the Minister of Immigration to ensure that the individuals who have been abused—physically and sexually—are still in the country in order to give their testimony to the inquiry that the Minister of Labour is setting up?

Hon KATE WILKINSON: I understand that no such decisions regarding deportation have been made.

Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Because I had not written my question down, I cannot read it out again, but I certainly started with the question of whether there had been communication in order to ensure that the people are still here to give their testimony.

Mr SPEAKER: Indeed, that was the question. The member asked whether the Minister of Labour had asked the Minister of Immigration to ensure these people were still in the country to give their testimony. I think the Minister actually answered it as she might as Associate Minister of Immigration. The question was to her as Minister of Labour, and it was a fair question to a Minister of Labour. It asked whether she had advised the Minister of Immigration, and I think that is worthy of answer.

Hon KATE WILKINSON: Speaking as Minister of Labour, there is frequent communication with the Associate Minister of Immigration.

Hon Members: Point of order.

Mr SPEAKER: This is a serious issue. This is an issue that has attracted some public attention. There is some public interest in this matter. The Minister has been asked whether, as Minister of Labour, she has asked the Minister of Immigration something to do with this crew—which could be involved in this ministerial inquiry—possibly being deported. I do not think that saying the Minister frequently advises the Associate Minister of Immigration is quite good enough. I realise it is the same person, but the question deserves to be treated with some seriousness. A ministerial inquiry is being established by the Government. People who, it would appear from the questioning, could possibly be deported from New Zealand may be reasonably expected to be involved in such an inquiry. I think it deserves a reasonable answer because the question, I think, was a reasonable question. I accept that it is the same person, which makes it a little unusual, but I still think it is worthy of a serious answer.

Hon Trevor Mallard: It is not the same person; the Minister of Immigration is Jonathan Coleman.

Mr SPEAKER: I beg your pardon; I accept that totally. I accept my error there. I ask the Minister whether she could answer a little more fully.

Hon KATE WILKINSON: I am advised that the department is working closely with the crews to try to resolve the current situation, but I understand that no final decisions have been made. Of course there have been discussions between me as Minister of Labour and the Minister of Immigration and me as Associate Minister of Immigration, but no decisions have been made by the Department of Labour or the Immigration Service.

Mr SPEAKER: I thank the Minister.

Hon Ruth Dyson: I seek leave to table the email from the Minister of Immigration in response to my request that the crew outlined in this question be allowed to stay in New Zealand while their abuse allegations and the non-payment of due wages are investigated, and the Minister of Immigration’s response, refusing to—

Mr SPEAKER: The member is just seeking to table the document. Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is no objection.

  • Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.

Darien Fenton: I seek leave to table a letter from the office of the Hon Kate Wilkinson to me, in reply to a request from me that she intervene in the issue of the Oyang 75 crew and waive the $550 fee to allow them to appeal their deportation order.

Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is no objection.

  • Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.

Darien Fenton: Has she, as Minister of Labour, asked the Minister of Immigration whether the Oyang 75 crew and the Shin Ji crew can stay past deportation dates to assist with further investigations, should it become apparent that there is evidence of human trafficking?

Hon KATE WILKINSON: That specific question has not been asked, but I understand and am advised that the department is working very closely with the crews to try to resolve the current issues in the situation.

Hon Trevor Mallard: Further to her earlier answer that she had no operational responsibility for the details of the ministerial inquiry, if she does not, who does?

Hon KATE WILKINSON: I refute that question, because that is not what I said.

Rahui Katene: What was the key issue that caused the Government to change its mind about a ministerial inquiry into the fishing industry between when I called for such an inquiry on 5 April 2011, and 3 months later, on 14 July, when the Government made its announcement?

Hon KATE WILKINSON: The member was quite right to be concerned about the issue back in April. Subsequent and further allegations have since emerged, and the Government considered that a ministerial inquiry was required and appropriate.