Hansard and Journals
Questions for Oral Answer — Questions to Ministers
Questions to Ministers
Speech from the Throne—Political Integrity
1. JOHN KEY (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does she stand by the statement in the Speech from the Throne in 1999 that her Government would “restore public confidence in the political integrity of Parliament and the electoral process”?
John Key: Does she stand by her statement on 14 September 2005 when she said of her then Minister Taito Phillip Field that “I think the only thing he is probably guilty of is trying to be helpful to someone.”, or her statement last year on the release of the Ingram report when she said of Mr Field that “the report does not find wrongdoing by Mr Field”; if so, how does she reconcile that with her comments made earlier in the week when she said in relation to Mr Field’s behaviour that it was “immoral”, “unethical”, and “unacceptable”?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: The Labour Party has been clear all along that the behaviour was unacceptable.
Gordon Copeland: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I was unable to hear the Prime Minister’s response, and I think we would be keen to hear it in this part of the House.
Madam SPEAKER: It is useful at this stage to remind members, unless we are going to have an enormous amount of repetition and people leaving the Chamber, that members should be given the courtesy of being heard, whether they are asking or answering questions.
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: The Labour Party has been clear all along that the behaviour was unacceptable.
Hon Phil Goff: To what extent does the Prime Minister believe that public confidence in the political integrity of Parliament and the electoral process has been damaged by revelations of cynical political manipulation, outright lies, and treachery—as revealed by the book The Hollow Men—as being commonplace in the National Party caucus and leadership?
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I think you may have noticed since you have been in the Chair that there is a division in this House—roughly one-third there, one-third, of course, at the back bench, and one-third over there. You will have observed, surely, that the volume of noise coming from some parts is in no way similar to that from this end of the House, where people on the whole listen to the questions and do not jeer during the questioner’s time for asking the question. That was a repetition of what we have seen in previous years. I will not point to any political party, other than to say that there is nothing special about those members that warrants their getting preferable treatment to that of members at this end of the House, where people in the main have been much more quiet in their behaviour and prepared to await the parliamentary process.
Madam SPEAKER: I thank the member. He is making the point again that there was a total disregard of my request that we observe freedom of speech in this House, which means that members can be heard.
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: The events the member referred to in the question of course cast doubt over the integrity in politics, and to my mind a measure of whether the National Party members can put The Hollow Men behind them will be whether they vote for campaign spending law reform.
Heather Roy: How does the Prime Minister think it boosts confidence in this Parliament when she denies that Kiwi kids go to school hungry, denies our health service is sick, and denies that our justice system is not working?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I have never denied that some children go to school without food. What I say is that our schools get on with doing something about that.
John Key: Does the Prime Minister stand by her statement this morning in relation to Taito Phillip Field when she said: “When the word started to come out just prior to the last election of some of the practices in the office, obviously we were extremely concerned, and that concern has never gone away.”; if so, could she tell the House why she set up the Noel Ingram inquiry in such a way and with such terms of reference that she knew it would never be able to answer the questions, if she had such concerns?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I have said many times in the House that the inquiry looked at whether there was a conflict of interest for Mr Field as a Minister.
Hon Dr Michael Cullen: How does it help to restore public confidence in the political integrity of Parliament when the Leader of the Opposition promises to engage in further discussions around means of making monetary policy work better, then, when the heat comes on, claims he was merely being polite?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Of course, the series of flip-flops we are used to seeing from the Leader of the Opposition does nothing to enhance public confidence in him or his party.
John Key: Can the Prime Minister explain how her decision yesterday to start expulsion proceedings against Mr Field restores “public confidence in the political integrity of Parliament” when, for the record, she did not expel him when she thought he was “immoral” and “unethical” and she did not expel him when she thought he was “exploiting vulnerable constituents”; in fact, the only reason he seems to be getting expelled is that he had the audacity to challenge the Prime Minister and steal her thunder on the day she was delivering her speech to Parliament—which, for the record, was not worth the effort on his part?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I think any reasonable person would say that the Labour Party had showed patience beyond endurance. That has just ended.
Hon Phil Goff: To what extent does the Prime Minister believe that political reputations for integrity in Parliament will be damaged by the publishing in The Hollow Men of an email from Exclusive Brethren leader Ron Hickmott, setting out in detail plans to spend $1 million to support the National Party, sent to John Key, when Mr Key later denied he had ever known anything about the plans?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: The Government was always puzzled as to how Mr Key could remember not seeing an email. But whether or not he saw the email, the email addressed to both Mr Key and Dr Brash stated that the Exclusive Brethren had “enjoyed your presentation”.
Madam SPEAKER: This is a very general and broad question. However, I just remind members that we should come back to the essence of it.
John Key: Has the Prime Minister been in contact with the leaders of United Future and New Zealand First to discuss the changing nature of her Government support arrangements, and what assurances or undertakings did they seek now that they know they are being dragged into what could only be described as a coalition of the unwilling?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: The leaders of both parties are well aware that, post-election, arrangements were set up that ensured the Government had a majority on confidence. Nothing has changed about that.
Hon Dr Michael Cullen: What does it do for the integrity of the political system when a member of Parliament registers his or her car at the address he or she actually lives at, but on the electoral roll has an entirely different address that happens to be in the electorate he or she was standing for, as Mr Key did?
Madam SPEAKER: As I said to members—[Interruption] I am on my feet. If members wish to remain in the Chamber, they will keep quiet. As I said to members, although this question is a very broad one, there is no ministerial responsibility for that matter. Supplementary question, John Key—
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. With respect—
Madam SPEAKER: Please be seated, Mr Peters. I am sorry, but I did not see you. I did not hear your call. I did see and hear the call of the member John Key. You will be next.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker—
Madam SPEAKER: I am sorry, Mr Peters, but I have ruled on this matter. So let us proceed, please.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. You can actually sometimes say: “I made a mistake and should not have called Mr Key, because he has already had four questions. Therefore, I seek to rectify my mistake.”—which I ask you now to do.
Madam SPEAKER: I have ruled.
John Key: Did the Green Party seek any additional demands of her Government when she contacted its leadership yesterday to reaffirm its abstention on confidence and supply?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: No. The abstention agreement is based on both sides working together in the working agreement and cooperating on certain issues, and that continues.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: On the question of public confidence and the integrity of Parliament, what are her views as to which is worse: allegations made about an MP that have been denied and are the subject of preparation for a possible court action in a country that believes that people are innocent until proven guilty, or the clear purchasing of party political policy and funding of campaigns disclosed in a book called The Hollow Men, which are yet to be denied by the National Party—which is worse?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Clearly, the latter is worse. It portrays a level of cynicism and manipulation of the political process without precedent in this country. That is why it is called The Hollow Men.
Working for Families Programme—Results
2. SHANE JONES (Labour) to the Minister of Finance: What reports, if any, has he received on the success of the Government’s Working for Families tax credit programme?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Finance) : This programme has been very successful, with the estimated total number of eligible families at around 360,000 in the 2006-07 tax year. In particular, it is delivering very substantial reductions in the proportion of children living in poverty.
Shane Jones: What reports has the Minister received on the desirability of fully implementing the programme?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The Ministry of Social Development estimates that full implementation, with the $10 per week per child increase on 1 April this year and the family support tax credit, will lead to a reduction in child poverty of up to 70 percent, which will put us in the top five countries in the OECD in that respect. I have also seen the promise of Mr Key in the last election to cancel that $10 per week per child increase—enough to pay for a basic breakfast for a child—in order to fund tax cuts for the better-off.
Sustainability—New Zealand's Contribution
3. JOHN KEY (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does she stand by the statement she made yesterday that “More than any other developed nation, New Zealand needs to go the extra mile to lower greenhouse gas emissions and increase sustainability.”?
John Key: Does she think her rhetoric on New Zealand’s lowering its greenhouse gas emissions more than any other developed nation is consistent when she looks at her own record and the official figures, which show that New Zealand’s emissions since 1999 have grown at twice the rate of the United States, four times the rate of Japan, and are even larger than Australia’s?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: What I know is that emissions have been growing, the economy has been growing, and we have had dry years that have forced more reliance on thermal energy. That is why strategies like the Energy Strategy, which seek to put fossil fuel generation out of baseload and into reserve, are so important for the future.
Hon Annette King: Has she seen a newspaper report of April last year that speaks of gutting the legislation, particularly “the sustainability stuff”, which is attributed to Maurice Williamson; if so, what should New Zealanders believe when they hear the National Party leader saying that he has always believed in climate change, and could it be considered hollow rhetoric?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: It is indeed hollow rhetoric to say, in 2005, that this stuff about climate change is a hoax and then to say, when one becomes the Leader of the Opposition, that one believed all along in climate change being a problem. I would say that the reason we will not hear any commitment to sustainability from the National Party is that those members do not believe in it, and Maurice Williamson’s intention to gut the transport legislation to take sustainability out proves that beyond doubt.
John Key: Is the Prime Minister aware that the announcements she made yesterday amount to reductions of less than 1 million tonnes of carbon, and what does she think that does in terms of her statement to make New Zealand carbon neutral when, on a yearly basis, we emit over 75 million tonnes?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Across the proposals the Government has out for consultation on energy, on sustainable land management, on the decisions we have made on biofuels, and on the leadership the Government intends to give, there will be a substantial impact. I note that the National Party puts such a high priority on these policies that the Bluegreen website still has Don Brash as the leader on it, with the memorable quote: “Environmental issues are too important to be left to the fringes of New Zealand politics.” I am afraid that Don is now on the fringes.
Peter Brown: Will the Prime Minister confirm what she meant when she stated: “New Zealand needs to go the extra mile to lower greenhouse gas emissions”, and will she tell us specifically whether the extra mile will include the imposition of additional tax on transport and/or power?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: What I was referring to was the likelihood of environmental protectionism, which affects New Zealand trade and tourism, hitting us if we do not go the extra mile to ensure that we are sustainable in what we do as a nation—what we produce, how we produce it—and to mount strong arguments around our travel being not actually as carbon-intensive as all the short-haul flights around Europe. Can I say to the member that on the issue of something like carbon taxes, there was not a majority to proceed with this in this Parliament.
Heather Roy: In the light of that answer, what will the cost be to Kiwi families and businesses of eliminating the 0.02 percent of the world’s carbon emissions that New Zealand generates, given that Treasury calculates this country’s lesser obligation under the Kyoto Protocol at over half a billion dollars?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I think it is more important to focus on what is the cost of not going the extra mile for sustainability, because the possible loss to New Zealand in terms of trade and tourism is rather significant. I believe that if businesses and households are able to become more sustainable, over time, there are savings in it.
John Key: Is the reason the Prime Minister will not answer my question—that her savings yesterday were 1 million tonnes and New Zealand is emitting over 75 million tonnes—that, like all things the Government does in this department, her record and her rhetoric are completely different; and if she really cared about making New Zealand carbon neutral, why did she not storm in yesterday and tell the country about some really big areas of savings?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I note that the mere move of going to more energy-efficient cars in the VIP fleet in itself takes out a lot of tonnes of carbon dioxide. What we announced yesterday was the first steps in a lot of areas, and that is better than having no steps at all and a whole lot of slogans.
Peter Brown: Will the Prime Minister acknowledge that the most environmentally friendly form of transport is shipping; if she does acknowledge that, will her Government assist in the development and the enhancement of New Zealand shipping?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: One of the reasons New Zealand can show that it is indeed a sustainable producer and transporter of its goods to faraway markets is that shipping plays a very big part in primary produce commodities going to market. I defer to the member’s expertise on shipping. I think it does raise the issue of whether there should be more emphasis on shipping as a sustainable form of transport.
John Key: If carbon neutral is not just a slogan, could the Prime Minister tell the House exactly where she is going to save the other 74 million tonnes of emissions we are currently emitting, over and above the million she saved yesterday?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Emissions savings are going to come, over time, in the way we use transport, in the way we generate energy, and in many, many ways. We have to take the steps towards sustainability. We have outlined where they are; the National Party has not got a clue.
John Key: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I asked the Prime Minister quite clearly to outline exactly what those steps were, and she did not, because she cannot. But she came back and said she would outline them. Well, I have asked that question. Maybe she would like to.
Madam SPEAKER: I listened carefully and the Prime Minister did in fact start to outline the areas. There was, however, some interruption with noise, so that some members may not have been able to hear her.
John Key: Does the Prime Minister accept that if she were really serious about being carbon neutral, and it was not just a slogan, she would not come down to the House and save a million tonnes but she would do something about the big areas that are really making a difference—like net deforestation in New Zealand, where she could do something instead of actually putting on taxes in such an area, which is actually accelerating net deforestation in New Zealand?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: In light of the member’s professed concern, I look forward to his and his party’s support for measures arising out of the current consultation on how to arrest deforestation and have more reforestation. But I know it would be a challenge to the National Party to engage on these issues.
4. MOANA MACKEY (Labour) to the Minister of Education: What increases have there been to school funding since 1999?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY (Minister of Education) : Funding for schools has increased from $3.8 billion a year in 1999 to around $5.6 billion in 2006. That is an increase of $1.8 billion, representing a 22 percent increase in real terms. That funding provides for more teachers, more classrooms, more buildings, a range of programmes designed to lift student performance, and an overall boost to operational funding. This Labour-led Government is committed to resourcing schools adequately so that they can deliver a high-quality education for all New Zealand students.
Moana Mackey: What reports has the Minister seen regarding the funding of New Zealand schools?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I have seen a report of comments by the previous National Opposition spokesperson on education, who claimed that low-decile schools “are awash with cash”. In light of recent weeks, this can mean only that a future National Government would slash funding to schools in low-income areas, and replace the funding with the offer of muesli bars delivered by limousine by John Key. [Interruption]
Madam SPEAKER: Would members please settle.
Judy Turner: What funding increases have been given to reading-recovery teachers, given that a portion of their funding comes from the pressured operations funding?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I do not have the funding figures specifically for reading-recovery teachers but, as the member will know, over the last 7 years the numbers of people who are in those resource areas has increased quite markedly, and along with it, of course, funding has increased as well. If the member puts down a written question, I will supply her with the specifics.
Te Ururoa Flavell: Tēnā koe, Madam Speaker. Kia ora tātou. What response has he to yesterday’s release from the National Council of Women that said: “…the spirit of the law, which is unqualified access to free education, has been sidelined in the application of the Act. … It is surely time to take a good look at the funding of education and come up with a plan for realistic and adequate resourcing right across the board, so that all children can have equal opportunities.”; and when will he announce his school funding plan to address the tragic profile of Māori underachievement, so that Māori children can have equal opportunities?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I would reply to the council that funding has lifted in real terms by 22 percent in 7 years, which is a marked lift in funding. I would point to the operations grant review that took place last year, which is being considered now by the Government with the sector. I would point to a range of programmes that have been put in place that are designed to lift the performance of Pacific groups like Māori. In other words, I think I would refer to our track record of 7 years as being highly successful, and argue that they should not vote for a party that says low-decile schools are awash with cash and should use muesli bars instead.
Dr Pita Sharples: Tēnā koe, Madam Speaker. Kia ora tātou. Has the Minister read the statements in response to the crisis of Māori underachievement from Paula Rāwiri, acting group manager of Māori at the Ministry of Education, who said that the data is serious and there is no quick fix; would he not agree that the fact that the Hunn report first identified Māori underachievement in 1960 has given sufficient time for a fix to be worked out; and how much longer do Māori have to wait before sufficient funds are invested appropriately in this crisis?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I think the quote is correct. This is serious, and there is a need to do more in this area. I think one of the most important pieces of research about to surface is the one that was mentioned yesterday but has not yet been released, and that is the work by Russell Bishop. In that work he has evaluated the Te Kotahitanga programme, which has shown, in the 59 schools that it is currently in, a dramatic improvement in results for young Māori. We are looking to programmes like that to lift across the board the performance of Māori who have, as the member has said, not been performing as well, and that is down to the system, not down to the students.
Mortgage Levy Proposal—Minister’s View
5. Hon BILL ENGLISH (Deputy Leader—National) to the Minister of Finance: What is his position on the mortgage levy today and how does this compare to his position last Thursday?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Finance) : My position last Thursday was the same as that which I had understood the member’s position to be last Thursday, and that was that ideas should be considered carefully, particularly when they come from Treasury and the Reserve Bank. Unlike the member, my position has remained unchanged.
Hon Bill English: Can we take it from the Minister’s answer that Government officials are now still working on the concept of a tax on fixed-interest mortgages?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Pursuant to the agreement at the end of the meeting that further work would be done on the variable interest mortgage rate, I understand that a report is coming to me at the end of this week. As a matter of courtesy I shall make it available to the joint leaders of the National Party, Mr Key and Mr English, but, of course, if they wish to continue discussions I am happy to do so; if they do not, then clearly the issue is off the table, because it would require a bipartisan approach.
Darien Fenton: What interest has been expressed in the levy?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: In the meeting I held with Mr Key and Mr English, Mr Key indicated a high degree of interest in the proposal, which Mr Key himself explained quite carefully at the meeting. He now claims he was merely being polite. So the National Party seems to have stumbled from a leader who claimed to be too polite to debate the Prime Minister in public to one who claims to be too polite to debate the Minister of Finance in private.
Hon Bill English: Is the Minister aware that the Prime Minister said last week that it would be a waste of time for officials to keep working on it; and why has he defied her instruction to him to pull back on the tax on fixed-interest mortgages because it is political suicide?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The report was almost completed. Given the fact the report was being prepared—in effect—at the joint request of that member, his co-leader, and myself, I saw no need to stop it at that point. Indeed, it was Mr Key who referred to the proposal as a stabilisation reserve where the levy could be negative on occasions—and he nods his head, I see.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Can the Minister confirm that this meeting was held following a written request from Mr Key to consider these matters, and that at the meeting the strongest proponent of that mortgage levy was John Key; and, given that, is this question a set-up from Bill English as a very early start in his campaign to destabilise John Key?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: It is certainly true that in a letter to me Mr Key said he was very interested in debating proposals, all of which were in the public arena at the time he wrote the letter. It was very clear at the meeting that Mr Key wanted more analysis on this matter. It was very clear also that Mr English’s body language was somewhat retentive—to put it mildly. It is very clear that the members of the “dream team” cannot agree on this matter, just as they cannot agree on fiscal policy, as Mr English showed at the Finance and Expenditure Committee this morning.
Hon Bill English: Can I take from the Minister’s answer that whether the levy proceeds depends on the Opposition’s view, and from his advocacy of the levy again at the select committee this morning that it is Labour’s policy to explore putting a tax on fixed-interest mortgages in order to buttress monetary policy?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: What I said was—and it follows a policy that I have adopted for close on 20 years now that monetary policy framework should be a bipartisan matter—that consensus would be required. If the National Party has now dogged on the agreement it entered into in December in my office, then that is the finish of that proposal. But the fact remains the problem has not gone away, and the problem for that member, who is supposed to represent a rural electorate, is that it is doing immense damage to the exporting sector. If he went down to Southland occasionally, he might find that out.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Does the Minister of Finance share the view of New Zealand First that the preferred method of addressing inflationary pressures now—and at the same time promoting employment and export growth—is to introduce a dramatically extended savings plan providing real incentives to increase New Zealand’s appalling rate of saving and, at the same time, to increase our domestic investment capacity; and will he consider introducing such a policy soon?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: On 1 July the KiwiSaver scheme comes into operation. It is expected to have a significant impact, in my view, on the level of savings within New Zealand. We should always be open to further moves. I am personally still not supportive of compulsion on the contributor—the employee—because I now think the Government takes on a very high level of moral hazard around the failure of any particular savings scheme.
Hon Bill English: Can the Minister answer the question that I asked right at the start: what is the Labour Government’s position today—[Interruption]
Madam SPEAKER: I ask members to show restraint. That was the second inappropriate comment made by that member, and it will be the last one.
Hon Bill English: Can the Minister outline, for the benefit of the House and the public, just what the Labour Government’s position is on the proposal to put a tax on fixed-interest mortgages?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The position is that the fact that the National Party dogged on discussions means that no further progress can be made on that. But I invite the member actually to discuss seriously how monetary policy can be made more effective and what options are available. He has no ideas in the area, other than to slash social spending and perhaps to have tax cuts for the rich.
Hon Bill English: What are the public and the House to make of a situation where the Minister of Finance has just contradicted directly the Prime Minister’s position, which is that the proposal is a “dead duck”—and that is a quote?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I do not know whether the member noticed but I just put another bullet into the body. [Interruption]
Madam SPEAKER: The member is entitled to be heard.
Hon Bill English: For the third, if not the fourth, time: can the Minister outline the Labour Government’s position on the proposal to put a tax on fixed-interest mortgages?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: For the fourth, if not the fifth, time: the fact that the National Party has dogged on the discussions means that it is now a dead issue. It will not proceed. [Interruption] Well, darling, if you were kissing me I would be saying no, even if you did not notice.
Superannuation Fund—Investment Policy
6. JEANETTE FITZSIMONS (Co-Leader—Green) to the Prime Minister: Does she stand by her statement yesterday that “New Zealand can aim to be the first nation to be truly sustainable—across the four pillars of the economy, society, the environment, and nationhood.”; if so, is she confident that the investments of the New Zealand Superannuation Fund are consistent with this goal?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister) : Yes, I stand by the statement I made yesterday. The legislation setting the mandate for investment in the Superannuation Fund is consistent with that goal, but it may be able to be improved to give better guidance to the fund.
Jeanette Fitzsimons: How is the $28.7 million Superannuation Fund investment in nuclear weapons manufacturers such as Northrop Grumman consistent with her vision of a sustainable nation, and how is it consistent with her statement yesterday: “Our nuclear-free policy and the values which inspired it have become central to our national identity and how we project ourselves to the world.”?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: As the member knows, I am one of the longest and most steadfast proponents of New Zealand’s nuclear-free status. The issues raised by the member highlight that where there are conglomerates, these issues around ethical investment are quite difficult. That is why I would welcome Maryan Street’s bill being drawn from the ballot so that a select committee can look at some of these issues more closely.
Keith Locke: How is the $17.7 million Superannuation Fund investment in cluster bomb manufacturers such as Lockheed Martin consistent with her vision of a sustainable nation, and does that investment not undermine the statement made last Friday by Phil Goff, the Minister of Defence, that “New Zealand is at the forefront of international moves to limit the humanitarian impact of cluster munitions.”?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: My answer is, in essence, the same as I gave to the member’s leader a moment ago. Some of these international conglomerates have many arms. It is, I think, a matter for legitimate debate as to whether something in one of those arms is so dominant that the whole company should not be invested in it. The New Zealand Superannuation Fund should be taking a close look at how funds in other progressive nations like ours actually invest.
Sue Bradford: When might we see a Government bill in this House that would put an end to the $28 million Superannuation Fund investment in tobacco companies such as British American Tobacco and the Imperial Tobacco Group, and the $40 million investment in gambling, given that both those investments undermine the health and sustainability of individuals, families, and communities?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: It has not been the approach of the Government to have legislation directing what companies can or cannot be invested in. The legislation points to more general guidance, and the fund itself claims that it adheres to United Nations standards in these matters. I am on the record as saying that I find investment in tobacco companies extremely offensive, and nothing would cause me to resile from that opinion.
Jeanette Fitzsimons: Is the Prime Minister saying that the Government will simply wait for a member’s bill, which may or may not ever win the ballot, or will she commit to strengthening the legislation under which the Superannuation Fund operates, to require ethical standards for investment, as the Green Party advocated at the time the fund was set up; if so, when?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: At this point the Government is supporting the introduction of the member’s bill, which has yet to be drawn from the ballot. If the bill does not have any luck over a period of time, it may be that we will look at another approach to it. At the present time the member who has advanced the bill is publicising its intention, and that is where it stands.
Taito Phillip Field—Immigration, Associate Minister
7. Dr the Hon LOCKWOOD SMITH (National—Rodney) to the Minister of Immigration: How long after his 23 June 2005 letter to Taito Phillip Field detailing his decision to issue a special direction for a work visa for Sunan Siriwan did the former Associate Minister of Immigration, the Hon Damien O’Connor, become aware that Mr Siriwan was allegedly working for Taito Phillip Field and staying at his house in Samoa, given the Minister’s statement to the Ingram inquiry that he would have “absolutely rejected” Mr Field’s advocacy for Mr Siriwan to be granted a 2-year work permit if he had been aware of that?
Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE (Minister of Immigration) : I am advised that the Ingram report, at paragraph 153, notes that the former Associate Minister of Immigration advised Dr Noel Ingram QC that he was “unable to recall precisely when he became aware of the allegation”. However, the Ingram report also records that Mr O’Connor was not aware of the information prior to or at the time he signed the letter on 23 June 2005.
Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: Why is it so difficult for this Minister to be truthful to this House about the facts; why can he not confirm—
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. That question is clearly outside the Standing Orders already. Although I do not want to sound like Mr Peters, I think it is important that standards are applied to the National Party, as well as to other parties.
Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: My question was very specific. I know that the Minister has in his possession the correct answer to it. He did not give it to the House.
Madam SPEAKER: I think the member could rephrase his question without the implication of untruthfulness being expressed as explicitly as the member did. The meaning of the question can come through, to comply with the standards of the House.
Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: Why can the Minister not simply be upfront with the truth with this House, and confirm that in fact it was within 5 days of Mr O’Connor writing to Taito Phillip Field with his decision on 23 June that the Ingram inquiry found that Damien O’Connor was aware unequivocally that Mr Siriwan was working on Phillip Field’s house in Samoa?
Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: What I can confirm is that I have received no such advice as that alleged by the member.
Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: Why did the Minister tell Parliament on 26 July last year that Mr O’Connor did not revoke his special direction because he “believed that the new information would be taken into account in the department’s processes and that no visa would be issued.”, when Mr O’Connor has said publicly that when he did receive the information he ignored it because he trusted his Labour Party colleague?
Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: What is clear is that when Mr O’Connor’s office received an email from Mr Williams on 12 September 2005, Mr O’Connor issued a press statement that same day advising that he was reviewing the decision. He then made a decision by 19 September to insert a flag in the department’s application management system requiring that no visa be issued without reference to his office. No visa was issued. Mr Sunan Siriwan and his family have never returned to New Zealand. They reside, I understand, in Thailand.
Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: Why did he tell Parliament on 26 July last year that when Damien O’Connor realised that the new information on Taito Phillip Field would not be taken into account in the department’s processes for issuing a visa to Sunan Siriwan he acted to reverse his decision, when Damien O’Connor has admitted publicly that the reason he did not act to reverse his decision immediately was that he ignored the new information because he trusted his Labour Party colleague?
Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: Mr O’Connor’s action in recording the flag in the application management system is a matter of record. The precise time when Mr O’Connor may have first been alerted by other means was not clear in the Ingram report. That is stated at paragraph 158, and I rely upon that.
Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: Why did this Minister tell Parliament on 3 August last year that “the Associate Minister”, Damien O’Connor, “did act unequivocally to ensure that the gentleman’s”—that is, Sunan Siriwan’s—“visa was not issued”, when Damien O’Connor has now admitted publicly that he did not take any action because he trusted his Labour Party colleague?
Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: For the third time I can confirm that Mr O’Connor obviously did take action, because on 19 September he put a flag in the application management system. I am not responsible for the amount of time that Mr O’Connor may have taken to reach that decision.
Corrections, Minister—Confidence in Department
8. GERRY BROWNLEE (National—Ilam) on behalf of SIMON POWER (National—Rangitikei) to the Minister of Corrections: Does he have confidence in his department; if so, why?
Gerry Brownlee: Why did it take 2 weeks after Graeme Burton first breached his parole conditions on 5 December for the probation service to seek a recall to prison, as section 61 of the Parole Act enables, when the police had told the service that if Burton’s parole was not revoked and he remained in the community he would kill someone?
Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: All the details surrounding that tragic incident are currently under inquiry by way of a number of investigations. It is not appropriate for me to comment on them at this point.
Madam SPEAKER: Supplementary question, Gerry Brownlee—I am sorry, a supplementary question, Hon Phil Goff.
Hon Phil Goff: Can the Minister confirm, in respect of having grounds for confidence in the major function of a prison, which is to keep its prisoners secure, that, in fact, prison escapes have been reduced by 78 percent in the last 10 years compared with when National was in Government, and can he confirm that that very good track record is notwithstanding quite major growth in the prison population because there are tougher laws and more police?
Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: I can confirm that, in spite of a 68 percent growth in the prison muster numbers, we have had a reduction of 78 percent in the number of people who have escaped since the former National Government was in charge of prisons.
Gerry Brownlee: Why did the probation service not seek a warrant for the arrest of Graeme Burton when he first breached parole by reporting in on the telephone rather than in person when they knew from the police that he was not living where he was supposed to be, and why did they believe that sending him a warning letter would reach him when they knew he was not living at the address that they sent it to?
Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: The Department of Corrections is on record with its response to that. There are, however, inquiries under way that will check all the details around the timing and actions of probation staff, the police, and anyone else involved in this tragic incident.
Gerry Brownlee: Was Graeme Burton on special offender warning system alert, for which the probation service operations manual requires immediate action following serious or repeated acts of non-compliance; if so, was action not taken to recall Graeme Burton to prison because probation officers did not understand the powers they had?
Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: I repeat, those issues are all under investigation. I can confirm that the offender was on the offender warning system and that immediate action was taken when they had that information at hand.
Gerry Brownlee: Can he confirm that the crucial psychological assessment of Graeme Burton prior to his release advocated a “carefully managed release under close supervision”, and can he honestly stand up in this House and claim that that is exactly what his department provided, when Graeme Burton was able to amass a stockpile of military style weapons, and commit aggravated robberies and other offences, before he was deemed to have breached parole?
Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: There were a large number of conditions associated with the parole of Mr Burton. It is not for me to prejudge which of those may or may not have been breached. That will be the result of the inquiries currently under way.
Gerry Brownlee: Why on earth does he have any right to continue being the Minister of Corrections if he does not have an opinion on how well his department has handled this matter, and if he is not prepared to accept some responsibility for a tragedy that has hurt many, many people—not to mention the victim himself?
Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: I am not prepared to judge the performance of my department based on speculation by the media nor on accusations by members of the National Party. I will await the outcome of the inquiries.
Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I would ask you to please reflect on that answer. The Minister appears to be telling us that the well-known facts around the situation that saw Graeme Burton commit offences that have a high amount of tragedy surrounding them, were somehow just a fabrication by the media and that he is not prepared to comment on them. Why on earth is he still the Minister?
Madam SPEAKER: No, I listened to the Minister’s answers and he did address the question.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. This is not for this occasion, but I noticed that you called Mr Brownlee then realised that Mr Goff was on his feet, and that you changed your decision and called Mr Goff before Mr Brownlee—a point I was making at the start of today’s question time. Perhaps you could have that in the future.
Madam SPEAKER: I thank the member for his observation. Obviously, I learn from experience.
Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. Perhaps it would help Mr Peters if I admitted to deferring to Mr Goff knowing full well that the Government needs as much of the cavalry as it can get at the moment.
Madam SPEAKER: As we know, that was not a point of order.
9. BARBARA STEWART (NZ First) to the Minister of Health: Is he satisfied with the way Pharmac is handling applications from those requiring treatment with Herceptin; if so, why?
Hon PETE HODGSON (Minister of Health) : Yes; the member will be aware that Pharmac keeps Herceptin under active review as new data comes to hand, including this week. Additionally, the processes around high-cost medicines, in general, are one of the questions being considered by the national medicines strategy consultation currently being undertaken by the Hon Peter Dunne.
Barbara Stewart: On what basis was the approximate cost of $300 million per annum made for the funding of Herceptin and quoted by both Pharmac and the previous Minister of Health, and was this costing independently verified?
Hon PETE HODGSON: I am not familiar with the figure of $300 million per annum. The figures that are generally used for treatment with Herceptin are around a quarter of that, although they are dependent somewhat on the weight of the patient.
Dr Jackie Blue: What did the Minister mean when he said in the House on 10 October that women with breast cancer were not worth the cost of funding Herceptin, and why is it that Ministers of Health in 23 other OECD countries think the opposite and care more about their women and their families?
Hon PETE HODGSON: It is almost certain that the member is misquoting me, but I will say to her that Pharmac keeps Herceptin under active review as new data comes to hand, including this week.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: What occurred between the election in 2005 and March 2006—because he said he was not aware of any such figure, I want to read this to him from the Evening Standard on 5 August 2005: “The problem is, Mr McNee said, that to pay for its use in all women who could be eligible would cost up to $300 million a year. That would absorb half of Pharmac’s current drug-buying budget.”; what happened between that quote and March 2006 for the annual cost of Herceptin funding quoted by both Pharmac and the current Minister of Health to be reduced from $300 million per annum to just $30 million per annum, where do the new figures come from, and why was the pre-election cost estimate 1,000 percent higher than the post-election estimate?
Hon PETE HODGSON: I am afraid I still do not know. It really does not matter how many times I am asked, I will not know where the earlier figure came from. I will say to the House that the likely cost of Herceptin to the drug budget, depending on the type of treatment, will be $30 million per annum or a little less.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: When the Minister says he does not know, have I not provided him with clear evidence that there are people in Pharmac prepared to lie to women who are suffering from cancer, prepared to lie to their Minister, prepared to lie to the media, and prepared to lie to the public, and is it not time, given that the facts are now out before the public, that he should get them in and fire them for such deceit?
Hon PETE HODGSON: I have been the Minister of Health now for about 16 months or something of that sort, during which time no member of Pharmac that I am aware of has used the figure of $300 million per annum. Pharmac has repeatedly said that the costs of Herceptin are $30 million or less.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I seek leave to table five documents—rather than do them one by one, because they are so similar I will read them out. There is an article from August 2005 with Wayne McNee talking about $300 million. He is the chief executive officer of Pharmac. Article two is from August 2005, where the Minister of Health has been misled using the same figure. Article three is from March 2006 and has Wayne McNee saying it now costs $30 million—10 times less. Then there is an article from May 2006 quoting Pharmac now saying Herceptin is $30 million a year. There is also the OECD country entry showing that we are the only country in the OECD so far refusing to fund Herceptin for early-stage breast cancer.
- Documents, by leave, laid on the Table of the House, and OECD report not tabled.
Waverley High School—Confidence in Oversight
10. KATHERINE RICH (National) to the Minister of Education: Does he have full confidence in the Ministry of Education, the Education Review Office, and the New Zealand Qualifications Authority’s involvement with Waverley High School since 2002; if not, why not?
Katherine Rich: Why did it take the New Zealand Qualifications Authority until late last year to issue a final warning to Waverley High School, when it knew as early as 2004 that the school was not acting on recommendations to improve assessment systems; and what does he say to the students who did the National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA) in 2005 and 2006 and are now left with grades that nobody knows whether to believe?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: It might be worthwhile if I just rehearse the longer issue here, because it goes back to before 2004. The issues first emerged at the school in around 2002, and education agencies at that time judged that the school was quite capable of dealing with them if it had assistance. In June 2005 the Education Review Office identified more serious issues that required the ministry to give assistance, and support was given to both the principal and the board at that time. To make faster progress, a limited statutory manager was appointed in May 2006, during my watch in the portfolio. When the board resigned in June last year, the limited statutory manager was appointed as a commissioner, which is the role that is currently being carried out. In June 2006 the New Zealand Qualifications Authority also expressed concerns. I think it would be fair to say that once the limited statutory manager had become a commissioner, the education agencies were able to go into some of the issues in the school, and that led them to believe that the situation was more serious than it might have appeared in previous months. The history is one of earlier stages being able to be fixed by the school, with assistance being provided as was judged necessary, but, really, this issue was accelerated during 2005 and 2006.
Jill Pettis: What systems are in place to assist schools that are experiencing difficulties?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: Education agencies have a range of mechanisms to identify schools that are in difficulty and to try to assist them. The Education Review Office and the New Zealand Qualifications Authority both conduct regular reviews to ensure that schools have good processes and policies in place. If they identify problems, they work with the school to try to clarify what the issues are and put together recommendations on which, of course, they act. The Ministry of Education monitors a range of indicators to identify any schools that are experiencing difficulties. It gathers information from agencies, parents, and the community. When those indicators show that a school is getting into difficulty, the ministry provides support as is necessary, which, of course, can lead right up to formal intervention of the kind I have just mentioned.
Katherine Rich: Following on from his answer to the question about helping schools that are having difficulties, what is he doing to assist Avondale College, which has discovered that nine history students from that school had their NCEA papers returned to them unmarked, unblemished, and with no grades—which explains why those students got a very distressing “results not available” message when they received their grades earlier this month?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: The New Zealand Qualifications Authority, as the member would expect, is working with the school now.
Katherine Rich: Can the Minister explain how students can sit an exam, have those exams despatched to the New Zealand Qualifications Authority, and have those exams sit in a wee pile and have a holiday, only to be returned unmarked, unblemished, and with no grades whatsoever?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I cannot do so right now, but the New Zealand Qualifications Authority will ensure that—
Hon Tau Henare: Find out—do your job!
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I appreciate the member’s support in this matter. The New Zealand Qualifications Authority will find out exactly what went on.
Chester Borrows: How can the Minister have confidence in his departments in respect of Waverley High School, when 50 percent of students are truant on any day but are not reported, when even with a teacher-pupil ratio of 1:8 everyone fails, when all teachers teach only 3.5 days per week, when the New Zealand Qualifications Authority claims evidence of cheating by students and teachers, when two-thirds of Waverley children are bussed out of town rather than attend Waverley High School, and when literacy and numeracy is a huge problem but there are no remedial programmes; and whose head will roll for letting this community down so badly?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: As the member knows from the answer I gave to the Opposition spokesperson on education, there is a great deal going on at the school at the present time. I appreciate his visit as a local member to the school along with the National Party associate spokesperson Allan Peachey. At the time, of course, he wanted the school to be closed immediately; now he tells me he would like it kept open so we can discuss the problems. I will work my way through the problems and keep him informed.
Chester Borrows: I seek leave to table a letter to the Minister dated 14 February, which contains my position and retracts a conversation I had with him on the telephone earlier, because I had only half the information—and he knew that.
- Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
11. SUE MORONEY (Labour) to the Minister of Health: What reports has he received on the quality of New Zealand’s drinking water?
Hon PETE HODGSON (Minister of Health) : I have had several reports. One was from the Hon Nick Smith last month, stating that 24 percent of our drinking water is unsafe, that that is “an appalling statistic”, and that “enforcement action is needed”. I received two other reports a few months earlier. Those stated that New Zealand is known for having the best standard of drinking water in the world, that it has excellent standards of drinking water, and that this is a problem that does not need fixing. Those statements were made by Dr Coleman and Dr Blue. So the National Party is both deeply concerned about the quality of New Zealand’s drinking water and deeply unconcerned. If that is the nature of its concern, then it is no wonder that it has not managed to formulate any health policy. National cannot even work out what it wants to do about New Zealand’s drinking water.
Kyoto Forestry Association—Draft Land-use Strategy
12. Hon Dr NICK SMITH (National—Nelson) to the Minister responsible for Climate Change Issues: Does he agree with the statement by Roger Dickie of the Kyoto Forestry Association, following the release of the Government’s draft land-use strategy last December, that: “Imposing massive retrospective taxes on the one industry capable of sequestering carbon is sheer idiocy”?
Hon JIM ANDERTON (Minister of Agriculture) on behalf of theMinister responsible for Climate Change Issues: Not surprisingly, no, he does not agree. The Government’s Sustainable Land Management and Climate Change discussion document, which I assume the member is referring to, does not propose imposing any retrospective taxes—massive or otherwise.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: What responsibility does his Government accept for the massive rates of deforestation that occurred in 2004, 2005, and 2006, noting that for all of the preceding 50 years New Zealand had planted more trees than it had cut down, and noting that the carbon losses from trees already felled amount to 50 times the projected savings from the window-dressing announcements from the Prime Minister yesterday?
Hon JIM ANDERTON: I do not want to suggest that the member himself—or any other member of the Opposition—is responsible for deforestation or land management issues; I just want to point out that in November last year a document was tabled in this House that showed that the rate of deforestation under the previous National Government was higher than any deforestation rate that is going on now.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: I seek leave to table the figures of the Minister’s own ministry, showing the plummet from 60,000 hectares of new forest planting during the 9 years of the National Government, to net deforestation in all of the last 3 years.
- Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
- Hon JIM ANDERTON: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I ask whether that document goes back to the rates of deforestation in the 1980s and 1990s.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Absolutely.
Hon JIM ANDERTON: It does? Well, I have no objection.
Madam SPEAKER: There was no objection; it was a point of clarification.
R Doug Woolerton: Does the Minister believe that it is important to discourage deforestation, and is he concerned that deforestation is a feature of Mr Graeme Hart’s ownership of Carter Holt Harvey?
Hon JIM ANDERTON: As we speak, the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry and the ministry dealing with climate change issues has a major discussion document on deforestation and the means to address it being consulted through communities right throughout New Zealand. Deforestation is a serious issue—not just for New Zealand but for the whole world. A number of proposals in that document would address the issue and we are waiting to have the feedback from the communities of New Zealand, particularly those in the forestry industry, to help determine what the Government itself decides will be done. I note, however, that the National Party actually agrees with one of those proposals, which is tradable permits. I am pleased to have its support for that and we may well get some cross-parliamentary agreement on it.
Lynne Pillay: Has the Government costed Mr Dickie’s proposed climate change policies?
Hon JIM ANDERTON: Yes. It is estimated that Mr Dickie’s proposal to place no controls on deforestation and to give windfall credits to Kyoto Protocol forest owners would give the taxpayers of New Zealand $1.89 billion. To meet this cost it would be necessary for the Government to impose many hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of charges on the farming community for methane emissions that it can do little about. If the National Party supports Mr Dickie’s proposals—and one can only assume that it does, given that Matthew “Hollow Men” Hooten is running Mr Dickie’s campaign—then I am interested to know when the National Party plans to tell its rural constituents, the farming community, what size of bill they will get if we are unfortunate enough ever to have a National Government in charge of this country.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Does the Minister accept that his proposal for a deforestation tax of $13,000 a hectare is contributing negatively to climate change by encouraging the chainsaws to start up early; and why does the Government not learn the lesson from its “fart tax” and its carbon tax, which it had to drop, and accept that the Government has again stuffed it up, that it is on a loser, and that it should cut its losses and drop the proposal immediately?
Hon JIM ANDERTON: That does not sound to me like a question from a party that is deeply concerned about climate change issues in this country or about anything else. I just told the House that the Government understands—even if the National Party does not—that deforestation is a major issue. As a country, we have to work our way through managing it. If we do nothing, emissions from deforestation will be equal to the increase in emissions from agriculture and transport. There are also many other environmental impacts from deforestation, not to mention flooding and nutrient run-off. At the moment, society and the environment are paying the full cost for deforestation, and those who are taking advantage of the opportunity to cut down their trees are socialising their profits and capitalising their losses, so that the rest of the community pays the bill. That is not acceptable to this Government, any more than it is acceptable to the whole of New Zealand society.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Can the Minister explain to the House what is fair when foresters are encouraged to plant trees so that they can get credits, and the Government takes the credits from them; then, if they dare change land use, the Government says that it will whack a tax on them, and is then somehow surprised that foresters want to get in and cut their trees down early?
Hon JIM ANDERTON: There is no proposal to charge those people who have trees in the ground $13,000 a hectare for the privilege of having them or of cutting them—none. There is not one single proposal to charge them for that. That is the cost of deforestation to the whole community of New Zealand, and if the member read the document clearly, he would understand that. I repeat that the people of New Zealand fully comprehend the enormity of climate change. Deforestation makes an enormous contribution to that. We need to deal with it, and we will not be dealing with it in a way that Dr Smith is representing Mr Dickie’s wanting to take all the profit for himself and put all the money and the cost on everyone else in the community except him. When Mr Dickie planted those trees, and those around him also did so, there was no such thing as carbon credits or liabilities, and both have to be considered now in this new era.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: It seems that the Minister has not read the Government’s own document, so I seek leave to table page 63 of Sustainable Land Management and Climate Change, which has Mr Anderton’s and Mr Parker’s picture on the front. It states that a charge will be set at $13,000 a tonne for deforestation.
Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? Yes, there is objection.