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Volume 653, Week 8 - Thursday, 2 April 2009
Thursday, 2 April 2009
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE (Leader of the House) : When the House resumes on 7 April, priority will be given to the Appropriation (2007/08 Financial Review) Bill debate. Wednesday, 8 April, will be a members’ day, but it is expected that at 5 p.m. on that day the Rt Hon Helen Clark will make her valedictory statement to the House. Thursday will be a day on which we concentrate on the third readings of the Criminal Proceeds (Recovery) Bill and the Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters Amendment Bill. On that day, the House will lift at 5 p.m. for the Easter break.
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Labour) : I ask the Leader of the House whether there is any possibility of the Private Security Personnel and Private Investigators Bill and the Gambling Amendment Bill (No 2), in the name of the Hon Dr Richard Worth, being debated early next week, because the Opposition is keen to debate those two particular bills.
Points of Order
Questions for Written Answer—Content of Answers
CLAYTON COSGROVE (Labour—Waimakariri) : I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I apologise for interrupting the proceedings. I raise a point of order under Standing Order 377(1) in respect of the content of replies to written questions. I do it knowing that it would be your wish that it was discussed with you prior to my raising it in the House, and I believe that discussions have occurred with representatives outside about replies to written questions.
The point is simply that on 19 March written question No. 1434 asked of the Minister of Police: “What papers has she prepared for Cabinet or Cabinet Committees?”. She gave a precise and correct answer, which was: “I have not prepared any papers for cabinet or cabinet committees.” There is no problem there. On the same day I lodged written question No. 1409 to the same Minister, but in her capacity as Minister of Corrections. It was the same question. The answer came back: “There are other avenues the Member can use to source this information.”
My query is simply—and I would be grateful, Mr Speaker, if you could consider it—that there does not appear to be any inconsistency with the public interest, as per Standing Order 377(1), in providing a reply on the number of Cabinet papers submitted. The Minister in her capacity as Minister of Police did that very well, saying there were none. It is completely inconceivable that a member, in answer to the same question but addressed to a different portfolio, would be told to go and get the information. Really, it seems to be trifling with the Standing Orders. Mr Speaker, I simply seek your advice, either now or after you have considered the matter, as to the quality of the answer.
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE (Leader of the House) : A lot of things in this House develop by way of convention. Those conventions are built up over a period of time. Upon becoming the Government, the new National Government looked at the convention used by the previous Government in answering written questions. What did we find? A lot of the questions that Opposition members are asking are questions that we used to ask. Using the conventions of this House, a reply similar to a reply provided earlier, by the previous Government, was supplied in this case. I suggest that Mr Cosgrove use some of the exceptional amount of time he now has on his hands to pursue those other avenues.
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: Speaking to the point of order—
Mr SPEAKER: I do not need further advice on this matter. It is a valid point of order that the member has raised, because the Standing Order does require questions to be answered if that is in the public interest. I do not want to get into a debate on it right now; I will look into the matter to see whether there is any reason why. I note the point the Hon Gerry Brownlee has made, in that there are some traditions; even the Ombudsman has had to be brought in to try to acquire information. However, times are changing, and I want to make sure that information is made available in an appropriate manner. I want to look into it.
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE (Leader of the House) : I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I use a point of order to indicate to the House that there was a discussion about this matter at the Business Committee, and I have undertaken on behalf of the National Government and Ministers to ensure that we do comply with the Standing Orders as far as possible.
Mr SPEAKER: I appreciate that point.
Mr SPEAKER: Points of order will be heard in silence.
Dr RUSSEL NORMAN: We have had a similar problem and I seek your assistance. For example, we asked for the titles and dates of reports given to the Minister of Health by the Food Safety Authority, and we were told that that information was not available, and that the Minister would not bother to tell us what reports had been given to her. To us that seems totally unacceptable—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: The Hon David Cunliffe will respect the silence while Dr Russel Norman is making a point of order. [Interruption] The same applies to the Hon Gerry Brownlee. It is the House that those members are showing disrespect to.
Dr RUSSEL NORMAN: It seems to us completely unacceptable that we should not be able even to find out what reports the Minister has received from a Government agency. That seems to me to breach Standing Order 377.
Mr SPEAKER: Colleagues, I do not believe there is any need to take this matter any further. The point the Hon Gerry Brownlee raised is perfectly correct; the matter has been raised at the Business Committee. I indicated that I view this matter seriously. What the Hon Gerry Brownlee said is absolutely true: a practice built up over the years in this place whereby information was not available in that manner, and even under the Official Information Act it was difficult to extract that information. However, I want to make sure that the Standing Orders for questions are complied with in an appropriate manner, and that is why, as the Hon Gerry Brownlee has indicated, the matter is being investigated to see whether we can resolve it. I do not think there is any point in our taking the issue further in the House today, because we will see whether we can resolve it to the satisfaction of all members.
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Labour) : I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I would request that you consult some of the parliamentary records more carefully. My colleague by my side and I both received regular requests for lists of reports that we had received, and we supplied those by way of written answer. A number of the written answers that I have seen come from Ministers recently are quite novel, and actually go back, rather, to the Max Bradford precedent of denying answers on the ground that they might cost money to produce. We are not here to simply—
Mr SPEAKER: The House does not need to take time on this issue right now. The matter will be resolved. I undertake to the House that the matter will be resolved, in the interests of, as far as possible, all members. The matter is being taken seriously—I can assure the honourable member of that.
Hon CLAYTON COSGROVE (Labour—Waimakariri) : I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I raise another issue with you, based on the Minister’s intervention. She said—and I ask whether this is acceptable to avoid answering a question—that the department, I think she said, uses some sort of template. My understanding from being a Minister—
Hon Judith Collins: I didn’t say that!
Hon CLAYTON COSGROVE: Can I be heard in silence?
Mr SPEAKER: I am listening to the member. The point of order is getting marginal. That is why I think he risks interjection.
Hon CLAYTON COSGROVE: Well, I have got only half a sentence out. All Ministers must sign questions, and, presumably, they read them. Is it enough now for a Minister to say: “Well, the department wrote it. I did not read it, but I signed it.”, and therefore—
Mr SPEAKER: The member knows that is not an appropriate point of order..
Questions to Ministers
1. Hon ANNETTE KING (Deputy Leader—Labour) to the Prime Minister: Does he stand by all the statements he has made as Prime Minister in the last month?
Hon Annette King: Does he stand by his statement that the Minister of Trade “took the opportunity” to resign his business interests that could cause a conflict of interest when he was advised to do so by the Cabinet Office last year; if so, why was his Minister still holding shares in the Indian Overseas Group Ltd this week?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Those matters have been raised by the Opposition and by the media, and Ministers have set about ensuring that every action they take complies with the Cabinet Manual and the Register of Pecuniary Interests of Members of Parliament.
Hon Annette King: Does he stand by his statement that all the world leaders he has talked to are “not particularly focused on climate change at the moment”, and how does he reconcile that statement with the talks that President Obama and Prime Minister Gordon Brown had on this issue just yesterday, or do they not take the Prime Minister seriously on this issue anyway?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Yes, the Prime Minister does stand by his statement.
Hon Annette King: Does he stand by his statement that the Minister for ACC has “a brain about the size of the South Island”, but after his bizarre behaviour in the last few weeks does he wish to revise the size to, say, the vacant Campbell Island?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Yes, the Prime Minister does stand by his statement. The Labour Party may find it bizarre that a Minister wanted to go to the select committee to be accountable and explain his actions, but it is part of us being a good Government.
Hon Annette King: Does he stand by his statement that the Minister of Internal Affairs is stupid and unwise; if so, how long does he intend to retain a stupid and unwise Minister?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The Prime Minister stands by his statement that some of the Minister’s actions were unwise, and the Minister has set about correcting those actions.
Question No. 2 to Minister
Mr SPEAKER: Question No. 2, Craig Foss. [Interruption] Order! [Interruption] Order! Order! National Ministers might show some respect to their colleague seeking to ask a question.
Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Labour—Hutt South) : I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am slightly reluctant to do this, but I think you called for order four times then, and I suggest that in future you might stand and that might cause people to be quiet.
Mr SPEAKER: I thank the honourable member for his suggestion.
2. CRAIG FOSS (National—Tukituki) to the Minister of Finance: How much has core Crown expenditure increased over the past 5 years?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance) : Since June 2004 core Crown expenditure has risen from $41.9 billion to $63.5 billion. That is an increase of 51 percent over the last 5 years. In that time the economy grew by just 23 percent and tax revenue by 24 percent.
Craig Foss: Where has the burden of this increased expenditure fallen?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Most public expenditure programmes bring benefits to the community. However, over the next few years we will have to carefully weigh up the benefits of increased expenditure with the benefits that that expenditure would have to the community. The burden of extra expenditure falls on all taxpayers, and taxpayers will want to know that it is all used productively. That is why the Government is going through a process of prioritising its expenditure.
Hon David Cunliffe: Can the Minister confirm that his answer to the first question mixed real and nominal numbers, and thereby misled the House and the public?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The answer is no, but it is quite clear that Government expenditure cannot continue to grow significantly faster than the growth of the economy.
Craig Foss: What would be the consequences if these expenditure trends were to continue?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The consequences of expenditure growing significantly faster than the economy—and particularly when revenue is dropping—would be an unacceptable level of debt. This Parliament needs to keep in mind, as the Government does, that every dollar borrowed now will have to be repaid with interest by some future taxpayer, and every time the Labour Opposition complains about the Government reprioritising, taxpayers need to remember that more expenditure simply means more debt.
Hon David Cunliffe: Does the Minister agree with the Prime Minister, John Key, when he encouraged G20 leaders “to recognise that not every country, even those”—like New Zealand—“with low initial public debt,” and so on and so forth; and does he concur with his leader’s recognition that he is extremely fortunate to have inherited an economy with such sound public finances?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: If the public finances were as sound as that member believes, then we would not be facing the prospect of a probable doubling of public debt over the next 3 years. The fact is that in the last 3 years under the previous Government, with its shambolic and directionless policy, billions of dollars of extra expenditure was built into our baselines that was of low quality.
Hon David Cunliffe: Has the Minister seen reports from Business and Economic Research stating: “The middle of a recession was not the time for a ‘balancing of the books’ exercise. Growing signs of a cavalier, ‘across-the-board’ Razor Gang approach to culling government spending leaves one with a sense of déjà vu. The risk that the current Government will repeat the mistakes of the early-1990s would not only add to the gloom, but also further exacerbate the blow-out in the fiscal deficit.”, and does he, therefore, accept that his instructions to cut 10 percent of the Public Service are misguided?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: There was no such instruction. The majority of the redundancies in the Public Service are due to the fact that the previous Government planned drops in spending in the Ministry for the Environment, the Inland Revenue Department, and other Government agencies. The redundancies are due to the fact that Labour made commitments that it did not fund.
John Boscawen: Would the Minister agree that although the previous Labour Government created the shambolic and directionless mess we are now in, it is his job to fix it, and when does he intend to start to do so in a meaningful way?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Yes, I agree that it is the job of the National Government to fix it, and I think that is why the public overwhelmingly voted to change the Government. We have set about doing that in a meaningful way by reprioritising the Government’s spending, dropping all the unfunded commitments made by the previous Government, dropping the programmes that are not working, and allowing the Civil Service to give us its best professional advice and to start exercising responsibility, instead of its public servants being treated like children, as they were under the previous Government.
3. Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE (Labour—New Lynn) to the Minister of Finance: Will all New Zealanders gain from National’s tax cuts?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance) : Yes, all New Zealanders will gain from the tax cuts, because lower taxes provide incentives to get ahead, are a reward for effort, and will help to get this economy back in the shape it needs to be in to replace the jobs that are being lost. Every New Zealander will benefit from policies that reduce unemployment.
Hon David Cunliffe: Can the Minister confirm that businesses that have employees on KiwiSaver, for example, will be worse off to the tune of $1,040 per worker per year, as a result of the loss of the employer subsidy?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The National Opposition promised to make a number of changes to KiwiSaver. We campaigned on those changes, we were elected, and we have made those changes. Businesses and employees will certainly benefit from having a Government that knows what it takes to build business confidence, to enhance job security, and to provide an environment where new jobs can be created to replace the ones that are being lost.
Hon David Cunliffe: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I imagine you know what the point of order will be. The question was a very simple one about whether he could confirm a number that had been provided. It was impossible to tell from the meandering answer whether he was trying to bring himself to the point where he could say yes. Could you please invite the Minister to clarify that now?
Mr SPEAKER: The member still has supplementary questions that he can use to pursue the sharp point, and I think it is reasonable that he should explore that avenue before raising concern about the Minister’s failure to answer.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. It is a separate point of order. Again, I saw that you looked in his direction, but right at the beginning of that point of order, in the first sentence, the Leader of the House interjected. You are being quite strict on this side of the House, and my invitation to you is to be strict on the person on the other side who is meant to show leadership in this area, and ask him to cease.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: Mr Speaker, I apologise if any disrespect was shown to you—the Chair—or the House. But when a member takes a point of order and says: “Mr Speaker, I suspect you can anticipate what I am going to say.”, he or she surely has to expect the rest of the House to treat it with some degree of derision.
Dr Russel Norman: Mr Speaker, I want to address your original ruling. I am not disagreeing with your ruling as to whether the question had been addressed. I want to ask you about your statement that members can always follow up a matter by asking a further supplementary question about it. The problem with that is that members use up their supplementary questions. If the original question was not actually addressed, we use up our supplementary questions chasing the Minister. For smaller parties in particular, with fewer supplementary questions, that is a real problem.
Mr SPEAKER: I appreciate the point the honourable member has made, and I would certainly try to make sure that that did not happen. If, in fact, no answer was forthcoming, and the question was very plain, I would invite the member to repeat the question so that he or she did not run out of supplementary questions. I think that is a very important point.
Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga: What other groups will benefit from yesterday’s changes?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: In addition to 1.5 million taxpayers who will benefit from lower taxes, almost 1 million superannuitants, veterans, beneficiaries, and students will experience a rise in income from 1 April. Most will get a boost of over $13 a week. In addition, all the people who are on the minimum wage will have an increase from $12 to $12.50 an hour, and small and medium businesses will benefit from a 4-year, $480 million programme of tax changes. All of this is being achieved in the face of one of the worst recessions the country has experienced for many years.
Hon David Cunliffe: Can the Minister confirm that Pasifika people will be overwhelmingly represented amongst those who are net losers from yesterday’s tax changes, and can he further confirm that over 80 percent of all workers and taxpayers in the electorate of Māngere, a heavily Pacific Island electorate, will be worse off, and that some 75 percent in Mr Lotu-Iiga’s electorate will be worse off?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: No, I cannot confirm that. The member has taken to using all sorts of dodgy numbers to come up with these figures. The fact is that 1.5 million taxpayers are getting a tax cut, and almost 1 million other people on income support are getting rises on 1 April. That is a major achievement in the face of a deepening recession, with dropping revenue and coordinated global recession.
Hon David Cunliffe: Can the Minister confirm that a company that invests, say, $200,000 in research and development activity to improve its products, make itself more competitive, and help position New Zealand for an export-led rebound will now lose $30,000 because of National scrapping the research and development tax credit?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: If those numbers were right, that would be the case. However, a number of companies I have spoken to found that the amount they spent on consultants to work out the deduction they would get was more than the deduction. It is time Labour got real. Times have changed. We cannot have everything that it was nice to have. That Government’s record of reckless spending is one of the biggest problems that this Government has to deal with.
Hon David Cunliffe: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Having exhausted my allocation of supplementary questions, I turn to you for your assistance.
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Thank God for that.
Hon David Cunliffe: Well, if the Minister cannot take the heat, get out of the kitchen. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: We will have silence, thank you. Thanks; we have just got over that one. The problem was caused by an unhelpful interjection. I ask members not to interject. The Hon David Cunliffe does have the floor on a point of order.
Hon David Cunliffe: Thank you for helping the acting Prime Minister. Again, the question was a very simple question. In fact, it was a mathematical truism. Somehow, the member managed to create a Calvinistic sermon out of the response. Would it—
Mr SPEAKER: The member will sit down. The member must remember that points of order are meant to be made tersely, and are meant to be to the point. Whether or not there was a Calvinistic sermon is not consistent with the Standing Orders on making points of order. I take it the member is seeking my assistance because he believes that the reply was not adequate. If that is the case, all I can say to the member is that the Minister said that if the member’s figures were correct, then that would be the case. I believe that was an answer to his question.
Dr Russel Norman: Why does the Minister continue to ignore the advice from the International Monetary Fund that a tax cut - based stimulus package produces much better economic outcomes if it is targeted towards those on lower incomes?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: We are not ignoring advice from the International Monetary Fund. Its representatives were sitting in my office the other day, handing it out. It just happens that we do not agree with all its advice.
Community Law Centres—Funding
4. NATHAN GUY (National—Ōtaki) on behalf of SANDRA GOUDIE (National—Coromandel) to the Minister of Justice: What further steps has he taken to improve access to justice following his announcement last month that the shortfall in funding for community law centres would be addressed?
Hon SIMON POWER (Minister of Justice) : Last night, at the International Legal Aid Group meeting in Wellington, I announced a fundamental review of the legal aid system. Legal aid has a defining role in upholding access to justice by giving effect to the principle of equality before the law. However, I am concerned that the current system of legal aid may actually lead to inequity by creating perverse incentives to prolong justice, with a negative impact on victims and on costs to the court system.
Nathan Guy: What is the scope of the review, and who will lead it?
Hon SIMON POWER: The review will consider all aspects of the legal aid system, but the purpose is to consider how the system can be best structured so that it delivers effective legal services to those who need them the most in a way that is cost-effective and sustainable. I am very pleased to advise the House that Dame Margaret Bazley will chair the review team, with the rest of the team to be announced at a later date.
Hon Lianne Dalziel: Does the Minister stand by his statement that the immediate future of New Zealand’s 27 community law centres has been assured through interim measures that will mean they have the same level of funding next year as they enjoyed in 2008-09; if so, why has the Legal Services Agency not yet rolled over the existing purchase plans?
Hon SIMON POWER: All will happen in good time, I say to the member.
Internal Affairs, Minister—Ministerial Requirements
5. Hon PETE HODGSON (Labour—Dunedin North) to the Minister of Internal Affairs:Can he confirm that as Minister of Internal Affairs he has met all the requirements of a Minister of the Crown as set out under “Conduct, public duty, and personal interests” in Part 2 of the Cabinet Manual?
Hon Pete Hodgson: Why does the Minister still own 5,000 shares in WSD Global Markets Ltd, a company substantially owned by Mr Riaz Patel of the House of Patel, a company that originates from India, trades in India, and has a physical presence in India; and how does that reflect on his judgment?
Hon Dr RICHARD WORTH: The shares in that company, which are a minimal holding—I am not sure what the total capital of the company is, but it is a big number—are held by my family trust and are in the process of being sold. In fact, I had a discussion with the secretary of the company about that issue yesterday.
Hon Pete Hodgson: Why did the Minister obtain those shares, while he was a director of the company, on the day before last year’s general election, when most members of Parliament had other things on their minds; and did he pay for those shares?
Hon Dr RICHARD WORTH: I do not believe that the date the member has offered is correct. That may be the date the shares were entered on to the register. I did pay for the shares.
Hon Annette King: He’s not being honest.
Hon Pete Hodgson: No, he bought them himself. Is the Minister happy to rise to the challenge posed by the Leader of the Opposition yesterday that he place in the public arena receipts for his own costs of travel, accommodation, and other requirements incurred on his recent trip to India?
Hon Dr RICHARD WORTH: I think the member should accept the accuracy of the statements that I make in this Parliament. The costs have been correctly identified and the details published in the media.
Hon Pete Hodgson: Is the Minister aware that WSBC, a company that the director of the New Zealand Serious Fraud Office described as “an associated entity”, was thrown out of the Cook Islands last week, and that last Friday the Minister of Finance for the Cook Islands issued a press statement praising the role of the Pacific anti - money-laundering programme; and how does that reflect on his judgment?
Hon Dr RICHARD WORTH: I do not know of those matters. That is a different company. The company I was involved with was WSD Global Risks Ltd, which is a New Zealand company.
Hon Pete Hodgson: Why did the Minister tamper with his own Wikipedia entry earlier this week, and does he intend to take the advice Wikipedia gave him yesterday afternoon that he should consult Wikipedia’s conflict of interest guidelines?
Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Although some of these questions stray outside what might be normal in the circumstances, I know that my colleague is keen to answer them, but for goodness sake! Yesterday we had Mr Cunliffe getting upset about suggestions that he had been Twitter-ing on some site in cyberspace. How on earth does this particular Wikipedia entry have anything to do with the primary question that was asked today?
Hon Dr Michael Cullen: The primary question today was about the Cabinet Manual requirements in relation to conduct, public duty, and personal interests. That is a very wide set of requirements upon Ministers, and the supplementary question comes within that ambit. The primary question is not specifically related to the matters of shareholding.
Mr SPEAKER: It is a difficult issue. Obviously, I have to try to ensure that questions fall within the area of ministerial responsibility and relate to the primary question. I acknowledge the primary question is reasonably broad in terms of conduct under the requirements of the Cabinet Manual. But anyone, as I understand it, can seek to alter what is on Wikipedia, and I have some difficulty in believing that that question falls within the Standing Orders. So that I am not seen to be unfair in taking a question away from the member, I invite him to reword his question to see whether he can bring it reasonably within the Standing Orders.
Hon Pete Hodgson: Can the Minister recall that the Prime Minister had undisclosed shares in a railway company last year, some of which were also in a family trust, and that when confronted by that the Prime Minister chose to not to hide behind that particular veil—so why does Dr Worth?
Mr SPEAKER: I must say to the honourable member that the dilemma is that the Minister of Internal Affairs is not in any way responsible for what the Prime Minister may or may not have done, and that is the dilemma I have with that question. I accept that the member is seriously trying to pursue a matter and I do not want to unduly constrain that, but I feel that what the Prime Minister may have done is not the Minister’s responsibility.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am slightly reluctant to challenge your ruling, but I ask you to consider this matter. The question was not asking the Minister to answer for the Prime Minister, but it gave the Prime Minister as a very good example of proper transparency in these matters, and all that was being asked was whether this Minister is prepared to match the level of transparency that the Prime Minister has given and that Ministers in the previous Government were also expected to give.
Hon Dr Michael Cullen: It would be appropriate if the member were to be allowed to rephrase the question and to see whether he can bring it within your understanding—
Mr SPEAKER: I will allow the member to do that.
Hon Pete Hodgson: Noting the Prime Minister’s expectation on all Ministers, does the Minister of Internal Affairs believe that he should follow the example given by the Prime Minister in respect of family trusts, and not chose to hide behind that veil?
Hon Dr RICHARD WORTH: There is nothing unusual about family trusts. If the member was to look at the Register of Pecuniary Interests of Members of Parliament, he would find that there are a significant number of members of Parliament who have trust arrangements. My recollection is that the previous Prime Minister has such an arrangement. There is nothing inappropriate about a family trust.
Hon Pete Hodgson: I have a number of documents to table, and to assist the House I have grouped them. The first set of documents are various share registry records and directors’ records from the New Zealand Companies Office. I seek leave to table them.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table those documents. Is there any objection? There is none.
- Documents, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Hon Pete Hodgson: Secondly, there are assorted documents from court cases, including an affidavit, a court finding, and commentary from the British customs intelligence. I seek leave to table those documents.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table those documents. Is there any objection? There is none.
- Documents, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Hon Pete Hodgson: I seek leave to table a press statement dated last Friday from the office of the Deputy Prime Minister of the Cook Islands.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is none.
- Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Hon Pete Hodgson: Finally, I seek leave to table Dr Worth’s view of himself on Wikipedia, and Wikipedia’s comments to Dr Worth in response.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table comments from Wikipedia. Is there any objection to that? There appears to be none.
- Documents, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Greenhouse Gas Reduction—2020 Target
6. Dr KENNEDY GRAHAM (Green) to the AssociateMinister for Climate Change Issues (International Negotiations): What percentage of emission cuts for 2020 will the New Zealand Government commit to at the Bonn conference, in light of the EU commitment to cut emissions by at least 20 percent, and broadly comparable statements of intent by Australia and the United States?
Hon TIM GROSER (Associate Minister for Climate Change Issues (International Negotiations)) : New Zealand does not propose to announce a domestic medium-term target at the current United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change meeting in Bonn. Cabinet has signed off on New Zealand’s climate change negotiating stance, which includes a commitment to the global goal of 450 parts per million of carbon dioxide equivalent, and it has also signed off on New Zealand’s goal of a 50 percent reduction in net emissions as at 1990 by 2050. There is considerable uncertainty over New Zealand’s net emissions figures, which the Government is working hard to resolve right now. Until we get reliable figures on that, we are not in a position to go further.
Dr Kennedy Graham: Can the Minister explain why this Government is unable to make a clear decision on emission cuts by 2020—not 2050—although the US chief climate change negotiator has recently forewarned that “those who hang back … will be economic losers in the end”?
Hon TIM GROSER: As I stated in my answer to the primary question, first of all, we need to know exactly where we stand in terms of net emissions before taking a position for or against.
Dr Kennedy Graham: In light of that comment, when will the Minister admit that New Zealand is, in fact, not now a leader or a fast follower, but a climate laggard, and that we will be economic losers in the global green economy that is now coming?
Hon TIM GROSER: What I can say is that this issue about fast following and where we are in the rank of nations responding to this great global challenge was debated extensively during the election. We were elected by New Zealand to govern on a matter of balance between our environmental and our economic objectives, and that is what we are committed to.
Nicky Wagner: Has the Minister received any updates from the negotiations in Bonn?
Hon TIM GROSER: Yes, I am receiving updates. The member will be aware that the meeting is still progressing, of course. Last night New Zealand presented on the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change stage. I believe we are making a contribution in Bonn to help shape international thinking on the objective and fair approach to sharing the effort on reducing emissions, taking account of different counties’ national circumstances. Our presentation was well-received, except, of course, by Greenpeace, which managed to present us with the “Fossil of the Day” award, but that is almost a badge of honour, I think, since it is unlikely that Greenpeace would ever seek to reconcile more than one objective. We will continue to work closely with countries to advance this thinking. To elaborate further to the member, I say that this week we will be participating in a workshop on the challenges and opportunities for reducing emissions from agriculture, which is an issue of great importance to the world, particularly in the context of developing countries making a contribution during the second commitment period. People are aware that New Zealand is a leader in research on the reduction of agricultural emissions.
Dr Kennedy Graham: Is the Minister in any way influenced by the Copenhagen scientific congress, which stated in March that “Weaker targets for 2020 increase the risk” of passing the point of no return?
Hon TIM GROSER: I am not familiar with that precise scientific finding, but it is certainly consistent with a number of scientific findings that I have heard that indicated that even 450 parts per million of carbon dioxide equivalent, for example, may not be sufficient. There is a range of views out there; I am very much aware of that range of views.
Dr Kennedy Graham: In light of the Minister’s response, then, and his response to the earlier question pertaining to atmospheric carbon concentration, will the Minister and his Government now commit to the international goal of a 2 degree cap in global temperature increase—yes or no?
Hon TIM GROSER: At this stage we are committing to the different objective of trying to achieve 450 parts per million, which is equivalent on current estimates to reducing the increase in temperature, to 2 degrees, that would occur otherwise. The objectives are similar, but we are choosing at this stage to focus on that as the measure. The indirect effect is, indeed, to reduce temperature increase globally on the basis of the current science to somewhat less than would otherwise be the case.
Dr Kennedy Graham: I seek leave to table a document, which is the summary report by the International Scientific Congress on Climate Change held in Copenhagen on 12 March.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is none.
- Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Roading—Roads of National Significance
7. TODD McCLAY (National—Rotorua) to the Minister of Transport: What progress has been made on the first of the roads of national significance, announced a fortnight ago?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister of Transport) : I am pleased to announce that this weekend the New Zealand Transport Agency will be calling for expressions of interest in the project to deal with the notorious bottleneck on State Highway 1 at Victoria Park in Auckland. This project was originally set down to start construction in November 2010. The start has now been brought forward by almost a year, to January 2010.
Nikki Kaye: What has enabled the Victoria Park tunnel to be brought forward?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: The New Zealand Transport Agency informed me that it is able to bring this significant construction forward due to the almost $1 billion of extra funding for new State highway construction over the next 3 years, announced only 2 weeks ago. I am also advised that because of the forecast reduction in funding under the previous Government’s policy statement, the entire project might not have been affordable, and the project might not have been able to start.
Jeanette Fitzsimons: Has the Minister had even the tiniest of second thoughts about his unprecedented motorway-building binge, after reading the comments of various international transport experts in the Sunday Star-Times this week, including the statement made by Dr Paul Mees, who said: “If you live in Auckland you don’t appreciate what an extreme case it is, but it’s had the most unbalanced transport policies of just about anyone in the world. Even in Los Angeles they put a bit into public transport eventually. … in Auckland you’d think it was the 1950s, from the way the road lobby and the government carry on.”?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: The member will be aware that about $1.6 billion is currently being invested in Auckland passenger rail. This particular project will reduce congestion, improve safety outcomes, provide more reliable journey times, improve economic productivity, and also improve environmental outcomes in the vicinity of the project, and I think all of that makes it a pretty good thing to do.
Nikki Kaye: What benefits will the completion of the Victoria Park tunnel bring to Auckland?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: The construction phase will provide an economic boost in the short term, with more work for the construction industry. The longer-term completion of this project will boost productivity through the provision of an additional three lanes, which will greatly ease the congestion experienced by the 100,000-plus vehicles that use this route every day. It will remove a huge bottleneck on the Auckland motorway network, just south of the harbour bridge, and will improve journey times for people travelling to and from the North Shore to all other parts of Auckland.
Hon Darren Hughes: Is the Minister committed to the speedy construction of the Waterview Connection in Auckland, including the tunnels; if so, will it be to the same design specifications that the community was consulted on?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: The member is aware that we are currently reviewing the costs of the Waterview project, because for 4½ kilometres of road, the price tag had risen to $2.8 billion for four lanes—
Hon David Cunliffe: We’re over here.
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: —and $3.2 billion, I say to Mr Cunliffe, for six lanes.
Hon Darren Hughes: When does he think construction of the Waterview Connection in Auckland will start?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Wait and see.
Hon Darren Hughes: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I asked the Minister when he thought something would start. His answer cannot be consistent with the public interest in roads that the Minister himself calls roads of national significance. If they are significant, it must be consistent with the public interest for the Minister to tell us when he thinks the Waterview Connection in Auckland will start. He must have an opinion on that; he must have a view.
Mr SPEAKER: The dilemma of the honourable member’s point is that he has just pointed out that he was seeking an opinion—“When does the Minister think”—so he got an opinion in reply. That is the dilemma with these sorts of questions; if members seek an opinion, they will get an opinion, and it may not be exactly what they wanted. I cannot force the Minister to give a more precise answer than that, I believe.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I raised with you not long ago the same point of order. During the point of order of my colleague Darren Hughes, the Leader of the House interjected on four separate occasions. You did not call him to order, Mr Speaker. I wonder whether the rules will apply equally to the Government and to the Opposition.
Hon Bill English: The Leader of the House was behaving with the dignity with which he usually behaves. It was actually I who interjected—twice—and I offer my apologies.
Mr SPEAKER: I thank the honourable member. I apologise to the Hon Trevor Mallard; I did not actually hear the interjections. I was concentrating so hard on the point that his colleague was making that I did not even hear them. I apologise to him.
Emissions Trading Scheme—Forestry Sector
8. CHARLES CHAUVEL (Labour) to the Minister for Climate Change Issues: What reports, if any, has he received on the impact that uncertainty relating to the emissions trading scheme is creating for the forestry sector?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH (Minister for Climate Change Issues) : I have received no specific reports of concern from officials. I have had informal reports from the forestry sector that it has had concerns over aspects of how the emissions trading scheme works for forestry, and that there is difficulty in its application. I am also advised that mistakes were made in respect of forestry in the emissions trading scheme legislation that was rushed through by the previous Government. Regardless of the select committee review, there will need to be an amending bill, which inevitably will create some uncertainty.
Charles Chauvel: How does the Minister reconcile his statement that his, and John Key’s, No. 1 priority for any climate change policy should be the reversing of deforestation with the Minister’s policies stopping the planting of any new trees, which has caused the destruction of 7 million seedlings, as confirmed by David Rhodes of the Forest Owners Association and Peter Clark of PF Olsen, yesterday?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: No matter how poorly this Government might do on forestry, it will not be able to compete with the previous Government, which had the worst record of any postwar Government. I accept that it will take some months for this Government to restore confidence to the forestry sector. I note, though, that in respect of the issue of seedling planting, some forestry companies have over-pitched the value of carbon credits and understated the fact that there are large carbon liabilities when those forests are harvested. As people have become more aware, down the track, of those liabilities, the investment interest has been more realistic.
Hon Dr Michael Cullen: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Can we have an assurance the senior Government whip is not coaching Mr Bennett in advance of his answering questions later on today?
Mr SPEAKER: That is not a point of order, and the honourable member knows it.
Charles Chauvel: What reports, if any, has the Minister received from the major energy and transport businesses, which will become bound by the emissions trading scheme on 1 January 2010, about the significant additional costs they are having to incur and the jobs now at risk in those businesses, as a result of their having no idea of whether they will still enter the emissions trading scheme on that date?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: The reaction I have had from both the transport sector and industrials is that they welcome the select committee review. There is a broadly held view that the previous Government rushed the emissions trading legislation, which is confirmed by the fact that officials have said there are mistakes in that legislation that will need to be fixed by the new Government.
Craig Foss: What reports has the Minister received on overall planting rates; and how do they compare historically?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: The most up-to-date figures for forestry are for 2007, and that was the worst year for deforestation since records began in 1951. That year saw the loss of 39,000 hectares of forests, or 13 million trees. Frankly, I cannot understand the audacity of members opposite in even being prepared to ask questions, given their appalling record.
Charles Chauvel: When will the Minister for Climate Change Issues and his colleagues, despite already having drawn ministerial salaries for some 15 percent of the term of this Parliament, show that they can take responsibility for their own inability to implement coherent policy, as demonstrated by the chaos the Minister has created in climate change, and by the answers from Ministers to so many questions today?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: The Government announced a review through the select committee on the emissions trading scheme. Officials are working on a bill that is required in order to fix a number of mistakes that the previous Government made. We have also initiated, with the Prime Minister’s summit with Prime Minister Rudd, a sensible harmonisation of the New Zealand and Australia—[Interruption] Members opposite scoff, but I actually think that most New Zealanders would think it is perfectly sensible, with the close trans-Tasman relationship, for our two countries to work closely together on a global issue like climate change. I am surprised that members opposite would take such an irresponsible view of that.
9. DAVID GARRETT (ACT) to the Minister of Justice: Does he agree that bail laws need to be further tightened, in light of revelations that Haiden Davis was on bail for a violent offence when he killed Augustine Borrell; if not, why not?
Hon SIMON POWER (Minister of Justice) : Yes; which is why this Government campaigned on tightening the Bail Act. In addition to the law that the Government passed within its first month of office, we also promised to review the Bail Act. This work is under way.
David Garrett: Will the Minister consider a return to requiring bail sureties, which are set out in the Habeas Corpus Act 1679, and which are in place in the United States and Canada; if not, why not?
Hon SIMON POWER: No, I have not considered it, but, as always, I am happy to discuss any suggestion that the member may make to improve the criminal justice system.
10. H V ROSS ROBERTSON (Labour—Manukau East) to the Minister for Senior Citizens: What representations, if any, has he made to the Minister for Social Development and Employment on behalf of senior citizens on the future of the SuperGold card?
Hon PAULA BENNETT (Minister for Social Development and Employment) on behalf of the Minister for Senior Citizens: The Minister has had no meetings with the Minister for Social Development and Employment on the subject, as the future of the card is not in question. She has assured the Minister that there are no immediate plans, no medium-term plans, and no long-term plans.
H V Ross Robertson: Can the Minister, therefore, tell the House whether the Minister for Social Development and Employment indicated to him that the SuperGold card is safe only in the immediate future and that she is giving no guarantee of the long-term future of the card?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: The Minister is assured by the Minister for Social Development and Employment that there are immediate plans, no medium-term plans, and no long-term plans for cutting the SuperGold card.
H V Ross Robertson: Will he give a cast-iron guarantee that he will not allow the SuperGold benefits, or the card itself, to be replaced during this term of Parliament?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: In line with the Prime Minister’s statements that the Government will continue to fund the SuperGold card regardless of any increase in demand, and in line with a similar indication given by the Minister of Transport, Steven Joyce, there will be a commitment by the Government to this initiative. As Minister of Social Development and Employment, I can also give an assurance that there are no plans to replace it.
Jacqui Dean: Has he seen any reports of the member’s views on schemes like the SuperGold card?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: Yes, the Minister has seen a report in the New Zealand Herald from 1991, where the member Mr Ross Robertson argued strongly in this House against the precursor of the SuperGold card, stating: “It is a passport to poverty.” Luckily, this Government does not agree with that view. [Interruption]
H V Ross Robertson: I am older and wiser now! Has the Minister had any indication from the Minister for Social Development and Employment that she believes that the SuperGold card is “so last year”?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: No, the Minister has not.
Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples—Discussion with Australia
11. HONE HARAWIRA (Māori Party—Te Tai Tokerau) to the Minister of Foreign Affairs: What were the outcomes of the meeting held between him and his Australian counterpart on 29 March 2009, with regard to New Zealand’s position on the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples?
Hon TIM GROSER (Associate Minister of Foreign Affairs) on behalf of the Minister of Foreign Affairs: New Zealand’s position on the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was not discussed during the Minister’s telephone conversation with the Australian Foreign Minister on 29 March.
Hone Harawira: What consultation processes is the Government planning with regard to the declaration, given the extensive work done by Māori over the past 25 years to have the declaration ratified by the United Nations, and given the previous Government’s refusal to consult Māori on that matter?
Hon TIM GROSER: The Government is very aware of the importance of indigenous rights to the Māori Party, and, indeed, to all New Zealanders. The Government has not made any decisions on the way forward with regard to that particular declaration. The Government will need to see the details of what the Australian Government announces and consider them very carefully before making further decisions. It is our understanding that the announcement will be made tomorrow.
Rahui Katene: Does the Minister agree with the Oxford Dictionary that an “aspiration” means to have “hope or ambition”, and why would the New Zealand Government oppose an aspirational, non-binding declaration that promotes hope or ambition for the rights of indigenous peoples?
Hon TIM GROSER: New Zealand has worked very hard over the last 30 years to recognise the rights of indigenous peoples, and although the declaration is indeed aspirational and not legally binding, this Government, in contrast, is committed to going well beyond aspirational commitments and working on binding responses to indigenous peoples’ issues. For example, the Government is reviewing the Foreshore and Seabed Act 2004 to ensure, amongst other things, that mana whenua in relation to the foreshore and seabed is indeed appropriately recognised.
North Shore Hospital—Emergency Department
12. Dr JACKIE BLUE (National) to the Minister of Health: What reports has he received on North Shore Hospital’s emergency department?
Hon TONY RYALL (Minister of Health) : I have received reports that North Shore Hospital, including its emergency department, has insufficient capacity to meet its growth in acute or emergency services. The Waitemata District Health Board has reported that core acute-service patient numbers have increased by a huge 42 percent in just 3 years. The report makes it clear that, over the last year and a half, urgent admissions have exceeded the hospital’s ability to care for its patients, with patients left languishing on stretchers in open spaces in the emergency department.
Dr Jackie Blue: What has been the new Government’s response to that issue?
Hon TONY RYALL: Today I can announce that the new Government has approved Waitemata District Health Board’s business case for the so-called Lakeview extension at North Shore Hospital. The business case sought approval for the $48 million project to build a much-needed extension to the North Shore Hospital emergency department and the hospital’s acute medical capacity. The approval of that case will now allow the Waitemata District Health Board to progress to final design work and ministerial approval. Construction is expected to begin at the end of this year.
Hon Ruth Dyson: What increase in the number of admissions to the North Shore Hospital’s emergency department, and, in fact, the emergency department of every hospital in the country, does the Minister expect as a result of his decision to allow district health boards to hold on to the 3 percent future funding track money on 1 July this year, rather than passing it on to community-based health providers?
Hon TONY RYALL: This Government has inherited a public health service with a very dire financial situation, and this Government is determined to ensure that New Zealanders get improved service from emergency departments. We think it is unacceptable that patients were languishing under fluorescent lights in the emergency department at North Shore Hospital for days on end. That problem cannot be fixed overnight, but this Government is determined to fix it.
Hon Ruth Dyson: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Minister failed to address my question, yet again.
Mr SPEAKER: I must say it is not helpful when the Minister starts his answer by talking about the questioner’s party or what this Government might do and making a statement instead of actually responding to the question. I invite the member to repeat her question.
Hon Ruth Dyson: My question was quite specific, and I am pleased to repeat it. What increase in the number of admissions to the North Shore Hospital’s emergency department, and to the emergency department of every hospital in the country, does the Minister expect as a result of his decision to allow district health boards to hold on to the 3 percent future funding track money from 1 July this year, rather than passing it on to health providers in the community?
Hon TONY RYALL: Many health providers in the community will be receiving funding increases associated with the future funding track.
Dr Jackie Blue: What are the details of the approval?
Hon TONY RYALL: The announcement includes a major enhancement of bed capacity, and a new assessment and diagnostic unit. It includes 26 extra cubicles in the emergency department; the reintroduction of an admissions planning unit, including 19 extra beds, at North Shore Hospital, which is essential to address the flow of patients between the emergency department and the hospital; and 48 extra medical in-patient beds—a total of 93 more beds for North Shore Hospital, so that we can begin to address the problems we have inherited at that hospital.
Hon Ruth Dyson: What criteria has the Minister allowed district health boards to use in determining that some health providers in the community and voluntary sector will not have the 3 percent future funding track money passed on to them, and others will? What criteria will make the difference?
Hon TONY RYALL: Those criteria are the same that one would have expected under the previous Government. The district health boards have the responsibility to manage their resources effectively. This Government will be giving the district health boards more money in the Budget. There will be record budgets for the district health boards, and that will give them the responsibility to manage the needs of their patients.
Hon Ruth Dyson: What increase in the number of admissions to the emergency departments of South Canterbury hospitals does the Minister expect, on the basis of his decision to allow the South Canterbury District Health Board to cut home support services to anyone receiving services of fewer than 2 hours a week?
Mr SPEAKER: The difficulty with that question was that the primary question was very specifically in respect of North Shore Hospital’s emergency department.
Hon Ruth Dyson: Further supplementary questions expanded it to other emergency departments.
Mr SPEAKER: The Minister’s answers can expand questions, but, just because I have allowed a supplementary question that does that, the options do not just keep expanding.
Hon Darren Hughes: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The last answer that the Minister gave referred to district health board budgets—the budgets of district health boards across the country. He was quoting and trumpeting that he was, supposedly, increasing those budgets. The member is now asking a question about a specific district health board. This line of questioning is because of the Minister’s answers.
Mr SPEAKER: I will accept the member’s word, and I invite, therefore, the Minister to answer the question.
Hon TONY RYALL: The South Canterbury District Health Board will receive increased funding in this year’s Budget. Is this member standing up in the House and saying that no district health board, under Labour, ever responded to the requirements of its community? The fact is that this Government is increasing resources for those district health boards. She should be worried about that, because there will be improved services for New Zealanders.
Hon Ruth Dyson: So how does the Minister’s decision to allow the South Canterbury District Health Board to cut services align with his promise to New Zealanders that there would be no health cuts to front-line services; and what else is a home support service of only 2 hours a week to a frail, elderly person, who will now get nothing, other than a front-line service?
Hon TONY RYALL: Those services are the responsibility of the South Canterbury District Health Board. How shameful of that member to fake some sort of concern about those older people in South Canterbury when she allowed older people on the North Shore to languish under fluorescent light bulbs in the local emergency department. When the report from the Health and Disability Commissioner comes out, I will be interested to hear what she has to say.
Hon Ruth Dyson: Can the Minister confirm that despite his attempt at self-promotion through patsy questions, there was no emergency department at all at North Shore Hospital until 2001, when Annette King was the Minister of Health, and that, in fact, there was no hospital on the North Shore before Stuart Nash’s great-grandfather Walter Nash built it in 1958—that both were built under Labour Governments?
Hon TONY RYALL: Actually, I think George Gair deserves a lot of credit for what has happened at North Shore Hospital.
Questions to Members
Accident Compensation Corporation—2007-08 Financial Review
1. Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Labour—Hutt South) to the Chairperson of the Transport and Industrial Relations Committee: Was John Judge invited by him or a staff member to attend the Transport and Industrial Relations Committee on the 2007-08 ACC financial review?
DAVID BENNETT (Chairperson of the Transport and Industrial Relations Committee) : I did not invite Mr Judge, and it is my understanding that he was not invited by any staff member of the committee to attend the meeting on 12 March.
Hon Trevor Mallard: What has changed since Tuesday, when the member gave a different answer to the same question?
DAVID BENNETT: I have no understanding of giving a different answer to that question. I maintain that I did not invite Mr Judge to that meeting and I ask the member to show me otherwise.
Accident Compensation Corporation—2007-08 Financial Review
2. Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Labour—Hutt South) to the Chairperson of the Transport and Industrial Relations Committee: Between whom was the agreement he referred to in his answer to the House on 31 March 2009, and when did it occur?
DAVID BENNETT (Chairperson of the Transport and Industrial Relations Committee): The agreement was between me and the Minister, and the agreement was in the time leading up to the select committee hearing on 12 March.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Did Dr Smith tell him that he had been asked to act for Mr Judge or that Mr Judge had asked him to convey his apologies, as Mr Judge told the select committee this morning?
DAVID BENNETT: I was not told that he was asked to act.
Accident Compensation Corporation—2007-08 Financial Review
3. Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Labour—Hutt South) to the Chairperson of the Transport and Industrial Relations Committee: Did he discuss who would be invited to the financial review of ACC for the 2007-08 year with the Minister for ACC before the meeting on 12 March 2009; if so, what was the date of that discussion?
DAVID BENNETT (Chairperson of the Transport and Industrial Relations Committee): As I am aware, there were no invitations given to that meeting but it was agreed upon that the Minister would attend the meeting, due to the reconfiguration of the board at the time. The Minister’s input was very valuable at the meeting.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. It is a question of whether the date of the discussion, which was a specific part of the question, was addressed.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: We are getting into very interesting territory when it has been long established that members answering questions as chairpersons of select committees or members in charge of bills are to be questioned about procedural matters. Something that happens outside the committee—a discussion that happens away from it—is hardly a procedural matter. If, in fact, all of the discussions that might take place in any caucus or between caucus members—I am not suggesting anything in saying that—somehow become subject to questioning in the House, where on earth do we have the opportunity to discuss matters that are relevant to the politics of the day? All I am saying is that to ask Mr Bennett to recall the date, when clearly everything about this was in the newspapers and clearly there was agreement between him and the Minister that the Minister would attend—and, oddly, Labour members think it was a bad thing for the Minister to attend a select committee—is just pushing well past what is a procedural matter for the committee.
Mr SPEAKER: Were the question a supplementary question and the member had to think about when an important discussion about who might be giving evidence took place—and giving evidence for a financial review is an important procedural matter—the point the member made would be perfectly valid. This question is on notice. The member has had a couple of hours to check the record about when, if a discussion took place, that discussion did take place. If it is not in the public interest for the member to answer it, if there is some reason why the question cannot be answered, I will accept that, but on the face of it I invite the member to answer the question.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. With all due respect, I think you miss my point. I am actually questioning why on earth this question was allowed in the first place. It hardly goes to the heart of a procedural matter for the committee.
Mr SPEAKER: The question was accepted and I think it was accepted on good grounds: that the chair is responsible for the conduct of the committee. Financial reviews are a very important business of select committees. Who should give evidence at those financial reviews is a very important part of the business and procedure of the committee. I think the question was validly accepted. It was on notice. As I say, if it was a supplementary question I would accept the point made that we cannot expect the member to remember the date. But it is on notice and I invite the member to answer.
DAVID BENNETT: There were no invitations given, to my knowledge, to the meeting. On the Tuesday, to the best of my recollections, the Minister confirmed that he would be attending the meeting.
Hon Trevor Mallard: In light of his answer, how can he reconcile that answer—that no invitations were issued—with the statement in this House by the Minister that he was invited by himself, David Bennett?
Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The chairman of the select committee has no responsibility for any comments made anywhere by the Minister for ACC. That is a most unreasonable question.
Hon Trevor Mallard: It was very clear in both the beginning and the end of that question that I referred to discussions that he had, as chairman, with Dr Smith and the primary answer that Mr Bennett gave in the House now.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: Firstly, noting that we are in the absurd position of Labour members getting upset that a Minister turned up to a select committee—
Mr SPEAKER: That is not—
Hon Gerry Brownlee: Might I make the point?
Mr SPEAKER: I will let the member make the point, but that is not the way to start a point of order, which is an important point of order.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: If Labour members want to know that answer, they should set it down as a question to the Minister for ACC. They should not be chasing the chairman of the select committee around, expecting him to somehow know or reconcile—or whatever members want—a statement made by a Minister. It is not his responsibility.
Hon Dr Michael Cullen: That is a very important point, because what the Minister is now trying to argue is that it is perfectly legitimate for us to ask a question of the Minister as to how he reconciles his statement in the House with another statement by a non-executive member, but somehow it is not appropriate for us to ask the member in his capacity as the chair as to how he reconciles his statement with the contradictory statement by the Minister in the House. It seems to me that those two are exactly the reverse of each other.
Mr SPEAKER: It is a very interesting point that members have raised, and a serious point. It is a difficult point to rule on because the point the Hon Gerry Brownlee has made is absolutely correct in that the member cannot be responsible for what the Minister might have said in the House. The further element of difficulty is that we must accept the member’s word in this House. What the member has said in this House, we have to accept as well. So the only way I can see the matter being pursued is to allow the member a further supplementary question to dig in to exactly what that member has said in the House. But he cannot, in any way, be held accountable for what the Minister might have said in the House. I invite the member to—
Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Hon Dr Michael Cullen: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: I will hear the Hon Gerry Brownlee first.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. That may seem like a fair solution to you, but I think it is unreasonable, given that the Standing Orders make it very clear that the chairman of any select committee or a member responsible for a bill can be questioned only about procedural matters that relate to that. This does not relate to a procedural matter; it relates to a matter that took place in this House. Saying “Well, you got that question wrong, so I’ll give you anther one.” to a member who has been here for a very, very long time and who does know the rules and the Standing Orders seems to me unreasonable.
Hon Dr Michael Cullen: The issue actually embedded in the question is the issue around who was invited to the select committee. Mr Bennett has said that Dr Smith was not invited by him to the select committee—
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Did not!
Mr SPEAKER: Please do not interject.
Hon Dr Michael Cullen: —and Dr Smith has said that he was invited to the select committee. One of the problems in arguing that we have to accept the word of a member is that if one member says “a” and another members says “not a”, it is difficult for anybody—at least in the general world outside—to accept that both can be simultaneously true.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: The public record is very clear. Both I and David Bennett agreed that I would attend the select committee because I was in the middle of reconfiguring the ACC board. I do not see the point that is being raised in all these claims of contradictions. It is a matter of public record that both I and Mr Bennett have said that we agreed that I would attend.
Mr SPEAKER: Honourable members, I appreciate your indulgence on this, because it is an important issue. The House is dealing with an issue that is serious and that has been pursued for some days, because the member asking the questions is asking perfectly proper questions and they must be treated in accordance with the Standing Orders. The chairperson is being asked to account for the procedures of the committee that he is responsible for as chairperson, and to question him on what he has said in this House in relation to those procedures is perfectly proper. If the member is to chair a committee, he must be accountable for those issues. Because of the point that the Hon Dr Michael Cullen made about the extraordinary difficulty around reconciling statements, and the difficulty, which I acknowledged a moment ago, that the chair of the committee is not responsible for another member’s statements—on the face of it, we must take the member’s word—I am inviting the member to ask one further supplementary question that does not seek to hold the chair accountable for what anyone else might have said but only for what he has told this House.
Hon Trevor Mallard: In answering in this House, did he—
Hon Members: That’s not a question.
Mr SPEAKER: I accept the point the members make. If the member could ask “Did he, in answering in this House …”.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I think that in this particular area not only you but some of your predecessors have gone too far. I think the Rt Hon Jonathan Hunt brought in the question word ruling. Before that, as long as there was a question, people were not at all pedantic about starting with a question word.
Mr SPEAKER: I invite the member—
Hon Gerry Brownlee: I am sorry, Mr Speaker, but I cannot let that go. If anyone in this House pushed the envelope on the need to start with a question word, it was Trevor Mallard. The irony of him standing up now and appearing to be somewhat aggrieved by the fact that he has been caught by his own lack of knowledge in these things is just a complete irony.
Mr SPEAKER: I do not want to waste the time of the House on this issue. The reason that procedure is established is that Speakers’ rulings make it very clear that members should not start questions “Given that …” and make a whole statement prior to asking a question. On this occasion, the member was actually reflecting on an answer that the member had given and the question was coming very quickly on the heels of the first few words. I think a little reasonableness and sense in these matters is not unreasonable.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Did he take into account Dr Smith’s assurance that he had been invited when he told the House recently that no one had been invited?
DAVID BENNETT: To my recollection, nobody had not been invited to the select committee, and I stand behind that answer.
Accident Compensation Corporation—2007-08 Financial Review
4. Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Labour—Hutt South) to the Chairperson of the Transport and Industrial Relations Committee: When he agreed with the Minister for ACC that the Minister appear before the Transport and Industrial Relations Committee for the financial review of ACC on 12 March, did he do so on the basis that he understood that John Judge was the chair of the ACC board and that the Minister was replacing him?
DAVID BENNETT (Chairperson of the Transport and Industrial Relations Committee): I was aware that the board was in a state of being reconfigured, and it would have been presumed in the public arena at that time that Mr Judge was the chairman. But it was agreed that the Minister would attend that meeting, and that does not necessarily mean that the Minister was replacing Mr Judge.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Did Dr Nick Smith inform him before the meeting of 12 March that because of an error on Dr Smith’s part, Mr Wilson was the chair of the Accident Compensation Corporation board at the time of the meeting?
Hon Dr Nick Smith: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The member’s assertion is quite incorrect. It is contrary to Crown Law opinion—
Mr SPEAKER: I apologise for interrupting the honourable member, but that is not a point of order.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I think it is important that you know when a member’s question makes an assertion of fact that is incorrect. A member cannot ask a question of another member when something is—
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: It’s a debating point.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: No, it is not debatable. It is a matter of record. I made the announcement on the Monday, and the assertion made by the member is incorrect.
Hon Trevor Mallard: This is actually very important. We were told by the chief executive at an open session of the committee today that—
Mr SPEAKER: The member will resume his seat. See how we get into difficulty? These are not points of order; they have nothing to do with the order of this House. The point the Hon Dr Nick Smith made has some validity in that outrageous assertions should not be made in questions. The question for me as Speaker to judge, in deciding whether to rule something out, is whether an outrageous assertion was made. In this case, I think it is quite within the competence of the member answering. It did not seem to me that the question was unduly compromising or outrageous. But I accept the basis of the point of order that the Hon Dr Nick Smith was making. I invite the Hon Trevor Mallard to be careful, when asking his question, not to make assertions that are unfair.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Did Dr Smith inform the member before the meeting of 12 March that Mr Wilson was the chairman at the time of the meeting?
Hon Dr Nick Smith: I seek leave to make a personal explanation in respect of the assertion that has been made by the member asking the question.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I know that leave has been sought. This is a ministerial matter, not a personal matter. The member is using the wrong Standing Order.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave has been sought by a member of the House to make a personal explanation. All members of the House have the right to seek leave to make a personal explanation. Is there any objection?
Hon Dr Michael Cullen: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. It is not clear. Is he seeking to make a personal explanation on the matter that Mr Wilson was not the chair? One could not possibly make a personal explanation on that matter.
Mr SPEAKER: I cannot prejudge what a member might be seeking leave to make a personal explanation on. A member could seek leave to make a personal explanation where his or her word is being questioned or doubted. If the word of a member of this House is being brought into question, I believe that he or she does have the right to seek leave to make a personal explanation. I now put that request for leave to make a personal explanation. Is there any objection? There is objection.
We come back to the supplementary question that was asked by the member. I fear that now members will have lost track of it, so the member had better ask it again.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Did Dr Smith inform the member before the meeting of 12 March that Mr Wilson was, in fact, the chairman at the time of the meeting, as the committee was told this morning by—
DAVID BENNETT: It was agreed that Dr Smith would attend the meeting. I think the Labour Party members will have got a lot of value out of his attendance at that meeting.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Supplementary question—
Hon Darren Hughes: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am sorry to interrupt my colleague during his question. The point of order I am raising is that Mr Quinn, who sits at the back of the Chamber, has briefly moved to the ministerial seats in order to interject on my colleague. It is hard to hear what is going on.
Mr SPEAKER: I am not sure the member is actually assisting his colleague. I have just given his colleague a further supplementary question, which is most unusual for a Speaker to do. I invite the member to take a deep breath while the Hon Trevor Mallard asks his supplementary question.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Did Dr Smith inform the member before the meeting of 12 March that Mr Wilson was, in fact, the chairman at the time of that meeting, as the chief executive told the committee this morning?
DAVID BENNETT: In the public arena at that time, Mr Judge would have been expected to be the chairman, as has been noted. The Minister agreed to come to that meeting and he attended it. The transcript of today’s meeting will provide further details on the member’s question, I am sure.
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE (Leader of the House) : I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I ask you to reflect on the difficulty the Government faces, given two issues raised today by the Opposition. At the start of question time the Hon Clayton Cosgrove wanted to know why the Government was not answering questions in a more informative manner. You made it clear that you would like that to happen. We have undertaken to give that matter much greater attention. But here we are at the end of question time with the Hon Trevor Mallard trying to bore into all sorts of strange and funny little details about why the Government, in the form of a Minister, turned up to a select committee to give the Opposition extra information.
Mr SPEAKER: The Leader of the House will resume his seat. This is the New Zealand Parliament, and members of this Parliament have the right to ask questions that are within the Standing Orders. Where a question is on notice, and where it is in the public interest that that question be answered, it is reasonable that the question should be answered. I accept that the questioning from the Hon Trevor Mallard went on for some time, but if the member checks Mr Mallard’s questions, he will see they were very carefully worded. It is my responsibility, as the Speaker, to uphold the integrity of this Parliament and to allow members to pursue their rights in this Parliament.
Parole (Extended Supervision Orders) Amendment Bill
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE (Leader of the House) : I seek leave, following agreement at the Business Committee earlier this week and negotiations that have taken place in the last day or so, for the introduction and passing of the Parole (Extended Supervision Orders) Amendment Bill, and for the question on the bill’s first reading to be taken without debate, and for the bill, following its second reading, to be set down for third reading forthwith without debate.
Mr SPEAKER: Is there any objection to that course of action being followed? There is none.
New Zealand Bill of Rights Act Compliance
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON (Attorney-General) : I hereby present a report under the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 on the Parole (Extended Supervision Orders) Amendment Bill. The report is made pursuant to section 7 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 and Standing Order 261.
Mr SPEAKER: This paper is published under the authority of the House.
- Bill read a first time.
Hon SIMON POWER (Minister of Justice) : I move, That the Parole (Extended Supervision Orders) Amendment Bill be now read a second time. The extended supervision regime enables serious child sex offenders to be monitored for up to 10 years after their release from prison. This bill removes two potential loopholes from the extended supervision regime that were created by the Parole Amendment Act 2007. These loopholes could potentially undermine the effectiveness of extended supervision orders and therefore put the safety of children at risk. That is an unacceptable risk to be allowed to remain.
Before I talk about the detail of the amendments I will talk more generally about the extended supervision regime and what it aims to achieve. Before I do that, I thank all parties of the House for the attention they are paying to this legislation and for their assistance in its passage.
Extended supervision orders were created in 2004 to manage the release of child sex offenders who were not sentenced to preventive detention but still presented a high risk of reoffending on release. These orders require child sex offenders to be on parole-type conditions for up to 10 years after release. I am advised by officials that 132 offenders are currently subject to extended supervision orders.
Extended supervision orders apply exclusively to child sex offenders because of the unique nature of this kind of offending. Research indicates that a minority of child sex offenders pose a high risk of reoffending. Aside from the nature of their offending, what makes these offenders different from other kinds of offenders is that their rate of reoffending does not decline over time. It is this ongoing risk that prompted the creation of extended supervision orders and similar regimes in other jurisdictions, such as the United Kingdom and Canada. Research has shown that treatment can reduce reoffending rates in child sex offenders. A case in point is New Zealand’s own successful Kia Mārama programme. However, when these offenders are reintroduced into the community they need support and monitoring, at least initially, to reduce the chance of relapse.
Prior to the 2007 Parole Act amendments, the Parole Board could impose home detention - type conditions on offenders for up to 12 months, subject to an extended supervision order. The board could also impose an electronically monitored curfew, which restricts the offender’s whereabouts at certain times. The electronically monitored curfew could be imposed at any time during the term of the order.
In 2007 the Parole Amendment Act created residential restrictions. Full-time residential restrictions replaced what was commonly known as back-end home detention. Part-time residential restrictions essentially consolidated the conditions for an electronically monitored curfew. It was intended that the 12-month limit on conditions for extended supervision orders would apply to full-time, but not part-time, residential restrictions, thus maintaining the pre-2007 position. However, the language of the 2007 amendments created doubt about whether part-time residential restrictions could be imposed beyond the first 12 months of an extended supervision order. This bill ensures that this extension is possible by clarifying that part-time residential restrictions can be imposed beyond the first 12 months following the offender’s release from prison and for the remaining term of the extended supervision order. This measure helps to reduce the opportunity for child sex offenders to reoffend, as they can be confined to their residence at certain times—for example when children are going to and from school.
I assure members that safeguards are in place to ensure that offenders will not be unnecessarily subjected to a part-time residential restrictions condition. At any time before or after an extended supervision order comes into force, the offender or a probation officer may apply to the Parole Board for variation or cancellation of that condition. The offender has the right to appear before the board to state his or her case. The offender may also apply to the board for a review of the decision, and may seek judicial review of the board’s decision. I am satisfied that these safeguards appropriately balance the interests of offenders against those of the wider community.
The 2007 amendments also, unfortunately, created doubt as to whether the Parole Board could impose residential restrictions if an offender did not agree to comply with them. Requiring an offender’s agreement to comply makes sense when a prisoner is applying for parole, and a refusal to comply with release conditions could see him or her refused parole. However, an extended supervision order is a mandatory order that applies when the offender is released. So to require someone who has already reached the end of his or her sentence to agree to comply with the conditions of a mandatory order would be nonsensical. If the offender was required to agree, the board would have no option but to impose less restrictive conditions when faced with an uncooperative offender. I am sure the House sees the difficulty in that set of circumstances.
The Parole Board needs to be certain that it has the tools to keep the public safe when child sex offenders are released from prison. This bill puts the matter beyond doubt. Although offenders will still have to understand the restrictions imposed, the bill will make it clear that they do not have a choice about whether the restrictions apply. The restrictions will apply if the Parole Board thinks they are necessary.
The bill contains minor amendments to restore aspects of the law that operated prior to October 2007. I will therefore not refer this bill to a select committee. The public has the right to know that serious child sex offenders are being managed effectively once they are released from prison, and this bill will close any potential loopholes previously created in that regard. I commend this bill to the House.
Hon CLAYTON COSGROVE (Labour—Waimakariri) : Let me say from the outset that the Opposition supports the Parole (Extended Supervision Orders) Amendment Bill absolutely. I believe there has been some discussion between both sides of the House. This is an issue of public safety. This bill corrects the unintended consequences made in the Parole Amendment Act 2007 by, as the Minister said, amending the Parole Act 2002 to clarify that “part-time residential restrictions (an electronically monitored curfew) can be imposed beyond the first 12 months of an extended supervision order:”. Given the gravity of this bill, I will not waylay the House too much longer. It is appropriate that this bill is expedited swiftly. We agree that these amendments should be expedited and supported; we support this bill going through the House because the alternative could be the Parole Board declining to impose residential curfew conditions beyond the first 12 months on an extended supervision order, and that could, in essence, put public safety at risk. We also support the swift passage of this bill, given that we have had advice that the Department of Corrections could well be facing litigation from a number of high-profile sex offenders who are currently more than 12 months into an extended supervision order, and who are subject to conditions similar to part-time residential restrictions—something that the latest legal advice suggests is prohibited.
I acknowledge the Minister of Justice, Simon Power. As he has acknowledged to members on this side of the House, in a paper he put to us, this amendment was already in train before the election but it was not introduced because the legal advice at the time did not suggest that there was any urgency in respect of risk. The Government of the day sought advice, it was advised that there was no urgency in respect of risk, and that advice was taken. The new legal advice that Mr Power’s Government has received is that the 2007 amendments to the Parole Act 2002 prohibit the imposition of part-time residential restrictions—that is, electronically monitored curfews—beyond the first 12 months of an order. I am advised—and I believe the Minister’s legal advice confirms this—that this new legal advice differs significantly from the advice received by the previous Government.
I commend the Minister for bringing this advice to the House’s attention as soon as it was received. We support the bill, and we will not waylay its passage. It is important that it be passed.
KEITH LOCKE (Green) : The Green Party agreed to give leave to discuss the Parole (Extended Supervision Orders) Amendment Bill this afternoon in a rather rapid fashion through all its stages, on the understanding that it was a technical amendment of unintended consequences in the original legislation. The Minister has pointed out one of them, about offenders giving permission for a supervision order, which clearly was not intended when the House discussed the legislation back in 2004.
The other technical amendment that we were told about was that it was conceived in the original bill that electronic monitoring would be allowed beyond 12 months, yet the legislation prevented that. On that understanding—that this bill is largely technical—we gave leave. Now we are in somewhat of a dilemma, because just before this debate started the Attorney-General announced that he had given a Bill of Rights report on this bill, and in this report he argues very strongly against the House’s approving this legislation. This report puts us in a considerable quandary, because we were going to support this bill on the basis of what we understood the technicalities to be. I am in the process of reading this Bill of Rights audit because it has only just been deposited in the House.
One of the problems when I look at the legislation in the light of the Attorney-General’s report is that it says that for up to 12 months—and this is in the original bill—one can have effectively a home detention situation, and restrictions on residency in that sense. If this amendment goes through, after 12 months one will be able to have residential restrictions short of 24 hours a day, but there is nothing that says how much short of 24 hours a day. That is quite relevant, because one of the things quoted by the Attorney-General is that home detention of 14 or more hours per day based solely on risk to the public is arbitrary and in breach of article 5 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. The essence of the Attorney-General’s paper is that this is turning into a penal issue—that is, the extended supervision order regime is now moving from a civil restriction to a penal restriction. The problem there is that the people affected have not been convicted of any crime; their treatment is based on the risk that they might commit a crime. There is a problem with that, and the Attorney-General quotes the European Court of Human Rights on this. The argument that detention for the prevention of future offending is not arbitrary in nature in terms of article 5 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms was described by the European Court of Human Rights as leading to conclusions “repugnant to the fundamental principles of the Convention”.
So we have a bit of a problem. The Minister has said that there are now 130 people with an extended supervision order. I have also received some other statistics that show that, of the 164 people on extended supervision orders in the period since 2004, only six have reoffended. If we fit that together with the Attorney-General’s comments, there could be a situation whereby more people are being subjected to these orders than should be the case. Now, under this amendment, serious child sex offenders could effectively be the subject of a home detention for up to 10 years, except that it is not quite home detention because it is not for a period of 24 hours. It is not allowed to be for 24 hours beyond the first year; it could be a little less than that for the following 9 years.
We are getting into a rather difficult position. We have to look at the conclusion of the Attorney-General—that is, the fact that this bill’s goals could be achieved without contravening the right against double detention or double jeopardy does not provide justification for the inconsistencies in the bill. The State should not detain citizens solely on the basis of preventing future offending; nor should it punish offenders twice for the same offence. That is the double jeopardy argument.
I think we have to look at the large number on extended supervision orders in the light of the law and order debate that has taken place in this country over the last few years. We saw evidence of it today in one of the questions asked in Parliament. There was reference to the Auckland youth who killed another Auckland youth while out on bail for another violent offence. It may or may not have been right, in that case, to give that person bail. I am not getting into the technicalities of that case. I am just saying that in the context of this debate we have the police putting pressure on the judges when making their case by saying: “Look, we can’t risk it. If someone commits an offence while out on bail, or a former sex offender commits an offence, and we haven’t got them”—as in the case that was brought up earlier during question time—“in custody, on remand, or, in the case of sex offenders, we do not have an extended supervision order on them, then we are falling short of our duty and the public will get us.”
There is a tendency to put more people under these restrictions than is necessary, which does not help rehabilitation. There are certainly no apologies from the Green Party to anyone who is engaged in sex offending, but the statistics provided to us today show that sex offenders have the lowest rate of reoffending of any criminals. They are the statistics. Originally the law was designed—and I was part of that original debate in 2004—to cover a group of sex offenders who were seriously in danger of reoffending. The extended supervision orders were designed for them, and that is what we were told they were designed for. The other point is that the whole extended supervision order business has been extended beyond sex offenders to apply to parolees in general, for any offence. The Department of Corrections has to give reports on that, so to some extent we can study whether that order is being used excessively now.
As there were only two speakers before I started speaking, I have not even finished reading properly the Attorney-General’s assessment of the bill in relation to the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act. I think the Green Party will have to cast an abstention, because we have not been given the full information to be able to consider, on behalf of the New Zealand public, exactly which course we should take. Thank you.
DAVID GARRETT (ACT) : As I understand it, this Parole (Extended Supervision Orders) Amendment Bill returns the situation concerning supervision orders, or whatever they are called, to the 2007 status quo before an amendment created residential restrictions and inadvertently extended the 12-month limit. It is interesting that the previous speaker made much of the report made pursuant to section 7 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act, which I confess to not having seen, either. However, in my view the very fact that this report exists is because the present Attorney-General is being extremely diligent in the discharge of his duties. Clearly that was not the case in 2007, under the previous Government, when the Parole Amendment Act 2007 was passed. As has become very clear in the short time of this Government, the previous Labour Government was extremely cavalier in its attitude to section 7 reports. To some extent this Government has created a little difficulty because of its own diligence, but one could hardly criticise it for that.
Although I have not read this report, I am very aware that the last time the issue of a section 7 report highlighting a supposed or possible breach of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act arose, when I read that report, it was very, very different from the way it had been characterised both in the media and by the Opposition. In a nutshell, the Attorney-General’s report in that case said that the proposed “three strikes” law, or elements of it, may breach sections of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act. As the lawyers in the House will know, there is an absolute world of difference in law between the words “may” and “does”. When I looked more closely at the report, it was even less threatening, if you like, in that the bulk of it reaffirmed the constitutional position in this country—that Parliament is sovereign—and quoted from several New Zealand Supreme Court cases, which in turn quoted with approval Canadian Supreme Court cases very firmly asserting that position. Without having read this report, I am somewhat sceptical that it is as devastating as the previous speaker may have suggested.
Be that as it may, this bill attempts to ensure the safety of potential victims of sex offenders, particularly children. As a father of young children myself, I am very much more concerned with their rights than with the rights of sex offenders. Frankly, whether those offenders might commit further offences is of less concern to me than the safety of my children and my neighbour’s children. The raw reality is that no sex offender will have been put under an order like this, with the flaws that have been inadvertently created, unless he—and it will invariably be a “he”—is perceived as being a very, very real risk. The State does not monitor people in the community for up to 10 years for no good reason. Although I stand to be corrected on the gravity of the section 7 report, the ACT Party will be supporting this bill.
RAHUI KATENE (Māori Party—Te Tai Tonga) : The ancient Roman lawyer and scholar Marcus Tullius Cicero once said: “Any man can make mistakes, but only an idiot persists in his error.” The Parole (Extended Supervision Orders) Amendment Bill is an attempt to prevent the error of unintended changes made through the Parole Amendment Act 2007 from becoming a persistent problem for the Department of Corrections and, ultimately, Parliament. The bill has been tabled to protect the Department of Corrections from litigation in relation to five sex offenders who are more than 12 months into an extended supervision order, but who are still subject to part-time residential restrictions.
That all sounds fairly technical, but the essence of the legislation is all to do with timing. Legal advice would suggest that the amendments made in 2007 to the Parole Act prohibited the imposition of such orders beyond the first 12 months. However, in the real world there happens to be those five high-profile, high-risk sex offenders, who are being subject to conditions similar to part-time residential restrictions yet they are all currently more than 12 months into their orders. And here is the nub of the issue: under the current legislation such restrictions are allowed to be imposed for longer than 12 months only if the offender has first agreed to comply with the restrictions. As other speakers have noted, agreeing to comply with the restrictions was not the preferred choice for the infamous five, so we find ourselves in this predicament today.
It seems that the provision of the offender needing to agree to comply with a residential restriction being extended beyond 12 months, was inadvertently made. Offenders are required to agree to comply with restrictions in order to be granted parole by the Parole Board in the first place—otherwise they are refused parole—and this provision has been transferred and applied to the extension of residential restrictions when that is clearly not appropriate. I think that this error is a perfect example of the problems with the New Zealand constitutional system, which were pointed out by a former Prime Minister, the Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Palmer. It is a perfect example of New Zealand’s reputation of being the fastest lawmaker in the West, and a good reason for a review of our constitutional system—oh hey, that is happening later on; good!
It is of paramount importance that the error in the law remains the key focus of our reason for legislative change, rather than the release of offenders convicted of serious sexual offending against children. That is not to say that the issue of child sexual abuse is not a major issue to be addressed, if we have genuine compassion for the physical, emotional, educational, and economic well-being of children and families in New Zealand. In the Youth 2000 study of almost 10,000 young people in Aotearoa, over 20 percent of girls and over 10 percent of boys reported having been sexually abused before the age of 18. If that proportion is not horrific enough, other studies have indicated that as few as 7 percent of child sexual abuse victims ever report that abuse, and that on average it takes 16 years to disclose. There will be members in this House who bear the tragic scars of child sexual abuse; there will be members in this House who know the painful impact of sexual abuse amongst loved ones. It is a reality that not one of us can deny or should ignore.
But those offenders who sexually harm others are not the focus of the law today; it is the law itself that is coming under our scrutiny. Those offenders are entitled to treatment, education, and related services, and I take a moment to acknowledge the dedicated efforts of groups like the Stop Trust in my electorate of Te Tai Tonga, as well as organisations such as the Safe Network in Whangarei, Auckland, and Hamilton, and WellStop Inc. in the lower North Island. Child sex offenders need a lot of support to help them not to reoffend, and I want to touch on the type of community outrage that occurs from time to time when we are considering where sex offenders will reside, following the conclusion of their sentences. Although there is frequently an outbreak of neighbourhood calls of “Not in my street!”, we have to be able to balance the legitimate concern for public safety along with the individual’s right to rehabilitation. The places where these people offended may be the places where they have lived for their whole lives, and they may be the only places where they have family or any form of social support. If possible, the Parole Board will try to place child sex offenders away from schools. If they are placed in the general vicinity of a school, the Parole Board will usually impose conditions, such as part-time residential restrictions, to minimise the risk.
But for the special leave that has been extended to this bill, the focus on child sexual offenders is secondary to the key purpose of the bill. There are two particular initiatives that will result as a consequence of this bill—namely, that an electronically monitored curfew can be imposed beyond the first 12 months of an extended supervision order, and that the Parole Board can impose such restrictions on an offender without having to be satisfied that the offender agrees to comply with the restrictions. Without these restrictions in place the Parole Board is likely to decline to impose residential curfew conditions beyond the first 12 months of an extended supervision order, and this could mean a potential threat to public safety if such offenders are not monitored. Of course, in an ideal world one would hope that those offenders who have a problem with sexually abusive, sexually offending, and sexually harmful behaviours would have benefited from assessment and treatment services long before they applied for extended supervision orders. Further, not only would people who had sexually offended have been upskilled with the knowledge to prevent reoffending but their families and community would also have sufficient capacity to support offenders to maintain pro-social behaviours.
The reality is that, as the figures tell us, reconvictions for sexual offenders do occur, and the risk of reoffending is always apparent. A 2008 study of released offenders for the Department of Corrections found that 20 percent of child sex offenders were re-imprisoned in the study period. The academics tell us this is the lowest re-imprisonment rate of all offences. They qualify that statistic by suggesting that only 5 percent of those were re-imprisoned for another sex offence. But I want to place some caution on the interpretation of these statistics. Sure, the recidivism rate of released sex offenders is way below that of, say, offenders initially convicted of burglary—71 percent, of which 46 percent are re-imprisoned for the same type of offence. But this relatively low rate of recidivism—and actually, 20 percent is still 20 percent more than I would like to see—cannot necessarily be interpreted as signifying the fact that sex offenders seldom go on to commit further such offences. Sex offences against children in particular are subject to very low reporting rates. Even when a sex offence is resolved by the police, the rates of successful convictions are also relatively low. It is also the case that with convicted sex offenders, the length of time that tends to elapse between the actual offence being committed and the offender’s ultimate sentencing on that charge can be several years. Thus the validity of this type of analysis will be improved when reconvictions of sex offenders have been tracked over longer periods of time.
Notwithstanding all these riders, it is important to bear in mind that wherever there is risk, and wherever public safety is a concern, we in this House must take appropriate action to ensure that offenders are able to be monitored and that the community’s well-being is taken into account. This is a very complex area, and there is far greater depth required than in the 140 or so words that constitutes this bill. But in the interests of certainty, and our appreciation that this was a technical oversight that needs to be rectified, we in the Māori Party will support this bill throughout all of its readings.
AMY ADAMS (National—Selwyn) : When I usually rise in the House to take a call in support of a bill, I begin by talking about my pleasure in doing so. I am very much in support of the Parole (Extended Supervision Orders) Amendment Bill, and I am certainly pleased to have the chance to promote it to this House. But I have to say that those feelings are tempered with equally strong feelings of disgust that the House has to grapple with issues like this—of keeping our children safe from depraved individuals who would use them for their own selfish gratification. That this sort of scum even exists in our society revolts me, and I make no apology for the strength of my language.
I am the mother of two of the most beautiful and loved children that one would find anywhere, and I am the auntie of a bevy of equally treasured nieces and nephews. The reality that laws like this are necessary to keep them safe and the thought of what offenders, whom this bill seeks to address, have done to New Zealand children fill me with a primal rage. I am sure that people who are not parents would never understand that rage, but those who are will know exactly what I am talking about. The fact remains, however, that these crimes are committed, and we must ensure that our laws are able to properly deal with those offenders who have been convicted. Although a significant bill—the Sentencing and Parole Reform Bill—addressing the wider issues of parole is currently before the Law and Order Committee, this bill seeks solely to amend section 107K of the Parole Act 2002 in respect of the imposition of extended supervision orders to ensure that they operate as originally intended. It is a limited part of the primary Act, but a significant one.
As we have already heard, this amendment bill fixes errors in the Parole Amendment Act 2007. That amendment created residential restrictions on extended supervisions orders to ensure that the Parole Board can impose part-time residential restrictions. That effectively means there can be an electronically monitored curfew at any time during the life of the extended supervision order, which can be up to 10 years, and not just in the first 12 months. The full-time restrictions that are also possible under these orders remain limited to the initial 12-month period following release. The 2007 amendment also inadvertently applied to the parole test of the board being satisfied that the offender agreed to the conditions of the residential restriction. That is appropriate for parole, because if the offender does not agree then he or she can be made to remain in prison. If one was going to parole them, one would obviously want to see that the offender was motivated to comply with those conditions. But that is not appropriate for extended supervision orders. These are mandatory, so that sort of agreement requirement is quite inappropriate in this context. This bill removes the requirement for the offender to agree to the conditions before they are imposed, and I think there can be no doubt about the absurdity of a requirement that an offender must agree to limits on his or her freedom of movement or about the need to urgently address this matter. I am so pleased to see the House working together to ensure that this oversight can be quickly and effectively remedied.
This bill goes to the efficacy of extended supervision orders that are used upon the release of those who have committed serious sexual offences against children. If I work very hard to control my emotional response to that sort of situation, I can objectively look at what we know. We know that such orders—as I said, they can last for up to 10 years—are essential for the safety of the public at large and our children in particular. The reoffending rates of these types of criminals do not tend to decline over time. I take on board and concur with the comments made by the previous speaker, Rahui Katene, and the riders about the reported recidivism rates and the caution that needs to be taken when using those statistics.
In many cases, this sort of offending—serious sexual offences against children—occurs during the hours of darkness, so the inclusion of the ability to impose curfews over the whole course of any part of the supervision order is a critical part of preventing further harm. This is because it addresses the specific weaknesses of those individuals and removes them from further temptation, although I find it slightly repulsive to use that word. But, none the less, it does avoid their being in situations where they may give in to their baser instincts. The serious harm caused by that sort of offending goes without saying, yet it needs to be to said. When children are subjected to sexual offending, it causes scarring on a level that can never be overcome. It changes the whole fabric of who those children are, and, worst still, it often creates a cycle of further offending that can last several generations. There is certainly plenty of evidence that children who have been victims of sexual offending will often go on to become sexual offenders themselves. We need to be very cautious because we must reduce the extent of that sort of offending in our society wherever possible, not only for the children who are the victims but also for the adults that those children will grow to be.
This is insidious offending of the worst kind. It includes offenders spending long periods on building trust with their intended victims and grooming them in the most callous and calculated way. I am pleased to say that I will always stand up for the rights of children and all victims, and I consider those rights far and away the most important rights to take into account. I suggest to members that those are the rights that this House should primarily concern itself with. The rights of children must be our first consideration.
In preparing to speak on this bill today, I looked at a number of case studies around serious sex offenders and their conduct upon release. The number of times one sees reports in the media of serious offenders proceeding to start a pattern of reoffending immediately upon their release—even if it is just the early grooming behaviour—tells us, if we need any further evidence, that we must work very hard to monitor them for a long period of time after their release. The extended supervision order system that the Minister of Justice spoke about in his address is an important part of doing that. It is why we have those sorts of orders, why we are able to monitor those offenders for periods of up to 10 years after their release, and why the residential restriction system was put in place. The full-time restrictions can act for up to the first 12 months after release. The part-time restrictions need to be able to apply throughout the course of the order, if required. The offending records are horrifying. In the statistics that I found—admittedly some 6 months old—we had 126 offenders nationwide on extended supervision orders. The thought that those people, or people of similar ilk, could be roaming the streets after 12 months is scary. It is not the sort of society I want for my children. It is not the sort of society that I want to stand up as a member of this Parliament and say that we think it is OK.
I am proud to commend this bill to the House. I thank the House for its support in addressing those oversights and for addressing them urgently, and I encourage the House to always consider and put the interests of our children first and foremost.
|Ayes 113||New Zealand National 58; New Zealand Labour 43; ACT New Zealand 5; Māori Party 5; Progressive 1; United Future 1.|
|Noes 9||Green Party 9.|
|Bill read a second time.|
Hon RUTH DYSON (Labour—Port Hills) : I have sought clarification from the senior whip, and I seek leave to adjust the vote in order to cast the vote of the Progressive party in support of the motion. I apologise for that.
The ASSISTANT SPEAKER (Hon Rick Barker): Leave is sought for the casting of the Progressive vote in favour. Is there any objection to that course of action? There being none, the Clerk will amend the record.
The ASSISTANT SPEAKER (Hon Rick Barker): The question is—
Keith Locke: Mr Assistant Speaker—
The ASSISTANT SPEAKER (Hon Rick Barker): The member should be aware that the House agreed to grant leave for the bill’s first and third readings to proceed without debate. That was the recommendation of the Business Committee, I am advised. Leave was sought to proceed in that way, and there was no objection.
|Ayes 113||New Zealand National 58; New Zealand Labour 43; ACT New Zealand 5; Māori Party 5; Progressive 1; United Future 1.|
|Noes 9||Green Party 9.|
|Bill read a third time.|
Legal Services Amendment Bill
- Debate resumed from 1 April.
Hon SIMON POWER (Minister of Justice) : I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Just as a point of clarification, the stand-in senior Government whip made the comment to me that I had some time remaining. It was my understanding that my speech had concluded last evening, but if it had not, then I am happy to carry on speaking. That is my understanding.
The ASSISTANT SPEAKER (Hon Rick Barker): That is correct, as I recall the debate. I was in the Chair last night. The Minister had concluded his speech and I then said that the question is that the motion be agreed to. The call now goes to the second on the list, which is generally to the Labour Party, should it wish to take the call.
Hon Simon Power: I thought the member was going to say she didn’t have a copy of the speech.
Hon LIANNE DALZIEL: I did not have a pre-existing copy of the speech; that is quite true.
I want to speak in favour of the Legal Services Amendment Bill. I believe that this is a very important amendment, and probably rather timely given that the Minister has just announced a review of the legal aid system as a whole. The fact that we need to deal with this legislation highlights one of the main issues that need to be addressed—that is, that in some instances financial eligibility testing and repayment conditions are utterly and completely inappropriate. The first classic example is where the victim of a crime wants to make representations at a parole hearing. The second example is in a coronial inquiry at the coroner’s hearing. I, personally, have experienced attending a coronial inquest with constituents, and I know that it can be extremely hard for people who have been the victims of a systems failure, as they were at Christchurch Public Hospital in 1995. It would be even harder if the victim of a crime had died as the result of a very serious violent offence. For people to ensure that they are properly represented in that environment, from time to time they will want to call on legal representation.
I just want to share this observation with the House. Having attended a coroner’s inquest with some constituents back in 1996—I think it was—it became very apparent to me that everybody in that room was represented legally except for the families of the people who had died. They were the only ones who had no representation; they had only me. And the only reason they had me was that I was prepared to go along and stand alongside them. In fact, the coroner had to make an exception to the rules about who could ask questions so that I could ask questions on their behalf, as I did not have a current practising certificate at the time; the coroner made a remarkable exception. That situation really opened up my eyes to something that is seriously wrong in our coronial system. As I say, everyone else in that room was represented—the doctors were represented, the nurses were represented, and the Crown health enterprise was represented.
Hon Ruth Dyson: Oh, the bad old days!
Hon LIANNE DALZIEL: Yes, the bad old days. The insurance companies were all represented. At not one of the four hearings I attended on behalf of the families of people who had died at Christchurch Hospital did people actually approach the family members to say they were really sorry about what had happened. The reason they had not approached them to say they were sorry was because of the old insurance principle that one never says one is sorry when there is going to be a review of what occurred, because if one says one is sorry that might somehow be an admission of liability. Members might remember that when they get into a rental car there is a little tag that tells drivers that if they are involved in an accident, they must not say they are sorry. They must not admit liability or do anything that might mean the rental company has to pay money out on their behalf.
It is fundamentally important that family members are represented at coronial inquests. I think it is vitally important that their voices are heard in that environment, and that the right questions are asked. Just in the last week we again arranged for a law firm to represent a constituent at a coronial inquest. My assistant in my office in Christchurch accompanied my constituent to the coronial inquest, and she informs me that if my constituent had not been represented there would have been an absolute whitewash, because the entire process was around defending people against being blamed for certain actions that occurred that cost this woman her husband’s life. It is fundamentally important that people are represented in these environments, especially when the other interests are represented by highly skilled counsel, as they invariably are when the consequences are so great.
I believe that adjusting the financial eligibility testing criteria for the victims of crime in a coronial setting is absolutely appropriate. I would probably want us to consider going a step further and making that service available more generally, because the consequences may not be directly obvious in terms of the criminal offence; it may be, in fact, that a form of civil liability lies behind the series of events that occurred, and it may not meet the standard of criminal offending as set out in this bill. One might be a victim of what might be described as “criminal” in a general sense, but not of what is described as offending in the very explicit provisions of this legislation. That is certainly a matter that the select committee could look at while it is looking at this bill; it is very, very important that people are properly represented in this sort of environment. Removing the financial eligibility testing enables the victims of crime—or, essentially, their families—to be represented legally in an environment where everyone else is legally represented.
In terms of the Parole Board hearing, I think it is absolutely vital that there is access to legal representation for those who want it. Some people prefer to speak from the heart, to tell their own story, and to represent themselves. Many find it incredibly empowering. To be able to express how one feels about things after having been the victim of a crime is often a very empowering process, which is why I am a great proponent of what is described as restorative justice.
Sometimes it is actually better that people front up to admit to what they have done than to continue to deny what has occurred and never, ever take responsibility for what has happened. I want to tell a short story in relation to this, because I think it is worthy of comment. I remember visiting Pāremoremo prison a number of years ago. We were told the story of a couple of men who had been convicted of rape. They were coming to the end of their sentences and were due to return to their community. The young woman who had been raped by them approached the prison and asked to meet with them. She came from a very small town in New Zealand. In fact, she told the prison manager that the town was divided: half the town believed her and half the town believed these two men. Their imminent release was causing her great consternation, because that whole talk had started again and she could not face going through again what she had been through, with half the town believing that she was not telling the truth. In the end the prison agreed to this meeting and she explained to the men why she wanted them to tell the truth. They actually admitted that they had raped her and were prepared to admit it publicly in the town. That moment’s meeting was far more restorative in its effect and far more empowering for the victim of the crime than those men paying their debt to society, which I believe they ought to do—that was what the prison sentence was for. But the men fronting up and taking responsibility for their criminal action was the most empowering thing for the victim of the crime.
I fully support this legislation. It is important for those who want to be legally represented that we reduce the financial eligibility criteria and also that legal aid debt is written off right from the outset, so that they know they do not have to repay it. I commend this bill to this House; it will be welcomed throughout New Zealand.
SIMON BRIDGES (National—Tauranga) : It is good to speak after what was a thoughtful and eloquent speech, if I might say so, by the Hon Lianne Dalziel. Her anecdotes from the coronial inquest and parole board hearing put into a powerful story form what this Legal Services Amendment Bill is about, and why this bill will be achieving some great purposes and doing a good job towards justice, and access to justice, in this country. This bill is about two things. Firstly, it is about victims’ rights—and I will talk about that. It is about removing the eligibility testing requirements for legal aid for victims who either attend coronial inquests or parole board hearings, or for the making of victims’ claims. Secondly, it is about flexibility. Rather than a one-size-fits-all approach, it grants the Legal Services Agency discretion to waive its right to recover legal aid debts in cases where individual circumstances mean enforcement would cause serious hardship or would be uneconomic, or where it is just inequitable to enforce the debt. This bill creates the power to make regulations exempting specific classes of people or proceedings from eligibility restrictions or repayment obligations.
It is a good bill, and I want to go back to the basics in relation to legal aid. Legal aid is important in our society and in criminal law, because where the State brings a case against an individual, the individual must be able to defend himself or herself. It is a basic fact that he or she may not always have the wherewithal to do that. Criminal law, however, is not just about that basic “State versus the individual” scenario; cases of the Queen v Smith, and the Queen v Jones, reflect that basic relationship between the State that brings the charges and prosecutes, and the individual who is forced to defend himself or herself.
But, importantly, our criminal law system is about the redressing of criminal wrongs for victims. As we as a society have become more sophisticated, and—can I say—humane, we have increasingly recognised victims’ rights. We have recognised that things are not just about the State and the individual charged, but that victims have an important role to play and are significant actors in the criminal justice system. Just as individuals who are up against the State—defending charges, going to parole hearings, and the like—have costs in the criminal case, so do victims, who have very real costs in advocating their position in the criminal process. Although it is basic, the point I make is a pretty fundamental one: that victims deserve and have a right to financial assistance, just as the accused, pre-conviction, and the prisoner, post-conviction, also have a right to legal aid in certain circumstances—certainly when they cannot afford it themselves.
I want to dwell on the victims’ rights movement. Some time ago, traditionally, victims in the court process did not have any rights at all. There is still some way to go, and, in my view, we are on a journey towards much better victims’ rights. I want to highlight some parts of the journey that I think this House has proceeded with and worked through. There is the Victims’ Rights Act 2002, by my recollection, which was brought in by the previous Labour Government. It allows victims to read victim impact statements in court. I have seen that happen many times. It can be an emotional and cathartic experience for the victims and for the prisoners—that was a step forward. We have also had—much more recently under this Government—the victim compensation law. It provides for a levy, and it is on its way to a select committee—I look forward to robust discussion there.
We now have this bill, which is a further step in the journey towards victims’ rights. The provisions of this bill ensure that victims of crime attending Parole Board hearings or coronial inquests are not subject to financial eligibility testing. In my view, that is hard to argue against. The people of Tauranga certainly would not argue against that. We heard some examples from Lianne Dalziel. Another example is the case of the mother of two boys whose father was murdered by Graeme Burton. It is my understanding that, because of the financial eligibility testing, she was asked to pay the money back for the legal representation she provided to her sons at the coronial inquest hearing—that is not good enough. It is another powerful example of why we, as a House united, have brought this bill here.
The bill that we debated earlier today—and, again, with the exception of the Greens, there was nearly unanimous accession—was the Parole (Extended Supervision Orders) Amendment Bill. It specifically relates to child sex offenders. Those cases clearly show, again, the value of this bill. When child sex offenders come up for parole, the victims and their families should be able to raise their issues effectively. As Lianne Dalziel said, sometimes they will want to do that in person, but also through counselling should they think that appropriate. The definition of “victim” in this bill before the House makes it quite clear that primary victims and the parents of those victims—if the victims are still children—will be able to now do that without means testing. A basic, but important, point is that it takes away the eligibility testing for victims in two situations: post-conviction, and on the death of a person. We still have financial eligibility testing in a vast majority of cases, but here, in relation to victims, we do not add insult to injury and make them go through the means testing. In an example of parents whose son has died in a motor manslaughter case, as a society I do not think that we want to add insult to injury and have them pay for their legal representation at coronial inquests. Nor do we want to see parents or victims in child sex offender cases put to expense for the parole hearings. I commend this bill to the House. I think it is another step in the journey for victims in this country.
Hon DAVID PARKER (Labour) : I rise to support the Legal Services Amendment Bill and to endorse the comments of earlier speakers. I do not think there is much disagreement as to the fundamental principles of this bill. This bill was developed in principle by the previous Labour-led Government, it was supported by virtually every party in this House, and I thank the National Government for advancing the legislation at this stage.
I will mention just a couple of things. I too agree that, particularly in respect of coronial hearings, it is important that legal aid be available. I think that most members of Parliament, and, indeed, many members of the population, can see that this is just.
I know this from my own experience. My brother-in-law was killed in a car accident. His wife—my sister—was left with two young children. The suggestion had been made before the coronial hearing that the accident was the fault of my deceased brother-in-law. That issue caused upset to his family, including my sister. In order to have justice done to them, they felt the need to attend the coronial hearing and put the record straight. It was only through their attendance at the coronial hearing that they were able to show that the driver of the truck in the accident had cannabis residue, which had not been properly tested for by the police or the hospital authorities following the accident. That evidence left the suspicion that the accident was, in fact, caused by the truck driver, rather than by my brother-in-law.
That evidence would not have been able to be exposed were it not for my sister’s ability to access legal services at the coronial hearing. It so happened that because my sister is not a destitute person and because she had the advantage of my being associated with a legal firm, she was able to have reasonable legal fees that were probably lower than market rates, and she was able to afford to pay those. In her circumstances, she was able to avail herself of legal representation and to put the record straight. But there are many people in New Zealand who cannot, and that is why legal aid is necessary.
Indeed, as in the situation of my sister, even though she could afford legal representation, it is quite often true—as Simon Bridges pointed out—that the fault of the State in some of these instances should be highlighted. It is proper that the State enables the victims of crime, or their close family members in cases where someone has died as a consequence of crime, to have access to legal representation in order for the actions of the State to be questioned. The proper questions need to be asked as to whether something should have happened differently, and in order for injustices to be avoided.
I will also say something in relation to parole hearings. We need to be a bit careful in this House that we do not create an expectation that a victim of crime can always and forever, repeatedly—and at the cost of the Crown, even if unreasonably—oppose parole. I am not suggesting that this bill allows that expectation, but I think it is an important issue. We ought not fall into the trap of accepting the proposition that people ought never get parole, that they can never be rehabilitated, and that it is the right of the victim to determine that outcome.
I do not say the bill does that, and I acknowledge that victims of crime have a relevant role in parole. I am not saying they do not have a relevant role in parole, but I think we need to take care that we do not create an expectation that the victim of a crime determines the outcome of the parole decision because of the terribly sad injustice that has been suffered by the victim. I am not denying that injustice; neither am I denying the effect crime has on a victim’s family. But the decision as to whether and when parole is appropriate ought not to be left only to the victim. Some victims would make a wise decision and might make the same decision as a parole hearing, but some victims would not. Some victims and families of victims will never be able to accept that parole is appropriate.
David Garrett: When do you think William Bell should be released?
Hon DAVID PARKER: I do not know when William Bell should be released. I do not deny the relevance of the victims’ viewpoint in parole hearings, but I do not think that just because a victim says someone should not get parole, that should be the end of the matter.
Fiscal costs to the Crown are relevant. It costs a lot of money to keep people in prison. David Garrett will be able to correct me if I am wrong, but I think the current figure is about $60,000 per annum per person in prison. Obviously, people do not want to incur that cost unnecessarily, because if $60,000 was being spent on measures to prevent crime or to prevent the criminal from committing another crime, then that would be a better use of money than keeping someone in jail inappropriately. In addition to that, there would be injustice for the person who was kept for too long a period in prison when he or she ought not to be there.
David Garrett: What’s too long for Mr Bell?
Hon DAVID PARKER: Well, again, I tell Mr Garrett, who takes the view that the victim should effectively have the say on parole, that we have judges in our justice system to make those difficult decisions. We have parole hearings in which those difficult decisions have to be made, balancing all the interests. One of the interests we balance is the opinion of the victim, but it is not the only interest.
I do not want this Parliament in this debate to let that issue go unreferenced, because I certainly do not think that we on this side of the House see this legislation as going to that extent. We believe that there is a role for parole. Although the victims’ statements are relevant, they are not determinative of the outcome of the parole hearing, and we must trust due process, taking into account relevant factors, to make the best overall decisions.
Finally, in respect of parole, we know that without parole most people in prison eventually get out with less control placed on their post-release conduct than occurs under parole conditions. Parole is used around the world as a way to reduce recidivism, because the control that can be exercised through parole conditions means that fewer people reoffend than if they were left in prison until the end of their sentence and were then released without control.
The other point I agree on is that it is becoming increasingly necessary to have representation at coronial hearings because of the increasing sophistication of the way in which we live, the way in which we can bring evidence to bear to ascertain the cause of death, and the prevalence of the way in which we see agencies of the State. Again, I am not criticising the agencies of the State for defending their position in respect of events, but if we take the case of Karl Kuchenberger—
David Garrett: Get his name right.
Hon DAVID PARKER: I say sorry to Mr Garrett. I apologise for that mispronunciation, and I apologise to the family. If we take the case of Karl Kuchenbecker we can argue that it is correct to say that there were some very bad failures by organs of the State. Those organs of the State may have been less than quick to fess up to their mistakes, in a way that would have been unfair to the deceased and to the family of the deceased. It is absolutely appropriate in that situation that the actions of the State are properly questioned by those people who are affected, with legal representation that enables them to participate in the process meaningfully through their legal counsel, when without legal representation their interests would be prejudiced. That is what this bill achieves. It achieves fairness for people in that situation and also fairness for the victims of crime.
Dr KENNEDY GRAHAM (Green) : I rise to express the Green Party’s support, in general, for the Legal Services Amendment Bill. The bill responds, as I think we all realise, to concerns raised last year about the availability of legal aid for victims of crime who need to attend certain proceedings.
Along with my Labour colleague David Parker and others who spoke before me, we are in fundamental agreement with the principles of the bill. We note the insertion of the definitions of “offender” and “victim”, which is a step in the right direction. I note the proposal that the bill provide that the Legal Services Agency may, at any time, decide not to recover a legal aid debt on various grounds—for example, if the enforcement of the bill’s recovery would cause serious hardship to the aided person, if the agency considered that it would be just and equitable not to engage in that recovery, and for other reasons as well. We endorse that.
In general, the Green Party sees this as far from the ideal, which would be the establishment of a comprehensive compensation scheme for victims, but it does take us a little closer towards that ideal. On those grounds, we are happy to support the bill’s referral to the select committee.
DAVID GARRETT (ACT) : I rise to support the first reading of the Legal Services Amendment Bill. Members will be aware that it is not very often that an ACT MP, when standing up in this House, is standing up to support increased Government expenditure. But we are not the anarchists, nor are we Mr Perigo’s tiny Libertarianz party. We believe that the Government does have a role to play in our society, and its most important role is to ensure that New Zealanders are kept safe from thugs, bullies, and sex offenders. Sadly, that cannot always be the case. We have criminals in New Zealand, and unless human nature fundamentally changes, which is unlikely, we always will have.
When those criminals commit crimes against the person, by definition they leave victims. There is a role for the State in reducing the effects of criminal offending and, indeed, in reducing the incidence of crime itself. I make no apology—like my colleague Amy Adams, when speaking on the Parole (Extended Supervision Orders) Amendment Bill—for being concerned primarily about the rights of victims, and about ensuring that they go through as little further harm as possible. It is for that reason that I rise today to support this bill.
The Legal Services Amendment Bill seems to make three key changes. Firstly, it will allow the Governor-General, by Order in Council, to make regulations to exempt particular classes of persons or proceedings from financial eligibility testing or repayment, or both. Secondly, it will enable the Legal Services Agency to write off legal aid debt when the individual circumstances of the persons who have received legal aid make it inequitable for the agency to seek recovery. Thirdly, and lastly, it will ensure that victims of crime who attend a Parole Board hearing or coronial inquest are not subject to financial eligibility testing.
I am very happy to be on the same side here as the Hon Lianne Dalziel, who spoke earlier about representation at a coronial hearing. I had the dubious pleasure of attending a recent Parole Board hearing on behalf of some victims—family members whose loved one had been murdered in a most gruesome and horrible manner more than 10 years ago. Every year that family, because of the law in place at the time, have to appear before the Parole Board—or they feel they have to; there is no legal obligation on them to do so—to keep the memory of their loved one alive, and to keep reminding members of the Parole Board of just what they have lost. I will not provide any more details about the person or the family, for obvious reasons.
Those people, having been appearing before the Parole Board for some years, are now unable to represent themselves. If I was not in the Chamber I would use a colloquial expression, which I am sure members can guess, to describe their situation. They are so affected by having that experience every year that when I met them I was appalled. They were shaking. They were in a terrible, terrible state, so they had asked that they have legal representation. They had asked that I come up and advocate for them before the Parole Board. I was there pro bono for the victims and because of my own association with the Sensible Sentencing Trust. I suppose that technically the family were not my clients, as I was not being paid, as was the case with the Hon Lianne Dalziel’s clients.
Other victims in the community who are unaware of the various support agencies or organisations available are not able to access legal representation at no cost. Those people have every right to legal representation. All members of this House should make an effort at some point to meet a family who have suffered a homicide, particularly gruesome homicides that have left dependants behind. If they did, it might give them a bit of the perspective they now lack.
It is estimated that $20 million a month is claimed in insurance for the costs of crime, and that is only for people who are lucky enough to have insurance—people like us in this House: generally, educated, middle-class people who are all insured. But what about the people who are not insured—the very poorest in society, whom the members on the Opposition side of the House claim to have the most concern about and to represent? They are the ones who can least afford the debilitating costs of crime, and they certainly cannot afford to pay for lawyers to represent them at Parole Board hearings. The members opposite seem not to grasp that the victims are primarily their former constituents. They are the poor people and the people living in South Auckland; they are not middle-class white guys like me, by and large. The costs for those people of replacing their stolen television set, fixing their broken window, or reseeding their torn-up lawn because some hoon decided to do a doughnut on it are significant one-off or ongoing costs for those people.
But financial costs are really the least of the costs faced by people. When the crime is physical, the psychological scars—as I have recounted to the House regarding my own clients recently—are there for life. I do not think the people I met and represented will ever get over the crime. They have certainly made every effort to—they have had counselling; they have taken advantage of whatever is available—but they will never get over it. Up to now, those people have had to apply for and, in some cases, be declined legal aid for representation. That is the kind of situation that this bill addresses.
In closing, I will say a couple of words regarding the comments on parole of one of the previous speakers, David Parker. It is correct that under our present system the ultimate arbiter of whether a person is released is not the victim. Let me personalise the situation and talk about whether Mr William Bell or Mr Graeme Burton should be released. I hear that Mr Burton has just had another go at killing someone today, so he will be charged with another attempted murder. He will keep on doing it because what does he have to lose? He is a psychotic, but an intelligent psychotic, and he will keep on doing it. I make no apology for saying that that man should never, ever see the light of day except in a box. Members on the other side of the House say that we need to reserve judgment on the matter; I am sorry, but I do not agree.
That is our present system, and it is correct to say that the victim is not the ultimate arbiter of whether a person is released from prison; it is the Parole Board. But under the Sentencing and Parole Reform Bill presently before the Law and Order Committee, the elements contributed to the bill by both National and ACT will take away that discretion in certain circumstances. The National parts of the bill provide for life without parole for our worst murderers, like Mr Burton and Mr Bell; they will not be eligible for parole. I support that view wholeheartedly. The “three strikers”—the people who persist in committing serious violent offences and who have served at least two lengthy prison sentences and then committed similar offences—will go away for 25 years to life with no parole. I will be very glad to see that happening. In closing, I say that we fully support this bill.
- Debate interrupted.
AMENDED ANSWERS TO ORAL QUESTIONS
Question No. 3 to Minister
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance) : I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I just want to correct an answer I gave this afternoon in response to a parliamentary question. I referred to the gains that would be made from 1 April by superannuitants and beneficiaries. I said they would get either $13 a week or over $13 a week, when the correct answer should have been that they would get up to $13 a week.
Legal Services Amendment Bill
- Debate resumed.
RAHUI KATENE (Māori Party—Te Tai Tonga) : I come to this bill with a particular passion passed on from my father, the late John Hippolite. Some 36 years ago, in 1972, along with Dr Oliver Sutherland, he wrote a paper entitled Justice and Race: A Monocultural System in a Multicultural Society. The basic premise of this paper arose out of a period in which a group of Māori started monitoring the activities of the Nelson Magistrate’s Court out of their concern about the high incidence of convictions of Māori defendants. They reached the conclusion that in order for Māori defendants to have a fair hearing, it was necessary to have legal representation. It was their finding that by having this, the court’s Māori imprisonment rate was lowered by one-third. Extending that finding to the rest of the country, they argued that a third of Māori prisoners should not be in jail. This was radical in the truest sense of the word—getting to the fundamental root of the problem. As I mentioned in my maiden speech—which now seems so long ago—this ultimately led to legal aid being extended to criminal matters, and it motivates me in debate on this bill, as in every bill, to uphold justice.
The Māori Party is founded on our commitment to honour justice. It was the matter of justice that led Māori to walk in their thousands to oppose the Draconian confiscation known as the Foreshore and Seabed Bill. It is the question of justice that plagues our collective soul as a nation when we continue to see the substantial inequalities between the outcomes for Māori and the outcomes for other New Zealanders. It is our commitment to justice that has motivated us to advocate for this nation to address the shame of a Government that rejected the call to endorse the statement of aspiration for all indigenous peoples—that is, the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. And so it is entirely right and proper that, in upholding our support for a restorative justice system where victims are empowered, we stand in support of this bill.
This bill stands as a historic hallmark of the action required to ensure that victims do not face any additional stress leading up to the process of legal aid grants. It emerges out of the traumatic administration error of January 2008, when the Legal Services Agency billed the widow of Karl Kuchenbecker for $19,000 granted in legal aid for the inquest into his death. We now have terms for this type of situation: “re-victimisation” or “secondary victimisation”. This refers to the way in which early experiences of victimisation can become the precursors to later episodes of victimisation. But what we saw with that particular case might fit better what researcher Pia Van de Zandt describes as “State-sanctioned victimisation” when referring to the impact of court processes on rape victims. This bill, then, is to address the State-sanctioned victimisation that has occurred when victims of crime attending a Parole Board hearing or a coronial inquest were subjected to financial eligibility testing and, in a final blow, were asked to meet stringent repayment conditions.
The concept of victims is not something that sits easily with Māori. We prefer to think in terms of survivors, of people determining our own destiny, rather than the more passive association of victimhood. Yet the statistics and the commentators persist in presenting a picture in which Māori are reported as experiencing almost twice as many victimisations as non-Māori, and that in particular Māori women victims have the highest victimisation rates, with an average number of reported offences per victim of 4.8. Of course, the State-sanctioned victimisation of Māori is well established, as this comment from prominent political analyst Colin James reflects: “… Maori as a race are victims—of, in the past, colonial rapine and plunder, which stripped them of their culture and their economy, and, in the present, for as long as the endemic demoralisation that resulted persists.” At the recent colloquium on Māori and the criminal justice system, Ani Mikaere delivered a paper that encapsulates this view. Her paper was entitled Three Million Strikes and Still Not Out; The Crown as the Ultimate Recidivist.
The Legal Services Amendment Bill builds on a context of victimhood, but it moves us forward in a way in which justice can be seen to be done. We welcome the thinking that any definition of victim—or survivor—will now include the parent or legal guardian of a child or young person, and a member of the immediate family of a person who has died or is rendered incapable by any offence. Although there are caveats around this, namely that they do not apply if the individual is charged with, convicted of, or pleads guilty to the offence, the intention to ensure a broader definition of family is adopted is one that we in the Māori Party support.
The issue of costs is another feature that receives our support. In this bill, the proposal is that the Legal Services Agency may decide not to recover debt when enforcement of the debt would cause serious hardship to the aided person, the cost of enforcing the debt is likely to exceed the debt owed, or the agency considers it would be just and equitable not to recover the debt. This is a very significant innovation, and we commend the Minister for his insight in this area.
The Māori Party has been very concerned to ensure that Māori are not disadvantaged in seeking legal aid. We know that there are longstanding concerns about the difficulties that many Māori applicants for legal aid still face. The perceived cost of lawyers’ fees prevents a significant number of Māori from seeking help, more so than New Zealanders on average. In the Report on the 2006 National Survey of Unmet Legal Needs and Access to Services, over a third of Māori with problems—that is, 34 percent—felt that perceived costs had stopped them from approaching a lawyer to help them with their problem or to see whether they could get legal aid. So the amendments today, which enable the Legal Services Agency to write off legal aid debt when it will be inequitable to seek recovery of that debt, are a step in the right direction if we are really seeking to increase access to justice.
The Māori Party has been solid in our support for a restorative justice system, where victims are empowered. We believe that what is required in any assessment of the justice system is a fundamental shift in values. Any assessment of public outrage and media headlines would show that society has, at large, become more vindictive since the 1980s, and what is urgently needed is robust debate about crime prevention and how to create communities where justice means what is morally right and fair, rather than the administration of a court sentence. We can take our lead from iwi who are doing things differently. Just up the line, Te Wānanga o Raukawa has a kaupapa dispute resolution process, and over in Kahungunu they have been training people in dispute resolutions and encouraging people to learn to trust the process. These are just two approaches to Māori mediation, which is showing us a new way. The crux of the matter is that if we are to believe the Ministry of Justice prison forecast report from 2006, the projections are that by 2010 Māori will be the most imprisoned people per capita in the world. We cannot have that, not for the sake of Māori, nor for the reputation of Aotearoa. Gaining access to justice through legal aid, and assisting Māori to enjoy the rights that all citizens enjoy—to receive the best possible legal representation—is a key means of changing this forecast for ever.
This bill does not address the issue of quality representation—that is for another day—but it does make some progress in amending the Legal Services Act to improve and increase access to justice. We will certainly be supporting this bill, and we look forward to debate around what Ngāpuhi / Te Rōroa and Ngāti Porou researcher Khylee Quince has described as the tikanga around justice—namely “a desire to reintegrate offenders into communities, heal victims, and maintain a balance between the acknowledgment of past behaviour and moving on.” Kia ora.
SHANE ARDERN (National—Taranaki - King Country) : It is an unusual thing about our Westminster Parliament that someone who is a farmer, who has no knowledge of the legal aspects of debate in regard to something like legal aid, and who is not on the Law and Order Committee ends up having to speak in debate on that subject, on a bill such as the Legal Services Amendment Bill. I acknowledge, Mr Deputy Speaker, that I am not speaking about you.
To that end, I start my speech by saying that an old statement in Parliament is that bad cases make bad law. When I first became aware that I was going to have to speak in this debate, I thought I would go back and look at a bit of the history of the bill. I realised that it came about primarily as a result of a dreadful set of circumstances: the murder of Karl Kuchenbecker by Graeme Burton, and the fact that his family was then left having to potentially fund its own legal representation in the coronial inquest and the investigations that took place. I notice that the bill had its genesis in the last Parliament under Annette King, who, of course, was the Minister of Justice at the time. National supported the bill then, having given it some consideration.
Having said that bad cases make bad law, looking at this bill I suspect that that statement was taken into consideration, and it appears that what is being attempted here, in fact, probably should have been addressed some time ago. We have in this country, unfortunately, some very bad cases against people, and often those people are left out of pocket or unable to support themselves legally to the extent they would like to, because of the rules as they stand. This bill is designed to do something about that situation.
The bill aims to remove eligibility testing requirements for legal aid for victims who are to attend a coronial inquest or a Parole Board hearing, or who make victims’ claims. Obviously, that sounds like a sensible suggestion and a sensible move forward. The legislation is also intended to grant the Legal Services Agency the discretion to waiver its right to recover legal aid debt where individual circumstances mean that enforcement would cause serious hardship or be uneconomic, or where the agency would find itself in a position that was inequitable or unenforceable. The bill also gives the Governor-General the power to make regulations that exempt specific classes of people, or proceedings, from eligibility restrictions or repayment obligations. Those amendments are pretty basic and fundamental, and obviously the group of National members looking at this bill concluded that it is a sensible way forward.
The bill’s purpose, of course, is to exempt victims from suffering the indignity that was found concerning the family in the tragic Graeme Burton case; I do not know whether anybody could speak against that purpose. The former Associate Minister of Justice, Lianne Dalziel, who spoke earlier in the debate, highlighted a number of other issues. There have been quite horrendous examples of, in particular, child sex abuse cases where families had been subjected to almost a second trial, as it were. They became victims twice—I guess that is the way to put it—because they were required, but unable, to properly represent themselves. The former Minister stated that in some cases they even asked the local member of Parliament to make a representation on their behalf because they did not have access to sufficient legal aid to employ people who would properly represent them. You know, it does not take Einstein to figure out that those changes are very, very good.
The Act will come into force 2 months after the bill receives the Royal assent, and the bill’s changes will apply only to applications for legal aid made after the date the Act comes into force. In other words, there is no retrospective aspect to the bill, and that is the reason, I presume, that the House is applying its mind to it at the moment—so that there are no more cases where people are subjected to the things we have mentioned before.
The bill is yet another example of the long, long 9 years that we had of the Labour Government not delivering on some of the key comments it made early in its time in office, and it was not until the horrendous case that we spoke of that it actually decided to do something about it. But the question still remains, given the campaign pledges that took place over three elections, as to why the bill was introduced in the dying hours of the forty-eighth Parliament; here in the forty-ninth Parliament, under a National Government, the bill is finally proceeding through Parliament. I guess that the only explanation we can give is that the Labour Government did not place the priority on it that it said it was going to, as we can see if we go back through some of its comments early in its time in office.
Decisions not to recover legal aid obviously have to be made at a reasonably senior level, and the bill gives jurisdiction to make those decisions to those who would be described in that way. If that could not be done, then those decisions could not be made, and people would then be subjected to a long period of painful repayment for something they never wanted, did not want to be involved in, and really only got involved in because they were victims themselves and thought it was in their best interests and the best interests of justice to be part of the process that would get to the nub of what exactly happened to one of their family members.
I think this is excellent legislation that has been brought to Parliament today, and it is my intention also to support it in my comments.
LYNNE PILLAY (Labour) : It is a pleasure to stand and take a call on the Legal Services Amendment Bill. I was a little bit perplexed by Shane Ardern’s comments about Labour’s lack of commitment on this bill, and perhaps a little later in my speech I will be able to enlighten the member. I think he shares the forgetfulness that many of his colleagues have the misfortune of sharing. This bill was introduced by Labour and was drafted under some very, very sad circumstances. I have heard many members speaking on this bill acknowledging that matter. The bill ensures that when victims of crime attend a Parole Board hearing or coronial inquest they will no longer be subject to financial eligibility testing. This bill also enables—as other speakers have said—the Legal Services Agency to write off legal debt at any time during the legal proceedings, rather than, as was the case before, waiting until the proceedings are concluded. That takes away a lot of stress and anxiety from people who are in very, very difficult circumstances. Also, the new regulation-making power enables the Governor-General to exempt particular groups of people from financial eligibility tests and repayment conditions. This bill will allow greater consideration of individual circumstances and, in particular, will better support victims of crime who have been through very, very trying and tragic circumstances.
This bill—and I am sure Mr Ardern will be very interested in this—builds on the Legal Services Act, which came into force in 2001. The aim of that Act was to ensure that legal aid was delivered consistently and efficiently. If we think about the purpose of the Legal Services Agency we know that it is to provide the legal aid scheme that will assist people who have insufficient means to pay for legal services, so that they will still have access to those services. It also provides for other means of legal assistance, and it supports legal services through community law centres. Those are very, very worthwhile purposes for the Legal Services Agency. As other people have said, the stress on victims of crime when there is not the clarity about available legal support and they are subject to financial eligibility testing has created the need for this bill.
I will talk about how this bill came about. It came about under very tragic circumstances, when the family of a victim were asked to repay $19,000 in legal aid. The then Minister of Justice, Annette King, found that situation to be absolutely inappropriate. She asked for an urgent report and for victims in these circumstances to be treated in a caring and compassionate way, and looked at how we could address the issue. Subsequently, the debt was written off. That was very appropriate and is what led to the introduction of this bill.
I will also address some of the points that Shane Ardern made. He said that Labour had not really done much in this area. As Labour’s spokesperson on victims’ rights, I will talk about some of the things that Labour implemented, such as the Sentencing Act 2002. That Act recognised the potential of restorative justice to make offenders more accountable to victims through a number of rights, such as rights to information and the ability to have input into sentencing decisions through victim impact statements.
Labour passed the Prisoners’ and Victims’ Claims Act 2005, which ensured that victims of inmates awarded compensation could claim against that compensation.
Labour introduced the Children, Young Persons, and Their Families Amendment Bill (No 6), which included a provision to ensure that victims of youth crime can attend Youth Court hearings to ensure that victims are kept properly informed.
I acknowledge Nandor Tanczos in this Chamber because in 2008 he initiated an inquiry into victims’ rights with the Justice and Electoral Committee. As a result of that inquiry, the committee travelled to Australia to look at victims’ compensation and victims’ schemes there, and it came back with some very good information. Unfortunately, National members declined to travel and find out about the schemes there, but they were very keen to sign their names—
Hon Simon Power: It’s time to move on, Lynne.
LYNNE PILLAY: It was so last year. National members signed their names to the select committee report and they certainly went along with its recommendations.
As a result of that report, the Victims Charter was developed, as well as an 0800 victims line so that victims of crime could have 24/7 access to an 0800 line and could get up-to-date information and support when they needed it most. I was very proud to be part of a Government that introduced that support for victims, and as a current member of the Justice and Electoral Committee I am very keen to monitor the effectiveness and funding of that initiative under a National Government. We will certainly be looking at holding the National Government to account on the initiative to ensure that victims in New Zealand get the rights they are entitled to. We want to ensure not only that victims receive those rights but that every possible effort is made for them to be aware of their rights in those situations.
I reiterate that this bill is a very good bill. Shane Ardern pointed out that it was brought in later in Labour’s term, but it was later in Labour’s term when the gross injustice came to light. I challenge the National Government and say that it would have been great if it had introduced this bill in its first 100 days of action, rather than dealing to workers, cutting KiwiSaver, and introducing the 90-day bill and all the flimflam that did nothing.
The bill has complete support from every party in the House. If the National Government had felt that this issue was so important, and we all agree it is, and had put it on the Order Paper in the Government’s first 100 days of action, then the Government would have received accolades, but it did not have that foresight. However, the bill is before the House now. The bill was introduced under a Labour Government, and I am very proud to stand as a member of the Labour Party to commend the bill to the House. Thank you.
PESETA SAM LOTU-IIGA (National—Maungakiekie) : We have already heard this afternoon that the Legal Services Amendment Bill has multipartisan support across the House. I rise to support the bill because it fulfils one of our Government’s promises, which was to address some of the issues around victims of crime. This bill addresses some issues, as do other measures we have taken. Tax cuts came into force yesterday, and the ReStart package has been introduced.
The Government is a supporter of social justice in this country. It is a supporter of victims’ rights and of a victim’s right to justice. One of the primary roles of a Government is to protect its people. Sadly, crimes hurt people and lead to suffering, but bills such as this address some of that suffering and allow victims’ needs and rights to be addressed.
The bill has three key provisions The first provision, which many speakers have already alluded to, is the removal of the eligibility test required of victims who apply for legal aid to attend coronial inquests or Parole Board hearings. Secondly, the bill gives the Legal Services Agency the discretion to waive its right to recover legal aid debts where an individual’s circumstances would mean that enforcing the debt would lead to inequitable consequences or serious hardship. Thirdly, the bill provides flexibility by creating a regulation-making power that allows for other classes of people and proceedings to be exempt from eligibility restrictions and repayment obligations. Therefore, the bill is flexible, fair, and equitable and it protects the rights of victims.
Hon Dr Richard Worth: A very worthy bill.
PESETA SAM LOTU-IIGA: It is a very worthy bill.
The purpose of exempting victims from eligibility tests and repayment requirements in some circumstances is to reduce stress for people. It is stressful enough for a person to lose a family member or a friend. It is stressful enough to have to sit through a court case and listen to gruesome facts about how the family member or friend suffered at the hands of criminals. It is stressful enough to go through that and then go through a coronial hearing, and it is even more stressful to then be targeted with a large and substantial legal bill for attending those hearings. So those exemptions are really just and fair in such circumstances in terms of victims’ rights.
The previous speaker, Lynne Pillay—the previous honourable member for Waitakere—alluded to the fact that there have been other measures over the years to protect victims, including the Sentencing Act 2002 and a number of other measures that both Labour Governments and National Governments have enacted. An earlier speaker from the Māori Party said the bill is in keeping with some restorative justice principles and aims, which our justice system is taking on board over time.
So much focus has been put on the offender, but it is interesting to look at the definition of “victim” in the bill. The definition is quite wide. A victim has been defined as “a person against whom an offence is committed by another person;”, but it is expressed more widely as “a person who, through, or by means of, an offence committed by another person, suffers physical injury or loss of, or damage to, property;”. It is equitable to include that wide definition. It is not just emotional stress that is created by such crimes. There is also physical stress, loss of property, loss of dignity, and, in many ways, a real spiritual hurt comes with the commission of crimes in this country.
Many in the House have already alluded to the Kuchenbecker case. In that case the mother of the children whose father, sadly, was murdered by Graeme Burton was asked to repay money to the Legal Services Agency for legal representation provided to her sons. It sad indeed that after she had gone through a coronial hearing and had seen, in the media, the nasty and grossly repugnant behaviour of this gentlemen—who, as Mr Garrett has said, has allegedly committed another crime today—she was then given a bill for legal services. In the eyes of many people, that was totally unjust.
Sometimes it hits close to home when people are affected by crime. Last week, in my electorate, I came across the wife of a murder victim at a Neighbourhood Support group meeting. She was the victim of a nasty crime, and she was also subject to media scrutiny in relation to a high-profile murder case in my electorate. Thankfully for her, she had the support of relatives. She had chosen to forgive the reprehensible character who carried out the nasty crime. The sentencing will occur next week. She said to me that she was supported but that she would have been happy to have the support of Legal Services Agency in dealing with the coronial hearing. She has decided to move on, but there are many, many people out there who go through this process alone, without the funds to carry on, and in a state of high grief and suffering.
This bill, really, is about natural justice. It gives people the ability to participate meaningfully in the processes around parole and coronial hearings. They are able to engage legal counsel without the worry of negative economic consequences, whereas previously they often had to face offenders without experienced support people around them. It is unreasonable for victims to be further burdened by costs. This measure obviously has multiparty support. I certainly support it, and I think that most New Zealanders would applaud this Government and this Parliament for enacting it.
However, I want to rectify something that Mr Ardern implied, perhaps inadvertently, about the introduction of this bill. He implied that Labour, whilst in Government, somehow had known all along that this particular situation existed in law, and had ignored it until a high-profile case arose. That is not the case. It is quite obvious from statements made by Minister Annette King at the time that the Graeme Burton case came up that it was a situation that, had Labour known about it, it would have rectified. In fact, on 28 January Annette King stated: “If the legal aid system is producing this sort of result for victims, it has to be changed urgently.” That is what the Labour Government proceeded to do at that time. It moved swiftly to review what had happened in that situation, and I am pleased the current National Government continues to take this bill through the House.
I also want to endorse the statements made by my colleague the Hon Lianne Dalziel when she highlighted the importance of victim representation at coronial inquests. I thought she also raised an interesting issue for the select committee to consider in relation to civil cases, and I think it will be interesting for the select committee members to report back to the House their view on that issue.
In reflecting specifically on the bill itself, it is an amendment to the Legal Services Act 2000, which established, as we all know, the Legal Services Agency. That agency has an overarching primary goal that is quite simple, and that is to promote access to justice. There are three fundamental ways in which the Legal Services Agency ensures that happens. The first is through the provision of a legal aid scheme that assists people who have insufficient means to pay for legal services to, none the less, have access to them. That is probably the primary role that we all know the Legal Services Agency exists for. The two other mechanisms are providing other means of legal assistance, and supporting community legal services by funding community law centres, education, and research. I want to come back to that third point later on.
As core purposes go, I think the House will agree that these ones are well intentioned and well structured. Last year those three objectives ensured that over 58,000 people had access to legal services, which is something we can rightfully be pleased about. But the Legal Services Act, as it stands, has a fundamental oversight, and that was highlighted in the tragedy that arose around the Graeme Burton case. The amendments before us now seek to deal with that oversight.
What do they explicitly do? They amend the Act to ensure that victims of crime attending a coronial inquest are not subject to financial eligibility tests. Secondly, the amendments give the Legal Services Agency the ability and the discretion not to recover debt. But there is a probably more important layer here. In the particular case of Graeme Burton, the Legal Services Agency expressed a willingness to look at the circumstances of the victims, but it was the timing that was problematic. As it currently stands, debt can be written off but only at the end of a case. This bill gives the Legal Services Agency the ability to make a decision at any time, and I think that flexibility is really important as a preventive measure to ensure that situation does not arise again.
The third issue that this amendment bill seeks to address is that it gives the foresight to ensure that such a situation does not arise again. As members of Parliament we all know that changes to Acts of Parliament take a long time, and exemptions from the Legal Services Act, which we are looking at, currently are able to be enacted only through changes to primary legislation. This bill introduces regulation-making powers, which will enable the Governor-General to make further amendments and to allow further discretion as required. The Minister of Justice, Simon Power, however, must first be satisfied it is in the public interest, and, of course, the Regulations Review Committee will have a role in reviewing whether those powers have been used appropriately, and I think that is very fitting.
It is clear that this amendment bill enhances what the Legal Services Agency is there to do, which—as I have already mentioned—is to promote access to justice, in line with the principles of fairness and also public expectation. The public would have expected flexibility in this case, and we are making sure that that happens.
I think this is an opportune time to reflect on whether other aspects of the Legal Services Agency could be enhanced. If we reflect on the access to justice issue, we find that it is important that this House and its members continually reflect on the judgment call that is made around whether an individual has insufficient means, thereby giving that person eligibility to use legal aid. The Minister today announced in question time that he would be reviewing legal aid. We have not yet seen the scope of that review—what the review will explicitly cover—but it would be helpful if the Minister considered the access to justice question, not just around legal issues that are prompted by a charge or conviction, but also around access to legal services that may have an element of discretion to them.
A good example of that might be a victim’s access to, and use of, protection orders. We hear a complaint within the sector that works with protection orders that there are access issues because of the cost of going through the legal process to have a protection order enacted. I would be interested to hear about that, and I would encourage the Minister to use this example as a bit of a test case to demonstrate to what extent financial eligibility tests at the current level are prohibitive and perhaps lead victims, particularly in the case of domestic violence, not to access justice. It is an interesting question, because if we look at the specific example of protection orders in the context of the amendments that we are looking at right now, we see that this bill lifts financial eligibility tests for an individual who becomes a victim, but a quite harsh fiscal test is still used at the point at which we are able to prevent someone from becoming a victim. That is the very point of protection orders, but because of the cost of having them enacted, they may not be accessed at the point when they are necessary. That would be an interesting point for the Minister to consider.
I ask what other issues the review intends to look at. I think it is relevant in the context of this bill. The Minister stated: “I don’t need to tell you that in the current fiscal environment, legal aid systems are likely to face increasing challenges in achieving their objectives.” He is absolutely right. It is for two reasons, though. The first is shrinking budgets, and we are not talking about just legal aid directly but community law centres. The second is the increase in demand for services, and this is no more obvious and apparent than in the situation of community law centres. We have already seen them face decreasing budgets because they are reliant on the special fund that is administered by the Legal Services Agency. The community law centres rely on decent interest rates in order to ensure they have decent funding levels. As I have already outlined, one of the core three objectives of the Legal Services Agency is to ensure that community legal services are available. It seems inconsistent to me that that is one of its core functions, yet the funding for those bodies is reliant on a fund’s interest rate, which can fluctuate rapidly. We have seen that happen in this financial year. So I would also encourage the Minister to include more stable and consistent funding—perhaps through Vote Justice—as part of his review of access to legal aid and access to justice.
Having said that, though, I commend this bill to the House. I am pleased to see that we are progressing it at this point. I think it will achieve the core principles that the Legal Services Act is intended to ensure.
KANWALJIT SINGH BAKSHI (National) : I rise to support the Legal Services Amendment Bill. We have made this bill a priority. The honourable member Lynne Pillay was complaining that this bill was not brought in during the first 100 days of this Government, but at least we have put it forward as quickly as possible. In the first 100 days National delivered on what it promised in the election campaign.
Todd McClay: We delivered, all right.
KANWALJIT SINGH BAKSHI: We delivered. What did the Labour Government give us in its 9 long years in office? It gave us the Electoral Finance Act, which was useless. We have to repeal it. Our Minister of Justice has to work hard to repeal the Act and put up a fresh bill so that this country can have fair elections.
This bill provides a lot of support for victims. Victims are already under stress, as they might have lost their breadwinner, there might be elderly parents who have to be fed, or it might be a burden for someone to carry on the legacy of the family by feeding young children and parents. I have the example of Navtej Singh, who was killed in South Auckland. His parents are both aged about 70, and he has left behind kids ranging from 3 years to 10 years. It is very sad. If his family had the stress of paying the legal fees, it would be very unfortunate for them.
This bill ensures that the victims of crime, those who are affected by an alleged crime, or those who have committed an offence who are involved in a Parole Board hearing or coronial inquest will not be subject to financial eligibility tests. Those people will not need to repay legal aid grants when they need to be represented by a lawyer. The bill also enables the Legal Services Agency to write off legal aid for victims at the time when legal aid is granted. This provision ensures that the Government will be able to respond swiftly. New section 36A, which is inserted by clause 7, gives the Legal Services Agency the discretion to waive its right to recover legal aid when individual circumstances mean that enforcement would cause serious hardship, enforcement would be uneconomic, or it would be unjust and inequitable to enforce the debt.
I would also like to quote a recent example of a victim in South Auckland. This victim got in a legal battle as a result of using self-defence, and he was ultimately relieved of any conviction. I saw this man. He could not do his business, he could not go and attend to his family, and he was under a lot of stress. With burdens such as that, it would be a great injustice for him if he was not given financial aid.
This bill comes into force 2 months after the Royal assent is received. The bill’s changes will apply only for applications made after the date that the Act comes into force. Labour reviewed and updated the legal aid scheme in 2005, and it failed to pay attention to this issue. In fact, Labour increased the number of people required to repay the legal aid grant, with a specific focus on the area of permanent proceedings. In the Hon Phil Goff’s speech on the first reading of the Legal Services Amendment Bill (No 2) on 17 May 2005, he said: “Under the bill, approximately 22,000 legal aid recipients will be required to repay their legal aid grant, either partially or in full. This is an increase of 14,000 in the number of recipients required to make payment under the current regime. The same proportion of repayments will apply to criminal and civil legal aid, thereby increasing the proportion of criminal aid recipients required to make the repayments.”
The nature of justice gives victims the ability to actually participate meaningfully in these processes, as they are able to engage legal counsel, whereas previously they often had to confront the offender without the presence of experienced support people. National is delivering on its promises and is finishing what Labour failed to start. It is unreasonable to further burden victims with the financial cost of legal representation, especially in matters to do with crime.
Todd McClay: I don’t think they care.
KANWALJIT SINGH BAKSHI: They do not care.
National has promised to provide greater rights and support to victims of crime by progressing the bill. National is delivering on its promises. I assure this House that under the leadership of the honourable Prime Minister, John Key, this National Government will deliver on all the promises it made during the election campaign. We continue to work for the progress of this country. Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker.
- Bill read a first time.
Bill referred to the Justice and Electoral Committee.
Sittings of the House
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER: Leave is sought for that purpose. Is there any objection? There is none.
- The House adjourned at 5.58 p.m.