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Volume 658, Week 27 - Thursday, 22 October 2009
Thursday, 22 October 2009
Tabling of Documents—Description of Documents
Mr SPEAKER: Yesterday the Hon Dr Nick Smith raised with me the tabling by leave of a document. When seeking leave, members should provide an accurate but succinct description of the document’s content, if possible indicating its author, the publisher, and the media in which it has published and when. These are not absolute requirements, as they will not be appropriate for all documents that members seek to table by leave. However, as far as possible, I have endeavoured to encourage members to provide this type of information, in order that the House can make an informed judgment about whether leave should be granted.
The particular document to which the Hon Dr Nick Smith referred was described as a statement by an Australian senator “containing a summary of the changes put forward by the Liberal Opposition, and the critique by the Labour Government of those changes.” The actual document tabled was a very brief piece from a news website. It quoted the senator saying: “there’s not a bottomless pit of money for an emissions trading scheme”, but contained no real summary or analysis of changes put forward by the Liberal Opposition. From the description given, members were entitled to think that something more informative would be forthcoming.
I ask members to take care when describing documents. The House makes its judgment on whether a document should be tabled on the basis of the description given. The House is entitled to an accurate description. Where the House grants leave for a document to be tabled, it is the responsibility of the member to whom the leave is granted to present the document to the Clerk before the end of the sitting day. The Clerk is not expected to scrutinise the documents tabled. If, on the face of it, they match the leave granted, they are accepted.
I caution members seeking leave to table documents. If a member given leave to table a document deliberately misleads the House by delivering to the Clerk a substantially different document, a contempt is committed. The granting of leave to table a document is one of the valued practices of the House. Members should be careful not to abuse it. Its purpose is to inform debate by making available to members documents that would otherwise not be available. Members should be careful to observe this test. Leave should not be sought to table documents that are part of the published proceedings of the House and its committees, or media articles that are readily available to all members.
Hon SIMON POWER (Deputy Leader of the House) : When the House resumes on Tuesday, 27 October, the Government intends to make progress on bills on the Order Paper, including the Gangs and Organised Crime Bill and the Criminal Investigations (Bodily Samples) Amendment Bill, and to introduce bills as they become available.
Hon DARREN HUGHES (Senior Whip—Labour) : I thank the Deputy Leader of the House for that fulsome and thorough report about the House’s progress, and inquire of him whether we can look forward to week 6 of urgency next week, and what might be covered by such legislation if, once again, the House is put into that process.
Hon SIMON POWER (Deputy Leader of the House) : No decisions have as yet been made, but the member may be interested to know that the previous Government took urgency 22 times in its first term in order to advance its programme, in fact. We are similarly keen to advance our programme with a sense of vigour and enthusiasm.
Questions to Ministers
Ministers—Compliance with Cabinet Manual
1. Hon ANNETTE KING (Deputy Leader—Labour) to the Prime Minister: Does he expect all his Ministers to comply with paragraphs 2.50 to 2.96 of the Cabinet Manual; if not, why not?
Hon Annette King: Does he expect all his Ministers to comply with paragraph 2.54 of the Cabinet Manual, which states: “accepting additional payment for doing anything that could be regarded as a ministerial function is not permissible” and “accepting payment for any other activities requires the prior approval of the Prime Minister”; if so, in what cases has he approved Ministers accepting payment for such activities?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The answer to the first question is yes, and the answer to the second one is that I cannot tell the member, as I do not have that advice here.
Hon Annette King: Does he believe that the Minister of Local Government upheld the highest standards as required by section 2.53 of the Cabinet Manual when he invited local government councillors to a breakfast called “The Future of Local Government Breakfast” in his capacity as Minister of Local Government, with all cheques, at $45 a head, to be made out to the ACT Party?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: My understanding is that the Cabinet Office does not have concerns about this situation, but any questions of detail should be directed to the Minister, who, I understand, has explained the circumstances.
Hon Annette King: Is he aware that the Minister of Local Government said on Checkpoint last night that the Christchurch breakfast is the only time he has used his title as Minister to attract paying customers to hear him speak in his capacity as Minister, but contradicted that statement when he spoke to Susan Wood on Newstalk ZB and said that he had had meetings like this all around the country before, and is he aware of any such other meetings being held?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The member will be aware that whether MPs are Ministers or not they take part in fundraising activities. In respect of this particular activity, which I understand has not actually occurred yet, the Cabinet Office has no concerns.
Carol Beaumont: Is he aware his Minister of Consumer Affairs, Heather Roy, is holding a similar breakfast in her ministerial capacity to talk about her plan to review consumer legislation, with all cheques going into the same bank account that Mr Hide is using to build the ACT Party campaign fund; if so, what is he going to do about this Minister’s behaviour?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: As I said before, all Ministers are expected to comply with the Cabinet Manual and there has been no suggestion that they have not.
Hon Annette King: When the Prime Minister said that he would be operating a “one strike and you’re out” policy for his Ministers, did he establish the standard of ethical performance he expected from his Ministers, and did it exclude arranging private financial affairs to get as much money out of the taxpayers as possible, using their positions as Ministers to raise money for political campaigns, leaking commercially sensitive information to competitors in a bidding process, and releasing private information about people who question Government policy?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: That is just a bit rich, coming from Labour. That member knows that politicians attend fund-raisers all the time, and that is fine as long as everyone is clear about the basis on which they are attending.
Hon Annette King: Would he expect a Minister to stand aside if the Auditor-General announced a formal inquiry into his or her behaviour, and will he require the Minister of Finance to stand down if such an inquiry is instigated against him?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: That is purely hypothetical.
Carol Beaumont: I seek leave to table a breakfast invitation from the Minister of Consumer Affairs to raise funds for the ACT Party, and, at $35 a head, it is a real bargain, compared with—
Mr SPEAKER: I will seek leave for that course of action in a moment, but I stress to the member that she must not add that kind of comment when she is seeking leave. That is not allowed. However, leave has been sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is no objection.
- Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Hon Rodney Hide: Mr Speaker—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: I have called the Hon Rodney Hide.
Hon Rodney Hide: I have to say to Mr Twyford that the whole country is paying for the Labour—
Mr SPEAKER: I am on my feet and all members will cease interjecting. I accept that the honourable member was provoked while he stood to ask his supplementary question, but he must not do that, either. I will not allow it again.
Hon Rodney Hide: Could the Prime Minister confirm that when Ministers in this Government attend public meetings, they need to ensure that more than four people will turn up, so that they do not end up in the very embarrassing situation that Labour leader Phil Goff had in Rotorua when the local chamber of commerce could sell only four tickets, with one of those being sold to Steve Chadwick, and, not surprisingly, the event had to be cancelled?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: It is quite possible that Steve Chadwick bought all the tickets, because she takes her job as a whip seriously. But I can advise the member—
Mr SPEAKER: I think the House has heard enough of that. The question was of marginal acceptability, and I think that the Minister has gone on long enough.
Financial Position, Government—Challenges
2. AMY ADAMS (National—Selwyn) to the Minister of Finance: What are the financial challenges currently facing this Government?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance) : One of the more significant challenges that the Government has to deal with is the deep-seated financial problems of accident compensation. Vote ACC reflects the way that the Labour Government dealt with wider public expenditure. Expenditure has been rising rapidly, and now that New Zealand has had a recession, New Zealanders are having to pay, through greater accident compensation levies, for the mistakes made by the previous Government. However, we are focused on fixing this mess and taking a balanced approach to ensure that accident compensation is both sustainable and affordable.
Amy Adams: What specific financial problems did the Government inherit in respect of accident compensation?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: One in particular is worth mentioning. Prior to the last election, the previous Government presented accounts as if the scheme were in good order. Shortly after we became the Government, it became clear that there was a $300 million per year shortfall in the non-earners account. Since then, a full appraisal of that account has made it clear that the shortfall is $420 million per year, which means that over the next 4 years this Government has to find something like $1.6 billion simply to fill the hole in one accident compensation account.
Hon David Cunliffe: Can he confirm that an independent inquiry found that the fault in respect of the Pre-election Economic and Fiscal Update numbers for the accident compensation scheme was entirely that of Treasury, and that Treasury has since apologised; and can he clarify whether he would welcome a similar inquiry into his own affairs?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: That inquiry confirmed at the time a $300 million shortfall in the non-earners account that was not revealed before the election. Since then, the number has increased to a $420 million per year shortfall in one account. That is $420 million we cannot spend on pay increases where they are warranted, or more services where they are needed.
Amy Adams: What other financial problems did the Government inherit in respect of accident compensation?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The problem I have adverted to is the problem for the Government as a levy payer—because the Government pays the levies for the non-earners account—but there are much larger problems for the wider group of New Zealanders who pay levies. This month we learnt that the accident compensation scheme made a $4.8 billion loss in the latest year, on top of the $2.4 billion loss the previous year. Under Labour, the scheme’s liabilities ballooned from $9 billion to $24 billion in just the last 4 years.
Hon David Cunliffe: Can he confirm that in the last year the accident compensation scheme made a cash surplus of around $2 billion, and that the only reason he is able to make the trumped-up claim of a crisis is, firstly, because the new chairman has marching orders to read every number according to the most conservative assumptions, and, secondly, because it is an ideological agenda of this Government to create a crisis in order to prepare the Accident Compensation Corporation for sale?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The Opposition cannot have it both ways. It quotes the PricewaterhouseCoopers’ report—on which the Labour Government spent $4 million—as a report that says the accident compensation scheme is fine. The same PricewaterhouseCoopers firm has independently valued the liabilities now at just under $24 billion.
Dr Russel Norman: In light of the growing debt being carried by his Government, how is it responsible to make changes to the emissions trading scheme that Treasury says will result in “a cumulative increase in Government debt of around 6 to 8 percent of GDP by 2050”?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The Government is taking a balanced view about the need to accumulate some debt while we deal with the problems of a recession and some policy challenges like the emissions trading scheme. We are willing to accumulate some debt, but not to the point where it becomes too big a burden for future workers.
Amy Adams: What is underpinning the Government’s approach to addressing the financial problems of accident compensation?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: We are endeavouring to make sure that all the problems with accident compensation are out on the table. The Accident Compensation Corporation board has proposed some fairly drastic levy increases, which the public will be consulted on, and then the Government will make a practical decision about what accident compensation levies are bearable, given that the economy is just recovering from a recession.
Crown Liabilities—Principle of Full Funding
3. Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE (Labour—New Lynn) to the Minister of Finance: Does he support the principle of full funding of future Crown liabilities as, for example, in ACC?
Hon David Cunliffe: Does he support the principle of the full funding of future Crown liabilities in respect of superannuation?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: As the member will know, national superannuation is not an insurance scheme. It is a “pay as you go” scheme, so it is treated differently.
Hon David Cunliffe: Does he support the full funding of future Crown liabilities in respect of carbon emission units?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The Government has made some practical decisions to put in place a moderated emissions trading system. There are ongoing consequences from that. We are happy to debate those.
Aaron Gilmore: What is the Government’s normal approach to funding its liabilities?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The Government deals with some of its future liabilities on a “pay as you go” system. For instance, people on the invalids benefit are generally regarded as not being able to work in the future, but we deal with them on a “pay as you go” basis because they are on a welfare benefit. However, clear insurance liabilities or well-defined pension liabilities are fully funded, such as the Government Superannuation Fund is.
Hon David Cunliffe: Why does he think it is necessary to manufacture a crisis in the accident compensation scheme through the principle of full funding, when he has just rejected again the same principle in respect of climate change and superannuation?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: We did not manufacture the idea of full funding. Labour was in power for 9 years with a full funding deadline of 2014 in the law. It had the opportunity to change that. Labour never changed it, and it certainly ignored the obligations that that deadline put on it to run the scheme responsibly. Labour behaved recklessly, and now levy payers are paying for that.
Hon David Cunliffe: How can he believe it is consistent, ethical, or fiscally responsible for taxpayers to meet the full cost of funding accident compensation, which runs a cash surplus of nearly $2 billion, but to load the full cost of superannuation and carbon liabilities on to our children?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The member is displaying the current confusion in Labour over its policy positions. Labour needs to decide whether it thinks that accident compensation should be fully funded or “pay as you go”. In fact, on the issue of superannuation, I say today’s workers pay all the national superannuation liabilities.
4. NICKY WAGNER (National) to the Minister of Police: What steps has the Government taken to tackle illegal street racing?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS (Minister of Police) : Yesterday the legislation arising from the Vehicle Confiscation and Seizure Bill passed its third reading. It closes numerous loopholes in the current law and provides for the ultimate deterrent of crushing the cars of the worst repeat offenders. This legislation comes into force on 1 December this year.
Nicky Wagner: Why was this legislation needed?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: It was necessary because illegal street racing had become a major problem in cities around New Zealand. It was necessary to close the loopholes in the existing legislation. The seriousness of this problem was highlighted by the attack on a lone Christchurch police officer by 300 illegal street racers in January. This attack prompted me and the Minister of Transport, Steven Joyce, to do everything that we could with our colleagues to put a stop to these hoons.
Brendon Burns: Why did the Government’s legislation not cut exhaust noise limits, as repeatedly promised by Ms Wagner—and others, including Nick Smith—who launched a second petition by saying a 90-decibel exhaust limit was required because noisy cars are environmental vandalism?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: That matter, of course, could be dealt with in another bill—certainly not in this bill. This is a police bill, not a transport bill. I would say, though, that that member’s Government had 9 years to deal with the issue, and it failed appallingly.
Nicky Wagner: How will the new legislation assist in making our streets safer?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: It will strengthen the powers of the courts to order the confiscation of motor vehicles, empower the courts to order the destruction of motor vehicles used by repeat illegal street racers, and toughen the provisions regarding seizure of motor vehicles to enforce the collection of unpaid fines.
Transport Projects, Regional—Funding
5. Hon DARREN HUGHES (Labour) to the Minister of Transport: Are the regional mayors who have said they will have less money than they had planned for to undertake transport projects wrong; if so, why?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister of Transport) : No. It is, indeed, true that four mayors have spoken out and said they are getting less than they asked for. It is also true that all four are getting more than they received in the previous 3 years, just not quite as much as they thought they should have got. Overall, across the country, 17 percent more is being spent on local road maintenance and renewal over the next 3 years than in the last 3 years.
Hon Darren Hughes: Why did the Mayor of Napier, Barbara Arnott, say that her council will have to shelve a planned $26 million freight route leading to Napier’s port because funds have been reallocated towards the Minister’s so-called roads of national significance?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I do not know why Mayor Barbara Arnott said that, because a number of projects are proceeding in Hawke’s Bay. In fact, Hawke’s Bay is having a 72 percent increase in State highway expenditure over the next 3 years, including such projects as the Matahōura Gorge realignment, the Hawke’s Bay Expressway southern extension, and the Waipukurau Overbridge realignment. I suppose some regions of the country would say that Hawke’s Bay is doing quite well.
Hon Darren Hughes: Why does the Mayor of Wanganui, Michael Laws, believe that his community will have to cut $6.5 million out of its budget because of Government transport decisions—something that will impact on things like road maintenance and road safety?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Again, I am not quite sure why Mayor Laws thinks he is hard-done-by, because the Wanganui maintenance expenditure is increasing by 4 percent, the Manawatū-Wanganui region is having a growth in renewal and maintenance expenditure of 12 percent, and there are also significant increases in State highway expenditure in the Manawatū-Wanganui region.
David Bennett: What has he said to mayors about their local road maintenance budgets?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I attended the Central / Local Government Forum in Wellington this morning, and I reaffirmed the Government’s commitment, as laid out in the National Land Transport Programme release some 2 months ago—the member Mr Hughes has obviously had time to read it—that across New Zealand councils will receive an average 17 percent increase in road maintenance budgets over the next 3 years compared with the last 3 years. This is a substantial increase, and I would be surprised if councils could not meet their aspirations in an environment of declining input prices and limited private sector competition for contractors.
Hon Darren Hughes: Have any decisions by the Government led to a shortfall of $7 million for local roads that the community in Manukau City was expecting—something that will put pressure on the cost of living for hard-working families, whose rates might have to go up by 3 percent just to cover that gap?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: No, because the Government is committed to a 17 percent increase across the country in local road budgets. Although Manukau may be disappointed, its budget for local road maintenance is going up 11 percent over the next 3 years compared with the last 3 years. It seems slightly churlish to say they are being told to cut, because they are not. It is an 11 percent increase.
Hon Darren Hughes: How can so many people be wrong and the Minister be right, especially when regions and cities have been told to budget and plan road and public transport projects over a multi-year time frame? Does he not accept that his so-called funding increases really are a cut when compared to what communities had properly planned for?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I explain to the member that it cannot be a cut when there is a 17 percent growth in expenditure. Certainly, mayors and the member opposite have aspirations and dreams beyond the increases that have been allocated. But, as we know, it is a national system and across the country there has been a 17 percent increase.
Cellphone Towers, Location—Public Consultation
6. SUE KEDGLEY (Green) to the Minister for the Environment: Does he think the public should be consulted about the location of cellphone towers in their community before they are put up?
Hon TONY RYALL (Minister of Health) on behalf of the Minister for the Environment: The Minister is advised that if a proposal does not comply with the National Environmental Standards for Telecommunications Facilities, then public consultation is required. It is good practice to consult, and that is encouraged by the Ministry for the Environment’s guidelines.
Sue Kedgley: Does he think it is fair and democratic that cellphone masts, and other equipment, can be put up on telephone poles right next to people’s homes, schools, play schools, and playcentres, as of right, without any consultation or consent, as is happening in Eastbourne, New Plymouth, Manukau, Nelson, Auckland, and elsewhere around New Zealand; if so, why?
Hon TONY RYALL: If a proposal complies with the National Environmental Standards for Telecommunications Facilities, then public consultation is not required.
Sue Kedgley: Is he aware that the decision to allow cellphone masts, and other antennae, and so forth, to be constructed on telephone poles in the community, without any consultation, even though they will inevitably lower the property values of nearby homes and may affect people’s health, is causing distress, anger, and protests around New Zealand; and will he therefore urgently review the national environmental standards so that telecommunications companies are required to consult local residents before constructing cellphone masts next to people’s homes, schools, and preschools?
Hon TONY RYALL: As I said earlier, it is good practice to consult, and certainly the Ministry for the Environment’s guidelines indicate that consultation is best practice. The Minister and the Minister of Health are advised that there is an inter-agency committee that reports to them if there is reasonable suspicion of health hazards associated with radio frequencies. To date, the committee has advised that recent research programmes have found no evidence to confirm suggestions that there may be health effects from exposure to levels of radio frequency that are well below those allowed in New Zealand.
Sue Kedgley: Is he and his colleague the Minister of Health aware of recent international research that suggests that electromagnetic radiation may affect people’s health, even at low, chronic levels of exposure, way below that which is permitted by the New Zealand standards, and does he agree that we should therefore be taking a precautionary approach and keeping cellphone towers and masts at a reasonable distance from homes, schools, and playcentres?
Hon TONY RYALL: New Zealand does take a precautionary approach already, and New Zealand cellphone towers emit around 1 percent of what is deemed a safe level.
Sue Kedgley: Is he aware that according to the Howick Times the Prime Minister told the Mayor of Manukau, Len Brown, that he would recommend to Cabinet a review of the National Environmental Standards for Telecommunications Facilities, particularly the lack of consultation; and can he tell me how far the Prime Minister’s review has progressed?
Hon TONY RYALL: The Howick Times is not on my reading list currently, but I have no reason to believe that it is not a timely and suitable—
Hon Maurice Williamson: It’s the Howick and Pakuranga Times.
Hon TONY RYALL: It is the Howick and Pakuranga Times, apparently. Yes, I have actually read the Howick and Pakuranga Times from time to time. What I can say is that it is good practice for telecommunications companies to consult, and that is certainly the indication given by the Ministry for the Environment.
Sue Kedgley: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I asked a very specific question about how far the Prime Minister’s review had progressed and I would be grateful if he could seek to address that question.
Mr SPEAKER: I appreciate the honourable member’s point, but had she just asked that, it might have been easier to extract an answer. If the member reflects back, she will find she asked a whole lot more prior to that part of the question, and the Minister focused on the other part of the supplementary question.
Sue Kedgley: I seek leave to table a number of documents relating to my question. The first is a transcript of an item on One News last night where an Auckland resident, Rowan Hegley, was blocking access to a power pole outside his house in protest—
Mr SPEAKER: The honourable member obviously could not have been in the House during my ruling earlier today. I made it very clear that seeking leave to table recent media articles is not supported. However, if she is seeking such leave, then I will put the leave. Leave is sought to table that media article from yesterday. Is there an objection? There is objection.
Sue Kedgley: In this case, I seek leave to table an email, a copy of which was sent to me from Fiona Jeffcoat-Yu, who pointed out that she has eight cellphone antennae next to her home, that she is worried for her child, and that there are plans for an additional three—
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is no objection.
- Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Sue Kedgley: I seek leave to table another email. This one is from Paul Minchin of New Plymouth, pointing out that Vodafone New Zealand is about to erect a tower in his neighbourhood in New Plymouth. It will be right in a residential neighbourhood and surrounded by hundreds of houses.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is no objection.
- Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Sue Kedgley: I seek leave to table an email from Sarah Wild, inviting me to a public meeting in Point Chevalier to protest the erection of a cellphone tower right outside several homes in Point Chevalier.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table an invitation to the member to attend a protest meeting. Is there any objection to that being tabled? There is objection.
Sue Kedgley: I seek leave to table another document. It is from Jeremy Lovell-Smith of Eastbourne. He is protesting the fact that Vodafone New Zealand is about to construct a cellphone tower across the road from his family’s house without their consent.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that email. Is there any objection? There is objection.
Sue Kedgley: Finally, I seek leave to table the BioInitiative Report by a working-group of international scientists, who conclude that the existing standards for public safety around electromagnetic radiation are inadequate to protect public health.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table to that document. Is there any objection? There is no objection.
- Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Broadband Roll-out—Progress on Urban Initiative
7. Hon TAU HENARE (National) to the Minister for Communications and Information Technology: What progress has the Government made on its initiative to roll out ultra-fast broadband in urban areas?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister for Communications and Information Technology) : What a fine question. Yesterday the Government released the invitation to participate in our $1.5 billion ultra-fast broadband investment initiative. This allows companies to submit their bids to co-invest with the Government and local fibre companies, which will roll out the fibre to schools, hospitals, businesses, and homes. The invitation to participate, or ITP, is based upon an innovative commercial model that will see the Government largely fund the deployment of fibre into communities, and the Crown’s local fibre company partner gradually taking a greater share in the local fibre company as it connects customers. This risk-sharing model reduces the risk around demand uptake, and will further encourage investors to participate.
Hon Tau Henare: Why is the Government investing in broadband infrastructure?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Access to broadband is part of the essential infrastructure of a productive and growing economy, and will be crucial to New Zealand improving its competitive advantage in the global market. The Government understands that private sector companies have made a commercial decision not to invest in fibre to the home themselves, and so wishes to improve the business case for broadband because of the public benefit to be gained from such a network. In addition, the benefits to New Zealand of improving rural broadband will be significant, and that is why we are spending an additional $300 million to improve rural broadband services.
Clare Curran: Does he believe that structural separation of Telecom New Zealand prior to the roll-out of the Government’s broadband reforms is necessary to achieve truer competition at the wholesale and access levels, and can he confirm that he met with Telecom New Zealand’s chief executive officer, Paul Reynolds, last Friday to discuss structural separation?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: No, I cannot confirm that structural separation would be necessary. I can confirm that I met with Paul Reynolds last Friday, in preparation for a meeting between the Prime Minister, me, Mr Reynolds, and his chairman yesterday, and structural separation was not on the agenda.
Schools, Primary—Professional Advice for Science Education
8. Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Labour—Hutt South) to the Minister of Education: What will be the change in the Government’s support for professional advice for science in primary schools between 2009 and 2010?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Deputy Prime Minister) on behalf of the Minister of Education: In 2009 approximately $908,000 was used to support professional development in science in primary and secondary schools. I am advised that this figure cannot be broken down into separate primary and secondary school figures until hours are reported at the end of the year. The primary schools’ 2010 professional support will be focused on literacy and numeracy, because students need to be able to read, write, and do maths in order to be able to achieve in science.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Is she aware that as we speak, New Zealand’s soon to be made redundant world-leading science advisers are being approached by international recruiters, and are likely to be lost for ever to New Zealand?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The Government and the Minister have made clear decisions about the priorities, which are to focus on numeracy and literacy.
Hon Trevor Mallard: In light of her reply on Government priorities, did she suggest to the Minister of Finance that at least three, and possibly six, science advisers could be employed for another year if he repaid the money he received as a result of his declarations that Dipton is his primary place of residence?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Well, as the member will know, I did repay the money.
David Shearer: Did she consult with Dr Peter Gluckman before deciding to cut the funding for primary schools’ science advice and professional development; if so, did he support her proposal; if not, why not?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I am not aware of the answer to that question, but I can tell members that the Government is unashamed about its priorities to teach all our children to read, write, and do maths. That is why we are implementing a national standards policy, and that policy is strongly supported throughout the country.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Did she suggest to the Minister of Finance that at least three, and possibly six, science advisers could be employed for another year if he repaid the money he received as a result of his declarations—over 10 years—that Dipton is his primary place of residence?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The Minister of Education has spoken to me often about the priorities and pressures in education. She has the unfortunate job of cleaning up a mess left by the previous Government, which left a large number of unfunded commitments and uncontrolled expenditure. We have to make decisions about priorities.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I think it is a relatively simple point of order. I think that right from the beginning of the answer, when the Minister said “The Minister of Education has spoken to me”, he did the entire answer as the Minister of Finance, and did not answer the question of whether the Minister of Education approached him on a particular subject.
Mr SPEAKER: I hear the member’s point, and it is an interesting point that the Minister is answering on behalf of the Minister of Education. Could he reword his answer to make sure it complies with the fact that he is answering on behalf of the Minister? Would it be possible to reword that answer?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: OK, I will put it the other way round. The Minister of Education talks to the Minister of Finance all the time about the mess that she has to clean up, which was left by the previous Government. It left layers of programmes that were uncoordinated and had unfocused priorities, and it had a whole lot of unfunded commitments in education.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Again, it is a very simple point of order. It was a very simple question, and it asked whether a particular matter had been raised with the Minister of Finance by the Minister of Education. That was not addressed.
Mr SPEAKER: If the Minister is keen to answer further, I am happy for him to respond to that point of order.
Hon BILL ENGLISH: No, because the Minister spends her time talking with the Minister of Finance about the mess left by the previous Labour Government in education, with unfunded commitments, layers of programmes that do not work, and no focus on getting children to learn properly and every child having that right.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I know this has been a very political area, but we have a Minister of Finance who continues to declare that Dipton is his primary place of residence.
Mr SPEAKER: The member will resume his seat right now. [Interruption] I am on my feet, and there will be no further interjections from the Hon Tau Henare. That is not a point of order. Debating that matter has nothing to do with order in this House, and it is not a point of order. It will cease.
Dr Kennedy Graham: Does she agree with the British Conservative Party’s education spokesperson that “A broad and demanding curriculum—far from undermining reading, writing and arithmetic—reinforces attainment in these core skills.”, or is it the case that under her watch the three Rs really stand for “reduce, regiment, and ruin” the curriculum?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The answer to that is no. Of course New Zealand does maintain a broad and demanding curriculum, and the tens of thousands of teachers who are out there teaching it will continue to do so.
Climate Change—Australian Deforestation Ban
9. DAVID GARRETT (ACT) to the Minister for Climate Change Issues: Does he stand by his statement in the House yesterday: “in respect of Australia, there is a complete ban on any deforestation of pre-1990 forests.”; if so, why?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Deputy Prime Minister) on behalf of the Minister for Climate Change Issues: In a general sense, yes. In Australia each state requires by law that the deforestation of pre-1990 forests be notified, and there are heavy penalties for failing to do so. In addition, pre-1990 forests in Australia are, in the main, State-owned. A combination of both of these factors was sufficient for the Federal Government to exclude pre-1990 forests from its Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme.
David Garrett: Why should New Zealand include our pre-1990 forests in our emissions trading scheme when no other countries are doing so, and especially when the Prime Minister promised the country we would be fast followers rather than world leaders on climate change?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: As I pointed out, one of the significant differences between New Zealand and Australia is that in Australia most of the pre-1990 forests are State-owned. That is no longer the case here. The member should consult Sir Roger Douglas, who sold them all off. We have to make a different set of rules.
Hon David Parker: Why does it make sense for his Government’s emissions trading scheme to cap deforestation emissions, but not to cap industrial and agricultural emissions? Why will he not accept the obvious: a “cap and trade” scheme without a cap on agriculture and industry shifts billions of dollars of costs to the environment, to taxpayers, and to future generations?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The Government has made a series of decisions to moderate the comprehensive scheme that the Labour Government had put in place, and we have decided to moderate it in order to ensure that the costs are spread more fairly and people can retain their jobs, and not have them exported to other countries.
David Garrett: Supplementary question—
Mr SPEAKER: The ACT Party, as I have recorded matters today, has had its two questions. The Hon Rodney Hide asked a supplementary question earlier.
Hon Darren Hughes: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Often when smaller parties have used up their allocation of supplementary questions, their partner party—that is, the bigger party—might give them one. Labour often does that for the Greens, and maybe National could give a supplementary question to the ACT Party.
Mr SPEAKER: That is a nice try, but it is not a point of order.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I seek leave for the number of supplementary questions to be extended by one, on the basis that no one from this side of the House will take that supplementary question.
Mr SPEAKER: I guess leave can be sought for any manner of matters. Leave is sought to extend the number of supplementary questions today by one. Is there any objection to that course of action? There is no objection.
David Garrett: What action is the Minister taking to ensure that the climate change response legislation now before the select committee receives an adequate regulatory impact statement, or does he not care?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Probably no legislation before the House has had more years of scrutiny, more submissions, and more hours of select committee consideration, and I think it is now important that we get the legislation through so that people know what the rules are going to be.
Disability Issues, Minister—Statements on Q+A Programme
10. LYNNE PILLAY (Labour) to the Minister for Disability Issues: Does she stand by all her statements as Minister for Disability Issues on the Q+A programme?
Lynne Pillay: Does she stand by her statement that disabled people do not get enough now, and that she would be very opposed to slashing spending on modifying vehicles and homes for disabled New Zealanders, and will she ensure that this Government does not slash 20 percent of the funding for those modifications as it plans to do?
Hon PANSY WONG: The Minister has received no specific information about the 20 percent cut to the accident compensation Budget spend on modifying homes or vehicles. She is, however, advised that in the last 8 years the cost to the accident compensation scheme of adapting houses has increased by 500 percent, and the cost of adapting vehicles has increased by 400 percent. We need to scrutinise individual cases, such as claims for modifying secondary or holiday homes, or for modifying newly constructed two-storey houses for wheelchair-bound clients, to ensure value for money.
Lynne Pillay: How can she claim any effectiveness for her ministerial committee when it has met only once under her watch, and disabled people have ended up with less, not more?
Hon PANSY WONG: On this side of the House, we understand quality, not quantity. The 9 long years of Labour Government did little for the disability sector.
Kelvin Davis: Why is she supporting legislation that will cut entitlements for disabled Māori, given her concerns that many cannot even take part in their own culture due to a lack of disability facilities on marae?
Hon PANSY WONG: Indeed, the Minister is concerned about the low number of Māori claimants, and their not understanding their entitlement to accident compensation after 9 long years of Labour Government. The previous Government did little to ensure that Māori claimants know their rights.
Kelvin Davis: How does she reconcile her concern that disabled Māori do not get the accident compensation support they are entitled to with her decision to support legislation that will reduce entitlements and will see disabled Māori get less, not more?
Hon PANSY WONG: It would pay for that member to listen, and not repeat the same question. The Minister’s concern is that after 9 long years—
Mr SPEAKER: When asked a question—and it was a reasonable question about reconciling what the questioner perceived to be two conflicting positions—I think the Minister should attempt to answer it, rather than launching into an attack on the questioner.
Hon PANSY WONG: The Minister remains very concerned about Māori claimants’ low level of understanding of their rights and the lack of promotion of their understanding after 9 long years of the previous Labour Government, which did little to reverse that situation.
Carmel Sepuloni: Given that she is the Minister for Disability Issues for all New Zealanders, has she secured any additional funding for Pacific people, who are overrepresented in workplace injuries and who will suffer more under these cuts?
Hon PANSY WONG: The disability portfolio is one of advocacy and the funding is spread over many portfolios. That is why the Government set up the ministerial committee for disability issues to better coordinate efforts—unlike the Labour Government, which wasted 9 long years—
Mr SPEAKER: The Minister was asked whether she had secured more funding for a particular purpose, and some attempt to respond to that question would have been helpful. If she had not launched into a further attack on the Opposition, I might have been able to forget the fact, but if she is going to launch into an attack on the Opposition she should at least answer the question.
Hon PANSY WONG: Thank you, Mr Speaker, for the additional opportunity. The portfolio of the Minister for Disability Issues is to make sure that advocacy is being championed, and that is why the ministerial committee has been set up. The funding for the disability sector is vested in each individual portfolio.
Mr SPEAKER: I invite Carmel Sepuloni to repeat her question. There will not be any loss of questions.
Carmel Sepuloni: Given that she is the Minister for Disability Issues for all New Zealanders, has she secured any additional funding for Pacific people, who are overrepresented in workplace injuries and who will suffer more under these cuts?
Hon PANSY WONG: Indeed, the Minister is concerned that all New Zealanders get their entitlement and are well looked after. The ministerial committee for disability issues will look after all New Zealanders.
Carmel Sepuloni: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I think my question was very clear and I feel the Minister has not addressed it. I need a yes or no with regard to whether the Minister has secured any additional funding—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: I say to the Government benches that they must not interject like that during a point of order. The member asked her question very clearly, and although tradition has it that we cannot necessarily extract a yes or no from a Minister, to simply say in response to that question that the Minister is concerned for all New Zealanders does not even come close, in my view, to providing an answer to the question. Rather than having further opportunity to comment, it would be helpful if the Minister would give some kind of answer to the question.
Hon PANSY WONG: We are championing issues for all New Zealanders, including Pacific New Zealanders, and all good efforts are being championed by the ministerial committee.
Aspire Scholarship—Māori Boarding School Students
11. TE URUROA FLAVELL (Māori Party—Waiariki) to the Associate Minister of Education: Kua whakawhiwhia anōtia ki tetahi tauira Māori e kuraina ana i ngā kura nōhanga Māori he karahipi Aspire; ki te kore, he aha ai?
[Has any Māori student who attends a Māori boarding school received an Aspire Scholarship; if not, why not?]
Hon HEATHER ROY (Associate Minister of Education) : No Aspire Scholarships have been allocated yet. The first round of applications for the 2010 academic year closed on 14 October, with a ballot to select recipients scheduled for 30 October. A second ballot will be held on 4 November. To date, 350 applications have been received, including some on behalf of Māori children, to allow students from low-income houses to have more choice of school by attending an independent school.
Te Ururoa Flavell: He aha tāna mō ngā tauira Māori e ngākaunui ana ki te uru atu ki ngā kura nōhanga Māori ēngari e kore e taea nā te mea, kua pau te pūtea o te karahipi Māpihi Poutama kātahi, kua aukatihia hoki te karahipi Aspire ki a rātou, ā, e ai ki tā te Hautū Kahurangi o Aotearoa, “most Māori students are beneficiaries of an iwi or hapū trust and thus appear to be excluded from the scholarship.”?
- [An interpretation in English was given to the House.]
[What choice has she offered Māori students who aspire to attend Māori boarding schools but cannot attend because Māpihi Pounamu Scholarship funding is inadequate and Aspire scholarships are not offered for Māori boarding schools, and, according to the Tertiary Education Union, “most Māori students are beneficiaries of an iwi or hapū trust and thus appear to be excluded from the scholarship.”?]
Hon HEATHER ROY: I advise those wishing to apply for a scholarship that they should seek advice from the Ministry of Education, not from the union. But students are eligible for Aspire Scholarships if they are from households that have an annual income of $65,000 or less and a net worth of $150,000 or less. Students then take their scholarship to enrol at the independent school of their choice. As currently no Māori boarding schools are independent schools, they are not an option at this time. However, the two independent Māori day schools are able to accept Aspire Scholarships, and Māori students can apply for scholarships to attend any other independent school. A number of boarding bursaries are also available to students. If students win a boarding bursary and an Aspire Scholarship, then they would indeed be able to attend a boarding school if it was independent.
Te Ururoa Flavell: He aha ngā whakaaro o te Minita mō te whakapaunga o te tekau mā rima mano taara ki te tuku i te tauira kotahi ki te kura whai rawa ahakoa tokorua ngā tauira ka uru ki ngā kura nōhanga Māori mō taua tekau mā rima mano taara?
- [An interpretation in English was given to the House.]
[Does the Minister believe that one student receiving a $15,000 scholarship to attend an elite private school is a better use of the education dollar than two students receiving scholarships to attend Māori boarding schools, the average fees of which are $7,500 per year?]
Hon HEATHER ROY: I am not in a position to say which schools are better. Students have the ability to apply for an Aspire Scholarship and then, should they be awarded one, take it to an independent school of their choice. The intention of these scholarships is to widen the choice for students, and they have been targeted specifically at children from low-income households to allow them a choice that they otherwise would not have.
12. SANDRA GOUDIE (National—Coromandel) to the Minister of Fisheries: What recent decisions has the Ministry of Fisheries made in regard to marine farming applications?
Hon PHIL HEATLEY (Minister of Fisheries) : I am pleased to announce the news that the aquaculture management area in Wilsons Bay in the Coromandel has been given the green light. An area of 1,783 hectares has been approved. Of this, 520 hectares will be shellfish farming, and the rest will be used for access. As per our settlement commitments, 20 percent of this area will be allocated to Māori.
Hon Shane Jones: Labour policy.
Sandra Goudie: To the Minister of Fisheries—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: I have called Sandra Goudie. Please show her some courtesy.
Sandra Goudie: How long had this application been in the works?
Hon PHIL HEATLEY: I am pleased to talk about Shane Jones’ Labour policies. The application had been in the works for 9 long years, which highlights the barriers in Labour’s legislation. That is why I am delighted to announce that the Government’s Aquaculture Technical Advisory Group has reported back. We will publicly announce the group’s work in early November, and the legislation that Shane Jones put through that meant that this consent took 9 long years will be fixed.
Urgent Question to Minister
Hon DAVID PARKER (Labour) : I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I lodged an urgent question in light of the Government’s announcement today, after question time had commenced, that it will privatise parts of—
Mr SPEAKER: The Speaker has dealt with that matter, so that is the end of it. I do not consider it is necessary for that urgent question to be asked today, and that is the end of that matter. There can be no litigation of that. I guess that if the honourable member wishes to, he could seek leave to ask his question.
Hon DAVID PARKER (Labour) : Before doing so, could I refer the Speaker to Speaker’s ruling 151/3, which states that a classic circumstance of urgency in the public interest is where some irrevocable course of events is about to happen—for instance, a building is about to be demolished. The accident compensation scheme is about to be demolished in its current form—
Mr SPEAKER: I was about to give the member the chance to seek leave, but he must not misuse the point of order procedure like that. The particular issue that the member is wishing to ask an urgent question about is nothing like the demolition of a building. The House will have plenty of opportunity to debate the matter, because, obviously, legislation will be required; there will be many opportunities to debate it, so it is not remotely the same circumstance.
Hon DAVID PARKER (Labour) : I seek leave to ask one question and one supplementary question on the announcement made by the Government during question time that it will privatise parts of the accident compensation scheme.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought for that purpose. Is there any objection to that course of action? There is objection.
Hon DAVID PARKER (Labour) : I seek leave to table a copy of the announcement made by the Government at 2.10 p.m. today, after question time had commenced, that the Government and ACT have agreed to privatise parts of the accident compensation scheme.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is objection.
Legal Services Amendment Bill
Hon SIMON POWER (Minister of Justice) : I move, That the Legal Services Amendment Bill be now read a second time. I would like to thank the Justice and Electoral Committee for its careful consideration of the bill. This bill was tabled before Parliament rose prior to the last general election, and was originally put before the House by, I believe, the Hon Annette King, but I stand to be corrected about that. We are progressing this legislation on a more fast-track timetable, thereby reflecting this Government’s view of the bill’s importance.
The bill makes another important contribution to the recognition of the rights of victims. It will change the way the legal aid scheme operates for victims of crime who apply for legal aid in respect of coronial inquests and Parole Board hearings. The bill also makes some adjustments of a procedural nature that will ensure that the legal aid system is more responsive—
The ASSISTANT SPEAKER (Hon Rick Barker): There is a lot of noise in the House. If people are going to have conversations, can they please go outside and give the Minister on his feet the opportunity to be heard.
Hon SIMON POWER: The bill also makes some adjustments of a procedural nature that will ensure that the legal aid system is more responsive in the future, where the interests of justice require it to be so. Two unfortunate incidents highlighted a lack of flexibility in the repayment provisions of the Legal Services Act 2000, leading to an adverse impact on victims seeking legal aid for coronial inquests and Parole Board hearings. This bill proposes removing financial eligibility testing and repayment conditions for victims of crime who wish to attend coronial inquests or said Parole Board hearings. This bill also improves administrative practice by enabling the Legal Services Agency to decide not to recover legal aid debt at any time during the process. This will provide certainty for applicants with circumstances justifying a write-off as the agency will be able to let them know as early as possible that they will not be required to make repayments. The bill also introduces a regulation-making power so that the Governor-General can by Order in Council exempt particular classes of persons or proceedings from the financial eligibility tests and repayment conditions. A regulation-making power will enable a swift response to future situations where exemptions may be desired.
The overall impact here, as I understand was emphasised by the Hon Annette King when this bill was first brought to the House sometime before the last election, is to remove the possibility of victims of crime being placed under additional stress. After promising some urgent action following the Kuchenbecker incident, this bill made it to the Order Paper—
Hon Annette King: It was quite complex actually.
Hon SIMON POWER: It is quite complex. This bill made it to the Order Paper but was not introduced until August. However, this Government, as I said, is pleased to advance the legislation. I hope that the original sponsor of the bill will ensure that the Opposition benches also continue to sponsor and support it.
The Justice and Electoral Committee received six written submissions on the bill, and heard from two of these submitters. The submitters were broadly in favour of the changes proposed in the bill, although most argued that more could be done to support the needs of victims, either through the legal aid system or through the justice system. I agree with the committee. However, these changes are best considered in a broader context. I can tell the House that, although I have not received Dame Margaret Bazley’s final review of the legal aid system, this bill, with its focus on making things easier for those people who need access to justice, is consistent with where the legal aid system needs to move. This bill provides a focused amendment to a specific problem in the Legal Services Act, and builds in some flexibility to more efficiently remedy any similar problems in the future
The committee recommended some changes to the bill during the course of its deliberations. New clause 4A has been inserted, which, by inserting new subsection (1A) to section 7, clarifies that section 7(1)(e)(v) of the principal Act includes coronial inquests for the purposes of Part 3 of the Coroners Act 2006 and hearings of the New Zealand Parole Board to make it consistent with previous decisions of the Legal Aid Review Panel and the High Court. In turn, this requires consequential amendments to clauses 5 and 6 of the bill as introduced. There are also a number of minor and technical changes to certain clauses.
I want to acknowledge the original intent of the author of the original bill, the Hon Annette King. I want to thank the Justice and Electoral Committee for its consideration of the bill. I want to thank all those members of the New Zealand public who made a contribution to this bill, and I am pleased that this Government is able to advance the provisions of this bill in a straightforward and uncomplicated way. This bill makes an important change to the Legal Services Act, as it applies to victims of crime. It will provide the Government with the flexibility to quickly respond to other situations that may appear unfair in the future. I commend this bill to the House.
Hon LIANNE DALZIEL (Labour—Christchurch East) : I think that speech was the first time in the entire time that Labour has been sitting on this side of the House that I have heard the Minister of Justice acknowledge the work of our previous Minister of Justice.
Hon Simon Power: You should have been here for the domestic violence bill last night, because I did it then, too.
Hon LIANNE DALZIEL: I said it was the first time that I had heard it. It is interesting that the Minister chips me about this particular matter; I think he must be sensitive about it. I have written to the Minister on two occasions asking him to work collaboratively with the Opposition on important issues that go across party lines. I have had no response from him on either of those matters. The previous Labour Government had a very good track record on both domestic violence and children’s issues; we invited the Opposition to be part of a cross-party operation. In fact, every other party in Parliament participated in that process except for the National Opposition. I think there are some issues where it is important that we work across party lines.
On the question of the drivers of crime, the Minister was kind enough to invite me to attend the meeting he held on the matter. I went away, considered all of the information that had been provided at that meeting, did some independent research, and took the matter to our caucus. Our caucus agreed that it would be a good idea to offer a collaborative approach to the Government, but the Government has not responded to that offer in the way that I would have thought would be appropriate in terms of the spirit in which it was made.
The second area where I offered to work with the Government very closely was community law centres. I attended the conference of community law centres yesterday, and I know that the Minister did, as well. I made the point at that conference that legal aid, which is relevant to this bill, could take in a lot of the work that the community law centres do. In fact, the community law centres could become the regional hubs, as it were, of the provision of civil services in terms of our legal advice and legal advocacy, and the citizens advice bureaus could essentially be the spokes. I think Labour is putting up a very practical solution, but, again, we are not regarded as stakeholders by those conducting the review. We are seen merely as participants by way of submissions to the review, and I do not think that is sufficient. I certainly did not operate in that way when I was Minister of Commerce; I had in the Opposition spokesperson on commerce, and, indeed, the ACT spokesperson, who is now the Minister for Regulatory Reform. I did that for a reason: there are certain issues that go beyond party politics. They are more important than party politics, and this is one of them.
It is perfectly legitimate for me to say that that speech was the first time I had heard the Minister acknowledge the work of a predecessor—in this case, the Hon Annette King. I want to put on record the tremendous work that she did in the time that she was Minister of Justice. It was for only a short period of time, but in that time she contributed a significant amount of legislation to the statute book but also to the Order Paper—legislation that this Government has picked up. So I think we are on the same wavelength in respect of this bill, and I do not know why the Minister reacted in such a strong way.
There are a couple of points I want to make. I want this legislation, whose second reading we are debating, to be extended a little bit further. Maybe that is something we could consider when we come to the Committee stage. The bill focuses entirely on victims of crime. So there has to be a victim of crime in order for the provisions of the bill to take effect. I want people to cast their minds back in time to the mid-1990s when there was a crisis at Christchurch Public Hospital, as it used to be known. At that time, allegations were made that a number of patients had died because of a lack of attention being provided to them, and that that lack of attention was a result of systemic failure within the public health system under the former National Government—that perhaps those deaths were untimely and could have been prevented. Four of those instances ended up before the Coroner’s Court. I attended the Coroner’s Court hearings with the families of the individuals whose cases had been brought to the public attention. When the cases were called—and this is something I want the House to take serious notice of—I noted that everyone was represented by a lawyer. The doctors had their own lawyer, the nurses had their own lawyer, the other allied health professionals had their own lawyer, and the then Crown health enterprise had its own lawyer. Everyone there was legally represented, except for the family of the person who had died.
I stood alongside those individual family members and was given permission by the coroner to ask questions on behalf of the family of different people giving evidence. That was not something I could do as of right; it was simply that there was nobody else there to ask questions on behalf of the family of the person who had died. I think those families should have been able to apply for legal assistance and legal aid. When the circumstances surrounding a death are challenged in a setting like that, I think family members should be covered by this legislation, as well.
A victim of crime is when there has been an unlawful taking of a life. A victim of systemic failure is when death has occurred in circumstances where it could have been preventable. I would find it very hard to make a call between the two. One could say that there was criminal negligence in some cases. There was certainly a criminal element to the systemic failure that we saw within our health system back in the 1990s. The point I am making is that when we come to the Committee stage perhaps we as a Parliament collectively could look at this particular issue, to see whether we could expand coverage beyond straight victims of crime to those who need legal representation in a coroner’s hearing—which this bill covers—in circumstances where others are able to be represented in that situation but the family is not. I think that would add some weight to the point the Minister was making that this measure is to expand the availability of legal aid to those who have suffered from wrongful loss of life, even though it may not be to the extent of being a victim of a crime—a victim of an offence as such.
The second point that I want to make in relation to this bill is that the question of the writing off of legal aid debt creates an issue around whether the family can rely on the fact that the Legal Services Agency will write off the debt. The fact that this bill gives the agency the opportunity to write off the debt during the legal proceedings, rather than only when the proceedings are concluded, is an excellent provision. I think it will give considerable certainty to those who wish to seek legal aid in order to support them through either a Parole Board hearing or a coronial inquest.
I am very supportive of the bill. I think a little bit of tweaking in the Committee stage would expand its coverage in a way that fits within the intention of the legislation. I think that issue was not picked up, simply because of the focus on victims of crime. I hope that members of this House will consider supporting an amendment to the bill when we come to the Committee stage, as that issue is something I certainly would like to see resolved.
Hon NATHAN GUY (Associate Minister of Justice) : It is great to take a call on the Legal Services Amendment Bill, and I take up the comments that Lianne Dalziel just made that this is an issue that is wider than party politics. Indeed, it is great to see that, coming up to the anniversary of this new Government, the Minister of Justice, Simon Power, has gone on with the 100-day legislation of this new Government by bringing this bill into the House.
I acknowledge the work of Chester Borrows and his Justice and Electoral Committee colleagues for getting this bill through so quickly. It is particularly important that this bill is in front of the House today. The National Government is committed to addressing the physical, emotional, and financial stress that victims face. We are also committed to making our communities safer for victims of crime. Everyone will be aware that Parliament has been particularly busy this week focusing on law and order. With quite a bit of support from across the House, this Government passed legislation that means that convicted offenders will pay a $50 levy. That will enable $13.6 million to be collected over 4 years that will support victims of crime. That is a big part of this Government’s priority on law and order. It also comes into this very important bill, as well.
This bill does a couple of important things. It removes financial eligibility testing, and it improves the administrative practice of not recovering legal aid debt during the legal proceedings process. I want to make a couple of further comments about those things. This bill came about partly with the high-profile cases such as the unfortunate loss of Mr Kuchenbecker as a result of Graeme Burton running loose on parole. I bumped into an old university rugby mate on Lambton Quay. He had been caught in the crossfire that afternoon on his mountain bike out on the hills there, and he had had his arm blown to bits. When I saw him, he had all sorts of gadgets and screws out the side of his arm. He was so thankful and pleased to be alive, even though he was unsure whether he would have the full use of his arm again. It is good to see this Government getting on top of what is a very important issue.
The select committee received six submissions, and two submitters were heard. Some felt that this bill does not go far enough. It is good to see that a review is being undertaken by Dame Margaret Bazley on legal aid. I heard the Hon Simon Power say that he is looking forward to receiving the final report from her. That report is particularly important because we all acknowledge, certainly on this side of the House and I am sure around the House too, that the legal aid system needs some improvement. Another important thing is that victims are placed under a huge amount of additional pressure when going through the legal process. This bill will help streamline that and give them some sense of natural justice.
With those remarks, I say that it is great that we can support this bill in its second reading. I look forward to seeing the Supplementary Order Paper that has been flagged by the other side of the House. I thank Chester Borrows and the Justice and Electoral Committee for their good work, and I support this second reading.
KANWALJIT SINGH BAKSHI (National) : I stand to support the Legal Services Amendment Bill. The bill recognises the importance of acknowledging the rights of victims of crime. Victims suffer not only the physical or mental trauma of crimes committed against them but also additional injuries. They have to outlay costs and expenses incurred for legal fees that are most likely to be beyond their means.
These amendments to the Legal Services Act are designed to ensure that victims are not subjected to financial eligibility tests and do not need to repay legal aid grants for lawyers when attending inquests and Parole Board hearings. The bill grants the Legal Services Agency the discretion to waive its right to recover legal aid where an individual’s circumstances would mean that that would cause serious hardship or would not be viable, or where it is inequitable to enforce the debt.
It is not acceptable that victims should be treated in such a way. Often the individuals or members of the family, while grieving for their loved ones, are presented with an account to pay an extensive amount of money when, without a doubt, they should not be accountable in such a situation.
This bill inserts the definitions “offender” and “victim” into the Legal Services Act 2000. The term “offender” is defined as “a person convicted of the crime or offence that affected the victim”. The term “victim” is defined as “a person against whom an offence is committed by another person;”.
The bill is a response to two high-profile cases in which victims were told they had to repay their legal aid grants. The main case was that of a senseless murder, that of Karl Kuchenbecker at the hands of Graeme Burton. The deceased’s former partner received a letter from the Legal Services Agency. This letter estimated that the maximum fee would be $19,000, which she would be required to pay in respect of a legal aid grant made to her during the coronial inquiry into the death of her partner. This caused a great deal of stress for her and upset her greatly. Victims should always be treated in a caring and sympathetic manner; certainly not victimised.
During the select committee process we received six submissions from interested groups and individuals. Two submissions were heard in person.
In conclusion, the measures proposed in this bill will support victims. It will give victims peace of mind, no longer burdened by the financial cost of legal representation in ongoing legal matters to do with the Crown.
RAYMOND HUO (Labour) : I rise to take a call to support the Legal Services Amendment Bill. This bill was introduced by the previous Labour Government and was drafted in very sad and tragic circumstances. I have heard members acknowledge the matter where the family of a victim was asked to repay $19,000 in legal aid. The then Labour Minister of Justice, the Hon Annette King, asked the Secretary for Justice for an urgent report examining what changes were needed to ensure that victims were treated in a caring and compassionate way. The Legal Services Agency subsequently wrote to the family of that victim saying that the debt would be written off, and the family’s circumstances changed significantly. Against that background, the Legal Services Amendment Bill was introduced.
The bill amends the Legal Services Act 2000 in respect of the legal aid scheme. Amendments include: first, ensuring that victims of crime attending a Parole Board hearing or coronial inquest are not subject to financial eligibility testing; secondly, enabling the Legal Services Agency to write off legal aid debt at any time during legal proceedings, rather than only when proceedings are concluded; and, thirdly, a new regulation-making power to enable the Governor-General to exempt particular classes of people from financial eligibility tests and repayment conditions.
In the bill’s second reading I should say that although there was support for the general intent of the bill, the Justice and Electoral Committee heard suggestions that it does not go far enough. Submitters sought further changes to either the legal aid scheme or to the wider justice system to provide more support for victims of crime. We acknowledged those suggestions but noted that many of them are outside of the scope of the bill. We further noted that reviews being undertaken by the Ministry of Justice of the legal aid system and the Victims’ Rights Act 2002 will hopefully cover those issues. We recommended inserting new clause 4A to clarify that section 7(1)(e)(v) of the principal Act applies to coronial inquests for the purposes of Part 3 of the Coroners Act 2006 and to hearings of the Parole Board. Section 7(1)(e)(v) of the principal Act enables legal aid to be granted for proceedings in certain administrative tribunals or judicial authorities where the Legal Services Agency considers legal representation is required and where the applicant would suffer financial hardship if aid was not granted. We recommended consequential amendments to clauses 5 and 6 of this bill as introduced, and those amendments are important.
The Legal Services Act was passed in October 2000, and it established the Legal Services Agency in February 2001. The aim was to ensure that legal aid services are delivered consistently and efficiently. The Legal Services Agency is responsible for helping people to access justice by funding legal aid, initial criminal legal services, and community law centres. It also produces law-related education and information. In the past year the agency helped 58,314 people access legal services and made 73,905 grants of legal aid. In addition to legal aid services, the agency funded 766 lawyers to provide duty solicitor services. A duty solicitor assists people who have no legal representation at their first court appearance. The agency also funded 27 community law centres, and together they delivered 80,000 hours of casework, 24,000 hours of legal information services, and 110,000 hours of law-related education services to their communities.
It is particularly important for us to ensure that ordinary Kiwis be able to access justice at a time when we are facing a big challenge in respect of issues concerning intergenerational equity.
We note that, in essence, the bill addresses issues of natural justice in the context of victims’ rights. I recollect the comments of our Māori Party colleague in the first reading. One might say that almost an emotional attachment to the objectives of the bill was expressed by Rahui Katene at the time. I say that we understand where she and her party are coming from, having listened to some of the stories that are involved. We certainly recognise and support the main objectives of this bill: the removal of financial eligibility testing and the improvement of administrative practices.
The only area of contention, if that is the word, pertains to whether the bill could have gone further in its current drafting, but I accept the explanation of the Minister of Justice that these issues can be considered later and that they should await the review of the legal services aid system. The Green Party is happy to do that, and we look forward to that review.
On balance, we have been pleased to be involved in the Justice and Electoral Committee’s deliberations on this bill, and we look forward to further discussion in the Committee.
CHESTER BORROWS (National—Whanganui) : I am pleased to take a call on the Legal Services Amendment Bill. I thank members of the Justice and Electoral Committee for their work on consideration of the bill, and the way in which submissions were heard and submitters were engaged. It is certainly a bill that acts to work for the assistance of victims whose costs in relation to coronial inquests and Parole Board hearings are very real and very practical, and are not easily dealt with within the ambit of the legal services that are available today.
We heard from a large number of submitters. I think their anecdotes weighed heavily on the committee, as far as fairness goes. These people did not ask to be victims and did not ask to be drawn into the situation that they found themselves in. It is often the case that the people who are involved in these crimes as victims are overrepresented by demography, and by a lack of resources and an inability to meet the costs of attendance at tribunal hearings and coronial inquests. For instance, I bear in mind the situation that the mother of Michael Choy found herself in. Her son was murdered by six young teenagers, who were sentenced to various relatively short periods of imprisonment for their crime. But then they all became eligible for parole in the same year, for about 3 years. She felt a duty, in memory of her son, to attend each of those Parole Board hearings in order to represent the interests of other families of murder victims, and to do her duty as the mother of somebody who was murdered. The cost of having to attend those Parole Board hearings around the country was exhaustive—not only in financial terms, but also in terms of the emotional cost of having to go through the processes, find the energy to be able to make submissions, respond to things said by the other side and things said within the media, and also come under scrutiny during that process.
I was also reminded of some experiences that I was aware of through previous lives. For instance, I refer to the family whose young son was killed in a car accident. There was an allegation from the person whom the police believed was the driver that some of the cause of the accident fell on the family’s dead son. The family felt a need to be part of that process and to be represented. Of course any interested party is able to be involved in and represented at a coronial inquest, and is able to ask questions there. That is not something that people find it within themselves to do, bearing in mind the emotion of the circumstances and also the fact that a courtroom is a foreign environment for a lot of people who are dragged into these circumstances. This particular family engaged a solicitor in order to, firstly, receive the police file from the police in order to view the investigation of the sudden death in a motor accident, and then to represent the family over a 2-day hearing. The cost of the hearing was probably well below market rates, but was still very high for the family. The cost approached $2,000 for that one particular hearing.
There needs to be the ability for a society that has care and concern about victims to mitigate the costs, the financial costs at least, of appearing before coronial inquests and Parole Board hearings. Clause 5 removes the financial eligibility test for victims of crime where representation is needed at coronial inquests and Parole Board hearings. It has been a long time coming. I am pleased that there was very strong cross-party support for it. In fact, all the committee hearings were conducted with very good will. I am pleased that the outcome extends across as far as that.
Clause 6 provides that repayment conditions cannot be applied to those grants. However, such an application can still be declined if it does not meet the merits test. That means that sometimes when a situation blows up and people get hurt, not only the bystanders but also the players are dragged in. Members may wonder what the circumstances might be in order for the Legal Services Agency to decide that it will decline an application on a merits-based test. It may well be because of the actions of the victim, how that victim found himself or herself to be present at the scene, and how he or she came to be injured, hurt, or killed. For instance, it could well be that a criminal enterprise was going on at the time, and the person was party to that criminal enterprise. For whatever reason, things went wrong and people were hurt or killed. The Legal Services Agency can then, quite rightly, look at those circumstances as they are alleged to be, and decide whether it will decline or accept the claim in respect of attendance at either of those two tribunal hearings. I think the public quite easily can get their heads around those circumstances, and see that it will be valid on some occasions for the Legal Services Agency to decline an application for a fees waiver.
Clause 7 gives the Legal Services Agency discretion, on a case by case basis, to write off a debt owed to it by a victim of a crime. This also applies to other types of proceedings. Under current law, the Legal Services Agency must wait until the final cost of proceedings is known. The result is that there is a stressful period of uncertainty for victims. This occurs at a time, we should remember, when not long before a coronial inquest the family quite probably had to make funeral arrangements and deal with all the emotions and costs that are tied up with that. So there needs to be some certainty as to what the costs will be for the family in the future. They need to have some answers, so they can put it out of their heads for that particular period. I think this is a very compassionate clause.
Of course clause 7 also amends the Legal Services Act to allow the debt to be written off at any time. A decision maker within the Legal Services Agency can decide very early in the piece whether the costs will be written off, so the family can know from quite an early stage exactly where they are going.
The regulation power under the Act, provided in clause 8(1), is extended to allow the exemption of any specified class or classes of person or proceeding from financial eligibility criteria. Those matters will be decided in the public interest—whether it facilitates the access to justice and whether the exemption is just and equitable in the circumstances. It allows the Minister of Justice to have some flexibility to account for the large number of foreseen and unforeseen circumstances where this legislation may apply.
I am very pleased with the work of the Justice and Electoral Committee, and with the support across the House for the bill. I commend the bill to the House.
LYNNE PILLAY (Labour) : I acknowledge the previous speaker, Chester Borrows, in this House again. He is an excellent chair of the Justice and Electoral Committee, particularly relating to the Legal Services Amendment Bill. I think it is always a pleasure to stand in the House or sit on a select committee where all members support the legislation. Sadly, that does not happen all the time. For members on this side of the House, so much of the legislation we see before the House is absolutely unpalatable, and it is impossible for us to do anything in good faith but oppose it for the sake of the people of New Zealand. But, obviously, this bill is not one of those cases.
This bill is actually about compassion. As other speakers have acknowledged, it came about and was put on the Order Paper in very, very sad circumstances. I recall at the time that Annette King requested very urgently from the Secretary for Justice a report, which examined what changes were needed to ensure that victims were treated in a caring and compassionate way. That was, I think, a very succinct way of putting what we needed to see in legislation, to ensure that victims were not re-victimised by a process at a very stressful and distressing time of their lives.
This bill, as other speakers have said, ensures that when victims of crime attend a Parole Board hearing or a coronial inquest, they are not subject to financial eligibility testing. It also enables the Legal Services Agency to write off legal aid debt at any time during the proceedings, rather than at the end of the proceedings. That goes a long way towards taking off a lot of that pressure. Obviously, at difficult times through proceedings, for victims to have to have the added burden of financial anxiety and stress is not conducive to their good health, and it certainly gives them no support. It creates a lot more stress in their lives. There is also a new regulatory power to enable the Governor-General to exempt particular classes of people from financial eligibility tests and repayment conditions.
The first reading of the bill was on 1 July, and I think that the process in the select committee was very efficient. I acknowledge in this House the support that we had, as we always do. We have fantastic support on the Justice and Electoral Committee, and I acknowledge that. I also acknowledge the people who came forward and gave submissions in support of this bill. For those people who had had very painful experiences, this situation—I think we could call it an unintended consequence—needed to be rectified. They, along with us, were very pleased to see that happen. In terms of applications for legal aid for parole hearings, the stress on victims of crime is something that no one should diminish or underestimate. It is an incredibly stressful time for people.
I will also take this opportunity to talk a little about some of the other changes that have delivered improvements for victims. They happened under the Labour Government and, happily, they are still in place. The Sentencing Act 2002 is in place. I know that the Sentencing Council has gone, and I know that I would be doing Paul Quinn an absolute disservice if I did not mention that. The Sentencing Council would have delivered consistency in sentencing and would have been of great benefit to victims. The Sentencing Act, which introduced the presumption in favour of reparation and resulted in that sentence being used more frequently, delivered a lot for victims.
The Prisoners’ and Victims’ Claims Act 2005 ensured that victims of inmates were awarded compensation and that victims could claim against that compensation. The Evidence Act has provided for the needs of vulnerable witnesses and victims by making provision for them to give evidence in alternative ways, such as from behind a screen or via a pre-recorded video. There is also the Victims Charter, which was introduced by Labour in its last year in Government. All of those things have gone a considerable way towards supporting victims, and I think this bill will be another part of that support.
It would be remiss of me not to talk about something that does not support victims, and that is the proposed changes to accident compensation legislation. I take this opportunity to urge the Government to reconsider the guidelines that it is planning to impose on victims of sexual assault. It is never too late for the Government to admit that it got it wrong, and I believe that that would be of tremendous benefit to victims in this country. We are effectively saying to this Government: “Good work on supporting Labour’s bill, on this one. Please reconsider and support victims in this country in terms of those abhorrent guidelines that you are trying to impose.”
Without further ado, I say again that Labour fully supports this bill, which is understandable because Labour introduced it. We are very, very pleased that this bill has the full support of the House. Thank you.
PAUL QUINN (National) : Like other speakers, it gives me pleasure to rise and support the Legal Services Amendment Bill. I start by joining my colleagues on both sides of the House in thanking the chair of the Justice and Electoral Committee, Chester Borrows, who has been singled out regularly during the week because a number of bills that very hard-working committee has considered have passed through the House this week. I think about six bills have passed this week under this very rigorous and hard-working Government, which is ensuring its legislative programme is achieved on time and on spec. This bill is another that has come out of the very hard-working Justice and Electoral Committee. We should also pay tribute to the staff of the select committee, who have given great service to the MPs who have been sitting in deliberations. I think it is timely that we recognise their contribution to the work of the select committee.
I will also deal with a couple of issues. I will put the bill in perspective and remind members that the bill aims to do two or three things. Firstly, it aims to remove eligibility testing requirements for legal aid for victims who are to attend coronial inquests or Parole Board hearings, or for the making of victims’ claims. Secondly, the bill aims to grant the Legal Services Agency the discretion to waiver its right to recover legal aid debts where individual circumstances mean enforcement would cause serious hardship or would be uneconomic, or it would just be equitable not to enforce the debt. Thirdly, the bill aims to create the power to make regulations to exempt specific classes of people or proceedings from eligibility restrictions or repayment obligations.
I will reflect for a moment on that final purpose. Lianne Dalziel, in her contribution to this debate, made reference to the fact that she would be introducing a Supplementary Order Paper because she wanted the entitlements that arise out of this bill to cover additional situations. Put simply, this particular purpose will enable us to clip on—if I can use that phrase—additional activities to this bill, should a circumstance eventuate that was not envisaged at this second reading. Should something new come along, under this purpose of the bill the Government will be able to add that new circumstance by regulation in order to contribute to meeting the costs.
I do not intend to go through the bill clause by clause. I will instead turn to examples of the services that might be clipped on going forward. We received six submissions in total and all of them, as would be expected, supported the bill. Suggestions were made during the course of submissions of areas that might be considered under this bill. They were things like providing support to victims of crime so that they are able to have representation during the criminal justice process. Another example of contribution to costs was through the restorative justice process, particularly during the sentencing period. A third area was giving assistance for private prosecutions. Those were examples of areas that submitters felt might also be covered with the additional support that was envisaged under this bill for the specific areas that have been nominated.
That takes me to the fact that this Government has made commitments across a number of areas in terms of support for victims of crime. Although we have not covered some of the suggestions that I have just canvassed, which were made by submitters, we have made other contributions towards meeting the costs of victims of crime. One of those bills, the Sentencing (Offender Levy) Amendment Bill, was passed last night. It will be enacted on its Royal assent, which I think is in 20 days. I ask Grant whether that is right; it is. That bill was just another example. This Government is putting in place a series of building blocks that will assist victims of crime. We do not claim that we can, in one fell swoop, meet all the demands and all the requirements out there, because that could be very onerous on the State. We are trying to put in place some support, because this is a very difficult time for victims of crime. The Sentencing (Offender Levy) Amendment Bill was passed yesterday evening, and I am pleased to note for the record that, in a rare show of unanimity, the whole House supported the bill through its third reading. I think in this area the whole House speaks as one in terms of providing support services to victims of crime.
It gives me great pleasure to have the opportunity to speak to this very worthwhile bill, and I look forward to sharing with the House the specific aspects of the clauses as we go through the Committee stage so that everyone gets a full working knowledge of the bill’s intent. Thank you.
- Bill read a second time.
Carter Observatory Act Repeal Bill
Hon JOHN CARTER (Minister of Civil Defence) on behalf of the Minister of Research, Science and Technology: I move, That the Carter Observatory Act Repeal Bill be now read a first time. At the appropriate time I intend to move that the bill be considered by the Education and Science Committee, and that the committee report finally to the House on or before 20 November 2009. I will also be moving that the committee have the authority to meet at any time while the House is sitting except during questions for oral answer, during any evening on a day on which there has been a sitting of the House, or on a Friday in a week in which there has been a sitting of the House, despite Standing Orders 187 and 190(1)(b) and (c).
Today I start by outlining what this bill represents. It provides the final steps to repeal the Carter Observatory Act 1938, which established an astronomical observatory in the city of Wellington; dissolves the Carter Observatory board, established to maintain, operate, and control the Carter Observatory; transfers the assets of the Carter Observatory board to the Wellington City Council, which has managed the observatory since 2007 and will continue to do so in the future; and vests the liabilities incurred by the Carter Observatory board in the Crown and the Wellington City Council. The Crown will bear responsibility for liabilities incurred before December 2007, and the Wellington City Council those incurred from December 2007. These decisions were agreed to by the previous Government, and the enactment of this legislation will complete that process. Once the Act has been repealed, the final responsibility of the board will be to present its final set of accounts to Parliament.
The observatory owes its existence to Charles Rooking Carter, who lived from 1822 until 1896. He gifted part of his estate to what later became the Royal Society of New Zealand for the purpose of establishing an astronomical observatory in or near Wellington. Parliament formally recognised the observatory in passing the Carter Observatory Act in 1938. That Act made the observatory the formal base for astronomical research in New Zealand. Research began with solar observations. However, the observatory expanded its scope in the 1970s to include variable stars, galaxies, comets, and asteroids. There was further recognition of the observatory’s role when it became the national astronomical observatory of New Zealand in 1977, with the function to “promote or carry out … research or activity related to astronomy”. Historically the Carter Observatory had a research team that provided research, science, and technology outputs. However, since its establishment as the national astronomical observatory of New Zealand, the roles, functions, and outputs of the Carter Observatory have changed considerably. For example, there has been a shift away from an active research focus and towards developing a more educational and visitors centre experience.
In 2005 astronomer Professor Mike Bessell of the Australian National University was commissioned by the Ministry of Research, Science and Technology to review the Carter Observatory’s ability to carry out its functions as New Zealand’s national observatory, explore New Zealand’s requirements and opportunities in the national observatory area, and assess the roles of the various players within the sector. The report asked what a national observatory was and whether New Zealand needed one, whether the Carter Observatory was currently fulfilling the national observatory role, and whether it was appropriate that the Carter Observatory retain its national observatory status. The report showed that the functions of a national observatory for education and higher-level research were spread across New Zealand’s observatories and astronomical organisations, and that the role and function of the national observatory was not being fulfilled by the Carter Observatory. At the same time the Carter Observatory was looking to transition to a high-quality educational and tourism experience. It was apparent, therefore, that the ownership and funding of the observatory did not fit with how the observatory had evolved or with where its future lay.
This bill sets in motion the legislative process started by the previous Government and developed in conjunction with the Wellington City Council. The primary policy objective of this bill is “to terminate the statutory responsibilities of the Crown in relation to the Carter Observatory …”. The Crown has provided $2.2 million in funding for the observatory to transition from the Crown into management by the Wellington City Council. Under the current arrangements Wellington City Council has guaranteed financial support for the Carter Observatory of $300,000 per annum for 10 years. This Government agrees with that approach, as the Carter Observatory’s direction no longer aligns with the requirements of the national observatory as set out in Professor Bessell’s report. The transition of the Carter Observatory away from the Crown will not mean a significant impact on or loss of science capability.
The future interest of the observatory will lie with the Wellington City Council, whose focus for the observatory will be on public education and tourism. I take the opportunity to congratulate the Wellington City Council on ensuring the continuing operation of the Carter Observatory. The observatory is now on a more stable footing. The refurbishment and upgrading of the building has been completed with the assistance of $2.2 million of taxpayer or Crown funding. The Crown funding for the redevelopment of the observatory was agreed to as part of the business case put forward by the Wellington City Council to reposition the Carter Observatory as a Wellington-based tourist attraction. The next stage of the refurbishment project is scheduled to be completed early next year. That stage will include the design and installation of a multimedia exhibition that will bring space science to life. The future direction of the Carter Observatory with the Wellington City Council will see the observatory transformed into a high-quality tourism and education venue for both national and international visitors, offering a distinct Kiwi perspective to space, science, and astronomy.
The report of the Australian astronomer Mike Bessell in 2005 recommended that the Carter Observatory no longer be the national observatory of New Zealand and that the Act be repealed. It made other recommendations on where a national observatory could be placed and what the budgeting requirements to fund a national observatory could be. There may be some interest about what is generally viewed as the national observatory title and the status that it implies. Although the Carter Observatory has gained a reputation over time as the national observatory of New Zealand, it was never accorded the right of protection of names under the Act—
Hon Darren Hughes: Why not?
Hon JOHN CARTER: —once the national observatory status is repealed. If the member hangs on a minute I may just be able to tell him.
Hon Member: Or may not!
Hon JOHN CARTER: Or may not. The Government has no immediate plans to designate any such national observatory title or status to the Carter Observatory or to any other observatory or group. I commend the bill to the House.
DAVID SHEARER (Labour—Mt Albert) : As the Labour spokesperson on science, research, and technology I support the Carter Observatory Act Repeal Bill at its first reading. Specifically, the bill will repeal the Carter Observatory Act 1938, which set up the astronomical observatory in the city of Wellington; dissolve the Carter Observatory board and arrange for the proper transfer of assets to the Wellington City Council; and vest the liabilities to the Crown and the Wellington City Council.
The decision is based on a report by Michael Bessell of the Ministry of Science, Research and Technology, published in 2006 under the Labour Government. The report made a number of recommendations and it is worth going through one or two of them. The Carter Observatory became the national observatory of New Zealand in 1977 and faced a number of problems not only in its leadership and lack of agreement on its mission, but also in its lack of financial resources. It was established on rather questionable grounds—in part, the strong part played by the amateur astronomers in the area—and it did not really make sufficient linkages with Victoria University’s department of physics, as the report clearly sets out.
Bessell’s report sets out five key roles that he felt were necessary for a national observatory: “To operate and develop the national telescope as a national research facility for use by national and international researchers”, “To deepen the understanding of the universe …”, “To train outstanding scientists and technicians”, “To promote international research activities by collaborating …”, and “To conduct an effective outreach program to disseminate astronomic information …”. In short, the Carter Observatory was not really meeting the functions of a national observatory; most of its effort, in fact, was centred on education and outreach, which is laudable and an important part of an observatory—as the report itself notes—but not really sufficient for the national observatory of New Zealand. There is still very keen interest in astronomy in our communities, and the state of astronomical research is in a pretty healthy state.
The report also pointed out that the focused resources from the ministry would be placed more appropriately in association with the University of Canterbury. That would be more suitable, especially given that the university has demonstrated a long-term commitment and support for astronomy. Canterbury has always welcomed outside users of its telescope, particularly from the University of Otago and the University of Auckland. It would be situated in the University of Canterbury’s Mount John Observatory, which is regarded and accepted as a major player in the national and international scene in terms of that sort of research. In many ways this dismisses the Carter Observatory’s fears that the change would not act in the wider national interest. That collegiality will continue across those research institutions and universities. So the country is not losing out. We are simply regrouping our resources sensibly together so that research can be best done in a peer-supported environment, consolidating our precious resources in this country to make the best use of them. The Carter Observatory—as the previous speaker, the Hon John Carter, noted—will continue to cater to and meet the needs and outreach needs of Wellington. Placing it under the Wellington City Council will achieve that goal admirably, and the observatory can be tailored to meet the needs of Wellington and Wellingtonians more appropriately.
The discussion of science and the consolidation of resources in science stimulates thinking a little more generally around the interests of research and science. I will read a couple of quotes. The first one is: “science will be the mainstay of the transformation of New Zealand, indeed it is the only way we can make a quantum leap in productivity” and “address the many challenges we will face.” The second quote is: “Science … can transform how we approach the problems of society, it can protect our environment, it can lead to new industries, some small, some perhaps large, it can add to our standing in the world, it can change our national psyche and in doing so reinvent us in a way that can improve our productivity.” In short, science is the way in which New Zealand has made itself wealthy. Those were the quotes of Professor Gluckman, the Prime Minister’s chief science adviser, speaking to the AgResearch institute in Waikato. I agree with him. Who would not? I believe that it is a good decision to have Professor Gluckman as an adviser to the Prime Minister.
The pity is that those fine words do not really match the actions of this Government. I was dismayed to hear Anne Tolley, the Minister of Education, on Morning Report today. She said that she was withdrawing the funding for development support in primary schools in the areas of science, PE, and art. She said: “Maybe the year after, we might have a focus on science, and the year after that, we might have a focus on art.” Or maybe we might do it round the other way. The point is that science, as Professor Gluckman said, is one of the mainstays of our society, and this Government is not walking the walk. It is certainly not walking the talk that Professor Gluckman sets out. New Zealand’s future demands that we have a bunch of well-educated scientists coming through our schools, and this latest announcement certainly does not ensure that.
New Zealand faces perhaps three big difficulties in the areas of science and research. One is tying together the science with the development, the innovation, and the ability to get products off and out for the benefit of New Zealand. We are really good at innovation. We are very good at doing science, but often the gap is with private enterprise and how we develop it. The second difficulty, I suggest, is that the time lines within which science works are often not short ones but long ones. It is not 1 or 2 years, but 4, 5, or 6 years before we see real results in our science. The third difficulty is simply that the amount of funding that is going into research and development is very low. We have one of the lowest OECD averages in terms of science funding. During the last 9 years, the previous Labour Government elevated and lifted that OECD average up from the appalling state that we inherited in 1999, but there is still some work to do.
What did we do as a result of that OECD standing? One of the first things that we did was to introduce a very innovative and forward-thinking scheme called the Fast Forward Fund. What did it do? It brought together State research and private companies. It brought them together in a partnership. One of the real problems, as I have stated, was in bringing together the two aspects: the State-funded research and the innovation and development of products by private companies. That scheme was praised throughout New Zealand and praised internationally for its wisdom and foresight, but what did National do in the first 100 days it was in Government? It abolished the scheme. It threw it out. It threw out this innovative scheme, which would have enabled us to have guaranteed funding and to bring together, in a natural partnership, the State and private enterprise.
Not only did this Government do that, but also it did away with the research and development tax credit that the previous Government had set up for private companies. This tax credit was again applauded throughout New Zealand—in particular, in the business community—because for the first time we were seeing the business community getting behind research and development and we were lifting our appallingly low spend on science within the private sector. The Government’s move was criticised by business groups around New Zealand—including, most importantly, the Employers and Manufacturers Association—and rightly so.
ALLAN PEACHEY (National—Tāmaki) : I am thrilled and delighted to be able to take a call and support the first reading of the Carter Observatory Act Repeal Bill. I want to express great pleasure and satisfaction that the future of the Carter Observatory is assured, and I acknowledge the role that the previous Government played in ensuring that fact. I hope future Labour speakers will speak in that spirit; this is not an opportunity to take a crack at the Government. In 1938 the original Act was passed. It has been amended several times. It aimed to deal with a request by Mr Charles Carter and I will take a few minutes in the House this afternoon to reflect on the contribution that Mr Carter made; I doubt that he ever quite appreciated the significance of what he did.
The great significance of the Carter Observatory has not been as a national centre of scientific excellence or astronomical study; it has been education. I wonder how many thousands of Wellington youngsters, in particular, got their first introduction to astronomy and their first introduction to any form of science through being taken up to the Carter Observatory by their parents. Certainly, our four children all had to the opportunity; they were taken up by their parents. I still remember with a great deal of pleasure taking one of my sons up to a lecture one evening. He was probably barely in primary school. I remember being riveted as I watched this young lad absolutely absorbed by the mysteries of the universe, space, the stars, and the moon. That was the role that the Carter Observatory played so well. It is the role that the observatory will continue to play. I commend Wellington City Council for the arrangement it has entered into with the Crown to take over responsibility for keeping the observatory going.
Some of us have been around a bit longer than others. I reflect back to 1962. I was in standard 6 and it was called standard 6. For younger members opposite, that is form 2 or year—
Hon Member: Year 8.
ALLAN PEACHEY: Year 8; standard 6 does for me. At Waiouru Primary School we had the most marvellous schoolteacher, Mr Kensington. He was a hard man, but he was fair. He taught us to read, write, and do maths. He taught us about interesting things, which we as 12-year-olds needed to know. I remember two things in particular. Firstly, we read Thor Heyerdahl’s book on his travels over the Pacific that year. We read that as 12-year-olds. Secondly, the teacher taught us astronomy. From that, I am convinced that several of my classmates developed their interest in science. In the phys ed store, we used to have old rubber balls varying in size. The teacher got a collection of those—and I still remember 47 years on—and made a model to explain to us the Earth, the moon, the stars and the planets. Most important of all, in a distant, rural community that was nothing more than an army base, he would have loved the opportunity to take his young students to Wellington to the Carter Observatory to let us have a look.
That opportunity did not exist. Those were the days when we kicked a footy around on the top field until it was dark, went home and had tea, and then went off to the army boxing club or the basketball club. There was no TV. One Monday night, our teacher took us up to the top field of Waiouru Primary School. On a good day, from this field one can see what we called Mount Egmont but is now called Mount Taranaki, Ruapehu, Ngāuruhoe, and Tongariro. Somewhere he found a telescope and he spent his evening, as so many good schoolteachers do, showing us how to identify the stars and the moon, and letting us be inspired by the thought that there was another world of planets out there. I am very grateful for that knowledge. I would have loved as a young lad to have the chance to visit something like the Carter Observatory. The opportunity was denied to me, but I take pleasure in the fact that thousands of young New Zealanders, particularly those living in Wellington, have had that opportunity. The city of Wellington is to be congratulated on the way it has embraced the Carter Observatory over all the years and over all its changes. It was the Wellington City Council that made land available up in the Botanic Gardens for the observatory.
I count it as one of the great good fortunes of my life—and looking around the House I suspect there are not too many of us who could claim this—to have been alive when man first walked on the moon. What a significant achievement! I appreciated that occasion probably more than a lot of people do today, because of the knowledge I had of astronomy and the way the solar system works, and because of the things that I was taught as a youngster at school. You see, something else is important about astronomy, and I reflect on my previous life in saying this. For so many youngsters, it is their first introduction to science. It is their first opportunity to get involved in something that is a bit different, but that is very, very intrinsically interesting. Once one has caught a child’s interest in something, one is halfway there—probably more than halfway there. It is one of those subjects that one could use to teach a youngster to read, to write, and to do mathematical calculations. What is more, youngsters ask questions. Teachers, parents, and observers, and people who work at the observatory suddenly find themselves not just talking about the moon, the stars, the planets, and all the rest of it but also introducing youngsters to chemistry, to physics, and to mathematical principles. That is one of the great things about astronomy. It has been a pleasure to speak on this bill.
Grant Robertson: Well, we’ve all enjoyed it.
ALLAN PEACHEY: I hope so, because it is a change not to have Labour members shouting me down from over the other side there. It is difficult to argue with what I have said, of course. I want to reaffirm that the Minister of Civil Defence, Mr John Carter, very, very clearly outlined the purpose of the bill and its reasons. There is no point going back over that. But I do want to reiterate my great pleasure in seeing this bill introduced into the House. I am really excited at the prospect of being the chair of the Education and Science Committee that will report it back. I commend it to the House and urge its speedy passage. Thank you.
MOANA MACKEY (Labour) : I thank Allan Peachey, the member who just resumed his seat, for reading out the first two chapters of his upcoming autobiography, “Allan Peachey: The Man, the Dream”. It was truly inspirational, and we look forward to reading about what else went on at the top field of his primary school when that book hits the shelves in time for Christmas 2009.
I am happy to speak on the first reading of the Carter Observatory Act Repeal Bill. I too will start off with two thankyous. The first thankyou has to go to Mr Charles Rooking Carter, who gifted his estate to the Royal Society of New Zealand for the establishment of an astronomical observatory in Wellington. As the previous speaker has said, thousands and thousands of New Zealanders have benefited from that generosity. The thanks of this House need to go on record as the Carter Observatory moves into the next stage of its existence.
The second thankyou needs to go to the Wellington City Council, because without its support for the ongoing work of the Carter Observatory, it would not be able to continue. I sincerely thank the Wellington City Council for its generosity and its recognition of the importance of this institution. We find ourselves in an interesting situation. The Carter Observatory has an exciting future as a tourism and an educational institution, but it is also with a hint of sadness that we lose our national observatory in this area.
As the previous speaker said, it is very true that for many young people, astronomy is the gateway into science. The planets and the moon are often the first things that young people ask about. They are the first things they see that they cannot fully understand. Because of this natural curiosity, we are able to introduce them to the exciting possibilities that exist not just in astronomy but in all areas of science.
Despite the fact that New Zealand does not do an awful lot of research in this area compared with other countries, we need to ensure that we maintain these facilities. If we lose them, then we will lose a generation of young scientists, of young people who may never really investigate their natural curiosity. For that I want to thank the Carter Observatory for the work that it does.
We also need to thank the Carter Observatory for the work it has been doing as a private tertiary education provider. Not a lot of people know that the observatory is accredited by the New Zealand Qualifications Authority as a private tertiary provider. It has developed national standards in astronomy. If people look at its website they will find an enormous amount of teaching resources. It has picked up the new curriculum and the National Certificate of Educational Achievement system. The observatory has developed enormous resources for teachers, who can go to the website and look at the pedagogy that the Carter Observatory believes they should follow. It outlines the way in which it believes the national standards should be taught. This is an enormous resource for teachers. They do not have to do this work for themselves, especially given that not many of our teachers have expertise in the area of astronomy.
Hon Member: We need science advisers.
MOANA MACKEY: I am getting to that. It is important that we thank the observatory for the work it is doing and that we make sure that it is adequately funded to be able to carry this out in the future.
This leaves us with the question that was addressed by my colleague David Shearer about the role of a national observatory in New Zealand and whether one is needed. This is where we see, once again, the real value of the centres of research excellence that were set up under the previous Labour Government. This move opened up possibilities for the University of Canterbury to take on this role with the Mount John Observatory, which has combined its work with the research that it is being done at the university. A national observatory should be involved in research. This is one of the reasons why the Carter Observatory was no longer able to fulfil that particular role of a national observatory. But that does not mean there is not the possibility in the future for there to be another national observatory in this very important area in New Zealand. Obviously, Mount John Observatory and maybe some other observatories might be looking at doing that.
I will bring to the attention of members a very important organisation that they may not know about, which is the Whakatane Observatory. This observatory in the Bay of Plenty is a gem. Members can look at the website: www.skyofplenty.com. It is a non-profitmaking community facility. It is currently based on council land, and let us hope that the Whakatāne District Council does not decide to sell that land from underneath it or move it to another area.
The observatory has three telescopes and two observatories. It performs an incredibly important educational function for students not just in the Bay of Plenty but also from the Waikato, the East Coast, and all the surrounding areas. Teachers can bring in their students to see these facilities. It has equipment for astro-photography, which the students love, and also facilities for solar viewing. It currently has a large audiovisual room for the students and it can cater for the large groups of students who come through. The students get the teaching. They get all the education about what goes on at the observatory from the very passionate volunteers who run it. The students are then able to go into the observatory and see through a telescope the wonders that exist out there in the universe.
I think that this role will become even more important, given the cuts in funding for science advisers. The Whakatane Observatory already fills an important role in ensuring that our teachers have access to this education. The people running it are concerned about ensuring that enough money goes into supporting the groups like theirs that can provide that support.
We are very concerned that the cuts in the funding for science advisers will be absolutely detrimental to the teaching of science at primary school. Today in the House the Minister said that people need to be able to read and write and do maths to do science, and that is true. But people also need to be able to do science to do science. If we do not have these critically important science advisers, or if we lose them overseas—they are already being poached because they are so valuable—it will be very, very difficult for us to get them back.
Science is such a specialised area. When we look at our primary school teachers, we see that they work really hard to cover a huge curriculum. They have to cover every single area, and the support they get in very technical areas like science is crucial to the teaching of science. If we do not get this right at primary school level, then we will not get it right anywhere else in the system. If we do not have the basics and an appreciation of the fundamentals of science at primary school, then it will be too late. This Government purports to value science, but everything we have seen since the election has been absolutely contrary to that claim. We have seen cuts in science funding and in the way that science is brought into education. As my colleague David Shearer said, as a country we simply cannot afford to fall even further behind than we already have.
The previous Labour Government was making good inroads into increasing our level of public funding of science and increasing our level of private sector funding of science through the research and development tax credit. This Government said that the tax credit was corporate welfare. That is from a Government that will subsidise heavily emitting polluters by billions of dollars. I ask why that is not viewed as corporate welfare, but having research and development tax credits for the private sector is. This Government is subsidising jobs at McDonald’s—jobs at McDonald’s—and it does not think that is corporate welfare. McDonald’s was going to have those jobs anyway, but this Government does not provide tax incentives in an area where just about every other country in the OECD provides them. Even if we do not like it, the fact is that we are already behind the eight ball and we need to do something, because all the investors go everywhere else. This Government says that is corporate welfare. I completely agree with the statements of my colleague David Shearer.
The previous speaker, Allan Peachey, talked about how excited he was when he saw a man walking on the moon. I was not born then, but I have seen the images and it is very exciting, even for someone who was not born at the time. As a scientist, one of the most exciting things about man walking on the moon was the incredible amount of resources and funding that went into the science to make that happen. That recognised the value of science. It recognised the value of saying: “This is the impossible. We can do it.” Trillions of dollars have flowed into the United States economy from that funding. That money might not be directly related to putting a man on the moon, but it came out of the technology that helped the United States to do that, and that initial funding has undoubtedly been instrumental in making it one of the wealthiest countries in the world.
As a scientist, I was so excited to hear the speech made by President Obama in the last few months in which, in light of the recession, he announced a package of science funding and research and development funding as part of an economic stimulus plan that will be greater than the funding put in place for the space race. How many trillion and trillions of dollars will flow to the United States because of that? We need to learn from that. This stuff brings rewards, and this Government is not taking that fact seriously enough.
Dr KENNEDY GRAHAM (Green) : I rise to continue the misty-eyed tradition of personal reminiscences that appears to have sprung up in the course of this afternoon. I succumb to the temptation to recall that I am—and I look forward to being corrected here—arguably the only current member of the House to have audited Astronomy 1 at Harvard University in 1973. I also recall participating in a breathtaking experience in Thailand in 1982 when all nine planets were in alignment and watching the wonderment on the faces of my two young sons at the time, and participating in viewing the Leonids meteorite show in 2002 from Wadi Rum, on the floor of the Jordanian desert, where it is both cold and extraordinarily clear.
Moana Mackey: OK, you win!
Dr KENNEDY GRAHAM: I can go on, and I shall. Within a month or two of returning to New Zealand in 2005, I visited the Mount John Observatory at Lake Tekapō for the first time and viewed the stunningly beautiful landscape, looking down on a snowstorm below us. It was inspiring to a Belgian immigrant family we were hosting at the time.
These recollections tend to introduce wonderment into what might otherwise pass as pedestrian legislation on a Thursday afternoon. Such experiences tend to strike and touch the heart, if not the soul, of every one of the 122 mortals who congregate here from week to week. Certainly, the wonders of the cosmos tend to place question time in perspective, as might anything outside the House.
The Green Party supports—
Grant Robertson: Tell us more about Thailand!
Dr KENNEDY GRAHAM: —members will be relieved to know I am moving on to the business-like part of my address—the Carter Observatory Act Repeal Bill. A 2005 ministry report recommended that the Act be repealed, that the observatory be handed over to the Wellington City Council, and that other options for a national observatory be considered. Under the last Government, extensive refurbishment was funded and completed. In December 2007 the Wellington City Council confirmed that it wanted greater involvement in the operation and governance of the observatory, and that was welcomed by its board. The bill seeks to complete a process of transition that has been under way for many years now.
The Green Party sees no reason for this bill not to proceed at this time. We welcome public input into the process, and we hope that all the recommendations of the 2005 report are given full consideration by the House. Thank you.
DAVID GARRETT (ACT) : There must be something in the air, or perhaps it is just astronomy, but I was fortunate enough to enter the Chamber in the closing stages of the inspiring speech made by Mr Peachey. I was very happy to have it put in context by Ms Mackey, because clearly I missed the crucial reference to mystical experiences connected with observatories. I too have very fond memories of not just any old observatory but the Carter Observatory, when I lived in Wellington in the early 1990s. They were not experiences that were directly connected with astronomy, but they were certainly temporally and spatially connected with the observatory, or, more particularly, the grassy surrounds thereof. It was a very pleasant and sunny spot to have lunch, watch the world go by, and take a step back from the complex hurly-burly of life, as it then was for me.
I am also reminded of the moon landings. I was lucky enough to be alive at the time and old enough to enjoy it, although I do remember it seemed to take Neil Armstrong an awfully long time to get down the ladder. I think I asked my father why he was so slow. I believe that Mr Armstrong made one remark that caused great confusion for many, many years. It was a mumbled remark, which needed to be analysed by those back at Cape Kennedy, as it then was; it has reverted now to Cape Canaveral. It was finally worked out that Mr Armstrong said: “Good luck, Mr Gorsky!”. There was great inquiry as to who this mysterious Mr Gorsky was. I cannot elaborate in the House, but if any member wishes to ask me the rest of the story outside the House, I am happy to oblige.
The cosmos is certainly a wonderful thing, a wonderful phenomenon. My daughter, aged 8 now, went to a planetarium and she was absolutely fascinated by that, but how much more wondrous the real thing is.
I am very happy to be so in tune with the Greens on this particular bill, because I frequently look up in the sky at night and wonder about what I see—and what I cannot see. I am very sad that Dr Graham is not in the Chamber, and I ask other members not to take any exception, but he is a very learned man and he would know when the solar system was mapped. Here we are in 2009 and one would think the mapping was all done, but just this year astronomers have discovered a new ring around Saturn. That is fascinating; hundreds of years after the solar system was mapped a new ring has been discovered. That can only happen when we have observatories. The ACT Party has much pleasure in supporting this bill.
COLIN KING (National—Kaikōura) : In addressing the Carter Observatory Act Repeal Bill, it would be an exaggeration to say it is one small step for man and one giant step for mankind. However, in the scheme of things we have to consider the Carter Observatory as having played a significant role in astronomy and astronomy education within New Zealand. I want to talk about why the bill is necessary. I want to talk a little bit about the history of the Carter Observatory, and some of the developments that have happened in astronomy within New Zealand and internationally. I also want to talk about what will happen in the future with the Carter Observatory, about visitors and tourist attractions, and about the connections that the Carter Observatory had with the province of Marlborough with the Black Birch outpost observatory in Seddon.
It is quite interesting, really, when one does the research on things and finds out that they were started by being bequeathed by a benevolent New Zealander. They were built up and they became a landmark. The bill is for the purpose of good governance. We have all talked about our experiences with astronomy and the fascination with the universe. In my line of work, I had my head down and tail up. I did not have a lot of time to look at the wonders of the stars. But when I stop to think about what I was doing one morning at about 5 o’clock going to a shearing shed, I remember I saw Halley’s Comet going through the sky. That was in 1985. I was in a shed in Benneydale called Wharekiri, and it was the best view that I had of Halley’s Comet—
Jo Goodhew: Ewe?
COLIN KING: “View” not “ewe”. It had nothing to do with ewes, wethers, rams, or whatever. It was an amazing event.
We have to think about the impressions on the mind of the young benefactor—as he grew older—and the importance that was attached to an observatory. Wellington was a port. It was very important to be able to make sure its timing, its clocks and things, were spot on, and that the tides, and such things, were able to be judged. It was quite a natural reaction to build an observatory in Wellington. The fact that it was built where it was, was quite appropriate at the time, because Wellington was a lot smaller than it is now. It would have been considered to be out in the country. But today all we would need to do is go down Lambton Quay, catch the cable car up to the Botanic Gardens, and there we are—we would still be in Wellington. What a beautiful setting it is up there!
This bill will make the Carter Observatory transition from being functional to educational, once the refurbishment is complete. When we look at the time lines, we see that in 2006 the Carter Observatory board decided that it would refurbish the observatory. It needed quite a bit of money to be spent on it to bring it up to scratch to make it a first-class tourist attraction. It is in that sort of context that we want to think of the Carter Observatory.
The purpose of the bill is to vest the observatory back in the Wellington City Council, and that is quite appropriate. The council contributed to the land for the purpose of an observatory, and it will receive it back. So the public policy of this bill is to terminate that statutory responsibility to the Crown. When we look through this bill, we see that the Education and Science Committee, under the fine chairmanship of Allan Peachey, will manage it adequately and appropriately. On that basis, I am very, very pleased to be able to speak positively on the Carter Observatory Act Repeal Bill and commend it to the House. Thank you very much.
GRANT ROBERTSON (Labour—Wellington Central) : I fear I have an inadequate astronomical pedigree, compared with my colleagues, to stand up here and talk today. In fact, I did not even sit School Certificate science. Mr Peachey would be appalled to hear that. But as I have gone on in years I have come to see that science plays a critical role in our world and society, and I have also come to see that astronomy is indeed a fantastic part of that.
As the MP for Wellington Central, I will take a short call on the Carter Observatory Act Repeal Bill in order to note that the Carter Observatory does sit within the Wellington Central electorate, and will complete, when it is fully renovated next year, a nice picture of visitor attractions with educational value in the city. I am particularly thinking of Te Papa, which most members will have visited; Zealandia, which was formerly known as the Karori Wildlife Sanctuary, and I do hope members across the House will find time to visit that fantastic facility; and Otari-Wilton’s Bush. The Carter Observatory will be part of a network of those kinds of facilities in this city when it fully kicks in as a visitor attraction and educational facility, and Wellingtonians are very proud of that.
I too want to offer thanks here, as other speakers have. Firstly, I thank the Wellington City Council, which has taken on the running of the Carter Observatory, and will be moving forward with it. The council has put in a significant amount of funding in recent times in order to make sure the observatory will be able to reopen in 2010, and I think the city council deserves credit for having done that. Obviously, the observatory is a facility that Wellingtonians have known from the past, since its opening in 1941 and on to its becoming our national observatory in 1977. It is indeed an important asset and an important part of Wellington, and I thank the council for its ongoing support.
Secondly, I want to thank the large group of volunteers who have done significant work at the observatory over recent years, maintaining the telescopes and ensuring that people are able to visit the observatory and have a good experience there. As we all know, volunteers are important in keeping a lot of institutions going in our country. The Carter Observatory is no different.
It will be a grand occasion when the Carter Observatory reopens as a visitor attraction. People will be able to go there and enjoy outstanding facilities. The Thomas Cooke telescope is a historic 9¾-inch telescope at the observatory. I was reflecting on what people might see when they looked through that telescope. They would look up into the far reaches of the universe. I wondered which planets they might glimpse. They might glimpse something called “Planet Tolley”. On “Planet Tolley” life would look a little like the 19th century. Students would be sitting in rows, learning their three Rs, and there would be no sign of science. There would not be a sign of the kind of science we have been talking about today.
Today we heard from Anne Tolley, the Minister of Education, that science advisers will go from our primary schools. These science advisers allow primary school teachers, who are not subject experts, to impart learning to students that is up to date, relevant, and cutting edge science. This allows students to apply in a practical context the literacy skills that they are learning. Literacy skills have to be used and applied in a practical way; that is basic teaching and learning, yet today we heard that primary school teachers will have that resource away from them. This bill is about a very useful and important institution in our country, and it is a great pity that on the day that we debate the bill we also learn that primary school students, who we hope will visit this institution, will no longer have the support of science advisers.
This bill will allow a good institution, a strong educational facility, and a good visitor attraction to be created. I hope that when the Education and Science Committee looks at this bill, it will look at the other recommendations that were part of the report about what should happen with regard to the national observatory. I hope that some discussion will happen about that, and some funding will be found for it in the future.
As the MP for Wellington Central, I tell members that they can rest assured that Wellington will continue to be a centre of visitor and educational attractions, and it will be proud to have the Carter Observatory here.
LOUISE UPSTON (National—Taupō) : I am delighted to speak in support of the Carter Observatory Act Repeal Bill. It is very timely as 2009 is the International Year of Astronomy, so it is great to see support for a national icon. Of course speakers before me have acknowledged the support from the observatory’s namesake, Charles Rooking Carter, who gifted his estate to the Royal Society of New Zealand.
We are now moving into the changes to the Carter Observatory, which will delicately combine science, education, and tourism. I acknowledge the previous Government for providing the necessary financial support to the observatory, and also Wellington City Council for taking up the challenge and in effect recreating the Carter Observatory and taking it into its new life as a scientific, educational, and tourist icon. The plan is for the observatory to be opened in February next year. It is fascinating to think that the observatory is a place where people could get married, as well as visit as tourists or in school groups. There have been quite a lot of stories of people’s encounters with the universe, but I, like Mr Grant Robertson, am unfortunately of the era that was not around when man first landed on the moon.
Just before I close this evening I will reinforce how important this observatory is for education, and how important it is for schoolchildren to experience these observatories firsthand. It was only last year that my 10-year-old boy had a school trip to the observatory in Hamilton, and I went with him. The school is a small country school. It was incredible not only to see the expressions on the faces of these children as they looked out into the wild universe, but also to see the surprise of some of the parents who had never had the opportunity to gaze into space, into the wonder and delight of the universe out there.
I say that this is a fantastic opportunity: not only will science and astronomy societies get to enjoy the Carter Observatory but it will also be new tourism infrastructure to add to Wellington City. As Mr Robertson pointed out, the building at the top of the Cable Car is another tourist attraction that both locals and international visitors can enjoy, as well as a place where students and scientists alike can go to study. I will say one last word in departing, and in support of this bill in its first reading. I invite my parliamentary colleagues, during this long weekend coming up, not just to pick daisies and smell roses but also to spend a moment in the evening enjoying the night sky and the wonder of the universe. Thank you.
- Bill read a first time.
Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister of Transport) on behalf of the Minister of Research, Science and Technology: I move, That the Education and Science Committee consider the Carter Observatory Act Repeal Bill, that the committee report finally to the House on or before 20 November 2009, and that the committee have the authority to meet at any time while the House is sitting (except during questions for oral answer), and during any evening on a day on which there has been a sitting of the House, and on a Friday in a week in which there has been a sitting of the House, despite Standing Orders 187 and 190(1)(b) and (c).
- Motion agreed to.
Tabling of Documents
Climate Change—Australian Position
CHARLES CHAUVEL (Labour) : I seek the leave of the House to table four documents. The first is a transcript of an interview with the Australian Minister for Climate Change and Water, Senator the Hon Penny Wong, with an update of the Australian Government’s latest position on climate change legislation.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is objection.
CHARLES CHAUVEL (Labour) : I seek leave to table a press release from the Leader of the Opposition in Australia, Malcolm Turnbull, outlining the changes to the Australian emissions trading scheme that the Liberal Party seeks.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER: Leave is sought for that purpose. Is there any objection? There is objection.
CHARLES CHAUVEL (Labour) : I seek leave to table a media release from Senator the Hon Penny Wong, setting out a critique of statements made by the Leader of the Opposition in Australia concerning the Australian emissions trading scheme.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER: Leave is sought for that purpose. Is there any objection? There is objection.
Sittings of the House
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought for that purpose. Is there any objection? There is no objection.
- The House adjourned at 5.03 p.m.