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Date:
29 April 2003
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Questions for Oral Answer — Questions to Ministers, Questions to Members

[Volume:608;Page:5085]

Questions to Ministers

Electricity—Supply

1. Hon BILL ENGLISH (Leader of the Opposition) to the Minister of Finance: What actions has the Government taken as a result of the 2000 Inquiry into the Electricity Industry, the 2001 electricity crisis, and the electricity governance establishment project, and will these actions reduce what he described as “economic and social disruption” facing New Zealand this winter?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Finance) : We passed the Electricity Industry Reform Act and the electricity amendment legislation, which were both opposed by National. The Government announced a series of moves yesterday to reduce the probability of disruption, should a dry winter eventuate.

Hon Bill English: After passing two Acts of Parliament, conducting an inquiry into the electricity industry in June 2000, publishing the first policy statement by the Government as to the further development of New Zealand’s electricity industry—which includes the management of electricity supply risk—and then publishing a revised policy statement on exactly the same issue in February 2002, why is it that nothing has happened at all to reduce the impact of a dry year on New Zealand’s electricity supply?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Despite the fact that Parliament is sovereign, neither statute nor policy statement can make it rain in the lakes, nor fill up the Maui gasfield with the amount of gas that was previously assumed to be recoverable. There are, of course, questions lying around the issue of whether the market is the best means of ensuring security of supply. I welcome the suggestion from the Opposition about reducing the amount of market influence in the electricity area.

Mark Peck: Would the Minister care to share with the House exactly what is the effect of the legislation?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Apparently it is to make the Opposition laugh, but, in fact, it picked up the key recommendation of the inquiry, by providing for industry self-regulation. However, the Minister of Energy was far-sighted enough to provide for a Crown governance board should the industry model fail. It looks like we may now have to use that option, which was also opposed by National and ACT.

Peter Brown: Does the Minister concur that to address the electricity problems in the short term there needs to be appropriate regulation coupled with a financial incentive to save power, and that in the longer term there need to be incentives and less bureaucracy in order to improve and enlarge the supply capacity?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I agree, on the second point, that there is not enough bureaucracy and rather too much market, in terms of long-term supply considerations. [Interruption] The Opposition cannot have it both ways. It cannot say that the market works perfectly but there is a problem, and then object to any suggestions for changing the market. Certainly it is very important for reductions in demand over the coming period to first look at issues like the appropriate levels of coal supply for the Huntly plant.

Hon Richard Prebble: Will the Minister admit that any power cuts and economic and social disruption caused by electricity shortages are not the result of market failure but of Government failure, in that the Government owns 70 percent of the generating capacity in New Zealand and has elected to take scarcity profits over building new generating capacity, the Government owns 100 percent of the national grid and has elected to take profits rather than to increase the grid’s capacity, it is the Government’s own Department of Conservation that is refusing to allow the Dobson hydro scheme to go ahead, and it is this Government that has decided to make New Zealand the only country in the Southern Hemisphere to ratify the Kyoto Protocol?

Mr SPEAKER: The member knows full well that he made a statement at the end of that, rather than asking a question. The aspects of the question that were addressed, the Minister can reply to.

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I will just reply to the last part. As a professional historian by training, I say that for A to cause B, A has to come first. As the Kyoto Protocol does not come into force until 2008, it is hard to see how it is causing a power crisis in 2003.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: Does the Minister believe that the New Zealand economy has given Max Bradford’s market reforms a long-enough trial, and does he agree—

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. That comment is totally out of line. The current situation we face in the electricity industry is entirely of this Government’s making—

Mr SPEAKER: That is not a matter for a point of order. That is a political point. The member’s question, so far, is perfectly in order. The member will start again.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: Does the Minister believe that the New Zealand economy has given Max Bradford’s market reforms a long-enough trial—

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. There is no such thing as “Max Bradford’s market reforms”. There are simply the reforms—[Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: We have had a 2 weeks’ break, and we are having a little bit of fun. That is where it ends. The member, so far, has not come to any point of order. I want to know what it is.

Gerry Brownlee: If you refer to Standing Order 372(2) you will find that one cannot make inferences, epithets, or assumptions when asking a question. That is exactly what this member has done. What we have at the moment is Pete Hodgson’s power system, which has fallen apart.

Mr SPEAKER: If the member rewords her question “reforms introduced by the Hon Max Bradford”, it will be in perfectly good order.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: Thank you, Mr Speaker, for your advice. Does the Minister believe that the New Zealand economy has given the market reforms introduced by Max Bradford a long-enough trial, and does he agree that the least economic cost and social disruption in future will come from accelerating permanent improvements in energy efficiency, while we develop cost-effective renewable supply options?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Clearly, demand management over both the short and long term is important in the electricity market, but it has to be said there are elements that can be used to influence demand factors. If one is to give away those elements, then it is much harder to limit demand through other mechanisms. But there are some interesting questions around whether the market by itself will deliver a sufficient margin of security of supply, given New Zealand’s peculiar situation of dependence on hydro power and the nature of its hydrology.

Hon Peter Dunne: Is the Minister concerned that Transpower is apparently unwilling to commit the funding necessary to upgrade the distribution capacity of the national grid, because it requires the approval of every local authority over whose area its wires might pass and has no confidence that that will be forthcoming; if so, what action is he prepared to take in respect of that matter?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: That issue has certainly been raised, but it is not clear that it is true. We are looking at that, but there are other considerations in terms of Transpower’s own commercial imperatives. One of the changes that result from Mr Hodgson’s legislation is that once the Electricity Governance Board is in place it may be a great deal easier to deal with that particular matter.

Hon Bill English: Given that the Government has itself known about the effects on New Zealand households and businesses of the 2001 electricity crisis, can the Minister tell us exactly what steps this Government has taken since that crisis to reduce the impact of a dry year this year?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: There was no expectation of a dry year as early as 2003. The member should also be aware that the Maui Gas redetermination has a big impact on the amount of gas that is to be taken out of Maui this year. That was not expected.

Economy—Reserve Bank Statement

2. DAVID CUNLIFFE (NZ Labour—New Lynn) to the Minister of Finance: What reports has he received regarding the response to the recent announcement by the Reserve Bank of New Zealand?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Finance) : Business New Zealand described it as prudent, the Council of Trade Unions said that it was a step in the right direction, WestpacTrust said that a stitch in time saves nine and compared it to the more reactive responses seen in some earlier cycles, and the Opposition spokesperson said he had not expected the bank to move at that time, which indicated that he would not have done so had he stayed being the Reserve Bank Governor.

David Cunliffe: What moves has the Government made to allow the conduct of monetary policy to be more accommodating of growth?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: There were three changes to the monetary policy framework—those in the policy targets agreement requiring the bank to avoid unnecessary economic instability, requiring the bank to take a medium-term focus rather than be distracted by temporary fluctuations, and adjusting the inflation band to 1 to 3 percent. Those are all well supported by the business sector in New Zealand, and by informed commentators and financial analysts overseas.

Dr Don Brash: Given that one of his express aims in changing the policy targets agreement with the Reserve Bank Governor in both 1999 and last year was to “minimise excessive appreciation of the New Zealand dollar’’, how does the Minister reconcile his claim that the changes have been successful with the fact that the New Zealand dollar has appreciated faster during the last year than at any other time since the currency was floated in March 1985?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The primary factor is that we have enjoyed the highest growth rate in the OECD, which has attracted money into New Zealand.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Has the Minister received any reports of the enormous cost to New Zealand’s economy over the last 7 years of the Reserve Bank Governor having previously failed to take anything other than a blind ideological approach to this issue, at a great cost to the New Zealand borrower?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I saw many comments, in particular last Thursday, about a lack of proactive responses in earlier periods, and therefore a tendency to both ratchet up too early on the upside and ratchet down too slowly on the downside of the economy, and welcoming a more proactive approach by the new management of the Reserve Bank.

Economy—Reserve Bank Statement

3. Hon RICHARD PREBBLE (Leader—ACT NZ) to the Minister of Finance: Does he agree with the Reserve Bank Governor Alan Bollard’s statement, when announcing the reduction in the official cash rate from 5.75 percent to 5.5 percent, that “available data suggest that growth in the New Zealand economy is slowing”; if so, will the cut in interest rates be accompanied by a prosperity-boosting tax cut?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Finance) : Yes and no.

Hon Richard Prebble: Given the Minister’s own statements of concern that economic growth will be affected by the energy crisis and the severe acute respiratory syndrome epidemic, how does he justify overtaxing the country in order to fund his superannuation scheme and get a surplus, when, if he balanced the Budget, there would be enough money for a $50 per week, per full-time taxpayer tax cut, and would not such a tax cut boost the economy?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Only a very silly Minister of Finance would try to solve a cyclical downturn problem by a structural change in the Government accounts.

Clayton Cosgrove: Why will the Government not spend the Budget surpluses now?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Because unlike some others, we are governing for the long term and governing for all New Zealanders, not just for the rich. Before we spend the surpluses, which are not cash surpluses but surpluses on an operating balance on an accruals basis, we need to know what proportion of them is structural and what proportion is cyclical.

Dr Don Brash: Given the likelihood of a sharp slow-down in the economy over the next year or so, why does the Government continue to erect what most people in the business sector see as major barriers to economic growth, such as the Resource Management Amendment Bill and the Land Transport Management Bill?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Because we do not agree with business, particularly on the former. In any case, 3 years ago we were forecast that this economy would grind to a permanent halt and no new jobs would be created. Over the last year we have had the fastest growth rate in the OECD and well over 100,000 new jobs. Cassandra, I am afraid, is one of the few people left on the unemployed index at the present time.

Electricity—Dobson Hydro Scheme

4. GORDON COPELAND (United Future) to the Minister of Conservation: With the worsening electricity crisis and concerns for adequate electricity supply in future years, will he reconsider amending the Conservation Act 1987 to enable the proposed Dobson hydro scheme to go ahead as the proposed scheme is in a high rainfall area; if not, why not?

Hon CHRIS CARTER (Minister of Conservation) : No, I will not. The proposed power scheme would take some time to construct and is irrelevant in terms of the electricity situation this winter. The modest amount of power likely from this scheme does not, in any case, justify the flooding of an area of valley-floor kahikatea, and matai forest protected within an ecological area and established by the National Government in 1983.

Gordon Copeland: When the Minister stated in the Greymouth Evening Star with reference to the Dobson hydro proposal that there are “better projects around”, what specific projects was he referring to?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: Quite a number of options were suggested in that very same paper the member referred to. I would suggest that he and other members of the House agree to my tabling this document, which I propose to do now. I seek leave to table an article from the Greymouth Evening Star, which lists quite a number of—

Mr SPEAKER: I think the Minister could also list a couple of those options as requested. I will take the tabling of the document at the end of the question.

Hon CHRIS CARTER: Project Aqua, the proposed scheme for the Waitaki River, would generate up to 570 megawatts, compared with the 60 megawatts from the proposed Dobson scheme. The New Zealand Herald on 16 April had a suggestion from Mighty River Power that it would put a 100-megawatt geothermal plant at Kawerau. Those would be much more viable options.

David Parker: Has the Minister seen any reports on other power generation proposals for the West Coast?

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am trying to gather how this goes now. Mr Copeland asked the question. United Future has an understanding with this Government in respect of supply, and now you are giving Mr Parker a supplementary question. Now that is not how it goes in this House.

Mr SPEAKER: Well, I am sorry, but that is how it has gone in the last 4 years.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Well, it is not going to go on for many more.

Mr SPEAKER: Order!

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.

Mr SPEAKER: No, the member will not raise that point of order.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Well, I have raised it.

Mr SPEAKER: Well, I have ruled it out.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I want to finish my point of order and not be constantly interrupted before I have completed what I want to say. The fact of the matter is that everybody on this side of the House expected the next question to come to this side after Mr Copeland’s supplementary question. That is what the press gallery and everybody else watching this TV show would be expecting.

Hon Dover Samuels: A TV show!

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Well, it is being shown to about 70,000 New Zealanders who have nothing better to do. My point is, why is there a change now?

Mr SPEAKER: There has been no change. The United Future party is not part of the Government coalition.

David Parker: Has the Minister seen any reports on other power generation proposals for the West Coast?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: I have seen an excellent report in the Greymouth, the headline of which was “Plugging into the Coast’s power potential”. I seek leave of the House to table this, as there seems to be a great deal of interest in the subject.

Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table it. Is there any objection? There is.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Why did he, in an interview on National Radio on 16 April, say: “This project has already been to the High Court and was rejected.”, when in fact it has never been to the High Court or any other court, and the decision was made by a Minister of the Crown, or is this just part of a misleading campaign for this Government not to take responsibility for its own decisions?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: Clearly, that member was not listening carefully to the interview, because in that interview I made the point the topic had been to the High Court. In fact, that member should recall that in 1995 his predecessor, Denis Marshall, as Minister of Conservation, declined the flooding of an area of conservation land in Buller for a hydro scheme. It was tested in the High Court and thrown out.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: I seek leave of the House to table this transcript, which says: “This project—”

Mr SPEAKER: The member knows tabling is done at the end of a question. However, the Minister twice asked for leave to table. I allowed it, and as I have done that for him I will now allow it for the member. Is there any objection to the tabling of Dr Nick Smith’s statement? There is.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: I seek leave of the House to read the transcript so the House can be clear about exactly what the Minister did say on National Radio.

Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to read the transcript. Is there any objection? There is.

Hon Roger Sowry: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I have not read the transcript, but I heard my colleague read a sentence when he sought the tabling of it, and the quote was: “This project—”. Given that the Minister in his answer said he did not talk about the project, he talked about the topic, I wonder whether the Minister wishes to reconsider his answer, because answers in this House are meant to be accurate, and if the Minister has misrepresented this to the House, now is the time to correct it.

Mr SPEAKER: That is up to the member or the Minister.

Hon CHRIS CARTER: I want to make it clear to the House that my recollection of that interview was that flooding ecological land is the topic I was talking about. My reference—[Interruption] I thank Dr Smith. []

Mr SPEAKER: I warn people about calling out and interjecting during points of order.

Gerry Brownlee: It’s not a point of order.

Mr SPEAKER: It is a point of order, and that is Mr Brownlee’s last warning for the day. It is a point of order and the member is speaking to it.

Hon Richard Prebble: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The member is misusing the point of order procedure. He should actually be seeking leave to make an explanation, which the House would give to him, but he should do it properly, not under a point of order procedure.

Mr SPEAKER: No. The member can raise a point of order outside the point of order. This is supplementary question material so far that I have been listening to, not a point of order. The member was speaking to the point of order. Had the Minister finished?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: No, I had not.

Hon Richard Prebble: That’s a complete abuse of the point of order procedure.

Mr SPEAKER: Please be seated. The member will now stand, withdraw, and apologise.

Hon Richard Prebble: I stand, withdraw, and apologise, and say we are having a complete abuse of the point of order procedure. The member is correcting his answer, and you and I know that he should not do that by way of a point of order. He should seek leave and make a proper explanation.

Mr SPEAKER: The member will now leave the Chamber. He is way out of order.

Hon Richard Prebble: So I am now being thrown out for insisting that the Standing Orders be followed. What you are doing is outrageous.

Mr SPEAKER: The member will leave the Chamber.

Hon Richard Prebble: I made a legitimate point of order, you know I am correct, and you are now throwing me out.

Mr SPEAKER: The member will leave the Chamber.

  • Hon Richard Prebble withdrew from the Chamber.

Hon Roger Sowry: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Minister was on his feet explaining the difference, and in fact used the words “in his recollection”—referring to whether it was an individual project or the general topic. That is, in fact, correcting the answer. He took my invitation, which you said he was entitled to take, to correct his answer. It is quite wrong to do that by way of a point of order. I understood he was doing it by way of a correction. When a member then goes through the process of pointing out that simple fact as laid out under the Standing Orders and then gets thrown out because of it, that is, I think, quite wrong.

Hon Ken Shirley: I think the House does need clarification on that point. My understanding of the Standing Orders is quite clear. The Minister in the situation we have just experienced should have sought the leave of the House to make an explanation. My colleague Richard Prebble has been thrown out of the House for standing up for the rights of the Opposition on this issue, and I think that does give the Chair cause for reflection. I suggest that was an over-reaction. I also suggest that if that interpretation is correct, you should invite my colleague to return to the Chamber forthwith.

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: It is clear to me, having watched the episode, that Mr Prebble was thrown out for continuing to interject and yell abuse at the Chair during a point of order.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: The problem here arose because a Minister sought to clarify a situation from his memory, when he knew full well that in front of him—provided by Dr Smith—was the transcript, which, if read out, would have solved the problem. It is sneaky and it is weasel words; that is what has been condoned here.

Mr SPEAKER: I first want to deal with the matter of Mr Prebble. He was not thrown out for attempting to raise a point of order; he was thrown out for defying the Chair. That was the reason, and the same will happen to anyone who does that. I will not have that in this House. The second point is that the Minister was speaking to a point of order, but it is clear that it was not a valid point of order, and the matter ends at this point. However, supplementary questions can continue.

John Carter: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. There are two points I want to make. The first is that when the Minister was answering his question initially, he had a document in front of him. You directed him to read from the document to make a couple of points from it —

Mr SPEAKER: In answer to the question.

John Carter: Correct, in answer to his question. I wonder therefore, given that you gave him an instruction, or suggested to him that he read from the document, whether you might suggest to him that he read from the transcript so that the House does know what it states. You could ask him to do that in the same way that you asked him in the first instance. That would clarify the matter for us and it would be useful. The second point I want to make is, given that you have asked Mr Prebble to leave—in circumstances that there has been some question about—I wonder whether you could ask him to be recalled at the end of this question.

Mr SPEAKER: No, I will not because, as every member knows, he was thrown out for defying the Chair and shouting abuse, which he cannot do. That was the reason he was thrown out, and everyone knows it. On the member’s first point, all I can say is that if a member or a Minister has misled the House, there is an appropriate way to deal with the matter, and we all know what that way is. I can then receive correspondence on the matter.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. There is a serious development that arises from your last statement—that is, Ministers who wait until some distant time in the day, when no one is in the House, when the press gallery is totally empty, and when the television lights are off, and then come down to the House and correct their answer. It is wrong, and they should be told either to make the correction immediately or to take the consequences the next day in a privilege hearing.

Mr SPEAKER: If I thought that was the case, I would be the first to jump on the Minister as hard as I could.

Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. There has been much confusion here. First of all, I do not believe that Mr Chris Carter called out “Speaking to the point of order”. So there was some confusion as to what grounds he was on his feet. I think, if you reflect back, you yourself were confused, because at one point you said he was speaking to a point of order and at another point you thought he was answering a question. He cannot have been doing both, and if he was correcting an answer there is a proper procedure. I think that it is harsh. We had supplementary questions to ask the Minister. There was a lot of concern—not just on the part of members of the Opposition but it should be on the part of members of this whole House—about answers given by Ministers and the appropriate way in which those answers are corrected. We had a situation with a Minister on his feet, but under what pretence or guise—

Mr SPEAKER: I have consulted. The member was speaking to a point of order and not answering a question. There is no current supplementary question before the House, and I am prepared to call—

Hon CHRIS CARTER: For the sake of speed and of getting through question time, I seek leave now to make a personal statement.

Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to make a personal explanation. It is in relation to this matter, I presume?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: It is in relation to this matter.

Mr SPEAKER: Is there any objection?

Hon Dr Nick Smith: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.

Mr SPEAKER: No, the member can only object. He cannot speak to it. Is there any objection? I call the Hon Chris Carter.

Hon CHRIS CARTER: On quite a number of occasions I have been asked questions on this issue before and it has been raised in the House. I spoke recently at a meeting of mayors in Kaikoura on the issue of the dam on the Arnold River near Dobson. On each occasion I have made reference to the actions of Mr Denis Marshall when he was Minister of Conservation, and to having this issue tested in the High Court. I have used it, if one likes, as a sort of icon case about the difficulty of flooding or damaging conservation land.

My recollection of the interview on Radio New Zealand is that I made reference to that. Now, as all members of this House know, I have not read the transcript yet. It may well give the impression that I was referring specifically to the Dobson case. If it does, I apologise to the House. In fact, I was referring to the precedent set in the Buller case, under the National Government. That is an issue I have referred to many times, and, perhaps, may well refer to again in the future.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. This Minister has compounded the problem. He was given, then, a clear chance to go to the transcript he has before him, and to read it out. That is what the question was about; that is what he was required to answer. Instead, he took the time to make a ministerial statement, and, in an evasive and obtuse way, he tried clumsily to get out of it.

Mr SPEAKER: We cannot discuss a personal explanation made to this House.

Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.

Mr SPEAKER: I hope it is not going over this matter any further.

Gerry Brownlee: Yes, it is. It relates to Standing Order 343, and members have a right to ask the Chair questions relating to the Standing Orders. That Standing Order is very clear: a member may make a personal explanation about matters of a personal nature, with leave of the House. I assume that when the Minister spoke to the mayors, at whichever gathering it was, it was as the Minister, and I assume that when he spoke in the radio interview, of which the transcript is provided, he was speaking as the Minister, so his statement should have been a ministerial statement.

Mr SPEAKER: I invite the member to read the second sentence in that Standing Order: “A personal explanation may not be debated.”

Gerry Brownlee: That is exactly the point I raise. The Hon Chris Carter should not have used a personal explanation in the way he has. There is nothing personal about that at all. He is trying to explain his actions as a Minister. It seems that the Opposition’s role of scrutinising a Minister is being subverted by his being allowed to pursue this particular Standing Order in his own defence.

Mr SPEAKER: No. He sought leave from the House. I asked twice and leave was given.

Hon Ken Shirley: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I also raise a matter, because I think we have missed the point here. Standing Order 343 is clearly about a personal explanation. The Minister was not giving a personal explanation; he was replying in his ministerial capacity to a matter under his responsibilities as a Minister. His statement should have been a ministerial statement. I think we need a clarification of this point before we move on.

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: The fact that the member is a Minister does not get around the fact that if a member is talking about words he has used, and whether he may have misled the House in using those words, that is a matter of a personal explanation. Whether one is saying that about what one said as a Minister or simply as an individual, the same conditions apply. It does not require a ministerial statement. For one thing, a personal explanation has to be believed by the House; a ministerial statement does not.

Stephen Franks: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.

Mr SPEAKER: No, I am ready to rule on this matter. I say, once again, that the Minister chose to ask for leave. I twice asked, and the House concurred. A personal explanation can be used about an answer a Minister has given. That is always the way in which a misleading reply is cleared up. The Minister chose to do that right now instead of later as it was suggested he might do.

Stephen Franks: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I need guidance now because the supplementary question I am about to seek the call for is, in effect, debating the correctness of the statement that has just been made. I did not know anything about the background—

Mr SPEAKER: I will give the member the perfect opportunity to ask his supplementary question and I will listen to it very carefully and liberally.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: In the same Radio New Zealand interview, why did the Minister refer to it as “a little micro-dam”, and four times referred to it as “a micro ‑ hydro scheme”, when in all the expert literature, both from an engineering and sector point of view, they are schemes of less than 5 megawatts, when this is a 62 megawatt scheme, and noting that in my own electorate of Nelson 400 people have been put out of work because of the power shortages in our region, will he now not accept that he has consistently misled the public about his responsibility, and the importance of this scheme to the top of the south?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: I can give the member the assurance that I will now call it a middle-sized hydro scheme.

Mr SPEAKER: Supplementary question, I call the Hon Ken Shirley.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Why am I not getting the question?

Mr SPEAKER: The member has had a supplementary question, and Mr Shirley from ACT has not.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: No, I have not.

Mr SPEAKER: The member has had a supplementary question. Both I and the Clerk have it registered.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: No, I have not. I do not care what he has written down there. I have not.

Mr SPEAKER: If the member assures me that he has not, I accept his word, and I will call him as soon as I have heard Mr Shirley.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. We did not slave to get ourselves to No. 3 in this country’s politics, only to be taken fourth and fifth in this House. Those are the rules. Those are the precedents that go back a long, long way, and I am asserting them.

Hon Ken Shirley: Sit down, Winston.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Shut up. Sit down. I am speaking. It is my point of order. Sit him down. [Interruption] I raise my point again, Mr Speaker. You know the order of precedence in this House. This is the second time today, I believe, that you have attempted to rearrange supplementary questions, or reassert them, or reorganise them. We do not accept that. I am now asking to have this question.

Mr SPEAKER: Whether or not through error, I have already called Mr Shirley. I will call the member next.

Hon Ken Shirley: How does the Minister reconcile his repeated statement that the Conservation Act precludes him from engaging in land swaps that would allow the Department of Conservation to receive 700 hectares of prime forested land on Mount Buckley in exchange for some 250 hectares of cut-over lands in Card Creek, thus allowing the significant expansion of TrustPower’s Arnold River power scheme; how does he reconcile those statements with the fact that last September he engaged in a land swap of Department of Conservation land in Bruce Bay to allow Te Rūnanga o Maakawhio to build a marae?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: That member’s question contains a number of erroneous points. The one I would like to address principally is that the Mount Buckley area that is proposed for exchange has itself been logged for timber, and, in any case, is under no threat. It is hill-country forest, whereas the area that is to be flooded is valley‑floor kahikatea of which we have less than 5 percent left in the country.

Hon Ken Shirley: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My question was very specific. It was how did he reconcile the land swap issue with—

Mr SPEAKER: No, please be seated. The Minister addressed the question. He might not have given a satisfactory answer, but that is not my concern.

Hon Ken Shirley: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. He did not address the question. The question was not in two parts; it was one question: how does he reconcile the fact that he is claiming there cannot be a land swap for Arnold River because it is Department of Conservation land, yet last September the Minister engaged in a land swap of Department of Conservation land to allow a marae to be built in Jacksons Bay?

Mr SPEAKER: The member is only using debating material.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Before I ask my supplementary question, am I right or wrong about having asked a question on this issue? I am right, am I not?

Mr SPEAKER: Two of us—

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Just say so, so that we can get things clear.

Mr SPEAKER: I thought the member had.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I am telling you I was not—

Mr SPEAKER: I have accepted the member’s word.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Yes, and my point is that we will not take you reorganising question time as you please.

Mr SPEAKER: Order!

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Well, I think I am entitled to an apology.

Mr SPEAKER: Please be seated. I am getting sick and tired of this.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: So am I.

Mr SPEAKER: Now the member will stand, withdraw, and apologise.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I withdraw and apologise. I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.

Mr SPEAKER: No, I am on my feet and I am ruling. I say to the member that I checked to see whether he had asked a question. I had listed it. I carefully asked my assistant. He had listed New Zealand First. A member of his own party came to the Table to check, because there was some confusion about it. I said that if I had made an error I accepted the member’s word, and I have accepted the member’s word. I then called Mr Shirley. There has not been any change. In future, of course, the member will be called third.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: That is not my point. My point of order is that we do not accept your decision in respect of Mr Parker, and I certainly do not in this case as well. That is twice in the space of four questions. We will not accept that. I ask you to explain why it happened.

Mr SPEAKER: The member will be seated. Now the member will stand, withdraw, and apologise. I will not have the ruling about Mr Parker questioned, because it is consistent with the rulings I have given over 4 years, and I have already said to the member that I have accepted his word on the other matter. We have finished that particular point. I want now to come to the member’s supplementary question, which he is entitled to ask.

Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I do not wish to have Mr Peters expelled from this Chamber but I ask you to reflect on the issue of consistency when you consider your treatment of Mr Prebble, who, in contesting the application of the Standing Orders and having an exchange with you, was not asked to withdraw or apologise but was summarily thrown out of this Chamber. When Mr Peters did the same thing—and again I am not saying that Mr Peters should be thrown out—he was treated with some considerable leniency and was then asked to withdraw and apologise. I suggest that what is good for one leader should be good for the other and, indeed, for all members of this House. I ask you to reflect on that sincerely, and to reflect on whether you treated Mr Prebble a little harshly.

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: Indeed you did call upon Mr Prebble to withdraw and apologise, and in fact he did do so and then carried on yelling from his seat at you, on a regular and continual basis for a period of time, which Mr Peters did not do.

Mr SPEAKER: That is precisely correct.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: When the Minister had before him the transcript beginning with the words “This project”, why did he not read it to the House, or is it that the transcript again states everything that he has attempted to explain to this House since he was asked to qualify what he said?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: I repeat to this House that if I gave the impression I was talking about the Dobson project, I apologise. What I was referring to was the precedent set by the Buller case—something that I have referred to often.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: Does the Minister believe that Dobson is the only site on the West Coast on which a hydroelectricity dam could be built that would make economic and environmental sense, as implied by TrustPower; if not, why not?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: No, a number of options are available and I refer the member again to the article that I am about to table in the House.

Gordon Copeland: Has the Minister visited the site of the Dobson hydro scheme; if so, what are his impressions concerning its environmental robustness?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: No, but I am going there in a couple of weeks’ time. However, I do have full confidence in the ecological reports describing the area, including those done by TrustPower.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: If conservation land is so sacrosanct that its status can never be changed, why is there before this House a bill in the name of the Hon John Tamihere, the Reserves and Other Lands Disposal Bill, that changes the conservation status of eight different blocks of land, including ecological reserve; and why does this Minister simply not come clean and say this is not a legal issue but a political issue in which Labour is being held to ransom by the Greens?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: That member once held the position of Minister of Conservation, and he, I am sure, knows that sections 7 and 16 of the Conservation Act relate to the disposal of conservation land. As the Buller case, which I have referred to a number of times in this House, showed in the High Court, to change that would require a major change. That member, when he was the Minister of Conservation, added 1,800 hectares to the Dobson site. Why does he want to destroy it now?

Hon Dr Nick Smith: I seek leave of the House to table a map of the area involved in the Dobson dam, which shows quite clearly that the area that it is proposed for it is nowhere near the area that was added by the previous National Government.

  • Document not tabled.

Stephen Franks: Why did the Minister tell Radio New Zealand that he would need a law change to allow the Dobson River scheme to proceed, using an infinitesimal fraction of the Department of Conservation’s gorse and broom, when section 18(7) of the Conservation Act states specifically that the Minister may, by notice in the Gazette, vary or revoke the purpose, or all or any of the purposes, for which an ecological area is held, and it shall thereafter be held accordingly? I urge the Minister to consider the consequences of deliberately misleading the House.

Mr SPEAKER: Please ask the question, and do not make a comment.

Hon CHRIS CARTER: I refer again to the Buller case, which showed that, under the current Act, one cannot destroy ecological land for any purpose. One would have to have a law change to do that.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: I seek leave of the House to table the High Court decision in respect of the Ngakawau case, which made it plain that the Minister had the discretion.

  • Document not tabled.

Gerrard Eckhoff: Further to the question from my colleague Mr Ken Shirley, why will the Minister not consent to the Arnold River scheme proceeding to build a hydro dam by swapping Department of Conservation land, as he did last September when he swapped prime rimu forest in Jacksons Bay to allow the building of a marae?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: I am not prepared to swap land of lesser value for land of more value that would be destroyed.

Gordon Copeland: Given that one of the Minister’s reasons for turning down the Dobson hydro dam proposal was that conservation groups would be outraged, did he take into account the views of any other groups and their probable reaction—for example, the people of the West Coast?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: I was delighted to drive 2½ hours from Christchurch to Kaikoura, and then 2½ hours back to Christchurch, last week to meet the mayors of the upper South Island to discuss that very issue. One of the hallmarks of my ministry, I hope, is a willingness and a desire to engage with anyone interested in conservation issues.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Could I ask the Minister whether he will now read out from the transcript the comments beginning with “This project”, or can I take his declining to do so as clear evidence that he has misled this House deliberately?

Hon CHRIS CARTER: Like, probably, most members of this House, I am very keen to see question time end soon, so I am not prepared to do that.

Mr SPEAKER: So too am I, and that reply does not help. I want the Minister now to address the question, or I will take further steps.

Hon CHRIS CARTER: No.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I first asked the Minister whether he would read those comments out, and the answer to that is yes or no. Secondly, I asked whether I can I take his refusal to read them out as clear evidence of his attempt to mislead this House. He has given us half an answer. I want the answer to the first question.

Mr SPEAKER: I heard the Minister say “No” quite clearly. That addressed the question.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. This is pretty rudimentary stuff. I asked whether the Minister would read those comments out, and the answer to that would be yes or no. I then asked whether I could take an answer of no to mean that he had deliberately attempted to mislead the House. Is that answer no to the first question, no to the second question, or half an answer to both questions?

Mr SPEAKER: I am now losing patience. The member was asked a specific question. He said “No”, and there cannot be any clearer answer than that, except to say yes.

Electricity—Savings

5. GERRY BROWNLEE (NZ National—Ilam) to the Minister of Energy: Are any incentives being developed by the Government to encourage consumers to make the 10 percent electricity savings called for by Winter Power Task Force coordinator Dr Patrick Strange; if not, why not?

Hon PETE HODGSON (Minister of Energy) : Incentives for power savings in the form of buy-back programmes from electricity retailers will be part of the industry’s response to the prospect of power shortages this winter. Those programmes were successful in 2001, and will add to the existing financial incentive for saving electricity, which is a lower power bill.

Gerry Brownlee: Will those incentives apply from yesterday—the date of the 10 percent savings target announcement—or should householders postpone any savings until they know how much the incentive is, and when it will apply from?

Hon PETE HODGSON: Consumers certainly should not postpone making any savings, because they will get a lower power bill as a result, and will reduce the chances of problems in winter. I imagine that retailers will roll out their various programmes over the next week or two. They will include programmes that operate at the individual customer level, and those that operate at the community level, where the savings are gathered and returned into the community in some project or other, as they were in 2001.

Russell Fairbrother: How easy is it for domestic electricity customers to save 10 percent on their power bill?

Hon PETE HODGSON: The Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority advises that domestic electricity consumers can save 10 percent on their power bill relatively easily by switching off appliances at the wall when they are not in use, taking short showers instead of baths, switching off unnecessary lighting, and so on. Information on simple measures to save electricity will be made more widely available in a substantial advertising campaign beginning this weekend.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: What progress has been made towards the provisions in the National Energy Efficiency and Conservation Strategy to encourage solar water heating—namely, a market transformation programme, with a target of 10,000 new installations a year, and a Government purchase programme to stimulate the solar water heater market—and would that not have made a difference if it had started last year?

Hon PETE HODGSON: The Government hopes to make announcements in regard to those matters in the next week or two. They are useful: solar water heaters, all those things, help to contribute; when one starts to do the arithmetic, one finds that they are not hugely useful, but everything helps.

Gerry Brownlee: Does the Minister agree with the proposal from Meridian Energy to supply its customers with draught-stoppers, energy-saver light bulbs, and hot water cylinder wraps, and how many draught-stoppers, energy-saver light bulbs, and hot water cylinder wraps would it take to meet the 10 percent savings target, and where do people sign up for the delivery of those goods?

Hon PETE HODGSON: In order, the answers to the questions are: that is Meridian’s business; quite a lot; and I do not know.

Social Policy—Development

6. HELEN DUNCAN (NZ Labour) to the Minister of Social Services and Employment: What initiatives is the Government taking to improve social policy development?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY (Minister of Social Services and Employment) : This morning I announced an $8.6 million package of initiatives to ensure social policy development is supported by high-quality social research. The centrepiece is a project to encourage social science research networking, leadership, and collaboration within and between university and public service sectors. The project will encourage social science research excellence, help identify and plug key research gaps, and ensure public sector policy development is informed by timely, relevant, and excellent New Zealand research.

Helen Duncan: What examples is the Minister aware of where social research has contributed to better outcomes for New Zealanders?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: One example would be the evaluation of the work-for-the-dole scheme in the late 1990s, which proved that the scheme failed. It actually prevented people from finding work, and ensured that they stayed on the dole longer. I congratulate Roger Sowry on commissioning the work-for-the-dole evaluation, which proved that National’s current policy is a failure, and will be a failure in the future if it ever gets a chance to implement it. It should be grateful for this research.

Judith Collins: Why does one of the Minister’s social policy initiatives involve spending $400,000 of taxpayers’ money on research into the increase in the number of sickness and invalids beneficiaries when he has previously supposedly given definitive reasons for the dramatic increase in numbers, and why can he not just accept that this Government’s slack welfare policies are the real reason behind the massive increases?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: What I have said in the past is that we have an idea of why we think these benefit numbers are increasing but that we need to do definitive research, and that is what the money is for. I understand that the member’s party intends to introduce work testing of sickness and invalids beneficiaries again, if it ever gets a chance to do so. I am appalled by that policy.

Barbara Stewart: Do those policy initiatives include significant means for reducing the 621-day investigation period of an urgent Child, Youth and Family Services case, or will the Minister continue to publicly wring his hands, agree that it is not good enough, and accept no responsibility?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: The member may have missed part of the discussion about the case that she raises in which I said that we do not accept that length of time. In the performance agreement the department now has a maximum of 6 months.

Sue Bradford: Given the Government’s stated commitment to partnership with the community sector, why is the Minister ignoring the large potential resource of community-based research and, instead, focusing his new programme on funding and increased support for academics, especially given the fact that there are already 300-plus policy analysts at the Ministry of Social Development?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: It is appropriate that we do focus the bulk of our work on the people who do the research, and they happen to be in tertiary institutions. But if the member reads my speech from this morning she will see that we made a great deal of effort to include consultation with the community on the way that this research will need to be done. That is why a large number of community-based people are at the social policy conference today and tomorrow. This is the single biggest social policy conference that I can remember in the history of this country, and they are there.

Judy Turner: In the light of the Minister’s comment this morning at the social policy research conference when he said: “Historically, social research by Government agencies has been disparate.”, can he confirm to the House whether the Government plans to absorb the Ministry of Women’s Affairs and the Ministry of Youth Affairs into the Ministry of Social Development?

Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I can confirm to the House that we do not intend to absorb those ministries into the Ministry of Social Development.

Police—Car Crash Inquiries

7. Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First) to the Minister of Police: Do the reported press comments by Police Association president Greg O’Connor regarding “the State failing to deliver justice to its people”, because of the police’s inability to carry out car crash inquiries, have substance?

Hon GEORGE HAWKINS (Minister of Police) : No. Police policy around responses to traffic crashes has remained unchanged since it was formulated in the early 1990s. The commissioner expects police to respond to all fatal and injury accidents.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Is the Minister saying that the New Zealand Herald article of 28 April that reads: “Police in parts of Auckland have given up investigating minor car crashes and are telling victims to deal with the offenders themselves.”, or, further, reports that victims of a random shooting out of a car parked on a victim’s property had to wait 8 hours before the police attended, or, for example, the sending of a form letter from police to victims of vehicle accidents advising those involved that they are on their own, are examples of proactive policing, or what?

Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: I do not think that any of those examples are acceptable. However, I tell the member that the police have been using the same standard letter for a long while. It was last modified on 14 September 1999—

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am asking the Minister whether those reports have substance and whether they are true. He is attempting to give us a diatribe of what happened in the dim, dark past, at a time for which he was not responsible as Minister. That is my point of order.

Mr SPEAKER: The point of order is not well based. The Minister did address the question. I heard him do so myself.

Martin Gallagher: Has the Commissioner of Police stated that the ability to respond to reported offences is due to lack of resources; if not, what information has the Minister received about the current level of resources available to individual police districts?

Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: The commissioner and I held a media conference on this matter yesterday. The commissioner stated that it is not a matter of resources. The Government funds the police, and the commissioner sets district budgets. For example, the budget for the Auckland police district has increased significantly between the 1999-2000 year and 2002-03. Over that time the personnel budget has increased by 9 percent, the operational budget by 38 percent, and the total budget by 14 percent.

Hon Tony Ryall: Can the Minister categorically state that there are no other crimes that the police are telling people to investigate themselves, and is this not just the Government’s solution to try to lower the crime rates by having less crime reported?

Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: I cannot give a categorical denial of that. From time to time police resources are stretched. However, I would say that the police are doing far better. This Government has set standards for them that burglaries should be attended within 24 hours. The police are doing well achieving that, compared with what happened under the National Party, which was abysmal.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: How can the Minister make that statement in respect of police resourcing, when there is only a 40 percent clearance of reported crime, first of all, and when every member of this Parliament dealing with any region or district has been told by the local police that police are under-resourced and under extraordinary stress?

Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: The amount of resolved crime has been higher under this Government than under any other Government, and I have to say the police officers who want more resources want to catch more crooks always, and they use every opportunity they can to lobby. The commissioner lobbies me, and we deliver.

Marc Alexander: Does the Minister agree that the raising of the bar for crimes that warrant police attention will soon extend to other offences where victims may tend to over-exaggerate the crime in order to compete for the attention of a police force that is seemingly overwhelmed by the sheer volume of crime; if not, why not?

Hon GEORGE HAWKINS: I think some victims do exaggerate the nature of the crime, and that is because crime impacts on people at different levels. I seek leave to table a letter, last modified on 14 July 1999, from the Balmoral Police Station.

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

Hon Tony Ryall: I seek leave to table two documents. The first shows that fewer than one in 10 burglaries in Auckland are being resolved under this Government, and the second is a report from the Insurance Council of New Zealand describing the police as under-resourced, underfunded, and under stress.

  • Documents not tabled.

Genetic Engineering—Risk to GDP

8. JEANETTE FITZSIMONS (Co-Leader—Green) to the Minister of Finance: Why did Treasury advice to him describe the range of impacts on GDP from use of genetically modified organisms as being from a “best-case scenario” of plus 2.5 percent to a “worst case scenario” of minus 1.3 percent when an April 2003 BERL-AERU report on this topic includes scenarios with greater risks to GDP?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Finance) : BERL-AERU was asked to consider the full range of theoretically possible outcomes. Treasury in reporting to Ministers chose, sensibly, to focus on likely outcomes.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: Was he aware that US research on productivity from genetically engineered (GE) soya beans shows they produce, on average, across all states, 5 percent less than conventional soya beans, when he accepted Treasury advice that the scenario assuming zero productivity gains from a GE crop was not likely and should be ignored?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The reason for ignoring such an unlikely outcome is that it is very unlikely that farmers would continue to plant crops or use genetically modified (GM) stock that continues to show zero productivity growth.

Luamanuvao Winnie Laban: How is the Government planning to maximise the benefits and minimise the risks of genetically modified organisms?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The Government will institute an extremely rigorous case by case approvals process that will ensure that New Zealand can build on its strong biotechnology sector, while maintaining strong environmental safeguards.

Dr Paul Hutchison: Given that the economic reports in question are based on fundamental assumptions about New Zealand, does he consider that the New Zealand environment is, in reality, clean, green, and GM-free, and what evidence has he to support his answer?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Certainly, and this is quite relevant to the research, the perception of people overseas is very strongly that New Zealand is clean and green, but equally we all know there are many examples of where we are not so clean and not so green.

Larry Baldock: Does the Minister agree with recent Treasury advice stating: “It is unlikely that overseas consumers would know, or bring to mind at point of sale, the GM attributes of New Zealand, when deciding whether to purchase New Zealand’s export products.”; if so, does he also agree that this shows any negative real-world effect of the release of GM organisms in New Zealand on gross domestic product (GDP), at least as far as export earnings are concerned?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Yes, indeed, there is evidence in the report that demonstrates that people often did not recognise GM-free labelling and make decisions on that basis. There was also a tendency for people to say they would respond to GM free, but would be less likely to do so in terms of paying the price increase in actual practice.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: Was he aware of the international survey commissioned by Discovery Channel, which showed that 58 percent of all those polled in eight nations are unwilling to eat GM food, when he accepted Treasury advice that the scenario showing no adverse market reaction at all was credible and should be further considered?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I am aware of such surveys. I am also aware the member claimed that the most likely outcome of GM free was 7.5 percent growth of GDP, when in fact that extreme scenario was under the assumptions, firstly, that New Zealand was GM free; and, secondly, that either all other countries were not, but nobody knew about it, or were and had no productivity gains. Either way, it seems extremely unlikely.

Sue Kedgley: How could Treasury credibly conclude in its advice to him that it was highly likely GM-food exports would have no effect on market access or price, when the European Union was about to introduce a comprehensive new labelling regime that will require identification of all food produced by GM technology, and which will lower the threshold for GM contamination?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The European Union, of course, is also one of the largest producers of genetically modified food in the world, and there are always questions around any action by the European Union as to whether it has got to do with a trade barrier or something to do with food safety.

Ian Ewen-Street: How can genetic engineering be in any way good for New Zealand’s economy, when all realistic scenarios show negative impacts on farmers, unless one assumes that GE has no negative impact on export demand—a scenario that has not occurred anywhere in the world?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: No, the last assumption is wrong. If I go back to the case previously noted—if the same scenario were tested, on the assumption there were productivity gains from genetic modification, the net benefit to New Zealand was not plus 7.5 percent, but negative.

Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome—District Health Boards

9. Dr LYNDA SCOTT (NZ National—Kaikoura) to the Minister of Health: Has every district health board by now a comprehensive action plan for community and hospital care of patients with severe acute respiratory syndrome, and a budget to meet that action plan?

Hon ANNETTE KING (Minister of Health) : Yes. Every board now has a comprehensive action plan for the community and hospital care of patients with severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) and a budget to meet that action plan.

Dr Lynda Scott: Why, when the admission of a suspected Sars patient to Auckland Hospital prompted an urgent review of procedures on 19 March, are staff there still scared, and why has Dr Colin McArthur described the hospital as “having a physically inadequate environment”?

Hon ANNETTE KING: In the week since Sars was first notified as a disease many changes have been made in the handling of this case, as have been described and explained to the member in the briefings given in my office and the regular updates that have been given to all Opposition spokespeople. However, Colin McArthur has also said he believes that Auckland Hospital is well prepared to handle a case of Sars, which we will inevitably get in New Zealand at some stage.

Steve Chadwick: Has the Minister seen any comments that nurses feel vulnerable because they do not have the resources to assist patients and are at risk of catching the disease themselves; if so, what feedback has she received?

Hon ANNETTE KING: Yes, the Nurses Organisation informed me today that nurses are anxious to provide good care and it is generally satisfied that they have the knowledge to provide that care safely. The organisation is comfortable that nurses have the knowledge and the equipment needed, and that nurses around New Zealand are generally expressing satisfaction with the preparedness of hospitals.

Pita Paraone: Notwithstanding the importance of internal community and hospital care, is the Minister confident in her border control provisions, given a recent newspaper report with regard to a man treated for Sars who arrived at Auckland airport from Thailand “coughing his guts out”, who was not screened by officials, and who had to admit himself to hospital after arriving in Christchurch?

Hon ANNETTE KING: There have been two suspected cases of Sars to date. That was not one of them. However, as the member probably now knows, we have nurses at our major airports who are checking people for symptoms as they come through. Coughing and hacking on their own are not symptoms of Sars. Sars has other symptoms, as well.

Heather Roy: Can the Minister deny that New Zealand does not have enough face masks of a standard to guarantee the protection of all nurses and doctors against Sars, and can she give a guarantee that New Zealand will have enough before this disease hits the country?

Hon ANNETTE KING: Unfortunately, the member was unable to attend the briefing that was given this morning. However, her researcher was there and he asked that question. He was assured that at this stage we do have enough masks in New Zealand.

Dr Lynda Scott: Why did it take a television documentary to expose the inadequate environment for treating suspected Sars patients at Auckland Hospital, given that the Minister has described the arrival of Sars in New Zealand as inevitable?

Hon ANNETTE KING: It certainly did not take the Sunday programme to expose any inadequacies at Auckland Hospital. In fact, David Sage, who is the chief medical officer for the Auckland board, said that the programme was disappointingly alarmist. The member raised the issue of one room that was shown on the programme. She may be interested to know that Auckland Hospital has a total of 30 negative-pressure beds, and there are 43 ventilated beds in the Auckland region. That does not sound like a region that is unprepared.

Schools—Staffing Review Group

10. GEORGINA BEYER (NZ Labour—Wairarapa) to the Minister of Education: What steps is the Government taking to implement the recommendations of the School Staffing Review Group?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Minister of Education) : A substantial 774 extra teachers.

Georgina Beyer: Will the Government invest in initiatives to improve teacher supply?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: Yes, $22 million extra, which is a 50 percent increase over 4 years.

Hon Brian Donnelly: What is the point in funding additional secondary teaching positions when positions that already exist cannot be filled or are being filled with teachers of marginal quality, and is it not true that if schools fill these new positions with the latter, or worse, the system will be negatively affected now and into the future?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I am really pleased to tell the member that there are over 200 extra secondary trainees, including nearly 100 in Auckland, where the real shortage is this year. One of the good side effects of the slight disruptions we had about 12 months ago is that we have highlighted there were a lot of teaching jobs, and a lot of people have enrolled in training for them.

Domain Names—New Zealand Way Ltd

11. RODNEY HIDE (ACT NZ) to the Minister of Tourism: What, if anything, was paid for the domain name newzealand.com now registered to the New Zealand Way Ltd, and who approved the purchase?

Hon MARK BURTON (Minister of Tourism) : The newzealand.com domain name was purchased by New Zealand Way Ltd on behalf of its member organisations for US$500,000. As far as that relates to my ministerial responsibility, I say the board of Tourism New Zealand approved its share of the purchase.

Rodney Hide: Does the Minister think that this dot.com purchase costing roughly NZ$1 million was a good buy, especially since other Governments such as the United States Government do not own domain names like usa.com or WhiteHouse.com; if so, why does he think it is a good buy?

Hon MARK BURTON: Yes, it was a good buy. There is no question that this domain will provide an invaluable commercial entry portal into New Zealand for those interested in tourism, commerce, and industry. It has been reported that, for instance, an offer of US$1 million was turned down by the owners of switzerland.com, and the South African Government offered Virtual Countries US$10 million for southafrica.com. It has also been reported that korea.com was sold for US$5 million to Thrunet, Korea’s largest Internet service provider. On the evidence, and certainly given the function that newzealand.com will perform for New Zealand commerce and industry, it was a sound investment.

Dianne Yates: Would the Minister reaffirm why the newzealand.com address was purchased?

Hon MARK BURTON: Yes, the newzealand.com address is, as I indicated, the obvious single point of entry for anyone online who has an interest in New Zealand for the purposes of tourism, trade, or investment. That portal is an important global marketing tool for us, and ownership will ensure that it contains up-to-date and accurate information.

Rodney Hide: Did the Government or New Zealand Way Ltd give any thought to buying nz.com, gonewzealand.com, newzealand.co.nz, or a host of other domain names, used and unused—some of which are owned by New Zealanders—that could have been picked up for much less than newzealand.com; if not, why not?

Hon MARK BURTON: My understanding of the decision taken—and I believe it was a sound one—is that it recognises that newzealand.com reflects the clearly understood and recognised first port of call, as similar domain names do for the countries that I referred to previously.

Rodney Hide: Rubbish!

Hon MARK BURTON: Clearly the member is not a regular Internet user, but many millions of other people are.

Electricity—Disruption of Supply

12. PETER BROWN (Deputy Leader—NZ First) to the Minister of Energy: Will the Minister inform the House of all of the implications that he has been advised of if consumers fail to achieve the necessary savings to avoid disruption to New Zealand’s power supply?

Hon PETE HODGSON (Minister of Energy) : The implications will obviously depend on the extent of any electricity shortages that might arise if demand continues to grow, and supply continues to be constrained. At minimum, people can expect the inconvenience of hot water cuts. However, if the low inflows to the hydro lakes continue, and if the savings are not made now, then it is entirely possible there will be more severe economic and social disruption.

Peter Brown: Will the Minister give the House an assurance that people on low incomes, and elderly folk on fixed incomes, will be able to live reasonably comfortably and not suffer undue hardship?

Hon PETE HODGSON: It would be remiss of me to give any assurance, because I do not know what the forecast for rain will be over the next several months. I tell the member that saving now will significantly reduce the chances of people being inconvenienced later. I also tell the member that although we had no blackouts or hot water cuts to speak of in 2001, in 1992 we had hot water cuts that regularly went for 18 hours a day. If one goes back a little earlier to 1973 we had blackouts and constraints in broadcasting time. If one goes back even earlier than that to 1958 and 1947, there were serious blackouts. So this has been part of our history. The real key is to make sure that this year we do not suffer what we did in those earlier times.

Darren Hughes: Besides power savings, what other measures can help reduce the risk of electricity shortages this winter?

Hon PETE HODGSON: It is important that demand for electricity is reduced where possible. But we can also take steps to increase supply. To that end the electricity industry’s winter power task force is overseeing efforts to secure new supplies of fuel for thermal electricity generation, and is actively exploring options for short-term increases to generation capacity.

Gerry Brownlee: Can the Minister confirm that the formula used by generators to calculate the highest spot price finalised yesterday at Haywards of some $991.63 per megawatt indicates that the price later in the winter, should those savings not be achieved, could climb as high as $3,000 per megawatt?

Hon PETE HODGSON: I can confirm that there is no formula used in the electricity market. It is simply a matter of bids and offers. It is clear that when one gets a very, very high spot price settlement, as we did briefly yesterday and, as I recall, the day before, then that shows that hydro generators are trying very hard not to generate at all. It also means thermal generation must run as far and as fast as possible. The return of the Huntly power station to full capacity in recent days has been useful in that regard.

Peter Brown: Does the Minister accept that this country needs extra capacity fairly urgently, and that the Resource Management Act, the Conservation Act, and now the Kyoto Protocol are presenting huge barriers to achieve that; if so, what is he doing about it?

Hon PETE HODGSON: I do accept that the country needs capacity at the rate of about 150 megawatts a year, and there is something like, from memory, 1,600 megawatts that has already been publicly announced as prospective. I do not accept that the Kyoto Protocol or the Resource Management Act constrains development—except for renewables, where I think the Resource Management Act is a problem, particularly for wind, and that is why the Government has already announced its intention to change the legislation in that regard.

Questions to Members

Electricity—Inquiry into Industry

1. GERRY BROWNLEE (NZ National—Ilam) to the Chairperson of the Commerce Committee: How much time does the committee consider it will need to allocate to its inquiry into the electricity industry?

MARK PECK (Chairperson of the Commerce Committee): That is a matter for the committee.