Questions And Answers - 13 December 2005

Published: Tue 13 Dec 2005 05:42 PM
Questions And Answers - 13 December 2005
( Uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing. For corrected transcripts, please visit: )
Questions to Ministers
1. Dr DON BRASH (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does she have confidence in all her Ministers; if not, why not?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Acting Prime Minister) on behalf of the Prime Minister: Yes.
Dr Don Brash: Is she satisfied that Mr Benson-Pope has not misled the House, the media, or the public by releasing the highly selective analysis of his police file, and refusing to reconcile conflicting statements about it; if so, is she concerned that public opinion and newspaper editorials continue to call for his resignation?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: That question raises issues that have already been dealt with in the House. The Government, of course, considers very carefully newspaper editorials, but does not always follow them slavishly.
Dr Don Brash: Why has she continued to have confidence in her Minister of Education, Steve Maharey, given numerous claims from New Zealand Qualifications Authority markers that they are being forced secretly to re-mark National Certificate of Educational Achievement exams, and push students up to pass grades, in order to come up with results that the New Zealand Qualifications Authority finds politically palatable?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Because the processes being followed are the standard processes outlined, including check marking, and no amount of repetition of a small number of complaints from Mr English will change the facts of the case.
Dr Don Brash: Does she have confidence in the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr Winston Peters, who, first, called the New Zealand Herald “treasonous” for daring to disagree with him—
Madam SPEAKER: Who called out, please?
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I did not say anything other than that they were telling straight, bare lies, as they did again in this morning’s paper.
Madam SPEAKER: I am sorry but that is not a point of order. I will remind members once in this sitting, and for the last time, because more than one voice called out then, that when members are asking questions or raising points of order, they are to be heard in silence. That is the final warning.
Dr Don Brash: Does she have confidence in the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr Winston Peters, who first called the New Zealand Herald “treasonous” for daring to disagree with him—
Ron Mark: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. Could you remind the member that the honourable member’s title is the Rt Hon Winston Peters, and that he should be addressed appropriately?
Madam SPEAKER: I thank the member for that comment.
Dr Don Brash: Does the Prime Minister have confidence in the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Rt Hon Winston Peters, who first called the New Zealand Herald “treasonous” for daring to disagree with him, and then, after quite specifically being told by the Prime Minister to get over it, continued to attack the New Zealand Herald’s political editor, stating that her comments in an article were “baseless, false, and without any merit whatsoever”; if so, why?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Because if Ministers or, indeed, members were to have to resign because they described some comments in some media as baseless and false, not many of us would last more than about a day or two in this place.
Dr Don Brash: Why does the Prime Minister have confidence in her Minister of Health, the Hon Pete Hodgson, who has demonstrated to this House several times in the past month that he does not have a grasp on the major public health issue, which is the looming avian flu epidemic?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The member must have an extraordinarily excellent crystal ball if he knows what nobody else does, which is that we are actually going to have a flu pandemic. Possibly the Exclusive Brethren included it with his special issue of their election propaganda. However, unlike members opposite, the Minister of Health has not made the mistake of thinking Tamiflu is a vaccine that will prevent the avian flu from occurring.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Does the Prime Minister think it is reasonable to express a significant degree of frustration at a columnist who claimed that there was virtually a bilateral meeting with Condoleezza Rice, the US Secretary of State, when it did not happen—and four witnesses told her it did not—and then, just yesterday, described a meeting—
Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Sit down, sunshine—I am talking.
Madam SPEAKER: Would both members please sit down. The matter raised by the member in his supplementary question was out of order. The question must relate to the primary question.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: In relation to the primary question of confidence in one’s Ministers, does the Prime Minister regard it is a matter of significant frustration when a journalist knowingly reports information that did not happen, claiming it to be information because she is some sort of expert; describes a meeting that did not take place as being virtually an attempt to persuade some country on a trade issue; then states in yesterday’s paper that two things happened: first, an attempt to diffuse tensions, which did not happen at all, and, second, that I described myself as the “new boy on the block”, which I demonstrably, palpably, am not, as she would know if she looked at the Foreign Minister of Japan? It is that sort of nonsense that causes me to ask why she bothers to report.
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Although I accept that the member might look like the new boy on the block, in fact he is almost the same age as I am and certainly is not.
Dr Don Brash: Does the Prime Minister continue to have confidence in the Minister of Finance, the Hon Dr Michael Cullen, whose big-spending Budgets have, according to the OECD, Treasury, and the Reserve Bank, helped to push up inflation in the economy, thereby contributing to nine successive interest rate increases since the beginning of last year?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: If the member reads Reserve Bank publications as carelessly as he has, obviously, read the latest one, I hate to think how carelessly he wrote the ones he was responsible for.
Dr Don Brash: I seek leave to table the latest Monetary Policy Statement from the Reserve Bank, which highlights the nine successive increases in interest rates that have occurred since the beginning of last year, which have taken the official cash rate to its highest level on record.
Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is.
New Zealand Qualifications Authority—Acting Chief Executive
2. Hon MARIAN HOBBS (Labour—Wellington Central) to the Minister of Education: Does he have confidence in the acting chief executive of NZQA?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY (Minister of Education): Yes. Karen Sewell was seconded to the organisation for the express purpose of ensuring that we have an open and a transparent exam process that New Zealanders can have confidence in. She has openly requested that any marker who has any concerns phone her directly, so that issues can be fixed if they exist. Ms Sewell has more than 30 years’ experience in education and is widely respected. She has been a secondary school teacher, a principal, the president of the Auckland Secondary Schools Association, and the chairperson of the Principals Council, and she was appointed as chief executive of the Education Review Office in 2001.
Hon Marian Hobbs: What advice has the Minister received about the level of openness and transparency in National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA)# exams?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: It is clear from the volume and nature of the information that the New Zealand Qualifications Authority is releasing that it is running an open and a transparent process. That is in contrast to what amounts to three anonymous people emailing the Opposition spokesperson, whose open hostility to the NCEA makes it difficult to believe that he is doing anything other than seeking to destroy the assessment system. Karen Sewell has openly requested that any marker who has any concerns should phone her directly, so that issues can be fixed—if they exist.
Hon Bill English: Can the Minister tell the House why any marker would come forward, when the Post Primary Teachers Association has circularised all its members and told them that if they break the confidentiality agreement they have with the New Zealand Qualifications Authority, they may not be paid for the work they have done and the authority could sue them for damages; and is he aware that the markers consider there is presumably—and I will quote from an email—“nothing to be gained by approaching Ms Sewell”, because “she must know about the sheer scale of re-marking”.
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I think that markers understand that Karen Sewell has repeatedly and publicly said that they can approach her. That is the right thing to do; that is the channel that is available. She has said that she will fix any problem.
Hon Marian Hobbs: What reports has the Minister seen about the views of markers on the exam process this year?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I have heard one report from Radio New Zealand’s education correspondent, Gail Woods, who said that she has spoken to markers who view the system quite differently from the two or three anonymous people who have sent emails to Bill English. She says: “ They said it’s a quite straightforward process, because they say that this year’s system of re-checking is a very good approach.” Someone described it to me as an unbelievably good system, and they have also made the point that marking schedules have always been subject to change under School Certificate, particularly in the days when that examination was not scaled.
Inflation—Wage Growth
3. Hon BILL ENGLISH (National—Clutha-Southland) on behalf of JOHN KEY (National—Helensville) to the Minister of Finance: Does he consider that wage growth over and above growth in labour productivity has been a key driver of inflation; if not, why not?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Finance): No, I agree with the Governor of the Reserve Bank, who stated last week that “the main driver of the strong demand is household spending linked to a still buoyant housing market.”
Hon Bill English: Is the Minister concerned at all that the latest figures from Statistics New Zealand show that core central government wage and salary rates, excluding those of teachers and nurses, rose by 1.8 percent in the September quarter—the highest quarterly rise since the labour cost index was begun?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Obviously, the Government will keep a close eye on movements in public sector wages. It is hard to argue that the movement in public sector wages in that quarter is the cause of an inflationary pressure that has been developing for some time, particularly given the previous comments of the member’s leader in quoting Milton Friedman that inflation is always and everywhere a monetary phenomenon.
Hon Bill English: Is the Minister at all concerned that in the light of the biggest ever quarterly increase in central government wage and salary rates, the same index shows that the increase in private sector wage and salary rates is less than half of the increase in the Government rates; and can he explain why New Zealanders should think they are getting value for money when Treasury has told him there is no indication of better services or better results from the big increase in expenditure on Government services?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I think that the last part is a highly contestable conclusion, given the large increase in the number of surgical procedures that have been carried out, and the increased number of staff in areas such as corrections, police, and so on. Private sector and public sector wages do not always move exactly in harmony over the short term. But I contest the original claim by the member, which sounds as if it came from one of his secret National Certificate of Educational Achievement markers. If he thinks that a 1.8 percent movement in a quarter is higher than public sector wage rate movements either in the early 1970s or from about 1984 to 1985, he has a very short memory.
Hon Bill English: Does the Minister agree with the Council of Trade Unions’ secret post-election briefing, which states: “We have been concerned that many workers now believe that the fiscal surplus is larger than it needs to be and this has given impetus to the case for tax cuts.”, or does he consider that that is just another ideological burp?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I thought that was an extraordinarily well-digested comment, because the Council of Trade Unions was saying that thanks to the propaganda put out by both the National Party and the Exclusive Brethren on its behalf, people have come to misunderstand what the operating surplus is. Of course, one cannot have it both ways. One cannot say that the Government has a large operating surplus and, at the same time, say that it has been spending far too much.
Heather Roy: Does he consider the interest write-off for student loan borrowers will be inflationary; if not, why not?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: No, I do not consider it is likely to be inflationary, given the relatively small impact overall within the economy. It is much less so, for example, than if the Minister of Transport was to reply “Yes” to question No. 8, then in the short term push a huge amount of extra money into the National Land Transport Fund—as the National Party is asking for today.
Hon Bill English: Does the Minister agree with this statement from the same briefing made to him by the Council of Trade Unions: “We also believe that it makes sense to bring forward the first inflation adjustment to tax brackets from 2008 to 2006.”, and does this statement confirm he is coming under pressure even from his own party to make tax cuts?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I am sorry to disappoint the member, but the Council of Trade Unions is not a member of, nor affiliated to, the Labour Party. But I have to say that, after all this time since May, it is nice to find somebody who liked the indexation proposal.
Television New Zealand—Charter
4. SUE KEDGLEY (Green) to the Minister of Broadcasting: Is he satisfied with the way TVNZ is giving effect to its charter; if so, why?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY (Minister of Broadcasting): I am satisfied that TVNZ is making progress in the transition towards the charter. It has made reasonable steps over the last 2½ years in that direction. That is not much longer than the average time it takes to go from an idea, to putting that idea to screen.
Sue Kedgley: When did he see or become aware of the memorandum from the former chief executive of TVNZ Ian Fraser to the October 2005 TVNZ board, and does he agree with Mr Fraser’s assessment that TVNZ has become virtually indistinguishable from other commercial channels, that it carries levels of advertising that are higher than any other public service broadcaster in the world, and that its current programming is “profoundly incompatible with any recognisable model of public broadcasting”; if not, why not?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I have not read the paper, because its contents in full are something I have been made aware of only today, and I will try to have a proper read of it when I have time. The board, of course, was the recipient of that paper. I understand that it was prepared for board members during one of their planning sessions as something from the chief executive for them to think about. I am aware that the advertising levels are higher than any other public service broadcaster, and that is no surprise; TVNZ has to earn more commercial revenue than any other public broadcaster. I am aware that there is a need for changes in the programming. That is what a transition is about. It has been going for 2 years and, I think, as we move forward, we will see more changes. [Interruption] Eight years is short to us.
Maryan Street: Can the Minister give examples of how TVNZ is making the transition to a charter organisation?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I will give three broad examples. Television New Zealand has implemented a number of charter-focused activities like the Talk Television programme, where TVNZ moves around the country and talks directly to communities, works with independent production associations to ensure they have a better relationship with the producers of programmes, and it has had more Pacific Island programming on its channels. Secondly, we might look at the area of the quality and variety of New Zealand programmes: programmes like Frontier of Dreams, Holly’s Heroes, Artsville, and Revealing Gallipoli—all very good programmes; and, thirdly, we might look at the area of continuing purchase of the range of the best overseas programmes that come from companies like Warners and Granada.
Hon Georgina te Heuheu: How can the Minister have any confidence in TVNZ’s charter performance when departing chief executive, Ian Fraser, was moved to write in his memo in October this year that: “We have not yet measured any significant increase in viewer satisfaction, nor any marked public conviction, after more than 2½ years’ experience with the charter, that we are more of a public broadcaster than we were before it was introduced.”; and when will the Minister admit that his current public broadcasting model is doomed to failure?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: As I said, I have not read the paper yet, so I cannot comment on what Mr Fraser may or may not have said. But I will go back to my first answer to the first question. This is an organisation that has to carry quite a large commercial burden compared with other public broadcasters around the world. It is in a period of transition. That will take some time, given the amount of money that goes into the public part of the organisation, but the transition is working well and I hope it will continue that way.
Hone Harawira: E tika ana te kôrero kei Te Mângai Pâhô te pûtea hei utu i ngâ kaupapa whakapâho Mâori i Te Reo Tâtaki, â, kâhore Te Reo Tâtaki e rarau ake i tôna ake pûtea?
[An interpretation in English was given to the House.]
Is it true that Television New Zealand relies on Te Mângai Pâho funding to resource its Mâori programming, rather than accessing its own budget?]
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: For Mâori broadcasters, I would imagine the question was referring to. The answer therefore is yes.
Te Ururoa Flavell: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. By way of assistance to our interpreter, if I could give our translation of the supplementary question: is it true that Television New Zealand relies on Te Mângai Pâho for funding to resource its Mâori programming, rather than accessing its own budget?
Madam SPEAKER: So that is a supplementary question?
Te Ururoa Flavell: That was Mr Harawira’s question, which the interpretation did not really get to the gist of.
Madam SPEAKER: I will let it go this time but would the member please intervene at the appropriate time.
Sue Kedgley: How can he seriously claim that a channel where advertising uses up a quarter of every hour and breaks up its programmes every 6 to 8 minutes, where local content will next year shrink to 36 percent, the same level it was at before the charter was introduced, and where charter programmes that do not maximise ratings are to be scrapped, or scheduled at odd hours, is in any way a success story or meeting charter objectives?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: Until the Minister of Finance decides to give me a bucket of more money to put into public television, there will be advertisements on the public broadcaster. The prediction of 36 percent of broadcasting, of course, is not something that has yet been put in place. For example, last year with the windfall money that it received back, the $11.4 million, it has commissioned a wide range of New Zealand programmes that are not yet on air. In relation to the ratings for this organisation, of course, the ratings are very good, with an average of 86 percent of New Zealanders watching each week.
Heather Roy: Does the Minister agree with Television New Zealand’s claims that it would be inappropriate for Bill Ralston to appear before the Finance and Expenditure Committee inquiry into recent events at Television New Zealand and about potential conflict between commercial and charter objectives, particularly given that Mr Ralston always has such a lot to say in the media and he himself is keen to appear?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: That, of course, is a matter for the board to decide, not me.
Heather Roy: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. My question specifically asked whether he agreed with Television New Zealand’s claim; not whether he thought it was appropriate.
Madam SPEAKER: No, that is not a point of order. The Minister addressed the question; he does not have to give an opinion.
Sue Kedgley: Is he concerned that next year Television New Zealand will be placing a much higher priority on commissioning charter programmes that maximise ratings, and either canning charter programmes that do not maximise ratings, or consigning them to inhospitable places on the schedule, unless they are sure bets; and is that another example of the successful transition to implementing charter objectives?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: It is for Television New Zealand to decide how it spends its money, but in principle I would say that we have asked it to be a mainstream—if I can use that word—television broadcaster, reflecting the needs in broadcasting of all New Zealanders. Therefore, the majority of its programmes will be targeted at a large audience.
Sue Kedgley: Is the Government committed to providing a strong and sustainable public broadcasting environment for New Zealand that meets the obligations of the Television New Zealand charter; if so, when will he admit that the hybrid model is failing to deliver, and seriously investigate the three options proposed by Mr Ian Fraser in his memorandum to the board—namely, turning Television One into a non-commercial channel, or making it semi-commercial, or developing several digital public service broadcasting channels?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: Yes, the Government is committed to a strong, sustainable public broadcaster. There will be changes in the future, of course, such as the introduction of digital television. That will contain changes in all sorts of content, because there will be specialist channels under that kind of regime. So, yes, a lot of changes are before the television broadcaster and we are looking forward to them. They will all be consistent with public broadcasting.
National Certificate of Educational Achievement—Assessments
5. Hon BILL ENGLISH (National—Clutha-Southland) to the Minister of Education: Have NCEA check markers been given expected profiles of performance for NCEA standards, containing bands of expected numbers of Achieved, Merit, and Excellence in each standard; if so, why?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY (Minister of Education): Only those check markers who are also panel leaders receive profiles. Profiles of expected performance are a monitoring tool that provides a forecast based on previous years’ results. They are guidelines that provide a trigger to investigate the marking, when initial results indicate that students are not achieving consistently with what was expected when the exam was set. The development of these profiles is one of the key improvements, to avoid a repeat of the variability experienced in last year’s exams. As Karen Sewell has noted, markers do not work to the profile. They are not set in stone. Markers still need to apply their experience and professional judgment to the student’s work.
Hon Bill English: Is the Minister aware that, in addition to the issues raised in the House, a school principal was asked on National Radio this morning whether he believed that markers were being asked to mark to predetermined pass rates, and he said: “Markers tell me that.”, and is the Minister going to continue to say that the talk of informal and unofficial re-marking is simply a conspiracy cooked up by one critic?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I did not hear the interview but I do understand that the three principals interviewed agreed at the end of the interview that as long as the exams were fair and consistent they would support them—and that is what they will be. Do I believe there is a lone critic? Yes, I do; I think he is called Bill English.
Dianne Yates: Has he been advised of any marking schedules that have been revised as a result of the monitoring process?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: Yes, I have. I am advised that the marking schedules for 14—or around 4 percent—out of the 335 standards have been revised as a result of the monitoring process. For example, in level 1 Japanese and economics standards, students wrote answers that the marking schedules did not anticipate, but that demonstrated that the students had met the standards. The scope of the marking schedules for both those standards was extended to recognise that achievement. These provisions of the marking schedule, as Graham Young from the Secondary Principals Association said today, “are actually addressing concerns of the public around variability through this process, and Bill English is simply mischief-making”.
Hon Bill English: Given that the Minister is aware that the principal of Christchurch Boys High School said this morning on National Radio that markers had told him that they were marking to predetermined pass rates, is he now telling the House that that principal was lying, or does he accept that people other than myself hold the view that there is widespread unofficial remarking?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I said before that I did not hear the interview.
Dianne Yates: What advice has the Minister seen that New Zealanders can have full confidence in the exam system?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: NCEA has received endorsement from the Post Primary Teachers Association, the Secondary Principals Association, Business New Zealand, and many principals, teachers, markers, and students around the country. The acting chief executive of the New Zealand Qualifications Authority has said repeatedly that we have “an open and transparent process to ensure the results are consistent and fair. Those who set, sit, mark and administer the exams are confident the process is working.” The only people who disagree are Bill English and the two people who wrote the anonymous emails to him. He has effectively called a respected senior public servant a liar, and would prefer to take the advice of anonymous people who send him emails.
Hon Bill English: What does the Minister say to this person, who is another marker of another exam that is not on his list, and says: “I am currently marking one of the achievement standards for the second year in a row. We have been asked by the facilitator to adjust things so that there are more Achieved and Merit passes. What is annoying is that we are forced to push through students who have not achieved into the Achieved category who clearly have no knowledge of the subject at this level.”, or does he think this person is making it up, as well?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I would say to that person that he now has taken Bill English’s emails to three, and I would recommend that those three people do what the acting chief executive has asked them to do: ring her directly and she will fix any problems they may have.
Hon Bill English: What does the Minister say to this person, who is another marker of another exam that is not on his official schedule, who says: “In response to Karen Sewell’s letter yesterday, I think what she is trying to say is that it’s not scaling, even though we, as markers, smile and know the truth.”, and who also says: “There are some terrible questions, and some too easy, that have gone through that have made it difficult to get the required distribution of grades.”, or is that another marker who, alongside the principal of Christchurch Boys High School, is making it up?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: I do not know what the member has got to say, because I do not know the person who has written to him, but let me just go to the heart of the principle of what is being outlined here, and that is whether we are scaling. Can I say yet again that—[Interruption]
Madam SPEAKER: Would the person with the cellphone on please turn it off.
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: —it is impossible to scale until all marks are in. We are in the process of marking now. Scaling takes place after all the marks are in. That is not part of this system.
Hon Bill English: Does the Minister recall that earlier this year, in the House, the Minister of Education, and, outside the House, the Qualifications Authority, denied that there was any problem with variability, at all, and can he confirm that he and the authority are now using the same tactic as they did earlier in the year—deny the problem, attack the critics, hope it goes away, and when the subsequent inquiry confirms the truth, change tack and say that they knew all along that was what was happening?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: The acting chief executive of the Qualifications Authority has announced every problem herself. Yes, we are determined to attack Bill English, and we do invite any of the people around the place who are having issues with NCEA to ring the acting chief executive.
Hon Bill English: Can the Minister confirm that in fact the New Zealand Qualifications Authority did not volunteer to announce re-marking, but was forced to do so after a report in a Sunday newspaper a week ago outlining the problems with the biology exam—that it was in response to those revelations that the authority explained that it was re-marking—and why does he not just be honest about it?
Hon STEVE MAHAREY: The Qualifications Authority has had a revision, under the aegis of the State Services Commission, all year. It always planned to be open and transparent, and that is what it is doing.
Kyoto Protocol—Montreal Negotiations
6. Dr ASHRAF CHOUDHARY (Labour) to the Minister responsible for Climate Change Issues: What reports has he received on the outcomes of the Montreal negotiations on the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and under the Kyoto Protocol?
Hon DAVID PARKER (Minister responsible for Climate Change Issues): The Montreal negotiations achieved three significant advances. First, there was unanimous agreement that human-induced climate change is accelerating and is a very serious problem. Second, all United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change signatories, including the USA, agreed unanimously to work together on further climate change responses. Third, progress was made on implementing the Kyoto Protocol, which is at present the most important and effective instrument to tackle greenhouse gas emissions.
Dr Ashraf Choudhary: What risks to New Zealand’s interests were avoided in relation to Kyoto Protocol carbon credits for exotic forests?
Hon DAVID PARKER: There was a potentially disastrous proposal that would have prevented New Zealand from counting pine forests as carbon sinks. Due to the good work of the New Zealand negotiators, this proposal was rejected.
Social Development and Employment, Minister—Police Decision
7. JUDITH COLLINS (National—Clevedon) to the Minister for Social Development and Employment: Is he satisfied with the way in which he and his office have handled the release of parts of his police file?
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE (Minister for Social Development and Employment): As I have said previously, I authorised the release of information to a Sunday newspaper to provide balance to the misinformation provided to the House in the previous week by Rodney Hide. No constraint was placed on me with regard to the files in my possession, although in hindsight I recognise that releasing details was not the wisest course of action.
Judith Collins: I think the answer to that is yes. When he authorised—
Madam SPEAKER: The Minister answered the question. Would the member please ask a supplementary question—no editorialising, thank you.
Judith Collins: When he authorised a staff member to release selected parts of the police report to a Sunday newspaper, did he also authorise that staff member to say that the Minister was unavailable for an interview and had no comment to make, and does he agree that that is very deceptive conduct?
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: Yes and no.
Judith Collins: If it was for the “police to release the report”, as the Minister has publicly maintained, why did he decide to leak selective parts of the report in advance, and does he agree that it was a deceptive attempt to manipulate public opinion and erode the credibility of witnesses?
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: As I answered previously, I authorised the release of information to the Sunday newspaper to provide balance to the misinformation provided to the House in the previous week by Rodney Hide. No constraint was placed on me with regard to files in my possession, although in hindsight I recognise that my action was not appropriate.
Judith Collins: Does the Minister stand by his statement to the House last Thursday when he said: “The material that was released was not selective. Also, as I said previously, it contained comment quite critical of myself.”—that is, of course, referring to the Minister—and if so, which particular parts of that material does he consider to be quite critical of himself?
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: Yes, I consider the material that was released was balanced.
Judith Collins: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I do not believe that the Minister addressed that question. I asked him which particular parts of the material he considered to be quite critical of himself. His answer was about being fair, it was not about which material was quite critical.
Madam SPEAKER: The Minister addressed the question.
Judith Collins: Has the Minister since spoken to, or briefed in advance, the Prime Minister or any caucus colleagues about the handling of the police report; if so, what was the nature of the advice that they gave to him?
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: I have had no conversation with the Prime Minister over those matters.
Land Transport—Funding
8. LINDSAY TISCH (National—Piako) on behalf of Hon MAURICE WILLIAMSON (National—Pakuranga) to the Minister of Transport: Will he be seeking a one-off, substantial injection of funding into the National Land Transport Fund to ensure that a number of roading projects can be completed within a realistic time frame?
Hon DAVID PARKER (Minister of Transport): The Government has already made substantial one-off payments as well as significant extra ongoing funding commitments for land transport.
Lindsay Tisch: Does the Minister agree with Transit’s assessment of the Mangatawhiri deviation project on State Highway 2 that: “The final cost of the project is likely to exceed the funding allocated by Land Transport New Zealand.”; if so, what does he plan to do about getting this lifesaving project under way?
Hon DAVID PARKER: I agree that Land Transport New Zealand has to make rationing decisions, and I stand by its decisions.
Martin Gallagher: Can the Minister state very clearly and concisely to this House what extra funding the Government has made available to land transport since being elected in the year 1999?
Hon DAVID PARKER: The Government is spending $22.3 billion on land transport over 10 years. This includes substantial one-off payments of $900 million extra for Auckland, $885 million extra for Wellington, as well as substantial increases in provincial areas.
Hon Peter Dunne: Does the Minister consider that an announcement, prospectively, by the Wellington Regional Council chair that if the current consultation process on northern access ways to Wellington comes up favouring a staged approach to Transmission Gully as the preferred option, the council would then embark upon another round of consultation, being consistent with the realistic time frame provisions of the current legislation?
Hon DAVID PARKER: The Government looks forward to the councils coming to the Government with a unified position, which we will then consider.
Tariana Turia: Using Land Transport New Zealand’s value of statistical life calculation, what is the economic and non-economic loss to the nation of Mâori lives lost to road accidents?
Hon DAVID PARKER: I cannot make that calculation here on the hoof, but suffice it to say it would be substantial.
Lindsay Tisch: Will the Minister assure the House that there will be adequate funding made available for roading infrastructure to adequately cope with the increased traffic volumes that would be generated by the Rugby World Cup in 2011?
Hon DAVID PARKER: If the member is, in effect, suggesting that $22.3 billion over 10 years is insufficient then I would say that, of course, the only reason can be substantial underfunding in the prior decade?
Peter Brown: Does the Minister accept that roading in New Zealand was considerably underfunded when the National Party was last in power, and has he read the Allen report commissioned by the Automobile Association that clearly indicates there are huge economic and social gains by investing in roading, and will the Minister follow the recommendations of the Allen report?
Hon DAVID PARKER: Yes, I certainly agree that there was substantial underfunding, and perhaps the easiest way to assess that is to compare the level of money that was being spent on highways some 10 years ago and to relate that to the amount that is currently being spent, which is approximately 10 times as much.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. During the time my colleague was answering that very sensible question there were groans of admission and guilt from National members and all sorts of comments. I do not suggest that they should be thrown out, but to be fair and even-handed, you surely should have looked at those members and admonished them for their ill manners and bad behaviour.
Madam SPEAKER: I thank the member. I do remind members—I had not heard any specific interjections—the level of chatter and giggling that goes on is now reaching an unacceptable level, so would they please keep it down.
Hon Dr Michael Cullen: In his Budget bilateral meeting early next year with the Minister of Finance, will the Minister be reminding him of the calls by Mr Williamson for a substantial injection of more public spending on roads or reminding him of the calls by the Leader of the Opposition and the Opposition finance spokesperson, for a cut in public spending?
Hon DAVID PARKER: I will be taking a moderate route through the middle.
Lindsay Tisch: Given that Transit currently estimates the start date of the Newmarket viaduct improvement project as 2008–09, will the Minister commit to accelerated funding and resource mechanisms to ensure that this project will be completed by the time of the Rugby World Cup in 2011?
Hon DAVID PARKER: While the Government is committed to improving roading infrastructure and public transport infrastructure in the run-up to the Rugby World Cup, it would be wrong to say that we would be markedly changing the State highway spending plans in order to deal with an event of some weeks or 1 or 2 months.
Lindsay Tisch: Given that Transit currently estimates the completion date of the State Highway 20 Mount Roskill extension as 2010, will the Minister assure the House that the extension will not face the same delays as faced by other roading projects around the country and be completed in time for the Rugby World Cup in 2011?
Hon DAVID PARKER: I can assure the House that there are significant and very expensive multi hundreds of millions of dollars of roading projects already being carried out in Auckland, including on the western ring route.
Superannuation—Overseas Pensions
9. PETER BROWN (Deputy Leader—NZ First) to the Minister for Social Development and Employment: What progress, if any, has been made on the investigation into improving options for senior citizens eligible for overseas pensions as well as New Zealand superannuation?
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE (Minister for Social Development and Employment): On 24 November this year, officials provided a report to the Minister of Finance and myself on a range of 15 options to modernise the direct deduction policy where a superannuitant has an overseas pension similar to New Zealand superannuation, and to address issues associated with the payment of New Zealand superannuation overseas. The Minister of Finance and I met on 1 December and directed officials to report further to us by the end of February 2006 on a subset of options presented in the November report. I intend to bring proposals to Cabinet in the first half of 2006.
Peter Brown: Does the Minister accept that this is a very important issue to many overseas people now resident in this country, and can he foreshadow any of the likely changes that will be made in the report when it is finally announced?
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: I do accept that, and I can confirm that nine of the 15 options presented in the November report concern the direct deduction policy, and six options concern the portability of New Zealand superannuation overseas. I intend to bring concrete proposals to Cabinet in the first half of the new year.
Immigration Service—Official Advice
10. Dr the Hon LOCKWOOD SMITH (National—Rodney) to the Minister of Immigration: Is he satisfied with the work carried out by his department, and in particular the advice he receives from his officials; if not, why not?
Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE (Minister of Immigration): Since becoming Minister of Immigration I have generally been happy with the advice that I have received.
Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: Can the Minister confirm that his department raised concerns about the honourable Taito Phillip Field’s immigration representations prior to a visit by a group of Ministers to the honourable Taito Phillip Field’s house in Samoa in March 2005; if so, what was the nature of those concerns?
Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: I have been advised by the Deputy Secretary of Labour that she did not raise any specific cases relating to ministerial representations with the former Minister of Immigration. She has advised that long before the visit to Samoa she raised general issues around perceptions of some MPs’ advocacy of immigration cases.
H V Ross Robertson: Can the Minister tell the House what advice he has received from his officials on how immigration is helping to meet New Zealand’s skill shortages?
Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: I have recently received advice on immigration decision numbers for the month of November 2005. I was interested to read that over 10,000 work visa and permit decisions were made in that month. Those represent a significant input of much-needed labour to help meet New Zealand’s pressing skills and labour shortages.
Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: Which advice is Parliament now expected to believe: the advice the Minister has given the House just now, which is that no specific concerns were raised by his department prior to a group of Ministers visiting the honourable Taito Phillip Field’s house in Samoa in March this year, or the advice Ms Mary Anne Thompson gave to a parliamentary select committee on Thursday morning last week, in which she very specifically told the parliamentary select committee, in public, that she had raised issues with the Hon Paul Swain around the honourable Taito Phillip Field’s activities; which is the truth?
Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: There is absolutely no conflict between my previous statement to the House and the statements made by the Deputy Secretary of Labour to that select committee.
Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: How can the Minister tell this House there is no conflict—I have my notes from that meeting right here, and as that Minister knows I take careful notes at those select committee hearings—when Mary Anne Thompson told the select committee, in public, that concerns were raised with Minister Swain by herself over this issue, and now the Minister tells this House that specific issues were not raised? There is clearly a conflict there; who is telling the truth?
Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: Far be it from me to quibble with the meticulousness of the member’s note taking, but I reaffirm to this House that the Deputy Secretary of Labour has advised that she did not raise with the former Minister of Immigration specific matters to do with any individual ministerial representation cases.
Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: Did his department alert Ministers, following the Hon Damien O’Connor’s reported statement on 14 September that he was “unaware of Mr Siriwan’s employment or activity in Samoa”, that the department had actually raised concerns with Ministers at least 6 months earlier?
Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: I am advised by the deputy secretary that any concerns she raised with the former Minister of Immigration were of a general nature and did not relate to that particular case. I do not know how many times I have to assure the member of that.
Dr the Hon Lockwood Smith: Is the Minister briefed on the progress of the inquiry by Dr Noel Ingram QC, and if so, has he been advised that a number of the key people involved in the honourable Taito Phillip Field’s highly questionable immigration activities are refusing to be interviewed by the inquiry; if he has not been briefed, why is he not insisting that he be kept informed of the significant inquiry into the activities of his department and of Labour Government Ministers, both current and former?
Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: No, because it would be improper for me to interfere in the progress of a ministerial inquiry.
Smoke-free Environments Amendment Act—Public Response
11. STEVE CHADWICK (Labour—Rotorua) to the Associate Minister of Health: What reports has he received about the public’s response to the introduction of the Smoke-free Environments Amendment Act 2003?
Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR (Associate Minister of Health): I am delighted that the Ministry of Health has recently released a report entitled The Smoke is Clearing: Anniversary Report 2005, which supports the significant health benefits for bar and restaurant workers and customers arising from, and confirms strong public support for, the legislation. The report also found no overall downturn in bar and retail sales, tourism, or employment.
Steve Chadwick: Has he seen any further reports on the Smoke-free Environments Amendment Act 2003?
Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR: Yes, a survey from the Asthma and Respiratory Foundation shows 67 percent public support for the Act. I have also seen a report stating that the law goes too far and is an example of a nanny State, and yet another stating that the law should not be scrapped. The first report came from the PC eradicator, Dr Wayne Mapp, and the second from Dr Don Brash.
Foreign Policy—Confidence
12. GERRY BROWNLEE (Deputy Leader—National) on behalf of the Hon MURRAY McCULLY (National—East Coast Bays) to the Minister of Foreign Affairs: Does he have confidence in all of the foreign policies of the Government?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Minister of Foreign Affairs): The answer is yes. Not only is that a condition of the supply and confidence agreement with the Government, but I have successfully represented this country and the Government at several international meetings over the last month. By my actions, I have demonstrated our commitment.
Gerry Brownlee: What negotiating stance will New Zealand be taking in relation to the Convention on Biological Diversity with regard to trade in genetic resources, and how does that stance relate to the development of New Zealand’s domestic law in that area?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: That issue is at a putative stage and is in the hands of one of my colleagues, the name of whom the member should know if he is going to be a foreign affairs spokesperson.
Gerry Brownlee: Why does it appear that the Minister is not aware that the briefing to the incoming Minister of Foreign Affairs states specifically on page 49 that officials still require decisions on New Zealand’s position in respect of those negotiations, and raises concerns that international negotiations may get ahead of New Zealand’s domestic policy; is he unaware because he has not actually read the ministerial briefing papers, or can he answer the question?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: I think I answered the question by saying that this issue was at its putative stages, and, of course, one has to understand what the word “putative” means, and that is where I lost the member—all of which characteristics are in the emails I have regarding the National Party’s internal workings.
Madam SPEAKER: The last part of the answer was not relevant.
Te Ururoa Flavell: He aha te tûnga o Aotearoa mô te âhua tino rangatiratanga o ngâ tângata whenua o te ao, â, i kôrero Te Manatû Aorere o Aotearoa ki a wai?
[An interpretation in English was given to the House.]
[What is New Zealand’s position towards indigenous peoples of the world and their right to self-determination, and who did the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of New Zealand consult?]
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: I tell my learned colleague the questioner that there is a tremendous number of issues on which the Government has to consult, in respect of indigenous people around the world. Whenever and however the Government is to be able to do it, in the end those matters will go to Cabinet, and there will be Mâori affairs input if it is appropriate. But perhaps the best answer is this: in consulting the indigenous people, the Government appointed one as the Minister of Foreign Affairs.
Gerry Brownlee: Did the Minister tell the South China Morning Post that in carrying out New Zealand’s foreign policy he was able to rely on his reservoir of personal contacts in Asia, including the Prime Minister of Singapore who retired 15 years ago; that Prime Minister’s successor, whose name the Minister could not recall; leading members of the Government of the Philippines, whom the Minister described to the paper as “Filipinos I have met”; members of the Malaysian Government, whose names he could not recall; and his very, very good friend the former chief executive of Hong Kong, of whom the Minister said to the newspaper: “His name just temporarily escapes me.”?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: I have no difficulty in demonstrating the duplicity and deceit in that article. Firstly, there have been two successors to former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew—that is the first fact that that correspondent got wrong. Secondly, Tung Chee-hwa was not the chief executive at the time that article was written—another baseless deceit on that newspaper’s part. If the newspaper wants to engage in that sort of chronological nonsense, then no doubt it will keep referring such matters to the National Party.
Gerry Brownlee: Should New Zealanders be concerned that not only our domestic media but now, it would seem, the international media have it in for this Minister?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: The fact is that what we saw, post the decision to appoint a new Minister of Foreign Affairs, was New Zealand journalists frequently appearing in overseas magazines, then their editors back here saying: “Wow, this is terrible; look at what they’re saying in overseas magazines!”—all those articles having been written by the meerkats of the press gallery.
Peter Brown: Noting the House’s interest in the Minister’s portfolio, and, indeed, in the Minister himself, will he enlighten the House as to whether the reports in the New Zealand Herald written by its correspondent accurately reflect the Minister’s meetings at APEC in Korea, and the East Asia Summit in Malaysia; if not, how do they not?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: That is a very good case in point. The New Zealand Herald correspondent at no time was at any meeting about which she wrote. Even though she was told the story was a fabrication, or bovine scatology, she stood by “her sources”. Then she repeated the fabrication yesterday in the New Zealand Herald by saying two things in the article—that Mr Peters had sought to defuse tensions, when no such thing occurred at all, and that I had described myself there as the “new boy on the block”, which I demonstrably was not, because that was Taro Aso, the Foreign Minister of Japan, who was appointed after me. But right there are three demonstrable examples of an experienced journalist making it up as she goes along, then having her colleagues defend what is a tissue of lies.
Gerry Brownlee: Why does the Minister think this particular journalist has it in for him?
Madam SPEAKER: We are getting a bit broad of the primary question.
Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I asked a question like that because you had allowed that ridiculous question from Peter Brown, and you got the ravings of the Minister. Surely we can now just find out what it is, and if it is personal, we can leave it at that.
Madam SPEAKER: No. I allowed that question because, in the supplementary questions, issues had been raised about articles; that is why that question was permitted. But I will ask the Minister to reply, as members seem to wish to hear the answer.
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: The answer to that question is to be found in 3 years of emails of the National Party’s internal workings, where the New Zealand Herald is concerned. [Interruption] Oh, I know what those members are thinking: they are wondering whether I have one telephone book full of those emails, or 10. Well, I have to tell those members that, in all this excitement, I myself clean forgot to count them. But given that this is the most damaging information seen in the Western World, and could blow their political heads clean off, they have to ask themselves whether they feel lucky. Well, do they—punks?
Gerry Brownlee: We have no objection to the Minister tabling that material—but of course we do not expect ever to see it. Can the Minister confirm that following his public offer to the National Party of a briefing on foreign affairs matters, made some 2 months ago, and subsequent letters and phone calls to his office requesting such a briefing, he has not made a time for such a briefing, because he himself has not read the briefing papers to the incoming Minister?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: I hasten to defend my ministry by saying that the fact is its officials are waiting to set a time with Mr McCully when he will turn up at Parliament instead of spending all his time writing on his website about the Minister of Foreign Affairs travelling first-class, which I never have and do not now. In contrast, when he was the Minister of Tourism he travelled nothing but first-class.
Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. The question should be answered. The Minister can address questions as he will—I accept that—but, for goodness’ sake, all we are asking him is how soon will he know enough about foreign affairs to be able to give us a briefing.
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: The point is my ministry awaits a time and destination to fully apprise Mr McCully. But I have told officials that that might take 6 months of intense work, 8 hours a day, so they are looking for a time of suitable mutual engagement.
Madam SPEAKER: I think the Minister addressed the question.

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