Questions And Answers - 10 March 2009

Published: Wed 11 Mar 2009 10:16 AM
Tuesday, 10 March 2009
1. Accident Compensation Corporation—Performance
[Uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing.]
1. CRAIG FOSS (National—Tukituki) to the Minister for ACC: What reports has he received on the performance of ACC?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH (Minister for ACC) : I received the Department of Labour’s quarterly report on the Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC) last month. It is a quite critical report and notes that ACC is failing to meet six out of the seven key performance indicators that cover financial management that were set down by the previous Minister. Key performance indicators in which ACC is failing are rehabilitation, costs per treatment, costs per entitlement claim, the return to work rate, the long-term claims pool, and the solvency ratio. By anyone’s measure, that is not good and that is why the Government is making changes.
Craig Foss: What reports has the Minister received on the long-term rehabilitation trends at the ACC?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: ACC’s 3-month rehabilitation rate consistently improved from 1995 until 2001, but it has been declining since 2003. The latest rehabilitation data at December 2008 was the lowest since records became available. The 6-month and 12-month rates show a similar trend. This trend of workers being out of work for longer is bad for the individuals, and increases costs for the ACC scheme. It is one of the areas where the new Government wants to see an improvement in ACC’s performance.
Sue Bradford: What does the Government mean when, for example, John Key says that ACC will not be privatised, but that private companies may have the opportunity to get involved? What is the difference?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: I am surprised that every time we raise issues about performances, there is this old, tired line and the sort of slogan of privatisation. I make plain to that member and members opposite that this Government is totally committed to a 24/7 State insurance model for accident compensation.
Craig Foss: What reports has the Minister received on ACC’s long-term weekly compensation pool?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: I have received reports that show a consistent decline in the number of people on weekly compensation from 1995 until 2005, and a consistent and significant increase since that time. Long-term weekly compensation is a major expense forACC, and this upward trend in numbers is a factor in the latest reports, which show a blowout in ACC’s liabilities.
Sue Bradford: Will the Minister ensure that there is genuine worker representation on the reconstituted ACC board at the end of the month?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: I am working with the new chair, Mr John Judge, to ensure that we have a very well balanced and highly skilled board. This will ensure that ACC is able to deliver for all New Zealanders on a scheme that will ensure that when they have accidents they are properly covered, but it will also ensure that accident compensation levies are affordable.
Craig Foss: What has been the performance of ACC’s investment portfolio, and how has this influenced the Minister’s decisions on changes to ACC?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: ACC’s investments have been adversely affected, as have all investment funds since 2006. I note in the department’s report that this is one area of ACC’s performance that has been adequate and comparable to other fund managers, and I share that view. The only criticism I have of the board is that expensive extensions of the accident compensation scheme continued to be made in 2008, well after investment returns had plummeted. The board should have bluntly warned the Government of the risks of extending the scheme when income was going through the floor.
Hon David Parker: Can the Minister confirm that at 1.49 p.m. this afternoon, 11 minutes before question time, he announced a $32-per-year increase in the motor vehicle levy as from 1 July 2009, and how does he explain that $32-per-year increase when last week he was scaring New Zealanders with threats of motor vehicle levy increases of some $500 per annum within a year or two?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: Mr Speaker—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: The Hon Dr Nick Smith has the floor.
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: The member exaggerates. The figure that the member mentions as being “in a year or two”, foranybody who would read my press release, was the projected figure by ACC in 5 years’ time. I am advised by the Department of Labour that the amount I would require to increase the motor vehicle levy to fully fund the scheme under current policy and legislation would be $121 this year. The Government said that that was unacceptable; that is why we have gone for the smaller amount of $32, which is significantly less than the $50 increase that Labour imposed last year. The reason we need to make changes to ACC is that I do not want to see those ongoing increases.
Craig Foss: Is the Minister aware of any areas of ACC policy where the board has accepted that it made mistakes?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: Yes, the board has advised me that its decision in 2004 in respect of physiotherapist funding was a mistake, and it has described the policy that has seen costs blow out from $58 million a year to an expected $225 million per year as “untenable”. These policy changes were driven by the previous Government, not by the board, but the board must take some responsibility for the very poor projections of how much that policy change would cost.
Hon David Parker: Can the Minister explain why he told Mr Ross Wilson and other board members in December 2008 not to speak out about ACC’s performance, and why did he not allow the board to explain its understanding of ACC’s performance?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: It is the longstanding practice that boards do not speak publicly. It was the policy during the entire time of the 9 years of the previous Government. It is my view that nothing is to be achieved for the public and for ACC to have contradictory statements or other controversy between the chief executive, the Minister, and the board. It is my view that strengthening of the board is necessary, particularly in respect of financial management skills. That is why I have appointed John Judge as the new chair.
Hon David Parker: Can the Minister confirm that National has instituted a policy of gagging public servants and board appointees, as it tried with Barry Matthews, and now the ACC board, when their views differ from the story the National Ministers want the public to believe?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: I find that question from a Labour member absolutely extraordinary, in the sense that it has a record, over the last 9 years, of not just public servants, but the private public—through the Electoral Finance Act—being unable to express their view. I am surprised that Mr Parker has had a sudden change of heart.
2. Corrections, Minister—Relationship with Corrections Chief Executive
[Uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing.]
2. Hon PHIL GOFF (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does he have confidence in his Minister of Corrections’ handling of her relationship with her chief executive; if so, why?
Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister) : Yes; because she is working closely with her chief executive to restore public confidence in the Department of Corrections.
Hon Phil Goff: How can the Prime Minister possibly have confidence in the Minister of Corrections’ management of that relationship—and its sustainability—when she has irretrievably damaged it by repeatedly refusing to express confidence in her chief executive, having first prejudged his performance, and then having been proven quite wrong by the State Services Commission report?
Hon JOHN KEY: Firstly, the Minister has made it quite clear that she has the confidence that she can work with the chief executive. Secondly, the Minister has quite correctly identified that the important issue here is one of public safety. I would note that ever since the findings of the Auditor-General’s report were seen, the Leader of the Opposition has had nothing to say about public safety.
Hon Phil Goff: Was it Mr Matthews’ head that the Prime Minister expected to roll when he personally backed Ms Collins’ call for that to happen; if so, how does his own credibility stand in light of the State Services Commission report that Mr Matthews’ sacking would not be justified?
Hon JOHN KEY: At no time did either the Minister or I ask for heads to roll. We correctly asked the State Services Commissioner to look into the Auditor-General’s report, to find out where accountability lay, and to ensure that performance would be improved in the Department of Corrections. New Zealanders rely very heavily on the fact that the Department of Corrections needs to carry out its functions with a high level of public safety. This Government is focused on it because the previous Government was not.
Hon Phil Goff: In light of the Prime Minister’s answer, I seek leave of the House to table a document that says: “The Prime Minister … is backing Judith Collins’ efforts to remove its chief executive, Barry Matthews.” That statement is in the New Zealand Herald of 19 February 2009.
Mr SPEAKER: Can I clarify if that is a press statement.
Hon Phil Goff: It is a press statement, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table a press statement. Is there any—
Hon John Key: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. This is the second time in 2 weeks that the Leader of the Opposition has attempted to use editorial comment as a quote. It is not a quote. I am not responsible for the subeditors at the New Zealand Herald; I wish I was.
Mr SPEAKER: I will not hear further on this, because that is not a point of order. Leave is sought to table a press statement. Is there any objection to the press statement’s being tabled? There is.
Hon Phil Goff: Does the Prime Minister agree with the comments of Paul Kuchenbecker that Ms Collins is “all bark and no bite”, and with the view of Colin Espiner and the media that National has handled this issue in a shambolic way; if not, why not?
Hon JOHN KEY: No. Actually, I agree with the State Services Commissioner, who stated yesterday: “The Minister has said she will be setting high standards of Mr Matthews and expecting him to perform in the coming months and working with him on that.” I think that that is exactly the right message.
Hon Phil Goff: Does the Prime Minister, then, accept Mr Rennie’s report that Mr Matthews’ “… dismissal would not be a fair or a proportionate response,”; and does he, therefore, accept that there is now an untenable relationship between Ms Collins and Mr Matthews that can only be resolved either by buying—
Mr SPEAKER: The member will resume his seat. The last part of that question was totally out of order with regard to supplementary questions.
Hon Members: Why?
Mr SPEAKER: The member had already asked the primary part of that supplementary question, then a follow-up bit, and he then sought to put into the question material totally superfluous to the asking of the question. I am afraid that I am not prepared to accept argument over the matter, because that is the fact. If the Prime Minister heard the question, then he may answer it.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I will not argue with the substance of that ruling but with the process that you used. It is usual for a Speaker, when he or she wishes to interrupt a member asking a question, to get to his or her feet. You did not do that.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: That is a dreadful attack on you as the Chair of this House, and I think that most members would expect that member to be dealt with summarily. It is quite appropriate for the Speaker to engage with members at any time. The respect shown to the Chair is shown one member to another, and Mr Mallard completely denies that convention in this House. I do not think that we can tolerate a lot more of Mr Mallard’s challenging of the Chair.
Hon Dr Michael Cullen: Coming from that member, that comment seems a little off, given that on television on Sunday night he was heard to be interjecting—
Mr SPEAKER: The member knows that that comment is not contributing to the point of order. I appreciate the honourable member’s point, but, as Speaker, I would like to think I am big enough to take that kind of point of order from the Hon Trevor Mallard when he is clearly concerned. My problem was—for benefit of the Leader of the Opposition—that supplementary questions have to be supplementary questions. The member asked the first part to that supplementary question, followed it up with a second part—which was OK—but then proceeded to inject his opinion into it further to that. That is absolutely out of order for supplementary questions. [Interruption] Order! I am on my feet.
Hon Phil Goff: I’ve done nothing out of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: The member has been in this House long enough to know how supplementary questions are to be constructed. It is not good enough to keep, week after week, trying to ask questions that do not comply with the Standing Orders. I have accepted the question; I invite the Prime Minister to—
Hon Phil Goff: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. There are two points to my point of order. First of all, you looked at me and said: “Order!” when I had done absolutely nothing, so I seek an explanation of why I might have merited that. Secondly, I ask you to think just for a moment of what my question was. My question was whether, given the untenable relationship that exists, the options are to either pay out Mr Matthews or to remove Ms Collins. That is a question; that is not a statement.
Mr SPEAKER: The problem was that question was not exactly the question the member asked. If the member were to check Hansard he would find that he asked a particular question, he followed it with a question about whether the Prime Minister would take a certain action, and he then sought to put an opinion into the question. It is at that point that I stopped the honourable member. This way of asking supplementary questions needs to stop. I apologise if I offended the member, but it is very easy for him to ask questions that comply with Standing Orders. I invite the Prime Minister to reply.
Hon JOHN KEY: I do accept the findings of the report from the State Services Commissioner. I also accept the view that the Minister can have a good working relationship with Mr Matthews, but that does not mean that Mr Matthews will not have to set very high standards. That is absolutely the right thing to do, according to the State Services Commissioner.
3. Prisons—Private Management
[Uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing.]
3. TE URUROA FLAVELL (Māori Party—Waiariki) to the Minister of Corrections: Does she agree with the reported comment from Te WārenaTaua, who chaired a group representing six iwi in a formal relationship with Australasian Correctional Management, that under a “contract with a private provider, we have seen more progress and innovation in a prison that we have seen in decades from the public prison service”; and what factors can she suggest have led to this?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS (Minister of Corrections) : Yes. Under the contract the private provider was required to establish a relationship with iwi whānui, which is the representative group that has been referred to. The private management of prisons does lead to innovation in management. This is a good example of where innovation has occurred. Since then the department has established similar relationships with other kaitiaki groups in the four new facilities commissioned since the Auckland Central Remand Prison.
Te Ururoa Flavell: Has she seen the legal opinion from Jake Hodder of Chapman Tripp that handing an exclusive monopoly to the Public Prisons Service to manage all prisons: “will leave only a peripheral role for Māori service providers in relation to prison management and operations”; and how will the private management of prisons improve opportunities for Māori to participate in the management of prisons?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: No. However, I am informed by the department that the opinion was provided by the iwi to the select committee that considered the previous Government’s legislation abolishing privately run prisons. The contract management of prisons will seek providers who are efficient, effective, and innovative. The contractual process will provide ample opportunity for potential contractors, including Māori providers, to demonstrate these qualities. The department will be considering the inclusion of effectiveness measures to ensure improved outcomes for Māori offenders in any proposed contracts with successful tenderers.
Simon Bridges: Has she seen any other reports on the private management of prisons?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: Yes. I have seen a report in which the Leader of the Opposition, the Hon Phil Goff, appears to endorse the private management of prisons. He said: “The point I am making is that it does not matter a damn whether one has private or public prisons in that sense. What really matters is the way in which those prisons are operated.”
Hon Dr Michael Cullen: Has the Minister seen a report in The Economist of 28 February where in Florida two judges have been charged with accepting kickbacks from a private correctional facility firm, in order to sentence juvenile offenders to prison on extremely minor offences; if so, what action will she be taking to make sure that no such misuse can occur in New Zealand?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: Yes, and Florida is a long way away from here.
Te Ururoa Flavell: Does she agree with Iwi Whānui o Tāmaki-makau-rau that the previous Government’s failure to renew the Auckland Central Remand Prison contract and prohibiting any further contracts like it put ideology ahead of the best interests of inmates and Māori, and how does she believe the ideology of private management can support Māori aspirations?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: Yes. Private prison management provides an opportunity for innovation in service delivery, which will support better outcomes for Māori and the public. Provisions will also be able to be included in contracts for each prison to respond to unique needs or concerns of iwi in an area.
4. Honours System—Reinstatement of Titular Honours
[Uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing.]
4. Hon JIM ANDERTON (Leader—Progressive) to the Prime Minister: How many jobs will be created for unemployed New Zealanders as a result of the reinstatement of the titles of Knight and Dame Grand Companion in the New Zealand honours system?
Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister) : None will be created and none will be lost. The member misunderstands the purpose of reinstating the titles.
Hon Jim Anderton: When the Prime Minister promised to make jobs his most important priority when in Government, which of the only other Commonwealth countries to offer knighthoods does he think New Zealand should emulate: Antigua and Barbuda, the Bahamas, the Leeward Islands, Grenada, Papua New Guinea, St Vincent and the Grenadines, the Solomon Islands, or Tuvalu?
Hon JOHN KEY: This Government is focused on growing the economy, on growing jobs, and on lifting New Zealand up to the top half of the OECD; a Government he was in managed to do quite the opposite.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. There was a very direct question, which asked which of particular countries—
Mr SPEAKER: The member will resume his seat. The Prime Minister answered the question in a manner appropriate to the question.
Hon Jim Anderton: What items on the list of things the Government has made its higher priorities in Government will do the most to reduce the impact of global recession: bringing back knighthoods, a national cycleway, or privatising prisons?
Hon JOHN KEY: All three can play a part in helping our economy to grow. I am surprised, I have to say, that Mr Anderton has come down to the House today with this primary question. Funnily enough, I took a moment out of my busy schedule to have a look through the archives, and I noticed that in 1997 the Hon Jim Anderton introduced the Exceptional Service Honour (Posthumous Recognition) Bill. He sought to have that bill passed, and, lo and behold, the bill—which he waxed lyrical about, but I will not bore members with it—would have conferred an honour with the status of a knighthood. That was what the bill was trying to do. Jim Anderton not only tried to create his own new honour, with the status of a knighthood, in 1997; he actually had tried it once before, in 1991.
Mr SPEAKER: The Hon Jim Anderton.
Hon Jim Anderton: Mr Speaker—
Mr SPEAKER: The Hon Jim Anderton has the floor. I cannot hear him.
Hon Jim Anderton: As the bill—
Mr SPEAKER: I take it that this is a point of order.
Hon Jim Anderton: No, it is a supplementary question.
Mr SPEAKER: You have used all your allocation of supplementary questions, I am afraid.
Hon Jim Anderton: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. As the bill that the Prime Minister referred to was a bill to honour posthumously Colonel William Malone, and as most New Zealanders would wish that he be remembered well, which of the knights who have been—
Mr SPEAKER: The member will resume his seat. I allowed the member to raise a point of order that clearly was not a point of order, because the Prime Minister did go on for too long in answering the previous question. That is why I allowed the honourable member to make a point of order that was not one. But he has made his point now, and he cannot abuse the process any further. He has used his allocation of supplementary questions.
Hon Darren Hughes: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. To assist the House, Labour is happy to make a supplementary question available to the Hon Jim Anderton so that he can expand on this very important point.
Mr SPEAKER: The Hon Jim Anderton. [Interruption] The member needs to be heard when asking his supplementary question.
Hon Jim Anderton: Which knight has been a great example of the economic success that New Zealand needs more of: Sir Michael Fay, Sir Allen Stanford, Sir Bob Jones, or Sir Roger Douglas?
Hon JOHN KEY: Firstly, let me say that he is quite right in relation to the bill he tried to have passed, which would have conferred a knighthood on Colonel Malone. I happen to join with him in wanting to celebrate Colonel Malone; that is the purpose of knighthoods—to celebrate success. In relation to the four gentlemen whose names the member raised, I think all of them have made a contribution to New Zealand.
David Garrett: Has the Prime Minister received any indication of which prominent Labour supporters who were in favour of abolishing knighthoods have now indicated that they might like to accept one, and who is the current front runner among those hypocrites?
H V Ross Robertson: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: I think I can anticipate what issue the honourable member will raise. To use the word “hypocrites” is out of order in this House. I ask David Garrett to stand, withdraw, and apologise for his use of that word.
Hon Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: I have just ruled on a point of order, I say to the honourable Minister. I ask David Garrett to stand, withdraw, and apologise.
David Garrett: I withdraw and apologise. May I ask the question in a different way?
Mr SPEAKER: I would be perfectly happy for the question to be phrased differently.
David Garrett: Has the Prime Minister received any indication of which Labour supporters who were in favour of abolishing knighthoods have now indicated that they might like to accept one, and who is the current front runner on the list presently circulating around Parliament?
Hon JOHN KEY: I have not received a list, but I am hopeful that many people who are eligible to become knights or dames will take up that opportunity, so that all 4.2 million New Zealanders can celebrate their success.
Hon Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I want just to make a point. It is quite right that members cannot call across the House that another member is a hypocrite, but in this House we are quite entitled to reach outside Parliament and to suggest that an organisation is hypocritical, or, indeed, that a citizen is hypocritical. It might not be the wisest thing to do, but there is nothing in the Standing Orders or the Speakers’ rulingsthat rules against it.
Mr SPEAKER: I appreciate the point raised by the honourable member. If I was too hasty in making that ruling, I will seek further advice. I recognise that when the Speaker rules on something like that, it can create a precedent. If I have been too hasty in making that ruling, I will advise members, because I do not want to restrict freedom of speech—if that was the case.
Hon Jim Anderton: I seek leave to table a copy of the A R D Fairburn poem “On the Awarding of Knighthoods”, to be sung to the tune of “Waltzing Matilda”.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table a poem to be sung to the tune of “Waltzing Matilda”. [Interruption] Order! I accept that members might find it amusing, but it is a point of order and therefore it should be heard in silence. Is there any objection to that poem being tabled? There is.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I want to indicate that the Government would have no objection to the member who was seeking leave performing the poem for the House.
Hon Jim Anderton: I am happy to oblige, Mr Speaker, if the member wants. I must say that the poem has nine verses.
Mr SPEAKER: I think the House has more important business to do, and should be spared that course of action.
5. Community Probation and Psychological Services—Public Confidence
[Uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing.]
5. SANDRA GOUDIE (National—Coromandel) to the Minister of Corrections: What steps are being taken to build public confidence in Community Probation and Psychological Services?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS (Minister of Corrections) : I am working closely with the chief executive to ensure that public confidence in that department is restored, and the chief executive has committed to rebuilding my confidence and the public’s confidence in the department and in him.
Sandra Goudie: What is the department doing to address the findings of the Auditor-General’s report?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: The State Services Commissioner found that although the department had a plan in place, a plan is not enough in itself. Successful and rapid implementation of the plan is required. I have the assurance of the chief executive that this work will be completed as quickly as possible, and both I and the State Services Commissioner will hold the chief executive to account for the effective implementation of the plan.
Sandra Goudie: What other steps are being taken?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: An independent person will be appointed to chair an expert panel to review the procedures and performance measures of Community Probation and Psychological Services. The independent person and the chief executive will regularly report progress to the public and to me. I believe that an expert panel with a mix of internal and external participants with expertise in change management will assist Mr Matthews to lift performance at the department.
6. Accident Compensation Corporation—Financial Situation
[Uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing.]
6. Hon DAVID PARKER (Labour) to the Minister for ACC: Has either the board of the Accident Compensation Corporation or the Department of Labour advised him that ACC is currently insolvent; if not, why did he say it was?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH (Minister for ACC) : The member’s question is incorrect, as it is based on a half-quote. I said: “If ACC was an insurance company, it would be insolvent. It has assets of $10 billion and liabilities of $21 billion.” I would be more than happy to table the transcript. The advice I have received from the department and the Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC) is that ACC’s solvency has declined over the past 3 years and that its financial position is unsustainable without large levy increases or significant cost reductions.
Hon David Parker: Why, when the Minister pretended last week that accident compensation was fundamentally broken, did he not acknowledge that according to the PricewaterhouseCoopers report released in April last year, in New Zealand it cost 78c per $100 of workers’ wages to fund current workplace accidents, whereas in Australia it cost an average of $2 in every $100 of wages?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: Members opposite make a huge amount of that PricewaterhouseCoopers report. I note that it is based on 2005 data, and much has changed in accident compensation over the last 3 years. In fact, if members opposite had got hold of the changes in accident compensation a lot earlier, we would not be in the pickle we are now in.
Michael Woodhouse: What reports has the Minister received on the appointment of John Judge as the new ACC board chair?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: I have received very positive statements that he is the right person to lead ACC at this time. His statements on Radio New Zealand National this morning that he is firmly committed to the founding Woodhouse principles of accident compensation and that he is committed to managing costs, and his dismissals of the incorrect assertions about competition and privatisation, I think give New Zealanders the confidence that this Government is fully committed to a 24/7, no-fault State insurance model, but one that is affordable for ordinary New Zealanders.
Hon David Parker: Why, when the Minister pretended last week that ACC was fundamentally broken, did he not acknowledge that in New Zealand 88 percent of people are rehabilitated and return to work within 6 months of being injured, compared with the Australian average of 85 percent?
Hon Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I do not think it is acceptable to put the sort of innuendo into a question in the House that the member did in asking the question. It is supposed to be factual, and to suggest that someone is pretending is a debatable point, I am sure, at best.
Mr SPEAKER: I thank the honourable member for his point, but we cannot enforce every element of the Standing Orders. I accept the point he makes that questions are not meant to contain innuendo and that kind of thing or outrageous assertions, but I think the Minister is capable of handling the question. In order for question time to flow, I think the question should be allowed. I invite the honourable Minister to reply.
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: I would be happy to table a graph in the House of rehabilitation rates in ACC. It shows that in the 3-month, 6-month, and 12-month rehabilitation rates, ACC’s performance has declined over the last 5 years. The new Government does not believe that is acceptable. Getting people back to work as early as possible should be one of the fundamental goals of accident compensation.
Michael Woodhouse: What are the details of the changes the Minister announced today in respect of ACC levies to fund the increased liabilities of the corporation?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: I am not pleased that I have had to increase the motor vehicle levies today by a further $32 per vehicle. That is on top of the $50 that was imposed by the previous Minister on 1 July last year. I am advised that very significant further increases will be required if we do not make changes to accident compensation, which is why this new Government is determined to better manage costs.
Hon David Parker: Why, when the Minister purports to justify fundamental changes to the scope of cover, did he not acknowledge that according to PricewaterhouseCoopers’ report last April, the cost in New Zealand of managing claims for accident compensation is 8 percent of the ACC’s total expenditure, whereas in Australia with private schemes the cost ranges up to 32 percent?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: I say again to the member that this Government, I, and the new chair of ACC are totally committed to the Woodhouse report and its view that we do not want the “sue” culture that goes with regimes like Australia’s. But if we are to secure the future of accident compensation, we do need to get costs under control, and the $4 billion liability blowout that has occurred over the last year is unacceptable.
Michael Woodhouse: What advice has the Minister received on changes to the board of ACC?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: I was surprised to hear, this morning on the radio, Mr Goff say: “It’s quite inappropriate to sack people because you don’t like their party politics.” I totally agree with his statement, but I note that Mr John Slater, a former ACC board member, was asked to resign by Mr Goff’s Government, and the reason given was his involvement in the National Party.
7. Conservation, Minister—Crown Ownership of Public Foreshore and Seabed
[Uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing.]
7. METIRIA TUREI (Green) to the Minister of Conservation: Does he agree with his department that he is “the Minister who represents the Crown as owner of public foreshore and seabed.”?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON (Attorney-General) on behalf of the Minister of Conservation: In general terms, yes. The Foreshore and Seabed Act 2004 vests ownership of the public foreshore and seabed in the Crown. Section 28 empowers the Minister of Conservation to exercise certain “functions, duties, and powers of the Crown as owner of the public foreshore and seabed.” In relation to the management and regulation of foreshore and seabed activities under the Resource Management Act, those responsibilities will include, for example, approving national coastal policy statements. There are others, as well.
Metiria Turei: Does the Minister agree with his department that Crown ownership of the foreshore and seabed is the primary reason for his Resource Management Act decision-making role over the coastal marine area?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: The issues involving the ability of the Crown to regulate the foreshore and seabed will be the subject of the review of the Foreshore and Seabed Act. The Minister is confident that at the conclusion of that review there will be adequate mechanisms in place to ensure that the foreshore and seabed is protected—for example, under the Resource Management Act.
Catherine Delahunty: Does the Minister think it is acceptable that he should have no decision-making authority in applications for councils’ sewage discharges in fragile marine ecosystems, for sand mining in Māui’s dolphin habitat, or for a private marina in a native forested estuary with endangered skinks—indeed, no power to prevent ad hoc privatisation of our foreshore, seabed, and coastal areas?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: The Minister believes that it is important to look at the suite of powers that he is currently able to exercise as Minister of Conservation. Even if the reforms to the Resource Management Act are carried through, the Minister will still have certain powers in relation to, for example, appointing a person to the hearing committee to consider restricted coastal area applications, approval of coastal plans, and so on. So there will be adequate powers in existence.
Metiria Turei: Does the Minister agree with the Environmental Defence Society that his Government’s decision to remove his decision-making authority from the Resource Management Act “will give Regional Councils the ability to permanently alienate” coastal areas; and did he discuss this implication with the Māori Party before it agreed to support the Resource Management (Simplifying and Streamlining) Amendment Bill?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: No, the Minister does not agree with the Environmental Defence Society. He believes that adequate precautions will be in place to ensure that the mischief the member complains of will not be a problem.
Metiria Turei: Does the Minister agree that any changes that even further reduce the power of the Minister of Conservation to protect endangered species, fragile habitats, and wild places is a sad step backwards that undermines our guardianship role for future generations and also the multibillion-dollar “clean, green” New Zealand image?
Hon Dr Michael Cullen: Does the Minister find it ironic that the question line being now pursued is in support of the “public foreshore and seabed”—a term introduced and defined by the Foreshore and Seabed Act—when the principal questioner does not agree that there is such a thing as the public foreshore and seabed, because the foreshore and seabed are owned by Māori?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: Yes, one does see the irony.
Metiria Turei: I seek leave to table a number of documents.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table a number of documents—[Interruption]
Metiria Turei: This is a point of order; I would expect silence during the point of order.
Mr SPEAKER: I can hear the member clearly. If she proceeds by describing each document, we will seek leave to table each one.
Metiria Turei: I seek leave to table a report of the Ministry for the Environment that shows that a threat to a degraded marine environment is a major threat to our billion-dollar export industry.
Mr SPEAKER: Is there any objection to that report being tabled? There is none.
* Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Metiria Turei: I seek leave to table a departmental submission from the Department of Conservation dated 16 February 2009, which advises the Minister to recommend against the amendment, with his annotation that discussion amongst Ministers went in a different direction from what the department had advised.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is none.
* Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Metiria Turei: I seek leave to table the 2008 briefing to the incoming Minister, which states that the Minister represents the Crown as the owner of the public foreshore and seabed in his role in Resource Management Act decision-making.
Mr SPEAKER: Can I just check whether this briefing document has been released publicly.
Metiria Turei: Yes, it has.
Mr SPEAKER: It has been released publicly, so leave is being sought to table a document that was recently released publicly. Is there any objection to that? Yes, there is objection to that.
Catherine Delahunty: I seek leave to table a National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research newsletter from April 2007, stating that New Zealand’s coastline is increasingly affected by run-off, sewage disposal, coastal subdivision, and other contaminants.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research newsletter. Is there any objection to that? There is objection to that.
9. Schools—Recruitment of Teachers
[Uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing.]
9. COLIN KING (National—Kaikōura) to the Minister of Education: What steps has the Government taken to help schools recruit teachers in hard-to-staff locations and subjects?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY (Minister of Education) : The Government has delivered on its 100-day promise to introduce the voluntary bonding scheme for teachers in hard-to-staff locations and subjects. This means that new teachers will be eligible for a student loan write-off or extra cash payment for 5 years if they work in hard-to-staff areas such as decile one or severely isolated schools, or if they work in hard-to-staff subjects such as chemistry, home economics, mathematics and statistics, physics, technology, or te reo Māori.
Colin King: What incentives has the Government put in place to retain these teachers?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY: New teachers will be eligible for a before-tax payment of $3,500 per year for 5 years, with the first payment occurring at the end of the third year. This means that teachers who have the average-sized student loan for a teaching graduate will be able to pay off their loans in full within 5 years through their voluntary bonding payments and their compulsory repayments. All teachers who have graduated since 2005 are eligible this year, and the Ministry of Education estimates that close to 1,800 teachers will be eligible this year.
Hon Chris Carter: Did the Minister involve the education sector in the development of the bonding scheme, or did she just inform the sector what the Government wanted, and then proceed with it?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY: This was a campaign promise. Could one say that that involved the education sector? Yes, because I went up and down the country promoting this as a policy.
Hon Chris Carter: Has the Minister secured funding for this initiative, or is it just another National pledge to be funded by cuts to existing educational programmes?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY: The answer is yes. This will form part of the Budget bid earmarked for 2009.
10. Biofuels—Exemption from Excise and Road-user Charges
[Uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing.]
10. CHARLES CHAUVEL (Labour) to the Minister of Energy and Resources: Will he exempt biofuels from excise and road-user charges in proportion to the blend, and only on sustainably produced biofuels?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE (Minister of Energy and Resources) : The Government is currently considering the options for giving effect to our policy of providing consistent tax incentives for sustainably produced biofuels.
Charles Chauvel: Are the Minister and his colleagues serious about reducing the country’s overall carbon emissions; if so, why would they consider bringing forward the building of the Rodney power station, at a cost of over half a billion dollars, when Genesis Energy told the Electricity Commission on 4 December last year that the plant had no resource consents, no gas pipeline capacity, and no access to a sufficient, secure forward quantity of gas?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: Yes; and I do not know.
Charles Chauvel: Do the Minister’s answers not confirm the observation in yesterday’s New Zealand Herald editorial that he has “showed little interest in the economics of electricity investment and seemed hell-bent on bulldozing any obstacle to the maximum security of supply.”?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: The Government is committed to having a regime that provides a consistent tax incentive for biofuels in New Zealand.
Charles Chauvel: I seek leave to table a letter from Genesis Energy to the Electricity Commission, dated 4 December 2008, which notes that the proposed Rodney power station has no resource consents, and no forward gas supply.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that letter. Is there any objection? There is no objection.
* Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
11. Veterinarians—Voluntary Bonding Scheme
[Uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing.]
11. SHANE ARDERN (National—Taranaki - King Country) to the Minister of Agriculture: Why has the Government recently introduced a voluntary bonding scheme for vets?
Hon DAVID CARTER (Minister of Agriculture) : The National-led Government is committed to building and supporting strong rural communities. New Zealand has a severe shortage of rural veterinarians. This Government will not accept this shortage and the risk it poses to our vital pastoral industries. By incentivising vet graduates to stay in hard-to-staff rural areas for up to 5 years, we are confident that the critical shortage of vets in these remote areas can be largely alleviated.
Shane Ardern: What reports has the Minister seen on vet bonding schemes?
Hon DAVID CARTER: Only good ones. The New Zealand Veterinary Association welcomed the scheme and praised the Government for addressing the issue. The head of veterinary science at Massey University described the scheme as “well-thought out” and a great start. Finally, Federated Farmers said it was “very positive” and noted: “Thank goodness we have a Government that recognises the importance of the agricultural industry in this country, and is doing something positive to help promote it”.
12. Pay Equity—Investigations
[Uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing.]
12. SUE MORONEY (Labour) to the Minister of Women’s Affairs: Was she consulted over the Government’s decision to “discontinue” pay equity investigations for social workers and school support staff?
Hon PANSY WONG (Minister of Women’s Affairs) : As I advised the member in my answer of 3 March to her written question, no.
Sue Moroney: Does the Minister recall why a previous National Government got rid of pay equity legislation as soon as it took power in 1990? Was that also because of an economic downturn, or was there a different excuse then, although with exactly the same outcome?
Hon PANSY WONG: I am proud to tell the member that it was a National Government that in 1972 introduced the Equal Pay Act.
Sue Moroney: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Minister failed to address the question that I had asked her, which was about legislation that National got rid of in 1990. Sunday was International Working Women’s Day, and I believe that New Zealand women deserve—
Mr SPEAKER: Points of order cannot be used to put information before the House, as the member has just done.
Sue Moroney: Why did the Minister ignore a protest on this issue by school support workers in Hamilton on Friday, and then, just minutes later, tell the Hamilton International Women’s Day Symposium that the gender pay gap was too large in New Zealand and she wanted to do more, when her Government is actually guilty of doing less?
Hon PANSY WONG: I hardly ignored the handful of protesters in Hamilton. I actually told them to please take care and not get too wet.
Amy Adams: What is the Minister doing to address the gender pay gap in New Zealand?
Hon PANSY WONG: A National Government passed the Equal Pay Act in 1972. It made it illegal to pay a woman less than a man for the same work. After 30 years there remains a gender pay gap in New Zealand. The causes of it are complex. The Ministry of Women’s Affairs and I are looking at and addressing the various issues contributing to it, which include occupational segregation, educational qualifications, time out of the workforce to undertake caring responsibilities, and employment practices.
Hon Ruth Dyson: Can the Minister explain the difference between pay equality and pay equity; if so, could she give the House the benefit of this wisdom that she has very recently acquired?
Hon PANSY WONG: I believe that I addressed that in my last answer, if that member had cared to listen carefully. If one adds up all the men and women on either side, one finds that the pay gap is largely to do with occupational segregation, qualifications, etc. But I just want to add that if the previous Labour Government believed that pay equity was such a serious issue, why did it take it 7 years to start two pay equity investigations?
Hon Ruth Dyson: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My point of order is, no doubt, obvious to you and the rest of the House. My question was very simple. I asked what the difference is between equality and equity, and if the Minister understood the difference, to share that wisdom with the House. The Minister failed to address the question.
Mr SPEAKER: Can I just check with the honourable member whether she, in fact, asked that question, or whether she asked the Minister to explain the difference. If my memory serves me correctly, the member asked the Minister to explain the difference, and the Minister gave her explanation.
Hon Ruth Dyson: I asked whether the Minister understood the difference, and if she did, could she explain it. Neither point was addressed by the Minister.
Mr SPEAKER: As the member knows, where there are two parts to a question, and one part seeks an explanation, I think that the explanation that a Minister gives may not be, in the member’s view, a very good explanation, but it is still an explanation. That is the dilemma with that kind of supplementary question.
Sue Moroney: Which of the following quotes does the Minister believe most closely resembles the aspirations of New Zealand women: that of the Hon Tony Ryall, who, in scrapping the pay equity investigations, said they “generate an additional form of remuneration pressure that is unaffordable in the current economic and fiscal environment.”; her own quote, when she said: “it is inevitable that New Zealand will be hugely affected by the recession.”; or that of President Barack Obama, when he said: “Making”—[Interruption] I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: I think it is clear what the honourable member’s point of order is going to be. It was not possible to hear the last part of the question. Although I accept that it was a longish question, we have had some longish answers today. It was a single question; the member was asking the Minister which of several things was correct. But we do not want the list to go on for too long. If the member could repeat the third—
Sue Moroney: Can I start from the top, Mr Speaker?
Mr SPEAKER: No; from the third “or” please.
Sue Moroney: OK. Or that of President Barack Obama, when he said: “Making our economy work means making sure it works for everybody, that there are no second-class citizens in our workplaces.”? He said that when he was—
Hon PANSY WONG: I am sure that the only woman the member quoted said more than that it was “inevitable”. My aspiration is that women exercise choice in their lives. I back women all the time, so I am backing the woman who was quoted.
Sue Moroney: I seek leave to table a document that I am disappointed to see has not made it on to the Department of Labour website yet, because it is a good piece of work. It is the Report on the Pay Investigation for Special Education Support Workers, which has not been published on the websites of any of the Government departments that produced it.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is objection.

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