Questions and Answers - November 7
QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS
Government Financial Position—Reports
1. Hon TAU HENARE (National) to the Minister of Finance: What reports has he received on the Government’s financial position?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): The Crown’s financial statements for the 3 months to 30 September were issued today. They confirm that the Government is keeping its spending under control, but that revenue can be affected by the uncertain global economic situation and its impact on New Zealand. For example, in the first 3 months of this fiscal year Crown tax revenue was $295 million below forecast and core Crown interest revenue was $147 million lower than expected. This was partially offset by Crown expenses being $200 million below forecast, including slightly lower than forecast welfare expenses. The operating deficit before gains and losses was $2 billion for the 3-month period.
Hon Tau Henare: What approach is the Government taking to ensure it continues to carefully manage its finances so it does return to surplus?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The Government’s target is to return to surplus by 2014-15 so that we will then have choices about repaying debt, resuming contributions to the New Zealand Superannuation Fund, or targeting more investment in priority public services. To achieve this we will need to keep on top of the factors we can control, such as remaining prudent with any new spending and borrowing. We will also continue to focus very strongly on delivering more public services, even where there is less money, to ensure that we support those who need our services. This is important in a world where economic conditions are unpredictable and could have unpredictable impacts on New Zealand Government revenue.
Hon Tau Henare: What reports has he received on the global economic situation and its likely impact on New Zealand and Government finances?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Earlier this week Treasury published its monthly Economic Indicators for November, focusing on global growth. It notes that more than 5 years after the onset of the financial crisis the world economy is performing again below expectation. World economic growth in the first half of 2012 was generally below IMF forecasts, and the latest forecast for world output, issued last month, contained further downward revisions. If global growth does remain weaker than expected, it would affect New Zealand’s growth and Government finances.
Hon Tau Henare: How is New Zealand’s economy performing compared with most other developed economies, and what policy prescription would put this performance at risk?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: We continue to perform at moderate levels, but nevertheless better than most other developed countries. In the first half of this year New Zealand grew by 1.6 percent, which is higher than growth rates in the US, Japan, Canada, the UK, and the euro area over the same period. Our quarterly growth rate is about the same as Australia’s. Policies that would put this
at risk would include borrowing more, spending more, and printing money, which would fuel costs for households and businesses and put jobs at risk.
Hon David Parker: How can the Minister stand in this House and pretend that it is good news that the Government deficit of $2.1 billion is $490 million—or 27 percent—higher than he projected in his Budget just months ago?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I am not saying it is good news; I am just saying it is the news. It is the news and it is a snapshot in a long journey towards repairing the damage that the previous Labour Government did to the economy and to Government finances.
Hon David Parker: Is it correct that in addition to an increasing Government deficit, the New Zealand economy is running the second-worst current account deficit in the developed world this year, and is projected by the IMF to have the worst current account deficit in the developed world next year; if it is correct, does he agree with the Governor of the Reserve Bank, Mr Wheeler, that that is far too high?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: On the first issue, of course we want to see the Government deficit coming back. It was $18 billion 2 years ago, it was $9 billion last year, and we are on the track towards about $7 billion for this year and a $2 billion deficit the following year. Quarterly figures are not pushing us off that track. In respect of the current account deficit, I would take more notice of what the member said if it had not been the case that under his Government it doubled from 4 percent to 8 percent, which were the worst levels New Zealand has ever had. That was from the party that is now preaching the loudest about fixing it.
2. DAVID SHEARER (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does he have confidence in all his Ministers; if so, why?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): Yes; because they are working harder for a brighter future for all New Zealanders.
David Shearer: Does he have confidence in his Minister of Education and her management of the future of education in Christchurch; if so, why?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Yes; because she is committing $1 billion to new schooling in Christchurch. I think what we all need to understand in respect of Christchurch is that a major earthquake took place that has changed the patterns of where people live. But it has also presented an opportunity to deliver 21st century schools to Christchurch. I simply make this point: we are not rebuilding the central business district in Christchurch with exactly the same buildings; we are using the opportunity to deliver arguably the most liveable city in New Zealand, and then maybe, just maybe, there will be an opportunity to deliver better schooling facilities for youngsters in Christchurch. I think that is a good thing.
David Shearer: Does he stand by his undertaking that he will personally look through the response from each Christchurch school; if so, why does he think it is necessary for a Prime Minister to personally review submissions from all these schools if he does in fact have confidence in his Minister?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Yes, and I would point out that the Minister is personally visiting all of the schools. I understand that 35 of the 37 schools have agreed to that. Why am I personally doing that? Well, I take a personal interest in Christchurch. It is one of the Government’s four key priorities, and I gave that commitment to the people of Christchurch because they kept on reading nonsense from Chris Hipkins that was getting printed in the Press.
David Shearer: Why will his Government not tell the communities affected by the closure and merger proposals what all the options identified by the ministry are?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: The purpose now is, with those affected schools, to go through all of the options for those clusters, to talk about what the options might be and the reasons why, and to potentially come up with some good solutions. What the Government is saying to the people of
Christchurch, to those parents who are affected, and to those schools, is that we are listening to you, but we are also listening to the advice we are receiving about what is changing. We are going to spend a billion dollars over the next 10 years—
David Shearer: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I have been listening for quite a while. I actually asked why he will not tell us what the options are that were put forward by the Ministry of Education.
Mr SPEAKER: The member is welcome to repeat his question.
David Shearer: Why will his Government not tell the communities affected by closure and merger proposals what all the options identified by the ministry are?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I do not have all of that detail to hand. I know what is being proposed there. So you might do best to ask that question of the Minister herself. But the point is we are now engaging in a full communication process with those schools.
Dr Russel Norman: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The question was not what those options were. It was why the Minister would not tell us what those options were. The Minister has not addressed the question at all.
Mr SPEAKER: I think the Prime Minister has, in that he said he cannot tell the House what those options are because he does not have them. That kind of detail, he recommended, should be directed to the Minister of Education, and that is not unreasonable.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. No one was asking the Prime Minister what the options were. The question was why his Minister is not releasing those options. She is the person who has refused, under the Official Information Act—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member is getting into debate on the matter. The Prime Minister welcomed members to question the Minister of Education on the matter, and that is not an unreasonable response from the Prime Minister. The member asked why he is not releasing that information. The Prime Minister said to address that to the Minister. He has obviously made it clear that there is no Government policy not to release that information.
David Shearer: Will he instruct the Ministry of Education, through his Minister, to release the ministry’s advice on the future of Christchurch education, which my office requested under the Official Information Act, and which has been withheld by the ministry on the basis that there “does not appear to be overriding public-interest reasons” to support the release?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No, because I think the primary objective at the moment is to engage in good consultation with those schools and clusters, and that is what the Government is doing.
David Shearer: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. That question was really about whether he will instruct the ministry.
Mr SPEAKER: In fairness, the Prime Minister did say that, no, he would not.
David Shearer: Is it acceptable that the schools proposed to be closed or merged have not been advised as to whether they will be allowed additional time to respond to the proposals, even though they have not yet received all the relevant information from the ministry?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I may stand to be corrected, but my understanding is that the Minister is talking to the schools about giving them additional time in working their way through the process. I may be wrong, but that was the last conversation I had with her.
David Shearer: When did the Minister first make him aware of the data areas, including data on roll numbers, number of buildings, presence of facilities, and damage, that were included in the documents issued to schools as part of the rationale for the proposals?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I was aware after the schools had the information and had identified that they were in the list of schools that could be either merged or closed, or whatever it might be, that there was some discrepancy between the schools’ data and the ministry’s. A lot of data is agreed and correct, and some is not. Some of it is for very technical reasons in the way that they particularly count things. Some of it has been subsequently updated, because there was a gap in one particular period. But, again, all of that is largely an irrelevance, because in the end the schools, the
clusters, and the Government are going to sit down on an agreed plan. They may disagree over time, they may choose to disagree, but the data will be agreed before we go forward.
Dr Russel Norman: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am sorry, Mr Speaker, but it was a “when” question. I understand that the Minister went through and listed them. The question was when did he find out. We did not hear when. We heard a long list.
Mr SPEAKER: I have already invited the Leader of the Opposition to repeat one question. I believe that the question was a little longer than that. I cannot remember now the detail of the question, and the Prime Minister, I believe, responded. His answer was reasonable.
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I think I made it quite clear. I said that sometime after the data had been released, I was aware that there was a discrepancy between what the schools thought and what the ministry thought. That was the time when I was aware. Rusty, open up your ears, son.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] No, order! I must ask the Prime Minister to withdraw that last statement. That is not acceptable.
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I withdraw.
Mr SPEAKER: Under a point of order, that to me is not acceptable.
Canterbury, Recovery—Skills for Canterbury Programme
3. COLIN KING (National—Kaikōura) to the Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills and
Employment: How is the Government helping Cantabrians upskill for the Christchurch rebuild?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment): Last week the Government announced that it has committed a further $28 million from the Skills for Canterbury contingency to maintain the extended training pipeline for tradespeople for the Canterbury rebuild. This ensures that in 2013 providers will be able to build on the additional 3,500 trade training places and student support provided over the last 2 years. Christchurch will require thousands of builders, plumbers, landscapers, electricians, and engineers. It is crucial we have sufficient skilled tradespeople to meet this demand. The trade training funding under Skills for Canterbury is helping to ensure sufficient appropriately skilled people will be available.
Colin King: How much has been invested to date in the Skills for Canterbury initiative?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: The amount spent in total to date is now $65.2 million. This includes $16.7 million from Tertiary Education Commission baselines, $11.7 million of reprioritisation from polytechs and institutes of technology, and now $36.8 million from the Skills for Canterbury contingency. This money is invested in places this year and last year, with similar numbers to be available in 2013. Initiatives include the Pacific trades initiative, the Māori Trade Training initiative, and funding for the new Canterbury Skills and Employment Hub. Can I say that there are places available right now for people to be involved in the Christchurch rebuild. The Stronger Christchurch Infrastructure Rebuild Team, for example, is recruiting for around a thousand people to be trained and employed for the rebuild, and I strongly encourage anyone who is interested in being part of it to contact their local training provider and find out the opportunities available to them.
Colin King: Has he seen any other proposals about how the Government might have allocated the funding?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Indeed, I have seen and received a number of suggestions over the last year advocating that the entire Skills for Canterbury contingency fund be spent immediately, if not sooner, irrespective of need, rather than on an as required basis. These proposals came from a group of people whose definition of success is entirely about how much money they can shove out the door as quickly as possible, rather than what is required. These people have no concept of how to balance the books. I am, of course, referring to the New Zealand Labour Party.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The Minister was lucky that was the very last word he said. He should not attribute his summary of policies to another party, especially in response to a question from his own colleague.
Dr Megan Woods: Was he advised in March this year that in order to meet the demands of the rebuild there was a requirement for a thousand additional Stronger Christchurch Infrastructure Rebuild Team places to be established in 2012; if so, why was there an 8-month delay before Minister Brownlee launched the team’s training and employment programme on 1 November 2012?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: In response to the question, of course it was required—it was needed in 2012 and it has been provided in 2012.
Dr Megan Woods: I seek leave to table a document, a briefing from the Tertiary Education Commission to Minister Joyce dated 28 March, which shows a requirement for a thousand additional places made in 2012, made up of 500—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Order! Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is no objection. Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Unemployment—Budget 2011 Forecast Compared with Current Forecast
4. Hon DAVID PARKER (Labour) to the Minister of Finance: In Budget 2011 which year was unemployment forecast to fall below 5 percent and when does Treasury now predict unemployment to fall below 5 percent?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): In Budget 2011 Treasury predicted unemployment would fall below 5 percent in the 2012-13 year. Right now it is updating its forecast for the Half Year Economic and Fiscal Update, which will be released in December. I would expect that it would be some years later that unemployment will fall below 5 percent.
Hon David Parker: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. That question was on notice, and it did not ask what Treasury’s future projections were. It asked what its current projection is—when it predicts unemployment to fall below 5 percent.
Mr SPEAKER: If the Minister has that information, that would be helpful.
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I am just checking the information further in the Budget. If by “now” the member means Budget 2012, which is the most recent Treasury projection, back in May, it forecast unemployment would go below 5 percent in 2015-16.
Hon David Parker: Does he stand by his election promise to create 170,000 more jobs by 2015; if so, how many extra jobs have been created since that promise was made?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: It was a forecast, not a promise, because, unlike the Labour Party, the Government does not actually create jobs directly. In fact, Government jobs are shrinking. Government jobs are shrinking. It is businesses that create jobs, and there have been tens of thousands of new jobs. There are more New Zealanders than ever in a job today.
Hon David Parker: According to the quarterly employment survey, did the number of filled full-time jobs increase or decrease in the September quarter?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I think the quarterly employment survey had the number of full-time jobs decreasing and the number of part-time jobs increasing. Part of the increase in those part-time jobs is likely to include people who are responding to the Government’s clear signals about changes in welfare policy, and therefore are taking up part-time work where they were not before. We regard that as success. Of course we would like to see more full-time jobs, but in the last quarter there were not more full-time jobs.
Hon David Parker: According to yesterday’s quarterly employment survey, are there more jobs or fewer jobs in the manufacturing industry than there were a year ago?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I think the survey shows there are fewer jobs in the manufacturing industry, but they still have not been able to manufacture a crisis in the way that the Opposition is trying to. The fact is that we have grumpy growth. We are going to grow between 2 and 3 percent pretty consistently. Some sectors and some businesses are losing jobs; some sectors and some
businesses are flat out trying to recruit people—in fact, they cannot get the skills that they need. We would expect that this will be the pattern for the foreseeable future.
Hon David Parker: In the history of the quarterly employment survey data series, which goes back to 1989, has there ever been a quarter with fewer filled jobs in manufacturing than the September 2012 quarter?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I do not know the answer to that, but I would warn the member that you cannot run economic policy off quarterly surveys, particularly when quarterly figures are so volatile.
Hon David Parker: I seek leave to table a document from the Parliamentary Library showing the number of filled jobs in the manufacturing sector is the lowest recorded since the data series began in 1989.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is no objection. Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Tax Credits—Access to In-work Tax Credit
5. METIRIA TUREI (Co-Leader—Green) to the Minister of Revenue: How many parents have lost access to the in-work tax credit in the past year because they have lost their jobs or no longer work enough hours to qualify?
Hon PETER DUNNE (Minister of Revenue): The member should not be surprised that my answer is exactly the same as I gave to her written question No. 8951 barely 3 weeks ago—namely, the Inland Revenue Department does not specifically record why a recipient does not receive a particular component of Working for Families tax credits. Entitlement to each component can start and stop throughout the year, depending on the family circumstances, all of which cannot be accurately separated or identified to answer this question.
Metiria Turei: Why is the Minister content to allow this financial support to be taken away from children whose parents lose their jobs through no fault of their own?
Hon PETER DUNNE: What the member overlooks is that there are a range of other support mechanisms in place to help parents in that situation, and as a consequence of those other support mechanisms, the current practice, introduced by the previous Government, with regard to the operation of the in-work tax credit is appropriate.
Metiria Turei: How can the Minister claim that the current support for those families who lose their jobs is adequate for children, when the family tax credits and benefits combined still leave 70 percent of the children in those families in poverty, the jobs do not exist for their parents, and we know that the in-work tax credit amount alone can significantly relieve that poverty?
Hon PETER DUNNE: There are two reasons for my comment. The first is that the OECD has made it very clear in its judgment—and New Zealand is part of the OECD and generally respects its judgments in these respects—that child poverty is best helped through workforce participation and encouraging workforce participation. The second part of my answer is that the member is selective in terms of the benefits that she makes reference to. In addition to those that she commented upon, families in that situation would also be entitled to the unemployment benefit and they may be entitled to sole parent support, an accommodation supplement, an emergency benefit, various training allowances, a child disability allowance or disability allowance, and, possibly, after-school allowances. So if she wants to make the comparison, she should put the whole suite of measures on the table, and not just a selected number of them.
Metiria Turei: Is the Minister aware that every 3 months 75,000 hard-working people, including thousands of parents, become unemployed under the Key-Dunne Government, and how is it fair to take away the in-work tax credit from them and their children when they lose their jobs in those difficult times?
Hon PETER DUNNE: I have got no idea where the member draws her figure from. I think it is a figment of her imagination. The point—
Metiria Turei: From your own ministry.
Hon PETER DUNNE: The member says it is from my own ministry. In my original answer I made it very clear that because of the nature of the way in which these interactions occur it is impossible to identify the numbers involved. The member seems to deny that. But the point that I was making in my original supplementary answer—and I will make it again—is that the member is being very selective. She is drawing on a range of issues only. There are a number of mechanisms available to help families in that situation, and the member should put all of those on the table when considering this question.
Metiria Turei: How is it fair that the children of 40,000 hard-working people who lost manufacturing jobs in the last 4 years of the Key-Dunne Government should also be financially punished by having their in-work tax credit taken away as well?
Hon PETER DUNNE: My answer is the same as it has been to previous iterations of this type of example. But I would make one other point: what the member’s legislation proposes is creating a disincentive for low-income working families to remain in employment. One of the whole reasons why the Working for Families in-work tax credit was introduced in the first place was to actually make it more palatable and more attractive for those low-income families to be in employment. The member wants to actually turn that on its head, and make more people reliant on the system as beneficiaries, rather than do what every other country does and seek to encourage them into paid employment.
Metiria Turei: If the Minister is so worried about incentivising people who work, why does he then deny the tax credit to up to 40 percent of sole parent beneficiaries who are in part-time work, whose children are very likely to suffer the worst effects of long-term poverty?
Hon PETER DUNNE: I should point out to the member that there are a number of other tax credit mechanisms available to help families in the type of situation she refers to—for instance, the family tax credit, the minimum family tax credit, and the parental tax credit. When you add all of those things together—and they are regularly adjusted for inflation—they provide a substantial uplift for families in that situation. They also ensure that low-income working families are recognised for their efforts and, as a consequence, encouraged and incentivised to remain in employment.
Metiria Turei: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My question was not about other kinds of tax credits. It was an explicit question about working people who are denied the in-work tax credit, and I do not believe that the Minister answered that question properly.
Mr SPEAKER: If I recollect correctly, the member started her question with “Given the Minister’s such-and-such, how can it be fair …”, or “How does he believe it is fair for something …”, and the Minister answered that he believed it was fair because these people have other things available to them.
Metiria Turei: Why did the Minister dismiss my compromise to him to extend the in-work tax credit for 6 months to those who lose their jobs—a compromise that would relieve some of the worst financial stress for children and for families at a very difficult and insecure time when their parents lose their work?
Hon PETER DUNNE: Two reasons: firstly, the point I made earlier about employment and encouraging people into workforce participation, and, secondly—again consistent with OECD strategy—employing policies that make work pay. What the member’s bill does is create a disincentive for people at that low-income margin to be in full-time employment. I think that is wrong.
Metiria Turei: Does the Minister agree with economics professor Susan St John that extending the in-work tax credit to all children below the current income threshold, even if their parents are
looking for work, are caring for grandchildren and receive superannuation, or are studying, would be an effective way to reduce poverty and income inequality?
Hon PETER DUNNE: I seldom agree with Associate Professor St John.
Metiria Turei: Does the Minister agree with the statement from United Future leader Peter Dunne when he pledged to Closer Together Whakatata Mai to “actively support policy measures that reduce income inequality”; if so, why will he not support my bill at least to select committee, which is just such a measure he pledged to support?
Hon PETER DUNNE: I do agree with that statement. The fact that as Minister of Revenue over the last 7 years, under both Governments, I have been part of seeing the biggest shifts in personal tax rate reductions for the bottom two income steps is proof of the point that I make.
Metiria Turei: It’s not relieved poverty for the worst.
Hon PETER DUNNE: The member says that does not relieve poverty. What that interjection proves is that this is a highly subjective rather than objective argument. My focus has been on ensuring that our tax system works fairly for those at the bottom of the income scale. The last thing I want to see is a disincentive created for low-income working people to remain in full-time employment, as the member’s bill would do.
Metiria Turei: Why will not the Minister support this potential solution at least being considered at select committee, when all the evidence suggests that it could make the crucial difference to a quarter of a million Kiwi kids, and that he today could be the difference between an empty and a full plate for many of these children?
Hon PETER DUNNE: I reject that assertion entirely.
Metiria Turei: You reject those children entirely.
Hon PETER DUNNE: I am not rejecting those children. That is a ridiculous statement. What this is about is a good policy environment that the previous Government put in place called Working for Families. This Government is committed to it. It ensures that low-income working people are rewarded for the fact that they are in employment, consistent with international standards. The best way to boost the incomes of those households is through full-time employment, not through loading them up on the beneficiary train, which the member wants to do.
Offenders, Rehabilitation—Drug and Alcohol Court
6. MIKE SABIN (National—Northland) to the Minister of Justice: How is the Government reducing crime and reoffending by helping offenders to deal with their addictions?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS (Minister of Justice): Last week I launched the new alcohol and other drug courts in Auckland. This pilot programme will enable 100 offenders each year who are facing prison sentences and who are prepared to acknowledge their offending to participate in addiction treatment programmes, which will be actively overseen by the courts. Similar programmes in other jurisdictions have resulted in significant reductions in repeat offending. This Government is focused on reducing crime in New Zealand.
Mike Sabin: What else is the Government doing to reduce reoffending?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: The justice sector has a target to reduce reoffending by 25 percent by 2017. The alcohol and other drug courts are part of a wider $10 million a year package funded by alcohol excise revenue and providing for early intervention screening, a range of programmes for drink-drivers, youth alcohol and drug services, and more training and development within workplaces. The Department of Corrections has also invested heavily in drug and alcohol programmes in our prisons. This past year we have seen a 6 percent drop in reoffending.
Hon Kate Wilkinson—Confidence
7. Hon DAMIEN O’CONNOR (Labour—West Coast - Tasman) to the Prime Minister: Does he have confidence in Hon Kate Wilkinson as a Minister in his Government?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): Yes.
Hon Damien O’Connor: What, in his opinion, did Kate Wilkinson do wrong that lead to her resignation as Minister of Labour?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: As the member said, she felt it was the honourable thing to do because the report of the Royal Commission on the Pike River Coal Mine Tragedy was effectively so damning of the department that she had responsibility for, and because 29 men had lost their lives. She felt that that was the appropriate thing to do. I supported her view in doing that.
Hon Damien O’Connor: Given that the Minister considers she has done no wrong, is it not correct that some of the key responsibilities of Ministers are to monitor their department, to demand accountability and to ask the right questions of their department, to check that their department is actually doing its job, and to act on appropriate advice, such as the letter I wrote on 6 May 2010; if he does agree that these are key responsibilities, are not these the very areas where Kate Wilkinson was derelict in her duty?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No, I do not believe that accurately characterises it. I have seen the letter that the honourable member wrote. I have also seen the response. Looking at the response, it is quite clear that the Minister took the correspondence very seriously. She, in the report, actually relied on her officials’ advice that had come out of the 2009 review. She spent some time looking at the operational capability. She also indicated that the Department of Labour had said that there was no recent change in the pattern of mining serious-harm notifications that may give cause for concern. She has acted pretty much on all of the advice that I can see from the ministry, with the one exception being where it did make a recommendation in relation to small mines, but the reason she declined that is that, as the ministry itself said, there are “currently no mines operating with fewer than 20 employees, and existing operations already have systems, so the above proposal would have no impact on any current mine operators.”
Hon Damien O’Connor: Given the rejection of advice on mine safety matters from the unions, from her department’s internal review in 2008, and from my letter, how can he be satisfied that this Minister has the level of judgment required to be a Minister in his Government?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Well, if we want to get into the blame game, let us just start having a look at a few of the facts. For a start-off, Labour was elected in 1999—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! A question was asked, and a question as to the Prime Minister’s confidence in Ministers is a fair question. I think it would be proper to answer it and not to get into the blame game.
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Let me reverse the order, then. In relation to the advice that the Minister had, she received advice off the report that Trevor Mallard had received in 2008. She followed that advice. In the advice, the Department of Labour said there were two issues. One was in relation to small mines, where there was the highest risk. It said, by the way, I might add: “Generally, the legislative and regulatory framework was sound. The operational capability of the mines inspectorate was sufficient.”, and I might add that this was the advice that the Minister acted on. By the way, this was on the back of the report that had been received by Trevor Mallard when he was the Minister in October 2008, and this is what Trevor Mallard said when he received this advice. It came in the form of a press release he put out in October of 2008. He said that the legislative and regulatory “framework was essentially sound,” and “Both employer and employee submitters overwhelmingly supported the current legislative framework … They did not want to return to a more prescriptive regulatory framework.” This comes from a Labour Government that in 4 of the 9 years it was in office in its last term cut the amount of spending that went into health and safety. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! A point of order has been called.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I seek the leave of the House to table the media statement that the Prime Minister has just quoted from, which says, inter alia, “the quality of employees’ participation in health and safety”—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is. [Interruption] Order! Order! The House will come to order. Unless some members on my right want an early shower, the House will come to order. That is sufficient of that exchange. Members have the right to seek leave and other members have the right to refuse leave.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I seek leave to table the draft media release of 22 October, on which the media release was based.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table—can we just check for the House. The draft media release was from the Minister’s office?
Hon Trevor Mallard: No. It was from the department.
Mr SPEAKER: From the department. Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is objection.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I seek leave to table the communication plan, which indicates the issue in relation to lack of workers’ voice. It is from the Department of Labour, 22 October 2008.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is no objection. Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Hon Damien O’Connor: Does the Prime Minister—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I apologise to the member asking the question. I say to the Ministers on my right that I must be able to hear the question. I know my hearing is not brilliant, but I have got to be able to hear the question. The Hon Damien O’Connor. [Interruption] Order!
Hon Christopher Finlayson: I’ll control her.
Mr SPEAKER: The member can just resume his seat for the moment. I am very grateful to the Attorney-General for that offer. The Hon Damien O’Connor.
Hon Damien O’Connor: That Minister will not be much better, either.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member will just ask his supplementary question, please.
Hon Damien O’Connor: Does the Prime Minister consider the Minister’s resignation from one portfolio and keeping her Cabinet position on full pay is honourable when there are 29 miners— fathers, sons, and breadwinners—who are dead because of the incompetence in a department that she had full responsibility for?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I think all of this Parliament would acknowledge that no resignation of a Minister, whether it be from one portfolio or the entire Cabinet, would in any way come anywhere near giving the support that those 29 families actually deserve. But let us go back to the royal commission. The royal commission was quite clear: the primary responsibility for health and safety rested with the company. It utterly failed. The Government for 20 years relied on the same form and way of interpreting the law in 1992. Again, I go back to the press release that Trevor Mallard put out. In that press release he himself said they do not want to return to a more prescriptive regulatory framework. I make the point as well that not only did Labour cut health and safety expenditure in 4 out of 9 years; it also cut—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! That is not necessary to answer the question.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Did the Department of Labour do as it undertook to me as the Minister to do: to develop in consultation with industry a programme of work to further strengthen health and safety management systems for underground mining, and employee participation in that, and report back by June 2009? If it did not, why not, and if it did, why did the Minister reject that report?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I might stand to be corrected, but my understanding is that that Minister received the advice sometime in 2008—I am not exactly sure whether it was July or September but he received it in 2008. In October of 2008 he put out a press release. He did not do anything in that regard. In fact, it was left unanswered by him as Minister. Then the incoming Minister, Kate Wilkinson, got from the department the advice that it would have also presented to that Minister, had he remained the Minister, because it had made it quite clear in the report that he had responded
to in 2008 that the primary focus of concern was around small mines. The bottom line is nothing changed, and there is no evidence that that member, if he had been the Minister, would have had check inspectors or the other claims he has been making.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. It was very specific: did the department develop the programme that I quoted from, did it give it to the Minister, and what did she do with it? He—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! I am on my feet. I cannot judge the accuracy of the Prime Minister’s answer, but the Prime Minister did answer by saying he was unaware of any evidence of that, or of any of that information being presented to the Minister. The only information he was aware of being presented to the Minister was the briefing to the incoming Minister, which made certain recommendations. I cannot judge the answer. That is an answer. It seems to be rather contrary to the points the member made in his question, but I cannot judge the accuracy of an answer. That seemed a reasonable answer to the question asked.
8. Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First) to the Prime Minister: Does he have confidence in all his Ministers?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): Yes.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: How can he have confidence in a Minister whose role model for young New Zealanders includes making derogatory remarks about David Beckham and swearing in an educational environment?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Well, I would reject one of those terms, anyway.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Which one? I have asked him a very clear question on notice.
Mr SPEAKER: The Prime Minister does not have to in his answer indicate which one. The member included more than one issue in his supplementary question, and the Prime Minister answered, and that is all he is obliged to do.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Let’s hear from “Precious”.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Well, we do not want to hear from “Dopey”, do we? How can he have confidence in a Minister who by making derogatory and insulting remarks about David Beckham, an internationally renowned sportsman—perhaps the most well-known soccer player in the world— on 2 November in Dunedin has tarnished New Zealand’s international reputation and image?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: The member is relying on hearsay from someone in a private conversation I was in. I suspect, actually, that if Mr Beckham heard the entire length of the discussion I had, he would actually feel quite good about it.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: How would Mr Beckham be expected to feel good about being called, I think it was, bat scatology—to use the polite term in this House—and having a Prime Minister treat him that way after he spent thousands of hours in charitable work, including in New Zealand— [Interruption] Mr Speaker, can I actually ask this question, rather than—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! The member will resume his seat. The National benches will come to order. It is unhelpful to make that amount of noise. The member is entitled to ask his question, and I want to be able to hear it. The Rt Hon Winston Peters may start his question again.
Hon Paula Bennett: I’m not sure he’s got one. Has he got one?
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Mr Speaker, there you are. There is somebody leaking verbally more than her department.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! That is not helpful either. The member will resume his seat for a moment. Can I appeal to the Attorney-General to look after the Minister on his right, please.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: What does it tell the Prime Minister about the character of that Minister, who despite Beckham’s giving thousands of hours to charity work, including in New Zealand, and including to that Minister’s son, goes behind his back and says a thing like that?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: The member is making an assumption he just simply should not make.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Prime Minister—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I must be able to hear this question.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Yes or no, did he not say at a meeting with schoolchildren that David Beckham was as thick as bat—and you know what the rest was. Is he denying it now?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Categorically, I did not say that, no.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Would—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I must be able to hear the—[Interruption] No, look, I say this time to the benches on my left that the Speaker cannot arbitrate in these matters or chair the House if he cannot hear.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Would the Prime Minister not think it reasonable for the rest of the country and this House to conclude that someone who rises in this House and outside in the public and flat out lies should be fired from being a Minister?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: As I have said on numerous occasions, the quote was a hearsay comment. If you are asking me about the exact words that that member did—did I say that David Beckham was as thick as bat-whatever—the answer is, categorically, I did not.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Supplementary question.
Mr SPEAKER: I believe the right honourable gentleman has had all supplementary questions available today.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I have asked, then, five supplementary questions. The Prime Minister has denied saying that—
Mr SPEAKER: Order!
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Can I complete my point of order?
Mr SPEAKER: It is quite clear there is not a point of order coming here.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: How can you be clear about that?
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member will resume his seat. The member must make clear what the issue of order is. The member has some options. He could seek leave of the House, I guess, to ask a further supplementary question, but he cannot litigate the answers because he has run out of supplementary questions.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I think if you or the clerk checks his notes, you will see that you have allowed me to ask a question again. I think he has got the numbers wrong here. I am on my fifth question now.
Mr SPEAKER: Both my assistant who records the number of questions asked and I, who also record the number of questions asked, have separately recorded five supplementary questions. I apologise if we happen to be wrong. I most sincerely apologise to the member, but I cannot see how we could both be wrong on that.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I know it is very late and you do not like this happening, but the Labour Party will give one of its supplementary questions to the Rt Hon Winston Peters in order for him to ask the question about whether the “shit” word was used or not.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member did not help his case with that and he knows that is out of order—that he cannot do that at this stage. If questions are to be transferred, it must be done properly, and I am not going to have a point of order used in that way, especially in that manner.
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. If it helps in terms of clarification—I am reluctant to swear in Parliament, but if the member is asking me whether I used the word “batshit”, I did not.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I have been granted an extra question by another party and I am grateful to it. I wish now to put that question.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member should know that under Standing Orders members cannot be granted questions once question time has started. We must be advised prior to the commencement of question time when questions are transferred from one party to another. Those have been the standard procedures for some time. But if the member wants to seek leave to ask a further supplementary question, the House is perfectly at liberty to grant that.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: In the interests of finding out what the Prime Minister did say, against what everybody said he said, I seek leave to ask the Prime Minister what he did say.
Mr SPEAKER: No, no. no. That is not the way it goes at all. The leave the member is seeking is to ask a further supplementary question. I take it the member is doing that. Is there any objection to that course of action? There is objection. Question No. 9, Melissa Lee. [Interruption] Order! That matter has been dealt with. [Interruption] Order! I have called Melissa Lee.
Beneficiaries—Effect of Canterbury Rebuild on Numbers
9. MELISSA LEE (National) to the Minister for Social Development: What impact has the Canterbury rebuild had on benefit numbers?
Hon PAULA BENNETT (Minister for Social Development): At the time of the February earthquake there were 5,380 people receiving the unemployment benefit in Christchurch. These numbers peaked in April 2011, rising to 6,326—not the 24,000 that was often projected by Clayton Cosgrove. But today this number has halved to just 3,231 people receiving the unemployment benefit in the Canterbury region.
Melissa Lee: How many people have moved off benefits and into work in the Canterbury region?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: Since January this year, 7,363 people in the Canterbury region have cancelled their benefit because they have secured work. In just the last 3 months, 87 people have found work through our recently announced Job Streams package—44 of them in construction, 24 in hospitality, 6 in meat processing, 6 in retail, and 7 in the agriculture sector.
Melissa Lee: How is Work and Income ensuring that young people are taking up available work?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: Work and Income is working more intensively to case-manage people at the moment, with a particular focus on youth. For example, there are 1,400 fewer young people on the unemployment benefit than there were at the peak, following the February 2011 quake. There are now just 976 young people on the unemployment benefit.
State Housing—Housing Stock Reduction
10. HONE HARAWIRA (Leader—Mana) to the Minister of Housing: Why is he persisting with the reduction of State houses, including in Glen Innes, at a time when there is a growing need for decent, affordable housing for low-income families?
Hon MAURICE WILLIAMSON (Minister for Building and Construction) on behalf of the
Minister of Housing: The member’s assertion is just simply not correct. As of 30 June this year, there were 645 more State houses than when we came into Government.
Hone Harawira: Does the Minister believe that the Government’s housing policy, which is specifically designed around reducing the State housing stock in favour of private rentals and property options for the rich, and forcing people to leave their homes and their communities, will actually solve the current housing crisis for low-income families; if not, what other policy options is his Government considering?
Hon MAURICE WILLIAMSON: That is an indication of a member who has written a supplementary question before he heard the answer to the first question. I will repeat it again. As at 30 June this year there were 645 more State houses than when we came into Government. How can the member keep asserting that we are reducing the number of State houses?
Hone Harawira: Do those figures include the reduction of State houses in Glen Innes, the sale of those properties to property developers, and the moving out of those State housing clients to other properties without returning those properties to State housing again?
Hon MAURICE WILLIAMSON: The 645 extra State houses include all of that. But can I tell the member that in Glen Innes the project will see 156 State housing properties redeveloped to create at least 260 new properties, including 78 fit for purpose State rental properties and at least 40 market-based affordable homes. These new homes will be modern, they will be safe, they will be warm, and they will be configured for people’s needs. In fact, a number of people from Glen Innes are now complaining about protestors coming from outside of the area and mucking up their suburb.
Hon Annette King: Can he confirm that there are currently 3,358 vacant Housing New Zealand Corporation homes, even though the waiting lists are growing month by month, especially in Auckland and in Hawke’s Bay; and does he agree with his Associate Minister of Housing, who said recently that having empty houses while New Zealanders are living in cars and garages is totally unacceptable?
Hon MAURICE WILLIAMSON: What I can tell that member is that there is always a problem of too many houses in a place where the demand is low, and not enough houses in places where demand is high. But can I tell her that the current level of vacant stock in the Housing New Zealand Corporation portfolio is around 2 percent. This compares very favourably with the private sector. Historically, this rate has always been around 1 to 2 percent, even when that member’s party was in Government.
Film Industry, Piracy—Meetings During US Visit
11. CHARLES CHAUVEL (Labour) to the Prime Minister: Did he meet with Warner Brothers and New Line movie executives in Los Angeles, and with US Trade Representative Ambassador Ron Kirk, who is responsible for US intellectual property and piracy matters, in the middle of last year; if so, on what dates?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): I had dinner with Warner Bros and New Line Cinema movie executives on 18 July 2011, and met with the US Trade Representative Ambassador, Ron Kirk, on 22 July. It is a little misleading to suggest that the office of the US Trade Representative is “responsible for US intellectual property and piracy matters,”. It is one of a significant number of US agencies that have input into intellectual property policy and enforcement in the United States. These include the United States Copyright Office, the United States Patent and Trademark Office, the United States Department of Commerce, the Office of Intellectual Property Rights, the United States Department of State, the Office of International Intellectual Property Enforcement, the National Intelligence—
Charles Chauvel: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I think the Prime Minister substantially answered the question. I am not interested in a list of other US agencies.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member would have been wise, perhaps, not to include an unnecessary phrase in his primary question.
Charles Chauvel: The primary question ascribed responsibility to the US Trade Representative for a particular matter. There is no doubt that he has responsibility for that matter. The fact that other agencies also have that responsibility is neither here nor there.
Mr SPEAKER: Since the member does, more or less, challenge me, if he checks the Standing Orders, that phrase being allowed in the question was very marginal because it is absolutely unnecessary for the question—absolutely unnecessary for the meaning of the primary question— and that is why the Prime Minister, I am sure, latched on to it. It is just a lesson in why this Standing Order is worded the way it is.
Charles Chauvel: At any of those meetings, either on 18 or 22 July, was there any discussion of the United States Government’s so-called review of notorious markets, whose purpose is to identify economies that fail to deal adequately with intellectual property infringements?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I am almost certain that is no; it was certainly no in the case of the Warner Bros meeting. In terms of the meeting that we had with Ron Kirk, there was a wide-ranging discussion. We did talk a little about the Trans-Pacific Partnership. We did talk, in relation to that agreement, about upholding strong intellectual property frameworks. The only time the issue of piracy was raised, it was actually raised by Ambassador Mike Moore, who briefed Ambassador Kirk on the new copyright legislation that had been introduced to New Zealand.
Clare Curran: Before he went on that trip, did the Attorney-General discuss with him his recent trip to an Attorneys-General conference in Australia, a conference that focused on cybercrime, and where the Attorney-General spoke specifically on extradition?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I am very saddened to say this: no, he did not. It would have been a fascinating trip, and I love my engagements with Chris as he talks to me about his international travels. I wish he had done it, because I would have listened very carefully.
Clare Curran: Did the then commerce and justice Minister, Simon Power, discuss intellectual property issues and his meeting with the Asia-Pacific head of the Motion Picture Association of America, Mike Ellis, with him before or after he went on his US trip?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No, and at the risk of offending a colleague who has now left, can I say also that I thoroughly enjoyed my conversations I had with Simon Power on a range of issues, but this was not one of them.
Television, Switch-over to Digital—TV TakeBack Programme
12. CHRIS AUCHINVOLE (National) to the Minister for the Environment: How many televisions have been collected to date under the Government’s TV Takeback programme?
Hon AMY ADAMS (Minister for the Environment): In just over 1 month, 18,145 televisions have so far been dropped off for recycling in the Hawke’s Bay and on the West Coast, which, as the first regions to make the switch to digital television, are the first to be involved in the Government’s TV TakeBack Programme. Based on the average weight of a television, this is the equivalent of over 435 tonnes of waste diverted from our landfills.
Chris Auchinvole: What happens to the televisions once they are collected for recycling?
Hon AMY ADAMS: Well, that is a good question. Televisions dropped off for recycling are taken to national recycling facilities, where they are taken apart. Components are recycled locally or sent overseas to specialist recycling facilities. The material extracted has a variety of uses. For example, glass from the screens can be transformed into bunker sand for golf courses; copper around the electron gun can be recycled into new cabling; and degaussing wire, which sits around the front of the screen, is high-grade iron that can be recycled into metal goods. Televisions also contain materials that can be harmful if released into soil or waterways, such as lead, mercury, and cadmium. Safe recycling takes away the risk of contamination and reduces the volume of waste going into our landfills.
Question No. 10 to Minister
Hon ANNETTE KING (Labour—Rongotai): I seek leave to table an answer to a written question I have just received, which is not publicly available, I believe. It shows that the number of vacant State houses in New Zealand is 5 percent, unlike the answer the Minister gave in the House just a few moments ago. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Leave has been sought, and there should be no interjection. Leave is sought for that course of action. Is there any objection? There is objection. [Continuation line: GENERAL DEBATE: Shearer]