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Questions and Answers - 13 February 2008

Questions for oral answer

13 February 2008

1. Tax Cuts—Four Tests

[Uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing.]

1. CHARLES CHAUVEL (Labour) to the Minister of Finance: Has he received any reports suggesting that he abandon his four tests for tax cuts?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Finance) : Yes, one from Mr John Key, who has suggested that the four tests cannot be met and therefore should be abandoned.

Hon Bill English: Can the Minister confirm that his four tests are completely irrelevant, given that the Prime Minister has announced three times there will be tax cuts, and he announced again today, just half an hour ago, that there will be tax cuts?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I think the Prime Minister and I have both, in a synchronised fashion, announced on many occasions that there will be tax cuts. But, of course, the interesting question for Mr Key is which of the following he thinks tax cuts should achieve: greater inequality, reduced social services, increased borrowing, or increased inflation? Again, he looks down, as he spent much of yesterday looking down.

Gordon Copeland: Did the Minister’s four tests have anything to do with his reneging in Budget 2007 on the tax cuts through bracket adjustments he had promised in 2005, or was it just—as he said at the time—because New Zealand taxpayers did not express sufficient gratitude to him when he decided in 2005 to reduce their tax burden?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I do not think the phrase “chewing gum” came from New Zealand taxpayers at large. I remember where that particular phrase came from. However, that had nothing to do with the ongoing programme we will be announcing in the Budget. It will be interesting to see whether the National Party votes for those tax cuts. It has voted against every other tax cut this Government has introduced.

Hon Bill English: Can the Minister explain why he has argued for 8 years that no tax cut could meet those tests, and why suddenly he has discovered, in election year, that tax cuts can meet all of them?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The member is wonderful at making up a fact, asking a question about it, and then sitting down and looking very pleased with himself about it. What I will not do is what that member did—cut taxes, and then cut New Zealand superannuation to pay for it.

Sue Moroney: How does the announcement of a programme of personal tax cuts fit with previous decisions around taxation made by this Government?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: That programme will build upon and complement the $4.5 billion a year of tax cuts already introduced for families, savers, and business. I point out yet again that, firstly, National voted against every one of those tax cuts; and, secondly, as far back as I can go in history, National has never voted for a cut to the business tax rate—only Labour Governments have done that.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Can the Minister remember when there were Swiss chocolate tax cuts without any cuts for public investment in education, health, and other areas, such as in 1998 when there was a $1.1 billion series of tax cuts, and who the Treasurer was who did that?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I do recollect some tax cuts in that period and I do recollect Mr Peters having something to do with them. But then I also recollect the National Government turning around and cutting *New Zealand superannuation as a consequence.

2. New Zealand - Australia Migration—Statement

[Uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing.]

2. JOHN KEY (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does she stand by her reported statement in early 2000 that she was ashamed of the number of people leaving New Zealand to live in Australia?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister) : I am glad the member said “reported”, as I can find no such direct quote from me. I was, of course, extremely concerned at the time about the huge growth in the earnings gap between New Zealand and Australia in the 1990s—a 50 percent growth in the earnings gap. I note that it has not increased further since then, despite the minerals extraction boom in Australia.

John Key: If, as reported in both the *Press and the *, the Prime Minister was ashamed about migration to Australia in 2000, how would she describe her feelings now, when net migration to Australia has risen to 28,000 people a year, which is the highest number for 20 years and triple what it was 4 years ago?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I know there has been a major minerals extraction boom, which has sucked labour out of Australian states that do not have that boom, as well as out of New Zealand.

Tim Barnett: Is housing affordability likely to be a factor in trans-Tasman migration?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: There are housing affordability problems on both sides of the Tasman. Here, our Government is taking a lead on developments for affordable housing, like that in Hobsonville. I note that last year Mr Key described the Hobsonville project as being economic vandalism and likely to lead to a big ghetto in his electorate. This morning, on *Radio New Zealand, he said he agreed with it. I guess he was just talking to a different audience from the one he tried to whip up in his own electorate.

R Doug Woolerton: Does the Prime Minister agree with **Finlay Macdonald, who stated in the last *Sunday Star Times that our declining wage and living standards relative to Australia’s are the legacy of “socio-economic vandalism” by both the Labour and National Governments through the 1980s and 1990s, and would she also agree that the great experiment in price stability run by those Governments has successfully created the desired low-inflation, low-wage, low-growth economy?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: While the Employment Contracts Act held sway in New Zealand in the 1990s, the average gap in real average earnings between New Zealand and Australia blew out from 19 percent to 28 percent. That gap has not widened since then, despite the huge minerals extraction boom in Australia.

John Key: Does the Prime Minister believe that when New Zealand loses 77,000 people a year under permanent *long-term departures and replaces them with the same number of people coming in—or a few more—that is a “brain exchange”, as her other Ministers have put the case to be?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: The demography experts are telling us that New Zealand is the net gainer on skills through migration at this time.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Can the Prime Minister confirm that between 1984 and 1996, when the great economic experiment was persisted with first by Douglas, then by Caygill and through to people like—I have forgotten already—Richardson and Birch, Australia’s economy leaped ahead in real terms by 27 percent; and why would people in New Zealand want a change back to that?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I agree with the member that *hard-line *neo-liberal policies in this country did a lot of damage to wages and to the social fabric. That is why this Government has pursued a different course from that.

John Key: If the Prime Minister is convinced that we are gaining under this exercise of losing so many New Zealanders to Australia, has she noticed a study done by the Australian department of immigration that pointed out that New Zealand has the biggest brain drain in the OECD in terms of native-born, tertiary-trained people leaving this country, when 45 percent of New Zealanders living overseas have a university degree?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: No, I have not noted that, but I have noted one of our leading demography experts saying in response to that sort of wild claim made by Mr Key that claims of an Aussie brain drain from New Zealand are a myth.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Can the Prime Minister recall the effect of the *”mother of all Budgets” by Ruth Richardson, when—[Interruption]—I know it sounds terrible to members because it is a home truth, is it not? I say to members I did not back it—quite the contrary. I was expelled from the Cabinet because I did not back it. For the benefit of members who have been here for 5 minutes, I will give a bit of history—

Madam SPEAKER: Would the member just ask his question.

Hon Member: Talk about history!

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I say to “Sunshine” that I am not history; he is. Can the Prime Minister recall the effect of the “mother of all Budgets” and what happened after it, when this country was forced into a recession?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I recall the “mother of all Budgets” only too clearly. I recall that the effect within a short period of time was for unemployment in New Zealand under the National Government to go into double figures—for *Maoridom, it went to 25 percent. I recall people could not afford to live in their State house, I recall National charging people to go to the public hospital, and I recall the benefit cuts. I recall tremendous damage being done to the economic and social fabric of New Zealand, which is why National should never occupy the Treasury benches again.

John Key: What message does the Prime Minister have for New Zealand families who are seeing their children, their loved ones, and their friends departing New Zealand in record numbers to go to live in Australia, or does she think—judging by her answers this afternoon—that the message she is sending them is that that is OK, because they are the dumb ones?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I know that Kiwis are entrepreneurial people who will do well anywhere they go in the world. I also know that New Zealand, which has one of the lowest rates of unemployment in the world and is seeking skilled people today, is a haven for high-skilled people from other countries. If Mr Key wants to say he does not welcome those people, I would like to hear him say that at the ethnic functions he turns up at all over Auckland.

John Key: Will the Prime Minister recognise that one of the major reasons why so many New Zealanders are leaving for Australia is that their wages are significantly higher than they would be in New Zealand, and that, in fact, over the last 5 years the Australian Government has cut taxes progressively every year, the Australian Government has used private sector capital to build infrastructure, and the Australian Government has been concerned about housing affordability; and is the trend she is noticing that over the last 5 years the Australian Government has done a pretty darn good job and after 9 years her Government has finally woken up that it has some problems?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: The only trend I have noticed is that the gap in real earnings between New Zealand and Australia blew out by 50 percent under a National Government and has not widened since. The other trend I have noted is for the *Leader of the Opposition to get it wrong. This morning, on *Morning Report, he said he was going to increase wages. When he was asked “How?”, he said “I am going to cut taxes.” Even said “But, Mr Key, that is not increasing wages.”

John Key: On the basis of that I ask the Prime Minister, if someone earns $100,000 a year and his or her tax rate is 90 percent and then the person’s tax rate is cut to 10 percent under a National Government—where the person’s tax rate is lower than that under the Labour Government—does that person have more after-tax wages?

Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: If the National Party’s policy is either for a 90 percent or for a 10 percent tax rate, I would like to hear more about it.

3. Land Use—Pressure on Environment

[Uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing.]

3. JEANETTE FITZSIMONS (Co-Leader—Green) to the Minister for the Environment: Does he agree with chapter 13, dumped from the report on the state of the environment, that “significant intensification of land use, particularly pastoral land use” is “arguably the largest pressure today on New Zealand’s land, freshwaters and coastal oceans, and atmosphere”; if not, what does he believe is the largest pressure on New Zealand’s land, freshwaters and coastal oceans, and atmosphere?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Minister for the Environment) : As I am sure Dr Norman told the member, because he was there, both myself and the Ministry for the Environment officials spoke at length about the damning facts in the main body of this report and the summary document, which clearly showed that this was the case. If the member has not spoken to Dr Norman about it, could I recommend that she opens the report, just to the forward, and reads my comments in there where I say that the report highlights the decline in water quality in New Zealand “as a consequence of the increasing intensity of agricultural production.” Clearly, that is the case.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: In that case, which conclusions specifically was he referring to when he told the media on Monday that *chapter 13 was scrapped because it made a series of conclusions that were not strictly supported by the facts, and on what peer-reviewed reports is he basing that conclusion, or does he just disagree with the specialists who wrote chapter 13?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: That is the very area—because it is forward-looking rather than backward-looking, as the report is—that was outside the scope and actually not matched by the facts in the report.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. My question asked specifically which conclusions the Minister was referring to, and he has not answered that at all.

Madam SPEAKER: Does the Minister wish to add to his answer?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: It is the conclusion that the member was referring to in her question.

Moana Mackey: What is the Government doing to address the issues raised in the report?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: The Labour-led Government is already taking a lot of leadership in this area. There is a substantial work programme and a range of initiatives in place to help us reduce or mitigate the impact on our environment: the emissions trading scheme, support for household energy efficiency, support for solar heating, support for waste reduction and recycling initiatives, environmental standards on air and water, through to the multi-million dollar funds for research into sustainable primary production and for sustainable land management. The list is actually much longer than that, but I could get in trouble with Madam Speaker if I went through it all.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Why did the Minister, in response to National’s policy announcement last year of 5-yearly reports on the state of the environment say: “Oh, that’s Government policy.”, when the Cabinet minutes from 2002 show that despite the Ministry for the Environment recommending a 5-year report at that time, Cabinet made a decision not to do so?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I was not aware until the member announced on the day that the report was released that the National Party had any policy in the area.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. My question was: “Why did the Government, if its policy was to produce a 5-yearly report, reject the recommendation of the Ministry for the Environment in 2002 not to produce a 5-yearly report?” The answer I got from the Minister was totally irrelevant to that.

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: The transcript will show that the member prefaced his question with a remark about National Party policy for 5-yearly reports, to which I responded. If the member’s memory is as short as that, it is pretty sad.

Madam SPEAKER: Would the Minister like to add any more to the other part of the question that was asked?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: As I indicated on the day, it is the Government’s policy to now produce these reports every 5 years, and I am glad the Opposition agrees with us.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: Can the Minister tell the House how long it will now take to get national environmental standards on water quality—as recommended by chapter 13 and as referred to in his previous answer—how long it will then take for regional councils to implement the standards in plans and consents, and how long it will then take for water quality to improve?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I can tell the member that the programme will have some draft standards for circulation in May or June. It is a process that requires a board and submissions, and it is likely to be next year before regional councils actually start their work on it. On the question of how long it takes, the advice I have had is that it does depend on the area. I am told, for example, that in the Taupō area some of the *runoff does not actually get to the lake for 40 or 50 years, so it is 40 or 50 years in those areas before the water starts improving. Apparently in some areas in the South Island it can be a matter of hundreds of years until the improvements that are made actually flow through into the rivers.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: Was chapter 13 pulled because it clearly points the finger at agriculture and recommends a polluter-pays principle at a time when the Minister’s Government is subsidising the farming industry’s greenhouse gas emissions to the tune of $1 million every working day and allowing it to pollute our rivers for free?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: The chapter was pulled for two reasons: first, that the qualitative comments contained in the draft section were not backed up by the facts contained in the report itself; second, the substantive comments being made were actually right through the report.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: Was the chapter pulled, then, because although the Minister’s Government proudly proclaims its biggest road-building binge in history, chapter 13 states that doubling the distance travelled by vehicles on our roads over the past 20 years is putting pressure on the environment and human health?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: The chapter was pulled because the qualitative comments contained in the draft report were not backed up by the facts contained in the report itself, and the substantive comments being made were carried through the report itself.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: I seek leave for the member’s bill in my name, tabled with the *Clerk’s Office 8 months ago, to be tabled and set down for first reading on the next members’ day.

Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought. Is there any objection? Yes, there is objection.

4. Public-private Partnerships—Waterview Connection

[Uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing.]

4. Hon BILL ENGLISH (Deputy Leader—National) to the Minister of Finance: Why does the Government now consider the Waterview Connection to be a potential candidate for a *public-private partnership?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Finance) : Because it is a project of significant scale. Indeed, it is the largest single roading project that we know of to make a public-private partnership a viable option, because it may allow us to complete the project earlier than if it were funded from the *National Land Transport Fund, given the pressures on that fund.

Hon Bill English: Does the Minister recall that late last year Labour ruled out the use of public-private partnerships in any form, in order to score a political point on the day, and, in fact, one Minister said Labour would die in a ditch to prevent any public-private partnership from being used in New Zealand?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I think that could be described these days as an academic question.

Martin Gallagher: Does the current pattern of road funding differ from that in 1999?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Yes, markedly. Total *central government investment in land transport has increased by over 2½ times. Total central government public transport investment is almost 12 times higher, and total central government spending on roading has doubled in that period. But there are still major infrastructure deficits that need to be overcome.

Judy Turner: Does the Minister agree that the potential for a public-private partnership along the **Waterview Connection is indicative of a relaxation in the Labour Government’s ideological position on private sector involvement in infrastructure; if so, in what other areas does he foresee private sector involvement in New Zealand’s infrastructure projects?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: On the latter point, in terms of telecommunications infrastructure, of course the private sector plays the dominant—indeed, the overwhelming—role, and one of the arguments at the moment is whether the public sector should be playing a stronger role in that regard. I remind the member that the legislation that enables public-private partnerships, which were not legal in 1999 when we became the Government, was passed in 2003 under this Government.

Hon Bill English: When Labour uses the term “public-private partnership” does it mean the definition given by the Minister of Transport, who is meant to oversee this project, when she said: “we already have public-private partnerships. We have the private sector building the roads; we have the public sector paying for them.”—is that what the Labour Government means?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Very clearly we have public-private partnerships, with small Ps, because the private sector does, by and large, build roads in New Zealand. It is a long time since we had a Ministry of Works that built the roads. Most people, in the context we are talking about today, understand public-private partnerships, with capital Ps, to be rather more specific around the nature of the private sector involvement in the management of the entire process.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Will the Minister confirm that the Government can borrow money at a lower level of interest than a business can, and that businesses always want a profit, and therefore why does the Government not just borrow the money and build the required utility and pay it off over time—what is wrong with that option?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Claims have been made over many years that the private sector, through a public-private partnership mechanism, will be able to deliver on time, within budget, and probably more cheaply than the standard public sector - led procedures are able to do. We have not done this previously, because most of the projects we have had have been relatively small scale, and the costs involved in doing the first public-private partnership did not make it worthwhile exploring the options. This is a *$2 billion - plus project. It is therefore worth testing whether those assertions are correct.

Hon Bill English: Can the Minister confirm that the real reasons the Government has mentioned public-private partnerships are that the Prime Minister wants a tunnel put through her electorate instead of a road, that it will cost well over $2 billion—probably $3 billion—and that the Government would have to borrow the money or put petrol tax up even further to do so, so it has decided to call it a public-private partnership?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: However expensive a tunnel might prove to be, the National Party would be quite incapable of producing a light at the end of it. But, more than that, the deep tunnel option is probably cheaper than the alternative option of a cut and fill, and certainly far easier to consent than trying to drive a road, on surface, right the way through existing areas.

Hon Bill English: Can the Minister confirm that in fact Labour has been opposed to public-private partnerships* the whole time it has been in office and that all it announced the other day was its intention to set up a committee to look at an option for something that cannot work under current legislation?

Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Well that is certainly more precise than anything we have heard from National so far in any of these areas. But, more than that, the member needs to remind himself that this Government went to the trouble of passing legislation through Parliament to enable public-private partnerships, which were illegal, and which party voted against that legislation at every point—the National Party voted against it.

Keith Locke: Point of order—[Interruption]

Madam SPEAKER: We have a point of order. If members interject they will leave the Chamber.

Keith Locke: I seek leave to table an article from the Melbourne Age* showing that a toll-funded public-private partnership motorway was much more expensive than if it had been publicly funded.

Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? Yes, there is objection.

5. Unemployment—Reports

[Uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing.]

5. RUSSELL FAIRBROTHER (Labour) to the Minister for Social Development and Employment: What reports has she received about the level of unemployment in New Zealand?

Hon RUTH DYSON (Minister for Social Development and Employment) : I have seen reports that the Labour-led Government is supporting more and more people into real jobs. We now have record employment, record labour-force participation, and record low unemployment. The unemployment rate has fallen to a new low of 3.4 percent—the lowest since records began 22 years ago, when my colleague Darren Hughes was just 8 years old.

Russell Fairbrother: How many new jobs have been created under the current Government?

Hon RUTH DYSON: We now have the highest level of employment recorded since records began—2.2 million New Zealanders are now in paid work. That means there are 377,000 more jobs in our economy than there were in 1999. That is 126 new jobs each day since Labour has led the Government. This is all further evidence of our Government’s prudent economic management.

6. Electricity—Power Cuts

[Uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing.]

6. GERRY BROWNLEE (National—Ilam) to the Minister of Energy: Can he guarantee there will be no power cuts this coming winter?

Hon DAVID PARKER (Minister of Energy) :No Minister can give an absolute guarantee, but I can assure the member that even at this stage the *Electricity Commission, *Transpower, and other industry participants are working together to ensure a secure supply of electricity is maintained.

Gerry Brownlee: Has the Minister heard that current lake inflows are lower than they were in 1992, that the Cook Strait cable is now down to one operational pole, that the Huntly power station* cannot operate at full capacity because of cooling issues, and that Contact Energy’s New Plymouth plant is shut and is not likely to open again this winter; are these the reasons why Transpower has called the crisis meeting today; and when will he tell the public of New Zealand that we are gripped now by an electricity crisis?

Hon DAVID PARKER: It is true that there is an unusual combination of events for this time of year, but we do not have a crisis.

Hon Mark Burton: Can the Minister explain to the House whether the unexpected withdrawal of **Pole 1 of the Cook Strait cable and the retirement of the New Plymouth power station are substantially reducing North Island power capacity, and has the system been robust enough to meet these and other challenges to date?

Hon DAVID PARKER: Yes, the effects have been substantial. The combined loss of Pole 1 and the retirement of the New Plymouth station have caused a drop in overall capacity in the North Island of 870 megawatts. In addition, we have had reduced generation at the Huntly plant, due to the unusually warm Waikato river, and partly because of the drought up there; and, of course, the Stratford plant has been out of action for maintenance. The drought conditions in the South Island have also meant that inflows are below average. But despite all of those factors—and this is an unusual combination of events—the system has been resilient enough to cope.

Peter Brown: Will the Minister confirm that the combination of events referred to will likely significantly increase the price of electricity; and if that is so, how does he propose to address the concerns of elderly folk on fixed incomes, who are very nervous about the situation?

Hon DAVID PARKER: I would not expect this combination of events to have a material effect on residential tariffs. They are not exposed to spot-market prices.

Gerry Brownlee: Can the Minister confirm that the comments made by the *electricity commissioner—a former deputy leader of the Labour Party, David Caygill—after some of the grid emergencies last month: “… I’m not sure that what sounds like a temporary set of factors coming together represents a problem we should be concerned about.”, are part of the Labour Party’s spin to convince New Zealanders there is no problem, when clearly there is?

Hon DAVID PARKER: I read the electricity commissioner’s comments. I agreed with them. I think at the time there was some exaggerated rhetoric around. It is true we have challenges this year that we did not have last year. One of the important foci at the moment is actually seeing whether we can return part of Pole 1 into service before winter.

Gerry Brownlee: How does the plan to import 100 container-sized diesel generators, to avert the crisis, fit into Labour’s plans on climate change, and will he now admit that the Government’s very poor attitude to *hydro generation is the real reason why New Zealand is facing an electricity crisis this winter?

Hon DAVID PARKER: We do not have a poor attitude to any form of renewable—

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Tell us about *Dobson.

Hon DAVID PARKER: Dobson is actually being replaced by the *Arnold River scheme on the West Coast, with lower environmental impact and substantial output. It is a better scheme. In terms of Mr Brownlee’s question about mobile generators, it is unlikely that that will come to pass, but it is one of the possible contingencies that are being looked at, and if it were necessary we would do it.

Gerry Brownlee: Is he aware that New Zealand’s possible dependence then on a set of diesel generators would make us like the Pacific Islands Nauru, Niue, and the Tokelaus, and is this proposal an example of what sacked electricity commissioner, *Roy Hemmingway, said in a High Court affidavit recently when he mentioned that the Minister of Energy has some slightly unusual ideas, and is this issue an example of his thinking that is slightly outside the square?

Hon DAVID PARKER: The idea of mobile generators as a contingency is not one of mine; it has come from either the Electricity Commission or Transpower; I cannot recall which. As I have said before, that is unlikely to be necessary, but if it were necessary we would do it. If it were necessary, the generators would be there as a contingency, not as a first line of defence, and if that contingency came to pass, it would be for a period of hours over winter, not days over winter.

Gerry Brownlee: Has he any explanation for how we are possibly facing another winter of power shortages, when Helen Clark stated, in 2004, that the Electricity Commission is being established to build security of supply and to ensure that there is enough standby generation for dry years, and also Pete Hodgson constantly assured the House that the Electricity Commission would deliver security of supply, when, in fact, today there is a crisis meeting because that security of supply is very much under threat?

Hon DAVID PARKER: This Government has always put security of supply at the top of the list, and will always do so. Last year an additional 586 megawatts of capacity was built. There is approximately 300 megawatts of additional capacity under construction, as we speak.

7. Immigration Service—Asha Ali Abdille

[Uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing.]

7. PETER BROWN (Deputy Leader—NZ First) to the Minister of Immigration: What were the findings of the Immigration Service’s 2004 investigation into Somalian refugee *Asha Ali Abdille?

Hon CLAYTON COSGROVE (Minister of Immigration) : I preface the answer to this question by noting there is a case before the courts. I am sure that neither that member nor anyone else in the House would want to jeopardise that serious matter. I am advised that the Immigration Service’s 2004 investigation into Asha Ali Adbille found that Ms Adbille had acquired criminal convictions after she was selected to come to New Zealand in 1994, but that those convictions did not affect her residency or refugee status. The report further noted that she had sought to sponsor 14 family members to come to New Zealand, and that their applications were still under consideration at the time of the report. For the member’s information, 13 of those applications were subsequently declined. One sister was granted residency in 2005.

Peter Brown: Is the Minister aware that relatively shortly after Madam Adbille’s arrival here she stated that she was not happy and wanted to return to Somalia—so much so that there was a collection by Wellington’s refugee support service, which raised money for an air ticket home, only for her to change her mind again; if the Minister is aware of that, and if she is found to be guilty in relation to her recent antics in endeavouring to leave this country, will he ensure that she does leave it permanently?

Hon CLAYTON COSGROVE: I am aware of some speculative comment in relation to the first part of the member’s question. As to the issue of what may or may not happen to Ms Adbille, it would not be appropriate, given that the matter is before the court, for me to make any comment at all on it.

Ron Mark: Would the Immigration Service ignore, in normal circumstances, an immigrant’s amassing of a huge dossier of convictions—including at the time of the 2004 review those of threatening to kill and common assault, two counts of assaulting a police officer, and a charge of conspiracy to murder after allegedly hiring someone to kill another person in a case that did not go to trial because a police witness refused to testify—when determining his or her ongoing right to live in New Zealand?

Hon CLAYTON COSGROVE: Bearing in mind, again, the legal proceedings, I am advised that Ms Adbille was selected to enter New Zealand as a legitimate quota refugee in 1994, as I said. I am advised that Ms Adbille had no criminal convictions when she arrived in New Zealand. I also note that since 1999 quota refugees have received a full psychiatric evaluation on arrival in New Zealand. I am advised that in 1994 little, if any, psychiatric support or evaluation was provided to quota refugees. I would note that quota refugees, by the very nature of their being refugees, have been subject to trauma, which is why they are in refuge from their countries. I repeat that in 1994 there was very little support; now, since 1999, full psychiatric assessments have been done as refugees enter New Zealand.

Barbara Stewart: Is the Minister concerned that despite being described by the chairman of the **Wellington Somali Community Association as having “quite a history of mental instability”, and as being “an alcoholic and very unstable”, Adbille was declared by the *Nelson Marlborough District Health Board to be of no threat to herself and others just days before she attacked and wounded two Air New Zealand pilots with a knife?

Hon CLAYTON COSGROVE: I am aware of a number of those facts. As I have said, since 1999 quota refugees have been supported with psychiatric assessments. It is worth noting, though, that if issues are identified, full and ongoing treatment is offered. However, I am advised that under the *Mental Health (Compulsory Assessment and Treatment) Act individuals cannot be compelled to accept treatment or be incarcerated, except under certain circumstances. Compulsory treatment requires a court to determine that a person is mentally disordered within the meaning of the Act, and to make a compulsory “inpatient order” or “community treatment order” for that person’s treatment.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I am sure that this will have occurred to you and to others, but I ask what credence can be applied to a police record obtained from the authorities in Somalia. I mean, do we get it from a warlord, or what?

Madam SPEAKER: No, that is not a point of order.

8. Capital and Coast District Health Board—Deaths on Waiting List

[Uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing.]

8. Hon TONY RYALL (National—Bay of Plenty) to the Minister of Health: How many patients have died while on the waiting list for heart surgery at Wellington Hospital in the past 3 years?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE (Minister of Health) : It is a priority for this Government, and for all New Zealanders, to ensure that hospital quality and safety are amongst the best in the world. OECD* data shows that we have the best 30-day survival rate for hospital treatment of heart attack patients. However, it is a sad fact that around 18,000 people in New Zealand died during the past 3 years of heart disease. I am advised by the Capital and Coast District Health Board* that, of these, 10 were on the waiting list for cardiac surgery there.

Hon Tony Ryall: How many of these deaths were preventable?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: It has been alleged, to my knowledge, that three deaths were preventable. I have asked the Director-General of Health* to mount an urgent independent investigation to ascertain the veracity of those claims.

Hon Marian Hobbs: What is the Government doing to improve hospital safety?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: Although the district health boards remain primarily responsible for clinical service delivery, the Prime Minister underscored yesterday that the Government is making improvement in quality and safety a top priority. To this end, a national *Quality Improvement Committee has been set up. I have moved quickly to link part of the district health board budgets to progress on this agenda, and to formally convey this policy, through my annual letter of expectations, to all district health boards.

Hon Tony Ryall: Why, despite the spending of billions of extra dollars on health, has the heart surgery waiting list at Wellington Hospital* trebled since Labour came into office, while the amount of heart surgery done there has *flat-lined in recent years?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: Under this Government, some 4,500 new nurses and some 2,000 new doctors have been brought into our health system. I am advised that the Capital and Coast District Health Board was not funding-constrained in its elective surgery, and we are working with it urgently to identify and resolve other bottlenecks.

Hon Marian Hobbs: What steps are being taken at the Capital and Coast District Health Board?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: As well as appointing a new chair and Crown monitor, I asked the Director-General of Health to set up an independent review of the three alleged cardiac cases. In addition, I have asked for an urgent recovery plan to reduce the waiting list. The Capital and Coast District Health Board is working on this, and I am advised that it will result in an increase in elective cardiac surgery *throughput of approximately 50 percent, cutting the waiting list by at least half by November 2008. I will continue to push for the earliest possible reduction.

Heather Roy: Does the Minister stand by his Government’s solemn promise to those Kiwis desperately waiting for heart surgery that if they have 50 points and certainty of treatment, they will receive life-saving heart surgery within 6 months; and whose fault is it that the Capital and Coast District Health Board has failed to honour this promise for 70 patients, whose lives have been put at risk, with the result of, indeed, at least three needless deaths?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: It would appear that the member has attempted to prejudge the outcome of an independent inquiry; I will not do that. The policy of a maximum of 6 months on a waiting list remains in place. I share the member’s concern that in some district health board areas people are waiting for longer than that. That is not acceptable to this Government.

Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. The specific question was—and this is important for accountability—who is responsible for honouring that promise. The Minister has accepted that in other places, too, the promise has not been kept. Well, whose fault is it?

Madam SPEAKER: I think the Minister did actually address that part of the question.

Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. If the Minister has answered that part, could you share with the House who is responsible?

Madam SPEAKER: I am sorry but the Minister has responded to the question.

Hon Tony Ryall: Can the Minister explain why in some weeks more cardiac operations at Wellington Hospital are cancelled than are actually done; and is this the first-class health service that Helen Clark, ironically, promised in the House yesterday?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: It is the responsibility of the district health boards to manage individual clinical services. However, the Government takes a very strong interest in the overall performance of the district health boards, and I have already signalled that I am not satisfied with the performance in this regard.

Hon Tony Ryall: What would the Minister say to the family of the late Mrs **Beverley O’Neill of Napier, a victim of this Government’s hospital waiting list, and whose son said of his mother: “Mum was of the old school. She believed in the system … You work, you pay your taxes for all the right reasons. And the one time she needed the system—”I say to the Prime Minister “—it let her down.”?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: I would say to that family what I would say to any family who has lost a loved one through any such circumstance, and that is that the hearts of all members of this House go out to them. It is not acceptable to this Government if people die preventable deaths while waiting for surgery. But, again, I would caution the member not to leap to conclusions before receiving the results of an independent, rigorous inquiry.

Heather Roy: In light of the Minister’s statement to the House on 7 November last year that he is “running this show”, does he accept any responsibility for these needless deaths, does the Government stand by its solemn promise that every patient given certainty will receive surgery within 6 months, and can he give a categorical assurance that under his watch no New Zealander will die because he or she has had to wait longer than the 6-month minimum that his Government has said it is committed to?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: It would make as much sense to define a successful ministry as being a situation where nobody dies as it would be to describe a Capital and Coast District Health Board hospital as a killer hospital.

Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. Just out of interest, was that answer addressing the question?

Madam SPEAKER: I think it did, but I can understand why some members found it a little subtle. Would the Minister please amplify it.

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: No Minister can prevent people from dying of disease—eighteen thousand people died of cardiac disease in New Zealand in the last 3 years. That member does not serve herself or this House well by denigrating the efforts of clinicians doing their best to prevent deaths.

Hon Tony Ryall: Does the Minister see any irony in that, after 8½ years in office, this Labour Government is not prepared to accept the fact that, despite it pouring billions of dollars into the health service, waiting lists for heart surgery at Wellington Hospital have trebled, and fewer people are getting operations; and will the Minister tell the House how many more heart patients will die while on the waiting list at Wellington Hospital, while his report is being prepared?

Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: Regrettably, it may be that the member did not hear my answer to an earlier supplementary question, when I confirmed to him that the Capital and Coast District Health Board was not funding-constrained in respect of its cardiac waiting list. The Government has provided the funds. We are working with the Capital and Coast District Health Board to remove the bottlenecks.

9. Asbestos—Government Assistance to Local Authorities

[Uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing.]

9. Hon TARIANA TURIA (Co-Leader—Māori Party) to the Minister for the Environment: What financial commitment will the Government make to local and regional authorities to clean up sites contaminated by asbestos, including the site of the former freezing works and hospital in Pātea?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Minister for the Environment) : Although, as the member is aware, it is primarily the responsibility of the regional council, the Government has already committed about 60 percent of the funding required to investigate contaminants on the *Pātea site—just over $64,000. I have also indicated that the Government is open to sharing the costs of the glue or rubber sealant that will almost certainly be the interim solution for the Pātea site. We will need the results of the investigation and accurate cost estimates for Pātea to ascertain where this site fits *vis-à-vis other sites that are contaminated around New Zealand, before final decisions can be made about the level and timing of funding from the *Contaminated Sites Remediation Fund.

Hon Tariana Turia: What progress, if any, has been made on establishing a register of all affected Pātea residents, in order to ensure that appropriate monitoring and health surveillance reports can be established for the future?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: The first step is to establish what was spread around the town at the time. To date, the reports of testing show that both in the dust in the houses and in the air, asbestos has not been found. We have to be very careful about panicking people who live in the town by suggesting that they have been contaminated, when in fact it could well be that we have been exceptionally lucky and asbestos was not spread around.

Hon Tariana Turia: Why was not the owner, **Noel McColl, made to clean up the freezing works site’s rubble and soil, which were affected by asbestos and *pentachlorophenol contamination, when the site has long been recognised as being potentially hazardous to public health for the past 27 years, and will we wait for another fire at the hospital site before we see any action?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: The first part of the question should be addressed to the responsible authority, which is the regional council. I thank both Jill Pettis and the much reduced member Chester Borrows for their support of the people of Pātea and for their communications with my office on the subject.

Hon Tariana Turia: What is the Minister’s response to local claims that district authorities have failed in their responsibility to restore a cleaner, safer environment, have minimised the seriousness of the situation, and could be accused of negligence in allowing the residents to return home before formal tests were carried out by hygienists?

Hon TREVOR MALLARD: There will always be debate around the timing of these issues, but when there is a series of tests from the dust on the houses not only in Pātea but in a community that is *downwind that does not show asbestos, then I think it would be stretching it a bit to criticise the authorities for letting people return to their homes.

* Question time interrupted.

10. Violence—Manurewa Electorate

[Uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing.]

10. SIMON POWER (National—Rangitikei) to the Minister of Justice: Does she agree with the former Minister of Police the Hon George Hawkins that the recent violence in his electorate is the worst in 25 years; if not, why not?

Hon RICK BARKER (Minister for Courts) on behalf of the Minister of Justice: The Minister has every sympathy for the views of the member the Hon George Hawkins. She is concerned about any community facing an outbreak of violent crime. Violent crime in New Zealand and internationally has been increasing over the past 25 years. However, homicides in New Zealand have fluctuated over the past decade: in 1997 there were 151, and in 2006 there were 98.

Simon Power: How can the Minister of Justice claim that the recent spate of murders is the product of the sun and the moon, when at the same point in the year there had been five murders in 2006 and 11 in 2007, but there have been 14 so far this year, and that means that, even when population increases are taken into account, violent offences have increased by 22 percent since Labour took office?

Hon RICK BARKER: The Minister of Justice, Annette King, made the comments that the member refers to in answer to a questioner whom she believed was seeking the views of others. The comments do not represent the Minister’s views; they represent the views of others trying to seek a rational understanding of, or a sensible cause for, the recent events in *South Auckland. The Minister of Police knows full well that the motivation for individual crimes varies according to the circumstances, and she would certainly not seek to trivialise the seriousness of such issues.

Martin Gallagher: Has the Minister seen any reports on increases in reported violent crime?

Hon RICK BARKER: Only today the New Zealand Herald reported that *non-governmental organisations were advising that the Government’s attitude and behaviour change campaign around family violence is having an effect, and that agencies are seeing quite significant self-referral numbers coming through. This increase in reportage is very good for victims. It is not good for the crime statistics, because they will show an increase, but it is good for society, because the perpetrators of these violent crimes will be called to account.

Simon Power: How will the public view the Minister’s statement yesterday that “… 2008 will be the year in which victims’ rights are properly addressed.” as anything other than an admission that victims’ rights have not been properly addressed for the previous 8 years of this Labour-led Government; and why should they think anything has changed, when yesterday the Prime Minister proposed a victims’ charter and compensation scheme—something she first proposed in 1994, 14 years ago?

Hon RICK BARKER: The situation for victims has changed markedly. This Government introduced a new package of rights for victims, including the right to be heard at a trial. Under National, prisoners were automatically entitled to parole after serving two-thirds of their term; today they are not entitled to parole until they can prove they are not a threat to society, and many are held for their full term. Under National, people in prison for murder were entitled to parole after serving 10 years; under Labour, the courts can set minimum periods, and people have to do 14, 20, or 33 years before they can apply for parole. Under National, people had to have done two serious crimes before they were eligible for a sentence of preventative detention; under Labour, the first crime can make a person eligible for that. We have been much tougher on crime.

Hon Phil Goff: Can the Minister confirm that two pieces of victims’ legislation have been passed in recent New Zealand history—the 1987 *Victims of Offences Act, and the 2002 *Victims’ Rights Act—that both were passed under Labour Governments, and that National has never passed legislation protecting or promoting victims’ rights?

Hon RICK BARKER: I can absolutely confirm that information put forward to the House by Mr Goff.

Simon Power: Why should appointing a group of “highly qualified and eminent people” to meet regularly with justice sector Ministers make them any more responsive to public concerns about crime, when the youth offending Ministers group did not meet for 3 years, and the crime reduction Ministers group has not met for 5 years—and is not Sir Geoffrey Palmer busy enough?

Hon RICK BARKER: This Government has done a great deal for crime. For example, let us contrast it with the National Government. Under National, police staff were being cut in favour of a computer; under Labour, more police are on the beat. Let us have a look at South Auckland. In 2006-07, there were 49 more sworn staff and 30 extra sworn police staff. In 2007-08, there were 28 extra sworn staff and 11 extra non-sworn staff. In addition to that, $10 million has been allocated to improve outcomes for young people in South Auckland. We are putting money into this issue, and we are going to do our best to fix it.

Madam SPEAKER: Keep the noise level down, please.

Simon Power: What does the Minister of Justice say to voters who believed Labour’s pledge card promise in 1999 to “crack down on youth crime”, when much of the random violence over the summer has involved youth offenders, and when violent crime by youth offenders has increased by 47 percent since her Government took office?

Hon RICK BARKER: This Government has put more police on the beat; it has not cut their numbers as National did. It has poured more money into preventing youth crime and youth offending. We have legislation to strengthen our resources to deal with youth crime. This Government has a programme and we are doing our best to make sure it happens. I say that the opposite is true for National—it has no answers whatsoever.

Simon Power: What does the Minister of Justice say to voters who believed Labour’s pledge card promise in 2002 to provide “more support for proven programmes to cut youth offending”, when, after 3 years, the $12 million reducing youth offending programme failed to reduce reoffending, and when the *youth offending teams have been found to show “a lack of shared understanding about their purpose and a lack of clarity about how aims should be achieved.”?

Hon RICK BARKER: Youth offending teams were set up in the early 2000s in an effort to draw together local people with local ideas to deal with youth offending. In some areas they have worked really well. In other areas they have not worked quite so well. It is a very good initiative—

Hon Member: Name one.

Hon Member: Hamilton.

Hon RICK BARKER: A member says “Hamilton”; Hamilton’s has worked very well. This Government has poured more money into the police, and we are cracking down on crime, and we are not going to shirk our responsibilities for it, either.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: What sort of message is sent to victims in this country when a political leader is happily hongi-ing with someone who is a beneficiary of the Bail Act in that he is out on bail although he faces very serious charges?

Madam SPEAKER: I am not sure the Minister actually has any responsibility for that particular action. [Interruption] I am sorry, no.

Simon Power: I seek to leave to table a page from the *Manukau Courier that states: “Last weekend’s violence is the worst Manurewa has seen in 25 years, its MP”—George Hawkins—“says.”

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. It is very rare that I ever question your ruling, but in this case the Minister is answering on behalf of the Minister of Justice, who I think is responsible for the Bail Act.

Madam SPEAKER: Would the member just repeat what he said.

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: Madam Speaker, you ruled out the previous question. My colleague Rick Barker is answering this question, but, of course, he is answering on behalf of the Minister of Justice. The question referred to the Bail Act, and my understanding is that the Minister of Justice is responsible for the Bail Act.

Madam SPEAKER: Well, in that respect, yes, there is ministerial responsibility, but there is not the actual act of doing it. Would the Minister, then, please respond to the Rt Hon Winston Peters in so far as the question related to the Bail Act.

Hon Trevor Mallard: Could we have the question again?

Madam SPEAKER: No, I think we can all remember the question.

Hon RICK BARKER: The Rt Hon Winston Peters pointed out very clearly the contradiction of someone saying that he was going to be tough on crime, then being very familiar—hongi-ing—with someone who was out on bail. I think the public will make their own decisions about that. I just advise the member of what my grandmother said: “Show me who your friends are, and I’ll show you who you are.”

Hon Tariana Turia: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I want to ask the House whether people who are innocent until they have appeared before the court and been found guilty should be impugned in this House.

Madam SPEAKER: That is not a point of order.

Simon Power: I seek the leave of the House to put the same question that I put previously, which was to table this page from the Manukau Courier, which states: “Last weekend’s violence is the worst Manurewa has seen in 25 years, its MP says.” That MP is George Hawkins.

Madam SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is objection.

11. Housing—Affordability

[Uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing.]

11. LYNNE PILLAY (Labour—Waitakere) to the Minister of Housing: What action is the Government taking to make housing more affordable?

Hon MARYAN STREET (Minister of Housing) : Yesterday the Prime Minister outlined an ambitious programme to tackle housing affordability. Critical to it are, first, the development of additional large-scale building projects similar to the Hobsonville and *Tāmaki projects; second, the identification of Crown land for developments; third, the plans to extend the role of the third sector in housing provision; and, fourth, the shared equity scheme, the details of which will be unveiled in July.

Lynne Pillay: What examples of housing developments are already under way?

Hon MARYAN STREET: There are several developments under way, designed to build mixed communities. These include the developments in *Papakura and Weymouth, which are expected to deliver 650 houses; the recently announced revitalisation of Tāmaki, which is expected to add an extra 3,000 new houses; and Hobsonville—which, incidentally, Mr John Key is on the record as opposing—which will bring in another 3,000 houses.

Lynne Pillay: What alternative initiatives has she seen to alleviate the housing affordability problem?

Hon MARYAN STREET: I have seen the same tired old simplistic suggestions from the National Party that we should scrap the *Resource Management Act, remove all building compliance, allow urban sprawl, and sell State houses. The Labour-led Government understands the issues and, unlike National, we do have a comprehensive plan of action to tackle the problem. I challenge the other side to be slightly more ambitious.

Madam SPEAKER: It is becoming impossible for me to hear. Members will be asked to leave the House if this level of interjection continues.

Phil Heatley: Was the chairman of *Housing New Zealand Corporation telling the truth at a select committee this morning when he said that the 500-odd affordable homes to be built at Hobsonville—not the shared equity ones, but the cheaper first-home-buyer houses—will cost around $350,000 and will require a household income of $70,000 per annum to pay off; if so, how in the world does this flagship policy help *low to middle income earners?

Hon MARYAN STREET: Again, Mr Heatley takes a very simplistic view on the solutions to what is a very complex problem. In the end, we will announce the details of a shared equity proposal, which will, in fact, target new building and may be applied, and will assist average, low, and modest income households to achieve their first home.

Phil Heatley: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. I asked very specifically whether the Minister would concur with *Pat Sneddon’s statement that these first-home-buyer homes will cost $350,000 and those first-home buyers will have to be earning $70,000 a year. Does she concur with Pat Sneddon, the chairman of Housing New Zealand Corporation, that people will have to be earning that sort of money for these first-home-buyer homes?

Madam SPEAKER: As the member knows, you cannot ask for a yes or no answer. The Minister did, in fact, address the question.

12. Building—Consent Process

[Uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing.]

12. Hon Dr NICK SMITH (National—Nelson) to the Minister for Building and Construction: Who does he hold responsible for the current problems in the building consent process that, according to the Prime Minister yesterday, are “adding unreasonably to the costs of building a house”?

Hon MARYAN STREET (Minister of Housing) on behalf of the Minister for Building and Construction: There are several parties involved in the building consent process, and the Government is actively working with councils through accreditation to improve systems, reduce delays, and help to deliver a better service to consent applicants.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: When the Wellington City Council noted that “A typical house plan 4 years ago was three A3 size plans and 30 … pages”, and that now builders are required to file 12 A3 size plans and up to 300 pages, why did the Minister in November dismiss those concerns, saying that the building consent process was going “swimmingly well”; what has changed between November and now for the Government to change its mind?

Hon MARYAN STREET: It may be worth going back a little bit to answer this question adequately. In fact, the Building Act 1991 was a product of a failed system that allowed a number of homeowners to be absolutely penalised for inadequate quality and professionalism in the building sector. The leaky homeowners are the people I would invite that member to talk to if he disagrees with the establishment of the Building Act as it currently exists.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Will the Government be reviewing its decision in 2002 to change the law on development levies, which has seen the cost per section go from $8,000 to $24,000, and its decision in 2005 to treble the building levy, both of which have contributed to the record fall in homeownership and the crisis in home affordability; if not, why not?

Hon MARYAN STREET: If the solution to housing affordability was as simple as that, then we might consider doing that. However, the issue is much more complex than simply the building consent processes alone, building costs alone, or the interest rates prevailing at the moment alone. It is a complex question.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Why was it credible for the Prime Minister to tell the Parliament yesterday that the Government will begin by “simplifying the design and building consent processes”, when the Government’s own Building Act 2004 has 19 sections, which are yet to take effect, that will require a person, when lodging a building consent, to list in detail the up to 13 different licensed building practitioners involved in the building project; can she explain how that will simplify the building consent process?

Hon MARYAN STREET: It is entirely credible to say that. If we are looking at ways of standardising plans and standardising approved designs that meet the requirements of the Building Act, then that is something that can be done, and it is something that we are advancing with speed in order to address those issues.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Is John Key not right in describing the Prime Minister’s statement yesterday—[Interruption] Is John Key not right in describing—[] Madam Speaker, you would probably have thrown me out well before this time for that.

Madam SPEAKER: I ask for order. Members will be asked to leave the Chamber. Would the member please proceed with his question.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Is John Key not right in describing the Prime Minister’s statement yesterday as “vacuous” when her own Government has been responsible for adding to the very cost of building that she now complains of, when the Government has not been able to provide any detail of how it will either simplify or reduce the costs of designing homes and consenting to their construction, and when its own legislation, both that currently before the House and past legislation, is set to substantially add to the already $30,000 of unnecessary costs identified by the *Registered Master Builders Federation?

Hon MARYAN STREET: No, Mr Key is not right. The purpose of the Building Act is to ensure that the quality of homes that New Zealanders get, and should expect, is maintained. There are ways that we can ensure that affordable house are made to designs that comply with the provisions of the Building Act, and that meet all the requirements of a first home buyer for a modest, sound, sustainable, quality house.


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