Questions and Answers - 11 Feb 2009
TUESDAY, 10 FEBRUARY 2009
QUESTIONS FOR ORAL ANSWER
QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS
Recession—Government Actions for Economic Growth
1. NATHAN GUY (National—Ōtaki) to the Prime Minister: What steps has the Government recently taken to help ease the sharpest impacts of the current recession and prepare New Zealand’s economy for future growth?
Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): The Government has taken a number of steps, including introducing legislation that will ensure there are tax reductions from 1 April this year that will provide much stimulus and support to those in great need. We have introduced the ReStart package to ensure that we can provide extra support to those hard hit by redundancy. We have announced the first phase of the Government’s reforms to simplify and streamline the Resource Management Act. We announced last week a group of initiatives in the form of the small-business relief package, which will help lighten the load of small and medium enterprises. And we have only just begun.
Nathan Guy: Is the Government planning to announce any further measures in the near future?
Hon JOHN KEY: Yes. Tomorrow I will be announcing the Government’s plans to bring forward a number of infrastructure projects and to start a number of brand new ones. They are in the areas of State highways, school property, and State housing. They are projects that will be ready to start and get under way as soon as possible. In addition, on 27 February I will be hosting the Job Summit, which will bring together the private sector, local government, non-governmental organisations, and public sector participants to discuss how we can ensure that people are kept in employment. Those are, simply, some of the announcements we are making in February, but, of course, we may announce more soon.
Hon Phil Goff: Can the Prime Minister confirm that by far the largest part of the so-called stimulus package actually was in Labour’s 2008 Budget, where tax cuts totalling nearly $11 billion were legislated for; that the bulk of his tax bill being introduced actually already is in Labour’s 2008 tax bill; and that most, if not all, of the projects that he will announce tomorrow have already received approval, are in the pipeline, and are ready to go, as a result of the last Government’s actions?
Mr SPEAKER: The honourable Prime Minister may answer one of those questions.
JOHN KEY: No. What I can confirm is that this Government
has taken about 100 or so days to start cutting taxes,
whereas Mr Goff’s Government took 9 years to cut taxes.
What I can confirm is that our package for small and medium
enterprises, which includes some of the initiatives that the
previous Government had considered, is actually seven times
larger than the initiatives proposed by his Government. What
I can confirm is that in the 2009-10 period, which his
Government’s tax cuts had nothing to do with, the effect
of our stimulus package is negative 4.4 percent, relative to
negative 2.9 percent, in terms of cash deficits. The New
Zealand public is rightfully looking towards our Government
to ensure they get through this economic
Nathan Guy: Has the Prime Minister seen any reports about the level of fiscal stimulus in New Zealand compared with other OECD countries?
Hon JOHN KEY: Yes. I have seen a report on fiscal stimulus across the period 2007-10 in all OECD countries. That report shows New Zealand having the third-highest fiscal stimulus in the OECD. This level of fiscal stimulus is an appropriate response to the circumstances facing New Zealand. However, I would warn members who are calling for more that overdoing fiscal stimulus would mean our running very large deficits and building up levels of Government debt that would be a huge burden not just on this generation but on future generations. Maybe Mr Goff could give that some consideration.
Hon Phil Goff: Can the Prime Minister confirm that three-quarters of that stimulus package that he is now bragging about is a result of Labour Government actions?
Hon JOHN KEY: What I can confirm is that it took 9 years and an impending electoral defeat for the member’s Government finally to decide to cut taxes. The reason Labour did not cut taxes was not that it could not afford to do so; the only reason was that the then Minister of Finance, Dr Michael Cullen, had absolutely no interest in cutting taxes. That was why New Zealanders had to wait 9 years for a change of Government in order to have any confidence that their taxes would come down.
Hon Phil Goff: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. That was a very straightforward question. It required a yes or no answer. I was unable to tell from the burble from the Prime Minister whether the answer was yes or no.
Mr SPEAKER: I listened very carefully to the answer from the Prime Minister, and I believe he did address the question. He did refer to measures in respect of fiscal stimulus taken by the previous Government.
Hon Jim Anderton: As the Prime Minister in his answer quoted OECD figures for the years 2007 and 2008 in terms of fiscal stimulus, could he confirm that National was not in Government in those years; and, secondly, if the aim of the business tax package was to help ease the effects of recession and prepare for growth, why did it not mention in any way, shape, or form the words “agriculture” or “primary industry”, given that primary industry earns 65 percent of our overseas exchange earnings, and why did the word “exports” not come into that package or into any statement that the Government has made since it was elected?
Mr SPEAKER: Again, the Prime Minister may answer one of those questions.
Hon JOHN KEY: I can confirm that National was not in Government in the 2007-08 period, except for the end of 2008. But I am surprised that the member, who used to be the Minister of Agriculture, does not realise that many farms up and down the country are small to medium enterprises, and that many exporters are, as well. No wonder the agricultural sector was so pleased to see the back of him!
Dr Russel Norman: Has the Prime Minister seen the proposal from the United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, for a ”Green New Deal”, which would address both the global economic crisis and the global climate crisis at the same time; and which elements of the “Green New Deal” will be incorporated in his economic package when it is released?
Hon JOHN KEY: I have seen it, and when we announce the projects the member will be pleased to see that some of them address issues not only of energy efficiency but of insulation and climate change. I think he will be pleased when he sees the final package.
Dr Russel Norman: Will his Government be following in the steps of the US President, Barack Obama, who is not only addressing elements of a “Green New Deal” but also talking about creating 5 million new and innovative jobs in green-collar industries that will actually save the climate and produce good economic results; will the Prime Minister be following in the steps of Barack Obama, and what elements of his economic package will be along the lines of creating green-collar jobs?
Hon JOHN KEY: I have long since learnt that it is dangerous territory to start likening oneself to Barack Obama, but I can assure the member that we will be creating jobs in our economy, and those jobs not only will have consideration for economic growth and for providing good wages for those who are in them but also will have an eye to ensuring that environmental responsibility is taken seriously by our Government.
Nathan Guy: Is the Prime Minister concerned about building up excessive levels of Government debt?
Hon JOHN KEY: Yes, I am very concerned about New Zealand’s future debt levels. In the short term, the prospect of excessive levels of Government debt could well bring about a downgrade from credit agencies. Members will be aware that Standard and Poor’s recently gave New Zealand a negative outlook. A downgrade would lead to New Zealanders paying higher interest rates, and would risk our having lower growth rates into the future. I remind the Leader of the Opposition that if he wants to make promises about doing more and spending more, he should know that the money can come only from debt, given our current cash deficit. Maybe he should show some restraint.
Hon Jim Anderton: I seek leave to table the award given to me by Federated Farmers for being the only leader in the last election to emphasise the importance of the role of agriculture.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave has been sought to table an award. I remind the honourable member that it must be tabled before the end of the day. Is there any objection to that course of action? There is no objection.
Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
2. Hon PHIL GOFF (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does he have confidence in all his Ministers?
Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): Yes, because they are talented people who are working hard for New Zealand.
Hon Phil Goff: Can the Prime Minister—or the country—have any confidence in the transparency and honesty of the Minister of Finance, who, while ramming through legislation before Christmas without subjecting it to the scrutiny of a select committee, deliberately suppressed and withheld from the public and parliamentarians the advice he received from his own ministry that the fundamental parts of that legislation were deeply flawed?
Hon JOHN KEY: Yes. I have complete confidence in the Minister of Finance. If we want to have concerns about Ministers of Finance, maybe we should have concern for a former Minister of Finance, who may well find himself in breach of the Public Finance Act.
Hon Phil Goff: Why was the National Party so frightened of releasing the briefing to Bill English at the same time as it released other briefings; and, now that the briefing has been found to reveal that the legislation the National Party pushed through was fundamentally flawed, will the Prime Minister admit that he was wrong and change that legislation?
Hon JOHN KEY: We are far from frightened. I remind the member that when he was last in Government his Minister of Finance, the Hon Dr Michael Cullen, described a briefing from Treasury as an “ideological burp”. But let us put that all to one side. I refer the member to the Wall Street Journal of Asia, in which a very interesting editorial appeared just last week commending New Zealand for its economic packages, in contrast with many countries around Asia.
Hon Phil Goff: Were the Prime Minister or his office directly or indirectly involved in the decision to not make available the Treasury briefings, when they were relevant to the debate before the House; if so, how does that reflect on the Prime Minister’s supposed commitment to openness and transparency?
Hon JOHN KEY: No, I was not
personally involved. It may come as a shock to that member
but I have such confidence— Hon Phil Goff: I raise
a point of order, Mr Speaker. I asked whether he or his
office were involved.
Hon JOHN KEY: No, I was not involved and, to the best of my knowledge, my office was not involved. It may come as a great surprise to the member but I have such confidence in my Minister of Finance that he can choose to release his briefing from Treasury whenever he likes.
Hon Phil Goff: Can the Prime Minister categorically assure the House that National is not concealing Treasury advice or other departmental advice against any of the legislation now being introduced in the House today under urgency?
Hon JOHN KEY: Yes, I can confirm that the Government is not concealing any briefings or hiding anything from the House. If the member wants to talk about concealing things, maybe he should go and ask people in his own research unit about that, because the last time I saw them they were concealing the booze from the parliamentary Christmas party.
Hon Phil Goff: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. [Interruption] Mr SPEAKER: The member is taking a point of order, and the ministerial benches know that points of order are heard in silence. Thank you.
Hon Phil Goff: I point out to you that the Prime Minister has categorically assured the House that the Government is not withholding anything. In fact, it has not even released anything, so how can he give— Mr SPEAKER: The honourable member may like to reflect on how that matter was a point of order.
Hon Phil Goff: There is a clause in the Standing Orders that states that a Minister cannot mislead the House. The Prime Minister has categorically assured the House that Treasury advice or other departmental advice was not withheld— Mr SPEAKER: The member will take his seat. The member has been in this House as long as I have. He knows there are ways of dealing with issues if he is concerned about anyone misleading the House, and it is not by way of a point of order. The honourable member knows that well.
Prisoner Housing—Prefabricated Units
3. DAVID GARRETT (ACT) to the Minister of Corrections: What cost savings can be achieved through building prefabricated modular units to house prisoners, and when can we expect to see the first prefabricated prison in place and occupied by criminals?
Hon SIMON POWER (Minister of Justice) on behalf of the Minister of Corrections: I am advised that the use of prefabricated modular units is one of a number of options being considered to accommodate prisoners. The Department of Corrections expects that modular units will cost approximately half of the $643,000 per bed that it cost when the previous Government built its four new prisons. If that option is agreed to, the department expects the first modular unit to be occupied by prisoners in, or around, September 2012.
David Garrett: Can the Minister confirm that the prefab prison—when it is built—will not have underfloor heating, plasma televisions in every cell, and expensive gymnasium facilities, and that criminals in those facilities will be required to work?
Hon SIMON POWER: I can advise that there will be no underfloor heating or plasma televisions in a new prison. Inmates will have appropriate exercise facilities, rather than the type of gymnasium I saw at one of the new prisons built by the previous Government. It seemed flash enough to charge a joining fee and for yearly membership. As for work in prisons, the Government has pledged to boost by 1,000 the number of prisoners who will be learning industry-based skills through the department’s inmate employment scheme, by 2011.
Hon Clayton Cosgrove:
Can the Minister assure the House that those prefabricated
modular units will provide at least the same level of
security as is provided by current prison facilities; and,
further, given that the current lifespan of prisons is over
a hundred years, will the modular units provide a similar
level of durability, so that the taxpayer does not end up
paying twice: once for those units, and a second time for
more substantial replacements?
Hon SIMON POWER: The Minister is confident that the new measures introduced by this Government will meet many of the standards that we would expect from our prison system, including the matters raised by the member opposite. I tell the House that we will act on measures to keep our prison system safe. This Government will not take 9 years to introduce a corrections amendment bill.
Sandra Goudie: Has the Minister received any other feedback on the cost savings from building prefabricated modular units?
Hon SIMON POWER: Yes. The Leader of the Opposition has criticised the Government’s plan to save taxpayer dollars, stating that “If you are short-sighted enough to build something cheap and nasty you will be rebuilding before very long.”, and “When you are building a public institution, you build it to make it last.” That is a surprising claim, when the four prisons built under Labour, where costs blew out by half a billion dollars, have already racked up $9 million in repair bills.
Unemployment—Current and Projected Rates
4. Hon ANNETTE KING (Deputy Leader—Labour) to the Minister for Social Development and Employment: What reports, if any, has she received on current and projected unemployment rates in New Zealand?
Hon PAULA BENNETT (Minister for Social Development and Employment): I have received a number of reports on unemployment. The latest official figures show the unemployment rate at 4.6 percent responding to the economic downturn. I have seen reports on how the unemployment rate will rise, with predictions ranging from 4.4 percent to an extreme of 14 percent, and many numbers in between. There is no doubt that the rate will continue to rise, due to the economic storm buffeting the world. This Government’s focus is to blunt the sharp edges.
Hon Annette King: Was the Minister invited to the hastily arranged Cabinet summit in mid- January to discuss jobs, knowing that the 170,000 people predicted by Treasury to be unemployed over the next 3 years will be her portfolio responsibility; if so, why did she not attend?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: Let me assure the member of Parliament that that was a small meeting of economic Ministers, and let me assure the member that I am meeting with my colleagues daily to talk about the impacts of this economy and the effect it is having on New Zealanders’ jobs, and how we will blunt those sharp edges.
Hon Annette King: Which statement is correct: the Minister’s comments on Radio New Zealand on 27 January, stating that a number of job initiatives are ready to go, or her quote in her sole press release on employment in the last 3 months, on 5 February, saying “the Job Summit … will investigate initiatives”; if the job initiatives are ready to go, when will the 105,000 unemployed people hear something other than platitudes and excuses at a talkfest in late February?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: There are, of course, so many initiatives happening with this Government that it is hard even to know where to start. Unfortunately, the last Government took a head in the sand sort of approach to preparing for the downturn. In fact, in March last year the unemployment rate was at 3.7 percent, but when this Government came in it was already well over 4 percent. So in just 3 months we have seen the Government kick off a major jobs and growth plan to help New Zealand navigate through these turbulent times. On Labour’s watch, the unemployment rate continued to rise for three consecutive terms—
Hon Members: What!
Hon PAULA BENNETT: —three consecutive quarters—OK; shall we do this again? For three consecutive quarters the unemployment rate rose under that Labour Government, and we did not see a jobs and growth plan. In fact, New Zealanders will remember a promise of a mini-Budget that had no details attached to it, but they are seeing from National a clear plan forward for New Zealanders to keep their jobs.
Before I take the next honourable member’s question, I
just remind Ministers that question time is not a time for
Jo Goodhew: What is the Government doing to manage rising unemployment and to help ordinary New Zealanders who are struggling with the impact of the economy?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: This National Government has a firm jobs and growth plan in place to help ordinary Kiwis combat these tough times. We have been working with employers to squeeze the maximum jobs out of the labour market. We have been planning to keep people in work, even if that means some reduced hours. We will be making CPI adjustments for benefits and New Zealand superannuation. We have cranked up front-line services within my ministry to deal with the increased demand. The Prime Minister is holding a national jobs summit at the end of this month.
We are holding regional jobs summits to come up with locally based options. We have already amended legislation to help employers and employees, with the 90-day legislation, which will be quite magnificent. Just yesterday we saw an increase in the minimum wage, under this National Government.
Hon Annette King: Can she confirm that rather than sitting on its hands, as she claimed, Labour in Government reduced the unemployment rate from 7.5 percent to 3.8 percent through active labour market policies that saw 140,000 fewer people on the unemployment benefit, and if the previous Government’s policies did nothing, which programmes has she cancelled since she became Minister?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: This Government is focused on accountability back to taxpayers for their money, and we are quite proudly standing up and saying that we are looking at all programmes that are being done. We are looking at best value for dollar, and we will be delivering back to families that really need it.
Hon Annette King: What advice did she give regarding the 50c an hour increase to the minimum wage and its impact on unemployment, and did her advice include a comparison between a Cabinet Minister’s tax cut of $120 a week from 1 April and the $20 a week gross a low-income earner will receive on the minimum wage from 1 April?
Mr SPEAKER: The question was fairly wide of the primary question but I will allow the Minister to answer.
Hon PAULA BENNETT: This Government has an unrelenting focus on work, and we will be supporting New Zealanders to stay in their jobs, to keep their jobs, and to get back into jobs whenever possible.
Security Intelligence Service —Files on Sitting MPs
5. KEITH LOCKE (Green) to the Minister in charge of the NZ Security Intelligence Service: How many current members of Parliament does the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service maintain personal files on?
Hon JOHN KEY (Minister in charge of the NZ Security Intelligence Service): In accordance with longstanding practice, I decline to provide details on the work of the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service. This matter will undoubtedly be considered as part of the review that I have asked the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security to undertake.
Keith Locke: Does the Prime Minister favour the Security Intelligence Service relooking at existing personal files and, as the legislation requires, closing all of those that do not involve sabotage, subversion, espionage, or terrorism, and for a start closing my SIS file, which has been running without any ethical or legal basis for over 50 years?
Hon JOHN KEY: The
methods and information collection priorities of the SIS
have altered over the years as the nature and perception of
threats to security have changed. The practices of the New
Zealand Security Intelligence Service that are reflected in
some of the personal files are of a different era from
today’s. They were meticulous in detail and often included
material that would not be collected today. It is my
understanding that the member’s file was closed in 2006
and there is not a new file.
Jeanette Fitzsimons: Is the Prime Minister concerned that the information on my colleague’s SIS file and on other recently released files shows that over the years many of the targets of SIS surveillance have been legitimate critics of Government policy; if so, what will he, as the responsible Minister, do to ensure that the service properly targets its activities at those who genuinely present a risk to New Zealand’s security?
Hon JOHN KEY: It is very clear and important that there should be a delineation between political activism and genuine security risks. I am concerned enough about that to have asked the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security to undertake an investigation. He has assured me that he should be able to report back within 2 to 3 weeks. I am happy to table this afternoon the letter sent to Paul Neazor, if the member wants that to be done. For the member’s benefit, I can tell her that included in the terms of reference are the following: the adequacy and suitability of the service’s policies relating to the creation, maintenance, and closure of files on New Zealand persons in light of the service’s functions under the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service Act 1969, and the adequacy and suitability of the service’s compliance with such policies in light of the matters raised in the public domain.
Dr Kennedy Graham: Will the Prime Minister confirm that the Intelligence and Security Committee Act will be amended to ensure that the relevant committee that has oversight of the SIS is transformed into a proper select committee that includes members of all political parties represented in the forty-ninth Parliament, thereby ensuring broader accountability to the public?
Hon JOHN KEY: No, I cannot confirm that the select committee will be widened to include all parties, but I point out to the member that there are currently five independent bodies, which are officers of Parliament that are separate from the executive, who have some responsibility for overseeing the activities of the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service. They include the Privacy Commissioner, the Chief Ombudsman, the Controller and Auditor-General, the Commissioner of Security Warrants, and the Inspector-General of Security and Intelligence.
Keith Locke: Will those New Zealanders who have recently received their files from the Security Intelligence Service—files that show a gross abuse of their privacy—be given an opportunity to make submissions to Justice Neazor, particularly in light of the broad range of his mandate, as the Minister has just expressed it; and will he recommend that perhaps the inquiry could take longer that the 2 to 3 weeks he mentioned in his previous answer?
Hon JOHN KEY: I am not proposing that Paul Neazor undertakes a broader consultation process. But obviously the member feels strongly about his own personal file and the collection of that file. There would be nothing to stop the member from writing to Justice Neazor, and I am sure he would take correspondence such as that into consideration in his findings.
Dr Kennedy Graham: I seek leave to table the current list of members of the Intelligence and Security Committee.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave has been sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is no objection. The member will table it before the end of today’s sitting.
Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Dr Kennedy Graham: May I just add—
Mr SPEAKER: The member cannot add to that unless he is raising another point of order. If he wishes to raise another point of order to table another document, then that is fine; the member may do that.
Keith Locke: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I hate to cut across my colleague, but there is a slight problem with that document in that it seems to include the Hon Winston Peters in the list, and I was of the understanding that he is not represented in this Parliament.
Mr SPEAKER: The
member knows that that is not a point of
Hon John Key: I seek leave to table the letter I wrote yesterday to the Hon Paul Neazor in relation to the terms of reference that I have asked him to look at or take into consideration in his investigation of the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that letter. Is there any objection? There is no objection Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Roading and Public Transport—Development
6. Hon DARREN HUGHES (Labour) to the Minister of Transport: Does he support the statement in the Speech from the Throne that “of particular focus will be the development of new roading and public transport projects”; if so, why?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister of Transport): Yes; because improving our transport infrastructure is important for the economic growth and development of New Zealand.
Hon Darren Hughes: Why did the Minister grandly announce over the summer that he was bringing forward the construction of the Kōpū Bridge to the 2010 financial year, when the previous Government had already announced to the Waikato regional transport committee that that would be the year it would start; and if he is so committed to the project occurring in the same year as Labour was having it built but as a new Minister felt a great need to differentiate, is it not a little hollow not to tell the Thames-Coromandel District Council at least which month in 2010 the bridge will be started?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I did indicate over the summer that there was a possibility that the Kōpū Bridge would be brought forward. I suggest that the member wait until the Prime Minister’s announcements tomorrow.
Hon Darren Hughes: Why did the Minister reopen the debate on Transmission Gully when it was the preferred route of the previous Government, and continues to be the preferred route of the Wellington region; and is it not a little hollow to claim, as he tried to yesterday, that the Crown contribution was unfunded, when it has been earmarked in the Crown accounts since 2005 when the Wellington regional transport package was first announced?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I raised it because the previous Labour Government, which was in office for some 9 years, raised expectations regarding this route that were unfunded at the time that it left office. It suggested that $400 million would be allocated to complete the $1 billion project, but left the remaining $600 million to be funded by local bodies in the region. A regional fuel tax was talked of as a means by which that might happen; I am informed by the ministry that a Wellington regional fuel tax in the order of 13.5c per litre would be needed to fund the $600 million that the Government of the time left unfunded, so it could be described as more of a wish than a plan.
David Bennett: What is the forecast expenditure over the next 3 years for new and improved infrastructure for State highways, as funded through the Government policy statement?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Thank you for that question. I was surprised to discover that the expenditure on new and improved State highways was forecast to decrease by 9 percent over the next 3 years in the Government policy statement signed off by the previous Labour Minister of Transport. We are therefore urgently reviewing the Government policy statement so that that decrease will not happen. The Government will be increasing funding for State highway construction, not decreasing it.
Hon Darren Hughes: Why did the
Minister claim that the cost of the critical Waterview
Connection in Auckland had blown out to more than $3
billion, when his own report shows that the cost was
actually $2 billion—when like is compared with
like—before he started adding bells and whistles to the
project in order to undermine it, and does he not think that
getting his figures wrong by 50 percent makes his claim for
a review sound a little hollow?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: The business case that the member refers to was commissioned by the previous Government and provided to the current Government. It says that the expensive tunnelling option would cost $2.77 billion for the twin two-lane option, or over $3.1 billion for the twin threelane option. That is a massive amount of money for one 4.5-kilometre highway. It represents 1.6 percent of GDP, and there is a common theme here because Waterview was also unfunded by the previous Government.
Small to Medium Sized Enterprises—Government Assistance
7. CRAIG FOSS (National—Tukituki) to the Minister of Finance: What comments has the Minister seen following the Government’s announcement last week to provide assistance to small and medium businesses?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): Many people have welcomed the Government’s package, which reduces compliance costs for business and provides support for provisional taxpayers over the next few months. Among the comments I have seen are those from Claire Massey, the Director of the New Zealand Centre for Research into SMEs who says: “It’s sending a signal that, ‘we are listening, we can help, we are thinking about what we can do to reduce the pressure points’.”; and another comment from one Ms Dot Kettle, Chief Executive Officer of the Nelson Tasman Chamber of Commerce, and—I understand—a former staffer of the former Government, stating that reducing compliance costs and providing tax relief was imperative and that the chamber welcomed the Government’s good intentions in this area.
Craig Foss: What further comments has the Minister seen following the Government’s announcement last week to provide assistance to small and medium businesses?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: There were a range of other published comments from people representing business, but the most heartening comments have been—for me—from those battlers who are running small businesses who have said that at last they had a Government that was on their side.
Hon David Cunliffe: Has the Minister seen the comment from Brian Gaynor in the Weekend Herald that the Australian Government’s approach to the current downturn makes our response to the economic crisis look extremely cautious and conservative; the comment from John Armstrong in the same paper that the $480 million package was widely welcomed as long overdue but likely to be a drop in the bucket when the crunch comes; or the comment from the National Business Review describing it as “largely mundane”, and does the Minister now agree that these measures, although positive, largely reflect Labour’s pre-election announcements and incentives, and in no way reflect a sufficient response to the coming grave economic crisis?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Yes, and no.
Hon Jim Anderton: Does the Minister accept the analysis that the $480 million package for 220,000 small to medium sized businesses over 4 years amounts to $10.50 a week, which would hardly buy a big packet of peanuts at the supermarket?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The package sets out what are reasonable measures that will benefit a range of businesses, some of them are measures that the previous Government came up with, but the significant measures are related to the provisional tax requirements around the next payments in May, which will leave $250 million or one-quarter of a billion dollars in the bank accounts of businesses. That is about as far as the Government can go at the moment without heading down a path of incurring large deficits and ever-increasing debt.
Craig Foss: How does the Government’s small to medium sized enterprise package fit with its jobs and growth plan for managing the economy through the recession?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: This package fits along with a number of initiatives designed to protect people from the sharp edge of recession but also, in the long run, to ensure that we prepare our economy for recovery. Businesses across New Zealand have told us that these are reasonable and responsible measures, and are pleased to see these measures taken alongside significant changes to the Resource Management Act, reductions in tax, and further spending on infrastructure.
Minimum Wage Increase—Real Income Gain
8. Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Labour—Hutt South) to the Minister of Labour: What will be the gain in real income per week, adjusted for inflation since 1 April 2008, of a full-time worker on the minimum wage, as a result of the Government’s decision on the 2009 minimum wage increase?
Hon KATE WILKINSON (Minister of Labour): The 50c increase in the minimum wage announced yesterday is intended to maintain the real income and purchasing power of people on the minimum wage.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Why do the figures that the Minister supplied to Cabinet include theoretical job losses in firms as a result of an increase in the minimum wage, but do not recognise jobs created as a result of the economic stimulus of such an increase?
Hon KATE WILKINSON: Protecting jobs is our priority. We believe that we have struck the right balance between protecting jobs and preserving purchasing power.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I ask you to ask the Minister to address the question. [Interruption] Mr Speaker, is he allowed to do that?
Mr SPEAKER: The honourable member knows he must not interject during a point of order.
The member is raising a valid point of order.
Hon Trevor Mallard: There was a very clear question about the figures supplied; the member read from an answer that did not relate to the question asked, and did not come close to addressing it.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: The Minister gave an answer to the question. She most certainly addressed the question. The interesting thing is that Mr Mallard alluded to some documents; he should table them, if he wants to be taken seriously.
Mr SPEAKER: Members, I will do a slightly unusual thing here. I am going to go back to the question laid down by the Hon Trevor Mallard. It is a very clear question. I invite the Minister to answer the Hon Trevor Mallard’s question given on notice.
Hon KATE WILKINSON: In making a decision on the minimum wage, consideration was given to much documentation that had been provided. The minimum wage is a balancing act, and we took all figures and information into account when making that decision.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Why did the Minister change her mind as to whether there should be increase in the minimum wage?
Hon KATE WILKINSON: The member is assuming too much. There was significant consultation throughout the process of the minimum wage review, and the decision was made based on that consultation and based on the information received.
Dr Russel Norman: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. You have been very clear that you want Ministers to answer questions; in fact, you have asked the Minister twice now to answer this question. The answer is a number. A number has been asked for. The question is very, very explicit, as you yourself said. On neither occasion has the Minister come up with the number that has been asked for. She has given us a bunch of words. She has not even addressed the question.
Mr SPEAKER: I think this is a very interesting question, and I want Ministers to take note of it.
If one reads the question laid down by the Hon Trevor Mallard, one sees that it is a very clear question. The Minister had time to prepare an answer to that question. It would not take a large amount of departmental time to prepare an answer to that question.
I note that the member asking the question did not seek my assistance when the substantive question was answered. He sought my assistance following the answer to the first supplementary question. If he had sought my assistance following the answering of the question laid down, I would have been tougher on the Minister in requiring her to answer it. But I cannot be the judge of whether the member is satisfied with an answer.
I want to make it clear to Ministers that where a question is as clear as this question is—it is probably one of the clearest questions on the Order Paper today—I expect Ministers to answer it, unless they consider it not to be in the public interest to do so. We heard the honourable Prime Minister today say that to answer a particular question would not be in the public interest, and that is a perfectly legitimate answer. If a Minister decides that to answer a question is not in the public interest, I will accept that. But where a question is as clear as question No. 8 on today’s Order Paper is, I think New Zealanders expect Ministers to answer it.
However, I point out again to the honourable member Trevor Mallard that he did not seek my assistance at the first answer. I think we need to leave the matter there for today, but I think I have made it very clear to Ministers that when questions are as clear as that, I think New Zealanders expect Ministers to answer them. I have made it clear now. I have intervened, and I do not expect this issue to be taken any further. I thank Dr Russel Norman for raising his point of order. I think I have made it very clear to Ministers what I as Speaker expect. Unless there are further supplementary questions, I will move on to question No. 9.
Hon Trevor Mallard: On how many occasions did the Minister honour the mana-enhancing arrangement with the Māori Party and receive representations from Māori Party Ministers on the minimum wage, and how many of those were in writing?
Hon KATE WILKINSON: The minimum wage review included extensive consultation, including consultation with other parliamentary and Cabinet colleagues, including a call for submissions. The views expressed were all given careful consideration.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I have two points. First, I called for the submissions; the Minister did not. But the important point is that I did not ask about Cabinet Ministers, which the Minister referred to in her reply; I asked about Māori Party Ministers, who are not Cabinet Ministers. She did not address that question.
Mr SPEAKER: I think I have assisted the honourable member as far as I can today in respect of answers to questions, and—
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. At the point when submissions were called for—and I called for the submissions—there were no Māori Party Ministers. They cannot be caught in that group of people that, as part of the review, was asked for submissions, because it happened in September and October of last year. This is a very specific question about a group of people who were not Ministers before the election, and are not Cabinet Ministers, which was what the Minister discussed. She did not, therefore, address that question.
Mr SPEAKER: The member will be aware, of course, that the Minister has no responsibility for matters that took place before the election. What I am prepared to do on this occasion is to allow the honourable member to ask a further supplementary question. I invite the member to do so.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The extra question should come off the Labour Party total, because that member has been in the House for a very long time, and he would know from his 9 years of experience of dodging all sorts of questions that quite often questions are asked the answers to which are not appreciated. The Minister made it clear that in terms of the part of the process she was responsible for there was consultation on a widespread basis. That should stand as an answer.
SPEAKER: I have heard sufficient on this. I have made it
clear. I have already decided to allow the member a further
supplementary question, because I want to make it very clear
to members, and to Ministers in particular, that where
questions as clear as this one are laid down on the Order
Paper, the public of New Zealand has the right to an answer.
That is why I am allowing the member a further question. But
I point out to the honourable member Trevor Mallard that he
cannot ask the Minister about matters that took place prior
to her becoming the Minister.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Mr Speaker, can I make it clear that I am not. On how many occasions did the Minister honour the mana-enhancing arrangement with the Māori Party and receive representations from Māori Party Ministers on the minimum wage, and how many of those were in writing?
Hon KATE WILKINSON: Extensive consultation was undertaken in relation to the minimum wage review, and I am satisfied that that consultation was sufficient for a rational, reasonable, and fair decision on the minimum wage to be made.
Dr Jackie Blue: Has the Minister seen any reports with regard to the minimum wage?
Hon KATE WILKINSON: Yes. I have seen a report from Trevor Mallard hinting that the Opposition wants to raise it to $15 an hour. I have seen a report from Phil Goff demanding a raise to $13. I have also seen Labour’s election manifesto, which promoted an increase to $12.65. Perhaps the Opposition members should sit down and work out who is actually in charge of their decisions.
Hone Harawira: What steps will the Government introduce to meet the Māori Party call that the minimum wage be increased to $15 an hour, and when will it be achieved?
Hon KATE WILKINSON: As with the review of the minimum wage, all economic conditions at the time are taken into account. We are informed and advised that increasing the minimum wage to $15 an hour may result in the loss of up to 17,000 jobs, and our priority is job protection.
Electoral Finance Act—Proposed Changes
9. CHESTER BORROWS (National—Whanganui) to the Minister of Justice: What steps is the Government taking before the next general election to improve the law governing campaign finance?
Hon SIMON POWER (Minister of Justice): Later this week I will bring a bill to the House that seeks to repeal the Electoral Finance Act 2007. The Act will be replaced with an interim regime that largely reverts back to the previous law, except for the rules surrounding donations and a penalties structure. The Government has committed to passing this legislation in its first 100 days. It is my intention to then embark on behalf of the Government on a wide-ranging consultative series of meetings and other consultation to form a more enduring reform of electoral finance law, which will be in place for the 2011 general election.
Chester Borrows: What consultation has he undertaken on these proposals?
Hon SIMON POWER: The repeal of the Electoral Finance Act was clearly signalled to the public as a priority for the incoming Government, and last week I wrote to the leaders or the representatives in the justice area of those parties who are not represented in the Government, to offer to meet with them to discuss this legislation. I am pleased to say that to date very many of those parties have accepted that invitation.
Chester Borrows: Has he received any feedback on the Government’s proposed approach to electoral finance reform?
Hon SIMON POWER: Yes. I have taken the opportunity to speak with the Leader of the Opposition, who has indicated that he is interested in engaging in the process. Incidentally, I have also read a press release by the New Zealand Public Service Association, which welcomes the Government’s decision to repeal the Electoral Finance Act.
Mr SPEAKER: We come to question No. 10. I call the Hon Lianne Dalziel. [Interruption] I beg the member’s pardon. I ask members, if they are going to call, to please do so promptly following the previous question.
John Boscawen: Why does the Minister propose to carry through the donation provisions in the Electoral Finance Act when most of these were introduced after public submissions, both written and oral, had closed, and the public had been denied a chance to comment on them?
Hon SIMON POWER: Transparency is an important
part of enduring electoral law.
Community Law Centres—Funding
10. Hon LIANNE DALZIEL (Labour—Christchurch East) to the Minister of Justice: What reports, if any, has he received on funding for community law centres?
Hon SIMON POWER (Minister of Justice): I have received two reports from the Legal Services Agency and two reports from the Ministry of Justice outlining a significant drop in funding available for community law centres. As the member will know, community law centres receive their funding from interest earned on solicitors’ nominated trust accounts. Because of the cooling housing market and falling interest rates, I am advised that community law centres have been informed by the Legal Services Agency that their funding could drop by an initial assessment of up to 43.9 percent in some cases in the 2009-10 financial year.
Hon Lianne Dalziel: Does the Minister agree in principle with the proposal for the Government to provide alternative funding for community law centres to ensure they do not need to drastically cut services at a time when demand for those services will inevitably increase; if not, why not?
Hon SIMON POWER: I can assure the member that I am taking this matter extremely seriously. This Government is committed to access to justice for all, not just for those privileged few who can afford to access such redress as that offered by, for example, the Supreme Court.
Coincidentally, the drop in community law centres’ funding is roughly equivalent to the $4.3 million that was committed by the previous Government to the bronze plating of the new Supreme Court.
Shane Ardern: Why is the drop in funding occurring?
Hon SIMON POWER: Community law centres are funded primarily through revenue from the Lawyers and Conveyancers Special Fund. The fund consists of 60 percent of interest earned on solicitors’ nominated trust accounts. As I said earlier, the recent cooling of the housing market is reducing the availability of funding. This matter requires the Government’s attention, and that is what it is receiving. I can advise the House that this issue is forming part of my discussions and is part of Budget considerations.
Hon Lianne Dalziel: Is the Minister aware that the Ministry of Justice deferred its planned review of services and funding arrangements of community law centres in 2006, due to the then high level of the special fund—
Hon Dr Nick Smith: And the previous Government did nothing.
Hon Lianne Dalziel: —yes, it was under the previous Government—and also the stability of the special fund? Circumstances have changed, and we have just heard that it is the interest generated from the special fund that is the source of the funding, so it is not unreasonable to ask the Minister when he instructed the Ministry of Justice to commence that review, in light of the report of the Legal Services Agency.
Hon SIMON POWER: When this matter was brought to my attention just prior to the new Government being sworn in, it was one of the first things I raised with officials upon my taking the warrant of Minister of Justice. Since that time, as well as receiving those reports, I can advise the member that I will be meeting with the Coalition of Community Law Centres on 19 February.
Kevin Campbell will be leading that delegation, as I understand it. As I said, I take this matter seriously. It will be forming part of my Budget deliberations and considerations with the Minister of Finance.
Rahui Katene: What actions will the Government take to review the actual percentage of interest earned on solicitors’ nominated trust accounts that is retained by the banks, in order to be able to support those most in need of gaining access to justice, and to enable them to continue to benefit from the services of community law centres?
Hon SIMON POWER: I can
advise the member that the very matter she raises is
currently forming part of my deliberations as I work towards
what I hope will be a solution that meets at least some of
the expectations of most parties.
Resource Management Act—Amendments
11. NICKY WAGNER (National) to the Minister for the Environment: What progress has the Government made in meeting the confidence and supply agreement that “National and ACT agree to promote investment, jobs, wages, employment and prosperity, as well as environmental improvement, through amendments to the RMA.”?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH (Minister for the Environment): We have made good progress with the first phase of Resource Management Act reforms. The technical advisory group was established in early December. Ministers and officials have worked over the holiday period on a package of about 162 amendments to the Resource Management Act. These were approved by Cabinet and the Government caucus. The Parliamentary Counsel Office is beavering away on the drafting of that bill as we speak, so that it can be introduced to the House at the earliest opportunity.
Nicky Wagner: Are there provisions in the bill that will improve New Zealand’s environmental management, as well as reducing the costs, delays, and uncertainty of the Resource Management Act?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: Yes. The environment is as much a loser from the excessive bureaucracy of the Resource Management Act as our economy, because if it takes for ever to fix water, transport, and such other infrastructure, it comes at a considerable cost to the environment.
The bill will also have specific provisions that help the environment. There will be tougher fines for those who breach consents, and the powers of the court to be able to change the conditions of consents will bring about environmental benefits. The bill will also include provisions to strengthen and improve national policy statements and national environment standards. A significant change requires that authorities like telecommunications companies and power companies will no longer be the decision makers on their own applications for designations. Instead, these decisions will be made independently.
Brendon Burns: Can the Minister explain why neither he nor a single member of any group representing environmental concerns was able to be present at a major forum on the Resource Management Act and water issues held in Christchurch last December, when three other senior Ministers from the South Island were present; and does this highlight the lack of priority being given to protecting our environment when the Government is promoting its changes to the Resource Management Act ?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: There was a very constructive meeting between the Minister of Finance, the Minister for Economic Development, and the Minister of Agriculture on the very important issue of water storage in Canterbury. I confess to being buried in these Resource Management Act reforms, albeit I have to say that the chair of the Canterbury Regional Council, Mr Kerry Burke—
Hon Darren Hughes: Sir Kerry to you.
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: Sir Kerry Burke, a former Labour MP, has issued a press release strongly endorsing the Government’s environmental reforms in respect of the Resource Management Act that is completely out of step with what Labour has had to say about those reforms.
Chris Auchinvole: Has the Government considered the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment’s concerns in her report on the clean-up of the contaminated site at Māpua, where the previous Government breached conditions of the consents yet the council was powerless to act under the existing Resource Management Act?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: Yes. It is wrong
that any private person or company can be prosecuted for
breach of consents but Government agencies cannot. The
amendments we propose will enable councils to issue
enforcement orders, abatement notices, excessive noise
directions, and prosecutions where Crown agencies breach
consents. It is the view of this Government that this law
needs to bind the Crown in the same way it binds private
Brendon Burns: I seek the leave of the House to table a document. It is a media report of the Christchurch Resource Management Act water forum and it details that environmental groups were deliberately excluded by Government Ministers.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? Yes, there is objection.
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Is it to be your convention that the tabling of documents will occur at the end of questions rather than—as the member chose to do— midway through them? It was the practice of the previous Speaker to require the tabling of documents to occur at the end of supplementary questions. Is it your intention to continue that practice?
Mr SPEAKER: The honourable member makes a good point. Although the Standing Orders are, I think, not precise on that matter, for the courtesy of all members in the House it may be a good practice to continue—that leave to table documents is sought at the end—although sometimes it is difficult for members to know when the end of supplementary questions arises. Where members are seeking the call to ask a supplementary question, it is clear the end of supplementary questions has not arisen, so in the future the member could perhaps attempt to wait until it has.
Hon Dr Michael Cullen: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I think part of the problem that arose in that case—and we have had a number of examples of it already today—is that the practice has grown that because you have a list in front of you, as we all know, people are often not really calling or are barely calling clearly when they stand up. Members stand up, open their mouths, and hope something happens at that point. Of course, they may simply be leaving the House at that stage. I think it would be helpful to remind members that, in fact, they are not entitled to the call unless they make the call, and you, Mr Speaker, cannot be expected to divine the intentions of people just because they stand up.
Mr SPEAKER: I thank the honourable member for a very good point of order. I would urge all members of the House to reflect on that. Members are not entitled to speak unless they are acknowledged and named by the Speaker. I cannot tell that a member is seeking the call unless he or she actually seeks the call. The honourable member has made a very good point, and if we could try to adopt that as we move ahead, I would certainly appreciate it and it would help the good order of the House.
David Bennett: Noting the very long time frames in getting approval for major roading projects like the Wellington City bypass and the Albany to Pūhoi realignment B (ALPURT B) under the existing Resource Management Act, how will these reforms streamline the process so we can get on and build the infrastructure New Zealand so desperately needs?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: The member is absolutely right to highlight fiascos like the Wellington City bypass, which took 15 years, and ALPURT B, which took over a decade. [Interruption] I hear the Labour spokesperson on transport demanding that we build new roads, at the same time as members opposite oppose any reform of the Resource Management Act—the Act that prevents us from being able to build the roads. The reforms that we will advance will provide for a new national consenting process with an environmental protection authority, and an enhanced board of inquiry that will ensure that there are tight appeals and that we get decisions in a timely way so this new Government can get on and build the infrastructure New Zealand needs.
Nikki Kaye: Are there measures in this reform package to address the sort of supermarket circus we see going on in Auckland, where families are missing out on cheaper groceries because the Resource Management Act is being used as a tool to block competing supermarkets?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: Yes, there are very specific provisions to try to prevent the Act from being used for trade competition purposes. The changes curtail such behaviour by prohibiting objections based on the effects of trade competition, removing standing for trade competitors, and allowing damages—not just legal costs—where the courts find that an objection was trade motivated. We will also have provisions to deal with astroturfing. This is where business competitors create artificial grassroots organisations to oppose a development. The bill will require disclosure where trade competitors are funding community objections.
Katrina Shanks: Has the Minister noted the case in Wellington where one of the councillors lodged an Environment Court appeal under the Resource Management Act against his own council’s decision; and does the Minister think this is appropriate?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: No, I do not think it is at all appropriate. Effectively, a councillor who did not win the argument around the council table is now trying to relitigate the issue in the Environment Court. It is a good example of why we need to constrain appeal rights from being used in ways for which they are not intended. The argument, to me, appears to be far more about local politics than about the environment.
Tourism—Credit Crunch Impact
12. CHARLES CHAUVEL (Labour) on behalf of Hon NANAIA MAHUTA (Labour— Hauraki-Waikato) to the Minister of Tourism: Does he agree with the statement that there need to be “short-term steps” to “reduce the impact of the international credit crunch on the tourism sector so it is strongly placed to achieve growth”, if so, why?
Hon JOHN KEY (Minister of Tourism): Yes, I agree with the full quote, which is from the National Party’s tourism policy and actually states: “take the necessary short-term steps to secure the stability of the banking system, and reduce the impact of the international credit crunch on the tourism sector so it is strongly placed to achieve growth as markets improve.” I certainly hope the member is not about to suggest that the New Zealand banking system is unstable.
Charles Chauvel: Given that, as the Minister has acknowledged, the statement in the primary question comes from the 2008 National Party manifesto, will he undertake to the House to honour the manifesto promise that his Government will ensure a reversal in the 1 percent decline in tourist numbers experienced by New Zealand in 2008?
Hon JOHN KEY: The member can rest assured that I will do everything possible to ensure that the New Zealand banking system is stable.
Charles Chauvel: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. That was not my question. I do not think the question was addressed; it certainly was not answered. The question was not about the banking system at all.
Hon JOHN KEY: If the Labour Party wants to doctor quotes from the National Party, it should expect the answer it got.
Hon Darren Hughes: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: I think I have heard enough on this. I do not think the House needs to waste more time on that. The Prime Minister made a perfectly fair point. The quote was barely a full quote, so the member cannot expect much other than a political answer. I invite the member to ask his further supplementary question, should he wish to.
Charles Chauvel: Does the Minister agree with the statement that tourism is “quite a low-value part of our economy”; if so, why?
Hon JOHN KEY: The tourism industry is extremely important. That is why I chose to take it as a portfolio and why I chose not to have it a long way down the ministerial order, as the Government that the member once represented did.
Charles Chauvel: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I asked the Minister whether he agreed with the statement and, if so, why. He did not answer that.
Mr SPEAKER: The member has been
around for a while now. When members ask for opinions, they
know they cannot expect explicit answers. I made it very
clear today that when members put down detailed questions, I
will endeavour to ensure that members and the public of New
Zealand get sensible answers to those questions. But where
opinions are sought, members cannot expect precise
Charles Chauvel: Is the Minister aware that it was John Key, when he was the Leader of the Opposition, who called tourism “low value” and suggested that the problem was that “people just don’t get paid enough from it”; if he is aware of that, why does he not heed the former Opposition leader John Key and give the thousands of tourism workers on the minimum wage more than a measly 9c an hour increase in their wage?
Hon JOHN KEY: It is reasonably well known that one of the challenges for the tourism industry is to try to increase the yield in that industry, and that is something we are doing. It is also true that a lot of people who work in the tourism industry are paid the minimum wage. They would have been pleased yesterday to receive an increase of 50c per hour. They will also be very pleased that we are a Government that has a sense of balance and is not putting their jobs at threat.
Charles Chauvel: I seek leave to table the article in Mountain Scene from February 2007 in which Mr Key said that workers in tourism just do not get paid enough.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that article. Is there any objection? There is no objection.
Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Hon Phil Goff: Can the Minister of Tourism confirm, in a way that the Minister of Labour was unable to confirm, that in fact the real increase after the effect of inflation has taken place for workers in the tourist industry was 9c an hour, or $3.60 a week, which is not even a fraction of the block of cheese that the Prime Minister used to talk so fondly about?
Mr SPEAKER: That is a fair stretch from the question, but I am sure the Prime Minister is capable of handling it.
Paul Quinn: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am a bit confused. I thought I heard you agree that leave to table papers should be sought at the end of supplementary questions. We have just had a supplementary question after the honourable MP moved to table a piece of paper.
Mr SPEAKER: The member has raised a perfectly valid point. But it is not a matter of the Standing Orders; it is a matter of courtesy to members. The fact that the member sought to table a document prior to the question by the honourable Leader of the Opposition is not a matter of order; it is a matter of courtesy. My concern was that the honourable Leader of the Opposition’s question was somewhat stretching the primary question, but I am sure the honourable Prime Minister can handle it.
Hon JOHN KEY: There is no debate that the increase in the minimum wage is there to reflect the increase in the CPI, and, of course, in real terms it is not large. But the point here is that it represents a 4.2 percent increase. The minimum wage in Australia was reviewed on 1 October 2008; it was a 4.1 percent increase. I think that workers in New Zealand will look to this Government and say there is a sense of balance here and that it is increasing their pay to take advantage of the situation that there is an increase in the CPI. I make the point that maybe the Leader of the Opposition should go and read his own party’s manifesto, because what it actually states is that, in these difficult economic times, the minimum wage should be increased either relative to the CPI or average wages. Guess what? That is what we did.
Hon Phil Goff: Can the Minister quantify that the real increase in wages that he granted yesterday to low-paid workers in the tourism industry was actually 9c an hour, or $3.60 a week— yes or no?
Hon JOHN KEY: I can confirm that yesterday someone who works 40 hours a week got $20 as an increase. I can also confirm that he or she will almost certainly get a tax cut. I have made no attempt to argue otherwise than that the increase is relevant to the CPI. The member will not find any debate on that on this side of the House.
Hon Phil Goff: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Earlier, when the Minister of Labour was asked to quantify a sum, you said that my colleague the Hon Trevor Mallard should have raised a point of order because the Minister did not address the question in that way. You have just heard the Prime Minister do exactly the same thing. I presume that the same rule that affected Kate Wilkinson also applies to John Key.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: I do not need to have any further contribution on that. The honourable member tests my goodwill a little. The clear difference is that the Hon Trevor Mallard put down a clear question on the Order Paper. The Minister had a significant amount of time to prepare an answer for it. In the case of the honourable member’s supplementary question, it was stretching the primary question. I did not stop him from asking it, and I allowed the Prime Minister to answer it. The member then asked a further supplementary question on the basis of the Prime Minister’s answer, and received a further answer to the question. I believe that there has been a fair balance in the exchange on that final question. But I repeat, for the benefit of members of the Opposition, that in relation to the Hon Trevor Mallard’s question earlier on today, I think it was a valid point that where a question is so clear in the way it is put on the Order Paper, members of the public can expect an answer to be given to it.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. You appear to be setting down some reasonably stringent standards for the way in which questions are asked and answered. I ask you, at the end of proceedings today, to look at the Hansard record of the question and then, particularly as the question is about “short-term steps” to “reduce the impact of the international credit crunch on the tourism sector”, at how we got on to the debate about a 9c an hour increase, or whatever it might have been. I think that really does stretch the process on this question.
Mr SPEAKER: I do not need any further assistance on this matter. I do not want to take up further time of the House. Had the Prime Minister not wished to answer the question, he could have made it very clear that he believed the question was out of order. The Prime Minister seemed to answer it with some enthusiasm. That entitled the Leader of the Opposition to ask a further supplementary question, and I believe that is the way the House should flow, in good order. We do not need to get too precious and pedantic about these things. I repeat what I said earlier: where primary questions are laid down clearly, members of the public expect an answer. When Ministers are answering questions, they can expect that the answers they give may be further questioned by members of the Opposition.