Questions and Answers - 27 July 2010
(uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing)
TUESDAY, 27 JULY 2010
QUESTIONS FOR ORAL ANSWER
QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS
Human Rights—United Nations Special Rapporteur’s Report
1. RAHUI KATENE (Māori Party—Te Tai Tonga) to the Prime Minister: How will his commitment to addressing “the challenges of our shared future as New Zealanders” in respect of Te Tiriti o Waitangi address the challenge left by the United Nations special rapporteur on the situation of the human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous peoples, of “the extreme disadvantage in the social and economic conditions of the Māori people”?
Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): The Government is doing a lot to address the issues that the member refers to. We have accelerated the Treaty settlement process towards a goal of settling all claims by 2014. Since November 2008 we have reached 39 significant negotiation milestones, including seven deeds of settlement. That compares with the previous Labour Government’s average of just 1.6 deeds of settlement per year. I believe this is an area where New Zealand is a leader, and I note that the special rapporteur himself acknowledged the significant benefits coming from the settlements that have already been achieved. The Government has also launched Whānau Ora, Cabinet has agreed to repeal the Foreshore and Seabed Act, and we have expressed our support for the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. I could go on, but I would like to note how much I value the National Party’s confidence and supply partnership with the Māori Party, and I look forward to working with it to achieve even more in the future.
Rahui Katene: How will the Government address the observation of the special rapporteur on indigenous rights that “the Treaty’s principles appear to be vulnerable to political discretion, resulting in their perpetual insecurity and instability.”?
Hon JOHN KEY: The member will be aware that the Government has agreed, as part of the confidence and supply agreement with the Māori Party, to undertake a constitutional review. That constitutional review will be a process where we engage with all New Zealanders, and, notwithstanding the view that it will be a long conversation, we look forward to embarking upon that conversation.
Rahui Katene: What is the intention of the Government in terms of addressing what the special rapporteur described as the “continued and persistent high levels of incarceration of Maori individuals.”?
Hon JOHN KEY: The Government is working hard on that issue. We launched, some time ago now, a review around the drivers of crime. The Associate Minister of Corrections works alongside the Minister of Corrections with a special focus on how we can ensure that fewer Māori go to prison. One of the key ways that we can do that, in our view, is to work on issues like national standards. We know that if young New Zealanders cannot read and write properly, they cannot have a future in the modern economy. That could lead to them being incarcerated.
Hon Parekura Horomia: Kei tāna kōrero, e pai ana te haere o te mahi umanga ēngari, nā te pire iwa tekau ngā rā e pana tangata, kei te mahi taumaha me te pouri; e tere atu te ngarongaro o te mahi mō tātou a ngāi Māori; kei te piki te nama, kei te itiiti te utu. He aha tāna whakautu ki tenei? How can he claim to be addressing the economic conditions of Māori, when the extension of the 90-day fire-at-will bill will make it harder for Māori to find and hold on to a job, and when increasing prices are outstripping wage growth, making a bad economic situation even worse; what is his response to this?
Hon JOHN KEY: The member is misguided. In fact, the bill will help Māori to find a job, because it is a policy aimed at opportunity, a policy aimed at giving people a chance, and a policy aimed at helping in particular young Māori who are locked out of the labour market, which is why unemployment rates for young Māori are so high. It is a policy that that member should be embracing, and if he was thinking straight, he would be doing that.
Costs and Prices—Effect of Government Policies
2. Hon ANNETTE KING (Deputy Leader—Labour) to the Prime Minister: What adverse impact on costs and prices, if any, have this Government’s policies had on New Zealanders?
Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): On 28 April of this year the Government increased tobacco excise. This was strongly supported by Labour, which said: “This is a huge step forward in health promotion for all New Zealanders.” From 1 July a number of sectors, including liquid fossil fuels, came into the emissions trading scheme. This is expected to have an impact on households of around $3 a week, which, I might add, is about half the cost of scheme proposed by Labour. The most important thing to look at, however, is the overall change in consumer prices across the economy. The CPI rose only 0.3 percent in the last quarter. Most of that rise was due to tobacco price increases, leaving annual increases at only 1.8 percent. Members might like to know that over the last 4 years of the previous Labour Government inflation was never as low as that. In fact, it did not come to terms even anywhere near that.
Hon Annette King: When he said at the start of June that “People will be better off, they just don’t know it yet.”, had he factored in the following price increases that New Zealanders are experiencing right now: power, petrol, rent, mortgages, accident compensation levies, interest rates, car registration, dairy products, and even the price of a pint; if not, why not?
Hon JOHN KEY: I have only one question: where on earth was that member for the 9 years Labour was in office? Let us just run through a few—
Hon Annette King: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. You heard my question. It was absolutely straightforward. To start off an answer by talking about the last 9 years of the previous Government shows either that the Prime Minister does not have an answer—
Mr SPEAKER: No, no—the member was doing fine up until that point. The member will not use a point of order to make that kind of comment. I think it is helpful when Ministers, including the Prime Minister, answering questions do not ask a question in response. I am sure that the Prime Minister is perfectly capable of rephrasing the start of that answer.
Hon JOHN KEY: Let us just run through a few things for the education of the Labour members. Electricity prices rose 2.9 percent in the year to May 2010; in the 9 years Labour was in office they rose 72 percent. Petrol is $1.75 a litre; back then, when Labour was in office, it was $2.11 a litre. The emissions trading scheme added $3 to the average household per week—
Hon Annette King: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: The member is perfectly at liberty to call a point of order, and it will be heard in silence.
Hon Annette King: This might be a very good general debate speech from the Prime Minister—
Mr SPEAKER: I want to hear the point of order.
Hon Annette King: —but it does not address the question I asked the Prime Minister. He was answering in terms of what Labour did; I asked about what this Government did.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: The questioner stood up and read a list of various activities across the economy, claiming that the costs had risen for New Zealand households. It was only reasonable for the Prime Minister to then compare those costs to the costs under the previous Government. The result is a shocking indictment on—
Mr SPEAKER: Likewise, the honourable member had been fine up to that point. We will not use points of order to introduce political debate. I have to say to the Hon Annette King, in fairness, that if I recollect her question correctly she asked how the Prime Minister either explained or justified saying that New Zealanders would be better off given a list of price increases. The Prime Minister answered the question in a relative fashion: he identified certain price increases but compared them to what had happened previously. He therefore, I think, was arguing that relatively people are better off. That was his answer; it is not my business to judge it. I think the member is vulnerable to that kind of answer when she asks that kind of question.
Hon Annette King: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. You may not have noticed that part of my question asked whether he had factored in price increases that New Zealanders are experiencing now. That was my question, and that was the basis of my question.
Mr SPEAKER: I think the way the member started her question was by saying something about people being better off—or the Prime Minister making a comment that people would be better off— and the Prime Minister, I think, was arguing that people are relatively better off. It is his right to argue that in response to a question like that. The honourable member, of course, has further supplementary questions.
Hon Annette King: In light of that answer, what will be left of most New Zealanders’ tax cuts when GST goes up by 20 percent on 1 October, which will further push up the cost of rates, power, rent, food, petrol, school uniforms, building a house, a block of cheese, and even the humble postage stamp? Has he asked New Zealanders the question he liked to ask in 2008: “Do you feel better off?”
Hon JOHN KEY: The answer to the question is that someone on the average wage will be about $15 a week better off, and the average family will be about $25 a week better off. But I can say that come 1 October 2010 New Zealanders will say: “Gosh, we must have a National Government, because we have had two rounds of tax cuts. We waited 9 years and never got one under Labour.”
Hon Annette King: Is he concerned about the continued cost his Government is putting on to small businesses, which has led Cameron Brewer of the Newmarket Business Association—a good old National supporter, I believe—to say: “The past 18 months have been really hard on retailers. The last thing they now want to do is increase their prices to help out the Inland Revenue’s tax gathering.”, and “while confidence remains flat, it paints a challenging environment for business,”?
Hon JOHN KEY: I have not spoken to Cameron Brewer about the matter, but I can say that this Government is delivering, on 1 October, a $4.3 billion personal tax cut, funded in part by a $2 billion increase in GST. If that party wants to go and take $4 billion worth of tax cuts off New Zealanders, it should let us know.
Hon Annette King: Does he agree with—
Mr SPEAKER: We cannot hear the honourable member. I apologise for interrupting, but I ask for a little respect, please, as we hear her supplementary question.
Hon Annette King: Does he agree with budget advisers who are telling families to grow their own vegetables and take in boarders in order to be able to make ends meet, with the rising cost of food, power, petrol, phone rentals, car registration, and so on; and what extra will families face after they have a GST increase on 1 October?
Hon JOHN KEY: I do agree with budget advisers when they say that people should do everything they can to make ends meet. That makes sense. I also agree with the point that food prices fell by 2 percent, on the recent record, which is the biggest fall since records began in 1960.
Hon Annette King: What is his understanding of the current price of 2 litres of standard milk, a 1 kilogram packet of Weet-Bix, and a loaf of white toast bread, and how much cold hard cash will
struggling families have to pay after these basic items are increased in price after a rise in GST on 1 October?
Hon JOHN KEY: My understanding is that they will be much more affordable when the tax cuts come on 1 October.
Dr Russel Norman: Does he agree that Cabinet’s decision not to lower the allowable blood alcohol content for driving for those aged 20 years and over will have costs on New Zealanders in more accidents and lives lost; if so, will he support giving his MPs a conscience vote on a Green amendment to his upcoming road safety legislation to lower the allowable blood alcohol content to 0.05 for all drivers aged 20 years and over?
Mr SPEAKER: Although I appreciate that the member tried to align the question to the impact on costs, I think that, in substance, the question was miles away from the primary question. But I will hear Dr Russel Norman.
Dr Russel Norman: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The issue is about costs on New Zealanders, and the adverse impacts of costs on New Zealanders. If there are more car accidents as a result of Government policy, which is the arguable point, there will be more costs on New Zealanders.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: Mr Speaker—
Mr SPEAKER: Let me deal with this matter first, before I hear the honourable Leader of the House. If we take the question very strictly, it talks about the past and policies. It asks what effect, if any, this Government’s policies have had on New Zealanders. There has been no change—the impact of no change in terms of blood alcohol has certainly not impacted on New Zealanders as yet. So I think there is a range of reasons why the question is wide of the mark. I do not want to take a question off the member, though, and I am happy for the Greens to continue to have six questions so that I am not being too unfair on them. If the member wishes to ask another question on this primary question, or on a question further down the Order Paper, I am happy to accommodate that.
3. CRAIG FOSS (National—Tukituki) to the Minister of Finance: What challenges must New Zealand overcome to achieve balanced, sustainable economic growth?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): One of our biggest challenges is that our net external liabilities—that is, the amount of money we owe to the rest of the world—increased by 60 percent in the 5 years ended March 2009. This was a product of some reckless economic management, and the by-product of an economy that relied on people spending too much and the Government spending too much. The situation is just beginning to improve.
Craig Foss: What role will foreign equity investment play in achieving balanced, sustainable, sustained growth?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Equity investment, or the ownership of assets in New Zealand by overseas people and of assets overseas by New Zealand people, is surprisingly balanced. As at March 2010, New Zealanders owned about $55 billion worth of equity investments offshore. This is lower than the $65 billion of equity that foreigners have invested here in New Zealand. Provided that this two-way investment is reasonably balanced and complies with investment rules both here and overseas, it can benefit our economy and overseas economies.
Craig Foss: What role will foreign debt investment play in achieving balanced, sustained growth?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Although the position with assets is relatively balanced, unfortunately the situation with debt is very different. New Zealand’s offshore debt is more than three times what New Zealanders have lent abroad. In fact, the debt makes up almost all of our net foreign liabilities of $167 billion. It costs the Government and New Zealanders $10 billion per year just to service the $167 billion of debt we owe to the rest of the world.
Hon David Cunliffe: Kia ora. If the underlying imbalances in the economy are driven by a lack of saving, growing offshore debt, and an over-reliance on foreign capital, why did he slash KiwiSaver, defer pre-funding of New Zealand superannuation, and begin to liberalise the Overseas Investment Office rules?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The Government has taken a series of decisions designed to get on top of the reckless economic management of the last Government—
Hon David Cunliffe: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. You have previously ruled that the Minister may refer to the actions of a previous Government if it is on point and tangential to his main point. He has begun his response to this very specific question about the policies of his Government by reference to the previous Government’s policy. I contend that that is outside your previous ruling on this matter, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: I can understand why the member has raised a point of order. I think we need to give the Minister a little opportunity to answer the question asked. If I rule out any comment on the actions of a previous Government, it makes it just about impossible. But the member will note that the Minister is not commenting on the Opposition’s current policies; that would be where I would absolutely draw the line.
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Those decisions were made because Government finances were out of control when this Government came to power. They were out of control because of the reckless management of the Labour Government, and there is no sign that Labour has changed its attitude towards public money.
Craig Foss: What economic policy prescription is not consistent with achieving balanced growth?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Government spending continuing to be out of control would not help the balance of our economy, nor would any actions that encouraged another housing boom, but, most important, New Zealanders are changing their habits. They are spending less, they are being more careful about their debt, and they made the very progressive move of voting the reckless Labour Government out of office.
Hon David Cunliffe: If the imbalances in the New Zealand economy require strong productivity growth for us to catch Australia by 2025, why did the Government cancel the research and development tax credit, cut economic development budgets, backtrack on mining, downgrade the cycleway, and drop the Job Summit, and why has it now lurched to cutting working conditions through the 90-day fire-at-will bill?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: We did drop a lot of policies that Labour had spent a large amount of money on that simply did not work. The Government has got on with investing in infrastructure, cutting red tape, reducing taxes, increasing taxes on consumption and property, and making a real difference to the productivity—
Hon David Cunliffe: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. In your previous ruling you helpfully clarified that it would depend on whether the Minister was referring to the policies of his Government or the previous Government, or to the Labour Party’s current policy, as to whether his answer was in or out of order. In his opening part of his reply he has referred to dropping a range of policies. Could we clarify, please, whether he is referring to the policies of the Opposition or to the policies—
Mr SPEAKER: I think we are starting to get into debating material. If the member reflects back on his question, he will see that he asked initially about issues of productivity—if productivity is important to the Government, why is the Government doing this? The Minister, in answering, is elucidating a number of what I presume to be the Government’s policies that he believes will have a positive impact on productivity. So I think he is answering the member’s question about the significance of productivity.
Dr Russel Norman: Does he stand by his comments that the family farm is a critical part of New Zealand’s economic future; if so, how does he expect family farmers to afford to buy rural land when they have to compete with overseas buyers with virtually unlimited funds?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The situation for people who own family farms is no different from what it has been for some time, with the exception that in the last 12 months there have been very few farm sales. Any people who own a farm in New Zealand today are welcome and able to buy the next-door farm, if they can afford it and if the bank will lend them the money. It turns out that they have not been willing to do that. It is also the case that some foreign investors are interested in buying farmland here, and that is always the case.
Mining in Conservation Areas—GDP Growth Projections for Next 5 Years
4. Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE (Labour—New Lynn) to the Minister of Finance: Why will the cancellation of the Government’s plans to mine sensitive conservation land have no effect on the GDP growth projections for the next 5 years?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): As the plans to extend mining were not confirmed Government policy, they were not included in the Budget economic projections.
Hon David Cunliffe: Why, then, was mining schedule 4 conservation land part of the Government’s economic step change agenda when he has been conspicuously unable to give us any projections of the impact it was expected to have on GDP over the next 5, 10, or 15 years?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Mining and the use of other resources is part of the Government’s agenda. Mining on schedule 4 land was only ever a small part of the potential in this country, and the Government continues to encourage those who want to turn that potential into real jobs and higher incomes for New Zealand families.
Hon David Cunliffe: Are the Government’s proposed changes to employment law, which will allow an employer to fire an employee without good reason, part of the step change economic agenda; if so, will it have a measurable impact on GDP; if so, by how much?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The extension of the 90-day trial period is part of a package of industrial measures that have pretty broad support in the community. We believe that it will provide more opportunities for people who do not have jobs to get them and provide more opportunities for the businesses in New Zealand that are a bit tentative about the economic recovery to actually take someone on, thereby providing a new job and a higher income for a New Zealand family.
Hon David Cunliffe: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Minister has not addressed the question. It was a straight question. It went to the GDP impact of the proposed law change. There was no mention of the economic impact whatsoever.
Mr SPEAKER: With respect, I think that the member had several pieces to the question. To expect, in a supplementary question, the Minister to go through each of those pieces is, I think, a bit beyond the requirements of the Standing Orders.
Aaron Gilmore: What are the GDP projections for the next few years, and how do they compare with the last 5 years?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Budget 2010 includes the forecasts for the next 4 years. They show the economy growing at 3.1 percent per year, on average, but they also point out the risks to that growth. The rate achieved over the past 4 years was a 0.5 percent growth of GDP, including 3 years from 2005 when our per capita GDP growth actually shrank.
Hon David Cunliffe: Given that the Budget’s projection was that his tax cut package will add less than 1 percent growth to GDP over an entire 7 years, what policy or policies does he plan that will actually close the gap with Australia?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: We believe that the range of measures, including the tax package, the infrastructure investment, the cutting of red tape, the raising of skills, and the increase in innovation, will all add to growth. But the most important thing that New Zealand has done to improve its growth prospects was to vote out the reckless Labour Government.
5. DAVID BENNETT (National—Hamilton East) to the Minister of Transport: What is the focus of the Government’s road safety initiatives announced yesterday?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister of Transport): Yesterday the Government announced a package of road safety initiatives targeting drink-drivers—in particular, repeat and young offenders. The package will include a zero drink-drive limit for recidivist drink-drivers, a zero drink-drive limit for drivers under 20 years of age, much tougher penalties for serious offences causing death, and drink-driving causing death, and the introduction of alcohol interlocks for repeat drink-drivers and serious first-time offenders. These are big changes that will address two of the big issues on the road—the high fatality rate of young drivers, and the menace of repeat drink-drivers.
David Bennett: What decision did the Government make about the adult drink-driving limit?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: The Government has noted that there is a gap in the New Zealand statistics about the actual harm caused by adult drivers whose blood-alcohol level is between 0.05 and 0.08. Before making changes of this scale the public will want to know the actual harm at that level, so the Government intends to change the legislation in order to collect that data. People are also naturally concerned about having a couple of drinks and suddenly being over the limit. It is important that the public support these road safety initiatives, because road rules work only if they have a broad level of public acceptance.
Dr Russel Norman: I seek leave to table a document published by the Ministry of Transport, obtained under the Official Information Act, that outlines 300 drink-driving studies that demonstrate that driving abilities start to become impaired at 0.05, and by 0.08 a driver is significantly impaired.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is no objection. Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Darien Fenton: When he told a conference in Auckland last year that it was ridiculous that he could drink three-quarters of a bottle of wine in 90 minutes, yet still be under the legal alcohol limit, was he aware that actually lowering the limit would be a little too nanny State for his colleague Murray McCully?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: The question is strange in so many ways. Obviously in reference to my slight frame, I am concerned at the thought of my drinking three-quarters of a bottle of wine and then driving. That was the comment I made last year.
David Bennett: How are the penalties for drivers who cause road fatalities changing?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: The Government is strengthening the penalties for people convicted of drink-driving or drug-driving causing death, dangerous or reckless driving causing death, illegal street racing causing death, and failing to stop after a crash when someone has been killed. The maximum prison term for all these dangerous offences causing death will be doubled, to up to 10 years in prison. As the imprisonment penalties for these offences were last reviewed in 1962, these changes are well overdue. Tougher sanctions will bring these penalties in line with other similar serious offences and with penalties in other jurisdictions.
Hon Jim Anderton: How does the Minister reconcile his comments last year, that the existing drink-driving limit was “ridiculous”, with his decision yesterday to spend 2 more years researching the “ridiculous” limit, so that we can measure just how ridiculous the ridiculous limit is?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I have to say I do struggle with criticism from that side of the House on the drink-driving issue, or in fact on any road safety issues, because Labour’s record on that was so abysmal in the 9 years it was in Government.
Dr Russel Norman: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The question was specific—
Mr SPEAKER: A point of order has been called, and I am on my feet. Someone in the back right-hand corner of the House is taking grave risks.
Dr Russel Norman: The question asked about how to reconcile two statements. The answer simply attacked the previous Labour Government. It had nothing to do with the question.
Mr SPEAKER: Although the questioner did not make the question totally serious in the language used, I think maybe some greater effort at the reconciliation might be appropriate from the Minister.
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I noted in my answer to the previous supplementary question that I was referring to my own ability to drink wine, rather than the wider limit at the time. I said that it was ridiculous that I would drink that amount of wine and then drive. But, nevertheless, I still struggle with criticism from members on the other side of the House, because they were so absent for 9 years on this subject.
Hon Jim Anderton: Why does the Minister need more research to be done on this “ridiculous” limit when 60 international reports favour reduction of the drink-driving limit, and even his own ministry has estimated that reducing the level could save 33 lives, prevent up to 680 injuries, and save up to $238 million every year?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I note that the Government has given itself 2 years to collect that data. The previous Government took 9 years to not do anything, so if we do make a change after 2 years, we will be 7 years ahead of the Opposition.
Hon Jim Anderton: How can the Minister justify more research when reputable researchers working in this area are not saying that they need more research, but urgent action?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: The member may not have been in the House at the time, but the fact of the matter is that the previous Government signalled that it was a lack of research that meant that it could not make a decision to lower the drink-drive limit back in the early 2000s. The only problem is that the previous Government did not move to collect the information. This Government will pass legislation to do exactly that.
6. Hon RUTH DYSON (Labour—Port Hills) to the Minister of Health: Is he comfortable with the numerous announcements of health cuts in the last 20 months?
Hon TONY RYALL (Minister of Health): Contrary to the member’s assertion, the health budget in the last 20 months has in fact increased by over $1.3 billion. There always have been, and always will be, changes to services, reflecting changing needs, and this Government is improving front-line services despite coming out of the worst economic recession since the 1930s.
Hon Ruth Dyson: When he told New Zealand Doctor that cuts to community group funding pale in significance compared with more people getting elective surgery, what message was he sending to the 1,500 people with mental health and addiction issues who receive support from Aspire, a Wellington-based community group that has had its funding reduced by 10 percent this year?
Hon TONY RYALL: I say to those people that this Government is investing an extra $174 million in mental health over the next 4 years. Significant gains are being made in improving mental health services for New Zealanders.
Hon Ruth Dyson: What response has he given to the Hutt Valley judge who went public with his concerns about an offender who has been waiting for 8 months for an urgently needed bed in a mental health facility?
Hon TONY RYALL: I do not have with me the details of that specific case, but I can say that we have put another $174 million into mental health services. More people are getting health services than ever did under that failed party opposite.
Hon Ruth Dyson: How will the Capital and Coast District Health Board be able to better support people with mental health issues in the community or in a mental health facility, given its confirmation in writing to me that its mental health budget in the coming year will be almost $5 million less than in the previous year?
Hon TONY RYALL: The Capital and Coast District Health Board’s district annual plan has not been approved by the Government, so whatever it is telling that member is not consistent with the facts as the Minister considers them.
Nicky Wagner: What reports has he received recently on improving front-line services?
Hon TONY RYALL: Besides receiving reports of considerable improvement in mental health services around New Zealand, I can advise that there were a number of significant improvements over the last 20 months, such as a record rise of nearly 13,000 in the number of patients receiving elective surgery in the 2009 year, much shorter waiting-times for cancer radiation treatment, many more 2-year-olds fully immunised, and significant investment in the major public health programme to insulate New Zealand homes.
Hon Ruth Dyson: I seek leave to table a letter dated 15 July from Capital and Coast District Health Board outlining the nearly $5 million reduction in its mental health spend for the coming year.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is no objection. Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Economic Recovery—Resource Management Act Reforms
7. CHRIS AUCHINVOLE (National—West Coast - Tasman) to the Minister for the
Environment: How are the Government’s resource management reforms assisting the economic recovery with jobs and investments?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH (Minister for the Environment): The Resource Management (Simplifying and Streamlining) Amendment Act 2009 is assisting by reducing the delays for investors in getting resource consents for new developments. A good example is the new Countdown supermarket north of Auckland, which was the very first case under the new law of a direct referral to the Environment Court. The application was lodged in the court in February and approved in June, a period of just 4 months. This $22 million development involves 3,500 square metres of retail space and will employ 160 New Zealanders when it opens next year.
Chris Auchinvole: How do the time frames for this new supermarket compare with those of others north of Auckland previously, and what specific provisions made a material difference to this consent being processed so quickly?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: I think all members of the House are aware of the Resource Management Act circus that has occurred so often in the past with regard to such supermarket developments. The worst case was the Wairau Park Pak ’N Save, which took 12 years to resolve, from the application in April 1997 to final approval in February 2009, through seven separate hearings and appeals. The key changes that have enabled this tight process are enabling direct referral to the Environment Court so that there is only one hearing, and specifically prohibiting objections from competitors. The dividend of this policy and law change is this $22 million investment and 160 new jobs.
Chris Auchinvole: Is there any evidence, given the concern from Opposition parties that these streamlined processes would compromise the environment, that this new development is of any lesser standard than those that have taken over a decade to get approval?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: No. To the contrary, this development is widely supported by the local community and the council. The Environment Court concluded that this development would increase the vibrancy and vitality of the area generally, and would have significant benefits for the surrounding area. This is a very good example of how the Government’s policies are good for the environment, good for jobs, and good for growth.
Charles Chauvel: Tēnā koe, Mr Speaker. Tēnā koutou e the Whare. Is the Government considering, for phase two of its Resource Management Act reforms, restricting appeals to points of
law only, rather than having them on the merits of the decision or the policy, as was done in Part 3 of the legislation that abolished Environment Canterbury?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: There are 10 different work streams to phase two of our Resource Management Act reforms. The particular work that focuses on the issue raised by the member is that around infrastructure. This Government is determined to get infrastructure built more quickly, as part of our growth plans for New Zealand. There are also issues around urban design, where we do not believe that the Resource Management Act has worked well in bringing together the good development of cities like Auckland and of the infrastructure at the right time. We are awaiting those final reports before we make decisions on the detail of the phase two reforms.
Charles Chauvel: What is the likelihood of the Land and Water Forum reporting back to the Government on 31 August, given reports that tempers are fraying between environment groups and the dairy sector over key elements of the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management; and what effect will any delay have on the introduction of any new legislation or policy?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: I think that everybody in this House would acknowledge that there are real challenges around the intensification of agriculture and its impacts on water quality. The previous Government struggled in this area. We have attempted to bring the various parties together, with the Land and Water Forum. I remain optimistic that that collaborative process will deliver a programme by which we can deliver on the blue-green ideals of this Government to grow the economy and to maintain the high standards that are so important to our country.
Charles Chauvel: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I listened carefully to the Minister’s answer. My question was specifically about whether there were likely to be delays in the report that was the subject of the question, and, if there were delays, whether that would have any effect on any reforms of law or policy. I am not sure whether the Minister addressed that question.
Mr SPEAKER: I will hear the Hon Dr Nick Smith on the point of order.
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: The member, in his question, specifically referred to tensions in the Land and Water Forum, which is due to report by the end of this month, and I responded fairly to the point that the member had raised.
Mr SPEAKER: I think there is merit in the Minister’s response to that point of order. Had the member asked specifically whether the forum would report by a certain date, then we could have pinned the Minister down. But, given the rest of the question, I believe that it is not reasonable to ask me to pin the Minister down to any part of it.
Employment—Proposed Legislative Reform
8. Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Labour—Hutt South) to the Minister of Labour: What evidence, if any, led to her proposing to restrict the right of wage and salary earners to meet with their union representatives at their workplace?
Hon KATE WILKINSON (Minister of Labour): I have reports of union representatives stopping customers from actually coming on to the workplace, disrupting customers in the workplace, and tying up workers for hours of productive time. That, inter alia, led us to the conclusion that it was timely to have a discussion and clarify what is fair and reasonable to both employers and employees whilst, at the same time, ensuring our international obligations regarding union access are not breached.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Did she provide any additional evidence to the Prime Minister after he gave his undertaking to the Council of Trade Unions not to proceed on restricting union access without further consultation; if so, what was that evidence?
Hon KATE WILKINSON: We have had several discussions regarding access; regarding our election manifesto. Further consideration persuaded me that it is timely now to have the discussion and clarify what is fair and reasonable to both employers and employees.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. It was a very careful, very specific question about additional evidence given to the Prime Minister after a particular event and what it
was. That answer did not address either of the legs of my question. I can repeat the question, if you like.
Mr SPEAKER: When the member asked his question, he referred to whether the Minister had provided any further evidence to the Prime Minister, following the Prime Minister making a certain statement. Now, I am not sure whether the Minister, in answering that, would know when the Prime Minister made the statement the member was referring to. Therefore, I think it is a bit unreasonable to expect an absolutely precise answer. Normally the member’s questions are commendably to the point, but I think that, given the information contained in the question, it would be hard for me to pin the Minister down beyond that. She said she did have discussions, where presumably she provided evidence to the Prime Minister.
Hon Tau Henare: What reports has she seen about the approach of unions to workplace relations?
Hon KATE WILKINSON: I have seen a statement from the President of the Council of Trade Unions noting: “You’ve got to remember that employers are not people.” Well, actually they are, and the reality is our Government has approved a package of sensible reforms to grow New Zealand’s economy and grow jobs for all New Zealanders. Good businesses need both employees and employers to work together, and we need laws that encourage this cooperation.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Was she in the room with the Prime Minister when he gave his undertaking to the Council of Trade Unions not to proceed on restricting union access without further consultation; if so, what evidence did she provide to the Prime Minister after that, which led to his change of mind?
Hon KATE WILKINSON: I believe I was not in the room when discussions were had between the Prime Minister and Helen Kelly, and I suggest that the member asks the Prime Minister what discussions were had.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Is she sure of her previous answer that she was not in the room when the Prime Minister gave that undertaking?
Hon KATE WILKINSON: I do not recall the Prime Minister giving such an undertaking, or being in the room.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Why did she, after her office indicated that she was free, decide that she would not debate this issue with Helen Kelly on Q+A on Sunday?
Hon KATE WILKINSON: Agreeing to or declining specific interview requests is done on a case by case basis. In my view, that interview was not necessary.
Public Transport, Auckland—Rail System
9. GARETH HUGHES (Green) to the Minister of Transport: Does he agree with Auckland Mayor John Banks, in an opinion piece supporting the central business district rail loop, that “rail is the most effective and efficient way of providing for Auckland’s growth in travel demand”?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister of Transport): I almost agree with his worship the mayor. I would insert the words “one of”: that is, rail is one of the most effective and efficient ways of providing for Auckland’s growth in travel demand. My strong view is that the way we will solve Auckland’s transport problems as that city grows is to have all the modes of transport—road, rail, and ferry, etc.—operating effectively and efficiently.
Gareth Hughes: When does the Minister expect the central business district rail loop to be completed, given that rail patronage in Auckland has increased by close to 100 percent in the last 5 years and Britomart transport centre is nearing capacity?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I am a bit old-fashioned in this regard, because I like to know a number of things before embarking on billion-dollar projects. The first would be a business case on the likely operation of that central business district rail link. At the moment a business case is being prepared for all stakeholders. A study team is working on rail-tunnel route alignment and station locations. The team is undertaking costing work, assessing the phasing and timing of possible
constructions, analysing the traditional transport benefits and wider benefits, and analysing alternatives. Those are all important things we do before embarking on such a project.
Gareth Hughes: Can the Minister confirm that, according to New Zealand Transport Agency figures, last year traffic volumes on State highways in the Auckland region, including the harbour bridge, fell to 2004 levels, and is it not time to fast track the central business district rail loop?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I cannot confirm those numbers for the member today, although they are at very high levels. I point out to the member that about 85 percent of trips to and from work each day, according to the last census, are made by road, and about 1 percent by rail. I am confident rail has grown since then, but I still think it has a fair way to go before it will match the highway contribution.
Gareth Hughes: Does the Minister deny that according to the Auckland Regional Transport Authority nearly 60 percent of people currently travelling to the Auckland central business district do so by public transport, and that percentage is projected to increase significantly over the next few decades?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: As I have said, I think all of the modes—public transport, road, and rail—have a contribution to make, but it is important that we consider each project carefully before we make decisions. The Government is currently investing $1.6 billion in Auckland’s commuter rail network.
Keith Locke: Will the Minister prioritise the Auckland central business district rail loop as least as highly as the Pūhoi to Wellsford motorway, given that it will move more people for the same money, free up Auckland’s State highways, and dramatically improve productivity in New Zealand’s largest city?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I am not sure how the member makes those assertions if he has no idea how much it will cost or how many people will travel on it. But, be that as it may, I point out that the merits of bringing a three-lane highway to a screaming halt at Pūhoi in a one-lane road, in a paddock somewhere just out of Pūhoi, is the sort of transport policy that the previous Government came up with; not the current one.
Hon Darren Hughes: Tēnā koe e te Rangatira. Tōku pātai ki te Minita: further to Mr Locke’s question, how many Aucklanders does he believe would use a central business district rail loop every day, compared with the number of Aucklanders who would use his holiday highway between Pūhoi to Wellsford?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I can tell that member exactly how many people travel on the road north of Pūhoi today. The conjecture as to who would use a central business district rail loop is premature, because, again, the studies have not been completed. Not only do we have to look at the projected revenues and the projected passenger numbers, we also have to have an operating budget. All these were things that the previous Government’s members did not trouble themselves with too much when they spent taxpayers’ money.
Gareth Hughes: Given that the project has been on the card since the 1920s and that previous studies have shown that the benefits significantly outweigh the costs, when will the Minister commit to fast tracking the funding for the project as a project of national significance and listen to the united voice of Auckland community leaders, who say that it is the smartest way to deliver real transport progress in the economic engine of the country?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: My recent experience of the “united voice of community leaders around Auckland” generally means that they expect the taxpayers to front up to pay for something, to be fair. That seems to be the case in this instance, as well. It is important that the central business district rail link study is completed, that all aspects of the project are assessed, that the costs and benefits are assessed. Frankly, we need a proper operating budget for the rail network into the future, which the previous Government did not bequeath to the current one. We need all of those things before we make those decisions.
Crime, Organised—Police Operations
10. SANDRA GOUDIE (National—Coromandel) to the Minister of Police: What reports has she received on successful operations by the police against organised crime?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS (Minister of Police): I congratulate the police on carrying out a significant hit on organised crime over the past week or so. A year-long operation, codenamed Operation Acacia, netted large amounts of cash, methamphetamine, and illegally acquired firearms. In addition, a multimillion-dollar alleged money-laundering business and other assets have been restrained, with a view to confiscation. When our Government toughened the laws relating to gangs and organised crime, this was exactly the sort of result we were looking for. The message is clear from the police that they are coming after illegal businesses and the profits of crime.
Sandra Goudie: What information has she received about the amount of methamphetamine being seized by the police and other Government agencies?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: I am very pleased to report that provisional data show that methamphetamine seizures in the first 5 months of this year have already overtaken the figure for the whole of last year. A total of 18.2 kilograms of methamphetamine, with an estimated street value of $18 million, have been seized, compared with 17.9 kilograms for the entire 2009 year. This figure does not include the 5 kilograms seized last week.
Foreshore and Seabed Act Review—Prime Minister’s Statements
11. DAVID GARRETT (ACT) to the Prime Minister: Does he stand by his statement regarding proposed changes to the Foreshore and Seabed Act that “I don’t think people will notice a lot of change”?
Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): Yes.
David Garrett: Does he think people would notice being charged for access to the beach and the sea?
Hon JOHN KEY: Yes, but I do not think that they will be.
David Garrett: Will he commit to prohibiting Māori owners of sections of the coastline from charging New Zealanders for access to the beach and the sea?
Hon JOHN KEY: I have a couple points. One thing is that we have ensured that access to the foreshore and seabed is absolute and is preserved for New Zealanders. Secondly, the member seems to be asking a question in general about property rights, so for the member’s education maybe I could quote this to him, because I find it to be quite interesting. It comes from Richard Prebble, and it was said in this House. The former ACT leader said: “This party is in favour of property rights, and we accept that there are some parts of New Zealand—not many, but some—where Māori do have property rights on the foreshore. The ACT party stands for that. We do not get upset about that, because they have had them since 1840 and it has not caused any trouble up until now, and we would not have panicked.” That was the principled ACT Party position.
David Garrett: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The question was very simple and carefully worded. The first few words—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: I apologise to the honourable member. A point of order has been called, and it will be heard in silence.
David Garrett: The question invited a yes or no answer. I asked whether he would commit to prohibiting, etc. I managed to scribble only the first few words of his answer, which was that he has ensured that access is ensured, etc. That is not an answer to the question of whether the Prime Minister will commit to prohibiting the charging of New Zealanders for access to the beach and the sea.
Mr SPEAKER: Members should not be interjecting when the Speaker is considering a point of order. I cannot ask specifically for a yes or no answer from Ministers. But I invite the Prime Minister, having heard the question repeated, to see whether he can be just a little closer to the
question. I appreciate that the Prime Minister said access is assured, but the answer did not indicate whether it is assured at no cost.
Hon JOHN KEY: I cannot for the life of me conceive of any reason why anyone could be charging the average New Zealander to enjoy public access to the beach.
Hon Jim Anderton: When the Prime Minister said: “I don’t think people will notice a lot of change”, did he mean that nothing would really change; if so, why has he bothered to make the change at all—or did he mean that people will not notice the change until it is too late?
Hon JOHN KEY: I meant that because the Government has guaranteed absolute access to the foreshore and seabed, the average New Zealander will not notice a change. The people who will notice a change will be Māori. They will have an opportunity to test in the courts their customary title.
Income Gap—Parity with Australia by 2025
12. Hon DAVID PARKER (Labour) to the Minister for Economic Development: Does he have targets or milestones to achieve income parity with Australia by 2025?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE (Minister for Economic Development): Yes.
Hon David Parker: What is the current average weekly gap in income between a New Zealander and an Australian full-time worker?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: It is certainly a lot less than it was when Labour was in office. I am not familiar with exactly what the gap is.
Hon David Parker: If the Minister does not know the exact amount, can he at least give the House an approximation, given that National campaigned at the last election on, and gave prominence to, its promise to close that very income gap?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: I would be more than happy to answer that question if the member would like to ask a written question, simply because it will take quite a bit of time to work out exactly how much that gap has closed by virtue of the tax concessions that New Zealanders will enjoy from 1 October.
Hon Darren Hughes: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Minister in his reply invited my colleague to put down a question about the issue he was asking about. The question on notice asks about income parity with—
Mr SPEAKER: I think had the member put down exactly that question—on the size of the gap—I would have insisted on the Minister’s providing an answer. But given that the issue was whether the Minister has any targets or milestones, I cannot actually insist on his having at his fingertips that specific information. The public have heard the answers, and the public can make their own judgments about them.
Hon David Parker: Does the Minister stand by his answer to my first supplementary question that the gap between the income of New Zealand workers and that of Australian workers has decreased since his Government took office?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: I believe that that is the case. I also say that the Government has a number of economic objectives that we want to achieve. The first point I would make is that we are gradually removing the millstones that the Labour Government put round the economy of this country. Ultimately, that will mean that this country can afford the sorts of wages that New Zealanders want. I might also say that under this Government the economy is moving forward, not back as it was when we took office.
Hon David Parker: Supplementary question, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: I believe that the Labour Party has utilised its full allocation of supplementary questions. I apologise to the member.