Questions And Answers March 10
(uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing)
THURSDAY, 10 MARCH 2011
QUESTIONS FOR ORAL ANSWER
QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS
Earthquake, Christchurch—Government Support for People Affected
1. Hon ANNETTE KING (Deputy Leader—Labour) to the Prime Minister: Is he satisfied that all systems set up pursuant to commitments he has given to assist residents following the Christchurch earthquake are appropriate and working?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Deputy Leader—National) on behalf of the Prime Minister: Generally yes, but due to severe damage in the eastern suburbs some households may well be without power, water, and sewerage for some time yet. However, I want to assure people that everything that can be done is being done to restore essential infrastructure.
Hon Annette King: Will he ask the Minister of Finance to issue a direction under section 12 of the Earthquake Commission Act requiring prompt and direct payment for rebuilding in Christchurch, in light of comments by the master plumbers’ chairman, Mark Whitehead, and builder Nick Rogers, who said today that they are refusing to carry out rebuilding work for the Earthquake Commission because they do not get paid, and they are now requiring distressed homeowners to pay cash up front before any work is done?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I do not think that the Earthquake Commission would need a direction to ensure that it does as much as it can do to expedite the rebuilding process. I understand the pressure particularly on contractors who were expecting the rebuild from the first earthquake to be well under way now. That has been delayed by maybe a month or two. But we will work with the commission to ensure it does it as fast as it can.
Hon Annette King: In light of that answer, will the Prime Minister ask the Minister of Finance to take urgent steps to ensure contractors and subcontractors who are owed thousands of dollars by the Earthquake Commission for emergency work done after the September quake are paid, given that in order to avoid their businesses failing, with the loss of hundreds of jobs, some businesses have already taken out loans to stay afloat?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Certainly if there are contractors who have not been paid, and who should have been paid according to normal credit terms, then the Earthquake Commission should get on and do that. But I think the significant shorter-term problem concerning the construction industry in Christchurch was its expectation that it would be gearing up quite rapidly now, and that has been delayed by the second earthquake. All the parties involved, though, now have a great deal more experience in how to get this work under way faster, and I hope it will be under way faster than last time round.
Hon Annette King: Does he agree with Mayor Bob Parker that landlords who are hiking up rents on houses and business premises in Christchurch are “looting by another name”, and has he considered taking action similar to that of the Federal Government of the United States following
Hurricane Katrina, when it limited the increase in rents, etc. to no more than 10 percent, to prevent greedy landlords from profiting from other people’s misery?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: We would share the mayor’s concern if there is significant profiteering. The Government will be listening to the advice of the Minister for Canterbury Earthquake Recovery, who is on the ground and also shares those concerns.
Hon Annette King: Who is collating and acting on information about the vulnerable residents— for example, elderly people who are living alone, people who are bedridden, and those with disabilities—when some have been visited several times by various agencies, including Māori wardens, the police, the army, social agencies, etc., and others have not been visited at all, and how can the Government ensure that these people get the assistance they need?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: As the member has pointed out, a number of agencies regard it as their obligation to contact vulnerable people who simply do not have the capacity to deal with the difficult circumstances they find themselves in. There is quite a bit of work going on to try to coordinate those efforts, to ensure that there is complete coverage and no one is left out.
Hon Annette King: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I really appreciate that answer, but would the Minister be able to tell us by whom—that is the issue. Who is collating and acting on this information? That is the core of the question.
Mr SPEAKER: What I will do is to allow the member to repeat her question, but do keep it succinct.
Hon Annette King: Who is collating and acting on the information about vulnerable citizens in Christchurch, some of whom have been visited by many agencies and some have not been visited; who is ensuring that they get the services they need?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I would not want to give the member an exact answer about that specific task. It is quite likely that the Ministry of Social Development is the primary Government agency for delivery of the contact by telephone calls, the social assistance with the Earthquake Commission assessors—social workers going around with the assessors—and setting up the neighbourhood offices that give more people easier access to the support. But I will check to see whether the ministry is performing that particular task.
Hon Steve Chadwick: What procedures will be followed when determining which heritage buildings damaged by the earthquake will be demolished?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I cannot answer that question in detail, because it is the subject of discussion between the civil defence controller, the Minister for Canterbury Earthquake Recovery, and the Christchurch City Council. But clearly there needs to be a transparent and predictable process for dealing with that issue.
Hon Steve Chadwick: Does he agree with the comments of the Minister for Canterbury Earthquake Recovery on the preservation of heritage buildings: “There is a need to move fairly quickly”, and “if I had my way they’d be down tomorrow.”?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The Minister has expressed a view that a number of older buildings that, after the first earthquake, were regarded as heritage buildings worth preserving have now collapsed and killed people. He has expressed the view that some of those buildings should be dealt with, because they are dangerous. We would expect that regardless of whether they are heritage buildings, if they are a danger to public safety they should be dealt with shortly.
Economy—Reserve Bank Forecasts for 10 March 2011
2. DAVID BENNETT (National—Hamilton East) to the Minister of Finance: What do this morning’s Reserve Bank economic forecasts show?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): The forecasts show that both consumer spending and business investment increased only modestly in the second half of 2010. There were recently some signs of an upturn but the earthquake has had a significant impact. The immediate impact will be to cut GDP by about 0.6 percent in the March quarter, and the Reserve Bank believes that growth
this year will be relatively weak. The earthquake impact comes on top of an economy that was already a bit weaker than expected before Christmas.
David Bennett: What is the outlook for interest rates and exchange rates over the next few years?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Although the Reserve Bank is forecasting growth to peak at over 4 percent in 2013 and unemployment to reach below 5 percent, it believes that the interest rate cycle will be relatively subdued. Inflation is expected to be stable, and the picture on interest rates is similar. Although the current low official cash rate will not last indefinitely, the bank projects that 90-day rates will lift gradually to 4.6 percent by 2014, which is a low peak compared with the last cycle, where the official cash rate reached almost double that figure.
David Bennett: What discussions took place between the Government and the Reserve Bank prior to today’s official cash rate announcement?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: More discussion took place than usual. About 2 weeks ago, just after the quake, the Reserve Bank contacted us and suggested that in the presence of a national emergency policy makers might best be mutually informed of the likely crisis response. We agreed and we briefed the bank on the emergency measures that the Government was taking and how it was likely to impact on the 2011 Budget. The bank, in turn, described its own economic forecasts, its thoughts on the appropriate stance for monetary policy, and the availability of cash and banking services in Christchurch. At all times the official cash rate decision remained with the Government; I was not entirely sure until this morning what the decision would be.
David Bennett: What are the implications of today’s forecasts for the rest of the Government’s programme?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: It is good to see that the projections of the Reserve Bank include increases in household savings. According to the bank, New Zealanders will continue to increase their savings rate. The bank expects that the Government will be back to financial surplus around 2014-15. This projection fits in with our own intentions.
Official Cash Rate—Reduction
3. Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE (Labour—New Lynn) to the Minister of Finance: By what amount has the Reserve Bank lowered the official cash rate today, and what reason has the bank given for this action?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): As the member will know, the governor has reduced the official cash rate by 50 basis points to 2.5 percent. It noted that the Christchurch earthquake had caused considerable disruption. Although it is difficult to know how large or long lasting this will be, the bank has said that economic activity will be negatively affected. Secondly, the Reserve Bank noted, as I have previously in the House, that before the earthquake the growth was weaker than expected through the second half of 2010, because households had been careful with their money and the agricultural sector has been paying off its debt. The Reserve Bank noted that the signs that the economy was picking up in early 2011 have been more than offset by the earthquake.
Hon David Cunliffe: By how much did the Reserve Bank revise downwards its estimate of economic growth in the last quarter of 2010 in today’s Monetary Policy Statement?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I cannot give the member an exact answer, but I am sure it did revise it down. I think if we go back we will find that it has revised down its forecasts for two or three quarters of this year, as well.
Hon David Cunliffe: Given that the bank has revised down its pre-earthquake forecast for the last quarter of last year, and confirmed that the economy was either flat or in recession for the last two quarters of last year, can the Minister say how much his tax cuts stimulated the economy, given the bank’s comments that “Even before the earthquake, GDP growth was much weaker than expected”?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: It is always hard to judge what might have happened if we had not put up the tax package. I think it is important to remember, though, that the tax package was broadly fiscally neutral. It was not expected to stimulate the economy, because whatever people were getting through income tax cuts they were paying back to the Government through higher GST or higher tax on property.
Hon David Cunliffe: Have households been net savers or dissavers in the last 2 years according to Reserve Bank data released today?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I think the data will show that—to use the member’s term—the rate of dissaving has slowed. In 2007 New Zealand households were spending something like $1.11 for every dollar they earned. The Reserve Bank forecasts show that we will have positive savings rates over the next 12 or 18 months for the first time in 20 years. That is good for the economy.
Hon David Cunliffe: Given that the Reserve Bank has confirmed today that it estimates households will not actually start positive saving until 2013, and have continued to increase their borrowings since the Minister took office, how can he possibly blame the deepening national recession on household saving?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Well, I disagree with the member’s idea of a deepening national recession. The fact is that the usual way in which the New Zealand economy recovers is for people to go back to the shops, go back to the housing market, and start spending on the back of easier credit. That is simply not happening this time, because banks are not going to lend more money to people to drive up house prices and to encourage retailing. So people are saving, and they are getting on top their debt. That means a flatter economy in the short term, but a stronger one in the long term.
Hon Sir Roger Douglas: Will the Minister explain to the Prime Minister that his instructions to the Governor of the Reserve Bank on interest rates only create uncertainty in the minds of investors, particularly overseas investors, thereby killing off a good deal of investment that might otherwise have taken place?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: There were no instructions to the Reserve Bank governor. As he said this morning, he made the decision about interest rates on his view of the economy.
Fuel Prices, Increase—Effect on Economy
4. GARETH HUGHES (Green) to the Minister of Finance: What will be the impact of the recent fuel price rise on the New Zealand economy, including impacts on GDP, consumer spending, and the current account?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): The impact on each of those amounts will be adverse, but it is too early to say by how much. The spike in oil prices has happened fairly quickly, with prices trending up since September last year. The rise in prices at the pump has been boosted by the recent weakness of the New Zealand dollar, although that weakness in the New Zealand dollar is generally beneficial to the economy. What happens from here depends on how long the lift in international prices is sustained.
Gareth Hughes: Does he agree with analysts at Morgan Stanley who say that sharp increases in global oil prices pose the biggest threat to the global economy and that the last five major recessions followed oil price shocks?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I think we are all concerned about the impact of a sharp rise in oil prices, in terms of both the pressure it could put on households and the way it takes more resources from our economy to keep petrol and diesel running. However, we are resilient. The latest spike is not yet as big a spike as the one experienced in 2008. We have plenty to do to get this economy in better order, but we cannot actually influence the oil prices.
Craig Foss: What impact has the general lift in commodity prices had on New Zealand’s income and economy?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: We need to keep in mind that part of the general lift in commodity prices is record high prices for the commodities we sell, as well as higher prices for the ones we buy, such as oil. The net impact is measured by terms of trade. Overall, our terms of trade have lifted 25 percent in the past decade. New Zealand has been a net beneficiary from the significant increase in commodity prices, including the price of oil.
Gareth Hughes: Does he expect—as many commentators expect—that the next decade will see continuing oil price spikes?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: It is possible. That is why, if we are to expect continued instability in oil prices, we need a resilient economy that is able to adapt quickly both in a straight economic sense and in terms of how people live their lives.
Gareth Hughes: Why does New Zealand not have a strategy to reduce our current vulnerability to higher oil prices, as many other countries do?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: People are pretty sensible. When they see prices going up, they start thinking about whether they want to continue with their energy-intensive business or lifestyle. As it happens, over the years New Zealand, as I understand it, has become less energy-intensive in its production, which is a trend that will probably continue if oil prices keep going up.
Gareth Hughes: How is spending $10 billion on new motorways reducing our vulnerability to higher oil prices?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Spending on the motorways creates a more efficient traffic system whereby commuters get better value out of what they invest in their cars, bus fares, and petrol. We are keen to make sure we finish the current roading infrastructure investment because, despite the earthquake, it is important for New Zealand’s long-term productivity and standard of living.
Gareth Hughes: For Kiwis who are struggling at the pump at the moment, how will the $10 billion the Government is spending on motorways help Kiwis who start walking or cycling and who flock to the buses and trains, as large numbers did in 2008 during the last oil shock?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: It will help in two ways. It means that when they catch the bus it will actually spend more of its time travelling than sitting at the traffic lights. Buses are the most common form of public transport, and they need efficient roads to be effective. They cannot be run on railway tracks. It is the same with cars.
Gareth Hughes: Will the Minister finally support an inquiry into how New Zealand can best protect its economy from high oil prices?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Probably not. When we talk about strategies to deal with high oil prices, we see that the fact is that the best strategy is for people to see the price signals and change their behaviour accordingly. The Greens understand that strategy because it is the theory and practice behind the emissions trading system, which is precisely about sending a price signal to people, although in that case it is about carbon usage.
Question No. 5 to Minister
Hon DAVID PARKER (Labour): I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Given that neither the Minister for Economic Development nor the Acting Minister for Economic Development is in the Chamber, I seek leave to carry over my question to the next sitting day.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought for the question to be carried over to the next sitting day. Is there is any objection to that? There is objection.
Economic Development, Acting Minister—Duration of Appointment
5. Hon DAVID PARKER (Labour) to the Acting Minister for Economic Development: Has he been advised by the Prime Minister whether his appointment as Acting Minister for Economic Development is temporary or expected to carry on to the election?
Hon SIMON POWER (Acting Leader of the House) on behalf of the Acting Minister for Economic Development: No. The advice the Acting Minister received from the Prime Minister is
the same as what he has stated publicly—namely, that these changes have been made for the foreseeable future and will be kept under review as the recovery progresses.
Hon David Parker: Given that his appointment is, as he has just said, for the foreseeable future, can he please tell the House what new plans he has to halt the slide in the New Zealand economy?
Hon SIMON POWER: I can do no better than borrow a phrase from history used by the Hon John Tamihere in response to a similar type of question, and that answer was “Heaps!”.
Hon David Parker: Is the Minister aware that there are already low levels of confidence in the economy, and does he think it was wise, then, for members of his Government to add to New Zealanders’ feelings of insecurity by softening up the public for possible cuts to Working for Families and student loans?
Hon SIMON POWER: In respect of the second part of the question, I do not believe that is what the Minister did, or that the Government has done, in any case.
Hon David Parker: Given those very low levels of confidence, why is the Government continuing to speculate on effective increases in taxes for middle-income New Zealanders via cuts to Working for Families and student loans?
Hon SIMON POWER: The member opposite should not assume any of those things and should wait and see what the Government has in store.
Hon David Parker: Why can the Minister not see that more responsible leadership is needed to ensure that the wheels of the economy turn rather than fall off, and when will he bring forward some new ideas to get the economy running?
Hon SIMON POWER: In respect of the first part of the question, responsible leadership in these areas is well and truly entrenched and under way.
Public Transport, Wellington—Rail Network Improvements
6. KATRINA SHANKS (National) to the Minister of Transport: What action is the Government taking to improve Wellington’s train network?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister of Transport): Today I announced a further funding package from the Government that will bring Wellington’s metro rail back up to a high and reliable standard for commuters. The Government is committing a further $88 million for the upgrade of the remaining signalling and power supplies in Wellington. In addition, the Government will also cofund the Greater Wellington Regional Council’s $80 million refurbishment of the 30-year-old Ganz Mavag units with the help of the New Zealand Transport Agency. This funding comes on top of the existing $383 million upgrade, which includes the new Matangi trains.
Katrina Shanks: What other changes have been announced today as part of the package?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: The Greater Wellington Regional Council has agreed to share the cost of, and responsibilities for, delivering these and future improvements to Wellington’s rail system. The New Zealand Transport Agency will now fund rail on the same basis as it funds other forms of public transport, including a move to a 50 percent funding rate over 10 years, but also funding the capital improvements. The council will pay a realistic track access charge to KiwiRail, with a subsidy from the New Zealand Transport Agency that reflects the fair cost of maintaining the track and other assets. The Wellington rail network has been a considerable and ongoing source of frustration for many commuters and it took the previous Government a huge amount of time to get around to doing anything about it. This package, coupled with the previous investments, will transform the service into a modern, reliable public transport option for Wellingtonians.
Chris Hipkins: Why is the Government not funding the full cost of the Wellington rail upgrade, which will mean that Wellingtonians will face increased rates to fund the rest of it, and why should they not feel like they are getting the rough end of the deal, given that he is spending 15 times what he has allocated for Wellington rail on his “Holiday Highway” north of Auckland?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I realise that Mr Hipkins is one of the Labour Party people who thinks that Government money is costless, but, actually, it is not; it comes from taxpayers. This is a very
good partnership between taxpayers; the Greater Wellington Regional Council; KiwiRail, which is contributing some assets; and the New Zealand Transport Agency, which is contributing transport subsidies. It is a very good package and I am sure that the member could endorse it because it will be very good for Wellingtonians, including members of his own electorate.
Kris Faafoi: Will the Minister reassure Wellington rail commuters that they will not face fare increases until the service has actually improved; if not, why not?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: If the member had done his research he would know that the fares for Wellington rail are set by the Greater Wellington Regional Council, not by the Government. That happens to be the reality of it. It is important to note, as we have said previously, that many years of mismanagement of the Wellington rail network—including a good number of years by the previous Government before it got its act into gear and started making some form of investment—has meant that there has to be a catch-up, which has to be met in a fair way between all the stakeholders, including passengers, ratepayers, and taxpayers.
Hon Sir Roger Douglas: Has the Minister seen the comments of Dr Roderick Deane in a recent speech that the rail network will be valued at $14.5 billion by 2015, yet KiwiRail will not generate any surpluses over the next 5 years, and does he agree that pouring money into projects that do not yield any return is a sure path to fiscal crisis?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: There is a whole range of answers and I am struggling to pick one. The point that I would make to Dr Deane is that one has a sunk asset that one has to decide whether one is going—
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I just wonder whether instead of leaning over, the member could—
Mr SPEAKER: No, I will not have that.
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: One would think the member for Hutt South would have some interest—
Mr SPEAKER: We will not have any of that. The House will come to order.
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: The important thing, which perhaps Dr Deane does not realise, is that passenger transport in both Wellington and Auckland—and, in fact, around the world—have never made profits. They provide congestion benefits to motorists, which is why public transport subsidies are in place. In regards to his other assertions about the rail network generally, I do have concerns about the value of that asset. The Government certainly has concerns and we think the previous Government overpaid hugely to return that asset to the public fold. We are making the best of a bad situation and seeking to get the best possible return we can from that asset.
Pike River Mine Tragedy—Government Funding for Recovery of Victims
7. Hon DAMIEN O’CONNOR (Labour) to the Prime Minister: Can he assure the families of those killed in the Pike River mine disaster that Government funding will be available for the recovery of bodies, given the mine is now in the receivers’ hands?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Deputy Prime Minister) on behalf of the Prime Minister: As the Government has said many times, the key issue in deciding whether the recovery of the bodies could take place is the safety and stability of the mine. Money has not been an issue.
Hon Damien O’Connor: How can the grieving families of the 29 Pike River miners trapped in the mine be reassured that every effort is being made to recover their remains when receiver John Fisk has stated that “the body recovery operation is the responsibility of the police and that operation stopped some time ago.”, and when the receiver has now announced the possible sale of the whole mine?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The recovery operation by the police came to an end simply because it appeared to be making no progress in the face of the difficulties of stabilising the mine and making it safe to go in there. Authorities such as the police maintain the same interest in the recovery of the bodies, regardless of who owns the mine.
Hon Damien O’Connor: Can the Prime Minister then assure the families that any new owner of the mine will also have a legal and moral obligation to pay for the recovery of the remains of their loved ones who are still trapped in the mine?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The member is raising some complicated issues, I think, to do with conferring an obligation on an owner in the face of the stability and safety problems in the mine. That is a matter that no doubt we could get some advice on, but I would simply restate the case: money has not been an issue. There has been significant money spent there in order to try to get some safety and stability in the mine. Unfortunately, that has not occurred, but the authorities still maintain the same interest in the cause of death and the recovery of those bodies.
Hon Damien O’Connor: Does the Prime Minister’s statement “I gave a commitment to the families at Pike River that I would do everything I could to get their men out and I stand by that” mean that he will guarantee to fund the recovery of their remains, or is that statement about as reliable as the one that stated he would not increase GST?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I will not dignify that comment on the very real commitment that all people have shown towards the recovery of those bodies. If the member wants to make a political circus out of it, that is up to him. Those bodies are still there. The Crown has taken every step it possibly can. The hurdle is the safety and stability of the mine—not the receivers, not the new owners. There is no other obstacle but the safety and stability of the mine. If the efforts made by the police to try to secure the mine had been successful, of course we would be in there recovering those bodies. No one has yet, in my view, come up with a plan that goes anywhere near achieving the safety and stability that would be required to go 2½ kilometres into the mountain, retrieve the bodies, and come 2½ kilometres out, and do it all on foot, which would be the only viable way to do it.
Earthquake, Christchurch—Replacement Toilets
8. COLIN KING (National—Kaikōura) to the Minister of Civil Defence: Is the Government satisfied with the provision of replacement toilets for earthquake-affected Christchurch residents?
Hon JOHN CARTER (Minister of Civil Defence): The answer is yes; 88 percent of Christchurch City now has water, and it is expected that by the end of this weekend 95 to 96 percent of households will have water. As for the other 4 percent, because it is difficult to ascertain the situation, we are asking those people who do not have water by the end of the weekend to ring 941 8999 to tell the Christchurch City Council. We want those homes to get water on and the toilets to then be flushed so that we can ascertain whether the sewerage system is working. We ask them to check in their backyards and in their streets to see whether there are any difficulties, and if difficulties occur, we ask people to ring 941 8999 to tell the council. About 60 percent of homes, as we understand at the moment, have usable toilets. The problem we have is that there is so much siltation in the pipes that we need to carry on ascertaining the damage, and many of those pipes will have to be jet-blasted so that we can know what is there. In the meantime, 40,131 temporary toilets, both Portaloo toilets and chemical toilets, have been sourced. Some have yet to arrive, but civil defence is getting them into Christchurch and out to affected people as quickly as possible. We are using military personnel to deliver the temporary toilets. I can tell members that I was speaking with a controller just before I came down to the House, and the toilets are being checked regularly to make sure we are delivering them as widely as we can.
Colin King: Is the Government concerned about the possible outbreak of disease, in the light of sanitary conditions and the need for neighbourhoods to share Portaloo toilets?
Hon JOHN CARTER: Yes, we are, of course. Communicable disease risks from gastroenteritis are being monitored, planned for, and managed. So far no unusual spikes have been seen. In media conferences and advisories, civil defence and Ministry of Health officials continue to remind residents to boil drinking water, regardless of where it comes from. They should also boil water that
is being used to clean wounds. Advice includes reminders to wash hands or use hand sanitisers. Free hand sani tisers are available from water-tanker sites.
Women—Significant Improvement Initiated by Government
9. CAROL BEAUMONT (Labour) to the Minister of Women’s Affairs: Can she outline a significant improvement for women initiated by the current Government?
Hon HEKIA PARATA (Minister of Women's Affairs): Tēnā koe, Mr Speaker. Bringing about real and sustainable change in the long tradition of Aotearoa New Zealand is about the leadership of women themselves. This Government has recognised and respected that, by providing resources and tools to support women, and to translate their interests, skills, and ambitions into practical effect through the development of “my board strengths” initiative, the Women on Boards’ self-assessment tool, to be officially launched next week. The toolkit supports women’s own abilities to make smart decisions about developing their governance skills, with a view to lifting women’s representation in governance in the public and private sectors. The “my board strengths” forms part of the new and improved Women on Boards website.
Carol Beaumont: Why were most of the achievements recently outlined by the Government in the report on progress on the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, initiatives of the previous Labour Government, while the negative changes from National were left out?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women report was the fifth report over the last 50 years. I think it is somewhat arrogant to suggest that all of the changes somehow occurred in one administration. As I said in my previous—
Carol Beaumont: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The question was specifically referring to the last report, not all five reports.
Mr SPEAKER: I think the member is being a little hasty in raising a point of order. My greater concern was that a question was asked and an answer was being given, and the noise was pretty excessive.
Hon Annette King: Because it was political.
Mr SPEAKER: Well, to suggest the question was not political, I think is stretching it a bit.
Hon HEKIA PARATA: As I said in my response to the primary question, Aotearoa New Zealand has a long tradition of New Zealand women themselves taking responsibility, taking leadership, for the decisions about the lives they lead. The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women report captures some parts of that journey—the parts that the Government contributes to—but there is a whole wide world that women themselves are in charge of, and that is what this Government is committed to supporting.
Carol Beaumont: What is the Ministry of Women’s Affairs saying or doing about the changes to the Employment Relations Act that will enable the dismissal of workers without reason or recourse from 1 April, and that will disproportionately impact on women?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: The Government has taken a widespread approach to the way in which we can engage women across the entire economy. That means we are looking for opportunities for them to be given chances to be taken on into employment areas where they might not otherwise be taken on. That means we have seen that the occupational segregation that has forced women into lower-paid opportunities must be addressed. That means we have focused on the pay disparity gap that that side of the House has generally focused on. We have seen that gap, for instance, moving in the right direction, and falling from 13 percent in 2008 to 11.3 percent in 2009, and to 10.6 percent in 2010, an indicator only—
Mr SPEAKER: I accept that the question contained a couple of statements that were certainly capable of being disputed. But it did not actually invite a prolonged speech. I think the answer has been quite long enough.
Carol Beaumont: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I think the question was quite specific in referring to the changes to the Employment Relations Act—
Mr SPEAKER: No, no—the member will resume her seat now. I am not going even to invite her to repeat her question, because in it she made a couple of assertions that were completely capable of being commented on by the Minister. The Minister chose to respond to the latter part of the question, and if the member wants to have a question answered she should keep it short, and cut out the last two parts of that last question.
Carol Beaumont: Does the Minister agree with her colleague Kate Wilkinson that New Zealand women who are underpaid, and who are facing ever-rising prices and struggling to make ends meet, should be “grateful that there is a National Government that has a focus of lifting economic performance and ensuring the well-being of families and communities.”?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: As I have already said, this Government is committed to raising opportunities for all women to participate in the economy, and in ways where their work and their potential is properly rewarded and valued.
Catherine Delahunty: Tēnā koe, Mr Speaker. Despite the generic figures she has mentioned, does she agree that we do not have enough information on the gender pay gap to know whether the problem is one of equal pay, or pay equity, or both, and how can we close that gap if we do not report robustly on these problems?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: The gender pay gap as it is discussed in New Zealand at the moment is one indicator only. It compares the average of women’s and men’s work across the entire economy, so it does not take into account texture of qualification, places of work, length of service, and so on and so forth; so, yes, there needs to be more work on a wider range of issues so that we can address the causes of that gap.
Earthquake, Christchurch—Continuity of Early Childhood Education and Schooling
10. ALLAN PEACHEY (National—Tāmaki) to the Minister of Education: What provisions have been made to ensure continuity of early childhood education and schooling in the Christchurch region since the 22 February earthquake?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY (Minister of Education): I am pleased to inform the House that, as of this morning, 80 schools and 165 early childhood education centres have opened. In addition, at least another 30 schools and 45 early childhood centres have said that they are planning to open either tomorrow or on Monday. This means that by the beginning of next week approximately 40,000 students will be back at school and continuing their education. Around the country a number of Christchurch children have enrolled in other schools. To give schools certainty we are effectively double-funding these students by funding them in their new school and in their original Christchurch school. This and other measures are expected to cost around $20 million.
Allan Peachey: What provision has been made for the students of those schools that are so severely damaged that they will not be able to open this term?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY: Schools in Christchurch are being extremely flexible and are looking at very innovative solutions to ensure continuity of schooling. In some cases we are looking to share school sites. For example, next week Shirley Boys High School will share the Papanui High School site, with Papanui High School using the classrooms in the morning, and Shirley Boys High School using them in the afternoon. In other cases we are putting relocatable classrooms on to school playgrounds. Where schools can open but do have severe infrastructure issues, we are working on a number of solutions. For example, the Defence Force is working to develop temporary sewerage systems, and we are bringing water on to school sites. The Farmy Army has also helped to clear the results of liquefaction at 10 school sites.
Allan Peachey: What reports has she had of the initial response to the earthquake in schools?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY: I am very pleased to say that the schools had worked on their earthquake drills, and the children were very well rehearsed. We have had no reports of serious injury on
school-grounds. I take this opportunity to thank principals, teachers, and other school staff for their support for pupils. I have had reports that teachers stayed on-site with children until well into the early evening, waiting for their parents to come and collect them. Those teachers and principals had problems in their own homes and with their own families, but they did not leave before they had made sure that every single child was accounted for and safely with their family.
Te Ururoa Flavell: Tēnā koe, Mr Speaker. Kia ora tātou. Will any extra resources be made available to schools outside of Christchurch, such as Te Kura Kaupapa Māori Hoani Waititi in Auckland, Te Kura Māori o Porirua, or Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Ruamatā, which have had a quite big influx of students because of the earthquake?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY: Yes. I should acknowledge the fact that many kura and, in fact, many other schools throughout New Zealand have done a fantastic job of welcoming Christchurch students into their schools and making provision not only for them but also for their families. We are double-funding; we are paying those kura and schools for those students, even though they are still enrolled in schools back in Christchurch schools that are being paid for them. We are dealing as we can with those schools that need extra resources to cope with those students, on a case by case basis. But we are asking schools to try to share the students amongst the network, so that we do not put pressure on our property; of course, all the temporary property is being directed down to Christchurch.
MediaWorks—Advice on Perceived Conflict of Interest
11. Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Labour—Hutt South) to the Minister for Communications
and Information Technology: What advice did he receive on any perceived conflict of interest before he took part in the Cabinet decision that led to the deferral of the requirement for MediaWorks to pay its frequency licence to the Crown?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister for Communications and Information Technology): I sought Cabinet Office advice on whether I faced a potential conflict of interest as a result of my previous association with the radio industry. That advice confirmed that I did not face a conflict in relation to this matter. Nevertheless, I made sure that my Cabinet colleagues were aware of my previous association, and this was noted.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Why did Gerry Brownlee lead negotiations with broadcasters around this package?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I have no idea what the member is referring to. The decision was made by Cabinet, and the paper went forward under my name.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Why was it that Gerry Brownlee and his office had a series of discussions with the broadcasters before that Minister was involved; was that informal, or had he recused himself?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: The approach that I received was from the Radio Broadcasters Association, and that is the approach that the Government responded to. I am aware that a number of broadcasters at different times approached other Ministers about their concerns, but it was formally dealt with by me through the association. It was taken to Cabinet, and all of Cabinet discussed and agreed on the outcome.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Was 2degrees offered a similar arrangement for its spectrum; if not, why not?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: No, and that is because the approach was made by the Radio Broadcasters Association and 2degrees is, of course, not a member of the association because it is a cellphone company. But the important thing was that Cabinet was asked to consider whether, because the frequencies were due to be paid right at the point of the worst recession since the depression back in the 1930s, the association could make a delayed payment option available, and after discussion it was decided to do so. I should note that this has actually been in the public domain for the last 18 months. If the member has concerns about other things he might have
missed, there is a website called www.beehive.govt.nz, which he might like to refer to and where he could search for other press releases that he missed at the time.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Is the 11 percent interest rate available to small Kiwi information and communications technology entrepreneurs who owe the Government money, or only to foreignowned media companies with which he has a long-term relationship?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: The point I need to make to the member again is that the rate was available to all those radio frequency holders who were due to renew at that time. His comment about associations is interesting. I think the member is trying to suggest that if somebody was involved with an industry at some point in their past career, they should not be able to be the Minister in relation to that industry. This is an intriguing position, given that as a former teacher he was the Minister of Education afterwards and Annette King, a former dental nurse, turned out to be the former Minister of Health.
Mr SPEAKER: We do not get into that kind of personal direction in answering a question.
Hon Steven Joyce: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I think we have got into that sort of personal situation. I was responding in kind.
Mr SPEAKER: That is not a point of order, and the Minister should know that. Members of this House are perfectly at liberty to ask members about perceived or potential conflicts of interest, and Ministers are responsible for answering to this House where there may be any such perception. I will be watching very carefully to make sure that the member does not question the Minister about his personal affairs.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Was he cognisant of the pending staffing cuts to TVNZ 7 when he approved this deferral for the foreign-owned company?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I reject the assertion in the question. It was offered to all frequency holders who were due to make payments at that time—a deferred payment that involved them paying interest and making their payments over a period of time.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. It was a straightforward question, which asked whether he was cognisant of the pending cuts to TVNZ 7 when he approved this deferral to a foreign-owned company. That was not addressed. Was he cognisant of—
Hon Simon Power: He said he rejected the assertion.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Rejected which assertion?
Mr SPEAKER: The Acting Leader of the House should know that he does not interject during a point of order, because that is when we get into a messy situation. The Minister, in answering the question, in my view answered it by pointing out that all broadcasters, as I understand it from his answer, had access to deferral arrangements. His answer, I think, implied there was no favouritism to any one company over any other, and I believe he therefore answered the significant part of the question. The member has a further supplementary question in which to pursue the matter further, if he wishes.
Hon Member: Didn’t you understand English, Trevor?
Hon Trevor Mallard: The intellectuals speak—
Mr SPEAKER: We will not have this. Members can see that when they interject like that, they are likely to cause disorder.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Was he cognisant of the pending funding and staffing cuts to TVNZ 7 when he approved this process of deferral?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: The decision was made in 2009, I point out to the member, and it was announced in 2009, which was the point I was trying to address. The member would have to address any changes to the broadcasting portfolio to the Minister of Broadcasting.
Earthquake, Christchurch—Search and Rescue Progress
12. KANWALJIT SINGH BAKSHI (National) to the Minister of Internal Affairs: What reports has he received on the progress of urban search and rescue and firefighter teams working in Christchurch following the 22 February earthquake?
Hon NATHAN GUY (Minister of Internal Affairs): I have received daily reports and updates since the earthquake. The New Zealand Fire Service attended 3,919 incidents between 22 February and 7 March. This figure includes 155 rescues and just under 2,000 property-related incidents. Currently five urban search and rescue task forces are deployed from New Zealand and overseas, which include 295 highly trained personnel. More than 500 buildings have now been cleared and the focus is moving from large buildings in the centre to smaller structures further out.
Kanwaljit Singh Bakshi: Has the Minister received any report about an increased number of volunteers wanting to join the Fire Service since the Christchurch earthquake?
Hon NATHAN GUY: Yes, I have received some very positive reports of New Zealanders wanting to help out by becoming firefighters. I am told that the number of website inquiries to the Fire Service has tripled since the earthquake, and that applications have increased from an average of five a day to more than 15 a day since the earthquake. This is very encouraging news because the Fire Service relies heavily on both volunteer and professional firefighters to help New Zealanders in times of need.