Questions And Answers Feb 9
(uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing)
THURSDAY, 9 FEBRUARY 2012
QUESTIONS FOR ORAL ANSWER
QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS
Fishing Industry—Set-net Ban
1. GARETH HUGHES (Green) to the Minister for Primary Industries: Will he extend the Taranaki set net ban after the recent death of a Maui’s dolphin in a fishing net?
Hon DAVID CARTER (Minister for Primary Industries): The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry and the Department of Conservation are currently working on a Māui’s dolphin recovery plan. I will wait until that plan been presented before making any decisions on set-net bans in Taranaki. I have certainly asked for that work to be done as quickly as possible.
Gareth Hughes: Can the Minister guarantee that no Māui’s dolphins will die while that recovery plan is being carried out?
Hon DAVID CARTER: No.
Gareth Hughes: Will the Minister take responsibility for the recent Māui’s dolphin death, given that research published by the Ministry of Fisheries in 2005 established that Māui’s dolphins swim in the area where the dolphin died?
Hon DAVID CARTER: No, I will not take responsibility for this death. It is my understanding that when the current set-net ban was established, it was covering the area where Māui’s dolphins were thought to swim. My information is that this is an area where they previously had not found Māui’s dolphins, and that is why we will await the recovery plan before we make further decisions on that ban.
Gareth Hughes: Will the Minister take responsibility for the recent Māui’s dolphin death, given his Government’s inaction following a submission in 2009 including video footage of a Māui’s dolphin swimming in the vicinity in unprotected Taranaki waters?
Hon DAVID CARTER: This Government and the former Government have taken action. The set-net ban was put in place in 2008 by the Hon Jim Anderton. It was subsequently challenged in court, requiring the then Minister, the Hon Phil Heatley, to further review the information and to stick with the extended set-net ban.
Gareth Hughes: Given a Ministry of Fisheries report, video footage submitted to the Government, and now a dead dolphin, what more evidence does the Government need that dolphins swim in these unprotected Taranaki waters for him to act with an extension of the set-net ban?
Hon DAVID CARTER: I have given the member the answer to that question. The information I now want is the completion of the Māui’s dolphin recovery plan. When I get that information, I will further consider that report.
Gareth Hughes: Given that Māui’s dolphins will become extinct if mortality exceeds just one individual over 5 to 7 years, and that we have had two Māui’s dolphin deaths in the last 5 months, why will the Minister not use his powers under the Fisheries Act and put a moratorium on set-net fishing while more research is being carried out?
Hon DAVID CARTER: I certainly accept that this is a species under extreme threat of extinction. Set-net banning—and the influence of human interaction—is but one factor in the death of these dolphins. I will work with the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, I will work with the Department of Conservation, and I will await the report of the recovery plan before making further decisions.
Gareth Hughes: Given the Minister’s inability to guarantee that more Māui’s dolphins will not die on his watch and his refusal to implement greater protection measures now, is he prepared to be an accessory to extinction?
Hon DAVID CARTER: This is a relatively small population. It is an endangered species, but there are a number of reasons why this extinction could be caused, of which human interaction is but one.
Gareth Hughes: I seek leave to table this DVD containing a 31-second video shot by Taranaki fisherman Ray O’Donnell of a Māui’s dolphin in the area where the Government alleges Māui’s dolphins do not travel in Taranaki.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is no objection. I remind members that points of order should be heard in silence. DVD, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Economic Relationship with China—Government Initiatives
2. DAVID BENNETT (National—Hamilton East) to the Minister for Economic
Development: What actions is the Government taking to boost economic linkages with China?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister for Economic Development): Last Friday I attended the launch by the Prime Minister of the China Strategy, which provides a clear direction for Government action over the next 5 years and aims to double two-way trade with China, from $10 billion to $20 billion, by 2015. Our efforts will focus on sectors with scale and growth capacity: food and beverage, agribusiness, information and communications technology, and high-value manufacturing, together with growing services in tourism and international education. Some examples of how we will achieve this include working with exporters on how to do business in China, facilitating more direct links to China, and negotiation of a fisheries and aquaculture arrangement.
David Bennett: How does the Government’s actions in China fit into its broader economic development strategy?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: In order to provide long-term, sustainable jobs and competitive industries, businesses must be able to access customers and markets, and this is where the Government can assist. In fact, it is one of the six key drivers of business growth we are focused on. China is the second strategy to be launched following the launch of the India Strategy last October. In addition to India and China, other strategies under development include the US, Australia, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and the European Union.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Do the Government’s attempts to boost economic linkages with China include a representative of the Chinese Government making representations to the New Zealand Government on Chinese businesses buying productive New Zealand land?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I am not aware of any such representations.
David Bennett: How important is China to New Zealand’s economy?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: It is very important. China is, in fact, our second-biggest trading partner now, and of course Australia is our largest trading partner. Coincidentally, Australia has China as its largest trading partner. The current global economic uncertainty has only reinforced the importance of China to this country. That is why the attitude of the Opposition parties is hard to understand. They claim they want more jobs and better wages—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The question was from the member’s own colleague and I do not think we need to get into Opposition parties on those grounds.
Hon Shane Jones: Can the Minister confirm that the actions of the Government in relation to China include the dispatching of Christchurch Mayor Bob Parker there?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I think the Mayor of Christchurch went under his own steam.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: If a representative of the Chinese Government did make representations to the New Zealand Government on Chinese businesses buying productive New Zealand land, would he be expected to know about it?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: No, not specifically, and I would remind the member that countries and members of countries make representations to Ministers all the time about all sorts of things.
Election Advertising—Prime Minister’s Radio Live Show
3. GRANT ROBERTSON (Deputy Leader—Labour) to the Prime Minister: Does he stand by his statement that his hour-long show on Radio Live on 30 September 2011 was an “election free zone”?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE (Minister for Canterbury Earthquake Recovery) on behalf of the Prime Minister: Yes.
Grant Robertson: Did he or his office seek or receive advice from the Electoral Commission on whether the “hour with the PM” show could breach electoral broadcasting law; if so, what did that advice say?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: I am informed the Prime Minister’s office discussed the matter with the broadcaster. Radio Live, I understand, then sought advice from the Electoral Commission. After receiving that advice, Radio Live decided to go forward with the programme.
Grant Robertson: Will the Prime Minister be declaring the value of an hour of free radio time as a donation, as required under the Electoral Act?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: The Prime Minister has no obligations under the Electoral Act.
Grant Robertson: Has the Prime Minister received any advice as to the value of an hour’s air time on Radio Live, and was this reflected in the declaration of donations for that period?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: I am unable to answer that question at this point.
Grant Robertson: If the show was an election-free zone, as the Prime Minister has said, and he was not there for the purpose of getting electoral advantage for himself and the National Party, what reason did he actually have for hosting the show?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: Thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, millions of New Zealanders find everything he says just fascinating.
Grant Robertson: Has he or his office sought advice as to whether he has abetted a crime under section 66 of the Crimes Act by hosting the “hour with the PM” on Radio Live?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: This matter is currently referred to the police. The police are investigating Radio Live in this matter.
4. Dr PAUL HUTCHISON (National—Hunua) to the Minister of Health: What improvements, if any, have been made to the Government’s national health targets?
Hon TONY RYALL (Minister of Health):Preventive health is very important to this Government, and that is why we are lifting health targets in this vital area. For example, in the area of immunisation, the target is moving from 2-year-olds to 8-month-olds, and this is important because we will ensure more infants are protected from infectious diseases like measles, whooping cough, and pneumoccocal disease. When we came to office, only over 70 percent of 2-year-olds were immunised—just over 70 percent. Now 92 percent of 2-year-olds are fully immunised, with virtually no difference between the rates for Māori, Pacific, and general New Zealanders. We have
also announced the new target for more heart and diabetes checks, which will be very important for preventing, detecting, and managing heart disease and diabetes.
Dr Paul Hutchison: What other improvements are being made to deliver shorter waits for cancer treatment?
Hon TONY RYALL: The Government has announced that we are strengthening the cancer waiting times target by including chemotherapy in the shorter waits target, and so on 1 July 2012 all cancer patients ready for radiation or chemotherapy treatment should begin that treatment within the world gold standard of 4 weeks. Just a few years ago, people had to travel to Australia for vital radiation treatment, and no one has had to do this since late 2008.
Hon Maryan Street: If the Minister considers prevention a useful part of improving New Zealanders’ health and achieving these health targets, how will the prevention of obesity and all its contingent diseases be achieved, given the fact that nutrition and physical exercise programmes such as Healthy Eating - Healthy Action and Mission-On have been axed?
Hon TONY RYALL: Well, actually, the Government is spending many, many millions of dollars promoting healthy eating and healthy action. We certainly have got a huge investment, particularly in the Kiwisport programme, championed by the Prime Minister, where $20 million is going in to help schools make young people more active. Our young people today are far less active than they were 20 years ago, and that is why the Kiwisport investment is so important for dealing with that.
Hon Maryan Street: So if the Minister does consider prevention a useful part of achieving health targets, what preventative measures is he promoting to address the health effects of increasing inequality, as described in the New Zealand Herald today?
Hon TONY RYALL: I think the Government is making huge progress in improving the standard of health care for all New Zealanders. New Zealand’s levels of rheumatic fever were at scandalous Third World levels under the previous Labour Government. Annette King made it a health priority in 2001, and then did absolutely nothing about it. This Government is investing $24 million over 3 years in a programme to stamp out rheumatic fever, a Third World disease that that party opposite talked about and did absolutely nothing about.
Dr Paul Hutchison: Why is the Government lifting performance in the health targets?
Hon TONY RYALL: That is a very good question. The national health targets drive improved public services right across the health system. You cannot speed up an emergency department without improving the way that a whole hospital runs, with quicker access to X-rays, to magnetic resonance imaging scans, to CT scans, to a bed, or to surgery. You cannot immunise more kids if you have not got primary care working well, and you cannot provide more heart and diabetes checks if hospitals and primary care are not working together. That is the success of the national health targets—it is driving whole-of-systems performance improvement.
Earthquakes, Canterbury and Christchurch—Raising Funds for Recovery
5. Hon LIANNE DALZIEL (Labour—Christchurch East) to the Minister for Canterbury
Earthquake Recovery: Did he discuss with the Christchurch City Mayor reported claims that there had been overtures from within The Treasury that there was scope for the city’s rates to be increased or for assets to be sold to pay for the quake recovery, and that this could be done under the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Act before he called him a clown; if not, why not?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE (Minister for Canterbury Earthquake Recovery): No.
Hon Lianne Dalziel: Has he been briefed about what Treasury officials said to the mayor; if not, why did he describe the mayor’s quoted statements as an outrageous abdication of his responsibilities and call him a clown, when he does not know what was said?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: In the days leading up to that particular injudicious comment from me there were numerous discussions going on with the council—between the senior executives, the mayor, me, and the senior executives of the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority—over a
number of issues that we want the council to take some responsibility, alongside us, for. Although Treasury officials will have talked to the council, I am unaware of exactly what that discussion would have been about. But let me tell you that when the Government is spending $5.5 billion anywhere we expect the recipients of that to have some plan for how they will participate in what will be a very, very expensive recovery, and that plan has to be a lot better than saying “We’re just going to put up the rates, and we’re going to borrow a lot more money.”
Hon Lianne Dalziel: When he told the media that section 48(3) of the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Act said that the Minister, quote, “must not direct any council to (a) set a rate under section 23 of the Local Government (Rating) Act 2002;”, was he acknowledging that the Act could be used to force the council and its holding company to sell all or any of its assets, and explaining why the Government voted against our amendment to the legislation when it was going through the House?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: No, and any analysis that would suggest that that is possible is extremely bodgie.
Hon Lianne Dalziel: Can he give a guarantee that the Government will not require Christchurch City Council to sell any of its assets to help pay for the recovery?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: I cannot bind the Christchurch City Council to what it may decide to do.
Hon Lianne Dalziel: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My question was very clear, which was “… that the Government will not require Christchurch City …”. It was a question of whether the Government would not require it, and he has not dealt with that question at all.
Mr SPEAKER: I accept that was exactly what the member’s question was.
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: The member herself has pointed out that capacity for that does not exist under the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Act, and therefore it would have to be a decision by the Christchurch City Council.
Hon Lianne Dalziel: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The question was “Can he give a guarantee that the Government will not require”—
Mr SPEAKER: On this occasion I think the Minister did answer, because in his answer he claimed that the legislation does not give the Government power to do that. So he is basically saying no.
Hon Lianne Dalziel: Can he give a guarantee, as Minister for Canterbury Earthquake Recovery, that neither he nor any member of the Cabinet committee on Canterbury earthquake recovery, which he chairs, has sought or is seeking any external advice on Christchurch’s assets to assess the potential for their sale to help pay for the recovery?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: Speaking to the very specifics of that question, we have asked Treasury, obviously, to give us advice about what the capacity is for Christchurch’s rating base to take on some of the extraordinary expense they have to face in the future. The list is long: a convention centre, a town hall, a new stadium, Centennial Pool in the centre of the city, the QEII complex, the central city library, parking buildings throughout the city, and many service centres, which are all destroyed. That is before you even start talking about some of the parks and other recreational facilities that the council has. It is a billion dollar - plus bill that it has to face, and we are very interested, given that we are putting up $5.5 billion, as to how it might meet that cost.
Local Authorities—Increase in Council Debt Since 2002
6. JACQUI DEAN (National—Waitaki) to the Minister of Local Government: What reports has he received on increases in local government council debt since the Local Government Act 2002 was enacted?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH (Minister of Local Government): The local authority financial reports show that council debt has quadrupled from $2 billion in 2002 to over $8 billion today. The increase
in debt is significantly greater than any other sector, and is noted by local government analyst Larry Mitchell to be the No. 1 issue facing that sector.
Jacqui Dean: Has local government borrowing slowed in response to the global debt crisis, in the same way that households and businesses have become cautious of debt?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: No, household debt grew sharply between 2000 and 2008, but stabilised in 2009 and has reduced in 2010 and 2011. Farm debt has also responded prudently to the global financial crisis and not increased since 2008. In contrast, council debt has been growing at a faster rate—$500 million of borrowing in 2007, $800 million in 2008, $1,100 million in 2009, and $1,800 million in 2010. This ongoing increase in local government debt is not sustainable.
Jacqui Dean: Why is this increase in debt a concern?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: There are three concerns. The first is that council debt is actually just rates deferred. The greater the debt the less opportunity there is in future for containing the cost of rates for households and businesses. Secondly, council debt contributes to New Zealand’s overall indebtedness. Households and businesses are doing their bit by pulling back their borrowing, and local government needs also to tighten its belt. My third concern is that for some councils their level of debt-servicing costs is becoming so great that it puts the financial viability of their council at risk.
Minimum Wage—Minister’s Statements
7. DARIEN FENTON (Labour) to the Minister of Labour: Does she stand by her statement that the new minimum wage announced yesterday “strikes the right balance between protecting low paid workers and ensuring that jobs are not lost.”?
Hon KATE WILKINSON (Minister of Labour): Yes.
Darien Fenton: How is the balance right when New Zealand’s top 48 chief executive officers received an average pay increase of $202,000 in 2010, while thousands of Kiwis on the minimum wage received a pay increase of just 19c an hour in real terms over the past 4 years under her watch?
Hon KATE WILKINSON: As the member knows, the annual task of setting the minimum wage is always a balancing act. It has been a dilemma for many Ministers of Labour. We set it at the rate that we thought was the most sustainable to protect employers’ purchasing power, whilst not jeopardising jobs and resulting in job loses. Had we increased it to $15 per hour, our advice was that this could have resulted in the loss of up to 5,500 jobs. We were not prepared to actually jeopardise those jobs, because our commitment is to job protection, not job destruction.
Darien Fenton: Why does she continue to insist that there will be job losses in increasing the minimum wage, when Treasury advice is to the contrary?
Hon KATE WILKINSON: The member makes a very interesting point, because the Treasury advice also recommended a nil increase. We did not accept that advice. In fact, the Department of Labour’s advice recommended a 30c increase. We actually did not accept that, because we thought a 50c per hour increase was actually fair and reasonable and sustainable in the circumstances.
Darien Fenton: How will she balance the increasing cost of living and low pay for young people on the minimum wage, when she moved this year to pass legislation to cut their minimum wage by 20 percent?
Hon KATE WILKINSON: Certainly, the question of youth unemployment is an issue that we are all grappling with. We want to give employers the incentive to take on young people, and we want a flexible market regime and a flexible employment regime that actually encourages businesses to get ahead, to take on those young people, to get their first foot on that employment ladder.
Darien Fenton: Will the 50c minimum wage increase address income inequality and reduce poverty, or was the Minister of Māori Affairs correct when he said “Such a modest adjustment, from $13 to $13.50, does not reflect the political courage and strategic vision we need to eliminate poverty”, and is this another example of a growing rift with the Māori Party?
Hon KATE WILKINSON: In relation to the last portion of that question, no; but nobody is saying that this is a silver bullet to actually address the poverty issue. This is just one measure, and it is actually interesting when we use the same methodology—
Hon Trevor Mallard: More like a water pistol than a bullet—more like a water pistol!
Hon KATE WILKINSON: —that was used in 2002 by the then Minister, Margaret Wilson— And what I would like to ask of the member who interjected is, why is it that when Labour has an increase in line with wage growth, it is a fairer deal— [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Ministers do not ask other members questions.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I seek leave to table the confidence and supply agreement of 2005 between the New Zealand First Party and Labour, which put the minimum wage up from $9 an hour to $12 an hour.
Mr SPEAKER: The member will now resume his seat. That agreement is public knowledge, and we do not need to waste time tabling such documents.
Hon Dr Pita Sharples: When will the Minister come to the realisation that an extra $16.50 a week, which is the after-tax increase for a person working 40 hours a week on a minimum wage, will not reverse the dark plight of children who are living in minimum wage households, and that if she raised the minimum wage to $16 per hour, which is the Māori Party’s policy, $99 per week would go to those whānau, who really need it?
Hon KATE WILKINSON: Can I say that I do share the honourable member’s concern about children in low-income households. It is an important issue, and one that we discussed during the minimum wage consultation. But, as I have said, the minimum wage is no silver bullet. The Government is assisting low-income workers in a number of ways, including through schemes such as Working for Families. We are determined to create the right environment to encourage businesses to grow and create more jobs, rather than legislate an unsustainable and arbitrary minimum wage level and risk the loss of significant jobs.
Interest Rates and Lending Practices—Protection for Consumers
8. PESETA SAM LOTU-IIGA (National) to the Minister of Consumer Affairs: What recent announcements has the Government made on protecting consumers from loan sharks?
Hon CHRIS TREMAIN (Minister of Consumer Affairs): This week the Government announced a new freephone number to help protect consumers from being preyed on by unscrupulous loan companies. The number, 0800 LOAN STRESS, will give consumers better access to services to help them understand their rights and resolve disputes from finance companies. This will empower people to seek protection when they believe they are getting a raw deal.
Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga: What else is the Government doing to prevent loan sharks from preying on vulnerable people?
Hon CHRIS TREMAIN: The Government will reform consumer credit laws to better protect consumers. This will include preventing essential household items from being used as security for loans, and creating a code of responsible lending. Draft legislation will be released in March, and I will be holding a range of meetings across the country to discuss the issues involved.
Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga: What is the Government doing to target unregistered loan providers?
Hon CHRIS TREMAIN: All financial service providers are currently required to be registered with a dispute resolution service. Unregistered lenders will be targeted through new provisions in the consumer credit law. One of the proposed changes is that if a lender is not registered, the consumer will not be required to pay any of the costs of borrowing. The 0800 LOAN STRESS service will also assist consumers in finding out whether their loan provider is registered, and which dispute resolution service they are registered with.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. This is the first time that I have ever seen this occur in all my time in Parliament, where a question has been put down in the name of a member, has been circulated in the name of a member—in this case Jonathan Young—but between
the publication of the questions and the time of the House, it has been changed. I know of no precedent, and no ability to make that change. You are allowed to change the Minister who answers it, but in the past it has always been done “on behalf of”, after circulation.
Mr SPEAKER: I am not aware of circulation being any particular cut-off time for such matters. A number of changes happened to questions on the question sheet, and I do not think the House need take more time on it. It is an absolutely trivial matter. It is not something that, in my view, we should be concerned about at all.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I think the ability of a member to lodge a question—to have a question in that member’s name—is not a trivial matter, and for it to change after a member has lodged it is unprecedented.
Mr SPEAKER: We do not need to take more time. Clearly the members agree on that. It is not as if it is a problem between parties. Both members are from the same party. There has obviously been agreement that the question should be asked by a different member, and that is the end of the matter, as far as the Speaker is concerned.
NZ On Air Board—Potential Conflicts of Interest
9. CLARE CURRAN (Labour—Dunedin South) to the Minister of Broadcasting: Is he aware that Stephen McElrea is part of a working group within NZ On Air, which includes a representative of MediaWorks, and which is determining details of a documentary about Whānau Ora?
Hon TONY RYALL (Minister of Health) on behalf of the Minister of Broadcasting: The Minister is now aware, because it was discussed in the House yesterday. He was not previously aware, because the Minister is not made aware of decisions made by New Zealand On Air before they are announced by New Zealand On Air or published on the New Zealand On Air website.
Clare Curran: Is he satisfied that it is appropriate that a board member with such a close relationship to the Prime Minister is involved in operational matters in relation to programmes with political implications?
Hon TONY RYALL: The Minister has confidence in the board of New Zealand On Air and the way that it manages its processes. Clearly, a number of New Zealand On Air board members previously have had an association with Prime Ministers, such as the former deputy chairperson Mrs Judy Callingham, who would have been involved in such decisions, I am sure.
Clare Curran: Does he think that Stephen McElrea met the test set by New Zealand On Air board chair Neil Walter of being, quote, “… ‘perfectly capable’ of keeping his political interests separated from his decision-making role.” when he made a complaint about a documentary on child poverty a week before the election?
Hon TONY RYALL: The Minister of Broadcasting has confidence in the chairman of the board of New Zealand On Air.
Clare Curran: Is he responsible to this House for ensuring that the processes of the boards he appoints are appropriate; if not, who is?
Hon TONY RYALL: Of course, as any Minister would, the Minister of Broadcasting ends up being responsible in one way or another for the behaviour of his Crown entities. However, in terms of the internal processes of New Zealand On Air for managing the way it approves funding, the Minister has confidence in the chairman of New Zealand On Air.
Clare Curran: Is he aware of the subject and title of the documentary, which was not released in the document that was released publicly yesterday, dated 10 November 2011, “Record of decisions made at working group meeting”; if so, what is it?
Hon TONY RYALL: As the Minister answering this question on the Minister of Broadcasting’s behalf, I am not in a position to give an answer to that question.
Clare Curran: Given that documents were released in this House yesterday on these issues, which are matters of importance to the public, why is he not aware of the names of those programmes, and why cannot he release that information to the House?
Hon TONY RYALL: I am sure the Minister is not normally informed of decisions until they are made public. That is the information that I have received. As the Minister who is answering on behalf of the Minister of Broadcasting I do not know the title to that programme.
Community Development—2012 Winston Churchill Fellowships
10. TIM MACINDOE (National—Hamilton West) to the Minister for the Community and
Voluntary Sector: What recent announcement has she made in her portfolio that will benefit communities?
Hon JO GOODHEW (Minister for the Community and Voluntary Sector): On 3 February I announced grants from the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust to 15 individuals, at an average of $5,000 each—a total of $75,000. This covers overseas travel, typically for between 3 weeks and 3 months, to learn more about other people and cultures. The trust places great importance on the benefits of this project to New Zealand.
Tim Macindoe: What will this year’s Winston Churchill Fellows study?
Hon JO GOODHEW: This year’s recipients will study across a wide range of very interesting topics, including community welfare and health, disaster preparedness, and issues relating to history, commerce, the arts, and the environment.
Tim Macindoe: Can she give the House an example of how these grants can benefit a community?
Hon JO GOODHEW: Fellows return with new insights and understandings that do enrich their communities in many ways. The range of topics I have already given the House is broad. I have seen an example of a fellow who after studying transportation and traffic issues is putting that to good use within his business sector, and I am sure that the Associate Minister for Primary Industries is putting the knowledge and experience he gained in the year 2000 of beef exports to the United States to very good use.
Child Poverty, Abuse, and Neglect—Role of Family Incomes
11. HOLLY WALKER (Green) to the Minister for Social Development: Does she consider low family incomes to be a major contributor to childhood vulnerability?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS (Minister of Justice) on behalf of the Minister for Social
Development: The Minister agrees with the Child Poverty Action Group’s economist, Dave Grimmond, who wrote in the Children’s Commissioner latest newsletter: “A lack of income may actually be more a marker of potential problems for children rather than the root cause of their problems … it might be that the personal characteristics that make someone unsuccessful in the labour market also make them poor parents.” He gives an example: “Someone with a drug addiction problem may be unreliable both as a worker and as a parent.” However, the Minister certainly does not agree with the implication that being financially poor makes one a bad parent.
Holly Walker: Did she advise her colleague the Minister of Labour in recent discussions to raise the minimum wage by more than 50c an hour in order to meet the needs of vulnerable children whose parents are on low incomes; if not, why not?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: I cannot actually give a definitive answer to that, but I can say that I know that the Minister is fully aware that raising the minimum wage too far could, in fact, lead to more poverty for some families, where they would lose jobs.
Holly Walker: When doctors in south Auckland report seeing children suffering from the diseases of poverty and deprivation every day, how does the Minister hope to reduce high rates of child abuse and neglect without also addressing the underlying causes of poverty and low incomes?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: I know that the Minister is fully aware that one of the ways in which we can, in fact, reduce some of the issues of child abuse and neglect is to actually bring through this House the Privacy (Information Sharing) Bill. I note that the member asking the question does not support the bill, and I am surprised, given her concern for children and child abuse.
Holly Walker: If a large number of submissions on the Green Paper for Vulnerable Children call for the Government to raise incomes as part of the solution, will she include strategies to raise incomes in the eventual white paper?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: Of course, one of the best ways to raise people’s income is to get them into work, and I know that the Minister is particularly concerned to get more people into work. She also, though, would want to have it noted that one does not have to be rich to be a—
Holly Walker: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My question related to the submission process for the green paper. It was very straightforward and asked whether submissions covered a certain thing and whether that would be covered in the white paper. I do not believe that the Minister is addressing that question.
Mr SPEAKER: Well, the Minister has not quite finished yet. I ask the Minister to make sure she does cover that part of that question.
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: Can I start again? Well, I will finish it. The Minister is very concerned that the implication should not be that only rich people are good parents. In fact, being wealthy is no indicator of being a good parent. And she is also going to look at what the submissions actually say before she comes to a conclusion. This is the way we do things in this Government.
Jacinda Ardern: Of the two out of every five children the Ministry of Social Development has identified as poor and from households where at least one adult was in full-time employment, how many of those adults were on the minimum wage?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: For a specific question like that, it would be best to pop that down as a primary question. I am sure that member could do so in the future.
12. Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First) to the Prime Minister: Does he still have confidence in all his Ministers?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE (Leader of the House) on behalf of the Prime Minister: Yes.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Has anything happened since yesterday to shake the Prime Minister’s confidence in the Minister for Whanau Ora in light of reports that Whānau Ora money has gone, for example, to Northland television stations in Whangarei and also to a performing arts programme?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: No, and if the member wants to know more details about those things he should set a question down to the Minister responsible.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Can I ask the Prime Minister, who is meant to be responsible for all these things, why is money going to fund a Māori TV station in Northland when there is already huge public funding and there are quota systems in place for Māori Television and Television New Zealand?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: I do not have the details of those allegations. I suggest that the member puts questions down to the Minister for Whanau Ora to get factual answers.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Again to the Prime Minister, who is in charge of these things, with respect to the 150 organisations that have received grants in the last financial year, can the public be confident that in each and every case public accountability requirements are being met?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: I am not aware of the full extent of the 150 grants the member claims have been given over that time. He should ask questions of the Minister for Whanau Ora to get details.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I have tolerated that ending to the question three times now. It is not for him to tell me whom the questions should go to; it is for you.
Mr SPEAKER: That is not the way to raise a point of order—to be critical of another member. A point of order relates to order in the House. The principle the member was pursuing was fair enough. He is concerned about the answer being given. But the response from the Minister is perfectly reasonable. If the member wants to ask questions about Whānau Ora, the best chance of getting detailed answers is to address questions to the Minister responsible. When the primary question asks whether the Prime Minister still has confidence in all his Ministers, it is just not reasonable to expect, even were the Prime Minister able to have been here today, that the Prime Minister could have that kind of detailed information. The member is certainly entitled to ask questions about that—absolutely entitled to—and is absolutely entitled to get answers about it. I will do all I can to support the member getting answers in this area of his concern, but the primary question has to be consistent with achieving the obtaining of those answers. I have promised the member I will do all I can to assist him getting answers, but the primary question must facilitate that process.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Point of clarification, then.
Mr SPEAKER: There is no such thing as a point of clarification. I will assume this is a point of order.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. What I want to request of you is whether or not it is for any member of this House to decide whom he would like to ask a question of, or is that a right that is to be circumvented as well?
Mr SPEAKER: We do not need to take this any further. It is the Government’s absolute right to decide who should answer questions. Now, the member knows that if he puts down a question asking: “Does the Prime Minister have confidence in all his Ministers?”, the Prime Minister must answer that question. We all know that. But the dilemma then is that if the member wants to ask questions that need detailed information from a particular portfolio to answer them, rather than matters relating to confidence in a Minister, then it is not going to work. That is the dilemma the House is in. I want to do all I can to assist if I think the issue the member is seeking to pursue is a perfectly valid issue. The member should be able to obtain the answers in this House to his questions, but he has to follow the Standing Orders to be able to access those answers, and I will do all I can to make sure that can happen.