Questions and Answers - August 22
QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS
Infrastructure Investment Programme—Progress
1. Hon Dr NICK SMITH (National—Nelson) to the Minister of Finance: What progress is the Government making in its infrastructure investment programme?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): Over the last four Budgets the Government has directly invested more than $5 billion in ultra-fast broadband, hospitals, schools, rails, and roads. The planned spend over the next 4 years is around $18 billion, in part to be paid from the Future Investment Fund. The Government has set out to give businesses more certainty and confidence about infrastructure provision, and last year we released a second National Infrastructure Plan, which is improving planning and decision-making processes around infrastructure investment.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: How will infrastructure and investment in those key areas like the electricity grid, ultra-fast broadband, the electrifying of rail and its turn-round programme, the upgrade of State highways, and new water projects contribute to the Government’s broader priorities in such a tight fiscal environment?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Despite the tight fiscal environment, the Government has laid out a 7 to 10-year programme of investment, and most of the funding for that investment is locked in. Despite the tight fiscal environment, we believe that investing for the future growth we are confident the New Zealand economy will generate is vitally important.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: What steps is the Government taking to improve the quality of managing New Zealand’s tens of billions of dollars that it has invested in that infrastructure?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: That is a good question, because often the focus on infrastructure is about new projects, but, of course, most infrastructure is already in existence, and there are much larger efficiencies to be gained from managing the current infrastructure better than there are from better scrutiny of the new projects. In the 2011 plan the Government identified six aspects of infrastructure management that are important: stronger investment analysis, increased resilience, clearer accountability for performance, broader funding mechanisms, consistent regulation, and better coordination. We expect to be improving each of these aspects of the management of infrastructure. Probably one of the challenges coming up is to increase resilience of infrastructure by dealing with new earthquake standards that may flow from the royal commission of inquiry in Christchurch.
Hon David Parker: How does the Minister justify spending billions on projects with low benefit-cost ratios at a time when he is having to borrow billions?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The Government is not investing in projects with low benefit-cost ratios. If the member is referring to roading investment, we are very pleased with the roads of national significance plan, which gives businesses, the public, and the infrastructure industry the certainty that over the next 10 years we will be spending billions on upgrading our roads.
Question No. 2 to Minister
HOLLY WALKER (Green): I seek leave for my question to be transferred to the Minister for Social Development, to whom it was originally directed.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought for that course of action. Is there any objection? There is objection.
Working for Families—Effect on Child Poverty
2. HOLLY WALKER (Green) to the Minister of Finance: What comparative impact has Working for Families had on poverty rates for the children of working parents, and the children of beneficiaries, using the fixed line measure of 60 percent of median income adjusted for housing costs?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): The 2011 household incomes report uses 1998 as the relevant reference year. According to the particular measure that the member has chosen, there was a fall in poverty rates as Working for Families was rolled out from 2004 to 2007. For the two groups the member has referred to on the fixed line measure after housing costs, child poverty rates fell in working families from around 16 percent to 8 percent. For those in beneficiary families the rate remained about the same. Our priority, of course, is to focus on those in persistent deprivation, because the poverty line measures do not adequately measure those who genuinely suffer persistent deprivation and all the problems that go with that.
Holly Walker: Given that Working for Families has halved poverty rates for the children of working parents, but done nothing for the children of beneficiaries, leaving 70 percent of them in poverty, is he satisfied that the Government is doing enough to meet the basic needs of every child?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: On the second question, yes. Through one of the more significant recessions we have seen in many decades the Government has protected the income levels of those in our lowest income households. But the first part of the question, I think, demonstrates the difference in views about how to deal with poverty. The Government is focusing on mobility—that, in fact, a lot of families who at some times and in some periods experience low incomes actually get out of that situation. The in-work tax credit is designed to encourage people from benefits into work, and reward them for making the choice of going into work, because that is the best decision they can make to improve the incomes of their household and their children.
Holly Walker: What if a parent cannot find work? Do their children still have the same basic needs for food, shelter, warmth, and clothing that they would have if their parents were working?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Yes, their children do have basic needs that ought to be met, and that is why the Government has throughout the last 4 years, since the beginning of the recession in 2008, protected the real value of the incomes of all our low-income households. But I would repeat for the member that those levels of income are part of the story. The other part of the story is to maintain the ability of families and individuals to move on to higher incomes. The analysis of New Zealanders’ time on low incomes shows that a relatively small number stay on low incomes for a long time, and even of those who are on low incomes only a proportion of those suffer the symptoms of persistent deprivation, which is the worst aspect of poverty.
Holly Walker: Is it a child’s fault if their parent cannot find work?
Mr SPEAKER: The Hon Bill English, in so far as he has any ministerial responsibility.
Hon BILL ENGLISH: No.
Holly Walker: Since children have the same basic needs regardless of the income status of their parents, will he support the Green Party bill to replace the in-work tax credit with a payment for all children who need it, and eliminate a blatant discrimination against some of our poorest children?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: No, we will not. In fact, on the issue of discrimination, this case has been to every tribunal it can go to and no one has found that the difference in payment is discriminatory. We will stick by the policy that has been in place for some time, put in place by the previous Labour Government—that is, maintaining the in-work tax credit.
Holly Walker: Is his Government really committed to ensuring that every child thrives; if so, will he take an investment approach to children like they have in the Netherlands, where early investment in children saves billions of dollars and produces some of the best child outcomes in the OECD?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Yes, we do believe that every child should thrive and we believe that we have about the right balance of fairness and incentive for households that are on low income, where we would all like to see children face better prospects. I give some advice to the member though. I think that quoting examples from Europe may become less relevant as Europe starts dismantling its very generous systems that it has had in place, because generally across Europe they cannot afford to maintain those systems.
Holly Walker: I seek leave to table a report prepared by Rowe Davies Research for Every Child Counts released today entitled The Netherlands Study: Learning from the Netherlands to improve outcomes for New Zealand’s children.
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.
3. DAVID SHEARER (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does he stand by all his statements?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): Yes. For example, I stand by the statement I made in the House on 24 May 2012 that “Seeing as it is a zero Budget and there is not a lot of money to spread around, let me give some free advice to David Shearer: when David Cunliffe has a shave, be worried, because he is coming after you.” That was very good advice. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order!
David Shearer: Given his statement that “Mixed ownership will free up $5 billion to $7 billion, which we can use to buy new assets … without having to borrow more from offshore lenders.”, will he be revising the $5 billion to $7 billion figure in light of the changed circumstances of Solid Energy, Might River Power, Meridian Energy, or Air New Zealand?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No.
David Shearer: Given that Bill English, his finance Minister, has said: “We would only take any of these companies to the market if they are in good shape for investment and Solid Energy right now certainly isn’t.”, what impact will the delay and potential cancellation of the sale of Solid Energy have on his Government’s ability to deliver a balanced Budget?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: There may not be a delay. It has always been the Government’s view that this is a 3 to 5-year programme. It has always been the view that Solid Energy is likely to be the last cab off that rank, because the energy companies are in better shape to go to the market. As the member might be aware, Solid Energy is experiencing some issues at the moment because of the falling coal price, but these things move around.
David Shearer: Given the comment of John Palmer, the chairman of Air New Zealand, comment that the disappointing share price for the company means that “there probably isn’t any particular urgency for the Crown to sell”, what impact will that have on balancing the Budget?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: None. As I said, it has always been a 3 to 5-year programme. The Government has always taken the view that it would look to maximise the return, within reason. There has been nothing stopping the Government, now that the mixed-ownership legislation has been passed, from taking the portion of Air New Zealand that we could sell to the market, but the Government has chosen not to do so, solely because it believes that at some point it will get a better price for that.
David Shearer: Will the negotiations between the Bluff aluminium smelter and Meridian Energy, or the fact that Meridian Energy customer Norske Skog plans to halve production at its Kawerau mill, have any impact on the value of Meridian Energy; if so, how will that affect the balancing of the Budget?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: It is impossible for me to answer the question in relation to Meridian Energy and Rio Tinto, because that is a commercial matter between the two companies. But they have had long-standing contracts and in the past they have always seemed to be able to work those out.
David Shearer: In light of the troubles around Solid Energy, Mighty River Power, Meridian Energy, and Air New Zealand, will he now bow to the overwhelming New Zealand public pressure to not sell our assets?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No.
Business Research and Development—2012 Technology Development Grant
4. SIMON O’CONNOR (National—Tāmaki) to the Minister of Science and Innovation: What investment is the Government making in innovative research and development?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister of Science and Innovation): Today the Government opened applications for the $45 million 2012 round of business research and development co-funding through the technology development grant. This investment is part of the Government’s plan to back business-led research and development by speeding up development of innovative products and services and getting them to market faster. Our leading high-tech businesses need to maintain their competitive edge in global markets, especially in tough world economic times. This programme helps to take some of the risk out of research and development, and encourages businesses to reach for more ambitious research and development goals by providing 20 percent cofunding of their research and development activity.
Simon O’Connor: How does this investment from the Government contribute to the goals announced in yesterday’s Building Innovation report?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: The technology development grant programme opening today is just one part of our $115 million a year investment in TechNZ’s business co-funding research and development programmes. By co-funding additional business-led research and development in the New Zealand economy, we achieve much more than we would if we just allowed firms to reclassify existing expenditure. Successful innovation improves competitiveness, increases our economic output, drives productivity growth, and creates successful exports by introducing new or improved products.
Superannuation Fund—Percentage of Assets in New Zealand
5. Hon DAVID PARKER (Labour) to the Minister of Finance: Has the New Zealand Superannuation Fund invested 40 percent of its assets in New Zealand; if not, what was the percentage in 2008 and what is it now?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): The answer to the first question is no. It has not yet invested 40 percent of its assets in New Zealand. In 2008 and now, the percentage depends a bit on how one measures it, but if you exclude cash and include foreign exchange hedging, the New Zealand investment has risen from $3.2 billion to $4.6 billion. On the same basis as a percentage of total investments, they have increased from 26.6 percent to 28.6 percent. The Superannuation Fund has identified a number of New Zealand investment opportunities including, I presume, the Government share sale coming up, but it will remain disciplined.
Hon David Parker: Why is the proportion of the Superannuation Fund invested in New Zealand not much different than it was in 2008, when a promise was made to lift that to 40 percent?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The member is misrepresenting the statements made at the time. If he wants the answer to that question, he should go and ask the New Zealand Superannuation Fund.
What I can tell the member is that the sale of Government shares in energy companies will assist in the process.
Hon David Parker: Has he ever said the reason more of the Superannuation Fund was not invested in New Zealand was that the Government’s economic management had not created enough growth and investment opportunities?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: It is up to the New Zealand Superannuation Fund to make its own investment decisions. As the member will know, that is how the legislation is structured. Government instruction to them would actually breach the law.
Hon David Parker: Was he implementing his promise to invest 40 percent of the Superannuation Fund in New Zealand when he said on 13 August this year: “The Government is doing its bit by investing overseas through the Super Fund …”?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: That was in the context of a discussion about—[Interruption]—well, if the member listens. The discussion was about the fact that New Zealand has, compared with most other developed countries, low outward investment. One of the significant outward investors is the New Zealand Superannuation Fund, which according to its statutory requirements diversifies its investment around the world and, therefore, has a relatively low proportion of the total savings invested in New Zealand. Most of it is, in fact, invested offshore, and that probably is increasing New Zealand’s outward investment.
Hon David Parker: Which of these promises has he failed to deliver on: investing 40 percent of the Superannuation Fund in New Zealand, closing the wage gap with Australia, reducing income inequality, or reducing unemployment?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: We have done at least two or three of those, and made excellent progress on the others.
6. Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First) to the Prime Minister: Does he have confidence in his Ministers; if so, why?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): Yes; because they are capable and hard-working Ministers.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: How can he have confidence in the Minister for Land Information, when the Minister advised on the 7th of this month that the Overseas Investment Office had not completed its investigation into May Wang’s and Jack Chen’s illegal purchase of four farms, when in fact the Overseas Investment Office concluded its investigation on 22 December 2010, a full 10 months before Miss Wang was charged in Hong Kong?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Because I take it it takes some time to work through those issues.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: How can he have confidence in the Minister, when he and his department did not take legal action to get the four farms divested during the 10-month period when there was no stay on such action being taken as Mr Williamson in this House has claimed?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: For the member’s education, the farms in question were bought illegally. No approval was sought from, or given by, the Overseas Investment Office or the Minister for Land Information. The illegal purchases were discovered by the Government as part of another process, and it is now going through a process to regularise that land. That has been held up because of the court case that has been taking place, as I understand it, in Hong Kong.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am asking the Prime Minister, when there was a 10-month gap with no legal stay at all, the reason being given to this House why legal action did not take place. I never have insinuated that the Minister approved these four deals. That is the reason why—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member is seeking to debate the issue. I would really appreciate it if the member would actually look at his Hansard and see what he actually asked, and compare that with what he just said under his point of order he asked, because they were different questions The
question the member actually asked to the Prime Minister was how he has confidence in his Minister, given a certain range of things. The question the member then said he actually asked was why did these things happen. Those are two different questions. If the member wants an answer to the question “Why did certain things happen?”, then that is the question to ask, not “How does the Prime Minister have confidence in the Minister …”, because there are so many answers to that question. I want to be helpful to the right honourable gentleman, because I have got no problem with the issue. I am not trying to protect any Minister from being accountable, but the issue is the wording of questions. If the member asked the question he posed under his point of order, that would, I suspect, get a different answer.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. This was my question: “How can he have confidence in the Minister, when he and his department did not take legal action to get the four farms divested during the 10-month period when there was no such stay on legal action being taken as Mr Williamson has claimed?”. It just needs a simple answer. Why did he not act when he could?
Mr SPEAKER: The problem is the question the member asked—that was the original question, indeed—asked the Prime Minister why he has confidence, or how he can have confidence, in the Minister. It did not ask why the Minister did not act. There are two questions there. I am not wanting to be difficult but I cannot be unfair to the Prime Minister. I cannot say to the Prime Minister: “This is what the questioner really means. You must answer it that way.” The Prime Minister has to listen to the question and answer the question. The member in his point of order raised a different question, which I suspect would have got a different answer. That is what I am trying to point out—that there is a way to ask the question, but it is not “How can the Prime Minister have confidence in the Minister?’.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. With respect, the question is about his having confidence, and I want to know why. That was the primary question—“if so, why?”. We were told it is because he is competent and hard-working, and I am just putting up a classic case of no action being taken by him or his department, despite the assurances to the House in the past—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I am trying to be helpful, because I do not want to deprive the member of his chance to ask legitimate questions. I fully accept that there are legitimate questions to be asked, and the member has identified the two ways to ask the question in both the question asked and the point of order raised. The point of order, in my view, asked a different question. It asked why certain things did not happen, and the member has got a right to know the answer to that question. It relates to the primary question. It relates to the answers given. I see no reason why the question should not be a legitimate supplementary question. xxxfo But it is a different question from asking how the Prime Minister has confidence in the Minister because of certain alleged happenings. It is a different question. I can only ask the Prime Minister to answer the question asked, and that is my dilemma. I am not trying to be difficult. I just cannot ask the Prime Minister to answer a question that he has not been asked.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Who asked the Prime Minister whether or not the Minister, Mr Williamson, had approved the four deals? I did not. No one else has done that. So why was that part of his answer?
Mr SPEAKER: Order! We are now, though, debating by way of point of order the way the Prime Minister has answered, which is just not acceptable. It is totally outside the Standing Orders. The member, I believe, can question exactly the way he wants to; he has just got to word the question so that I can then require the Prime Minister to answer it. But I cannot ask the Prime Minister to answer, because where a question is how the Prime Minister can have confidence in something, there is a multitude of answers to that kind of question. I cannot tell the Prime Minister that he must answer it in this way, because I have no power to do that. There is no way under the Standing Orders that I have the power to do that.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: On the question of his confidence, does the Prime Minister accept that thus far Mr Williamson has not provided any reason why May Wang and Jack Chen were not and are not facing charges for their serious illegal actions, where each offence is regarded as being so serious as to attract a $300,000 fine?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: On the question of confidence, what possible reason could there be for Mr Williamson and the Overseas Investment Office, first, not to take legal action against Miss Wang and her associates in the 10-month period back in 2010 when there was every opportunity to do so, or, second, for Mr Williamson to advise the New Zealand Herald, as reported on the 16th of this month, that May Wang and Jack Chen “will not face charges in New Zealand for breaching the Overseas Investment Act”?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Because, as I said, the farms were bought illegally, without the knowledge of the Overseas Investment Office. At the time that was discovered by the Government, it took some time to work out whether they in fact were illegally purchased or not. May Wang was, for instance, a New Zealand citizen at the time. So it took some time to work their way through it. When they were confident of that, they took action.
Teaching Staff, Non-registered—Application of Ministerial Inquiry Recommendations in
7. Hon NANAIA MAHUTA (Labour—Hauraki-Waikato) to the Minister of Education: How many of the 36 Person A Ministerial Inquiry actions she has adopted will apply to nonregistered teachers working in Partnership Schools?
Hon HEKIA PARATA (Minister of Education): Tēnā koe, Mr Speaker. Twenty-five actions or more could apply, depending on the final contract let. Importantly, every person in a partnership school will undergo extensive background and police checks. This includes all non-teaching and teaching, unregistered and registered employees.
Hon Nanaia Mahuta: Given that teachers in charter schools may not have to be registered, how will any of the 11 actions relating to teacher registration in the Teachers Council help prevent sex offenders from being employed as teachers at charter schools?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: And that is why I said 25 or more of these actions will apply, of the 36, depending on the final contract let. Regardless, all employees, no matter what their status, will be subject to police vetting and extensive background checks.
Hon Nanaia Mahuta: How will making information about teachers’ name changes available to schools, through the Teachers Council register, help prevent charter schools from hiring sex offenders, given that teachers at charter school will not necessarily even have to be listed on the Teachers Council register?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: Because we will specify in the contract when we are negotiating with charter schools how those checks and balances will be incorporated.
Hon Nanaia Mahuta: Is she—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I want to hear the question.
Hon Nanaia Mahuta: Is she aware that teachers are police vetted every 3 years when they have to reregister, and can she assure the House that non-registered teachers working in charter schools will also be police vetted every 3 years?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: Indeed, they are often vetted more often than every 3 years, and we will be expecting the same level of probity, protection, and safeguarding of all students in all schools.
Hon Nanaia Mahuta: If there is no difference whatsoever in the vetting and background checks for non-registered charter school teachers, why did officials warn the Minister last year that “There is the challenge of ensuring that students are not put at risk by mentors who are not necessarily subject to professional licensing.”?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: I think we need to distinguish between being unregistered and being unqualified, because, at the minute, registration requires a registered person to hold a teaching qualification. We are talking about a whole range of other qualifications. At the moment, in fact, there is a whole number of people who are in teaching positions—early childhood educators, volunteers, teachers under the limited authority to teach, tertiary educators, trade course educators, and staff at private training establishments—who are teaching but are not registered with the Teachers Council.
Hon Nanaia Mahuta: I seek leave to table a document requested under the Official Information Act from the ministry, stating its concerns regarding some of the risks involved in appointing nonregistered teachers.
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.
Transport Planning—Effect of Oil Prices
8. JULIE ANNE GENTER (Green) to the Minister of Transport: Will he reconsider the Government’s motorway projects, in light of the impact that record high petrol prices may have on motorway usage; if not, why not?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE (Minister of Transport): No. Petrol prices do fluctuate and they do spike, but that would be no basis to abandon an infrastructure programme that will deliver intergenerational positives for the economy and the environment. The inputs to pump price these days are somewhat different. It is noticeable that Z Energy is leading the way at the present time. Last weekend it had a supermarket deal arrangement that saw discounts of 10c a litre for a $100 spend, up to 50c a litre for a $400 spend. It is clearly evident, then, that the pump price is an extremely irrational input into the consideration of strategic transport policy.
Julie Anne Genter: Given that high oil prices and low economic growth have resulted in stagnant traffic volumes for more than 5 years now in New Zealand, what evidence does he have that spending $12 billion on a few new motorways is the best way to move people and freight and get the economic outcomes that he wants?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: I think it is unfair to say that traffic volumes have been stagnant, when there are so many places around New Zealand where there is very significant congestion. Our view would be that not only would you be getting rid of that congestion by having better motorways but also you would save on the miles spent in journeys and the time that the engines are running, which is very good for the environment.
Julie Anne Genter: I seek leave to table, for the benefit of the House, the State highway traffic volume growth index from the New Zealand Transport Agency, which shows clearly that there has been no growth in traffic volumes on State highways since 2004.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document from the New Zealand Transport Agency. Is there any objection? There is no objection. Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Julie Anne Genter: Does the Government’s motorway building programme not amount to a $12 billion bet that petrol prices will not continue to rise at 8 percent a year, as they have for the past decade?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: No. The build is about getting better infrastructure for roading. Further, I would say that there are a number of studies—the member, as a transport economist, would understand—that suggest that the price of petrol relative to decisions people make about transport modes is inelastic.
Julie Anne Genter: So what specific evidence does the Minister have that shows that these motorways are the best value-for-money way to improve economic productivity?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: We are a very long way from the original question, but what I would say is that where there is a reduction in congestion, there is an economic positive—no question about that. If the member wants further proof that New Zealanders think these are good ideas, she needs look only at the electoral returns from 2011.
Julie Anne Genter: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I do not believe the Minister answered my question, which was about the specific evidence—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I must hear the point of order in silence, please.
Julie Anne Genter: I do not believe that the Minister addressed the question, which was very specific, and it was about the specific evidence that shows that these projects are the best value-formoney way to improve economic performance and reduce congestion.
Mr SPEAKER: I think the Minister answered that he believed that they were, and that was the evidence that he was basing the decision on. If the Minister, having heard the point of order, wishes to add anything further to it, he is welcome to, if the Minister feels he has to. I do not think I can require the Minister to answer further. The member does have a further supplementary, though.
Julie Anne Genter: Does the Minister expect the economic impact of borrowing for these motorways to be similar to that of Greece, who also borrowed billions to build new motorways over the past decade; if not, why not?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: No. I think it is arguable as to whether the situation that arose in Greece was to do with its borrowing for roads so much as it was to do with its extraordinary borrowing for large, monolithic rail networks.
Julie Anne Genter: I seek leave to table this report from the European Commission. It is a strategic evaluation of transport investment priorities, it is the final country report for Greece, and it shows that it spent the vast majority of its money on motorways, not on rail projects.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that European Commission document. Is there any objection? There is objection. Question No. 9, Dr Cam Calder.
Dr Cam Calder: To the Minister of Health—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I apologise. Was there a supplementary question on question No. 8? [Interruption] Order! I did not hear the member call; I will take the blame for that.
Phil Twyford: Does he think that the $8 billion spent on public relations—sorry, that should be $8 million spent—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I apologise to the member. Those of us who have not had a slip of the tongue should be the only ones able to cast the first stone. We all do that.
Phil Twyford: It is very easy, Mr Speaker, to make that kind of mistake with the roads—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Let us just have the question.
Phil Twyford: Does he think that the $8 million spent on public relations for the roads of national significance is enough to placate the millions of New Zealanders who are concerned about the cuts to public transport projects, the flatlining of maintenance of local roads and State highways, the underfunding of KiwiRail, and the sheer waste of billions of dollars on the roads of national significance?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: I completely reject the supposition that the member is basing his question upon. But what I would say is that over the last 24 months, I have heard nothing from Labour members, other than “spend more on communications” in a range of portfolio interests I currently have. What is more, if that money had not been spent, that member would be talking about a secret roading plan.
Child Poverty, Abuse, and Neglect—Supporting Vulnerable Children Result Action Plan
9. Dr CAM CALDER (National) to the Minister of Health: What commitments has the Government made as part of its action plan to support vulnerable children?
Hon TONY RYALL (Minister of Health): The Government is committed to delivering better public services for vulnerable New Zealand children, and this includes giving young New Zealanders a better start in life. The Prime Minister has set four challenges around vulnerable children, and today Mrs Parata, Ms Bennett, and I announced more detail about how we are going to achieve these. Government agencies, NGOs, and Ministers are working together to increase participation in quality early childhood education, build on our record infant immunisation rates, reduce the incidence of rheumatic fever, and reduce the number of children experiencing child abuse.
Dr Cam Calder: How will the Government achieve these four targets?
Hon TONY RYALL: The Government has already begun. In the document that we released today it sets out a number of the actions that Ministers and their departments, both individually and collectively, will be taking. It is about making sure not only that the Public Service works well but also that the services at the ground level do. For example, we are already seeing significant cooperation between those who are working in the rheumatic fever programme and social workers who then follow up to check with the families on issues of overcrowding and the need for home insulation.
Jacinda Ardern: Can he confirm that the targets he reannounced today are all set beyond the 2014 election; if so, how will Ministers be assessed on the newly minted Children Result Action Plan, or C-R-A-P?
Hon TONY RYALL: Gosh, you certainly needed a university education for that joke, did you not? If the member had read the report, she would have seen that some of those result areas will be achieved well before the election, and although the party opposite may think this is a joke— [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I apologise to the Minister. I assume the question asked was serious. There was no way that members could hear the answer, and that is unreasonable. We are not going to repeat the question on this occasion, but I would ask the Minister to please just finish that answer again, because I could not hear the last part of it at all.
Hon TONY RYALL: This Government takes the issue far more seriously than it appears that others do. What we are—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! I think we have had sufficient on that one.
10. Hon MARYAN STREET (Labour) to the Minister of Health: Does he stand by all his recent statements on health?
Hon TONY RYALL (Minister of Health): Within the context they were given, yes. I also stand by the fact that despite the world’s deteriorating international debt crisis, we have invested almost $2 billion extra into health over our four Budgets. This huge investment is best put into perspective by the OECD’s latest report, which reveals that while the average OECD nation had a nil increase in health spending, New Zealand had the third-highest increase in health spending of 27 OECD nations in the latest year available.
Hon Maryan Street: Given his statement to the House on 15 August 2012 regarding the number of nurses added to the health workforce since coming to office, is he aware of a recent Massey University study that indicated that nearly half of the nurses surveyed were considering leaving because of distress caused by feeling that they cannot deliver the care they want to because of management pressure to reduce costs, and does he recognise this as a crisis within the nursing workforce, as the survey does?
Hon TONY RYALL: I did see a report of that survey. I think our nurses work extremely hard, and I am certainly very pleased to see the member acknowledge that we now have over 2,000 extra nurses working in the public health service since the Government came to office in 2008.
Hon Maryan Street: Given his statement of 16 August 2012 regarding additional elective surgical procedures achieved by district health boards, which services is he happy to see the district health boards cut, in the light of reported comments by the manager of surgical services at Nelson Marlborough District Health Board that it was not funded to do all its operations, and had to find resources from elsewhere?
Hon TONY RYALL: It is true to say that many district health boards did more operations than were set in their health target. In fact, the information that will be released with the health targets will indicate that district health boards put some of their own resources into achieving more operations. We have got to remember that the previous Government put more money into the health budget—doubled the health budget—and got fewer operations on a population basis. We are getting more operations for New Zealanders and, actually, we are getting them faster. I think people are very, very happy with that achievement.
Hon Maryan Street: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I asked which services the Minister would like to see cut, given that there was underfunding for the surgical procedures that they achieved.
Mr SPEAKER: I will allow the member to repeat her question, but I will listen very carefully to the answer. I want to make sure that the Minister has not previously answered it.
Hon Maryan Street: Given his statement of 16 August 2012 regarding additional elective surgical procedures achieved by district health boards, which services is he happy to see district health boards cut, in the light of the reported comments by the manager of surgical services at Nelson Marlborough District Health Board that it was not funded to do all the operations and had to find resources from elsewhere?
Hon TONY RYALL: It is up to district health boards to decide how they spend their budgets. What I can say is that the Nelson Marlborough District Health Board got $12 million extra last year, on top of funding available for electives, I understand. It also got an additional $12 million this year. So district health boards are getting more money, providing more services, have more doctors, and have more nurses. Actually, in the toughest economic times that a country has faced for generations, that is a great service for patients from the New Zealand public health service and the John Key - led National Government.
Hon Maryan Street: Given his statement of 15 August 2012 in respect of the Voluntary Bonding Scheme for doctors, nurses, and midwives in hard-to-staff regions, can he confirm the statement of Rural Women New Zealand, which said that the scheme has failed to attract any rural general practitioners, and that the problem of access to general practitioners in rural areas is now urgent?
Hon TONY RYALL: I do not agree with those comments, because the Voluntary Bonding Scheme is beyond just doctors. I do not think we should have a health service that looks only at doctors. We have got many general practitioners who have enrolled in the scheme. A large number have applied and are being considered. We have also used the scheme to support additional midwives in rural areas. I think that it is working out very, very successfully, and the level of interest would indicate that.
Housing New Zealand Corporation—Tenants’ Fraudulent Behaviour
11. MIKE SABIN (National—Northland) to the Minister of Housing: What is Housing New Zealand doing to identify and address fraudulent behaviour by some tenants?
Hon PHIL HEATLEY (Minister of Housing): An overwhelming majority of Housing New Zealand Corporation tenants appreciate their homes and abide by the rules. However, there are a small minority committed to accessing homes and subsidies that they do not need. Since July 2011, 312 tenancies have been ended following investigations, and 120 tenants successfully prosecuted for fraud. There are a further 121 cases currently before the court, and 594 under active
investigation. I commend the Housing New Zealand Corporation for taking action so that families on our waiting list who truly are in genuine need have the home and support they require.
Mike Sabin: What kinds of activities have tenants been undertaking that have led to action being taken against them?
Hon PHIL HEATLEY: I will give two examples. They include an Auckland tenant who had over $100,000 in a bank account for 7 years, which he never declared. He is now a former tenant. He has been prosecuted and convicted and is now awaiting sentence. He has repaid the corporation $25,000. A Dunedin tenant failed to declare her partner, claimed income-related rent, and operated an escort service from her tenancy. The tenancy was terminated by the corporation. The tenant was prosecuted for income-related rent fraud, sentenced to 100 hours’ community work and 12 months’ supervision, and has a Crown debt of $7,500 established.
Afghanistan—Safety of Provincial Reconstruction Team
12. IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY (Labour—Palmerston North) to the Prime Minister: What assurances, if any, has he and the Minister of Defence received about the safety of the New Zealand Provincial Reconstruction Team in Afghanistan?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): I have received assurances that our provincial reconstruction team is well trained, has the best available equipment for the operating area in accordance with the judgment of the New Zealand Defence Force, and has a full range of enabling support from our International Security Assistance Force partners. Having said that, Governments past and present have been advised that Afghanistan poses risks, and it is a very volatile environment.
Iain Lees-Galloway: What additional efforts have been made to secure mine-resistant vehicles, other than the request made to lease such vehicles from the United States?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: It is possibly worth putting a bit of context around what I think the member is asking. Back after the death of Tim O’Donnell a review was done about safety equipment and what might be best used. The Defence Force, as I understand it, in theatre had some discussions with the Americans about possible use of mine-resistant ambush protected vehicles. Those vehicles, as it turned out, were not available, but post doing that there was a full review done of what would be the best equipment for our men and women in Afghanistan. They looked at, amongst other things, light armoured vehicles, mine-resistant ambush protected vehicles, and potentially other vehicles as well. The decision was made that on balance of all risks involved, the best equipment was the light armoured vehicles for the conditions our men and women would face.
Iain Lees-Galloway: Will the New Zealand provincial reconstruction team be required to carry out patrols in Baghlan Province without the use of mine-resistant vehicles, given that American troops need special permission to use Humvees because of their vulnerability to improvised explosive devices?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: That is an operational matter for the New Zealand Defence Force. I will leave it to answer that. All I can say is that in whatever duties that are undertaken by our men and women in Afghanistan, they do so with the New Zealand Defence Force making sure that it takes into consideration at all times providing the maximum safety and security it can, within the context of a war zone. I would also make the point that at no time since we have been the Government has there ever been a request from the New Zealand Defence Force for equipment for our people in Afghanistan that has been declined.
Richard Prosser: Can the Government give an assurance to the public that an emergency exit plan is in place for our forces in Afghanistan?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I am not sure I understand fully what the member means by an emergency exit plan. What I can give the member an assurance of is that the New Zealand Defence Force will be looking at the transition process as we look to leave Afghanistan very carefully. It will work on making sure that we provide the safest exit for our people, but I would just simply hasten to add that
it is a dangerous environment and represents one of the more dangerous parts of the operation in the provincial reconstruction team since we have been there in 2003.
Richard Prosser: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My question was about an emergency exit plan, not about the plan for the existing exit.
Mr SPEAKER: The Prime Minister in his answer said he was not sure what the member meant by an emergency exit plan, if I heard the Prime Minister correctly. If he is not sure what the member means, he cannot answer further. Unfortunately, the member does not have any more supplementary questions today, but it would have warranted a further supplementary question under normal circumstances.
Iain Lees-Galloway: Why did he announce 2 weeks ago that the New Zealand provincial reconstruction team would commence patrolling in Baghlan Province, signalling that intention to opposing forces, when he did not have what the Minister of Defence calls a clear understanding of the roles defence personnel would be doing?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I reject that proposition.