Questions and Answers - August 30
QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS
Living Standards, Inequality—Prime Minister's Statements
1. METIRIA TUREI (Co-Leader—Green) to the Prime Minister: Does he stand by his statement, “what we are choosing is hard working New Zealanders who go out there day after day to try to support their families”?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE (Acting Prime Minister): Yes, because they deserve our support.
Metiria Turei: How can the Prime Minister’s policies be helping hard-working New Zealanders, when the household income report this week found that real incomes for the bottom two-thirds of households, 66 percent of the country, have dropped?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: As has been previously pointed out to the member, there are many ways in which such a figure can be measured. If, for example, we took the measure in the years 2000 to 2005, we would find that that was the greatest area of disparity. Even though we have had the global economic downturn and we have had the great dislocation of the Christchurch earthquakes, we still are not back to that level of disparity. To suggest that there is no support for people on lower incomes is also very wrong.
Metiria Turei: How could the global financial crisis or the Christchurch earthquakes be at all responsible for his Government’s decision to give tax cuts to the top income earners in this country, which has helped to drive the gap between rich and poor to the highest level it has ever been in New Zealand’s history?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: Seventy-six percent of all income tax collected comes from the top 10 percent of taxpayers. They have not been excessively advantaged. What I would say is that where people are losing jobs because of earthquake circumstances or because of the global financial crisis, of course that will affect household incomes, and it is a fact that those on the bottom end of the income scale usually are first affected. That is why we want a strong economy—to protect those people.
Hon Tariana Turia: How can his policies be helping hard-working New Zealanders, when a key finding of the household income report shows a decline in employment income for deciles 3 to 6—that is, middle-income New Zealanders—or does he not think that middle-income New Zealanders are hard workers?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: Of course they are hard workers, and that is why there is a considerable amount of Government support in place for people. We want to make sure that that support is complementary to the work that people do in the economy. That is a good thing.
Metiria Turei: Is it not true that under his watch unemployment has grown, and there are now more than 65,000 unemployed people under National’s watch, proving that his Government and he as Prime Minister are much better at losing jobs than they are at creating them?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: There have been many, many new jobs created in the New Zealand economy under the current Government. What I might say to the member is that it is plain silly to deny that we have been living through very difficult international circumstances. New Zealand likes to look at other countries it compares itself to, and it is a fact that we have come through these times in far better shape than many of them. And, yes, it is unfortunate that more people want work, but the only way they will get it is by having a growing economy, which that member’s party seems to want to ignore.
Metiria Turei: If the Prime Minister is choosing hard-working New Zealanders, and if the economy is apparently improving, why is it that Work and Income has given out 134,000 specialneeds grants to working families who could not make ends meet in this last year, nearly double the number in 2007?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: The conditions in our economy have changed during that time, quite clearly, but let me put it to you this way. The suggestion that somehow the Government is neglecting people on lower incomes is plain wrong. If we were to take someone with two children, a sole parent, working 25 hours a week, at around $15 an hour, they would receive a family tax credit of $157, an in-work tax credit of $60, up to $225 a week in accommodation assistance, and a minimum tax credit of $106, taking their earned income of $17,000 up to a total package of $45,500. To suggest the Government is abandoning people in these circumstances is plain rubbish.
Metiria Turei: How is his Government helping 16-year-old Peniata Junior Endermann, who goes to school and works 20 hours a week in a cleaning job because his mum’s minimum wage job does not provide enough to support him and his three siblings? Is Peniata a hard worker? Is his mother a hard-working New Zealander?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: I do not doubt that they are hard-working New Zealanders and that they are making efforts to improve their own circumstances. If there is some aspect of Government support that should be available to that family, I hope that member makes sure they get it, because it is there.
Metiria Turei: Is the Prime Minister saying that Peniata and his mum have enough? Do they not deserve a living wage?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: I most certainly have not said that. What I have said is that they should be commended for working, rather than being abused in a political process and held up as some sort of sad example when they are making such a huge effort on their own behalf. It is unfortunate that they have come into contact with politicians who have absolutely no aspiration for them to improve their circumstances. This Government is in favour of people working, and we support people who are working.
Metiria Turei: Is it not the case that the supposed hard-working New Zealanders who he chooses are those who are the top income earners, who got massive tax cuts from his Government, who are the only group—the only group—in New Zealand to have enjoyed an increased income in the past year, and many of whom did not even pay their fair share of tax? Are these people not the real chosen ones?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: This is the sort of carping nonsense that is going to take this country nowhere. Let us be very clear. I just gave an example of someone looking after their two children on their own, working for 25 hours a week, and earning $17,000 a year from their work, but getting total support that takes their income to $45,000. That is not a Government advantaging people at the top end. It is a Government respecting people who work hard and want to get on with their lives.
Social Development, Minister—Statements
2. JACINDA ARDERN (Labour) to the Minister for Social Development: Does she stand by all of her answers to oral questions on Tuesday?
Hon TONY RYALL (Minister of Health) on behalf of the Minister for Social Development: Within context, yes.
Jacinda Ardern: If her answer to child poverty is work, what policies has her Government introduced to address the fact that 40 percent of children in poverty are in the homes of the working poor?
Hon TONY RYALL: This Government has worked very hard to make sure that we have an economy that can weather the winds of the international financial crisis. We have worked very hard to protect those who are working hard to get ahead and, of course, the Government has cut tax rates so that the vast majority of workers pay no more than 17.5 percent in tax. We also have a range of support available for them, from Working for Families to in-work tax credits.
Jacinda Ardern: If low interest rates have benefited families who are struggling, as she has claimed, does she accept that 70 percent of families living in poverty are in rental accommodation?
Hon TONY RYALL: I think the member is probably confusing an answer to a different question. Of course lower interest rates are benefiting the many families who have mortgages, but at the same time, for those people who are in hardship, this Government, unlike many other Governments around the world, has worked to protect these families as best we can. We have legislated CPI increases for benefit levels, lowered tax rates, and protected Working for Families. I would ask the member only to watch the television news every night to see what countries under financial pressure are actually doing, and it is a lot, lot less than this Government.
Darien Fenton: Does she agree that every worker should have the income necessary to provide them and their families with the basic necessities of life so they can participate as active citizens in society; if so, will she be supporting the Living Wage campaign?
Hon TONY RYALL: Of course the Minister wants to make sure that families are in the best position that they can be. But I would say, in respect of the second part of the question, that member was in Government for 9 years and refused a $15 minimum wage.
Darien Fenton: Has she asked her parliamentary cleaner what it is like to live on a minimum wage, work long hours, and struggle to support her family; if so, what did she learn about the reality of poverty?
Hon TONY RYALL: I think New Zealanders know that this Minister herself has come from a very hard experience, as a young mother bringing up her own child, and I think she understands those difficulties that families have. That is why this Government, more than any other in the Western World, has worked to protect those in the most vulnerable positions. When you look at what is happening in Europe, where benefits and pensions are being frozen and cut, this is a Government that has been determined to protect those people from the sharp edges of the recession.
Jacinda Ardern: What does she believe is a living wage for a family of four with one parent in full-time work?
Hon TONY RYALL: In respect of that specific question, I think the Minister would reply that she believes that New Zealanders should get as much support as they can, and work as hard as they can to do that. We have a system that provides support for those people who need it.
Jacinda Ardern: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. That was quite a specific question. If the Minister was unwilling to venture an answer—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! No, the member asked for an opinion, if I recollect correctly, from memory: what does the Minister think is a living wage? When a member asks a Minister for an opinion like that, there is no specific answer—
Jacinda Ardern: He could have tried a bit harder.
Mr SPEAKER: I accept what the member is saying, that maybe he could have tried a bit harder, but that is absolutely in the hands of the Minister.
Jacinda Ardern: If, as she has claimed, the cause of poverty is not enough people in work, the cause of unemployment is the global financial crisis, and the answer to everything is welfare reform, will her response always be a circular vortex of excuses?
Hon TONY RYALL: The Minister’s answers will always be based on the fact that this is a Government that is determined to have a strong, growing economy. It is only with a strong, growing economy that we can support the jobs and the opportunities that New Zealanders want. This is a country that has gone from having a debt of $8 billion 3½ years ago to $72 billion in the next 2½ years. We have borrowed extensively to protect the most vulnerable from the sharp edges of the recession, and have also used the taxes of working New Zealanders to do that.
Better Public Services—Progress
3. MARK MITCHELL (National—Rodney) to the Minister of Finance: What progress is the Government making with its Better Public Services plan?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Acting Minister of Finance): The Government is making excellent progress with the Better Public Services programme, which is working to produce a more efficient and focused Public Service. Some weeks ago the Prime Minister announced 10 specific Better Public Services results on which the Government is determined to see real progress in the next 5 years. One of them, for example, is that in 5 years’ time we expect 85 percent of 18-year-olds to have National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA) level 2 or its equivalent, up from 68 percent now. The Government yesterday released two further action plans to achieve those results: one on how we will achieve that NCEA target, and the other on how to ensure that in the next 5 years 55 percent of 25 to 34-year-olds will have a level 4 tertiary qualification or above. These are serious targets and also serious action plans for what are very important milestones for New Zealand’s future.
Mark Mitchell: Are the targets the Government has set actually achievable?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Well, they are very challenging targets, as was made clear in the Budget speech. Achieving these results will be demanding, and, in fact, meeting some of them will be quite difficult, but they are very worthwhile targets for New Zealand. For example, if we can achieve our target of reducing prisoner reoffending by 25 percent in 5 years, we are talking about 18,500 fewer victims of crime each year. And when we set a target of 55 percent of 25 to 34-yearolds having a level 4 qualification or higher by 2017, that means an extra 17,750 people, over and above population growth and the increase we would expect from current policies, to achieve qualifications at level 4 and above. These targets are very real, very important, and very measurable.
Mark Mitchell: How will the Better Public Services plan contribute to New Zealand’s improved economic performance?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: The Better Public Services programme is working to ensure that there is a more efficient public sector and, therefore, less waste of taxpayers’ money. It will also help lift public sector productivity and, therefore, wider productivity across New Zealand. The programme also has broader and more important objectives of reducing long-term costs to the State. For example, if we boost levels of skills and employment amongst young people, not only will their own life prospects be enhanced but so too will New Zealand’s productivity be lifted. As the Better Public Services Advisory Group said, reducing welfare dependency, improving education, health, and environmental outcomes, and creating a better environment for business investment and export success are where the real gains are to be made.
Mark Mitchell: Are legislative changes involved in the Better Public Services plan?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Yes. Today the Government—
Grant Robertson: This really is quite painful.
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: The Opposition hates hearing about targets and progress in the public sector.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! I accept that there has been some interjection, but the Minister is somewhat the master of that, in taking a little too long to answer.
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: The reality is that members opposite do not want to hear these things. That is why they make it sound like it is taking a long time. These are very excellent initiatives. Today the Government introduced the State Sector and Public Finance Reform Bill, which, as my colleague the Minister of State Services, Jonathan Coleman, says, delivers “the legislative grunt to deliver better public services,”. Amongst other measures, the bill provides for Government agencies to collaborate more, organise themselves around results, and share functions and services that allow them to better leverage the scale of the State sector. The bill extends the responsibilities of chief executives as they consider the collective interest of the whole Government, not the narrow focus—
Grant Robertson: I seek leave for Mr Joyce to table the rest of his answer.
Mr SPEAKER: The member cannot seek leave for another member to table a document. I think the Minister has had sufficient time to answer, however.
Oil and Gas Exploration and Extraction—Job Creation
4. Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE (Labour—New Lynn) to the Minister for Economic
Development: Does he agree with the Prime Minister that “An extension of exploration and mining activities in New Zealand would certainly create jobs”; if so, why?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister for Economic Development): Yes; because increases in economic activity generally create work for people to do, and the means by which to pay them.
Hon David Cunliffe: How many jobs have now been lost or announced to be lost in the mining sector since National became the Government?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I do not have that to hand, but if the member is interested, I can tell him that there have been some job losses and some proposed job losses. There is also very significant job creation going on, including just a few weeks ago, when I was in Taranaki, where— [Interruption] I appreciate that members opposite do not want to hear about economic growth in the New Zealand environment. In the Methanex area, Methanex has just employed more people. In fact, it had 500 more people working on Methanex’s Motunui plant to actually increase and get its methanol production up. Todd Energy is also investing in Taranaki. We have also had Todd Energy building a new power station in Taranaki, and if we want to look beyond the oil and gas sector—
Hon David Cunliffe: Point of order.
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Oh, you do not want to hear about jobs, Mr Cunliffe?
Hon David Cunliffe: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! A point of order has been called.
Hon David Cunliffe: The supplementary question was a very straight and factual one, and it followed directly from the primary question, which was on the question of job creation. The supplementary question was specifically on job losses that have occurred or have been announced. The Minister began by saying he did not have the information, and then went into a long rant about—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The Member was doing fine until he started using language like that. The Minister’s answer, though, in fairness, did cover issues of employment and jobs in the mining sector. He said that he did not have exact figures on the jobs lost, but he was able to identify several operations in the mining sector that had been employing more people recently. He was not attacking any other party. I do not think that that was an unreasonable answer.
Hon David Cunliffe: Does the Minister stand by the Minister of Finance’s statement: “We are focusing on using our natural resources, … and mining,”; if so, are the 12 percent decline in recorded employment in the mining sector and the hundreds of jobs lost in the sector the brighter future that the National Government promised?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Well, as I was just laying out, there is also very big investment in the mining sector. What the member needs to understand is that we are, in fact, in a dynamic environment at all times, and every business faces challenges. In the case of the oil and gas sector, his colleagues in the Greens point out that we have pretty high prices. In the case of the coal sector,
we currently have pretty low prices internationally. Companies actually have to react and manage that all the time, and that is what is happening in what is a very dynamic economic environment.
Hon David Cunliffe: On what date will the natural resources chapter of the so-called Business Growth Agenda be released, and can he confirm that this is now being rewritten in light of the cutbacks in Solid Energy, push-back by mining companies over proposals to increase royalties, cutbacks in jobs and production at BHP, and the Australian resources and energy Minister declaring that the days of record commodity prices are over? Does that therefore mean that his strategy’s reliance on mining is a failure?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: No. And, no, it is not being written. I know that in the member’s cartoon world there is no point in investing in industries and developing industries, but over here in the real world—not on “Planet Labour”—it is actually important that we encourage industry—
Hon David Cunliffe: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The question was a relatively straight question, which asked whether the date of the—
Mr SPEAKER: Forgive me. Order! Order! The member will resume his seat. Please do not treat the House like that. The member’s question was not straightforward; it went on and on and on. It contained a whole lot of assertions about failures in the mining sector, and the member asked a further question right at the end. The Minister has actually answered very clearly. He said the document is not being rewritten, if I heard him correctly, and that was one of the questions the member asked. I think it was a very fair response to that. If the member does not want that kind of answer, sharpen up his questions. He is capable of that—of asking far sharper questions.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. If the Hon David Cunliffe’s term “rant” is out of order, then how come “cartoon world” and “Planet Labour” are acceptable in this House from the Minister?
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Very simply—I am very happy to explain to the right honourable gentleman. The Minister’s answer was to a question asked that contained a whole lot of assertions about the mining industry, and contained at least three questions, and under those circumstances the Minister can have far more licence in answering it. The use of the word “rant” is not ruled out except under a point of order. A point of order should use absolutely objective language and not that kind of accusatory language. It is very simple. The language involved when raising points of order is very different from the language involved in debate. The member should know that because he has been in this House a very long time.
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Can I just seek guidance, because on that point you have ruled in the past—for instance, in a question asked to this member—that the term “glossy” somehow allowed members of the Government to indulge in derogatory comments, gave them licence to engage in derogatory comments about the Opposition. I, like Mr Peters, would like some consistency—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Let me assist the member. I just invite him to go back and look at the Hansard, as I do—as I do. Look at the context, the way the words are used, and what is created. It is dead simple. Members in this House have heard me require Ministers to answer when members ask straight questions. If the member thinks that his colleague’s question just then was a straight question, well, forgive me, but we are on different planets, because it was far from a straight question.
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I just invite you not to misinterpret my point of order.
Hon Damien O’Connor: Supplementary, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: I call the Hon Damien O’Connor.
Hon Damien O’Connor: Why should miners in Huntly in the West Coast lose jobs to save money for Solid Energy when the company has wasted millions of dollars on a biofuels project that has failed, and now threatens to destroy the high-value vegetable oil industry in New Zealand?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: In terms of biofuels projects and the like, I think members will find they have come from a different time and a different Government—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The House will come to order. The Leader of the House should know better than to be interjecting loudly beside an open microphone. That kind of interjection across the House is totally unnecessary.
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I think the point that was being made was that the biofuels obligation was created by the previous Government—
Hon Trevor Mallard: That’s right.
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: —that is right—and it created expectations beyond, obviously, which was challenging for Solid Energy. To the member’s wider point, I would respond that it is very tough when there is any change of jobs and when a company has to change and responds to the environment. The reality in the case of Solid Energy, as we know, is that the international coal price has affected things not just in this country but in Australasia as well. We are encouraging the board and management of Solid Energy to do the absolute right thing for their workers and for the business.
Hon Damien O’Connor: How sustainable is an industry if assurances of capital investment, mine expansion, and job growth can be promoted to West Coast business leaders and 2 months later can be reversed to potential job cuts, a freeze on capital expenditure, and a rundown in infrastructure; or is this all about simply adding to the identifiable resource while costs are slashed so that the Government may attract investors for its asset sales programme?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: The member seems to have donned Mr Mallard’s tin hat. The reality of the situation is this—
Hon Damien O’Connor: Answer the question.
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I am answering the question. I was responding to the member’s assertions at the end of his question. In terms of the first part of the member’s question, it is a challenging environment that this company is operating in. International prices in a number of areas change, and companies have difficult circumstances at some times and positive circumstances at others. Actually, they have to work to respond to that situation. It is called being in business and it is challenging. It is difficult in the case of Solid Energy at the moment but the board and management are being encouraged to work through it.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: What does the high and volatile New Zealand dollar mean for the future of mine activities in New Zealand, given yesterday’s announcement by Solid Energy concerning hundreds of Spring Creek Mine job losses?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: In terms of the challenges that the company faces, the biggest challenge by far, currently, is the international coal price. There is an impact, as the member has noted, in terms of the current level of exchange rate as well, but by far the biggest aspect is international coal prices. Obviously those do fluctuate from time to time, and the business is dealing with that, but it is, no doubt, challenging for all the staff involved.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: If the Government admits that the high dollar is causing serious problems for the mining industry, highlighted yesterday by the announcement from Solid Energy, why does the Government not support a monetary policy that would allow New Zealand to have a stable and competitive exchange rate, thereby helping exporters, as Korea, Singapore, and China have done?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Firstly, I did not acknowledge what the member said at the outset of his question. I said the primary aspect was, in fact, the international coal prices. But, notwithstanding that, the suggestion that New Zealand attempt to manage its exchange rate in the way the member proposes does not acknowledge the challenges that are involved and the risks to the New Zealand economy if you seek to do that. There is no ability to have a one-way bet on the New Zealand dollar. In actual fact, you have to ask the member what he is seeking to achieve, because although we have a high dollar relative to the US dollar currently, we have a low dollar relative to the
Australian dollar. In fact, forcing or attempting to force the New Zealand dollar down further, even if you were successful, would, of course, exacerbate the income differences between New Zealand and Australia, which would have other economic consequences.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: If the IMF says that the New Zealand dollar is inflated by as much as 20 percent, is it the Government’s intention to do exactly nothing about it?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Well, as I explained, I think, in the House last week, the reality is that the value of a country’s currency is dependent over the medium term and over the cycle on what people think of the economic prospects of that country. So if you actually want to materially devalue the New Zealand dollar, then you have to materially devalue the economic situation in New Zealand, which I do not think, and I do not think the Government believes, is an appropriate way to deal with the challenges in the world today. The correct response is to help improve the competitiveness of the New Zealand economy, and that means across a whole range of fronts, including inviting capital investment to encourage businesses to grow, inviting opportunities in the resource sector, and right across a whole range of things. That is actually a more constructive and substantive response.
Hon Damien O’Connor: What has changed in the last 2 months that reverses the outlook for West Coast mining from very positive to very negative?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Well, I cannot speak for those exact 2 months, but over this year we have seen a decline in the coal prices internationally, which has picked up, and if the member wants to review, perhaps, the international markets for coal and what is happening with coal companies, particularly in Australia, then he will see very similar challenges there as he is seeing for Solid Energy on the West Coast and around New Zealand.
5. Dr JIAN YANG (National) to the Minister of Health: What reports has he had on progress with the six national health targets?
Hon TONY RYALL (Minister of Health): There is more good news from the Government’s national health targets, published today. Our public hospitals have now achieved a new record for patients being seen in their emergency departments, with 94 percent of patients discharged or treated in less than 6 hours. This is important because it is a measure of the performance across the whole of the hospital. All cancer patients received their treatment within the world gold standard of 4 weeks, for the sixth quarter in a row. Finally, district health boards this year have provided elective surgery for 153,000 patients—that is, 30 percent more patients in a year than under Labour.
Dr Jian Yang: What progress has been made on the preventative health targets?
Hon TONY RYALL: As you know, this Government is very committed to preventive health measures throughout the public health service. All measures have improved in terms of the preventive health targets, including more heart and diabetes checks, which are up 3 percent; immunisation coverage for 2-year-olds has risen to a new record of 93 percent, when it was only 67 percent a few years ago under the previous Government; and, in relation to better help for smokers to quit, of the 40,000 patients hospitalised, 94 percent were given help to discourage them from smoking, the highest rate being at the Lakes District Health Board, where 99 percent of all their patients in the last quarter were given help to stop smoking. I would like to thank all our hardworking staff, who are working so hard to provide better front-line health services and preventive health services for New Zealand families.
Transport Funding—Auckland Public Transport
6. JULIE ANNE GENTER (Green) to the Minister of Transport: What percentage of money announced yesterday in the National Land Transport Programme for 2012-2015 for public transport in Auckland will be paid for by the Auckland Council, if any, and what percentage will come from the National Land Transport fund itself?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE (Minister of Transport): Kia ora. It is 46 percent and 54 percent respectively.
Julie Anne Genter: What new commitments has he made to invest in much-needed public transport infrastructure over the next 3 years excluding rail electrification and the purchase of the electric multiple units, which were committed to under the previous Government?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: I do not think that anyone should underestimate the cost of servicing the investment in those electric trains or, in fact, the whole of the public transport system. But what I would say is that we have, in conjunction with the Auckland City Council and the transport authority up there, currently got a central city access study going on. That should produce a result, looking at multi-nodal transport and the way in which the pressing problem of congestion as it is projected forward currently in Auckland can be dealt with. One of the things we look at, of course, is that four out of five Aucklanders answering surveys so far have said that for the foreseeable future, they would expect to be using their cars for those journeys. So we do need to let that study run its course so that we do have a good basis of information on which to make our final decisions. The next aspect of the study, of course, will be to look at whether the—
Mr SPEAKER: Order!
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: —city rail link itself—
Mr SPEAKER: Order!
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: I am sorry. It is a fascinating topic, as you know.
Julie Anne Genter: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I wonder whether you could offer your assistance in interpreting the Minister’s answer. It seems to me that he did not actually say that there were any new commitments to public transport infrastructure—
Mr SPEAKER: Order!
Julie Anne Genter: —so I’m wondering if that—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Forgive me; I thought I did hear the Minister refer to various investments that related to public transport. In fact, he went on at some length in relation to them, I thought. The member has further supplementary questions.
Julie Anne Genter: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am sorry; my question was quite specific about infrastructure—what were the new commitments to infrastructure over the next 3 years. I do not believe that the Minister specifically addressed any infrastructure projects that they were funding.
Mr SPEAKER: Infrastructure does not relate just to the steel and the concrete and what have you. If I heard the Minister correctly, he talked about plans that were being put in place that did require investment, for study and that kind of thing. So that is investment in infrastructure even if it is not in the bricks and mortar. The member has further supplementary questions, though.
Julie Anne Genter: Would it not be smarter to invest in the transport modes that are growing rapidly rather than spending over a billion dollars on 4.5 kilometres of motorway, which will not reduce congestion or protect the economy from oil shocks?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: Moving forward, it is projected that traffic movements—that is, motor vehicle traffic—into Auckland city over a very short period of time are going to increase by about 1.5 million movements on an annual basis. That is a very rapidly growing transport statistic, and it is a choice being made by Aucklanders, and, yes, we are investing in it.
Julie Anne Genter: How can he be meeting the economic and transport needs of Auckland when his Government is throwing the lion’s share of the transport budget at a few low-value motorways that will not reduce congestion or get Auckland moving?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: That is the difference, you see. We will just have to disagree, because I think it will get Auckland moving.
Julie Anne Genter: I seek leave to table The Fundamental Law of Road Congestion: Evidence from US Cities, a paper from the University of Toronto’s department of economics, which
categorically states that the fundamental law of traffic congestion is that new urban motorways do not reduce congestion.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is objection.
Julie Anne Genter: I seek leave to table the public transport patronage growth statistics from Auckland Transport, which show it has grown over 30 percent in the last 4 years.
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.
Medical Equipment—Glucose Meters
7. Hon MARYAN STREET (Labour) to the Minister of Health: Is he satisfied that the changeover on 1 September to new blood glucose meters will go well for New Zealand’s 120,000 diabetics who use them and what measures has he taken to ensure that it will?
Hon TONY RYALL (Minister of Health): Yes, that is what I expect. I do need to emphasise to the member that it is not a wholesale change for everybody with diabetes on 1 September. There is a 6-month transition. So every existing patient does not need to swap their existing meter until they can no longer obtain test strips for their old meter, which is from 1 March 2013. I have received advice that the new meters have been thoroughly tested for accuracy and precision, and these testing reports are available on the Pharmac website. I am further advised that the Diabetes New Zealand President, Mrs Chris Baty, has examined one of the new CareSens meters and is confident that “it is as good as diabetics have ever had”.
Hon Maryan Street: What assurance can he give New Zealand diabetics that there will be sufficient supply of the new meters in New Zealand and that they will be efficiently distributed?
Hon TONY RYALL: I am not aware of any concerns about that. We have a 6-month transition. Some of those meters are already available in New Zealand, and I expect that with the significant concentration on this matter by Pharmac and others in the health service, that transition should go well. That is certainly my expectation.
Hon Maryan Street: What assurance can he give the Cannons Creek, Porirua, pharmacist, Mr Kas Govind, that the information required to educate his patients and staff will be available before 1 September, which is Saturday, because it has not arrived yet and today is Thursday?
Hon TONY RYALL: I do not think we should have any worries about that, because Pharmac is making some new online information available, I think, tomorrow, and, actually, there will not be a stampede of patients to get support for monitoring this equipment. I think you will find that the functionality of the equipment is such that it will be very easy and straightforward to pick up. One of the real benefits of this new arrangement is that when people with diabetes had to get a replacement machine, they had to go to their general practitioner, get a prescription, go down the road, and get it filled by the pharmacist. Now they will be able to go directly to the pharmacist to get their replacement device.
Hon Maryan Street: What support will be given to diabetics transitioning to the new meters, and how does the Minister intend to monitor the effectiveness of that support?
Hon TONY RYALL: One way I will monitor it is by the number of questions that the member offers to me in the House. They are, no doubt, a reflection of who she spoke to last. But we will monitor it, of course, by the feedback from those—
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. That was a straight question: “How will he monitor?”. It did not require an offensive answer, and that was. I know by this Minister’s class it was not that offensive—
Mr SPEAKER: No, no. Order! I think the member’s point is fair enough. The Minister did not need to say that. It could be interpreted wrongly, in an offensive way, and that is unfair. I would ask the Minister to answer the straight question, please.
Hon TONY RYALL: I will be monitoring it by the feedback. No doubt those who have a problem will let us know. What I have to say is I take some comfort from the comment from the president of Diabetes New Zealand, who said that she thinks the machine is “as good as diabetics have ever had”, and a lot of effort is going into making sure the transition is as good as it can be over the next 6 months.
8. SHANE ARDERN (National—Taranaki - King Country) to the Minister of Transport: What recent analysis has he seen on transport investment?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE (Minister of Transport): I have seen analysis that in the 9 years between 1999 and 2008 the Labour Government supported by the Greens and New Zealand First spent just over $1.1 billion on public transport infrastructure and services. This analysis shows that in the 6 years between 2008 and 2015 the National-led Government will invest just over $1.7 billion on public transport and infrastructure. In 6 years this Government will increase the public transport spend by 50 percent more than the previous Government did in 9 years. This Government is committed to an efficient, safe, cost-effective public transport system, and instead of talking about, we are funding it.
Shane Ardern: Does this analysis reveal anything about local road spending?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: Yes. It shows that over the same period the Labour Government supported by the New Zealand First and Green Parties spent around $930 million on the improvement of local roads and approximately $2.9 billion on the maintenance of local roads. This Government will invest over $3.9 billion in local roads between 2008 and 2015, a 6-year period. In two-thirds of the time this Government will do far more for improving the maintenance of local roads than the previous Labour Government. This Government understands the importance of those local roads, and no local roading authority will get less funding in the 3 years ahead than anywhere in New Zealand. The programme launched yesterday is one of the biggest allocations to roading infrastructure New Zealand has ever seen.
Shane Ardern: What does this analysis show in regard to road safety?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: This another good piece of news. It probably will not surprise the House to learn that it shows a very clear trend. You see, the Government believes that by improving the safety of our roading network, we are committing to reducing the road safety toll and reducing road accidents. The analysis I have been shown shows that this Government is investing almost $2 billion in road policing in the 6 years between 2008-09 and 2014-15. It is a strengthening of that budget in difficult financial times but it is well worth it, because it does mean that New Zealanders will be safer, and it compares very, very favourably—$2 billion compared with the money spent over a much longer period by the previous Government. We need all motorists to drive safely and considerately, and good roads will facilitate that.
Transport Funding—Minister’s Statements on Roads of National Significance
9. PHIL TWYFORD (Labour—Te Atatū) to the Minister of Transport: Does he stand by all his statements on the Roads of National Significance?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE (Minister of Transport): Yes, especially when I called upon the member to name which of the roads of national significance his party would not fund.
Phil Twyford: Does he stand by his statement after the downgrading of the Ōtaki to Levin highway that no further roads of national significance would be cancelled; if so, how does he square this with the New Zealand Transport Agency saying now that the section of the Pūhoi to Wellsford
road of national significance north of the Ōmaha turn-off in Warkworth has been downgraded to a possible road of national significance?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: Anticipating the member’s question by virtue of the questions I was asked on the bridge coming across to the Chamber, I made inquiries of the New Zealand Transport Agency, which told me that that is not the case.
Phil Twyford: I seek leave of the House to table this new map from the New Zealand Transport Agency, titled Transport and land use priorities in the Auckland region, which clearly identifies the Warkworth to Wellsford highway as a possible road of national significance. It is a new map.
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.
Phil Twyford: Has any assessment been done comparing the impact on Northland’s economy of spending $1.7 billion on a roading project that is not even in Northland with other options such as upgrading the North Auckland rail line, more quickly and cheaply improving safety on State Highway 1, actually upgrading roads in Northland, or a regional economic development package?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: It may surprise the member to note that people cannot get their goods out of Northland unless there are roads outside of Northland. It sort of makes sense that if you want to get from Northland down to some other part of New Zealand, you need a road to get there. Eighty percent of all freight in this country is carried on the road. That is why we are putting the money into the road transport programme and the roads of national significance. Tell us, which of the roads in the programme would Labour stop?
Phil Twyford: Will he confirm that the proposed spend of $33 million on the Pūhoi to Warkworth design and property purchase while downgrading Warkworth to Wellsford to being a possible road of national significance confirms that the project has nothing to do with improving Northland’s economy, and everything to do with making it faster to get to the Prime Minister’s holiday home in Ōmaha?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: Well, firstly, I reject that last statement; I think it is outrageous that the member is being so stupid as to make it. Let me tell you this: the programme has always had the Pūhoi to Wellsford road being designed, the designations put on it, the properties acquired, etc., in the current land transport period. It will be built in the 2015-18 period, unless we get a Labour Government that cans it.
New Zealand Navy—Replacement of HMNZS Endeavour
10. RICHARD PROSSER (NZ First) to the Minister of Defence: Can he confirm whether or not the planned replacement for HMNZS Endeavour will be built to internationally accepted military specifications?
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN (Minister of Defence): The Cabinet is yet to consider any options for the replacement of the Endeavour.
Richard Prosser: Can he tell the House which of the seven Project Protector vessels acquired for the Navy were built to internationally accepted military specifications, and which were built to civilian standard only?
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: I can tell the member that of the Project Protector fleet the Canterbury, the offshore patrol vessels, and the inshore patrol vessels are all actually built to commercial standards. They do a fantastic job and are internationally acclaimed for their work. No one has previously raised any issues around that. They provided great value for money, and have been doing a good job.
Richard Prosser: Does this Government have any plans to replace the commercially designed HMNZS Canterbury with a more seaworthy military specification vessel, given the number of performance shortfalls that have been identified since it has been in operation?
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: There has been a long remediation programme for the Canterbury, and it is basically going to be fit for purpose for the future, but if you look at the wider picture, it has got great sealift capacity and it is a very important part of our fleet. It actually brings some real extra performance to the game when we exercise internationally with partners such as Australia, which greatly appreciates that capability that we have.
Afghanistan—Prime Minister’s Statements about Hungarian Provincial Reconstruction Team
11. Hon PHIL GOFF (Labour—Mt Roskill) to the Prime Minister: Does he regret his statement about the Hungarian Provincial Reconstruction Team in Afghanistan; if not, why not?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE (Acting Prime Minister): No; because it was based on information provided to him by the Chief of Defence Force.
Hon Phil Goff: What exactly did he, as Prime Minister, achieve by making disparaging remarks about Hungarian soldiers that the Government of Hungary has variously described as false, malicious, ill-advised, and unfair; what did he achieve, other than the ill will of Hungarian people towards New Zealand? Those remarks were widely reported and will be long remembered.
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: I am sure that there will be many people in Hungary who still remember New Zealand’s contribution to their own liberation not too long ago. Might I say that the work that the two services, the New Zealand Defence Force and the Hungarian defence force, do in their two respective areas is obviously very valuable to the reconstruction of those two areas, and we respect that.
Hon Phil Goff: Does he think that gratuitous insults from the Prime Minister towards Hungary and from Gerry Brownlee towards Finland will have enhanced the regard that those countries have for New Zealand and the likelihood that they will support our upcoming bid for election to the United Nations Security Council?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: I cannot speculate on what some other country might do with regard to a UN vote.
Hon Phil Goff: Since he has criticised the Hungarians for not patrolling in the southern part of Baghlan, and since his announcement that the Kiwis will patrol in those areas, has he reconsidered his announced intention to have them patrol, given that the Kiwi soldiers lack mine-resistant armour-protected vehicles, without which they would be under extreme risk and would likely suffer further casualties?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: The member was offered a briefing on all these matters last week. He has not taken it up. It is not appropriate, nor—
Hon Phil Goff: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. There are two points that I would like to make to you. Firstly, that is not an answer to my question. Secondly, I have asked the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee for such a briefing, and it has not been offered.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member’s point of order is perfectly fair that that is not an answer to the question. It may be that the Acting Prime Minister considers that it is not in the public interest to answer the question, but he should indicate that, rather than going into the answer in the way he did, because the question was a fair question. So I call on the Hon Gerry Brownlee to now answer it.
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: I do not think discussing these matters in the House, given the desire to protect the security of our soldiers in any theatre of war, is desirable; nor is it in the public interest. I would point out that the member has been offered a briefing on this, and has not taken it up.
Hon Phil Goff: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The chairman of the select committee knows that I have asked for that briefing—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member knows that he cannot dispute the answer by way of a point of order, but he can make a personal explanation if he feels that what the Minister has said is impacting on him and affecting him adversely.
Hon Phil Goff: My point of order is this. The Prime Minister has publicly announced that we will be patrolling, so it is not a case of security. That is not the reason why—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! No, no. That is not a point of order, because none of us can secondguess a Minister, if they invoke the public interest in not answering a question. We cannot do that, and it is not appropriate to try to challenge that by way of point of order.
Denis O’Rourke: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! A point of order has been called.
Denis O’Rourke: Could you clarify that when answers are given to a member’s question, they need to be answers for the benefit of the House, and that questions cannot be answered by reference to offering a briefing to a particular member?
Mr SPEAKER: I think, in fairness, on this occasion the relationship between the two issues is that the Minister has declined to answer what seemed a fair question from the Hon Phil Goff, the Minister has declined to answer it, invoking the public interest as the reason for not answering it— the safety of New Zealand’s Defence Force. That is the Minister’s judgment alone and I cannot question that. In terms of the Minister then referring to offering a briefing, the questioner is the shadow Minister of Foreign Affairs, or the Opposition spokesperson on foreign affairs, and it is not uncommon for senior Opposition members to be offered confidential briefings by Ministers in these kinds of circumstances. I think that is not unreasonable for that situation, if that is the Minister’s judgment. Certainly, as Speaker I cannot question that judgment. But it is not uncommon to offer a senior Opposition spokesperson a confidential briefing in those circumstances.
Hon Phil Goff: When the Prime Minister promised that he would send New Zealand soldiers to patrol in Baghlan, was he in possession of all of the relevant facts around the risk posed to the New Zealand soldiers, particularly since the Minister of Defence has said that he was not, that the Government was not, and that, of course, New Zealand does not have mine-resistant armourprotected vehicles?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: Well, the first point is that the New Zealand Government has provided to the New Zealand Defence Force in Afghanistan all equipment that it has asked for. Secondly, I would say that I am the Acting Prime Minister and I am not briefed well enough to be able to answer that question.
Hon Dr Jonathan Coleman: What reports has the Prime Minister had from the Labour Party in response to his offer to—
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I think we all know that the Minister has no responsibility for any Labour Party reports.
Mr SPEAKER: I think that is a fair point. I realise the member tried to dress it up in the guise of “what reports”, but at the end of the day the substance of the question must have some relationship to ministerial responsibility, and, as pointed out by the Hon Trevor Mallard, the Minister has no responsibility whatsoever for any Labour Party reports.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Just by way of assistance, if the Minister of Defence really wants help he should ask: “Has the Prime Minister”—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! No, the member should not do that. [Interruption] No, the member should not do that. [Interruption] Order!
Hon Phil Goff: I seek leave to table a letter that I addressed to the chairman of the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee more than 2 weeks ago, to which I have had no reply, asking for a briefing.
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.
Hon Dr Jonathan Coleman: What response has the Prime Minister had from the Labour Party to his offer of a confidential briefing on all matters relating to the situation in Afghanistan, an offer
the Prime Minister made to the Labour Party over a week ago? What response has the Prime Minister had?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: Well, disappointingly—it would seem from the tabling of the letter in the House just before that the Labour Party wishes to conduct this discussion in public—the answer is that no response has been received.
Mr SPEAKER: Question No. 12, the Hon Tau Henare. [Interruption] Order! Members know that that is not good enough. We are better than that.
Information and Communications Technology Targets—Progress
12. Hon TAU HENARE (National) to the Minister of Internal Affairs: What progress has been made in achieving better public services through all-of-Government ICT initiatives?
Hon CHRIS TREMAIN (Minister of Internal Affairs): Excellent progress. Today the Government released the Better Public Services result 10 action plan. Result 10 is about delivering smarter, faster, and more convenient online public services. We have identified a group of commonly used transactions, such as vehicle licences and applying for a passport, and our goal is to have 70 percent of these transactions delivered online by 2017. Other key initiatives include the igovt identity service, and today the Electronic Identity Verification Bill passed its second reading, making good progress towards delivering the igovt service. I also announced today that the Government is taking the next steps towards a cloud computing model, which will pave the way for improved services and whole-of-Government savings.
Hon Tau Henare: What benefits are associated with cloud computing?
Hon CHRIS TREMAIN: Cloud computing is an exciting technology that will contribute directly to better public services and will promote innovation. The first set of cloud-based services will be office productivity services such as email and word processing. This will improve consistency and reduce barriers to collaboration between agencies. Cloud computing will also enable Government agencies to pay per use for information and communications technology products and services delivered through networks, rather than investing large amounts of capital in their own information and communications technology server infrastructure.
Hon Tau Henare: Mr Speaker—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I want to hear this question.
Hon Tau Henare: What are the next steps for cloud computing?
Hon CHRIS TREMAIN: That is an excellent question. The Department of Internal Affairs will issue a request for proposal to provide onshore-hosted, cloud-based office productivity services. In parallel, a policy framework is being developed by the Department of Internal Affairs in collaboration with other agencies. The department will report back to Ministers by the end of the year. Cloud-based office productivity services such as email and word processing are just the first. There is vast potential for making further services available through the use of cloud, and we will continue to work towards making more cloud-based services available.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I just want to make it clear that the Labour Party will not object—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I do not hear what the point of order is. [Interruption] Order! I do not believe that this has got—[Interruption] Forgive me. I will resume my seat and listen carefully.
Hon Trevor Mallard: The House today has had an outburst of multipartisanship on the question of identity verification and computing matters, and the Labour Party will not object if Tau Henare wants to seek the leave of the House to ask more questions—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member will resume his seat. I knew this was not going to be a valid point of order, but, still, I guess I can blame only myself.