Questions and Answers - October 16
(uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing)
TUESDAY, 16 OCTOBER 2012
QUESTIONS FOR ORAL ANSWER
QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS
Dotcom Case—Actions of Government Communications Security Bureau
1. DAVID SHEARER (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does he stand by all his statements in relation to Kim Dotcom and the inquiry into the actions of the Government Communications Security Bureau?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): I refer the member to the personal explanation I have just given to the House. At the time I was responding to the questions I believed the answers to be correct. However, evidence has since come to light that suggests that the answers I gave to the House in one specific area may well have been incorrect. I had no intention to mislead the House and I corrected these answers at the first opportunity.
David Shearer: On what date did the Government Communications Security Bureau first become aware that its surveillance of Kim Dotcom was illegal?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: The first day that I was briefed by the Government Communications Security Bureau about it being illegal was likely to be the 17th.
David Shearer: Point of order—
Mr SPEAKER: I think I can predict the Leader of the Opposition’s point of order. The member actually asked on what date the Government Communications Security Bureau became aware that its investigation may have been illegal, not the date on which the Prime Minister was advised of that.
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I do not have that date to hand.
David Shearer: Further to his answers on 26 September, when he said he was unsure about the involvement of the SIS or the other staff from the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet in the Dotcom case, can he now confirm what involvement those staff had?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I cannot confirm all the involvements. I can confirm that the SIS played a minor vetting role, as it always does when people make applications. I can also confirm that when the SIS and the Government Communications Security Bureau say things, they do not just make it up—like some members do.
David Shearer: Mr Speaker—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I want to hear the Leader of the Opposition’s question.
David Shearer: In light of his answer to written question No. 8353, where he confirmed that he discussed the Government Communications Security Bureau’s illegal surveillance of Dotcom with the Attorney-General but was unable to recall which other two Ministers he raised the issue with, can he now recall and tell the House who those other Ministers were?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No.
David Shearer: Why did his Acting Prime Minister sign a ministerial certificate to suppress and cover up the Government Communications Security Bureau’s illegal activity?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Firstly, he was not covering something up. What actually happened was that the Government Communications Security Bureau wanted to have its name not in the public domain, because it believed legally it had acted legally. It also had the paperwork to support that. I have seen that paperwork, and the paperwork made it quite clear it believed its activities to be legal.
Michael Woodhouse: What is his response to the serious allegations made by David Shearer that “there wasn’t a video simply because they’ve taken the hard drives and wiped it”?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I believe that those allegations against the Government Communications Security Bureau are extremely serious and reflect on the integrity of the organisation and its staff. I have been advised by the director that there was no video—that there was never a video—and that nothing has been deleted from the Government Communications Security Bureau’s system. So, quite frankly, Mr Shearer should put up or shut up. In fact, he should apologise for his unsubstantiated—
Mr SPEAKER: Order!
David Shearer: Mr Speaker—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Order! I know the issue is a tense issue, but I want to hear the question from the Leader of the Opposition.
David Shearer: Which of the following statements does he stand by in his answers about knowledge of the Government Communications Security Bureau’s involvement in the Kim Dotcom case: “No, I don’t think so.”, “No, I don’t remember.”, “Look, I don’t know. Um, you know, who knows?”, “I’m not in a position to answer that.”, and “I don’t remember cracking a joke about that one, because I crack jokes all the time.”?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: In the course of my job I answer questions on a daily basis, at length, to the media. If I am in a position to give the correct answer, I do. If I am not, I simply make sure that I get the correct information. David Shearer went on to Campbell Live and said there was a video, and it had been taken. Then he told David Fisher at the New Zealand Herald: “Well, no, it’s been wiped, because they’ve taken the hard drive.” Then he told Firstline it had been erased. Now he says it is not about the video. Apparently, it is not about the video.
David Shearer: Has he received any information about other potential illegal or unlawful acts by other New Zealand Government agencies or a foreign Government agency in the Kim Dotcom case?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: As the agency pointed out when the review was taking place, there are three other cases that took place between 2009 and 2012.
David Shearer: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. That was a specific question about other agencies, not about the Government Communications Security Bureau.
Mr SPEAKER: I think it was not unreasonable that the question was misunderstood. I invite the member to repeat his question.
David Shearer: Has he received any information about other potential illegal or unlawful acts by other New Zealand Government agencies or a foreign Government agency in the Dotcom case?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: To the best of my knowledge, no.
Jacinda Ardern: Supplementary question to the Prime Minister—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I want to hear this question.
Jacinda Ardern: Did the Government Communications Security Bureau report to him on the introduction of kiosks into Work and Income offices; if not, why not, given that under law it is required to give advice on the security and protection of information held by the Government?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No. I give the member full credit for auditioning for the new job as Leader of the Opposition, because apparently the way—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] No, order! Question No. 2, Metiria Turei. [Interruption] Order! Order! Unlike the aforementioned gentlemen, the Prime Minister did sit down when I got to my feet.
Social Development, Ministry—Security of Private Information
2. METIRIA TUREI (Co-Leader—Green) to the Minister for Social Development: Does she have confidence that the Ministry of Social Development can keep private information it holds confidential?
Hon PAULA BENNETT (Minister for Social Development): In relation to the Work and Income kiosks, I would have to say no. As the member will be aware, there is an independent investigation into that matter.
Metiria Turei: Prior to her announcement of the vulnerable kids information system in the white paper, did the Minister ensure that her ministry could keep information about our most vulnerable children confidential given that her ministry was advised in April 2011 that this risk existed in Work and Income offices?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: In relation to the vulnerable kids information system, I had many meetings with not just my own department on that, but on what the security would be around it. I have got at least 18 months to 2 years to actually put up a prototype and to work through what those experts in security will be around it. We had made the decision previous to this week that we would have an experts’ advisory group that would ensure that information was kept secure.
Metiria Turei: Given that she herself has leaked private details about beneficiaries to the public, contrary to the Privacy Act, will she take personal responsibility for creating the cavalier attitude to privacy now evident within her office and her ministry?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: I have not leaked private information about individuals.
Metiria Turei: Did she or any of her staff have any involvement in the leak of Ira Bailey’s name to the media?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: Not to my knowledge, no.
Metiria Turei: Will she investigate whether any Ministry of Social Development staff in her office or in the Ministry of Social Development generally were involved in the leak of Ira Bailey’s name to the media; if not, is this because she herself has exhibited such a cavalier attitude to the protection of the privacy of individuals?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: To be fair, right now my ministry and I are very concerned about people’s personal information being made available through the kiosks. That is our focus; that is the seriousness with which we are taking that. I have zero interest in going on a bit of a witch hunt at the moment. I want to get to the core of what this problem is. I want to fix it, and I want the public to have assurances that that is what we are concentrating on.
Mr SPEAKER: Metiria Turei. [Interruption] Order! Order! I want to hear Metiria Turei’s question.
Metiria Turei: Does the Minister accept that her failure to respect and protect private information has now exposed thousands of vulnerable New Zealand children to further risk of harm and abuse?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: No.
Metiria Turei: How can New Zealanders trust her oversight of her ministry’s privacy systems when she herself has revealed blatant disregard for privacy, has leaked the information—private information—of individuals to the public, and was not aware that her own kiosks posed such an enormous risk to vulnerable children, and, in the midst of the biggest privacy drama, someone in her office or in her ministry may be responsible for the leaking of private citizens’ information to the media?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: Quite frankly, I do not quite know where to start on the presumptions that were in the member’s question. So one is that Mr Ira Bailey phoned into the ministry, did not ask that his information be kept confidential or anything else, and now that his name is out there— and a lot of people knew his name and knew that he had access to that—it is all of a sudden a leak, right? It did not come from me. I did not leak this information, so I actually take that as being factually incorrect. I have not leaked people’s information previously. I think the member should
concentrate on what is really important here, and I think that we are taking this very seriously, as we should. As soon as we knew this on Sunday, and it came out, we had locked all systems down. We are concentrating right now on restoring the public’s confidence in our ability to hold information.
3. KATRINA SHANKS (National) to the Minister of Finance: What are the main features of the Government’s plan to build a more competitive economy based on more savings, higher exports and less debt?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): The Government has a number of aspects to our plan. The first is to focus on economic growth, as illustrated by the recent publication of a series of documents outlining our initiatives to support business growth. The second is to focus on a path back to surplus so that Government debt will stop increasing. The third is to provide better public services and a more productive public sector, and the fourth is to rebuild Christchurch. Basically, the Government’s plan is roughly on track.
Katrina Shanks: What results has he seen of progress in the Government’s programme to build a more competitive economy?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: In the face of some headwinds from the global economy we have been able to make progress with a number of deep-seated problems in the economy. Inflation is under control and, as we have seen today, the cost of living is rising by just 0.8 percent according to the CPI for September, which came out this morning. Our fiscal policy is roughly on track. We have growth of 2.6 percent, which is in the range of 2 to 3 percent that we have talked about for some time. A net 57,000 more New Zealanders now have jobs than 2 years ago and household savings are continuing to rise.
Katrina Shanks: What reports has he received on the impact of the current global economic situation and its likely impact on New Zealand?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: In recent weeks there have been a number of forecasts relevant to the global economy that have been more subdued than earlier on in the year. The forecasts indicate that Europe and emerging economies, in particular, are likely to grow more slowly than expected. We have yet to see how that impact will flow through to New Zealand. Treasury is going into another forecasting round for the half-year update that will be released in December.
Katrina Shanks: What reports has he received on alternative policy approaches that would leave New Zealanders worse off, pushing up their cost of living?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I have been surprised at reports that political parties that have been advocating in the past that the cost of living was rising too rapidly are advocating, essentially, that the Reserve Bank should start printing money now. Of course, that would have the effect of driving up the cost of living further, particularly for the most vulnerable.
Dr Russel Norman: Has he seen the 2010 IMF report entitled Rethinking Macroeconomic Policy, which finds that “Central banks in small open economies”—like New Zealand—“should openly recognize that exchange rate stability is part of their objective function.”, not just inflation targeting; and does he agree with the IMF that the New Zealand dollar is overvalued by about 15 percent, which is damaging the export sector?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Yes, I have seen the report, and the Government has said a number of times that the level of the exchange rate is providing quite a strong headwind for the rebalancing of the New Zealand economy. However, one cannot really argue about stability. In fact, one of the issues of the exchange rate is that it has been relatively high now for 4 or 5 years. It is to the credit of our exporters that they have been sufficiently resilient to be able to grow export volume and value in any case.
Social Development, Ministry—Security of Private Information
4. JACINDA ARDERN (Labour) to the Minister for Social Development: Has the Ministry of Social Development competently managed the private information in its charge?
Hon PAULA BENNETT (Minister for Social Development): In relation to the Work and Income kiosks, I would have to say no.
Jacinda Ardern: Why did she not know about the vulnerabilities raised by an IT company a year ago when according to a letter from her to Bill English in 2009 the roll-out of the kiosks would be monitored by both her and her chief executive closely?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: Because it is very operational. It was the IT division within the Ministry of Social Development that did it, and it was an operational issue.
Jacinda Ardern: How can the public have any faith in her plans to establish a database of vulnerable children, even if it takes a year to roll out, given that the latest failure was developed internally, tested externally, and supposedly monitored by her?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: The member can keep saying that but it is factually not true in the end. It is an operational matter as far as the security of the systems, and that is where it lies. The vulnerable kids information system is going to be a very, very different system. Firstly, it is password protected, so only certain people have access to it, but I do admit that it needs absolutely the right checks and balances in place. I will have the right experts within the ministry, but equally externally from the ministry, going through and making sure that we get that right before we put anything out there.
Le’aufa’amulia Asenati Lole-Taylor: Will the security and integrity of all Ministry of Social Development databases now be checked, and by when?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: The chief executive has got Deloitte doing an independent review. We are doing it in two phases. The first phase will be on the immediate problem with the kiosks, what has gone wrong there, why, what should have been done differently, and what we need to do immediately to fix it. We estimate that that should take about 2 weeks. The wider issue of the systems within the ministry will also be done by Deloitte, but I do not have an absolute time on that yet until it has done the original scoping.
Jacinda Ardern: I seek leave to table a letter from the Minister to Bill English on the automation of front-line services where she says she will be monitoring the progress of these plans regularly with the ministry chief.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? [Interruption] Order! There is no objection. Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Jacinda Ardern: When did she first learn the name of who had identified the vulnerabilities in her department’s system, and did she consider this relevant information and in the public interest to know?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: To the first part of the question, I was informed on Wednesday afternoon last week, and at that point, no, I did not feel like it needed to be made public. We were not sure on the veracity around it. The ministry itself had started doing checks of systems but was obviously looking in the wrong place.
Jacinda Ardern: Why did her ministerial adviser access the LinkedIn profile of Ira Bailey on Thursday?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: Actually, it was on Wednesday, and it is quite common for someone to google a name when it comes up as a person who might be looking at the systems.
Jacinda Ardern: Can she assure the House that neither she nor her office leaked the name of the person who originally uncovered this serious breach of privacy?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: I have answered that before, but I am happy to do it again for the member. Well, certainly I did not, and to the best of my knowledge no one in my office did. There
is a wide range of people who knew that, and if the member thinks that this is the biggest issue of the day, I say we have much more serious things to consider than a side issue like this.
Mr SPEAKER: Question No. 5, Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga. [Interruption] Order! I say to the Minister I have called her colleague. [Interruption] Order! I have called the member’s colleague and I expect a little courtesy.
Child Poverty, Abuse, and Neglect—White Paper for Vulnerable Children
5. Peseta SAM LOTU-IIGA (National—Maungakiekie) to the Minister for Social
Development: What children will the White Paper for Vulnerable Children be targeting?
Hon PAULA BENNETT (Minister for Social Development): I am sorry, Mr Speaker. I was a little focused on being called a liar by the member over there. Right, this paper is focused on this country’s most vulnerable children: those that have been and are at most risk of being seriously maltreated. This paper does not undermine the importance of ensuring universal support to children, but unless we put a clear focus on these most vulnerable children, things will not change for them.
Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga: What have the trends—
Grant Robertson: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Minister for Social Development just made a very unparliamentary remark across the House and I ask that she withdraw and apologise for it.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I actually heard what the Minister said. I do not want to repeat what she said, but she did not actually accuse anyone of lying. She made a comment, a quote from past time that is probably even on the record of this Parliament already, and I am not about to rule those words out. But members should not—[Interruption] Order! Members should not take that as a being a precedent to call other members liars. [Interruption] Order! Before I call the member, I ask the House just to settle down a little, because members may recollect that the thing that caused the Minister to get a little offended in the previous question was that she perceived she had been accused across the House of exactly that. That is why I just ask the House to come back to a little more order. I know it has been a tense time. I understand that; I respect that. It is the House’s right to be tense at times and to take issues very seriously. That is absolutely the prerogative of the House, but I think it is time now for a little more reasonableness.
Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga: What have the trends in child abuse and neglect been since 2004?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: Notifications have increased considerably and continue to do so. Those notifications that require further action have also continued to increase. For as much as it can, actually, that is good news—it means that people are actually reporting and we are able to do something about it. It means that we are following up with those children who are potentially being maltreated. However, Child, Youth and Family has reported a 4 percent drop in substantiated findings, and that is the first time we have seen a decrease since 2004.
Le’aufa’amulia Asenati Lole-Taylor: How can the public have confidence that information stored in the proposed vulnerable children information system will be secured, given the recent security breaches by other departments such as Work and Income, ACC, and the Inland Revenue Department?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: For a number of reasons. One is the time it will take to build it. The second reason I would give the member is that actually the mistakes that have happened and that have come out most recently will certainly be putting a spotlight on this, and the pressure to get it absolutely 100 percent correct is well and truly on me. I know that, and I will be following it with every level of detail. The other thing is that we will be getting expert advice from the Office of the Privacy Commissioner and we have asked some of those with ethics backgrounds to be involved in it as well. So we will work our way through quite a systematic process to make sure we get it right.
Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga: What other initiatives in the white paper will make a difference for our most vulnerable children?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: Particularly around those children who are currently in the care of the chief executive and are currently, or have been, quite seriously abused and neglected, there are a range of initiatives that we are going to do for them—for example, expand the number of specialisttrained caregivers for high-needs and high-risk teenagers; review the paid parental leave provisions to ensure that the provisions applying to adoptive parents, and those taking foster children in, also work for families who give children a home for life; and extend parent-child interaction therapy, which is being trialled in Child, Youth and Family and is proving to be very successful, particularly in dealing with those children with high and complex needs.
Schools, Canterbury—Criteria for Proposed Closures and Mergers
6. CHRIS HIPKINS (Labour—Rimutaka) to the Minister of Education: What specific criteria were used to determine whether a school in Christchurch was identified for restoration, consolidation or rejuvenation?
Hon HEKIA PARATA (Minister of Education): Tēnā koe, Mr Speaker. The criteria for clusters were restore, mainly low-level change; consolidate, moderate-level change; and rejuvenate, major change across the cluster. However, it is important to note that those categories describe learning community clusters, and not individual schools.
Chris Hipkins: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Minister’s answer has given me an explanation of what each of the categories are. I have asked for what the criteria were in order to put schools within those categories.
Mr SPEAKER: I think the member has got a legitimate grievance because the member actually asked what specific criteria were used to determine whether a school was identified for restoration, consolidation, or rejuvenation. The Minister, in answering, gave criteria for clusters. If she could clarify for the House whether that applies to individual schools, that would be helpful because that is what the question asked.
Hon HEKIA PARATA: Those identifications—restore, consolidate, and rejuvenate—relate to learning community clusters, for which I have given you the criteria. They do not relate to individual schools.
Mr SPEAKER: I thank the Minister.
Chris Hipkins: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Schools were specifically listed in her proposal under one of those headings, and I have asked the criteria on which they were listed under those headings. That is a primary question, and it is not an unreasonable question.
Mr SPEAKER: I accept absolutely that it is not an unreasonable question, and that is why I sought clarification from the Minister. What the Minister seems to be pointing out to the House is that those three classifications—restoration, consolidation, or rejuvenation—did not actually apply to individual schools. As to what the Minister has told the House, I have got to take the Minister’s answer at face value. I cannot second-guess that. The Minister has given an answer to that question.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I apologise to my colleague. The member asked for the criteria, and whether or not it is applied to a school or a cluster, I am not sure that any criteria were given.
Mr SPEAKER: The Minister did. The Minister in answering the question, if I heard her correctly, went through the three categories—restoration, what applied to that; consolidation, what applied to that; and, rejuvenation, what criteria applied to that. She went through each one. Admittedly she made it clear those did not apply to individual schools, and that is why I think there are some grounds for concern here. But just because the question asked that information does not mean to say the question was right in assuming that those categories applied to each school. The Minister is telling us that they do not, and I have got to take the Minister’s word at that. The member may dig further, because it seems the member may have information that disputes that.
Chris Hipkins: What specific criteria were used to identify whether a specific school was proposed for a merger or a closure?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: Sorry, could the member repeat the supplementary question?
Mr SPEAKER: I invite the member to repeat his question.
Chris Hipkins: I will try. What specific criteria were used to identify whether a specific school, an individual school, was proposed for a closure or a merger?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The primary question actually refers quite specifically to the identification of restoration, consolidation, and rejuvenation, and I have answered what the criteria were for that and I have made it clear that it did not apply to individual schools. We are now on quite a completely different question.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! If I am going to help members on this matter, they should be a little silent. I think it is not unreasonable—the primary question asked what specific criteria were used to determine whether a school in Christchurch was identified for restoration, consolidation, or rejuvenation. The Minister in answering that question pointed out those three categories applied to clusters of schools, so the member has not unreasonably now dug further into that answer and asked then what criteria were used to identify schools for, I think his language was, merger, which is similar to consolidation, or closure, which is highly relevant to some schools in Christchurch. That is not an unreasonable supplementary question, and I am ruling that it is not an unreasonable supplementary question.
Hon HEKIA PARATA: There are 215 schools captured by the education renewal plan; 37 have specific proposals. However, all 215 are distributed across the three clusters, and each of them have different and specific criteria that relate to each of them. That is what—
Hon Members: What are they?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: For the 215 schools, each of them have a different status. For the proposals for the 37, the criteria relate to low, moderate, or high-level impact of the earthquake, to weathertightness integrity, to functionality of buildings, to rolls falling or growing, and to movement of population from one area to another. Those are some of the criteria.
Chris Hipkins: Were the assessment of earthquake damage and the likely cost of repair for each of the schools proposed for merger or closure based on a physical inspection of each site and building; if so, who conducted that assessment?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: The assessments were made in a range of ways. Some of them involved physical assessment by independently contracted engineers. Some of them involved book assessments. Some of them involved use of the property management information database from the schools themselves, and some of them involved permutations of all three.
Colin King: Was the change in demographics taken into account when developing the criteria?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: Yes, it is a people-related issue. Prior to the earthquake in 2010 there were 5,000 surplus places in the Greater Christchurch schools. The latest July roll data show that 4,300 children have left the area as a result of the earthquakes. So, obviously, those 9,300 empty places were one factor that had to be taken into account. In addition a number of families that have stayed in Christchurch have moved, which has also impacted on school rolls.
Chris Hipkins: Was a physical assessment of the earthquake damage done on each of the schools that she proposed for merger or closure before she proposed that; if not, why not?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: I do not have the specific range of assessments that were used for each of the schools.
Mr SPEAKER: Tracey Watkins [Interruption]—Tracey Martin. I beg your pardon. My goodness.
Tracey Martin: Kia ora, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: I beg your pardon.
Tracey Martin: Kia ora—
Mr SPEAKER: My apologies to the House.
Tracey Martin: Can the Minister assure the House that parental elections for boards of trustees will be held within 6 months of any consolidation or merger of schools in Christchurch as per the requirements of the Education Act 1989?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: We are currently in consultation with all of the schools that are affected in Christchurch. It is my expectation, if we get through the process in the time that has been outlined, that that will be the case. However, there is some flexibility in the time line depending on the consultation needs of the process.
Tracey Martin: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I apologise. Perhaps I missed it. I understand the time line around mergers might not be quite clear at the moment, but my question was whether the elections for boards of trustees would be held within 6 months of any consolidation or merger as per the Education Act 1989.
Mr SPEAKER: I invite the Minister to actually answer that question.
Hon HEKIA PARATA: Yes.
Chris Hipkins: Did she review all of the information prepared by the Ministry of Education on the likely or estimated cost of repairing schools that she was intending to propose for merger or closure, before she made the decision to propose those schools for merger or closure; if not, why not?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: Yes.
Government Communications Security Bureau—Audit
7. Dr RUSSEL NORMAN (Co-Leader—Green) to the Minister responsible for the GCSB: What were the dates of the three cases that the Government Communications Security Bureau audit highlighted, because they could not assure him “that the legal position is totally clear”, as referred to in his statement of 3 October 2012?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Minister responsible for the GCSB): I do not believe it is in the public interest to release the dates of these cases, which have been referred to the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security for review. It is not yet clear whether there is an issue of illegality with the cases, and I encourage the members not to jump to conclusions until the status of the cases is clear.
Dr Russel Norman: Why is it that when illegal spying on Kim Dotcom came to light, the Minister stated that Sir Jerry Mateparae was not in charge of the Government Communications Security Bureau while it went on, yet now, by not naming the dates, he is refusing to identify who was in charge of the Government Communications Security Bureau?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: In the case of the decision made by the Government Communications Security Bureau that the particular surveillance on Kim Dotcom was illegal, that was a known fact at that point, so it became important, I thought, to clarify that matter. In these other cases, it is far from certain whether there is an issue or not.
Dr Russel Norman: Given that the Prime Minister, by failing to answer this question, has thrown a question mark over the Governor-General’s role at the Government Communications Security Bureau, and that this now means that this scandal has dragged in the Prime Minister and several Ministers, including the Minister of Police, is that not another reason for an independent inquiry to clear up the mess under his watch, and also to clear Sir Jerry’s name?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No.
Grant Robertson: Can the Prime Minister confirm that a camera capable of taking audiovisual material was on a tripod in the staff cafeteria at the Government Communications Security Bureau when he spoke to staff on 29 February?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I cannot confirm it but I am advised that there was a camera there. There could certainly be a camera capable of taking a video—absolutely right. So let us go through that for the purposes of ensuring that his leader really hangs himself—
Mr SPEAKER: Order!
Grant Robertson: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. That was a straight question and the Prime Minister answered it by confirming that. That was good.
Hon Members: Point of order.
Mr SPEAKER: I will hear the Rt Hon Prime Minister first.
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I have not finished my answer. There is a very specific and clear and nonpolitical point I need to make to finish my answer.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I think the Prime Minister should have the opportunity to do that to put an answer in context, but that should not involve attacking another party.
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: When allegations were made by the Leader of the Opposition—
Hon Trevor Mallard: Here we go.
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: —that there was a tape—no, I am just running through the details—taken by the people of the Government Communications Security Bureau—and I have referred to the quotes earlier—and he then went on to say that tape had been erased, I took those allegations very seriously. I went to the head of the Government Communications Security Bureau. He firstly went through the use of the tape. It was used on 21 February and then not used again until April. The bureau then went to every camera operator that it has, including some who are currently posted overseas, and confirmed that they did not take any audiovisual or video of me. Thirdly, we went through—
Grant Robertson: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I asked—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! This is a point of order.
Grant Robertson: I asked a specific question to confirm the specific fact, and the Prime Minister has done that. He has now gone well beyond that answer.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I think, in—[Interruption] Order! I am on my feet. I think, in fairness—I accept absolutely that it was a very specific question, but were the Prime Minister to answer it just like, for example, as I understand it, “Yes.”, he could be creating an impression that a live camera was operating at the time. I do not think it is unreasonable for the Minister—in this case, the Prime Minister—answering a question to have the chance to, in answering the question, give further information as to whether or not there was any chance that the camera was actually operational at the time. I do not think that is unreasonable, because if we are genuinely interested in the real facts and the truth, that cannot be wrong. What would be wrong would be to restrict the Minister’s answer in a way that implied something else. That is why I will not allow the Prime Minister to attack the Leader of the Opposition, but if he gives information around that camera I see nothing wrong with that.
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Just to recap, a situation was taken where we looked at the logs of when the camera was used. We then looked at the situation about speaking to every one of the camera operators to ask them whether they ever used the camera. They had not. The head of the Government Communications Security Bureau then went on to look at all of the logs about whether there was any deletion of any audio material. There was not. To satisfy himself—and let us understand this: this is a spy agency. We do not delete things; we archive them. They went right back to the ultimate source document and asked themselves that question: has there ever been a deletion? The answer was no. There was no tape taken by the Government Communications Security Bureau. The Leader of the Opposition—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Order! No, I think—[Interruption] Order! It was perfectly reasonable for the Prime Minister to be able to put that answer in context, but he should not go on now to criticise the Leader of the Opposition. Question—[Interruption] Order!
Question No. 8 to Minister
Mr SPEAKER: We come now, because the Rt Hon Winston Peters is not here for question No. 8, to question No. 9.
Civil Defence Emergency Management Earthquake Review—Response
9. Hon LIANNE DALZIEL (Labour—Christchurch East) to the Minister of Civil Defence: Why did he reject the independent Civil Defence Emergency Management earthquake review’s recommendation, which was made in response to the finding that duplication of control was “not only inefficient but put people and property at risk”, and that “the same situation could arise in a number of different parts of New Zealand”?
Hon CHRIS TREMAIN (Minister of Civil Defence): Just so that we are clear about the recommendation, the recommendation was that civil defence emergency management groups, not territorial local authorities, should lead and control the response to emergencies. To specifically answer the member’s question and give the reasons for rejecting the recommendation, firstly, it was that most emergencies are short term in this country, and they are localised and best controlled at a local level. Secondly, civil defence emergency management group controllers already have the legal power to control the response to local emergencies if necessary. Thirdly, the ministry has already commenced a capability assessment framework to focus on improving leadership and governance not only in Christchurch, but across the nation.
Hon Lianne Dalziel: Did he factor into his decision the fact that the Wellington regional territorial authorities have adopted precisely the model recommended by the independent review on the basis that “disasters don’t abide by territorial boundaries …”, and that “A shared approach to emergency management will enable our communities to be better prepared and will provide an ability to share resources to best effect.”; if so, what does he know that they do not?
Hon CHRIS TREMAIN: That is an excellent question. In fact, the response by the Wellington civil defence regional group was, as part of the capability assessment framework, the recommendations that came from that framework assessment as well. Christchurch is a part of that, and there were recommendations on that point to the Christchurch group as well.
Hon Lianne Dalziel: When did his ministry first become aware of the situational and local political factors between Christchurch City and the Canterbury civil defence emergency management group given that they had been through the same analysis that Wellington had been through prior to the 2010 earthquake, and what steps were taken to address these before people and property were put at risk?
Hon CHRIS TREMAIN: Pre-empting that particular question I looked for specific dates. The capability review process was commenced in early 2010—that was before the first earthquake—it was finished in August 2010, and I understand that it was given to the chair of the group on or about 3 September, a day or so before the earthquake. So they were aware of it, but they did not really have any opportunity to introduce the recommendations.
Hon Lianne Dalziel: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My question was specifically when did his ministry first become aware? It was not a question about the local group.
Mr SPEAKER: I think the Minister did actually indicate that date. If I remember correctly he said some date in August.
Louise Upston: What positive aspects of the response were highlighted by the civil defence review?
Hon CHRIS TREMAIN: The report concludes that police, fire, ambulance, defence, civil defence, health services, and lifelines maintained control, rescued the injured, and kept the public safe. The courageous efforts of emergency services and volunteer groups were commended by the reviewers. The earthquake was an unprecedented challenge, but overall the report concludes that the emergency response worked very well.
War Pensions, Law Commission Report—Government Response
10. MIKE SABIN (National—Northland) to the Minister of Veterans’ Affairs: What is the Government doing to improve the support and recognition given to veterans?
Hon NATHAN GUY (Minister of Veterans’ Affairs): Yesterday the Prime Minister announced the Government’s response to the Law Commission’s review of the War Pensions Act 1954. The package adopts in full or in part 132 of the 170 recommendations and provides new funding of $60 million over the next 5 years to implement these changes. The major changes include new and updated legislation, replacing the War Pensions Act 1954 with the introduction of two coverage schemes; an increase of 5 percent plus the annual CPI adjustment, forecast to be around 1.8 percent, bringing the increase close to 7 percent, which would occur from 1 April next year, for the war disablement and surviving spouse pensions; increased eligibility for support services such as home help and lawnmowing; and also new veterans weekly income compensation for veterans under the age of retirement and unable to work. I am proud of this very comprehensive package.
Mike Sabin: When will these changes take effect?
Hon NATHAN GUY: The 5 percent increase, including the annual CPI adjustment to the war disablement and surviving spouse pensions, will take effect from 1 April 2013. The bill to enact the other changes is currently being drafted and will be introduced to Parliament as soon as practicable. We will listen carefully to veterans and other members of the public through the select committee process. Our aim is for most of the changes to begin from 1 July 2014.
Andrew Williams: As the Government has announced that it will adopt 132 of 170 recommendations of the Law Commission review of the War Pensions Act 1954, what do the other 38 recommendations encompass, and what is the ongoing status and future of those remaining 38 recommendations?
Mr SPEAKER: I do not want the Minister to speak too long in answering that.
Hon NATHAN GUY: I am happy to go through those in some detail. The member has come into my office this week; I think that would be the appropriate time to have that discussion. But, in essence, Cabinet made a very good decision to support veterans, who have done an amazing amount of service for New Zealand. We are very mindful of the fact that the Law Commission took 3 years to draw up 170 recommendations that were uncosted. Of course, 12 Government departments had to work through that process of doing the robust costings. I took the proposals through to Cabinet and I believe we have ended up at the right place in supporting veterans into the future.
Andrew Williams: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. We do not need to have the full details, but even a brief overview—
Mr SPEAKER: I accept the member’s point. He asked what the 38 recommendations were that were not picked up by the Government. I did not want the Minister to go through all 38, but some flavour of some example might have been helpful to answer the question.
Hon NATHAN GUY: One that was, unfortunately, not included was an increase in the funeral grant; currently veterans do get a funeral grant but it is less than ACC recipients currently get. Cabinet also made a decision about one of the recommendations, which was free medical care for those over 80. In essence, Cabinet decided that we should be supporting veterans in need, not in particular to their age. That gives you a flavour of some of the examples that we could not fund. I think the important thing is, in very tight economic times, that this is a very good package of $60 million supporting veterans now and into the future.
Andrew Williams: How will the Minister ensure improved outcomes for veterans, when many of those affected state that Veterans Affairs New Zealand, otherwise known as VANZ, continues at times to provide inconsistent advice and responses that are often illogical, poorly timed, abusive, offensive, and lacking any duty of care to the veterans?
Hon NATHAN GUY: I do not agree with those assertions. It was interesting that when this Government came in at the end of 2008 there was a backlog of 11,820 claims waiting to be considered. That is an embarrassment. They had been waiting for 6 months. Veterans Affairs, under a decent Government regime, has turned that round and now we do not have a backlog of claims.
The member should stand up and applaud the direction of this Government to ensure that we are supporting veterans.
Hon John Banks—Confidence
11. GRANT ROBERTSON (Deputy Leader—Labour) to the Prime Minister: Does he have confidence in Hon John Banks; if so, why?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): Yes; because he is a hard-working Minister.
Grant Robertson: Is it still his policy, as he told media on 30 April this year, that a Minister who lies or misleads about his actions would lose his confidence as Prime Minister?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Yes.
Grant Robertson: Does he think Mr Banks has met this standard, after he told the New Zealand Herald on 14 September that the police were responsible for his witness statement being withheld when, in fact, it was he who asked for it to be withheld?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I have no knowledge of that. That is a matter for the Minister.
Grant Robertson: I seek the leave of the House to table a letter from David P H Jones QC, Mr Banks’ lawyer, to the New Zealand Police, dated 10 August 2012, which says that disclosure of any material relating to Mr Banks is opposed.
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.
Grant Robertson: Why is he hanging on to John Banks as a Minister, when sworn witness statements of others, and Mr Banks’ own actions, show that he has lied to New Zealanders, or is the Prime Minister simply prepared to put his own political interests ahead of the high ethical standards New Zealanders expect of Ministers?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Because I accept the member’s word that he has complied with the law.
Earthquake Commission—Objective of Government Review
12. NICKY WAGNER (National—Christchurch Central) to the Minister responsible for
the Earthquake Commission: What is the objective of the Government review of the EQC?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE (Minister responsible for the Earthquake Commission): Recently the Minister of Finance and I announced a review, with the objectives of learning the lessons from the Canterbury earthquakes for New Zealand disaster insurance arrangements. The Canterbury earthquakes have generated 698,215 exposures for the Earthquake Commission, and this has proved to be the biggest test of the current legislation since it came into operation in 1993. The commission has been an important part of the Government’s overall management of disaster risk and recovery in New Zealand, and the review will ensure that the legislation provides the best possible protection for New Zealanders’ homes in the future.
Nicky Wagner: What will the review focus on?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: The review will focus on what types of property the Earthquake Commission insures, including structures that are built and the extent of Earthquake Commission cover for land; how the Earthquake Commission prices its insurance; the institutional structure and design of the Earthquake Commission itself, including its roles; and the financial management of the Crown’s risk and its exposure and how that should be financed moving forward.
QUESTIONS TO MEMBERS
Income Tax (Universalisation of In-work Tax Credit) Amendment Bill—Purpose
1. HOLLY WALKER (Green) to the Member in charge of the Income Tax
(Universalisation of In-work Tax Credit) Amendment Bill: What is the purpose of the Income Tax (Universalisation of In-work Tax Credit) Amendment Bill?
METIRIA TUREI (Member in charge of the Income Tax (Universalisation of In-work Tax
Credit) Amendment Bill): The purpose of the bill is to transform the in-work tax credit into a child payment for the poorest New Zealanders and their children. The payment will apply to New Zealand families whose incomes fall below a certain threshold, whether they are in work or receiving a student allowance, a benefit, or New Zealand superannuation, and will assist in bringing 100,000 New Zealand children out of the severe poverty that they currently suffer. Every child is entitled to a good life and a fair future, and my bill will make sure the poorest kids get that same opportunity to enjoy those rights.
Holly Walker: Does she agree with the Prime Minister’s statement that the bill will give rich families even more money; if not, why not?
METIRIA TUREI: No, the Prime Minister is wrong. The payment will be available to the poorest New Zealand families, not the richest, as my bill ensures that the means test will stay in place. My bill is a step towards a universal child payment, as recommended by the report of the Children’s Commissioner.
Income Tax (Universalisation of In-work Tax Credit) Amendment Bill—Effect on Working
2. HOLLY WALKER (Green) to the Member in charge of the Income Tax
(Universalisation of In-work Tax Credit) Amendment Bill: Does the Income Tax (Universalisation of In-work Tax Credit) Amendment Bill attempt to fix discrimination in the current Working for Families tax credit scheme?
METIRIA TUREI (Member in charge of the Income Tax (Universalisation of In-work Tax
Credit) Amendment Bill): Yes, it does. The Human Rights Commission has found that the current in-work tax credit discriminates against the poorest families on the basis of income source. That is because poor families on benefits, student allowances, or superannuation do not receive the payment, but those who work a minimum of 20 hours do. That is discrimination under New Zealand law on the basis of employment status.
Holly Walker: Is this discrimination acceptable, given that 270,000 children in New Zealand live in severe poverty?
METIRIA TUREI: No, it is not acceptable, and New Zealanders do not believe it is acceptable, either. Any policy that leaves 270,000 Kiwi children in severe poverty—the highest number that New Zealand has seen since the early 1990s—is deeply unjust. The Child Poverty Action Group is appealing a recent decision of the High Court in this matter, and I hope the appeal is successful, as no child should be discriminated against in New Zealand law.
Income Tax (Universalisation of In-work Tax Credit) Amendment Bill—Effect on Child
3. HOLLY WALKER (Green) to the Member in charge of the Income Tax
(Universalisation of In-work Tax Credit) Amendment Bill: What reports has she seen relating to reform of the In-work Tax Credit through the Income Tax (Universalisation of In-work Tax Credit) Amendment Bill as a measure to address child poverty?
METIRIA TUREI (Member in charge of the Income Tax (Universalisation of In-work Tax
Credit) Amendment Bill): The recent report of the Expert Advisory Group on Solutions to Child Poverty for the Children’s Commissioner notes that my bill is before Parliament, and welcomes the opportunity for a debate on child-related benefits. I also note that working paper No. 10 accompanying that report recommends that the hours worked test in the in-work tax credit regime be removed. My bill does as that working paper suggests. I have also read reports by Professor Susan St John of Auckland University, who says that my bill “provides a practical and just way to make an immediate difference to New Zealand’s disgraceful child poverty problem.”, and that “There are many … ways to make work pay that don’t involve punishing the poorest children.”
Holly Walker: What reports has she seen about the impact of the in-work tax credit on poverty rates overall?
METIRIA TUREI: I have read Government reports stating that the in-work tax credit has been responsible for halving poverty among children whose parents meet the work hours requirement— halving it to just 8 percent. These same reports reveal that poverty among the children of beneficiaries has remained unaffected at 70 percent. My bill would give those children the opportunity to have a good life and a better, fairer future, which the children of working parents have.
Income Tax (Universalisation of In-work Tax Credit) Amendment Bill—Support
4. HOLLY WALKER (Green) to the Member in charge of the Income Tax
(Universalisation of In-work Tax Credit) Amendment Bill: Has she received any advice on other parties’ support for the Income Tax (Universalisation of In-work Tax Credit) Amendment Bill?
METIRIA TUREI (Member in charge of the Income Tax (Universalisation of In-work Tax
Credit) Amendment Bill): The Māori Party, New Zealand First, and the Mana party are all supporting the bill. Labour has agreed to support it at its first reading. I want to thank those parties for their support.
Holly Walker: Is that sufficient support for the bill to pass?
METIRIA TUREI: Unfortunately for New Zealand’s poorest children, it is not sufficient. I have asked Peter Dunne to consider various options for supporting the bill, but I am advised by his office that he does not consider that the Government can afford to assist the poorest children in New Zealand. Given that the cost of leaving these kids in poverty is estimated at $6 billion a year, I would have thought that $300 million to $400 million for these poorest kids was an investment—a wise and just investment—in them and their futures.