Questions and Answers - October 18
QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS
Question No. 1 to Minister
Hon NANAIA MAHUTA (Labour—Hauraki-Waikato): I seek leave to hold this question over until the Minister of Education is present and available to answer it.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought for that course of action. Is there any objection? There is objection.
1. Hon NANAIA MAHUTA (Labour—Hauraki-Waikato) to the Minister of Education: Is it still her strategy in education to “focus on teaching and learning quality” and “transparent accountabilities”?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY (Minister of Police) on behalf of the Minister of Education: As set out in the statement of intent, yes, along with reliable and meaningful information for teachers and parents, and investing in 21st century learning environments.
Hon Nanaia Mahuta: Will the policies and procedures for how charter schools are run, managed, and deliver educational benefits to students be open to public scrutiny and accountability, or will these terms and conditions be hidden away in sponsor contracts?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY: Our partnership schools will be held accountable.
Grant Robertson: But not through the OIA.
Hon ANNE TOLLEY: They will be held to account by a fixed-term contract that specifies the educational outcomes that they have to meet and will also provide emergency powers for the Secretary for Education to take over the school where students’ educational or physical welfare is at risk. The Education Review Office will conduct regular reviews based on the sponsor’s contract, and all partnership schools with students in years 1 to 8 will be required to report on progress and achievement against national standards.
Hon Nanaia Mahuta: What criteria will be used to determine the funding and staffing level provisions for charter schools?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY: Each school’s contract will differ according to the needs of the sponsor, but, in fact, the partnership schools will negotiate with the Crown for a proportion of the staff not to be registered as a teacher—but that does not mean that they will be unqualified.
Hon Nanaia Mahuta: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My question was very specific. It asked for the criteria that will determine the funding and staffing level provision for charter schools. She did not attempt to outline the criteria.
Mr SPEAKER: I believe the Minister said they would be in the contract, and would differ for each school.
Hon Nanaia Mahuta: Is it her intention to standardise non-registration of teachers in both charter and public schools; if not, why does she believe that public schools should have fully qualified teachers but charter schools should not?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY: Once again the member is confusing unregistered with unqualified. Partnership schools will negotiate with the Crown for a proportion of the staff not to be registered as a teacher, and this does not mean that they are unqualified. In public schools there are early childhood educators, volunteers, teachers under the limited authority to teach category, tertiary educators, trade course teachers, and there are staff at private training establishments who are teaching now, but are not registered with the Teachers Council.
Hon Nanaia Mahuta: In light of that answer does the Minister believe that a prerequisite for registration is teacher qualification?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY: It is irrelevant what the Minister believes. The Teachers Council actually requires a registration.
Economic Growth and Jobs—Progress
2. MAGGIE BARRY (National—North Shore) to the Minister of Finance: What progress is the Government making in supporting jobs and economic growth?
Hon TONY RYALL (Minister of Health) on behalf of the Minister of Finance: The Nationalled Government has taken a number of steps to support jobs and economic growth. This includes support for investment through the Business Growth Agenda, rebalancing tax to favour work and savings, and removing 170 unnecessary and excessive regulations, saving an estimated $200 million in business compliance costs. In addition, today is expected to be the first reading of the Minimum Wage (Starting-out Wage) Amendment Bill. This provides a new starting-out wage for a number of young New Zealanders to give them the chance to get their foot on the rung of the job ladder. The starting-out wage ensures that young Kiwis will have greater opportunities in a competitive job market to earn money and gain vital skills and experience they need to succeed. It is yet another campaign promise National is delivering on.
Maggie Barry: What reports has he seen on New Zealand prospects for economic and job growth?
Hon TONY RYALL: I have seen a report from the International Monetary Fund that includes the latest forecasts for the world’s 34 OECD economies. As the member will know, it is economic growth that produces job growth. The latest IMF forecast has New Zealand growing by 2.2 percent this year and by an average of 2.9 percent over the next 2 years. On average, we are ranked eighth out of the 34 OECD nations, so we are in the top quarter for economic growth prospects. In terms of the unemployment rate, we currently have the 14th lowest rate of the 34 OECD nations, and the IMF forecasts that over the next 5 years our unemployment rate will continue to drop.
Maggie Barry: What other reports has he seen on the progress being made by the Government’s economic policy?
Hon TONY RYALL: In just the last week, one of the top financial advisers of the American President, Mr Barack Obama, Peter Orszag, participated in a major international debate on rescuing the world economies from a deepening crisis. Among the panellists was the IMF’s Christine Lagarde, and the German Finance Minister. Remarkably, Obama’s former director of the Office of Management and Budget singled out New Zealand as the only country that has provided the right balance of stimulus for the economy with reducing the deficit in the medium term. This is a very strong endorsement from one of the world’s top financial experts. New Zealand’s combination of positive economic growth and deficit reduction is rare amongst Western nations, and reinforces that we are taking New Zealand through and out of the world’s global financial and debt crisis. Question time interrupted.
QUESTIONS FOR ORAL ANSWER
QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS
Freshwater Management—Water Quality
3. EUGENIE SAGE (Green) to the Minister for the Environment: Does she stand by her statement that, “My preference will always be for all our sites to be safe for swimming”?
Hon AMY ADAMS (Minister for the Environment): Yes.
Eugenie Sage: If that is her preference, why is the Government not using the Resource Management Act to set clean water rules through national environmental standards?
Hon AMY ADAMS: I would remind that member that, in fact, we are undertaking a considerable amount of resource management reform, amongst which is the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management, which we have set up. We have the Land and Water Forum, which we established to give for the first time serious consideration to these issues, and we have indicated that the response to some of those recommendations will, indeed, form part of our Resource Management Act reform. But I would also point out to the member that at least our Government is getting on and dealing with these issues—something that the Labour Government, propped up by her party, failed to do for 9 years.
Eugenie Sage: Given that her Government’s weak National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management gives councils until December 2030 to put in place water-quality limits, does she accept that water quality in New Zealand rivers will get worse, not better, while the Government sits on its hands?
Hon AMY ADAMS: The member is right that the national policy statement gives councils until 2030 at the outside, but I am very pleased to report to that member that in actual fact a number of councils are taking very prompt action, and I am even more pleased to report to that member that it is only thanks to the actions of this Government that we have a national policy statement on fresh water at all. Furthermore, in actual fact, the recent report indicates that water quality has improved under this Government after taking over from the incompetence of the previous one.
Eugenie Sage: Why will she not help those councils clean up our rivers by introducing national environmental standards so that there are consistent limits, rather than leaving it to each council to do it in an ad hoc way and setting their own limits for their own waterways?
Hon AMY ADAMS: Well, I am sure that the councils are delighted that the Government is putting nearly half a billion dollars over 20 years into assisting them with exactly that. It might interest that member to know that in the time this Government has been in office, we have spent $101 million on freshwater clean-up, which compares with a mere $17 million spent by the previous Government in its last 4 years in office.
Dr Russel Norman: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. It was a question about national environmental standards, which is a specific instrument under the Resource Management Act, and the Minister failed to address that at all.
Mr SPEAKER: To assist the member, I invite Eugenie Sage to repeat her question, because she asked, if I recollect correctly, why certain things were not being done, and I do not think the Minister actually addressed that at all.
Eugenie Sage: Why will the Minister not help councils to clean up our rivers by introducing national environmental standards with some consistent limits, rather than leaving it to each council to set its own water-quality limits in an ad hoc way?
Hon AMY ADAMS: Well, I remind the member that I answered—she asked how we are helping councils, and I gave her one very explicit example of how we are helping councils, which is funding them by $101 million over the last 4 years, compared with $17 million. But if the member wishes me to go on about the extensive actions of this Government on freshwater clean-up, I certainly can do so, and—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! The Minister must resume her seat. I listened fairly carefully to the member’s question. She did not ask for that, at all. The member, if I recollect correctly, asked why the Government—
Hon AMY ADAMS: No.
Mr SPEAKER: Forgive me. When the member repeated her question, I believe she repeated the question she actually asked the first time round. I invite her to repeat it again, because she did not ask what councils were doing; she asked why the Government was not doing something different. The Minister is perfectly capable of explaining why the Government is choosing to do what it is doing, but I think the question should be answered.
Eugenie Sage: Why will the Minister not help councils to clean up our rivers by introducing national environmental standards with some consistent limits, rather than leaving it up to each council to set its own limits for rivers in an ad hoc way?
Hon AMY ADAMS: Well, for the third time, we are assisting councils to help clean up their rivers, firstly, in the way that I have just indicated and, secondly, we have a dedicated programme of experts and officials working on exactly the issue of limits of quality and quantity setting, which will help to guide that work.
Dr Russel Norman: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The question was: “Why will the Government not assist councils by introducing national environmental standards?”. That is the essence of the question. The Minister talked about many other measures, which is fine, but she did not introduce the question of why the Government will not introduce national environmental standards.
Hon AMY ADAMS: To introduce a national environmental standard, you first have to develop quality and quantity limits—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! The House will come to order. [Interruption] Order! Does someone want an early shower? That is not speaking to a point of order. That is actually answering the question. It would be very helpful if the Minister now actually did answer the question, because that was exactly what the question was asking—exactly what the question was asking. But it is not a point of order. It actually should be the answer to the question.
Hon AMY ADAMS: Before a national environmental standard could be introduced, we would need to develop a system of quality and quantity limits, as I mentioned in my previous attempt at answering the question. That is what we are working on. Whether it leads to a national environmental standard or to other forms of assistance to councils has yet to be determined.
Mr SPEAKER: I call Eugenie Sage. [Interruption] Order! Eugenie Sage.
Eugenie Sage: Is she aware that the Marlborough District Council is today considering whether to “take the opportunity provided by the national policy statement on freshwater management to delay the introduction of cumulative contaminant limits” for rivers until at least 2023-24, and that that means rivers like the Wye and Taylor Rivers will remain at high risk of illness for anyone swimming in them?
Hon AMY ADAMS: No, I was not aware of that specifically, but that is a matter for the Marlborough District Council and that community. But I would point out that under the time that the Labour and Green Government was in charge there was no requirement on councils to have any sort of limits.
Paul Goldsmith: What steps has the Government taken to improve the swimmability and quality of fresh water?
Hon AMY ADAMS: The Government has taken extensive steps to improve the safety, quality, and swimmability of our water, and a number of them have already been mentioned today, but I will repeat them for the benefit of members. We have introduced New Zealand’s first ever national policy statement on fresh water, and we have established the Land and Water Forum, bringing together all the key stakeholders in water management for the first time, and allowing a real collaborative approach to water management. We have committed to continuing with a 20-year
investment of half a billion dollars in cleaning up our polluted water sites. We have spent more than five times what the previous Labour Government, propped up by the Greens, did in its last years in office. We have assisted the industry in refreshing the Dairying and Clean Streams Accord. We have put another $15 million—[Interruption] well, Mr Speaker, there is so much—into the Fresh Start for Fresh Water Clean-up Fund, and we have established a dedicated group to work on water quality and quantity issues. This is a Government that is actually doing something about fresh water.
Eugenie Sage: Given that 52 percent of our monitored rivers are unsuitable for swimming and another 28 percent are graded only fair, why is the Government planning to spend more money on irrigation subsidies than on clean water clean-up?
Hon AMY ADAMS: That is the usual sort of confusion of information. The report the member refers to, first of all, reports only on the monitored sites, and the report makes it very clear that it is not a useful indicator for the state of freshwater bodies in New Zealand. It makes it clear that they monitor only the sites they have concerns about. The other interesting thing is that because of the change in methodology, you cannot directly compare. But what it actually shows is that there has been an improvement in our freshwater lakes and rivers. Having said all of that, we are not happy that quite a number of rivers are unsafe for swimming. That is why we are taking all the actions I previously outlined to address it. But the other thing is that it is not right or fair to land this fully at the feet of the farmers. Livestock is one of the issues, as is human waste, as is wildlife, and as is water fowl. All of them must be addressed.
Eugenie Sage: Was the Minister for Primary Industries correct, then, when he stated: “We need to acknowledge that intensive agriculture has environmental impacts. In some catchments we need to limit those impacts …”; if so, will she not take real action to protect our rivers by introducing national environmental standards now?
Hon AMY ADAMS: Yes, I do agree with the Minister for Primary Industries that intensive agriculture has an impact or is capable of having an impact, and that we have to address it. We are, in fact, addressing it. The issue around national environmental standards I answered previously. We have a dedicated group working on how we might go about assisting councils with quality and quantity limits, and where that gets to we will know in time.
Eugenie Sage: What does she say to the children and families who want to go swimming at Coes Ford or the Upper Selwyn huts on the Selwyn/Waikirikiri River in her electorate but who cannot do that because those once popular swimming spots are graded poor and very poor respectively, and are unsuitable for swimming with no prospect of that improving any time soon?
Hon AMY ADAMS: What I would say to those people is that the quality issues we have with some of our water bodies have taken an awfully long time to come to be. They will take even longer to fix, and at least now we have a Government in place that is doing something about it.
Dotcom Case—Government Communications Security Bureau Briefings
4. CHARLES CHAUVEL (Labour) to the Attorney-General: Who, other than himself and the Prime Minister, was present at the discussion on the Government Communications Security Bureau’s unlawful surveillance of Mr Dotcom?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON (Attorney-General): I have actually had a number of discussions with the Prime Minister about the Government Communications Security Bureau matter, some in person and some on the phone. I cannot recall who was or was not at each and every discussion I have had with the Prime Minister in person.
Charles Chauvel: Has the Prime Minister asked him which other Ministers were present when they discussed the Government Communications Security Bureau’s unlawful surveillance of Mr Dotcom? To assist the Attorney-General, I am referring to the particular meeting that has been the subject of questions to the Prime Minister throughout the week.
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: No.
Charles Chauvel: Has he checked with his office staff whether they recall which other Ministers were present when he discussed the bureau’s unlawful surveillance of Mr Dotcom with the Prime Minister?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: As I have said, there have been a number of meetings and also a number of telephone calls. There was also a telephone—
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The question asked the Minister as to who was present at the discussion. Including telephone calls does not allow him to escape in that way. He must answer who was present, which was the direct question.
Charles Chauvel: I did attempt to clarify for the Attorney-General in the first supplementary question which conversation I was referring to, and that is the conversation that I am asking about.
Mr SPEAKER: When I read the primary question my first reaction to the primary question was, “Well, which discussion?”. The Attorney-General pointed out in answering the question that he had had more than one discussion, some face to face and some on the telephone. Forgive me, but, despite one member’s interpretation, this question does not rule out telephone discussions. It refers to just discussion. I cannot say to a member that, actually, the questioner meant that meeting or that discussion. The question is on the Order Paper, and, despite trying to identify which discussion, the member has not identified any particular date. [Interruption] Just before you—[Interruption] Order! The member may not have noticed—I know I am not that tall—but I was still on my feet and I have not recognised the right honourable gentleman yet.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: The Rt Hon Winston Peters.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: More than one person in this House, I am certain, understands the words “was present at the discussion” as being a person who was present, not on the phone—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Order!
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Can I finish off my point of order?
Mr SPEAKER: No, the member cannot. [Interruption] The member cannot, because it is not a point of order. Points of order must relate to the proceedings of the House—not arguing about what the primary question means. That is not a point of order. That is a matter for the Minister to interpret—what that question means—and I have ruled that it is not that clear what it means. That is the end of the matter. There cannot be argument about that by way of point of order. The member should know that.
Charles Chauvel: Does the Minister remember what was discussed precisely at the initial meeting that he had with the Prime Minister concerning the bureau’s unlawful surveillance of Mr Dotcom?
Mr SPEAKER: Did the Minister hear the question?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: Yes. Yes.
Mr SPEAKER: The answer is yes.
Charles Chauvel: Can he inform the House what those matters were?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: Yes. The director of the Government Communications Security Bureau had informed the Prime Minister of the question of illegality, and then the Prime Minister contacted me to report the contents of that conversation.
Charles Chauvel: On what date did this first discussion between him and the Prime Minister occur concerning the Government Communications Security Bureau’s unlawful surveillance of Mr Dotcom?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: It was in the week prior to the Prime Minister saying on, I believe, 24 September that there was this issue of illegality. I cannot recall precisely exactly when it was. I was certainly with the Prime Minister visiting the Chatham Islands, in the marginal seat of Rongotai, so I do not think—
Hon Annette King: Dream on!
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: Well, look at the party vote, “Your Worship”. The actual conversation could have been on the afternoon of the Friday when we returned from the marginal seat.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Who, other than him and the Prime Minister, was physically—that means at the same place; not somewhere else on the planet but at the same place—present at the first discussion on the Government Communications Security Bureau’s unlawful surveillance of Mr Dotcom?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: The question is vague. When I was present, I think the Prime Minister and I would have been present at that particular meeting, and I do not think anyone else was present at that meeting.
Canterbury, Recovery—Employment Opportunities
5. NICKY WAGNER (National—Christchurch Central) to the Minister for Canterbury
Earthquake Recovery: What reports has he received on the outlook for increased employment opportunities in the rebuilding of Greater Christchurch?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE (Minister for Canterbury Earthquake Recovery): I have seen a number of reports that indicate excellent employment opportunities for those seeking work in Canterbury. TradeMe reports a 43.7 percent increase in job listings on the same quarter last year. Today over 2,000 jobs are listed for Christchurch on TradeMe. The ANZ Job Ads index, released today, said that Canterbury newspaper ads rose 5.9 percent this month alone. The Jobs Online skilled vacancies index was up 24 percent on September of last year. In January there were 5,185 people on the unemployment benefit in Christchurch. In September that number was down to 3,131. In addition, construction companies are gearing up to employ more people as insurers bring more work to their operations. That increased employment will also stimulate the secondary employment market. The opportunities are going to increase as the rebuild gains momentum.
Nicky Wagner: What support is the Government giving to maximise the employment opportunities in Christchurch?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: Recently the Government announced the establishment of a new Canterbury Skills and Employment Hub. This will be a one-stop shop for employers to list vacancies, to recruit from Work and Income, or to recruit from the various building and rebuilding training programmes that are operating in the city. The skills hub was funded from a $42 million fund that has been set aside for additional training places, as part of a comprehensive cross-agency response to meet additional demands for labour for the reconstruction, under the name Skills For Canterbury. We are taking steps to make it easier to provide good quality temporary accommodation for workers as well, and the largely Government-funded Stronger Christchurch Infrastructure Rebuild Team is looking for another 1,000 employees to repair horizontal infrastructure. In addition, the central business district blueprint, very heavily supported by the Government, has created interest in the private sector players around the world, who are looking to invest. That will bring significant new employment.
Nicky Wagner: What predictions has he seen for continued increased employment opportunities created by the Canterbury rebuild?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: Modelling has been undertaken that suggests that perhaps an additional 15,000 employees will be needed in the construction workforce when the rebuild peaks. These estimates are going to vary according to a number of factors that are used in that modelling, but all point to very significant employment opportunities in Canterbury and that will be attractive for job seekers throughout New Zealand. These predictions are in stark contrast to those of the Labour Party, with its predictions of massive job losses, wholesale exodus from the city—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! No, order! The Minister is not responsible for the Labour Party.
Hon Lianne Dalziel: When was he first advised that Canterbury employers are not taking on apprentices due to workflow problems, even though the funding and places have been put there by
the Government, and when will he address this so that young Canterbury people can play a part in their own recovery?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: I think that is a highly emotive sort of question backed by very thin fact. The reality is that job prospects in Canterbury for young people are better than anywhere else in the country, and there is little doubt that the money that we have put forward—a total of $43 million that will go towards that training—will see young people taking up those opportunities. Unlike Labour, the Government of today does not think the Government has to do—
Mr SPEAKER: Order!
Hon Lianne Dalziel: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. There was lot of noise at the beginning of my question. My question was “When was he first advised?”.
Mr SPEAKER: The Minister obviously disputed the content of the member’s question and that is my dilemma in asking him to answer further. There are further supplementary questions if the member wishes to pursue that particular issue, because her question went on to include other information that the Minister then disputed.
Hon Lianne Dalziel: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My question was “When was he first advised that Canterbury employers were not taking on apprentices due to workflow issues, even though the funding and places were there?”. The issue that I guess he went on to respond to was what that would mean regarding young Canterbury apprentices having a chance to have a place in the rebuild, but the primary question—“When was he first advised?”—the Minister did not even attempt to address.
Mr SPEAKER: I think that is a lesson that if a member wants a question answered, to keep it to the point. I do not think I can ask the Minister to go back and answer that first part of the question, reasonable though it might have been, because the member included more material in the question than was necessary, and because the rest of the stuff was opinion-type information.
Ministers—Quality of Answers
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First): This question is to the Prime Minister and asks “Does he think it is important that his Ministers, including himself, come to the House prepared to honestly answer questions?”.
Mr SPEAKER: That is a smidgen different from the wording here. I am not sure whether it is material—it is not hugely different—but the wording here is slightly different. It is quite an important question and I think it should be as on notice.
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First): Could I just say I have had a quick check here.
Mr SPEAKER: It was the last two words. It was not that material. The question on notice says “prepared to give honest answers”, not “honestly answer questions”.
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First): Yes, you are correct. I was just going from the primary question from my office staff, and they have given me the wrong question.
Mr SPEAKER: I call the right honourable member.
6. Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First) to the Prime Minister: Does he think it is important that his Ministers, including himself, come to the House prepared to give honest answers?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE (Leader of the House) on behalf of the Prime Minister: [Interruption] Yes.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! This is a serious issue.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: How can he give that answer—that the answer is “Yes”—when he has set the standard so low by giving inaccurate information to the House on multiple occasions this year, despite being fully briefed, for example, when he told the House that the first the Government Communications Security Bureau briefed him on Dotcom was on 17 September this year, despite a
February briefing, or when he gave two conflicting dates for when he first learnt of the nondisclosure certificate having been signed by his Deputy Prime Minister?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: Every effort is made to honestly answer questions, and when there are mistakes noted, then they are brought to the House’s attention, as has been the case in each of those ones the member speaks of.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: How does he explain the discrepancy between his written answer to my question on 7 May asking about meetings with the Hon Simon Power in the period between 7 April and 23 July 2011, in which he stated: “There is no record of what was discussed … and I have no recollection …”, and the answer he gave to a supplementary question in the House yesterday, claiming that the honourable Minister did not raise the issue of Kim Dotcom with him at the meeting on 13 June?