Questions and Answers - October 23
QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS
Question No. 1 to Minister
Dr RUSSEL NORMAN (Co-Leader—Green): I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. This question was originally accepted by the Clerk’s Office with the word “secretive” in front of the word “meeting”. After intervention from the Prime Minister’s office it was changed. I seek leave to ask the original question as accepted by the Clerk’s Office.
Mr SPEAKER: That is not as I understand the situation at all. [Interruption] Order! All questions require validation. The validation provided for that original wording was a statement by the member’s own colleague. The opinion of a colleague hardly meets the requirement for validation.
Oil and Gas Exploration—Deep Sea Oil Drilling
1. Dr RUSSEL NORMAN (Co-Leader—Green) to the Prime Minister: At his meeting with the boss of American oil giant Anadarko in November 2011, was the issue of making deep sea oil drilling a permitted activity under the EEZ legislation raised?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): No. My memory of the meeting is that it was a courtesy call by the head of Anadarko Petroleum Corporation to express his interest in New Zealand in relation to what it may or may not want to do here. Secondly, it was an opportunity for an update on its activities internationally. He gave me a review of what happened in the gulf. As for the member’s assertion that it was a secretive meeting, I hate to tell him the bad news but it happened in the afternoon in the Government offices. By the way, I had to walk along Queen Street to go in there. When you are on TV every night a few people notice it, and there were a whole lot of civil servants working up there, so it was not that secretive.
Dr Russel Norman: Will he rule out making deep-sea oil-drilling a permitted activity under the exclusive economic zone legislation regulations, currently being drafted, meaning that it will not require a resource consent?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No, and that is because we are in the process of going through the public consultation that the member referred to. At the point at which that consultation is completed and Cabinet has some advice, it will then need to make a decision about what happens next.
Dr Russel Norman: Given that under the exclusive economic zone legislation, permitted activities can proceed as of right with almost no oversight, how will the public, councils, and iwi have a say on specific deep-sea drilling proposals if the Government makes it a permitted activity?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No. I think the member is misleading Parliament. In fact, if something was permitted, there would still be quite considerable—
Dr Russel Norman: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. It is quite a serious allegation to suggest that I am misleading Parliament. I was simply giving my interpretation of how the law works. The Prime Minister is perfectly able to contradict me if he disagrees.
Mr SPEAKER: The wording the Prime Minister used is very interesting. The issue arose just last week around the use of false information. The Prime Minister did not say the member intentionally misled Parliament. The Prime Minister just said the member was misleading Parliament—in other words, providing information that in the Prime Minister’s view was incorrect.
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: In my opinion the member is misleading Parliament with that claim. There would still be an enormous amount of conditions that would apply for a permitted activity.
Dr Russel Norman: Can the Prime Minister confirm that there may well be conditions but if it is a permitted activity under the exclusive economic zone legislation—the regulations or the Act— there will be no need for a public consultation about specific deep-sea drilling activities?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: It would be too early to conclude that. That is what the public consultation and the process we are going through at the moment is all about.
Dr Russel Norman: Is he aware that Anadarko Petroleum Corporation had a 25 percent stake in the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico spill, and that under his proposal as a permitted activity it will be able to drill at similar levels in New Zealand waters without getting a resource consent?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I think the first thing that is important is that whatever the rules are that apply in the exclusive economic zone—and this Government is actually filling a gap that previous Governments failed to fill—they should apply to all companies irrespective of their history. Yes, it is true that Anadarko Petroleum Corporation had a 25 percent ownership of the company or one of the companies that had a problem in the gulf. I think it is also worth remembering that in the Gulf of Mexico since 1947, 50,000 wells have been drilled, and to the best of my knowledge that problem is the gulf was the one major one that most people can remember.
Dr Russel Norman: What is the point of having an environmental legislative regime for our exclusive economic zone if the Government is going to enable and allow companies to conduct risky activities there without the scrutiny of the resource consent process, as would be the case if it was a permitted activity?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: It depends on a number of factors—for a start off, about whether it is an exploration well or whether it is major drilling that is taking place. But there are also, as I said earlier, significant conditions that will still apply even if an activity is permitted. This is a Government that is actually filling the gap that was left as a void, where there were no rules applying, and making sure that they do apply. In the case of Taranaki, as has been the case for a very long period of time, actually drilling an exploration well there has been a permitted activity for a very long period of time, and to the best of my knowledge it is very successful.
Dr Russel Norman: Is the Prime Minister aware that Deepwater Horizon was an exploration well in deep water, which resulted in massive pollution, and how can it make sense to require New Zealanders to apply for a consent to construct a deck in their backyard, but companies involved in risky deep-sea drilling do not require a resource consent from this Government?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Deep water is only one factor when it comes to whether a drill operation can actually take place. There are many other factors that one would want to consider. If the member is saying that just because it is deep water, drilling under even very good conditions cannot take place, that is about as bright as his idea to print money. I happen to have with me a $100 billion Zimbabwean note, which, for the record, when they printed this bought you about a bumper box from Kentucky Fried Chicken and a couple of bottles of Coke. That idea was not very good and this idea of stopping all drilling around New Zealand is not either.
Moana Mackey: In his meeting with Anadarko Petroleum Corporation, did they discuss whether or not the Environmental Protection Authority is planning to contract out all or part of the offshore monitoring and compliance functions, including the possibility of industry self-regulation, as
recently revealed on the Energy News website, functions that the Local Government and Environment Committee was assured would be carried out by the authority?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No.
Dr Russel Norman: I seek leave to table a paper from the International Monetary Fund recommending that small open economies target the exchange rate as well as inflation for their monetary policy. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! The member has a right to call a point of order and to seek leave to table a document. 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.
Rt Hon John Key: I seek leave to table my $100 billion Zimbabwean note, because it is not really worth much anyway, even when they printed it.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? Did I hear objection? I did hear objection. There is objection.
New Zealand - Australia Migration—Numbers
2. DAVID SHEARER (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does he stand by his statement “we’re trying to change the economic picture to encourage more New Zealanders to stay”; if so, how many people have migrated to Australia since he took office?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): I stand by my full statement, which was: “Australia’s been the best performing economy in the developed world, so it’s natural that some New Zealanders will ship over there, but obviously we are trying to change the economic picture to encourage more New Zealanders to stay.” To the second part of the question I say that 170,000 people, not just New Zealand citizens, have moved to Australia since November 2008. That is more than we would like, but it is a lot fewer than the 310,000 who went to Australia under Labour.
David Shearer: What has his Government done to ensure that a training requirement is introduced as part of the Government procurement processes, as was recommended in the 2009 Job Summit?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: The Government has done a number of things in terms of lifting the opportunity for training and that included, I think, spending $43 million in the Christchurch area. It has also established the Canterbury Skills and Employment Hub for a one-stop shop for employers to list vacancies and recruit from Work and Income.
David Shearer: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. That was quite a specific question around the Job Summit. It would be appreciated if the Prime Minister could address that part of the question.
Mr SPEAKER: Forgive me, Order! I thought the member though in asking his question included an issue around training. I may be wrong in that recollection. Does the member wish to raise—
Hon Trevor Mallard: I think what the Leader of the Opposition asked was whether training requirements were part of Government procurement. It was not a general—
Mr SPEAKER: The member is welcome to repeat his question, because I am not clear on it myself.
David Shearer: What has his Government done to ensure that a training requirement is introduced as part of Government procurement processes, as was recommended under the 2009 Job Summit?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Specifically we do not require them to do it, but, as I understand it, employers do get actively involved in that training component, and they are actively working with us in a number of areas—the Canterbury Skills and Employment Hub is a good example. The
Government also spends a huge amount of money on basically making sure that it provides training courses and apprenticeships and support for youngsters.
David Shearer: Is he able to tell the House approximately how many apprenticeships have been created in the last year?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I do not have that number to hand, but what I do have to hand is the editorial that absolutely slammed David Shearer—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Order! Order! The question was a straight question; it does not deserve that.
Hon Peter Dunne: Will the Prime Minister be seeking to try to change the economic picture to encourage more New Zealanders to stay—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I apologise to the member, but I just cannot hear him because of the interjections going across the floor in front of me. I ask members on both sides to please desist so that I can hear the Hon Peter Dunne. [Interruption] Order! I have just asked members to desist. Order! There is no need for that. It is not helpful. [Interruption] I said interjections on both sides of the House—I am asking members on both sides of the House to desist.
Hon Peter Dunne: May I start again?
Mr SPEAKER: The member may start again.
Hon Peter Dunne: Will the Prime Minister be trying to change the economic picture to encourage more New Zealanders to stay, as proposed in the question by the Leader of the Opposition, by implementing Mr Shearer’s suggestions in Christchurch last week for curbing immigration?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No. I might say that a good summary of what was thought of Mr Shearer’s speech was in the New Zealand Herald’s editorial, where it used the following words: “dire”, “dismal”, “depressing”, “detrimental”, and “xenophobic”. I bet you the next time I am with Mr Shearer at some sort of Chinese or Asian event—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Order! Order! That is sufficient.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Could the Prime Minister give us his mathematics, which says that the 170,000 in just on 3¾ years, if doubled, is less than the 310,000 over 9 years; could he possibly tell us how he worked that out?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: There is nothing to work out. It is a statement of fact.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Prime Minister knows full well what he is asked. He compared a 3¾ year figure with a 9-year figure and has been found out.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Order! Order! National members today could also be a little more disciplined. The member did ask him how he worked it out and the Prime Minister said easily, because it was a statement of fact. That is the answer to the question of how he worked it out.
David Shearer: Is the Prime Minister concerned that 17,000 tradespeople and technicians have left New Zealand for Australia since the earthquake, given that Christchurch is desperate for those skills in the rebuild; if so, what concrete steps is he taking to bring them back?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: There are a number of things. Firstly, as I have said earlier, we have set up the Canterbury Skills and Employment Hub. We have spent considerable amounts of money, or have that earmarked at least, for training. But most of all we are setting up an encouraging environment for people to actually want to do business in this country. We do not think the Government creates jobs; we think the Government creates the environment for jobs, where people put their own capital to work. Mr Shearer would have those very companies pay a capital gains tax. That is what he wants.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! What the Opposition may or may not propose is not actually the responsibility of the Prime Minister.
David Shearer: Why has $7 million of the $42 million for skills training in Canterbury been spent, given reports that because of a lack of skilled Kiwi workers half of the workforce required for the rebuild will need to be brought in from overseas?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: There was, firstly, a reallocation of resources, I understand, but whether people are brought in or not will depend partly on the time-scale and the skills, but that is not unusual. In fact, successive Governments in this country, the last time I looked, have worked on a principle that where there is a skills shortage, of course we bring people in. Actually, as the New Zealand Herald editorial says, this has made New Zealand a lot better and a more interesting country. If the member wants to line up his policies with New Zealand First when it comes to migration, good luck!
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. You allowed him to have a rant and rave about a Zimbabwean dollar note, which is nothing to do with the question from the Greens, and then he had few growls at the leader of the Labour Party, but he cannot just go on embarrassing himself, diverting his answer—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Order! I am not sure what the member’s point of order is about. The member—[Interruption]—order! Order! The member may have observed that I stopped the Prime Minister on a couple of occasions. I do not recollect Speakers during that member’s most recent time in Government stopping the Prime Minister on many occasions.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I think you did stop the Prime Minister. I think it was four times that you have stopped him in answers today. Normally, the fourth offence would have some sort of warning with it.
Mr SPEAKER: [Interruption] Order! Order! I thank the member for his advice. Question number 3, Scott—[Interruption] Oh sorry. I beg your pardon. Supplementary question, the Leader of the Opposition.
David Shearer: Is the Prime Minister more, or less, concerned that there are now 54,000 New Zealanders a year leaving than when he stood in Westpac Stadium in 2008 and said that as Prime Minister he would give the 35,000 New Zealanders a year leaving, as it was then, a reason and a purpose for staying in New Zealand?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Obviously, it depends on the reasons why they are going. Some New Zealanders are leaving to go to Australia because of the mining sector. I notice when we had the question from his coalition partner over there who was wanting to stop dead all mining in New Zealand, he did not actually mention that that would mean all miners would have to leave the country. When he goes out there telling people that there is going to be a capital gains tax on every business in New Zealand, he does not tell them what that is going to do for their employment. So, actually, I am—
Mr SPEAKER: Order!
Economic Programme—Housing Affordability
3. SCOTT SIMPSON (National—Coromandel) to the Minister of Finance: What steps are being taken to improve housing affordability, as part of the Government’s wider economic programme?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): The Government will shortly outline a multipronged work programme in response to the Productivity Commission report on housing affordability. This year’s annual Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey showed that the cost of a median-priced house in New Zealand is 5.2 times median income, and in Auckland it is 6.4 times median income. Any ratio above 5 is considered unaffordable. We share the Productivity Commission’s view that the housing market is not working properly. For example, despite demand for low-cost houses, relatively few are being built, in part because of the very high cost of land, particularly in Auckland. Constrained supply and high prices for housing in turn force high levels of household borrowing, which are detrimental to households and the economy.
Scott Simpson: Why is affordability an important issue for householders and for the economy?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: For a number of reasons. First, less affordable housing means that New Zealand has high levels of private sector debt to foreigners. We are ranked along with the heavily
indebted European countries when it comes to that measure. Secondly, housing loans comprise 93 percent of household liabilities, meaning that New Zealand’s investments are skewed towards housing. And, thirdly, as rents rise they push up the cost to the Government of income-related rents and accommodation supplements. For instance, income-related rents are forecast to rise by 30 percent over the next 4 years, which will cost the Government around $200 million per year. There are also the benefits from well-priced, quality, long-term housing for those who live in those houses.
Scott Simpson: What recent reports has he seen on trends in housing affordability?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Massey University produces the Home Affordability Report, which shows an improvement in affordability in the last 12 months in all regions except Auckland. I note that Massey University says that the reason prices are increasing faster in Auckland than in other regions is because of an imbalance of new housing supply to meet demand from an increasing population. The latest Quotable Value report shows that house values were up 1.8 percent in the last 3 months, and 5.3 percent over the past year. These reports confirm that even in a slow economy, housing affordability remains a deep-seated, complex, and serious problem. There are no quick fixes, but the Government is determined to follow up on the Productivity Commission report and make progress.
Hon Annette King: Has he seen the comments by the Auckland mayor, Len Brown, who stated that their council currently has enough land to build 18,000 new homes right now, but needs a partnership with central government to provide upfront capital to build affordable homes; if so, does his Government intend to put its money where its mouth is in its work programme and help get these new homes built as soon as possible?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The Government is working closely in partnership with the Auckland Council around getting some progress on the Tāmaki redevelopment, which is the largest opportunity for brownfield redevelopment within Auckland City. It is a novel suggestion that the Government would provide capital for property development on the fringes of Auckland. We are working with the council to answer the question of whether the availability of those sections is sufficient to enable actual sections to be available for people to buy. This is part of the complexity of the issue. The Government is making sure it understands it properly by working closely with the councils.
Scott Simpson: What existing Government policies are helping improve housing affordability for New Zealanders?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: In the first place, our policies have helped to maintain growth in the economy, which means that in a relatively rare instance among developed economies, New Zealand on average has had increases in after-tax wages over the last 4 years. A responsible and balanced fiscal policy has helped to take pressure off interest rates. Compared with 2008, a family with a $200,000 mortgage is now paying $200 less a week in interest, which is a considerable saving across a year. As the Massey University report noted, the increase in average wages and the decrease in average monthly mortgage rates over the past quarter have actually offset the small increase in the national median house price.
New Zealand - Australia Migration—Effect on Unemployment Rate
4. Hon DAVID PARKER (Labour) to the Minister of Finance: Does he stand by his statement regarding Australia that “It has been a bit of a safety valve for jobs for people who can’t find jobs here”; if so, what advice, if any, has he received on the effects of emigration on the level of unemployment in New Zealand?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): Yes, I do stand by that statement. It has become, I think, commonplace to understand that Australia and New Zealand have pretty much one labour market. In fact, there is empirical evidence that shows that if wages rise in Western Australia, New Zealanders are more likely to respond to that than Australians living in Sydney or Melbourne. In
response to the second part of the question, I have seen a number of reports on emigration and on unemployment, although none specifically on the issue the member raises. Treasury advises that emigration trends, among many other factors, are taken into account in forecast updates, and those forecast updates, of course, include forecasts of the rate of unemployment.
Hon David Parker: Does he accept that if it was not for the level of migration to Australia, the number of people unemployed in New Zealand would be higher?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Not necessarily.
Hon David Parker: Is the reason he has not requested any advice on the effect of emigration to Australia on suppressing New Zealand’s unemployment that it would make his Government’s record on jobs look even worse?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: No. In the circumstances, the Government’s record on jobs is very positive; 160,000 more New Zealanders have jobs now than 4 years ago, despite one of the longer economic recessions in a generation. That is a tribute to the many workplaces where people reduced their hours to keep their jobs, where staff and management have worked together to ensure that those businesses can survive through tough times. The Government makes a contribution, but the credit for job growth in New Zealand goes to the management and the workers in our businesses.
Hon David Parker: Did he promise at the election that under his Government an additional 170,000 full-time jobs would be created during this 3-year term of office?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I think that the number of 170,000 may come from the initial Budget forecast for 2009, perhaps. I cannot remember the year exactly. What we are pleased about is that, despite the fact that the economy turned out to be much different than was expected through 2008, we have nevertheless had job growth. That is partly to do with the Government continuing to invest in large-scale infrastructure projects and maintaining public spending and public services, and partly to do with the resilience and adaptability of our workplaces.
Hon David Parker: Given that the number of people unemployed is now the highest it has been under his Government—162,000, according to his favoured household labour force survey—what does he estimate the number of unemployed would be were it not for the 170,000 people who have left for Australia under his watch?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I have not done that calculation and do not intend to, because it is hypothetical. The Government is focusing on the one decision that creates jobs, and that is the decision of a business to hire somebody. We are doing everything we can to make it easier for New Zealand businesses to make the decision to hire someone. The Opposition is doing everything it can to stop businesses doing anything.
Child Poverty, Abuse, and Neglect—White Paper for Vulnerable Children
5. MELISSA LEE (National) to the Minister for Social Development: What announcements has she made on ensuring those working with children recognise and report suspected child abuse, as part of the Government’s White Paper for Vulnerable Children?
Hon PAULA BENNETT (Minister for Social Development): We are introducing a range of initiatives to better support professionals who work with children, and help ensure they put the child’s needs first. We will introduce legislation that will require agencies working with children to have child protection policies in place—specifically, ensuring that their staff knows how to recognise and report suspected child abuse.
Melissa Lee: What support will there be to train those working with children to recognise the signs of child abuse?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: The situation as it is currently is quite astounding. Many professionals working with children are lucky if during their many years of training they come across even one lecture on identifying the signs of abuse. Our action plan makes it clear that we will have all frontline public sector staff who work with children get training to recognise and detect the signs of child abuse. This continues on this Government’s initiative, which began in May 2010. We
have now trained over 2,500 frontline professionals, thanks to child protection workshops, predominantly run by Child Matters.
Melissa Lee: What changes are required to ensure these initiatives are put in place?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: Our expectation is that where a professional suspects there is a case of abuse, this will be reported, and we will be making this easier for them. But this is a new requirement, and it will be supported by a change in legislation and by a code of practice that makes it clear that everyone working with children has a responsibility to report suspected abuse or neglect.
Jacinda Ardern: What evidence does she have that the predictive risk tool contained in her white paper will do more good than harm, when it is untested and has been panned by experts in the field?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: I think it is fair to say that there have been two trains of thought on it. Some, as the member says, have been against it, and some have been for it. That is why we have said it is a prototype. It needs far more testing. It needs a group of experts around it to make sure it is safe. It is not something we are rolling out tomorrow; it is something we will do over time. But if we have facts that say there is a group of children who are most at risk of being abused or neglected, before they are abused or neglected, I would, quite frankly, be negligent not to do something with them.
Jacinda Ardern: Does she agree with Dr Patrick Kelly, a member of her own expert advisory group on abuse and neglect, who said he was “blindsided” by her predictive risk model, that it is essentially an experiment, and “They have no idea whether that intervention will work or not.”?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: I think it is what we do with the information that is most important. I heard someone sort of yell out you can put them in one place and that is fine. It is going to be up to what sort of support we put round it and what sorts of initiatives go with it. I hear what Dr Patrick Kelly has said. He is an expert in this field and someone whom I have a huge amount of respect for. I think it is the initiatives and the support we put behind them that will make the biggest difference.
Jacinda Ardern: Will she dump her risk prediction tool if she finds that abused children are not picked up by it?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: I think that is about 20 steps ahead of where we are at now. What we have done is we have put out the paper. We have then got a lot of work to do around it. I mean, the member should know that the professional who has put this predictive tool together has not done it by luck or by good means; they have actually done a whole lot of research behind it. We now need to get the right experts and the right academics to make sure that we make the best of it, and then we will see where that ends up. But I am not going to predict what could happen in 3 or 4 years’ time with something that has yet to be fully developed.
Schools, Canterbury—Consultation on Proposed Closures and Mergers
6. Hon LIANNE DALZIEL (Labour—Christchurch East) to the Minister of Education: Will she extend the consultation timeframe for Christchurch schools which are proposed to be merged or closed, to enable them to fully engage with their communities; if not, why not?
Hon HEKIA PARATA (Minister of Education): That is certainly possible. Over the next 3 weeks I will be spending the bulk of my time in Christchurch visiting schools and listening to parents and their school communities, and if they present to me a case, including about the extension of the time line, I will certainly consider it.
Hon Lianne Dalziel: In light of that response, will she take into account the fact that schools are being expected to consult with their communities during term 4, when they have exams, school reports, end-of-year prize-givings, and other matters to attend to, and will that be something she will take into account in allowing, perhaps, until the end of term 1, which is what a number of the schools have asked her to consider?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: I will take into account all the issues that a school chooses to raise with me.
Hon Lianne Dalziel: Does she stand by the statement in respect of building effective school networks that the ministry must give sufficient opportunity to the community to express its views; if that is the case, then why has she so far declined communities the extension that they have said they need?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: I will definitely take those issues into account. We provided 2 weeks’ notice of the proposals and a further 10 weeks for consultation in an overall 6-month period that is part of the 2½ years. So we will take those into account, and we will ensure that schools have the opportunity to raise all the issues that they wish to raise.
Simon O’Connor: Has the Minister received any reports on the current consultation time frame around the Greater Christchurch education renewal plan?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: Yes, I have personally received feedback on a range of things, including that some schools do not wish for the time frames to be extended, as they want certainty as soon as possible and would like to move forward.
Hon Lianne Dalziel: Is it her intention that the relevant cluster can submit over the specific proposals to close or merge individual schools within the cluster; if so, do they have to submit on those proposals by 7 December as well?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: No.
Hon Lianne Dalziel: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. That is simply—I do not understand the Minister’s answer. In saying no—seriously, I am not playing games. I did not understand whether she was answering the first part or the second part.
Mr SPEAKER: The dilemma is, of course, that a Minister need answer only one part of a supplementary question, and where a member really does need the information it pays to just ask only one part. [Interruption] Order! That has been a longstanding ruling in this House. I have hauled that Minister up for not answering questions, but she did answer a part of that question very clearly today.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Which part?
Mr SPEAKER: That is not for the Speaker to discern—[Interruption] Order! It is not difficult. It is not difficult for intelligent people to ask a straight supplementary question if they really do want the answer to it.
Hon David Parker: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I accept that Ministers have to address only one part of the question, but it should not be too hard for the House to expect that the answer elucidates which part of the question is being answered. Otherwise it makes a mockery of the question.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Some responsibility falls on questioners as well, not just on Ministers. If questioners are serious about wanting information, they should ask a simple, clear question. Then there can be no confusion. I cannot go back to the Minister when she did answer a part of that question, and say: “Minister, look, I would like you to answer the other part.” I cannot do that. The Minister answered part of that question, and, as far as the Speaker is concerned, that is where it ends. It is up to members, in asking questions, to think about it—to think more carefully in asking a question.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. You have, I think, over time set a set a rules around straight questions that get straight answers, that do not avoid the question, and that do not involve politics. It seems to me that in allowing this approach from this Minister on a straight question on a serious issue, you are diverging from what I thought was a very good set of rulings.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member knows I have tried when members ask simple, straight questions. For some of his colleagues I have given a great deal of assistance to them to extract answers, but I cannot say to Ministers that where a member actually asks two parts to a question, they must answer both of them. I cannot do that, because there have to be disciplines on both sides
of the House. If members are serious about a piece of information, they must seek only that information. With a straight question, I assure the member, I will try to get the answer.
Denis O’Rourke: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Is it too much to ask that the House should know to which part of a question a simple answer is being given? Otherwise it is simply not intelligible, and that is not too much to ask.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I think we are spending a lot of time—a lot of time—and actually wasting that time, when this is a long-held convention. If people want to know what question the answer is for, they should just ask one question, not several.
Mr SPEAKER: The member put it very well. We do not need to waste more time on this issue. I realise the member Lianne Dalziel is seeking to ask a further supplementary question. Does the member wish to raise a further point of order?
Hon Peter Dunne: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I draw your attention to Speaker’s ruling 177/6, which you will know well, and which says the Speaker is the Speaker, not a quizmaster.
Hon Lianne Dalziel: Which part of my question did the Minister answer “No.” to?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: The last part. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I must be able to hear the member.
Hon Lianne Dalziel: If one of the clusters presents her, after 7 December, with a proposal that involves not closing or merging one of the schools that she had already concluded consulting on the closure or merger of, will she reopen the formal consultation for those schools?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: The cluster proposals are not required by 7 December, so that question is not relevant.
Hon Lianne Dalziel: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. That is word for word the question that my colleague asked the person answering on behalf of the Minister last week. I have repeated the question for the Minister.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I believe, on this occasion, that the question is a perfectly fair question. The Minister has indicated that the cluster consultation is not required to be completed by a certain time, but individual schools’ consultation is intended to be completed by that time. The question asked, where a cluster proposal emerging from consultation after the point of time where consultation is completed for individual schools, whether a proposal emerging from that could reopen an issue relating to an individual school. I think that was a perfectly fair and straight question, and the Minister’s answer did not answer that, because the Minister in her answer said cluster consultation is not required to be completed by that same date. That was not the question. The question was, if after the closure for individual schools a proposal emerged from a cluster that affected an individual school, whether the Minister would be prepared to reopen the issue surrounding that individual school.
Hon HEKIA PARATA: The proposals relating to 215 schools in Christchurch are on two different processes with two different time lines. Thirty-seven schools have specific proposals that have been put to them, and the time line on those is 7 December. Clusters have the opportunity beyond that, because they involve more than the schools that have those specific proposals. Those cluster plans are not due before—they will be able to take into account decisions made in respect of the proposals for the individual schools.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: A point of order—I can anticipate what it is. That was not the question. [Interruption] Order! The question asked: if, during the ongoing consultation that carries on beyond the specified date for clusters, a proposal emerged that affected an individual school or a decision that had already been made, would the decision possibly be reopened as a result of the consultation that took place further on in time in respect of the cluster? It is a reasonable question.
Hon HEKIA PARATA: I am happy to take into account particular issues determined by the particular set of circumstances that relate to the particular school and the particular cluster.
Mr SPEAKER: I thank the honourable Minister.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I wonder whether you will now rescind the Speaker’s ruling to which Mr Dunne referred.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I think we are best to continue to move.
Hon Lianne Dalziel: I seek leave to table in the House a letter addressed to the Minister from Aranui Primary School, signed by past pupils and past staff of Aranui Primary School who were at their centenary over the weekend, asking for an extension until the end of term 1, 2013, and my covering letter.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table those documents. Is there any objection? There is no objection. Documents, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Schools, Canterbury—Consultation on Proposed Closures and Mergers
7. NICKY WAGNER (National—Christchurch Central) to the Minister of Education: What steps is the Government taking to ensure meaningful consultation with school communities in Greater Christchurch?
Hon HEKIA PARATA (Minister of Education): We are taking a number of steps. The first step involved two rounds of consultation in the 18 months since the initial earthquakes, out of which a set of proposals have been developed. The next set of steps have included: on 13 September schools received 2 weeks’ introduction of the proposals; on 28 September, schools were given 10 weeks to provide feedback; independent facilitators have been offered to each of the schools to assist boards of trustees in managing the consultation process and developing their feedback; schools can hold a consultation support day, which is effectively a teachers only day; online communities are being developed, which will allow 24/7 discussions; and a dedicated task force has been set up, including the appointment of an independent executive adviser.
Nicky Wagner: What steps is the Minister personally taking to ensure that parents’ concerns are heard?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: Over the next 3 weeks I am going to be spending the bulk of my time in Christchurch, visiting school communities and listening directly to them and to the parents of those school communities.
Hon Lianne Dalziel: I seek leave to table the executive summary of the 500 submissions that were made that were referred to by the Minister, where it said that questions relating to the compulsory school sector dominated responses, with the largest number of responses saying small schools were preferred for building community, reducing negative social and educational—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! 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.
Government Communications Security Bureau—Surveillance Activities
8. CHARLES CHAUVEL (Labour) to the Prime Minister: Since he assumed ministerial responsibility for it, has the Government Communications Security Bureau undertaken surveillance of any person who is a citizen or resident of New Zealand, other than Mr Kim Dotcom?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): It is on the public record that the interception of communications in the Megaupload case included Kim Dotcom and other individuals. Mr Dotcom, his family, and one of his associates were found to have been unlawfully intercepted due to their residency status. I also refer the member to my public statement on 3 October, in which I noted the Government Communications Security Bureau could not assure me that the legal position of three other cases was totally clear. These cases are not connected to the Dotcom case. This does not mean that these cases involve unlawful interception. However, the Government Communications Security
Bureau has referred these cases to the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security for further consideration.
Charles Chauvel: In respect of the matters that have been referred to the Inspector-General by the Government Communications Security Bureau, does the Prime Minister know when it is likely that he will have a response to those matters, and does he intend to share that response with the House?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No.
Charles Chauvel: Did the Government Communications Security Bureau tell him at the meeting that he held with the agency on Wednesday, 22 August that on the Friday beforehand—17 August—the Acting Prime Minister had signed a ministerial certificate to prevent disclosure of the Government Communications Security Bureau’s role in the surveillance in the Dotcom case?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No.
Charles Chauvel: Has he requested a file review of the same nature as that which was undertaken following his 29 February briefing from the Government Communications Security Bureau in respect of the 22 August meeting; if not, will he do so, and will the results of that file review, if it occurs, be shared with the House?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I have asked the Government Communications Security Bureau to review all paperwork in relation to any matters, including the Dotcom file and my office. That included all audio, all video, for the very reasons we pointed out last week when Labour was chasing hares and hounds, and various other things. All the paperwork that we have is only that day of 29 February.
Aged Care, Residential—Introduction of Clinical Assessment Tool
9. Dr CAM CALDER (National) to the Associate Minister of Health: What progress has been made on the introduction of a comprehensive clinical assessment tool for older people in rest homes?
Hon JO GOODHEW (Associate Minister of Health): Training of nurses has started, with 178 expected to be trained by the end of this year. Last week the Government announced we are accelerating the time frame for the roll-out of comprehensive clinical assessments to every agedcare resident. As a result, older New Zealanders in rest homes will have tailor-made health plans to ensure they are getting a consistently high standard of customised care in their rest homes. By June 2014 all residential care facilities will have started to participate in the roll-out and it will be mandatory from July 2015.
Dr Cam Calder: What prompted the Government’s decision to fast track this roll-out?
Hon JO GOODHEW: The Auditor-General’s September 2012 report entitled Effectiveness of arrangements to check the standard of services provided by rest homes emphasised the importance of comprehensive clinical assessment in monitoring the quality of care for older people. In essence, this cannot wait. The sooner comprehensive clinical assessment is introduced, the sooner we will see improvements in aged residential care services through improved needs-assessment and performance benchmarking.
Dr Cam Calder: What is the purpose of comprehensive clinical assessments for older New Zealanders receiving aged care?
Hon JO GOODHEW: This is a personalised health and well-being plan that covers about 22 different areas of a person’s health. Information from across all rest homes will be anonymised and accumulated to provide a measure of rest home care and quality. This Government wants demonstrable and independent measures of quality, so we have also introduced spot audits, we are auditing the auditors, and we are publishing audit results online to support older New Zealanders and their families. All this is part of improving the quality and accountability of aged care for older New Zealanders.
Climate Change—Minister’s Statement
10. Dr KENNEDY GRAHAM (Green) to the Minister for Climate Change Issues: Does he stand by his comment of 17 October 2012 that, “We need to make sure that New Zealand continues to do its fair share, alongside other countries, to combat the effects of climate change…”?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES (Acting Minister for Climate Change Issues): Yes, when the comment is taken in context and reported in full. What the Minister said was: “We need to make sure that New Zealand continues to do its fair share, alongside other countries, to combat the effects of climate change while ensuring that the ETS doesn’t have an unreasonable impact on businesses and households in this time of economic recovery,”.
Dr Kennedy Graham: While ensuring within the broader context that our scheme does not adversely impact on those sectors, will he still confirm that a binding obligation under a Kyoto II scheme with the European Union is doing our fair share better than a voluntary pledge, primarily with non-Kyoto APEC countries?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: Yes. I think it is very important to understand that when we look around the world New Zealand is the only country outside the EU to have a fully implemented emissions trading scheme. Indeed, if you look at the major emitters in the world—the five biggest economies, in terms of China, the EU, the USA, India, and Russia—it is only the EU that has an emissions trading scheme. So I think, actually, we are doing our fair share.
Dr Kennedy Graham: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I just want to get clarification from the Acting Minister to make sure that he has answered the question. With respect, I was not talking about the current commitment period. My question was: “Will he confirm that a binding obligation under a Kyoto II scheme …”—post December 2012.
Mr SPEAKER: I invite the member to repeat his question, because the question was quite specific, I agree.
Dr Kennedy Graham: Will he confirm that a binding obligation under a Kyoto II scheme post December 2012 with the European Union is doing our fair share better than a voluntary pledge, primarily with non-Kyoto APEC countries?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: Although I do not claim to understand the details of what we are doing with the second commitment period, my understanding is that decisions have yet to be made on that particular matter.
Dr Kennedy Graham: Why is the Government still keeping its target for the post-Kyoto period 2013 to 2020 from the New Zealand public, given that it is only 10 weeks away?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: We are not keeping anything secret. That seems to be the favourite word of the Greens at the moment, but the fact of the matter is we have not made a decision. Under the first commitment period, in fact, we are more than meeting our obligations.
Dr Kennedy Graham: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I did not use the word “secret”; I said “keeping it from the public”.
Mr SPEAKER: The Minister’s answer was not unreasonable.
Dr Kennedy Graham: Is the Minister embarrassed that New Zealand has failed to produce comparable emission reduction targets at this year’s climate change meetings when compared with the European Union at 20 percent unconditional, Liechtenstein at 20 percent unconditional, Norway at 30 percent unconditional, and Switzerland at 20 percent unconditional, earning us, by admission in the Government’s own briefing paper, a constant refrain from others asking for targets and earning daily fossil awards?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: No. Under the first commitment period, as I said, we are more than meeting our obligations. In fact, I am proud of what we are doing. I think we are doing our fair share, and we provide global leadership on things such as the Global Research Alliance on Agricultural Greenhouse Gases, where we are providing real solutions to the issues of climate change.
Dr Kennedy Graham: I seek leave of the House to table two documents. The first is the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade briefing paper for the August climate change meeting in Bangkok, which specifies what I quoted.
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.
Dr Kennedy Graham: Or the relevant page, perhaps. The second is the UN document dated 23 August 2012 for the same meeting, showing the current targets entered by Kyoto Protocol developed-country parties, with New Zealand languishing near the bottom.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is no objection. [Interruption] I beg your pardon, there is objection. I beg your pardon, there was objection. There was objection to that second one.
Methamphetamine Precursor—Agreement with China
11. MIKE SABIN (National—Northland) to the Minister of Customs: What is the Government doing to combat the smuggling of precursors used to manufacture methamphetamine?
Hon MAURICE WILLIAMSON (Minister of Customs): In 2009 the Government launched a multi-faceted Methamphetamine Action Plan. Three of the key elements of that plan are that, firstly, we invested in enhanced tracking and surveillance equipment to assist the Customs Service to identify high-level organisers behind the drug importing syndicates; secondly, 2 years ago we established an integrated targeted and operations centre, which allows the Customs Service to assess threats and target border risks more effectively; and, thirdly, we have developed a closer relationship with China’s customs service to better target the supply end. I signed a memorandum of cooperation with my Chinese counterpart in late 2010, and just last week both countries agreed to work even more closely in the areas of intelligence, targeting, and operations to combat drug trafficking.
Mike Sabin: What is the flow-on effect from all these measures?
Hon MAURICE WILLIAMSON: I have to say the results have been nothing short of spectacular. From a peak of 1,200 kilograms coming across our border in 2009, this year—after 9 months—the figure runs to just 300. So, even annualising that, it is round about one-third of the level of interceptions we were getting just 3 years ago. We believe that the measures the Government has taken have resulted in the reduced supply of those precursors. The Customs Service tells me there is evidence to suggest we have managed to contain the supply of methamphetamine, and recent surveys indicate fewer people are now using it. By reducing the amount of P precursors coming across the border, we prevent millions of dollars of harm to this nation.
Government Financial Position—Current Account Deficit
12. ANDREW WILLIAMS (NZ First) to the Minister of Finance: Is reducing the current account deficit a priority for the Government?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): Yes. This is one part of the Government’s wider programme to reduce New Zealand’s longer-standing external imbalances, which have built up over 3 or 4 years. The Government has taken a number of steps to encourage New Zealanders to live within their means and save more, because, ultimately, it is the behaviour of New Zealanders that determines the extent of our current account deficit. We are making progress. Household savings are significantly positive for the first time in 20 years, and New Zealanders are paying down debt. But there is some long way yet to go, with New Zealand households being among the most indebted in the developed world.
Andrew Williams: How can he say it is a priority, when the current account deficit is forecast to double from about $8 billion to $16 billion over the next 4 years?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: As the member may be aware, you cannot target the current account deficit in the same way as you can, for instance, target the deficit in the Government’s accounts. We can decide to spend less and raise more tax, but we cannot independently make New Zealand households and businesses behave differently from the way they have behaved for the last 30 years. The current account deficit at the moment is around 4.9 percent, much lower than the 3-year average of over 8 percent in the last term of the last Labour Government. So the critics of the current account deficit had a much worse deficit when they had had 9 years to get on top of it.
Andrew Williams: What impact would a 20 percent decline in national income from milksolids, as forecast in the annual Farm Monitoring Report released today, have on the current account deficit during the same 4-year period?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: That would not help. It would be better for New Zealand if its national income was rising rather than falling, which is why it is important that we look after the productive capacity of our dairy industry. We cannot have it both ways. We cannot reduce our current account deficit on the one hand, and then run with Opposition parties’ policies, which are, essentially, to try to shut down the dairy industry. That would make the current account deficit a lot worse.
Andrew Williams: Given that the “big four” Australian banks made a combined profit of $3 billion in the 2011 financial year, has the Government considered ways to improve banking competition in New Zealand and reduce the amount of profit being repatriated overseas?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The current competitive rules for the banking sector are about as open we think they can be. Bear in mind that the small, open economies that are really in trouble are those that have had banking problems and banking collapses—Ireland being the most obvious example, but there are others. It is our view that having reasonably strong banks at this time is actually good for the economy. It enables businesses and households to continue to borrow money. The Government’s focus in respect of banking at the moment is to introduce the open bank resolution process, which will reduce the likelihood that taxpayers would have to bail out any bank that got in trouble.
Andrew Williams: Given the cost to New Zealand of international freight being in the order of $5 billion a year, what specific recommendations is the Government considering in respect of the recent Productivity Commission report into international freight as a way of improving the balance of payments?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: That is a very good question, and the Government is considering the report of the Productivity Commission. Its recommendations covered a range of areas, including competition rules among shipping lines, and the impact of local government ownership on the efficiency of ports. The Government will pick up whatever recommendations it believes can make a difference to competitiveness. I am pleased the member is focusing on those issues, because it is exactly those less glamorous and more complex issues that are the key to improving our competitiveness. There is no other free lunch with the current account.
QUESTIONS TO MEMBERS
Criminal Proceeds (Recovery) Act 2009 (Application to Casinos) Amendment Bill—Purpose
1. DENISE ROCHE (Green) to the Member in charge of the Criminal Proceeds (Recovery)
Act 2009 (Application to Casinos) Amendment Bill:: Why did the member draft the Criminal Proceeds (Recovery) Act 2009 (Application to Casinos) Amendment Bill?
METIRIA TUREI (Member in charge of the Criminal Proceeds (Recovery) Act 2009
(Application to Casinos) Amendment Bill: I drafted this bill because casinos are widely known to profit from money-laundering and theft driven by gambling addiction. Under the Criminal Proceeds (Recovery) Act 2009 private individuals are not entitled to retain profits or property derived from significant criminal activity, whether or not that person is involved in the criminal activity, and
neither should casinos. This bill requires casinos to forfeit any profits they obtain from gambling that results from a significant criminal activity.
Denise Roche: Was there any other reason?
METIRIA TUREI: The issue of casinos retaining profits from criminal activity arose during the debate on the Skycity convention centre deal negotiated by the National Government. That deal would significantly increase the risk of criminal activity to feed both problem gambling and moneylaundering, and therefore increase profits to the casino. That deal is currently subject to an investigation by the Auditor-General.
Criminal Proceeds (Recovery) Act 2009 (Application to Casinos) Amendment Bill—Purpose
2. DENISE ROCHE (Green) to the Member in charge of the Criminal Proceeds (Recovery)
Act 2009 (Application to Casinos) Amendment Bill: What is the purpose of the Criminal Proceeds (Recovery) Act 2009 (Application to Casinos) Amendment Bill?
METIRIA TUREI (Member in charge of the Criminal Proceeds (Recovery) Act 2009
(Application to Casinos) Amendment Bill): The purpose of the bill is to apply the civil forfeiture regime to casinos. The bill amends the definition of “unlawfully benefiting from significant criminal activity” to include casinos that knowingly, having regard to best international practice in detecting problem gambling in a criminal activity, derive a benefit from significant criminal activity.
Denise Roche: What is the effect of the amendment?
METIRIA TUREI: Casinos that have failed to demonstrate that they have used the best international practice to detect or to deter problem gambling and criminal activity will be required to forfeit any profit they retain from problem gambling or money laundering. In the case of serious problem gambling, the money is often obtained unlawfully from family, friends, community organisations, and businesses. This bill will encourage casinos to implement the best possible practices to protect against problem gambling and money-laundering, and, therefore, to better protect small businesses, community organisations, and individuals from gambling-driven crime.