Questions and Answers - October 24
QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS
Economic Programme—Support for New Zealand Families
1. DAVID BENNETT (National—Hamilton East) to the Minister of Finance: What measures has the Government taken to support families through the global financial crisis?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): Over the past 4 years the Government has introduced a balanced economic programme to help protect New Zealanders from the sharpest edge of recession. This has ensured we are getting the Government’s books back in order, building a more competitive economy, at the same time as improving our support programmes for families. Despite running large deficits, we have retained Working for Families and maintained its value, maintained universal New Zealand superannuation, maintained most other welfare programmes, maintained interest-free student loans, and maintained the value of these with regular adjustments.
David Bennett: How much will the Government invest this year in programmes that support New Zealand families?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: In addition to the large-scale welfare programmes paying benefits, the Government will spend around $4.5 billion this financial year across a range of programmes that specifically support families. This is up from $3.7 billion in 2008—an increase of $800 million over the last 4 years. This includes $1.4 billion in early childhood education subsidies, $2.1 billion for the family tax credit, $570 million for the in-work tax credit, and a number of other miscellaneous expenditures adding up to $250 million to support children in other ways.
David Bennett: As part of its wider programme to support New Zealand families, how much does the Government invest each year in paid parental leave?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Mr Speaker—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Order! I want to hear the answer. It is a fair question.
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Despite one of the more significant recessions in a generation, the Government has maintained the current provision of 14 weeks’ paid parental leave, which in the year to June 2012 will cost $156 million. As I have pointed out, this is just one small part of the $4.5 billion of support targeted at New Zealand families. The annual cost is likely to rise to $176 million by 2015-16. These figures are based on existing entitlements, before tax, with an estimated 3 percent increase in the average ordinary-time weekly wage each year.
David Bennett: What reports has he seen of alternative approaches to paid parental leave, and what impact would they have on the Government’s finances?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: As I have pointed out, the top priority for the Government has been to increase the value of the Working for Families payments because that affects over 400,000 families. On 1 April this year Working for Families was increased by—
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I thought it was fair to give the Minister of Finance time, but he was asked what reports he had received. He is well into his answer and he has got nowhere near answering the question that he was directly asked.
Mr SPEAKER: The member has actually raised quite an interesting point, I must concede, because if I heard the question correctly it asked what reports the Minister had received on paid parental leave. The Minister has proceeded to talk so far about Working for Families, which is a totally different issue. Just in case the Minister did not hear the question, I invite David Bennett to repeat his question.
David Bennett: What reports has he seen of alternative approaches to paid parental leave, and what impact would they have on the Government’s finances?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Well, that is a much better question! The Government’s alternative to increasing paid parental leave, as proposed by the Opposition, has been to make a higher priority of increasing the value of Working for Families payments. These affect around 400,000 families, and on 1 April this year they were increased by 5 percent. I have seen propositions to double paid parental leave from 14 to 26 weeks. When fully implemented, this would cost another $150 million per year, and it is not our highest priority.
Hon David Parker: Does the Minister accept that his tax cuts went disproportionately to the highest income earners and that for middle and low income earners—over half of all New Zealanders—earnings have not kept pace with the cost of living?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: No, I do not accept that, and I am surprised, if the member is worrying about it, that he is advocating policies like printing money, which around the world advantage the highest earners. So I do not know why he is advocating that policy.
State-owned Assets, Sales—Progress
2. DAVID SHEARER (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does he stand by his statement on asset sales “It’s a minor delay, but in the overall scheme of things, sometimes the longest way home is the fastest way home”; if so, is he still confident that his asset sales schedule is on track?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): Yes. The Government’s share offer programme is completely on track. Between March and June next year we intend to offer shares in Mighty River Power while still holding at least 51 percent of the company. We always expected legal action from the Māori Council and, in fact, it is better that this is happening sooner rather than later.
David Shearer: Has he read any reports to his Government about the progress of asset sales and privatisation plans of other Governments?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No, from memory.
David Shearer: Mr Speaker—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I want to hear the question of the Leader of the Opposition.
David Shearer: Has he seen advice that shows that in Portugal, Ireland, Greece, and Spain, where asset sales are required as part of bailout packages, sale processes have largely stalled because anticipated revenue was not raised?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I cannot talk too much about the economics in Greece, other than to say that I am pretty convinced that Labour, the Greens, and New Zealand First would probably turn us into Greece. But what I can say is just because there has been a global financial crisis, which the Opposition seems to remember now but never remembers when it is asking every other question about what has been happening in the last 4 years, actually the Dow Jones—
David Shearer: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. That was a pretty straight question, I have to say.
Mr SPEAKER: The member’s point is reasonable. The Prime Minister was asked whether he was aware of certain asset sales programmes in a range of countries. Just to refresh the Prime Minister’s memory, I invite the Leader of the Opposition to repeat his question, if he could.
David Shearer: Has he seen advice that shows that in Portugal, Ireland, Greece, and Spain, where asset sales are required as part of bailout packages, sale processes have largely stalled because anticipated revenue was not raised?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Well, the answer now is maybe, because Clayton Cosgrove is holding something up. I think it was his application to become leader.
David Shearer: Is the Prime Minister aware that Kurdistan recently postponed selling its Stateowned mobile network, Russia recently cancelled three State privatisations, Hungary is preparing to renationalise a gas company, and Croatia has cancelled selling off its State bank?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No, but now it is all starting to become clear where Labour is getting its economic policies from!
Michael Woodhouse: Why is it important that the share offer programme goes ahead?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: It is important, firstly, because the Government can use the proceeds of the share offer to invest in new public infrastructure without having to borrow so much to do so. This is exactly the same situation as in 2005 when the previous Government took $600 million from the sale of publicly owned asset Southern Hydro and used it to invest in roads. The share offer also gives New Zealand savers the opportunity to invest either directly or indirectly in big New Zealand companies, and being publicly listed will be good for the companies themselves.
David Shearer: Has the Prime Minister seen the Privatization Barometer report that noted in 2011 that at least 215 initial public offerings totalling a record $44 billion were withdrawn worldwide—most either cancelled or delayed until some time in 2015?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No, but what I have seen is a report—I cannot recall whether it is from the IMF or the World Bank—that basically looked at countries that over the last 20 or 30 years had involved themselves in partial privatisations or the mixed-ownership model, and what it showed was that there was literally tens of thousands of them, and by the way, if the argument of bringing a company to the market is such a bad idea in New Zealand, why did it work so well for TradeMe?
David Shearer: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. That was also a specific question about 2011, not some ancient history—
Mr SPEAKER: I think the Prime Minister did actually answer the question. He went on to add a little more information that was reasonable for a while, but then it got unreasonable at the end.
David Shearer: Is he comfortable being in the company of Spain, Greece, and Portugal, the only countries still contemplating sell-offs, or does he think that now is the right time to sell off New Zealand’s assets?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I do not believe that the member is correct. I do believe bringing these companies to the market through the mixed-ownership model is a good, sound economic approach, and actually I think it will deliver a better result for New Zealand without having to borrow more money. I know the member’s policies are to print money and borrow money but—
Mr SPEAKER: Order!
David Shearer: Is it his aim in selling off assets to maximise return to the New Zealand taxpayer or, given that the value of shares is likely to slump as result of the sales, is it to give enormous bargains to those buyers rich enough to buy shares?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: The member will be aware, because of the Securities Act, that I cannot offer a comment on whether the share sales are likely to be successful or not. What I can say is that if one goes and looks at TradeMe as an example, they will see it was brought to the market under what can really only be described as the mixed-ownership model, and that has proven to be very successful. I think if one also looks at the number of KiwiSaver accounts, the New Zealand Superannuation Fund, the other pension funds in New Zealand, and mums and dads looking for investments, they will find those to be attractive investments. We know that Labour was happy for them to pour their money into finance—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The Prime Minister has no responsibility for Labour.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I ask the Prime Minister to table the advice that indicates—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member knows he cannot do that.
Michael Woodhouse: What reports has he seen on any alternative approaches to paying for new public infrastructure?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I am aware of a couple of approaches. One is simply to go out there and print money in the misguided belief it will make a country wealthy. Today I have with me actually a $500 million Zimbabwean note. Members might be interested to know that when this was issued in May 2008, you needed 100 of these to buy—
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Prime Minister did that same trick the other day. It was not relevant to the answer then and it is not now.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! On this occasion the Prime Minister was asked what reports he had seen of alternative approaches to paying for State assets and the Prime Minister answered that the printing of money was one such proposal, and was giving an example of the possible outcomes of that. I do not see that as being—so long as he does not go on too long—out of order in respect of the question asked.
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: As I say, one option is to print money, and you would have needed 100 of these when it was printed, 100 $500 million notes, to buy an egg—poached, boiled, fried, scrambled, or any other way. The other option—
Kevin Hague: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. How long is too long?
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I think in fairness the Prime Minister had just finished. The Prime Minister was asked what reports he had seen. He may continue as long as he is not going to go on too much longer—
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: The second approach I have seen is to go out and borrow $5 billion to $7 billion, at a time when countries around the world are trying to reduce their debt. We know that that policy belongs to the big spending, big promising Labour Party.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! That is sufficient.
Te Ururoa Flavell: Tēnā koe, Mr Speaker. Kia ora tātou. Has the Prime Minister had any positive responses at all from iwi Māori to indicate satisfaction with the consultation process over asset sales, and can he provide examples of that to this House?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I have not directly asked that question, but what I have seen are reports that state, as part of the consultation that was undertaken, the belief of some iwi that if “shares plus” had been adopted, it actually would have been a negative step for Māori.
Economic Growth and Jobs—Progress
3. KANWALJIT SINGH BAKSHI (National) to the Minister for Economic Development: What is the Government doing to encourage businesses to invest, and grow jobs?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister for Economic Development): The Government is doing many things to help improve the environment for businesses to invest and grow. I recently released the Business Growth Agenda report Building Skilled and Safe Workplaces. This report highlights the Government’s actions to materially lift labour productivity, drive sustained growth, and deliver higher wages and living standards to New Zealanders. It brings together 62 specific actions in a comprehensive programme to encourage skills development across all age groups and lift our productivity. Initiatives include a starting-out wage to help young people into the workforce, a new skills and employment hub for better job-matching in Christchurch, and an annual Occupational Outlook report for parents and students, to give them industry guidance on careers in demand.
Kanwaljit Singh Bakshi: What reports has he seen of alternative programmes?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I have seen various alternative proposals regarding encouraging investors to grow businesses and add jobs in New Zealand. One, purported to be pro-growth tax reform, is a capital gains tax, which would slap a tax on every single New Zealand business and
farm. Another, in relation to the proposed takeover of Fisher and Paykel, suggested Government Ministers should be able to veto the sales of shares in publicly listed companies. Both of these suggestions, if there were any chance of them happening, would no doubt greatly reduce the likelihood of investors wanting to invest in New Zealand and grow jobs. Far from a recipe for encouraging investment, these policies promoted by Mr Shearer and his understudy, Mr Cunliffe, would deter investment.
Hon David Parker: I seek leave to table reports from the OECD, the IMF, Treasury, and the Reserve Bank favouring a pro-growth capital gains tax.
Mr SPEAKER: Before I seek the leave of the House, would the member please identify the reports?
Hon David Parker: Yes. They are the latest periodic report of the OECD into the New Zealand economy, the same from the IMF, and the briefing to the incoming Minister from Treasury. The Reserve Bank document I cannot put a date to, so I will not pursue it.
Mr SPEAKER: We seem to be a bit sort of excited about this. The last two documents, I think, are available to all members—briefings from Treasury and the Reserve Bank. However, the first two documents were the latest periodic publications of both the IMF and the OECD. Leave is sought to table those two documents. Is there any objection? There is objection.
Kanwaljit Singh Bakshi: Has the Minister seen any other reports of alternative programmes?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: In fact, I have. Another such alternative calls for cranking up the printing presses and printing money, in a vainglorious attempt to stop the world economy so that we can all get off. Of course, it would have the immediate effect of whacking up the cost of living for every single New Zealander, and discourage investment in New Zealand. I have also seen a call for a blanket ban on deep-sea oil drilling, shutting down the fishing industry, and closing the West Coast to further mining development, all of which would undermine local jobs and growth. These particular proposals come from the Greens, and depending on which day it is, the Labour Party as well.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I think the Minister’s had enough time. He has no responsibility for those parties’ policies.
Hon David Cunliffe: I seek leave for the Minister to be able to table a copy of his most recent glossy brochure—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Under what Standing Order is the member doing that? I am unaware of any such Standing Order. If the member can point it out I am very happy to assist. It is just that I am not aware of it.
Hon David Cunliffe: The Minister referred in his previous supplementary answer to the release of his latest Business Growth Agenda paper on skills. Mr Speaker—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Order! If the Minister was quoting—[Interruption] Order! I am on my feet. If the Minister was quoting from a document, indeed the member can under a point of order ask for it to be tabled, but the Minister was not. There is no provision for what the member is trying to do.
Social Development, Ministry—Security of Private Information
4. JACINDA ARDERN (Labour) to the Minister for Social Development: Does she have confidence in Work and Income’s approach to privacy and the security of information?
Hon PAULA BENNETT (Minister for Social Development): Given what we all know and in reference to the kiosks, I have very serious concerns. The incident that has come to light today is someone who has made a mistake. They are always disappointing, as mistakes are, but one cannot always mitigate against human error.
Jacinda Ardern: Will her independent investigation into Work and Income’s privacy breach be broadened to include the at least 10 other incidents reported in the media this year alone, including a
ruling from the Human Rights Review Tribunal that found sustained and systemic Privacy Act breaches?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: As I have said, the investigation that is going on is twofold. One is into the current situation with the kiosks. It is then expected that that will be broadened out into looking at IT and other areas. What I would say to the member, though, is that mistakes have happened for years. They happened under Labour. They happened under this Government. I mean, we certainly have seen mistakes with other things being leaked—things happen. I do not expect it; it is not the kind of quality we expect, but actually human error and mistakes can be made.
Jacinda Ardern: Does the case I received this afternoon of a Work and Income client who was given a list of jobs to take home, only to find that the papers included a document with the personal details of another Work and Income client, constitute human error or a systemic failure?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: I have had that incident brought to my attention, but only just recently, so I would need to look into the details of it. But you can go back and look at other incidents. For example in 2004, when Ruth Dyson was Minister, her office released—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The question asked whether this was just a mistake or a systemic error. If the Minister wants to go back, the Minister should, in her answer, then make it clear she is not just attacking the other party but pointing out that in fact she believes this might be systemic. If the Minister wants to do that, I will hear the Minister.
Hon PAULA BENNETT: No, I am not going back and saying this is systemic. What I am saying is that human errors occur. I would take it that when Ruth Dyson released the private information of 1,354 Department of Child, Youth and Family Services children, via a written question, that was a mistake and a human error, and not actually something that was systemic.
Jacinda Ardern: Does the fact that a Work and Income staffer raised concerns about the security of the Work and Income kiosks a year ago but had these concerns dismissed by a local manager constitute human error or a systemic failure?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: I think there is absolutely no doubt that we have very serious problems with the kiosks, how they were networked in, and the access that people had to that information. The fact that it was brought to the ministry’s attention and was not acted on is simply not good enough. That is why there is an investigation that is going on. I expect it to be answered; I expect it to be fixed.
Jacinda Ardern: Does she consider that the Integrity Week that was held by the Ministry of Social Development in March, according to its annual report, to put “a spotlight on information security” was a success, given Work and Income’s recent privacy breaches; if so, will she be running another one next year, with the use of more of what the ministry calls “scenario cards”?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: What I would say is that this actually proves that the Ministry of Social Development takes security seriously. It has made mistakes, and it is the first one to stand up and be counted for that. But there are also things like human error. I find it ironic that the member wants to hang a case manager or a worker out to dry, when that is actually not the case; it is simply a human error.
Question No. 3 to Minister
Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister for Economic Development): I seek leave to table a personally autographed copy of the Building Skilled and Safe Workplaces report, for the benefit of Mr Cunliffe.
Mr SPEAKER: The author of this report?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: It is personally autographed by yours truly, Mr Speaker, for Mr Cunliffe’s benefit.
Mr SPEAKER: Before I seek leave from the House I need to know the source of this document.
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: This is the Building Skilled and Safe Workplaces report, with its personal autograph from the Minister for Economic Development.
Mr SPEAKER: Who produced the document?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I have just produced it now, in my own hands.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection?
Hon Annette King: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: We will deal with this first.
Hon Annette King: There is one more question—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member can object, if she wishes.
Hon Annette King: No, I just want to—this is a point of order.
Mr SPEAKER: Well, I will hear the Hon Annette King.
Hon Annette King: There is one more question you usually ask, and that is whether it is publicly available, and if it is, you then usually do not allow the document to be tabled.
Mr SPEAKER: The member is quite correct. On this occasion I was assuming members would probably object. Can the Minister indicate whether this is publicly available.
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Not this particular version. This is a one-off.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I am afraid that does not suffice. If it is publicly available, we will not be seeking leave to table it.
Oil and Gas Exploration—Deep-sea Oil-drilling
5. Dr RUSSEL NORMAN (Co-Leader—Green) to the Prime Minister: Does he stand by his statement, “We’re not environmental bandits. If we don’t believe drilling can take place in a way that is environmentally sustainable and wouldn’t put at undue risk the environment, we wouldn’t go with it.”; if so, why?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): I stand by my full statement, which included that we want to balance our economic opportunities with our environmental responsibilities; because it is true.
Dr Russel Norman: How is deep-sea drilling not putting the environment at undue risk, when just this month Dayne Maxwell of Maritime New Zealand said about the Government’s oil response equipment: “Most of the response equipment that we have is designed for near-shore sheltered conditions, and really there isn’t available internationally any equipment specifically designed to operate in the rough kind of conditions offshore that we have in New Zealand.”?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Well, that is one person’s view. I think it is also worth remembering that if somebody gets a permit to go and undertake these activities in the exclusive economic zone, not only would this Government be filling a gap that was previously left open but also there would no doubt be conditions on that. Finally, as I said yesterday, there have been 50,000 wells drilled in the Gulf of Mexico. Is the member arguing that all of those wells were a high risk and should have been closed up?
Dr Russel Norman: How is deep-sea drilling not putting the environment at undue risk, when the head of the Petroleum Exploration and Production Association said in April 2011: “You know, there is no absolute guarantee that disasters won’t happen, and if you had a major catastrophe, it would be just as bad as you have in North America.”—aka Deepwater Horizon?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Firstly, I mean, the member asked me yesterday about the head of Anadarko. One of the things he did say to me in the meeting was that there were a lot of learnings that had come out of that situation, and that they can be applied so that those things do not happen again. Secondly, if the member is reflecting on a comment by an individual that basically says there are no guarantees in life, well, actually, that is true, but, on the same basis, the member will never get on a plane again, never get in a car again, never get on a train again, never do a lot of things he does, because the risk is that something very bad can happen.
Dr Russel Norman: How is deep-sea drilling not putting the environment at undue risk when a leak at 2.5 kilometres under water cannot be fixed by divers, and companies are forced to rely on
robots and relief rigs, and this is diametrically different from operating in shallow water, like the case in Taranaki, where the deepest production well is only 125 metres deep?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: All of those issues in mitigation of any risk would have to be considered as part of an application to drill in the exclusive economic zone.
Dr Russel Norman: How is deep-sea drilling not putting the environment at undue risk, given that the Gulf of Mexico disaster was stopped only when a second rig drilled a relief well, and this Government will not require a relief rig to be on site during deep-sea drilling operations in New Zealand?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: The member is jumping to conclusions. He does not know what conditions will be set. But, in the end, I mean, this is really the fundamental problem, is it not, with the Green Party. What Green members are arguing is that everything contains some risk, so they do not want to do anything, except that they want to give lots and lots of money away, which is why they come up with the only solution that that person could come up with—print it!
Dr Russel Norman: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. That was not a question about the Prime Minister’s former job as a currency speculator. It was about deep-sea oil production. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Order! I think we will consider it a draw at that point.
Dr Russel Norman: Given that the Prime Minister is putting enormous weight on this new piece of flimsy legislation, the exclusive economic zone Act, how does he think that this particular piece of legislation will plug an oil leak at 2.5 kilometres under water? Does he plan to shove the legislation in the hole? Does he think that might work?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I think it is unlikely a couple of bits of paper will work. But let us cut to the chase here. We are a Government that is actually filling a gap that has been missing from our environmental protection. That member has been in the House for how long? And how many members’ bills has he put in about this issue? Oh, that is right—none. What he is focused on is printing money. That is his focus of attention.
Dr Russel Norman: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My question was not about the Prime Minister’s currency speculation—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Order! [Interruption] Order! On this occasion I invite the member to reflect on the question he asked. It kind of invited the sort of response he got.
Dr Russel Norman: Why has this Government taken a major anti-environmental turn since the 2011 election; is it because of the rising influence of Steven Joyce and others—environmental bandits within the National Party—who now dominate Cabinet and the Prime Minister?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Shock, horror! It is Steven Joyce’s fault. No. It is because this is a Government that wants, in an environmentally sensible and considered way, also to grow the economic opportunities for New Zealanders. That member wants to go down to the West Coast and say it is really bad that people are losing their jobs, potentially, at Spring Creek, while at exactly the same time he is stopping them getting a job down the road. I call that hypocrisy.
Mr SPEAKER: Question No. 6, the Hon Nanaia Mahuta. [Interruption] I beg the member’s pardon. Point of order, Dr Russel Norman.
Dr Russel Norman: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. On other occasions when members have accused others of hypocrisy you have ruled—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! The member’s question invited a pretty robust response from the Prime Minister. That kind of question is always going to elicit a robust response. As Speaker, I cannot allow a questioner to get away with all sorts of allegations in their question, and prevent the Minister answering it from making a few in return. Where the member keeps his questions objective, I will sit on the Ministers answering them, but with that sort of question there is no way I can stop the Prime Minister having a fair old go in return.
Dr Russel Norman: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Just to be clear, you are now saying that members can call other members hypocrites if there is enough provocation. Is that what you are saying?
Mr SPEAKER: There was so much noise I did not actually hear the final word the Prime Minister used. I did not hear that word. I will check with the Prime Minister whether he actually said the member was a hypocrite.
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No.
Mr SPEAKER: The Prime Minister says he did not. [Interruption] Order! No, no. Order! I have not called the right honourable Prime Minister. I am not inviting him to say any more. I did not hear that word used. I have checked with the Prime Minister and he says he did not say the member was a hypocrite. Therefore, that is the end of the matter. I have to take the Prime—[Interruption] Order! I am on my feet. I must take the Prime Minister’s word for that.
Metiria Turei: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Could I ask you, then, Mr Speaker, to check the Hansard at a later stage today and to come back tomorrow or later this afternoon with a clear ruling as to whether or not members are now allowed to accuse another member of hypocrisy in this House if there is sufficient provocation according to you.
Mr SPEAKER: The matter is very simple. As I understand it the Prime Minister was saying that a position represented hypocrisy. That is not accusing a member of being a hypocrite. It is the same issue we have had in this House the last few days over whether members provide false information to the House—that kind of thing. This is a robust place. The member in asking his question accused certain Ministers in the Government of all sorts of things. I am not going to prevent Ministers from using pretty robust language in return. I am satisfied the Prime Minister did not accuse the member’s co-leader of being a hypocrite. And I will check the Hansard just to make sure that is correct. But the matter is—[Interruption] Order! The matter is very simple. I do not want to see this House ruling out more and more words. It is crazy that we should do that, but I do not want members to be accusing other members directly of being hypocrites. I do not want that to be happening. I do not believe that happened.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Could you explain to the House how someone could hold a position with hypocrisy—a policy that is hypocrisy—and not be a hypocrite?
Mr SPEAKER: I think there is a difference, just as in recent times we have had issues of members providing false information being distinct from being a liar. I think a position can appear to be a position of hypocrisy without accusing the member directly of being a hypocrite. I just think we have go to be—for goodness’ sake, we are grown up. We use robust language. I do not want to be ruling out endless words in this place. Enough have been ruled out long before my time, I think, to last us for many, many decades, and I am not intending to rule out any more.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I would like to refer you to previous Speakers’ rulings where using the word “hypocrisy” in relation to another member has been ruled out. It applies regardless of whether the term is used in reference to an individual or to a group of members. Mr Speaker, you might like to have a look right back as far as Guinness in 1905. I have heard it constantly—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I have heard sufficient. Look, that might be the case. I am not going back on my ruling, though. You know, I am not. For years we have heard members getting all upset over words of very little serious damage to members, and yet the other language they use and the way members attack each other at times have been totally derogatory. This is a robust place. You know, sometimes we should toughen up a little bit. The member raising the point of order is not unknown for being fairly tough. I am not going to allow members to accuse each other of being hypocrites, but a position of hypocrisy is not something I am going to rule out. For goodness’ sake, if I was accused of that I would not lose too much sleep over it. People are entitled to all sorts of views. This place is a place where robust debate happens. But I will not have members accuse each other directly of being hypocrites, or liars.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Dr Russel Norman: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.Mr SPEAKER: I have dealt with that matter, so I will go to Dr Russel Norman.
Dr Russel Norman: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I support your ruling, actually. I think “Fair enough.” So what you are saying is that it is OK for us to say “The Government says it cares about the environment but actually destroys it. That’s hypocrisy.” That is a fair statement for us to make now?
Mr SPEAKER: The only thing is in asking a question it would be unwise—in asking a question—because it invites a very robust answer. The member has seen today that asking provocative questions sometimes delivers answers the members do not like. The incentive is always there. Members need only look at recent history. Where members ask the toughest questions for a Minister to answer—I know from years of experience in answering them—they are the simple, direct questions. They are by far the hardest questions to answer. If members want to hold the executive to account, ask simple, tough questions. Do not make fancy, provocative political statements instead of asking a question. We have seen it in recent weeks in this House, where Ministers have been held to account where simple, tough questions have been asked.
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. It may be appropriate, given your ruling, which I am not challenging, that you then advise your Deputy Speaker and Assistant Speakers, because they have ruled exactly the opposite way from you, as others have since 1905.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! We do not need to take this matter any further. For goodness’ sake, we are all grown-ups in this place. I do not want to see language that is common-use language ruled out in this House. I just ask members to use a little bit of common sense—a little bit of common sense. Accusing someone of being a hypocrite is not acceptable. If members in question time wish to put provocative language into questions, do not ask the Speaker to protect them from the answers given. If members want to hold the executive to account, ask simple, tough questions without any opinions in them, and the Speaker will make sure you get answers.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Just to confirm your position now: it is all right to suggest that you act with hypocrisy but not that you are a hypocrite?
Mr SPEAKER: There is a difference between accusing a member of acting with hypocrisy and a position appearing to be a hypocritical position. I just ask members to be reasonable. You know, it is not that difficult. There are actually important issues being debated in this House, and this is so pathetic that we get all worked up over whether or not a position might appear to be hypocritical. That is just childish stuff. I would like to think we are actually a bit more grown up than that.
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. With respect, I think all members, and, I suspect, on both sides—no one is getting worked up; they are simply asking for some clarity and consistency from you.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I thank the member for that. I think I have given reasonable clarity to people with reasonable intellect. Question No. 6, the Hon Nanaia Mahuta. [Interruption] Order!
Teachers—Problems with Novopay Payment System
6. Hon NANAIA MAHUTA (Labour—Hauraki-Waikato) to the Associate Minister of
Education: How many teachers and support staff were incorrectly paid in the latest pay cycle and what is the total amount of outstanding pay still owed to teachers and support staff due to errors in the Novopay system?
Hon CRAIG FOSS (Associate Minister of Education): I am advised that the Ministry of Education is aware of fewer than 100 non-payments or underpayments for the last pay cycle. In the past 5 days it has also been informed of approximately 390 overpayments. In terms of outstanding pay, I am informed that 41 support staff or staff have received advances, and 23 have indicated they are willing to wait to be paid at the next pay cycle. In regards to the total amount outstanding, I am advised that it is not possible to extract this information from Novopay at this time, but I can assure
the member that every non-payment or underpayment that has been brought to the ministry’s attention is being addressed.
Hon Nanaia Mahuta: What specific action has he taken to assure relief teachers that the reported problems with inaccurate deductions, payslip, timesheet, and leave error provisions will be fixed, given the ministry’s own website says the time frame for resolving these issues are “TBC”?
Hon CRAIG FOSS: I fully acknowledge the frustration that some of the issues on implementation—particularly on the service centre, and particularly those issues relating to Talent2 as opposed to Ministry of Education staff—have caused for some relief teachers and various non - full-time salaried staff. I note the commitments that they have, the communication from the Secretary for Education, and, in fact, the commitment that 350,000-odd pay transactions have been made accurately and correctly over the last four pay cycles, but I fully acknowledge there are some outstanding issues relating to the first two pay cycles.
Hon Nanaia Mahuta: What response does he have for a teacher returning from maternity leave at Pōmare School, who received full pay for the first and second pay periods only to find that the third and fourth pay period botched by Novopay, leaving her $2,000 short, unable to pay the mortgage, and reliant on the school having to write a cheque from the operations grant, rather than the Government’s pay system sorting the matter out in a timely way?
Hon CRAIG FOSS: I acknowledge the angst that that caused that particular staff member. But I also acknowledge that we were acutely aware and put in place machinery or a process so that an individual, if, in fact, for some reason their pay was not accurate or they missed completely, were able to be paid from the operations grant from the school so that the individual did not suffer penalty. If that individual does suffer penalty for the mortgage payment, for example, I suggest they get in touch with the payroll officer and the ministry, and the ministry will do what it can to investigate to make good.
Hon Nanaia Mahuta: Did the Ministry of Education’s contract with Talent2 to provide the Novopay system include penalties for poor performance; if so, does he intend to use such provisions in response to the incorrect payment of hundreds of teachers and support staff?
Hon CRAIG FOSS: When the Labour Government signed the contract with Talent2 in 2007 or 2008, I am sure it put clauses such as that in there, but, yes, in any such contract of course there are key performance indicators. I will repeat for the House that I am very frustrated and disappointed in Talent2’s service centre performance, which has led to much angst and difficulty. Ministry of Education staff have had to bear the brunt of that, and they are doing a great job, but Talent2 does need to improve its service centre actions immediately.
Hon Nanaia Mahuta: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The question was direct and it was simple. It asked if the Minister was going to put into action the provisions of the contract with regards to the Talent2 system, and whether he was going to enact penalties for poor performance. He did not attempt to answer that, at all. It was a very straight and simple question.
Mr SPEAKER: The Minister said that undoubtedly the provisions are in there. He did not indicate in his answer whether he would pursue those provisions.
Hon CRAIG FOSS: Excuse me. The Secretary for Education has had discussions with, and commitments from, the head executives and chair of Talent2 to discuss the enforcement of exactly those matters.
Question No. 5 to Minister
Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Labour—Hutt South): Mr Speaker, I am doing this in order to give the Government some notice. I am seeking leave of the House for members’ notice of motion No. 1 to be set down in lieu of the general debate for debate and vote, in light of your comments to the Hon Clayton Cosgrove.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought for that course of action. Is there any objection? There is objection.
7. Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First) to the Prime Minister: When did he first learn of a German resident living in the Chrisco mansion in the Prime Minister’s electorate?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): It was some time in 2011, but I do not have a record of the specific date.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Bearing in mind that the Prime Minister told the media on 24 January of his being aware earlier of the German resident in the Chrisco mansion, how was the German national initially described to him?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Just that there was a German living in the Chrisco mansion.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Is it not—[Interruption] Do not worry, we will get there, sunshine—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I want—[Interruption] Order! I want to hear the question. The member has every right to ask his question.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Is it not extraordinary that the issue of a new German resident living in possibly the most expensive mansion in New Zealand, which he had himself seen, and within the Prime Minister’s electorate as well, would not have had him as Prime Minister and local MP asking questions as to who he was?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No, and it is probably worthwhile noting for the member’s knowledge that in the 2006 census there were 10,700 people born in Germany living in New Zealand.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: All in the Chrisco mansion?
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order!
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Why does the Prime Minister expect New Zealanders to trust him on his statements to do with discussions with Hollywood, the Government Communications Security Bureau, and communications with the Hon Simon Power, the Hon Maurice Williamson, and the Attorney-General, and yet on this issue—on his knowledge of Kim Dotcom—he expects the public to believe that he remembers virtually nothing?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Because they are accurate.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Does this not mean that where serious issues of State and international relations are concerned he has demonstrated a serious lack of curiosity and interest, if any— [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member has a right to ask his question. [Interruption] Order! Order! Members can see that if they interject unnecessarily during a member’s asking of a question, they are likely to get time-wasting, I guess.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Does this not mean that where serious issues of State and international relations are concerned, to quote from an MP in the investigation to do with the BBC last night on the case of the BBC, he has demonstrated a serious “lack of curiosity” and interest, if any of his protestations of a lack of knowledge of Kim Dotcom are to be ever believed?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I do not know why the member would make that statement, because, from memory, when I was told in 2011 that there was a German living in the Chrisco mansion, that was well and truly before there was a raid on Kim Dotcom. To the best of my knowledge, the first I heard of Kim Dotcom was on 19 January when the Solicitor-General told me his name. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Is this a further supplementary question? The member—I beg your pardon.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Do not worry, we are on track. If and when it is proven that the Prime Minister’s knowledge of Kim Dotcom was far earlier than he has said, will he step down from his role as Prime Minister; if not, why not?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No, and the reason is that—
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Why not?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Well, because the member makes up lots of things as he goes along. To the best of my knowledge, the first I heard of the guy’s name was on 19 January.
Child Poverty, Abuse, and Neglect—White Paper for Vulnerable Children
8. Peseta SAM LOTU-IIGA (National—Maungakiekie) to the Minister for Social
Development: What changes will the White Paper for Vulnerable Children make to better support professionals working with children?
Hon PAULA BENNETT (Minister for Social Development): Absolutely central to the White Paper for Vulnerable Children will be the local Children’s Teams. These teams will break down the current silos and get all the professionals working with vulnerable children round the same table. There are some teams that are working very efficiently now; we can build on that and make it stronger and a more consistent practice across the country.
Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga: How will the local Children’s Teams work in the community to support those children most at risk?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: The focus of the children’s directors and the local Children’s Teams will be on those vulnerable children. They will have real power, and be mandated to assess a child’s needs and coordinate and oversee a single integrated plan for a vulnerable child. This will enable Child, Youth and Family to focus on those most needy children who have been very seriously abused or neglected.
Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga: What new requirements will be introduced for those professionals working with children as part of the children’s workforce?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: We will be introducing minimum standards to ensure everyone working with children has consistent quality of practice. New standards and competencies tailored to different roles and sectors will be introduced for workers to identify, assess, and respond to vulnerable children. These common minimum standards, core competencies, and training requirements will be developed across the sector by the end of next year.
Schools, Canterbury—Effect of Proposed Closures and Mergers
9. CATHERINE DELAHUNTY (Green) to the Minister of Education: Will any newly merged or reopened schools in Christchurch be expected to use some community facilities that are ordinarily provided on-site at a school?
Hon CRAIG FOSS (Associate Minister of Education) on behalf of the Minister of
Education: This is currently the case. Schools across the country and, of course, in Christchurch already do use community facilities. In fact, the schools themselves are community facilities.
Catherine Delahunty: Can she confirm that some schools in Christchurch have been told by her ministry that they may not have a school library on site under the new school structure?
Hon CRAIG FOSS: No.
Catherine Delahunty: Does she consider it acceptable that if a school did not have a library on site, children may need to walk a long distance or take the bus to town in order to borrow a book?
Hon CRAIG FOSS: There is an opportunity in Christchurch for the communities of Christchurch to not only rebuild schools but build better schools and better facilities to be used by themselves and the community.
Catherine Delahunty: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. It is very interesting to hear the story, but my question was about whether it was acceptable that if a school did not have a library on site, the children may need to walk long distances, etc. He did not address anything to do with libraries or acceptability or distance, which is what my question was about.
Mr SPEAKER: The member’s question actually asked for the Minister’s opinion—whether he considers that acceptable. What the Minister indicated in his answer, when he gave his opinion, was that much was going to be invested in these new schools and facilities for Christchurch. He was implying, I think—but it is up to the Minister to clarify that—that that sort of thing would not be happening. But the Minister had better clarify his answer in relation to the question asked. I realise it is an opinion being sought, but if he could assist.
Hon CRAIG FOSS: I agree with your answer, Mr Speaker.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. That is my very point. Now we have got a Minister having the effrontery to rise and say he agrees with your answer, and that is what the very issue that has been moot in this place for a long time has been about. That cannot be a way to conduct parliamentary question time in this House.
Mr SPEAKER: The member makes a reasonable point and I accept that. I took the Minister’s response as meaning that that was what he intended with his answer. The dilemma is that the member asked him for an opinion, and there is no particular answer when an opinion is asked. That is my dilemma. I try to be helpful to members, but if members seek Ministers’ opinions, it is difficult then when they ask the Speaker to intervene when they get an answer that is a little different from what they expected.
Catherine Delahunty: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Can you clarify. I understand what you said about opinions, but if there is no relationship between the answer and the topic, is that simply because I asked him whether he thought something was acceptable? He did not even relate it to the question in any way.
Mr SPEAKER: What it would actually, I would hope, mean to the member is that there is a different way of asking that question that turns the question into seeking facts from the Minister. By asking “Will children have to travel this far to get books from the library?”, then the member can get an answer. But asking an opinion—whether the member’s statement is acceptable—I cannot ask the Minister to be very precise in answering it, and that is the dilemma.
Catherine Delahunty: Will she guarantee that there will be a library and a librarian on site at each school?
Hon CRAIG FOSS: I am looking forward to the recommendations from the consultation from clusters. They may include libraries; they may not include libraries. They may include new learning environments. They may include internet learning, with ultra-fast broadband across the world, which is, obviously, a fair distance to walk.
Catherine Delahunty: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. It was a very simple, specific question on—
Mr SPEAKER: It asked whether the Minister would guarantee, and clearly—[Interruption] Order! Clearly, from the answer the Minister gave, he is saying that he cannot—he is not guaranteeing that at the moment because he is saying he will listen to the consultation. That is one way of saying that he is not guaranteeing that. That is not an unreasonable answer to the question.
Nikki Kaye: How much is the Government spending on improving community facilities in greater Christchurch?
Hon CRAIG FOSS: Thank you; what an excellent question. The Government is spending $1 billion building brilliant schools in greater Christchurch. A large proportion of these new facilities will become valuable community assets. We do not want to only rebuild schools; we want to build them better for better educational outcomes. That is why we are investing $1 billion over the next decade in Christchurch schools.
Gareth Hughes: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. That was a good example of very clear question, which asked, if I can read off the transcript, how much the Government is spending. I heard lots of answers but no dollar figure. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I—
Hon CRAIG FOSS: Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: Is the member wishing to speak to the point of order?
Hon CRAIG FOSS: I can clarify the question.
Mr SPEAKER: If the Minister is wanting to be helpful to the House.
Hon CRAIG FOSS: It is such a good and large number—$1 billion will be spent by this Government in Christchurch on schools over the next 10 years.
Catherine Delahunty: I seek leave to table a commentary written by the president of the School Library Association of New Zealand, a September 2012 newsletter, that highlights the concern about falling writing skills and the importance of free access to books—
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—Inquiry into Unlawful Interception of
10. CHARLES CHAUVEL (Labour) to the Prime Minister: When will he be informed of the Inspector-General’s findings concerning the three cases where the Government Communications Security Bureau has been unable to assure him that its actions have been lawful, and how will he communicate those findings to the House?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): I expect to be informed of the Inspector-General’s findings when his review of the case is complete. Any decisions regarding the communications of those findings will be made then. However, I would note that my own public statement on 3 October said that the Government Communications Security Bureau would issue a further public statement when legal work has been concluded.
Charles Chauvel: Will he ensure that the New Zealanders who were the subject of the surveillance will be informed if it is found that the surveillance of them was unlawful; if not, why not?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I cannot guarantee that. I would have to take advice on whether that is a sensible course of action to follow.
Charles Chauvel: When he told the Leader of the Opposition last Tuesday that he had seen the paperwork on which the bureau relied to support its belief that it had “acted legally” in conducting surveillance on Mr Dotcom and his associates and that this material had formed the basis of the bureau’s request to the Acting Prime Minister for a ministerial certificate, what was the nature of that paperwork?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Possibly the way I should have phrased that is “some of the paperwork”. I am sure there is more paperwork that the Government Communications Security Bureau has, but, amongst other things, I have seen email correspondence from the legal team at the bureau that supports the view that Mr Dotcom was not protected.
Charles Chauvel: Is he now satisfied that the correspondence to which he has just referred was incorrect in substance?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I think by nature we admitted that was the case, because that was the view formed by the Government Communications Security Bureau’s legal team after it did the review in the middle of February of this year. But, of course, later on, after the affidavit was signed, it was presented to the court by Paul Davison QC on behalf of Kim Dotcom on 7 September 2012. A further review was undertaken, and it was at that point, some time after that, that the bureau formed the view that it had, in fact, applied the wrong legal interpretation at that point.
Charles Chauvel: Is it normal practice for him not be informed promptly by the Government Communications Security Bureau or by his deputy that in his absence the bureau has sought, and his deputy has granted, a ministerial certificate to prevent a court from considering the bureau’s activities in a particular court case?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I could not possibly ask for information on something that I was not aware was taking place. I think I have said in this House a number of weeks ago that, in fact, the failing, I think, was on the Government Communications Security Bureau—not to have informed me that it had asked the Minister to sign a ministerial certificate. I might add, though, had I seen all of the
information that the Acting Prime Minister saw, without doubt and without hesitation I would have signed the same documentation.
Child Health Services—Under-sixes and Accidental Injuries
11. Dr JIAN YANG (National) to the Minister for ACC: How will the Government improve accidental injury outcomes for under-six-year-olds?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS (Minister for ACC): I am very pleased to announce that free afterhours doctors’ visits for under-6-year-olds will be extended to visits covered by ACC. Parents should not be put off taking an injured child to the doctor because of the cost. Free after-hours visits for accident care will also enable families to seek the urgent medical care they need when they need it.
Dr Jian Yang: What are the benefits of free after-hours accident care?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: ACC received claims for about 80,000 children aged under 6 in the last year alone. Today’s announcement will make a big difference for those families who may have waited until the next day before seeing their general practitioner. From December this year they will no longer have to. Free after-hours accident care visits will also help reduce the number of young children presenting at our busy hospital emergency departments with an injury that a general practitioner could have treated.
Hon John Banks—Compliance with Cabinet Manual
12. GRANT ROBERTSON (Deputy Leader—Labour) to the Prime Minister: Has Hon John Banks satisfied the Cabinet Manual requirement of upholding the highest ethical standards in his political and personal capacity?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): Yes.
Grant Robertson: How is John Banks’ refusal to release his witness statement to the police upholding the standards of ministerial behaviour in a personal and political capacity?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I do not know the particulars of the case, but what I do know about the Official Information Act is that the departments do have to cite relevant sections of the Act if they choose to withhold information. In the end, the decision to release information is actually the responsibility of the department—in this case, the police.
Grant Robertson: Given his publicly stated commitment to high ministerial standards, why will he not ask the Hon John Banks to allow his witness statement to be released, or is that just a position of hypocrisy?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: The reason is that that was an action taken by Mr Banks, not even in his capacity as the leader of the ACT Party but actually as a personal position. He has the right, like any other New Zealand citizen, and if the Labour Party wants to go out there and publicly release the Darren Hughes file, well, it is welcome to do so as well.
Grant Robertson: If the Hon John Banks—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I want to hear this question. [Interruption] Order!
Grant Robertson: If the Hon John Banks’ witness statement were to show that he had lied to him or his chief of staff, would he dismiss John Banks as a Minister?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Well, that has always been the test, but the member is raising a hypothetical question. I have been assured by the member that he has told us the truth and I accept that as his word.
Grant Robertson: What would John Banks need to do in order for him to lose confidence in him as a Minister?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: He would need to lose my confidence.