Questions and Answers - November 6
QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS
Pike River Mine Disaster—Report of the Royal Commission of Inquiry
1. Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First) to the Prime Minister: Will he take responsibility for the failure of government policy as revealed in the Pike River Royal Commission report?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): My Government has taken responsibility for implementing the royal commission’s recommendations to ensure such a tragedy does not happen again. Although much of the fault for the tragedy lies with the Pike River Coal company, the royal commission also makes it clear that the regulatory environment was not effective for 20 years and was not actively administered by the Department of Labour. I can take responsibility, clearly, only for the period for which I have been Prime Minister, and this clearly took place over a long period of time. In response to the magnitude of the tragedy, the Minister of Labour resigned. That was the honourable thing to do.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Does he accept that if the Government had proper policies in place, this negligence on the part of other parties could not have, and most probably would not have, happened, and, most likely, 29 men would still be alive today?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I think the royal commission made it clear that it was possible that these deaths were preventable. The royal commission also made it clear, and correctly and legally so, that the primary responsibility for health and safety rests with the company, but the Government, as the regulator, through the Department of Labour, also has to shoulder some of that responsibility.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Does he not think there is a pattern here of removing sound rules and regulations such as that which led to the leaky homes disasters in the tens of thousands, the Rena disaster, and the Pike River disaster, and will he admit now National’s culpability in these catastrophes?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Why did he not travel to Greymouth yesterday to speak with the Pike River families on the findings of the royal commission, and what does he say to Bernie Monk and others, who are deeply hurt by his non-attendance, given that he told the Pike River families “we’re committed to getting the boys out, and nothing’s going to change that.”, only to back down again on that promise?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: OK, in terms of the first instance, this was the royal commission’s report, so it was important that that was presented. I, obviously, had a responsibility to deal with that, to front that on a number of different areas, and to chair Cabinet, because Cabinet wanted to take that report and actually start putting it into place straight away. That was the first instance. In terms of the body recovery, as I have said on numerous occasions, the Government is committed to that process, as long as there is a credible, sensible, and safe plan—a safe and credible plan. What the
royal commission’s report actually says, if the member chooses to read it—and I can point him to, I think, page 230 of Volume 2, where it quite clearly runs through exactly what the view of Professor Galvin from the University of New South Wales was when he was giving advice in the deed of settlement, in relation to body recovery, to Solid Energy. Professor Galvin says that the probability of getting into the mine is actually quite remote, that it is irrelevant how much money is actually spent, and that the risks to those who could go into the mine include drowning, explosion, the roof caving in, and various other aspects that could threaten their lives. I have said to Bernie Monk, and I say to the families, that we understand completely their desire for closure and for the removal of the bodies from the Pike River mine, but I think most New Zealanders would agree with me that it can only take place if we can be sure that those who would go into the mine to undertake that body recovery would come out alive—to not do so would be derelict in our duties.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Why did he spend so much time on television last night attacking both the company and the Department of Labour without admitting that it was National that changed the rules on these matters as early as 1992, and why does he therefore not accept the Government’s culpability, because it and his colleagues are the people who were responsible?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Firstly, I do not think it would correct to characterise me as attacking people. I did paraphrase the royal commission, which was quite damning of the company. If Mr Peters does not think that a company that had, in the 48 days prior to an explosion, 21 recordings of methane in excess of the explosion level, is a company that was derelict in its duties, he is free to do so. But I would also point out that he has been a Minister of Governments over the last 20 years. If he had wanted to, he also could have changed the laws.
Mr SPEAKER: The right honourable Winston Peters.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Of course, they were kicking me out of the caucus at the time. That is the reason why.
Mr SPEAKER: Order!
Rt Hon Winston Peters: My supplementary question is this—[Interruption] It is exactly on these policies. Why does he think—[Interruption] No, do not apologise now.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I apologise to the right honourable gentleman. We will not get too far is this keeps going, I think. Please let the member ask his question.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Why does the Prime Minister think that the Hon Kate Wilkinson’s resigning only one portfolio represents a Government properly shouldering its responsibilities?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I would argue that properly shouldering its responsibilities is actually implementing the recommendations from the royal commission. In the end, that is the thing that is likely to make the difference over the course of future health and safety issues for New Zealand workers. In terms of the resignation from the portfolio, firstly, that is consistent with the Westminster tradition. We see that more regularly. We have seen it in previous Governments in New Zealand’s history. And I would say the same thing that I said yesterday: there is no indication that the Minister through any action or inaction led to the deaths of the 29 miners, but the ministry for which she happened to be the Minister responsible at the time clearly has to shoulder some responsibility, so she did the honourable thing, which was to resign.
2. DAVID SHEARER (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does he have confidence in all his Ministers?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): Yes.
David Shearer: Does he have confidence in his Minister of Labour, that he will take all possible steps to improve worker safety?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I am not wishing to be pedantic, but I would point out that it is the Acting Minister of Labour, who is now Chris Finlayson, and the answer is yes.
David Shearer: Will his Government implement all 16 of the royal commission’s recommendations to improve workplace health and safety in New Zealand, including the establishment of a new Crown agent; if not, why not?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: As I said yesterday, it is highly likely that we will implement the vast bulk of the recommendations. This may well include recommendation one, which is the issue in relation to establishing a separate Crown agent. I will say though that we have had the report for 6 days, and there are other examples of independent Crown agencies where they are not necessarily always the best way to measure things. There are pros and cons of the issues, and the Government is asking officials for advice on that. It is very possible that we will implement an independent Crown agency, but let us just make sure that we have got it absolutely right.
David Shearer: Does he accept that his former Minister of Labour was wrong to reject the safety concerns about underground mines, raised by Labour MP Damien O’Connor in May 2010, 6 months before the Pike River tragedy, saying that there was “visible and credible enforcement” and she did not see any need for a review of the current mine inspection programme?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I may be incorrect, but I am pretty sure the member was referring to the issue in relation to small mines. That was where the work was actually undertaken. It started as a wider review, but it was in relation to small mines, and in which case, yes, I think the Minister was right.
David Shearer: Does he accept that there is a lax attitude towards health and safety in his Cabinet, given that his last Minister of Labour has resigned and his ACC Minister in June last year said that training of workplace health and safety representatives is a touchy-feely notion; if not, why not?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No. I think what is true is that in the course of about 20 years there has been a change in the way that basically health and safety issues have been viewed by the Department of Labour. Firstly, the primary responsibility has gone to the company, and the regulator has taken a view that it can rely, particularly in the case of something like Pike River, on a high-trust model. I think that has gone in a slightly different direction from other countries, like Australia, which has had a much more prescriptive regime. We think that the National Government has tried pretty hard to be sensible about this issue, but I will make the point that for 9 years— including the time that that member was the Minister of Labour—there were not a lot of changes.
David Shearer: In light of his last answer, what action will his Government take to reduce workplace injury rates, which are about twice that of Australia and almost six times that of the UK?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: We have set up a small ministerial task force that will now be looking at the implementation of the 16 recommendations from the royal commission.
Housing Affordability—Government Initiatives
3. JONATHAN YOUNG (National—New Plymouth) to the Minister of Finance: What policy steps is the Government taking to make houses more affordable in the medium term?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): The Government has agreed with almost all of the Productivity Commission’s recommendations on housing affordability. We agree on improving land availability and the provision of infrastructure. We also agree with it on reducing costs around the regulation and construction, and reducing delays, which would all contribute to making new housing more affordable. I would also point out that stable and low interest rates and rising wages are also helping to ease affordability problems. Floating mortgage rates around 5.5 percent are around half of what they were in 2008, so a family with a $200,000 mortgage is saving about $200 a week.
Jonathan Young: What other problems associated with housing affordability are these policies trying to address?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: About a third of New Zealand’s households spend more than 30 percent of their disposable income on housing costs. As these costs rise, demands on taxpayers to assist
with housing costs increase. I have seen projections that income-related rentals for the Housing New Zealand Corporation’s tenants, currently costing $590 million a year, will reach nearly $800 million a year by 2015-16. The accommodation supplement, on which we currently spend $1.2 billion a year, will rise by 9 percent over the next 4 years, or an extra $100 million. So the less affordable housing is for households, the more taxpayers are required to pick up the difference.
Jonathan Young: What effect does borrowing for housing by New Zealand households have on the wider economy?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: If New Zealanders are borrowing unnecessarily for purchasing housing it makes the economy vulnerable. Through the last cycle, from about the year 2002 onwards, housing prices rose rapidly, New Zealanders borrowed large amounts of money at high interest rates, and that left our household sector as one of the most indebted in the developed world. The Government is setting out to deal with the underlying problems that can lead to excessive borrowing by improving the flexibility of the supply of housing, with the expectation that this will have some moderating influence on house prices and therefore on debt levels for households.
Jonathan Young: What reports has he seen on the Government’s housing affordability package?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: There has certainly been a wide range of interest in the issue. The Salvation Army, with which we have been working for 3 to 4 years now on housing issues, described the Government’s package as a welcome next step. Auckland Mayor Len Brown essentially agrees with the Government’s direction, though he does say housing affordability is a complex issue that requires Government and councils to work together. To that list I would add banks, the building industry, and developers. The Families Commission has said the package is an important step in the right direction.
Pike River Mine Disaster—Report of the Royal Commission of Inquiry
4. KEVIN HAGUE (Green) to the Prime Minister: Does he stand by his statement in regard to the report of the Royal Commission on the Pike River Coal Mine Tragedy that “the company completely and utterly failed to protect their workers”?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): Yes. The first obligation of any employer is to keep its employees safe. By any measure, Pike River Coal failed to do so.
Kevin Hague: Does he agree with the royal commission that at Pike River production was put before safety?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Reading the royal commission’s report, I am drawn to the same conclusion.
Kevin Hague: How is it possible that for years we had an underground coalmine operating in New Zealand with only one usable exit?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I think the member raises a good point. There is a whole section on the ventilation issues and the use of an underground ventilation fan in the Pike River mine. The member will also be aware that some of that was done to accommodate a variety of reasons, including demands by the Department of Conservation that looked at the conservation issues.
Kevin Hague: Does he agree that the deregulation of occupational health and safety that occurred in the 1990s was the major factor in creating an environment where management at Pike River were able to ignore workers’ calls to improve safety; if not, why not?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No. Let us take a step back. The primary responsibility of any company, when it comes to health and safety issues, rests with that company, so a good employer is always going to make sure that their employees are safe in the workplace. The role of a regulator is someone to ensure that the company is fulfilling its obligations, not to fulfil those obligations for the company. The company itself must do that. In the case of Pike River Coal, the company utterly failed.
Kevin Hague: Does he agree that standard economic theory suggests that profit-maximising firms will always prioritise profitability over safety, unless the Government, as regulator, ensures the safety of workers?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I think that is a ridiculous statement. That is saying that a company is prepared to risk the deaths of its employees and the reputation of the company for the sole purpose of making money, and even from the most hardened socialist I find that something difficult to believe. In the case of the Pike River mine, let us argue just for a moment that the Pike River Coal company was halfway through its mining operations, and was a successful operation that was operating well. An explosion of the magnitude that took place back in 2010 would have then completely and utterly collapsed that company. That would have made no economic sense to anyone.
Kevin Hague: Will his Government address the pervasive “low touch, high trust” regulatory culture that he referred to yesterday that continues to kill and to injure workers in other areas besides mining, such as agriculture, forestry, and manufacturing?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I think what is quite clear from the royal commission’s report yesterday is that while it is specific at one level to the Pike River mine disaster, it makes wide-sweeping recommendations in relation to health and safety issues across the entire New Zealand workforce. In that regard, the Government is committed to implementing those recommendations. Therefore, there will be significant change, and that significant change will permeate across all industries around New Zealand. So, in answer to his question, my view is that there will be a difference of approach in the way that health and safety issues are managed in New Zealand. But I go back to still the most fundamental point: in the end, that responsibility still rests with the company. We can change the way that we go from being a more high trust regime to being a more prescriptive regime, but that is still a situation of dealing with the issues after the fact. We still need New Zealand employers to make sure they deploy the highest safety standards they can.
Kevin Hague: Given that the ideology of deregulation in our workplaces has cost at least these 29 lives, will he now assure the public that the era of ideologically driven deregulation is over?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: In one regard, all issues of policy are ideological. You can take an ideological view that something should be more prescriptive over something being more deregulated. Secondly, I would take issue with the statement that the member made—it was not a question; he started it with “given”. His statement was that the primary responsibility rests with the Government. The primary responsibility rests with the company.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Did the review of safety in underground mines instituted by the Labour Government and scrapped by his Government relate to all underground mines or only to small mines?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I simply do not have that paperwork in front of me to comment on that.
Social Development, Ministry—Security of Private Information
5. JACINDA ARDERN (Labour) to the Minister for Social Development: Does she stand by her statement in relation to the Work and Income security breach that “I am going to be as upfront and as transparent as possible, and I will put as much information out there as I can as we work our way through this process”?
Hon PAULA BENNETT (Minister for Social Development): Within the statement’s context, yes. That is why we said we would respond in 2 weeks. We have released the entire Deloitte report, made an extensive proactive release of the information relevant to the report, and have been responding to Official Information Act requests as quickly as we possibly can.
Jacinda Ardern: Why will her department not contact all of the individuals affected by the Work and Income security breach?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: Because it has been following the Privacy Commissioner’s guidelines, which state quite clearly: “If a privacy breach creates a risk of harm to the individual,
those affected should be notified. … Each incident needs to be considered on a case-by-case basis ...”. It is the ministry’s advice that it has had, by working with those guidelines, and also with the advice of Crown Law, that they should not all be individually contacted.
Jacinda Ardern: How can she or the Ministry of Social Development be sure that only two individuals accessed people’s private and personal information, when in response to Keith Ng’s recent post someone noted in the comments section “when I was on one of those kiosks a few months ago I did the same thing ...”?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: The information that we have is that only two people did, and that we got all of that information. I am not going to take comments from a blog, as I am sure that that member will not. We have got, as I said, two people who have come forward; no others have. It is to the best of our knowledge that only two people accessed the information.
Jacinda Ardern: Did Janet Grossman receive a termination benefit upon departing her role as the head of Work and Income?
Mr SPEAKER: I am not sure, and I am at a loss to know how—if the member could, maybe, reword the question to make it obviously relate to the primary question.
Jacinda Ardern: Did Janet Grossman, who was head of Work and Income during the period that the kiosks were rolled out, receive a termination benefit upon departing her role?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: Well, the chief executive and the State Services Commissioner are responsible for all employment issues. It is not the responsibility of a Minister.
Jacinda Ardern: Why was it not an operational matter on 14 June 2012 when in this House she said in relation to Grossman’s departure the quote “her husband has had job opportunities in the UK and she wishes to return back there. That is the reason for it.”?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: I understand that the member might have pre-written her questions, but I did not say it was an operational matter—and I am responding to it. I did not say it was an operational matter. What I said was that employment issues around payouts are the responsibility of the State Services Commissioner and the chief executive, so she should listen to answers.
Jacinda Ardern: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Minister has been inconsistent in what she chooses to answer—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The Minister disputed part of the member’s question, and said that what the member had included in her question was wrong. I was about to get to my feet and interrupt the Minister, because I thought she was not answering appropriately, but she actually made it very clear that she was disputing part of the question, and she is entitled to do that.
Jacinda Ardern: Will an employment investigation into four individuals restore the public’s confidence in her department’s approach to privacy?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: I think it goes well beyond that. I have absolutely no doubt that public confidence in our ability to hold information has been shaken. We stand up and take responsibility for that. We need to fix it. It is going to be evident in the work that we do to restore that faith in us, which needs to be done. It is not just about four individuals.
Business Growth Agenda—Building Infrastructure Progress Report
6. MARK MITCHELL (National—Rodney) to the Minister for Economic Development: How is the Government investing in infrastructure to support, encourage and grow New Zealand businesses?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister for Economic Development): Last week the Government released the Building Infrastructure progress report, the fourth of six Business Growth Agenda reports. This brings together 67 separate initiatives the Government is undertaking to deliver the resilient, efficient, and coordinated infrastructure networks demanded by a modern economy. For businesses to invest in plant and facilities in this country, they need to be confident they have access to infrastructure that supports their businesses, including a fast and efficient roading network, a reliable electricity transmission network, water storage and usage, developing high-speed
broadband and telecommunications, schools and hospitals, and the rebuilding of Christchurch. The Government’s infrastructure programme is a key part of the Government’s Business Growth Agenda.
Mark Mitchell: What infrastructure initiatives has the Government invested in?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Over the last 4 years the Government has invested very, very significantly in a large range of programmes, including, for example, $5.5 billion for the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Fund, $1.6 billion for ultra-fast broadband and faster rural broadband, around $5 billion through Transpower for the national electricity grid, and about $12 billion in the next 3 years in the country’s roading network. These projects are all part of the Government’s wider programme to provide businesses with the platform that they need to grow and succeed and also support jobs, including, for example, about 2,000 jobs in the roll-out of ultra-fast broadband, 1,000 jobs over 4 years on the Waterview motorway, just under 1,600 jobs on the Transpower upgrade, and 1,300 jobs for the horizontal infrastructure rebuild in Christchurch, which has just started a major new recruitment campaign.
Teachers and Support Staff—Problems with Novopay Payment System
7. Hon NANAIA MAHUTA (Labour—Hauraki-Waikato) to the Associate Minister of
Education: Does he stand by all the statements of the Minister of Education and those of her ministry regarding Novopay?
Hon CRAIG FOSS (Associate Minister of Education): Yes, I stand by the Minister’s statements in the context that they were made. Payroll is an operational matter for the Ministry of Education, but in general I do stand by their statements about Novopay issues.
Hon Nanaia Mahuta: Does he agree with the Minister of Education’s answer to oral questions on 20 September that schools, not the ministry, should compensate teachers for any penalties they incur as a result of payroll glitches?
Hon CRAIG FOSS: I cannot recall that exact answer, but right now we are concentrating on making sure Novopay is implemented and operating correctly, as intended, and as contracted to do with Talent2.
Hon Nanaia Mahuta: Will the ministry or Talent2 be compensating schools for the time and money they have spent on fixing payroll mistakes resulting from the Novopay system; if not, why not?
Hon CRAIG FOSS: No decisions have been made on that matter. Right now we are concentrating on making sure that, as well as the 90,000 who get paid correctly, the balance of relievers and other non - full-time staff matters are administered correctly.
Hon Nanaia Mahuta: Thank you, Minister. What assurance has he sought from the ministry and Talent2 that the backlog of more than 4,000 errors remaining from Novopay’s first—
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: How much?
Hon Nanaia Mahuta: —4,000 errors remaining from Novopay’s first two pay days will be fixed and that the system will be fully operational prior to the Christmas pay period, so teachers and support staff are not left out of pocket?
Hon CRAIG FOSS: I thank the member for the question. Yes, about 10 days ago there were 8,000 errors; right now there are about 3,200 remaining. I have a commitment from the Secretary for Education and Talent2 that they will be completed by the end of this week—I think 9 November, this Friday, is the intention.
Hon Nanaia Mahuta: In 2008, when the Novopay project board was established, did he confirm an implementation plan was in place to ensure the successful switch-over to Novopay at the go-live date this year?
Hon CRAIG FOSS: I got my warrant in December 2008. I cannot recall anything of December 2008, but I am quite sure at the time that Novopay had been delayed for 2 years as further work was undertaken before the implementation, but I freely admit that the implementation issues as far as
particular reliever teachers are concerned have not been at all satisfactory, and we will be investigating that once the system is up and running, as we fully expect.
Hon Nanaia Mahuta: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Regardless of when the Minister assumed his warrant, he is still responsible, and he should know whether or not there was an implementation plan. That answer was vague—and if that was an answer, I am a ballerina.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! There you have it. I think, in fairness, the Minister, if I heard his answer correctly, said he did not know what went on at that actual switch-over point. But if the Minister can clarify that, I would be very grateful.
Hon CRAIG FOSS: I do need to clarify one thing, Mr Speaker. I got my ministerial warrant in education in 2011; not 2008.
Mr SPEAKER: I think that although the member is correct in that the Minister remains responsible for events that took place prior to his time, he cannot be expected, necessarily, to know all the details of that personally, and that is why I think the answer was not unreasonable.
Better Public Services Targets—Reduction in Crime and Reoffending
8. Dr JACKIE BLUE (National) to the Minister of Justice: How is the Government delivering on its Better Public Services targets to reduce crime?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS (Minister of Justice): I am extremely pleased to announce that over the past year this Government has delivered on its promise to New Zealanders, with almost 3,000 fewer violent crimes committed. The first results of the justice sector against its Better Public Services targets have been released today. The total reported crime rate and the reoffending rate have each fallen by almost 6 percent in the past year, which means 21,337 fewer crimes.
Dr Jackie Blue: What are the key results, and how do they compare with the justice sector targets?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: By 2017 we aim to reduce total recorded crime by 15 percent, violent crime by 20 percent, youth crime by 5 percent, and the reoffending rate by 25 percent. In this first year we have achieved significant progress, with total violent crime down by 7 percent, youth crime down by 4 percent, and reoffending down by almost 6 percent. It is worth noting that for the first time homicide and related offences have reduced by 22 percent.
Dr Jackie Blue: What are the key initiatives that are leading to these very impressive results?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: Since 2009 this Government has promoted the Addressing the Drivers of Crime programme, which has resulted in better management of low-level repeat offenders, has offered alternative pathways to success, and, most recently, has seen the initiation of alcohol and drug courts. Through Policing Excellence and Prevention First programmes, the police are providing a stronger front-line presence, while the Department of Corrections has programmes under way to significantly improve the rehabilitation of prisoners. The justice sector, through its leadership board, shared funding pool, and combined targets, is working collaboratively to reduce crime, which will have a long-term positive impact across New Zealand.
Health and Safety, Workplace—Effect of Proposed Legislative Changes
9. DARIEN FENTON (Labour) to the Acting Minister of Labour: How will the proposed changes to employment law improve health and safety in the workplace?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON (Acting Minister of Labour): The Government signalled yesterday that it is going to accept most, if not all, of the recommendations of the royal commission. Some of these are going to be given effect to through changes in employment law such as the Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992. These changes are aimed at improving health and safety in the workplace by creating a more effective regulatory regime for health and safety in general, and, in particular, for high-risk industries, to ensure that disasters like Pike River never happen again.
Darien Fenton: Does he accept the Pike River royal commission’s recommendation that legislation on worker participation should be strengthened so that workers have better representation and voice; if so, does he think this should extend to all workplaces?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: As to the first part of the member’s question, yes, I do. That is one of the issues that I am very much looking forward to engaging with the Council of Trade Unions and the Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union on, because I think that there is a valid involvement by workers. I would also say that another aspect of the review I am particularly interested in is a possible amendment to the 1992 legislation to make directors fully and squarely responsible for their governance obligations and what they need to do in so far as management is concerned.
Darien Fenton: How will the changes to Part 6A of the Employment Relations Act that the Government is proposing, which will remove protection for workers like cleaners when their employer changes, provide stronger representation and voice in their health and safety in the workplace?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: Those proposed changes, I say to the member, are more about improving efficiencies and making bargaining fairer. But it is entirely possible to have a flexible employment relations regime and one that is utterly respectful of health and safety in employment. They are not mutually exclusive.
Darien Fenton: How will the removal of the requirement to conclude collective bargaining and weakened rights for new workers give workers the strong representation and voice needed to improve health and safety in the workplace?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: I repeat what I said just a few seconds ago that creating a more flexible employment relations law is—it is utterly consistent in the context of that to have an effective health and safety regime where all players are cognisant of their responsibilities. Of course, that is exactly what the royal commission said. Health and safety in the workplace is a team effort involving Government, employers, and employees.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Why did his Government reject the suggestion of check inspectors, which came out of the discussion document and summary of submissions on the review of health and safety in mining, which was started under this Government and scrapped by his predecessor?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: I am not sure whether he meant—it was started under his Government. Is that what the member was trying to say?
Hon Trevor Mallard: Yes, under the Labour Government.
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: Yes. Well, I am not exactly certain as to the particular work that was undertaken when he was Minister. I had the impression that not a lot was done. But that is a matter I would need to check on and come back to him, Thank you very much.
Mr SPEAKER: Question No. 10, Alfred Ngaro. [Interruption] Order! I have called Alfred Ngaro.
Foster Carers, Support—Foster Care Awareness Week
10. ALFRED NGARO (National) to the Minister for Social Development: How are foster carers being recognised for the contribution they make to New Zealand’s most vulnerable children during Foster Care Awareness Week?
Hon PAULA BENNETT (Minister for Social Development): Foster Care Awareness Week began yesterday with excellence awards for foster carers, and culminates with the William Wallace Awards on Friday. I joined the Governor-General at Government House yesterday to celebrate the achievements of 11 foster carers who have received excellence awards. One of these couples had cared for nearly 200 children over 50 years. Another has a sibling group of seven children in their permanent care. These are remarkable people who look after our most vulnerable children. I think this House should recognise them too.
Alfred Ngaro: What will the initiatives in the White Paper for Vulnerable Children deliver for foster carers?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: The white paper recognises the complexity of offering a home for life to children in care and outlines new supports to help foster carers transition foster children to family members. The Government will contract organisations more to support those who permanently take in children through fostering or Home for Life. Paid parental leave provisions to support Home for Life families will also be reviewed, and parent-child interaction therapy for caregivers of high and complex needs children will be expanded.
Alfred Ngaro: How are gateway assessments making a difference for children in care and their foster carers?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: This Government has put nearly $43.7 million more towards getting all children in care a proper health and education assessment so that we can address any of these issues that may have come up. Over 1,000 children have now been assessed. The gateway assessments have picked up health problems in every single child who has gone through that assessment, and more than half were found to have emotional, behavioural, and mental health issues, which can now be addressed, leading to a better life for these children. On behalf of New Zealanders, I want to thank those foster carers, who do that most important job.
Public Transport, Auckland—Integrated Ticketing System and Snapper Card
11. PHIL TWYFORD (Labour—Te Atatū) to the Minister of Transport: Did Hon Steven Joyce meet with the Snapper CEO in March 2010 and discuss Snapper’s desire to enter the Auckland public transport integrated ticketing scheme; if so, why did he not include this in his answer to Oral Question No 10 on 27 June 2012?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE (Minister of Transport): I certainly acknowledge that there was a meeting, and what I was advised was that a search of the previous Minister’s diary showed a 3 March meeting with Mr Lloyd Morrison. I am advised that no other name appeared in the diary. Mr Twyford clearly knows that the Snapper Chief Executive Officer, Mr Szikszai, accompanied Mr Morrison to that meeting, because it is in the official information released from the New Zealand Transport Agency. Had I been advised of that, I would have included it in my very extensive answer to the House on 27 June.
Phil Twyford: How can he reconcile his statement that there was no ministerial involvement in the decision to allow Snapper to roll out its card on the Auckland buses with the letter to Steven Joyce from Snapper’s Chief Executive Officer, Miki Szikszai, in which Mr Szikszai said: “Thank you for taking the time to meet … last week. … I understand that you have met with Geoff Dangerfield and Brian Roche”—from the New Zealand Transport Agency—“following our meeting and that your expectations are that, given Snapper’s assurances, NZBus should be free to proceed on its current plan to implement Snapper equipment … in Auckland.”?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: Well, it is not uncommon for Ministers to meet with the chief executive of their ministry, nor of the board of that agency, as well. So that is quite in order. As for the so-called Snapper letter, I think it needs to be put in the context of Ministers determining what policy is, and in this case it was to ensure that there were open standards across the country that would accommodate all sorts of front-end cards. It is worth noting that that Snapper letter also outlines a number of other concerns that Snapper had, including the expression that “In effect this creates a state-owned monopoly with the power to exclude others from the market. I am not sure if this was the intention, but it most certainly is the effect.” What is behind this is an intention from Snapper to become the main contractor. It lost that contract. The New Zealand Transport Agency has it. It is important it does have it, because as people forward-pay their fares, there is a significant banking-type operation, and the balances positive from that should accrue to the users. They do so through the New Zealand Transport Agency.
Phil Twyford: I seek the leave of the House to table the letter of 17 March from the Snapper Chief Executive, Miki Szikszai, to Steven Joyce, in which he recounts the meeting and the Minister’s expectations.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is no objection. Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Phil Twyford: I also seek to table the letter of 23 March from Geoff Dangerfield of the New Zealand Transport Agency back to the chief executive of Snapper, in which—this is after the meeting with the Minister—the agency communicated a new openness to Snapper’s participation in the Auckland integrated ticketing scheme.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? [Interruption] Order! There is no objection to the document being tabled. Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Phil Twyford: How does he explain that officials had a policy against Snapper’s system being implemented in Auckland, then Snapper lobbied Steven Joyce, then Mr Joyce told the New Zealand Transport Agency he wanted Snapper in the project, and then, within days, officials announced that Snapper would be included in the integrated ticketing scheme?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: Firstly, it is incorrect to say that the New Zealand Transport Agency was instructed by the Minister to include Snapper. That is quite wrong. The policy in these matters is set by Ministers, and the policy was that there should be open protocols available for all sorts of front-end cards. The member should not be surprised that we wanted as many people as possible to be able to offer service to public transport users.
Phil Twyford: Did Steven Joyce communicate his expectation to the New Zealand Transport Agency chair, Brian Roche, and the New Zealand Transport Agency Chief Executive, Geoff Dangerfield, as explained in the letter of Snapper’s chief executive officer to the Minister that Snapper should be free to join the Auckland scheme?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: Firstly, there is no ministerial responsibility for the view that Mr Szikszai expresses in his letter. What is clear is that the Minister made clear to the agency the expectation that it would be an open protocol that would be available to a number of front-end cards. That is a policy decision rightly made by the Minister.
Environmental Reporting—Potential Legislative Reform
12. EUGENIE SAGE (Green) to the Minister for the Environment: Does she plan to introduce legislation this year to establish independent state-of-the-environment reporting as the Government promised before the last election; if not, why not?
Hon AMY ADAMS (Minister for the Environment): The Government is committed to independent, high-quality environmental reporting, but it is unlikely legislation will be introduced this year, as my top legislative priorities for the year are improving our freshwater and natural resource management framework. It should be noted that part of the reason those reforms are needed is to address the current barriers to getting reliable, consistent data, which is the foundation of high-quality environmental reporting.
Eugenie Sage: In the interim, will her ministry prepare a comprehensive, national-level, state of the environment report?
Hon AMY ADAMS: What my ministry has committed to do is to continue to put out regular, up-to-date indicator reports on each of the very same areas that were covered in the state of the environment report put out in 2007. I note, in fact, that in the time that we have been the Government, we have to date published 30 such reports, and it is our intention to continue to
publish those reports while we work on the legislative framework for the new, independent, highquality environmental reporting structure.
Eugenie Sage: So when does the Minister expect that independent, high-quality environmental reporting structure to be in place?
Hon AMY ADAMS: As I indicated in answer to the primary question, it is my intention to first of all ensure that we have reliable, consistent data coming through, and we have indicated that we have discovered a number of barriers to getting that. To date in the time since I have been Minister, we have done a number of things. We have introduced 10 new tier one statistics for environmental statistics, taking them from the existing two up to 12. We have worked with local councils on how we will improve the data coming through, and we are working on reforming the Resource Management Act to ensure that we can collect that data. When that is together, and I hope that is as soon as possible, we want to complete the legislative vehicle to deliver those reports.
Eugenie Sage: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. It was a question about when. The Minister enumerated a number of issues, but she did not say when, which is a time issue.
Mr SPEAKER: It may just possibly be, given that the events the Minister described have to take place first, that she cannot put a date on exactly when at this stage. That seemed pretty obvious. I cannot expect Ministers to give word for word an answer the member wants, but it is pretty clear that the Minister made very clear what has to happen first.
Eugenie Sage: Given that the previous Minister for the Environment promised that legislation would be introduced this year, and that the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment would be producing a report next year, how can New Zealanders be confident about the state of our environment without comprehensive, national-level monitoring and reporting, given that she has cancelled the report due in December?
Hon AMY ADAMS: First of all, I would note that the member’s assertion on which she bases her question is factually incorrect. What I would also comment is that that member herself has said that what the country needs is accurate, reliable, and regular national-level reporting, and, as I answered in answer to the primary question, in the last 4 years we have produced 30 such reports.
Eugenie Sage: Could I table a speech by the previous Minister for the Environment, the Hon Nick Smith, on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, when he said that the Government looks forward to public discussion—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! This document is readily available on the parliamentary website, I take it, because it is a speech made by a Minister? [Interruption] Order! We do not need to table it. The House already has that information.
Hon Ruth Dyson: I seek leave for the Environmental Reporting Bill, in the name of Grant Robertson, to be introduced and set down for first reading as members’ order of the day No. 10.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought for that course of action. Is there any objection? There is objection.