Questions and Answers - February 12
QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS
DAVID SHEARER (Leader of the Opposition): Thank you, Mr Speaker, and in that spirit could I just welcome you to your position here.
Mr SPEAKER: Thank you, Mr Shearer.
1. DAVID SHEARER (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does he stand by all his statements?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): Yes.
David Shearer: Does he stand by his statement that “There have been cases where the Australians have considered whether they would help shepherd a boat across the Tasman …”; if so, on how many occasions has this occurred?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Yes, and one.
David Shearer: From whom did he receive advice that Australia was considering shepherding boats containing asylum seekers to New Zealand?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: My intelligence agencies, and given that the member is on the Intelligence and Security Committee, if he would like to have a briefing at the next committee meeting and see the paperwork, I would be more than happy to release that to him.
David Shearer: Did he offer to take 150 of Australia’s boat people, or was it requested by Australia?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I made the suggestion. I made the suggestion for the following reasons. In my opinion, firstly, Australia has much greater capacity to disrupt and ensure that boats actually do not leave—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order!
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: It can disrupt boats that would otherwise leave for our shores. Secondly, in my opinion, it would encourage Australia to keep boats that it might otherwise shepherd across the Tasman and, thirdly, it gives us the optionality to send mass arrivals that could come to New Zealand, if we so chose to change the law, to camps offshore. All three of those reasons are very sound reasons for the steps that we have taken. I would also add that these refugees that we will be taking are within the cap of 750, so frankly I am somewhat ambivalent about whether they would come from Australian territory or from Asia or Africa.
David Shearer: When was the last time a boat containing asylum seekers actually arrived in New Zealand?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Well, I am sure the member is aware that we have not had a mass arrival in New Zealand, but, again, I go back to the member and say to him that he is a member of the Intelligence and Security Committee. If he would like me to authorise for him to see some of the paper work that I see, he should feel free to read that paperwork. I say to this House that I have now
read some comments from Mr Shearer that says he will not be reversing the National Government’s position if he ever gets anywhere near office. He will “ring the Aussies”. Well, good luck! They will give you the same advice that we have had: there are lots of people who could, potentially, come.
David Shearer: Has he seen any reports about a boat potentially preparing to depart Indonesia possibly bound for New Zealand in late 2012; if so, does he stand by his statement yesterday about that boat: “Don’t know, don’t know whether, don’t know whether it actually, actually, happened. It fell over.”?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I cannot confirm the location that the boat might have left from, because there are intelligence reasons why we would not want to do that. Secondly, absolutely. I worked on that issue for a number of weeks before the end of last year. I go back to the member. If he wants to—
David Shearer: Fantasy.
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Well, it is interesting, actually, is it not? If the Leader of the Opposition wants to come to a briefing at the Intelligence and Security Committee, if he wants to see the paperwork—hey, he should feel free. I am more than happy for that to be the case, but, by the way, the last time this country took refugees within the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees cap under Helen Clark, we did not see the Labour Party arguing about it.
Brendan Horan: Why has Dame Jenny Shipley not been stood down from the board of Stateowned enterprise Genesis Energy in the wake of her role in the commercial failure of Mainzeal Property and Construction?
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I do not believe that question in any way relates to the theme of this question now being asked.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Although I am slightly reluctant to defend the member in the corner, you could not get a broader primary question than: “Does he stand by all his statements?”. The member is clearly able to go to areas well beyond what the Leader of the Opposition has.
Mr SPEAKER: My difficulty is—and perhaps the Prime Minister could assist—whether he has made any statements about the continuation of the Rt Hon Dame Jenny Shipley in that position, and, if so, he might be quite comfortable to answer the question.
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I do not recall making any statements about her continuation. I am happy to check the record—obviously a number of issues—but I do not recall any.
Mr SPEAKER: The easiest way to progress this matter is I invite Brendan Horan to repeat the question.
Brendan Horan: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Prime Minister has made statements in the media about Mainzeal Property and Construction—
Mr SPEAKER: Yes, and I am inviting the member to repeat his question.
Brendan Horan: Thank you. Why has Dame Jenny Shipley not been stood down from the board of State-owned enterprise Genesis Energy in the wake of her role in the commercial failure of Mainzeal Property and Construction?
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. You will see the primary question. It requires the Prime Minister to have made a specific statement about Jenny Shipley’s position. The Prime Minister said he has not made one. The questioner must now point to the evidence that justifies him trying to get it within the ambit of the primary question.
Mr SPEAKER: I thank the member for his assistance. On this occasion I am now accepting the question from Brendan Horan, and I am inviting the Prime Minister to answer the question. He can answer it accordingly, if he so wishes.
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I acknowledge that Dame Jenny Shipley is the current chair of Genesis Energy and I acknowledge that she was a director of one of the Mainzeal companies—I have not got that exactly off the top of my head.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Two of them.
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Two—if the member says two, that would be right. That would be about a hundred times fewer than the number of twitters he has made about Russel Norman. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order!
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Sorry. To go back to the point, the situation is that we have not seen any particular reason—although we as the Government very much regret what has happened with Mainzeal, because that will have an impact on subcontractors and employers in New Zealand—at this point that would suggest that she should no longer chair a State-owned enterprise.
David Shearer: Is it correct that he went down to Queenstown last week to fight for the welfare rights of Kiwis in Australia and came back with 150 of Australia’s boat people?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No, that is not correct. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order!
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Interestingly enough, I did go to Queenstown last weekend to discuss the deal that the Labour Government did in 2001 to stop New Zealanders getting entitlements. Phil Goff was the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and he stitched New Zealanders up. So I came back with the knowledge and I pointed that out to Julia Gillard.
Dr Russel Norman: Does he stand by his statement: “We are likely to create 170,000 jobs in the next 4 years,” given that a year and a half later there are 22,000 fewer New Zealanders in jobs?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Yes, I stand by that statement. Secondly, there are a number of different measures at the moment to look at it. The member is quoting from the household labour force survey. But, just to quote from the quarterly employment survey, which the Opposition was just a few weeks ago claiming as the gold standard for looking at employment, under that measure 54,000 new jobs were created over the last 2 years.
Infrastructure Investment Programme—Progress
2. PAUL GOLDSMITH (National) to the Minister of Finance: What progress is the Government making in its infrastructure investment programme and how will this contribute to building a more productive and competitive economy?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): In 2009 the Government set out a significant long-term plan to pick up investment in infrastructure in order to accommodate a growing economy. In 2009 we set out projects and funding for 5 to 7 years ahead. Among those projects where very significant progress has been made is the roll-out of ultra-fast broadband; the near completion of the national grid upgrade; the Waterview Connection and the Waikato Expressway roads are well under way; significant investment in rolling stock, ferries, and rail track upgrades has occurred in KiwiRail, and there is very significant progress on metro rail investments in Wellington and Auckland; and just recently the Government announced the first $80 million for water storage and irrigation projects.
Paul Goldsmith: Why is infrastructure investment a priority for the Government in the current tight fiscal environment?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: It has been a priority, really, for three reasons. The first is that when the New Zealand economy was in recession, extensive Government investment in large-scale projects provided many jobs and helped many New Zealanders through that difficult period. Secondly, we want to get ahead of the curve of economic growth, rather than having infrastructure bottlenecks as New Zealand’s moderate economic growth continues. Thirdly, it has turned out that with the earthquakes in Christchurch we have needed all the expertise and focus that the Government has brought to infrastructure investment.
Paul Goldsmith: What results have been delivered from the Government’s large infrastructure investment programme?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Well, there is any number of results. I will take you through just a few of them. By the middle of this year around 300,000 business and homes will be able to connect to
ultra-fast broadband, and around 1,300 schools and 30 hospitals will have fibre at the gate. The first school in New Zealand to be built under a public-private partnership has opened at Hobsonville. The new prison at Wiri will get under way as the first public-private partnership, which will be a big step up in terms of rehabilitation of our imprisoned population. And the Government is planning to build more than 2,000 State houses over the next 2 financial years, as we continue our efforts to fix up the mess that the Labour Government left in our State housing portfolio.
Hon David Parker: Why does the Minister think it is fair that New Zealanders have to pay $1.5 billion more in petrol tax and ACC to make up for his Government’s shortfall caused by low growth and uneconomic spending on National’s highly political roads of national significance?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The reason road-user charges and petrol tax have risen is that in pursuing policies—for instance, those advocated by New Zealand First and taken up by National 15 years ago—we have a dedicated road funding system. So the users pay. They pay for the maintenance of the roads, and they pay for the capital expansion of our roads. And because we are spending more on a programme that everyone supports, except the Opposition, which is against everything to do with jobs and the economy, those charges have gone up a bit.
Paul Goldsmith: How will the Government improve the management of its substantial infrastructure assets?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Although it is certainly worthwhile to focus on new projects and the funding of them, it is actually more important that we improve the management of our extensive infrastructure that is already in place, because, after all, most New Zealanders will be using existing older infrastructure, not new infrastructure. So the Government has set out the 2011 National Infrastructure Plan—six guiding principles to improve the management of existing assets, and also to improve decision making for future investment, to ensure that of the billions of dollars we take off taxpayers and New Zealanders to spend on infrastructure when they pay their PAYE every week, we spend that money wisely.
Building and Construction, Minister—Confidence
3. GRANT ROBERTSON (Deputy Leader—Labour) to the Prime Minister: Does he have confidence in the Minister of Building and Construction?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): Yes.
Grant Robertson: Why did he allow Maurice Williamson to continue as a director of Holyoake Industries when he appointed him as Minister for Building and Construction?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: As with all Ministers, I advised that the Minister should seek advice from the Cabinet Office about managing potential conflicts of interest. The Minister, as far as I am aware, took that advice, and I am quite satisfied that he can actually manage any conflicts of interest. I would make this point: I was advised also by the Minister that Holyoake Industries does not have a contractor or subcontractor relationship with Mainzeal.
Grant Robertson: Further to that answer, is it correct that Holyoake Industries worked on the ventilation system of the Supreme Court, where the lead contractor was Mainzeal?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I cannot confirm that, because I do not know what Holyoake Industries does, but if the member tells me that that is the case, I am sure that it is the case. That was the Supreme Court building that was tendered for under a Labour Government, and the Minister was not the Minister then. And, by the way, 2 weeks ago the Labour Party wanted Maurice Williamson to be Speaker; this week it does not want him at all.
Grant Robertson: Does he think it is possible for the Minister to manage a perception of conflict of interest in his role as Minister by not receiving papers on “heating and ventilation issues”; if so, how does he think the Minister will separate out discussion of heating and ventilation from that of other building issues, like windows and insulation?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: It is incumbent upon Ministers if they believe they have a conflict of interest, or a perceived conflict of interest, to manage that. That has been the longstanding principle.
The Minister has sought advice on that, and is doing that. I will bet, although I have not gone and checked, that there were plenty of members of the Labour executive in the last 9 years who had conflicts of interests, and they managed them, did they not, Trevor?
Grant Robertson: Has the—[Interruption] Over here. Has he appointed a Minister to be responsible for heating and ventilation issues; if not, can the Opposition suggest that Steven Joyce would be a very appropriate person to be the “Minister for Hot Air”?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: The member is free to suggest anything he likes about Steven Joyce. All I would say is that I would rather have Steven Joyce than 20 muppets from the Labour Party forming a Cabinet.
Tertiary Students—Career and Study Options
4. SIMON O’CONNOR (National—Tāmaki) to the Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills
and Employment: What recent announcements has the Government made to enable students and their parents to make more informed choices about their career and study options?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment): Today I welcomed the release of the Occupational Outlook report, which provides a demand-side view of the current state of 40 common occupations in New Zealand, their likely employment prospects, and the qualifications required to enter those occupations. The new report addresses a shortage of readily available information on demand, and a short to medium term outlook for occupations in this country. Used well it will help to lessen the likelihood of people ending up in jobs that are poorly matched to their skills and qualifications. This new report will assist students and their families to make more informed study and career choices, and it will also be a useful resource for employers, training organisations, tertiary institutes, and careers advisers.
Simon O’Connor: What other reports has the Government released to help address this skills gap?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: The Occupational Outlook complements last month’s Moving on up report, which looks at what young people earn after their tertiary education and compares what people are earning after studying different subjects at different levels. It highlights some very significant variations in earning potential for different types of graduates. For example, top earners with a bachelor’s degree are graduates in medicine, as you would probably expect, and they are earning around $110,000 a year 5 years after leaving study, which is 3 times as much as a performing arts graduate, while civil engineering graduates obtain a premium in the job market earning almost over $68,000 a year, which is about 48 percent more than graduates in languages, literature, and sports and recreation.
Simon O’Connor: How will addressing the skills gap help improve New Zealand’s economy?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Well, actually, I think addressing the skills gap is very, very important to the New Zealand economy. Through the Government’s Business Growth Agenda we are focused on lifting New Zealand’s productivity and delivering higher wages, and to do so we must have a workforce that as much as possible matches skills with demand. A comprehensive youth education strategy is about getting more New Zealanders into education and training that will lead to jobs. So, as well as these reports, our fees-free Youth Guarantee scheme at tertiary level, trades and service academies around the country, new vocational pathways, funding for Māori and Pasifika trades training, and the new New Zealand apprenticeship scheme all provide great options to get young people into trades and vocations that the economy needs to grow.
Personal Explanation—Question No. 3 to Prime Minister
Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Labour—Hutt South): I seek leave of the House under Standing Order 354 to make a personal explanation in relation to the matter that the Prime Minister raised relating to me in his supplementary answer to Mr Robertson’s question.
Mr SPEAKER: As long as it is certainly a personal explanation—
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: Well, Mr Speaker, I do not expect to be questioned by you as to whether it is personal.
Mr SPEAKER: As long as it is a personal explanation, I will put the leave. Mr Mallard is seeking leave to make a personal explanation with regard to an answer given recently by the Prime Minister. Is there any objection to that course of action? There appears to be none.
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: From the period 1999 to 2008 I was Associate—and sometimes Acting—Minister of Finance. A close relative of mine holds a senior position in an Australian bank. As a result of that, I gave Treasury instructions, and copied them to the Cabinet Office, that I was to get no papers to do with prudential supervision or with the regulation of the banking system. I followed that, and it is a matter quite different from what was referred to by the Prime Minister.
Mr SPEAKER: I thank the member.
Climate Change—Government Response to Greenpeace Report
5. Dr RUSSEL NORMAN (Co-Leader—Green) to the Minister for Economic Development: Will he implement the recommendations for jobs and economic development made in Greenpeace’s Energy Revolution report researched and co-authored by the German Aerospace Centre—advisers to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change—and the University of Technology, Sydney?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister for Economic Development): First, I am pleased to advise the member that New Zealand is, and has been for some time, investing more in renewable energy and environmentally friendly technology. For example, this Government has a target of 90 percent renewable energy by 2025, and renewables make up currently about 77 percent of our electricity generation, which is actually the second highest in the OECD. We have also implemented and invested around $347 million in the Warm Up New Zealand: Heat Smart programme. However, the trouble with the report, as I read it, is that it introduces massive additional subsidies and costs to the New Zealand economy and would be dislocating in terms of additional costs on New Zealand households and businesses.
Dr Russel Norman: Does he agree with the report’s main findings that New Zealand has the right mix of resources and talent to become a world leader in achieving a low-carbon, prosperous economy, creating new jobs and industries that will deal not only with the issues of climate change but also with some of the economic challenges facing New Zealand?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I agree with him to the extent that I believe that New Zealand has the right mix of talent and expertise to achieve in a whole range of industries. The Government has a view that the investment in industries is led largely by the private sector, of course, which is placing its own money at risk, and that investment tends to flow to the areas where investment can be profitable and industries can be profitable. The difficulty in actually trying to direct it away from those areas is the fact that it involves very considerable cost to taxpayers, either directly or indirectly.
Dr Russel Norman: That being the case, why does the Government continue to invest in areas such as motorways, the roads of national significance, which consistently—or a number of the projects show—have greater costs than benefits and also increase New Zealand’s carbon footprint, rather than invest in transport options that would reduce our greenhouse emissions and reduce our oil imports?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Well, there are a couple of points there. Firstly, my understanding as a former transport Minister is that they have very significant benefits over costs, particularly compared with some of the public transport projects the member advocates. Of course, the Government is not just investing in roading projects. But I will point out again—and I think it was addressed previously by the finance Minister—that, actually, those who use the roads pay for those investments. We do invest in public transport, but it is important to note that those who use public transport, in many cases, pay less than half the cost. There has to be an ongoing subsidy. So I think
you are suggesting that there be even more subsidies to transport modes that people do not use voluntarily and, in fact, pay for voluntarily.
Dr Russel Norman: In light of the difficult jobs creation record of the Government—no new jobs in 4 years—will the Government consider adopting a different economic strategy, rather than the current one backing the mining industry, for example, and actually look at manufacturing, a much larger employer—and particularly clean-technology manufacturing—as an alternative, given that so far the Government’s strategy has failed to produce the jobs?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: My response to that is, firstly, that we have very significant investment in this country in clean technologies. In fact, I could name for the member any number of companies that are developing further and investing further in jobs and growth in the New Zealand economy right now. But the member again seems to be suggesting that the Government subsidise jobs in industries where they would not otherwise occur—and that that is an answer for economic nirvana in some way—and actually move jobs away from industries where they are prepared to invest in those industries without Government subsidy. With the greatest respect, that is a recipe to head the country to the poorhouse.
Dr Russel Norman: With regard to subsidies, is he aware that in his previous answers and in the previous answers of the Minister of Finance and the Prime Minister they have given us long lists of particular sectors that the Government is subsidising—the mining sector is, of course, the favourite of the Government—and why is it that it is OK for the Government to subsidise areas such as mining, whereas it is quite hostile to providing even a level playing field to the clean-technology sector?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Well, with the greatest respect to the member, we are not subsidising the mining sector. In actual fact, all we are not doing is putting the extra costs that the member would advocate on the mining sector, and, somehow, that is supposed to be a subsidy—which, with the greatest respect, is just up there with printing money in economic ludicrousness.
Canterbury, Recovery—Mainzeal Property and Construction Contracts
6. Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First) to the Minister for Canterbury
Earthquake Recovery: What is the total number and value of contracts held by Mainzeal Property and Construction in respect of the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery rebuild?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE (Minister for Canterbury Earthquake Recovery): There are two parts to that question. The first is that the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority itself has two contracts with Mainzeal Property and Construction Ltd, now in receivership. The first is for the demolition of the Clarendon Towers for a contract price of $8.9 million. This is nearly completed, with 3 weeks remaining—the job almost done. The second is for the QEII complex. The value is $2.1 million. These works are also almost completed, with approximately, we think, 6 weeks left to go. There are a number of other contracts that Mainzeal has in Canterbury that are with the private sector, and I do not have details for exactly what the position is on those at this stage.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. You will have gleaned by now that that is a totally inadequate answer for someone who has had 4 hours to prepare on a very, very serious matter. Two contracts and about $11 million is not what was being asked about in the primary question. It will be very obvious to anyone associated with Canterbury what the depth of Mainzeal’s association was, and to get up and say after 4 hours that he has not got the information is certainly, Mr Speaker, I think—well, it is trifling with Parliament and trifling with question time.
Mr SPEAKER: I thank the member.
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: I am the Minister responsible for Canterbury earthquake recovery and the department, and so there are the obvious answers to the contractual arrangements that the department has. I cannot at this point give a firm answer on the other contracts—I believe there are five of them—that Mainzeal has in Christchurch.
Mr SPEAKER: I do not need any further assistance. In my opinion the Minister answered the question according to the rules. He listed the two that he knew about that were the result of a contract between the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority and Mainzeal Property and Construction. He noted that there could be a number of other contracts in existence that were within the private sector. I think the Minister has answered quite satisfactorily and the member has alternative supplementary questions.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Did he or Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority officials view the Mainzeal company’s balance sheet before awarding Mainzeal millions of dollars in contracts; if not, why not?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: We had every reason to believe that Mainzeal was a stable company and entered into the contracts on the basis that it had capacity to do the job, which is far more important to us than anything else.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My question was very specific. Did he or Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority officials view the Mainzeal company’s balance sheet? That is what he is being asked. The answer has got to be yes or no.
Mr SPEAKER: Well, I think he—
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: I can give a further answer, if he wants to know. No, because that would be a Minister interfering in operational matters, and the member would have a dim view of that, I am quite sure. As to whether or not the balance sheet was checked out by Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority officials, I have not been informed of that.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: How could he and his officials not be aware of Mainzeal’s financial position, given that one of the members of the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Review Panel also happened to be a director of the company in question?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: The two matters are quite separate. The Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Review Panel is a statutorily constituted body that has the Hon Justice Sir John Hansen as its chairperson, and he conducts scrutiny of Orders in Council after they have been considered by all parties in this House. To somehow construe that from that we should be discussing a private matter or a private engagement on a daily basis with one of the other members of that panel is utterly ridiculous.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Can he confirm that Dame Jenny Shipley, a member of the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Review Panel, which he appointed, was also a director of Mainzeal Property and Construction until December last year, when she was asked to resign by Richard Yan?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: I have no idea what the circumstances were around the resignation, but I can confirm that she is a member of the review panel. The panel reviews Orders in Council after those Orders in Council have been considered by all parties in this House.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: So why did he appoint Dame Jenny Shipley to the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Review Panel, a body that is supposed to be independent, despite Ms Shipley having a clear conflict of interest in respect of her directorship of Mainzeal Property and Construction?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: I think the member needs to look at the Orders in Council that have been somewhat, I think, judiciously used in order to move the recovery forward, and ask his own spokesman why he has supported some of them, but more than that, explain to the House why he thinks someone who is reviewing changes to law is somehow conflicted because they are the director of a construction company.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My question is very direct. I am asking why, when it was clear there was a conflict of interest, did he appoint someone to the authority—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member will resume his seat. You are now using the point of order process to debate the answer that was given. The Minister answered the question quite
satisfactorily. It may not be to the satisfaction of the member, and if he wants to use further supplementary questions he can, but at this stage that answer was quite satisfactory.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. We do not have any other supplementary questions—that is the first thing—and, twice today, and this is the second time, the Minister has referred to matters that have no connection with the question, including New Zealand First’s Canterbury spokesperson. That has nothing to do with the answer at all. I want to know why—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I have ruled that the question has been answered absolutely satisfactorily. If the member has no supplementary questions left today, I cannot do anything about that. The member will have to look for another question time.
Foreign Affairs and Trade, Ministry—Advice on Visit of Benny Wenda
7. CATHERINE DELAHUNTY (Green) to the Minister of Foreign Affairs: Did the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade provide him with advice regarding the visit of Benny Wenda to New Zealand and the possibility of Mr Wenda speaking at a meeting in Parliament; if so, what was that advice?
Hon MURRAY McCULLY (Minister of Foreign Affairs): No, but I was made aware that our embassy in Jakarta advised the ministry’s head office of Mr Wenda’s impending visit and recommended that if Mr Wenda requested a meeting with the Government, officials from the ministry should meet him. I understand that such a meeting took place this morning.
Catherine Delahunty: Did he personally advise against Mr Wenda speaking at a public forum at our Parliament; if so, why?
Hon MURRAY McCULLY: No. Indeed, to the best of my knowledge I have not been asked to comment on whether Mr Wenda should be invited to speak at the Parliament. I believe that there are arrangements under which all parties here are able to invite people to speak in their caucus rooms, and I have not been asked to opine upon that topic. What I was asked about was whether I thought it was a good fit with the policies of this Government for National members to co-sponsor a meeting at which Mr Wenda would be the guest speaker, and I expressed the view that it would not.
Catherine Delahunty: Why did he tell Government MPs that they should not support a public forum involving Mr Wenda giving an insight into human rights in West Papua given the fact that Mr Wenda has spoken at a number of Parliaments around the world?
Hon MURRAY McCULLY: I have never been asked to express a view on whether Mr Wenda should be invited to speak. I have made it clear that I thought it was not a good fit with the policies of this Government for National members to co-sponsor a speaking opportunity. I think the member and I might agree on one matter. The background—
Catherine Delahunty: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. This supplementary question was not about whether he was asking people to speak. It was about whether he told Government MPs that they should not support a public forum. It was not about speaking; it was about whether he told Government MPs whether they should support it.
Mr SPEAKER: And I think that if the member gave the Minister enough time to answer the question, he would answer it to her satisfaction.
Hon MURRAY McCULLY: Thank you, Mr Speaker; that was precisely what I had in mind. I think the member and I might agree on one matter, which is that the background to human rights matters in West Papua is not a good one. Although the Indonesian Government has worked very hard in recent years to improve the human rights position, it is fair to say that even it would agree that the position is far from perfect. The New Zealand Government set a course of constructive engagement on these matters, including targeting extra funding to development assistance—around $5 million a year—to West Papua, and raising directly our concerns about those human rights issues with both Ministers and officials in the Indonesian Government. So in that respect I believe the member and I can agree. What I do not agree with is members of the current Government co12 Feb 2013 Questions for Oral Answer Page 10 of 16 sponsoring a speaker who is a leader of the West Papua independence movement. I do not think it would be a good fit with that policy of constructive engagement.
Hon Maryan Street: Does he believe that the Government’s level of discomfort around who might speak at a cross-party meeting in Parliament should be one of the principles on which any Speaker might make a decision to allow such a meeting?
Hon MURRAY McCULLY: I think I have made it very clear that I have not been asked for a view on whether Mr Wenda should speak at the New Zealand Parliament. I was asked by parliamentary colleagues whether it was a good fit with the policy of the Government for them to co-sponsor such a meeting. I have no particular opinion about whether Mr Wenda should be invited to speak at any meetings.
Catherine Delahunty: Will he meet with a leader of the West Papuan people, Mr Wenda, or does he consider that meeting with members of the Indonesian Government is the only way to promote dialogue?
Hon MURRAY McCULLY: I meet a wide range of people from within and outside the Government of Indonesia, and I believe the relationship we have with Indonesia is a good one, including our ability to engage constructively on difficult issues around human rights, including in West Papua. But as far as Mr Wenda is concerned, the advice that was sent—as I replied to the primary question—from the embassy in Jakarta was that Mr Wenda may seek a meeting with the New Zealand Government and, if so, the advice was that officials should meet with him, and I understand that occurred this morning.
Dr Russel Norman: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. It was a very direct question—will he meet? He talked about whether officials would meet, and he said that they would. The question was whether the Minister would meet—
Mr SPEAKER: And I think it was very clear from his answer that he is not intending to meet, but his officials have the opportunity.
Dr Russel Norman: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. It became a habit of the previous Speaker to interpret the answers. I do not think it was a good habit. I would like to hear it from the Minister.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! It is my job here to interpret whether Ministers have satisfactorily answered the questions. In that case, although he did not specifically say: “No, as Minister I will not be.”, it was very clear to me, listening to the answer, that his answer to the question was that he would not be meeting with Mr Wenda but that officials had had the opportunity to do so. Is there a further supplementary question?
Catherine Delahunty: What confidence can the public have that he as Minister of Foreign Affairs will raise human rights issues in his dealings with Indonesia when he is willing to suppress the right of Papuans to speak in our Parliament?
Hon MURRAY McCULLY: I will say this as clearly as I can. The member can invite anyone she wants to her office or to her caucus room to speak about anything they like. That is of no concern to me. With regard to the first part of her question, can I say that I have taken very great care to ensure that on all appropriate occasions we engage with the Minister and senior officials from Indonesia on human rights issues, including human rights issues in West Papua where there are serious issues that need to be addressed. Good progress has been made, and I believe New Zealand’s policy of constructive engagement has assisted that process, but there is significant further work to be done, and we never shirk our responsibility to raise those issues, I can assure her.
Dr Russel Norman: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. This issue relates to you as Speaker as much as to the Minister. Effectively, by the Minister giving that direction to his colleagues he vetoed this parliamentary meeting under your ruling. We wrote a letter to you, and I am asking you when you will reply to our letter on this issue.
Mr SPEAKER: When I have a chance to do so. That is not a legitimate point of order. This is an opportunity for members of Parliament to ask questions of the executive; not to question a
decision that I have made as Speaker. If the member wants to come and see me at any time to discuss that decision my door is open. If the member equally wants to raise the issue about the guidelines for these events through the Parliamentary Service Commission, then that is appropriate place to do it.
8. Peseta SAM LOTU-IIGA (National—Maungakiekie) to the Minister of Housing: What steps is the Government taking to improve housing affordability?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH (Minister of Housing): A major driver of housing affordability is mortgage interest rates. Since we have been in Government they have dropped from 9 percent to 5 percent, a 50-year low, saving a family with a $300,000 mortgage $230 a week. We are taking steps across all five areas of land, infrastructure, labour, materials, and compliance costs to tackle the doubling in house prices over the past decade. The latest steps announced at the weekend are proposed changes to development contributions that have gone up by 360 percent over the last decade.
Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga: Why has the Government made a particular priority the cost of land in sections as opposed to the alternative proposals of a massive State housing building programme?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: We are particularly focused on the price of land in sections because they have increased from $94,000 a section a decade ago to over $190,000. This compares with an average section price of NZ$100,000 in the US. Reports on housing affordability from Treasury, from the Productivity Commission, from Motu Economic and Public Policy Research Trust, and even from the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet under Helen Clark all recommended that changes focused on land supply and section costs. None of those independent reports recommended a massive State house building programme.
Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga: What was the rationale given in 2002 for widening the powers of councils to set development contributions and for removing any appeals to the amounts charged?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: The law change in 2002 did broaden the powers for development contributions and remove those appeal rights. The rationale that was given at the time by the previous Government was that the increased cost was of no concern because it would simply come out of developers’ margins. Experience in the decade since has shown that this was flawed thinking. The 360 percent increase in development contributions has been passed on in section prices, and has adversely affected housing affordability.
Hon Annette King: When he said on Morning Report this morning that he had been in the job less than 2 weeks and it was going to take time to pull together new initiatives for affordable housing, could he tell the House why the Government has waited almost 5 years and two Ministers later to come up with an announcement on some work on new initiatives for affordable housing?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: As I pointed out in my answer to the primary question, the single greatest factor in housing affordability is interest rates. I am very proud of this Government’s record, which has seen interest rates at the lowest level in 50 years. It is a step that is saving the average Kiwi family—
Hon Annette King: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. That was a very specific question. It is interesting to have the Minister ranting about something else, but that is not what I asked, and I would like an answer to the question I asked.
Mr SPEAKER: It was a very political question, but if the member wants to repeat her question, we will give her the opportunity.
Hon Annette King: If you could just wait.
Mr SPEAKER: I will give you a minute to assemble your pieces of paper.
Hon Annette King: If you could wait 5 years while I put it together.
Mr SPEAKER: No, we are not about to wait 5 years, but I will give you 5 seconds.
Hon Annette King: I asked: when he said on Morning Report this morning that he had been in the job less than 2 weeks and he needed time to get together new initiatives on affordable housing, why has the Government waited almost 5 years and two Ministers later before it came up with a programme of work on new initiatives?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: As I pointed out, if you look at homeownership, for instance, over the last 50 years, it has improved in the years when interest rates have been low, and it has got worse in the years when interest has gone up. What that history also tells you is that interest rates have gone up under every Labour Government, that this Government has done a good job of keeping those interest rates low, and that there are further initiatives around Resource Management Act reform, development levies, and others that will be needed to enable more Kiwis to own their own homes.
Job Creation and Unemployment—Numbers
9. Su’a WILLIAM SIO (Labour—Māngere) to the Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills
and Employment: Does he stand by his Government’s 2011 election promise of “170,000 more jobs”; if so, why have a net 30,000 New Zealanders lost their jobs over the past year?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment): In answer to the first part of the question, yes, and it is important to point out, of course, that that was no more and no less than Treasury’s forecast for job growth at the time—
Hon David Parker: It was the advertised, TV promise.
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: —which was the Treasury forecast at the time, which I appreciate Mr Parker disagrees with. The latest household labour force survey shows the unemployment rate falling, from 7.3 percent to 6.9 percent, but it also does indicate a job market that is still tough, which reflects the ongoing impact of tough economic times globally. But it also demonstrates the volatility of the quarterly employment data, which continues to move around. Illustrating this point, you have the quarterly employment survey that came out 2 days previously—which the member may recall was lauded by his party as the best measure of jobs in the economy—which shows there have been 54,000 new jobs created over the last 2 years.
Su’a William Sio: Given the size of his ministerial workload, which includes economic development, tertiary education, skills, science and innovation, Novopay, the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment merger, resource extraction plans, and the Skycity convention centre, does he believe that over the past year he has given the employment portfolio the full attention and focus that it requires?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Absolutely—it is one of the most crucial aspects of this Government’s Business Growth Agenda. Could I refer the member to the Building Skilled and Safe Workplaces programme, which we released late last year with some 50-odd initiatives, including comprehensive programmes around vocational training, tertiary education, and educational standards and achievement. In fact, since that report has come out, we have, of course, launched the New Zealand apprenticeships scheme and the apprenticeships reboot, which I know the Opposition values so much.
Su’a William Sio: Does he take responsibility as Minister of employment for the 30,000 jobs that have been lost over the past year; if so, will he step aside as Minister of employment so that this important portfolio can receive the attention and energy it deserves?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I am confident that I give this particular portfolio great energy and enthusiasm. I would point out again for the member that the quarterly employment survey shows an increase of 54,000 new jobs over the last 2 years. It is also important to point out to the member the decline in the unemployment benefit over the last year, and important to point out to the member that actual PAYE numbers collected by the Inland Revenue Department, or in other words, actual tax paid on income, has gone up 6 or 7 percent in the year to date. So yes, the household labour force survey has one view, and I am not belittling it because the job market is still challenging, but there are also other views of the job market that suggest a more mixed picture.
Su’a William Sio: Can he explain to the 440 workers who lost their jobs at Solid Energy in December, the 190 workers who lost their jobs at Alliance Meats in October, and the 90 workers who lost their jobs at the Hillside railway workshops in November why he believes that the drop in employment in the latest household labour force survey is due to volatile statistics and not to actual job losses?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Well, that is because, actually, there is a very large number of jobs created and lost in every year. It is always very difficult when somebody loses their job, and I understand that, but we have about a quarter of a million jobs created and about a quarter of a million jobs lost in any 1 year in the New Zealand economy. The member is quite welcome to quote, obviously, situations where companies have lost jobs, but there are also plenty of situations where companies have created jobs—just off the top of my head I think of organisations like Orion Health, Tait Communications, Douglas Pharmaceuticals, and so on. The important point is that often some of those are in different areas than the areas of those who have lost their jobs, which is why the skills training part is very, very important and why the Government is putting such a big focus on that.
Su’a William Sio: I would like to table a document from the Parliamentary Library— [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! A point of order has been called.
Su’a William Sio: I would like to table a document from the Parliamentary Library that shows—
Mr SPEAKER: Is it available to all members?
Su’a William Sio: I am not sure, because this was requested by us. So it would not be available to all members.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER: I think the easiest way to resolve that is—
Su’a William Sio: It shows the loss of 30,000 jobs, December 2011—
Mr SPEAKER: OK, I will put the leave. Leave is sought to table this document prepared by the Parliamentary Service for the member. Is there any objection to that being tabled? Any objection? There is objection.
Su’a William Sio: Why, if he is doing such as great job as Minister of employment, are there so few jobs available that 1,000 people queued for just 70 jobs at a Mitre 10 store in Rotorua before Christmas?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Again, I am sure the member could pick any number of examples where people are applying for jobs. I can also point out to the member some of the indicators that we have in terms of, say, online jobs, which have been up significantly over last year, and so on and so forth. I think, though, that the point is well made that we do have an emerging, potential skills challenge and skills matching challenge in the New Zealand economy, which is why we have to remain very, very focused on skills training and vocational training in tertiary education. This Government has put very big efforts into that, and not only that—not just actually creating the positions—but encouraging performance in those positions as well. So we are very, very focused on giving as many New Zealanders the opportunity as we can.
Rheumatic Fever—Initiatives for Reduction
10. Dr JACKIE BLUE (National) to the Minister of Health: What new initiatives is the Government taking in the fight against rheumatic fever?
Hon TONY RYALL (Minister of Health): On Saturday the Prime Ministers of Australia and New Zealand announced a combined project to find a vaccine for rheumatic fever. The two Governments will provide $3 million over the next 2 years for scientists on both sides of the Tasman to collaboratively identify a potential vaccine for rheumatic fever that could then proceed to clinical trials. An effective vaccine against group A streptococcus, which causes rheumatic fever, would be a major step forward. This investment shows how seriously Governments on both sides of the Tasman are taking this fight against this Third World disease.
Dr Jackie Blue: What other work on rheumatic fever prevention is under way?
Hon TONY RYALL: We are receiving encouraging results from the Government’s $24 million rheumatic fever prevention programme in schools and communities. Although it is far too early to confirm a decreasing trend, provisional data shows that in 2012 there was a slight reduction in the incidence of hospitalisations for acute rheumatic fever. By the end of this year around 50,000 children in over 200 schools in vulnerable areas will be part of the programme, which tests for and treats sore throats. We aim to reduce the incidence of rheumatic fever by two-thirds, to 1.4 cases per 100,000 people, by June 2017.
11. CHRIS HIPKINS (Labour—Rimutaka) to the Minister of Education: Does she stand by all of her decisions as Minister of Education; if not, which, if any, particular decisions does she now regret?
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I would just like to ask you whether Standing Order 383(2) and Speaker’s ruling 176/5 will apply in this case, or whether you will adopt the 2007 ruling regarding informing the House when the primary answer is longer than generally acceptable?
Mr SPEAKER: At this stage, Mr Mallard, I accept we wait until we at least hear what the answer is to the primary question.
Hon HEKIA PARATA (Minister of Education): Tēnā koe, Mr Speaker. Yes, in the circumstances and with the advice received at the time.
Chris Hipkins: Did she read all of the relevant Cabinet papers before she agreed that Novopay would be rolled out; if not, why not?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: The primary question asks whether I regret the decision. Clearly, with hindsight the decision in respect of Novopay was not the best decision and it has created incredible problems for everyone. That hindsight would have served the Labour Ministers of Education who progressed and signed the contract and for whom that member was an adviser.
Chris Hipkins: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. It was actually a very specific supplementary question. The Minister has not addressed it.
Mr SPEAKER: I invite the member to ask the question again.
Chris Hipkins: Did she read all of the relevant Cabinet papers before she agreed that Novopay would be rolled out; if not, why not?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: All of the Cabinet papers, to my understanding, go back to 2005. I read the papers that were relevant to the decision that was put before me in June and July 2012.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I think it is a re-run of the previous point of order. The question was on all of the Cabinet papers. She has indicated that she has read some of them, but she has not given an answer as to whether she has read all of them. You might want to do a Dr Lockwood Smith and interpret she is saying no, but I think she should probably say it herself.
Mr SPEAKER: No, I do not want to do a Dr Smith, but I think, on listening to the question— and we are all able to listen to the question and then the answer—by implication it is fairly clear to me that the Minister has not read all of the Cabinet papers dating back to 2005.
Chris Hipkins: Did she read the paper that indicated that as risk mitigation the new payroll system would be run in parallel with the old system and that there would be an 8-month staggered implementation in five distinct areas, avoiding a “high-risk big-bang implementation”; if so, why did she agree to a roll-out of the system without that risk mitigation being in place?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: I did not hear the entirety of the question, but the decision—
Chris Hipkins: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am happy to repeat the question for the Minister.
Mr SPEAKER: I think in the circumstances that is fair. It was members behind the Minister who made it difficult for the Minister to hear. I would be grateful if they would also maintain a level of silence so the question can be clearly heard.
Chris Hipkins: Did she read the paper that indicated that as risk mitigation the new pay system would be run in parallel with the old system and that there would be an 8-month staggered implementation in five distinct areas, avoiding a “high-risk big-bang implementation”; if so, why did she agree to a roll-out without that risk mitigation being in place?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: I read a range of papers, and at the time I was confident that I had all of the advice that I needed to make the decision at the time. But, as I have said, hindsight is a wonderful thing, and I took the recommendations of all of the officials and all of the external consultants who were advising me, and I read the papers, and that was the decision we took at the time.
Chris Hipkins: Does she stand by her decision to sign off the implementation of Novopay despite the fact that there were 142 known faults with the system before it went live, or before she signed off on it going live, that contingencies initially put in place had been removed, and that the phased implementation initially proposed had been abandoned in favour of immediate full implementation; if so, why?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: As I have already said, I do stand by the decision in the circumstances of the time and the advice that was offered and the papers that were before me in terms of the independent and external advisers who offered the advice. At the time I considered it to be the best decision. In hindsight it is clear that better decisions could have been made, but hindsight could serve all of us better as well.
Chris Hipkins: Was she aware that the Ministry of Education was considering breaking the contract with Novopay provider Talent2 only 2 weeks before she signed off the implementation; if not, why not?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: I was not advised of that.
Chris Hipkins: Did she ask for or receive any advice on extending the contingency arrangement that was in place with Datacom Group until after Novopay had gone live before she signed it off; if not, why not?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: All of these questions are interesting and germane, and that is why the Minister responsible for Novopay has ordered a ministerial inquiry that will allow this House to have the detail that this member is securing. I look forward to that occurring as well.
Chris Hipkins: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. That was a very specific question, and one that the Minister is responsible for. I know that there is an inquiry that has been called for. That does not mean that she is not accountable to the House.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I invite the member to ask the question again.
Chris Hipkins: Did she ask for or receive any advice on extending the contingency arrangement that was in place with Datacom Group until after Novopay had gone live; if not, why not?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: My recollection is I did indeed ask ministry officials what other contingency might be available and what we could do in order to ensure that, and I was given advice at that time that we could and should proceed with the contract as it was being put before me by officials.
Police Resourcing—Front-line Officers Deployed Since December 2011
12. MARK MITCHELL (National—Rodney) to the Minister of Police: What reports has she received on the number of front-line police patrols?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY (Minister of Police): I am pleased to advise the House that police have reported a huge increase in the number of front-line foot patrols over the last year. The total number of police foot patrols increased by 70 percent in 2012, rising from 40,918 in 2011 to 69,773 last year. Front-line foot patrols play a critical role in the Government’s strategy of reducing crime. This
means that there are more officers walking on our streets, preventing crime, and protecting our communities.
Mark Mitchell: Why are front-line police foot patrols important to crime prevention?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY: Foot patrols ensure that police are much more visible in our community and act as a strong deterrent to criminals. Police are also deploying these front-line staff much more strategically in areas where and at times when police know there is a greater risk of crime taking place. This ensures that the right people are in the right place at the right time, and, along with the 600 additional front-line officers delivered by this Government, is leading to large reductions in crime rates.