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Questions and Answers - February 19


QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS

Schools, Canterbury—Proposed Closures and Mergers

1. METIRIA TUREI (Co-Leader—Green) to the Minister of Education: In relation to the proposed school closures in Christchurch, does she agree with Manning Intermediate head Richard Chambers that “The Minister promised us that we would have two years no matter what. It was a guarantee she made to our community repeatedly, it was unequivocal”?

Hon HEKIA PARATA (Minister of Education): Tēnā koe, Mr Speaker. No; I repeatedly made it clear that it was a proposal that we were inviting feedback on. I would also refer Mr Chambers to the letter he received from me yesterday, which gave two options for the Manning community to comment on: one was closing in 2014; one was closing in 2015.

Metiria Turei: Is the Minister saying that this principal and his colleagues are lying?

Hon HEKIA PARATA: No.

Metiria Turei: How does the Minister expect to regain the confidence of the 60 percent of New Zealanders who believe she is too incompetent to be Minister of Education when she is reneging on promises—

Mr SPEAKER: Order!

Metiria Turei: —when she reneges on promises that she made to Christchurch families?

Hon HEKIA PARATA: I have already answered in my primary answer that I did not make that promise.

Metiria Turei: During the consultation process, did any of the schools currently threatened with closure ask to be shut a year early to give their community certainty?

Hon HEKIA PARATA: In a number of the submissions schools asked for certainty as soon as possible. In a number of the submissions schools pointed out that they did not want a very long time frame because parents would choose to enrol their kids at other schools and teachers would seek jobs in other schools.

Metiria Turei: Which schools asked her to close them a year earlier than originally planned because of certainty?

Hon HEKIA PARATA: As I made clear, no school asked to be closed a specific time earlier, but we have, for instance, from the submission from North New Brighton School: “There is already evidence of staff bleeding from our wider sector. If the merge process continues for 4 years, and high-quality staff continue to bleed, there is a huge risk of a significant negative impact.” Of course, another speaker, whom I can quote from, yesterday said: “Truly these people needed to have a decision because, at the end of the day, it may not be the decision that people wanted, but it is a decision none the less, and it is something that we can work from.” That was from the Hon Lianne Dalziel.

Metiria Turei: Does the Minister think that the children and the parents and the principal of Phillipstown School were in tears yesterday because they were happy to have been given certainty that she will close their school a year earlier than she promised them?

Hon HEKIA PARATA: I understand that this can be very upsetting for communities and that a number of communities are unsettled by the interim decisions I announced yesterday, and we will be supporting them throughout this process. But we have to remember what it is that we are dealing with across Greater Christchurch, and we are working with each and every school on how we can help to get the best possible education system for the kids of Christchurch.

Metiria Turei: Did the Minister receive any advice or instruction from senior Ministers in Cabinet to hurry and get the closures out of the way before the 2014 election?

Hon HEKIA PARATA: No.

Metiria Turei: Why will the Minister refuse to say sorry to the people of Christchurch, the families of Christchurch, for the bungled announcements she made in September, the reneging on promises to keep schools open until 2015, and the fact that 19 schools will close? Why will she not say sorry?

Hon HEKIA PARATA: I went to visit 35 of the schools directly and personally to acknowledge the September issues, and since then I have worked very closely with each and every one of them.

Hon Lianne Dalziel: Will she give an assurance that merging schools that want to delay the merger for another year will be allowed to do so?

Hon HEKIA PARATA: We have a further 6 weeks of consultation, during which time I will listen, and continue to listen, and work with schools.

Hon Lianne Dalziel: Does she accept that the time frame does not leave sufficient time for discussions and planning to take place; if not, why did she write to Central New Brighton School saying that that is why the proposed merger would not take place until 2016?

Hon HEKIA PARATA: No, because this process of consultation has been going for the past 5 months, so I do think that the time frame available for schools to make their submissions has been a very appropriate one in the circumstances.

Hon Lianne Dalziel: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The question that I asked her was whether the time frame for the merger—

Mr SPEAKER: No. No, there were two parts to your question. The first part was whether the time frame was sufficient. The Minister addressed that, to my mind, quite satisfactorily.

Hon Lianne Dalziel: Will the surrounding schools be ready for the sudden influx of students next year resulting from her decision to bring forward the closure and merger dates; if so, why is the Government shelling out $2.7 million for temporary, relocatable classrooms in Christchurch?

Hon HEKIA PARATA: These are interim decisions that I announced yesterday, and under the law—under the Education Act—I am required not to predetermine the outcome of that consultation.

Rt Hon John Key: Has the Minister seen reports that the current, National-led Government has closed only 49 schools—on average, 12 a year—when the previous Labour Government closed 281 schools, or an average of 31 a year; and if there was a change of Government where the Greens are involved, do you think it is possible that it would ever close any school? [Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: Order!

Hon HEKIA PARATA: The Prime Minister is quite correct.

Hon Lianne Dalziel: I seek leave to table an extract from a letter from the office of the Hon Hekia Parata dated 7 December 2012 to a member of the Parklands community. It states—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! Is it a letter that is freely available to members through any other source?

Hon Lianne Dalziel: No.

Hon Gerry Brownlee: Yes, it is.

Mr SPEAKER: The easiest way to resolve it is to put leave to the House. Is there any objection to that letter being tabled?

Hon Lianne Dalziel: Hang on, I have not explained what the letter—

Mr SPEAKER: You have explained quite sufficiently what it is. You have explained quite sufficiently what it is. It is not an opportunity for the member to make a statement.

Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I do not think the member has even said whom the letter is from. How can you—

Mr SPEAKER: Order!

Hon Trevor Mallard: How can you say—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! The letter was, from my understanding, a letter from the Hon Hekia Parata. That was stated in the very early part of the member—

Hon Trevor Mallard: About what?

Mr SPEAKER: Sorry?

Hon Trevor Mallard: About what?

Mr SPEAKER: It was then about the closure of schools in Christchurch. [Interruption] Order! I will invite the member to briefly describe the content of what she wants to seek to table, and if we determine it is not something that is freely available to members, I will put leave to the House.

Hon Lianne Dalziel: The letter states that as this proposed merger is not planned to take place until 2016—[Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: Order! It would help if we could find out what the letter is about so we can tidy this matter up.

Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.

Mr SPEAKER: If the member wants the opportunity to table the letter, it would be helpful if the member was able to describe the letter.

Hon Trevor Mallard: And, Mr Speaker, that might be helped if you enforced the rules of the House, which require silence during points of order.

Mr SPEAKER: That is a perfectly acceptable point of order raised by the Hon Trevor Mallard. Would the member succinctly describe what she is attempting to table.

Hon Lianne Dalziel: The letter states that as the proposed merger is not planned to take place until 2016, if it were to go ahead there would be time for discussions to be had, for planning to take place, and for the merged school to gain the support—

Mr SPEAKER: Order!

Hon Bill English: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.

Mr SPEAKER: We now clearly know what the letter is. There is a further point of order. It would be helpful if we could tidy the matter up. I call the Hon Bill English.

Hon Bill English: If you just put the leave, I think that will probably work best, Mr Speaker. But the member abused the tolerance of the House. The House is always happy to have people table letters, but having been asked several times to state whom it was from and whom to, she did not do that, and insisted on reading it out. The member therefore runs the risk that the House will object to leave when it is abused in that way.

Mr SPEAKER: And I suggest to the House that that is the easiest way of tidying this matter up. Leave has been sought. Any member can object. Is there any objection to that letter being tabled? There is.

Economy—Reports

2. MAGGIE BARRY (National—North Shore) to the Minister of Finance: What reports has he received on the New Zealand economy?

Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): The BNZ Performance of Manufacturing Index, or PMI, for January 2013 reported a value of 55.2. Values above 50 indicate increasing manufacturing activity. This is the highest reading since May 2012, and is starting to show a trend of increasing manufacturing activity. The report also noted that the Australian equivalent index is at 40.2, indicating a sharp contraction. That is the largest gap between the New Zealand and

Australian economies in manufacturing in 11 years, and in fact the biggest problem for New Zealand manufacturing this year is likely to be the sluggish Australian economy.

Maggie Barry: What effect is the New Zealand dollar having on manufacturers, exporters, and households?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: There is no doubt that both the exchange rate and the related state of overseas markets, which is reflected in lower relative exchange rates for them, have been a headwind for exporters. However, over half of New Zealand’s more sophisticated manufacturing exports go to Australia, where the exchange rate has been favourable and, in fact, remains below the average of recent years. Of course, on the other hand, the greater purchasing power of our dollar has lowered the cost of manufacturing imports, in particular imported fuel and plant and machinery. I would note that manufacturing export volumes are not, in fact, in crisis; they are up 4 percent over the last year.

Maggie Barry: In view of the recent highs of the New Zealand exchange rate, what steps is the Government taking to help the economy become more competitive?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: Over recent years we have taken many steps to improve the competitiveness of the economy, and all of them were opposed by the Opposition parties. Just to list some of them, there was the 90-day trial period for new employees, removal of 170 unnecessary and excessive regulations, reduction in tax on every manufacturing business and on every worker in those businesses in New Zealand, and substantial investment in infrastructure to help make manufacturers more competitive.

Maggie Barry: What alternative measures has the Minister of Finance seen for managing the exchange rate, and what would be the effects of such measures?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: I would not be able to outline the effects of any measures, because I have not seen any sensible or feasible alternative measures proposed. What can say, though, is that there have been some proposals to change the way the Reserve Bank target is expressed, and I just want to read to the House what is in the policy targets agreement.

Hon Annette King: This is just a political statement that’s nothing to do with their policy.

Hon BILL ENGLISH: The member should listen because she might learn something: “In pursuit of its … stability objective, the Bank shall implement monetary policy in a sustainable, consistent and transparent manner,”—and listen to this—“have regard to the efficiency and soundness of the financial system, and seek to avoid unnecessary instability in output, interest rates and the exchange rate.” Section 4(b) was written by Dr Michael Cullen of the last Labour Government, and it was regarded as satisfactory, wide-ranging, and new thinking at the time, and we have stuck to it.

Hon David Parker: Has he seen the report of the IMF forecasting that New Zealand will have the worst current account deficit in the developed world this year, worse even than Greece; if so, is he ready to admit that after 4 years he has failed in his goal of rebalancing the economy toward exports and jobs?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: No, I have not seen that report. Any report on the current account deficit should take account of its recent history, which is that in 2006, 2007, and 2008 it was at the record levels in 30 years at minus 8 percent, and today it is half what it was under the last 3 years of the last Labour Government. As I have pointed out, manufacturing activity and exports is increasing, not decreasing.

Ministers—Confidence

3. 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: Given that he previously admitted that the data used to overhaul Christchurch schools was inaccurate, has the Minister of Education assured him that the data is now 100 percent accurate; if so, what value does he place on her assurance?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I think the member is paraphrasing me, but I think what is true in the process is that there was some disagreement between the ministry’s data and the school’s data. As that process was carried out over the course of the last 4 or 5 months, there was agreement on the data, and for the most part, actually, in favour of the ministry’s. So, yes, I am confident now that the decisions announced by the Minister yesterday were based on the best data we have available.

David Shearer: Why are schools such as Manning Intermediate School closing, when their rolls are predicted to increase, and will this make him focus on re-evaluating that data?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I cannot give you answers on specific schools. You would be better to put those questions down to the Minister directly—but they are actually in a number of press releases that she has announced. All I can say in terms of the decisions and recommendations the Minister made is that she put into consideration a number of factors, and they included demographics of where people are going to live, damage to the buildings, damage to the land, and where the likelihood was for the best schools. I will say this: in the course of the proposals now subject to consultation, there in effect are 13 schools that will be closed in the Christchurch area; over a slightly longer period of time, there are 15 schools that will either be new or be rebuilt.

David Shearer: In light of that answer, given that intermediate schools will be closing in 10 months’ time, is he seriously suggesting that children are better off in prefabricated buildings rather than the schools that they are already in?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: What I think is true is that parents wanted certainty. What is also true is that once the decision is made—and we have got to go through a consultation process, with submissions that close on 28 March, from memory—then I think at that point, if a decision is made to close a school, it is actually highly likely that parents will start moving pupils away from those schools. So I think it does make sense to start transitioning to the new environment.

David Shearer: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. That was really a question about whether he believed that children were better off in prefab buildings rather than the schools that they are already in at the moment.

Mr SPEAKER: I think the member needs to acknowledge that the primary question he put down was a very broad question to the Prime Minister. Now he is getting into some quite specific aspects of an education announcement that should be more correctly directed to the Minister of Education. I think the Prime Minister adequately answered your question.

David Shearer: Given that on 4 September last year the Prime Minister personally said that he would read through all of the submissions from parents and schools regarding school closures, does he believe now that the prefab buildings that they will be transitioned to are a better alternative than staying where they are?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: In some cases, yes. I mean, the damage is significant. I am not at all sure all kids who will be leaving a school that is being closed in the next 10-month period will be going to prefabs, but I think what is true is you have to take a medium-term view here. Over the mediumterm, this is a Government that will be spending $1 billion in Christchurch building 15 new schools or rebuilding. In reality, he is a member of a political party that knows what it is like to close schools, because he has got the gold medallist sitting behind him, who closed 281. [Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: Order! That is certainly not a helpful comment from Mr Mallard.

David Shearer: Does he not concede that closing schools in Christchurch following a natural disaster, where kids require and rely on stability and security from their schools, is manifestly different from closing schools under the Labour Government?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: This is the logic that the Leader of the Opposition is wanting New Zealanders to believe: that on the back of a catastrophic earthquake in Christchurch that has dramatically changed the demographic patterns of where Cantabrians live, where there is huge

damage to the schools involved and where the land is substantially damaged, nothing should happen. If that is his thinking and his definition of leadership, he will remain the Leader of the Opposition until David Cunliffe finally gets the other 20 votes—

Mr SPEAKER: Order!

David Shearer: Can he have confidence in his Minister, who proposed increasing class sizes, who unlawfully closed Salisbury School, who approved the disastrous Novopay roll-out, and who has bungled in the last 5 months the Christchurch schools process?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Well, they are the views of the Leader of the Opposition. They are not my views. In fact, to paraphrase the political commentary on TV last night, I think she acquitted herself very well in Christchurch yesterday. By the way, from what I could see, today in the House it was like 100-nil to Hekia Parata, zero to Metiria Turei. You—

Mr SPEAKER: Order!

Schools, Canterbury—Proposed Closures and Mergers

4. Dr CAM CALDER (National) to the Minister of Education: In the context of the Government’s Christchurch schools announcement, what is the process going forward?

Hon HEKIA PARATA (Minister of Education): Following a 10-week consultation period with—[Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: Order! I at least want to hear the answer.

Hon HEKIA PARATA: Following a 10-week consultation period with 31 schools, yesterday I announced interim decisions that those schools now have until 28 March to make final submissions. This is in the context of our Government building 15 new schools in Christchurch over the next 10 years, which I also announced yesterday.

Dr Cam Calder: What factors has the Government taken into account during this process?

Hon HEKIA PARATA: The Ministry of Education looked at factors including earthquake damage, roll size, population movement and future growth, building issues, school locations, and what opportunities there are to create better, more modern schools. I am very aware that parents want certainty so that they can make decisions for their children, so another factor included providing that certainty while recognising that some communities will be disappointed.

Dr Cam Calder: What proportion of the school network across greater Christchurch do these proposals affect?

Hon HEKIA PARATA: There are 215 schools, of which these proposals now relate to 19. Of the almost 72,000 students, these proposals affect about 3,800 students, or just over 5 percent. But I am very aware that this is still upsetting for those families and schools, and I can assure them that they will be well supported.

Building and Construction Industry, Contracting—Insolvency

5. Hon CLAYTON COSGROVE (Labour) to the Minister for Building and Construction: Does he believe that the contracting system currently used in the construction industry works appropriately and fairly in circumstances of insolvency; if so, why?

Hon MAURICE WILLIAMSON (Minister for Building and Construction): Yes, because the Government engaged in significant consultation 2 years ago with the construction sector, including subcontractors, and concluded that a regime for security of payments would add extra costs up front to the building work and the cost of doing business, and that parties to a contract are currently free to negotiate the use of security payment measures using products that are already on the market. But having said that, the Government is still not ruling anything in or out. It is considering any changes being proposed, but they must be based on good evidence.

Hon Clayton Cosgrove: Given that answer, what specific changes, if any, is the Government proposing to the contracting system in the construction industry to ensure that subcontractors are paid the money they are owed for work they have done?

Hon MAURICE WILLIAMSON: Well, I think a little bit of history would be worthwhile here. There was a Wages Protection and Contractors’ Liens Act in place. The Labour Government in 1987 got rid of that. Then, in 2001, when the fourth-biggest construction company in New Zealand, a company called Hartner Construction, went into receivership and “subbies” did not get paid, the Labour Government said it did not believe there were measures the Government needed to take to ensure—remember, the fourth-biggest construction company, as was Mainzeal Property and Construction; a very good mirror to that. So what I am saying to that member—because I have heard Labour even referring to New South Wales; there is only a proposal in New South Wales at present, and the New South Wales Government has not yet decided whether it will proceed on it— is that we will not rule anything in and we will not rule anything out. It would have to be based on evidence before the Government would change things.

Hon Clayton Cosgrove: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Well, the 1987 decision was wrong.

Mr SPEAKER: What is the point of order?

Hon Clayton Cosgrove: The point of order is this: I asked a specific question around changes. He said there were proposed changes. I asked what changes were being considered. We did get a detailed history lesson, but we did not get any specificity to the answer. I asked what were the proposed—

Mr SPEAKER: Because at this stage the Minister on two occasions has said—[Interruption] Sorry?

Hon Clayton Cosgrove: Isn’t that for the Minister to clarify?

Mr SPEAKER: No. You raised with me a point of order about whether the question has been satisfactorily answered, and the question was about what specific changes the Government is considering. The Minister categorically said it would not rule anything in and it would not rule anything out at this stage. I think he has adequately answered your question.

Hon Clayton Cosgrove: Does the Minister agree with Phil McConchie, co-owner of scaffolding and propping business Camelspace, which had $1 million of gear on the twin tower Hobson Gardens site, and who estimates losses of $300,000, when he predicted on 13 February that a big group of subcontractors could fail in the next month, causing widespread damage to the building sector; and, if he does agree that that is a distinct possibility, given the Mainzeal collapse, does he not think he ought to be proactively pursuing options to futureproof contracting arrangements for “subbies”, ensuring that they do get paid money they have earned?

Hon MAURICE WILLIAMSON: No, I do not accept some of those claims that were quoted by the member. What I can tell that member is that in 2009 the Hon Lianne Dalziel and Brendon Burns came to me as Minister and said they were concerned about this issue. So I put out a very extensive—here it is—consultation document, which was circulated throughout the entire industry, with submissions from the Construction Industry Council, from subcontractors’ federations, and so on. The total and unanimous conclusion of all that work was that there are methods in the system right now, where you can get the protection if you wish it, and that going to a mandatory system would not work. So I say to the honourable member: “I’ll show you mine—you show me yours.”

Hon Clayton Cosgrove: [Interruption] Hold on, help is on the way.

Mr SPEAKER: Order!

Hon Clayton Cosgrove: Given his personal expertise in the subcontracting industry, in that he is currently a director of the subcontracting firm Holyoake Industries, has he sought any advice from his former boss, and former Prime Minister Dame Jenny Shipley, a former director of Mainzeal Property and Construction, on the reasons behind the Mainzeal collapse and its impacts on the subcontracting industry; if not, why not? [Interruption] And the nasty thing is some contractors—

Mr SPEAKER: Order!

Hon MAURICE WILLIAMSON: First, can I clarify that Holyoake Industries is neither a contractor nor a subcontractor in the building and construction sector—

Hon Clayton Cosgrove: Well, you’d know.

Hon MAURICE WILLIAMSON: Yes, I would know. Secondly, no, I have had no discussions on this matter with the Hon Jenny Shipley.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Why is someone who so blindly supported the removal of sound building materials, practices, and regulations, leading to tens of thousands of leaky homes and buildings, the Minister for Building and Construction today?

Hon MAURICE WILLIAMSON: Well, I presume you mean me because I am the Minister for Building and Construction today. I would like to know what changes to building materials regulations I supported. I assume the member is talking about the decision by Standards New Zealand, an independent body, in 1995 to allow non-treated timber in the building of housing, and I say to that member, did he expect somebody who was not involved in the portfolio then to now tell an independent organisation like Standards New Zealand that it is not to do that? Because if that is what he is suggesting, I would not have done it.

Christchurch, Recovery—Central Business District Recovery Plan

6. NICKY WAGNER (National—Christchurch Central) to the Minister for Canterbury

Earthquake Recovery: What progress is being made on making the Christchurch city centre safe for rebuilding?

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE (Minister for Canterbury Earthquake Recovery): To date, 941 buildings have been either demolished or made safe. This has been achieved with a very good safety record, with a very low incidence of workplace injury and no deaths. Last Friday I officially renamed the cordoned-off area the Christchurch Central Business District Rebuild Zone, in recognition of the fact that there are now more workers engaged in construction than deconstruction—[Interruption] I can understand the excitement of the Labour members. Even though it has been 2 years of them telling us we are doing it all wrong, they have now finally realised what a great job we have done.

Nicky Wagner: What progress will be made towards fully opening the city centre to the public?

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: There are still 48 full demolitions to be carried out in the central business district, and 32 partial demolitions. There may be other buildings that will be demolished, but the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority believes that it has completed over 90 percent of the demolition project. Most of the larger buildings will be down by the middle of this year. As the New Zealand Defence Force will soon withdraw from the cordon after 2 years of outstanding service, we would expect the cordon will be removed by the middle of this year.

Nicky Wagner: What efforts have been made to deal with the rubble and waste created by that demolition in the city?

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: The demolition of such a tremendous number of buildings has, naturally, generated a great deal of rubble. Recycling efforts have been extraordinary, with recovery rates as high as 96 percent for some buildings, like the former Crowne Plaza Hotel. Overall, about 90 percent of materials from the central business district have been recycled. In addition, heavy rubble has been used to reclaim an area of Lyttelton Harbour, to allow for the reconstruction and expansion of the port. Some thousands of tonnes was also used in the construction of the Christchurch Southern Motorway. It has been a very successful project from that point of view.

New Zealand Defence Force Personnel—Afghanistan

7. IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY (Labour—Palmerston North) to the Prime Minister: Does he stand by all his statements on withdrawing troops from Afghanistan?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): Yes.

Iain Lees-Galloway: When he told New Zealanders that our troops would be out of Afghanistan by 2014, was he already planning to break that promise?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Well, that will probably prove to be correct. What we announced yesterday was a continuation of what we have seen, which is the provisional reconstruction team will be disbanded—it will be out by April-May of this year—the SAS has gone home; and we have agreed that there will be 27 New Zealand Defence Force officers who are there for a further year, that is, to about the middle of 2014. We will assess that situation at that point then. But I think it makes sense to have those people in behind the wire rolls, supporting a smooth transition to the Afghan Government.

Iain Lees-Galloway: When was he asked to deploy New Zealand troops on the new mission that he announced yesterday, and who made that request?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I would not say it is a new deployment, because some of those people are already in similar types of roles. There are eight people, for instance, New Zealand Defence Force staff, who are in Sandhurst in the sand training officers, so it is not necessarily new. In fact, the logistics and intelligence role played by the three SAS people again is already happening at the moment, but the basis of their mandate is changing. I cannot tell you the exact date when there were discussions between the Minister of Defence and his counterparts and the Minister of Foreign Affairs and his counterparts, but that would have happened some time over the last 12 months. The Minister of Defence is away at an International Security Assistance Force NATO meeting at the moment. Those things are under discussion all the time.

Iain Lees-Galloway: Can he confirm to the House whether or not the United States Government requested troops to be deployed in Kabul following the withdrawal of the provisional reconstruction team in Bamian?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No, and I would not say troops are being deployed in Kabul. What I would say is that there are 27 people who are working in a different variety of operational roles. Some will be in Kabul, but they are largely—well, they are all behind the wire and they are largely in staff officer, intelligence, or training-type roles.

Science and Research Funding—Focus

8. TIM MACINDOE (National—Hamilton West) to the Minister of Science and Innovation: How is the Government focussing New Zealand’s science funding investment, and encouraging Kiwis to get involved in science?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister of Science and Innovation): The Government has set up New Zealand’s national science challenges to address the biggest long-term strategic science issues that New Zealand faces. Yesterday the peak panel of eminent scientists, led by the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor, Sir Peter Gluckman, met for the first time to start sifting all the ideas and proposals received from the science community and the public into 10 or 12 challenges to recommend to Cabinet for approval. The national science challenges will receive $60 million of dedicated funding, and will also help focus our overall investment of mission-led science funding on solving these key challenges.

Tim Macindoe: How much input has been received from the public and from the science community?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: There has been very, very significant input, which is very heartening, from both the public and the science community. For example, the engagement process has resulted in around 2,500 Facebook comments, 138 unique submissions from the public, and 223 submissions from the science community. There are eight sample challenges on the challenges website, which attracted just under 5,000 votes, the most popular of which were on the subject of fighting disease and New Zealand’s biodiversity, followed by projects around the productivity of our land and the quality of our fresh water.

Prime Minister—Statements

9. 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: In light of his statement that he is not losing any sleep over the Auditor- General’s report, can he confirm that he personally attended the dinner with Skycity on 4 November 2009, and that he personally instructed officials to stop their normal work on the tender process; if so, are the officials responsible for his personal actions or is he?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I do not think the member is actually representing the report accurately. I certainly went to dinner on 4 November, but let me go through the Office of the Auditor-General report, which says: “The main question underlying this inquiry was whether the Government’s decisions to negotiate with SkyCity had been influenced by inappropriate considerations,”—

Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. It was a very specific question. It did not ask for general lines in the Office of the Auditor-General report. It was a detailed question, and the Prime Minister showed no intention of getting close to it.

Hon Gerry Brownlee: I think it is interesting to note that the primary question asked the Prime Minister whether he stood by all his statements. To then go on and ask him about when he attended a dinner or did not seems to be wildly away from statements he has made. The fact is that the material facts of that matter are in the report.

Mr SPEAKER: My difficulty with the answer, frankly, is that I could not hear it because of the noise that was coming from the Labour benches. I am going to ask the Leader of the Opposition to re-ask the question. The Prime Minister is quite within order to say whether it is specific enough. He does not have that information. The member may ask the question again, but I would like to have the ability to hear the answer in some degree of silence within the House.

David Shearer: In light of his statement that he is not losing any sleep over the Auditor- General’s report, can he confirm that he personally attended the dinner with Skycity on 4 November 2009, and that he personally instructed officials to stop their normal work on the tender process; if so, are the officials responsible for his personal actions or is he?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Yes, I attended the dinner, and, no, I did not ask them to stop any tendering process. As I said before I was interrupted, the main underlying question of the report was “whether the Government’s decision to negotiate with SkyCity had been influenced by inappropriate considerations, such as connections between political and business leaders.”

David Shearer: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. He answered the question. We do not need a long, rambling explanation.

Mr SPEAKER: I think the Prime Minister has very satisfactorily answered the question. If the member does not want any further answer to that question, that is OK.

David Shearer: Can he explain the Deputy Auditor-General’s comments that “The meetings and discussion between the Government representatives and SkyCity were materially different in quantity and kind from those between the Government and the other parties …”?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Again, the report needs to be read in context. What the Auditor-General makes quite clear in her report is that there was nothing inappropriate—in fact, it was quite normal that the Government and Skycity and others would have discussions. The nature of those discussions was always going to be different, because of different proposals that were there. The Auditor-General actually supports that because she says it is an unusual process. And, as I said, she herself says: “We have seen no evidence to suggest that the final decision to negotiate with SkyCity was influenced by any inappropriate considerations.”, which is total vindication. We did nothing wrong.

David Shearer: In light of this last answer, can the Prime Minister explain the Deputy Auditor- General’s comment that “We do not consider that the evaluation process was transparent or evenhanded.”?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: The Deputy Auditor-General makes it quite clear in the report that she has some procedural issues, but no substantive issues whatsoever. She says there was no different conclusion that would be drawn, and goes on to say: “We have seen no evidence to suggest that the final decision to negotiate with SkyCity was influenced by any inappropriate considerations.” She also says at length in the report that this was not a normal procurement and that, in fact, the Government would always be looking for innovative and creative ways of doing things.

David Shearer: Why did Skycity send designs for a 5,000-seat centre directly to the Prime Minister’s office after a 4 November 2009 dinner meeting between the Prime Minister and Skycity?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: People send proposals all the time to our office. And the Auditor-General says in her report that it is absolutely, totally appropriate that Government Ministers and organisations would have discussions. What then follows is an expressions of interest process, and that process followed.

David Shearer: Do these meetings that he held with Skycity, as the Deputy Auditor-General’s report alleges, represent an unfair advantage to Skycity, or not?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: The Auditor-General notes there was no substantial advantage. What she says is there are some procedural issues around an unusual and bespoke different way of procurement. She also says that is quite normal in the environment we are in, and fundamentally there were no substantive issues. I also note, and I should say, that the other participants who put in bids said themselves that they were not worried, not concerned. Then she goes on to say that there were substantial advantages that supported the Skycity deal.

Support for Volunteering Fund—Announcements

10. ALFRED NGARO (National) to the Minister for the Community and Voluntary Sector: What recent announcements has she made regarding government support for volunteering?

Hon JO GOODHEW (Minister for the Community and Voluntary Sector): I recently announced that the new funding round for the Support for Volunteering Fund is now open. The Support for Volunteering Fund provides over $500,000 each year to projects and organisations that promote and support volunteering in New Zealand and build volunteering capacity and capabilities. The fund is split between funding for Volunteering New Zealand, regional volunteer centres, and community projects.

Alfred Ngaro: What is the focus for the current funding round?

Hon JO GOODHEW: The focus for the current funding round is Māori, Pacific, and ethnic community projects. We are particularly looking to fund projects promoting information sharing, networking, and development of resources that support volunteering in these communities, projects responding to specific cultural values and needs, and projects encouraging, recognising, and promoting volunteers as community leaders. Community advisors in Department of Internal Affairs offices across the country are available to help with applications, and I encourage interested groups to get in touch with them.

Hawke’s Bay Regional Council—Debt Forecasts

11. EUGENIE SAGE (Green) to the Minister of Local Government: Does he have any concerns about the Hawke’s Bay Regional Council’s forecast of 530 percent increase in its debt by 2021/22?

Hon CHRIS TREMAIN (Minister of Local Government): No, I have received no complaints from ratepayers about the council’s long-term planning. As the member will be aware, the debt level of any council needs to be assessed against the whole of the council’s balance sheet, including the assets being funded from the debt and the impact the debt has on that council’s ratepayers. In the case of the Hawke’s Bay Regional Council, while projected debt increases by $80 million over the period to 2021, equity increases by $154 million—that is $154 million. That is good economics in my book.

Eugenie Sage: How does the largest percentage change in a council’s forecast debt in New Zealand, to help that council spend $107 million on new dam and irrigation projects, fit with Government policy that councils should focus on core services and rein in their debt?

Hon CHRIS TREMAIN: That fits very closely with the Government’s policy. Meeting the needs of the community through good quality infrastructure is a key part of the council’s role. In addition, this initiative brings huge jobs growth for the province of Hawke’s Bay—26,000 hectares of additional irrigable land and $250 million to $300 million in additional exports. At the time that the Greens are looking for increased wages, they are against every initiative in this House that we bring to actually grow wages and job growth.

Eugenie Sage: Is not the Hawke’s Bay Regional Council’s role as an independent environmental manager severely compromised by its spending so much on damming rivers, and seconding its chief executive and seven key staff to work on dam and irrigation projects, such as the Ruataniwha Water Storage scheme?

Hon CHRIS TREMAIN: No. The Greens forget that this scheme actually is very good for the environment. The Tukituki River stands to gain significantly from increased water flow as a result of shifting the take from the aquifer to the dam. That is good for the environment. It also means that we have excellent export growth—another $250 million to $350 million. Once again the Greens are against any good idea that promotes job growth.

Eugenie Sage: Is it a conflict of interest for a regional council to both develop the Resource Management Act policies and rules for land and water management, such as the Tukituki plan change, and to spend $107 million on proposed dam and irrigation schemes that are subject to those policies and rules?

Hon CHRIS TREMAIN: The regional council has consulted widely with the community, including with its long-term plan. At the same time, it has taken account of the huge environmental gains from this project, particularly the Tukituki River increased flow, which the Greens have actually been against as well. You cannot have your cake and eat it too.

Hon Annette King: Does the Minister support a proposal to amalgamate Napier and Hastings district councils with the regional council; if so, why?

Hon CHRIS TREMAIN: My colours, as the local MP, have been firmly stapled to the mast. I have been in favour of a reorganisation of that area. Now, as the Minister of Local Government, I will be taking a back seat from that campaign and making sure that the Local Government Commission plays an independent role in this process.

Health, Associate Minister—Confidence

12. Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First) to the Prime Minister: Does he still have confidence in the Associate Minister of Health; if so, why?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): I have confidence in all three Associate Ministers of Health because they are working hard for a brighter future for all New Zealanders.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: In respect of Mrs Tariana Turia, how can he have confidence in this Associate Minister of Health given that she has paid $7.6 million in public money to traditional Māori healers over the last 4 years without being able to provide a shred of evidence that the treatment works?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I do not believe that to be correct in so much as the contracts are regularly monitored by the Ministry of Health, most providers provide reports against those contracts every 6 months, the contracted providers are also audited by the ministry through a mix of desk-based audits and visits, and, if we look at the number of people who have received those services over that period of time, in broad terms it adds up to a touch over 50,000 individuals.

Mr SPEAKER: The right honourable Prime Minister, supplementary question. Sorry, the Rt Hon Winston Peters, supplementary question.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I always thought you were a soothsayer. How can the Prime Minister support a policy that sees the taxpayer forking out $130 per client contact for something that the practitioners say may be no more than a service such as, to use their words, “as simple as a smile”?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I think what the member is referring to is rongoā services, which are used by clients for a number of different reasons but are in line with Māori culture. They can include everything from therapy right through to massage. In fact, that is not unique to Māori. We also provide significant funding for chaplaincy services, and I assume the member is not telling New Zealanders that he thinks that when someone is potentially on their deathbed in a hospital, they should not receive the support that they might receive from a chaplain, in their final days.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Given that the chaplaincy service has nothing to do with it whatsoever, is rongoā Māori receiving millions while every other alternative provider has been shut out of this process, or is Mrs Turia’s excuse for rongoā Māori not being held to the same scientific standards as other medical procedures because, to use her words, “It is more of a spiritual thing …”, not just plain, unadulterated, racial discrimination?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: So it is important that we understand what the member is talking about. He is talking about the expenditure of $1.9 million out of a budget per year, out of an annual expenditure, of about $14.5 billion. We are talking about, in 2010-11, 19,378 people around the country receiving support that may have been mental and spiritual in nature, very akin to chaplaincy services. So the member gets into the House—

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I think I have given him a long enough time to answer my question, which was: are these two examples of alternative providers being shut out, and that it is a spiritual thing as an explanation, not just plain, unadulterated racial discrimination? That is the question I am asking him. He might not like to answer it but he has got to address that question.

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I am quite happy to answer it. These are services paid for by the Government that have, as part of them, that they are spiritual services—that is quite correct. They provide support for people in need. Anyone can access it if they choose to. And, by the way, the member is not on his feet talking about chaplain services, because he knows that would offend his base, but he is quite happy to attack the spiritual—

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Again, I have asked him the question as to why it is not racial discrimination. He is putting up the chaplaincy services as a rather weak point, because we financed $500,000 last time I was a Minister.

Mr SPEAKER: Order! The Prime Minister has answered that. He said it was not racial discrimination in his opinion. It was delivering it to New Zealanders in need. Have you further supplementary questions?

Rt Hon Winston Peters: No, that’s it.

QUESTIONS TO MEMBERS

Marriage (Definition of Marriage) Amendment Bill—Submissions Received

Mr SPEAKER: We move now to questions to members, in the name of Le’aufa’amulia Asenati Lole-Taylor.

Le’aufa’amulia ASENATI LOLE-TAYLOR (NZ First): Thank you, Mr Speaker. I shall give that effort for the pronunciation of my name, say, five out of 10, but I am sure by next time it will be 9¾.

Mr SPEAKER: Ask the question, please.

1. Le’aufa’amulia ASENATI LOLE-TAYLOR (NZ First) to the Chairperson of the

Government Administration Committee: How many submissions have been received on the Marriage (Definition of Marriage) Amendment Bill?

Hon RUTH DYSON (Chairperson of the Government Administration Committee): The committee has received 18,635 form submissions and 2,898 unique submissions, totalling 21,533 submissions altogether. In addition to those, six were returned because of inappropriate comment.

Le’aufa’amulia Asenati Lole-Taylor: Has she received any reports regarding submissions from any of the 200 people denied the opportunity to make oral submissions?

Hon RUTH DYSON: Yes.

ENDS

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