Questions and Answers - March 12
QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS
State-owned Assets, Sales—Public Support
1. Dr RUSSEL NORMAN (Co-Leader—Green) to the Prime Minister: Does he stand by his statement that “I think we got a mandate” for asset sales at the last election, given a majority of New Zealanders voted for parties that opposed his Government’s asset sales policy?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Acting Prime Minister): Yes, and the Prime Minister stands by his full statement where he said: “An election campaign is all about the contest of ideas. One of the most hotly debated issues was the mixed ownership model and the contrast between that and increasing New Zealand’s debt. And in Government we lifted our party vote.” In respect of majorities, there is one majority that matters in Government and that is the majority in this House.
Dr Russel Norman: Is he comfortable for that majority to rely on the discredited vote of John Banks?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The Government is comfortable with a majority based on the duly elected members of the Parliament. I know that the Greens do not respect the parliamentary majority or the election result, but the rest of New Zealand does.
Dr Russel Norman: How can he claim a mandate to sell our assets when the majority of New Zealanders voted at the last election for parties opposed to asset sales, and the vast majority of New Zealanders continue to oppose asset sales in every poll on the issue?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: As has been said in this House many times before, the National Government laid out in detail at the start of 2011 its programme for the partial sell-down of Government companies. That was debated vigorously, including by that member, right through election year. In fact, the dominant issue of the election campaign was asset sales. Every New Zealander had the opportunity to decide what weight to give that issue in their vote. The result of the vote was a majority in this House for a Government that had pledged to carry out that plan, and now we are doing what we said we would do.
Louise Upston: How many New Zealanders have pre-registered to apply for shares in the first partial share float in the Government’s share programme, and over what period has that been achieved?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: As of early this afternoon the number of New Zealanders who have preregistered to apply for shares in Mighty River Power has reached more than 290,000—more than 290,000—signatures, which is in 1 week a bit short of the number achieved in a year with paid parliamentary staff bailing up schoolchildren for the petition that is now put before the House.
Dr Russel Norman: Does the Prime Minister deny that 51 percent of the votes cast at the last election were cast in favour of parties opposed to asset sales?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: No, the Prime Minister asserts that the result of the election was that a party that laid out its plans in detail and allowed 10 or 11 months of intensive debate, including a
whole election campaign based around asset sales, was duly elected as the Government of New Zealand, and in a contest of mandates—his dodgy petition or the voice of the people—we go for the voice of the people.
Dr Russel Norman: Given his acknowledgment that asset sales require a mandate from the public, will his Government pledge not to sell any assets until that mandate can be unequivocally and directly tested in the coming referendum?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: No, the Government will stick to its plans. That member just needs to accept that with a whole year to debate this issue with New Zealanders and allow them to make up their own minds and express that through the ballot box, he happened to lose the argument, because people took this issue not on its own but in the whole of economic management, of their aspirations for New Zealanders, and of their fear of debt in a global financial crisis. He simply lost the argument, and the Government is going to continue with its plans.
Louise Upston: If the Government did not reorganise taxpayers’ assets through the share offer programme, what alternative approaches would it have to pay for new assets?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The member is quite right that it is reorganising the assets. We will sell shares and, in return for those shares, obtain cash—actually, somewhere between $5 billion and $7 billion cash. If we did not do that, we would have to borrow the money from volatile global financial markets, pushing up New Zealand’s debt, or, of course, we could pay for new assets by printing money, which, I think, is what Opposition parties are advocating.
Dr Russel Norman: Is it not the case that Treasury in its Budget Policy Statement stated that the net cost to the taxpayer of the asset sales programme was $441 million over 5 years, and on top of that there is another $100 million cost in running the asset sale programme, so the total cost to the taxpayer of his petty little policy is over half a billion dollars?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: As we have pointed out before in the House in respect of those estimates, first there are a number of different ways of measuring the impact over 4 years. Some of them show the Government a bit ahead and some of them show it a bit behind. But all those measures are based on an assumption that these businesses would continue to make the profits they have made and pay the dividends they have paid. As we have learnt from Solid Energy, those assumptions can be blown away by the reality of the market and commercial pressures. So the Government is reducing its exposure to risky commercial businesses, and is deploying the money it gets from that into long-term social assets.
Dr Russel Norman: Does the Prime Minister have so little respect for the people of New Zealand that he will casually dismiss the 393,000 Kiwis who have signed the Keep Our Assets petition as children, tourists, and dodgy, and continue with this disrespectful attitude once the petition has been certified as legitimate by the Clerk of the House?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The Government had sufficient confidence in New Zealanders to lay out its plans in detail. I recall at the time Opposition parties saying that the Government would certainly lose the election because it had laid out its plans for asset sales. New Zealanders had the full opportunity to debate the issue, and then there was an election. In respect of the petition process, the petition process belongs to Parliament, and of course that process will be respected. Parliament has a petition process and people can express their point of view, but, as the member knows, Parliament has also said those referenda are not binding.
Dr Russel Norman: Does he agree with Bill English that National would like to sell Kiwibank “eventually, but not now”, in the words of Bill English, and does this not show that National’s asset sales agenda does not end here—it wants to privatise more?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I can confirm that, no, the Prime Minister did not agree with that statement by Bill English, and he made it pretty plain at the time. The Government’s asset sales programme has been set out in detail. We have started a series of floats of the companies that have been listed by the Government, and when those are completed the programme will be finished.
Dr Russel Norman: Does he agree that the question in the petition, in the referendum, which is “Do you support the Government selling up to 49% of Meridian Energy, Mighty River Power, Genesis Power, Solid Energy and Air New Zealand?”, accurately and neutrally states the policy choice facing New Zealanders?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Yes. In so far as it addresses the sale of those companies, it does, in exactly the same way that the Government set out accurately and in precisely those terms its plans at the beginning of election year 2011. New Zealanders had the opportunity not just to consider it as a single-issue vehicle for Opposition parties but to consider it as part of the overall management of the economy through some pretty difficult times. On balance, they voted sufficiently for a group of parties that were able to come together to form a majority Government. In a democracy that is the true test of a mandate, and we passed it.
Economy—Impact of Drought
2. MIKE SABIN (National—Northland) to the Minister of Finance: What impact is the current drought likely to have on the economy?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): Well, clearly, the longer the drought goes on and the more widespread it becomes, the greater the impact will be. We are beginning to see a decline in milk production—in fact, a sharp decline in some areas—and farmers are considering slaughtering capital stock, which will result in lower future production and reduced revenue for farmers. This may flow through to a negative effect on GDP compared with our most recent forecasts. However, there are some factors that may offset that, such as the increase in prices, particularly for dairy products, and the fact that up until the drought began we had a strong production season for milk production. Thirdly, the production in the South Island will continue to partially offset decreases in the north. So we know the drought will peg back growth in the economy, but it is not yet clear by how much.
Mike Sabin: What help is the Government offering farmers who are affected by the drought?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: In this context the Government is mindful that many parts of the economy and many households and businesses have had to adapt their circumstances because we have had harder times, and the same will apply to farmers. There is some Government assistance, however. Once drought has been declared, extra funding is made available to coordinate the local rural support trust, which provide primarily moral rather than financial support; the Inland Revenue Department has the capacity to extend flexibility to farmers on a case by case basis to assist them with smoothing their tax payments; and in extreme cases rural assistance payments are available at the equivalent rate to the unemployment benefit. This is a package of measures actually put together by the previous Government for dealing with floods and droughts, and we believe that it is appropriate in the circumstances.
Hon David Parker: Does the Government still intend to be back in surplus in the 2014-15 year?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Yes.
Mike Sabin: How can the Government support farmers if there are long-term changes in weather patterns?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: It certainly cannot do it through financial means that are aimed to support those in extreme hardship for a short period of time. In the long run, farmers would have to adapt to changes in weather patterns, as they have before. New Zealand has been through cycles of wet summers and dry summers over the last three or four decades. Where the most direct Government assistance comes in is through its funding of research and development and through the Primary Growth Partnership, which looks into improved production and into better drought management.
Mike Sabin: How does the drought affect the Government’s plan to return to surplus in 2014- 15?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: It remains the Government’s target to return to surplus in 2014-15. There is no doubt, though, that a drought is likely to have some negative impact and make that task a bit harder. Treasury will be incorporating its view of the future impact of the drought into forecasts as we go into the Budget, and the Government will take that into account in making its spending decisions.
State Owned Enterprises, Minister—Confidence
3. DAVID SHEARER (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does he have confidence in the Minister for State Owned Enterprises?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Acting Prime Minister): Yes, he is a hard-working and competent Minister.
David Shearer: When did his Minister for State Owned Enterprises first inform him that the falling coal prices were having a serious effect on Solid Energy and that the company was in financial difficulty?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The Minister for State Owned Enterprises would have been involved in the initiation of the scoping study into Solid Energy, along with the other State-owned enterprises, at the beginning of 2011, just after he became the Minister for State Owned Enterprises. He would have received that report, which highlighted some concerns about Solid Energy, at the same time as the Prime Minister did during 2011.
David Shearer: Why did the Government show a book value of $3.5 billion for Solid Energy in November 2010, when earlier it had been independently valued by Macquarie and Forsyth Barr at $1.7 billion and $1.6 billion, respectively?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The valuation of the company, as I understand it, was finally determined by the board, and that was the board’s valuation. As it has turned out, that was based on assumptions about both the coal price and the company’s investments into alternative energy— assumptions that did not eventuate.
David Shearer: Did either of the shareholding Ministers advise him on the scoping report received 3 weeks before the 2011 election, which highlighted Solid Energy’s financial problems; if so, why was that information not made public?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The Minister would certainly have brought that report to the attention of the Prime Minister—in fact, it had been discussed throughout 2011, well before there was any drop in the coal price. The scoping studies were not made public because they were commercially confidential documents. I might say, at the time, the Opposition was criticising the Government on the basis that it was going to be ripping these places apart by applying commercial principles; now it is saying that we were not commercial enough.
David Shearer: Why was the Government continuing to pretend publicly that all was rosy at Solid Energy while preparing it for sale, when Ministers knew it was actually in financial trouble?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Because that is not correct. The sequence of events is that the scoping study highlighted a number of areas of concern with Solid Energy, later in 2012 those concerns turned into pretty obvious vulnerabilities when the coal price dropped significantly, and then Solid Energy lost 25 percent of its export market. The Government was working with the board on these issues well before there was any question of Solid Energy’s financial viability.
David Shearer: Why was the Government battling the Solid Energy board for 18 months to stop it selling part of Solid Energy overseas, as the Prime Minister said just a few hours ago, when that is exactly what the Government is planning to do when it floats it on the Australian Securities Exchange?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: What the Government was doing was contesting with the board its opinions and views about the direction of the company, its opinions about the future track for the coal price, and its opinions about the success of the alternative energy investments that it was pushed into by the previous Labour Government.
Children, State Care—Results for Gateway Assessments
4. Hon PHIL HEATLEY (National—Whangarei) to the Minister for Social Development: What results have the Government’s Gateway Assessments for children in care had to date?
Hon PAULA BENNETT (Minister for Social Development): Under Budget 2011 we established gateway assessments for children who are in State care. Gateway assesses the child’s health, mental health, and educational needs, and we are picking up issues not ever before diagnosed. Almost 1,700 children in care have now been assessed, with an average of more than three needs per child picked up. The most frequent health needs identified so far are 51 percent had emotional, behavioural, or mental health needs, 26 percent had dental issues, 15 percent had developmental delay, 14 percent had skin problems, and 13 percent had speech and language problems.
Hon Phil Heatley: What examples have there been that show gateway assessments are making a difference?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: There are many examples of how this investment in our most vulnerable children is making a difference, but one is that five children have received heart surgery following gateway assessments that picked up heart defects, and they are now receiving ongoing treatment. That was not picked up before these assessments were done. Another example is a child who was found with untreated club foot, and they received orthopaedic surgery and, 12 months later, are now able to walk. Children in care have had it tough enough, before you add unidentified developmental delay, mental health, and health problems to a toxic background of abuse and neglect. We are doing something tangible to improve those odds.
Hon Phil Heatley: How is the Children in Care package ensuring better outcomes for these children?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: This is not about just finding and fixing problems; it is also about getting ahead of them. As part of the package we funded some early childhood education places for 18-month-olds to 3-year-olds. Around 230 children in care are receiving early childhood education as a result of this initiative, improving their chances and addressing developmental and learning delays, and also—importantly, I think—giving those people the chance that they need to have a bit of a break as well.
Solid Energy—Chief Executive
5. Hon CLAYTON COSGROVE (Labour) to the Minister for State Owned Enterprises: Does he stand by his statement “There was no change to Dr Elder’s pay or entitlements. Therefore, there was no effect on what his contractual arrangements would be during the changes to his employment”; if so, why?
Hon TONY RYALL (Minister for State Owned Enterprises): Within context, yes, because that is the advice I have received from both Mr Palmer and Mr Ford.
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: Why does he continue to claim that Dr Elder got nothing from the contract extension signed by the outgoing chair on 31 August 2012 when the so-called “transitional arrangements”, where Dr Elder is being paid to stay at home for 2 months, is nothing more than a rebranded golden handshake?
Hon TONY RYALL: Because the advice that I have received from Mr Palmer and Mr Ford— which I have given to that member on at least, I think, four or five occasions—is that there were no changes to Mr Elder’s pay and entitlements as a result of the contract being updated at the end of August.
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: On what date did he first become aware that Dr Elder was being paid to stay at home as part of the so-called “transitional arrangements” he had with Solid Energy?
Hon TONY RYALL: I think it would have been at around about the time of the announcement of Mr Elder’s retirement that Mr Ford would have informed me that Mr Elder was moving on and that he would be remaining available to the company for a period of time.
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: After Dr Elder’s mediation meeting on 8 February 2013 and after the exit package was signed off on 11 February 2013, did he, as Minister, inquire as to whether Dr Elder was to receive any additional remuneration—maybe without asking for the quantum—such as being paid to stay at home for 2 months; if not, why not?
Hon TONY RYALL: Well, I think this is probably the third or fourth time I would have answered this question, and the advice that I received from Mr Ford is that Dr Elder received all the entitlements he was entitled to under his contractual arrangements.
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: After battling with the board of Solid Energy for over 18 months, as has been alluded to by his Minister of Finance, why did the Minister not invoke section 13 of the State-Owned Enterprises Act where, via the statement of corporate intent, he could have proactively directed the board?
Hon TONY RYALL: What is clear is that when Ministers became aware of issues around the performance of Solid Energy and the likely risk into the future, identified in the scoping study, we took action. We discussed that with the board as the changes that needed to be made. There has been a new board and a new chair put in place. What I will say is while we were discussing that with the board of Solid Energy, that company did confront some very difficult decisions that had to be made with respect to the head office of Spring Creek Mine, and that party opposite opposed every single step—
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I asked the member a very short and straight question, which was why he did not, after 18 months, choose to invoke section 13. He did go anywhere near that.
Mr SPEAKER: And the question was certainly adequately answered. I guess the last part was not helpful to the order of the House.
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: Will he be willing to appear before the Commerce Committee to discuss his role as shareholding Minister of Solid Energy, either voluntarily, by invitation, or as part of a select committee of inquiry; if not, why not?
Hon TONY RYALL: I await to see whether the committee invites me to do so, but—
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I asked whether he would be willing, under a series of circumstances, by invitation, voluntarily—
Mr SPEAKER: And the answer—
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: —and the answer is he is either willing or he is not willing, not whether he will wait—
Mr SPEAKER: No, the answer says that he is prepared to consider it when he has got an invitation.
Oil and Gas Exploration and Extraction—East Coast
6. JONATHAN YOUNG (National—New Plymouth) to the Minister of Energy and
Resources: What can he report on potential oil and gas development in the North Island’s East Coast?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES (Minister of Energy and Resources): Last week Minister Joyce and I launched the East Coast Oil and Gas Development Study in Napier. This joint local - central government study highlights the potential of developing an onshore oil and gas industry on the East Coast. The study is about stimulating informed discussion between Government, councils, community, local iwi, and industry about the opportunities that could lie ahead in the region. I would like to thank the eight councils that partnered with the Government in undertaking this valuable study.
Jonathan Young: What are the—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member has every right to ask his supplementary question.
Jonathan Young: Thank you, Mr Speaker. What are the potential opportunities for the region and the nation if such development were to eventuate?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: If development went ahead, this could mean up to 2,300 jobs in the region, potentially growing over time to the levels of more than 5,000 currently in the Taranaki region. In terms of wider benefits to the country, we need only to again look to Taranaki where oil and gas operations contribute $2 billion to our annual GDP. Development of New Zealand’s oil, gas, and minerals resources is part of our balanced approach to energy resources.
Immigration—Parent Category Numbers
7. DENIS O’ROURKE (NZ First) to the Minister of Immigration: Is the Government planning to reduce the numbers in the Immigration New Zealand Parent Category?
Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE (Minister of Immigration): No. There is a cap of around 5,000 places per year for the parent category, which is about the same as it was under the New Zealand First - Labour Government. To ensure the best return for New Zealand from this policy—
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I know that this member has been here about 5 minutes, but there was no such thing as a New Zealand First - Labour Government.
Mr SPEAKER: I am sorry, I cannot even hear the point of order.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I know that this member has been in this House for about 5 minutes, but there never was a New Zealand First - Labour Government. You know that.
Mr SPEAKER: And that is not a point of order. The member can continue his answer.
Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE: To ensure the best return for New Zealand from this policy, last year we made changes to give priority to migrants who can make a real contribution to New Zealand, which we expect to lead to significant savings for the taxpayer and contribute to the Government’s Business Growth Agenda.
Denis O’Rourke: In the 2011-12 immigration statistics, why were parent category immigrants from China more than 120 percent of Chinese skilled immigrants, when every other country did not exceed 24 percent of parents to skilled immigrants?
Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE: This Government is colour-blind and not designed to favour any nationality over another. We are interested in how these people can contribute to New Zealand, not—
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The question is very exact. It asks for an explanation—
Mr SPEAKER: And the member is attempting to answer it. Would the member please allow the question to be answered so that I can listen to the quality of the answer.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Well, I hope you are looking out for an answer on the percentages. That is what we are interested in.
Mr SPEAKER: Then we will hear the answer from the Minister.
Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE: Everybody who came in under those categories qualified to do so.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Seeing as you leapt to his defence in the answer, which part of that reply was the answer to the question that was asked?
Hon Gerry Brownlee: The question asked about why a particular percentage of a group got through the gate. The answer was because they qualified. You cannot get a better answer than that.
Mr SPEAKER: Does the member have further supplementary questions?
Denis O’Rourke: I seek leave to table two graphs prepared by the Parliamentary Library, one showing the proportion of parent category immigrants against skilled immigrants for 2011-12 for the main immigrant countries, and the other the strong upward trend in parent category immigration from China to 2011-12.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table those two graphs. Is there any objection to that? There appears to be none. They may be tabled. Documents, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Denis O’Rourke: Is it fair that one country gets a disproportionate share of the parent category?
Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE: I repeat the answer to the previous question: this Government has policies that those people who came in under the parent category qualified for. But I do note that the centre of gravity provisions that were supported by the previous Government, with whom the New Zealand First Party had a confidence and supply agreement—
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. You know it is going to lead to disorder if this member tries to strangle the conversation by deviating off the path to another administration and then misdescribing that administration as well.
Mr SPEAKER: The Minister is—
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Why does he not just answer the question? That is your priority.
Mr SPEAKER: The member will resume his seat. The Minister is attempting to answer the question. If there is any more interruption we will simply move to the next question.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Can I invite you to consider that ruling? All it is is an invitation for the Minister to avoid answering the question again. All he has to do if he does not like a question is—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I have heard quite enough from the member. I listened to the question. I thought the Minister was attempting to give a genuine answer. It was interrupted by a point of order. I want to hear that answer completed and then we can judge whether the question has been adequately addressed.
Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE: Everybody who has come in under the parent category criteria that currently exist did so because they met those criteria. But I note that previous—
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The questioner asked whether it is fair. That is the question, and deviating from the answer will not do.
Mr SPEAKER: I do not recall that being the question at all. I think the easiest way, and we are going to move forward, is that I will give the member a chance to re-ask the question. I then want the Minister to answer it without interruption from any other member of the House.
Denis O’Rourke: The question was is it fair that one country gets a disproportionate share of the parent category?
Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE: This is not about one country over another. This is about skilled migrants and their parents who can make a meaningful economic contribution to this country being accepted under the categories that exist. But in respect of China, which the member has asked, I note that the previous criteria, put in place by the previous Government, had centre of gravity provisions that would favour Chinese parents over other countries. That has been changed.
Brendan Horan: Is the Minister concerned that in countries with a one child per family policy, such as China, a greater proportion of grandparents from that country migrate to New Zealand?
Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE: I may be concerned if the centre of gravity provisions that applied under the previous Government were still in place, but, in fact, they have been changed.
Denis O’Rourke: Within the parent category is it true that parents from every other country are disadvantaged because parents from China fill up more than half of the category?
Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE: No.
Denis O’Rourke: Can the Minister give an assurance that the proportion of parent category immigrants from any country will not exceed the number of skilled immigrants from that country in the future?
Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE: Well, I could give the member an assurance that the cap that is in place for the parent category is very unlikely to be exceeded in the foreseeable future, and that everybody who comes in under that category will do so because they meet the criteria.
Denis O’Rourke: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I still do not know whether or not the Minister will give an assurance.
Mr SPEAKER: The Minister very adequately addressed the question that was put. Is there a further—
Denis O’Rourke: The question—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! The member will resume his seat. I listened to the question. I believe that the Minister very adequately addressed it. It may not be to the member’s satisfaction. He can try further supplementary questions if he wants.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: What does the Minister find so difficult about answering simple questions as to fairness—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! That is not a question that is in order, because that is questioning whether the Minister has addressed the question.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I haven’t finished yet.
Mr SPEAKER: I am telling you at this stage that question is not in order. [Interruption] Order! The member will resume his seat. I will give the member one more chance to ask a supplementary question that is in order.
Dr Russel Norman: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I fail to see how Mr Peters’ question can be out of order. It was a perfectly reasonable question.
Mr SPEAKER: No. I ruled.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: It may be helpful to point out, Mr Speaker, that questions that are put to Ministers cannot contain ironic expressions. That started with one.
Mr SPEAKER: That is right. Anyway, if the Rt Hon Winston Peters wishes to ask a supplementary question, I have given him one opportunity.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I will make it simple for him and you. The fact is—the question is has the Minister been provisioned by his department officials sufficiently so that he can come to this House and answer questions as to fairness and percentages with accuracy? Yes or no?
Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE: The member’s question presumes that percentages are a driver of fairness. I do not accept that. Fairness is about the meeting of the criteria for the parent category, and I am satisfied that all people who have come in under that category have been treated fairly and that they qualified.
Housing Affordability and Availability—Auckland Metropolitan Area
8. PHIL TWYFORD (Labour—Te Atatū) to the Minister of Housing: Does he stand by all his statements in relation to Auckland’s metropolitan urban limits?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH (Minister of Housing): Yes, because the metropolitan urban limit adopted by the former Auckland Regional Council and endorsed by the previous Labour Government was a policy failure and has contributed very negatively to housing affordability in Auckland.
Phil Twyford: Will Cabinet now reconsider its decision to delay the Auckland Unitary Plan having effect until 2016 given his statement that he is not prepared to wait until 2016; if not, why not?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: I do think it is very important that we increase land availability in Auckland prior to the unitary plan process completing, but anybody who understands the Resource Management Act would also understand that simply making the draft plan take effect does not necessarily bring that land into supply. If the member wants to pursue that issue, he should pursue it with the Minister for the Environment.
Hon John Banks: What reports has the Minister seen on the claim by Auckland Mayor Len Brown on Television New Zealand’s Breakfast on 30 October 2012 that: “In Auckland we have 18,000 sections available right now if we were to build.”?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: I would note the statement yesterday by Mayor Len Brown that the actual number of sections ready to build on is around 2,000—2,000. I met with Mayor Len Brown last month and said that it was important for the Government and the council to have reliable information about the number of sections. Officials from the council and the Government have
worked very effectively. Tomorrow I will be releasing a substantive report that answers the details of the land supply challenges that we have in Auckland.
Phil Twyford: What is the Government’s policy, then? Is it Amy Adams’ refusal to allow the Auckland plan to take effect later this year, thus freeing up greenfield land, or is it his threat to override the Auckland plan to bring it in this year; and why does the Government not just get its act together?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: Neither, because the point that I made to the member is that the position that has been taken by my colleague Amy Adams is that it is not necessarily an instant fix to simply bring the unitary plan into effect. Let me explain to the member directly why—
Hon David Parker: But it is an instant block.
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: Let me just explain, because I do not think that the member who is interjecting understands. Even if the Auckland plan—the proposed plan—took effect in September, it would not mean that new residential subdivisions would be dealt with on a non-advertised basis— a non-publicly notified basis. That would still not occur until 2016-17, and if we have only got 2,000 sections available, I am not sure that is soon enough.
Tim Macindoe: What reports has the Minister received on the price of sections and the supply of sections over the past decade?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: I am advised by housing officials that the average section price in Auckland has gone from $100,000 in 2002 to $325,000 today. I am further advised on supply— based on the district valuation rolls—that in every single year in the last 10 years, there has been a drop in the number of vacant sections, such that there is only half the number of sections in Auckland today as there was a decade ago.
Phil Twyford: On what basis did he make the threat to legislate to free up greenfield land in an uncontrolled way by overriding the Auckland Unitary Plan, which frees up greenfield land six times the size of Nelson in a controlled and measured way?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: That is simply incorrect, and what I would say to the member opposite is that the previous Labour Government endorsed the Auckland Regional Council’s metropolitan urban limit. That has made houses way beyond the dream of ordinary New Zealanders, and that is why this Government is working with the Auckland Council to make houses more affordable for Aucklanders.
Phil Twyford: Why did the Government bother establishing the super-city when it seems determined to go to war with Auckland on issues like housing and public transport; and when will the MP for Nelson stop arrogantly trying to run Auckland from his office in Wellington?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: When you are the housing Minister, you actually have to take a very strong interest in housing affordability issues in Auckland. If we adopt the approach the member is taking, is he saying that members who are Ministers can take no interest in issues outside their electorate? That is a ridiculous notion. I have a very strong interest in working with the people of Auckland and delivering something that Labour never delivered, and that is affordable housing for the people of Auckland.
9. JAMI-LEE ROSS (National—Botany) to the Minister of Police: What recent reports from the Police has she received on the results of the Criminal Proceeds (Recovery) Act 2009?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY (Minister of Police): More good news. I am pleased to advise that since the Criminal Proceeds (Recovery) Act came into law in December 2009, 322 assets worth an estimated $26 million have been forfeited to the Crown by convicted criminals. Around $21 million was taken from drug offenders, with over $15 million of this coming from methamphetamineassociated offences. In the latest case a Hamilton company director involved in drug dealing was stripped of assets worth approximately $5.1 million, including a farm, a lifestyle block, and two
cars. It is a fantastic result by the New Zealand Police and sends a strong deterrent to offenders that crime does not pay.
Jami-Lee Ross: What types of assets have been seized from criminals as a result of the Criminal Proceeds (Recovery) Act?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY: Mr Speaker—[Interruption] I know they do not like this success, but assets confiscated from criminals since the Act came into force include four boats; 85 cars, including five BMWs, seven Audis, five Mercedes-Benz, and one Porsche; 142 bank accounts worth an estimated $7.7 million; 24 residential properties worth an estimated $5.7 million; 27 motorcycles, including 12 Harley-Davidsons; and three lifestyle blocks worth an estimated $1.6 million. This Act is hitting criminals where it hurts. Nobody should profit from the misery that they peddle in the community, and this Government—
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I notice you are very prompt in getting up to make sure that questioners are terse and to the point in their questions. Why do you allow this Minister to go on and on and on, when you know full well that she has covered the subject a long time ago?
Mr SPEAKER: Because I was ever-hopeful that it was coming to an end very quickly.
Resource Management—Discussion Paper Proposals
10. EUGENIE SAGE (Green) to the Minister for the Environment: Are the proposals in the recent Government resource management discussion paper intended to give greater weight to economic benefits than environmental outcomes in Resource Management Act decision making?
Hon AMY ADAMS (Minister for the Environment): No. The changes proposed are aimed at ensuring that decision makers must have regard to a balance of environmental, social, economic, and cultural values and priorities. This is consistent with both the approach already taken by the courts and the overall purpose of sustainable management under section 5 of the Act.
Eugenie Sage: How will her proposal to change the definition of “sustainable management”, which is at the heart of the Resource Management Act, and remove the requirement for decision makers to have particular regard to the maintenance and enhancement of the quality of the environment not mean that there will be less scrutiny of environmental impacts?
Hon AMY ADAMS: I can assure that member that there is no proposal in the discussion document to change the definition of “sustainable management” in section 5. Where we have proposed deletions from the current section 7 of the Act, that is because independent and expert advice has confirmed that in each case the clauses in that section are already sufficiently provided for and it is simply thematic duplication, and we have acted on that advice.
Eugenie Sage: With her proposal to remove the requirement for Resource Management Act decision makers to have particular regard to the maintenance and enhancement of amenity values, does the Minister think that New Zealanders no longer care about how pleasant and attractive their neighbourhoods are?
Hon AMY ADAMS: In respect of amenity values, I direct that member’s attention to section 5(2) and 5(2)(a) of the Act as it stands, which there is no proposal to amend, and which specifically provide already that the definition of environment includes amenity values. They are already provided for at the heart of the Act.
Eugenie Sage: Apart from natural hazards and urban design, what other values that New Zealanders hold have changed so substantially that she proposes to amend the definition of “sustainable management” in Part 2 of the Act by deleting five of the environmental principles?
Hon AMY ADAMS: Once again, I confirm for that member that the sustainable management approach in the Act is not proposed for amendment, and where items in section 7 of the Act as currently provided for are proposed for deletion, that is because expert advice to the Government has confirmed that they are already well provided for.
Education Sector—Matters Leading to Resignation of Secretary for Education
11. CHRIS HIPKINS (Labour—Rimutaka) to the Minister of State Services: What were the “high profile matters in education last year that contributed to strained relations across the education sector” and why did they lead to the resignation of Lesley Longstone as Secretary of Education?
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN (Minister of State Services): An example is Canterbury schools. Ms Longstone’s reasons for her resignation are a matter between her and the State Services Commissioner.
Chris Hipkins: Did the Minister of Education convey any specific concerns about Lesley Longstone’s performance to the State Services Commissioner; if so, what was the nature of those concerns?
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: He would have to ask the State Services Commissioner that.
Chris Hipkins: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Minister of State Services is the Minister responsible for those matters to the House. He has no ability to say they are simply not his responsibility. He is the Minister; he is responsible.
Mr SPEAKER: Can we have the question again please?
Chris Hipkins: Did the Minister of Education convey any specific concerns about Lesley Longstone’s performance to the State Services Commissioner; if so, what was the nature of those concerns?
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: You would have to ask the State Services Commissioner that.
Chris Hipkins: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I think this is actually quite a serious issue, and I want to draw your attention to McGee because this is a matter that has come up in the House before. Page 555 of McGee states, and I will just read a short extract rather than the entire context of it: “[Ministers] become answerable to the House for many matters over which they have no legal powers or in respect of the actions of public officials who are not subject to the legal control of Ministers. Legal responsibility and political responsibility are different things. Thus, questions relating to actions taken by the State Services Commission in the course of carrying out its legal functions in regard to the appointment of a chief executive were held to involve ministerial responsibility.” These are matters relating to the State Services Commissioner’s employment of a chief executive of a department. The Minister is responsible to this House for those decisions.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: Mr Hipkins quite rightly points to McGee as being an authority on how these things should be considered, but in no way does that give any less validity to the answer given by the Minister to the question that was asked.
Mr SPEAKER: That’s an interesting one.
Hon David Parker: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. It would be permissible for the Minister to say that he does not know or that he has not been informed, but it is not permissible for him to say that it is not within his responsibility. Then the House and the public can judge whether the Minister is doing his job properly, but it would be an answer that is in order—the current answer is not.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Speaking further—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Just a moment.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. This is probably a point of which you are aware, having been a long-serving Cabinet Minister, but Ministers responsible for areas do get reports on these matters. Although I had only 6 years as State services Minister, and nothing of this shape, anything that came close to this would result in a report, which, of course, a Minister would have to read.
Mr SPEAKER: I am going to invite the member to ask the supplementary question again.
Chris Hipkins: Did the Minister of Education convey any specific concerns about Lesley Longstone’s performance to the State Services Commissioner; if so, what was the nature of those concerns?
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: This is an employment matter that is an operational issue, and it is a matter between the State Services Commissioner and Lesley Longstone—anything to do with her employment—and I am not going to break that confidence here in the House, because Ms Longstone deserves that protection.
Chris Hipkins: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I think I have established the case in McGee. The primary question that I asked the Minister was quite specific and the supplementary question was directly related to the primary question. It was a question that he could be expected to have anticipated and prepared for in coming into the House prepared to answer these questions.
Mr SPEAKER: The difficulty I have as Speaker is that at the end of the day I cannot design an answer to members’ satisfaction. We have had the question put three times. The member is clearly not satisfied. You have further supplementary questions, and I invite the member to use them.
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. That is the second time, I think, in 2 weeks that you have ruled—which I take it is a new ruling—that after, I think, three attempts you have given the questioner to ask the question you are satisfied, rather than ruling that the Minister must provide an appropriate answer, that he is off the hook. I invite you to think about your ruling because it is correct that on two occasions you have said that we have had three goes at it, that is it, and we cannot do anything else. That means that a Minister can avoid answering a question three times and disappear. That is a disgrace.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: Regardless of the theatrics of that last point of order, the reality is that the Minister did answer the question.
Mr SPEAKER: For the Hon Clayton Cosgrove to suggest that any Minister who is asked the same question three times is off the hook or through scot-free is something I do not accept for one minute. Was there a further point of order?
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My point was this: given that you have ruled the same way twice, you may not have the interpretation that a Minister is off the hook, but that is the effect, because you have said to the questioner: “We’ve had three goes, and that’s it, you can do no more.” I simply say that you govern the Standing Orders, you have critical powers, and you can do more. But, effectively, a Minister could give the same answer three times and then it is a white flag and it is all over. That is actually the effect of your ruling: a Minister is off the hook.
Mr SPEAKER: I do not agree with the last point made by the Hon Clayton Cosgrove. The Minister has given an answer. It may not be an answer that is acceptable to the member asking the question, but it is an answer. The Minister on the last occasion in his answer invoked public interest and the privacy of an individual.
Hon David Parker: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I never heard the Minister invoke a public interest to refuse answering, and I listened to the same answer three times in a row.
Mr SPEAKER: The Minister—
Hon David Parker: The Speaker did not—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The Minister clearly spoke about it being a private employment matter.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. A Minister declining to answer a question because it is not in the public interest to do so—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I have heard quite sufficient. The Minister did not decline to answer on that basis; he included that within his answer. I have ruled that the Minister has addressed the question. I acknowledge that it is not to the satisfaction of the member asking the question. I am giving the opportunity for further supplementary questions or we will move to the next question.
Hon David Parker: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. How can the Minister on the one hand be said to have addressed the question and on the other hand be said to not have to address the question because it is not in the public interest to do so?
Mr SPEAKER: I have answered that same point, which was made by the Hon Clayton Cosgrove. I have established a regime by which if a question is not answered to satisfaction, then we have the question three times. Beyond that we have got to move on, otherwise we could sit in the House on the same supplementary question for a long time. Now we are moving on.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I think there is some confusion here because you used the language of “public interest”, when there are specific Standing Orders, Speakers’ rulings, and McGee around those words. I think probably that was a mistake, and if you had not said that, we would not have had quite this problem.
Mr SPEAKER: I accept, Mr Mallard, that I am not absolutely perfect on this occasion.
Chris Hipkins: Did Lesley Longstone undertake any action in her role as Secretary for Education that was inconsistent with the Minister’s wishes; if so, what were those actions?
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: You would really have to ask the Minister that.
Chris Hipkins: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: I invite the member to ask the question again.
Chris Hipkins: Did Lesley Longstone undertake any action in her role as Secretary for Education that was inconsistent with the Minister’s actions; if so, what were those actions?
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: I presume you are talking about the Minister of Education and you would have to ask her.
Chris Hipkins: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. You will be aware that we did try to ask the Minister of Education about those very issues and it was transferred to the Minister of State Services. The quote in my primary question comes from that answer—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I certainly was not aware of that information, actually, but on this occasion I invite the member to ask his question a third time.
Chris Hipkins: Did Lesley Longstone undertake any action in her role as Secretary of Education that was inconsistent with the Minister’s wishes; if so, what were those actions?
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: I do not know, because I am not the Minister of Education. You should ask Ms Parata.
Chris Hipkins: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Will you rule that if we put this question to the Minister of Education, that in fact she will be required to answer it? Because we have put this question to the Minister of Education and it was transferred to the Minister of State Services who is now refusing to answer.
Mr SPEAKER: I am unaware of that transfer. I accept that might have been; I was certainly unaware of that. The Minister has had three opportunities to answer it; clearly it is not to the member’s satisfaction. I invite the member to ask further—[Interruption] Order!
Hon Bill English: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Hon Member: That’s a circus.
Hon Bill English: Well, actually, no, it is not a circus. All we are seeing here is a clash between the different requirements upon Ministers. On the one hand there is the requirement of the House for Ministers to answer questions, and that is fair enough. On the other hand, particularly in relation to employment matters, a State Sector Act gives Ministers a different set of responsibilities in respect of employment issues than any other issues—
Hon Member: Not to this House.
Hon Bill English: —it does—that the law applies in this House, the same as it applies outside of this House to Ministers in respect of employment matters. Those employment matters often will involve, for instance, confidentiality agreements in the same way as a direct parallel to commercial confidentiality when Ministers get asked about those sorts of issues. I am not saying it is easy to draw the line, but somewhere we will have to find a practice where Ministers answer the questions up to the point where they have to respect the law that binds them in respect of employment matters and agreements that may be made that are protected, actually, from all scrutiny in the pursuance of resolving employment matters.
Chris Hipkins: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. This is not a new issue for the House; it has been canvassed many times before and Ministers have answered questions before. Ministers answered questions on Christine Rankin, for example, going way back when, and that was the Labour Government that had to answer those questions. Why should this Government be held to a lesser standard?
Mr SPEAKER: Because, Mr Hipkins, the question has been answered. The difficulty I have as the Speaker is it clearly has not been answered to your satisfaction. I have some sympathy for you. I have allowed you to put the question three times to try to get a more fulsome answer. I do not think there is anything more I can do to assist, apart from inviting you to ask further supplementary questions. I am inviting the member—
Chris Hipkins: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: It better be a fresh point of order.
Chris Hipkins: It is a fresh point of order, Mr Speaker. Several supplementary questions now—I have used two supplementary questions—that the Minister has refused to answer were directly related to my primary question, which the Minister could reasonably have been expected to prepare for. It is not unreasonable for the Opposition to get somewhat annoyed, and for the public of New Zealand to get somewhat annoyed, when Ministers do not make an effort to come to the House prepared to answer the questions. This is an issue of public interest, it involves a significant payout of taxpayers’ money, and the Opposition and the public should be able to expect the Government to answer on that issue.
Mr SPEAKER: And the member makes a very—
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: The questions have been answered. He just has not got the answers that he is demanding.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I will deal with that. Chris Hipkins makes a very good point. I accept that you have genuinely attempted to raise the questions. I am trying to assist the member. I invite the member to raise further supplementary questions. I think that is the only way forward on this occasion. I am giving the member an additional supplementary question if he so requires it.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Before Mr Hipkins puts his question, what needs to be sorted out is something that you said you were not aware of but which the Clerk of the House did make you aware of—namely, that the question had been to the Minister of Education, was refused, and was therefore transferred to this Minister here. Now, before this Minister gets up to answer the question, surely he should not be allowed to just hide under the previous defence, which is what he just did again this time around, or to be deliberately obtuse when an answer is as clear as daylight—he has a responsibility to answer now.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Just very briefly to help both sides, it was one of last week’s questions, which was similar, that was transferred, rather than today’s.
Mr SPEAKER: Right. I have invited the member to ask a further supplementary question.
Chris Hipkins: Who else, other than the Minister of Education, did Lesley Longstone have a strained relationship with?
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: Well, how would I know? [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I invite the member—[Interruption] Order! I am trying to assist the Opposition members. It would be helpful if they would remain quiet. I invite the member to ask his question again.
Chris Hipkins: Who else, other than the Minister of Education, did Lesley Longstone have a strained relationship with?
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: Once again, how would I know? I do not know Ms Longstone, sorry.
Mr SPEAKER: I invite the member to ask the question again and then we will be moving on.
Chris Hipkins: Who else, other than the Minister of Education, did Lesley Longstone have a strained relationship with?
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: I will put it another way: I do not know.
Chris Hipkins: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Minister is showing an absolute contempt for this Parliament. He is responsible. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! That last answer adequately addressed the question. He said he did not know.
Chris Hipkins: Point of order.
Mr SPEAKER: No, I am not taking any more. The member will resume his seat. I am moving on to the next question.
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: Point of order.
Mr SPEAKER: If it is about that, then the member will be removed from the House. [Interruption] Order! If it is a point of order regarding any decision I have made with regards to the question and the answers given by the Hon Jonathan Coleman—I have made a decision and that is it. To continue to bring questions on points of orders about that will lead to more disorder in the House. We need to move on.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Are you ruling that the Opposition is not allowed to use its allocation of supplementary questions to further question this Minister?
Mr SPEAKER: I am certainly ruling that if members from any party continue to raise points of order that continually raise exactly the same point, then I will move on. If Mr Hipkins has a further supplementary question, I am only too happy to hear that.
Chris Hipkins: Was he, as Minister of State Services, or the Minister of Education informed, consulted, or asked to approve the $425,000 payout to Lesley Longstone?
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: What I can tell that member is that the payout was within the Auditor-General’s guidelines—[Interruption] Let me finish. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Does the Minister want the question repeated?
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: No, I can answer the question. What I can say is that the State Services Commissioner formulated the payment package, he consulted the Auditor-General’s guidelines for it, and he came to us asking for final advice. We were told that that was well within the guidelines, so that is how it stood. But the key point is that it was a package formulated by the State Services Commissioner in full compliance with the Auditor-General’s guidance for Public Service payouts.
Chris Hipkins: What were the specific reasons given to him by the State Services Commissioner for wanting to provide a $425,000 payout to Lesley Longstone?
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: As I said in the press release at the time, there was a $157,523.33 payment owed to Ms Longstone for outstanding holiday and payment in lieu of notice, and an additional severance payment of 6 months’ remuneration of $267,952. That totalled, as we know, $425,475.33, in line with the Auditor-General’s guidelines in such cases.
Chris Hipkins: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I asked him for the reasons for the payout; I did not ask him how the payout was calculated.
Mr SPEAKER: Would the member please repeat the question.
Chris Hipkins: I will try to repeat the question, because I made that one up. What were the specific reasons the State Services Commissioner gave him for wanting to make a $425,000 payout to Lesley Longstone?
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: The reason was that she had resigned and had to have her contract paid out.
Chris Hipkins: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Minister indicated in his earlier answer that the State Services Commission came to him before the Secretary for Education resigned from her position, seeking the approval of that resignation. So how can his answer possibly be acceptable?
Mr SPEAKER: The member then had an opportunity to ask his supplementary question a second time, and the Minister adequately addressed that. The Minister has answered the question.
Chris Hipkins: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. We have run out of our allocation of supplementary questions for the day. One of the reasons we have done that is that the Minister has consistently refused to answer most of the questions I have asked him, so I am asking that you allocate additional supplementary questions so that we can continue.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: That would assume that the people asking a question have no responsibility to ask questions that will elicit answers that are according to their previous plan. In the last case, he asked for reasons. He was told of severance pay and holiday pay and seemed to think that that was some sort of an outrageous answer.
Mr SPEAKER: I am advised that the Labour Party still has two further supplementary questions, if it wishes to use them.
Chris Hipkins: Did the Minister approve the payout to Lesley Longstone before or after her resignation?
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: I can tell you the exact time line. On Thursday, 6 December the State Services Commission briefed me that Ms Longstone had decided to resign. On Tuesday, 18 December I received a faxed report advising that she had formally tendered her resignation, effective from 8 February, and seeking approval of a severance payment, with Crown Law’s certified approval. That is it.
Chris Hipkins: Was the resignation of Lesley Longstone conditional upon the payout of $425,000?
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: Well, that actually is really getting to the heart of an employment matter, and that, once again, is a matter for the State Services Commission. Sorry.
Chris Hipkins: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I go right back to the McGee ruling that I gave you at the very beginning of this question. The Minister of State Services is the person responsible to this House—and through this House to the public—for these payments. He himself has said that he approved this payment. He is therefore responsible for answering questions about it.
Mr SPEAKER: I think the Minister—[Interruption] Order! The Minister has adequately addressed the answer to the member’s question.
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I just want to take you back. You invited, I think, the House to consider that you had no further options after three questions were put. Can I offer some assistance. You may wish to review the tapes of your predecessor, Lockwood Smith, because he had a very elegant way of dealing with it, and it provides an additional tool to use.
Mr SPEAKER: I thank the member for his contribution.
Hon David Parker: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. That question was a simple one. It was whether the—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I have moved and said that the question was addressed. Would the member please resume—
Hon David Parker: Point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: Would the member please resume his seat. I have stated to the House and now you are questioning a ruling that I have given as Speaker. I said that that particular supplementary question had been addressed by the Minister. We are moving on.
Dr Russel Norman: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I have listened patiently to your rulings on this issue and I seek your direction. One of the oldest rulings in the House is Speaker’s ruling 172/5. It is from 1892. It has stood the test of time. It says: “An answer to a question ought to be given if it can be given consistently with the public interest;”. I seek your direction. Are you standing by that ruling or are you seeking to overturn it?
Mr SPEAKER: I refer you to Speaker’s ruling 157/6, which states that “the Minister will not be answerable for personnel actions taken in respect of any identified member of staff.”
Hon David Parker: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I do not understand how the Speaker’s answer addresses the question that Dr Norman put, because the question was: could it be within the public interest to answer the question—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! Now the member is continuing to dispute a ruling that I have given. That will only lead to disorder.
Chris Hipkins: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. It is a new point of order. I have reviewed the Speakers’ rulings and the Standing Orders regarding this matter before today’s question. On Speaker’s ruling 157/6, which you have referred to, I just want to seek some further clarification from you, because the way I read that was that it was to do with individual employees within the Public Service. But chief executives fall into a somewhat different category, in that they are employed by the State Services Commissioner. There are different parts of the legislation that relate specifically to those. I am not necessarily asking you to give a ruling on it right now, but I would like you to consider whether, in fact, there should be a different rule for chief executives, because there has to be some accountability for chief executives to this House. It seems to me that that Speaker’s ruling, if applied to chief executives, would circumvent that process.
Mr SPEAKER: And I will certainly give consideration to the point that has been raised.
Freshwater Management Reform—Proposals
JACQUI DEAN (National—Waitaki): What recent announcements has the Government made aimed at improving the quality and management—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I require Clayton Cosgrove to withdraw that remark.
Hon CLAYTON COSGROVE (Labour): I withdraw.
Mr SPEAKER: Would Jacqui Dean please repeat the question.
12. JACQUI DEAN (National—Waitaki) to the Minister for the Environment: What recent announcements has the Government made aimed at improving the quality and management of fresh water?
Hon AMY ADAMS (Minister for the Environment): Last week the Government outlined the most comprehensive and positive reform of our freshwater management system for a generation. The programme of reform is about the Government supporting communities to make decisions, plan and set freshwater objectives and limits, and then meet the challenges over time of managing our land and water use within those limits. It is also about ensuring we recognise the rights and interests of iwi in fresh water. The proposals outline a clear path of reform for the years ahead that is to begin this year.
Jacqui Dean: How do these reforms compare with the recommendations of the Land and Water Forum?
Hon AMY ADAMS: The proposals are consistent with and based on the Land and Water Forum’s recommended approach, and give effect to its core recommendations. A large number of recommendations will be progressed over the next few years as the work programme outlined is delivered. The Land and Water Forum’s core recommendations for a national objectives framework, supported by national bottom lines and a collaborative alternative for developing water plans, are being delivered as immediate steps.