Questions and Answers - April 18
QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS
Power Prices—Minister’s Statements
1. GRANT ROBERTSON (Deputy Leader—Labour) to the Minister of Energy and
Resources: Has he been advised whether the Prime Minister agrees with the Deputy Prime Minister that “a lot of us don’t like the power bills that we get” and if so, has he been advised what action the Prime Minister proposes to take to reduce New Zealanders’ power bills?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES (Minister of Energy and Resources): Yes, I have been advised that the Prime Minister agrees with the Deputy Prime Minister’s actual comment, as I do, which was: “A lot of us don’t like the power bills we get, but the one thing that will be worse and more wasteful will be politicians running the electricity system. And that will look cheap for a while, and then you’ll find that the technology hasn’t been upgraded, that the new generation that we need hasn’t actually turned up, and then there’ll be a big spend by the Government to subsidise something and the prices will go up.” I knew that the Deputy Prime Minister was a religious man; I did not know he prophesied Labour-Green policy.
Grant Robertson: Have the Max Bradford reforms delivered cheaper electricity to New Zealanders, as the National Party promised; if not, why is he so ideologically blinkered that he is tied to a policy that will not lower power prices?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: Well, given that I was about 12 at the time, it is hard to recall. But I can say yes—yes, I think they did. Unfortunately, though, what happened was a Labour Government where power prices went up by 72 percent, so it is hard to disagree with what Rob Hosking said in the National Business Review this morning, which was that the Labour Party was full of power price gouges that took place between 2002 and 2008.
Grant Robertson: Why is the Minister so ideologically blinkered that he is tied to an electricity system that means New Zealand consumers pay the second-highest residential power prices in the OECD, despite two-thirds of our power being generated from cheap hydro, and where prices have risen at double the rate of inflation? Why is he so tied to that system?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: It is hard to take being called ideologically blinkered from a party that wants to—
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Down this end of the House we could not hear half of that question, because of the raucous noise from the shameful person saying “What a shame.” and others. So perhaps we could hear it again.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I am going to invite the member Grant Robertson to repeat his question. This time there was so much noise that I had trouble hearing the last part of the question myself.
Grant Robertson: Why is the Minister so ideologically blinkered that he is tied to an electricity system that means New Zealand consumers pay the second-highest residential power prices relative
to industry in the OECD, despite two-thirds of our power being generated from cheap hydro power, and where prices have risen at double the rate of inflation since the Bradford reforms?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: Well, it is hard to take criticism at being ideologically blinkered from a party that wants to renationalise the electricity system. But be that as it may, we have a very competitive system, where actually in Christchurch right now, by switching from the most expensive to the least expensive retailer, one can save nearly $600 per annum. That is more than that party’s new policy would save.
Grant Robertson: Does the Minister realise that there are 30 states in the United States of America that use a similar single-buyer model to the one proposed by the Labour Party, and when will he be auditioning for Fox News, given his views?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: No, and as I have said, if the party opposite wants to reintroduce some kind of Albanian energy policy, that is good for it, but this side of this Parliament does not want that.
Grant Robertson: Has he taken the Prime Minister to task for failing to deliver on his promise to Grey Power in 2009 that his policies would “help constrain electricity prices”, when power prices rose by at least five times the rate of inflation over the last year?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: How can I take the Prime Minister to task when he has, in fact, met that quotation, given that under that Government prices went up 72 percent and under us they have been much more constrained, going up by only 20 percent.
Te Ururoa Flavell: Tēnā koe, Mr Speaker. Is the Minister aware of the Māori Party’s policy to enact an annual power rebate for low-income whānau, installation of low-cost heating, and insulating 10,000 low-income homes per year, including rental properties, and does he agree that the Government needs to look seriously at addressing the quality of life for low-income families?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: I was not aware of that policy. It sounds intriguing. Can I say to the member that I think the best thing we can do is to continue with our pro-competitive drive that we started in 2010. The Electricity Authority is leading that, and we are seeing real competition all throughout New Zealand, where nearly 700,000 people have switched from more expensive to less expensive retailers.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: What does the Minister think of the Māori Party’s policy of piloting insulation in homes in Ngati Porou and Ngāpuhi, two of the warmest areas where Māori live, and how practical is that?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: It sounds like good policy.
Te Ururoa Flavell: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. It is very fortunate, or some might say unfortunate, that the Minister does not have any responsibility for Māori Party policy, so I think that question is out of order.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: He was talking about the Māori Party policy before to the Minister in a question. The Minister answered it even though he had no responsibility, and so the member has allowed in my question on the same basis.
Mr SPEAKER: And on that basis too I think the Minister is quite capable of answering the question.
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: It sounds like very good policy and I think that the Māori Party can share in the credit where this Government has now insulated nearly 230,000 homes, and will do by September of this year.
Grant Robertson: Does the Minister realise that there is no functioning electricity market in New Zealand under his Government’s policy and that Labour’s plan will see incentives for new players to enter the generation and retail market and ensure that New Zealanders will save at least 10 percent on their power bills? Why does he not want New Zealanders to save 10 percent on their power bills?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: As I have said, the member opposite shows some sort of Albanian economics understanding there. The fact of the matter is that under this Government we have a very
competitive system. There are 15 independent retailers at work in this country competing against each other, and we have seen that with 700,000 different consumers changing from one to another.
Brendan Horan: Is the Minister aware that his own Government’s figures show that average household power prices have soared in Tauranga at a rate 15 percent greater than the rest of New Zealand, and what action does the Minister propose to take for the people of Tauranga?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: I think the people in Tauranga are exceptionally satisfied with the political representation they get and the kind of quality electricity system they get.
Brendan Horan: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. How was that answering the question?
Mr SPEAKER: The question was adequately addressed.
Andrew Williams: Has the Government considered New Zealand First’s proposal to introduce a 10 percent discount subsidy from State-owned enterprise power companies for SuperGold Card holders and pensioners who are struggling to meet winter power bills; if not, why not?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: No. In fact, I met with Grey Power this week and we talked through some of its concerns. I have explained, I think, the system that we have and why it is becoming more competitive every day. I have considered New Zealand First policy, and, frankly, it is almost as loony as the Labour Party’s policy. What they are effectively saying also is they want to see the power generators back in Government hands, and I just think that is bad policy all round.
Grant Robertson: Further to the Minister’s previous answers, if the electricity market is working so well under the Bradford model, which he favours, why have electricity prices continued to rise and rise over the last decade?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: Well, there are probably many reasons, and I do not accept the basic proposition in the question. But one reason would be the way the last Government took so many dividends from the power companies, and that is why it is now belatedly trying to apologise to the people of New Zealand with, admittedly, some “loony tunes” policy.
Grant Robertson: Are New Zealand residential consumers paying too much for their power?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: Well, every consumer thinks they are paying too much for power, Mr Robertson. But the fact of the matter is that at the moment we have a competitive system where there are options and where we have real security of supply—something actually we could not have taken for granted under the last Labour Government.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Although the Minister went in the direction of that question, it was a straightforward question. It was not whether New Zealanders thought they were paying too much for their power; it was whether the Minister thought they were paying too much for their power. He said that New Zealanders did think they were paying too much, but he did not include himself in that group.
Mr SPEAKER: Let us have the question again and the Minister can re-answer the question.
Grant Robertson: Are New Zealand residential consumers paying too much for their power?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: Well, with respect, the question is ill-conceived because it is not a question of the price but whether it is competitive, and the system today is much more competitive than it was under the Labour Government. Since 2010, when we implemented our reforms, we have seen it become more pro-competitive. It has still got some way to go and I think, as the Electricity Authority made clear yesterday, it is getting better and better.
Dr Russel Norman: On what basis does the Minister claim that the market is competitive when the same five companies control 93 percent of the generating and 95 percent of the retail market?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: Well, of the many bases, how about this one? In Auckland at the moment, if you switch from the most to the least expensive retailer, you can save $312; in Wellington, $212; in Christchurch, $595; and in Balclutha, $419. That is competition by anyone’s measure.
Dr Russel Norman: So is the Minister telling us that he is comfortable with a market in which five companies—the same five companies—control 93 percent of the generating market and 95 percent of the retail market?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: Yes, because what the member seems to ignore is that there are, from there, six other players that, yes, are smaller, but are offering sharp deals—like Ōpunake Hydro— and a number of other ones all around this country. We have low barriers to entry and, frankly, I understand there is something like four power players at the moment that are looking at coming in. So it is a very sharp, competitive system that, yes, could do better, but is getting better day by day.
Dr Russel Norman: Well, if this market is so sharp and so competitive, then how come since National gained office, when demand has been flat, the price of electricity to residential consumers has increased by 19 percent?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: There are a number of reasons. One is transmission costs and the small number of billions of dollars that it is reasonable to pass on. The fact of the matter is that under Labour-Greens policy we would not see another dollar invested in transmission or generation by the private sector, because of the economic lunacy of that—
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Minister is required to answer the question he was asked, not to give us his views of other political parties’ policies. He is well into his answer and half of it has now been devoted to criticism of the questioner, and that is not satisfactory.
Mr SPEAKER: No, the Minister was addressing the question quite satisfactorily, with some connotation. Has the Minister now finished his answer?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: Yes.
Work Visas—Number Issued in 2012 for Checkout Operators
2. Le’aufa’amulia ASENATI LOLE-TAYLOR (NZ First) to the Minister of Immigration: How many temporary work visas were issued for checkout operators in 2012?
Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE (Minister of Immigration): I am advised that there were 49 occupational-specific temporary work visas issued in the occupational category of checkout operator in 2012. Of the number that can be identified by region, more than 86 percent of them went to Otago—most likely to the Queenstown Lakes district—and one was issued for the Auckland region.
Le’aufa’amulia Asenati Lole-Taylor: Were those visas subject to approvals in principle; if not, why not?
Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE: I understand that the answer to that question is no, and the reason is that the occupation of checkout operator is not on any of the skills in demand lists that Immigration New Zealand would use to get agreements in principle prior to somebody seeking employment.
Le’aufa’amulia Asenati Lole-Taylor: Given that 2,500 Kiwis queued for 7 hours to apply for a mere 150 jobs at the Manukau Countdown in January, how can the Minister justify the issuing of temporary work visas for checkout operators, and can he explain why Kiwis could not do these jobs?
Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE: Well, 2,500 is certainly a much larger number than one, which is the number of checkout operator visas issued last year in Auckland. What that says to me is that Kiwis are lining up, they are looking for work, and they are being successful in getting it.
Le’aufa’amulia Asenati Lole-Taylor: How can he justify 138,000 temporary migrants’ work visas for jobs like checkout operators when there were 162,000 Kiwis on the unemployment benefit last year?
Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE: Very good. Well, the significant minority of those visas were issued to international students who have work rights. As the member may be aware, that industry is our second-largest service export earner behind tourism. More than $2 billion a year is generated in this country from export education. And it is the case that a good number are also working holiday scheme visa holders. That is a reciprocal arrangement that we have with a number
of countries around the world. That enables our Kiwis to see the world and to contribute to the richness of this nation, and I think that is perfectly justified.
Cost of Living—Consumers Price Index for March 2013 Quarter
3. TODD McCLAY (National—Rotorua) to the Minister of Finance: What have been the recent trends in the cost of living for New Zealanders?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Associate Minister of Finance) on behalf of the Minister of Finance: I can report some very encouraging progress, particularly with consumer price inflation, food price inflation, and in electricity prices. That progress is particularly stark when you compare the current situation with the first decade of the century in the 9 years to 2008. Statistics New Zealand yesterday reported the CPI for the year to March increased by just 0.9 percent. That was the fourth consecutive quarter that annual consumer inflation has been 1 percent or less. This is a considerable improvement on consumer price inflation of more than 5 percent in late 2008, just before this Government first took office. Combined with interest rates at 50-year lows, this low inflation is delivering considerable benefits to households and businesses across New Zealand in terms of their standard of living.
Todd McClay: What have been the main factors contributing to annual inflation remaining low at around 1 percent?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: The consumer price index showed that in the past year the price of telecommunication services fell 7.2 percent, audiovisual and computing equipment fell 12 percent, domestic airfares fell 9.9 percent, and fresh milk was down 7.7 percent. Electricity prices did rise 5.2 percent during the year. Most of that is due to a one-off increase in the cost of transmission prices of getting the electricity to households around New Zealand. In any event it is substantially less than the 8 percent average—
Hon Trevor Mallard: Who believes the member? Who believes him?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: —year-on-year increases in the 9 years to 2008 when people like Trevor Mallard were in charge. In addition, the food price index fell 0.4 percent in the year to March. This was led by a 2.6 percent fall in grocery prices. Cheese was down 9.1 percent and butter fell 22 percent. It is interesting to note that all of these commodities are priced in a competitive market, and the Government did not control any price setting in any of them.
Todd McClay: What reports has he seen on the price of electricity paid by hard-working New Zealanders?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: The Electricity Authority yesterday released its review of the electricity market in 2012. The report showed 18 percent of customers, around 32,000 people a month, voted with their feet by switching electricity providers in 2012, presumably for lower prices. For the benefit of the Opposition, that is called “competition”. Since November 2008 annual electricity price increases have halved from the 8 percent year-on-year increases suffered by hard-working New Zealanders during the previous 9 years. This follows a number of pro-competitive reforms by this Government, which apparently the Opposition is not aware of. We have reconfigured Stateowned enterprise assets to increase competition, created the Electricity Authority and made it responsible for promoting competition, allowed line businesses to compete in the retail space, and funded promotion of consumer switching through the What’s My Number campaign.
Todd McClay: Has the Minister seen any other proposals to try to lower electricity prices?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Well, weirdly, yes, I have. Just before lunch today I received one report, which I believe came from the “North Korean School of Economics”. Apparently, the suggestion there was that nationalising the entire electricity industry would somehow lead to lower power prices.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Surely it occurred to you that a Minister cannot knowingly mislead the House. You and I know that he did not receive anything
from the “North Korean School of Economics”, and yet the Minister got up and he said that he did. Perhaps you would like to bring him back to order.
Mr SPEAKER: I do not accept that point of order. Would the Minister continue with his answer.
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: If I could perhaps clarify my answer, I should clarify that I received a report from the local branch of the “North Korean School of Economics”.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. You know full well that there is no local branch, and—[Interruption] No, no, no. The members can treat it with levity, but he is knowingly misleading the House. Please do your job.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The Minister is entirely responsible for the content of his answer. If the member thinks that there has been a misleading of the House, there is an appropriate way to raise that matter, and the member knows that.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. In fact, I have two. The first is a relatively simple one. You let the Government members barrack during the right honourable member’s point of order. In fact, you almost looked like you were going to do it yourself, from the way that you were laughing. Can I ask you to treat this House—
Mr SPEAKER: The member is now ruining a perfectly fair point of order.
Hon Trevor Mallard: —with impartiality.
Mr SPEAKER: And the second point?
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The second point of order is that you have already ruled that you do not accept letters about matters of privilege dealing with supplementary answers. That was a supplementary answer. Are you changing that rule?
Mr SPEAKER: No. With regard to the first question, the member is absolutely right. Points of order should be heard in silence, and I certainly do not encourage barracking from either side during a point of order. With regard to the second point of order, I make a decision on each alleged breach of privilege on a case by case basis. Further supplementary questions—has the Minister finished his answer?
Grant Robertson: He sat down.
Mr SPEAKER: No, he was interrupted with a point of order.
Grant Robertson: No, he sat down.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The Minister was interrupted with a point of order. He has every right to complete his answer and will do so.
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Thank you, Mr Speaker. Just to accept the right honourable member’s point, it certainly appeared to be the local branch of the North Korean School of Economics, but I accept his assurance that perhaps it was not what it appeared. Anyway, the suggestion was that nationalising the entire electricity industry would somehow lead to lower power prices. In fact, as we have seen historically the world over, it would simply lead to blackouts, higher prices, and considerably higher costs on taxpayers. That is the back to the 1970s Government proposal by the Labour-Greens coalition for running the electricity industry in this country.
Cost of Living—Effect of Price Increases on New Zealanders
4. Su’a WILLIAM SIO (Labour—Māngere) to the Minister for Social Development: Does she agree with the CEO of Mangere Budgeting and Family Support Services that “Increased private rental charges, higher power and energy prices, higher costs for food and dairy, higher road user charges and increased petrol costs etc…without putting up wages…means that we are effectively making our people poorer and ultimately it is costing the nation millions in welfare dollars”; if not, why not?
Hon PAULA BENNETT (Minister for Social Development): I have got huge respect for the work that Darryl Evans and his team do on the front line, and I have no doubt that the impact of the recession is ongoing and still having an effect for many. But I also agree with this statement in the
Otago Daily Times editorial from Tuesday: “New Zealand has grasped the seriousness of a growing welfare class, and is mostly composed about changes being made to encourage a hand-up, not a hand-out,”.
Su’a William Sio: Why does she believe that Work and Income grants to pay for electricity and for gas tripled in a 2-year period, and what plans does her Government have to address this significant increase?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: We have seen hardship grants actually come down over the last 2 years, and quite considerably—by about 33 percent. What is interesting, though, is that what we have is that in 2009, 8 percent of all hardship applications were declined, and in October 2012 this proportion fluctuated between 8 or 9 percent, so it is not that more are being declined; it is that we are not taking as many. We do, as you can see, actually accept more than we certainly decline.
Jacinda Ardern: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My colleague clearly asked the Minister why she believed that electricity and gas grants had tripled in a 2-year period. The Minister did not address that question.
Mr SPEAKER: That is absolutely a fair comment. If the Minister would like, I can have the question restated.
Hon PAULA BENNETT: Sorry, Mr Speaker, I can be more specific if you like. They are obviously are paid out via hardship grants. What I have said is that overall they have come down. What we are seeing, though, is that people need assistance. That 2-year period was through the recession and through the effects of that, and I am proud that this Government has stood up and made sure that people can get the level of assistance that they need.
Su’a William Sio: Is she aware that some families, according to budget advice services, are forgoing food in order to be able to pay for power bills and are relying on food parcels as a consequence; if so, what is her Government doing to address this?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: What I can say is that in 2008 under the previous Government these budgeting services and organisations were receiving just $4.3 million. Under this Government they are receiving a total of $13 million, so we are very committed about giving them that level of support, and recognising how they can budget. They do have access to hardship grants, and we are providing them with services and support wherever we can.
Jacinda Ardern: Can she assure the House that no budget advisers will be lost as a result of the Community Response Fund coming to an end given that budget advice is now a prerequisite to accessing some Work and Income grants?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: What we can see is that this Government has more than doubled the funding going to budgeting services over the last few years. This financial year these budgeting services will receive $13 million. That is an increase on what they received last year. We are very cognisant of the fact that they have pressure on them, and, as a consequence, we are working closely with them to see how we can work our way through it.
Jacinda Ardern: Can she guarantee to this House that budget advice services will continue to be funded at the same level they have been in past years, including the Community Response Fund?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: What I can guarantee them is they are getting significantly more than they did under Labour.
Carol Beaumont: What impacts have the Responsible Lending Guidelines, a joint venture between the Ministry of Social Development and the Financial Services Federation, had on protecting vulnerable consumers?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: What it has done is set up a way forward for working with those who are lending inappropriately, and, like others, we have huge concerns about that. The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment is working on some pretty serious work around what we can do to alleviate some of the concerns we have about loan sharks who are really inappropriately lending to our most vulnerable.
Carol Beaumont: What efforts has the Minister made to stop harm caused by loan sharks preying on the poor given the significant delay in introducing legislation supposedly getting tough on loan sharks, which was announced by the Prime Minister before the last election?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: What we have done is make sure that they have access to hardship assistance through Work and Income. For that they do not actually have to pay any interest on either the advances they can get on benefit or the extra funding they can get through hardship. That is also available for those who are not just on benefit but outside of it. What you have also seen is a more than doubling of funding going to budgeting services, to wrap that kind of support around and to make sure that they are getting the support that they need, amongst many other initiatives.
Electricity—Household Prices Over Last 20 Years
5. Dr RUSSEL NORMAN (Co-Leader—Green) to the Minister of Energy and Resources: Does he believe that the electricity reforms of the late 1990s delivered lower electricity prices; if so, what has happened to household electricity prices over the last 20 years?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES (Minister of Energy and Resources): Yes, those reforms were on the right track. But as a newspaper column said this morning, the largest sustained household price increases for a generation or more happened between the end of 2001 and the end of 2008. That is the difficulty, as the column says, for David Shearer and Russel Norman. So if Mr Norman wants to apologise now, I am happy to accept that apology.
Dr Russel Norman: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. This was a question on notice. It had two parts. The Minister vaguely addressed the first one, I suppose, but he completely failed to address the second part of the question. It is very specific.
Mr SPEAKER: I thought he addressed it very specifically.
Dr Russel Norman: Well, Mr Speaker, “20 years”—we are now in 2013, so we are talking from 1993 to 2013. He did not address that period. He talked about 2001, but—
Mr SPEAKER: He addressed a portion within that period of 20 years, without a doubt. The member has further supplementary questions.
Dr Russel Norman: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The question is very specific. It is on notice. It is about 20 years. You cannot cherry-pick a period within the 20 years and say you have answered the question. He did not answer the question.
Mr SPEAKER: I think the Minister has adequately addressed the question that you put down. The member has further supplementary questions if he wants to use them.
Dr Russel Norman: That is ridiculous. That is ridiculous.
Mr SPEAKER: Order!
Dr Russel Norman: Supplementary—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member will withdraw that remark.
Dr Russel Norman: I withdraw. Supplementary.
Mr SPEAKER: A supplementary question, Dr Russel Norman.
Dr Russel Norman: Is it not a simple—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Order! Settle down. The member has a right to ask a supplementary question. Dr Russel Norman.
Dr Russel Norman: Is it not a simple fact that the actual answer to the question that was put on notice, which the Minister should have given an answer to, is that electricity prices for households rose 70 percent above inflation over the 20 years since his party introduced its ridiculous grab for electricity reforms?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: The simple fact is those reforms did not have a chance to bed in and that power prices shot up under the Labour-Greens. But I will give the member—[Interruption] But I will give the member another simple fact—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I want to hear the rest of the answer.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. We did not hear the beginning of the answer, and we would like to hear it, on the basis of “Give a man enough rope”.
Mr SPEAKER: The Minister can continue with his answer. [Interruption] A further supplementary question, Dr Russel Norman.
Dr Russel Norman: Is it not a simple fact that the answer to the question of how much did household power prices increase over 20 years—the question that is on notice—is that prices increased by 70 percent above inflation?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: No, I do not think that is a simple fact. I think what is a simple fact is that since the Labour-Greens announced their policy Contact Energy’s share price has fallen by almost 3 percent. I know that member is probably proud of that, but on this side of the House we actually believe in shareholders’ value.
Dr Russel Norman: Seeing that the Minister seems completely unaware of what has happened to—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member will ask the question within the Standing Orders, without that—
Dr Russel Norman: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Standing Orders require that Ministers address questions that have been put down on notice. The Minister failed to do that, and now you are saying—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member is now trifling with a ruling I gave earlier. I have ruled— [Interruption] Order! I had ruled that that answer addressed the question. I then gave the member the ability to ask supplementary questions, and in asking supplementary questions it is inappropriate to start with a reflection “Seeing that the Minister is unaware”. The member can simply ask his supplementary—
Chris Hipkins: Point of order—
Mr SPEAKER: Well, I am dealing with a point of order. The member can continue to ask his supplementary question but he does not need to reflect that way on the Minister.
Chris Hipkins: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I would like to ask you to reflect further on that ruling, not necessarily now, because previous Speakers—well, the previous Speaker certainly has indicated that where members are dissatisfied with the quality of an answer, the supplementary question is in fact the way that a member can follow that up. If you are saying that a member cannot reflect on the quality of an answer in a subsequent supplementary question, then that makes the whole process a total farce.
Mr SPEAKER: No, I am saying that the member has every ability to then ask supplementary questions to delve in and get better answers. He does not need to address it in that way.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. It is as clear as daylight to anyone watching this House or listening that a 20-year period oversight was asked for, 11 years were left out, and after two times surely the questioner was entitled to assume that the Minister knew nothing of those 11 years and was unaware of them. That is the point that is being made.
Mr SPEAKER: Now the member is also questioning a ruling I made earlier. I made a ruling that the question was adequately addressed, and left it for Dr Russel Norman to ask further supplementary questions.
Dr Russel Norman: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: Is it a fresh point of order, or is it continuing to question a ruling I made earlier?
Dr Russel Norman: It is to try to establish—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Is it a fresh point of order?
Dr Russel Norman: It is related to your ruling. It is trying to establish—
Mr SPEAKER: No. Order! I have ruled on that question. If the member wishes to raise a fresh point of order, I will entertain it. But if it is continuing to question my ruling, then I will take that quite seriously.
Dr Russel Norman: Is it not time to admit the truth, for once, on behalf of the Minister or the National Party—the truth, just for once, from the National Party; that is what I would like to hear— that the reforms in the 1990s have failed to deliver a competitive electricity market and that is why prices have risen 70 percent above inflation over those 20 years, and in the period since this Government has been in place, over 4 years, power prices have risen by 19 percent in spite of the fact that demand is flat; the market has failed?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: I thank the member for that speech. The simple facts of the matter are these. In the 1990s power prices did rise. They then shot up markedly under the Labour Government. We were so concerned when we came into Government that we set up a review. We set about implementing reforms, including the Electricity Authority, and the rate of increase has gone from 8 percent to some 4.5 percent. Well, that is success.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Have power prices increased by 70 percent more than the rate of inflation in the last 20 years?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: I am not certain of that fact, but what I do know is that the sharpest rise was under the 9 years of Labour, when that guy was—
Dr Russel Norman: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Minister has answered the question. He does not need to go on attacking any other—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! That sort of point of order clearly leads to more disorder. It is not an adequate point of order. The Minister has the ability to answer the question and to elaborate, provided he does not go on for too long.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. That question is the core of the primary question. For a Minister to say that he does not know cannot be true.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! It is a substantially different question to what was asked in the primary question.
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Could I ask you, and it may not be the appropriate time to make a ruling here, but is it your ruling that where a member sets down a primary question on notice that deals with a specific time period, that a Minister now may be required only to provide information for a small part of that specific time period, rather than the entire time period specified?
Mr SPEAKER: I think that is a valid point of order. It would be dependent on the question that is asked and the answer that is given. But, again, I will reflect when I have read the Hansard and I will have a look at it, but I thought, as I have said, that the Minister adequately addressed the question.
Student Achievement—Pasifika Students
6. ALFRED NGARO (National) to the Minister for Pacific Island Affairs: What reports has she received on raising achievement amongst Pasifika students?
Hon HEKIA PARATA (Minister for Pacific Island Affairs): Kia orana, Mr Speaker. Today I have welcomed figures that show that there was a 3½ percent increase in 16-year-old Pasifika young people achieving National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA) level 2 last year. That means that of the 3,054 young Pasifika students who gained NCEA level 2, there were 252 more than in 2011. Last week I also announced provisional data that 6,737 Pasifika kids started school having participated in early childhood education. That is 284 more new entrants than at the same time last year. This is good news and a credit to all the aiga, early learning places, and schools that have played a role in this increase, and there is more to do.
Alfred Ngaro: What else is the Government doing to raise achievement?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: Through working to achieve our Better Public Services targets, we are focusing on every stage of the education pipeline, from early learning through to schooling and on to brighter futures. For example, many children in Porirua East—
Hon Member: She doesn’t care.
Hon HEKIA PARATA: They do not care, obviously, but many children in Porirua East were missing out on early learning. With transport—
Sue Moroney: Blah, blah, blah.
Hon HEKIA PARATA: Well, no, it is not blah, blah, blah. It is transport costs and cultural barriers, which this Government cares about but members on those benches do not, that have made it difficult for many families. Through the early childhood education participation programme we have supported the licensing of two Pasifika home-based networks in Porirua, which has increased the capacity for early learning opportunities for up to 160 children, whom we care about, even if that side does not. In addition, through this network—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Would the Minister please complete her answer.
Hon HEKIA PARATA: In addition, through this network 40 Pasifika educators have been trained to deliver high quality, culturally responsive early learning.
Hon Member: Well done!
Hon HEKIA PARATA: Thank you.
Su’a William Sio: Does she consider that the use of Pasifika bilingual education can help raise Pasifika students’ academic achievement; if so, why has this Government continually underresourced bilingual Pasifika education, and why is bilingual education not mentioned anywhere in the Pasifika Education Plan 2013-2017?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: It has long been the policy, in education, of our Government that language, identity, and culture do form the context within which educational success can occur. So we have focused through the Pasifika Education Plan on early learning and on supporting community-led initiatives to preserve and promote the heritage languages of those communities so that their children will go on to school with a better chance of success.
Forestry—Reports and Government Policy
7. Hon SHANE JONES (Labour) to the Associate Minister for Primary Industries: Has she seen the Manley Report which found that large forest owners intend to deforest 39,000 hectares between now and 2020 and what action will she take to promote policy that encourages forestry?
Hon JO GOODHEW (Associate Minister for Primary Industries): Yes, I have seen this report. To put the finding into perspective, the intended deforestation accounts for less than 0.5 percent per annum of the total planted forest area of 1.7 million hectares. However, deforestation intentions need to be looked at with an understanding of the factors that can influence the final result. These include changes in the carbon price over time, perceptions around land use economics, and access to water. In terms of actions to promote forestry, this Government has a strong focus on improving the business and regulatory environment to support economic growth of all businesses, including those in the primary sector.
Hon Shane Jones: Given that answer, what steps has she taken to enable forest product exporters to realise the $12 billion 10-year figure, when they are reporting that New Zealand exports are encountering barriers because overseas purchasers want to know that the source of the timber is not illegal?
Hon JO GOODHEW: I can assure the member that we have taken many steps. We have, for instance, introduced a permitting system to allow longer and heavier trucks, reducing transport costs, which improves the profitability of forest growing. I can assure the member that the Ministry for Primary Industries is currently working with the sector on the issue of illegal logging. I can assure the member that we are improving the Resource Management Act, speeding up the process, and reducing costs and uncertainty. We are making investment—significant investment—in infrastructure, including roads. Those are my assurances to the member.
Hon Shane Jones: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My question was directed at impediments that exporters in the forestry sector are encountering that they are unable to assure overseas purchasers about the illegality of the timber—not bridges, definitely, or roads.
Mr SPEAKER: And within that quite lengthy answer, I recall some mention of working internationally with regards to illegality. The question was addressed.
Hon Shane Jones: What actions is the Minister taking to assist small-scale forest owners to become better coordinated and organised to fully realise the economic potential of their 500,000 hectares of timber, given they say they cannot even get a meeting with the Minister?
Hon JO GOODHEW: Well, I will begin with the latter part of the question. I am unaware of anyone having been refused the opportunity to meet with me, and I have met with many groups from the sector since becoming the responsible Minister. In fact, I have come to understand what an extremely diverse sector it is. I have come to understand that not only are there the very large forest owners, or those owners who have large areas under their ownership, but also in this diverse sector there are many, many tens of thousands of owners who own a small amount of land. I can assure you that I have met and discussed the industry’s ideas for working to make a coordinated approach. All of this Government’s intentions around making the Business Growth Agenda will certainly be assisting all of the forestry owners, be they large or small.
Hon Shane Jones: Given that there are 18,000 jobs at stake in the forestry sector, what policies is she promoting to enable New Zealand - based manufacturers to continue in business, given that they are being priced out of the market by foreign-owned log sellers?
Hon JO GOODHEW: I have already outlined to the member the many changes that we intend to make in the business and regulatory environment. However, this Government has no intentions of interfering with market forces.
8. JONATHAN YOUNG (National—New Plymouth) to the Minister of Energy and
Resources: What recent reports has he received on electricity market performance?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES (Minister of Energy and Resources): I have received the Electricity Authority’s review of 2012, released publicly yesterday, which outlines three extremely positive developments: increased competition in the retail market, increased activity on the futures market, and improved hydro management in response to a dry year. This is further evidence that the Government’s 2010 electricity market reforms are bedding in well and delivering greater competition and improved security of supply.
Jonathan Young: What reports has the Minister seen on the numbers of consumers taking advantage of greater competition in the electricity market?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: The member will be pleased to know New Zealanders are increasingly switching companies for a better deal. Since the What’s My Number campaign began in May 2011, nearly 700,000 consumer switches have been recorded. Latest figures show that 2013 is off to a great start in terms of electricity switching, which is yet more evidence of consumers understanding they have options and switching to achieve the best plan for themselves.
Jonathan Young: What reports has the Minister seen on trends in electricity prices in New Zealand?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: I have seen figures that show prices rose by 72 percent under the last Labour Government, or 8 percent year on year. Figures also show that this Government has slowed that growth to under 5 percent a year. If the public had had the ability to switch retailers as easily as they do now, I think we would have seen millions switching under Labour.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Have power prices increased by 70 percent more than the rate of inflation in the last 20 years, and at nearly six times the rate of inflation in the latest year to 31 March?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: As I have already said, I cannot specifically answer whether that precise figure is correct. What is very clear is that the figures showed a sharp rise of over 70 percent when he was a Minister and collected all the dividends.
Chris Hipkins: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The answer the Minister gave is simply impossible to believe given his answers to the supplementary questions from Jonathan Young,
because he actually quoted many of the figures in answer to a patsy question from one of his own members. There is simply no way he can credibly claim he does not know.
Mr SPEAKER: Well, that is over to the Minister to decide, and for the Minister to make that statement that he does not know is enough—
Hon Anne Tolley: If the Opposition members had allowed the Minister to finish any of the answers to the supplementary questions, they may well have got some of the information he has now spoken.
Hon Trevor Mallard: We have had a problem this week with the Prime Minister—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! This is a point of order. It will be heard in silence.
Hon Trevor Mallard: —remembering between one supplementary question and another and what an answer was, but this is even worse. We have a Minister who is forgetting the answer that he gave for a prior supplementary question from less than 30 seconds earlier. You cannot believe that a Minister forgets over that period.
Mr SPEAKER: I have listened very carefully to questions and answers through the day. The Minister is quite entitled to stand and say that he cannot confirm the particular information that was outlined in the member’s question.
Climate Change—Effect on Sea Levels and Solutions for Displaced Citizens
9. Dr KENNEDY GRAHAM (Green) to the Prime Minister: Will he commit his Government to accept citizens of Pacific Island countries displaced by sea level rise as a result of climate change?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister for Economic Development) on behalf of the Prime
Minister: New Zealand has strong relationships with many Pacific Island countries. If rising sea levels caused by climate change were to threaten their long-term survival, which, it is important to understand, would likely be some way in the future, it would be my expectation that future New Zealand Governments would look very sympathetically on their position.
Dr Kennedy Graham: In light of the response, what is the Prime Minister’s response to President Anote Tong of Kiribati, who said this week that “For our people to survive, then they will have to migrate. Either we can wait for the time when we have to move people en masse or we can prepare them—beginning from now …”?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Obviously I am aware that the three countries with the largest potential exposure to sea-level rises are Kiribati, Tuvalu, and Tokelau. As the Prime Minister said back in 2009, New Zealand, of course, has a strong relationship with all three of those countries and would be working closely with them, and, in fact, continues to work closely with them on matters like climate change and a whole range of matters that are very important to them and other Pacific countries.
Dr Kennedy Graham: Given that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has warned that for some Pacific nations sea-level rise poses risks “to their sovereignty or existence”, will he accept that a specific plan needs to be developed now?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: No, not at this time, but, as I said in the answer to the first question, it is my expectation that Governments will continue to work closely with the potentially affected countries and would look very sympathetically on their position should the need for such an approach arise.
Dr Kennedy Graham: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. It has been established, I think, in the context of my questioning and certainly from World Bank and UN documents that the need is recognised internationally as now. The Minister has responded that it would be at some future time. I put it to you that the time is now, which is what I have tried to get across to the Minister.
Mr SPEAKER: That point is certainly open to debate. The Minister adequately addressed the question that was asked by the member.
Dr Kennedy Graham: Working on the assumption that the time is now, even if that is a debatable point, will his Government propose at the Pacific Islands Forum this year that a regional relocation plan be drawn up—and if it is a contingency plan, so be it—to address the needs of Pacific Island States and investigate the capacity of Australia, New Zealand, and other recipient countries to take displaced people from Pacific Island States?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: We will, of course, be continuing dialogue not just with the Pacific Island countries and not just at the Pacific Islands Forum but also with our Australian colleagues in relation to the issue that the member raises. It may be helpful for him to know that, I understand, the Refugee Council of Australia is proposing something similar at this point in time. We do not know yet whether that is something that the Australian Government will consider, but New Zealand and Australia have a close relationship on these matters and we continue to discuss them at the appropriate times.
Dr Kennedy Graham: I seek leave to table three documents, if I may. The first is a United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees document dated May 2011, headed “Climate Change and the Risk of Statelessness; the Situation of Low-lying—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Is that publicly available off the web?
Dr Kennedy Graham: It may be on the website of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. It is a UN document.
Mr SPEAKER: I think it is relatively easy for members to access if they so want.
Dr Kennedy Graham: The second is a speech by the President of Kiribati dated 27 February 2013 headed “Global Collective Action Needed”.
Mr SPEAKER: Is that readily available to members? I suspect it—
Dr Kennedy Graham: I do not believe it is readily available.
Mr SPEAKER: Let us put the leave. Leave is sought to table that particular speech. Is there any objection? There is no objection. Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Dr Kennedy Graham: The final one is, in fact, an article responding to the Minister’s point about the Australia being urged to recognise—
Mr SPEAKER: If it is an article, I take it to be press article?
Dr Kennedy Graham: It is a UK Guardian article.
Mr SPEAKER: That is available to members who want to seek it. It will not be tabled.
Telecommunications Security—Proposed Legislative Changes
10. MARK MITCHELL (National—Rodney) to the Minister for Communications and
Information Technology: How is the Government ensuring telecommunications security legislation remains effective in a rapidly changing telecommunications environment?
Hon AMY ADAMS (Minister for Communications and Information Technology): Yesterday I announced plans to modernise the Telecommunications (Interception Capability) Act 2004. The proposed changes relate to obligations for telecommunications companies and have two parts, one focused on modernising the existing interception capability regime, and the second introducing a formal and transparent framework for network security. The interception changes will continue to require police or agencies to first obtain lawful authorisation to conduct surveillance, as they currently must, and do not in any way change the scope of what they are lawfully able to intercept. New Zealanders who understand the importance of cyber security know that it is essential that our regime keeps pace in a rapidly changing environment.
Mark Mitchell: Why are changes needed to interception capability and network security?
Hon AMY ADAMS: New Zealand’s telecommunications market has changed significantly since the Act was passed in 2004. The changes proposed will make it easier for telecommunications companies to understand and comply with their existing interception capability obligations as these
will be clearer and better targeted. Secondly, although our network security regime has worked to date on the basis where companies have worked cooperatively with the Government, the increasing importance of cyber-protection and the growing numbers of companies involved mean that it is now appropriate to move to a transparent and formalised regime.
Housing Affordability and Availability, Christchurch—Rental Situation
11. PHIL TWYFORD (Labour—Te Atatū) to the Minister of Housing: Does he stand by the Prime Minister’s statement that he’s not “promising that the Government’s going to go and build a whole lot of houses”, if so, how does he plan to resolve the rental housing crisis in Christchurch?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH (Minister of Housing): Housing in Christchurch is a challenge, but it is not a crisis. [Interruption] Well, average rents have gone up 10 percent, but are less than they are in either Auckland or Wellington. Housing New Zealand Corporation waiting lists for the highest need, A and B clients, have currently 252—fewer than there were prior to the earthquakes and actually half what there were under the previous Labour Government. I also notice that the numbers on the Christchurch City Council’s waiting lists are fewer than they were prior to the earthquakes. We have over a dozen specific initiatives under way to address Christchurch’s housing challenges, but these, as the Prime Minister said, do not include nationalising housing. The bulk of the new houses will be built by the private sector, as can be see by the massive increase in the number of building consents being issued in Christchurch.
Phil Twyford: Given that response, why did he say recently that 40 new homes being constructed by the Government was “stepping up” its Christchurch housing response; and does he really think that building 40 new homes amounts to “stepping up” given that his own officials say that up to 7,400 Cantabrians are homeless?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: The first thing I find amusing, having been lectured for the last 4 months that as a South Island MP I should not be commenting on Auckland housing issues, is that Mr Twyford now thinks he is an expert—and I am not sure why—on Christchurch housing issues. I detect a double standard.
Phil Twyford: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am not threatening to legislate to override the Christchurch City Council.
Mr SPEAKER: That is not a point of order. Has the Minister finished his answer?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: The Government, as I announced last week, has settled with the insurance company. We are going to be spending over $1 billion on the Housing New Zealand Corporation homes in that city. We have got temporary housing initiatives of the sort that have been commented on. We have established temporary accommodation services to assist with householders. It is a big challenge, but we are making great progress.
Phil Twyford: What is he going to do to accommodate the people who will need to move out of the 80,000 homes that are yet to be repaired, the 15,000 to 20,000 construction workers expected over the next 2 years, and the 8,000 new homes needed to cope with population increase; and does he really think that 40 new homes is an adequate response to that?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: I never said that the 40 new homes being built at Rangers Park were a complete solution. You need to see them alongside the other three villages that we have created for temporary accommodation. There are also the 5,000 State houses that we are fixing apace. I note that the Labour Party opposes the settlement with the insurance company that will actually enable us to get on and fix those State houses. We have got a request for a proposal out right now in respect of worker accommodation. We have helped thousands of families with extra grants through the temporary accommodation assistance. There are over a dozen separate initiatives that this Government has given to assist in housing in Christchurch.
Phil Twyford: What does he say to the thousands of Cantabrians facing another winter sleeping in uninsulated sleepouts and sleeping in cars, and to families squashed into someone else’s spare
room or paying hundreds of dollars to live in a caravan; and does he really think that having 7,400 homeless people in Christchurch is a challenge and not a crisis?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: I noted that the editorial in the Christchurch Press, which, in its analysis of the housing issues in Christchurch, said that it was challenging but not a crisis.
Phil Twyford: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I asked the Minister what he thought, not what the Christchurch Press thought.
Mr SPEAKER: The member asked two questions in his supplementary question. The Minister is now attempting to answer either one of those. He had hardly started his answer before the member got to his feet. Would the Minister please continue.
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: The consistent feedback I get from the people of Christchurch on housing issues in the days that I have been down there—and they are many—is that they are saying: “Thank God it’s a National Government.”, which is focused on the issue, rather than playing politics with their tragedy.
Better Public Services Targets—Immunisation
12. Dr JACKIE BLUE (National) to the Minister of Health: What reports has he received on the Government’s better public service target for immunisation?
Hon JO GOODHEW (Associate Minister of Health) on behalf of the Minister of Health: Only 5 years ago New Zealand had one of the lowest immunisation rates in the developed world. Today I have seen reports that 17 district health boards have achieved the 85 percent immunisation target for 8-month-olds. This reflects the hard work of front-line immunisation teams. This means we have again exceeded the national health target for immunisation and are well on our way to achieving the 95 percent target by December 2014. This is a great achievement for the children of New Zealand.
Dr Jackie Blue: What will World Immunization Week initiatives contribute to achieving this national health target?
Hon JO GOODHEW: Last night, in preparation for World Health Organization World Immunization Week, which begins next Monday, the Minister of Health, Tony Ryall, launched the Immunisation Health Report here in Parliament in association with the Meningitis Foundation and Pfizer New Zealand. The report is designed to be a handy guide for parents and anyone interested in the immunisation of our children. Improving immunisation rates to reduce the exposure for the most vulnerable members of our population is a priority for this Government and requires a coordinated effort from the Government, parents, health professionals, and community organisations, and I would recommend this booklet to every member of this House.
Points of Order—Tabling of Documents
DAVID CLENDON (Green): I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I wonder whether I could ask you, not at this time but over the next little while, to reflect on your ruling regarding my colleague’s application to table a specific document. More generally, it seems that over the last few weeks—we entirely understand, of course, that you do not want the House’s time taken up tabling extracts from the New Zealand Herald, the Dominion Post, and so on—it almost seems to be that if a document is available on the internet, it is deemed not able to be tabled. Just for your information, this United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees document, I have actually done quite an extensive search in the time I have had and I cannot locate that document. More generally, it is a very specific research paper. It is complex; it will add value to the comments that my colleague was making. I would just ask you to consider where the appropriate line is on that ruling you have made.
Mr SPEAKER: I will certainly do that for the benefit of the member. The member might also like to look at quite a substantive ruling I gave in regard to the tabling of documents.
Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Labour—Hutt South): I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. While you are examining that matter, could you also look at, and rule on, whether items that are
beyond pay walls should be able to be tabled when they have been printed off. I think that there are an increasing number of media organisations that are putting material beyond pay walls. There are, obviously, a few questions of copyright, but I think members having access to that material through tabling would be good.
Mr SPEAKER: I will certainly do that. I thank Mr Mallard for his point.