Questions and Answers - May 28
QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS
Budget 2013—Job Creation and Growth
1. ANDREW WILLIAMS (NZ First) to the Minister of Finance: How many new jobs, if any, are forecast in Budget 2013?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): Thank you for asking about jobs, a key focus for the Government. The Budget forecasts are done independently by Treasury, who predict that there will be 60,000 more people employed over the course of 2013, and a further 54,000 in 2014. Since the Budget forecasts were finalised, the actual numbers for the first quarter of 2013 have been released showing an increase of 38,000 of the predicted 60,000 for the calendar year growth in employment. However, these numbers can fluctuate from quarter to quarter. This reflects, in part, reasonably strong growth in the New Zealand economy, as well as growth in exports, low interest rates, low inflation, and the confidence built by the Government in maintaining its track to surplus.
Andrew Williams: Why is annual average employment growth estimated to be minus 0.8 percent in the June 2013 quarter of the 2013 Budget, given that Budget 2011 forecast 170,000 new jobs by 2015?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: That is a very good question and one where I would need to go and look at the detail to be able to answer the member. As I said, job growth is forecast based on reasonable growth in the economy. I think we would accept two things. One is that job growth was pretty soft in 2012, softer than was expected, so there were fewer extra people in employment than expected, and, looking out over the next 12 months, job growth as measured by these statistical methods is likely to fluctuate from quarter to quarter around the rising trend.
Andrew Williams: Given that the June quarter shows a minus 0.8 percent average employment growth, and given that Budget 2011 forecast 170,000 new jobs by 2015 and Budget 2013 is now halfway through that time frame, how many of those 170,000 new jobs has the Government actually delivered?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: In the first place, the Government does not directly deliver jobs; it delivers an environment where businesses are confident enough to make the decision to invest and employ. Secondly, in response to the member’s question, the fact is that in the calendar year for 2012, job growth was pretty soft, and of the 170,000 jobs that were forecast in Budget 2010 it is currently about 40,000 behind that forecast. However, the forecasts ahead of us do look a bit surer because we are closer to the rebuild of Christchurch and there is likely to be more success in getting Auckland housing under way.
Todd McClay: What is the Government doing to support more jobs?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Instead of printing money and excessive Government spending, what we are doing is focusing the Business Growth Agenda on getting businesses to make decisions that constitute growth. The Business Growth Agenda sets out over 200 initiatives—in fact, closer to 300
initiatives—all of which are designed to support and encourage business to invest another dollar and employ another person. The indications from anecdotal evidence and measures of business confidence are that New Zealand business is increasingly interested in hiring more people.
Andrew Williams: Does he consider the 354 new jobs at Work and Income New Zealand announced in Budget 2013 to be part of those 170,000 jobs forecast in Budget 2011, and why are those new jobs at Work and Income New Zealand required—354 of them—if his Government is predicting a decline in unemployment?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: It is precisely because we are shifting the focus of whom Government supports back into work. What has become clear through the welfare reform and the investment approach is that people who are in unemployment who have been the focus of much of Government support activity have a pretty high probability of getting jobs again. However, other parts of the beneficiary population—in particular, solo parents and sickness beneficiaries—have been left languishing, particularly by the previous Government. We have decided they deserve more support, and more of them will get work if we support them, and that is why the 350 new jobs in Work and Income New Zealand are there.
Grant Robertson: Is it correct that the Budget documents show that National will be 61,000 jobs short of the promise of 170,000 extra jobs that he made in Budget 2010 and repeated on the election trail in 2011?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: As I pointed out to the member, the job numbers are forecasts made by Treasury, in the same way that GDP growth is a forecast made by Treasury. In answer to the question, yes, and the reason is that the economy was slower last year. But I can tell that member that promises of printing money and stopping all economic growth are not the recipe for more jobs.
Grant Robertson: I seek leave of the House to table the National Party’s ad regarding 170,000 more jobs from the 2011 election campaign, which the finance Minister has just told us will not be met.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that. Is there any objection? There is none. Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Andrew Williams: Given that the number of Kiwis on the unemployment benefit was 23,000 when his Government took office, and now sits at 49,000, how can he claim that his economic management is not putting people out of work?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Well, a few events have occurred since we took office that the member may not be aware of. There was a large earthquake in Christchurch, there was a global financial crisis, there was the worst recession since the Great Depression of the 1930s, and in that context we have done pretty well. But if that member wants to stay on “Planet Labour”, he will remain out of touch with what is happening in the real world.
Todd McClay: What policies has he seen that will reduce jobs?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Well, I have seen a few: a policy that will use the emissions trading system to increase power prices by $500 per family and will probably destroy jobs; policies opposing all new mining and oil and gas exploration, which will probably destroy jobs; policies designed to shut down the dairy industry, which will probably destroy jobs; and policies to print money and erode confidence of business, which will probably destroy jobs. Those are the policies of the Labour-Green Opposition.
Budget 2013—Economic Programme
2. Hon KATE WILKINSON (National—Waimakariri) to the Minister of Finance: How did the Budget on 16 May contribute to the Government’s economic programme?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): The Budget provided further momentum right across the Government’s economic programme, built on considerable progress over the last four Budgets. In particular, it progressed the Government’s four priorities for this term: getting back to
surplus, a more competitive economy, better public services, and rebuilding Christchurch. The Budget continues to focus on imbalances that are part of the recovery, such as the pick-up in house prices, but which could threaten the recovery.
Hon Kate Wilkinson: What has been the Government’s approach to implementing its economic programme, and what do recent indicators show about progress?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The Government has focused on moderate and consistent change over time, in order to manage New Zealand out of the difficult circumstances of the recession and the earthquakes, but, at the same time, to invest in improving our capacity for growth in the future. The Government’s plan is working, as international bodies such as the IMF have recognised. In the last year New Zealand grew at about the same rate as Australia, which is higher than most other developed economies, and looking out over the next couple of years New Zealand has better prospects than most developed economies, and probably moderately better prospects than Australia.
Hon Kate Wilkinson: How does the current economic outlook as set out in the Budget compare with the position the Government inherited in 2008?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The economy is in much better shape, and compared with other countries there is a sense that New Zealand has been dealing with some of the key issues that are going to dog other developed economies for the next decade. Five years ago, New Zealand was in deep recession, the global economy was in crisis, Government spending was out of control, and Treasury forecasts showed never-ending deficits and soaring debt—and that was before the Christchurch earthquakes hit, which are going to have an impact of about 20 percent of GDP. So the Government’s plan has been to get on top of those issues in the short term and build our long-term capacity for growth.
Hon Kate Wilkinson: What independent reports has he received on the Budget in the Government’s wider economic programme?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The reports on the Budget have generally supported the Government’s economic direction, but I would be the first to give the credit to New Zealanders—their businesses and households—who have proven to be so resilient and have actually made the decisions that have enabled New Zealand to get back on its feet. The Employers and Manufacturers Association commented on the Government’s returning the books to surplus giving business confidence. Business New Zealand says a careful and measured approach to spending is also showing benefits, as well as the focus on competitiveness through innovation, infrastructure, internationalisation, and skills. Even the Children’s Commissioner, who is generally a critic of the Government, has said there is much to be impressed with in the Budget, despite the Government’s constrained finances.
Dr Russel Norman: Given that New Zealand’s net international debt will increase by $61 billion over 5 years under the Budget projections and economic plan that he released, does he consider that an increase in net debt of $61 billion over 5 years is a sustainable economic strategy?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I think that in the context of the recession there has been a significant build-up of Government debt, and that is what has—
Dr Russel Norman: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am terribly sorry to interrupt the Minister, but it was about New Zealand’s net international investment position—the debt of New Zealand not the Government’s debt position.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Allow the Minister to answer the question.
Hon BILL ENGLISH: If the member was really concerned about that, he would support the asset sales, which are enabling us to buy public assets without borrowing money off foreign bankers. Why is he so keen on foreign bankers?
Dr Russel Norman: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. It was not a political question at all; it was a very straight question about New Zealand’s net debt increasing by $61 billion. I asked the Minister whether he thought this was a sustainable strategy. He is opening by just attacking me. It has got nothing to do with me. It is about his Government.
Mr SPEAKER: No, I think the Minister adequately addressed the question that was asked.
3. DAVID SHEARER (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does he stand by all his statements?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): Yes.
David Shearer: Does he stand by his statement in relation to affordable housing that “We are very serious about resolving this issue.”; if so, why do the Budget forecasts show an increase in average house prices by up to 46 percent by 2017, or more than 10 percent a year?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Well, that is Treasury’s forecast, but we are very serious about that issue. That is why the Government has been prepared to release 39,000 sections in Auckland alone over the course of the next 3 years, working alongside Auckland Council. That is why this Government does not want to embark on printing money—which Labour and the Greens support—because that would drive up interest rates. That is why this Government is successfully managing the economy: to make sure that New Zealanders can afford to buy a home.
Grant Robertson: Stop telling lies.
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: It is not a lie. It is not a lie, Grant. I am afraid you are tied at the hip to your boy over there.
David Shearer: In light of his last answer, have there been any targets set for the number of affordable homes that will be built as part of the 39,000 homes under the housing accord with Auckland Council?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I am not sure that a firm target has been set, but there is wide expectation that a great many of them will be affordable, because the reality is that, firstly, that is where the demand is; and, secondly, by fast-tracking the process and ensuring that they are built right across Auckland the very target of this is actually for affordable homes.
David Shearer: Can he guarantee that any of the 39,000 homes that are going to be built as a part of the accord will be in the affordable range? Can he guarantee that?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: The Government itself is not building the homes, so by definition you can only make these statements, but, of course, there will be affordable homes built—of course they will be built. In reality the only guarantee that we can make is that if Labour and the Greens ever got the chance to print money, they would drive inflation up.
David Shearer: What confidence can Aucklanders have that affordable housing will actually be built when the housing accord talks only about giving “consideration to the provision” of affordable housing?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: What the member seems to be saying is that Len Brown, the Mayor of Auckland, has all of a sudden left the Labour Party and is interested in building big homes that do not attract the people who want affordable housing. Well, if that is what he thinks about Len Brown, maybe he should go and tell him.
David Shearer: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. That question was addressed to the Prime Minister. It was a really straight question. I do not want to hear about somebody else whom he knows; I would like to hear what the Prime Minister thinks about it.
Mr SPEAKER: The member needs to think carefully about the question he asked, which is what confidence would Aucklanders have that housing would be affordable, etc. That is a political type of question that will get a political type of answer.
David Shearer: I will ask it a different way: what safeguards has he put into his housing policy to make sure that speculators building on his new land do not build all of the homes at the expensive end of the market?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Well, it is not my land, but the reality is that the commitment between Auckland Council and the Government is to try to build 39,000 homes on brownfield and greenfield sites over the course of the next 3 years. The mayor himself is on record—I was at the press conference that we held—saying that his focus is on affordable housing. I might add, while we are at it, that if we want to care about people having access to good-quality homes, this is the
Government that, in the Budget, announced that 3,000 additional bedrooms will be built for State houses in Auckland—
David Shearer: Bedrooms!
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Well, the member laughs, but that is right. The Labour Government did absolutely nothing in 9 years in caring about large families—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! That is quite a sufficient answer.
4. ALFRED NGARO (National) to the Minister for Social Development: What announcements has she made about providing support for breakfast in schools?
Hon PAULA BENNETT (Minister for Social Development): Today we announced that the Government is putting $9.5 million over the next 5 years towards the KickStart Breakfast programme in schools. This is in partnership with Fonterra and Sanitarium, and will be matched in value by them. We have also announced that we will increase our support to KidsCan, providing $1.5 million over 3 years to provide children with basic necessities like raincoats and shoes. I believe we have struck the right balance. Ultimately it is parents who are responsible for their children, but we cannot ignore the fact that some children turn up hungry and cannot learn on an empty stomach. That is why this programme includes not only Government but community nongovernmental organisations and business partners, as we all have a shared responsibility for these children.
Alfred Ngaro: How will this Government investment support these programmes to make a difference for vulnerable children?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: Currently, the KickStart Breakfast programme runs just two mornings a week in decile 1 to 4 schools. This partnership will increase this to five mornings a week, and higher-decile schools that want and need the programme can opt in over time. These programmes are a genuine partnership. The Government will back the programme with resources, Fonterra and Sanitarium will distribute the food, and communities will run the breakfasts and provide the bowls and spoons.
Alfred Ngaro: What other announcements have been made to support low-income families?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: This is part of a vast programme of initiatives and policies targeted to vulnerable and low-income families with children. We have a strong record over the past 4½ years of targeted assistance and support to those who need it most. But Budget 2013 included further initiatives, like $100 million to extend the home insulation programme; another $24 million for rheumatic fever prevention; $41 million for early childhood education for vulnerable children, to make sure that they really are targeted; $35 million for carers of children; and low and no-interest loan options.
Jacinda Ardern: Will her Government take the next step and formulate a plan to tackle child poverty, starting with setting targets to reduce it, and address the root cause of the problem: our low-wage economy and inequality rates that have reached their highest point ever under this Government?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: Some of the reports that I have seen said that way back in 2007, when that member’s party was in Government, we still had 240,000 children who were living in poverty. I think that if the member reads our response to the Children’s Commissioner’s Expert Advisory Group on Solutions to Child Poverty, she will see an extensive programme of work that has been going on out there. Ultimately what we are saying, though, is that the plan is working, but there is more still that we can do, and that is why we are pleased with the announcements today.
Jacinda Ardern: Has she adequately responded to the Children’s Commissioner’s Expert Advisory Group on Solutions to Child Poverty, its 78 detailed recommendations, and its almost year’s worth of work with her 13-page double-spaced paper, which barely acknowledges the
group’s recommendations and which lists tax cuts and floating mortgage rates as her Government’s child poverty successes?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: In the old days, when that member’s party was in Government, it was a case of the longer the document, the more it was doing. But, actually, this is about action. What that document shows is what a vast lot of work is going on to support those who are on low incomes or in benefit-dependent households. To give just two quick examples to the House, we have had a doubling of special-needs grants to families that needed it during the recession. We spent twice as much at that time, when people really needed it. We were there for them and we were able to give them that level of assistance. This Government spends nearly $2 billion on accommodation support alone: $1.2 billion, projected to go up by another $100 million, just on accommodation support, and also under the income-related rents. That is making a difference. It is one thing to sort of harp from the other side; it is another to take action.
Rt Hon John Key: Has the member seen reports of a Government that over the last 5 years, when it comes to at-risk children and to vulnerable families, has spent $20 billion on Working for Families, income-related rents, and accommodation supplements; insulated 215,000 homes, with a further 46,000 homes to be insulated; built 3,000 additional bedrooms on State houses in Auckland—
Mr SPEAKER: Order!
Rt Hon John Key: —spent just on $50 million on rheumatic fever; come up with a whiteware procurement programme and a microfinance programme—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! That is quite a sufficiently long supplementary question.
Hon PAULA BENNETT: Yes, I have seen reports about that. Actually, the report was a lot longer than that, because you did not actually cover everything that was in the report that is actually happening for vulnerable children. But, of course, this National-led Government is the one that is stepping up and taking action for those low-income families that need it.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: Point of order—
Hon Trevor Mallard: No, no. It is a supplementary question.
Mr SPEAKER: Oh, a supplementary question. The Hon Trevor Mallard—[Interruption] Order! The member is asking a supplementary question.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Has the Minister seen a statement recording the view of an individual that Working for Families was communism by stealth, and is that individual now the Prime Minister?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: What I have seen a report on is that we have actually seen Working for Families being fixed. We have actually seen more support going into those lower-income families and seen it actually making a big difference in their lives.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Although it was a political question, it was straightforward and does deserve an answer.
Mr SPEAKER: I would appreciate it if the Minister could answer it.
Hon PAULA BENNETT: I personally have not seen a report like that.
Mr SPEAKER: Question—[Interruption] Order! Question—[Interruption] Order! Order! Would the House please settle. Question No. 5, Dr Russel Norman.
State-owned Energy Companies, Sales—Meridian Energy
5. Dr RUSSEL NORMAN (Co-Leader—Green) to the Minister of Finance: Has he received any official advice since the sale of Mighty River Power on how many retail investors are expected to buy shares in Meridian Energy; if so, what is the forecast for the number of retail investors in Meridian Energy?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): No, there is no official forecast, and in any case the number would be difficult to predict. This Government has confidence in the ability of New Zealanders to examine the information about investing in Meridian Energy and to make up their
own minds about where to invest. It is a good thing that they now have greater choice as to where they put their savings, and we will be happier getting money from New Zealand retail investors than getting it from the foreign bankers for whom that member advocates.
Dr Russel Norman: So is the Minister telling us that he proposes to sell billions of dollars in public assets without any knowledge of how many Kiwis are likely to buy them?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Well, as I said, there is no prediction or forecast for the number of retail investors, but it is likely that they will look at the information presented through the offer document, which has to be factual and transparent, and will make up their own minds. If you can use Mighty River Power as a yardstick, then there were 113,000 investors who took part in the public pool there, and there may well be more taking part in the Meridian Energy pool. Either way, we hope to replicate the experience of Mighty River Power, where we got $1.7 billion in the bank Friday 2 weeks ago, whereas that member would have either printed the money or got it from foreign bankers.
Dr Russel Norman: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. These have been two very straight questions. The first one was on notice; it was a very straight question. The Minister used both his answers to attack me as the questioner. I do not see why you are not ruling those answers, or those parts of the answers, out of order. How are they relevant?
Mr SPEAKER: I do not think the answers in any case were attacking the member. They were political, but this is a political debating chamber. The first question was on notice and it was very clearly answered with: “No, that information is not available.” The member then raised a supplementary question, which, effectively, was a repeat of the primary question.
Dr Russel Norman: Given that his Government forecast that 250,000 Kiwis would buy shares in Mighty River Power, according to the Treasury documents, and only 100,000 did, why would subsequent sales attract a larger number of investors?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: First of all, 250,000 was not a forecast. It is a number that the logistics people thought they needed to be able to cater for, because, of course, if we could not have catered for the numbers, then that would be the point of criticism. Secondly, the reason it will attract more retail investors is that fewer and fewer people think that the Labour-Greens policy is credible and even fewer people think that they can now win an election.
Dr Russel Norman: Is it still the Government’s plan to sell both Meridian Energy and Genesis before the end of the year?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The Government has not made decisions about that. It has simply made the decision that it will float Meridian Energy with the objective of widespread New Zealand ownership. We would expect that it will give New Zealanders the opportunity to invest in a large New Zealand company, and tens of thousands of them are likely to do so. We will get several billion dollars of cash in the bank, which is not a bad thing, and then we will be able to use that to purchase other public assets. We will be doing that instead of borrowing from foreign bankers, whom that member continues to advocate for.
Hon David Parker: Can the Minister assure the House that Mighty River Power is still at least 85 percent New Zealand - owned?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I cannot give that assurance and the member knows why. What we always said is that at the float it would be. Actually, the record of a number of New Zealand public companies is that New Zealand proportional ownership is growing, and that may well occur with Mighty River Power.
Dr Russel Norman: Given his earlier admission in this House on 9 May that the cost of selling Mighty River Power alone was $100 million, how can the Government possibly keep to its limit of spending 2 percent of the asset sales revenue—or about $120 million—on the entire asset sales programme?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The costs are published every 3 months, so it is quite a transparent process. It was always going to cost a bit, and there have been some extra costs, such as the
Supreme Court case, which was not something that was necessarily anticipated. The member’s announcement of his policy designed to scare off the very retail investors he now pretends to advocate for meant that we had to give a lot of investors the opportunity to withdraw their application and refund their money, and that was an extra cost.
Dr Russel Norman: What advice has he received on the cost of selling Meridian Energy?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I do not know whether I have received specific advice on that, but we have said that the programme will cost 1 to 2 percent of the proceeds of the whole programme. We believe that is a cost worth incurring in order to give New Zealanders the opportunity to invest in large New Zealand companies, rather than borrow the money off foreign bankers, as the Opposition seems to want us to do.
Dr Russel Norman: So to recap, is the Minister telling us that he has no idea how many retail investors are likely to buy Meridian Energy, he has no idea how much it will cost to sell Meridian Energy, and the whole failed asset sales programme is just on a wing and a hope?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: No, that is not the case. But I would anticipate that now the member has indicated he is keen to see widespread New Zealand ownership rather than narrowly based New Zealand ownership, he will be in full support of getting the mums and dads interested in investing and will not try to stop them, as he did last time. That member should pay more attention to trying to get enough signatures on his referendum—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! That is quite a sufficient answer.
Accident Compensation—Effect of Levies on Crown Financial Position
6. Hon DAVID PARKER (Labour) to the Minister of Finance: How much revenue will ACC levies over and above those recommended by ACC in 2012 contribute to the Crown’s finances in 2013/14 and if he had followed the advice of ACC what would have been the effect on the surplus or deficit in 2014/15?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): As the ACC Minister said last December, at the time that the previous decision was made to keep ACC levies unchanged, the Government was focused on ensuring that the signs of improved performance in ACC could be sustained over time in order to avoid volatility in the levies—that is, dropping them and then having to increase them. At the time, we also said that we took into account that a reduction in ACC levies would have a direct impact on the Crown’s operating balance. In answer to the question, ACC recommended a $317 million reduction in 2013-14, rising to $383 million in 2014-15, which would have passed through directly to the operating balance before gains and losses if it had been accepted. As it happened, Budget 2013 subsequently allowed for levy reductions of around $300 million in 2014-15, increasing to around $1 billion in 2015-16. These have been fully incorporated into the Budget forecasts and we remain on track to surplus.
Hon David Parker: Does he agree with the Hon Judith Collins, who stated at a party conference just this last Saturday that both the earners and workers accounts are now fully funded; if so, why is he not lowering ACC levy levels now, as recommended?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Well, we have signalled the path in the Budget and ACC levies will be reduced on 1 April, which is the next possible opportunity after following the correct statutory process, which means that decisions will be announced in November. But it is important to understand that the success of ACC has been built on improved rehabilitation—that is, getting more people back to work sooner. We have been anxious to ensure that its improved performance under Minister Smith and then Minister Collins is well bedded in so that levy reductions do not have to be reversed later.
Hon David Parker: Is the Government taking more than $650 million extra in ACC levies than was recommended, and does he realise that that is the equivalent of 325 years of the $2 million per annum extra going from Government funding into food in schools announced today?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Whether you regard it as extra is a matter of what you think the core performance level is of ACC. Under the previous Government, that would not have been near enough, actually, because ACC was performing so poorly on rehabilitating injured people and people who had serious accidents. Now that it has improved, we have the opportunity to pass those levies through. The Government has been conservative about it. That is consistent with the way we have managed all Government finances.
Hon David Parker: Why is his Government using ACC as a stealth tax?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Well, I think the point of the Budget announcements is that we are using it as a stealth tax cut, actually—that is, over 3 years we will be able to leave $1.6 billion per year, after 3 years, in the hands of New Zealand’s businesses and households because the performance of ACC has greatly improved compared with the time when that member’s Government was in charge.
Hon David Parker: Given that the Minister of Finance has just admitted that he is using ACC as a future stealth tax cut—[Interruption]—that is exactly what he said. How is it proper for National to use ACC as a political jellybean jar, overfilling it now and then doling out the lollies—doling out the lollies—in an election year?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: That, of course, would not be acceptable. We are treating it according to prudent financial management. But the difference here is that this Government cares sufficiently about rehabilitating people with serious injuries and accident victims, and that is what we are focused on. The result of that is an improvement in the Government’s books and lower levies for businesses and companies. What works for those who are injured and vulnerable is the most important. Now that we are delivering that, there are benefits for the Government’s books.
Child Protection—Objectionable Publications and Indecency Legislation Bill and Global
Alliance Against Child Sexual Abuse Online
7. SCOTT SIMPSON (National—Coromandel) to the Minister of Justice: What steps have been taken recently to stop child sexual abuse online?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS (Minister of Justice): This week I introduced the Objectionable Publications and Indecency Legislation Bill, which targets criminals who prey on children. The bill increases maximum penalties for possessing, importing, or exporting objectionable materials from 5 years’ imprisonment to 10 years’ imprisonment, while also increasing the maximum penalty for distributing or making an objectionable publication from 10 years’ imprisonment to 14 years’ imprisonment.
Scott Simpson: What additional protections for children are targeted in the bill?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: The bill also creates a new offence of indecent communication with a child under the age of 16. Indecent communications may include texting, picture messaging, internet chat, or verbal communications via telephone. Indecent communications are damaging to children, regardless of the method of communication, and the new offence will be punishable by a maximum penalty of 3 years’ imprisonment.
Scott Simpson: What other steps is the Government taking to eradicate child sexual abuse online?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: Last year New Zealand was one of 48 countries to sign up to the Global Alliance Against Child Sexual Abuse Online. The global alliance, headed by the European Union and the United States, aims to eliminate legal loopholes exploited by the distributors of child sexual abuse material, strengthen efforts to grow Interpol’s international database of material, and make it easier to initiate joint cross-border police investigations. Efforts are also being made to dismantle child sexual exploitation networks, block internet sites, seize harmful material, and raise public awareness. Stopping child sexual abuse online is a priority for enforcement agencies and a priority for this Government.
Primary Industries, Minister—Confidence
8. Hon DAMIEN O’CONNOR (Labour—West Coast - Tasman) to the Prime Minister: Does he have confidence in his Minister for Primary Industries?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): Yes.
Hon Damien O’Connor: Given the statement made just today that Chinese officials now have all the information they need, how can we believe that statement any more than those made by the Minister for Primary Industries on 18 May, 20 May, and 23 May that the issue of meat exports into China was being resolved, and, indeed, today the latest press statement confirms that the meat still sits on the wharves in China?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Because it is correct.
Hon Damien O’Connor: If the Prime Minister will not hold his Minister to account, who should be responsible for the compensation that he referred to, possibly available to meat exporters, and is it now the Government’s policy to compensate private companies when his Ministers stuff up?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: The matter of compensation is a matter for the Director-General of the Ministry for Primary Industries. It is fair to say that there are a number of people who have made mistakes here, but, quite clearly, the issue actually rests with the officials in the Ministry of Primary Industries.
Hon Damien O’Connor: Has the Prime Minister considered reassigning the Minister for Primary Industries to the energy portfolio, where all his drilling down might be more productive than in the primary industries portfolio, where his drilling down has done nothing to achieve a resolution of this issue in a timely manner?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No. I have enormous confidence in the Minister for Primary Industries. But I have to say I am a little surprised that that member has raised the issue of drilling, given he is at complete odds with his own party over what is happening at Denniston.
Budget 2013—Mental Health Care for New Mothers
9. KATRINA SHANKS (National) to the Minister of Health: What investments in Budget 2013 is the Government making to better help mothers with post-natal distress and other mental health conditions?
Hon TONY RYALL (Minister of Health): The Government is putting an extra $18.2 million over 4 years into dedicated maternal mental health beds and new specialist community services around the North Island for around 650 mothers and babies a year. At least 15 percent of New Zealand mothers develop depression, anxiety, or a more severe mental illness post-natally. Currently in the North Island new mothers with severe mental illness are often treated and supported in adult acute mental health units, separated from their new babies and families. But thanks to this investment, more of these mothers will now get the support of the new specialised maternal mental health services, with their babies beside them, reportedly, in the North Island for the first time in 40 years.
Katrina Shanks: What services and support will this new funding provide?
Hon TONY RYALL: The $18 million of extra funding will provide a balance of dedicated acute in-patient and community residential beds, serviced by specialised multidisciplinary teams, mostly in the Greater Auckland area. An additional 18 to 20 community health practitioners, comprising doctors, nurses, midwives, psychologists, and support staff, will be employed and integrated across the district health boards in the North Island. It will make a real difference to the families involved with post-natal depression. It will allow mothers to receive their care with their new babies, instead of having to be separated for weeks on end at what should be a happy time in their lives.
Sue Moroney: Will he support the prevention as well as the treatment of post-natal distress by voting for my bill to extend paid parental leave to 6 months, given the submissions received by the Government Administration Committee from organisations such as La Leche League and the
Human Rights Foundation that identified the importance of adequate paid parental leave in improving maternal mental health?
Hon TONY RYALL: No, I will not be supporting that bill, but what I will be saying to those groups, if that member wants to be political, is why did her party do nothing about it for 9 years in office? [Interruption]
Sue Moroney: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Is it in order, when I have been called by the Speaker to ask a question in question time, for members on the backbenches opposite to yell at me to sit down? Is that in order, Mr Speaker?
Mr SPEAKER: No, it certainly is not in order. I did not hear any member—[Interruption]
Hon Member: Listen up!
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Well, I am attempting to listen up, but the noise today is fairly loud. I did not hear it but it is certainly not in order, and the member is quite correct to raise it.
Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner—Appointment Process
GRANT ROBERTSON (Deputy Leader—Labour): My question is to—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order!
Hon Tau Henare: Sit down, Grant.
Mr SPEAKER: That is certainly not helpful to the order of the House, particularly after the last point of order that was raised.
GRANT ROBERTSON: He so rarely gets to stand up himself.
Mr SPEAKER: Right, question No. 10.
10. GRANT ROBERTSON (Deputy Leader—Labour) to the Minister of Justice: On what date did applications for the position of Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner close in the most recent appointment process, and on what date did the Ministry of Justice receive an application from Dr Jackie Blue?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS (Minister of Justice): The premise of that question is incorrect. This is a statutory position for appointment by the Governor-General under advice from the Minister. Expressions of interest for a ministerial appointment close when the Minister making the advice to the Governor-General is satisfied that they can make the right recommendation for the appointment to the Governor-General. I received an informal expression of interest from Dr Jackie Blue—
Hon Shane Jones: Dodgy!
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: That is a bit much, coming from that member, is it not?
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Would the Minister just complete the answer.
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: I received an informal expression of interest from Dr Jackie Blue on 20 September 2012. Dr Blue’s formal expression of interest was sent by me to the ministry on 11 November 2012.
Grant Robertson: I seek leave of the House to table the advertisement for the Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner published in daily newspapers, which had a closing date of 13 October 2012.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: It was in the newspaper.
Mr SPEAKER: But on this occasion I will put the leave. Leave is sought to table it. Is there any objection? There is none. It may be tabled. Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Grant Robertson: Why was Jackie Blue’s application treated differently from those of other applicants, who had to have their application in by 13 October 2012?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: In fact, as I have already told that member, they were only expressions of interest, not applications—expressions of interest—and, in fact, the expressions of interest could come either to me or to the ministry. She gave me her expression of interest on 20 September 2012, which is significantly earlier than the date quoted by that member.
Grant Robertson: Why did the ministry announce a closing date of 13 October 2012 if that was not relevant to the appointment process?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: The ministry’s process was in addition to the fact that I had already commenced the process. Actually, the ministry—[Interruption] Look, I’m sorry for that member, who obviously does not seem to understand ministerial appointments, but he should ask Trevor Mallard or David Parker—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! A point of order.
Grant Robertson: Supplementary question—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! We now—[Interruption] Order!
Hon Trevor Mallard: What a fool! What a fool!
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I am trying to assist the member’s colleague to ask a supplementary question.
Grant Robertson: Why is there no evidence on paper, as released by the Minister under the Official Information Act, of Jackie Blue’s expression of interest going to her on 20 September?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: Because she came to see me with her CV. Actually, it is very difficult for me to be able to have a written piece of paper to say “Here she is with me.”, but Jackie Blue could confirm that to that member, should he ever wish to ask.
Grant Robertson: I seek leave of the House to table Jackie Blue’s expression of interest letter, dated 11 November 2012.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that letter. Is there any objection? There is none. Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: I seek leave to table a document showing that four Ministers under the previous Labour Government actually sat on the interview panels for the appointments of the Solicitor-General, the State Services Commissioner, and the Clerk of the House of Representatives. Two of those members are here today—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Leave is sought to table that document. [Interruption] Order! Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There appears to be none. It can be tabled. Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Hon David Parker: I seek leave—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! This is a point of order.
Hon David Parker: I seek leave to table a document that proves that the State Services Commissioner cannot appoint himself.
Mr SPEAKER: I am not putting that leave.
Grant Robertson: Why did she give as her initial answer to written question No. 4716 that she did not discuss the position of Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner with Dr Blue prior to 13 October 2012, contrary to what she has told the House today?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: As that member well knows, I actually corrected that because I looked at that answer, which my staff had prepared, when I came back into the office and said: “That’s a bit cute.” I did not go out to Jackie Blue and say to her: “Why don’t you come and apply for this job?”. She actually discussed it with me and asked whether she could put it in. That is why I corrected it, Mr Robertson, unlike that member, who should now go and—
Mr SPEAKER: Order!
Mining in Conservation Areas—Denniston Plateau
11. CHRIS AUCHINVOLE (National) to the Minister of Conservation: What benefits does he see in the access agreement negotiated between the Department of Conservation and Bathurst Resources for its mine on the Denniston Plateau?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH (Minister of Conservation): There are both conservation and economic benefits. The conservation benefits come from the extensive and intensive $22 million programme of pest control covering 4,500 hectares on the plateau and its surrounds, and a further 25,000 hectares in the Heaphy Valley in the Kahurangi National Park. I am advised this will result in a net increase in the populations of great spotted kiwi, kākā, and blue duck, as well as native bats and snails, on the West Coast. The economic benefits are 225 direct jobs and $1 billion in export earnings, and will be a welcome relief for a region that has been hit hard by the Pike River mine disaster and the financial woes of Solid Energy.
Chris Auchinvole: Has the Minister received a letter from the Labour Opposition on the issue; if so, is it consistent with other representations he has received on the Bathurst Resources mine?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: Yes, the letter from the Labour Party is dated 3rd of this month and states “I urge you to take whatever action you can to support Bathurst’s proposed Denniston mine.”, and it is signed by Mr Damien O’Connor. I previously stood on a platform with Opposition environment spokesperson, Maryan Street, who said on this mine: “Leave the coal in the hole.” But what was even more confusing is that after I approved the mine last Friday, Mr O’Connor put out a statement damning the deal.
Chris Auchinvole: What advice has the Minister received on how he should deal with appeals against the Denniston mine?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: The letter I received on 3 May on Labour Party letterhead and signed by Mr O’Connor said this: “As Minister of Conservation your involvement is crucial to stop the continuous appeals from Forest and Bird against the mine development.” After approving the Bathurst Resources application last Thursday, I received a joint statement from Mr O’Connor and conservation spokesperson, Ruth Dyson, stating that I was riding roughshod over process and that I should give the Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society a further opportunity to oppose the mine. It seems that Labour’s position is all over the paddock—or should I say “plateau”? I seek leave of the House to table a letter I received from the Labour Opposition on the Bathurst Resources mine, dated 2 May 2013.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that letter. Is there any objection? There appears to be none. It can be tabled. Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Mining in Conservation Areas—Denniston Plateau
12. CATHERINE DELAHUNTY (Green) to the Minister of Conservation: Does he agree with advice from his own Department of Conservation, in regards to Bathurst’s plans for an opencast coal mine on the Denniston Plateau, “there would be significant and irreversible adverse effects on the conservation values and overall ecological integrity of the application area and the Denniston Plateau should the proposed activity be approved”?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH (Minister of Conservation): Yes. In regard to the area to be mined, the effects will be significant and irreversible. I also note the advice, though, that the area concerned has already been mined, has a dam and artificial lake, includes roads and bulldozer tracks, and has infestation from weeds like gorse and broom. I also note the advice that the area to be mined is general stewardship land. It is not national park, conservation park, or any class of reserve or sanctuary. It is the lowest conservation category of land managed by the department and the mine affects 5 percent of the plateau.
Catherine Delahunty: How can he, as Minister of Conservation, approve an access agreement for a proposal, possibly the first of six from Bathurst Resources, which his own department has advised is inconsistent with the objectives of the Conservation Act?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: Because the member is selective in the advice from the 230-page report from the department. The departmental report said that there was very significant benefits from the
$22 million compensation package and that the threats from pests on both the Denniston Plateau and the West Coast were far greater than those from mining. The advice I have received is that, for instance, with this package the population of a special species like the whio, or blue duck, will increase fivefold within 5 years as a consequence of the compensation package that goes with the mine application.
Catherine Delahunty: How will New Zealand’s environment be better off, given that after the completion of the Bathurst Resources pest control programme, the pests will come back, but the significant and irreversible mining damage will remain for ever on Denniston Plateau?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: The programme of pest control is for a period of 50 years. Of course, the mine application also requires the rehabilitation of the area. The member’s wish may be that the area actually be environmentally detrimental from what it is now. Actually because it has been mined, the water in the area to be mined is almost as strong as acid. As a condition of the consent, the water in this area right where it is being mined will actually be of better quality than what it is now. The Green Party totally overlooks the fact that the Denniston Plateau has been mined for over 100 years.
Catherine Delahunty: Does he accept that, as Minister of Conservation, he will have allowed the destruction of a unique landscape with distinctive rare and threatened plants, and that proposed compensation will do nothing to stop the destruction of that specific environment?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: The part I cannot work out from the Greens is this: they do not want mining anywhere, but I want to know where they are going to manufacture the wind farms. And what about the glass and the steel that we use in daily lives? One of the facts they overlook is that the only way that you can manufacture steel is with good quality coking coal, and it is hypocritical for people to say no to mining but want to use steel in their daily lives.
Catherine Delahunty: I seek leave to table a photograph that I took myself of the iconic landscape on the Denniston Plateau, and it has not—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! It is a point of order and it is seeking leave to table a photograph that the member has taken herself. Is there any objection to that being tabled? There appears to be none. The member can table the document. Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.