Questions and Answers - July 3
QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS
Prime Minister—Statements and Confidence in Ministers
1. DAVID SHEARER (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does he stand by all his statements and have confidence in the statements of all his Ministers?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): Yes, I stand by all my statements, and, although I have confidence in all my Ministers, I do not have specific knowledge of all of their statements or the context in which they were given over the last 4½ years of this Government.
David Shearer: Does he agree with his Minister of Finance and Minister of Energy and Resources, who both said that New Zealanders are not paying too much for their electricity?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Yes, in the context in which they made those statements.
David Shearer: Does he think that electricity prices are too high?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I certainly thought they had gone up way too much under a Labour Government. I often hear Labour members privately talking of the shame of when electricity prices went up 72 percent under a Labour Government.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Although the question sought an opinion, it was a straight, non-political question asking the Prime Minister his view on current electricity prices. It did not ask for a historical explanation.
Mr SPEAKER: No, I do not think that is correct on this occasion. The question was: “Does he think that electricity prices are too high?”. It was not qualified as to whether it was current prices or whether it was past prices.
David Shearer: Does he think that current electricity prices today are too high?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: They are slightly less than the current OECD average. Some of the cost increases that occurred in the last 4½ years have been in relation to transmission increases. What I do know is that an emissions trading scheme that Labour and the Greens would put on the average consumer would add $500 per household a year. I know that Stalin-type nationalisation of power companies would be a disgrace.
David Shearer: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. That was a pretty straight question that did not need a political comment at the end.
Mr SPEAKER: That is true. It was answered earlier. It did not need the latter part. Would the member now continue with his supplementary question.
David Shearer: Does he think that New Zealanders are paying a fair price for their electricity today?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I think that they are paying a price that is cognisant and fair in relation to the environment we find ourselves in, having to invest in infrastructure. As I say, given that they have gone up half the amount they did under Labour, what I mainly find is New Zealanders who are
outraged at the way Labour ran the economy and who are disgusted with the economic management that this Government had to inherit.
David Shearer: In light of his comment about Transpower and upgrades, why has his Government insisted that Transpower pay $472 million in dividends over the last 2 years, rather than invest them in upgrades to our system?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I do not have all the details on their dividend flow. You can put that down to the Minister for State Owned Enterprises. I do know that they have spent about $3 billion in terms of upgrades of the national grid. Where I find myself a bit confused is that the Labour Party went on that the mixed-ownership model was terrible—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! And the Prime Minister can resume his seat, as well.
David Shearer: What does the Prime Minister say to the thousands of Genesis customers who, as a result of the decision to take the dividends rather than invest them in the national grid, are now paying for the upgrade to that grid through higher power prices?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I do not accept that assertion. I go back to the point that I was making, which is that I have seen statements that, actually, the Government should be taking more dividends, not fewer dividends. Those statements came from David Shearer.
Metiria Turei: Does the Prime Minister stand by his statement “the Government has been very transparent about its dealings with SkyCity”?
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Can I just clarify—the member just called to take a supplementary question and has now moved immediately, as far as I can see, to question No. 2.
Metiria Turei: No, Mr Speaker. Question No. 2 is to the Minister for Economic Development and asks him about that statement. Mine is a supplementary question to question 1.
Mr SPEAKER: So it is a supplementary question. Can I hear the supplementary question again, please.
Metiria Turei: Does the Prime Minister stand by his statement “the Government has been very transparent about its dealings with SkyCity”?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Yes, but in the context I would have made it.
Metiria Turei: Why has his Government refused to release advice on the social harms associated with this deal until after it is signed?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I do not have those details, but if you put the question down to the Minister I am sure he will answer that for you.
Metiria Turei: Is the Prime Minister refusing to release information on the social harms from this deal because he knows that it will increase the opposition to the deal by Aucklanders, after 61 percent have said that they oppose it and the Auckland Council voted against it?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: To the best of my knowledge, my office is not refusing to release it, but if you put the question down to the Minister I am sure he will answer that for you.
Metiria Turei: Does the Prime Minister believe that the cost of the social harm of the deal is a relevant consideration for Parliament when deciding on whether to support gambling law changes that he has promised will be part of this dirty deal?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I do not have the details of that with me, so I cannot answer that question.
Metiria Turei: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I asked the Prime Minister whether he believes that these issues were a relevant consideration, not to provide specific information. He does have the ability to answer that question.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member was very lucky to have the question left in order, particularly with the qualification she added to the end of it. Does she have further supplementaries?
Metiria Turei: Yes. Will the Prime Minister agree to allow a personal vote on any changes to relax gambling law in SkyCity’s favour so that MPs can vote with their consciences on this dirty deal?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No, that is not my intention.
Metiria Turei: When the Prime Minister told this House that his Government was being “very transparent” about its dealings with SkyCity, was he deliberately lying to us?
Mr SPEAKER: Order! That question is out of order.
Question No. 2 to Minister
METIRIA TUREI (Co-Leader—Green): I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I refer you to Speakers’ rulings 151/5 of Gray and Tapsell. My primary question was originally accepted and authenticated by the Clerk of the House and directed to the Prime Minister concerning his own statements. Only the Prime Minister can know whether or not he agrees with or stands by his own statement. This is not a question that could reasonably be answered by any other person, and therefore should not have been transferred, according to Speakers’ rulings.
Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Labour—Hutt South): This is an area that we have had some experience in recently, and I thought the point we had got to was that when questions are transferred like this, they should at least be reworded to say: “Is it the Minister for Economic Development’s understanding that the Prime Minister stands by his statement?”. What that does is it at least goes to the real question, and that is what is in the mind of the Prime Minister, not his subsidiary Minister, because that is the right of members to ask.
METIRIA TUREI (Co-Leader—Green): I would also refer you to Speaker’s ruling 152/5, where although it is accepted that questions can be transferred to Ministers, and that in those circumstances there may be some grammatical changes that need to be made to the question to make sure that it is relevant, it is none the less an issue if a question is in effect out of order as a result of the transfer. So it is not sufficient to simply say a question can be reworded but that, actually, there is a serious issue if a question is out of order unless it is reworded. That suggests that it should not have been transferred in the first place.
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE (Leader of the House): Two points on that last point from the member. I think what we are seeing more frequently are attempts by, particularly, the Green Party to rewrite the Standing Orders by virtue of Speakers’ rulings. There is a process for the rewriting of the Standing Orders and I would suggest that those members do participate more fully in that process. But on this occasion Speaker’s ruling 152/1, which does protect the Government’s right to transfer questions to the appropriate Minister, where there is going to be the most information available, does stand. Indeed, the member has proved to the House that that is the right course of action in this case by insisting on asking this very question directly to the Prime Minister during the supplementary questions to question No. 1. The Prime Minister, while answering as well as possible, clearly said that there was other information that would be better answered by the Minister responsible for this particular aspect of Government involvement. Therefore, the transfer is not some deception, but a genuine understanding of what is required by the House when a question is asked and the expectation that the answer is better given by another Minister.
Hon David Parker: Speaking to the—
Mr SPEAKER: No, I need no further assistance on this, thank you. There are a number of Speakers’ rulings around this particular issue and I particularly want to refer Ms Turei to Speakers’ rulings 152/1 and 152/2. It is the Government’s right to transfer a question. There would be only very exceptional circumstances when the Speaker would rule that not appropriate, and that would be if I in any way anticipated that the Government was avoiding answering a question. In my mind this question can very easily and justifiably be transferred, and it has been. Subsequent to the transfer, clearly the wording then required some alteration, because it was a statement made by the Prime Minister and not by the Minister for Economic Development. There was further discussion between the Office of the Clerk and the member for that wording to then be approved by the member. So the question stands, if the member wants to ask it. If the member does not want to ask it, she does not have to, and we will move immediately to question No. 3.
Metiria Turei: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: Is it a fresh point of order?
Metiria Turei: It is on a different issue.
Mr SPEAKER: It is not in any way disputing the ruling given?
Metiria Turei: No.
Mr SPEAKER: I will hear a fresh point of order.
METIRIA TUREI (Co-Leader—Green): I refer to Speaker’s ruling 152/2, which you have referred to also, but I refer to a particular matter that is referred to in that Speaker’s ruling, where Speaker Wilson said: “Ideally, such changes”—transfers—“should be rare, arising only from real and significant conflicts of interest. Where they do occur, it would be helpful if the Government were to ensure members are officially informed.” I would ask that you seek from Government members what the Prime Minister’s conflict of interest in answering this question is.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! That is now disputing the decision I have given as to the right for this question to be transferred. I have got a mind to move immediately to question No. 3, but I will on this occasion show a little bit of goodwill to the member. I now invite her to ask her question.
Metiria Turei: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. A different issue—genuinely—
Mr SPEAKER: No. [Interruption] Order! I will give the member one more chance to move to question No. 2, otherwise we are immediately going to question No. 3. I will—
Metiria Turei: Point of order—
Mr SPEAKER: No, the last point of order was meant to be a fresh one; it was, again, disputing my ruling. If the member wants to ask the question, she should proceed to do so.
Metiria Turei: Point of order—
Mr SPEAKER: Question No. 3, Alfred Ngaro.
METIRIA TUREI (Co-Leader—Green): I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I would ask you for two clarifications. One is that where, in the past, members have stated that they are raising a point of order on a different issue, those members have been taken at their word, and I am concerned that you did not take me at mine—that is the first issue. The second is that I seek leave of the House, which I am entitled to do, for this question to be transferred back to the Prime Minister.
Mr SPEAKER: No, we have had this in the past. The question has already been transferred, and that is the matter that has been raised. I have given the reason, and I am not going to put up with the member jumping up to her feet and down, raising points of order, when the point of order was clearly questioning a decision. I took the member at her word that it would not, but she did do that.
CHRIS HIPKINS (Senior Whip—Labour): I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I think there are a couple of issues here, one of which is that you are absolutely entitled to rule at any point that you have heard enough about a matter, and insist that a member either raise a new matter or move on. You are absolutely entitled to do that, Mr Speaker. But where a Minister has transferred a question, a member is entitled to seek leave to transfer it back. So the situation that we have here is that Metiria Turei, having had your clear ruling, did not contest that, and asked to seek leave to transfer it back. She is entitled to do that.
Mr SPEAKER: The difficulty with the point the member is raising is that the member did contest my ruling with a subsequent point of order. She then attempted to raise, I think, a fourth point of order, seeking leave to transfer it. For the cause of goodwill in this House, I am prepared to let the member seek that leave. I think we can anticipate the result, but she can so seek leave. I will then go back to question No. 2 on this occasion. But I warn members that if in the future they are going to continue to challenge rulings, the likelihood of me moving forward reasonably rapidly to the next question will occur. The member can so seek leave.
METIRIA TUREI (Co-Leader—Green): I seek leave of the House to have this question transferred back to the Prime Minister.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought for that course of action. Is there any objection? There is.
Hon DAVID PARKER (Labour): I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. In your last ruling you said that you will move on and not hear applications for leave. I would ask you to reconsider that
ruling, because it is a different matter to ask for an interpretation from the Speaker as to whether something is in order or not—which is answered one way or the other—and then, whatever that answer is, to seek leave for another course. In the second case, it is not your decision that is being asked for; it is the House’s decision.
Mr SPEAKER: I accept that, and that is why I did reconsider the matter. Question No. 2, Metiria Turei.
Hon Members: Point of order.
Mr SPEAKER: This is now getting to the very ridiculous stage.
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE (Leader of the House): I raise a point of order, Speaker. I do not want to prolong things, quite obviously, but we are in an interesting situation where you have got Speaker’s ruling 152/1, which says: “The Government is perfectly entitled to transfer questions from one Minister to another …”. You have upheld that the transfer was quite reasonable in the circumstances, yet we have had something that I think may have crept in before, but it appears quite new to me: a Government having made a decision about where a question should go, members can then seek leave, so the House can overrule a Government. That is not a good place for us to land in. Might I say also that I note that you have previously ruled that the member had lost her question No. 2, and we were moving on to question No. 3.
Hon Ruth Dyson: Did not.
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: Well, question No. 3 was called, Ms Dyson—very, very loudly called—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I thank the member. The member raises a very good point, but at the end of the day a member does have a right to seek leave for anything in this House. The chances of it then happening, I think, because the Government has transferred the question, are very, very slim, and I anticipated that and I stated that. Listen, at this stage we have had a long session of points of order. I am going to go back on an earlier decision I made. I am going to give the member a chance to ask question No. 2, but I am not going to put up with that member rising to her feet and raising yet another point of order. I call question No. 2.
Metiria Turei: Point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: On the basis that a member has a right to raise a point of order, I will allow it, but if it in any way relitigates any of the matters that have been discussed this afternoon, then the member will lose that question.
METIRIA TUREI (Co-Leader—Green): Under Speakers’ ruling 152/6 I withdraw question No. 2. Thank you.
Economic Relationship—New Zealand and Australia
3. ALFRED NGARO (National) to the Minister of Finance: What recent developments have further contributed to building the closer economic market between New Zealand and Australia?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): New arrangements allowing New Zealanders to transfer their retirement savings between complying Australian superannuation schemes and KiwiSaver took effect from 1 July. This welcome development follows confirmation from the Australian Government in May that it had completed the legislation allowing this to happen. It is a direct result of the strong commitment between the New Zealand and Australian Governments to remove another obstacle to the free movement of labour between our two countries. Trans-Tasman portability of retirement savings will make it easier for people to take advantage of employment opportunities in both countries and take their retirement savings with them.
Alfred Ngaro: How did the agreement to allow trans-Tasman portability of retirement savings come about, and how significant will this be for New Zealanders saving on either side of the Tasman?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Negotiations were begun and significantly progressed under the previous Government by Dr Michael Cullen. I signed an agreement with the Australian Treasurer in
July 2009. Legislation was passed in this Parliament in September 2010. This is significant for New Zealanders who are currently working or have previously worked in Australia. The Australian Taxation Office has estimated there are billions in lost accounts in the Australian superannuation system. We expect that some of that money belongs to New Zealanders who have worked in Australia at some stage and have returned home. These new rules will allow those New Zealanders to find their account and bring those funds back to New Zealand, into the New Zealand KiwiSaver scheme.
Alfred Ngaro: How will the new portability arrangements work for New Zealanders who want to bring their retirement savings home?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: From 1 July New Zealanders are able to transfer funds in their Australian superannuation schemes into participating KiwiSaver schemes, and vice versa. Retirement savings transferred from Australia will be exempt from any taxes. Amounts transferred from Australia will generally be subject to KiwiSaver rules. However, KiwiSaver members will not be able to withdraw money transferred from Australia for buying their first home, but they may use interest earned on those savings for that purpose.
Alfred Ngaro: What are the rules setting out when retirement savings transferred from Australia to New Zealand can be withdrawn and vice versa?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Retirement savings transferred from Australia into New Zealand KiwiSaver schemes can be withdrawn when members reach the age of 60. KiwiSaver savings transferred to Australian schemes can be withdrawn when members reach the age of 65, which is in line with KiwiSaver rules. One effect of the new arrangements is that individuals will no longer be able to withdraw their savings as cash 1 year after permanently migrating to Australia, but they will be able to take with them any Government contributions, such as the kick-start and member tax credits, when they move KiwiSaver funds to Australia. And they will be able to access their firsthome subsidy. It is worth noting that participation in the superannuation portability scheme will be voluntary for members deciding whether to leave their funds in New Zealand, for instance, or transfer them to Australia.
4. GRANT ROBERTSON (Deputy Leader—Labour) to the Minister of Education: Does she stand by all her statements?
Hon HEKIA PARATA (Minister of Education): Tēnā koe e te Mana Kaiwhakahaere. Yes, I do in the full context in which I made them.
Grant Robertson: Given her statement at the weekend that there is “a danger of a shortage of tradespeople in New Zealand”, is it correct that Tertiary Education Commission figures show a 20 percent drop in the number of apprentices since National’s first Budget in 2009?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: I do stand by my statement—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The question has been asked. I, at least, want to hear the answer.
Hon HEKIA PARATA: I stand by my statement, as I said, in the full context, and that was that this Government is committed to providing multiple pathways, including vocational pathways that increase options for all our young people.
Grant Robertson: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I appreciate the fact that I introduced the question by saying “Given her statement …”, but the question I actually asked was whether it is correct that the Tertiary Education Commission—
Mr SPEAKER: Why does the member not just ask the question again.
Grant Robertson: What a good idea. Given her statement that there is “a danger of a shortage of tradespeople in New Zealand”, is it correct that Tertiary Education Commission figures show a 20 percent drop in the number of apprentices since National’s first Budget in 2009?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: I am not responsible for the Tertiary Education Commission, but I am happy to speak to my response, which was about providing multiple pathways so that we could get
more young people through. In my area, what I know is that we have had an increase to 3,700 young people participating in trades academies. We have had an increase to 8,700 young people participating in Youth Guarantee pathways.
Grant Robertson: I seek leave of the House to table figures from the Tertiary Education Commission industry training performance information that show that—
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that information. Is there any objection? There is objection.
Grant Robertson: Given her statement “that there is too much of a focus on channelling students to university and academic pathways”, can she confirm that her Government cut $55 million from industry training in 2010 and gave it directly to universities?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: As I said, again, I am not responsible for the tertiary education system, but I can talk about the statement that I made, which was that we are increasing the options for young people to have choices, both the academic pathway and also the five vocational pathways that we have established and that parents and young people are very excited about.
Grant Robertson: I know it is unusual to table press releases, but this is from some time ago and the Minister was unable to answer. I seek leave of the House to table the press release from Steven Joyce—
Mr SPEAKER: No. I am not—[Interruption] Order! That is available to any—[Interruption] Has the member got further supplementary questions?
Grant Robertson: Given her statement that there is too much of a focus on channelling students to university and academic pathways, has she raised with the Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment why $83 million has been taken out of the polytech sector over the last three Budgets, seeing thousands of student places cut and programmes in areas like automotive engineering, carpentry, and other core trades cut?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: Again, I am not the Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment, and the member could put that question to him. But the context of my statement was that this Government is committed to getting every kid across the line and giving them a range of options, including tertiary academic pathways and the five vocational pathways that we have also established. This Government has put our money where our mouth is: we have invested in fees-free places for all these young people.
Grant Robertson: Is it not correct that nearly 5 years in, after a 20 percent reduction in the number of apprentices and millions of dollars being cut from polytechnic funding for trades courses, the fault for the lack of tradespeople lies firmly with that Government over there?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: I am not the Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment, but my statement, which the member was ostensibly interested in, was about how we created more pathways for more young people to be successful, because this Government is interested in giving every kid a chance.
Business Research and Development—Government Investment
5. Peseta SAM LOTU-IIGA (National—Maungakiekie) to the Minister of Science and
Innovation: What investment is the Government making in business-related science, innovation and research?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister of Science and Innovation): Alongside our massive investment in the tertiary sector, we are making significant investments in science and innovation because they are key drivers of economic growth and making New Zealand businesses more internationally competitive. That is why we have invested total funding for science, innovation and research across Government agencies. We have increased it to $1.36 billion in the financial year just started, which is up from $1.24 billion last year, and an increase of 28 percent over the last 4 years. A very sizable proportion of this increase is in the area of business research and development.
Increasing funding in this area will help our businesses grow, deliver more and higher-paying jobs for New Zealanders, and improve our living standards.
Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga: What support is available for businesses wanting to invest in research and development?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Well, over the course of this financial year, which started last Monday, the new Government agency Callaghan Innovation will allocate $141.5 million in research and development co-funding to innovative New Zealand businesses. This is easily the highest amount ever, and is a 24 percent increase on the funding available just last year. This funding is being invested in a number of ways, including nearly $91 million for research and development growth grants, $46.6 million for research and development project grants, which are targeted at new firms with smaller programmes, and $4 million for research and development student grants to provide support for undergraduate and postgraduate students to get work experience alongside research and development - active businesses.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Can I take it from the Minister’s long answer that his Cabinet and he himself, in particular, never talk to, for example, Sam Lotu-Iiga or the backbench, and that is why he has to inform them in the House in this lengthy way?
Mr SPEAKER: Order! That question is out of order.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. What on earth is out of order with that question?
Mr SPEAKER: It was an unsatisfactory question. If the member wants to phrase it with something that has got a responsibility of the member, I will entertain it.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: Is this a fresh point of order?
Rt Hon Winston Peters: If the Speaker thinks that the Minister talking or not talking with the backbench is not a matter of his ministerial responsibility, that would be a very new one. That is simply what I asked him. It is not out of order, and I want an answer.
Mr SPEAKER: The question was out of order. I have ruled it out of order. If the member wants to attempt it again to get it into order, then we will have a go. [Interruption] Order! I am giving the Rt Hon Winston Peters an opportunity.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Can the Minister advise us as to whether or not he thinks it is appropriate to come to the House to pass information on to backbench colleagues, or does he have another means of communication hitherto unknown to us?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Well, I am not sure how it works in that member’s party, but, actually, we do talk to backbenchers in this party—indeed, we know their names. What I can say is these questions are for the benefit of the whole House, and going on the member’s knowledge of our science and innovation investment, I think he could do well to listen.
Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga: What support is the Government giving to the manufacturing sector through research and development funding?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: The manufacturing sector is a very important partner in the research and development co-funding. It is, in fact, the biggest recipient of the Government’s research and development co-funding programme. Countless internationalising New Zealand firms have received assistance over the last 4 years to develop new products and services to help them move up the value chain and export more effectively. These include firms such as Douglas Pharmaceuticals, Buckley Systems, Compac Sorting Equipment, WilliamsWarn, Fisher and Paykel Healthcare, Tait Electronics, Altitude Aerospace Interiors, and a company known as HamiltonJet, which has been in the news recently, just to name a few random examples. The Government has established Callaghan Innovation as a high-tech headquarters for business research and development. We are investing hundreds of millions of dollars annually in business research and development across all exportfocused sectors. This may have made a contribution to the BNZ-Business New Zealand Performance of Manufacturing Index, which was released last month—
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. It would have occurred to you—it occurred to everybody else in the House who was watching the Minister—after that very long answer that when he switched to page 2 it was well time for you to stop him.
Mr SPEAKER: It was certainly a long answer, and I think the Minister was coming to the end. I was watching him switch to page 2, and I was confident that he had very little left to add to the question.
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Hardly half a sentence, Mr Speaker. The New Zealand manufacturing sector is now expanding at its fastest rate since 2004, and at one of the highest rates across the world.
State-owned Energy Companies, Shares—Price Stability
6. Hon DAVID PARKER (Labour) to the Minister of Finance: How much have investors lost on the value of their Mighty River Power shares compared with the price at float on May 10 and what effect will this have on the price the Government expects to receive if it proceeds with the partial float of Meridian?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): The market price of the shares has declined about 10 percent, but investors who have retained their shares, of course, have not lost anything. They still have their shares. They are in line for significant dividends. In addition, New Zealand investors will receive bonus shares if they keep their shares for 2 years. Many investors, of course, disappointed the Labour Party by taking a view of these shares as a long-term investment proposition, and so they will retain them in order to earn the dividends and the long-term capital growth. In terms of the second part of the question about the effect on the price of Meridian Energy, I do not intend speculating on future floats. As the Labour Party should know, financial and political markets move around and can go through flat patches, a bit like opinion polls.
Hon David Parker: Will he proceed with the partial float of Meridian Energy if the money forecast to be raised is significantly less than the $3.1 billion predicted by Treasury in 2011?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Treasury has not done any accurate predictions of the value of any particular float. We have always said that we would anticipate proceeds of $5 billion to $7 billion. It is a bit rich for the Labour Party to be criticising the impact on the value of Mighty River Power shares after it set out to reduce that value, and—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I do not think that is necessary to that part of the question.
Hon David Parker: How can moneys raised from asset sales through the Future Investment Fund be utilised to fund the Auckland City rail link in 2020, when the Future Investment Fund is due to expire in Budget 2016?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Of course, what happens with the Future Investment Fund will depend on what view the Government takes as it lays out subsequent Budgets and we get the proceeds from the sales, because the timetable for the sales is going to be flexible as well. But the general point is correct—we are selling 49 percent of these power companies. As a result of the Mighty River Power sale, we have $1.7 billion in the bank, which I have to say is much more use to the Government than 49 percent ownership of that company.
Hon David Parker: Given that the Government has pledged the asset sales cash several times over, is it true that its new economic plan is to photocopy State-owned enterprises sale proceeds to cover spending—National’s version of printing money?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: No, the handling of the proceeds of the asset sales is set out transparently in the Future Investment Fund, as laid out in the Budget. Of course, the Labour Party will have to be transparent with the public about its plans to borrow a lot more money from foreign bankers to pay for the assets that we are paying for from the proceeds of asset sales. I look forward to the transparency with which Labour sets out its extensive borrowing plans.
Hon David Parker: Does he agree with the 2011 version of John Key that asset sales are necessary to avoid a credit downgrade, or the late 2011 version of John Key that asset sales are
necessary to fund Kiwibank, or does he agree with Tony Ryall in 2012 that asset sales are necessary to pay down debt, or does he agree with the 2012 version of John Key that asset sales would be used to build new schools and hospitals, or does he agree with Steven Joyce in 2012 that asset sales will fund KiwiRail, or does he agree with Nathan Guy—
Mr SPEAKER: Order!
Hon David Parker: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. This is considerably less than the length of answer that we had from Mr Joyce—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The question is now getting very, very long. Would the member bring it to conclusion.
Hon David Parker: Does he—I will not start again. Does he agree with Nathan Guy that it should be used for irrigation, or with Gerry Brownlee that it should be used to rebuild Christchurch, or with John Key that it should be used to fund Auckland City rail link in 2020?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Yes, because the asset sales give this Government the choice of paying for almost all of those things without borrowing from foreign bankers. What is even better is that our choices to invest in those things allow New Zealanders to invest in a large New Zealand company. I am pleased that the Labour Party finally understands all the reasons for the asset sales.
National Certificate of Educational Achievement—2012 Results
7. Dr CAM CALDER (National) to the Minister of Education: What reports has she received on the NCEA Level 2 results of last year’s school leavers?
Hon HEKIA PARATA (Minister of Education): Tēnā koe, Mr Speaker. I have received a report from the Ministry of Education indicating that overall in 2012 we have improved to 74.3 percent—which is nearly three-quarters—of all our senior students. That is an over 10 percent increase since 2009, which translates to more than 5,000 more students leaving with National Certificate of Educational Achievement level 2 or higher than there were before we became the Government.
Dr Cam Calder: According to the report, which particular regions showed significant improvements in school-leaver results?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: Although there has been improvement across all regions since 2009, our Government is committed to getting every young person across the line. This has seen, for instance, in Northland an increase of more than 12 percent over that time, or more than 250 kids; in Gisborne an increase of more than 15 percent, or another 113 kids; on the West Coast an increase of a whopping 29 percent, or another 50 kids; and in Auckland an increase of nearly 9 percent, or over 2,100 more kids, achieving level 2 than otherwise would have.
Hon Trevor Mallard: What proportion of the change she has outlined to the House just now followed the reduction in standards after moderation?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: I do not agree with the basis of that question. There has been no reduction in the quality of moderation, but there has been in the instances of it, because we are dealing with workload issues.
Health and Safety, Workplace—Forestry Industry
8. DARIEN FENTON (Labour) to the Minister of Labour: Does he stand by all his statements on safety in the forestry industry?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES (Minister of Labour): Yes.
Darien Fenton: Does he stand by his statement to the Transport and Industrial Relations Committee on 6 June that “the message I got loudly and clearly from, yes, the business owners but also the workers on the ground is that in December we brought into play … this approved code of practice … that this is working, it’s starting to work, but it does need time to bed in.”?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: Yes.
Darien Fenton: When he visited forestry workers on 2 May is it not true that the workers, in fact, raised a number of very serious health and safety concerns and that they confirm the opposite of his statement to the select committee—that the new regulations for forestry safety are not addressing the key risks in the industry?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: No, not at all. I was very impressed with what the young Māori men I talked to said. It showed that they had very good knowledge of this approved code of practice, they understood what it meant, and it was delivering good safety benefits for them. What is true is that the member’s good friend, and my dear friend, Helen Kelly, did lead the witnesses, as it were, and asked them very directly a number of very negative questions not about their situation but about what might be happening in other places. What was quite clear—
Grant Robertson: And you decided to ignore that.
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: No. What was quite clear was that this is bedding in and that we need to do more to get it out there, and we are.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Why do people keep on dying?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: Well, they did under you too, buddy.
Mr SPEAKER: Order!
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: What did you do? What did you do?
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member does not bring the Speaker into this debate.
Darien Fenton: Did he listen when the workers told him that many workers were working in very dangerous conditions, including working in the dark, working long hours, and without sufficient support; if so, why is he refusing to hold an independent inquiry and continuing to assert that his code of practice is working when there have already been six forestry-related deaths this year?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: What is true is that throughout the 2000s too many people have died in this industry, and this Government has done much more than the last Government did to prevent that. The fact of the matter is we have had many documents and many reports. We know what the problem is. Actually, we know what the solutions are. We need to give this approved code of practice, which came in in December 2000, time to bed in, because what I am hearing and, actually, what Helen Kelly would have heard if she chose to listen, was that it is working.
Darien Fenton: I seek leave to table a letter from Helen Kelly to the chairperson of the Transport and Industrial Relations Committee, copied to me, disagreeing with the transcript—
Mr SPEAKER: Right. Leave is sought to—[Interruption] Order! Leave is sought. It has been used by the Minister in his answer in terms of the reference to Helen Kelly. Leave is sought to table it. Is there any objection? It can be so tabled. Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Superannuation Rate—Effect of Overseas Pensions
9. DENIS O’ROURKE (NZ First) to the Minister for Social Development: Does she consider the direct deduction policy of overseas pensions from New Zealand Superannuation under section 70 of the Social Security Act 1964 to be fair and consistent?
Hon CRAIG FOSS (Minister of Consumer Affairs) on behalf of the Minister for Social
Development: As the Minister answered to a question very similar to this 3 weeks ago, yes.
Denis O’Rourke: When an overseas pension is paid to a pensioner, what justification is there for applying section 70 to the spouse in respect of their entitlement to New Zealand superannuation?
Hon CRAIG FOSS: The spouse deduction is just one aspect of the direct deduction policy. The rationale for the direct deduction policy is that all New Zealanders receive the equivalent amount of New Zealand superannuation. This may be made up of the full amount of New Zealand superannuation or a combination of an overseas pension and a reduced amount of New Zealand superannuation. This applies to individuals and couples.
Denis O’Rourke: Has the Minister received legal advice on the human rights implications of applying section 70 to the spouse of a pensioner who receives an overseas pension; if so, does that advice raise the possibility of a claim under the Human Rights Act by the spouse?
Hon CRAIG FOSS: I understand that the Minister has not received advice on that matter.
Denis O’Rourke: How would the Minister respond to a human rights class action by New Zealand superannuitants affected by the direct deduction of overseas pensions?
Hon CRAIG FOSS: I am sure the Minister would seek advice on such matters.
Denis O’Rourke: Does she review the use of her chief executive’s discretion under section 70 in so far as it affects overseas occupational pensions under the direct deduction policy; if so, when was the last such review?
Hon CRAIG FOSS: I understand that the last comprehensive review of all of these matters was in 2007 under the Labour - New Zealand First Government, out of which no substantive changes to any of these matters were made.
Education, Minister—Review of Cabinet Papers
10. CHRIS HIPKINS (Labour—Rimutaka) to the Minister of Education: Has she read and understood each Cabinet paper she has signed off as Minister of Education?
Hon HEKIA PARATA (Minister of Education): [Authorised te reo text to be inserted by the Hansard Office.] [Authorised translation to be inserted by the Hansard Office.]
Chris Hipkins: Did she read and understand her 5 February Cabinet paper outlining her intention to appoint Catherine Isaac as the chair of the partnership schools authorisation board, where she recommended that Catherine Isaac’s conflict of interest with the Partnership Schools/Kura Hourua Working Group be managed by her resigning with immediate effect from the working group, formally disclosing any interests she had in any school that may be considering applying to be a partnership school, and having no further contact with any potential applicants; if so, why is Catherine Isaac still listed as a member of the Partnership Schools/Kura Hourua Working Group?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: To the first part of the question, yes, I did know that that was what I had asked her to do.
Chris Hipkins: Is Catherine Isaac still the chair of the Partnership Schools/Kura Hourua Working Group?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: The working group has been disbanded.
Chris Hipkins: Was Catherine Isaac still the chair of the Partnership Schools/Kura Hourua Working Group when it met in February and in March this year?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: I do not have the detail of those dates. I think it is unreasonable to expect that I might, because that was such a wide primary question, but I am happy to come back with that detail.
Chris Hipkins: Did she ensure that her recommendation to Cabinet on 5 February that Catherine Isaac resign from the working group with immediate effect was actually implemented?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: Yes, I did. I provided that instruction to the Ministry of Education, which carried it out.
11. EUGENIE SAGE (Green) to the Associate Minister of Health: Is the Minister concerned that in 2011/12 92,000 New Zealanders relied on drinking water supplies with an excessive number of E. coli breaches, which are a marker of faecal contamination, and if not, why not?
Hon JO GOODHEW (Associate Minister of Health): Tēnā koe e te Mana Whakawā. Yes, I am. However, in the majority of cases where contamination was identified, water suppliers took
immediate remedial action. I am not satisfied that the response was quick enough in a small number of cases covering 0.4 percent of the survey population. But I have been assured that these suppliers were followed up with district health board assessors immediately. The good news is that the Institute of Environmental Science and Research Ltd has advised me that there were no outbreaks of disease reported as a result of these breaches.
Eugenie Sage: Is the Minister concerned that the number of people reliant on water supplies with an excessive number of E. coli breaches increased by 20,000 between 2009-10 and 2011-12?
Hon JO GOODHEW: What the report does show is that although there were some breaches, in fact we are achieving some quite remarkable results. I point to the most remarkable side of this; we are looking at chemical breaches, bacterial breaches, and protozoal breaches. The most important improvement is the 79.1 percent of protozoal standards improved to 79.8 percent. They are the most expensive to treat and the most difficult to treat. And it is also in protozoal prevention that we actually have to spend the most money, which we do through our subsidies to the drinking-water schemes.
Eugenie Sage: Does the Minister agree with the Ministry of Health that the most important way to manage drinking-water supply is to protect the source of the supply, and if not, why not?
Hon JO GOODHEW: What I do understand is that each supplier that is covered in the drinking-water scheme will receive very good advice from the Ministry of Health about either having protection for their scheme—that might be chemical protection—or, in fact, that they will have a public health risk management plan. That will mean that they have to give effect to understanding where the water supply is coming from, and that there will be enough testing so that they immediately detect if either chemical, protozoal, or bacterial breaches occur so that they can protect the population concerned.
Eugenie Sage: Why has her Government cut funding for small communities to upgrade their drinking-water supplies by $16.3 million in Budget 2012 while allocating more than $80 million to subsidise irrigation when agricultural intensification is a major cause of water pollution?
Hon JO GOODHEW: The first thing I would like to actually deal with is that this report, this annual review of drinking-water quality, does not find any causes of these particular breaches. So, if the member feels that she read that in the report, she is quite wrong. It is not there. Secondly, I want to tell the member that in fact we changed the way that the subsidy scheme was actually delivered. What there is is still 3 years of $10 million per year of subsidies to deprivation index seven to 10. We have spent $66 million already actually providing 171 suppliers with fully upgraded water supplies. There are 72 projects under way. In fact, this is targeting the areas of the country that most need the money—something this Government is far better at than the previous Government.
Eugenie Sage: Why is the last round of funding for the drinking-water subsidy scheme in February 2015, when the ministerial advisory committee on drinking water compliance is concerned that 48 percent of medium-sized schemes do not comply with the New Zealand drinkingwater standard for protozoa, which of course include giardia and cryptosporidium, and when that same committee is concerned with the low level of compliance by small and medium sized schemes; so why is the scheme ending in February 2015?
Hon JO GOODHEW: What I am able to tell the member is that the applications that we are receiving from the water schemes all around the country are receiving the subsidies that they require. The $10 million has not been fully subscribed, so therefore no schemes are missing out on the subsidies they are actually applying for. We have structured this so that the schemes come in on a rolling basis during a period of time when this Government has taken into account that territorial local authorities need to plan for the future in a reasonable way, not in fact going holus-bolus and going broke in the process. This Government is very mindful of clean drinking-water for New Zealand’s population.
Digital Literacy—Computers in Homes Funding
12. COLIN KING (National—Kaikōura) to the Associate Minister of Education: What recent announcements have been made to support digital literacy, particularly in low-income communities?
Hon NIKKI KAYE (Associate Minister of Education): Tēnā koe, Mr Speaker. Yesterday Ministers Parata, Goodhew, and I announced that the Government will fund $1.6 million to Computers in Homes. This additional funding will mean that 1,500 families across low-income communities are provided with a computer to take home, IT support, and subsidised internet connections for 12 months. Parents will also receive 20 hours of computer training at their children’s school. This is great news. I want to acknowledge the 2020 Communications Trust for its hard work and effort in running this highly successful programme. The 21st Century Learning Group, which I have also recently established, has a mandate to look at improving device access and more learning opportunities for New Zealand students.
Colin King: What other initiatives is the Government supporting to improve digital literacy for New Zealanders?
Hon NIKKI KAYE: Along with Computers in Homes, this Government has a strong commitment to improving digital literacy for all New Zealanders. There is a $1.5 billion investment in fast connections to give 2,500 schools across the country access; $136 million over the next 4 years to speed up the school network upgrade project by 2 years; and $9.8 million per year specifically for e-learning professional development. We are providing more than $21 million for laptops to teachers. Recently we announced the Computer Clubhouse programme, now called the High Tech Youth Network, and that will receive another $1.9 million. We are also investing in online resources, such as the Enabling e-Learning community and a virtual learning network, and I can confirm that there is more to come.