Questions and Answers - July 9
QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS
Skycity, Convention Centre—Department of Internal Affairs Advice
1. METIRIA TUREI (Co-Leader—Green) to the Minister for Economic Development: Does he agree with the Department of Internal Affairs’ advice to his officials on the proposed international convention centre that “virtually any of these proposed concessions would almost certainly be followed by an increase in the number of people seeking help citing problems linked with casino machines or casino table games”; if not, why not?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister for Economic Development): No, not necessarily; for three reasons. The first point is that the paper the member is referring to considers a theoretical increase in pokie machines of 850; the eventual agreement between Skycity and the Crown provides for only 230. The second important point is that the paper is advice from 2011. So, of course, it is not aware of the significant harm reduction measures negotiated in the agreement. The third point is that the number of pokie machines in New Zealand is currently falling, and is continuing to fall, by around 500 per year. This deal would only slow that reduction by around 6 months.
Metiria Turei: Did the Minister read the warnings from the Department of Internal Affairs’ manager of gambling policy, Mr John Markland, that thousands of children would “almost certainly” be harmed from the increased gambling caused by this deal, including being inadequately clothed and fed and suffering other examples of deprivation and poor parenting, and why did he then pursue the deal?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I do not recall that specific advice, but I have read a range of advice with various propositions along those lines. Again, I would make the point to the member that there are two or three things that mitigate against that. Firstly, it is by no means clear at all that a marginal increase in machines in one casino would increase gambling harm overall, especially when the total number of machines across the country and across Auckland continues to decline. Secondly, the negotiated, significant additional harm minimisation measures that apply to all gambling machines in that casino will together act to reduce harm. Thirdly, once the concessions are in place, there is absolutely nothing to stop the regulatory authorities introducing new harm minimisation measures over time.
Metiria Turei: Has the Minister read his own regulatory impact statement containing evidence that gamblers do not keep to their own limits when using voluntary pre-commit cards—in short, a voluntary pre-commit card is something like a voluntary seatbelt—and is he not making a nonsense of the sinking-lid policy by guaranteeing that Auckland will have at least 2,000 pokie machines for the next 35 years despite the hard work of community groups, like the Ōtara Gambling and Alcohol Action Group, to reduce the number of pokies in Auckland City?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: To answer the last question first, the reality of it is that the number of machines is continuing to decline, and, of course, we are talking about only a marginal increase in
the number of machines at that casino. The member also singles out one harm minimisation measure. Yes, I have read the regulatory impact statement, which makes it quite clear that it is difficult to actually determine whether there will be additional risk caused by these additional machines or not, just as it is difficult to quantify the potential size of any increased risk of harm. It notes that most gambling does not cause harm, either to the gambler or to others.
Metiria Turei: I seek leave to table a document compiled by my office of information from Auckland Council showing that there has been a reduction of 1,189 pokie machines since 2004, soon to be increased, as a result of this deal, by 470 automated machines.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection to that being done? There appears to be none. The document can be tabled. Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Metiria Turei: Did the Minister and John Key consider financing an international convention centre in a way that would not pose the risk of harm to thousands of children; if not, why not?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Cabinet actually did discuss, of course, the various matters around this arrangement before it made its decision—I suppose in much the same way that the Green Party might have done back in 2001 when deciding not to publicly oppose a similar arrangement that took place under the previous Labour Government in 2001 and 2002. They did not call that a dirty deal.
Metiria Turei: How did—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order!
Metiria Turei: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. It is difficult to hear with the shouting over the other side.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order!
Metiria Turei: How did the Minister weigh up the increased risk of problem gambling - related suicide when deciding to pursue this deal?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I think it is quite clear in the papers that Cabinet assessed all those risks, as I said, in much the same way as previous Governments would have when they endorsed and encouraged a much smaller convention centre to be built in 2003 with a very similar number of gambling machines.
Metiria Turei: Given the warnings about the harm it poses, the obvious moral element in this legislation referring to gambling—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member can start that question again.
Metiria Turei: Given the warnings about the harm it poses, the obvious moral elements in this legislation as it refers to gambling law, and the comments of David McGee that non-party voting is designed for issues like gambling, will he support a personal vote on this legislation to allow MPs to vote with their conscience?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: No. This is a Government measure, and it is my belief that parties in favour of investments, jobs, and growth for New Zealanders will vote in favour of this bill. Parties that are against those things will vote against it, just like they voted against the Resource Management Act changes, the Crown minerals changes, the exclusive economic zone legislation, and the ultra-fast broadband legislation.
Metiria Turei: Will the Minister now assure the House that no child will suffer ill treatment as a result of the regulatory concessions in this deal, and that no adult will harm themselves as a result of the increased gambling opportunities it creates?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: No Minister can give that assurance, in the same way they cannot in regard to any other human activity that potentially causes social harm if the harm is not minimised properly—and this Government is seeking to do that. If the Greens had a strong principle on this, why are they worried about just these 230 machines? Why are they not calling immediately for all gambling to be closed down and for the 3,500 people in Skycity to no longer have a job?
Metiria Turei: I seek leave to table advice received by me under the Official Information Act from the Ministry of Economic Development from April 2013 showing that there are some 71,500 people who are negatively affected by casino gambling, of whom half are children.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that. Is there any objection? There is none. It can be tabled. Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Government Financial Position—Return to Surplus
2. JAMI-LEE ROSS (National—Botany) to the Minister of Finance: What reports has he received on the Government’s financial position—particularly progress in reaching its target of returning to fiscal surplus in 2014/15?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): Treasury last week published the Crown Financial Statements for the 11 months to 31 May 2013. They show an improvement in Government tax revenue on the back of a moderately stronger economy, combined with the Government’s responsible control over spending. These two factors leave the operating deficit for gains and losses at $3.26 billion for the 11 months. If this improvement continues for the final month of the fiscal year, that is, to 30 June, along with the usual historical patterns of spending, then the deficit will likely be somewhere around $5.5 billion for the year, rather than $7.5 billion as forecast in Budget 2012, 12 months ago.
Jami-Lee Ross: What were the main reasons for the improvement in the Government’s accounts for the 11 months to May, compared with previous forecasts?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: There were two main reasons. Over the past few years the Government has focused on understanding and managing the main drivers of Government expenditure, after it had jumped by 50 percent—that is 50 percent—in the 5 years to 2008. Core Crown expenses are forecast to drop to below 31 percent of GDP in 2014-15, and that is down from 35 percent of GDP just 2 years ago. The second reason is higher revenue. The Government is supporting this growth through its comprehensive programme to build competitiveness, encourage investment, and support jobs. Compared with May 2012, tax revenue is $3.5 billion higher for the 11 months to May this year, reflecting wage growth and an increase in the effective tax rate on sole traders’ trusts and other individuals as a result of the Government’s tax reforms in 2010, which appear to be collecting more tax even at lower rates.
Jami-Lee Ross: What implications can be drawn from the Government’s latest financial statements in terms of its target of returning to surplus in 2014-15?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: These accounts confirm the Government is on track to return to surplus in 2014-15, but also to achieve a deficit in this last financial year around $2 billion lower than we budgeted, which is a significant tribute particularly to the Public Service, which has really applied itself to managing the drivers of Government spending. Bear in mind that the deficit was $18.4 billion just 2 years ago. Of course, when we get to surplus we will have choices about repaying debt or investing in more public services for New Zealanders.
Jami-Lee Ross: What contribution is the Government’s Better Public Services programme making to the improvement in the Government’s finances?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: We believe that effective public services and good performance in the public sector is the key to getting back to surplus and managing the Government’s finances. Yesterday, Ministers issued the first annual progress report on the 10 Better Public Services results, which set out to address some of New Zealand’s most challenging issues. It confirms that we are making good progress in areas such as reducing crime, reducing long-term welfare dependence, and improving educational achievement. In several areas the Government is making significant upfront investment to achieve better results. For example, it is investing more than $470 million over two Budgets to support more New Zealanders off welfare and into work. We are making that investment
because we believe it will lead to less welfare dependency, and therefore less fiscal cost in the long term.
Hon David Parker: Is the Minister of Finance ready to concede that he has failed in his objective to rebalance the economy towards exports and export jobs, given that there is significant house price inflation, significant debt-fuelled speculation in housing, and the IMF says that we will have the worst current account deficit in the developed world this year and every year through to 2017?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: No, I do not concede that at all. In fact a principal component of the rebalancing is to shrink the excessive Government spending that the previous Labour Government got involved in, and as I have pointed out, Government spending will shrink from 35 percent of GDP to 31 percent in a couple of years’ time. Secondly, I simply disagree with the IMF over its view about New Zealand’s current account balance.
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 on the prices New Zealanders are paying for their power: “I think that they are paying a price … in relation to the environment we find ourselves in,”; if so, why?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Yes, in the context I made it.
David Shearer: With electricity prices rising over five times faster than the rate of inflation in the past year, why has his Government insisted that Transpower pay $1.16 billion in dividends?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: At least the member has correctly identified what is the root of most of the increase, which is transmission. Some time ago I remember the member actually being on his feet arguing that dividends were such a great thing and the Government should be getting a lot more of them.
David Shearer: Is it correct that as a result of those $1.16 billion in dividends being paid to the Government, each New Zealand householder will pay an extra $370 for power?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I cannot confirm those numbers. What I can say is that power prices went up 72 percent under Labour. They are going up much more slowly under a National-led Government. I also know that under a Labour Government the emissions trading scheme charges would be much more significant than they are under National.
David Shearer: Does he think it is fair that New Zealand households have to pay an additional $370 for power because of his Government’s decision to collect the dividends?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: The member is making an assumption that I cannot be sure is correct. I would need to go and check those details. But what I can say is that Transpower has been making substantial investments in recent times. I think Aucklanders, who suffered significant blackouts at one point, will remember what impact that had on the city. So those investments are absolutely necessary.
David Shearer: If he is questioning the figures, is he saying that the Transpower statement of intent tabled by his Minister is inaccurate—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! The interchange between the front benches of both National and Labour is so loud that it is difficult for me to hear the question that has been raised by David Shearer. Would he please repeat the question? [Interruption] Order!
David Shearer: If he is disputing the figures, is he saying that the Transpower statement of intent tabled by his Minister is actually wrong?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No, what I am saying is that the member is potentially extrapolating data that is not correct.
David Shearer: Given the figure that householders are paying an additional $370 for their power, does he concede that his Government has directly increased power prices?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No, those prices are, obviously, set by the particular companies that sell the power. What the Government has done is look to strengthen the network in New Zealand. I think that is a sensible thing to happen. I know that the member is desperate to talk about anything but his—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order!
David Shearer: Does he think it is acceptable that despite—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Again, would members please refrain from interjecting. Would the member now please start his question again.
David Shearer: Does he think it is acceptable that despite having some of the cheapest electricity generation in the world, and despite having flat demand or declining demand, prices increased $118 in the last year for the average household?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Firstly—
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am very reluctant to raise this point of order, but down this end we cannot hear a thing, because of people screaming out from the National Party about a man ban, which we all know they have had in place in their party for a long time.
Mr SPEAKER: The latter part is not a point of order. The first part is a legitimate point of order, and—[Interruption] Order! If the member at the back of the Chamber is claiming he could not hear the question, I invite Mr Shearer to say it again.
David Shearer: Does he think it is acceptable that despite having some of the cheapest electricity in the world, and despite our declining or flat demand, prices continue to increase by up to $118 in the last year for the average household, when we actually should be facing some of the lowest power prices in the world?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Firstly, let us put the facts on the table. Power prices went up much more rapidly under Labour than under the National Government. Secondly, it is always important to invest in infrastructure, and that means making sure that the networks are robust. Thirdly, the Labour Party was not so long ago arguing about the merits of dividends and why they are important. Fourthly, to the Rt Hon Winston Peters: I am amazed that he thinks that the National Party has had a ban on men, given that he joined the National Party—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! That part is unnecessary. Question No. 4—[Interruption] Order! I would be reluctant to see the Leader of the House have to leave the Chamber for interjecting.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: So would I.
Mr SPEAKER: Well, if the member is reluctant to leave, he should tone down his interjections. Question No. 4, Claudette Hauiti.
Skycity, Convention Centre—Progress
4. CLAUDETTE HAUITI (National) to the Minister for Economic Development: What progress has the Government made on establishing an international standard convention centre in Auckland?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister for Economic Development): I thank the member for her question. I am pleased to advise the House that on Saturday I announced that the Government and Skycity have completed negotiations and signed an agreement for Skycity to design, build, and operate the New Zealand International Convention Centre in Auckland. Skycity will invest $402 million designing and building the convention centre, which will cater for 3,500 international conference delegates at any one time. The New Zealand tourism industry and business sector have been seeking an international-sized convention centre to be built in New Zealand for many years, to tap into the growing market of high-value business visitors that we are currently missing out on. The Government is once again delivering on this objective.
Claudette Hauiti: What economic benefits will the New Zealand International Convention Centre bring to Auckland and New Zealand?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: The New Zealand International Convention Centre will create jobs, boost tourism, and bring significant economic benefits to Auckland and New Zealand. It is estimated that 33,000 more conference delegates will visit New Zealand each year, and we know that conference delegates spend more on average than other visitors. Overall, the New Zealand International Convention Centre is projected to inject $90 million into the economy, create an estimated 1,000 jobs during construction, and 800 jobs once it is up and running. This is a good deal for Auckland and for New Zealand.
Claudette Hauiti: What measures has the Government agreed will be put in place to deter problem gambling and to help with harm reduction?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Under the agreement Skycity will have to introduce a predictive modelling tool to analyse data and identify players at risk of problem gambling, as well as a voluntary pre-commitment system where players elect to restrict the amount of time they play or the amount they spend. It will also have to introduce player identification requirements when amounts over $500 are being put onto, or cashed from, ticket-in and ticket-out machines in non-restricted areas, as well as double the number of host responsibility specialists in order to deliver 24-hour-aday, 7-day-a-week coverage. It is also worth noting that the 230 new pokie machines that have been focused on is the exact same number granted to Skycity under the Labour Government in 2001 for the development of a much smaller convention centre. Overall, the number of pokie machines in New Zealand is falling by around 500 a year. This arrangement will slow that reduction by just 6 months.
Prime Minister—Statements on Solid Energy and Future Investment Fund
5. Hon CLAYTON COSGROVE (Labour) to the Prime Minister: Does he stand by his statements regarding Solid Energy and the Future Investment Fund “Well, again I think he’s saying that technically it was in the rules it might be possible. I haven’t actually seen – can’t recall either seeing [indistinct] and marked those things that are in the budget is an allocation process” and “If Bill’s saying it’s there, there might be a [indistinct] allocation”?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): Yes. For the benefit of members, Ministers have agreed to a facility of up to $100 million to provide liquidity support for Solid Energy if it is needed, and so far it has not been—
Grant Robertson: I thought you said yesterday they had it.
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Well, wait till to we get to the end of the answer. Secondly, the facility cannot be used as a capital injection, so it is not about bailing out Solid Energy as Mr Cosgrove claims. A range of options for this facility was put to Ministers but the only one they have considered is a secured loan, repayable in the short term. Officials advised a secured loan would not be a charge against the Future Investment Fund.
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: Despite that answer, could the Prime Minister, given that he stands by that statement, explain to the House exactly what he meant by that statement?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Yes, because the member is a bit slow I will do it for him.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! A point of order has been raised by the Hon Trevor Mallard.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I think you indicated either last week or the week before that you were going to tighten up on Ministers to get them when they are asked relatively non-political questions not to abuse members. I think that has just been breached, and I would note that there have now been five interjections since I restarted the point of order.
Mr SPEAKER: I appreciate the point the member is making. I do not think he can argue to my satisfaction that it was a non-political question. Having said that, it would be helpful if the Prime Minister would simply address the question without equally adding politics at the start.
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Your ruling is interesting in that the Prime Minister and your office accepted the primary question. My supplementary question could not have been ruled political. It simply asked him to explain what he meant. Could you point out to me what is political about that?
Mr SPEAKER: Would the member please resume his seat.
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Ministers were asked to consider a facility that could be used for Solid Energy to pay for wages and things in the short term if—
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: Why didn’t you tell the truth?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: —the company actually went broke and could not achieve that.
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: Why did you black out the figures?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: That was actually something I remember—the member actually running around saying exactly that.
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: Why did you black out only one set of figures?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Well, I am not going to bother answering if you are going to carry on like that.
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I wanted to inquire whether the Prime Minister has finished his answer.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! He decided not to because of the interjections that were coming from the member. If the member wants to continue raising points of order that I do not consider are appropriate or relevant, then he will not get the ability to ask further supplementary questions.
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: Does he stand by his statement this morning on Firstline regarding loans to Solid Energy that Bill English could “if he wanted to do it unsecured, he could do that as well”; if so, does he also stand by his statement yesterday at his post-Cabinet press conference that “we’ve never, ever considered giving [Solid Energy] an unsecured loan”—which is it?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Yes.
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: Why did he say yesterday morning on Newstalk ZB that asset sales money was not going to be used to support Solid Energy and that I was making it up, then 10 minutes later on Radio Live he said that there might be an allocation of $100 million for Solid Energy, when an hour beforehand on yet another radio station Bill English confirmed that asset sales money has been appropriated for Solid Energy recovery facilities, saying “the Government decides what the Future Investment Fund is spent on.”?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Because, in answer to the first part of the question, it is true: we are not putting money out of the Future Investment Fund into Solid Energy, and, secondly, the member was making it up.
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: I seek leave to table the Cabinet and Treasury documents, signed off by Cabinet and the Prime Minister, that show that Cabinet has set aside $100 million from the Future Investment Fund for so-called “Solid Energy recovery facilities”.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table those documents. Is there any objection? Yes, there is.
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: Is he aware that his Cabinet has approved $10 million of spending from the Future Investment Fund on the National War Memorial; if he can recall that, how is it plausible that he can remember a $10 million spending item approved by the Cabinet that he chairs, but he cannot recall a $100 million item derived from the same source, the Future Investment Fund, and noted in his own Cabinet documents that he signed off on?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: In answer to the first part of the question, yes; in answer to the second part of the question, the member is just plain wrong. What Cabinet has done is establish an authority to allow the Government to lend money if it wants to. If it was done on a secured basis, it would not come out of the Future Investment Fund. The only way that the Government would lend money to Solid Energy would be on a secured basis, but because the accountants are truly conservative and because we gave ourselves a range of options, that was the way they accounted for it. No $100
million has been there. But what is interesting now, actually, is Clayton Cosgrove is telling the people—
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. You may anticipate my point of order. He had a lengthy—
Mr SPEAKER: I could not possibly anticipate a point of order from that member at all.
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: I am very happy to enlighten you. The Prime Minister gave a lengthy answer, and now he is starting to attack me. He has given a lengthy answer—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I do not think that that was a significant enough attack to worry the member. He is bigger than that.
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: I raise a point of order. [Interruption] Not as big as you, Gerry. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! A point of order has been called, and it will, on this occasion, be heard in silence.
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: This is a serious point of order. Is it then your ruling that a member needs to be subjected to the attack before you will then pull the Minister up?
Mr SPEAKER: No, that is not my ruling.
Mr SPEAKER: Question No. 6, Kanwaljit Singh Bakshi. [Interruption] Order! [Interruption] Order! Would members on all sides of the House settle down so we can hear from Kanwaljit Singh Bakshi. Question No. 6.
Better Public Services—Targets
6. KANWALJIT SINGH BAKSHI (National) to the Minister of State Services: What progress is being made toward the achievement of the Government’s Better Public Services targets?
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN (Minister of State Services): Yesterday the Government announced the 1-year update on Better Public Services results. I am pleased to advise the House that the Government has made progress in all 10 results areas. The Government is delivering on its commitments to reduce crime, improve the health of children, reduce long-term welfare dependency, boost skills, and enable online interactions with the Government.
Kanwaljit Singh Bakshi: What is the Government doing to support the Public Service in delivering results that matter to New Zealanders?
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: The State Sector and Public Finance Reform Bill, which is currently before the House, will enable the State Services Commissioner, as head of State services, to move key people and money around the Public Service so that resources are focused on achieving results. This approach will also ensure that our most talented civil servants get the broad range of experience required to develop their careers.
Kanwaljit Singh Bakshi: What is the public response to the Government’s focus on services that matter to Kiwis?
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: The State Services Commission conducts the Kiwis Count quarterly survey on public satisfaction with public services. The Government’s focus on shifting resources to the front line and our commitment to delivering results that matter has seen a significant improvement in New Zealanders’ satisfaction with public services since the National Government took office. This Government is focused on delivering better public services in a tight fiscal environment, and New Zealanders are recognising the improvement in services.
Finance, Minister—Statement on Future Investment Fund
7. Hon DAVID PARKER (Labour) to the Minister of Finance: Does he stand by his statement “The Government decides what the Future Investment Fund is spent on”?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): Yes.
Hon David Parker: Given that Treasury documents from March 2013, recently released under the Official Information Act, state that Cabinet has already agreed to spend $616 million against the
Budget 2013 Future Investment Fund’s spending profile, then list Christchurch hospitals, irrigation infrastructure, and the National War Memorial, at a total of $516 million, was the other $100 million blanked out for Solid Energy?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I understand that it was, but Treasury is wrong. The Government has not committed to $100 million from the Future Investment Fund, as the member asked in the first question. The Government decides what the Future Investment Fund is spent on, not Treasury accountants.
Hon David Parker: I seek leave to table the document called Finalising the Budget 2013 Future Investment Fund Package, which has Solid Energy blanked out.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that. Is there any objection? Yes, there is.
Hon David Parker: Why have he and his colleagues been so enthusiastic to promote uses for the proceeds of assets sales—such as subsidising irrigation schemes, Minister Guy; building schools and hospitals, Mr Key; rebuilding Christchurch, Mr Brownlee; capitalising Kiwibank so he can sell it off, paying down debt, and KiwiRail, Mr Joyce; the war memorial, Finlayson; the city rail link— yet have failed to publicly mention the $100 million for the bailout of Solid Energy?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Because there is no $100 million bailout of Solid Energy. It does not matter how often the Opposition says it; it is simply not the case. But the rest of the list highlights the flexibility that the asset sales programme gives the Government. We have $1.7 billion cash in the bank, and if there is one thing that gets up the Opposition’s nose, it is our willingness to spend it on public assets.
Hon David Parker: Then is the reason he tried to hide appropriating asset sale proceeds for Solid Energy that it again highlights how Solid Energy was mismanaged under his Government, which encouraged Solid Energy, in the face of a falling coal price, to expand and to increase debt by hundreds of millions of dollars while demanding higher dividends, all of which led to the downfall of Solid Energy?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Solid Energy was another example of where the incoming National Government had to clean up a mess left by the previous Government. One could argue that we should have acted a bit more quickly, but when we did take action, that party was out on the steps of Parliament protesting against it.
Hon David Parker: I seek leave to table a copy of the letter sent on behalf of Mr English asking for higher debts and more dividends from Solid Energy, in the face of falling coal prices.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that particular letter. Is there any objection? There is objection.
Hon David Parker: Then is the reason he tried to hide spending asset sale proceeds on Solid Energy that, after using the Future Investment Fund for projects costing tens of billions of dollars, another hundred million dollars would seem a bit over the top?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: As I said to the member, the Government has not spent a dollar of anything on Solid Energy, actually. That has not occurred. The option that the Government has considered is a secured loan, and a secured loan would not come from the Future Investment Fund. The Government is hiding nothing. What it is trying to do is clean up messes, of which this is one of many, left by the previous Labour Government, which drove up spending, wasted public capital, and left this economy in a mess.
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: I seek leave to table two documents. The first is recommendation No. 1 in the note to Cabinet, spending $616 million, where note 6.9, referring to the Solid Energy allocation, has—
Mr SPEAKER: The source of the document, please.
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: —it is a Cabinet document —been blanked out.
Mr SPEAKER: There are two documents.
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: I am seeking leave for the first one.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that particular couple of pages. Is there any objection? There is objection.
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: The second document I wish to table is Table 5, Future Investment Fund spending in the Budget, $616 million—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Is that a Budget document? [Interruption] Order! Is that a Budget document the member has?
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: It is Table 5 from the Future Investment Fund, where the Solid Energy item is not blanked out.
Mr SPEAKER: Is it a Budget document?
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: It is Table 5.
Mr SPEAKER: It is a Budget document; it will not be tabled.
Prime Minister—Statements on the Government Communications Security Bureau
8. Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First) to the Prime Minister: Does he stand by all his statements on the recent controversies around the GCSB; if so, why?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): Yes, because, to the best of my knowledge, I believe them all to be true.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Does he stand by his statement that “We’ve gone through every record my office holds, there’s no evidence we can point to that we’ve heard of this guy prior to January 19, 2012.”?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Yes.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: How does he reconcile that statement with the answer he gave to written parliamentary question No. 8130 in 2012 that “In July 2011 one of my staff was advised by Hon Simon Power’s office by phone that Hon Power was declining an OIO application from Kim Dotcom.”?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: One was in relation to whether I had heard of Kim Dotcom prior to 19 January 2012. There is no documentation in my office to support that I had. The other was a phone call. As has been well documented, it was made by Simon Power’s office to my deputy chief of staff. That information was not passed on to me.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Given that the Prime Minister does not seem to understand what the word “we” means, did he say on 24 January 2012 that “I was aware [of] a German resident living in that house … but I didn’t know [his] name was Kim Dotcom.”, and can he tell the House whether he knew the German resident was the subject of a criminal investigation?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No, I did not know he was subject to that.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Well, who told him about the “German resident” prior to 19 January 2012?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I cannot recall. To the best of my knowledge it was some time in 2011. Someone in my electorate had mentioned it to me.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Has the Prime Minister’s office ordered the destruction— [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order!
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Has the Prime—[Interruption] Mr Speaker, I would like to get going on this question.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! If the member would just carry on—[Interruption] Order!
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Has the Prime Minister’s office destroyed, or given instructions to destroy, any documents relating to Kim Dotcom; if so, what were those documents?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No. I do not know what it was like when Winston Peters was a Minister, but maybe they did destroy documents all the time. I suggest that the member has absolutely nothing—just like Kim Dotcom. Maybe those documents are buried inside Peter Dunne’s emails if you would like to produce those as well.
9. EUGENIE SAGE (Green) to the Minister of Conservation: Does he agree with former Otago Conservation Board chairwoman, Associate Professor Abby Smith, who said restructuring at the Department of Conservation has left it “dead in the water”; if not, why not?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH (Minister of Conservation): No, but I accept that the restructuring is unsettling for staff of the department. The former chair was particularly concerned about the lack of progress on marine protection, which is ironic when we are this year set to gazette a record 10 marine reserves around New Zealand. However, Otago is the only conservancy to have no marine protection, and her criticisms reflect 10 years of frustration as board chair in not being able to establish any.
Eugenie Sage: When he talked about our tourism industry’s reliance on “breathtaking landscapes and a stunning variety of unique flora and fauna.” in his Valuing Nature Conference speech this morning, why did he not mention the Department of Conservation’s own 4-year plan, which states: “The number and condition of many native plants, animals, and ecosystems continues to decline.”?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: One of the points I made at the Valuing Nature Conference this morning was the huge commitment by the Department of Conservation to the work in protecting a whole number of species and four steps that we need to take to improve in that performance. I would welcome the Green Party’s support for that sensible vision for conservation.
Eugenie Sage: How can he say that the National Government values nature when it has slashed Department of Conservation funding, with the loss of more than 160 conservation jobs, and it has left the department—as it says in Treasury papers and the department’s 4-year report—in a position where it will have to do less from 2015-16?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: The Green Party’s rhetoric about the Department of Conservation budget being slashed is just not credible. Let me give the member the numbers. In 2008-09, the last year of the previous Government, the Department of Conservation budget was $304 million. This year the Department of Conservation budget is $334 million. It is true that the Department of Conservation, like all Government agencies, is not able to enjoy the massive increases in public spending that got New Zealand into a heap of economic pickle, but this Government is committed to an efficient, pragmatic, and effective department.
Eugenie Sage: In his Valuing Nature Conference speech this morning, when he talked about our successful dairy industry relying on “copious volumes of fresh, clean water”, why did he not mention that under the National Government 50 percent of our waterways are no longer fit for swimming or that New Zealand fell from second to 43rd in the world, according to Yale University’s water rankings?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: The Green Party’s assertion that 50 percent of New Zealand waterways are unfit to swim in just shows the gross exaggeration by that party and is wrong. I would further point out that this Government has increased by threefold the increase in protection and restoration of waterways. I give just one example. Take Lake Rotoiti—one of the iconic lakes of the North Island. It is cleaner than it has been for more than 30 or 40 years, because of the funding that this Government has committed to its clean-up.
Eugenie Sage: I seek leave to table a news centre transcript of a Radio New Zealand interview with Associate Professor Abby Smith yesterday—
Mr SPEAKER: If it is a transcript of a radio interview, it is available to members if they want to search for it.
Eugenie Sage: A transcript is not publicly available. It was commissioned by the Green Party from the news centre.
Mr SPEAKER: If members want to get hold of it, I am sure they can.
Crime Prevention and Drug Addiction—Government Initiatives
10. MIKE SABIN (National—Northland) to the Minister of Justice: What new initiative is the Government undertaking to fight crime and drug addiction?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS (Minister of Justice): I have recently announced that money seized from drug crime will be allocated to directly fight crime and drug addiction. The Government has received about $8.6 million since the Criminal Proceeds (Recovery) Act came into force in December 2009. The decision to allocate the proceeds of crime to fighting drug addiction was part of the Methamphetamine Action Plan so that profits from the drug trade will be used to reduce the harm from drug addiction. Reducing drug addiction directly supports crime reduction and helps to make our community safer.
Mike Sabin: How will the funds from the proceeds of crime be allocated?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: The Interagency Committee on Drugs will assess bids from Government agencies and will make recommendations. The Prime Minister will make the final decision on which projects are to be funded. The Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Justice, and the Department of Corrections will be able to bid for funding for drug treatment projects, while the Police and the Customs Service will be able to bid for funding of law enforcement initiatives. Agencies will need to show how their proposed initiative will reduce drug harm and break the drug supply chains by tackling organised criminal groups that are dealing in drugs.
Mike Sabin: How does this initiative contribute to the Government’s Better Public Services targets?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: This Government is making excellent progress towards achieving its Better Public Services targets. The justice sector targets aim to reduce the crime rate by 15 percent, reduce the violent crime rate by 20 percent, reduce youth crime rate by 5 percent, and reduce the reoffending rate by 25 percent. Combating drug addiction and organised crime will directly assist the justice sector in its efforts to achieve these targets and to help make New Zealand a safer place for all of us.
Gambling—Action on Gambling-related Harm
Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Labour—Hutt South): My question is to the Minister of Internal Affairs—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order!
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: What actions is he taking to—
Mr SPEAKER: Order!
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: —minimise the harm from gambling?
Mr SPEAKER: I am going to ask the member to start again, please.
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: Well, Mr Speaker, everyone—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Order!
11. Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Labour—Hutt South) to the Minister of Internal Affairs: What actions is he taking to minimise the harm from gambling?
Hon CHRIS TREMAIN (Minister of Internal Affairs): I have recently acted, together with the Associate Minister of Health, to put in place a $55.3 million 3-year gambling harm strategy. The 3-year package includes $25.3 million for front-line intervention services and $20.5 million for public health services. These services help families with members who have gambling addictions. The Government also supported the Māori Party’s Gambling (Gambling Harm Reduction) Amendment Bill this week at its second reading. I have supported the Commerce Committee’s improvements to the bill, which will enable the transfer of gambling venues out of low socioeconomic areas. The bill will also enable regulations to make sensible harm-minimisation technologies mandatory in class 4 gambling venues nationwide.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Why did he suppress for over a year the advice that there would be over 8,000 extra problem gamblers as a result of the deal of the size of the Skycity one?
Hon CHRIS TREMAIN: I did not suppress that advice. The advice was part of a negotiation that was being undertaken by the Government, which had commercial sensitivities. That was the reason.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Which aspects of the regulatory concessions raise the risk of moneylaundering through Skycity, as outlined in paragraph 97 of the regulatory impact statement?
Hon CHRIS TREMAIN: The aspects of the harm-minimisation package that deal with, certainly, harm minimisation and anti - money-laundering include the ticket-in ticket-out provisions in there, which actually limit the amount of money that someone can put through a machine without identification.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. It was a very straight question. It asked: “Which aspects—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! There was quite a lot of noise at the time the question was asked. To be fair to the Minister, would the member please repeat the question.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Which aspects of the regulatory concessions raise the risk of moneylaundering through Skycity, as outlined in paragraph 97 of the regulatory impact statement?
Hon CHRIS TREMAIN: The aspects of the package that we have put together, particularly including the ticket-in ticket-out initiatives, actually reduce the risk of money-laundering.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. It was a very straight question. Paragraph 97 of the regulatory impact statement indicates that there is risk of extra moneylaundering as a result of the concessions. All I asked is: “Which aspects of the concessions?”. They are this Minister’s responsibility.
Mr SPEAKER: The Minister has answered it not by talking about the ways the risks were raised, but the way the risks will be lessened. I think on that particular case—
Hon CHRIS TREMAIN: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: Speaking to the point of order, the Hon Chris Tremain.
Hon CHRIS TREMAIN: The primary question talks about harm minimisation; it does not talk about anti – money-laundering. So in terms of a specific part of the regulatory impact statement, I do not have that particular detail in front of me today.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: I think the Minister addressed the question in the first place. He has now certainly answered it through a point of order, which is an odd way of doing things. The member has further supplementary questions if he wants use them.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Did the regulatory impact statement reject the option of amending the Gambling Act because it would “… involve wider consultation, increased scrutiny and therefore more public input.”; if so, why does he believe that this proposal could not withstand wider consultation, increased scrutiny, and more public input?
Hon CHRIS TREMAIN: The bill proposed by the Minister for Economic Development will go through a full hearing at the select committee, which will enable submissions to be heard, and it will enable wide scrutiny of the Act.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Does he agree with the regulatory impact statement that the impact is that the bill “… is inconsistent with the fundamental common law principle of equality before the law …”; if not, why not?
Hon CHRIS TREMAIN: I am more than confident that when the bill goes before the select committee it will have the opportunity for submitters to be heard in terms of any concerns that they have about the bill, and for any changes from the select committee.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. It was a very direct question—
Mr SPEAKER: Could the member just repeat the question, please.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Does he agree with the regulatory impact statement that the bill “… is inconsistent with the fundamental common law principle of equality before the law …”; if not, why not?
Hon Annette King: Yes or no?
Hon CHRIS TREMAIN: No.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Will he rule out using similar amendments to the Gambling Act to develop convention centres in Christchurch and Queenstown?
Hon Steven Joyce: It’s a hypothetical.
Hon CHRIS TREMAIN: It is a hypothetical question—[Interruption]
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! There is a point of order from the Hon Trevor Mallard.
Hon Trevor Mallard: It was a very direct question about the area that that Minister has responsibility for, asking him whether he would rule something out. Saying that it is hypothetical is not an answer.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The Minister then added further to his answer, but because of the noise coming from around the member asking the question, I am not sure what the Minister added subsequently. Would the Minister just like to repeat his answer?
Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I think it is worth pointing out that a decision like that would rest with the whole Cabinet, not necessarily with the Minister of Internal Affairs.
Hon Trevor Mallard: This is the Minister responsible for the Gambling Act. The question was about the Gambling Act.
Mr SPEAKER: The easiest way to resolve this is for me to ask the Minister to repeat his answer to the question.
Hon CHRIS TREMAIN: I can extend the answer. There are no proposals in front of me for those hypothetical situations that you have put. We will deal with that situation at the time.
Mr SPEAKER: Supplementary question, Te Ururoa Flavell. [Interruption] Order! [Interruption] Order! I have called a supplementary question from Te Ururoa Flavell.
Te Ururoa Flavell: Tēnā koe, Mr Speaker. Kia ora tātou. Does he agree with the Māori Party that it is important to minimise the harm done to communities by gambling; if so, how will he ensure that the provisions around local distribution and harm-minimisation technology, introduced in the Gambling (Gambling Harm Reduction) Amendment Bill, are taken up?
Hon CHRIS TREMAIN: I agree that minimising harm is important. Once Te Ururoa Flavell’s bill has passed, it will be possible to introduce regulations to introduce mandatory harmminimisation devices in class 4 gambling venues nationwide. The original bill said that these requirements may be introduced only through individual licence conditions. I believe that our changes to the bill actually enhance the situation.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I just wanted to check there had not been any changes to Standing Orders or Speakers’ rulings to do with the transfer of questions. I think that seven times during my question to the Minister of Internal Affairs, Minister Joyce said that the question should go to him and that he wanted to answer it. If the Government wanted that to be the case, could it have transferred the question?
Mr SPEAKER: In this particular case there was no doubt in my mind that the question was addressed to the correct Minister, and there was no attempt by the Government to transfer it.
Better Public Services—Online Government Services
12. CHRIS AUCHINVOLE (National) to the Minister of Internal Affairs: What progress has been made toward the Government’s targets for delivering more services online?
Chris Hipkins: It’s his big day today. A big day.
Hon CHRIS TREMAIN (Minister of Internal Affairs): A big day—a big day. The Government is using a basket of 10 services to measure progress towards our target of 70 percent of New Zealanders’ most common transactions with Government being done online. We have made good progress: 68 percent of Ministry of Social Development applications for assistance, up from
48 percent; 93 percent of individual tax returns, up from 75 percent; and 40 percent of police fines paid online, up from 27 percent.
Chris Auchinvole: How is the Government making it easier for New Zealanders to access online services?
Hon CHRIS TREMAIN: We are rolling out the RealMe service, which lets New Zealanders easily prove who they are when accessing online services. RealMe is the online equivalent of a passport or a driver’s licence, which will enable New Zealanders to prove over the internet who they are to a high degree of trust. New Zealanders can now sign up for a RealMe verified account at a participating post shop.
Chris Auchinvole: How many online Government services will be delivered using RealMe?
Hon CHRIS TREMAIN: RealMe is an all-of-Government service. We expect most of the Government’s online transactional services to eventually use RealMe log-ins. RealMe can also be used by commercial organisations, and a number of banks are very keen to start using this service. I encourage all members of Parliament to understand the RealMe service and to embrace that service.