Questions and Answers - June 11
QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS
Government Financial Position—Reports
1. JACQUI DEAN (National—Waitaki) to the Minister of Finance: What reports has he received on the long-term benefits of strong fiscal management?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): Treasury has today released its long-term fiscal update required by statute. This confirms that the sorts of decisions the Government has been making in recent years—careful and considered decisions about getting effective use of Government spending—have put New Zealand in a stronger fiscal position to be able manage the future impact of an aging population and rising health costs.
Jacqui Dean: What does the report say about fiscal discipline, and how is the Government’s fiscal strategy supporting the delivery of public services in the future?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The Government believes that the best way to get the Government’s books in order is to provide effective public services. What works for the community and for New Zealand citizens works for the Government’s books. The long-term fiscal update highlights the long-term impact of the careful decision making that this Government has processed around containment of Government expenditure by offering effective public services. The Government will continue with that strategy because the report shows that if we do, New Zealand will be in good shape to handle the rising costs of national superannuation and the rising health costs associated with an aging population.
Jacqui Dean: What does the report say about the costs of meeting superannuation, and how does this compare with the benefits of sound fiscal management?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The report shows that increasing the age of eligibility from 65 to 67 for national superannuation makes a difference of around 0.7 percent of GDP by 2030. The report also shows that maintaining the Government’s fiscal strategy of returning to surplus with moderate increases in spending and investment and better public services through to 2020—just 7 years from now—will reduce net Government debt from around 50 percent of GDP to under 10 percent of GDP. So, clearly, managing Government expenditure well has a much bigger impact on our future debt loading than small adjustments to national superannuation.
Jacqui Dean: What alternative strategies for fiscal management would put the Government’s progress in reducing debt at risk?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Well, of course, we get to reduce debt once we get to surplus, and once we get to surplus we need to make sure that we do not spend those surpluses on ineffective public services but that we do spend them on reducing debt. Alternative strategies that would make it harder would be those that we inherited as a Government from when Government debt was forecast to reach 50 or 60 percent of GDP simply on the basis of loose and wasteful spending by the previous Government.
Hon David Parker: When he made reference to 0.7 percent in his earlier answer, was it 0.7 percent of GDP per annum, and given that his own department says that over time New Zealand superannuation payments will consume an increasing share of Government spending if current legislative settings are retained and given the Prime Minister’s well-known memory lapses, has he been advised by the Prime Minister that he forgot his statement of 5 years ago to resign rather than raise the age of eligibility, and if so, is he willing to do the responsible thing now, as is clearly Treasury’s recommendation, and give advance notice of a gradual rise in the age of eligibility?
Mr SPEAKER: The Hon Bill English—any of about four questions.
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Well, the Prime Minister means what he says, and what he said was he would not raise the eligibility, and he will not. That is a better policy than Labour’s policy, which is to raise the age of eligibility so it can waste money on all sorts of other stuff.
2. GRANT ROBERTSON (Deputy Leader—Labour) to the Prime Minister: Does he stand by all his statements?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Deputy Prime Minister) on behalf of the Prime Minister: Yes.
Grant Robertson: How does he justify his statement that his Government was “totally vindicated” by the Auditor-General’s report into the Skycity deal when that report said that the process was flawed and not transparent, and it established deficiencies on behalf of both Ministers and officials?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: He can justify that statement because the Opposition asked for that inquiry on the basis that it believed that it could knock the deal over. But, of course, that did not happen, and now hundreds of Aucklanders will benefit from the long-term job creation of a national convention centre that is finally one of international proportions.
Grant Robertson: Is it correct that in the course of the 6 months while the tendering process for the convention centre was under way he, his Deputy Prime Minister, or his chief of staff met with Skycity a total of six times; if so, were other bidders for the convention centre build given the same opportunity?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: By the sound of it, that was fewer meetings with Skycity than the Labour Party had.
Grant Robertson: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I appreciate that there were two legs to that question but neither of them was addressed.
Mr SPEAKER: On this occasion, I think the member raises a fair point. Would he please ask the question again.
Grant Robertson: Certainly, Mr Speaker. Is it correct that in the course of the 6 months while the tendering process for the convention centre was under way he, his Deputy Prime Minister, or his chief of staff met with Skycity a total of six times; if so, were other bidders to build the convention centre given the same opportunity?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I cannot confirm that detail, but the Opposition has tried very hard to raise issues of probity about the negotiations. It has failed, even after the Auditor-General’s close and forensic examination of the whole process. I suspect that it followed a similar process to the one that—
Grant Robertson: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The acting Prime Minister said at the start that he did not have the information. He is now going on to irrelevant material. His answer should—
Mr SPEAKER: I—[Interruption] Order! It was a relatively political question but the Minister on behalf of the Prime Minister has now adequately addressed the question.
Grant Robertson: What is his response to Major Campbell Roberts, from the Salvation Army, who said that the proposed legislation cancels out any benefits, that the harm minimisation measures allowed for in the legislation are a joke, that they are neither robust nor effective, and that
they do not represent any significant improvement on the current ineffective practises of Skycity Casino, which are already failing to reduce gambling harm? What is his response to Campbell Roberts’ comments?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I have a great deal of respect for Major Campbell Roberts. He is a longtime and thoughtful advocate for many New Zealanders who do not always have an effective voice. In this case, we simply disagree with him, and it would not be the first time.
Grant Robertson: Are National MPs exercising a conscience vote on the legislation coming to the House today?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The National MPs are voting consistent with the manifesto on which they campaigned. I know that is a novelty for the Labour Party, but we take it very seriously. I have noticed there are no Labour MPs on a conscience vote.
Grant Robertson: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. That was an extremely direct question that the acting Prime Minister has not answered.
Mr SPEAKER: It was answered by saying “consistent with the manifesto”. That is an answer. That is one that I rule as satisfactory.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I have two points of order. Can you indicate whether saying something is consistent with a manifesto indicates that it is not a conscience vote?
Mr SPEAKER: Order! That is not for me to indicate; it is for the Minister to answer it the way he decides. It is my job to determine whether in my opinion the question has been adequately addressed. I have done that. Your second point of order?
Hon Trevor Mallard: My second point of order is that both when Grant Robertson was taking a point of order and when you were ruling on it, four or five members, including especially the Minister for Economic Development, were interjecting.
Mr SPEAKER: All members know that points of order should be heard in silence, and when they are not heard in silence, it leads to that sort of point of order being quite legitimately raised by the member. Hopefully, there will be no further breaches today, but I will keep an eye on it.
Grant Robertson: When he says National MPs are going to vote in accordance with the manifesto, does that mean National MPs are exercising a conscience vote on the bill before the House today?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: It means that the National caucus, as is its right to do, decides how it is going to vote. It is a misunderstanding that the Speaker or Parliament decides on that; they do not. The National caucus has decided to keep its promise, to deliver on what it said, which is an international convention centre and the thousands of jobs that go with it, having weighed up all the issues involved with expanding the convention centre.
Christchurch, Recovery—Building Standards
3. ANDREW WILLIAMS (NZ First) to the Minister for Building and Construction: Has he received any reports of substandard buildings being built as part of the Christchurch rebuild; if so, how many buildings are known to be substandard?
Hon MAURICE WILLIAMSON (Minister for Building and Construction): No, I have not. During the course of the removal of Christchurch City Council’s accreditation by International Accreditation New Zealand, IANZ did identify 17 consents that it had some concerns with. Staff from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment have gone back and looked at all 17 of those consents, and have found that where they did not comply it was of a minor, technical nature with regard to paperwork and documentation, but the consents are, indeed, sound with regard to the buildings themselves.
Andrew Williams: When was the Minister first informed that there were issues regarding building standards as part of the Christchurch rebuild, and what action, if any, did he take to address these issues?
Hon MAURICE WILLIAMSON: The first I was informed was on 6 June, after International Accreditation New Zealand had published its 1-month notice document on 28 May. At that stage we had Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment officials in the Christchurch City Council, working alongside—in fact, we had actually had them there for some time before, but they intensified their work from that point on—to be able to satisfy ourselves that the consents being issued were actually sound.
Andrew Williams: Why has it taken his officials until today, only after the lodging of this question this morning, to contact engineers who have previously raised concerns with him and his department, when those engineers made him fully aware of their concerns as far back as 2008 and he chose to do nothing?
Hon MAURICE WILLIAMSON: If the member is referring to Mr Scarry, then I say to him this: if Mr Scarry does have a particular building—
Grant Robertson: “Scarry”. That’s the other book you were reading, Maurice.
Mr SPEAKER: Order!
Hon MAURICE WILLIAMSON: Well, I am going to choose to pronounce it as “Scary”, and I can tell him that if Mr Scarry does have a particular building that he thinks has a problem, then he has a moral obligation to bring that building to our attention and not use a scattergun approach of just saying “I know of buildings” but not giving us the details.
Andrew Williams: I seek leave of the House to table three emails from structural engineers, including Mr John Scarry, in relation to information and advising the Minister as far back as 2008 on this issue.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table those documents. Is there any objection? There is none. They can be tabled. Documents, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Andrew Williams: What did he do about the serious problems in the building consent authority functions of the Christchurch City Council, which included approximately 18 months post earthquakes, given his department was made aware of these problems as far back as 2009?
Hon MAURICE WILLIAMSON: Many of the issues around the Christchurch City Council were of a similar nature to those that many other councils have had with regard to complying with the accreditation process of International Accreditation New Zealand. In fact, in the September report of last year, the Christchurch City Council was not the worst of all the councils in New Zealand with regard to that compliance. However, in the May report of this year six corrective actions were identified that were incredibly serious. It was those six actions that International Accreditation New Zealand said it would withdraw the accreditation from, and on 29 June that is what happened.
Andrew Williams: What does the Minister know about a building that is now referred to as the “Son of CTV Building” because it has a similar structure and design to the original CTV Building, which collapsed with great catastrophe, and does he now agree with structural engineer John Scarry, who commented in August last year that some members of the building industry were guilty of allowing illegal building practices in Christchurch under his watch?
Hon MAURICE WILLIAMSON: Once again I will tell the member that it is officials in my department who advise me as to whether buildings meet the code or not. After the CTV Building collapsed, Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment officials went and identified about 300 buildings across New Zealand that were of a similar genre, of a similar style, and of a similar design. So far every one of the evaluations they have done of those buildings have come back as the buildings being OK. But again I repeat that if the member wants to bring to me the case of a specific building, my officials will look at it. There is no benefit for me in ignoring such advice, and I will have the building looked at by them.
Hon Lianne Dalziel: Does he stand by his statement on Checkpoint last week that the Government would never have allowed consenting to carry on if it did not comply with the law; if so, why was the Christchurch City Council building consent authority allowed to do so, in light of the September report from International Accreditation New Zealand, which included the six corrective action requests, or does he still not realise that that is actually what the report says?
Hon MAURICE WILLIAMSON: I am delighted that the member has raised the Checkpoint interview, because immediately after the Checkpoint interview, the chief executive of International Accreditation New Zealand wrote to me and said that Mary Wilson on Checkpoint had got it wrong. None of the consents issued were illegal. What they did have were concerns about compliance with the building code, but, actually, no illegal consents, or consents that were not consistent with the law, had been issued.
Hon Lianne Dalziel: I seek leave to table the transcript from that Checkpoint interview—
Mr SPEAKER: No. [Interruption] Order! That information is freely accessible by any member who wants to get it.
Hon Lianne Dalziel: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The difficulty that I have is that the Minister referred to a statement as if the interviewer made it. He was the one—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! That is now a debating point. If the member has further supplementary questions, she can use them, but it is not a means of justifying the tabling of a radio transcript.
Hon Maurice Williamson: I seek leave to table the letter from the chief executive of International Accreditation New Zealand to me, pointing out that what was raised on that programme was incorrect.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that letter. Is there any objection? There appears to be none. It can be tabled. Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Hon Lianne Dalziel: Was it the Minister who in fact used the word “illegal” in the interview with Mary Wilson on Checkpoint?
Hon MAURICE WILLIAMSON: I would be foolish to try to recall every word used in the interview, but I do know that the words used during the interview by the person doing it, Mary Wilson, were incorrect, and that is what the chief executive wrote the letter to me to correct—what Mary Wilson had said.
4. CLAUDETTE HAUITI (National) to the Minister for the Environment: What recent announcements has the Government made to improve New Zealand’s freshwater management?
Hon AMY ADAMS (Minister for the Environment): Yesterday, with my colleague Nathan Guy, I announced the Government’s decisions on the first stage of what will be the most comprehensive reform of freshwater management for many years. The announcement confirmed that a collaborative planning option for freshwater management will be created, that legislative changes will be made to facilitate the introduction of a national objectives framework, and that councils will be required to ensure that iwi views are properly considered in freshwater planning. All these changes were key recommendations of the Land and Water Forum and received widespread support during our consultation on freshwater reforms earlier this year.
Claudette Hauiti: What reports has the Minister seen of reactions to yesterday’s announcement?
Hon AMY ADAMS: I have seen some very positive reports in relation to the announcements. I have seen them welcomed by many groups, including Local Government New Zealand, Ngāi Tahu, the Environmental Defence Society, and the Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society. That consensus is testament to the successful collaboration project this Government created to improve freshwater management—the Land and Water Forum.
Hon Maryan Street: In the context of that announcement, why has she chosen to limit the right to appeal court decisions that might harm the environment, and how does this square with her environmental protection responsibilities and the comparable rights that people have in other jurisdictions?
Hon AMY ADAMS: Well, I would just refer the member to the Land and Water Forum report, which made it very clear that for collaborative projects to work, there need to be the right incentives for the people sitting round the table to understand that the decisions are best made there, not by trying to reserve a position and then coming around and appealing, in any event. And I would note that the Environmental Defence Society specifically made the point yesterday, in its comments, of agreeing that in this situation, taking that approach is entirely, to use their word, “kosher”.
Te Ururoa Flavell: Tēnā koe, Mr Speaker. Kia ora tātou. Does she believe that the rights and interests of Māori as Treaty partners have been protected in freshwater management; if so, how?
Hon AMY ADAMS: Well, I would say to the member that the rights and interests of iwi in freshwater management are a complex set of issues that have to be worked through, and they will have many more iterations before we can say that we have completely resolved all issues, but I am very confident that the changes we have made in respect of how iwi engage with freshwater planning have the support of a wide range of iwi, are sensible, will help clarify the arrangements, and will ensure that the views of iwi are expressed properly and much earlier on in the process, which is critical to having a more meaningful engagement.
Skycity, Convention Centre—Advice on Gambling-related Harm
5. METIRIA TUREI (Co-Leader—Green) to the Minister for Economic Development: When will he release all of the advice he has received on the social harms from the SkyCity deal, given his statement yesterday that it is his “understanding” that only “most” of the advice has been released?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister for Economic Development): I said to the member yesterday that I would check again, and I have. On Monday we released most of the material relating to social harm, along with Cabinet papers relating to the agreement and, of course, the regulatory impact statement. As I said to the member yesterday, there is more information relating to the wider agreement that will be released soon. That material includes a number of briefings and correspondence relating to the negotiations themselves. Inevitably, some of that material will include some information about harm reduction, but the main documents in regard to harm minimisation have already been released.
Metiria Turei: Has the Minister seen any advice on how many Auckland children will be left alone in the Skycity car-park as a result of increased gambling under the Skycity deal, given that there were seven reports—seven—of children left alone in that car-park last year?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Well, I have received advice regarding harm minimisation more generally, not on the specific item that the member raises, and that information is contained in the report. It makes it clear that it is not possible to say that as a result of the changes there will necessarily be any increase in some of the social issues the member outlines.
METIRIA TUREI: Has the Minister asked for or seen any advice about how many jobs in Auckland will be lost due to Auckland businesses folding from more gambling-related fraud from increased gambling under the Skycity deal?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: No. What I have received advice on in relation to jobs are the 1,000 construction jobs created with the convention centre, and the approximately 800 jobs that will be created for its ongoing operation, which go, of course, with the 3,500 jobs currently held by employees of Skycity.
Metiria Turei: Has the Minister read the KPMG fraud survey that shows that gambling remains a major motivator of fraud, with high individual losses, and has he sought advice on the economic cost of fraud from increased gambling under the Skycity deal?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I have not seen the particular report that the member outlines. I am sure she could dig out some other reports if she wished to. What I have been through though, in some detail, is a regulatory impact statement that lays out the potential risks, and also lays out the benefits of this arrangement. I can inform the member again—and the House will get the opportunity to vote on this, this afternoon—that it is the Government’s view that the balance is in favour of proceeding with this arrangement.
Metiria Turei: Has the Minister sought advice on how much money Auckland charities can expect to have stolen as a result of gambling-related theft arising from the Skycity deal, given that more than 50 percent of stolen charity funds are stolen to fuel problem gambling, and how many jobs in those charities are expected to be lost as a result of that theft?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Well, with the greatest respect to the member, we could go through every possible social harm in Auckland, but again, I would point out to the member that there is no guarantee that they would increase under this arrangement, because the reality is that the marginal increase in pokie machines by Skycity in this arrangement is more than offset by the decline of pokie machines across the rest of Auckland and the country.
Metiria Turei: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My question was very specific, and was as to whether the Minister has sought advice on the issue of theft from charities—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I certainly heard the question. I thought the Minister made a reasonable attempt, but if he could just clarify whether he has sought any specific advice on that specific issue of Auckland charities having money stolen from them, then that would presumably be of satisfaction to the member.
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: No; and I can probably answer the same answer for a number of her further supplementary questions.
Metiria Turei: Why did the KordaMentha report into the Skycity deal omit to factor in the increased risk of business fraud and increased theft from charities and the subsequent job losses, and can we take it, then, that the report does not provide an accurate assessment of the actual costs or benefits of the Skycity deal?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: The member constantly—and, I can only think, deliberately—seeks to misrepresent the position of the KordaMentha report. The KordaMentha report was designed to balance the economic benefits to Skycity versus the economic benefits to the Crown to check that there was fairness in terms of the allocation. It was not designed to assess the social harm risks. That has been adequately dealt with, as I said, in the regulatory impact statement. Again, it is by no means clear at all that a marginal increase in machines in one casino will increase gambling harm, especially when the total number of machines across Auckland and across New Zealand continues to decline.
Metiria Turei: Given that the Minister has no idea how much money will be stolen, how many businesses will fold, or how many jobs will be lost from the increase in gambling-related crime under the Skycity deal, can we take it, then, that his job numbers are at best, inaccurate and at worst just made up?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: No. I can tell the member what I do have no idea about, and that is why it is that the Greens are so vociferously opposed to this deal when they were so silent about the deal that occurred under the previous Labour Government. I can conclude only that it is politics and it is not principle.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Minister has no responsibility for the Greens’ policy, he has no responsibility for the previous Labour Government, and he has no responsibility for the decisions of Judith Collins before she was a Minister.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! And I do not think that in any way the Minister, through his answer, accepted responsibility for the Green Party, the former Labour Government, or decisions by Judith Collins. He simply responded to a question that was relatively political, and he responded politically back again.
Budget 2013—Ministerial Oversight
6. Hon DAVID PARKER (Labour) to the Minister of Finance: Does he take responsibility for the composition of Budget 2013?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): I am responsible for the Budget and presenting it to the House. Cabinet is collectively responsible for the policy decisions taken for the Budget. Treasury is responsible for the fiscal and economic forecasts because it is required by statute to be independent, as it is with reporting the Crown accounts, the physical preparation, and printing of Budget documents.
Hon David Parker: In his Treasury document Establishing the Future Investment Fund, dated 2 April 2012, did he agree with Treasury that “any new capital expenditure will count against the Fund,” so Treasury followed his instruction by appropriating $100 million for Solid Energy from the Future Investment Fund in 2013?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: No, I do not agree with that characterisation of it. As we pointed out, the Government has contemplated support for Solid Energy. It has not been required. The form in which it was contemplated was a secured repayable loan, which would not count against the Future Investment Fund. The Budget documents give a misleading impression of the Cabinet’s decisions.
Hon David Parker: I seek leave to table that Treasury report, dated 2 April 2012, which included the Minister’s—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Is it included in the Budget documents?
Hon David Parker: No. It is not a Budget document. It is the direction dated 2 April 2012 of the Minister of Finance agreeing that any new capital expenditure will account—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! No, I think it is well enough described. I will put the leave. Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is objection.
Hon David Parker: Does he really expect the public to believe that he and all of his staff, Ministers Joyce and Ryall, the Secretary of the Treasury and all his staff, and the Prime Minister were so incompetent that they all made a $100 million error and mistakenly appropriated $100 million from the Future Investment Fund for Solid Energy recovery facilities, or is he once again covering up for the Prime Minister, who does not want to associate the Future Investment Fund with mismanagement of Solid Energy?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: No, I do not agree with the questioner. But I am surprised that he thinks the public thinks it matters an awful lot just how Treasury accounted for a Cabinet decision. What the public want to see is growth, jobs, and better incomes. We are focusing on that while he is focusing on whether Treasury got its accounting right.
Hon David Parker: Is it correct that he has caught the same disease as the Prime Minister, which has rendered him unable to comprehend his own officials or read and recall his own Cabinet directives to Treasury and Budget documents?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: No. I fully understand the Cabinet decision on this matter, and Treasury’s treatment of it as one that does not reflect the Cabinet decision. As I said, the Government spends a good deal more time on trying to help create jobs and grow incomes, and a good deal less time than the member might presume on the details of public sector accounting, which is actually a job for Treasury, which it needs to do in a way that reflects Cabinet decisions.
Hon David Parker: I seek leave to table the A3 document that was presented to the Cabinet called Finalising the Budget 2013 Future Investment Fund Package, which included the $100 million allocation to Solid Energy.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that. Is there any objection? Yes, there is.
Business Growth Agenda—Support for Innovation
7. COLIN KING (National—Kaikōura) to the Minister of Science and Innovation: What support is the Government giving to businesses to increase innovation and speed up the commercialisation of new products and services?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister of Science and Innovation): The Government is very focused on doing exactly those things. This week Callaghan Innovation released its first full 3-year statement of intent, which lays out its road map for becoming the high-tech HQ for New Zealand businesses. Established by the Government in February this year, as part of the Business Growth Agenda, Callaghan Innovation will assist firms across New Zealand to turn their ideas into exportable products and services more quickly, providing jobs and growth for New Zealanders and their families.
Colin King: What will be the key areas of focus for Callaghan Innovation?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: The Government recognises the importance of increasing investment and innovation, achieving economic growth, and making New Zealand businesses more internationally competitive and successful. So Callaghan Innovation’s role will be to provide research and technical services supporting near-to-market innovation, award and administer grants to encourage business investment in research and development, assist firms to develop skills and expertise to take ideas to market, help businesses access the services they need across research organisations, set up and support national technology networks, and foster a culture of innovation among current and future business leaders.
Child, Youth and Family—Resourcing
8. JACINDA ARDERN (Labour) to the Minister for Social Development: Does she stand by the statement made on her behalf in the House yesterday that “there will always be times when resources are stretched, but I believe we do have sufficient resources to care for the needs of vulnerable children”?
Hon CHESTER BORROWS (Acting Minister for Social Development): Yes. In particular, I stand by my statement that we now have more social workers with a bigger budget investigating more cases in a more timely way.
Jacinda Ardern: If Child, Youth and Family has all the resources it needs to deal with the 50 percent increase in notifications that require further action since 2008, why do the Midland region and the central region, which include Rotorua right through to Porirua, have fewer permanent social workers now than they did 5 years ago?
Hon CHESTER BORROWS: It is important to note that across the country there are 250 more social workers working on the front line. They are investigating more cases that are reported to them and there are 150,000 notifications a year. Each is triaged, each is investigated, and in the cases that the member quoted yesterday, every one of them was dealt with within the time frame, and the issue was around the length of time it took to record, not to act and intervene.
Jacinda Ardern: Point of—
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I apologise to the member. That was a very specific question about a particular region and the numbers, and it was not addressed.
Mr SPEAKER: There was a specific question around two regions, Midland and central. I think it would be helpful for the member to ask the question again for the Minister.
Jacinda Ardern: If Child, Youth and Family has all the resources it needs to deal with the 50 percent increase in notifications that require further action since 2008, why do the Midland region and the central region, which include Rotorua through to Porirua, have fewer permanent staff now than they did 5 years ago?
Hon CHESTER BORROWS: I can only conclude, because they are meeting the time frames required, that they do have sufficient resources in those two regions.
Jacinda Ardern: Does he agree with the statement by Lucy Sandford-Reed, Chief Executive of the Aotearoa New Zealand Association of Social Workers, that “CYF staff levels have not increased at the level that’s matching the number of notifications that are being recorded” and “are simply a drop in the bucket”; if not, what evidence does he have that staffing levels are sufficient?
Hon CHESTER BORROWS: I believe that Child, Youth and Family social worker numbers have increased adequately to deal with the increased notifications, and I also note that the way in which matters are dealt with now—the way investigations are run, technology use, and crossagency collaboration—means that we are doing it in different ways from what we have in the past, and that reflects the numbers.
Jacinda Ardern: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I did ask what evidence was available to back up—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! The difficulty is the member asked two questions within her supplementary question, and the Minister has obviously chosen to answer the first question. [Interruption] Order! The Minister quite clearly answered the first part, about whether he agreed with the statement by a lady you quoted. He has quite clearly answered that.
Jacinda Ardern: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. It seemed to me that actually the Minister was addressing the second part of the question, but in doing so did not go all the way to actually providing any kind of evidence, rather than just—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I have ruled that the Minister addressed the first part of the member’s question. He is not required to answer the second part. Has the member further supplementary questions?
Jacinda Ardern: Why will the Minister not agree to a baseline review of Child, Youth and Family, given that the last one was 10 years ago under Labour and since that time demand on social workers has grown exponentially, or has the Minister instead prioritised her trip to Malta to sign a pension portability agreement that affects just five Kiwis?
Hon CHESTER BORROWS: It is interesting to note that the Minister in charge of Child, Youth and Family in 2003, the Hon Ruth Dyson, quite appropriately did a baseline review because of the fact that that department was in disarray. We have benefited over time from that review, but, just to give an example, in March 2004—a year after that review—the number of unallocated cases was 4,709. As of 31 May this year there were 44 unallocated cases.
Emissions Trading Scheme—Additional Units Issued
9. Dr KENNEDY GRAHAM (Green) to the Minister for Climate Change Issues: How did he meet his obligations under the Climate Change Response Act 2002 to maintain the proper functioning of the ETS when he directed the issuing of 30 million additional New Zealand Units?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES (Acting Minister for Climate Change Issues): The Minister set this out in the ministerial statement he made accompanying the direction to issue New Zealand Units, both of which were tabled and gazetted in accordance with the Act: “The proper functioning of the NZ ETS requires the issuance of sufficient NZUs to meet entitlements of post-1989 forestry participants; any entitlements under an allocation plan; and any auctions of NZUs the Crown undertakes.”
Dr Kennedy Graham: Given estimates that there is a current supply of some 85 million New Zealand Units while annual demand is around 15 million New Zealand Units, how can he justify issuing 30 million additional units?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: I would have thought that the Greens were sympathetic to printing off more currency, given that that is their current policy. But the fact of the matter is that I am obliged to ensure the Government has enough New Zealand Units to meet certain legal obligations, so that is what I do.
Dr Kennedy Graham: Does the Minister believe that issuing 30 million more units will increase the price of New Zealand Units, which are currently trading at around $2; if not, how will the additional units incentivise decarbonisation of our economy, in particular, the disincentive to foresters, which is the rationale that is adduced?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: I am not a soothsayer, so I cannot predict what prices will do. The fact of the matter is our emissions trading scheme is working well. What the member asks about is a
product of a very low international carbon price. We believe in this country that we want New Zealanders to do their fair share—not to be paying above that.
Dr Kennedy Graham: How is having a carbon unit worth $2, which is actually lower than the international price in Europe, meeting his ministerial obligations under section 68 of the Climate Change Response Act to maintain the proper functioning of the emissions trading scheme, given that our gross and net emissions continue to rise?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: The member clearly was not listening. As I said, we are committed to doing our fair share. That means working at not trying to have policy settings above the international price. Actually, the member is wrong. I think he will find international prices are much lower than he suggested. That is the situation they are in today, but it would be a brave person who tried to bet the bank on what the prices may be even a couple of years into the future.
Housing, Affordable—Results of Legislation
10. PHIL TWYFORD (Labour—Te Atatū) to the Minister of Housing: How many homes does he believe will be built as a result of the Housing Accords and Special Housing Areas Bill, and what percentage of those homes will be affordable?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH (Minister of Housing): Many thousands. The Auckland Housing Accord provides for 39,000 homes over 3 years. The accord specifically allows conditions of consent for qualifying developments to require a proportion of homes to be for first-home buyers or to be in the affordable range, but these conditions would be set by council. The Government has successfully implemented such a requirement with 20 percent in Hobsonville, but is actually achieving 26 percent. I note that the proportion of affordable houses built dropped from 16 percent in 2000 to 6 percent in 2008. I am confident that the Government’s initiatives will reverse that negative trend.
Phil Twyford: What does he say to the Property Council, Todd Property Group, the Salvation Army, and the Auckland, Hamilton, Waikato, and Tauranga city councils, which all told the Social Services Committee that they do not believe that the bill would result in any affordable homes being built; and will he keep blaming councils when his housing policy fails to deliver affordable housing?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: I simply point the member to Hobsonville, where this Government is building thousands of homes and is specifically requiring a portion of those homes to be affordable. But I am not going to take a lecture from the Labour Party, when the proportion of affordable houses dropped from 16 percent in 2000 to just 6 percent in 2008.
Phil Twyford: If the council follows the processes in the Auckland Housing Accord and the number of houses agreed to by the Government is not delivered, will he take personal responsibility for the failure of his policy, and will he step down as Minister?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: I note that there is a strong increase in the number of houses that have been built both in Christchurch and in Auckland. I note that the Auckland Council is delighted with the deal that we have been able to achieve with this Government to get more houses built. I also ask how many members opposite are taking responsibility for the hard facts that when Labour became Government, 16 percent—
Phil Twyford: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I asked whether the Minister would take responsibility if the targets in his policy and his accord are not reached. He has not even addressed that.
Mr SPEAKER: You went further than that, though. You asked whether he would take responsibility, and, if particular targets were not reached, whether he would resign. I think a yes or no answer to that is unlikely to be delivered. The Minister has chosen to deliver the answer that he has.
Phil Twyford: Did he admit to the select committee that there was no way of measuring the success of his bill; if so, how will he know whether to blame the council for the failure to meet the targets, as will inevitably happen?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: Every month the number of building permits is published and so we will know—not just in Auckland, but around the country—although I note that in every month this year there has been an increase in the number of building permits that are being issued. The target sets out an ambitious target of 39,000 houses. But what the Labour Party cannot stand is that this Government is working effectively with the Auckland Council to address the issue of housing that it ignored for 9 long years.
Brendan Horan: What specific steps has the Minister taken in the 15 days since he last answered a question from me to ensure that in Auckland there are sufficient town planners, tradespeople, developers, and funding to cope with his promised threefold increase in houses to be built?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: I would simply point to the many initiatives that this Government has taken. A key feature of the Budget was our housing reforms, the special housing areas accords, the social housing legislation—
Brendan Horan: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My question was quite specific. I asked what specific steps the Minister has taken.
Mr SPEAKER: And the Minister is attempting to answer it. If the member would stay seated and listen to the answer, I hope he will then be satisfied.
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: We have two major bills before the House, one on the housing accords and special housing areas, as well as the social housing legislation. The main grizzles I am getting from members opposite are that we are going too fast in getting this legislation through, to make a difference, rather than the complaints we now hear from one of the members of the Opposition, that we are not going fast enough.
Brendan Horan: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I still did not hear any specific steps that the Minister is taking.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member needs to listen more carefully to the answer.
Brendan Horan: Will the Minister acknowledge that his promise of 39,000 new homes consented in 3 years represents an extra 50 new homes consented every working day, and can he tell the House just how many new homes have been consented in the 39 working days since the Budget?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: It is a bit rich for the Opposition to be criticising the effects of legislation that has not yet been passed and that members opposite are opposing.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. It is not my normal habit to defend that member up there, but on this particular occasion he asked a hard but straight and factual question, and I do not think that even he deserves that abuse at this point.
Mr SPEAKER: I thank the member for his point of order. I invite Brendan Horan to re-ask that last supplementary question.
Brendan Horan: I take offence at “even he”.
Mr SPEAKER: Then I will attempt to help the member on this occasion. He asked: if there are going to be 39,000 new houses built, it is 50 a day, and how many consents have been issued in the 39 working days since the Budget.
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: The measures that the Government has announced in the Budget are being advanced as quickly as possible through the select committee process. I would ask the member to support the good work of that select committee, and support that bill through the House so that we can build more houses and create those special housing areas. But I further note that this year already, each month we have seen an increase in the number of building consents granted.
District Health Boards—Patient Safety Improvements
11. SCOTT SIMPSON (National—Coromandel) to the Associate Minister of Health: Has she received any recent reports regarding district health board performance in taking steps to improve patient safety in hospitals?
Hon JO GOODHEW (Associate Minister of Health): Yes; in June the Health Quality and Safety Commission published district health board performance data against the new health quality and safety markers. The data shows some excellent achievements by district health boards but also areas where more work is needed. No district health board performed well on all four measures or performed badly on all four.
Scott Simpson: What are the quality and safety markers?
Hon JO GOODHEW: The markers set goals for district health boards’ use of interventions known to reduce patient harm caused by falls, health care associated infections, and surgery. The June results are a baseline from which I expect district health boards will continue to improve. District health boards’ performance will be reported again in December, and quarterly after that.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: Well, normally you do it from your seat.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I apologise. Well, actually in some other Parliaments, of course, you do not have this rule; you can do so from anywhere.
Mr SPEAKER: Just get to the point of order.
Hon Trevor Mallard: The point of order goes to the reason for that question being allowed to be put to the Associate Minister. I have reviewed the Associate Minister’s delegations, as have been tabled in the House, and they include functions to do with public health, including water, environmental health, and measles—but excluding emergency management—to do with aged care, certification, health care services, the Health Quality and Safety Commission, health promotion agencies, and rural health—
Mr SPEAKER: Would the member please get to the point of order.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Well, the point is that there is nothing stopping that Associate Minister answering a question on behalf of the Minister, but there appears to be nothing in her delegations that gives her responsibility to have that question asked as an Associate Minister. As you know, although you can transfer from Minister to Minister, you cannot transfer to an Associate Minister in that circumstance. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: I do not need assistance from the Associate Minister. On this occasion the difficulty I have is that the question has been put, it has been accepted by the House, and it has now been answered by the Associate Minister.
Health and Safety, Workplace—Number of Deaths over Last 4 Years
12. DARIEN FENTON (Labour) to the Minister of Labour: How many workplace deaths have there been in the last four years?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES (Minister of Labour): I cannot provide definitive statistics for 2011 and 2012. They are not yet available. What I can tell the member is that since 2003, on average, there have been 75 workplace deaths per year.
Darien Fenton: Further to his answer to my question on 3 July about safety in the forestry industry, when he said “We know what the problem is. Actually, we know what the solutions are.”, can he tell me what solutions he has to long working hours in this dangerous industry while at the same time he is trying to cut rest and meal breaks for all workers?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: As the member knows, she and I have a different perspective on that. She would say that it is primarily about hours and meal breaks, and so on. What I say and actually what I have heard is that it is much more about some of the more substantive issues in forestry, which the approved code of practice deals with, like tree felling and having the correct techniques there, and breaking out and the equipment and gear used for that.
Darien Fenton: How can he claim he knows the solutions when the provisions for breaks and fatigue management in his 2012 approved code of practice are similar, if in fact not weaker, than the provisions of the 1999 approved code of practice, signed by the Hon Max Bradford?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: I think, as I have made clear previously to the member, that there have been agendas and action plans, but what is new and what is recent is the Approved Code of Practice for Safety and Health in Forest Operations. What I have heard when I have been with owners and inspectors and the like is that actually if this is followed, we will not have the number of deaths that we have today. The member and I both agree that there are far too many deaths. We need to see this bed in and put into practice in a much greater way than it has been.
Denise Roche: How many more deaths in the forestry industry need to happen before this Government will action an inquiry into health and safety in the forestry sector?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: No death is good enough. It is entirely unacceptable. But I think this Government, more than any other Government in the history of New Zealand, has had royal commissions and inquiries in the health and safety arena. I will very soon be responding—I think, in a substantive way—to the Independent Taskforce on Workplace Health and Safety. Of course, we are setting up WorkSafe New Zealand, an independent agency. I think we can quite rightly make the case that we have done more than any Government in this area, and an inquiry in relation to forestry specifically is not needed. Actually, what we need to do is bed in good practice that we know about.
Darien Fenton: Given that the Forest Owners Association is now also saying that there should be an independent inquiry, will he take responsibility for any forestry deaths while he continues to insist he has all the answers?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: I do not think the member is correct, because what she calls an inquiry is not actually what, as I understand it, the Forest Owners Association is talking about. I have certainly made it quite clear that I do not support a Government-led inquiry, but if the Forest Owners Association is prepared to go out and do some of the things, that is good. But as I have also said on record, I think we actually know what the solutions are. It is about embedding them and seeing them acted out and practised in our forests around New Zealand.
Hon Damien O’Connor: Will the Minister take responsibility for due compensation to be paid to the 29 Pike River families, given the failure of his department to uphold proper standards of workplace safety; if not, will the Government change legislation to make the directors of Pike River Coal directly responsible for that compensation?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: I need to be, I think, reasonably judicious in answering that question because the fact of the matter is there are still related matters before the court, and I have not received substantive legal advice on that very issue.