Questions and Answers - August 29
QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS
1. MAGGIE BARRY (National—North Shore) to the Minister of Finance: What recent reports has he received on the New Zealand economy?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): Earlier this week ratings agency Standard and Poor’s reaffirmed its AA foreign currency long-term rating for New Zealand. Its outlook remains stable. It said that New Zealand’s credit rating reflects the country’s fiscal and monetary policy flexibility, economic resilience, public policy stability, and a stable financial sector. As it has noted before, Standard and Poor’s also commented on New Zealand’s high external debt, which is driven by high household and agricultural sector debt. Even so, it has forecast current account deficit of around 6 percent by 2015—which I think is too pessimistic—which is significantly better than the 8 or 9 percent peak of current account deficits in the 3 years to 2008.
Maggie Barry: What did Standard and Poor’s say about New Zealand’s immediate economic prospects, and what are the main sources of expected economic growth?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Standard and Poor’s said that New Zealand does have the benefit of a resilient and relatively high-income economy, expects GDP to grow at about 1.5 percent per annum per capita over the next few years, consistent with total GDP growth of 2 to 3 percent, as we have spoken about for a number of months now. Growth is expected to be driven by post-earthquake construction in Christchurch as well as strong underlying demand for more residential construction in Auckland. The ratings agency notes that the Government’s checks and balances are effective and that we are near the top of many surveys on governance, government efficiency, and business promotion. However, it is clear from its commentary that our external debt position is still too large, and the more that we can encourage and support businesses to invest and households to reduce their debt the better for our long-term economic prospects.
Maggie Barry: What other reports has the Minister received on the economy?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The New Zealand Institute of Economic Research has this week issued its quarterly predictions, which note that the New Zealand economy is recovering moderately. It notes that there are significant global risks, with signs of slowing economy and financial instability in China, slower growth in Australia and some emerging markets. It notes that optimism is spreading across businesses and consumers. However, this is no recipe for complacency. Clearly, with our still relatively high debt levels, the need to grow our export sector, there are many challenges ahead in lifting incomes and providing more jobs.
Hon David Parker: Does he agree with the New Zealand Institute of Economic Research report that he just quoted that, on page 4, says of Auckland: “growth in jobs has stalled and the region is on a ‘sugar high’ of rapidly rising house prices and debt”?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Yes, to some extent. The Auckland housing market, as, I think, is well understood, has been growing faster than makes sense for a stable economy. Construction and housing there will promote growth, and I would hope that the Opposition will be able to support the Government’s measures to ensure more houses on the ground more quickly in order to moderate that growth and moderate the sugar shock in the Auckland economy.
Maggie Barry: What reports has the Minister received on alternative approaches to managing the economy, particularly the management of the Government’s balance sheet to control debt?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: One measure that the Government has taken to control debt is the partial sale of some Government assets, which allows us to get cash from mainly New Zealand investors to invest in other priority public assets. I notice there is some opposition to this policy, but I have not seen any reports that the opponents of the Government share offer programme will actually buy back the shareholdings in the Government electricity companies. I take it from that that the candidates for the Labour leadership do not actually believe the positions they are taking, because they will not commit to buying them back.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! That is a satisfactory, long enough answer.
Syria, Internal Conflict—Use of Chemical Weapons
2. Hon PHIL GOFF (Labour—Mt Roskill) to the Minister of Foreign Affairs: What advice was New Zealand given in New York last night on the likely response to the use of chemical weapons in Syria?
Hon TIM GROSER (Associate Minister of Foreign Affairs) on behalf of the Minister of
Foreign Affairs: We are receiving updates from a range of posts around the world, including, obviously, New York, which convey the perspectives of a range of countries about possible responses to a clearly abhorrent act. We have repeatedly said that the United Nations Security Council needs to show leadership on Syria, and needs to show it now.
Hon Phil Goff: Has New Zealand given any commitment to the United States or any other country as to what action it might take in the event of a military strike against Syria; if so, what?
Hon TIM GROSER: No.
Hon Phil Goff: Is New Zealand supporting Ban Ki-moon’s position that no decision on a strike should be taken against Syria until such time as the United Nations weapons inspection team has completed its task?
Hon TIM GROSER: Clearly, the report of the inspectors will be a crucial ingredient in any serious response, but we are not, given the seriousness of this nature, taking a position on a hypothetical question at this stage.
Hon Phil Goff: What direct approach, if any, has New Zealand made to permanent Security Council members—in particular, Russia and China—urging them not to veto any appropriate collective action that might otherwise be supported by the vast majority on that council?
Hon TIM GROSER: Our representatives have taken a number of steps with a number of Governments, including those Governments, to convey our position on that. Once again, it comes down to the central matter: it is time for the Security Council to show leadership, and the Security Council should unite behind that position.
Hon Phil Goff: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My question was not about some country; it was specifically about permanent Security Council members—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Can I ask the member to repeat his question from the start.
Hon Phil Goff: What direct approach, if any, has New Zealand taken to permanent Security Council members Russia and China, urging them not to veto collective action that has widespread support from other members of the council?
Hon TIM GROSER: I believe I answered that very clearly in the answer I have just given. I said “including” those countries.
Hon Phil Goff: How would a military strike against Syria help secure the chemical weapons— the hundreds of tonnes of chemical weapons—that are stockpiled there, rather than increase the prospect of those chemical weapons falling into the hands of people who might use them, or being used by elements of the regime in retaliation for the strike?
Hon TIM GROSER: Clearly, that is a huge and legitimate question, and we can be certain that the strategic thinkers who are considering the range of options will have that at the forefront of their attention.
Hon Phil Goff: What lessons can be learnt from Iraq, where, 10 years after the military invasion of Iraq by the United States, more than a thousand Iraqi people a month are still being killed, or, for that matter, Libya, where, after the air strikes against Libya, the conditions there today range somewhere between anarchy and chaos?
Hon TIM GROSER: I am sure many lessons can be learnt from these situations. But as the member would be well aware, having served as our Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade, every situation has its specific characteristics. Some lessons will be generally applicable across different conflicts, but each has to be looked at sui generis.
3. METIRIA TUREI (Co-Leader—Green) to the Minister of Education: Does she stand by her statements in relation to Partnership School applicants that “the range of applications we have received is impressive” and what she was impressed with was “the broad range of applicants not the calibre”?
Hon JOHN BANKS (Associate Minister of Education) on behalf of the Minister of
Metiria Turei: Was the poor calibre of applications the reason why the Government missed the June 2013 date for contracts to be signed for these schools; if not, what was the reason that that date was missed?
Hon JOHN BANKS: The Ministry of Education and the officials have been going through a long and rigorous programme of deliberation on all of the 35 applications, to make sure that the right applications get to the right place at the right time, and under intense scrutiny. We are not behind time. In the very near future we are about to announce the successful partnership schools for day one, term one, next year.
Metiria Turei: Does the Minister consider that Catherine Isaac, head of the Partnership Schools/Kura Hourua Authorisation Board, was telling the truth when she issued a press release on 8 May this year praising “the range and calibre of applicants”; if so, why?
Hon JOHN BANKS: I am advised that the minutes refer to the ministry’s score of how the 67- page application forms were completed; it was not an observation about the quality of the applicants, as the minutes go on to point out. The authorisation board and Miss Isaac were charged with determining the quality of the applications. The applicants have been put through tight hoops and high hurdles, and the very best applicants will be allowed to open a partnership school on day one, term one, next year.
Metiria Turei: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Minister did not answer my question.
Mr SPEAKER: On this occasion, I invite the member to repeat the question for the benefit of the Minister.
Metiria Turei: Does the Minister consider that Catherine Isaac, head of the Partnership Schools Authorisation Board, was telling the truth when she issued a press release on 8 May this year praising “the range and calibre of applicants”; if so, why?
Hon JOHN BANKS: I have absolute confidence that Miss Catherine Isaac, the chairman of the authorisation board, would always tell the truth about the 35 applicants of the partnership schools, those shortlisted, and the successful applicants who will open partnership schools up and down this country on day one, term one, next year.
Metiria Turei: How can the Minister consider that Ms Isaac was telling the truth in her 8 May statement given that the day after her press statement praising these schools was made, the board she chairs noted the low scores and the lack of capability among the 35 applicants for partnership schools?
Hon JOHN BANKS: We were impressed with the 35 applicants from across the country, and I am advised that what the member is talking about—low scores—is the ministry’s score of how the 67-page application forms were completed. It was about the 67-page application forms, not an observation about the quality of the applicants, as the minutes go on to point out. The authorisation board was charged with determining the quality of the applicants. The authorisation board has done that and has come back with a group of very successful, high-quality applicants, which will face statutory obligations, high hurdles, and tight hoops before they open on day one, term one, next year.
Metiria Turei: I seek leave to table a copy of the 9 May minutes of the authorisation board meeting, which clearly shows that the board commented on the overall level of scoring, which was lower than—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! That is enough of a description. Leave is sought to table the minutes, dated 9 May. Is there any objection to those being tabled? There appears to be none. They can be tabled. Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Metiria Turei: Has the authorisation board sought further applications given the applicants’ low overall scores and the gaps identified in business planning, operations, and legislative knowledge, given that all of these are vital to the running of a school?
Hon JOHN BANKS: They are vital to the running of these schools and the running of these schools will be set down in the statutory contract set by the Government on behalf of the people for the funding of these schools. Yes, they will have high levels of accountability, openness, and structure around them to make them work on day one, term one, next year so that the underachievers in this country can have an opportunity for a world-class education, as the Minister might have had.
Metiria Turei: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My question asked whether the authorisation board was seeking further applications given the low quality of the 35. That question has not been answered.
Mr SPEAKER: Well, again part of the problem is the length of the question. The question was certainly: “Has the authorisation board sought further applications?”. It is difficult for Ministers sometimes to decipher a question when it is a long-winded question with a relatively simple question in it. If the member wants to just stand and repeat the essence of the question, which is: “Has the authorisation board sought further applications?”, I will attempt to get an answer for the member.
Metiria Turei: I will take up that opportunity. Has the authorisation board sought further applications given the 35 applicants’ low scores?
Hon JOHN BANKS: No, because on balance the authorisation board has come up with a number of partnership schools that will open on day one, term one, next year. Amongst the 35 applicants will be very high-quality people who will work in the best interests of the local community and in the best interests of underachieving schools, and they will produce outcomes that are absolutely committed to a world-class education for these kids.
Metiria Turei: Does the Minister think that any applicant for one of these schools should at least score highly on the operations criteria given that that is the ability to run a school?
Hon JOHN BANKS: I do not have any argument with the proposition put by the member, and I can tell the member that the contracts being negotiated now with the successful group of partnership school applicants will be very, very tight, the hurdles very high, the hoops very tight, and the
accountability open and transparent. She will be able to see it for herself when all the documents are laid out in front of the country when the successful applicants are named in a very short space of time.
Metiria Turei: Given the poor quality of the applications, including deficiencies in operations, legislative knowledge, and business planning will she now reconsider this disastrous and wasteful experiment and put the money spent on these schools back into our overstretched public education system?
Hon JOHN BANKS: No, no, and no, because the successful applicants will work in the best interests of the kids from those communities who are underachievers. This will give them an opportunity for a world-class education. I am surprised that the co-leader of the Green Party would not want an opportunity for a world-class education for many of the people who fail in the present system.
Chris Hipkins: How quickly will poorly performing partnership schools be closed down given that the Prime Minister is already stating: “If those partnership schools do not succeed the Government will be just as quick to close them down as we have been to establish them.”?
Hon JOHN BANKS: Well, I have got very good news. Because of the process that these 35 applicants have been through, and because of the high quality of the final applicants that are going to be announced very soon to start on day one, term one, next year, they will not be closed down. The only fear that members on the other side of this House have got today is that these partnership schools will work for the most vulnerable kids in our education system.
Chris Hipkins: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order!
Chris Hipkins: My question to the Minister was actually: “How quickly will poorly performing partnership schools be closed down?”. The Minister basically said that he did not think there were going to be any poorly performing partnership schools, but he did not actually say how quickly they would be closed down.
Mr SPEAKER: If he does not think there are going to be any poorly performing such schools, how could he then decide how quickly they would be closed down? I think the Minister adequately addressed the question.
Science and Research Funding—2013 Science Investment Round
4. TIM MACINDOE (National—Hamilton West) to the Minister of Science and Innovation: How much will the Government invest in new research through the 2013 Science Investment Round?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister of Science and Innovation): Yesterday I was pleased to announce that New Zealand researchers will receive $278 million in new research investment through the 2013 science investment round. The 51 research programmes that will receive funding through the contestable process are in areas as diverse as biological industries, high-value manufacturing and services, energy and minerals, and health and society. Science and innovation are critical to New Zealand’s economic success and growth. These new investments must result in research programmes that deliver economic, environmental, and social outcomes. Many of the proposals involve collaborations between several research organisations, with industry partners contributing co-funding and market knowledge in order to help accelerate commercial outcomes.
Tim Macindoe: What are some of the projects that will be funded through the 2013 science investment round?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: There are 51 projects, in total, receiving funding, but let me highlight just a couple that the House may be interested in. The Cawthron Institute will be receiving $21 million over 7 years to domesticate New Zealand’s valuable shellfish species. The official project title is the Cultured Shellfish programme. This will provide a reliable seed supply and enable selective breeding, yielding higher productivity quality and, of course, market value. Another
interesting project is Scion’s precision forestry programme. Scion will receive $20 million over 6 years to shift forestry management to precision forestry, so that New Zealand’s forest products can be sold to overseas markets by demonstrating environmental and social sustainability.
Tim Macindoe: What other investment is the Government making in science innovation and research?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Very good question. The Government recognises that science and innovation are key drivers of economic growth and of making New Zealand businesses more competitive internationally. That is why we have increased total funding for science innovation and research across Government to $1.36 billion in the current financial year, up from $1.24 billion last year, and an increase in 28 percent over the last 4 years. In Budget 2013 we allocated an additional $75 million for business research and development grants, $31 million for repayable grants for start-up businesses, and an additional $73 million for the National Science Challenges. Of course, we have established Callaghan Innovation, the new hi-tech HQ for businesses’ research and development.
Primary Industries, Minister—Statements
5. Hon DAMIEN O’CONNOR (Labour—West Coast - Tasman) to the Minister for
Primary Industries: Does he stand by all his statements?
Hon NATHAN GUY (Minister for Primary Industries): Yes.
Hon Damien O’Connor: Does he stand by his statement: “It is a high-performing ministry. During the recent hiccup MPI stood up. It responded incredibly well. It did a fantastic job.”?
Hon NATHAN GUY: Yes.
Hon Damien O’Connor: Does he believe that he and his ministry did a fantastic job during the Psa virus infestation, the great white moth incursion, the dicyandiamide milk scandal in China, palm kernel expeller importation and possible contamination, the ministry’s recent failure to certify meat for China, Fonterra’s botulism scare, Russia’s blockade of New Zealand dairy products, Fonterra’s dicyandiamide issues in Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, and nitrate levels in Westland Milk Products’ lactoferrin powder?
Hon NATHAN GUY: The Ministry for Primary Industries is a high-performing ministry. From time to time there are learnings, and I am sure there will be learnings as a result of the compliance investigation and the ministerial inquiry.
Shane Ardern: What reports has the Minister seen regarding the Ministry for Primary Industries?
Hon NATHAN GUY: I have seen a range of reports, including one that claimed that the Ministry for Primary Industries was subsumed into the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment and that Murray McCully is the Minister of Trade, and another that claims that I have cut the Ministry for Primary Industries’ budget by $26 million. Of course, all of these claims are factually incorrect and were made by Damien O’Connor.
Hon Damien O’Connor: Without getting into debate on that particular answer—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Supplementary question.
Hon Damien O’Connor: Given his statement: “Every day I am filled with the purpose of adding value to our economy …”, on which particular day in the last 3 months has he achieved this?
Hon NATHAN GUY: Every day I am very proud to be a hard-working Minister.
Hon Damien O’Connor: Does the Government’s announcement that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade will hire food safety trade specialists amount to an admission that his Government’s cuts to both the Ministry for Primary Industries and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade went too far, and has his Government ruled out compensation to those companies affected by its recent ineptitude?
Hon NATHAN GUY: No, what this shows is that the Ministry for Primary Industries and the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and Trade are responding to growing markets.
Hon Damien O’Connor: What can the Minister say to the 240 workers stood down on 8 August, and now without pay, from the Alliance Pukeuri meatworks near Ōāmaru because his ministry has been unable to complete its audit following suspicions that it was certifying meat from other works for export, which has compromised their ability to get into the China market?
Hon NATHAN GUY: I am aware of that issue, and I caution the member because there are some issues with that particular plant that the Ministry for Primary Industries is working through.
Parenting Support—Child Development
6. ALFRED NGARO (National) to the Minister for Social Development: How is the Government promoting technology to support young fathers to better connect, interact, and parent their children?
Hon PAULA BENNETT (Minister for Social Development): Today, in partnership with Plunket and Vodafone, we launched a new mobile app designed to encourage young fathers to better interact with their children. It was launched to coincide with Father’s Day on Sunday. The concept is the work of Josh Briggs—[Interruption] Listen up. This is interesting. The concept is the work of Josh Briggs, a young Wellington dad and Vodafone New Zealand Foundation World of Difference recipient. This is a fantastic example of the Government, NGOs, and the corporate sector working together to create a product with real benefits for our dads.
Alfred Ngaro: When will the application be available for parents to download?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: The Peekaboo app will be available in both English and Te Reo, and is a free download from both the Apple and Android stores from 1 September. It is designed for babies aged 9 months and older. I particularly like that it was designed by a dad in conjunction with his baby. It is interactive, and it has their own family involved in it.
Hon Tony Ryall: What’s its name?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: Josh Briggs is the father, and it is called the Peekaboo app.
Alfred Ngaro: How are other Government initiatives supporting young fathers?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: It is true that during those down 2000 years, teen dads were ignored, so in Budget 2010 we provided investment in teen parent programmes that support our young dads in particular. These programmes arm these fathers with information and skills to prepare them for birth, give them parenting skills, and also help them to respond effectively to their child’s health, education, and social needs. It is fundamentally making a difference on the ground and helping support them in their role as fathers.
Employment, 90-day Trial Period—Reports
7. TE URUROA FLAVELL (Co-Leader—Māori Party) to the Minister of Labour: He aha tāna tātaritanga mō te pūrongo e kii ana, atu i te 11,000 ngā pāhi kua tango mahi i ngā kaimahi i roto i te tau tuatahi o tā te Kāwanatanga 90 rā whakawā mahi; e hia o ēnei o ngā kaimahi he kaimahi Māori, Pasifika rānei kei raro i te tau 25? [What analysis has he undertaken on the report that more than 11,000 employers fired at least one worker during a trial period in the first year of the Government’s 90 day work trial law; and amongst the group of employees fired, how many were Māori, Pasifika and aged under 25 years old?]
Hon SIMON BRIDGES (Minister of Labour): I thank the member for his question. I have not undertaken any specific analysis, but I am being updated on the use and impact of 90-day trial periods. The information requested in the second part of the question is not available. What I can tell the member, though, is that the figure the member quotes represents 19 percent of employers who used the trial period. The far more important figure, in my view, is that 80 percent or more of employers who had employed new staff on trial periods retained those employees. This equates to upwards of 46,000 employers who used trial periods and kept staff on, half of whom they would not have even given a chance to otherwise.
Te Ururoa Flavell: How is it possible to know the impact of this legislation on Māori, Pasifika, the disabled, the young, and other disadvantaged groups if basic labour market statistics are not recorded, and does he intend to ensure that proper data is gathered in the future in order to assess the success or otherwise of the legislation?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: It is another fair question. As I have said in the primary answer—and it is true for this supplementary question also—I do not have the specific data or statistics that he asked for. But what I do know, and what the employer surveys make quite clear is that young people and people in the categories that the member has talked about, who would not have even been given a chance at a job, got long-term jobs as a result of this law change. Forty percent of employers gave chances that, as I say, they otherwise would not have given, so this law has been pro-jobs, particularly for the sorts of groups that the member refers to.
Te Ururoa Flavell: Given that this law does not protect vulnerable workers from being dismissed, what avenues are available to workers who believe that they have been discriminated against—such as those, for example, who experienced discrimination in the Merrill Lynch case in America—and does he accept that discrimination in employment may well exist in Aotearoa?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: Systemic discrimination in a workplace is never acceptable. What is very clear with this 90-day law is that the ordinary laws that prohibit any form of discrimination on the basis of sex, race, and so on remain in place, and, as I said, anything other than that is not only entirely unacceptable but also unlawful.
Pest Control—Aerial Use of 1080 Poison
8. RICHARD PROSSER (NZ First) to the Minister of Conservation: Does he stand by all his statements regarding 1080?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH (Minister of Conservation): Yes, as they are backed up by solid science. I draw the member’s attention to the recent reports by the Environmental Protection Authority and the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment that conclude that if it is properly used, it is safe, and that it is critical to the survival of our native birds and our native trees. Members advocating a ban on aerial 1080 are indirectly signing a death warrant for our kiwi, our blue duck, our robin, and our tūī, as well as undermining our economy and the work of TBfree New Zealand to ensure our food exports are disease-free.
Richard Prosser: Given that the Department of Conservation’s own findings, as reported in the New Zealand Herald, show that almost 13 percent of kea will be killed by repellent-treated 1080 baits, is he happy that approximately 130 of the estimated 1,000 kea in the area of the western Kahurangi, which is to be poisoned by his department, will be killed?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: It is true that in a 1080 operation in Ōtira, when they monitored the 39 kea, five were killed. It is also true, though, that in over eight other 1080 operations where every kea was monitored, including in the Kahurangi National Park, not a single kea died. The evidence seems to be that in areas where kea are humanly fed, they can get into the habit of taking bait. More important, though—and I point this out to the member—in areas where 1080 has not been used, 99 percent of kea chicks die because of predation—99 percent. That is a path to extinction. In areas where 1080 is used, 100 percent of kea chicks have survived in the first year, and 68 percent in the second year, confirming that, overall, kea survival depends on the use of 1080.
Richard Prosser: Can he tell the House how many of the 13 percent of kea killed by repellenttreated 1080 died as a result of eating baits directly and how many died from secondary poisoning after consuming insects that had been killed by 1080; if not why not?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: I can only record as much as the science that is available. It is true that there is risk of kea eating bait directly and a risk of kea eating stoats or rats that are killed. But I would point out to the member that in the area of Kahurangi National Park in the Nelson region, where he is objecting to a 1080 operation, the last time a 1080 operation was done, not one of the monitored kea died. Secondly—and this is critical—we have just had a beech tree mast. The most
recent indication is that we have got the worst ever plague of rats within the Kahurangi National Park, and unless we treat with 1080, the great spotted kiwi and birds like the kea and the blue duck will be wiped out.
Richard Prosser: How many dead kea is an acceptable number of dead kea?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: I would, of course, prefer that no kea died, just as, in the same way, I would prefer that no stoats or rats or possums killed kea chicks or kiwi chicks. The reality is, though, that when the science says that 99 percent of chicks will die from predation without 1080 operations, I am happy to be part of a Government that will back the science, back our native birds, and use whatever tools we need to ensure that our native birds survive.
Richard Prosser: Is he aware that under the Wildlife Act 1953 the killing of any endangered or protected native bird is illegal; if so, will his department face prosecution should it be found to have killed a protected native species by using1080 poison drops; if not, why not?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: That question is about as stupid as suggesting that we prosecute the stoats, the rats, and the possums that every single night kill our kea, our kiwi, and our other native birds. If that is what New Zealand First stands for, well, I am a bit lost.
Richard Prosser: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My question asked whether his department will face prosecution, and the Minister did not answer that question.
Mr SPEAKER: No, but I think he gave you a very fair answer as to the likelihood of that happening.
Mining, Marine—Applications for Deep-sea Drilling
9. GARETH HUGHES (Green) to the Minister for the Environment: Why has her Ministry proposed that applications for exploratory deep sea drilling won’t require public notification given that it is the same activity that the Deepwater Horizon was engaged in when it exploded and sank in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010?
Hon AMY ADAMS (Minister for the Environment): The discussion document released yesterday is for consulting on classifying exploratory drilling as non-notified discretionary, meaning that the regulator will have total discretion to consider and determine the application on its merits and to impose any required conditions. The critical point is that until now there has been zero environmental oversight of such operations, but now under this Government there will be. I consider that this classification is appropriate because exploratory drilling takes place over a short space of time, involves the drilling of a very small hole in the seabed, and, when operating as intended, has low environmental impact. At this exploratory stage of the process, it is the environmental impact that the regulator needs to be satisfied of. Oil spills from exploratory drilling are rare. In the Deepwater Horizon event referred to, my understanding is that the failings related primarily to bad well design and integrity and inadequate containment measures. Regulation of both those aspects falls under other pieces of legislation. This Government is committed to ensuring that all petroleum and minerals activities have rigorous environmental and safety controls, which means having procedures in place to stop spills from happening, and having effective response mechanisms in the unlikely event that spills occur.
Gareth Hughes: Can the Minister explain the logic in shutting the public out from having a say on proposals for the riskiest phase of oil drilling, which is exploratory drilling, but allowing the public to have a say on proposals for production drilling, and is the Minister aware that it actually takes the same amount of time, 4 to 6 weeks, to drill both?
Hon AMY ADAMS: These exploratory wells have been drilled in New Zealand for more than 45 years without any environmental oversight and without, actually, any history of serious issue. The point of this part of the process is for the regulator to be satisfied that the proper environmental controls are in place. And, yes, I am satisfied that it is appropriate that they do that based on the evidence and on the information, and bearing in mind that this is an exploratory, fact-finding part of the process. Before anyone could move to full production, they would absolutely have to have a full
public process. I consider that that is the appropriate part of the process for the public to have their say.
Gareth Hughes: So is the Minister seriously telling the people of New Zealand that this Government will ask Kiwis their opinion on what colour to paint Department of Conservation huts but has proposed to deny the public their say on proposals for deep-sea exploratory drilling?
Hon AMY ADAMS: What I am telling the public of New Zealand is that the National-led Government is the one that has put in place any environmental protections and safeguards in the exclusive economic zone, and that the Labour-Green Government did not see fit to bother with any regulator discretion and certainly no public notifications. So I think the New Zealand public can be very satisfied with the protections we are creating.
Hon Maryan Street: Given her reference to the regulator, which is the Environmental Protection Authority, what contribution to environmental protection can the Environmental Protection Authority offer, when it does not have environmental protection as one of its stated purposes?
Hon AMY ADAMS: The critical aspect that members need to be aware of is that under the proposed classification, the Environmental Protection Authority has full and complete discretion to accept, to refuse, and to impose conditions, based on the merits of the application and on the information put in front of it. I have full confidence that the authority will be absolutely satisfied before it makes its decisions.
Gareth Hughes: Given that the Minister cannot guarantee that we will not see a Gulf of Mexico - style oil spill from an exploratory well in New Zealand’s waters, why will she not protect our economy, our environment, and our “clean, green” reputation and make exploratory deep-sea drilling a prohibited activity?
Hon AMY ADAMS: Well, largely because there is no scientific evidence that backs up the member’s assertion that that is necessary.
Employment Relations—Impact of Legislative Reform
10. DARIEN FENTON (Labour) to the Minister of Labour: What advice, if any, has he received about whether workers will be better or worse off under the Employment Relations Amendment Bill?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES (Minister of Labour): Well, from the real workers’ party in this Parliament, it is great to answer this question. Overall, the advice I have received suggests that the changes will create an employment relations framework that increases flexibility and choice and ensures a balance of fairness for employers and employees.
Hon Trevor Mallard: The member’s never done a day’s work in his life—never done a day’s work in his life.
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: The bill is not about making things worse for workers, although I am sure the member has convinced herself it is. To the member who says I have never done a day’s work in my life, I have worked at Foodtown, I have worked in bars, I have worked in cleaning— probably more than that loser ever has.
Darien Fenton: Will workers be better or worse off given that his bill will mean a return to the situation under the Unemployment Contracts Act where unions fail at the first hurdle of bargaining if an employer insists they want only individual agreements?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: As I have said, per se it is actually not about better or worse off. But protracted—
Hon Member: Answer the question.
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: Well, I am answering the question. But protracted bargaining that goes on and on and is contentious is in no one’s interest, actually. The real way to get wages up is through better productivity and more profitability, which results in more money in workers’ pockets.
Darien Fenton: Will workers be better or worse off under the provision in his bill where the socalled 60-day grace period is actually a 100-day no-strike period, where workers have neither the protection of collective bargaining nor the right to strike?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: Well, the purpose of the grace period is very clear. Of course, if you have got a collective bargaining period that comes to an end, you need to then have a mechanism so that it does not just go straight back to collective bargaining. But as I said in the answer earlier, it is in no one’s interest to have protracted, endless bargaining that gets no one anywhere. It is much better just to have a good faith relationship where workers and employers benefit.
Darien Fenton: How will bargaining be more efficient, as he claims, if every district health board decides to abandon its multi-employer collective agreements for doctors, nurses, and service workers, and negotiate hospital by hospital, as they did in the past?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: The member well knows there is still good faith, there is still freedom of association, and there is still absolutely collective bargaining, and a role for unions, in everything in this bill.
Darien Fenton: Does he believe that workers think they will be better off; if so, why does he think that 1,500 workers in Wellington, 5,000 workers in Auckland, and 1,200 workers in Christchurch have attended rallies to tell him he is wrong?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: Well, overall they will be better off, because we will have a more productive and a more businesslike working environment. But the fact of the matter is that with a union membership in this country of nearly 400,000, actually the numbers she and her lot managed to get out were stuff-all.
Aged Care, Residential—Access to Audit Information
11. Dr PAUL HUTCHISON (National—Hunua) to the Associate Minister of Health: What recent announcements has she made regarding publication of rest home audit information on the Ministry of Health website?
Hon JO GOODHEW (Associate Minister of Health): Yesterday I announced that from November the Ministry of Health will be trialling a new system giving people access to full rest home audit reports, in addition to improved audit summaries. The ministry’s website will also now show whether a rest home has any current problems and what is being done to fix them. It will also have historical audit summaries going back to 2009. These will be published so that people can see what progress has been made and whether there are any ongoing issues.
Dr Paul Hutchison: Why is the Government providing more information about rest homes to the public?
Hon JO GOODHEW: As well as continuing to improve the quality and safety of rest homes, the Government wants to make sure that families who have a relative living in a rest home, or are considering their options, can quickly and easily access the information they need to make a choice or a decision for them. This announcement adds to the initiatives we have already taken including publication of audit summaries online, introduction of spot audits, third-party accreditation of auditors, and rolling out the interRAI comprehensive assessment tool.
Barbara Stewart: Will follow-up audits be carried out to ensure identified deficiencies are corrected and then reported on online?
Hon JO GOODHEW: Most certainly.
Wanganui Collegiate School—Integration
12. CHRIS HIPKINS (Labour—Rimutaka) to the Minister of Education: Does she stand by her statement with regards to Wanganui Collegiate that “integrating the school will ensure…that a Collegiate education is available to a wider number of students”; if so, why?
Hon NIKKI KAYE (Associate Minister of Education) on behalf of the Minister of
Education: Yes; because it is self-evident that the integration of Wanganui Collegiate School
increased the State integration options available to families that reside in the Whanganui-Rangitīkei area. I acknowledge, however, that it is still very early days. The school has been integrated for less than a year. It is important to note that the proprietor has made a commitment to making this happen.
Chris Hipkins: When she signed off the decision to integrate Wanganui Collegiate, had she read the Ministry of Education’s advice on the financial implications for the Crown, which stated that the approximate additional cost to the Crown if the school was to integrate would be over $3 million annually in staffing and operational funding costs, and does she believe that this constitutes value for money, given that this works out to be a bill of over $440,000 per student for the additional seven students who are going to have day places at Wanganui Collegiate?
Hon NIKKI KAYE: There were three parts to that. In terms of the last part, I disagree with the number that the member quoted. In terms of the other part of the question around cost, I am aware that the cost of integration is about $3 million. But can I say this: members opposite say that they care about the provinces and say that they back the provinces and its communities, but when it comes to a school that has contributed significantly to the local economy, in this House they do not back them.
Chris Hipkins: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am happy to help the Minister out. I seek leave to table three documents. The first is a Ministry of Education briefing specifying the cost of over $3 million annually.
Mr SPEAKER: That is described. What is the second document?
Chris Hipkins: The second document is the aide-mémoire stating that the roll for day students pre-integration was 143, and the third is the integration agreement, which shows that, postintegration, the roll is 150.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table those three documents. Is there any objection? There is none. They can be tabled. Documents, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Chris Hipkins: Has she seen Wanganui Collegiate School’s enrolment scheme, which provides that where there are more applicants who live in the area than places available, priority will be given to siblings of current pupils, then children of employees and board members, then siblings of past pupils, then children of past pupils, and only then to other children living in the area; if so, does she believe that her decision to integrate the school means that a Wanganui Collegiate education will be available to a wider number of students, or is it simply going to remain a school for the wealthy and the privileged?
Hon NIKKI KAYE: Yes; and yes. Can I also say that the proprietor has committed, via an agreement, to broadening the availability of its quality education and special character to more families from a wider range of circumstances. I do note that when you look at the breakdown of the cost, you see that currently the maximum attendance dues are $2,760. I think the member opposite needs to give this school time, and I do back the integration of this school.
Louise Upston: What other reports has the Minister seen on Wanganui Collegiate?
Hon NIKKI KAYE: I have seen a statement that said: “It was very important for this district that integration was granted ... I am very pleased that it has been.” This person went on to say that he hoped that the four other State secondary schools in Whanganui were also looked after: “There are top local secondary schools here.” That was Hamish McDouall, Labour candidate for Whanganui. The reality is—
Chris Hipkins: When she signed off the decision to—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! Supplementary question—will the member start again, please.
Chris Hipkins: When she signed off the decision to integrate Wanganui Collegiate, had she read the Ministry of Education’s advice that Wanganui Collegiate does not make a significant
contribution to raising achievement for priority groups—Māori and Pasifika learners with special education needs or learners from low-income backgrounds—and that integrating the school is not making the best use of educational resources for this area and will not contribute to raising the quality of education for learners in the Whanganui area to any extent; if so, does she still believe that her decision to integrate the school means that a Wanganui Collegiate education is available to a wider number of students, or is it just going to remain a school for the wealthy and the privileged?
Hon NIKKI KAYE: In terms of reading that document, because I am answering on behalf of the Minister, I obviously cannot answer that question. In terms of the other two parts to the question, I am advised that this school is a high-achieving school. I am also advised that there were a number of documents that were saying that achievement is good, but also that the benefit to the local economy was significant, and that in terms of the other criteria taken into account, many boarders across New Zealand will have access to the school. So there are huge benefits from integration. I support the integration of the school.
Chris Hipkins: Has she seen the reports that the school fees for day students at Wanganui Collegiate School in 2013 are $10,900, over $1,000 more than they were before integration; if so, does she believe that her decision to integrate Wanganui Collegiate School, which has led to its fees going up and only seven additional day places being made available, is going to lead to a wider number of students getting access to a Wanganui Collegiate education, or is it just going to remain a school for the wealthy and the privileged?
Hon NIKKI KAYE: I think the member does make some incorrect assumptions there. Secondly, what I would say to the member is that, in terms of the fees situation, I am aware that the attendance fee is the only part that is actually compulsory. In terms of those other fees, the meals charge is for voluntary good. The other charges are in the donations category, and parents are free to choose whether they pay at all. What I would say is that the member is out there saying that this is not a good integration, but at the end of the day, it is early days. There were many wider benefits for this integration, and he is being very, very—I think—dodgy in terms of the statements that he is using, because we know what the real figures are in terms of what is compulsory and what is a donation.
Chris Hipkins: When she said that those additional fees were voluntary and parental contributions were voluntary, did she realise that those voluntary fees include meals, house activities, and supervision? If the family of a day student chooses to purchase these goods and services, then they are required to pay for them. Therefore, if a family does not purchase these goods and services, then the proprietor is not required to provide the student with meals, house activities, or supervision. Does that mean that the children of those parents who are unable to pay the $5,200 parental contribution will not be supervised and will not be able to attend house activities, a requirement of the school?
Hon NIKKI KAYE: As I have said, this is the breakdown: the attendance due is compulsory for parents. The meal charge is for a voluntary good; that is, if parents agree that their child will eat the school’s meals, then fair enough, but parents must have that choice. The charge cannot be levied automatically. All other charges are in the donations categories, and parents are free to choose whether to pay all, some, or none of them. The Ministry of Education will monitor this very closely.