Questions and Answers - October 22
QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS
Tax System Changes—Impact on Income Tax
1. MAGGIE BARRY (National—North Shore) to the Minister of Finance: What impact have the Government’s across the board tax cuts, and other tax changes in 2010, had on income tax paid by higher and lower income households?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): Estimates of net income tax paid by household income indicate that the tax system has become more progressive since the Government’s tax changes in 2010. Households earning less than $60,000 a year are expected to pay less, in percentage terms, towards net tax this year than they were paying in 2008-09. Households earning more than $150,000 a year are generally expected to pay more of the total net income tax this year than they did 5 years ago. Only 6 percent of taxpayers earn over $100,000 a year. They pay around 37 percent of total income tax. Three years ago they paid around 29 percent of total income tax. That is why calls to increase the top tax rate are misguided, because by dropping the top tax rate and closing the loopholes, higher income earners are paying proportionately more tax.
Maggie Barry: What changes has the Government made to income tax rates and other taxes to help families get ahead?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The tax package in 2010 reduced tax on work and savings, and increased taxes on consumption and property speculation. In particular, it reduced the top tax rate from 39c to 33c and closed the loopholes that had been left wide open by the gap between the top tax rate and the company tax rate, which allowed high income earners to avoid paying 39c in the dollar. Now that we have cut the top tax rate to 33c, higher income earners are paying proportionately more tax than they did when the rate was higher.
Maggie Barry: How significantly do the income tax and income support systems redistribute incomes for New Zealand households?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The tax and income support systems provide a significant amount of income redistribution—in fact, a bit more redistribution now than 4 or 5 years ago. Households earning over $150,000—that is, the top 12 percent of households by income—will pay 46 percent of income tax. When benefit payments, Working for Families, paid parental leave, and accommodation support are taken into account, households earning over $150,000 will pay 76 percent of the net income tax. Households earning under $60,000 a year—half of all households— are expected to pay around 11 percent of income tax. So households earning over $150,000 pay 76 percent of net income tax and households earning under $60,000 pay 11 percent of net income tax.
Maggie Barry: What broader measures has the Government taken to support families most in need, particularly to ensure that the tax and income support systems are fairer?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The Government has, despite a recession and large deficits, maintained the large-scale income support measures for low and middle income families. But, of course,
measures of gross income are not the only measure of the welfare of a family. Over the last two Budgets the Government has invested more than $470 million in helping more New Zealanders out of welfare dependency and into work, because even though that is not a cash transfer to the individuals concerned, it greatly improves their prospects and improves equality if people move from welfare dependency into work.
Dr David Clark: No matter how much he tortures the statistics, do not the figures actually show—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I ask the member to assist the order of the House by phrasing his question more correctly and starting with a question. Otherwise it leads to the sort of disorder that I then have to deal with. If the member could attempt to do so, I would appreciate that. In the meantime, the front bench on my right-hand side will stay quiet while the question is asked.
Dr David Clark: Do not the figures actually show that his 2010 tax changes are a measure that has cemented a gap between rich and poor, which is higher under this Government than it ever was under the previous Government and made worse by unemployment still being higher than it was during the global financial crisis and by wage growth being at its lowest in over a decade?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: No, no, and no. The recent Ministry of Social Development social report shows inequality in New Zealand reducing. It shows it reducing from a peak of inequality under the Labour Government. It does not matter how often Labour members want to say that the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer, they are wrong. Inequality is reducing.
2. Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First) to the Prime Minister: Does he stand by all his statements?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): Yes.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Why did he make a misleading statement on TVNZ’s Breakfast yesterday, which I quote: “I know that these guys are on this track at the moment … to … nationalise building, nationalise our management funds, they’ll be nationalising supermarkets and petrol stations and everything else soon.”, when New Zealand First has never suggested nationalising the existing KiwiSaver scheme?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Because it is true, and I was just using the opportunity to make a policy announcement for New Zealand First in case it does not get enough air time to do it itself.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Why did he say the “KiwiFund” policy would take out competition when New Zealanders will still have the choice of which provider to belong to, or does he think that the interests of high-charging KiwiSaver providers are more important than KiwiSavers themselves?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Well, notwithstanding that the member was, typically, extremely vague in his speech, what I will say is that what he seemed to be saying in his speech is that under New Zealand First the Government-run KiwiSaver provider would Government guarantee the returns— in other words, there would be no losses—there would be, assumedly, no fees, and on that basis, how could anybody compete with that?
Rt Hon Winston Peters: What undertakings has the National Party made to the members of the Financial Services Council, apart from providing the chairperson?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I cannot recall making any, but what we are keen to do is promote competition. There is $16 billion in KiwiSaver at the moment. That $16 billion is well serviced by 20 providers. They provide different strategies in different risk profiles. As the New Zealand Herald editorial pointed out this morning, having one provider would not be a good thing. I think the member should do this: I think he should stop worrying about mucking around with KiwiSaver, which is operating well, and start worrying about Colin Craig. [Interruption]
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Because of the noise, I couldn’t hear the end of that answer. Could I hear it again?
Mr SPEAKER: The member is lucky. [Interruption]
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Sorry, Mr Speaker, I could not hear you either when you gave the ruling.
Mr SPEAKER: The Prime Minister finished his question by saying something around how he might be better if a man called Colin Craig got more air time, that sort of thing. [Interruption] Order!
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Does he maintain that private providers are the best managers of pension funds, bearing in mind a company called Merrill Lynch lost $53.5 billion in pension funds in 2001, as he was bailing out from the company?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Firstly, I might point out that when I was with Merrill Lynch, it was good. The difference between me and that member is that Merrill Lynch wanted me to work for it; it never wanted Winston Peters, from what I can recall.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: A point of order, and it will be heard in silence.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I seek leave to table a projected cumulative investment management fees chart that arises from the Parliamentary Library, taking into account projections by Treasury and Infometrics; the second is a Nina Montagu-Smith 4 June 2002 report of a massive loss the previous year by pension funds manager Merrill Lynch, Mr Key’s firm, of course; another article by Montagu-Smith as well; and, just to make sure he does not duck out of it—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Just give us the information.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: —the Wikipedia record of this man’s performance and work history, the Prime Minister of this country.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! For the sake of clarity, we will put all of the leave together. Leave is sought to table about four documents. Is there any objection to it?
Hon Gerry Brownlee: We would have to object to the lot, because some of it’s publicly available.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Objection is made.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I have put the leave.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: He did not say no; he said we would have to check the lot, which assumes that he wants to see them.
Mr SPEAKER: No, no, no. He said he was objecting when leave was put. That is what the member said.
Metiria Turei: Tēnā koutou e te Whare. Does the Prime Minister stand by his statement that there is no reason why John Banks should not vote on the Skycity bill, given his previous attacks on Labour for using Taito Phillip Field’s vote while that former Minister was also facing a criminal charge?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Yes, and the interesting thing will be to see whether Labour votes for the Skycity bill now.
Metiria Turei: Can the Prime Minister remember making this statement in relation to the then Prime Minister Helen Clark: she “was prepared to cynically cling to power by continuing to exercise Mr Field’s vote, no matter what. She would have used any excuse to not act against him to maintain her slim one-vote majority.”, and will he stick to his own high principles and refuse to exercise Mr Banks’ vote, at least on the Skycity deal?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: The member seems to be forgetting something, either conveniently or otherwise. Taito Phillip Field was a member of the Labour Party, and the Labour Party exercised their vote. Mr Banks is a member of the ACT Party, and he decides whether their vote—
Grant Robertson: You exercised John Banks’ vote.
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Look, the question is whether you guys are going to vote for it, because we all know what you are saying around Auckland.
Hon John Banks—Ministerial Resignation
3. Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Why did he accept the resignation of the Hon John Banks as a Minister on 16 October 2013?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): Because I agreed with the Hon John Banks that the court case would be a distraction for the Government if he was to continue to as a Minister.
Hon David Cunliffe: Does he stand by his statement that “to make a contribution, you have to have integrity, and to have integrity there has to be a directness and fullness in your answers.”; if so, how did John Banks meet that test?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: In answer to the first part of the question, yes.
Hon David Cunliffe: Why did the Prime Minister refuse to even read the police report, when Mr Banks had taken a helicopter ride to the most expensive mansion in his own electorate to meet with a nearly 7-foot-tall German—whose wife he described as the most beautiful woman in the world— and from whom he solicited donations, which he then said he had mysteriously forgotten?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I think it is worth recalling the situation. The police looked at it and decided there was no case to answer. I accepted the member at his word, and I continue to accept him at his word.
Hon David Cunliffe: Will he now tell New Zealand the reasons for Richard Worth’s resignation, which he has hitherto refused to give?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No.
Hon David Cunliffe: Will he reinstate the Hon John Banks as a Minister in his Government if he is cleared of the charges he is currently facing in court?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Yes.
Hon David Cunliffe: Will he reinstate the Hon Peter Dunne as a Minister in his Government if he is cleared by the Privileges Committee inquiry?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Quite possibly.
Hon David Cunliffe: Has the Prime Minister received any advice on the viability of his Government’s proposed Resource Management Act reforms, should the Māori Party and Peter Dunne not support them?
Mr SPEAKER: Order! No, I am sorry—looking at that question, it is not in any way related to the original primary question. I will allow the member another question.
Hon David Cunliffe: I will amend it slightly. Has the Prime Minister received any advice on the viability of the Government’s proposed Resource Management Act reforms, should the Hon John Banks not be available to vote for it and the Māori Party and Peter Dunne not support it?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Well, firstly, Mr Banks is quite able to vote, as he will be voting on other things, as we have been indicating. Secondly, we are a minority Government and like any minority Government, we need to work to build a majority as we go along. We are in discussions with our partners about whether we can get support for the Resource Management Act legislation. We might possibly be able to do that.
Hon David Cunliffe: Does the Prime Minister now face “the prospect of being held to ransom by potentially unreliable political allies, as each attempts to extract their pound of flesh from the new dynamic.”, which is a quote from his good self?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Well, we are a minority Government, and so when we go to—
Grant Robertson: And getting more minority by the day.
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Well, it is actually not changing, funnily enough. We are a minority Government, and as we go about our desire to pass legislation, we have to build a parliamentary majority. But if anyone is going to be held to ransom, it could easily be David Cunliffe by the Greens, who are clearly opposed to the Skycity deal, even if Labour is now not opposed to the Skycity deal.
Metiria Turei: Can the Prime Minister confirm whether he received written advice from John Banks while John Banks was still a Minister of his Government concerning a conflict of interest
over the New Zealand International Convention Centre Bill and the fact that the Skycity Chief Executive Officer, Nigel Morrison, was to give evidence affecting him in court; if not, does he believe that a conflict of interest exists?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I would need to check that, but conflicts of interest are generally managed by the Cabinet Office, so I would need to check whether it has anything.
4. COLIN KING (National—Kaikōura) to the Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills and
Employment: How many new apprentices have signed up under the Government’s Apprenticeship Reboot scheme?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment): The Government announced in January this year that it would provide a $1,000 payment to the first 10,000 new apprentices and their employer towards the cost of tools and training, or $2,000 each for the priority trades. I am pleased to advise the House that the reboot scheme has already signed up 8,000 new apprentices in only 7 months. This compares with the normal sign-up rate of 7,000 for a full year. The reboot has resulted in a 67 percent increase in the number of people starting apprenticeships compared with the same period last year, and two-thirds of all of those signed up—
Dr David Clark: Where are the jobs?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: —have been in the designated priority trades such as construction, engineering, infrastructure, and electrotechnology. And to be helpful to that member over there, to have an apprenticeship you actually do have to have a job.
Colin King: What other steps is the Government taking to improve industry training systems?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Well, we inherited a mess in industry training from the previous Government. Even though funding trebled, there were up to 100,000 phantom trainees in industry training who had achieved no credits. We have sorted out a lot of that mess and introduced a suite of measures to improve the opportunities for in-work training for all Kiwis. For example, we have established New Zealand Apprenticeships, which provides the same level of support and the same level of subsidy for all apprentices, regardless of their age. We have also boosted the educational content of apprenticeships and increased the funding. With the reboot and these other changes, we have estimated that around 14,000 extra new apprentices will start training over the next 5 years, over and above the normal numbers. We are now running ahead of that target.
Colin King: What steps is the Government taking to expand trades training in Canterbury?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: As well as the apprenticeship reboot, the Government has now invested some $65 million in specific skills for Canterbury training initiatives over the last couple of years. In addition, I have recently announced a further capital injection of $18.9 million for the Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology, to enable it to further expand its trades training capacity as part of its campus rebuild following the earthquakes. That capital injection means that Christchurch Polytechnic will be able to further expand its Sullivan Avenue facilities, taking on an additional 400 equivalent full-time students, or up to 1,000 additional places a year, through until 2018. That is on top of the 1,000 it has already added. This further increase in trades training is very important to the Canterbury rebuild and to the wider Canterbury economy. The Government is delighted to support it.
Grant Robertson: I seek leave of the House to table statistics from the Tertiary Education Commission that show in the first 3 years of National’s period in Government the number of apprentices—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I just want to clarify that the Tertiary Education Commission report is not a published—
Grant Robertson: Those statistics are very hard to get.
Mr SPEAKER: On the basis that they are hard to get, I will allow the leave to be put. Leave is sought to table that particular document. Is there any objection? [Interruption] Order! There was objection. It will not be tabled.
Regional Economies—Job Losses
5. Hon DAVID PARKER (Deputy Leader—Labour) to the Minister of Finance: Does he stand by his statement regarding the employees of the Tachikawa sawmill that the “opportunity for those workers will be better than it has been at any time in the last six or seven years”?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): Yes, because we are seeing encouraging signs of higher business confidence, better investment, and hiring intentions. I could draw to the member’s attention that in every 3 months between 100,000 and 200,000 jobs in the New Zealand economy disappear and a slightly greater number of jobs are created, with the effect that there are now 65,000 more jobs in the economy than 2 years ago. But there are always jobs disappearing in the economy. That is why it is so important that they are replaced by businesses that are confident enough to invest.
Hon David Parker: Given that the level of Māori unemployment is now at 12.8 percent, double what it was 6 years ago, and that the majority of the Rotorua sawmill workers are Māori, how is opportunity for those workers or the workers at the Shannon fellmongery better than it has been at any time in the last 6 or 7 years?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Well, first of all, we do not think that being Māori destines you to unemployment. I know that that is what Labour thinks—that because these workers are Māori they do not have much chance of getting another job, but, actually, that is wrong.
Jami-Lee Ross: What policies would damage the prospects of the Tachikawa Forest Products workers and other job seekers in regional New Zealand from finding new jobs?
Mr SPEAKER: In as far as that is his ministerial responsibility, I call the Hon Bill English.
Hon BILL ENGLISH: New jobs are created when businesses have the confidence to invest another dollar and hire another person, so anything that undermines that confidence makes it less likely that workers who lose their jobs will find another one. For instance, the abolition of the 90- day trial period would make it more difficult for people who have lost their jobs to get another one. Imposing an emissions trading scheme tax at twice the level it currently is would have the same effect, and those are Labour’s and the Greens’ policies.
Grant Robertson: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. At the very end of that answer the Minister of Finance introduced material that he is not responsible for, and that was not relevant to the question that he was asked, and I ask that you ask him not to do that, and rule that out. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: No, I will just make a ruling on Grant Robertson’s point because I think it is a reasonable point. It certainly is not reasonable to use question time as a means of attacking an Opposition. The question was asked about policies, and although the Minister, in my opinion, is quite legitimately able to outline those policies, to then deviate to an attack on another political party is an unnecessary situation and will lead to disorder in the House.
Hon David Parker: Is the level of Māori unemployment now 12.8 percent, and is that double what it was 6 years ago?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I cannot verify that number, except to say that 6 years ago was prior to the global financial crisis and the recession, but it was at a time when the New Zealand export economy had gone into recession because of excessive Government spending and very poor economic policy on the part of the Labour Government. So 6 years ago Māori unemployment would have been rising.
Grant Robertson: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Mr English, remarkably, could not answer a very direct question and then went on to include a lot of irrelevant material.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I as Speaker will determine when the answer is long enough.
Rt Hon John Key: Has the Minister seen any reports that the labour markets are actually very fluid and that in any given 3-month period there are 100,000 to 200,000 jobs lost or created, and that that has been true for a very long period of time, and has he seen any particular reports about job losses in the regions in 2008?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: It is the case that there is a continual process of some jobs being lost and new jobs being created. For instance, for a sample, in the second half of 2008, three Feltex plants were closed—170 jobs lost. There were 430 jobs lost at Fisher and Paykel Appliances, and 466 jobs were lost at the Ōringi freezing works. I think that is in the regions. There were 249 jobs lost at Silver Fern Farms. That is in the regions. There were 323 jobs lost at Sealord. That is in the regions. There were 145 jobs lost at Cadbury and 316 jobs lost at Carter Holt Harvey. And those are just the ones I found in about 10 minutes of looking.
Hon David Parker: Given his knowledge of these statistics, can he tell the House what is the total number of job losses in the timber processing industry since he took office?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: No, I cannot.
Hon David Parker: Why did he suggest that workers losing their jobs at the Rotorua sawmill should find construction jobs in Auckland and Christchurch, and does not this demonstrate the complete lack of vision this Government has for the regions?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: No, and, as the member will know if he sees a transcript of the interview, I specifically rebutted the idea the interviewer had that that was what had to happen. But I did point out that the growth of construction in Christchurch, and in Auckland now that we are getting on top of the planning law, will create jobs across the whole country, and that there is hope for those people who have lost jobs. We do not share Labour’s view that because those people are Māori they cannot get jobs.
Hon David Parker: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. What recourse does a member have when, in the face of doubling Māori unemployment, we are accused of being uncaring?
Mr SPEAKER: I am not sure what the point of order is that the member is raising, I am sorry. If the member wants to—I think we will move on to question No. 6.
Skycity, Convention Centre—Compensation Provisions
6. METIRIA TUREI (Co-Leader—Green) to the Minister for Economic Development: Has he received any advice that a future Government could dismantle the SkyCity convention centre deal without paying compensation; if so, what was that advice?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister for Economic Development): Yes, and I have to say to the member that this is not new news. As the member may be aware from her Law 101 classes, in New Zealand’s constitution Parliament is sovereign and can pass any law it likes. I do not think that this is news today or any other day. Whether it is a good idea for one Parliament to start ripping up contracts with outside organisations entered into by a previous Parliament is entirely another question, as any number of contracts extend past the life of just one Parliament. However, that does not change the fact that Parliament is always sovereign.
Metiria Turei: Has the Minister warned Skycity to the possibility that a future Government could legislate to protect the public from the deal that he has worked out with Skycity, and that Skycity would not receive compensation?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Well, that was discussed in the public arena before the agreement was signed, and it is not news. I do not know why the member thinks that this is some great revelation. This is just reality. How strange.
Metiria Turei: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I asked him whether he had alerted Skycity to the possibility. He has not answered that question.
Mr SPEAKER: I think that between that answer and the previous answer, he did. He just said that it is common knowledge that a Government has sovereign right. If a Government of the future
wants to change anything, it can do so. So he has not specifically notified Skycity of that possibility.
Grant Robertson: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I do believe that that was a reasonably direct question from the member, asking whether or not the Minister had alerted Skycity. You put two answers together. That is very difficult for the Opposition in terms of what is on the record of the House.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! No, I am quite comfortable with my ruling. The Minister attempted to address the question satisfactorily. It may not be to the member’s satisfaction; that is happening relatively frequently in this place. [Interruption] Order! My job is to see that the question has been addressed, and to my satisfaction it has been.
Metiria Turei: Does the Minister both accept and agree that future Governments have every right to legislate to overturn a deal that, effectively, sells our laws to the highest bidder and causes harm to the wider community?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I am sorry; I disagree completely with the premise of that member’s question. The arrangement, if she cared to look at it, is an exchange of some regulatory concessions in return for the building of a $400 million convention centre for Auckland and New Zealand. So, yes, a subsequent Parliament could rip that up and jeopardise the thousand jobs in construction of, and the 800 jobs in operating, that particular convention centre. It could do that, but I think that it would be marked by the public as irresponsible. I think it would be marked by the public as, frankly, scurrilous in terms of the approach it took, and I think that it should be very careful before it did that.
Metiria Turei: Does the Minister think that a Government that sells the gambling laws to a casino in exchange for building a convention centre is a morally compromised Government?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: No, I do not agree with the member. If she thinks that, she should really look in the mirror, because the Green Party was absolutely silent when a similar arrangement was struck by the Labour Government back in 2001. When that deal was done, the Minister of Tourism of the day lauded the deal, the Prime Minister lauded the deal, and the Greens were as quiet as church mice.
Hon Shane Jones: Why were officials from Treasury, the Ministry of Health, and the Department of Internal Affairs muzzled and forbidden from providing advice about gambling harm to the select committee dealing with the New Zealand International Convention Centre Bill?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I think the workings of the select committee are over to the select committee. I have no responsibility for them.
Hon Shane Jones: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am asking a question to the Minister responsible for the stewardship and the sponsorship of a bill.
Mr SPEAKER: And the Minister responded that he had no responsibility for that. That is the Minister’s answer. That is for the Minister to determine. He quite emphatically said: “Well, that’s not my responsibility.”
Metiria Turei: Would the current compensation provisions in the deal be triggered if Skycity was required to use pre-commitment and player-tracking technology across all its electronic gambling machines in a way that reduced its pokie machine revenue—would the compensation provisions apply?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: That is a hypothetical question. But in relation to the legislation as drafted, Parliament has the right to regulate gambling and to deal with problem gambling in the way it sees fit, and that would not trigger compensation in that regard. So I think the member is raising a hypothetical issue in terms of the measures she talks about. But Parliament does have the right to regulate gambling and to regulate problem gaming in a way that it sees fit, and that is not changed by this legislation.
Metiria Turei: Will the Minister release the Crown Law Office advice sought by the officials advising the Commerce Committee, as those officials referred to and paraphrased that advice in the
departmental report, said they had attached that advice to the departmental report, and then subsequently advised that that was a big mistake?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I think the tradition is that the Crown holds its legal advice, so if it needs it at any stage, it is able to act on it.
Warm Up New Zealand: Heat Smart—Progress
7. Peseta SAM LOTU-IIGA (National—Maungakiekie) to the Minister of Energy and
Resources: What update can he give on the Government’s Warm Up New Zealand: Heat Smart home insulation programme?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES (Minister of Energy and Resources): Warm Up New Zealand: Heat Smart is now drawing to its planned completion and has broken all targets set for the home insulation scheme. Originally we had a target of 188,500 insulations by 2013, revised to 230,000. In fact, the programme will see in excess of 235,000 homes insulated. A strong insulation industry has been built as a result of the programme, and the benefits of home insulation are now well known. I want to thank third-party funders, the insulation service providers, and local authorities, who have worked together with the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority to help make Warm Up New Zealand: Heat Smart such a success.
Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga: How is the new programme Warm Up New Zealand: Healthy Homes progressing?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: The new programme announced in this year’s Budget will offer free ceiling and underfloor insulation for low-income households, particularly families with children and high health needs. It is expected that the programme will insulate at least 46,000 homes over 3 years. The Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority has already announced the first round of projects with generous third-party funding support spanning Northland to Southland.
Screen Production Industry—Statements Made on Behalf of Minister of Finance
8. JACINDA ARDERN (Labour) to the Minister for Economic Development: Does he agree with the statement he made on behalf of the Minister of Finance, that “New Zealand has a vibrant screen industry, which directly supports more than 2,700 businesses”?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister for Economic Development): In the context of The Hobbit movies, which was the topic of the question in the House to which that statement relates, yes, which is why on this side of the House we worked so hard to keep The Hobbit movies in New Zealand while members opposite tried to scuttle the deal and drive the film offshore.
Jacinda Ardern: Is he aware that the screen industry is experiencing a massive downturn, especially in Auckland, where up to 70 percent of production is based, as a direct result of issues like a high Kiwi dollar essentially cancelling out the incentive regime and decimating the industry; if not, why not?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Yes, I am aware of concerns in the Auckland industry and have been working with the industry on that. Some companies are finding it difficult because of the size of the dollar at the moment. Those who own their intellectual property are doing fairly well, but those who are effectively like toll producers, if you like, are struggling. It is important to point out that we have spent something like $411 million on incentives for the film industry since 2008-2009—$411 million. So we are just working through those issues with the industry.
Jacinda Ardern: Why are venues like Studio Auckland, which was 100 percent full until a few years ago, now the quietest it has ever been, and why is Studio West, which was fully tenanted for much of the past 12 years, now getting one booking query a month with the owner, stating that this is the worst he has seen the local industry in 20 years?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: As I say, I acknowledge that some companies are finding it a little bit difficult. I understand, though, in relation to one of the venues the member raises, that one of the particular issues is that it is associated with a railway line nearby, and, of course, Auckland
Transport has increased the frequency of trains hugely so it is not as popular as it once was. But I have to say it is a little ironic to be questioned by that party on the health of the screen industry when it was that party that wanted—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! That answer was sufficient.
Jacinda Ardern: If he is aware that skilled workers, one of the draw cards his Government uses to promote New Zealand as a film destination, are leaving the industry and the country, with companies like Film Effects experiencing the biggest downturn in 10 years, and that many on the payroll with a UK passport have already gone, what is he doing about this loss of skills—or is that the trains’ fault as well?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: The reality is that New Zealand’s value proposition to attract screen businesses is not just about the size of its incentive, and that is one of the challenges. We have to be able to offer more than that, and we do. We offer a great place to do business, a skilled and capable workforce, flexible employment law, proven expertise in post-production, natural scenery, and competitive labour costs. But that does not mean that you win every production, and this industry is one that does go through ebbs and flows depending on large productions that are sometimes available and sometimes not.
Jacinda Ardern: Does he agree with the statement of the Hon Chris Finlayson that this is the golden age for the arts in New Zealand; if so, why does it seem like the film industry is going in to an ice age as the majority of screen production dies under the weight of an apathetic Government that is doing absolutely nothing?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I think the member might be auditioning for a role in some sort of production—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Answer the question.
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: —with that form of amazing hyperbole. The reality is that New Zealand is going through a very strong period with the arts. The Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage is doing a fantastic job in investing in infrastructure and maintaining the Government assets in the arts and culture space, despite the toughest financial times since the Great Depression. He is doing a tremendous job in that regard, and I think the member would do well to acknowledge it.
Hospitals—National Patient Survey
9. SHANE ARDERN (National—Taranaki - King Country) to the Minister of Health: What progress is the Government making on using patient feedback to improve the quality of health care?
Hon TONY RYALL (Minister of Health): Yesterday the Government announced that a new national patient survey will be rolled out to all New Zealand public hospitals from the middle of next year. Patient feedback is a vital indicator of how well health services are working for patients and their families, and the new national patient survey will provide invaluable information for the district health boards about what they are doing well and what areas can improve. This will add to the widely reported health target information published quarterly by district health boards, which have already played an important part in lifting health services for patients, such as the big improvement seen in emergency department waiting times.
Shane Ardern: What are the main areas of health services that the survey will be focused on?
Hon TONY RYALL: The survey questions will be modelled on international best practice and will look at four key areas. These will involve, firstly, communication, partnership, coordination, and, finally, physical and emotional needs. For example, questions could include “When you had important questions to ask your doctor or nurse, did you get answers that you could understand?” or “Did doctors or nurses talk in front of you as if you weren’t there?”. This information will help district health boards to make improvements to patient care on direct feedback. This initiative builds on our Open for Better Care campaign, which challenges health professionals to be open to
feedback in order to continually improve. The survey will be piloted in two district health boards later this year.
Hon Annette King: What progress has he made on the feedback he received from the president of Grey Power Hastings and Districts, who wrote to him 1 month ago to “plead” for an elderly man to get surgery at Hawke’s Bay Hospital, and who concluded the letter by saying: “The health goals of National must change to stop discrimination against the elderly.”?
Hon TONY RYALL: I do not have the response to that gentleman with me, but I am sure we would want to point out to him that the Hawke’s Bay District Health Board has received an extra $73 million under this National Government, and this Government is providing more elective surgery to more older New Zealanders than ever before.
Kevin Hague: In the patient feedback that the Minister has described, what steps specifically is he taking to include the views of those patients who do not get through the door to access the health services they need, such as some of the poorest New Zealanders who are now missing out on accessing Very Low Cost Access primary care?
Hon TONY RYALL: This survey will be specifically aimed at this stage at those patients who have attended public hospitals. But in respect of Very Low Cost Access, there are more patients getting access to Very Low Cost Access practices than at any time previously. We have put record amounts of funding into that. What is even more exciting is that this Government has funded free after-hours primary care for under-sixes—something that was not done even during the best of economic times.
Kevin Hague: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. There was some interesting detail that the Minister gave, but he did not address the fundamental question of those patients who are missing out on accessing the health services they need. He simply said that the survey was restricted to district health board consumers. He could have given an answer that related to patients who needed services provided by district health boards and did not get them.
Mr SPEAKER: Yes, I accept that the Minister could have, but he chose to address the member’s question about a collection of feedback information from patients. You asked about what feedback information would be for patients who did not get in to hospitals, etc. He said that that is not the design of the system. He has addressed the question, maybe not to the member’s satisfaction, but it has certainly been addressed.
Hon Annette King: I seek leave to table the letter from Grey Power Hastings and Districts. I received it, as did the Minister. I have a plea for an elderly gentleman to receive surgery, and as far as I know, he has not received it yet.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The letter has been described adequately. Leave is sought to table this particular letter written by Grey Power. Is there any objection? There appears to be none. It can be tabled. Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Regional Economies—Job Losses
10. TE URUROA FLAVELL (Co-Leader—Māori Party) to the Minister of Finance: Does he recall his statement that “Anyone who can take a business away has a community over a barrel and has its workforce over a barrel”; and will the Government take steps to intervene in Rotorua and Shannon, to help protect jobs like it did in Southland with the threatened closure of the Tiwai Point aluminium smelter?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): Yes, I do recall the statement and, in answer to the second part of the question, no. I mean, the Government obviously is not going to step in to support businesses in every case of a job loss. On the other hand, it is not satisfactory to ignore every single episode of jobs losses. In the case of the Tīwai aluminium smelter, the Government at
the time outlined the specific reasons why it intervened there in a situation it regarded as one of national interest.
Te Ururoa Flavell: Does he recall his statement on the same day, 8 August, that “this is a Government which is pretty pragmatic”, noting that the Government had also offered assistance to other sectors, such as the kiwifruit sector, after the Psa virus; on that basis, does he agree it would be pragmatic to support hundreds of whānau members in Rotorua and Shannon who are looking at the prospects of a very bleak Christmas unless the Government puts a recovery plan in place?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Without looking into every detail of those particular businesses, it is simply not feasible for the Government to put a recovery plan in place. I mean, if you just take, for instance, the fellmongery in Shannon, there have been significant changes in meat industry processing that are necessitated by the fact that the national sheep flock has been shrinking, while the national dairy herd has been growing. We have felt the impact of that in my electorate, where over 300 people lost their jobs at the Mataura freezing works in the last couple of years. The best thing we can do is to ensure that we have an environment where businesses are investing in other industries that are growing. The indications are that this economy is pretty positive, jobs are being created, and there will be opportunities for those who are losing their jobs.
Te Ururoa Flavell: Will the Government consider forming partnerships with iwi Māori organisations to save or maintain businesses such as Tachikawa Forest Products (NZ) in Rotorua, where over 120 workers will lose their jobs and also a plant will become redundant, to ensure that unemployment lines do not get any longer, especially for Māori?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: As a general point, unemployment lines are tending to get shorter as the number of new jobs in the economy continues to grow. The Government is happy to work with anyone who can assist in creating an environment where businesses will invest and employ. However, the use of the term “partnerships” does not explain much what is proposed. The Government is very unlikely, for instance, to invest in particular businesses when they are lossmaking businesses, because that would be frittering away the hard-earned taxes of others who are working hard and paying their tax every day. We are happy to have the discussion, but those discussions have to be substantive and responsible. It is very unlikely that, in these cases, the Government would intervene in what is a pretty normal process of businesses under pressure going under, jobs being lost, and other jobs being created.
Te Kōhanga Reo National Trust—Financial Management
11. Hon NANAIA MAHUTA (Labour—Hauraki-Waikato) to the Associate Minister of
Education: When did he first receive any advice regarding inappropriate spending associated with the National Te Kōhanga Reo Trust?
Hon Dr PITA SHARPLES (Associate Minister of Education): I first received advice regarding the alleged inappropriate spending associated with the National Te Kōhanga Reo Trust on Monday, 14 December 2013. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! Would the Hon Pita Sharples like to repeat that. I think that he may have transposed a date that may be significant. I ask the Minister just to answer the question again.
Hon Dr PITA SHARPLES: I am sorry—14 October. Thank you.
Mr SPEAKER: Thank you.
Hon Nanaia Mahuta: When did he or his office first become aware that Māori Television was planning to publish a story on inappropriate spending and financial mismanagement at the trust and its subsidiary Te Pātaka Ōhanga?
Hon Dr PITA SHARPLES: My answer is still the same. It was on 14 October. I was in Auckland and I was contacted from here when the airport was closed, so I did not come down, and that is the first time I heard of such allegations of inappropriate spending.
Hon Nanaia Mahuta: When did he first discuss issues of financial mismanagement and inappropriate spending at the trust and its subsidiaries with the Minister of Education?
Hon Dr PITA SHARPLES: It was the following day. I heard about it on 14 October, and on 15 October Minister Parata and I convened a meeting with the trust and we discussed it that very next day. It was on that occasion that we decided that we needed an in-depth look at the matter.
Hon Nanaia Mahuta: Does he think that it is acceptable for Te Pātaka Ōhanga to provide internal loans to its trustees, and why did the reporting and monitoring system not identify this as a risk earlier?
Hon Dr PITA SHARPLES: Te Pātaka Ōhanga is a private company. It is not administered by the funding from the ministry. That is part of the terms of reference of the inquiry so we should find out about that.
Hon Nanaia Mahuta: Does the scope of the independent review that the Minister referred to for the National Te Kōhanga Reo Trust extend retrospectively to all spending at Te Pātaka Ōhanga by the trustees and staff for the period for which allegations of financial mismanagement have occurred; if not, why not?
Hon Dr PITA SHARPLES: The inquiry will concern all matters concerned with Government funding to the National Te Kōhanga Reo Trust. It will also look at the matters raised with Te Pātaka Ōhanga.
Television, Switch-over to Digital—Progress
12. MARK MITCHELL (National—Rodney) to the Minister of Broadcasting: What progress has been made on the regional rollout of the digital switchover for New Zealand television viewers?
Hon CRAIG FOSS (Minister of Broadcasting): There is just 1 month to go until all of New Zealand has digital TV. The upper North Island will be the final region to make the switch to digital on 1 December. The digital switch-over is one of the Government’s Business Growth Agenda objectives to help develop innovation infrastructure. Although awareness to go digital in the upper North Island is at around 95 percent, more than 60,000 homes in that region are still not ready and will be unable to view television unless those people make the necessary changes.
Mark Mitchell: How can people find out more information on whether they need to go digital? [Interruption]
Hon CRAIG FOSS: Listen carefully, members. The Going Digital team will be boosting its presence across Auckland over the coming weeks to provide more information as to how to go digital. I would encourage people who have already gone digital to check on their family, friends, and neighbours to make sure that they have done the same. Anyone—I say to members opposite— needing more information can visit the Going Digital website or call 0800 838 800.