Questions and Answers - October 23
QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS
1. Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does he have confidence that his Ministers are ethical and competent?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): Yes.
Hon David Cunliffe: Can he assure the public that the Hon Nick Smith, the Hon Peter Dunne, and the Hon John Banks all upheld to his satisfaction the requirements of the Cabinet Manual that “… Ministers are expected to act lawfully and to behave in a way that upholds, and is seen to uphold, the highest ethical standards.”?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: This is going to come as a great revelation to the member, but John Banks is no longer a Minister.
Hon David Cunliffe: In light of that answer and given that John Banks has conveniently forgotten helicopter rides, 7-foot-tall German billionaires, and the concurrent arrival of two cheques for $25,000, how is it credible for the Prime Minister to even consider reappointing him to a ministerial role as he said he would do yesterday?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: It strikes me that the member keeps forgetting what he tells private audiences he is in. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I have a point of order.
Grant Robertson: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I appreciate that the question had an introductory part to it, but the Prime Minister should make some attempt to address it.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: I think that question would fall into the category that you often mention and that your predecessors in that seat often mentioned: very heavily loaded political questions. What the Prime Minister did was refer to the first part of that question and I think adequately addressed it.
Mr SPEAKER: On this occasion I am going to accept the advice given by the Hon Gerry Brownlee. The question was very politically loaded. When members ask a supplementary question like that, they give a fair amount of licence to a Minister or Prime Minister to answer.
Hon David Cunliffe: Given that the Prime Minister said yesterday that he would reinstate John Banks but would only possibly reinstate the Hon Peter Dunne, can he tell the House why his confidence in the Hon Peter Dunne is lower than in the Hon John Banks?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I have no ministerial responsibility for that.
Grant Robertson: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Prime Minister does have responsibility for statements that he made, and he was being asked to reconcile two of those statements. That is a perfectly acceptable question.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! On this occasion I accept the advice of the member Grant Robertson. I am going to ask the Hon David Cunliffe to re-ask that question.
Hon David Cunliffe: Given that he said yesterday that he would reinstate John Banks but would only possibly reinstate the Hon Peter Dunne, can he tell the House why his confidence in the Hon Peter Dunne is lower?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: It is not.
Hon David Cunliffe: Does he believe that Nick Smith simply forgot about being briefed on the Ruataniwha dam before 29 July the first eight times he was asked about it in the House, even though the dam submission had been mentioned three times previously in the Minister’s weekly reports?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Mr Speaker, I understand that you are yet to make a ruling on the privileges complaint in relation to this matter, and I do not believe that it is appropriate to discuss the matter until you have done so.
Hon David Cunliffe: Does he think it is appropriate for the Minister of Conservation to interfere in a departmental decision and to stop the department from raising legitimate concerns about water quality to the Ruataniwha dam board of inquiry?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I think that Doris Johnston made it quite clear that the Minister did not.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I delayed raising this point of order because I thought it would be obvious to you that when Mr Key said that a matter was brought before you for a privileges decision, he acted as though you were some fine judicial court and the matter was sub judice. It will be very apparent to you that you are not and the issue is not, so he should not have been able to get away with that.
Mr SPEAKER: I am not sure exactly what the point of order is. Maybe the Hon Gerry Brownlee could help. [Interruption] Order! This is a point of order. It will be heard in silence.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: It was perfectly reasonable in the answer for the Prime Minister to acknowledge the letter to you from the Hon David Cunliffe, relating to the matter of privilege, and suggesting that it would be inappropriate to make any prejudicial comments when it is in your hands. I think that is perfectly acceptable.
Mr SPEAKER: I accept that. I agree entirely.
Hon David Cunliffe: Given this sorry litany of ministerial failures, and the fact that his ragtag Government is hanging by a thread, is his plan C to inflate crazy, conservative Colin Craig, or is he just a “Mad Hatter” looking for a new tea party?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I am sorry that the member cannot count, but we actually have 64 votes, so we are not hanging by a thread. If he wants to get into crazy, he could look at his own coalition partners. But, actually, he does not have to look too far. He should just follow the advice of Trevor Mallard, who nicely summed up last night exactly what he thought of Metiria Turei.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: How can the Prime Minister be contemplating restoring to a ministerial post someone who leaked from the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) four separate times, and a fifth time, which was in respect to the Inland Revenue Department and Novopay; how can that person possibly be—
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Tell us about the gnome.
Mr SPEAKER: Order!
Rt Hon Winston Peters: The difference is that I did not lie to the House like you did.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! That is a very good example of the unhelpful information of an interjection, but then the response from the Rt Hon Winston Peters was out of order. Would the member now rise to his feet and simply ask his supplementary question.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I would be very grateful to. How can the Prime Minister be possibly contemplating restoring to a Cabinet post someone who leaked information in respect of the GCSB four separate times, and a fifth time in respect of the Inland Revenue Department and Novopay; how can that person possibly fit the high standards that he has hitherto claimed to uphold?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Firstly, the premise of the question is wrong. It is unproven in terms of the first point, and the second point is that if he wants to talk reinstatement, maybe he should talk to Brendan Horan. I understand he might have been—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! That is not helpful to the order of the House.
Economic Growth—Reports and Employment
2. DAVID BENNETT (National—Hamilton East) to the Minister of Finance: What reports has he received on building momentum in the New Zealand economy and how this is supporting jobs?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): Yesterday the ASB released its quarterly economic forecast pointing to a broad-based improvement in business activity. This follows encouraging reports from other forecasters. The higher dairy payout will add $4 billion of income to the regional economy, and that sits alongside a recovery in meat prices, although livestock numbers will take some time to rebuild from the drought. The Canterbury rebuild is gaining traction, and ASB says the Auckland housing market is on the cusp of a housing construction pick-up. Recent migration figures show fewer New Zealanders are leaving for Australia because of the relative improvement in the New Zealand labour market, meaning they are relatively more likely to get a job here than they are in Australia. This is an encouraging picture of consistent economic growth.
David Bennett: How is the improved economic momentum being reflected in business and consumer confidence, and what growth does this point to over the next few years?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Last week the ANZ released its survey of consumer confidence. Confidence was up in September and remains above the long-term levels of consumer confidence. Consumers report feeling better off than a year ago, and more likely to buy a major household item. ANZ also reports that business sentiment is strong. These confidence levels point to reasonably good economic growth in the year ahead, with higher incomes and more jobs for more New Zealanders.
David Bennett: How is increasing confidence among businesses and consumers delivering jobs and growth in the economy?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: It is important that there are new jobs in the economy, because in any given quarter up to 100,000 jobs disappear from the economy.
Hon Member: What about the regions?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: So it is pleasing to see higher levels of confidence translating into rising employment. TradeMe jobs reports that job listings are up nearly 10 percent from what they were a year ago. Manawatū and Wanganui job listings are up 17 percent, and they are regions. Bay of Plenty listings are up 13 percent, and I understand that the Bay of Plenty is regarded as a region. The SEEK website reports that the strongest growth in job listings is in the South Island, in particular Marlborough, which is a region, the West Coast, which is certainly a region, and Southland, which is somewhat metropolitan but probably a region.
David Bennett: What reports has the Minister received endorsing the Government’s economic programme and the current improvement in the New Zealand economic direction?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: There are so many of these reports, but some of them are particularly satisfying. There was one last night, and I will quote it, in respect of the economy: “It’s certainly heading in the right direction. We celebrate the improvement.” That actually was on Television New Zealand yesterday morning, from the current leader of the Labour Party, David Cunliffe.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: What steps to prevent the recent closure of a Shannon fellmongery and a Rotorua sawmill, with large job losses, did the Government take, including addressing a grossly overvalued exchange rate, now heading towards US90c?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: We share the member’s concern about the value of the exchange rate. The single most important measure the Government is taking to do what it can to relieve pressure on the exchange rate is to increase the supply of housing more quickly on the ground, particularly in
Auckland. The Minister of Housing, just a couple of weeks ago, announced special housing areas for 5,000 houses. Otherwise, our exchange rate is determined largely by the state of the US economy. As it continues to improve it is likely that our exchange rate will be re-rated downwards.
Hon John Banks—Potential Conflicts of Interest
3. METIRIA TUREI (Co-Leader—Green) to the Prime Minister: Has he checked his files yet regarding whether Hon John Banks declared a potential conflict of interest in relation to the New Zealand International Convention Centre Bill while still a Minister; if so, was any conflict declared?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): Yes, and no.
Metiria Turei: Does the Prime Minister consider that John Banks, while a Minister is his Government, acted in strict accordance with the Cabinet Manual regarding the declaration of conflict of interest, given that no such conflict of interest concerning the Skycity bill was declared by John Banks?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Yes, and I do not believe that there was a conflict.
Metiria Turei: Does the Prime Minister not agree that a Minister who is the subject of court evidence given by someone involved in a multimillion-dollar deal that requires that Ministers vote in the House to pass has a conflict of interest; if so, does that conflict of interest remain once that person is no longer a Minister?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No, I do not believe there was a conflict of interest, any more than there would be a conflict of interest—if we want to follow the member’s logic—where Labour would be voting on employment legislation when we know that the unions actually have a vote in the Labour membership. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I have called Metiria Turei for a supplementary question.
Metiria Turei: Did the Prime Minister discuss any potential conflict of interest in relation to the New Zealand International Convention Centre Bill with Skycity Chief Executive Nigel Morrison when he was hanging out with him at the opening of the new Skycity bar in Auckland last week?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No, and I am pleased that the member looked at the Herald on Sunday, where I was photographed at that particular opening with many other people.
Metiria Turei: Is the Prime Minister concerned by reports of yet another conflict of interest concerning the bill, where National MP and Commerce Committee member Sam Lotu-Iiga sat silently by while his electorate chair misinformed the select committee about the Catholic Church’s position on the Skycity bill; if not—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The question is addressed to the Prime Minister, who has no responsibility either for what occurred at a select committee or for a member of the caucus. It is a question the member is asking of the Prime Minister as a Minister. I will give the opportunity for the member to rephrase that question.
Metiria Turei: Has the Prime Minister seen the reports, and is he concerned by the reports, of yet another conflict of interest concerning a National MP who sat on the Commerce Committee silently while his electorate secretary gave misinformation to the committee about the Catholic Church’s position on the Skycity bill; if he is not concerned, why not?
Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I believe that what the member has just asked is essentially the same question that you have just ruled on. It gets to the point where we would have to, for example, have members of the Labour Party recusing themselves from select committees if one of the unions was appearing, or, if Greenpeace was appearing, the Green Party would have to leave the select committee. Members are expected to exercise a degree of discretion in these matters. I do not think that there has been anything wrong with this, and the question, in itself, is out of order.
Metiria Turei: I would just remind the member, and I also say this for your consideration, Mr Speaker, that my question concerned whether the Prime Minister had seen any reports or had any concern about any such reports. He does have responsibility for that.
Mr SPEAKER: The difficulty that the member has, and she has tried to abide by the Standing Orders, is that the Prime Minister does not have responsibility. The member is not going to make the grade in asking the question by trying to rephrase it. I will not rule the question out; I will give the member effectively another shot at another question.
Metiria Turei: Thank you very much, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: Very generous. [Interruption] Order!
Metiria Turei: Has the Prime Minister had any discussions with Cabinet regarding the Catholic Church’s position being misrepresented by Sam Lotu-Iiga’s electorate chairperson while Sam Lotu- Iiga was on that committee; if so, did any member of his Cabinet express any concerns regarding the misrepresentation of the Catholic Church’s position?
Mr SPEAKER: The Rt Hon Prime Minister, as far as he has a responsibility.
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No, I have not had any discussions with Cabinet. In relation to reports, yes, I have seen one report, which came from Trevor Mallard. It said that the member is not on top of her job, and I agree with Trevor Mallard. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order!
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. If that last comment from the Prime Minister could in any way be construed as being in, and related to, the question, then every part of the member’s primary and supplementary questions should have been allowed in, by the licence you gave that Prime Minister.
Mr SPEAKER: The member raises quite a valid point on this occasion. The answer from the Prime Minister was not helpful to the order of the House, but at the end of the day he was actually responding to an interjection that came from the Opposition side of the House.
Metiria Turei: Will the Prime Minister require all members of his Cabinet or his Government to declare any personal or financial conflict of interest that they may have in voting for the Skycity bill and make those declarations public?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Cabinet Ministers already follow rules in relation to conflicts of interest. They work with the Cabinet Office to ensure that they follow the rules, and in my experience of seeing them in action, they follow those rules closely.
Metiria Turei: Has the Prime Minister discussed with his Cabinet any concerns about the fact that the New Zealand International Convention Centre Bill may get through only because of votes from John Banks, who has an undeclared conflict of interest, and Sam Lotu-Iiga, who kept silent over his electorate chair misrepresenting the views of the Catholic Church to the Commerce Committee?
Mr SPEAKER: If the Rt Hon Prime Minister could answer the first part of that question.
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No, I think the member is wrong. In fact, I think the member is out to lunch.
Mr SPEAKER: No, it is not in order for the Prime Minister to answer that last part of the answer in that way. Would he stand, withdraw, and apologise for that.
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I withdraw and apologise.
District Health Boards—Health Benefits Ltd
4. Hon ANNETTE KING (Labour—Rongotai) to the Minister of Health: Is he satisfied with the performance of Health Benefits Ltd; if so, why?
Hon TONY RYALL (Minister of Health): Yes, within the challenge of standardising administrative and procurement processes across 20 district health boards, which have generally been operating independently. The goal of this 5-year strategy is to use the power of standardisation in bulk purchasing to move resources from the back office to the front line. This is very important,
because back-office administration staff numbers grew by over 40 percent, or from 8,000 to close to 12,000, under the previous Labour Government.
Hon Annette King: What concerns does he have about the ability of Health Benefits Ltd to actually achieve the $700 million in cuts to district health boards over the next 2 years, in light of the fact that the Health Committee was told by Health Benefits Ltd that no breakdown of the cuts was available?
Hon TONY RYALL: I am very confident that it is going to be able to meet the achievements set out in its State-owned enterprise statement of intent. I would have to say that the member is quite wrong to characterise these as cuts, because they are actually savings from procurement activities. So, for example, moving to one bank nationally, bringing the district health boards’ overnight bank accounts together, has saved $4 million, which goes straight back into front-line services for patients. That is not a cut; that is a saving.
Hon Annette King: Has he seen a breakdown of the cuts claimed to have been made by Health Benefits Ltd, such as in this report leaked to me a few days ago; if he has seen such information, can he give an assurance that the $2 million that has been cut from wound care is not affecting the recovery of patients?
Hon TONY RYALL: I cannot see that schedule from here, but what I can tell the member is that Health Benefits Ltd is making a significant contribution in making savings. So, for example, moving from having 18 suppliers of gloves to six has saved $6 million over a 3-year period. Similarly, through better negotiations of insurance arrangements, Health Benefits Ltd has contributed to savings of almost $7 million in the insurance costs for district health boards. When you have inherited a situation where bureaucracy—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! That answer is now getting quite long enough.
Hon Annette King: I seek leave to table the leaked report I have of all the cuts that have been made because—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! That is enough of a description. It was described well in the supplementary question. Leave is sought to table that particular document. Is there any objection? There is objection.
Hon Annette King: Why was this information denied to the select committee and what is there to hide, or is there concern already that the $1.1 million that has been cut from children’s oral health is adversely affecting their dental care?
Hon TONY RYALL: I would have to check the veracity of the member’s information, because my—
Hon Annette King: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I apologise to the member—point of order.
Hon Annette King: I sought leave to table the very—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! I want to know what the point of order is.
Hon Annette King: My point of order is that the Minister is challenging my word, based on something—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The Minister had said he would have to seek validation of your words, or words to that effect.
Hon TONY RYALL: I know that over the last 4 months the member has submitted over 400 Official Information Act requests to district health boards, so I am unable to comment on every single one of them. But what I can say—
Hon Annette King: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Sorry, but my question was not about how many Official Information Act requests I have sent to district health boards. I asked why this information was not available to the select committee.
Mr SPEAKER: The difficulty we have now got is that I can hardly remember the question because I have had two points of order. So what we will do to try to tidy it up is we will get the member to ask the question again, and we will get the Minister to attempt to answer it.
Hon Annette King: Why was this information denied to the select committee and what is there to hide, or is there concern that the $1.1 million already cut from children’s oral health is adversely affecting their dental care?
Hon TONY RYALL: I think there has been a remarkable amount of information put out about Health Benefits Ltd. I would have to check the detail of what that member has said. It may be like her response to the South Canterbury District Health Board’s numbers, where, in an Official Information Act request, the figures were amended. The member has not yet explained why she did that. But what I do know is that Health Benefits Ltd is making considerable savings that are being delivered to patient care. For example—
Grant Robertson: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Minister has strayed a long way from the original question, and I think it is probably time to move to the next question, do you not?
Mr SPEAKER: Order! On this occasion, the member is not correct. The Hon Annette King asked three questions. The first was why the information was denied to the select committee. The second question was what there is to hide. That is the one the Minister is spending some time answering. The third question was then something about oral health. Members risk getting a confused answer that will not be to their satisfaction when they ask a supplementary question that actually has three parts to it.
Hon TONY RYALL: What Health Benefits Ltd is doing is it is making savings in administrative and procurement costs that are being used to improve oral health and other services. I can tell that member that the number of kids who are waiting to see a dental therapist is far lower than when I became Minister of Health.
Hon Annette King: Has he been advised that Health Benefits Ltd’s finance supply chain and procurement project has had little planning, is causing considerable concern, and is resulting in increased costs to district health boards; if so, what action has he taken to stop a potential disaster?
Hon TONY RYALL: Of course district health boards are going to invest some money to make quite considerable savings in the future. For example, with the changes that we are making to finance procurement and supply chain management, it is estimated that we are going to save considerable hundreds of millions of dollars over a 10-year period. All that money is going to go back into front-line services for patients—more elective surgery, faster cancer treatment, better access to emergency departments. We simply cannot carry on as Labour did, with a 40 percent—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! That answer is now quite long enough.
Christchurch, Recovery—Central Business District Anchor Projects
5. NICKY WAGNER (National—Christchurch Central) to the Minister for Canterbury
Earthquake Recovery: What recent progress has been made on the anchor projects in the Christchurch Central recovery plan?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE (Minister for Canterbury Earthquake Recovery): Very good progress is being made. Last week the Prime Minister unveiled the design for the $300 million Christchurch Justice and Emergency Services Precinct. Earthworks are scheduled to begin in the next 4 months, making this the first major public building built in Christchurch since the earthquakes. Other anchor projects are gathering momentum, including the bus interchange, with construction due to begin in the early part of next year; the hospital redevelopment, which is under way, or, at least, planning is well down the track; and that leads us to the convention centre, for which significant expressions of interest are currently being considered.
Nicky Wagner: How are the anchor projects providing examples of better public services?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: The rebuild provides an opportunity for innovations and the capturing of efficiencies in the way public service is offered, rather than simply doing things the way they were done before. The justice precinct is a premier example of this, and leads strongly to a better public service. It will house several justice sector agencies in one location, enabling them to
share facilities and services and work together more effectively. This will be the largest multiagency Government project in New Zealand’s history.
Nicky Wagner: Why are the anchor projects important to the recovery of the central city?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: The anchor projects will reinvigorate the central city by attracting more people and businesses. The justice precinct alone will bring 2,000 employees and visitors into the central city every day, in addition to 1,700 Government employees from 20 Government departments located in other central business district buildings by 2016. Bringing people into the central business district will give confidence to other investors, like Anthony Gough, who has already begun work on his $140 million retail complex, and the developers of the Orly Building and 151 Cambridge, both now under way, which represent further examples of how a catalyst project can get others to do things alongside them.
Dr Megan Woods: Will he guarantee that he will have signed off the central city transport plan before Christmas, given that his own officials advised him on 1 July 2013, which was 3 to 4 months after the initial due date, that the approval of the plan was urgently required to enable the commissioning of key works needed to support the early delivery of anchor projects; if not, why not?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: Yes.
Dr Megan Woods: I seek leave to table a document released to me under the Official Information Act, a briefing from the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority to the Minister telling him about the urgency—
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table the document, which is a briefing to the Minister. Is there any objection to it being tabled? [Interruption] Order! It can be tabled. [Interruption] Sorry. There was objection. I apologise. It will not be tabled.
Exclusive Economic Zone—Seismic Surveying
6. ANDREW WILLIAMS (NZ First) to the Minister of Conservation: Has he received any reports on the environmental impact of seismic surveying in the New Zealand Exclusive Economic Zone?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH (Minister of Conservation): My responsibilities as Minister of Conservation relate to the protection of marine mammals. I have received reports on improving the management of the environmental impacts of seismic surveys. The new law I introduced to Parliament as Minister for the Environment in August 2011 enables such effects to be regulated, whereas prior to this when many seismic surveys were done there were no rules. This has enabled the 2012 code of conduct for minimising acoustic disturbance to marine mammals from seismic survey operations to be introduced. I have received reports on updating and improving it. It is just another example of the improvements this Government is making to environmental law.
Andrew Williams: What environmental safeguards have been put in place in relation to seismic surveying in the exclusive economic zone, and what monitoring structure will be in place to provide comprehensive data and reporting on the environmental impacts of seismic surveying?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: I would be happy to provide the member the 2012 code of conduct specifically about seismic surveying that also includes monitoring requirements. I would point out that this code of conduct for seismic surveying has been introduced only as a consequence of the law changes made by this Government and opposed by members opposite, and that many seismic surveys were done by the previous Government with the support of New Zealand First with no standards at all.
Andrew Williams: What information does he have on any adverse effects on marine wildlife as a result of seismic surveying?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: The key issue for marine mammals in respect of seismic surveying is the effects of the acoustic disturbance. That is where the Government has done a huge amount of work. That is why that code of conduct was introduced last year. That is why it is being updated this
year, and that is why this Government has such a proud record of improved environmental regulation.
Andrew Williams: Given the Minister’s answer and given New Zealand’s strong international stance on protecting whales, dolphins, and other marine animals, will a precautionary approach be taken to protect marine life if adverse effects of seismic surveying are evident and proven?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: The 2012 Code of Conduct for Minimising Acoustic Disturbance to Marine Mammals from Seismic Survey Operations, including whales, is world’s best practice around managing these risks. It has become regulated only as a consequence of this Government’s laws. I do have confidence that it enables us to be able to utilise our resources in the ocean environment while making sure we look after those precious whales and dolphins.
7. Hon MARYAN STREET (Labour) to the Minister of State Services: Has he asked the State Services Commissioner for reports on recent failures of state sector agencies to carry out their functions according to the law; if not, why not?
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN (Minister of State Services): No, I have not requested such a report from the commissioner. The reason for that is that the Government’s regular surveys of public trust and satisfaction with public services gives me confidence that in general State sector agencies are performing well. The most recent Kiwis Count survey shows that public satisfaction with public services used in the last 6 months is currently 73 percent, up from 68 percent under Labour, and trust in public services has increased from 67 percent under Labour to 77 percent today.
Hon Maryan Street: Why did one of the poorest schools in Christchurch have to engage one of the top public law specialists in New Zealand to prove that the Minister of Education got it wrong when she merged Phillipstown School with Woolston School?
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: As the Minister of Education has previously said in this House, “As this judgment is still within the appeal period and one or other of the parties may appeal, it would not be in the public interest for me to comment.”
Grant Robertson: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I understand the need sometimes for Ministers who perhaps have something to say that will cause an issue in the court to use that, but this was a question to the Minister of State Services around the competency of State sector agencies. I think he could have made a better attempt to answer the question than that.
Mr SPEAKER: The member may well think that. I think there would be many occasions when he thinks a better attempt could be made. It is the responsibility of the Minister to answer the question. He has decided, presumably on advice, that on this particular occasion he does not want to comment further, and has said that it would not be in the public interest to do so. That is the responsibility of the Minister. Provided that the question is addressed, and addressed that way, the answer is satisfactory.
Hon Maryan Street: How does he explain the Department of Conservation’s failure to carry out its legal requirements to advocate for the environment by offering its Minister a two-paragraph submission on the Ruataniwha Dam proposal, except by interference from the Minister, Dr Nick Smith?
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: I completely disagree with the assertion underlying that question. It is interesting. When Maryan Street was in front of the New Zealand Public Service Association yesterday she was telling public servants that they follow the law and perform with integrity, but—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! The question has been adequately addressed in the first part of that answer.
Hon Maryan Street: Given the litany of State sector failures and the corrections sought by citizens through court means, whether it is through health, education, conservation, or police, what
is he going to do to remedy such gross failures of ministerial competence and Government agency performance?
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: Well, the only case I can recall of gross ministerial failure was under the last Labour Government, when the Minister or her colleague got Parliamentary Service to illegally fund an $800,000 pledge card. That is the only case I am aware of.
Primary Growth Partnership—Progress
8. IAN McKELVIE (National—Rangitīkei) to the Minister for Primary Industries: What progress can he report on boosting innovation in the primary sector through the Primary Growth Partnership?
Hon NATHAN GUY (Minister for Primary Industries): The Primary Growth Partnership has now committed $684 million of industry and Government funds to 16 projects. Although these projects are long-term investments, they are already delivering some very exciting outcomes. The Precision Seafood Harvesting project is developing a new, world-leading net technology. This hightech equipment has the aim of allowing fish to be sorted by size and species before even leaving the water. This has the potential to revolutionise commercial fishing. Also, the New Zealand Sheep Industry Transformation Project has already realised real gains. Its Silere meat premium brand was introduced in 2012, and $45 million of branded products are in place. Also, Silere was a winner amongst supporters of the America’s Cup just recently, where more than 1.4 tonnes of merino lamb was dished up during the 12 weeks.
Ian McKelvie: What other results are already being realised in the Primary Growth Partnership programmes?
Hon NATHAN GUY: A very good question. Transforming the Dairy Value Chain, a Primary Growth Partnership programme, has already delivered some amazing results. Last week Fonterra announced a new $72 million investment into its Clandeboye mozzarella plant near Timaru. This is driven by a new patented technology for developing mozzarella cheese, which was supported by Primary Growth Partnership funding. This programme has also developed an online tool that gives predictions of pasture growth out 15 days, and right out to 2 months, which I am sure will be an advantage to farmers. It has also identified 11 new genetic markers that are under development. Analysis shows that discovery of these new genetic markers for important dairy animal traits could result in an estimated 10 percent per year gain, worth $30 million.
Ian McKelvie: Why is the Government investing in innovation in the primary sector?
Hon NATHAN GUY: In case members of the House have forgotten, the primary sector is the engine room of the New Zealand economy, making up 72 percent of our merchandise exports. This Government is committed to improving the economic and environmental performance of this sector. One way that we can do this is by boosting innovation in the sector, which will ultimately mean a stronger primary sector and, of course, a stronger New Zealand economy.
Hon Damien O’Connor: Given the fact that his ministry has failed to produce mandatory quarterly reports on the Primary Growth Partnership, has not released the Ernst and Young or its own internal audits, has yet to produce key performance indicators for the programmes, has systematically refused Official Information Act requests for this information, and has scrambled to provide information on its website in the face of scrutiny, is he really surprised that the Auditor- General is now investigating the whole programme?
Hon NATHAN GUY: No. There is a wide range of auditing and monitoring going on with these Primary Growth Partnership projects. If the member cared to look at the Ministry for Primary Industries website he would see that the quarterly reports are becoming available on there. The audit reports are available; three of those have been done already, one of those externally by Ernst and Young, and another external one. The member should stand up and celebrate the Primary Growth Partnership instead of booting it and not backing the primary sector. The member does not back
Primary Growth Partnership, he does not back irrigation, he does not back the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and he does not back rural broadband. He does not care about primary industries.
9. Hon DAMIEN O’CONNOR (Labour—West Coast - Tasman) to the Minister for
Primary Industries: What reports, if any, has he received on the state of the New Zealand kiwifruit industry?
Hon NATHAN GUY (Minister for Primary Industries): I have seen a range of reports on the kiwifruit industry, which indicate that, despite a hard time over the last 4 years, things are improving. I have seen reports that show that results for the 2012-13 season saw the highest-ever orchard gate returns of $51,153 per hectare average delivered to kiwifruit growers. I have seen reports that state that Zespri’s latest forecast was for the highest-ever per tray pay-out for gold kiwifruit and the highest per tray pay-out for green kiwifruit since 2003. I have seen reports that show that the G3 variety is being successfully introduced and is proving less susceptible to Psa. I have also seen reports that show that export volumes should increase to pre-Psa levels within the next 3 years as production from G3 comes on stream. The member should stand up—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Order! I think that answer is quite sufficient.
Hon Damien O’Connor: How did the Minister find out that the Serious Fraud Office was investigating Zespri, and has the Minister received any briefings prior to or since his media statement yesterday?
Hon NATHAN GUY: I found out from a journalist when the journalist rang my office. I have received no briefing on the Serious Fraud Office, and that is appropriate, because it is an independent organisation. It is independent of Ministers, and that is the way it should be.
Hon Damien O’Connor: Why does he consider it is not necessary to find out more details about why the Serious Fraud Office is investigating one of New Zealand’s largest exporting companies; and does he not think that it puts our reputation as a trading nation and the livelihoods of all kiwifruit growers at risk?
Hon NATHAN GUY: The Serious Fraud Office, as I have already said, is an independent body. It is an enforcement agency. It is up to the agency to talk to Zespri about what it is keen to inquire into. My understanding is that Zespri has not been informed of that process at the moment and neither have we nor the wider New Zealand public. At the appropriate time I am sure that information will become available.
Hon Damien O’Connor: Does the Minister consider his lack of action to assist kiwifruit growers against the Psa disease and now his refusal to ask any questions regarding the Serious Fraud Office investigation to be a dereliction of his duties as the Minister for Primary Industries; and why is he still in the job?
Hon NATHAN GUY: What a stupid question that is. The Government has supported the kiwifruit industry—$25 million invested in partnership with the industry. We have also supported a lot of research into Kiwifruit Vine Health, as well. The member should not be so critical of what the Government has done, because we are supporting the kiwifruit industry get back on its feet. He obviously wants to join the chorus with Don Nicolson and see that Zespri is smashed apart. He should go up to the head office in Tauranga and say that.
Brendan Horan: There was some positive news. Will the Minister provide an ironclad guarantee that his Government will provide continued funding for research and development to growers and, indeed, the kiwifruit industry to support the industry in its fight against Psa and help ensure that it meets growth targets?
Hon NATHAN GUY: I have already alluded to the fact that the Government has supported the kiwifruit industry—$25 million. Some of that money has gone into Kiwifruit Vine Health, which is, indeed, doing the research, and the research is very good.
Brendan Horan: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I asked the Minister for an ironclad guarantee that his Government would continue to support the kiwifruit industry.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! When members ask a supplementary question like that, asking for a guarantee, they are unlikely ever to get a satisfactory answer. When they ask for an ironclad guarantee, it is even more unlikely.
Hon Damien O’Connor: I seek leave to table a letter I received today refusing to provide information that I had asked, which is now beyond the normal terms of parliamentary process. The information is regarding the Primary Growth Partnership and the whole programme.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that particular letter. Is there any objection? There is objection.
Brendan Horan: Will the Minister commit to continued funding for research and development to growers and, indeed, the kiwifruit industry in their fight against Psa and help ensure that they meet growth targets?
Hon NATHAN GUY: I have already answered that question.
Brendan Horan: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. That was a new question and he has not answered it.
Mr SPEAKER: The Minister considers that he has already answered it. That is the Minister’s answer. The member may not be happy with it. The Minister has addressed the question. [Interruption] Order!
Crime Victims—Support Services
10. PAUL FOSTER-BELL (National) to the Minister of Police: What recent announcements has she made to support the victims of serious financial crime?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY (Minister of Police): Yesterday I announced that the Serious Fraud Office has signed a memorandum of understanding with Victim Support. The emotional and financial consequences for victims of serious financial crime can be extremely traumatic and, like other victims of serious crime, they deserve support. That is why when I became the Minister I asked the Serious Fraud Office to establish a close working relationship with Victim Support. The resulting memorandum of understanding will ensure that victims have access to help and advice, as well as giving them the confidence that those who commit financial fraud are held to account for their crimes.
Paul Foster-Bell: How will the memorandum of understanding result in better services for victims of serious financial crime?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY: Serious financial crime can have a devastating impact on victims, with many of them losing a lifetime of savings. The memorandum of understanding will see the two agencies working together to promote and deliver victim support services and to keep victims informed about their cases. The Serious Fraud Office and Victim Support will also hold joint training sessions to help share information and best practice. The Serious Fraud Office has already published two guides to help victims understand the processes involved in investigations and prosecutions and how this might affect them.
Hawke’s Bay Water Management—Minister’s Involvement and Meeting with Officials
11. Hon RUTH DYSON (Labour—Port Hills) to the Minister of Conservation: Why did he tell the House on 24 September “the first I knew of the issue of the submission was just 5 days before” when as he stated on 17 October “The first full briefing on Tukituki was on 5 March and it confirmed the department’s role in the process and mentioned nitrogen and phosphorous management”?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH (Minister of Conservation): The 5 March report on Tukituki from the Department of Conservation said that the proposed project would result in water-quality improvements throughout the catchment. It is ridiculous of the member to suggest that as a
consequence I should have known of the existence of a draft submission that said the exact opposite. I stand by my answers that I did not know of the existence of the 34-page draft submission until it was publicly leaked in September.
Hon Ruth Dyson: When he told the House last week about his paper on 5 March that “The paper was very positive on the project,” and “I was surprised at the content of the leaked draft submission, which had a very different view on the effects of the project.”, was he saying that the reason he expressed so much concern over the Department of Conservation’s submission was because he thought it was going to be positive about the Ruataniwha Water Storage scheme?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: I simply leave it to the comments by the Director-General of Conservation. She said that she made the decision on the submission, that I never saw the leaked draft submission, that I had no role in the decision making, and that she did not know what my view was. It could be no more comprehensive than that. The allegations from members opposite do not have a leg to stand on.
Hon Ruth Dyson: Does he think he is keeping the Department of Conservation sufficiently neutral, given that his weekly report from 11 March notes that it was preparing material for a meeting with the Bluegreens, a National Party organisation?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: It is perfectly normal of Ministers to say “I’m going to an event and I’m likely to give a speech on some subjects and I’d like to be well informed.” I remember well Ministers under the previous Labour Government, in terms of the Prime Minister, receiving substantive briefings prior to giving speeches at Labour Party conferences.
Hon Ruth Dyson: What exactly did he say to the Prime Minister on 30 September when he briefed him on the public controversy over the Department of Conservation’s leaked draft submission on the Tukituki plan change?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: At lunch, when the Prime Minister returned from an overseas trip, I said to him that the Labour Party had been making up some nonsense over Tukituki, that the Director-General of Conservation had made it absolutely plain that the department made the decision, and that we were getting on with the important business of Government.
Greenhouse Gas Emissions—2050 Target
12. Dr KENNEDY GRAHAM (Green) to the Minister for Climate Change Issues: Will he explain, given the latest projection of New Zealand’s net greenhouse gas emissions is around 90 million tonnes in 2040, how the Government can conceivably reach its own emissions reduction target of 30 million tonnes by 2050?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES (Associate Minister for Climate Change Issues) on behalf of the
Minister for Climate Change Issues: We will meet our targets through a combination of the New Zealand emissions trading scheme and other domestic initiatives. We will also likely use reductions from overseas where it makes good economic sense to do so. The emissions trading scheme is a long-term tool, and it is not hard to imagine that with a good outcome on a new global agreement and leadership from the major economies, we will need to adjust our own domestic policy response, as well. We anticipate that the Ministry for the Environment’s projections will continue to change over the next 30 or 40 years.
Dr Kennedy Graham: But does he take responsibility for the fact that the latest projections show that instead of meeting a 50 percent reduction in emissions, we are heading for a 50 percent increase?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: No, because of course the projections are useful, but they are also limited, given that they are based at the moment on a very low carbon price. We know that as we make progress in international negotiations, that carbon price will surely rise.
Dr Kennedy Graham: Can he then explain to this House why New Zealand’s net emissions have increased since 2009, the period in which his Government has been weakening the emissions trading scheme, with the result of a low carbon price?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: As I have just said, and it was implicit in my last answer, it is a product at the moment of a low carbon price right around the world. But what is of course very true is that as we make progress internationally, it is highly likely that the price will rise, and with that the projections and the progress that we will make around this world.
Rt Hon John Key: What is the likely impact of a much higher carbon price and a much more fulsome emissions trading scheme on residential consumers when they pay their electricity bill, if one was to be promoted?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: Well, of course prices will rise exponentially, and it will be a terrible thing for consumers all around New Zealand. Let us hope that Labour and the Greens never—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The last part of that answer is out of order.
Dr Kennedy Graham: Can he find any other reason for this monumental policy failure on the part of this Government and its breach of our framework convention obligations, other than the gutting of the emissions trading scheme over which he has presided?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: Of course, the member is simply wrong. We have not gutted the emissions trading scheme. The emissions trading scheme is effectively one of the very best in the world. What is true is that the carbon price all around the world is low. That is not going to stay the position. I am actually very optimistic about global negotiations over the coming years and that we can make a real difference on this serious issue.
Dr Kennedy Graham: When he optimistically assures the New Zealand public that his 2012 amendments on climate change will ensure that New Zealand continues to do its fair share, does he believe the world will agree once it sees this graph?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: I do not know why he is showing a graph of what power prices will do under the Labour-Greens when they are next in power, but, no, I disagree with the member.
QUESTIONS TO MEMBERS
Care of Children Law Reform Bill—Purpose
1. Dr RAJEN PRASAD (Labour) to the Member in charge of the Care of Children Law
Reform Bill: Is it still her intention to proceed with the first reading of the Care of Children Law Reform Bill?
JACINDA ARDERN (Member in charge of the Care of Children Law Reform Bill): Absolutely it is my intention to proceed. Although the bill was delayed to allow for clarity around the impact of the marriage equality legislation on the bill, there remain a number of unresolved issues as a result of the fact that, quite simply, our adoption laws are out of date and no longer fit for purpose.
Dr Rajen Prasad: Has she received any reports on the likelihood of the bill reaching a select committee?
JACINDA ARDERN: I have. Although I am optimistic I understand that, unfortunately, some parties would rather wait for the gamble of a second member’s bill on this issue being drawn before progressing with adoption law reform. Others quite simply do not see it as a priority. I would ask that these parties reconsider.
Care of Children Law Reform Bill—Purpose
2. Dr RAJEN PRASAD (Labour) to the Member in charge of the Care of Children Law
Reform Bill: Why is the Care of Children Law Reform Bill required?
JACINDA ARDERN (Member in charge of the Care of Children Law Reform Bill): It is true that adoption numbers in New Zealand are falling, but this is in part due to the very antiquated nature of our laws. Not only are there limitations on who can adopt; there are also limitations on who is able to maintain a legal relationship with the child once the order is complete, meaning that whāngai adoption, for instance, is not supported by our current legal framework. The law needs to
be changed to introduce the paramountcy principle, so that the No. 1 consideration is the well-being of the child.
Dr Rajen Prasad: Why does the Care of Children Law Reform Bill reference the Law Commission’s report entitled Adoption and its Alternatives: A Different Approach and a New Framework?
JACINDA ARDERN: My member’s bill does take an unusual approach in that it leans heavily on the work of the Law Commission in its report on adoption. That is for one simple reason. This area is very complex. The Law Commission produced over 300 pages of policy and recommendations. We need to get this right, and it makes sense to utilise the work it has done.
Privacy (Giving Privacy Commissioner Necessary Tools) Amendment Bill—Purpose
3. ANDREW LITTLE (Labour) to the Member in charge of the Privacy (Giving Privacy
Commissioner Necessary Tools) Amendment Bill: Is it still her intention to proceed with the first reading of the Privacy (Giving Privacy Commissioner Necessary Tools) Amendment Bill?
SUE MORONEY (Member in charge of the Privacy (Giving Privacy Commissioner
Necessary Tools) Amendment Bill): Yes. I hope that parties that take privacy breaches seriously will in fact get the chance to vote for my bill this very evening.
Andrew Little: Has she seen any reports of similar legislation being proposed?
SUE MORONEY: Yes, I have. In May 2012 the Minister of Justice, Judith Collins, promised a privacy forum that she would be introducing a bill to replace the Privacy Act in the first half of 2013. As we head into November, there is no sign of that bill yet, but help is at hand. She can make—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The answer is now sufficient.
Privacy (Giving Privacy Commissioner Necessary Tools) Amendment Bill—Purpose
4. ANDREW LITTLE (Labour) to the Member in charge of the Privacy (Giving Privacy
Commissioner Necessary Tools) Amendment Bill: Why is the Privacy (Giving Privacy Commissioner Necessary Tools) Amendment Bill required?
SUE MORONEY (Member in charge of the Privacy (Giving Privacy Commissioner
Necessary Tools) Amendment Bill): This bill gives two important tools to the Privacy Commissioner: firstly, the ability to launch her own investigation, without a specific complaint, in order to investigate a privacy breach; and, secondly, the right to require agencies to take specific remedies when there are privacy problems. Both of these issues, which are in this bill, were recommended by the Law Commission.
Andrew Little: Why is it important to New Zealanders for this bill to be progressed now?
SUE MORONEY: It is important that this bill is progressed now because of this Government’s record of playing fast and loose with New Zealanders’ privacy—breaches everywhere from ACC to the Earthquake Commission—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Order! That answer is quite sufficient.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Supplementary question.
Mr SPEAKER: Supplementary question—no. Order! It is not in order to have a supplementary question.