Questions and Answers - October 24
QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS
State-owned Energy Companies, Sales—Meridian Energy
1. Dr RUSSEL NORMAN (Co-Leader—Green) to the Minister of Finance: Does he consider that the Government’s Meridian Energy sale was a failure, given that it attracted only 62,000 retail buyers, which is only a quarter of the 250,000 forecast?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Associate Minister of Finance) on behalf of the Minister of Finance: No, I do not agree with that. The Meridian Energy float is, in fact, by value the largest retail investment in an internal public offering in New Zealand’s history. The 62,000 shareholders mean that Meridian Energy will have the third-largest share register of all the companies on the NZX when it lists next week. The share float will provide $1.9 billion in cash for the Government that we can invest in other public assets without having to borrow for. It will be 86.5 percent New Zealand - owned when it lists, comfortably meeting the Government’s target of 85 percent local ownership. And, finally, the 250,000 figure that the member quotes was not a forecast. Treasury thought it might have to cater for up to that figure for planning purposes.
Dr Russel Norman: Will he now accept that his asset sales programme has failed to achieve his goal of widespread public ownership when only 1 percent of New Zealanders bought into Meridian Energy and the other 99 percent of New Zealanders did not, because they are finding it hard enough to pay the power bill let alone buy a power company?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: No, and I do find it rather unsavoury when a politician who has been doing his best to sabotage a float comes down here and complains about the number of shareholders who participated in a float. He should look at himself—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! That answer now is long enough.
Dr Russel Norman: Will he now accept that his asset sales programme has failed to achieve his goal of keeping costs under $120 million for all of the privatisations, when in fact the cost to the taxpayer for just the first two privatisations is now well over $250 million?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I doubt the veracity of the member’s comment, but can I tell him this: this Government and New Zealand taxpayers have benefited from these floats so far, to $3.6 billion, and if the member thinks it is that bad, why does he not just go out there and promise to buy them back and borrow the money offshore, or just print the money?
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order!
Dr Russel Norman: Will he now accept that his asset sales programme has failed to achieve his goal of raising $5 billion to $7 billion, given that it is now very clear that it will not even get near the bottom of the $5 billion to $7 billion band?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: No, and here we have a member once again, for his own political gain, trying to cost New Zealand taxpayers money by talking down the value of these assets, as he has
done the whole the way through. Again, there is something unsavoury when a Government is elected on a policy programme and an individual sets out to economically sabotage it.
Dr Russel Norman: Will he now accept that his asset sales programme has failed to convince New Zealanders that privatisation is a good idea, given that the vast majority—99 percent—did not buy shares in Meridian Energy, New Zealanders have consistently opposed the sales in every published opinion poll, and New Zealanders signed the petition in record numbers for a referendum on asset sales?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: No, and that is because the New Zealand public is cleverer than Mr Norman, because they understand that the Government makes choices—it has to make choices on their behalf. They do not want to borrow money, they do not want mad printing money; they want to know that the Government is running the economy well. The sad thing that sticks in that member’s craw is that this Government was elected on this policy at the last election.
Dr Russel Norman: Who chose to go ahead with the decision to sell the shares in Meridian Energy, in spite of all the problems of going ahead—was it the Minister of Finance or was it the Green Party? Who was responsible for the decision to go ahead with the sale?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: The Government makes its decisions. It is quite patently obvious that the Green Party is not responsible, full stop.
Dr Russel Norman: Given that it was the Government’s decision to go ahead with the sale in very unfavourable circumstances with very poor outcomes, will the Minister of Finance take responsibility for the abysmal outcome, where only 62,000 people bought into the company, or about 1 percent of New Zealanders?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Dear oh dear. No. The reality is simply this: it is the most successful retail initial public offering by value in New Zealand’s history. We have 62,000 retail shareholders, and if the member wants to look for anybody who wants to know why there were not more shareholders, he needs to look in the mirror at his crazy, 1970s-style, socialist, communist central power policy.
Dr Russel Norman: Does he really think it is credible to blame everyone else for the failure of his asset sales programme, rather than taking responsibility for it himself—I thought individual responsibility was one of the premises of the National Party—and does he really want to blame it on the Green and Labour parties for presenting a popular and credible plan that would reduce power prices, given that only 1,700 potential investors pulled out of Mighty River Power after NZ Power was announced anyway?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: It is quite patently obvious that the Greens believe in fairy tales. Their politics around economics are absolutely hopeless. This float has been successful. The Government has raised $3.6 billion. If the member is not just politicking like his friend on the convention centre, he should pop out and say that he would buy it back.
2. Hon CLAYTON COSGROVE (Labour) to the Minister of Finance: Does he stand by all his statements?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Associate Minister of Finance) on behalf of the Minister of Finance: Yes. In particular, I stand by my statement of last evening that the Labour Opposition has no credibility in criticising the share offer programme, because it has had the opportunity for months to say it will go and borrow $2 billion from foreign bankers to buy these assets back, and as far as I know, it has not promised it, the Greens have not promised it, and New Zealand First has not promised it. It is all crocodile tears, hand wringing, and politicking from the Opposition.
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: Which of these statements made by him in the last 24 hours regarding the Meridian Energy float are correct: that it was “a success”, that it “met our objectives” and was “a pretty good outcome”, or that the Meridian Energy float was “sabotage”?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: If the member had listened to the answer to the primary question for question No. 1, he would have heard we listed all the ways in which the float has been a success—
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I listed a series of quotes and asked the Minister which ones were correct. That was the simplicity of the question.
Mr SPEAKER: I appreciate the simplicity of the question. I think the member is trying to address the question. If we give him some time, we might well get the answer.
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: As I said, it has been a success for all the reasons outlined, in answer to parts of his question. But in terms of the sabotage issue, the reality is that if Labour and the Greens were being responsible, more people would have felt confident about buying shares in Meridian Energy and also Mighty River Power. To that degree, Labour and the Greens have been sabotaging the public share offers.
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: Simple question—
Hon Gerry Brownlee: It would have to be.
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: Especially for you, Gerry. Given that answer, how can he claim that the float of Meridian Energy was “a success” but at the same time “it was sabotaged”?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Well, I just said. I will try it again a little slower for the member. It was a success because of the amount of money raised, the 62,000 shareholders, the 86.5 percent New Zealand ownership, and the fact that it is, by value, the largest retail investment in an initial public offering in New Zealand’s history. Where it could have been more successful, if the Greens and Labour had not been deliberately scaremongering, is to have even more shareholders who wanted to invest for the first time.
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: Given that he forecast repeatedly that $5 billion to $7 billion would be raised from asset sales and given that Solid Energy is no longer fit for sale, the Government got $110 million less from Mighty River Power than planned, and the Government is more than $1 billion short on what was forecast for the Meridian Energy sale, how exactly will his Government make up that shortfall?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: The Minister of Finance has been saying for time that it will be at the lower end of the $5 billion to $7 billion range, because Solid Energy is not available for sale. It just goes to show how much these valuations can move over time. The good news for investors and the good news for New Zealanders is that as these assets are listed on the New Zealand Exchange, they will be valued on a daily basis.
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My question again was exactly—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I heard the question and the problem is that if the member wants a specific answer, that is the supplementary question he should ask. Has the member got a further supplementary question?
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: Given that the polls consistently show that an overwhelming majority of the public are opposed to asset sales and only 14 percent of New Zealanders were even interested in purchasing Meridian Energy shares, why did he ignore the clear market signals and proceed with the Meridian Energy float, with the upshot being that only 1 percent of the population at best, given that a large number are institutions and trusts—not mum and dad Kiwis—purchased shares?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I think I have answered that question in primary question No. 1, from Mr Norman, but I am happy to repeat it for the member because he obviously did not hear it. It is pretty straightforward. In terms of the very first part of his question, in terms of the popularity or otherwise of the share offer programme, the reality is the New Zealand public has looked at the Government’s economic programme as a whole. They think it makes sense, and that is why they elected this Government again in 2011 with all of that programme laid out. This programme has raised $3.6 billion so far. If the member had any courage, he would say that he would buy the shares back.
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: Given that 99 percent of Kiwis did not buy Meridian Energy shares, is his Government now truly the Government for the 1 percent?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: With the greatest respect to the member, he must be able to do better than that.
State-owned Assets, Sales—Progress of Share Offer Programme
3. PAUL GOLDSMITH (National) to the Minister of Finance: What recent progress has the Government made in its share offer programme—and particularly in generating money for investing in new public assets without having to borrow from overseas lenders?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Associate Minister of Finance): on behalf of the Minister of
Finance: I thank the member for that question. The Government is making very good progress with its share offer programme, which we, of course, put to voters at the last election. Last night we confirmed the sale of 49 percent of Meridian Energy, which will raise around $1.9 billion in two instalments. Based on the $1.50 a share issue price, this is the largest retail investment in an initial public offering in New Zealand’s history. With 86.5 percent of the shares owned by New Zealanders when Meridian lists on the New Zealand Exchange next Tuesday, this comfortably meets the Government’s goal of achieving 85 percent to 90 percent New Zealand ownership.
Paul Goldsmith: How many New Zealanders have invested in Meridian Energy and how does this compare with the share registers of other New Zealand listed companies?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Some 62,000 investors will receive shares in Meridian Energy. This means Meridian will have the third largest share register on the NZX, behind Mighty River Power and Contact Energy. Overall, 95 percent of retail investor applications for Meridian shares will receive at least 90 percent of the shares they have applied for. Meridian attracted a different mix of investors than we saw with Mighty River Power earlier this year. Demand was strong and broadbased, but overall we saw retail investors bidding for slightly larger parcels of shares. Having said that, around half of all Meridian investors applied for 5,000 shares or fewer, so there was strong demand from smaller investors.
Paul Goldsmith: On behalf of taxpayers how will the Government use the $1.9 billion in proceeds from the Meridian Energy share offer?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: The approximately $1.9 billion raised from Meridian Energy’s two instalment payments will be allocated to the Future Investment Fund. On behalf of all New Zealanders, that money will be invested in the Government’s public infrastructure programme, which, in turn, supports thousands of jobs across New Zealand. Combined with the $1.7 billion in proceeds from the Mighty River Power offer earlier this year, there will now be almost $3.6 billion over the two floats that the Government does not have to borrow to reinvest in new priority public assets. These include modern schools, new hospitals, irrigation projects, supporting KiwiRail, and helping to rebuild Christchurch. We can do all of those things without having to borrow this money from overseas lenders. And the question is, what would the Opposition do?
Hon Annette King: You borrow from overseas investors every week. You borrow all the time.
Grant Robertson: You’ve borrowed more money than anybody else.
Paul Goldsmith: What alternative approaches to the share offer programme are available?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: There are three main alternatives. One would, of course, be to not invest in new schools, hospitals, or ultra-fast broadband. I doubt that anybody is suggesting that. Another option would be to borrow the billions of dollars from overseas lenders to invest in these new public assets. Some in this House appear to favour that borrowing option, including the Hon Annette King—
Mr SPEAKER: Order!
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: —and Grant Robertson. A third option is promising to buy back the minority shareholdings in these energy companies and borrowing billions of dollars from overseas banks to pay for them. But nobody in this House is proposing to do that, so I can assume only that the opponents of this share programme do not have the courage of their convictions, but I have to say—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! That answer will not help the order of this House.
Grant Robertson: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. As recently as the last day or so, someone else who has used that phrase has been challenged to withdraw and apologise for it. Mr Joyce made a direct link between members in this House and a lack of courage. That is out of order and he should have to withdraw and apologise.
Mr SPEAKER: If the member has taken offence, that is a—
Grant Robertson: Yes.
Mr SPEAKER: The member has taken offence, and on that basis I ask the Minister to stand, withdraw, and apologise to Mr Robertson.
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I withdraw and apologise to Mr Robertson.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I also took offence.
Mr SPEAKER: Well, it is—[Interruption] Order! That is not strictly a point of order. The offence has been apologised for. Any member who was so—[Interruption] Order! Any member who was so offended by the remark can now accept the apology that has been given.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The apology was a qualified one to only Mr Robertson and not to the House. It pays to listen.
Mr SPEAKER: The member can stand and withdraw the last part of that remark.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I withdraw—to you, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: Thank you. Now, on the basis that Mr Mallard—[Interruption] Order! On the basis that—[Interruption] Order! On the basis that potentially there were other members who were offended by the Minister’s remark, I am now going to ask him to stand, withdraw, and apologise without addressing the offence to anybody.
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Sorry, is that to Mr Mallard, or to—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Would the Minister just stand, withdraw, and apologise for the remark he made in an earlier answer.
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I withdraw and apologise.
Housing, Affordable—Mortgages and Reserve Bank Intervention
4. PHIL TWYFORD (Labour—Te Atatū) to the Minister of Finance: What reports, if any, has the Reserve Bank had from trading banks on the effect of loan-to-value ratio lending limits on housing construction?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Associate Minister of Finance) on behalf of the Minister of Finance: The Reserve Bank advises that it has not received reports from trading banks on the effect of loanto- value ratio restrictions on housing construction. I would not expect to see such reports, given the Reserve Bank’s independence on macro-prudential policy.
Phil Twyford: What impact does he expect loan-to-value ratios to have on the Government’s housing policy, which claims to be focused on trying to increase supply, if, as Warwick Quinn of the Registered Master Builders Federation predicts, they result in 3,000 fewer new homes being built each year?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: That is a difficult statement to reconcile with a statement made by the Registered Master Builders Federation to the Minister’s colleague the Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment at around the same time, when it said it was worried there would not be enough apprentices and enough people with skills to actually build all the houses. So I think we need to rationalise where we are at here: either there are not enough people around to build all the houses or there are not enough houses going to be built. I am sure we will resolve that situation.
Phil Twyford: Can he explain why the Prime Minister said “I can’t for the life of me see how it will affect home building.” at the same time as the Reserve Bank is currently researching the impact on new builds of loan-to-value ratios, or should we give this statement the same credibility as the Prime Minister’s earlier promise to protect first-home buyers from the effects of loan-to-value ratios?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: If housing prices are rising, that generally leads to increased supply over time. The issue is whether that supply is happening fast enough. Given that prices have been rising, it is entirely reasonable to say that more construction will occur. If the member is saying that will not happen, then he really does need to go back to Economics 101 and have a chat to the economics lecturers at the time.
Phil Twyford: Is he concerned that Treasury rubbished the Government’s changes to KiwiSaver and the Welcome Home Loan scheme, saying they were questionable spending and would undermine housing affordability, and will he now concede the changes were a desperate attempt to distract attention from the damage that his housing policy is doing to first-home buyers?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: No, and it is interesting to note that the member himself said the policies were not big enough. So on the one hand he is citing Treasury criticism, and on the other hand he is saying we should do more, which, actually, is not inconsistent with his previous statements, which have been both in favour and against loan-to-value ratios. The answer to this problem is to have a larger supply of housing. That is why the Minister has done the special housing areas and announced 6,000 more houses to be built in Auckland, which, of course, the Opposition opposes.
Phil Twyford: Will he admit that the Government’s housing policy is in tatters, with Treasury criticising recent policy announcements as ineffective and questionable and recommending that the Government consider policies like a capital gains tax and excluding offshore speculators, policies that he refuses to consider?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: The member might want to read Treasury’s recommendations on capital gains taxes, because Treasury is keen to have it on all houses. The trouble with having it on all houses, of course, is that that affects everybody’s family home. But that is what Treasury is seeking. If the member wants to line up with that policy, I would welcome his announcement in that regard, and I think everybody on this side of the House would.
Phil Twyford: Everybody else is wrong!
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: But in terms of capital gains taxes, Mr Twyford, the situation in Australia is that they already have one like the Labour Party policy, and their prices are going up even faster.
Sexual Violence—Victim Support Initiatives
5. MELISSA LEE (National) to the Minister for Social Development: What recent initiatives has the Government supported to provide better support to those affected by sexual violence?
Hon PAULA BENNETT (Minister for Social Development): On Tuesday I was pleased to speak in Auckland at the launch of a new web portal called The Harbour, a resource for those who have been affected by sexual abuse. The Harbour will allow people to access vital information from a single, trusted source so they do not have to go to multiple different sites to access the information they need. There is a myriad of information on the internet and, unfortunately, much of it is not correct. The Harbour includes information on how to access help if you are a victim of sexual abuse, as well as information about how to assist if you fear someone may be being abused.
Melissa Lee: How is The Harbour a good example of a whole-of-sector approach to addressing sexual abuse?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: The Harbour is a result of excellent collaboration between the Government and NGOs. Development of The Harbour has been led by the Safe Network, and its chief executive, Jacqui Dillon, deserves a real special mention for this being her initiative and for getting everyone on board. The Safe Network is an Auckland-based organisation that provides treatment for harmful sexual behaviour alongside the Auckland Sexual Abuse Help Foundation and Rape Prevention Education. There was a range of other Government agencies contributing. The Ministry of Social Development through Family and Community Services and Child, Youth and Family, the New Zealand Police, the Department of Internal Affairs, the Department of Corrections,
ACC, the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Justice, and the Ministry of Women’s Affairs all contributed in some way.
Melissa Lee: How does The Harbour work to help prevent sexual violence?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: Well, what is a little different is that not only does The Harbour provide information for victims and their friends and family but also it acts as a resource for those who fear that they themselves may be at risk of offending. People concerned about their own behaviour can go to the “I think I’m causing harm” page on the site to seek information about what is normal behaviour and how they can seek help if they fear they might have offended or be offending against someone. I welcome this initiative and I congratulate those who have done it.
Carol Beaumont: What will the Minister do to actually fund organisations that provide services to those affected by sexual abuse, like Wellington Rape Crisis and Male Survivors of Sexual Abuse Wellington, which are currently having to consider cutting services or closing down completely?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: We currently have a review under way of all of those services, and we are making very good progress. I think what happened with the Auckland helpline and the Auckland Sexual Abuse Help Foundation is actually a good example of real collaboration across agencies. As I say, we are making progress, and I think you will see that in due course.
New Zealand Defence Force, Civilianisation—Effect of Attrition Rates on Capability
6. Hon PHIL GOFF (Labour—Mt Roskill) to the Minister of Defence: Have attrition rates in the last year, which reached 23 percent in the Navy and 24 percent in the Army, reduced the capability of the New Zealand Defence Force?
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN (Minister of Defence): As the Chief of Defence Force told the member at the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee on 6 December 2012 and also on 22 June 2013, the New Zealand Defence Force has had no cut in capabilities. The member is also working with out-of-date statistics. The New Zealand Defence Force attrition rate today is 14 percent, which is below the historic long-run average and well below the 19 percent figure under Labour. Both army and navy attrition rates today are significantly beneath levels reached under Labour.
Hon Phil Goff: When the navy admits that skill and experience levels in critical trade groups has been seriously degraded—their words, Minister—by the significant reduction in the number of trained personnel available, why does he keep on pretending that this has not reduced the navy’s capability?
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: Because the fact is that it has not. The navy is actually performing to all the targets that have been set for it by the Government, and it is meeting all the outputs that it is contracted to meet by other Government agencies.
Hon Phil Goff: If the navy is meeting all of its targets, why does the navy say in its latest report that it cannot crew more than four out of six of its new naval patrol force vessels—
Phil Twyford: What?
Hon Phil Goff: —cannot crew more than four out of six of its new naval patrol force vessels— and that the HMNZS Wellington was not available for most of 2012-13 because of high attrition rates? How can that possibly not represent reduced capability?
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: I question the selective light that that member is casting on that report. The fact is that when you look at the New Zealand Defence Force’s annual report, it shows that the frigates were available for 126 percent of their target last year. The HMNZS Endeavour was mission-available for 116 percent of its target. The operational dive team exceeded its target hours in the—
Hon Phil Goff: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. You heard my question clearly. It related to the naval patrol force—it said that they could not crew more than four out of six—and how the HMNZS Wellington was not available most of the time. I do not want to hear about that other irrelevant stuff.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Well, the member may well have to. He has asked question—whilst it was relatively specific—about reduced capability of the forces, particularly the navy. The Minister, the Hon Dr Jonathan Coleman, has a right to address that, and he is attempting to do so.
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: And I would like to continue doing that. So regarding the patrol vessels, the offshore patrol vessels would have met their targets if a second sub-Antarctic patrol was undertaken, but, for totally unrelated reasons, that did not happen. The inshore patrol vessels were made available for 466 days of patrolling against a target of 455 days, so they actually exceeded their target availability to their agencies. So, once again, Phil Goff is making it up.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The last part of that answer is unnecessary.
Hon Phil Goff: When the air force says explicitly that it cannot meet all expected output and readiness measures because “of a limited number of trained crews, and equipment obsolescence and deficiencies”, how does this not represent reduced capability?
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: That is just incorrect. I can tell him about the air force. If you look at the helicopter forces’ flying rate, it is higher than in previous years. The Airborne Surveillance and Response Forces—the Orions—exceeded their target with 151 percent of their target. The Boeings hit 100 percent of their target. The Hercules reported missing some targets, but still achieved over 1,300 hours of flying. The NH90s and the A109s are new capabilities brought into service, as the well the Orion and Hercules upgrades. It is just completely incorrect. The fact is that the only air force capability that has ever been cut was the Skyhawks under the Labour Government, and that—
Hon Phil Goff: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! This is a point of order.
Hon Phil Goff: Since the Minister says that what I said was incorrect, I seek leave to table the quote that I quoted accurately to the House about not being able to meet all expected targets.
Mr SPEAKER: What is the source of this quote?
Hon Phil Goff: The source is the Minister’s very own annual defence report.
Mr SPEAKER: No—[Interruption] Order! That is available to members if they so need to look it up.
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Without being improper, the issue that I think was raised with you about the tabling of documents and that you agreed to consider— this is an example of that, of what Mrs King and I discussed with you—is where a member’s word is refuted. I was just wondering—you had agreed you would consider that—if, given this case, you would rule on that.
Mr SPEAKER: On the basis that there was a discussion—and I think, on reflection, that the member Phil Goff has quoted from a document that is available, and the Minister, in the start of an answer, said: “That is not correct.”—I will allow the member to again put the leave for that document to be tabled. It is then over to the House what it decides to do.
Hon Phil Goff: I seek leave accordingly.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that particular annual report. Is there any objection to that? There is not. It can be tabled. Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Hon Phil Goff: When did the National Government ever admit publicly to the electorate that its goal was to reduce the number of regular force personnel in the New Zealand Defence Force every year that it was in Government, resulting in today’s figures being 1,200 fewer people in the Defence Force than it had in 2009—a cut of more than 12 percent?
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: What I can tell the member is that navy numbers grew by 4.4 percent last year and army numbers grew by 1.6 percent. Air force numbers may have been flat, but the fact is that as new technology arrives—
Hon Phil Goff: It’s not true. It’s simply not true.
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: —you do not need as many people to staff it. It is true. I am sorry, Phil. You are the guy who—
Mr SPEAKER: Order!
Housing, Affordable—Government Measures
7. Peseta SAM LOTU-IIGA (National—Maungakiekie) to the Minister of Housing: What progress is the Government making in increasing housing supply, improving the quality of the Government’s housing stock and growing the community social housing sector?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH (Minister of Housing): I am encouraged by the latest building permit figures, which show that we have had 3,000 more homes built as for the same time last year. I also note last week’s announcement by Fletcher’s that it is trebling the number of houses that it is going to build from 300 per year to 1,000 per year, and next week I expect to gazette the first 11 special housing areas, which will net another 6,000 sections as part of the Auckland Housing Accord. We are also making good progress in improving our State housing stock, with us on schedule to insulate all 47,000 homes that can be by the end of this year, strengthening or replacing all 19,000 earthquake-prone State houses by the end of next year, and repairing or replacing all of the 5,000 earthquake-damaged houses in Christchurch by the end of 2015. This year we have also announced direct Government funding for 421 homes to be built by the community housing sector.
Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga: Is the Minister aware of any significant new housing developments being recently approved in Auckland, and is he satisfied that the council is improving the time frames for processing these consents?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: Yes. A new development of 420 terraced houses was announced this week in Mount Wellington’s Springpark, the largest such housing development for Auckland in years. The project was processed in a tight time frame of just 4 months by the Auckland Council, for which it should be commended, and illustrates how it has improved its processes in response to Government concerns. I also note that these 420 homes are in the modest $320,000 to $550,000 price range, without any regulatory requirement. This confirms that the market will respond to the demand for lower-cost housing if we create the right environment.
Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga: Is the Government considering advancing housing accords with other councils; if so, which ones, and what progress is being made?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: The Government’s immediate priority was Auckland, where the housing supply issues are most acute, but I am also giving consideration to scheduling both Christchurch and Wellington. The housing issues in Christchurch are unique and quite challenging because of the earthquakes. We have built four temporary accommodation villages, we have partnered with the private sector on worker accommodation, we have established the Canterbury Earthquake Temporary Accommodation Service, and we have moved at pace to repair and rebuild our social housing stock. Tomorrow I am meeting with the new Mayor of Christchurch to explore further initiatives to support Christchurch’s housing needs. Discussions in Wellington are at a preliminary stage, but I hope to be in a position to make further announcements there next month.
Phil Twyford: Why is he talking about trialling a warrant of fitness for Housing New Zealand houses when those houses are almost all now insulated, as he said in an earlier answer, and when he knows that the real unmet need is in the private rental market? In light of that, will he be supporting my Healthy Homes Guarantee Bill?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: The immediate priority for this Government was insulating the appalling state of State houses, where after 9 years of the previous Government, 45,000 State houses had not had a bean spent on their insulation. We are nearing the end of the completion of that insulation work, but it is incorrect to say that insulation alone is the only quality issue that we want to explore with the warrant of fitness. The Government’s work about that warrant of fitness idea is advancing. I hope to be in a position in a matter of months to make announcements about that work.
Question No. 6 to Minister
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE (Leader of the House): I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The House granted leave a few minutes ago to the Hon Phil Goff to table a whole report, not selected quotes from it. I would ask that the whole report gets tabled, not the selected quotes from it. The member has got it, he offered to table it, and he should put it on the Table.
Mr SPEAKER: It was certainly my understanding of the leave that was sought that the whole of the report would be tabled.
Hon PHIL GOFF (Labour—Mt Roskill): I am very pleased to table the whole report. I thought I would table the relevant quotes. I will leave the yellow stickers on it for the reference of members.
Mr SPEAKER: I am very grateful for the assistance from the member.
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE (Leader of the House): I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I think that does tend to indicate—well, the leave was granted—that the document was publicly available.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I clearly acknowledged, when I put the leave, that it was very publicly available. The reason that I allowed it on this occasion was that a quote had been taken from it. I took the member at his word that it was an accurate quote. The Minister, when he answered that question, referred to that quote. So it seemed to me that that information should be made available.
Health and Safety, Workplace—Minister’s Statements
8. DARIEN FENTON (Labour) to the Minister of Labour: Does he stand by all his statements on health and safety?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES (Minister of Labour): Pretty much, yes.
Darien Fenton: Why did the Minister say publicly in relation to forest safety that “The Government is taking steps to address the issues that are having an impact.”, when he has failed miserably to adequately staff its health and safety inspectorate?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: Because it is true. We have got an improved code of practice that is bedding in, and we have got a strong enforcement approach that we have started, where every logging contract operation in the country is being visited. And there are investigations, with the possibility of prosecutions, being undertaken as we speak.
Hon Shane Jones: When he publicly stated recently that he did not care and that Labour should get a life, was it his intention to tell Maryanne Butler-Finlay, widow of the most recent forestry victim and mother of twins, to also get a life?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: Those comments were in relation to a procedural matter of David Shearer’s that had nothing to do with forestry, so I think the member should get a life and actually treat these sorts of issues with some respect in this House.
Hon Shane Jones: Given his advice to me to get a life, what does he have in store for widow Karina McHardy, who after losing her husband in a forestry job in 2011 said that the new code would not make a difference and that “I don’t think the ministry is going to do anything … they always say they are going to do something.”, or will he tell her as well to get a life?
Mr SPEAKER: As far as there is ministerial responsibility, I call the Hon Simon Bridges.
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: Firstly, let me repeat that I never made that statement in relation to anything to do with forestry. Let me also make very clear that we have a series of initiatives going on—much more, in fact, than Labour did in its 9 years. I have already made it very clear about the code. I have already made clear that we are beefing up the health and safety system with an additional $30 million per annum, starting from the end of this year. I have also made it clear that we are literally going to every single forestry operation in this country at the moment—in some cases stopping work and in some cases looking to prosecute.
Darien Fenton: You haven’t got enough inspectors.
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: As I have already said, in relation to the interjection, we are beefing up the inspectorate with additional capability.
Hon Shane Jones: Given that the widows and families have warned that forest owners’ conduct is leading to unsafe conditions and that owners should be accountable, why is he not taking ownership, showing leadership, and fulfilling his statutory responsibilities, or is he intending to tell them all to get a life?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: I am showing ownership of this issue. That is, in fact, why I do not want a Government-led inquiry, because, actually, the time of inquiries is over and what we need now is action. That is why, as I have said, we have a series of initiatives. We are doing things. The forestry industry has made it quite clear that it wants to hold its own kind of review and inquiry. I support that. I think it should also take some ownership for this issue, as I have said publicly.
Hon Shane Jones: When he told the media recently that he knows that the forestry companies, which he has just referred to, are animated about this issue, did he give any thought as to what he might do and say to animate the blighted lives of the orphans and widows left behind?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: Yes, and that is why, as I say, I am overseeing a regime that, unlike when that member was a Minister, is ensuring that—
Hon Shane Jones: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The question I asked was directed to a remark made publicly about forestry companies. It had absolutely nothing to do with 2007-08—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member asked a type of question that I think all members want to be very cautious of asking—when they are dragging in people who have suffered very unfortunate fatalities in their families. Having said that, I did not rule the question out of order. It certainly gives the Minister relatively wide licence to answer it, and I ask the Minister whether he wants to—
Hon Shane Jones: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. It is the duty of us as parliamentarians to hold Ministers to account, and I find objectionable your admonishment that it was an improper question.
Mr SPEAKER: The member has every right to find objectionable a comment I made. I have allowed the Minister, if he has further comments to make on that answer—
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Not only does he have every right to raise that objection, because you do not know whether or not he sought permission to raise it, but you had no right to say what you did. I think you should actually apologise to him.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Again, I think the member has got the right to make that point. I just think that when members raise circumstances like that, which involve families that are already coping with enough of a tragedy, they need to be very careful in raising those points. I certainly did not rule the question out of order, but in answering the question it does give a great deal of licence to a Minister to answer it. He was using that. The member then rose to his feet, taking a point of order to say that the answer was not satisfactory to him. I do not agree with that.
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: I am happy to give the answer, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: If the Minster wants to continue with his answer, he is welcome to.
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: My answer is that unlike what happened under the last Labour Government, I have made sure that every single forestry operation in this country is being visited, with a view to investigations where there are unacceptable practices. As I say, those investigations may well lead to prosecutions and have already led to some of those companies being stopped in their tracks and having business stopped.
Health Services—Investment in Rural General Practices
9. SHANE ARDERN (National—Taranaki - King Country) to the Associate Minister of
Health: What is the Government doing to support rural general practice?
Hon JO GOODHEW (Associate Minister of Health): Today I have announced an additional $9 million over 4 years to support rural general practices to retain clinical staff and services. This new investment is on top of the $13 million a year already funded for rural general practice support.
This additional funding will take effect from 1 July 2014, when a new way of allocating rural funding will be rolled out.
Shane Ardern: In what other ways is the Government supporting the rural workforce?
Hon JO GOODHEW: In many other ways. We are providing funding and support for the New Zealand Rural GP Network to manage a rural recruitment and locum service, and there is a rural midwifery recruitment and retention service, a multidisciplinary rural health immersion programme, the Rural Origin Medical Preferential Entry Scheme, the Voluntary Bonding Scheme, rural hospital medicine, postgraduate generalist placement for rural rotations, the Advanced Trainee Fellowship Scheme, and the physician assistant position. There is more, but I think my time is up.
Oil and Gas Exploration—Minister’s Statement
10. GARETH HUGHES (Green) to the Minister of Energy and Resources: Does he stand by his statement about oil and gas, “As minister, my job is to support the development of these resources in a sensible, safe and environmentally responsible way”?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES (Minister of Energy and Resources): Yes.
Gareth Hughes: How is the Minister doing his job to ensure that oil is developed in a sensible, safe, and environmentally responsible way, when as of yesterday he had not even read, or been advised on, Anadarko’s environmental impact assessment report?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: Let me give the member a brief history. Under the old system, when Labour was in power, the Minister simply applied their discretion and their vibe, if you like, to the system. Now, in fact, there are independent regulatory agencies that go through and scrutinise applications in some detail. It is not for the Minister to assess them. Indeed, if I did, that member would be accusing me of crony capitalism. So I think I am in the right place on this.
Gareth Hughes: Is the Minister saying to the people of New Zealand that his job is not to read a very important environment report from the very company that had a 25 percent stake in the Gulf of Mexico spill; and how sensible, safe, and environmentally responsible is it to allow Anadarko to drill a well in the deepest water just off the Waikato coast, and not even need a marine consent, when people in the Waikato need a resource consent to drill a water bore?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: To reassure the very concerned member, I can tell him that I have now perused the documents in question. But I repeat very clearly that he misconceives my function and the function of the independent regulatory agencies with the experts who go through the several hundred pages of documents to ensure that they meet their very stringent tests. That is their role. My role is to oversee them and to be in charge of them.
Gareth Hughes: Will the Minister ensure that Anadarko’s oil spill modelling reports and oil spill contingency plans are publicly available before they start drilling this summer?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: They are not publicly available in the sense that they are there on websites necessarily for everyone to see. But they are, through Official Information Act and other processes, able to be obtained.
Gareth Hughes: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I acknowledge the Minister’s answer, but the question was directed to him—will he ensure.
Mr SPEAKER: And he said no, they are not going to be publicly available.
11. Dr CAM CALDER (National) to the Associate Minister of Transport: What progress is being made in bringing down New Zealand’s road toll?
Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE (Associate Minister of Transport): Excellent news. We are tracking towards the lowest road toll in more than 60 years. The year-to-date road toll stands at 202. This is 33 fewer than at this time last year and a significant 36 percent, or 116 people, lower than just 4 years ago at the same time. Younger drivers have been a focus for the Government, so it is particularly pleasing that from 2010 to 2012 we saw a 44 percent decrease in deaths for our 15 to
19-year-olds and a 48 percent decrease in the number of 20 to 24-year-olds dying on our roads. But, of course, there is no room for complacency, especially with Labour Weekend coming up.
Dr Cam Calder: What are the key messages for motorists to remember over the long weekend to keep them and their families safe?
Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE: A very good question. The messages for drivers are clear: stay focused on your driving, take breaks, drive to the conditions, reduce your speed, and, of course, do not drink and drive. I would also add to this list the request for people to obey the law and stay off their cellphones while driving, as any distraction can be deadly. I wish everyone across the House and across the country a safe long weekend, and I hope everyone comes back in one piece.
Iain Lees-Galloway: Does he agree with the New Zealand Police, who recently told the Law and Order Committee that lowering the drink-driving limit is the single most effective measure that Parliament could take to further reduce the road toll; if so, will he, at the first opportunity, vote to reduce the limit to the internationally accepted level of 0.05 percent?
Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE: Well, I would certainly agree, to the extent that the Government has already lowered the blood-alcohol level for our young and for recidivist drinkdrivers, and that and another initiatives have led to a significant reduction, after 9 years of virtually flat-lining, in the last 4 years. But as the member knows, the Government is considering the evidence on lowering the adult drink-driving limit and it will report in due course on the findings of that evidence.
Energy and Resources, Minister—Statements
12. Le’aufa’amulia ASENATI LOLE-TAYLOR (NZ First) to the Minister of Energy and
Resources: Does he stand by all his statements?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES (Minister of Energy and Resources): Yes, and can I congratulate the member on her first energy question. That is one more question than the Labour spokesman has ever asked—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! That is not going to help the order of this House.
Le’aufa’amulia Asenati Lole-Taylor: How can he stand by his statement in the House this Tuesday: “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.”, when there are instances where shoddy workmanship has been reported but not rectified?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: Because it is true.
Le’aufa’amulia Asenati Lole-Taylor: Is the Minister aware that there are people who are very dissatisfied with the standard of work in their homes in connection with Heat Smart?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: I think what is important to note is that when we look, in contrast to what has happened in Australia in this area, we have a superb record, actually, of excellence when it comes to home insulation from the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority. If the member has examples that she wants to bring to my attention, I will take them very seriously.
Le’aufa’amulia Asenati Lole-Taylor: That is good to hear. Will he give an assurance that those who are dissatisfied with the standard of work under Heat Smart will have their complaints dealt with promptly and effectively?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: Yes, they should certainly have their complaints dealt with properly, promptly, and effectively.
Le’aufa’amulia Asenati Lole-Taylor: Wonderful. How many companies have been excluded from the Heat Smart programme as a result of the auditing process?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: I do not have those figures on me. I understand there have been exclusions, though. It is a relatively rigorous process that is gone through by the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority to make sure that the standards that these insulation providers bring to bear are very good.
Le’aufa’amulia Asenati Lole-Taylor: How many complaints have been received in connection with Heat Smart?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: I think it is important to bear in mind that some 235,000 have been insulated as a phenomenally successful programme. I could not say what small number of complaints there has been in relation to that massive success, but again, if the member wants to put that in writing, I am happy to provide that number.
Le’aufa’amulia Asenati Lole-Taylor: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Can I just seek your clarification, because I did ask how many complaints. He did not say how many; he was just giving—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member said he was unaware of that information, and, to be fair to the Minister, when the member asks such an all-encompassing primary question, it is not reasonable to expect Ministers to have that sort of detail in their heads or in their notes as they come to the House.