Questions and Answers - January 29
QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS
Children—Prime Minister’s Statements
1. Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does he stand by his statement in 2011 that “for the average New Zealand child, most of them are doing extremely well”?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): Yes.
Hon David Cunliffe: How can the Prime Minister say that the average child is doing “extremely well” when 265,000 of them live in poverty, when 180,000 children go without things that they need, like shoes, and when one in three Māori children and one in three Pacific children is in poverty?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Firstly, I would be interested in the Leader of the Opposition tabling this source that he keeps using saying that one in five New Zealand children own only one pair of shoes. I would be very interested, because that is what he has been saying. We know from his speeches that when he says 59,000 families will all get $60 a week for 52 weeks, it is not true—25,000 of them get paid parental leave, and will not get it for 52 weeks. Today we learnt that 15,000 currently get the parental tax credit, and they will not get it for 52 weeks either. In fact, one in three families are the only people who will get $60 a week for 52 weeks of the year, and they are beneficiary families and the new working poor, who, according to Labour, earn $150,000 a year.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! That question has now been answered. [Interruption] Order!
Hon David Cunliffe: If the Prime Minister cannot answer that question, then perhaps he can answer these numbers.
Mr SPEAKER: Order!
Hon David Cunliffe: Why does he oppose increasing early childhood education opportunities for kids when independent international evidence shows that for every dollar invested, $11 is returned in the long run, and when the Children’s Commissioner’s Expert Advisory Group on Solutions to Child Poverty report says that the economic cost of child poverty is around $6 billion a year?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: The first thing is that if we want to move people out of poverty—and the way that poverty is defined in New Zealand is 60 percent of the average wage—by far the fastest way of doing that is through work. This is a Government that is pro-jobs, and that is an Opposition that is opposed to jobs. Secondly, the member should get his facts right, because once again he has got it wrong. So in 2007-08, under the previous Labour Government, $860 million was spent on early childhood education. The member says that we are spending less. So how much are we spending now? Well, the answer is $1.5 billion. And as for fewer kiddies getting it, well, actually, we now have a 96 percent participation rate in early childhood education. So here is the top-line message that you will not need to check the fine print for: 96 percent of kids, a record number, are
now enrolled in early childhood education. This Government is spending nearly twice as much as the previous Labour Government.
Hon David Cunliffe: I seek leave to table the article in Child Development journal, “Age 26 Cost-Benefit Analysis of the Child-Parent Center Early Education Program”—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Order! The document has now been—[Interruption] Order! [Interruption] Order! The member will resume his seat. The document has been suitably described to the House. Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There appears to be no objection. It can be tabled. Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Hon David Cunliffe: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Just a clarification: I think the Prime Minister might have been asking what the document referred to—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Would the member please resume his seat, if he wishes to continue. Leave was sought. I have put the leave. The document has been tabled. That is the end of that matter. I invite the member to now continue with his supplementary question.
Hon David Cunliffe: I seek leave to table the Children’s Commissioner’s expert advisory group report that provided the $6 million—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Let me just clarify. Has that not been presented to the House already?
Hon David Cunliffe: I am unaware whether that has been presented to the House or not.
Mr SPEAKER: Well, on the basis that the member is unaware whether it has been presented to the House, it is easier that I put leave. Leave is sought to table the expert advisory panel’s work. Is there any objection to that being tabled? There appears to be none. It can be tabled. Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Louise Upston: Does Working for Families currently include a parental tax credit of $1,200 for parents of newborn babies; if so, how many families get that credit, and has he seen any reports that the $1,200 tax credit might be scrapped?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Yes, Working for Families currently does have a parental tax credit of $1,200 for parents of newborn babies. It is a $150 payment paid eight times, or it can be taken as one lump sum. Fifteen thousand families currently get that, and they are the same families whom on Monday David Cunliffe told would get, on top of that, 52 weeks at $60 a week. In fact, those families will not get that; they will get only 32 weeks. So maybe Mr Cunliffe needs to explain. [Interruption] Well, we are shaking our head, too—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! That question has now also been answered.
Hon David Cunliffe: Given the Prime Minister’s new-found enthusiasm for Working for Families, can he confirm that he voted against the introduction of Working for Families and described it at the time as “communism by stealth”?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Absolutely, and that is because under the old tax system and abatement rates under the previous Labour Government, it was actually possible for people to lose more in abatement than they actually got. And, by the way, today we have found the parental tax credit, yesterday we discovered the paid parental leave, and, mark my words, there might be more news coming on misleading the public on that little bit, as well.
Hon David Cunliffe: Given that the Prime Minister has now shifted his position on Working for Families and has shifted his position on various coalition partners, can he tell the House whether he has also shifted his position on the following quote—that some mothers in receipt of such benefits are just “breeding for a business”?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Well, that was made in an article, from memory, from 2002 or 2003, and that is a very long time ago. But, actually, I do not think we should have a welfare system that encourages people to stay on welfare. I think we should undertake the reforms that this Government has, which are actually to encourage people off welfare and into work. If the member really cares
about poverty in New Zealand, then he will move people—like this Government is doing—off welfare and into work. We are doing it for 1,500 people a week, and 17,000 people left the benefit last year. So the member gets up and says that there are too many poor people, the majority of whom are on welfare, and his response is: “Stay there on welfare. Don’t get a job. Back the policies of the Greens.”, who are anti-growth. See you at the election. It is going to be a lot of fun.
Hon David Cunliffe: Indeed, it will. Why did National vote against paid parental leave when introduced in 2002 and again last year, yet last week it shifted its position to support it, just not as much as Labour, and is that because he thinks it is creating a welfare trap, or has he shifted his position again?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I cannot answer the first question in respect of 2002. I am not sure whether it occurred when I was even in the House, because I came in in 2002, and I can go and check that time. In terms of paid parental leave, here are a few facts that might be interesting to the New Zealand public. We currently pay 14 weeks of paid parental leave. It costs $165 million, and only 40 percent of the people can take up the scheme. That is because it is actually not well targeted, so not everybody gets it. There are lots of people who actually miss out. So what this member is saying—[Interruption] Well, actually, here is a really interesting point. What this member is saying is that he wants to spend $500-and-something million on this policy annually and he is saying that, somehow, he wants to be fiscally conservative. This is the only way through that: you have to tax more and spend less in other areas. And, mark my words, when that caucus starts talking about: “Do you want more police officers? Do you want to pay teachers more? Do you want more cancer drugs? Do you want more—”
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! That question has now been answered.
Hon David Cunliffe: Can the Prime Minister confirm that he has got more positions than the Kama Sutra when it comes to tax policy, and does he consider it OK for National to give away $1 billion in tax cuts to the wealthy and tell other New Zealanders not to be jealous, but consider giving money to support kids and middle-income families a “spend-athon”?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Firstly, from time to time, conditions will change. As we have always said when it comes to paid parental leave, yes, when there is more money, maybe it would be a nice thing to extend. I do not think the country can afford to go to 26 weeks. It may, over time, be able to afford to go a little bit more. The member seems to think, as conditions change, that slightly tweaking one’s position is a bit odd. Was he having a bit of an amnesia fit about his own press conference last week, when he did some backflip on a couple of other crazy policies? Things do change. But—
Hon David Cunliffe: Answer the question.
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Actually, I will happily answer the question. OK, where does the top personal rate cut in, in New Zealand? Seventy-odd thousand dollars a year. Who is going to get his $60 a week for 52 weeks? Well, not many, as we now know, but some of them are going to be people earning $130,000, $140,000, $80,000, $90,000, and $110,000. Guess what is happening to those people under Labour? The top personal rate is going up—mark my words. And guess what—
Hon David Cunliffe: We said it.
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Exactly, you said it. So, OK—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Order! I will have a debate later on.
2. PAUL GOLDSMITH (National) to the Minister of Finance: What reports has he received indicating that progress in lifting economic growth will create new job opportunities and support higher wages in 2014?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): There are several such reports. Just this morning Moody’s, the credit rating agency, said the New Zealand economy and Government finances were on an improving trend and we remain one of only 10 countries with a top triple A rating and a stable
outlook. The latest BNZ-Business New Zealand Performance of Manufacturing Index confirms not just that the manufacturing crisis is over but that there never was one. Manufacturing activity increased in every month in 2013, which is the first time this has happened in a year since 2007. The manufacturing sector has enjoyed 15 consecutive months of expansion, I think, starting at about the time the Opposition began its crisis hearings. That is consistent with the New Zealand Institute of Economic Research’s most recent business opinion survey, which showed confidence at a 20- year high.
Paul Goldsmith: What reports has he seen on trends in wage growth?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Contrary to statements that no one in New Zealand in the middle incomes has been getting ahead, in fact average hourly wages have gone up 5.5 percent over the last 2 years and weekly wages have gone up 6 percent, which is not a bad average, although we cannot know the circumstances of every single family. Further to that, data released by SEEK, the job website—which will not be shut down, we hope, when Facebook gets shut down—shows that across jobs advertised on the website, the average pay packet increased by 3 percent over the past year, to an average of $74,000 per annum.
Paul Goldsmith: How does this wage growth compare with inflation and what does this mean for families?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Again the data seems to contradict statements that have been made by the Leader of the Opposition. Over the past 2 years hourly wage rates have risen by 5.5 percent and weekly wage rates by 6 percent. Inflation, however, has been less than that over the last 2 years. In fact, it has totalled 2.2 percent. This means that families and households have, on average, had real increases in their weekly wages—that is, wages have grown faster than inflation by some considerable margin.
Paul Goldsmith: How will Budget 2014 support New Zealand families and households to get ahead?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The Budget will be delivered on 15 May. As in previous Budgets, it will focus on delivering a faster-growing economy, more jobs, and higher incomes. The Budget will be reorientated to managing growth, rather than recession, but that of course is a good problem to have.
Inequality, Economic and Social—Prime Minister’s Statements
3. METIRIA TUREI (Co-Leader—Green) to the Prime Minister: Does he stand by his statement yesterday that “giving the odd kid a lunch. That is not actually going to fix the problem. What will fix the problem is paying $50,000 to a world-class principal to go in and fix up a school that is failing those kids”?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): I stand by my full statement, which began with: “When it comes to education, we will not say the answer to fixing the whole problem of the education system is giving the odd kid a lunch.”
Metiria Turei: Is the Prime Minister saying, with his statement to the country, that he believes that the main cause of underachievement is that the principals and teachers in lower-decile schools, where underachievement is concentrated, are no good at their job and are failing their pupils?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: What I am saying is that the single-biggest thing we can do to help young New Zealanders of all backgrounds is have a world-class education system. What I am also saying is that it is actually quite difficult sometimes to attract the very best principals to small underperforming schools, and one of the biggest changes we can make is to pay a premium of $50,000 to attract one of those world-class principals to those schools. I personally happen to think that if you can put a fabulous principal in charge of a school and fantastic teachers in front of those children, that you are much more likely to make a big difference to them than giving them lunch.
Metiria Turei: Does the Prime Minister accept the Programme for International Student Assessment finding that family and out-of-school factors, like being well fed and well housed,
accounts for more than 75 percent of the difference between high and low-performing New Zealand schools?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: What I prefer to rely on Andreas Schleicher, who is actually the architect of the Programme for International Student Assessment. This is his exact quote, when he spoke to the New Zealand media not so long ago, on Nine to Noon, when he said: “Another part of the education that is actually underperformance in New Zealand isn’t actually all about poor kids in poor neighbourhoods. You know, there are actually many kids in more advantaged neighbourhoods where you can see performance challenges.” I think the reality is that there are two factors that make a big difference to children’s ability to learn at school. One is the home they come from, and the second is ultimately the teachers and the principals who are in front of those kids. We cannot always potentially change one of those factors, but we can certainly heavily influence the other. Secondly, the Government provides enormous support to those at-risk families. That included this Government borrowing tens of billions of dollars through the worst of the recession to support the most at-risk families in New Zealand.
Metiria Turei: What then is his response to the Principals’ Federation, some of whose members would benefit from his policy, who have praised the Greens school hub plan, saying that out-ofschool influences, like decent food, have by far the biggest influence on underachievement?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I suppose the way to respond to that is to quote the Principals’ Federation, which said: “It’s hard for me to say but it’s a pretty damned impressive amount. It’s a huge amount of new money, and I’ve never seen such a transformation of ideas and discussion into policy and money in my life.” Sounds to me like they are backing the National Party.
Metiria Turei: Does the Prime Minister not understand that it is impossible to fix “underperformance” simply by helicoptering in 20 high-paid principals when he knows that 75 percent of the influence on underachievement is family background and out of those principals’ control?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: First, I think the member is just plain wrong. Second, I think the member is not doing justice to that very fine policy from the National Party. It is not 20 change principals; it is actually 100 over a period of time—5 years—and it is also 5,000 lead teachers. It is a large number of executive principals and expert teachers. It is $150 million dollars per year to lift the performance of all of our schools and principals across the country. Let us be blunt. I came from a State house and a solo mother. I happened to go to a world-class school with world-class teachers, and I am now the Prime Minister of New Zealand. Frankly, I think that made a bigger difference—
Mr SPEAKER: Order!
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. With respect, the Prime Minister had ample time to answer that question without trying to show—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Can the member just come to the point of his point of order?
Rt Hon Winston Peters: The point is very, very clear—as daylight. He has had far too long to answer the question, and I am asking you to stop him.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! And if the member wants the privilege of asking question No. 4 in the House he will allow me to run question time. It was quite a lengthy question that was asked, and I thought the Prime Minister was attempting to genuinely answer the question. I will decide when I think a Minister, be it a Prime Minister or any other, has spoken for too long in his answer, not the Rt Hon Winston Peters.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. You are surely not suggesting that I have not the right to raise a point of order about the length of question, are you?
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member will resume his seat. No, I am not suggesting that, but I am telling the member—it is not a suggestion—that I will ultimately decide. The member can certainly raise the point of order—
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Thank you for that.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I am on my feet. I will ultimately decide when I think an answer has gone on too long, and I have done that on two or three occasions already in this question time.
Metiria Turei: If the 1970s welfare State was so good to the Prime Minister when he was a child, will he consider reviving some of the core policies that were in place at that time, such as secure State housing, a universal child benefit, and genuinely free public education to every child now; if he will not, why does he believe that today’s kids are not entitled to the same support he had when he was a child?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No.
Metiria Turei: Is the Prime Minister concerned that the chance of people like him escaping poverty and doing well has become close to impossible under his watch, when the percentage of poorer children who are achieving at the highest levels has now dropped from 6 percent in 2009 to just 4 percent in 2012?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I am pleased that yesterday I described the Opposition as deluded, because the member has absolutely demonstrated that. Over the course of the last 5 years of this National Government, we have poured enormous resources into supporting the most at need. We have lifted, I think, the resources going into education, which is the single biggest factor to help young New Zealanders. To make the case that somebody could go to school today—somebody, say, 15 years of age, in year 11, who has spent the last 5 years at school under a National-led Government—and be condemned to never doing well because they grew up in a poor household shows how out of touch that member is.
Metiria Turei: When will the Prime Minister drop his inequality denial and admit that his policies are creating a growing class of people who sit at the bottom of the most unequal education system in the developed world?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Again, the member is just completely and utterly wrong. She wants to be in denial, but the penultimate findings in this area, done by the Ministry of Social Development— they are basically the findings of Mr Perry—have shown that actually income inequality has not been widening in the last 10 years; it has been very consistent over the last 10 years. If the member wants to cut and paste information so that she can mislead her supporters, she is welcome to do so, but, in fact, income inequality is not growing in New Zealand.
Immigration New Zealand—Resources and Performance
4. Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First) to the Minister of Immigration: Does he believe Immigration New Zealand has the required level of resources to uphold the immigration laws of this country?
Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE (Minister of Immigration): Yes, I am satisfied that Immigration New Zealand is adequately resourced to do the job, but I am interested not only in the quantum of those resources but also their smart use. One good example is of policies that have dramatically reduced the number of overstayers at the same time as reducing the cost of their removal. That, to me, is a smart use of resources.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: How many thousands of overstayers are there in this country now, and is not each one of them a breach of our immigration laws?
Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE: The last estimate of overstayers suggests that there are 13,151 overstayers presently living in New Zealand. This is the lowest number this century—down 6.3 percent from last year and 33 percent lower than the 2005 estimate of nearly 20,000. I think that is a pretty good result.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Only a fool would clap 13,000—
Mr SPEAKER: Order!
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Lighten up.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I do not need an instruction from the member to lighten up. Would the member simply stand and ask his supplementary question. Otherwise I will allow someone else to ask theirs.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I know what you are going to do. How can the department possibly have the resources when significant immigration fraud is taking place, and just one illegal operative, Jerry Lee, claims on Campbell Live in the last two nights to have brought immigrants into New Zealand in circumstances that are demonstrably illegal?
Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE: Well, this is a very important case that has been on the Immigration New Zealand radar for the last 2½ months. These are complex issues that I am satisfied my staff are working through very carefully, and when there are appropriate actions to take, they will be taken.
Brendan Horan: Can the Minister say in a specific case where two political party research officers here on work visas are summarily dismissed by that political party leader without natural justice or due process, then can the Minister give an assurance that Immigration New Zealand would still act with natural justice and due process—
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. First of all, there are a number of laws that are about to be breached by way of that question, plus the facts are demonstrably false, as I will demonstrate—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The Hon Gerry Brownlee, are you speaking to the point of order?
Hon Gerry Brownlee: How is the House to know that the member asking the question was speaking about the Rt Hon Winston Peters?
Mr SPEAKER: That is right. I am not ruling the question out of order. I would like the member to come to the conclusion of his question. It would be better if he did not have to repeat the whole question, but then it is for the Minister to decide how to answer it. It is not for some other member of Parliament to then question the validity or the accuracy of the question.
Brendan Horan: Can the Minister say in a case where two political party research officers here on work visas are dismissed or fired by that political party leader without natural justice or due process—can the Minister give an assurance that Immigration New Zealand would still act with natural justice and due process in respect of work visas?
Mr SPEAKER: The Hon Michael Woodhouse, in so far as there is ministerial responsibility.
Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE: It would be inappropriate for me to comment on any specific cases, but, as a point of principle, where there are matters of natural justice and fairness, when serious accusations are being levelled at an individual or individuals, it would behove anybody laying those accusations—laying charges, perhaps—to have all of their facts right first before doing so, particularly when the costs of doing so might be ejection from, say, a country or a caucus.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Can I seek leave to make a personal explanation?
Mr SPEAKER: The member can certainly seek leave to make a personal explanation. Is there any objection to that course of action? There is objection. The member sought and there is objection.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: It is like taking candy off a baby, isn’t it? Can I ask the Minister as to why he is not severely embarrassed at the incompetence of his department when Campbell Live can out illegal activity, but his department cannot?
Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE: I simply reject the suggestion that the department has been in any way other than professional and careful and diligent in a very complex investigation that involves not only one individual but a number of companies and individuals, and when the facts are known, they will be acted on.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Will he take a zero-tolerance policy and dismiss and prosecute any Immigration New Zealand official who is found to be involved in the corrupt practices laid out by Campbell Live this week?
Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE: Well, I think the member needs to be very careful again to get certain facts right before impugning the good character of the nearly 1,400 Immigration New Zealand staff working in New Zealand and around the globe. But I will say this: Immigration New Zealand has a zero-tolerance policy for the sorts of behaviour that has gone on in the past, I concede, albeit that it was under the previous Labour - New Zealand First Government, and I do hope it does not carry on—
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. You know full well there was never a Labour - New Zealand First Government.
Mr SPEAKER: That is fact. It is useful if members do not refer to a past New Zealand First - Labour Government.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Will the Minister do the right thing and resign if another immigration scam like this is uncovered under his and his officials’ noses; if not, why not, because it is going to happen?
Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE: Again, that calls for an opinion or a prediction about the future that I cannot make. But I will say this about honourable members: when there are things that go on—for example, when someone says “No” when they really should know or mean “Yes”—then there may well be grounds for resignation. I hope the member is consistent with that.
Inequality, Economic and Social—Income Gap
5. Hon DAVID PARKER (Deputy Leader—Labour) to the Minister of Finance: Does he stand by his statement that “Government policies have helped to reduce income inequality at the margin”; if not, why not?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): Yes, I do stand by that statement because, first, the Government borrowed through the recession to maintain the real incomes of those who were most vulnerable; secondly, through our welfare reform and investment approach we are getting more people into work, which is the best fix for poverty; thirdly, we are lifting achievement in schools among those who have consistently failed because, unlike Labour and the Greens, we do not believe that where you are born decides whether you can learn; and, finally, we have moved to free up the supply of housing so that we can change the policies of the previous Government, which were designed to lock low and middle income people out of our metropolitan housing markets.
Hon David Parker: Does he agree that one in four children living in poverty, as found by the expert advisory group relied upon by the Children’s Commissioner, is evidence of an unacceptable level of asset and income inequality in New Zealand?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: First, there is a difference of views about what exactly those measures mean. Secondly, Labour might want there to be growing income inequality in New Zealand, but there is not. Income inequality is not growing by any measure. It does not matter how often those members say that on “Planet Labour”, because on planet Earth it is not true.
Hon David Parker: Does the decline in homeownership to the lowest level in six decades demonstrate rising inequality in New Zealand; if not, why not?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: No, there is no necessary connection between those two. But what I can tell the member is that the kinds of planning rules that his party favours about dense cities ensure that middle and upper-income people who own houses in Auckland do very well out of that market, and low and middle-income families cannot even get into it. Labour should be supporting the Government’s measures to free up the flexibility of supply in housing so that low-income New Zealanders can get access to the housing market.
Hon David Parker: Will he now admit he was wrong in opposing Working for Families, which, as my colleague noted today, the Prime Minister called “communism by stealth”, given that it was Working for Families that reduced income inequality for the first time in decades, and does he agree that the Best Start package will help the next Labour Government to do the same thing?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: No. In fact, the member should go back and read the press releases that his party put out when it announced Working for Families, because it said then that it would fix inequality and poverty and that there would not be any more of it, and, of course, 10 years later there is. So the solutions are not splashing cash around the place; they are about addressing complex social dysfunction, which this Government is digging into in a way that no previous Government has.
Hon David Parker: Why do National MPs claim that we have a rock star economy but then deny that the country can afford more provision for our children?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I think that one of the member’s banker economist mates used that term. This Government has not used that term because we know that this economy needs more work to deliver more jobs and higher incomes for New Zealanders, and we know that if the policy course is changed to those advocated by the member, that will not happen.
Student Achievement—Funding and Initiatives
6. Dr CAM CALDER (National) to the Minister of Education: What recent announcements has she made on lifting achievement of children in schools?
Hon HEKIA PARATA (Minister of Education): Recently the Government announced that we will invest $359 million over the next 4 years to introduce an innovation fund and four new roles in our schools: executive principal, expert teacher, lead teacher, and change principal. These changes are the next step in our plan to raise student achievement. Although our education system is doing a great job for many kids, this is about how we can do even better and raise achievement for all. New Zealand has a longstanding challenge of lifting those who are not succeeding in our education system, as shown in last year’s Programme for International Student Assessment results. The analysis of those results showed that socio-economic status accounts for 18 percent of the differences seen in the student achievement data. That means that 82 percent are factors not about poverty. Decile is not destiny.
Dr Cam Calder: How will the proposed changes strengthen the teaching profession?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: This investment in education will give teachers the opportunity to further their professional careers, keep good teachers in the classroom, and allow for the sharing of expertise across schools and amongst teachers and principals. We have got outstanding teaching practice going on in classrooms around the country. This gives our profession the opportunity to open up those classrooms and share best practice to make it standard practice.
Dr Cam Calder: How will the proposed changes help lift student achievement?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: International evidence and New Zealand - based research clearly shows that the quality of teaching and leadership are the most important in-school factors in a child’s education. These changes will strengthen the quality of teaching and leadership in our schools by recognising some of our most capable teachers and principals and giving them the opportunity to systematically collaborate with, support, and mentor others. The education investment initiative will be instrumental in ensuring we have the best-quality teaching to raise achievement for five out of five kids.
Chris Hipkins: Will teachers in all subject disciplines, including social studies, art, music, health, physical education, and materials technology, be eligible to become expert teachers; if so, why does the documentation she released suggest that only maths, science, digital technology, and literacy teachers will be eligible?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: The next step in this process is for the Secretary for Education to sit down with the design group representing the profession. In the paper that I set out, I said that a priority of our achievement challenges was in maths, science, and digital technology, but there was never any exclusion of the most capable teachers.
Children—Prime Minister’s Statements
7. JACINDA ARDERN (Labour) to the Prime Minister: Does he stand by his statement that “I want to see every one of our children getting the very best start to life. They deserve nothing less”?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): Yes.
Jacinda Ardern: Does he believe that parents who are eligible for paid parental leave are the only ones who would benefit from extra support when their baby first arrives?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No. I think there are people who enjoy the parental tax credit, although Labour is scrapping that, unfortunately.
Jacinda Ardern: Can he confirm that those who are eligible for the current parental tax credit, which Labour would replace with the Best Start payments, would, as a result, receive support for 52 weeks instead of 8 weeks and would be markedly better off?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: There is absolutely no question that those people who currently get $1,200 under Labour’s plan would get more money. That is not the argument. But David Cunliffe—your leader—said that 59,000 families will get $60 a week for 52 weeks of the year. It is just plain wrong. Only 19,000 will, and no shaking of the head and smiling will actually get her leader through what the press gallery now knows—that your leader is tricky.
Jacinda Ardern: Why does he agree with the principle of universalism for our national superannuation but not for the first year of a baby’s life?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: There is a range of different issues involved in that, and we will see what National’s response will be in the fullness of time. But what I think is becoming quite clear—and maybe that explains the furious text messages on the plane from the member on Friday—
Grant Robertson: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! This is a point of order. It will be heard in silence.
Grant Robertson: The Prime Minister was asked a direct question and he has not in the period of time he has been standing up so far answered. Under the Standing Orders he is required to address that question. It was not particularly politically loaded but it was a very direct question.
Mr SPEAKER: The difficulty I have is I actually did not hear the question fully, and part of that was because of a large barrage of noise coming mainly from both front benches. I am going to ask Jacinda Ardern to ask that question again.
Jacinda Ardern: Thank you, Mr Speaker. Why does he agree with the principle of universalism for our national superannuation but not for the first year of a baby’s life?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Because there would be families that earn an enormous amount of money, and taxing a family that has a 3-year-old or a 4-year-old and earns $49,000 a year, and giving that money to people who earn a million does not make sense.
Jacinda Ardern: Does he stand by his Government’s claim that Working for Families has helped families stay afloat; if so, does he therefore also agree that increasing that support for lowincome families with preschool children would also have a positive impact?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: It might. It depends on a range of circumstances, but, firstly, it depends on how it is funded. The member is basically arguing the case that there is a magic $1.5 billion; there is not. She is arguing that her leader did not say that 59,000 would all get $60 a week for 52 weeks of the year; he did. What the member is demonstrating is she might understand the policy and she might have been furiously texting her leader on Friday, but he does not understand the policy, which is why—
Jacinda Ardern: What are you talking about?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Well, we all know, do we not?
Canterbury Home Repair Programme—Progress
8. NICKY WAGNER (National—Christchurch Central) to the Minister responsible for the
Earthquake Commission: What progress has been made on the Canterbury Home Repair Programme?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE (Minister responsible for the Earthquake Commission): The Earthquake Commission’s project-managed repair programme for damaged properties in Christchurch with damage under $100,000 as of today has completed 50,220 homes. That is a number equivalent to the number of occupied dwellings in Napier and Hastings combined. That means that more than two-thirds of the homes under the programme have now been repaired. Around 1,800 full home repairs are being completed each month, with more than 500 local contracting firms completing about 90 repairs a day.
Nicky Wagner: How is the managed home repair programme contributing to the wider recovery in Christchurch?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: Well, after the earthquakes many people claimed that the value of real estate in Christchurch, particularly domestic property, would fall by tens of thousands of dollars—in fact, tens of percentage points—and that would have tossed many, many people into negative equity. Now we have real estate magazines proudly proclaiming that houses have had their repairs completed under the Earthquake Commission programme and putting it on the bill of sale as a mark of quality. The home repair programme has also had a huge impact on constraining prices and making sure that Cantabrians were protected from cowboy builders, and, as such, it has contributed to overall confidence in the recovery.
9. GARETH HUGHES (Green) to the Minister of Energy and Resources: Does he agree with the Electricity Authority that households have been paying too little for power in the past and how has this issue been corrected under the current Government?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES (Minister of Energy and Resources): Firstly, that is, in my view, a mischaracterisation of what the Electricity Authority said. Secondly, what the Electricity Authority report, in my view, does implicitly make clear is that talk of super-profits, like we had from coleader of the Greens Dr Russel Norman yesterday—despite Professor Wolak, whom the Greens once relied on, reversing his views on that—is absolute nonsense. Certainly I do support the Electricity Authority’s conclusion that the best way to sharpen prices is to see increased competition and competitive pressures, and that is exactly what this Government and the Electricity Authority are focused on.
Gareth Hughes: So does the Minister believe that the Electricity Authority is correct when it says that rising power bills for Kiwi families have been justified, or does he believe that power prices are too high under the National Government?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: As I have made very clear a number of times in this House, no one who is a consumer wants to see power prices rise. What is true is that this Government has halved the power price increases that we saw when Labour, propped up by the Greens, was in power. We are seeing an increasingly competitive market in New Zealand with very sharp offerings. Meridian Energy, for example, offers a $100 credit and a 10 to 12 percent prompt payment discount. Contact is offering fixed prices until 2016, and 10 to 15 percent prompt payment discounts. My advice to consumers is to shop around.
Gareth Hughes: Does the Minister think that the electricity system is working, given that electricity prices have increased by 22 percent under the current Government and that in the past year alone power prices have risen by 3 percent, despite demand falling by 2 percent?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: The market is workably competitive. We want to see it more competitive. The member raises the point of 3 percent. Well, that is approximately half of what we saw year by year when Labour, propped up by the Greens, was in Government. What we also know,
of course, is that with increased emissions trading scheme costs and with less competition under Labour and Greens and what they are promising, we will certainly see prices rise by much more.
Gareth Hughes: No you will not. Is it acceptable to the current Government that 42,600 Kiwi families had their power disconnected in the past year alone and were left in the cold and the dark because they could not afford to pay their rising power bills in a “workably competitive” market?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: The issue of disconnections is a concerning one. I am concerned about it and I have written very recently to the electricity providers—the retailers—to make clear my views. It is something that I and the Electricity Authority will continue to work on to get those numbers down.
Gareth Hughes: Given the current Government’s opposition to the Green Party and the Labour Party’s NZ Power plan to reduce household power bills by $300 a year, will the Minister be campaigning on his track record of rising power prices this year?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: Yes. It will be very difficult to see where that $300 comes from, given that around the world no country that has introduced less competition than they already had has seen prices decrease—in fact, quite the reverse. Vastly increased costs through a ramped-up emissions trading scheme will mean, I think, conservatively at least half a thousand dollars— $500—added to the costs that consumers pay in New Zealand year on year by Labour and the Greens.
Gareth Hughes: I intend to seek leave for two data sets I seek to table. They are from Government websites, but from very large databases that are not readily available—
Mr SPEAKER: On that basis, if the member just quickly describes the websites, I will put the leave to the House.
Gareth Hughes: Thank you. The first is from Consumer Price Index data showing that power prices have risen by 22 percent under National—
Mr SPEAKER: I will put leave for both together. And the second website?
Gareth Hughes: And the other data shows disconnections, from the Electricity Authority, and shows 42,600—
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table those two pieces of information for the benefit of the House. Is there any objection? There appears to be none. They can be so tabled. Documents, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Health Services—Access to Elective Surgery
10. Hon ANNETTE KING (Labour—Rongotai) to the Minister of Health: What recent reports has he received on access to elective surgery?
Hon TONY RYALL (Minister of Health): I have received many reports, two of which I think are worth sharing with the House. One report confirms that the number of patients receiving elective surgery has increased from 118,000 people a year under the previous Government to over 158,000 patients a year now. That is an increase of 40,000 a year. The other report is yet more good news in elective surgery. I can confirm that the Government has today announced an extra $10 million will be spent delivering almost 2,000 extra operations.
Hon Annette King: This question is—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the member to ask the supplementary question.
Hon Annette King: How has he arrived at the number of 1,800 more patients to receive elective surgery, as per his announcement today, when specialists are saying there is huge unmet need, and why will he not agree to an independent scientific measurement rather than this sort of regular dripfeeding of funding in an effort to close down criticism and debate?
Hon TONY RYALL: The Government is investing into those extra 1,800 operations. Because of careful management of the health budget, we have been able to free up resources to help those
patients. This Government has made elective surgery a priority year after year after year, and it has been criticised by the Opposition for doing so year after year after year.
Hon Annette King: Why was he so fast to dismiss and denigrate recent research undertaken by TNS that found 280,000 New Zealanders meet the clinical criteria for elective surgery but only 110,000 have been placed on a waiting list, leaving 170,000 patients living with pain and disability, when the Ministry of Health found TNS research reliable enough to undertake the New Zealand smoking survey—information that he is quite happy to quote and crow about?
Hon TONY RYALL: Because the survey was commissioned and overseen by the Health Funds Association. They are the private health insurers of New Zealand, who want to jack up as much business as they can. I understand that the private health insurers and the private hospitals are under pressure. When the Government increases the amount of publicly funded surgery from 118,000 operations a year to 158,000 operations a year, I can see why they are concerned.
Hon Annette King: I seek leave to table a document from the New Zealand Smoking Monitor. It is very difficult to find on the website. It shows the Ministry of Health was prepared—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member is now trying to use the point of order and the tabling of documents to make a political point.
Dr Paul Hutchison: Why has the Government made such a commitment to increasing elective surgery?
Hon TONY RYALL: That is an excellent question. The Government inherited a very difficult situation in elective surgery, where between 2000 and 2006 the health budget increased significantly, yet the number of patients getting surgery was actually slashed under the 6 years of Annette King. Waiting lists were culled—30,000 people were removed off the waiting lists for no reason other than the fact that the Minister wanted to dress up the waiting list. That is why we have worked so hard—40,000 extra operations a year. What a great effort by the doctors, nurses, and hospitals of our great New Zealand public health service.
Hon Annette King: Is MidCentral District Health Board one of the regions that have thousands waiting to get on a list for surgery, in light of a recent report from its hospital advisory committee that states that it can no longer give certainty for treatment within 5 months to those patients, that there is significant concern about it, and that one board member said publicly that patients will continue to be in pain for a longer period of time and the pain will not go away?
Hon TONY RYALL: I know that the MidCentral District Health Board will be benefiting from the announcement that we made today, and, in fact, compared with when Labour was in office, 5,400 more patients have been treated for elective surgery at the MidCentral District Health Board. I think it is doing a very good job and I would expect more surgery to come.
Hon Annette King: Will he give a commitment today that when district health boards are required to shorten waiting times for surgery to 4 months later this year, the threshold to get surgery will not be lifted and more patients pushed out of the system, as some specialists are predicting is likely to happen; if not, why not?
Hon TONY RYALL: I can give that member the assurance that it has always been this Government’s intention that we shorten waiting times by increasing the amount of surgery that is provided. That is the reason why there were 40,000 more operations done in the last 12 months compared with when we became the Government.
Hon Annette King: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I asked the Minister whether district health boards would be lifting the threshold for surgery. He went nowhere near that question, and that is the guts of the question.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member now cannot insist on an answer that she so desires. The question was wider than that, and I rule that the Minister has addressed the question.
Business Research and Development—Incentives
11. SIMON O’CONNOR (National—Tāmaki) to the Minister of Science and Innovation: How is the Government encouraging New Zealand businesses to undertake more research and development?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister of Science and Innovation): Mr Speaker—[Interruption] I will just wait for Ms King to—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order!
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Let it go, Annette.
Mr SPEAKER: I have now called the Hon Steven Joyce.
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Earlier this month I announced—[Interruption] It is important that we get this, Mr Speaker, as the Labour Party does not understand that this information and communications technology stuff and innovation stuff is going on. So I think that we might wait—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Would the Minister now simply address the question.
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Earlier this month I announced that 31 high-tech New Zealand businesses have been awarded—
Hon David Cunliffe: How to delete a tweet? Or how to roll out broadband so that people actually use it?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: —listen, Mr Cunliffe, because you do not know it is happening—$140 million over 3 years to assist with their research and development programmes. Research and development growth grants available to mid-sized and large New Zealand - based businesses provide each company with 20 percent co-funding of up to $5 million a year to help encourage the conduct of business research and development in New Zealand. As part of our Business Growth Agenda the Government is committed to creating the right environment incentives for businesses to double their expenditure on research and development to more than 1 percent of GDP, and we are making good progress on that target. Business innovation is crucial for New Zealand companies in a tough international environment. These grants help our businesses invest more so that that they can compete more effectively internationally.
Simon O’Connor: How do businesses qualify for these growth grants and what other research and development support is available?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Research and development growth grants are available to New Zealand - based businesses with a track record in research and development and a commitment to spend at least $300,000 a year and at least 1.5 percent of revenue on research and development occurring in New Zealand. The $140 million in funding is part of a wider—
Tracey Martin: How does that help SMEs?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: —listen, you will get there—business research and development support programme administered by Callaghan Innovation, research and development growth grants, research and development student grants, and—yes, Tracey—research and development project grants for smaller businesses, with a total of $566 million available over 4 years. The project grants are available for smaller companies and those that are new to research and development, while incubator support programmes assist start-up businesses.
Simon O’Connor: What other policy proposals did the Minister consider for encouraging highgrowth innovative business, particularly those based online?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I am always considering suggestions, and I considered one suggestion that I received yesterday that was about shutting down major websites if the Government of the day does not like them. However, I do not think the proposed Facebook ban from the Labour Party is likely to encourage innovation in the New Zealand information and communications technology sector. So although we have no plans to introduce a great firewall of New Zealand for social media websites, we do appreciate the suggestion from a Mr Clark all the same, and I think that we can observe that he has had an even worse start to his year than Mr Cunliffe has.
12. Dr RAJEN PRASAD (Labour) to the Minister of Immigration: Is he concerned about the level of illegal job selling taking place according to reports on Campbell Live this week?
Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE (Minister of Immigration): Naturally, I am concerned, as I would be about any potential breach of immigration law. In terms of the show on Campbell Live, it was certainly compelling TV and very good investigative journalism, but for Immigration New Zealand it was nothing new. It has been aware of these cases since last year and has an active investigation under way.
Dr Rajen Prasad: What actions is the Minister taking to increase the number of migrants and others coming forward who have been affected by job-selling, given that many migrants are vulnerable if they disclose their involvement?
Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE: As the member should know, given he is Labour’s immigration spokesman, I changed instructions in June last year to direct officials to turn their turrets on employers not employees. I also introduced legislation increasing penalties for those legally working in New Zealand who are subject to exploitation. I note the member’s press release yesterday where he said: “I have had constituents, friends and acquaintances tell of many examples where either an intermediary, a business owner or a registered practitioner has engaged in job selling.” Well, if that member wants to get rid of his reputation as the least energetic member of this House—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! [Interruption] Order! Order! The member will resume his seat.
Grant Robertson: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. You stood on your feet to sit the member down, which was the right course of action. The member continued speaking for some time, not unlike what the Prime Minister did earlier. If people are going to disobey your rulings like that, it will lead to disorder in the House.
Mr SPEAKER: I fully accept the point the member is making. I will take this opportunity of reminding all members that if I rise to my feet, it is essential that the member returns to his seat. To give the Minister the benefit of the doubt, he may well have been concentrating on an answer that was unhelpful to the order of the House, and I will give him the benefit of the doubt that he did not see me rise to my feet. But in future all members must resume their seat as soon as I rise to my feet. Are there further supplementary questions?
Dr Rajen Prasad: Yes, there are. The member will keep—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member will also simply ask the supplementary question.
Dr Rajen Prasad: Given the views of those working in the field that job-selling is now endemic, why will the Minister not immediately establish an inquiry into the abuse of our immigration system, with appropriate immunity granted for those who come forward?
Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE: Because I am satisfied that no such review is necessary. The investigation is going on—[Interruption] If the member will listen, the case that was the subject of the Campbell Live expose on the last two evenings was referred to Immigration New Zealand by an anonymous tip to Crimestoppers. It is a pretty simple process to pick up the phone and dial an 0800 number to alert immigration authorities to the potential for this behaviour going on, and I encourage the member to communicate with his constituents just that type of behaviour.
Mr SPEAKER: Before I call the member, can I ask for a little less of a barrage coming from members to my left when an answer is being given to a question that has been raised by a member of the Opposition.
Darien Fenton: What steps has he taken to prevent job-selling in the Christchurch rebuild, given that there have already been cases of migrant worker exploitation and reports of job-selling offshore?
Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE: I am certainly aware of some issues in respect of the Philippine diaspora in the Christchurch area. The Philippines Ambassador and I visited the city latelast year to talk to employers, employees, and the Chamber of Commerce. I am also working with my colleague the Minister of Labour on a set of standards for employers in respect of the employment of foreign migrant workers. I am satisfied that the message has got out in the Canterbury community that anybody who has information about illegal activity can safely contact the authorities in order that those claims be investigated.