Questions and Answers - February 13
strong>QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS
Economic Programme—Regional Job Growth
1. DAVID BENNETT (National—Hamilton East) to the Minister of Finance: How is the Government’s economic programme supporting stronger regional job growth?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Associate Minister of Finance) on behalf of the Minister of Finance: As the Minister said yesterday, one of the Government’s priorities is building a more productive and competitive economy, and that is starting to deliver results. Last week’s household labour force survey and quarterly employment survey showed that 66,000 more people were employed in 2013. Of the 12 regions used in the household labour force survey, employment increased in nine of them: Auckland, Waikato, Bay of Plenty, Gisborne-Hawke’s Bay, Manawatū-Wanganui, Wellington, Canterbury, Tasman - West Coast, and Otago, which incidentally was up by nearly 11,000, which will please everybody except the Opposition. Across New Zealand, actual employment growth in the 4 years to December 2013 was 139,000 jobs. That is pretty close to the Treasury forecast made in Budget 2010 and is a fairly consistent picture of recovery reaching across the country.
David Bennett: How is the improving economy impacting on job growth in different sectors?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Of the 16 different industries measured by the household labour force survey, employment rose in 11, including manufacturing, which does debunk another myth often heard around this building. There is no doubting that the high New Zealand dollar is a challenge for exporters, but the January Performance of Manufacturing Index, which was released today, shows manufacturing has now been in expansion for 16 consecutive months, which is, weirdly, precisely the exact same time since the Opposition announced the start of its inquiry into a manufacturing crisis. I quote from the Performance of Manufacturing Index today, which says that manufacturing punched above its weight regarding job growth in 2013. It accounted for 13.5 percent of jobs added in the New Zealand economy overall last year, which is more jobs than were added in Australia in the same period.
David Bennett: How do New Zealand’s latest labour-market statistics compare with Australia’s for the same period?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Our overall employment numbers stack up well compared with Australia’s. We have had very close numbers of unemployment with Australia, and I have been advised within the last hour that Australia’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate in January was 6 percent, which matches the New Zealand rate for December, which was also 6 percent. At the same time many more people, as a percentage of the labour market, participate in the work market in New Zealand than in Australia. Australia’s participation rate is 64.5 percent, compared with the New Zealand rate of nearly 69 percent. That is the second-highest on record. So New Zealand’s increasing participation rate is consistent with the higher levels of confidence that we are seeing, which are encouraging people to have more opportunities in the job market. We are seeing significantly higher employment in New Zealand than in Australia.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: How is giving a $134 million - plus contract to a foreign Kansas company over a Hamilton aircraft company—to use the words of the question—part of the Government’s economic programme supporting stronger regional job growth, and what did National MPs Bennett and Macindoe do about this atrocity? [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The Hon Steven Joyce—either of those two supplementary questions.
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I think it is important for the member to note that economic policy does not stand alone in any particular area, but, actually, we have to boost confidence and competitiveness across the New Zealand economy. That means actually ensuring that New Zealand Government expenditure is the best it can possibly be and that it meets the requirements of a particular contract. If the member is suggesting that we ignore those things, then very quickly our economy would go backwards, and the sort of positive results that we are now seeing would disappear out of the New Zealand economy. But I am familiar with that approach from Mr Peters.
David Bennett: What proposals has he seen that are likely to impact on future employment growth?
Mr SPEAKER: The Hon Steven Joyce, in so far as he has ministerial responsibility.
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Employment growth comes when someone has the work available to justify hiring another person and they have the confidence in order to do so. The recent growth in confidence and employment in the New Zealand economy is closely linked. The Government has more than 350 initiatives under way—
Andrew Little: You don’t know what you’re talking about.
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I think you are in the dangerous territory there, Mr Little. The Government has more than 350 initiatives under the Business Growth Agenda that are helping businesses grow, because that is how employment grows. I contrast this with policies that would put a chill on industries, that would cause their hiring intentions to freeze, and companies themselves might not even survive—for example, if you nationalise the electricity industry or double the cost of the emissions trading scheme on households and businesses, or if you impose new taxes on every single business in the country.
Hon David Parker: Is the Minister aware that manufactured exports outside the primary sector are down again in the latest period and are still down below where they were when he took office?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: No. I appreciate that the member likes to pare away at the different types of manufacturing. The difficulty we have is that he is always removing primary sector manufacturing, which, of course, is things like food processing, forestry products, and so on. He always like to remove bits to desperately try to find a way of talking down the New Zealand economy.
Hon David Parker: I seek leave to table the latest Statistics New Zealand figures—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Those statistics are freely available to all.
Supermarkets—Management of Supply Contracts
2. Hon SHANE JONES (Labour) to the Minister of Commerce: Is he aware of demands being made by the Countdown supermarket group for retrospective payments from New Zealand suppliers, with threats Countdown will not stock their products?
Hon CRAIG FOSS (Minister of Commerce): I am aware of serious allegations that were raised on this matter yesterday in the House. I understand that a complaint has been made to the Commerce Commission about these allegations. The Commerce Commission will now go through its formal processes to consider this complaint. Because of the seriousness of these allegations I have also written to the Commerce Commission asking it to keep me informed as appropriate as it examines this matter.
Hon Shane Jones: Had he received any information prior to yesterday from any source that tactics like these have been used in New Zealand supermarkets?
Hon CRAIG FOSS: I am not aware of any information that I have received regarding the specific matters that the member mentioned under the privilege of the House yesterday.
Hon Shane Jones: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. That is not the question that was asked.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! No, I listened very carefully to the question, and on this occasion I think the Minister has adequately addressed the question. The member has further supplementary questions. I invite him to use them.
Hon Shane Jones: I ask again: what has he done to protect New Zealand suppliers, workers, from unprincipled, predatory behaviour from the Countdown supermarket group?
Hon CRAIG FOSS: The Commerce Act is an Act that administers all competition law in New Zealand. It has been updated over the years and there is recourse in that Act to deal with very serious and new allegations that were made yesterday in the House about the particular supermarket sector.
Hon Shane Jones: Does he believe that it is ethical and acceptable for Countdown to abuse its position to threaten suppliers; if not, will he act to deal with this or do nothing?
Hon CRAIG FOSS: The allegations made yesterday are of deep concern to me. They are serious allegations that could have serious implications. That is why I have written to the Commerce Commission bringing these matters to their attention and asking to be kept briefed of their activities as they pursue this complaint.
Hon Shane Jones: Why has this Minister sold out New Zealand businesses and suppliers to the Australian supermarket Countdown?
Hon CRAIG FOSS: This Government has done more than previous Governments to ensure a robust, fair, transparent, and competitive environment for all New Zealand businesses big and small. I could list those matters but it might take too long.
Hon Shane Jones: Give that almost a year ago today the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission announced an investigation into Australian supermarkets’ use of these shakedown tactics, did he ever initiate any investigations or even ask any questions of Countdown or the supermarket sector as a whole, given that Countdown’s parent company, Woolworths, also operates in a duopoly over there?
Hon CRAIG FOSS: I have no responsibility for what the Australians are doing, but, yes, we do keep a watching brief on what is going on over there. I do note that there are ongoing inquiries in this sector in Australia, which we are keeping an eye on, but they are much wider than the specific issues that the member mentioned.
Hon Shane Jones: I seek the leave of the House to table a letter written by myself to Dr Berry, the chair of the Commerce Commission.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought for permission to table that particular letter. Is there any objection? There is none. It can be so tabled. [Interruption] Order! I understood there was no objection. Was there objection? I am going to ask the member to put the leave again so I can be clear.
Hon Shane Jones: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. It was clearly evident to all concerned; no one dissented.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! No—[Interruption] Order! There appears to be some doubt about that. I think it is easily tidied up. If the member simply seeks leave again, I will put the leave and I will listen very carefully and if—[Interruption] No, there was a suggestion made that there was an objection. I doubt whether there will be. I want to be clear.
Hon Shane Jones: I seek leave to table a letter written by myself to Dr Berry of the Commerce Commission.
Mr SPEAKER: Right; leave is sought to table that particular letter. Is there any objection? There is none. The letter can be tabled. Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Public Transport, Auckland—City Rail Link
JULIE ANNE GENTER (Green): My question—the microphone does not seem to be working.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Let us try again and I will confirm that it is working.
JULIE ANNE GENTER (Green): My question is to the Minister for—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] I do not need assistance. It is not working. Can we try once more, otherwise I will ask the member to swap seats with Kevin Hague. [Interruption]
JULIE ANNE GENTER (Green): Silencing the Greens! [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! If the member is given the courtesy of silence in the House, I am sure her voice will be heard. I will be very upset if anybody interjects during the reading of this question.
3. JULIE ANNE GENTER (Green) to the Minister for Economic Development: Why is the Government holding up economic development in Auckland’s CBD, according to Auckland City officials, by delaying the opening of the City Rail Link until 2025?
Hon Tau Henare: We had to be quiet for that?
Mr SPEAKER: Yes, yes, that particular member certainly has to be quiet for that.
Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister for Economic Development): The Government is not holding up economic development in the Auckland central business district, and we are certainly not delaying the opening of the City Rail Link. In fact, if anything, we have accelerated it.
Julie Anne Genter: Is the Minister disagreeing, then, with Prime Minister John Key when he said that Auckland Mayor Len Brown had a “fair point” that private investment is being held up by the delay to the City Rail Link?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: The Prime Minister, as I understand it, said that it was fair to have a look at the matters that the mayor had raised, but he also said that nothing had changed at this time.
Julie Anne Genter: Is the Minister denying that there is at least $1 billion of private investment planned along the route of the City Rail Link, that those investments will be held up until the final design of the City Rail Link is set, and that investors know when it is going to be open?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: They do now know when it is going to be open. The second point is I have some doubt as to which projects the member is referring to. It would be helpful if she mentioned them. I have had it raised with me, for example, that the New Zealand International Convention Centre might be one of those projects—
Hon Gerry Brownlee: Really?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Yes, and I appreciate the member’s concern that it may not be built on time, although I think that that demonstrates certain flexible principles on behalf of the Green Party if it is now asking to accelerate the convention centre, rather than stop it.
Julie Anne Genter: I seek leave to table, for the benefit of the Minister, a list of six major developments, not including the convention centre—
Mr SPEAKER: That is well enough described, thank you. I will put the leave. Leave is sought to table that particular list of developments that are proposed. Is there any objection to that being tabled?
Hon Steven Joyce: Where did it come from?
Mr SPEAKER: I have neglected to ask the source of the document.
Julie Anne Genter: The Auckland Council. They are developments that have—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! It is an Auckland Council document. Is there any objection to it being tabled? There is none. It can be tabled. Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Julie Anne Genter: Has the Minister sought any advice on the impact on Auckland’s economic development of the later construction date of the City Rail Link; if so, did that advice confirm Auckland Council’s finding that delaying the City Rail Link will inflate construction costs by half a billion dollars?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: The member should address issues in relation to the actual construction of the City Rail Link to my colleague the eminent Mr Brownlee. In relation to private sector developments, I think we do have to test that. One of the developments, I understand—and I have not yet had the opportunity to read the member’s list—relates to a project where I met the representatives of the developer. At no time have they raised concerns about any timetabling of the City Rail Link. In fact, they were quite comfortable that the constraints were, in fact, planning constraints, not City Rail Link constraints.
Julie Anne Genter: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I asked the question “Has he sought any advice on the impact on economic development”—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member did ask that, and also added a second question about a potential cost increase of half a billion dollars. The Minister clearly answered that by saying it is not within his portfolio and it needs to be addressed to Mr Brownlee. The question has been addressed.
Julie Anne Genter: Has the Government not set up a catch-22 situation where it has said that it will not fund the City Rail Link until arbitrary job and rail patronage targets have been met, even though it is clear that the City Rail Link is the best way to increase jobs and rail use in Auckland?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Well, the member makes a very interesting point in which she says that the construction of certain transport projects might hasten development and economic growth in the country. Weirdly, though, that seems to be the only project that will do that. The Basin Reserve flyover, Transmission Gully, the Pūhoi to Warkworth road, the Tauranga bypass, and so on are all very bad ideas, but, weirdly, the central rail loop will accelerate development. I think the member is showing certain rose-tinted spectacles for just one project.
Julie Anne Genter: Does the Minister really believe that there will be greater economic development benefits from saving a few minutes for tens of thousands of vehicles; or does he believe there will be greater economic benefit in allowing hundreds of thousands of Aucklanders to use rail to access the city centre and save money on petrol and vehicles, and, by allowing those Aucklanders to use the rail network, he will actually free up the roads for those who need to use them? Is it not obvious that that is a better use of investment?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I might be weird, but I actually think saving time for, as the member puts it, tens of thousands of people in vehicles may, in fact, be a good idea to do on an everyday basis. Look, I think we have a very interesting and straightforward process for determining the relative merits of particular projects, and they are called benefit-cost ratios. The member speaks a lot about benefit-cost ratios in terms of how they are relative to each other, but I note that no matter which project you use, unfortunately, at this time, the City Rail Link comes out at a lower benefitcost ratio than all the road projects that the member criticises; therefore, it needs to be considered for the right time that it is for. I am absolutely confident, on the evidence that I have seen to date, that the City Rail Link timetable, which was brought forward by this Government, is not holding up economic development in our biggest city.
Julie Anne Genter: Does the Government actually have a commitment to build the City Rail Link; if so, why has it not allocated a single cent to the project in any of its three long-term transport spending plans? Why did the transport Minister tell me in answer to written questions that the Government will not be updating these documents to reflect its supposed commitment to the City Rail Link?
Mr SPEAKER: The Hon Steven Joyce—any of those questions.
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Well, the member might note that to my left the transport Minister, Mr Brownlee, is available to answer any questions at any time in relation to timing—in fact, I think he is slightly miffed that you did not ask him the question today! I think the reality of it is that this Government has committed to the project. The member is trying to seek to bring the project forward, which she can do if she likes, but to suggest that we are delaying it is simply incorrect.
Julie Anne Genter: For the benefit of the Minister, I would like to table the City Centre Future Access Study, which shows that by 2021—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! The document has been quite satisfactorily described. Now I just need the source of the document.
Julie Anne Genter: It was a report written by Sinclair Knight Merz for Auckland Council and for—
Mr SPEAKER: On the basis that that may not be readily available for members, I will put the leave. It is then for members to decide. Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is objection.
4. ALFRED NGARO (National) to the Minister for Social Development: What reports has she received about the state of the nation in relation to social outcomes?
Hon PAULA BENNETT (Minister for Social Development): I have seen a report that says that in the social sector a great deal is going right. It says that educational disparities are narrowing, gaps between passing rates from rich to poor schools and from Māori and non-Māori are not as wide as they used to be. What is particularly pleasing to me is the report also says that it is the young people who offer the most hope. There are fewer teen pregnancies, fewer on benefits, less drinking, and more in education, employment, or training. I know the Opposition does not think that is good news, but certainly we on this side do celebrate that.
Alfred Ngaro: What else does the report say about progress in the social sector?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: The Salvation Army report itself is really very complimentary about this Government’s progress in the social sector. It says “as a national community, we have made credible and worthwhile social progress. It is important to acknowledge and celebrate this because, for the most part, it is intentional and hard won. The Government should be applauded for its contribution to this progress.”
Alfred Ngaro: Has she seen any other reports about the state of the nation in relation to social outcomes?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: In the interests of balance, I have seen other comments in the state of the nation report. It says that “The social outcomes which we as New Zealanders have achieved over the past five years are somewhat mixed and in some areas quite disappointing.” It goes on to say that “What is perhaps most disappointing about these results is that as a country we have invested hugely in the core areas of social spending over the past … years … While this social spending is essential it seems to have contributed very little to our social progress.” But of course this report was from the Salvation Army in 2008.
Sue Moroney: Did she read the part where the Salvation Army said that they distributed a record 55,718 food parcels to 23,400 families during 2013, which the report notes is two-thirds higher than when Labour was in Government; and does she think that the Government should be applauded for that as a social outcome?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: I want to commend the Salvation Army for what they do for those vulnerable New Zealanders, and there is absolutely no question about it that the Government actually contributes tens of millions of dollars to the Salvation Army, and I think they distribute it to those who are most in need. But what I did see in the 2008 report was that we had climbing teenage pregnancy and abortion rates, continuing education inequality—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! I apologise to the Minister. Point of order, Grant Robertson.
Grant Robertson: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Minister has been some distance into her answer now. She was asked two questions—I acknowledge that—one of which was whether she had read that particular part of that report. The other was whether she thought the Government should be applauded for it. She has just gone on to talking about 2008—
Mr SPEAKER: I accept the point and I was wondering whether the Minister was going to, at some stage, conclude as to whether she has read that part of the report, or answer the second part of the question. Hon Paula Bennett, do you wish to add to your answer?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: Certainly. I have read the whole report.
Earthquakes, Canterbury and Christchurch—Treatment of Asbestos
5. DENIS O’ROURKE (NZ First) to the Minister for Canterbury Earthquake Recovery: Is he aware of any proposals to transport asbestos-contaminated material from the Christchurch rebuild to sub-standard landfills?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE (Minister for Canterbury Earthquake Recovery): No. The Government has been very clear that from a Government perspective our expectation is that all asbestos-contaminated material recovered in the rebuild of Christchurch will be properly dealt with at properly accredited sites.
Denis O’Rourke: Is the Minister aware of the very troubling rumours circulating in Canterbury and Southland about plans by some parties to transport asbestos-contaminated waste— [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I cannot hear the supplementary question. I ask the member to start that question again.
Denis O’Rourke: Is the Minister aware of the very troubling rumours circulating in Canterbury and Southland about plans by some parties to transport asbestos-contaminated waste as far as Southland?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: No. What I am aware of is that throughout New Zealand there are numerous sites that are accredited for the receipt of asbestos-contaminated waste. There are 19 contaminated waste sites in Southland, and all of them are accredited. Some of them may well be accredited for receiving asbestos waste, but I am not aware that there is any contract let for such a proposal. What I would suggest to the member is that he should not be troubled by rumours, particularly those relating—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I do not think that part is going to help the order of the House.
Denis O’Rourke: Is the Minister aware of the serious potential danger posed to the public by not transporting asbestos waste properly, especially over long distances or in unsuitable rail wagons, and by not disposing of asbestos in fit for purpose landfills?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: Yes, and that is why I gave the answer I did at the start. I would refer the member to both the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment’s WorkSafe website and the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority’s website, where the protocols for dealing with asbestos-contaminated waste are clearly spelt out. All asbestos waste that has come out of Christchurch to date, apart from one shipment, has gone to the Kate Valley landfill—a landfill that the member will be very familiar with—which is quite some distance from the city. So there will always be some transport required. It is important that it is transported in secure vessels.
Denis O’Rourke: As the Minister is aware that Christchurch has a class A landfill at Kate Valley capable of the safe disposal of hazardous materials, including asbestos, and serviced by a properly designed transport system, will he now give an unqualified assurance that all asbestoscontaminated material from Christchurch will be permanently disposed of in that facility?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: I am familiar with that facility. It was a great addition to Canterbury, and I take my hat off to the member for his involvement in getting it there. But what I would say is that there is a gate fee for any disposal that is located inside Kate Valley. If it is found to be too expensive for some of this waste to be disposed of there, then we would require it to go to an accredited waste site, and that would need to be transported in a way that is safe.
Denis O’Rourke: Is the Minister saying that considerations of cost or expense are more important than the safe disposal of asbestos at Kate Valley?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: No, and it would be an extraordinary effort on his part to extrapolate that from any of the answers I have given.
Health Services—Affordability and Timeliness
6. Hon ANNETTE KING (Labour—Rongotai) to the Minister of Health: Is he satisfied New Zealanders are receiving timely and affordable healthcare?
Hon JO GOODHEW (Associate Minister of Health) on behalf of the Minister of Health: I am satisfied with the average $500-million-a-year increase in Vote Health despite tight financial times, while recognising that health can always make use of more resources. I am particularly satisfied that affordability for families with under-6-year-olds has improved under this Government, with almost all under-sixes able to access 24/7 free general practitioner care. I am also satisfied with the progress in reducing waiting times at emergency departments and faster access to elective surgery. However, there is always room for improvement, and we are focused on delivering even better services for New Zealanders.
Hon Annette King: In light of that answer, is he satisfied that district health boards and general practitioners are now advising patients who do not qualify for an operation to “seek alternative provision”—in other words pay for it themselves—as Agnes of the Southern District Health Board found recently when her general practitioner advised her to pay for her first hip replacement so she could have a better quality of life while waiting for a second hip replacement in the public health system some time in the future?
Hon JO GOODHEW: I would have to ask the member to forward to the Minister those particular circumstances so they could be looked into. However, I do need to impress upon the member that, under her Government, when it went out of office there were 118,000 “Agneses” getting elective surgery; there are now 158,000 “Agneses” getting elective surgery.
Hon Annette King: Does the fact that the Auckland District Health Board reduced the number of cataract operations carried out in 2013 account for Mrs Wilson of Helensville being told that she would have to pay for her two cataract operations at the cost of $10,000, which she said would have to “come out of the savings put aside for our retirement”?
Hon JO GOODHEW: What I am aware of is that the Auckland District Health Board has had a funding increase of $180 million. I am also aware that there have always been people waiting for surgery in New Zealand. Under the previous Labour Government there were people waiting longer and people not getting certainty of surgery. I am, in fact, aware that under this Government we have certainly increased the number of people getting elective surgery.
Hon Annette King: In light of the fact that this Government has been governing for over 5 years, is he satisfied that South Canterbury District Health Board did only 18 more orthopaedic operations in 2013 than it did in 2010, and does that account for Grey Power Timaru calling a meeting next Wednesday to discuss access to orthopaedic waiting lists, which—according to the president of Grey Power Timaru—“is leaving so many of those requiring total hip and knee replacements in limbo” and in pain?
Hon JO GOODHEW: What I am aware of is that, compared with the previous Labour Government’s provision, this Government has managed 175 more orthopaedic operations than were happening under the previous Government, so actually the people of South Canterbury are most definitely better off under this Government. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I will just assist the member here.
Hon Annette King: Thank you, Mr Speaker. In light of the fact that this Government has been in office for over 5 years, is he satisfied—
Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. That is the second or third question that the member has begun with those words. They are not in line with the Standing Orders, and I suggest that someone of her experience is abusing the House by trying to put in a comment that has nothing to do with the question.
Hon Annette King: I feel that it is acceptable for me to add those words in light of the fact that the Minister, in every answer, has gone back to when I was Minister 8 years ago, to add to her answer.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I need no more assistance. The member Mr Brownlee is strictly correct that supplementary questions should be kept far briefer than we are seeing from the member at this stage. However, I accept that it is a particularly important year to all members, and I am not ruling the question out of order in any way at all. But I do warn all members who ask supplementary questions that are quite verbose and leave attack lines within them, that they can expect a relatively political answer back, and I will not take kindly to members then questioning whether the question has been adequately addressed.
Hon Annette King: Thank you, Mr Speaker. And I have not done that, you would note. Is he satisfied that a 62-year-old registered nurse who has worked for 45 years in public hospitals and who has been diagnosed with osteoarthritis cannot even get a specialist appointment because the district health board has told her that “Currently we receive more requests for specialist appointments than we are able to provide. Therefore, we have to limit referrals to those most urgent.”, and has been sent back to her general practitioner for increased pain medication?
Hon JO GOODHEW: I would invite the member to forward that case to the Minister. However, because I have this page open in front of me, I will say that if we use South Canterbury as an example that the member has previously raised, there have been 2,331 more first specialist assessments under this Government. So things have improved under this Government.
Kevin Hague: What specific actions has he taken to address the disturbing findings in the Auditor-General’s 2011 report Progress in Delivering Publicly Funded Scheduled Services to Patients, which found a poor relationship between how sick a person is and how quickly they get their surgery, and does this problem still exist?
Hon JO GOODHEW: I am going to have a go at this, although I can tell you that I do not have a briefing in front of me on that particular report. So what this Government is doing is we are looking at the standardised results across district health boards for rankings per 10,000, about how people are actually getting access to it. But there are standardised ways of assessing, in each district health board in this country, how a person will actually qualify for access to services, so that those who need it most will get it first. That is not an arbitrary system; that is a carefully clinically assessed way of dealing with patients who need the surgery, who need the appointment, most.
Kevin Hague: I do appreciate the difficulty the Associate Minister has. Is he concerned that, according to his own answers to written questions, the average case weight or complexity of elective surgery being carried out has been declining under his watch; if not, why not?
Hon JO GOODHEW: I cannot respond based on the written answers that the Minister has actually provided, but I can tell you that under this Government 40,000 more people a year are actually getting access to elective surgery.
Kevin Hague: How will he ensure that the sickest patients with the greatest needs stop missing out on surgery, given that it is his simplistic targets that are causing them to be left off surgical lists in the first place?
Hon JO GOODHEW: I would have to say that every single case in this book that tells me someone has had orthopaedic surgery does not sound like simplistic surgery to me. Therefore, I would doubt that the member is correct in his assertion.
7. MARK MITCHELL (National—Rodney) to the Minister of Housing: What reports has he received on positive progress being advanced on the Government’s housing agenda?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH (Minister of Housing): The fourth quarter report for 2013 on new house builds shows the strongest growth in more than a decade. In Auckland it saw 1,959 new homes consented—up 74 percent on the same time in 2012. To put this house build rate in the
context of the Auckland accord targets, we were building 4,000 houses a year. We are aiming for 9,000 houses per year, and the latest quarter data annualises out at 7,800 per year. In Christchurch it saw 894 new homes consented. That is a trebling on the same quarter of a year earlier. These encouraging numbers are an all-time high and show the huge pace of the momentum in the Christchurch rebuild. Nationally, new home builds were 9,200 for the quarter and up 32 percent on the same period in 2012. These encouraging numbers indicate that New Zealand will build over 25,000 new houses this year—the highest in a decade.
Mark Mitchell: What reports has the Minister received on housing affordability and how it compares historically?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: There are three independent measures of housing affordability, and all of them show that it has improved under this Government. The Demographia survey, which measures the ratio of average house price to income, shows that it is currently 5.5—significantly less than 6.3 in 2008. The Roost survey compares the proportion of an average person’s income that would go on a mortgage in an average-priced house. It shows that affordability was at its worst in 2008 at 83.4 percent, and it is currently 60.7 percent. The Massey University housing affordability index shows that it too was at its worst 6 years ago, at 33.9 percent, and is now 21.8 percent. The average of these surveys shows that housing affordability has actually improved by 30 percent since 2008.
Mark Mitchell: What reports has the Minister received on the claim that Auckland house prices are now higher than Melbourne’s?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: I have received an email from the Real Estate Institute that says that this claim is false. The median house price in Melbourne is A$643,000, or, in Kiwi terms, $696,000. The median house price, it advises me, in Auckland is 16 percent less, at $600,000. The claim was based on comparing central Auckland City house prices with Melbourne-wide figures. This is plainly misleading but is what we have come to expect from the tricky crew opposite.
Phil Twyford: What does he say to the Chief Human Rights Commissioner, David Rutherford, who says that the housing shortage in Canterbury is the country’s most pressing human rights challenge, and to what extent have his slowness to act on the housing crisis and his refusal to admit that his housing policy is a shambles added to the stress and pain of Cantabrians over the last 3 years?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: What the Human Rights Commission report shows is that the Canterbury earthquakes were the biggest natural disaster that this country has faced—something that members opposite ignore. I draw to that member’s attention that in the last quarter a record—an all-time record—number of new houses were built. I would further draw the member’s attention to the claim by Labour just after the Christchurch earthquakes that the biggest concern for Christchurch was that its house prices were going to collapse—something that I noticed has not actually occurred.
Phil Twyford: Does he believe that recent Quotable Value data showing that the number of firsthome buyers is now at the lowest level in 3 years is a sign that his housing policies are working; if not, how many photo opportunities will it take to change the minds of first-home buyers and convince them that he knows what he is doing?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: I would simply refer to the facts, and they are that housing affordability in New Zealand was at its worst in history after 9 years of a Labour Government. Those are the facts on all the independent surveys. I would also draw the member’s attention to today’s report from Standard and Poor’s. Standard and Poor’s has said that the loan-to-value ratios introduced by our Reserve Bank are having the effect of containing house price inflation—a measure that has been opposed by members opposite.
Minimum Wage—Prime Minister’s Statements
8. DARIEN FENTON (Labour) to the Minister of Labour: Does he agree with the Prime Minister’s statement on the minimum wage that “I think we’ve been pretty fair in what we’ve done in the past and we probably will be in the future”?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES (Minister of Labour): As tempting as it is to think there is something a bit tricky in this question from the current member Darien Fenton, I wholeheartedly agree with the Prime Minister. The reason for that is that we have raised the minimum wage every single year we have been in office. We have a very high minimum wage compared with other countries. We have the highest ratio in the OECD of minimum wage to the average wage. Only four other countries have higher minimum wages than us, in terms of absolute wage levels, and only two other countries have a higher annual income for a minimum wage worker than New Zealand. I am confident that we will continue to strike that careful balance between protecting low-paid workers, while ensuring that jobs are not lost.
Darien Fenton: Is it pretty fair that the minimum wage grew by 36.2 percent in real terms when Labour was in Government, but it has actually decreased by 5c an hour in real terms since his party became the Government?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: I do not think that last so-called statistic is correct.
Darien Fenton: Does he think it is pretty fair that some Government-owned companies’ chief executive officers are paid 53 times the minimum wage and some private sector chief executive officers are paid 146 times the minimum wage, or is that just a bit rich?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: I appreciate that the party opposite is the party of the politics of envy, but this party has raised the minimum wage every single year. We have one of the highest minimum wages, in both real terms and relative terms, in the world. As I say, we have the aim of raising it absolutely where we can, without affecting the employment levels of workers.
Darien Fenton: Given his Government’s rejection of the labour cost index as a measure of wage growth and its reliance on the quarterly employment survey, does this mean he will commit to a minimum wage increase at least as large as the increase in wages in the quarterly employment survey?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: Well, I do not unwrap my Christmas presents before Christmas. The member will have to wait and see.
Darien Fenton: Given both the Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance have said they could not live on the minimum wage, how is it fair to maintain the minimum wage at a level that families, real families, cannot afford to live on?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: Of course, there is a range of other entitlements, including, not least of which, Working for Families, which this Government wraps around families, in addition to the minimum wage. As I said, I think in answer to the primary question, we have raised the minimum wage every year we have been in office. We have one of the highest minimum wages in the world. I think in tough times that is worth remembering.
Science and Research Funding—National Science Challenges Initiative
9. CLAUDETTE HAUITI (National) to the Minister of Science and Innovation: How are the National Science Challenges bringing together the best scientific talent across New Zealand?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister of Science and Innovation): Last week I released a request for proposals for a search for the second tranche of New Zealand’s National Science Challenges. The challenges align and focus New Zealand’s research on large and complex issues by encouraging scientists from different institutions and across disciplines to achieve a common goal through collaboration. The second tranche comprises seven challenges, with total funding of up to $439 million over 10 years. The requests for proposals lay out agreed themes and research topics developed with the science sector. The National Science Challenges will deliver a more strategic
approach to the Government’s science investment by targeting a series of goals that will have major and enduring benefits for New Zealand.
Claudette Hauiti: What topics will the second tranche of the challenges be addressing?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: There are seven challenges in the second tranche. Let me just pick a couple that I think the House will be particularly interested in. There is $63.7 million available for New Zealand’s biological heritage challenge, which is all about protecting and improving our biosecurity and enhancing our resilience to harmful organisms. There is also $106 million for the science for technological innovation challenge, which will enhance the capacity of New Zealand to use physical and engineering sciences for economic growth.
Dr Megan Woods: Do any of the indicative themes and outcomes for the 12 National Science Challenges specifically provide funding for research into renewable energies; if so, which ones?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: There are a number of challenges that can cover those areas, including the science for technological innovation challenge, and, I think, the land and water one as well. It is also important to note for the member that the National Science Challenges do not take over all of New Zealand’s science funding. There remain significant funds, outside the science challenges, including from the Ministry for the Environment, in renewable energies.
Dr Megan Woods: I seek leave to table a National Science Challenges funding Cabinet paper that makes no mention of renewable energy.
Mr SPEAKER: I just want to check how available that pamphlet is to all members.
Dr Megan Woods: A Cabinet paper.
Mr SPEAKER: I will put the leave. Leave is sought to table it. Is there any objection? There appears to be none. It can be tabled. Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Child Poverty—Expenditure Priorities
10. HONE HARAWIRA (Leader—Mana) to the Minister for Economic Development: Will he commit to spending the $41m on reducing child poverty, after signalling that he might not now give that money to Team New Zealand to compete in the next America’s Cup?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister for Economic Development): The Government has not yet appropriated money for a further America’s Cup challenge, but I am pleased to be able to report to the member in the mean time that the Government spends billions of dollars every year on supporting families, particularly low-income families. The 2013 Budget included more than $900 million in initiatives to help vulnerable families, through a significant investment in things like $189 million to assist people from welfare into work; $377 million to build 3,000 new State house bedrooms and 500 new 2-bedroom homes; $100 million over 3 years for the new Warm Up New Zealand: Healthy Homes programme; $9.5 million for an expansion of the KickStart Breakfast programme; $21 million for rheumatic fever prevention; $15.7 million for the Children’s Action Plan; and $172 million in new investment in early childhood education. Of course, getting people into work is the best way out of poverty. I look forward to the member’s support for our comprehensive welfare reform programme, as well as things that create jobs, as demonstrated through our Business Growth Agenda.
Hone Harawira: Does the Minister agree with the Salvation Army’s Striking a Better Balance: A State of the Nation Report released yesterday, which called child poverty a time-bomb issue for the nation, and can he explain how bailing out wealthy investors and spending money on a yacht race for millionaires helps to reduce the crippling poverty faced by 270,000 children in Aotearoa?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: As I understand it, the Salvation Army report says that child poverty rates may be easing, based on data rates from Bryan Perry’s report. So the report does not support the idea that child poverty is getting worse. But the member raises a very fair point. The point I would make in response is that a very important part of what this Government does is to encourage
economic growth and investment so we have more jobs for people, because having a job actually gives people a quicker path out of poverty. I will acknowledge my colleague, Minister Sharples, who spends a huge amount of effort marketing New Zealand overseas, for example, and actually the America’s Cup and the involvement of the New Zealand Government is about doing exactly the same thing.
Hone Harawira: Does the Minister think that gambling on the outcome of another millionaire’s yacht race, after already losing $80 million on the first two, is a reasonable and responsible way for a Government to be developing the country’s economic base, or is it because gambling and the promotion of casinos are the basis of his Government’s economic strategy?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I reject completely the assertion made in that member’s question, including that the Government’s plan is that we have to win the America’s Cup. Actually, the Government’s involvement is the marketing of New Zealand through the America’s Cup. But if the member is concerned about economic development, I invite him to join the Government in a whole bunch of other things he did not mention in that question—for example, in his home patch, oil and gas exploration, the commitment to increase Māori land productivity, and the commitment to work with Ngāpuhi to get Treaty settlements, and the equipment to build decent transport in Northland. The day that that member gets up and endorses some of those job-creating initiatives is the day that I will listen to him on economic development and the relief of poverty.
Question No. 11 to Minister
Mr SPEAKER: Question No. 11, Dr Rajen Prasad. [Interruption] Order!
Grant Robertson: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: I am on my feet. That sort of behaviour is completely unacceptable and will lead to disorder in this House. If it is to happen again I will be asking the members responsible for that sort of behaviour to be leaving.
GRANT ROBERTSON (Labour—Wellington Central): I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! This is a point of order and it will be heard in silence.
GRANT ROBERTSON: I am not contesting your ruling. I have not been here that long, but I do not think I have seen anything as disrespectful to a member than that behaviour, and I believe that one of those members should be thrown out right now. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member makes a reasonable point. The difficulty I would have is in developing the wisdom of Solomon to decide which of them to throw out. On this occasion— [Interruption] Order! I have given a very strong warning to those members. I would certainly hope that that behaviour is never repeated.
11. Dr RAJEN PRASAD (Labour) to the Minister of Immigration: When he said in response to an oral question on 29 January 2014 that it was “a pretty simple process … to alert immigration authorities”, what was his understanding of the process a complainant would go through?
Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE (Minister of Immigration): The member has omitted the very important middle part of my 29 January response. My full comment was as follows: “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,”. This was in reference to Mr Prasad’s 28 January statement where he admitted that despite being made aware of numerous immigration scams by friends and constituents, he has never once alerted the authorities or convinced his constituents to alert authorities so that action could be taken. The immigration contact centre can be reached on 0508 558 885. The fact that it received 750,000 phone and email inquiries last year illustrates the fact that this is a pretty simple process. People can also visit their nearest immigration office,
contact Immigration New Zealand via email, or report issues anonymously through the Crimestoppers line on 0800 555 111.
Dr Rajen Prasad: Given what the Minister has just said, why then were the three overseas students who were defrauded by an elaborate scheme involving fake job offers for a fee of $6,000 each, which was reported to Immigration New Zealand by their solicitor, denied visas under section 61 of the Immigration Act and threatened with deportation before their cases had been investigated?
Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE: Firstly, I challenge the member to verify the last part of that statement, where they have been “threatened with deportation”. What I would say is that my instructions to officials is that people who speak up do so without fear of being disadvantaged in the way that the member describes. The member will also be aware that those three people were already unlawful before they were the victims of those scams. Making an allegation does not get you a free pass. Individual circumstances are always considered by Immigration New Zealand on a case by case basis.
Dr Rajen Prasad: Given the challenge that the Minister has just made, I seek leave to present the emails that actually contain that very language—that very information—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I am just a little confused now. The member is seeking leave to table a series of emails. Does the House need a further description of the content of those emails before I put the leave? The House needs to know a little more detail about the emails the member is seeking to table.
Dr Rajen Prasad: Well, these are emails from Immigration New Zealand that actually do, in conveying the decision—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Who are the emails to? We have established that they are from—
Dr Rajen Prasad: To the complainants.
Mr SPEAKER: To the complainants. On the basis that the member has—[Interruption] Order! On the basis that the member has got the permission of the claimants to release this information, I am going to put the leave and the House can decide. Leave is sought to table those emails. Is there any objection? There is objection.
Dr Rajen Prasad: Why has the number of investigations of immigration fraud over the last 2 years been significantly lower than in the previous 2 years and the number of prosecutions for fraud been the lowest it has been for the previous 5 years, given that there are many more people experiencing immigration fraud?
Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE: Well, I challenge the claim about successful prosecutions. The information I have, and which was communicated to the member on, I think, Monday, is that successful prosecutions have gone up between by 400 and 500 percent since 2008-09.
Dr Rajen Prasad: If the fraud branch of Immigration New Zealand is adequately resourced to undertake timely investigations of allegations of fraud from reputable immigration specialists, why was the investigation of three cases reported to Immigration New Zealand before 10 December 2013 not progressed by 31 January, but the decision to make those people liable for deportation was made on 23 January?
Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE: I am not in a position to verify whether or not the dates the member mentions are absolutely accurate, but I would say about this specific case that there is much more to the communication between the victims’ advocates and Immigration New Zealand than meets the eye, and it would not be appropriate for me to verify or refute the member’s claims.
Dr Rajen Prasad: Supplementary question, Mr Speaker—
Hon Gerry Brownlee: It is Thursday.
Dr Rajen Prasad: Well, I am glad the member knows what day it is.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! If the member just asks his supplementary question.
Dr Rajen Prasad: Given the mounting evidence of immigration fraud in the past few weeks and the inability of the fraud branch to carry out timely investigations of complaints, why will the
Minister not reconsider his decision to deny an inquiry into the illegal practices that are damaging the reputation of the New Zealand immigration system?
Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE: I repeat my response from 2 weeks ago that the inquiry would not reveal anything we do not already know, but I note that Mr Prasad seeks an inquiry, according his press release, into the abuse of our immigration system. This is not the abuse of our immigration system; this is the abuse of victims of migrant exploitation. Creating an unnecessary climate of fear amongst victims of this crime is inappropriate and unhelpful. Mr Prasad would be better off dedicating his energies to assist me in encouraging those migrant communities to speak up about it.
12. CHRIS AUCHINVOLE (National) to the Associate Minister of Transport: What progress is being made in improving road safety?
Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE (Associate Minister of Transport): The Safer Journeys road safety strategy is now 4 years old, and the Government has introduced a number of road safety measures during that time, including increasing the driving age, lowering the blood-alcohol levels for drivers under 20 and repeat offenders to zero, fixing the give way rule, and continuing to support high-profile campaigns. I can report to the House that the road toll for 2013 was 254, which was the lowest in more than 60 years. Although this number is still too high, the 2013 road toll was 34 percent lower than 4 years ago, and it is particularly pleasing that 15 to 24-year-olds have seen a significant drop, with a 37 percent lower road toll than 4 years ago.
Chris Auchinvole: What is the Government doing to continue the downward road toll and further improve road safety?
Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE: Well, although the downward trend is promising, we need to set new expectations of what is acceptable on our roads in terms of crashes and injuries so the road toll can be even lower. Our actions for 2014 will focus on developing a speed management programme, which will encourage people to travel at safer speeds, addressing drink-driving by reducing the alcohol limit, and progressing plans to improve vehicle safety by mandating electronic stability control for new and used vehicles imported into New Zealand. I am confident that these actions will contribute to ensuring we continue to see a downward trend in the road toll.