Questions and Answers - February 20
strong>QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS
Better Public Services Targets—Effect on Living Standards and Economy
1. KANWALJIT SINGH BAKSHI (National) to the Minister of Finance: How is the Government’s focus on Better Public Service results improving New Zealanders’ lives while helping New Zealand’s long-term fiscal position?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): As the House will know, the Government announced at the beginning of last year a number of results that it wants to achieve with Better Public Services, and it publishes updates on those results every 6 months so that the public can hold the Government to account for achieving better communities. The Better Public Services results for the last 6 months to the end of 2013 were released today. They show that focusing public services on specific objectives is beginning to show gains for individual New Zealanders and their families, particularly those who are most vulnerable. What we are finding is that making progress with, for instance, increasing immunisation rates, protecting vulnerable children, and improving educational achievement, is in the long run good for the Government’s books, but more important, good for communities. The latest results show that 91 percent of babies are now fully immunised by 8 months, for instance, and they are on target for 95 percent by the end of this year. That is just one example where the results are way in excess of what the normal expectations of public services were in the past.
Kanwaljit Singh Bakshi: What progress has there been in some of the other Better Public Services results?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: There have been results where there has been good progress and other results where we have not yet made significant progress. But one area where we are making progress is the target of reducing long-term welfare dependency by 30 percent by 2017. More effort is going in upfront to get people off benefits and particularly more efforts to prevent young people going on benefits. We know that 70 percent of the future cost of the benefit system relates to people who first went on a benefit aged under 20. So, as a result of more focused case management and growing job opportunities, we are seeing a reduction in long-term welfare dependency.
Kanwaljit Singh Bakshi: Are all Better Public Services results on track to be achieved?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: As the published assessment shows, if a result is not on track to be achieved, it would be marked, by a traffic-light system, as red. Result No. 4, which is reducing assaults on children, has seen an increase in the number of substantiated cases of physical abuse. However, we believe that the figures may reflect a greater percentage of cases being reported rather than a greater number of cases actually occurring. This, of course, is a first step towards reducing the number of assaults on children. It is important that people speak up when they have concern for children’s welfare, even though that might make the Government target a bit more difficult to meet.
Kanwaljit Singh Bakshi: As part of the Better Public Services programme, are other ways of improving results to help achieve the targets being considered?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: One of the strengths of the Better Public Services results is that it encourages departments and agencies to go and find others who can help them achieve their objectives. For instance, the Department of Corrections has a target of reducing reoffending because every prisoner who goes back to the prison system is very expensive. It is working with Housing New Zealand, providing prisoners to refurbish at least 150 State houses over the next 5 years. The benefits both for Housing New Zealand and for prisoners who need skills are pretty obvious. Yesterday the housing Minister, Nick Smith, set a programme to fast track into State houses those families with children at risk of rheumatic fever. It will be rolled out across most of the North Island. Combating rheumatic fever is another Better Public Services target. So health and education officials are working with housing officials to reduce the incidence of this Third World disease.
2. GRANT ROBERTSON (Labour—Wellington Central) on behalf of Hon DAVID
PARKER (Deputy Leader—Labour) to the Prime Minister: Does he stand by his statement that “when this Government came in, there were predictions that unemployment would rise to over 10 percent”; if so, in the December 2008 Economic and Fiscal Update what level did Treasury forecast that unemployment would peak at?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Deputy Prime Minister): on behalf of the Prime Minister: Yes. In early 2009 the New Zealand Institute warned that unemployment could rise to over 11 percent. In answer to the second part of the member’s question, the December 2008 Economic and Fiscal Update forecast peak unemployment of 6.4 percent. However, 6 months later, in Budget 2009, once the full implications of the global financial crisis were understood, unemployment was forecast to peak at 7.5 percent. Fortunately, and partly because of good policy, unemployment did not get that high.
Grant Robertson: Is he aware that the projections that the New Zealand Institute were relying on to say that there would be a forecast of 10 percent come from a paper that has been totally discredited because of a basic coding error in a spreadsheet that makes the projections completely wrong?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: No I was not aware of that, because I am less concerned about the 2008 unemployment forecast than are the Labour Party members, who seem to be obsessed with trying to defend their terrible economic record.
Grant Robertson: To assist the Minister of Finance, I seek leave to table an article not easily found, from dailyfinance.com, which says: “Math in a Time of Excel: Economists’ Error Undermines—”
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The document has been suitably described on the basis that I am assured it is not easily found. I will put the leave. Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is not. Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Grant Robertson: Is it in fact correct that unemployment has been above the Treasury forecast since National took office and that actual performance against the forecast has been getting worse and worse?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I think it is typical of the Labour Party’s obsession with measurement rather than with the real economy that its measure of anything is how it connects to the Treasury forecast. In fact, unemployment is dropping and in a few months will be lower than Australia’s. I can remember that member and others spending a number of years attacking the Government because unemployment was higher than Australia’s. I hope they will get up and compliment the
Government and New Zealand businesses and workers on getting unemployment lower than Australia’s.
Grant Robertson: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Although it was interesting to hear the Prime Minister’s views—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! What is the point of order?
Grant Robertson: —he did not, in fact, address the very specific question.
Mr SPEAKER: I invite the member to repeat his question.
Grant Robertson: Thank you. Is it in fact correct that unemployment has been above the Treasury forecast since National took office and that actual performance against the forecast has been getting worse?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: No.
Grant Robertson: It is.
Hon BILL ENGLISH: No, and I do not care what comparison there is with the 2008 unemployment forecast. On “Planet Labour” that matters, but in the rest of the world 2014 is what matters.
Jami-Lee Ross: In 2008, when the New Zealand economy had gone into recession a year before the global financial crisis—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Can the member just ask his supplementary question without the lead-in.
Jami-Lee Ross: What other forecast did Treasury make in its 2008 Economic and Fiscal Update when the New Zealand economy had gone into recession a year before the global financial crisis?
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. That Minister was not responsible for the 2008 estimates. They were for a period before this Government.
Mr SPEAKER: No. I have listened to the question, and on this occasion the question is in order and can be answered by the Minister.
Hon BILL ENGLISH: There were some alarming aspects of the 2008 Economic and Fiscal Update. Treasury forecast never-ending fiscal deficits and that under the policies of the previous Labour Government New Zealand would never get into surplus. It projected that Government debt would reach 50 percent of GDP by 2020. In fact, it will be well less than half of that figure if the John Key - led Government is able to persist with its sensible policies.
Grant Robertson: Why is Treasury forecasting that in 2018—10 years after his Government came into office—unemployment will still be higher than when he took office?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: We can always argue about Treasury forecasts, and I often do. If the Labour Party thinks it is going to win the next election by arguing that it managed the economy perfectly in 2008, then we will win by even more than people think we will now.
Jami-Lee Ross: What recent reports has he seen on the outlook for growth and employment in the economy?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: There have been a lot of reports on this, but clearly, because the Labour Party members are more interested in 2008, they will not have read them, so I might have to tell them about what is in them. In 2013, 66,000 jobs were created. There are 139,000 more jobs in the economy than 4 years ago. The Purchasing Managers’ Index for manufacturing, which has apparently been in crisis, has expanded for 16 consecutive months, and employment in manufacturing expanded in 2013. We are still waiting for the report from the mock select committee that conducted an inquiry into the so-called manufacturing crisis. In its half-year update Treasury is forecasting growth above 3 percent and employment growth over 2 percent.
Grant Robertson: Does he agree with Treasury last week, which said: “there are not any impediments to the rate of unemployment falling back to levels that existed in the mid-2000s.”; if so, why is unemployment forecast to remain higher than the mid-2000s for the remainder of this decade under his Government’s policy settings?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: There are a couple of reasons I can think of as to why unemployment has dropped a bit more slowly than we would all like. One is that the relatively low level in 2008
was built on a debt-funded consumption splurge, which was always unsustainable and many New Zealanders who were led to believe they had sustainable jobs by the Labour Party in fact did not. The other reason is that there was a debt-funded Government spending splurge in the years running up to 2008 and that also had an artificial unsustainable impact on the level of unemployment. In the next 5 years we are going to be creating real, sustainable jobs.
Grant Robertson: What does he say to the editor of the Waikato Times who said that Mr Key had seriously exaggerated his Government’s accomplishments in recalling what had happened in recent years, given the growth in unemployment in that region; and why will the Prime Minister not just be upfront and honest with New Zealand about unemployment?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The Prime Minister has never been anything less than upfront and honest about unemployment. The fact is that the conditions for reducing unemployment and for faster employment growth now are positive. One thing that is a big risk to that would be the prospect of the Labour-Greens ever getting into Government because they are expressly, transparently, and honestly anti-jobs.
Southern District Health Board—Dispute with South Link Health
3. KEVIN HAGUE (Green) to the Minister of Health: Was he told in 2010 that the Southern District Health Board had received legal advice that suggested there was the possibility of fraud in its dispute with South Link Health?
Hon TONY RYALL (Minister of Health): Thank you for the question. Since yesterday’s question in the House we have gone back through the records in the office and double-checked with the Ministry of Health and the district health board’s records and can find no reference to being advised at that time. This is a complex commercial dispute over between $5 million and $6 million of savings generated through laboratory and pharmaceutical contracts during the 1990s and whether there was agreement on how those savings would be reinvested back into health.
Kevin Hague: When the Minister said in the House yesterday that he had been aware of the wider issue of the dispute for quite some time but not the allegation of the misuse of public funds, what precisely did he think the dispute involved?
Hon TONY RYALL: I have been aware for quite some time—in fact, probably even when in Opposition, because the dispute had been going on since 2002—that there was a dispute about the terms in which those funds were being used. I have never been told that there was an allegation of fraud associated with that. That sounded more like a commercial dispute to me.
Kevin Hague: What was discussed when the Minister met the chair and chief executive of the Southern District Health Board in October 2010?
Hon TONY RYALL: If the member was able to put that question down on notice I would be able to give more advice in respect of that date.
Kevin Hague: What discussions did the Minister have with Ministry of Health or National Health Board officials, including Michael Hundleby, Chai Chuah, and Stuart McLauchlan, about this issue since 2010; and what did they tell him about the likely need for legal action—criminal or civil—on the matter?
Hon TONY RYALL: The member is going back 3 years or so on this issue. I would have to know specifically the dates of those things. What I do know is that as Minister of Health I have been aware of this issue for quite some time and I am aware that at the end of 2010 the district health board referred the dispute with South Link Health to the ministry.
Kevin Hague: Is he seriously asking the House to believe, noting the very high political and public awareness of fraud especially in this particular district health board, that when the Ministry of Health received a letter in 2010 stating that there could be elements of fraud concerning more— potentially much more—than $5 million, no one briefed him on this possibility?
Hon TONY RYALL: The ministry has advised me that it has no record of having received the 2010 letter until 2014. What I can tell that member is that I am certain that if someone told me there was evidence of fraud at a district health board, then I would have taken the appropriate action.
Kevin Hague: Is it acceptable to him, then, that for 3 whole years officials would withhold information from him about the possibility of a fraud, to which they were apparently alerted in December 2010?
Hon TONY RYALL: The issue really hinges on the nature of the 2010 letter. The 2010 letter actually says that there are elements here that could be fraud, but equally those elements could be a commercial dispute, and further work is needed to draw any conclusion. That letter was never referred to me; nor did the ministry have a copy of that until, I think, 2014.
Kevin Hague: When the Southern District Health Board wrote to the Ministry of Health’s audit and compliance unit in December 2010 seeking an investigation and recommendation as to what it should do, why did it take 3 years for the ministry to respond?
Hon TONY RYALL: Look, that is a very good question, and it is not a matter of it taking 3 years to respond. The audit and compliance people are based in Christchurch, and you will be aware that in the weeks after the letter was referred, there was the second substantial Christchurch earthquake. Towards the end of 2010 work was undertaken by the audit and compliance people, there was an effort to try to mediate a settlement further in 2011, and there were a number of discussions with lawyers for the district health board and forensic accountants during that time. So action was being taken.
Hon Annette King: Did he phone Murray Tilyard of South Link Health at the end of last year to ask his advice on a possible chair for the Southern District Health Board, knowing that Mr Tilyard was in dispute with the board over $5 million to $6 million and having by then been told there could be elements of fraud?
Hon TONY RYALL: It would have been before—I would have spoken to Professor Tilyard well before the end of November, I believe. Yes, I did speak to him and I did actually speak to a large number of people in the Southern District Health Board area.
Consumer Affairs, Minister—Protection of Vulnerable Consumers
4. Le’aufa’amulia ASENATI LOLE-TAYLOR (NZ First) to the Minister of Consumer
Affairs: Does he believe he is doing all he can to protect consumers, particularly vulnerable, low income families?
Hon CRAIG FOSS (Minister of Consumer Affairs): The Government is taking a number of steps to protect consumers—particularly vulnerable low-income families. The passage of the Consumer Law Reform Bill will protect consumers by giving more protection under the Consumer Guarantees Act and implementing unfair contract provisions so that consumers do not get stung. The Commerce Committee is currently considering the Credit Contracts and Financial Services Law Reform Bill. This bill will help protect vulnerable low-income families by cracking down on dodgy loan sharks and helping families to become more informed when making financial decisions.
Le'aufa'amulia Asenati Lole-Taylor: Does he think that it is fair that vulnerable, low-income families investing $50 per week are paying up to $20 a week in fees, which is 40 percent?
Hon CRAIG FOSS: I am not sure of the question. It seems like an investment and financial markets question. Families investing $50 per week—I am just not sure of the question, but the Financial Markets Authority is available to administer investment and financial issues. There are financial dispute resolution services to deal with dispute matters as the member addresses. There have been examples recently of totally unacceptable behaviour by some in some communities with similar amounts to what the member mentions, and I understand that the police have been looking into those matters.
Le'aufa'amulia Asenati Lole-Taylor: Is he aware of Noah’s Ark Foundation, a savings scheme scam where low-income investors can pay as much as $1,000 a year in fees on savings as little as $5,000?
Hon CRAIG FOSS: No, I am not. If the member is alleging—well, that sounds like some pyramid scheme or something like that. That is illegal under existing law, and I advise that member to take those matters to the appropriate authority as soon as possible.
Te Ururoa Flavell: Is he aware that most interest rates for pay-day lenders operating in New Zealand are between 400 percent and 600 percent, and when will he follow the lead of Australia, America, Britain, Japan, Singapore, France, Germany, Switzerland, Canada, Mexico, and almost all of South America in applying interest rate caps on pay-day lenders?
Hon CRAIG FOSS: I thank the member for the question. That particular issue was, and is, part of extensive consultation on the Credit Contracts and Financial Services Law Reform Bill. This and other matters are currently under consideration by the Commerce Committee, and I am looking forward to its report.
Le'aufa'amulia Asenati Lole-Taylor: Is the Minister aware of concerns held by Māngere Budgeting Services Trust that investors with Noah’s Ark Foundation are bound to save a minimum of $50 a week for a minimum of 5 years—a very long time for low-income families?
Hon CRAIG FOSS: As I said, I am not aware of the particular fund or whatever that is that the member describes, but I do acknowledge the Māngere Budgeting Services Trust, which participated in a consumer forum we had recently in Auckland. I commend it for its ongoing good work on behalf of so many in our community.
Le'aufa'amulia Asenati Lole-Taylor: What will the Minister do to improve the financial literacy of some of our most vulnerable people to ensure that they do not fall prey to dastardly schemes such as this?
Hon CRAIG FOSS: The member raises a very good and important issue around financial literacy, particularly in parts of our more vulnerable communities. I acknowledge the launch of The Exchange last year, pulled together by the Commission for Financial Literacy and Retirement Income, which is charged with financial literacy in New Zealand, which will be particularly targeting and working in communities that I think the member is very aware of. I look forward to participation by all sorts of community organisations and NGOs as that gathers its own steam.
Le'aufa'amulia Asenati Lole-Taylor: What does he have to say to Mr and Mrs Lilomaiava, who have been saving for quite some time and who have been prevented from buying a home where they want to buy one, and, subsequently, upon requesting their savings, were told that they had to pay a penalty of $1,500 plus communication through legal representation only?
Hon CRAIG FOSS: I suggest that that family take advice, or the member may help them and direct them to a place where they can take advice and make a complaint, because some of what she described there does sound to be quite pushing the margin of existing law.
Te Ururoa Flavell: Does he support the work of the Ministerial Committee on Poverty; if so, when will he introduce interest rate caps to protect loan shark victims, 90 percent or thereabouts of whom are Māori or Pasifika?
Hon CRAIG FOSS: Yes, I do support the very good work of that ministerial committee and know that some Māori and Pasifika families are indeed vulnerable to loan sharks and predatory behaviour by some in our community, unfortunately. I know that they will be benefiting from changes in the bill that is currently before the select committee. Issues around interest rate caps are being considered by the committee still, I understand, but I note that there was not widespread support for them in submissions, although they are still an option before the committee.
Carol Beaumont: Why has this Government not fulfilled John Key’s 2011 undertaking to get tough on loan sharks, given the Hamilton budget service seeing 100 percent interest rates this year on loans to struggling families?
Hon CRAIG FOSS: This Government is extremely tough on loan sharks. The bill before the committee—a committee that I think that member is on—actually makes life somewhat more difficult for those who prey on the most vulnerable in our community.
Better Public Services Targets—Reduction in Crime and Reoffending
5. PAUL FOSTER-BELL (National) to the Minister of Justice: What recent results has she received regarding Better Public Service targets for crime and reoffending?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS (Minister of Justice): Results published today show that crime and reoffending continue to fall in New Zealand. The most recent Better Public Services results, in September 2013, show that since June 2011 the total crime rate has fallen 13 percent, the violent crime rate has fallen 9 percent, youth crime has fallen 22 percent, and the reoffending rate is down 11.4 percent. The Better Public Services targets set by this Government are to reduce recorded crime by 15 percent, violent crime by 20 percent, and both youth crime and reoffending by 25 percent by 2017. These are excellent results and we are well on target to deliver against those targets. Thank you.
Paul Foster-Bell: What do these results mean for our communities?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: What a great question. Today’s results show that in the year to September 2013, 51,553 fewer recorded crimes were experienced by New Zealanders than in the year to June 2011. That is 51,553 fewer incidents impacting negatively on our families and on our communities. This includes nearly 4,000 fewer violent offences and more than 1,500 fewer Youth Court appearances by 14 to 16-year-olds. This means that fewer lives are being disrupted by negative events; a significant reduction in financial, emotional, and physical costs; and significant savings to communities and Government agencies such as prisons, hospitals, and social agencies. Each year the story gets better. Crime is at a 33-year low.
Paul Foster-Bell: What additional steps are being taken to keep reducing crime rates in New Zealand?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: Despite these fantastic results from our hard-working agencies, this Government knows that it cannot rest on its laurels. There is much work yet to be done. Examples of projects focusing on further reducing crime include the Hutt Valley Innovation Project, where community agencies and justice and social sector agencies work together to reduce crime and improve efficiencies; flagship initiatives expanding the Hutt Valley methodology to Hamilton, the East Coast, and Papakura; front-line workshops across the country engaging operational managers of related agencies working together; and a collective impact tool box that has been developed to further spread this methodology in a practical way to front-line staff.
Supermarkets—Management of Supply Contracts
6. Hon SHANE JONES (Labour) to the Minister of Commerce: Was he aware of alleged cash payments being made to buyers from Countdown Supermarkets in return for the preferential treatment of suppliers, prior to 19 February 2014?
Hon CRAIG FOSS (Minister of Commerce): If the member is referring to the allegations he raised in the House yesterday, no, but this allegation, and those that the member raised, involving blackmail, extortion, and retrospective payments, should be taken to the appropriate authority.
Hon Shane Jones: Given the grave allegations regarding the Australian-owned supermarket Countdown that were detailed in a sworn affidavit broadcast on Campbell Live last night, will he now apologise for saying I was grandstanding, making inflammatory allegations, and had not backed up my statements regarding the behaviour of this particular supermarket?
Hon CRAIG FOSS: Absolutely not. The member made serious inflammatory allegations of blackmail—which is, in fact, covered under the Crimes Act—extortion, and retrospective payments. To make a retrospective payment, a member would have to have some kind of time machine.
Hon Shane Jones: Does he think that his performance—in particular that recent response—is standing up on behalf of Kiwi workers and firms against the Woolworths empire, and does he think that Kiwis still have confidence in him as a Minister?
Hon CRAIG FOSS: The Commerce Act is in place for the protection of Kiwi families, Kiwi buyers, Kiwi suppliers, and Kiwi businesses. The Commerce Commission administers the Commerce Act. If any member gets in the way of that process or prejudices its outcome, there may be an unintended outcome as far as that process is concerned as it moves through the Commerce Commission. I am very cautious of trying to let the Commerce Commission do what it is prescribed to do.
Hon Shane Jones: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. In the midst of that supernumerary response, there was nothing as to whether—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! There was a relatively lengthy question asked as well. No, on this occasion the Minister has addressed the question—maybe not to the member’s satisfaction. He has further supplementary questions.
Hon Shane Jones: Is he prepared to promote tough restrictions on how supermarket chains, including Countdown, use their market power, including giving the competition watchdog greater oversight?
Hon CRAIG FOSS: Currently, I think that under the existing Commerce Act the Commerce Commission has good oversight and tools to investigate such matters. I can confirm that the Commerce Commission has launched a formal investigation into the supermarket sector of New Zealand.
Hon Shane Jones: Given that he told the House that he keeps a watchful eye on what is happening in Australia, will the Minister confirm to the House that he has read, digested, and is prepared to call for work to be done on the code just entered into in Australia to deal with its supermarket giants’ suppliers, which was agreed to by the Australian Minister for Small Business— not the small Minister?
Hon CRAIG FOSS: That member, who hides behind parliamentary petticoats when he makes accusations—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Is this a point of order?
Hon Shane Jones: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The question was related to a statement he made about—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! What is the point of order?
Hon Shane Jones: —how much he is watchful across Australia. That was not addressed in terms of the code just introduced—
Mr SPEAKER: Order!
Hon Shane Jones: —in terms of Australian commerce policy.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member also had a sly dig at the Minister when he asked the question. The Minister has started his answer; I want to hear it.
Hon CRAIG FOSS: The member is incorrect. The Australian code between the supermarkets has been accepted by the Australian Minister. It is going through the policy process, at which stage, at the end, it may form part of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s administration. It is not yet fully in play as far as law is concerned. Of course we are keeping a watching brief on all developments in Australia, including the “root and branch” review of all competition matters.
Hon Shane Jones: I seek leave of the House to table a copy of an article outlining the code, given that the man is ignorant of it.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I need the source of the article. If it is a newspaper article I am not even prepared to put leave. What is it?
Hon Shane Jones: The article comes from a newspaper not commonly available in Parliament, called the Australian.
Mr SPEAKER: No, it is available if members what to search for it.
Student Achievement—Pasifika Students
7. Dr CAM CALDER (National) to the Minister of Education: What recent announcement has she made on initiatives to help Pasifika parents engage in their children’s learning?
Hon HEKIA PARATA (Minister of Education): Today I announced the launch of this year’s Pasifika Power UP for NCEA with new components to help Pasifika students with their National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA) studies. This is a 3-week programme to guide NCEA students in years 9 to 13 and their parents to make good subject choices in a programme of study to ensure a good-quality NCEA qualification. As I announced earlier in the week, provisional data for 2013 shows that achievement of NCEA level 2 amongst Pasifika students has risen to nearly 72 percent, up an outstanding 7 percentage points since 2012, and up 16.5 percentage points since 2008. These students, their parents, their communities, their teachers, and their school leaders deserve to be congratulated on achieving these truly great results.
Dr Cam Calder: What effect does parental engagement have on student achievement?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: Research tells us that the two most important out-of-school factors that help young people to be successful at school are strong parental involvement in their child’s learning and high expectations held by their community. Pasifika Power UP is a great example of parents, teachers, and communities raising the expectation of success for their students and working together to enable them to succeed. Last year I met the Asi family in Porirua. Three generations attended the Pasifika Power UP station there and made a family education plan to prepare their year 10 son for his first year of NCEA, and to begin preparing their year 7 daughter. The really great thing was that as a family they were able to map out the steps they could take to support their son—
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Without a charter school!
Hon HEKIA PARATA: —yes, I am talking about out-of-school factors, not in-school ones—in his specific programme of study towards his career aspirations. The 3-week programme being launched this week is focused on getting more Pasifika families involved in making good choices to support their children’s education. One size—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! It is now getting to a very lengthy answer. [Interruption] Order! That answer is quite sufficient.
Parental Leave and Employment Protection (Six Months’ Paid Leave) Amendment Bill—
8. SUE MORONEY (Labour) to the Minister of Finance: Is it still his intention to use a financial veto against my Bill which proposes to extend paid parental leave to 26 weeks?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): The Government has not made a final decision, but quite possibly.
Sue Moroney: Does he think a financial veto would be justified for a bill supporting families that would cost just $36 million in the forthcoming 2014-15 financial year?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The Government will take into account a number of factors, including the fact that the cost rises pretty quickly after that. Another factor is that the focus of the Parental Leave and Employment Protection (Six Months’ Paid Leave) Amendment Bill excludes a significant number of families in much more difficult and challenging circumstances with much lower incomes, who may be more deserving of Government support.
Sue Moroney: What does the Minister of Finance propose to do for the families that he has just spoken of who miss out on paid parental leave?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: It would be a very long answer if I went through the wide range of ways in which the Government is endeavouring to help those families. They range from extensive investment through the investment approach—for instance, to get sole parent families out of welfare
dependency and into work, because when they do not have a job but they could have one, they are not eligible for paid parental leave at all. So that is just one measure, and there are many others.
Sue Moroney: Does he agree with the Prime Minister when he said in reference to the Tīwai Point subsidy that $30 million is not a major outlay, and does this cause him to reconsider his threatened use of the financial veto when it comes to a similar amount for families in this forthcoming financial year?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: As I think the member may have picked up over the last year or two, the Government is less focused on spending large amounts of money to try to show it cares—that is, other people’s money—and more focused on actually supporting the people who need it to change the course of their lives, which is what taxpayers expect us to do. So in that sense the amount of money is less important than the impact of the intervention, and we believe that there are other groups that are a higher priority for very necessary support from the Government, to bring some order and aspiration to lives that may be chaotic and lacking hope. The old Labour Party used to be interested in those families. The new Labour Party is not.
Sue Moroney: What assurances can he give women like Nicola, whom I spoke of on Tuesday in the House, whose twins are due on 9 July 2014—that is, this year—that there will more than 14 weeks’ paid parental leave available for her and her babies?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: We can give her the assurance that because of sound fiscal management over the last 5 years, 14 weeks of paid parental leave is sustainable, and she can certainly expect that. We can assure her that we will be making every effort to work with her to have her twins immunised, and there is the availability of early childhood education, the prospect of work if she wants it—
Sue Moroney: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The answer from the Minister was interesting, but he has failed to answer the question, which was will there be more than 14 weeks’ paid parental—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! That was not the question that was asked. The question was what assurances could the Minister give to Nicola, etc., and the Minister was adequately addressing what assurances he could give to Nicola.
Supermarkets—Management of Supply Contracts
9. MOJO MATHERS (Green) to the Minister of Commerce: Will he support the introduction of a supermarket code of conduct in New Zealand that governs relations between supermarkets and their suppliers and an adjudicator with the power to investigate breaches of the code; if not, why not?
Hon CRAIG FOSS (Minister of Commerce): I thank the member for her question. I would be supportive of any voluntary code of conduct between supermarkets and suppliers that would benefit New Zealand families.
Mojo Mathers: Will he consider widening the inquiry currently set up to ensure that suppliers are able to give their evidence anonymously so that systematic problems across the entire supermarket sector are able to be investigated; if not, why not?
Hon CRAIG FOSS: The inquiry, which I can confirm today that the Commerce Commission is undertaking into the supermarket sector of New Zealand, will have the checks and balances for confidentiality, sensitivity, and security of information that are embedded in the Commerce Act, and the Commerce Commission will of course treat any process, procedure, or complaint as it is required to under the Commerce Act.
Mojo Mathers: Why will he not proactively introduce a supermarket code of conduct in New Zealand and a supermarket adjudicator, given that the United Kingdom has done this and its market is significantly more diverse than our current, anti-competitive model?
Hon CRAIG FOSS: I thank the member for the question. I note that the Greens have had a bill in this space for quite some time, but I do note that it is still to be introduced as a member’s bill.
The Australian code of conduct, which is yet to be fully implemented, has undertaken a long process of consultation and development until such time as it is absolutely implemented. I imagine that the Commerce Commission, once it has finished its current inquiry—this may well be a result of its inquiry. We will just have to wait and see what the Commerce Commission comes up with.
Migrant Workers—Protection from Exploitation
10. DARIEN FENTON (Labour) to the Minister of Labour: Does he stand by his statement “addressing migrant exploitation is a priority area for the Labour Inspectorate and Immigration New Zealand”?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON (Acting Minister of Labour): Yes.
Darien Fenton: What priority has his labour inspectorate given to the case of Carlos Claveron and Emmanuel Francisco, who were recruited from the Philippines to work in the Christchurch rebuild for $18 an hour, but after they started working in New Zealand their employer demanded that they repay $3 an hour in cash?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: I would not have a clue because it is a particular matter but I will certainly find out for the member.
Darien Fenton: I hope he has got a clue about this question. What advice has he had from the Minister of Immigration about workers like Carlos and Emmanuel, who came to New Zealand after paying $15,000 to an immigration adviser, who was publicly reported as scamming other Filipino workers last March, then censured and fined, but who is still operating as a licensed immigration adviser?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: I would not have a clue because it is a particular matter, but I am very happy to make inquiries and check up for her.
Darien Fenton: Is he aware of Filipino workers Enrico and Alfie, recruited by the same person, who also signed contracts to work for $18 an hour in building work, but were paid just $300 in cash for 40 hours work when they got to Christchurch?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: No, I am not.
Darien Fenton: One more try. How can he say he is addressing migrant exploitation when these and other workers were not paid holiday pay, not given smoko breaks, despite working 10-hour days, not paid for all the hours they actually worked, and asked to work on a site that was labelled with asbestos warnings?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: Quite easily, but the member has raised particular matters with me. I have said that I would make inquiries about them if she gives me chapter and verse. I can answer matters of policy but particular matters are ones that require careful investigation in order to get it right.
Environmental Reporting—Accessibility of Information
11. PAUL GOLDSMITH (National) to the Minister for the Environment: What progress is the Government making to ensure that New Zealanders have access to comprehensive environmental information that is independent, is easy to understand and relevant?
Hon AMY ADAMS (Minister for the Environment): Today the Environmental Reporting Bill has been introduced to the House. It represents the Government’s commitment to a step change in the way we monitor and report to New Zealanders on the condition of our natural environment, and, if passed, it will create for the very first time a statutorily mandated, independent environmental reporting regime. The bill requires the Secretary for the Environment and the Government Statistician to publish a domain report on one of the five environmental domains—air, atmosphere and climate, fresh water, land, and marine—every 6 months, and a comprehensive state of the environment report once every 3 years. Credible environmental information will allow for accurate tracking of changes over time, as well as the monitoring of the impact of policy and changes in land use, and will provide a proper understanding of how New Zealand rates internationally.
Paul Goldsmith: How will the bill ensure the independence of environmental reporting?
Hon AMY ADAMS: Independence from the Government of the day is a key aspect of the proposed system. It will be achieved by clearly defining the roles of all of those involved. The report will be produced by the Government Statistician, to provide assurance that it is independent, and the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment will have an important role in ensuring the quality of reporting by providing independent commentary. The commissioner will have an enhanced legislated mandate to provide analysis of environmental data and reports, identification of trends, and a discussion of implications and responses, along with additional funding to complete this work. I thank those parties that have already indicated their support and I look forward to working with all members.
Eugenie Sage: Is not the Government’s poor environmental record, with increasing water pollution and 61 percent of monitored swimming sites being unsafe for swimming, the reason that the Government has chosen to do a U-turn on National’s election promise to implement fully independent state of the environment reporting?
Hon AMY ADAMS: No, and the Government has indeed implemented fully independent environmental reporting. What is more, we have gone further than what we proposed, by ensuring that it will be done every 3 years rather than every 5 years, as we originally proposed, and every 10 years, if at all, under the Labour-Greens Government.
Eugenie Sage: How can the Minister say that her state of the environment reporting is independent when the bill provides for her to set through regulation the topics that will be reported on?
Hon AMY ADAMS: The fact that this House sets primary legislation and that the executive sets tertiary frameworks under which that happens is reasonably well established, and any statutory system has to have that. The fact is that it is the Government Statistician who chooses all of the indicators, who ensures themselves of the appropriateness of all the data, all the methodology, and if the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment has any concerns, she has the full ability to audit it. I am just disappointed that the Green members cannot bring themselves to support New Zealand finally having, for the first time, an independent system.
Eugenie Sage: Is the Minister concerned, given that we have a history of the Ministry for the Environment suppressing a chapter of the state of the environment report, that by not following through on fully independent state of the environment reporting, the measures that are chosen through her regulations will potentially not reflect the state of the environment and the measures will ensure that a full pretty picture is painted of what the Government is doing?
Hon AMY ADAMS: No. Actually, the very reason we are passing this legislation is to ensure that that sort of interference that we saw in 2007 cannot happen again. The Government does not choose the measures; the Government simply determines through regulation the areas to be covered. The Government Statistician does the rest.
12. Dr RAJEN PRASAD (Labour) to the Minister of Immigration: Does he stand by all the statements he made in his answers to Oral Question No 11 on 13 February 2014?
Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE (Minister of Immigration): Yes, I do, with one qualification on the point about whether the individuals referred to were unlawful at the time of the alleged fraud. The timing of the alleged fraud is a matter of conjecture, but I can confirm that they were unlawful at the time of their first approach to Immigration New Zealand.
Dr Rajen Prasad: Does the following statement contained in letters from Immigration New Zealand, dated 20 and 23 January, to the students referred to in oral question No. 11 last Thursday, amount to a threat of deportation: “If you do not leave New Zealand voluntarily, you will be liable for deportation.”; if it does, will the Minister accept that his challenge to me to verify my statement has been satisfied?
Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE: No, I do not. It is simply a matter of fact that individuals who are here without a valid visa are unlawful and are liable for deportation. That is a simple fact that does not, in and of itself, constitute a threat to deport.
Dr Rajen Prasad: I seek leave to table the two letters that I referred to, from Immigration New Zealand to the Minister—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! That is all that is required. Leave is sought to table two letters from Immigration New Zealand to the Minister. Is there any objection to those two letters being tabled? No. They can be so tabled. Documents, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Dr Rajen Prasad: Given his comments in his answers to oral question 11 last Thursday 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.”—that is, without being threatened with deportation—and that the Immigration New Zealand threats of deportation represent a breach of his instructions, how will he strengthen his instructions to ensure that these breaches do not occur?
Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE: I do not think it is difficult to reconcile those two statements. If somebody is already unlawful, simply speaking up about an allegation does not give them a free pass. However, I will say this about the case being referred to by the member: it is a very good opportunity, I think, to test the fairness of the instructions I have given Immigration New Zealand, and I am doing that.
Dr Rajen Prasad: Given the Minister’s statement that it is a simple matter for people who have been the victims of fraud involving false job offers and job selling to call the 0508 558 885 number or the Crimestoppers line, why is it that of the 75,000 inquiries received last year—the Minister’s own figures—only 52 cases of fraud were investigated; and in the last 2 years the number of investigations fell by almost half compared with the previous 2 years?
Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE: Firstly, the number I quoted on 13 February was, I think, 750,000, not 75,000. I think the measure of the success of the policies that have been put in place is not necessarily the number of investigations. Often the policies remove the situations that could give rise to them. But I do note and reiterate that the number of successful prosecutions has gone up by between 400 percent and 500 percent over the time of this Government.
Question No. 6 to Minister
Su'a WILLIAM SIO (Labour—Māngere): I raise a point of order, Speaker. I am sorry; I should have raised this earlier, but I did not want to disrupt the flow of questions. I note that when my colleague the Hon Shane Jones asked the Minister of Commerce a supplementary question to question No. 6 earlier, one of the comments made by the Minister was—and I think I am correct in the quote—“Don’t hide behind parliamentary privileges.”, or something to that effect. I thought it was inappropriate, and now I have been trying to find something here in the Standing Orders. I feel that it was seriously wrong for the Minister to use that in a threatening way not only to my colleague—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! This is a point of order.
Su'a WILLIAM SIO: As a member of Parliament I feel that that is a threat to all of us, because if we are meant to be able to speak frankly and freely in this House as representatives of our communities, I find it inappropriate for one of our own to then use that as a threat. I am not asking you to rule on this now. I think that those words ought to be struck from the records, and I think also that you should be instructing all members of Parliament that they need to uphold parliamentary privileges.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I will rule on the matter—[Interruption] No, I do not need assistance. The words cannot be struck from the records. They were said in this Parliament and they will remain. I accept that the member took it as a threat. I listened to it. I certainly did not think it was
said in a threatening way. Members, as we have demonstrated over the last week, certainly have an opportunity to utilise parliamentary privilege. That has been done, and nothing that has happened should ever change that. Members have a responsibility to use parliamentary privilege responsibly, and in this case I think they have. The Minister did challenge the member to step outside. That is a legitimate debating point; it is for the member to decide. I do not think it was issued as a threat, but I acknowledge that the point raised by Su’a William Sio has been raised genuinely.
DENIS O'ROURKE (NZ First): I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The point of order is that the words actually used were “parliamentary petticoats”, which I think is disrespectful to Parliament and unparliamentary. The person concerned should be required to withdraw and apologise for that comment.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! If the member was offended by something that was said at the time, then it is important the member raises it immediately.
QUESTIONS TO MEMBERS
Parental Leave and Employment Protection (Six Months’ Paid Leave) Amendment Bill—
1. JACINDA ARDERN (Labour) to the Member in charge of the Parental Leave and
Employment Protection (Six Months’ Paid Leave) Amendment Bill: What is the purpose of the Parental Leave and Employment Protection (Six Months’ Paid Leave) Amendment Bill?
SUE MORONEY (Member in charge of the Parental Leave and Employment Protection
(Six Months’ Paid Leave) Amendment Bill): My bill will extend paid parental leave from the current entitlement of 14 weeks to 26 weeks. This will enable parents to spend more time with their newborn babies in those precious early months, without having to rush back to work due to financial pressure. The World Health Organization recommends that babies are exclusively breastfed for the first 6 months of their lives, and enabling a parent to stay at home during this time will make it significantly easier for parents to do this.
Jacinda Ardern: When is the bill proposed to come into effect?
SUE MORONEY: Great news for families. I propose that the first 4 additional weeks of paid parental leave be available to families from 1 July 2014—this year. This would bring New Zealand in line with the 18 weeks’ paid parental leave available in Australia. I further propose that this would increase to 22 weeks on 1 July 2015, and finally reach 26 weeks on 1 July 2016.
Parental Leave and Employment Protection (Six Months’ Paid Leave) Amendment Bill—
2. JACINDA ARDERN (Labour) to the Member in charge of the Parental Leave and
Employment Protection (Six Months’ Paid Leave) Amendment Bill: Why did she agree to the extension of the report back date from the Government Administration Committee until 28 February for the Parental Leave and Employment Protection (Six Months’ Paid Leave) Amendment Bill?
SUE MORONEY (Member in charge of the Parental Leave and Employment Protection
(Six Months’ Paid Leave) Amendment Bill): I thank the member for the question. I was approached late last year by the National Party with a request to extend the report-back date of my bill to enable it to reconsider its opposition to my bill. I said I would if any proposals it had on paid parental leave were to be done through my bill in my name. It agreed, and therefore I agreed to extend the report-back date.
Jacinda Ardern: Were there any other extensions?
SUE MORONEY: Yes, indeed. The bill was extended on two other occasions earlier on in the piece because of the large number of submissions received on the bill and the comprehensive fiscal work the select committee asked officials to provide on this bill.
Parental Leave and Employment Protection (Six Months’ Paid Leave) Amendment Bill—
3. JACINDA ARDERN (Labour) to the Member in charge of the Parental Leave and
Employment Protection (Six Months’ Paid Leave) Amendment Bill: What support does she have for the Parental Leave and Employment Protection (Six Months’ Paid Leave) Amendment Bill?
SUE MORONEY (Member in charge of the Parental Leave and Employment Protection
(Six Months’ Paid Leave) Amendment Bill): There is enormous support for my bill. At the Government Administration Committee we heard from mums, dads, grandparents, community organisations, businesses, health advocates, and even the legal fraternity. In fact, 99.6 percent of more than 3,800 submitters supported the bill. I would also like to thank the Green Party, New Zealand First, the Māori Party, Mana, and United Future parties for their support for families at the first reading of my bill. Their support reflects the broad support this bill has from New Zealanders.
Jacinda Ardern: Has she seen any opposition to the bill?
SUE MORONEY: Indeed I have. Yes, the National Party and the ACT Party both voted against my bill at the first reading, but I hope they have listened to New Zealanders on the importance of this issue and I look forward to their support when the bill is reported back to the House. From the 0.04 percent of submitters who were either neutral or did not support the bill, the interesting argument was put forward that women would lose their ability to do their job if they were away from the workforce for more than 6 months. That was a really disappointing point of view from an organisation like Business New Zealand.