Questions and Answers - March 13
QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS
1. PAUL GOLDSMITH (National) to the Minister of Finance: What recent reports has he received on the New Zealand economy?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Associate Minister of Finance) on behalf of the Minister of Finance: The Reserve Bank this morning issued its latest Monetary Policy Statement. It confirmed that GDP growth has strengthened over the last 18 months and become increasingly broad-based. In addition to low interest rates, the Reserve Bank Governor noted that growth had been supported by higher construction activity, elevated terms of trade, and higher levels of immigration. These conditions have contributed to very strong consumer confidence and increases in business investment and hiring intentions. The Reserve Bank is also forecasting strong growth in jobs over the next 4 years, with seasonally adjusted employment growth of 3.5 percent, 2.1 percent, and 0.9 percent respectively over the next 3 years. It is within this context of a faster-growing economy that the governor confirmed that the official cash rate will rise by 0.25 percent, taking it from a record low of 2.5 percent to 2.75 percent.
Paul Goldsmith: How does the new 2.75 percent official cash rate compare with previous cash rate settings, and what steps is the Government taking to ensure that interest rate increases are not as severe as they were in the mid-2000s?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: As I said, the official cash rate has been at a record low of 2.5 percent since March 2011. As the Reserve Bank Governor has indicated many times, it could not remain at this expansionary level for ever, particularly as the economy picks up strong momentum. The new official cash rate of 2.75 percent is significantly below its record high of 8.25 percent, which it was through much of 2008. The Government continues to support lower interest rates with its responsible fiscal policy and by addressing supply issues in the housing market. This has been good news for families who faced mortgage interest rates of nearly 11 percent back in 2008. A family with a $200,000 floating rate mortgage has been saving about $200 a week compared with 5 or 6 years ago. If the official cash rate increases by 1 percent over the coming year, this would be worth around $38 a week on that mortgage.
Paul Goldsmith: What else did the Reserve Bank say about the economy in its latest Monetary Policy Statement?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: The Reserve Bank forecasts that the economy will grow at an annual pace of around 3.5 percent on average over the next year. It is a little higher than it forecast previously and would put New Zealand amongst the fastest-growing developed economies in the world. Nationwide, construction spending is expected to rise to levels similar to the mid-2000s construction boom and to last for several years, although housing market momentum appears to have moderated. Strong net immigration is expected to boost private consumption and the terms of
trade are expected to remain elevated. This is all good news. The Reserve Bank expects this stronger economic outlook to support more jobs and to lower unemployment. It expects the unemployment rate to drop below 5 percent next year.
Dr Russel Norman: Was Kim Campbell, the head of the Employers and Manufacturers Association, correct when he said this morning that these avoidable interest rate rises will lead to “mass closures” of businesses?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: With respect to Mr Campbell, no. I think that that is a particularly dramatic and alarmist thing, which we are used to hearing from the Opposition.
Dr Russel Norman: With regard to the Minister’s comments about controlling inflation in the housing market, is it not the case that Auckland’s house prices have increased by 44 percent over the 5 years of this Government; and does he believe that an increase of 44 percent in the Auckland housing market over the course of his Government is a sign of a successful policy to control house price inflation?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I am advised by the Minister of Housing that, in fact, the figure for Auckland is around 26 percent and, interestingly, it contrasts with the period of the previous Government where Auckland house prices nearly doubled over that period. But the key point for the member is how you address that. The way you address that is by increasing the supply of housing, something which this Government—
Hon David Parker: Has it worked?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Yes, it is working well, if you look at measures such as the building consents, and so on. That is improving. What you do not do is restrict the supply of housing artificially because you have an ideological aversion to greenfield housing.
Dr Russel Norman: Is it not the case that families will be paying more for their mortgages as a result of this Government’s failure to control inflation coming out of the housing sector, and also as a result of the Government’s failure to control inflation coming out of the electricity sector as people all around the country receive letters from their electricity providers, telling them that prices are increasing dramatically in the year ahead, for some people by as much as 24 percent under the current settings of this Government?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: No, I do not agree with the member. The simple reality is that if you look at the CPI projections—in fact, of the Reserve Bank today—the 2013 year was 0.9 percent, 2014 is expected to be 1.7 percent, 2015 is expected to be 1.9 percent, and 2016 is expected to be 2.1 percent. These are a long, long way from the high levels of inflation we saw under the previous Government. The primary way in which you control inflation is to have responsible fiscal policies. Yes, individual markets are important, but if a member thinks that dealing with the housing market by not increasing supply and dealing with the electricity market by turning it into a monopoly purchaser would have any positive impact, he is wrong.
Paul Goldsmith: What reports has he seen on alternative approaches to economic and monetary policy, and how would these impact on interest rates for New Zealand households?
Mr SPEAKER: The Hon Steven Joyce, in as far as he has ministerial responsibility.
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I have seen an alternative policy reported, claiming that apparently you can go soft on inflation by tinkering with the Reserve Bank of New Zealand Act and that somehow this will keep interest rates lower for longer. The trouble with those sorts of approaches is that the prescription does not stand up to scrutiny, particularly if you accompany it with much higher Government spending. History has shown that under Governments that go soft on inflation, the people who are hardest hit are those on low and fixed incomes, because their spending power does not keep up with the cost of living. Yet the very politicians who complain about the cost of living can now apparently approach a policy that would set them soft on inflation. That just does not make any policy sense. If you want to look after the vulnerable in society, control inflation.
2. Hon DAVID PARKER (Deputy Leader—Labour) to the Prime Minister: Does he have confidence in all his Ministers; if so, why?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE (Leader of the House) on behalf of the Prime Minister: Yes, because they are competent and hard-working Ministers.
Hon David Parker: How can he have confidence in his Minister of Finance when Auckland prices have gone up by over 40 percent in 5 years at a time of low inflation, interest rates are headed for 8 percent, and first-home buyers cannot get a look-in while speculators run riot?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: The Prime Minister has every confidence in the Hon Bill English, who has done a great job in shepherding New Zealand’s economy through some very difficult years post a spendthrift Government that took little opportunity of the circumstances it had to advance the cases of New Zealanders. What I can say to the member is that if he thinks a prescription that is a return to the profligate ways of pre-2008 is good for New Zealand, then he will find out, I suspect, later this year that most do not agree with him.
Hon David Parker: How can he continue to have confidence in Judith Collins to act as a Minister when it is now clear she misled him, misled the media, misled the public, and has plainly acted in a way that allowed her private interest to conflict with her public duties?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: Although the member may wish to conflate a number of things to reach a conclusion that suits him, those matters have been laid on the table. They are transparent and they have been dealt with.
Hon David Parker: How can the Prime Minister deny that Oravida has benefited financially from Judith Collins’ involvement?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: Ministers, when they are travelling, are encouraged to use their time to support New Zealand companies. New Zealand’s exports indicate that Ministers are doing a good job in that effort.
Hon David Parker: Does he deny that a financial benefit to Oravida arose from Judith Collins’ promotion of its products?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: I can neither confirm nor refute that suggestion.
Hon David Parker: Does he deny that a financial benefit to Oravida arose from Judith Collins’ dinner with Oravida and a Chinese Government official?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: I am not in a position to answer that question.
Hon David Parker: How can he deny that Judith Collins’ involvement with Oravida is linked to a personal pecuniary advantage to Ms Collins and her family, given that her husband is a director of Oravida?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: There will be many associations across this House between politicians and their spouses and partners. Whether or not they have some particular advantage is a matter for the public to determine as long as they are stated transparently, and in this case it is most transparent.
Education Sector—International Summit on the Teaching Profession
3. SIMON O'CONNOR (National—Tāmaki) to the Minister of Education: What recent announcement has she made about opportunities to share education best practice with international counterparts?
Hon HEKIA PARATA (Minister of Education): This morning I announced that nearly 20 Ministers of education from the top-performing education systems around the world, together with heads of teacher unions, and teacher leaders, as well as our Pacific regional neighbours, are coming to New Zealand for the fourth International Summit on the Teaching Profession. We expect to share successes and challenges and to learn from each other. Among the confirmed Ministers is the United States Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, who first initiated the summit in 2011, bringing
together the OECD, Education International and the top 25 performing education systems. This Government has an unrelenting focus on giving all our young people a better education.
Simon O'Connor: What is the focus of the summit?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: The summit theme is “Excellence, Equity and Inclusiveness—High quality teaching for all”. This theme reflects the long-standing challenge our system—along with others across the world—has of raising even higher the achievement of our best and brightest students while also lifting those who are being left behind. This Government is committed to success for five out of five of our children and young people.
Simon O'Connor: What other steps is the Government taking to strengthen the teaching profession and raise student achievement? [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! There were quite a significant number of complaints about the amount of noise through question time yesterday. I do not intend to have a repeat of that level of barracking today.
Hon HEKIA PARATA: Hosting the summit is part of our Government’s comprehensive quality teaching agenda. It includes proposing the new independent professional body, the Education Council of Aotearoa New Zealand, the cornerstone of our quality teaching agenda; the $359 million investment in professional career pathways; the inaugural Prime Minister’s Education Excellence Awards in June; the education festivals in Auckland, Wellington, and Christchurch this month; and the new postgraduate qualifications in initial teacher education. The teaching profession makes a powerful contribution to lifting student achievement. This Government is backing our profession to win—in law, in policy, in practice, and in funding.
Justice, Minister—Statements on Relationship with Oravida
4. GRANT ROBERTSON (Labour—Wellington Central) to the Minister of Justice: Does she stand by all her statements regarding her relationship with Oravida Ltd?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS (Minister of Justice): Yes, and I have told the shareholders and managing director at Oravida Ltd, as I have told many other people and organisations when I visit them, that they must ensure that the use of any photos taken of me or any references to me in published materials must not give the impression that I am endorsing them, their products, or services. I have also referred them to the Cabinet Manual.
Grant Robertson: What reasons does she have for her statement that there is no actual conflict of interest in her dealings with Oravida Ltd during her ministerial visit to China?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: Obviously I have read the Cabinet Manual, but also the Prime Minister has assured me that that is the information that he has received from the Cabinet Office.
Hon David Parker: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The question was not what the Cabinet Manual said; the question was how she can say she did not—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! That was not the question. The question was what reason did the Minister have, and the Minister—
Grant Robertson: Why did she agree to visit the Shanghai headquarters of Oravida Ltd in October last year?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: Well, I thought that it would be a good thing to do. I was asked by my personal friends Mr Shi and Ms Xu, and I also know—
Grant Robertson: Oh right! Asked by your friends?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: And just as that member will one day visit some friends overseas, should he ever become a Minister, I thought that it was a good thing to do. The ambassador assured me that we would have time, but if we did not have time, then we would not go to it. But it was at the end of the schedule and we did have time.
Grant Robertson: In light of paragraph 2.62 of the Cabinet Manual, which says: “A conflict may arise if people … such as a Minister’s family, whānau, or close associates, might derive, or be perceived as deriving, some personal, financial, or other benefit from a decision or action by the
Minister …”, does she believe that her good friends the directors of Oravida Ltd would have benefited from her coming and being part of a photo opportunity at the Shanghai headquarters of their firm?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: On all matters in regard to the Cabinet Office, I take my advice from the Prime Minister, and his advice is very clear that this is not a breach of the Cabinet Manual.
Grant Robertson: In the last 2 years what other benefits or gifts has she received from Oravida New Zealand Ltd?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: If I had received any gifts that should be declared under the Register of Pecuniary and Other Specified Interests of Members of Parliament, then they would have been.
Grant Robertson: Given the statement of Oravida director Julia Xu on Television New Zealand’s Q+A programme in September 2013 that “we as an operator, are still needing to provide lab tests for each batch of milk that we ship into China to CIQ that our milk is free of contamination.”, can she see why a dinner with her, the chairman of Oravida, and a Chinese border control official might give rise to a conflict of interest?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: Well, obviously I am not responsible for Ms Xu or any statements she may have made, but I will say that I took with me to that dinner Ms Margaret Malcolm, who is a senior adviser and well-respected person here in Parliament, and she can verify that what we talked about was tourism. She is also a barrister and solicitor, and I think that is very important. So, clearly, I would have been much wiser to have treated it as an official function and put it in the Cabinet report.
Grant Robertson: When Julia Xu said in her interview on Q+A on 15 September—1 month before her visit to Oravida, a company that her husband is a director of—that the botulism scare had had quite a significant impact on the sales and investment of Oravida, can she see how a meeting with Oravida’s chairman and a Chinese border official could benefit her and her close associates?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: Well, if it were not for the fact that the border official is a very close friend of Mr Shi, I could see why that member might want to perceive that, but that is why I have said that I should have been much more careful about that, and I was not. And for that I have apologised unreservedly.
Transport Funding—Road Safety for Children
5. JULIE ANNE GENTER (Green) to the Minister of Transport: What percentage of the transport budget is currently being spent specifically on ensuring that children can walk or cycle to school safely, and does he consider that is adequate?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE (Minister of Transport): Delighted to answer this question. The National Land Transport Fund currently allocates $53 million, or 0.6 percent, to the walking and cycling activity class. This includes all types of walking and cycling activities, not just travel to school. This, however, does not show the whole picture. The Government invests in walking and cycling—[Interruption] Someone get the medics.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Would the Minister continue his answer.
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: This does not show the whole picture. The Government invests in walking and cycling throughout the transport budget, be it via the roads of national significance programme or Safer Journeys. All up this represents at least $96 million a year of dedicated walking and cycling spending from central government. As to the adequacy, although this is good, there is always more that can be done.
Julie Anne Genter: Does the total amount being spent on walking and cycling, including that spent on the roads of national significance, add up to be more or less than the hundreds of millions of dollars a year he is spending on projects that the Transport Agency classifies as having low benefits?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: A transport network is going to have all sorts of benefits spread across it. It remains a network. What is important is that alongside the drivers of our economy,
which are, effectively, good infrastructure as well as good economic management, we take care of social needs as well. This large spend—almost $100 million a year—on walking and cycling is a very good spend.
Julie Anne Genter: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My question was pretty straightforward. It was—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The difficulty really was that the question was not that straightforward, but for the benefit of the House today, I will ask the member to repeat the question to the Minister.
Julie Anne Genter: Is the amount being spent on walking and cycling more or less than the hundreds of millions of dollars a year he is spending on projects that the Transport Agency classifies as having low benefits?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: The Transport Agency will have its classification for benefit as it sees it, but any community that is having that money spent on its roads will see it as very high priority. So although, in dollar terms, it may well be something less, it is none the less a very good benefit. Almost $100 million is spent on walking and cycling programmes by the New Zealand Government annually.
Julie Anne Genter: Does he accept that under-investment in walking and cycling infrastructure has contributed to a decline in children walking and cycling to school from over 50 percent in 1989 to less than a third now, and that that has a corresponding rise in car journeys to school during peak travel times?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: No, I do not. I think that one of the most significant contributors to children being delivered to, and picked up from, school probably has been parental worry over some of the crime statistics that ran rampant in this country for a number of years. It was not until our Minister of Justice and our Minister of Police in recent times got on top of it that we could start to confidently enable children to get back into walking and cycling to and from school.
Julie Anne Genter: Has the Minister read the report undertaken for the New Zealand Transport Agency, which clearly states that the No.1 reason for children not walking and cycling to school is a lack of appropriate infrastructure and a lack of safety on the road due to the traffic environment?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: That is the very reason we are spending $100 million a year on programmes to make cycling and walking more accessible and safer.
Julie Anne Genter: For the benefit of the Minister, I seek leave to table this report called Improving School Travel Systems. It was published in November 2010. It was written for the New Zealand Transport Agency.
Mr SPEAKER: On the basis that it is not easy to find for some reason, I will put the leave. Leave is sought to table this particular report. Is there any objection? There is none. It can be tabled. Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Julie Anne Genter: Given that during school holidays traffic is often free flowing and one in three car trips in the morning rush hour are education-related, why will he not invest more in safe walking and cycling for schools to reduce congestion?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: I will say it again. We are spending almost $100 million a year on improving cycling and walking access for New Zealanders—and that is excluding the national cycleways programme, which is also a great enabler of people’s fitness and enjoyment of the outdoors.
Julie Anne Genter: Does the Minister consider that the walking and cycling improvements associated with the roads of national significance and the national cycleways will help children walk and cycle safely to school; if so, how?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: Yes, I do. If the member took some time to go on a road of national significance, which I know she would find a sacrilegious thing to do given her political views, she would see alongside a number of those roads numerous kilometres of cycleways with
children cycling on them, and I am quite confident—I am quite confident—most of them go to school.
Julie Anne Genter: Has the Minister read the recent University of Auckland paper The Societal Costs and Benefits of Commuter Bicycling, which finds that investing in cycling infrastructure can have benefits worth $20 for every dollar spent, primarily because it means people are healthy and live longer, but also because it reduces congestion and saves billions of dollars in imported oil?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: Although I have not read that report page to page, I am aware of it, and I am almost as excited as the member about the prospects for increasing the capacity for people to cycle around this country.
Julie Anne Genter: Given the overwhelming benefits in terms of improved health, improved learning, and reduced congestion, will he back the Green Party’s plan to make it safer for kids to walk and cycle to school; if not, why not?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: No, I am a member of the National Party.
Julie Anne Genter: I seek leave to table, from Environmental Health Perspectives, the journal article entitled The Societal Costs and Benefits of Commuter Bicycling.
Mr SPEAKER: What is the source of the article?
Julie Anne Genter: It is from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. It is an academic journal. It is a research paper that demonstrates the benefits of cycling—
Mr SPEAKER: On the basis that it may be informative to members and may be hard to get hold of, I will put the leave. It is in the hands of the House. Leave is sought to table it. Is there any objection? There is objection.
6. JONATHAN YOUNG (National—New Plymouth) to the Minister of Energy and
Resources: How has the electricity market improved under this Government?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES (Minister of Energy and Resources): Since the Government’s reforms of 2010, consumers have seen a fundamental change in offerings and discounts available to them from retailers. Advertised prices tell only part of the overall price story. Although a rarity in 2008, prompt payment and online discounts are now commonplace, as is aggressive behaviour by retailers to win and retain customers. Consumer switching is at record levels, and for good reason. For example, consumers can save around $300 a year by switching from the dearest to the cheapest provider in Auckland.
Jonathan Young: What progress has been made on security of supply?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: Much-needed investment has been made to our national grid— investment that keeps the lights on. Transpower is reaching the end of a multibillion-dollar investment in projects like the $672 million upgrade of the high-voltage Cook Strait cable. This investment is already making a difference. In 2008 there were nearly 25 unplanned system minutes lost. Each system minute lost equates to turning off a city the size of Hamilton for about 40 minutes. In the last year there have been just 7 system minutes lost, the lowest since the mid-2000s.
Jonathan Young: What progress has been made on renewable electricity generation?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: Renewable electricity generation goes from strength to strength under this Government. We have seen renewable generation rise from 65 percent in 2008 to 75 percent today, which makes us the fourth in the OECD, with no need for Government subsidies or intervention. All generation currently being built is renewable, as is the majority of consented generation. In fact, we have 30 years of consented renewable generation waiting to be built.
Gareth Hughes: I seek leave to table research provided to me by the Parliamentary Library that shows that this is a smaller proportion than we had in 1980 or 1990.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! No, the member is simply using this as a debating point.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Whatever the member from the Green Party did, he is nevertheless entitled to seek leave to table a document.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! He sought leave; I was not prepared to even put the leave because it was simply a means of introducing competing debate. If he wants to take a supplementary question to have the debate, that is OK. I am not prepared to put the leave. Point of order—[Interruption] I can only hear from one of you.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I am on my feet.
Mr SPEAKER: I will hear from the Rt Hon Winston Peters.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Thank you very much, Mr Speaker. The fact is that I always understood that when a member sought leave, if he did it within the Standing Orders then it had to be put.
Metiria Turei: As far as I understand, there are no rules in the Standing Orders that say that a member cannot stand up and seek leave to table a document where it contains content relevant to the debate at hand. That is what my colleague Gareth Hughes was doing, and therefore leave should be put.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: Although that might have been a common practice, there were a number of changes made by the previous Speaker to the way in which things can be tabled, I think largely driven by some very frivolous points of order and attempts to table material between the period of 2005 to 2008, an action that I was very, very familiar with.
Iain Lees-Galloway: By who?
Hon Member: No names?
Hon Gerry Brownlee: No, no names are required. I think perhaps Mr Peters has not been made aware of that, and perhaps Metiria Turei has not quite understood the change.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I need no further assistance. I made a substantial ruling on 19 February last year, which, again, was on one occasion that was questioned by the Rt Hon Winston Peters, and I gave him a second copy of that ruling. If he needs a third copy, I am happy to give it to him today. I will not see the use of tabling of documents as simply for making political points. I make a decision as to whether I will allow leave to be put to the House, and the House then makes the ultimate decision if I decide the document is worthy and informative to members. The matter has been well and truly traversed over the last year and that is my final decision on this.
Gareth Hughes: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I do not seek to draw this out or challenge your ruling, but I would refer you to Standing Order 1, which has been commonly defined throughout this Parliament’s history as this House being the master of its destiny. This House can seek leave and make a decision.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member is now challenging my ruling. I refer the member to Speakers’ ruling 149/1.
David Shearer: On what date did he write to electricity companies about the record number of power disconnections that occurred last year, as reported by Radio New Zealand?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: I cannot recall the specific date. I think you will find it was either the end of September or early October. Certainly, it was in the fourth quarter of last year.
District Health Boards—Reports on Staff Levels
7. Hon ANNETTE KING (Labour—Rongotai) to the Minister of Health: What recent reports has he received of staff shortages and the impact of such shortages, if any, in DHBs?
Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE (Minister of Immigration) on behalf of the Minister of
Health: I have received a number of reports outlining staffing issues. The most recent revealed that, although the $24-million bowel screening pilot is delivering results, the biggest constraint to a national roll-out is a shortage of professionals to do the colonoscopies, which would require an extra 100. I have also seen reports that the health workforce was short of 1,400 general practitioners, that one in four nurses at the Capital and Coast District Health Board had quit in the last year, and, worse, that 45 general practitioners in Southland actually wrote to the Southern
District Health Board about their dismay at the resignation of 12 senior doctors. These, however, were all in 2007 and 2008, and part of the workforce crisis legacy that member left behind.
Hon Annette King: 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.
Hon Annette King: Could I ask, through you, that the Minister table that advice, because there was no Health Workforce New Zealand in 2007-08.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! This is very easily resolved. In effect, the member is asking, if the Minister was quoting from an official document, for it to be tabled. If the Minister was not quoting from an official document—[Interruption] He was not quoting from an official document.
Hon Annette King: Supplementary question, Mr Speaker—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I am trying to assist—[Interruption] Order! I am on my feet. I am trying to assist the member asking a supplementary question. I require a little bit of assistance from her colleagues.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Your ruling was correct before, of course, but the members on the other side then immediately challenged the veracity of what the Minister was saying in his answer. I wonder whether, should he decide to seek leave to table the press releases verifying his suggestions, you would consider on this occasion that you might let him do so.
Mr SPEAKER: One never knows. We will have to see what happens at the time.
Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE: I seek leave to table a document. It may not be readily available.
Mr SPEAKER: I want the source of the document.
Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE: It is from a New Zealand Medical Association press release dated 28 March 2007.
Mr SPEAKER: No, I am not prepared to put the leave.
Hon Annette King: Was he advised by Health Workforce New Zealand just over 3 months ago that there will be a shortage of nurses starting in 2015, that measures to address the gap needed to have started 2 years ago, and that if changes are not made to recruitment, retention, and increased supply, then “the future of clinical and fiscal sustainability of health services will be put at risk”?
Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE: No, I am not in a position to verify the veracity of that advice. What I would say is that I am advised that the healthy nursing workforce has increased by over 3,000 under this Government, and that is delivering better, sooner, more convenient service.
Hon Annette King: Is he aware that only 600 of the 1,328 new graduate nurses, or only 45 percent of them, secured nurse entry to practice positions 2 months ago, down from 59 percent in the last cycle who got jobs—both appallingly low figures—showing little acknowledgment of the looming nursing shortage and a looming workforce crisis?
Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE: I note that we segued deftly from not enough nurses to far too many. But I would note the more recent data I have seen that suggests that considerably more than half of the nurses who graduated in 2013 now have places. That is an ongoing process, and I am confident that district health boards are continuing to place further graduates.
Hon Annette King: Has Health Workforce New Zealand told him that its information database’s latest reports are that there are now fewer actual midwife fulltime-equivalents in district health boards, at 977.3, than there were in 2007-08, when there were 1,020 fulltime-equivalents, making a mockery of his commitment to strengthen the health workforce and leading to huge pressures in district health boards and on midwives?
Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE: I am not in a position to verify whether the Minister has seen reports of that nature, but he certainly has seen reports on the maternity workforce in crisis, where 30 percent of midwife positions were vacant, as reported by the Dominion Post on 10 October 2008, under the previous Government’s watch.
Hon Annette King: Has Health Workforce New Zealand told him that over the past 4 years, fulltime-equivalent nursing positions around the country have increased by 4.4 percent while inpatient numbers have increased by 16 percent, and that nurses are now reporting instances of care rationing, increased falls, medication errors, and pressure injuries—all indications or red flags that point to insufficient staffing?
Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE: I am not in a position to verify that, but what I can verify is that district health boards all across the country have invested the extra resources they have been given very wisely. That has resulted in several hundred thousand more first specialist assessments, several hundred thousand more surgical procedures, fewer people having to—well, no people—
Grant Robertson: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The question was about nursing; we have moved on to wider issues that are irrelevant to the answer, which the Minister said he could not verify.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member makes a reasonable point. The question was actually answered very quickly. The difficulty I have is the length of the question in the first place. If it had been a shorter question, I could have dealt with it more appropriately.
Hon Annette King: What does he say to new graduate Freya Head, who has spent $1,000 attending interviews for jobs since November, has a $48,000 student loan, is happy to work in any practice area—still has no position—and is working 7 days a week teaching swimming, and how can that be building a stronger health workforce, as promised by the National Party in 2011?
Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE: I say to that correspondent that the process of recruiting nurses all around the country is an ongoing one and I wish her all the best in her search, confident that a Government that has under this watch placed 3,083 full-time nurse equivalents since coming to power will give her a much greater opportunity of getting a job than under any other Government.
Question No. 1 to Minister
Dr RUSSEL NORMAN (Co-Leader—Green): I seek leave to table a document prepared by the Parliamentary Library that shows that Auckland house prices have gone up by 54 percent since November 2008—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! On the basis that it was a substantive argument earlier, leave is sought to table that particular research from the Parliamentary Library. Is there any objection? There is no objection. Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Hon Dr NICK SMITH (Minister of Housing): I seek leave to table the advice of the Real Estate Institute of New Zealand showing that house prices in Auckland have in fact gone up by 26 percent in the advice that has been provided—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! That has been adequately described. Leave is also sought to table that information from the Real Estate Institute of New Zealand. Is there any objection? There is none. It will be tabled. Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Tertiary Education Funding—Māori-led Research Organisations
8. Hon Dr PITA SHARPLES (Māori Party—Tāmaki Makaurau) to the Minister for
Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment: How does the Government intend on sustaining, supporting and growing Māori-led research driven by Māori researchers with positive outcomes that support the goals and aspirations of whanau, hapu and iwi, in light of the decision by the New Zealand Royal Society not to fund Nga Pāe o te Māramatanga or any other Māori-led research organisation?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment): It is important to point out to the honourable Minister that at this stage that process has not been completed, but, nevertheless, the Government is committed to unlocking the science and innovation potential of Māori knowledge, resources, and people. We are achieving that in a number of ways. For example, the Vision Mātauranga Capability Fund builds capability to improve engagement between the science system and Māori users of research. In December last year I announced investment of more than $2.4 million for 18 research programmes in that regard. Furthermore, since 2009 I am advised that total Government science investment in Māori knowledge and development for research and science activities specifically invested alongside Māori interest totals over $222 million.
Hon Dr Pita Sharples: Does he have concerns that the chair of the Royal Society’s centres of research excellence advisory committee charged with undertaking the review is a commercial executive of companies such as Rio Tinto, BNZ, National Australia Bank, OceanaGold, and Ports of Auckland and holds merely an honorary doctorate, rather than being an expert scientist himself?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: In regard to that person’s role, that person does not actually evaluate the research quality of the applications but oversees the Centres of Research Excellence Fund selection process to ensure the process is applied consistently. The applications—of which there are around 27, I understand, for about seven or eight centres of research excellence—are passed through five expert selection panels made up of independent scientists who review the research quality of the applications and then pass those that they recommend through to the Royal Society’s centres of research excellence advisory committee, chaired by the person whom the member knows. The advisory committee, while taking into account all the selection criteria, has a focus on the remaining two criteria, which are the contribution to New Zealand’s future development and the governance and management arrangements of those centres of research excellence.
Hon Dr Pita Sharples: So does he have confidence in the review process undertaken by the New Zealand Royal Society, when there is no one on the centres of research excellence advisory committee or the selection panel committee who is Māori or who has any expertise in mātauranga Māori?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Yes, I am confident that the panel had the expertise to independently assess centre of research excellence applications fairly. The process, including the way in which it was set up, is deliberately independent of politicians. Independent scientists, not politicians, are in the best position to judge research excellence and in terms of the applications for the centre of research excellence funding. As I said before, the Tertiary Education Commission advised me that there were 27 separate applications from current and proposed centres of research excellence to be assessed with the seven or eight possible funded centres of research excellence.
Conservation Policy—Bluegreen Vision
9. JACQUI DEAN (National—Waitaki) to the Minister of Conservation: What progress is the Government making in implementing its “Bluegreen” plan for New Zealand?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH (Minister of Conservation): We are making excellent progress in improving New Zealand’s management of our natural environment, while building a stronger economy. We have launched the Battle for our Birds, a record pest control programme, covering over 1 million hectares—the largest ever—which will save millions of our native birds, although I admit it is not focused on “mollyhawks”. We have enhanced conservation of private land by expanding covenants to over 50,000 hectares and making native planting tax deductible. We have toughened penalties for wildlife, conservation, and biosecurity offending, and we have reformed the Department of Conservation to make it more outward looking, to enable it to partner with business and communities in protecting New Zealand’s treasured wildlife and places.
Jacqui Dean: How has National improved the management and protection of our oceans?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: The very first big step was the new exclusive economic zone legislation, which for the first time requires consents and assessments of environmental effects in that huge area of New Zealand’s oceans. Secondly, we have expanded New Zealand’s number of marine reserves—most recently with the subantarctics, but we will also be making a further announcement this weekend in this space.
Phil Twyford: More window dressing.
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: Our ambition is to achieve a record number and area of new marine reserves. Unlike the Opposition, we do not see marine reserves as window dressing. We have also expanded the protection of Māui’s dolphin by over 2,000 square kilometres, we have banned shark finning, and we have launched a new threat management plan for the New Zealand sea lion.
Jacqui Dean: What specific actions has this Government taken to improve our outdoor recreation?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: The national network of New Zealand cycleways, as initiated by the Prime Minister, has been a stunning success. Opening up the Heaphy Track to mountain biking has also had economic benefits for communities like those in Collingwood and Karamea. We have also, in partnership with United Future, given hunters a real voice in their recreation with the establishment of the Game Animal Council. The Government has also helped surfers by recognising the importance of surf breaks, in the national coastal plan that Cabinet approved, which gives formal protection to 19 surf breaks across our country. We have also invested in new and upgraded Department of Conservation huts, tracks, and camping facilities, to enable more Kiwis to get out and enjoy the great outdoors.
10. Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First) to the Minister of Justice: Were all her answers to questions relating to her involvement with Oravida accurate and in compliance with the Cabinet Manual?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS (Minister of Justice): Yes, to the best of my knowledge. However, in hindsight my answers should have been broader, for which I apologise.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: If the ruling on the effect of the Cabinet Manual was made without the Chinese to English translation of the Oravida website on which she clearly endorsed its products, then how does a clearly defective ruling excuse her clear conflict of interest?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: I do not agree with that member’s statement.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Following the botulism scare of last year, is it not a fact that her visit to Oravida was predominantly to facilitate access and customs clearance for Oravida products with the Chinese market and that is the real reason why a People’s Republic of China border official was present at that dinner?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: No.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Is the Minister seriously asking New Zealanders to believe that after the botulism scare last year her murky secret meeting with the Oravida directors and Chinese officials was just a mere coincidence and not an attempt to facilitate access to the Chinese market of a product from New Zealand in which her husband had a clear interest?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: The member is quite incorrect in some of his statements. I have already advised this House that the senior adviser Margaret Malcolm was with me. She can verify exactly what happened at that dinner.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Where in the Cabinet Manual does it say that serious breaches of the provisions in the manual can be overcome by a belated and grudging apology; and why has the Minister not done the decent thing and stepped down pending a full, independent investigation into her murky behaviour?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: I am, of course, not the expert on the Cabinet Manual; the Cabinet Office is, and I take all my advice on it from the Prime Minister.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I seek leave to table an old transcript of 15 September 2013 where an interview with the co-founder of Oravida Ltd is expressing the need for Government Ministers to get involved in the kind of facilitation of clearance I am talking about.
Mr SPEAKER: Source of the transcript, please.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: And the source is a press release from Television New Zealand.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! No, again, press releases are freely available to members who want them.
Hon David Parker: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I think this is an example of where—I certainly have not got access to that and I would like to see that document, and I would suggest to you that that should be put to the House.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The matter can be resolved. I will put the leave. As described, it is a press release by Television New Zealand of some date, 15 September last year. It is over to the House to decide. Leave is sought to table that. Is there any objection? There is objection.
Transport Industry—Reports on Freight
11. MIKE SABIN (National—Northland) to the Minister of Transport: What reports has he received on the importance of freight movement to New Zealand?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE (Minister of Transport): I have received and today released the National Freight Demands Study 2014—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Would the Minister start again, please.
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: I have received and today released the National Freight Demands Study 2014. The study shows that each year 236 million tonnes of freight is moved around the country. For each member of our population, that is the equivalent of 50 tonnes of freight moved on their behalf. It is a big undertaking and the freight demands study confirms that the Government’s commitment to rail, roading, and coastal shipping is a good approach.
Mike Sabin: What else does the National Freight Demands Study show?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: Well, I believe it shows that the Government has been right to invest in transport infrastructure. It has been right to push the KiwiRail Turnaround Plan. It has been right to invest in the roads of national significance. The Government has spent the last 5 years bringing our transport infrastructure up to standard—[Interruption] Sorry?
Mr SPEAKER: Does the Minister want to finish his answer?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: I cannot. I am being harassed here by these people— [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I think the Minister is big enough to handle the harassment. The Hon Gerry Brownlee is to complete the answer, please.
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: It is the end of the week, and that Darien is pretty fearsome. This Government has spent the last 5 years bringing our transport infrastructure up to standard so it can cope with the increased demand for freight movement and move that freight and consumers safely and efficiently.
12. PHIL TWYFORD (Labour—Te Atatū) to the Minister of Housing: Does he expect housing affordability to improve in the coming year?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH (Minister of Housing): I expect interest rates to rise above their 40-year lows as the economy improves, but I do not expect them to rise to the unaffordable level of 11 percent, which is what they were when we first came into office. I also expect, as do the Reserve Bank and most commentators, house price inflation to slow. This cooling of the housing market will help affordability. I am also confident that this Government’s housing supply initiatives, like the Housing Accords and Special Housing Areas Act, will improve the supply and affordability of
housing. I also expect average wages to continue to rise faster than inflation, which also helps housing affordability.
Phil Twyford: Does he expect housing affordability to improve, with interest rates heading north of 8 percent, coupled with massive mortgages that are the new normal since average house prices in Auckland have been nudging $700,000 under his watch?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: I would note that interest rates are over 5 percent and went up by 0.25 percent today. That is a long way from the 11 percent that they were under the previous Labour Government. In respect of house prices—and I note the member mentions Auckland—over the last 5 years under this Government house prices in Auckland have gone up by 26 percent. Under the previous Government they went up by 82 percent. That is why I am sure those concerned about housing affordability will stick with this Government’s policies.
Jami-Lee Ross: What success is the Government’s housing initiatives, like the Housing Accords and Special Housing Areas Act, having for housing supply?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: The rate of house building is soaring, particularly in Christchurch and Auckland. The latest building consent figures in Christchurch show the fastest rate of house builds ever in that city’s history. The growth in Auckland house builds is the strongest in more than a decade. Nationally we have gone from 13,000 houses per year being built in 2012 to the current rate of 23,000 homes per year. In other words, National’s policies are delivering another 10,000 homes per annum in New Zealand, which leaves the question of why the Opposition would want taxpayers to subsidise building houses.
Phil Twyford: Was it his intention to make the housing market easier for property speculators to have a field day at the expense of first-home buyers and hard-working families, and to encourage the sale of houses worth up to $1 million to soar while sales of affordable homes are plummeting?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: If the member is concerned about soaring house prices, he should look across the country at the record of the previous Government last decade, when prices truly went out of control. This Government’s policies that are increasing housing supply and keeping interest rates low for longer and this Government’s initiatives of expanding the KiwiSaver first-home deposit scheme and expanding the Welcome Home Loan scheme are the smart way in which we help New Zealanders get to own their own homes.
Phil Twyford: Does he think that whining about historical data on interest rates is relevant to first-home buyers who today are locked out of the housing market, or to struggling families facing big increases in their mortgage payments because of rising interest rates on his watch under this Government?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: As a parliamentarian who has been here for some years, I very proudly stand as a National member who has consistently, during my entire political career, been more focused on, and more successful at, having lower interest rates for home owners than members opposite have. In fact, the record is very clear that under Labour Governments in the 1980s and under Labour Governments in the 2000s we had the highest interest rates, and that consistently under National Governments interest rates have been lower.
Phil Twyford: What photo opportunities does the Minister have planned in his increasingly desperate attempt to divert attention from a policy that is a shambles and a fiasco, and is resulting in first-home buyers being shut out of the market, rapidly rising interest rates and power prices, and incomes flat-lining for most people; or does he still think that housing is becoming more affordable under his watch?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: When we have got the highest number ever of homes being built in Christchurch, when we have got the biggest increase in new house builds in Auckland in more than a decade, when we have got a record number of community houses being built, and when we have got housing affordability at an average level of 35 percent better under this Government than what it was when we came into office, yes, I am proud of our record on housing affordability.