Questions and Answers - March 20
QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS
1. Hon DAVID PARKER (Deputy Leader—Labour) to the Minister of Education: Does she stand by all her statements?
Hon HEKIA PARATA (Minister of Education): Yes.
Hon David Parker: Does she stand by her statement on Tuesday with regard to kōhanga reo that “I am satisfied public money was spent in an appropriate way.”, when the ineffectual inquiry had not even considered the public money spent on wedding dresses, at petrol stations, and on other private bills, and if she stands by that statement, why on Wednesday did she refer the same matter to the Serious Fraud Office?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: I do stand by that statement, because I relied on Ernst and Young, whom we commissioned to carry out the independent review. One of the specific terms of reference that was made available on 16 October to the public made it clear that I wanted answers as to whether public moneys had been expended inappropriately. The answer Ernst and Young gave in their formal and publicly available report was no. Why did I refer it to the Serious Fraud Office on Wednesday morning? It was because on Tuesday evening when I met with the trust board it gave me assurances that it would deal with allegations that related to operations only it knows about. When it became apparent yesterday morning that it had not and would not, I had no recourse but to refer it to the Serious Fraud Office, which does have the authority to investigate where I do not.
Hon David Parker: Does she stand by her statement at the same time that there was no waste of public money because the public money was spent via Te Pātaka Ōhanga, a wholly owned subsidiary?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: I never made any such statement. The statement I made was that in all the routine monitoring of the 460 kōhanga reo both by the Ministry of Education and in the Ernst and Young report, we found that there was no misuse of funding. This is assisted particularly by the fact that kōhanga reo are paid in retrospect. Unlike every other early childhood centre that the Government funds, kōhanga reo are paid in retrospect for services already rendered.
Hon David Parker: Is the Minister denying that at the press conference held late at night earlier this week, she told the media that they should not be worried about a waste of public money, because it was spent by a subsidiary, rather than by the organisation to which it was directly paid?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: No, I did not tell them that they should not worry about wasting money. What I told them was that I had commissioned an investigation by an internationally reputable, independent company called Ernst and Young, with terms of reference that have been publicly available since 16 October, to investigate whether any public moneys had been misused. The answer was no.
Hon David Parker: Which has been her most embarrassing blunder as the Minister of Education: larger class sizes as the centrepiece of Budget 2012, which was so bad that the Government flip-flopped within a week; the Novopay debacle, which 18 months on is still not fixed and has caused the Government tens of millions of dollars of wasted spending; or losing her chief executive officer Lesley Longstone months into her job, with a $425,000 taxpayer-funded golden handshake?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: Well, not as big as the blunder of that member in not contesting the leadership of the Labour Party. However, I make no apology—well, I do apologise for causing staff duress over a system that was signed off by that Opposition party. But I make no apologies for trying to raise the achievement of every one of our New Zealand children—five out of five.
Hon David Parker: If those blunders were not bad enough, which of her two this week is the worst: her announcement on the weekend that she was going to introduce performance pay, followed by her denial, which led to the New Zealand Herald saying “her advisers are unhappy because she has been caught out … telling the truth.”, or was it in releasing the shoddy report in the dead of night to cover up the rorts in kōhanga reo and endorsing it as a clean bill of health, only to refer the matter to the Serious Fraud Office the next day?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: I do not consider transparency to be a fault. But I do consider it to be a fault that the Opposition relies on newspaper and third-party reporting. It is well known in the New Zealand education sector that it would be difficult to find anyone who agreed with the funding system, so much so that when members opposite were in Government a now former Minister of Education asked for a review of funding. In terms of the report from Ernst and Young that I released, I publicly said that as soon as I was able to meet with the trust, I would release it. The trust met me at 6.30 on Tuesday night. I released it at 8 o’clock—an hour and a half later.
Hon David Parker: Why does she not take any responsibility for the fact that the Ernst and Young report did not inquire into the issues that were at large?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: As the Minister of Education, I am responsible for public moneys. That is what I asked Ernst and Young to investigate. At the same time, I expected that the trust would investigate the allegations of its own operations. I have done my part; the trust has not done its part. As a result, I have referred it to the Serious Fraud Office.
Catherine Delahunty: Given the concern over the use of public money in early childhood, why does Kidicorp, a wealthy multinational childcare business, need $2.5 million of taxpayers’ money to expand its business when playcentres and kindergartens are struggling to survive?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: This Government has a Better Public Services target of 98 percent of our new entrants in 2016 having participated in quality early learning education. As a result of that and because we respect that parents want to make choices about which early learning service they want to use, whichever childcare service meets the licensing criteria, which are publicly available, gets licensed and provides the services to the parents who choose to use it.
Catherine Delahunty: Given that Kidicorp is the most financially successful early childhood business in Aotearoa New Zealand, why is she giving them $2.5 million of taxpayers’ money?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: We are backing successful early childhood providers. There are clearly parents who are taking advantage of the 20-hour subsidy provided by this Government to choose to go to Kidicorp.
Energy Strategy—Oil and Gas Exploration and Renewable Energy
2. GARETH HUGHES (Green) to the Minister of Energy and Resources: Does he see New Zealand’s energy future in oil and gas exploration or renewable energy?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES (Minister of Energy and Resources): It is not an either/or. This Government takes a mixed and balanced approach to our energy future. I am motivated, of course, as the member well knows, by our economic opportunities that petroleum exploration presents, including the role gas plays in mitigating carbon emissions. I am also excited about our renewables
future. All generation currently being built in New Zealand is renewable, as is the majority of consented generation.
Gareth Hughes: If that is the case, why is New Zealand ranked in the top 10 countries, according to the Fraser Institute, for policies that are favourable to oil and gas exploration, yet is ranked 39 out of 40, next to Saudi Arabia, for energy policies that support renewables?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: I do not accept that analysis. I think if you look at the figures, when we came into Government in 2008, 65 percent of electricity generation came from renewables. Today, that is 75 percent. The last quarter of 2013 was a phenomenal—wait for it—84 percent from renewables. The last time it was that high was when there was a National Government in 1996. So the message is clear: if you want more renewables, vote National.
Gareth Hughes: Does the Minister agree with Eric Pyle, the Chief Executive of the Wind Energy Association, who says: “In New Zealand there are some subsidies and strong government support for the fossil-fuel sector. In contrast, there are almost no subsidies and limited government support for the renewable sector.”?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: I share Eric Pyle’s enthusiasm for wind—not the kind, I might add, that the members produces. Can I say this: actually, we are as excited about our renewables as we are about the non-renewables sector. Let me give you a sense of our balanced and mixed approach here. Our Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority budget for the current financial year— taxpayers’ money—is $87 million. Our New Zealand Petroleum and Minerals budget is $18 million.
Gareth Hughes: Well, if that is the case, will he now consider shifting the $46 million in tax breaks identified to the World Wide Fund for Nature, and the $25 million in seismic survey subsidies to investing in clean energy, given that Petrobras is gone, Apache Corporation has left the East Coast, and now Anadarko has failed to find any oil?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: Momentum is building in petroleum exploration. We saw new players enter in 2012 and 2013, and I think we can be confident that, through the block offer process, we will see that again this year. That is good because we want to explore all of our economic opportunities. But in relation to fossil fuel subsidy reform, the member might well be interested to know that we are seen at the G20 as a leader in this area. We are also, through the APEC voluntary peer review mechanism, the first economy to voluntarily undergo that process, and we will be doing so later this year. So we actually show leadership across the board in energy.
Gareth Hughes: Has the Minister received any advice regarding the International Energy Agency’s statement that we can afford to burn only 20 to 30 percent of already proven oil reserves if we want to save the climate, and why is he intent on drilling for more oil deep off our coasts, risking our beaches?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: Because, actually, a sober analysis of what is happening around the globe makes it very clear that the desire and need for energy is going up. We are seeing nonrenewable use—particularly of coal—going up, and finding gas, which we know is present in the Great South Basin and Canterbury Basin, would be a very strong force for good. It would see energy and climate emissions reducing, not increasing. I think it can be part of the answer of a mixed-energy portfolio, not just for New Zealand but for Asia and the world.
Gareth Hughes: Has the Minister seen reports from the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics that show that the greener the industry, the faster the job growth; if so, why will he not be pushing for more investment in these job-rich, clean-energy industries, which the sector itself says are starved of attention from the Minister and the Government?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: That is simply not true. We are spending $46 million on bio-energy, $7 million or thereabouts, I think, on the Stump to Pump project, and a further several million dollars through the University of Canterbury on various renewables projects. I am very excited about those things. As I said in a speech today, which I recommend to the member as it may allay some of his concerns, we have a strong renewables future and I do very much see that as the future.
Gareth Hughes: Has the Minister seen the PricewaterhouseCoopers report that says that New Zealand has a $22 billion annual economic opportunity in clean energy, and will he support taking advantage of that now that his oil-drilling agenda has plainly failed?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: That report sounds very exciting. I think we should explore all of our opportunities. It is not a case of having to do one or the other; we can explore our coastlines for non-renewables and we can also invest and see the cleantech jobs that I know the member is so passionate about.
Gareth Hughes: I seek leave to table literally thousands of submissions collected from New Zealanders asking the Government to invest in a clean energy future, not risky deep-sea oil drilling.
Mr SPEAKER: I am reluctant to put the leave. There is a process if a submission is received by which it is presented officially into this Parliament.
3. JOHN HAYES (National—Wairarapa) to the Minister of Finance: What recent reports has he received on progress in building a faster-growing economy that supports more jobs and higher incomes for New Zealanders?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): This morning Statistics New Zealand issued the GDP data for the December quarter of 2013. It showed that the economy continued to grow at above 3 percent annually, confirming that New Zealand is on the right track. The 0.9 percent growth in the December quarter took annual growth to 3.1 percent. So provided that we stick with the Government’s economic programme; and New Zealand households and businesses continue to rebalance their debt, reorganise their affairs, and continue to be more productive; we will have a faster-growing economy that can provide higher wages and new jobs for those who need them.
John Hayes: What were some of the main sources of growth in the latest GDP data?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The economic growth in the year to the end of December was reasonably broad-based. Statistics New Zealand took particular pleasure in seeing that manufacturing, which was said to be in crisis, made the largest—not just the median or nearly largest, but the largest—contribution to GDP growth, “increasing by 2.1 percent, taking overall manufacturing activity to the highest level since March 2006.” So the manufacturing sector, which apparently is in crisis, is now at its highest level of economic contribution since March 2006. Interestingly, wholesale trade, including machinery and equipment investment, also grew significantly. In fact, investment in plant machinery and equipment generally associated with manufacturing was up 7.5 percent—the highest level ever since the GDP series began. We look forward to more Opposition-nominated crises of this sort.
Hon David Parker: Are non-primary manufactured exports still dropping and still below 2008 levels?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: So now the Labour Party story is—
Grant Robertson: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Hon BILL ENGLISH: —the parts of—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I have a point of order from Grant Robertson.
Grant Robertson: That was an extremely direct and specific question and the Minister of Finance starting it with an attack on the Opposition is not within Standing Orders.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The Minister had hardly started his answer before the member was on his feet. [Interruption] Order! I want to hear the answer and I cannot hear the answer if the member is raising a point of order saying that the question has not been adequately addressed.
Grant Robertson: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. With respect, my point of order was that the Minister began his answer—
Mr SPEAKER: The member will resume his seat. I have already said that I have not had enough chance to listen to the answer to consider whether that is appropriate. I call the Hon Bill English.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Well, just let me answer—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I will hear from the Hon Trevor Mallard, but I will expect it to be a new point of order.
Hon Trevor Mallard: It is a new point of order and it relates to your last ruling, when you said you would wait to see whether the attack was appropriate. It could not have been appropriate from a straight question.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I did not say that. I said I would wait to hear the answer. The answer has hardly started before a member is on his feet saying it is unsatisfactory. The question has been asked. It is now so long since it was asked because of what I consider wasteful points of order I am going to ask the questioner to ask the question again, then we will hear the answer.
Hon David Parker: Are non-primary manufactured exports still declining and still below the level they were at in real terms in 2008?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I cannot confirm those numbers, but I can confirm that a fair bit of the growth of manufacturing comes from the further processing of primary production, which I thought the Labour Party supported. But now, apparently, it is the wrong sort of growth and it does not count. [Interruption] The fact that people get up on Monday morning and go to work to process our primary produce, apparently is not real jobs.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! If I hear an interjection from Grant Robertson again, he will be leaving the Chamber.
Grant Robertson: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Under your rulings and under the rulings of the previous Speaker, when members on this side of the House ask a direct question with no politics associated at all, we are given a direct answer. That is not what the Minister of Finance did there and that is why I was interjecting.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I am saying to the member that under no circumstances will I accept his interjecting at that level. If he wants to raise a point of order, stand and do so. But do not stand there barracking across the Chamber. I expect on this occasion that the question has—
Dr Russel Norman: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. This is about Standing Order 383 and the “Content of replies”. This was a very specific question. It did not bring the National Party or the Labour Party or the Green Party into it. Standing Order 383 is very clear. It says that the reply “must be concise and confined to the subject-matter of the question asked,” and not include all of those other kinds of references. Clearly, the Minister of Finance keeps breaching this Standing Order. We are asking you to enforce it.
Mr SPEAKER: The member is raising a perfectly legitimate point of order. I think in hindsight that I let that answer go on far longer than it should have.
John Hayes: How does New Zealand’s latest quarterly GDP growth compare with growth rates in other developed economies, and what are forecasters saying about New Zealand’s growth outlook for the next few years?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: New Zealand’s growth rate is better than that of quite a few developed countries, but, of course, the real measure of its success is whether it is providing more jobs for New Zealanders and higher incomes for New Zealanders. The good news is that forecasters are generally expecting that New Zealand’s growth rate will be maintained through 2014. This, however, is no cause for complacency or for a fiscal lolly scramble. This country has a lot of work to do yet to ensure that every New Zealander who can work can get a job, and that all those New Zealanders who have a job are paid in a manner that they regard as appropriate.
John Hayes: What other economic indicators are contributing to New Zealand’s stronger economic outlook and supporting more jobs and higher incomes?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: There are quite a number of indicators, some of which we have discussed before, such as business and consumer confidence, but one important one is that in the year to March productivity increased by 2.1 percent above the annual rate of 1.6 percent. In the
longer run there are increases in productivity, which will underpin higher incomes for New Zealanders. The Government will continue to work hard to help create the conditions that enable businesses to invest more and for New Zealanders to get more skills so we can continue to raise productivity, because there is so much more potential.
Hon David Parker: How has his Government’s corporate cronyism, handouts, subsidies, and paybacks to large multinationals and corporate donors to the National Party—[Interruption] Mr Speaker, may I repeat my question. It is in order.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The difficulty is that we have just had a discussion around expecting answers to be concise. Equally, there is a Standing Order asking for questions to be concise. I am relatively liberal in interpreting that to allow a political exchange, but the reason there is disorder is the tone of the question that is being asked by the member. If he wants to continue with that, I am certainly not going to rule it out of order, but it is likely that it will engender a response from the Government side. The Hon David Parker—start the question again.
Hon David Parker: How has his Government’s corporate cronyism, handouts, subsidies—
Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. That is a disreputable reference. It would be no different from my making an allegation that yesterday the Labour Party introduced, for example, a policy for cash to fund its campaign. Everyone knows that that is what is happening, but it is not appropriate to say it. It is not appropriate for him to put that in a question, and it most definitely is outside the content of questions requirement of Standing Order 383, as was cited by the Opposition a few moments ago.
Mr SPEAKER: The difficulty with the situation is that those words have now been used for some months and did not receive any objection from the Government at the time. [Interruption] Order! I am suggesting to the member that she is wrong. I have heard those words used on a number of occasions. I do not think they bring credit to this House at all, but because I have allowed them through in the past, I cannot see that we can change the course of action.
Hon David Parker: How has his Government’s corporate cronyism, handouts, subsidies, and paybacks to large multinationals and corporate donors to the National Party, including by, amongst others, Judith Collins, helped to provide better jobs and higher incomes for New Zealanders?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I simply disagree with the member. It is ironic coming the day after the Labour Party has announced the results of its interaction with the forestry industry, where the Labour Party policy hands out tens of millions of dollars of cash to a number of New Zealand’s biggest corporates that probably, through some confidential trust created by David Cunliffe, will be funding the Labour Party.
Hon David Parker: Why is the corporate cronyism he tries to justify a better option than providing tax incentives to the whole of a productive, value-added export sector like forest processing, which will create better jobs and higher wages?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The Government has no activity that could be described as corporate cronyism. We have made a few pragmatic decisions about one or two significant pressures on the New Zealand economy, and I think most New Zealanders have regarded them as a fair go. What is clear, though, is that the Labour Party has a different view. Industry by industry, Labour members seem to be going around, designing policy for cash handouts to people who will almost certainly be incentivised to support them in the election.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I do not want to in any way dispute the ruling—well, not really the ruling, the comments—that you gave in the House earlier on the matters that we were discussing. You would have to go back to 1952 before there was a definitive Speaker’s ruling about the imputing of improper motives to the Government, which effectively is what the Hon David Parker did. I wonder whether you might consider that ruling and come back to us, to see just whether Speakers’ ruling 50/3 still stands, some 50 years later.
Grant Robertson: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: I will hear from Grant Robertson.
Grant Robertson: I think you are going to take up the Leader of the House’s invitation, and when you do so, perhaps you might like to consider the answer that the Minister of Finance just gave, impugning the Labour Party and suggesting that we were somehow making policy for money that we are going to be donated.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I do not need any more assistance. I will certainly have a close look at the matter, because I suspect it is going to be something that is raised on more than one occasion as we lead towards the election. But I will, in response to Grant Robertson’s point, particularly note that when a question is asked that does have imputations, etc., it is likely to give an opportunity—
Grant Robertson: We didn’t challenge it.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I accept the member did not challenge it. The point I am making is that it does give significant licence to whoever is answering the question.
Te Pātaka Ōhanga—Financial Management
4. Hon NANAIA MAHUTA (Labour—Hauraki-Waikato) to the Minister of Education: Does she stand by her statements “I’m satisfied public money was spent in an appropriate way” and “There were no instances of TPO using public money inappropriately”; if so, why has she referred Te Pātaka Ōhanga to the Serious Fraud Office?
Hon HEKIA PARATA (Minister of Education): I stand by my statements based on the findings of the Ernst and Young report, where it said: “… we did not identify any instances of Te Kōhanga Reo National Trust providing public funding to Te Pataka Ohanga”. Te Pātaka Ōhanga is not the responsibility of Ministers of the Crown; as owners of the private company, it is Te Kōhanga Reo National Trust Board’s responsibility. I have done my job; the trust has not done its job. That is why I have referred the matter to the Serious Fraud Office. The public wants answers, and so do I.
Hon Nanaia Mahuta: What portion of the approximately $92 million paid by the Government to Te Kōhanga Reo National Trust in the last financial year was paid by the trust to Te Pātaka Ōhanga for kaupapa funding, and was this transaction identified in the Ernst and Young report?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: I will quickly check whether that was. I do not recall off the top of my head what proportion those services were. [Interruption] Page 20—well then, yes, obviously the answer is yes—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Allow the Minister to answer.
Hon HEKIA PARATA: I was going to speak to the question, which asked what proportion. I know the amount, which is just under $4 million, but I do not know what proportion that is of $92 million. So yes—actually, it is different. It is $3.7 million.
Hon Nanaia Mahuta: Does she consider that kaupapa funding is derived from her ministry and is therefore public funding that goes to Te Pātaka Ōhanga?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: I am relying on the Ernst and Young report, which said: “… we did not identify any instances of Te Kōhanga Reo National Trust providing public funding to Te Pataka Ohanga”.
Hon Nanaia Mahuta: Why is it that the Prime Minister recognised in relation to Te Pātaka Ōhanga that “This is the spending of taxpayers money and the integrity of that is important to every New Zealander.”, yet she failed to recognise this when undertaking the review in October last year, which did not even address the allegations made?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: Can I refer the member to the terms of reference that have been in the public domain since 16 October—terms of reference No. 6: “Establish what, if any, public funding provided to Te Kōhanga Reo National Trust may have been provided to Te Pataka Ohanga.” It clearly demonstrates that I was absolutely interested—
Grant Robertson: The Prime Minister is wrong then.
Hon HEKIA PARATA: —in what was happening with public moneys, as has been the Prime Minister, and that is why we commissioned an internationally reputable firm, Ernst and Young, to undertake this investigation—
Grant Robertson: And make sure they didn’t look at it.
Hon HEKIA PARATA: —and to make sure it did look at it, because it is in the terms of reference, which are in the public domain.
Hon Nanaia Mahuta: How many times has she sought assurances that allegations towards Te Pātaka Ōhanga have been addressed by the Te Kōhanga National Trust since 14 October last year?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: Either through the ministry itself, but certainly directly from me, many times, including as recently as Tuesday night, when we met to discuss the Ernst and Young report and where it gave me assurances it would deal with the allegation relevant to it. I have done my part; it did not do its part. As a result, I referred it to the Serious Fraud Office.
Hon Nanaia Mahuta: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My question was quite specific. I asked how many times had she sought assurances—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] No, but it is a satisfactory answer.
Health Services—Stroke Treatment
5. LOUISE UPSTON (National—Taupō) to the Minister of Health: What reports has he received about recent progress in the treatment of stroke in New Zealand?
Hon TONY RYALL (Minister of Health): Stroke is the leading cause of disability in New Zealand, and we know that fast treatment means a faster recovery. When it comes to stroke, time is brain. Research shows a dedicated stroke unit prevents many people from having a more severe stroke and significantly improves a patient’s recovery after a stroke. An audit in 2009 showed that only 39 percent of stroke patients were being treated in dedicated stroke units. Because of the Government’s focus on this, all district health boards now have a dedicated acute stroke unit or service, and I am advised that they are meeting the guidelines that 80 percent of stroke patients are treated in a dedicated stroke unit or service.
Louise Upston: What specific reports has he received about improvements in stroke treatment?
Hon TONY RYALL: A couple. Recently I visited the stroke unit at the Tauranga public hospital, and the professor in charge of the stroke unit there told me that their audit results would indicate that Tauranga’s stroke unit was achieving above-average results compared with the United Kingdom, which, interestingly, has spent £100 million on trying to improve stroke care, and many of our services are already exceeding what it does. The MidCentral District Health Board is leading work on telestroke, which means working with other district health boards to use telemedicine technology in order to link up with clinicians who can provide diagnostic support 24 hours a day to better support patient management decisions for those with stroke.
Te Ururoa Flavell: Does he agree that stroke disproportionately affects Māori people and contributes to a disparity in life expectancy equivalent to a silent epidemic that is killing 10 percent of the Māori population every year; and does he think that health services are giving this pretty shocking situation sufficient priority?
Hon TONY RYALL: Yes, I think the member made a very good point in the statistics he talked about. My response would be that our Government has put in a huge effort, particularly in the focus on the preventive areas that can help prevent people being at risk of stroke. The member will be well aware of the huge turning point that our Government has created in the fight against tobacco, and he will be very aware that one of the Government’s six national health targets is more heart and diabetes checks, which is more about people getting into a pathway of care in order to avoid the risk factors of stroke.
6. Hon ANNETTE KING (Labour—Rongotai) to the Minister of Health: Does he stand by all his statements?
Hon TONY RYALL (Minister of Health): Yes, within context. I especially stand by the statement that despite tight times, this Government has increased health funding by an average of $500 million a year and that we have 1,300 more doctors, over 3,000 more nurses, and 1,000 fewer managers and administrators.
Hon Annette King: Does he stand by his statement regarding elective surgery that “These decisions are made by clinicians within the funding that they’ve got,”; if so, is funding sufficient in light of the comments by the chair of the New Zealand Medical Association, who said this week that patients who needed surgery were being told they did not qualify, Arthritis New Zealand, which said current funding levels are not meeting need, and specialists who are frustrated because they are turning away patients in pain and disability, unable to treat them with the level of funding they receive?
Hon TONY RYALL: Yes. The Government is putting a huge effort into providing more elective surgery, because the history of it is that we inherited a situation where, when that member opposite was Minister of Health, the health budget increased dramatically but she cut the amount of elective surgery in New Zealand.
Hon Annette King: We have got a patient in the front row. Is it ethical for Auckland District Health Board—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order!
Hon Annette King: I am going to start again. Shall I, Mr Speaker?
Mr SPEAKER: If the member could start again, but just start the question straight away without an interjection. [Interruption] Order! If the member could just ask her question, I think it would assist me in establishing some order.
Hon Annette King: Is it ethical for Auckland District Health Board to make cuts to cardiothoracic surgery, vascular surgery, neurosurgery, orthopaedic surgery, gynaecology, general surgery, respiratory medicine, and intensive care, because, to quote its chief executive officer, these are “services where we make a significant loss”, and patients are now figures on a profit and loss ledger?
Hon TONY RYALL: It is an unusual way to describe a service. I presume what the member was saying is that it is not meeting budget. The Auckland District Health Board has total revenue of $2 billion a year. The chief executive has expressed some concern that one part of the service is $12 million off budget. That is equivalent to about 2 days’ funding at the Auckland District Health Board. I support district health boards as they try to live within their budgets, because if they live within their budgets, they are able to make decisions for the people of their communities to improve services. I do not think I want our system heading along that road to financial ruin that I had when I became Minister of Health 6 years ago.
Hon Annette King: Does he have confidence in the chair he appointed to Auckland District Health Board, whose chief executive officer has sent out a panicky email to senior staff that has caused widespread alarm because it requires significant changes and “quick wins” to reduce the $12 million deficit, by taking staff out of theatres, and out of children’s and older persons’ health services?
Hon TONY RYALL: Yes. I have the utmost confidence in Dr Lester Levy. I have to say that hospitals trying to balance their budgets is nothing new. In fact, it even happened 30 years ago, when that member was running her first election campaign against Sir Robert Muldoon, Brian Talboys, and Lance Adams-Schneider.
Hon Annette King: In light of that answer, I could point out that that member has been in Parliament only 3 years less than me.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! We are going to call it one all, and we are going to move back to question time.
Hon Annette King: I’ve still got all my hair. [Interruption] And a good thing too!
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Now we will have the question. Otherwise we are moving on.
Hon Annette King: Does he think it is acceptable for district health boards to take, on average, 5 months to fill a senior medical officer vacancy—but it can take up to 8 months before they actually start work—in an effort to save money, and what is the impact on patients and staff with such long delays?
Hon TONY RYALL: Filling some roles does take a long time. I only look at the Leader of the Opposition role for the Labour Party. It has taken a long time—
Hon Bill English: Chief of staff.
Hon TONY RYALL: And, in fact, the chief of staff took months. So some of these roles are quite difficult and challenging, and, certainly, I am sure with that member’s experience over the last 30 years, she has seen many of them come and go.
Hon Annette King: How does his promise of more operations stack up with the fact that Auckland District Health Board has managed to increase the number of orthopaedic operations carried out by only 28 since 2011-12 and now it wants to make cuts to orthopaedic surgery, according to the chief executive officer’s recent email, which I am happy to table because the Minister obviously has not read it, listening to all his answers?
Hon TONY RYALL: I am pleased that I always check anything that that member says in the House. Since we had the doctored Official Information Act response, I have always checked. The information I have is that, in fact, it has done over 1,200 more orthopaedic procedures compared with when Labour was last in office in 2007-08. I think it is doing a lot of very good work in Auckland under a lot of pressure. It is a fast-growing population, but that is the reason why this Government has put in $180 million extra into the Auckland District Health Board in the last 5 years.
Hon Annette King: I seek leave to make a personal explanation.
Mr SPEAKER: In that case—[Interruption] Order! If we could just briefly have what it is regarding, and then you need to seek leave, so I will put leave.
Hon Annette King: I seek leave to make a personal explanation regarding repeated accusations by Tony Ryall that I have doctored figures.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to make this personal explanation. Is there any objection? There is not.
Hon Annette King: In July 2013 I called a reporter at the Timaru Herald with figures that I had received through an Official Information Act response from South Canterbury District Health Board on the number of people waiting for a range of endoscopy procedures, including colonoscopies. I informed him that I believed that the number of people waiting for a colonoscopy should be 495 people, not 280 people as stated in the document. I explained the way that I had calculated the figure and handwrote what I believed to be the correct figure on the copy of the document provided by South Canterbury District Health Board. I then emailed it to the reporter for him to check. I phoned again once he had received the document, and he agreed with my assessment of the total provided based on the way the figures were presented. He then contacted South Canterbury District Health Board and showed it what we believed to be the correct number of people waiting for a colonoscopy. At that point, South Canterbury District Health Board informed him that the figures provided for other endoscopy procedures had been added up as a total number. The number of people waiting for a colonoscopy was presented in a partly accumulated way. This was not made clear in the figures provided. The reporter advised me of the South Canterbury District Health Board’s explanation, which I accepted. I subsequently phoned the chief executive of South Canterbury District Health Board and asked him to provide a new answer to my request for the number of people waiting for a colonoscopy. I received a letter with the changed figure on 11 July.
The letter read: “The numbers for the second question on colonoscopy procedures in the table included in the letter was partly accumulated. This was not stated in the response and made the table difficult to add. We have amended the table so it is not accumulated.” At no time did I distribute doctored figures, as claimed by Tony Ryall. The only people to receive a copy of my handwritten total were the reporter, who sent it to South Canterbury District Health Board, and Tony Ryall, to ask them to explain the apparent mistake. I seek leave to table the two documents I received and a note of explanation from the South Canterbury District Health Board on 11 July of the error it made when it provided me with the original figures.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table those two documents so described and a note of explanation. Is there any objection? There appears to be none. They can be tabled. Documents, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Point of order, Mr Speaker. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! I have a point of order.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I seek leave to table two documents from the Parliamentary Library showing that Sir Brian Talboys and Lance Adams-Schneider retired from the House 3 years before Mrs King contested an election, as evidence of the accuracy of the statements and the reliance that we can place—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! We do not need any more. On the basis that the member thinks that is important knowledge for the House, I will put the leave. Leave is sought to table that Parliamentary Library information. Is there any objection? There is none. It can be tabled. Documents, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Could you advise of the rules in respect of once a personal explanation has been given and a member then repeats immediately the allegation afterwards, as the Minister of Health did, and what the process is? My understanding is that a member’s word has to be accepted. A personal explanation deals with the matter. To repeat the allegation as he did immediately afterwards breaches the Standing Orders.
Mr SPEAKER: A member’s word certainly must be accepted. Despite the detailed personal explanation, there could still be some matters of debate within that. The member’s word must be accepted but I do not think there is any matter I need to take any further at this stage.
7. MIKE SABIN (National—Northland) to the Minister for Courts: What progress can he report on the Government’s efforts to reduce the age of civil court cases?
Hon CHESTER BORROWS (Minister for Courts): Sometimes disputes need to be resolved and contracts need to be enforced, and that is why it is important that we have a robust and smoothly functioning civil court jurisdiction ready to support people in businesses when they need it. I recently reported to the House that the disputes tribunals have cut 15 percent, or 11 days, off their average case age last year. I can today also report that the average age of civil cases last year fell nationally by 16 days. This is a small but positive move towards helping businesses spend less time in court and more time creating jobs.
Mike Sabin: How have specialist courts like the Environment Court and Employment Court contributed to faster, more efficient resolutions of civil court cases?
Hon CHESTER BORROWS: The Environment Court and Employment Court both face challenging cases but are equally committed to getting cases resolved faster. In 2013 the Employment Court cut 13 days off the average age of its cases and is on track to cut another 67 days off those cases over the course of this year. The Environment Court achieved a 13 percent drop in the age of cases in 2013 and is working towards another 50 days faster by the end of this year. The courts are doing this by focusing on older cases, a new commitment by the judiciary to getting
reserved judgments out quicker, and the smarter management of their support and judicial resources.
Mike Sabin: Can he highlight for the House the works of individual courts that made a particular contribution to speeding up civil cases last year?
Hon CHESTER BORROWS: Yes, I can. In Palmerston North civil trials are moving 15 percent faster, with the average age down 34 days. In the Gisborne District Court civil cases are moving 49 percent faster, at an average age of 137 days, and disputes tribunal cases are down 36 percent. The Invercargill disputes tribunal is at the top of the table, cutting the age of its cases by 75 percent, down to less than 1 month. This is just another way this Government is working to make life easier for businesses all across New Zealand.
Justice, Minister—Visit to China and Potential Conflict of Interest
8. GRANT ROBERTSON (Labour—Wellington Central) to the Minister of Justice: Does she agree with the Prime Minister that she “misled by omission” with respect to her dealings with Oravida Ltd and her ministerial visit to China; if so, in what specific ways did she mislead by omission?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON (Attorney-General) on behalf of the Minister of
Justice: The Minister always agrees with the Prime Minister. She agreed with him when he said to the media that “She answered your question directly, but I think as a senior politician you have to acknowledge that even though you ask a specific question, there is a broader question you are asking and you have a responsibility to give broader answers.” The Minister did not respond as she should have, and that was an error.
Grant Robertson: Why, when asked the name of the Chinese border control official last Wednesday, did she answer “I don’t know what the name is.”, when she had been informed about the name and role of the official before she left New Zealand to go to China?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: Because she made a mistake. She has apologised for that and other matters. People make mistakes. It is the putting right that counts, as L V Martin said. I would note that that party has never apologised, for example—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! That will not help the order of the House.
Grant Robertson: Can the Minister confirm that she is now apologising for misleading the media by saying that she did not know what the name of the Chinese border official was when she said that last Wednesday?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: The Minister has apologised for the errors that she has made, particularly in not answering questions in that broad way as commended to her by the Prime Minister. She has apologised, she has apologised, she has apologised—she has apologised more comprehensively than John Cleese apologised to Otto in that film A Fish Called Wanda.
Grant Robertson: Supplementary question—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I am trying to help the member.
Grant Robertson: Why did she describe her trip to Oravida in Shanghai as “popping in on the way to the airport”, when it was a pre-planned visit that was added to her official programme for her visit on 11 October?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: When she completed her report in accordance with paragraph 2.112 of the Cabinet Manual, she honestly reported to Cabinet on the achievements and the outcomes of her overseas travel. The member will appreciate that it is not usual for private dinners to be mentioned in the trip report unless, as in the case of Chris Carter, that was all that was achieved.
Grant Robertson: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The question I asked was a reasonably direct one about why she described her trip in a particular way—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] No, I listened carefully to the question. I listened carefully to the answer. I think on this occasion the answer addressed the question—I accept not to the member’s satisfaction. He may have further supplementary questions. He should use them.
Grant Robertson: I know that this is unusual, but I seek leave to table an answer to a written question that is not yet public, which shows that the visit to the offices of Oravida Ltd in Shanghai was first added to the Hon Judith Collins’ official programme on 11 October 2013.
Mr SPEAKER: On the basis that it is not yet published, I will put that leave. Leave is sought to table that particular answer. Is there any objection? There is none. It can be tabled. Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Grant Robertson: Why did her visit to Oravida’s office in Shanghai not appear in her report to Cabinet, given that according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade it was added to her official programme on 11 October?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: I do not think he listened to what I said about the Cabinet Manuel, about listing achievements and outcomes. The Minister saw—and she recognises this as an error—that this was nothing more than an incidental. And these things happen. I recall reading the report of the Attorney-General when he appeared before the International Court of Justice last year. The Attorney-General reported on his appearance, but he did not report that he had a cappuccino.
Grant Robertson: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I was getting up to suggest that that answer was not relevant, but I see that the Minister has now sat down.
Mr SPEAKER: Yes, but the answer certainly addressed the question. There might have been an unnecessary flick at the end; I accept that. [Interruption] Order!
Grant Robertson: How is it that on a taxpayer-funded visit to China on justice matters her husband’s fellow directors of Oravida happened to be in Beijing on the day that she was there, and then happened to be in Shanghai a few days later when she was there?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: I should have mentioned that the cappuccino was at Betty’s Café.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Can the member just address the question.
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: The member’s unpleasant question suggests that this was all a trumped up visit to advance commercial interests. The Minister did go to China for justice meetings, as is apparent from her report. I do wish the member would concentrate on the big issues, like Labour’s poll ratings, rather than this sort of thing.
Grant Robertson: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I raise what is a potentially serious matter with you, Mr Speaker, given your role as the person responsible for the precincts here, about what might be happening with the food at Copperfields, because Judith Collins was there at 1 o’clock and she has not made it to the House—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member might want to make an attempt to become more familiar with the Standing Orders. The member should not draw attention to the absence of a Minister from this House.
Energy Strategy—Smart Grid Forum
9. KANWALJIT SINGH BAKSHI (National) to the Minister of Energy and Resources: What announcement has he made in relation to smart electricity in New Zealand?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES (Minister of Energy and Resources): This morning at the National Energy Research Institute conference I announced the members of the newly established New Zealand Smart Grid Forum. The forum will provide a platform for dialogue between senior representatives from all parts of the electricity system, including business, scientific, academic, and consumer interests. The forum reflects the Government’s commitment to the responsible and savvy use of resources and technology to help secure our energy future. New technology like smart meters
and smart appliances will help empower consumers by giving them more information on and control over their energy usage. I believe the Smart Grid Forum can play a significant role in the innovative and competitive electricity market being created in New Zealand.
Kanwaljit Singh Bakshi: What other electricity initiatives has the Minister announced to help empower consumers?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: Today I also announced changes to improve electricity price monitoring and provide more accurate information for consumers about how the market is performing. The changes, to take effect from June, will see electricity price monitoring more accurately reflect what consumers actually pay for their electricity, as we know advertised prices tell only a part of the overall price story. Offerings such as prompt payment discounts and online discounts are now commonplace, and this should be captured by price monitoring. This work complements projects already under way by the Electricity Authority to ensure New Zealanders have access to transparent, reliable, and consistent information about their electricity prices.
Television, Public Service Channels—Captioning
10. MOJO MATHERS (Green) to the Minister of Broadcasting: Does he think that television programmes made with public funds should be screened with captions so that New Zealanders with hearing loss can watch them?
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN (Minister of Defence) on behalf of the Minister of
Broadcasting: Yes, where possible, taking into account the fiscally constrained environment that the Government has been operating in and the technical issues faced by particular broadcasters. I note that the Government supports captioning services on free-to-view TV through New Zealand on Air, with annual funding of $2.4 million for provisions of captioning services and audio description.
Mojo Mathers: Should one of the conditions of New Zealand on Air funding not be that these programmes are captioned, given that New Zealand on Air has funded more than $2 million worth of World War I documentaries that are being screened on Prime Television without any captions, making them inaccessible for New Zealanders with a hearing loss?
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: That is an interesting point that the member makes, but I would note that the amount of captioned programmes has increased steadily over time. There is no doubt that the Government is not able to caption everything it would like to, but I think we are making very good progress and there has been considerable improvement in this area over the last decade.
Mojo Mathers: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My question was very specifically about making the public funding to produce programmes conditional on those programmes being captioned, and that includes Prime Television. It does not mean that the Government has to fund it.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member got a response that then addressed that question with the Minister saying that, due to fiscal constraints, it cannot be a condition on every programme.
Mojo Mathers: How long will he let New Zealand’s woefully inadequate rates of captioning continue while other countries such as the United States and Australia will have 100 percent captioning with free-to-air television because they regulate to ensure these high levels?
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: I think the progress has actually been pretty good. We now caption 250 hours a week, compared with 70 hours a decade ago, so progress is being made all the time. I would also note that the choice of programmes captioned is made in consultation with the deaf and hearing-impaired community, so we are making definite progress in this area, but there is always more that can be done.
Mojo Mathers: Considering that next week is Hearing Week, what assurance will he give to the hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders with hearing loss that public funds will not be used to pay for programmes that they cannot watch?
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: What I would note is that there are 35 hours of captioned television available on free-to-air television every day, which is more than one person can possibly humanly watch, so I think good progress is being made.
Te Ururoa Flavell: Should all programmes made with public funds also have Māori language subtitles, to recognise the status of Māori language as an official language of this country; if not, why not?
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: Well, that is a very interesting point, but I do not believe that they should.
Housing, Affordable—Social Housing
11. MELISSA LEE (National) to the Minister for Social Development: What recent announcements has she made about ensuring housing assistance goes to those most in need of it?
Hon PAULA BENNETT (Minister for Social Development): Last week I, along with the Minister of Housing, announced the introduction of reviewable tenancies, the next step in ensuring housing assistance is going to those most in need. There are 68,000 State house tenancies, and it is vital that the right people are in the right homes for the right amount of time. Around 800 reviews will take place over 12 months, starting in July this year. They will target those already paying market rents, or close to market rents, to see whether they can move into and sustain a private rental. It is only fair that those who can move into a private rental do so, to free up a home for those more in need.
Melissa Lee: How will the reviews work?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: The review process is all about finding accommodation that bests suits people’s needs. As part of its role of assessing housing needs, the Ministry of Social Development will conduct these reviews. The reviews will look at whether a household can afford an alternative housing option but will also take into account whether alternative housing is accessible and sustainable.
Melissa Lee: What are the reviews likely to find?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: People’s housing needs change as their incomes and circumstances change. Some reviews will find that tenants still have a need and should stay in their current home. Some will find that their needs have changed and perhaps they need another State house. However, other reviews will find that a person no longer requires social housing, and a plan will be set up to help find them another home. No tenant will be asked to move if there is no suitable home for them to go to.
Te Pātaka Ohanga—Financial Management
12. TRACEY MARTIN (NZ First) to the Minister of Education: Does she stand by her statement in regards to Te Pātaka Ohanga, “there were no instances of TPO using public money inappropriately”?
Hon HEKIA PARATA (Minister of Education): I stand by my statements based on the findings of the Ernst and Young report, which said: “we did not identify any instances of Te Kōhanga Reo National Trust providing public funding to Te Pātaka Ohanga”. Te Pātaka Ohanga is not the responsibility of Ministers of the Crown. As owners of the private company, that is the trust’s responsibility. I have done my job and it is a matter of deep frustration that the trust has not done its job. My office received an email on Monday evening outlining a range of concerns and allegations that were serious and specific. Once it became clear on Wednesday morning that the trust was not acting to restore public confidence despite being given every opportunity, I had no choice but to refer the matter to the Serious Fraud Office. The public wants answers from the trust, and so do I.
Tracey Martin: In light of that answer and her answer to primary question No. 4 earlier today, is it the Minister’s view that a $50,000 koha is an appropriate way for an organisation to spend public money, and is she aware of any other publicly funded organisations where this has happened?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: Also, as the report makes clear in terms of that specific matter of the $50,000, it said: “During our testing we noted one koha payment of $50,000 made in December 2012 to a related party. The payment was a matter discussed in Committee by the Board, and related to the substantial contribution made by the recipient during the extended Waitangi claim process. The Board has the authority to make such a payment”—
Tracey Martin: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The question was whether it is the Minister’s view that a $50,000 koha is an appropriate—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I heard the question, and the Minister has, in detail, made reference to the $50,000 koha. The answer is addressing the question that was asked.
Tracey Martin: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Just to clarify, when the question asks “Is it the Minister’s view …”, and the Minister states the view of Ernst and Young, is the Minister’s view now the property of Ernst and Young?
Mr SPEAKER: Order! That is now directly questioning a ruling I have given as to whether the question was answered. What the member now needs to do is listen to the answer, allow the Minister to complete it, and then ask further incisive questions to get what she wants from the Minister.
Tracey Martin: Has she been advised by the board of the identity of the recipient of the $50,000 koha payment; if so, will she disclose their identity?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: No, I have not, but I have advised the board that I think it should disclose it.
Tracey Martin: Does she agree that it could be perceived that her department and her ministerial responsibility has failed in the effective monitoring of the bulk funding of the $92 million of taxpayers’ money that has been allocated to Te Kōhanga Reo National Trust board, which she is responsible for; if not, why not?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: No, because these allegations were brought to my attention on 15 October 2013. On 16 October I commissioned an independent review with very publicly available terms of reference of an internationally reputable, independent firm, Ernst and Young, to carry out this review. As soon as I had the report available and was able to meet with the board, within an hour and a half I made it publicly available.
Tracey Martin: Would the Minister agree that her department’s failure of oversight over this public money has now put the taonga of kōhanga reo at risk; if not, why not?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: No, because the Ministry of Education monitors the kōhanga reo, and it reported in October that there was no indication of impropriety of public funding. That has been confirmed here. But what I do think has happened, and is putting at risk this taonga, is the trust board’s failure to step up and act responsibly in making these allegations and how it deals with them public.