Questions and Answers - April 16
QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS
1. Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does he have confidence in the Hon Judith Collins and her handling of her relationship with Oravida Ltd?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): Yes. However, as I have stated in the past, the Minister’s interactions with Oravida could have led to a perception of a conflict of interest. I am sure she will manage that situation more carefully in the future.
Hon David Cunliffe: Is the Prime Minister satisfied that Judith Collins has disclosed to him all relevant information about Oravida that she knows?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Yes.
Hon David Cunliffe: Given his statement that he would “not want to be in her shoes” if there were any further embarrassing revelations, or if she has withheld relevant information or has been “cute with the truth”, will he rule out removing Judith Collins’ ministerial warrant if it emerges that she has withheld further relevant information?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I think the member is asking a hypothetical question, but I am comfortable with the actions of the Minister.
Hon David Cunliffe: Does the Prime Minister stand by his statement that “I think she had a responsibility to make clear all of the meetings that she held in Beijing, even if one of them was a ‘private meeting’. And she certainly should have made me aware of that.”?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Yes.
Hon David Cunliffe: How does he reconcile his answer to the last question with Judith Collins’ resiling from that position yesterday?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: She did not and if the member was here, he would know that. But I guess that that is what it is like when life is in the slow lane. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Supplementary question, the Hon David Cunliffe.
Hon David Cunliffe: At least I did not renege on a housing debate.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Just ask the question.
Hon David Cunliffe: Why did the Prime Minister’s office advise Judith Collins not to divulge the name and position of a senior Chinese border control official?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Because it was not germane to the conversation. What I can confirm is that I made the name, the individual’s agency, and his seniority well known to the Cabinet Office on the advice that it provided to me.
Hon David Cunliffe: Is Oravida being given favourable treatment above and beyond any other company or cooperative, sending the message that if you make a sizable donation to the National Party and appoint a Minister’s husband to your board, you get a better deal?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No.
Hon David Cunliffe: Did a donation to the National Party result from the Prime Minister’s second game of golf with Oravida chairman, Stone Shi?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I have no ministerial responsibility for that. [Interruption]
Grant Robertson: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! This is a point of order.
Grant Robertson: The question that the Leader of the Opposition asked was whether a donation had come from something that the Prime Minister had done. He is responsible for his actions as Prime Minister.
Mr SPEAKER: No. There is no ministerial responsibility. I was about to rule the question out before the Prime Minister managed to get his answer out by saying that. That is an acceptable answer. There is no ministerial responsibility.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I was wondering whether you could ask the Prime Minister to speak up when he answers the questions. He is not speaking very close to his microphone and we most definitely want to hear his answers.
Mr SPEAKER: I think the issue is more the level of noise and interjection—and it is occurring now and I am on my feet. The level of interjection from all around the House is not only making it difficult for the Rt Hon Winston Peters to hear but making it difficult for me to hear as well.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I would like to remind you of exactly what that last question was. It asked about an action of the Prime Minister, which involved the Prime Minister in his prime ministerial capacity taking with him Diplomatic Protection Squad people, using ministerial services—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member will resume his seat. I will have a careful look later. I have a made a ruling with regard to that question for today.
Hon David Parker: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! This is a point of order and it will be heard.
Hon David Parker: I struggle to understand why you stood the Hon Trevor Mallard down through the middle of his point of order.
Mr SPEAKER: Because I had heard enough. It was not strictly a relevant point of order. I have ruled on that question. I have given the member an assurance that I will look at the transcript. I always do.
Hon David Cunliffe: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. In reviewing the tape, as you have undertaken so kindly to do, could I draw your attention to a possibility, which is that if the Prime Minister had not played a second game of golf with Mr Shi in his prime ministerial capacity, it would have been open to him to state that to the House. What he has said to the House is that he has no ministerial responsibility for the question at all and I would submit for your consideration that that is a different answer from the fact that he was not using his prime ministerial capacity.
Mr SPEAKER: I will certainly relook at the transcript later on this afternoon.
Interest Rates—Pressures and Controls
JAMI-LEE ROSS (National—Botany): My question is to the Minister of Finance and asks: what are likely to be the main pressures on interest rates and what steps—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Order! That level of interjection from the Hon Trevor Mallard is unacceptable. I invite Jami-Lee Ross to start that question again.
2. JAMI-LEE ROSS (National—Botany) to the Minister of Finance: What are likely to be the main pressures on interest rates and what steps is the Government taking to help prevent home mortgage rates from returning to levels seen in 2008?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): We know what the main pressures on interest rates will be because we know the lessons from the period up to 2008. At that time we learnt that runaway Government spending can push interest rates up further and faster. Up to 2008 Government spending jumped 50 percent in the previous 5 years. We also know that a runaway
housing market can drive interest rates higher. The effect of both of those mistakes was that floating mortgage rates reached nearly 11 percent by 2008 and inflation exceeded 5 percent. That is why this Government is focusing on being careful with any increase in Government spending and is working closely with councils to improve housing supply.
Jami-Lee Ross: What other steps is the Government taking to prevent house prices doubling as they did between 2001 and 2007, which created risks for households and pushed up interest rates?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Of course, New Zealanders could not afford another doubling in house prices, as occurred between 2001 and 2007. So the Government is focusing on a wide range of particular measures to take pressure off the housing market, including reform of the Resource Management Act and the Local Government Act, reform of the rules around development contributions, which have proven to be a significant obstacle in Christchurch, and addressing these issues directly with councils through housing accords; for instance, the housing accord with Auckland, which is on track to reach its first year’s targets, and earlier today, the housing Minister announced a housing accord with the Christchurch City Council. We acknowledge the significant efforts of both of those councils to ensure that more people in those cities can have affordable housing.
Denis O’Rourke: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The last two questions asked the Minister to talk about home mortgage interest rates and steps taken in respect of them, but he has only talked about house prices and availability, and has not addressed at all the question of steps taken in respect of home mortgage interest rates. Perhaps he could be asked to actually address the questions.
Mr SPEAKER: I am actually unsure of the point that the member is making. In regard to the second supplementary question around what steps the Government is taking to increase housing supply etc., that was well and truly addressed by the Minister in his answer.
Jami-Lee Ross: How have New Zealand families benefited from lower interest rates and smaller increases in the cost of living in recent years?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Lower interest rates and smaller increases in the cost of living are pretty important to households. Floating mortgage rates fell from 11 percent in 2008 to around 6 percent today. For a family with a $200,000 mortgage that is a reduction in their mortgage costs of around $200 a week, or $10,400 per year. It is no wonder that they do not want to go back to record high interest rates, as they were paying in 2008. Statistics New Zealand reported this morning that annual inflation has dipped to 1.5 percent in the year to March, just a 0.3 percent increase in the March quarter, and household electricity prices rose by only 0.1 percent in the March quarter. On average, household wage increases are greater than the increase in the cost of living.
Phil Twyford: How can he claim that his Government’s record on housing is better when Real Estate Institute of New Zealand data shows that the growth of house prices in Auckland has been nearly 50 percent higher in real terms since 2009 than it was between 1999 and 2008, and that the median house price in Auckland has gone up by $156,000 since his Government took office; or is $600 a week just to stand still an achievable savings goal under his regime?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The Government has been dealing with the worst possible circumstances, and that has been a doubling of house prices between 2001 and 2007, followed by sharp reductions in supply, particularly in our biggest market, Auckland, and then, uniquely, in our second-biggest market, Christchurch.
Phil Twyford: Five long years.
Hon BILL ENGLISH: We have been working for 5 years to persuade councils that the rules they make about new land supply and new house building affect house prices. In the last 12 months we have been starting to get somewhere, but it has been a long, slow process.
Jami-Lee Ross: What economic policies would push up interest rates and send the cost of living soaring for New Zealand families?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: We know what sorts of policies would do that because we saw them in the years up to 2008: runaway Government spending, which jumped 50 percent in the 5 years to 2008, and a doubling of house prices between 2001 and 2007, accompanied by, for instance, a 72 percent increase in electricity prices in the 9 years to 2008 and a doubling of the cost of the emissions trading system on households. These are all policies of the Labour-Green Opposition.
Justice, Minister—Visit to China
3. GRANT ROBERTSON (Labour—Wellington Central) to the Minister of Justice: Was the employer of the senior Chinese border control official, who she had dinner with in Beijing in October 2013 on her Ministerial visit to China, from the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine, also known as the AQSIQ?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS (Minister of Justice): It was a private dinner for which I do not have ministerial responsibility. But, as I have previously acknowledged to the Prime Minister and to the media, the cumulative effect of the events in China meant there was a risk of a perception of a conflict of interest. I have apologised widely for not seeing that risk earlier and providing more information.
Grant Robertson: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. In terms of the actual question that was asked, I invite you to consider whether a response that says that a Minister who was on a ministerial visit to China and who met with an official of the Chinese Government can claim that she has no ministerial responsibility. It was quite clearly not a private dinner if there was a Chinese official present. She has ministerial responsibility to answer that question. It went through the normal processes. You accepted that she has ministerial responsibility.
Mr SPEAKER: I did last week, and I still do today. The Minister has now addressed that question. I fully accept that that is not to the satisfaction of the member. It is, again, as I said, now the responsibility of this House and the public to judge. I will allow the member an additional supplementary question to move the matter forward.
Grant Robertson: Did she meet a senior Chinese border official from the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine, also known as the AQSIQ, during her ministerial visit to China in October 2013?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: I had no ministerial visits with any such person.
Grant Robertson: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The question I asked was not about visits; it was about whether she met with any of those people. She did not address that question.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member is now looking for a direct yes or no answer, which he cannot insist on. The member has had the ability to use a second supplementary question. Again, that was not answered to the member’s satisfaction, and I accept that. The answer now is to move forward with further supplementary questions.
Grant Robertson: Was the senior Chinese border official at the dinner someone who could have influenced whether or not Oravida’s products gained entry into China?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: It was a private dinner. There was no business discussed.
Grant Robertson: How can it have been a private dinner when there was a senior Chinese border official present?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: Even officials are allowed to have private dinners.
Grant Robertson: Did she discuss with any of Oravida’s three directors before she left New Zealand on her ministerial visit any of the issues that Oravida was having with testing requirements for its products to enter China? Answer truthfully.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Hon Judith Collins—and without the last part, thank you.
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: Would he like to ask that again?
Mr SPEAKER: Sorry—is the Minister saying she did not quite hear the question?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: I could not hear him over the interjections from—
Mr SPEAKER: OK, we will have the question again, please.
Grant Robertson: Did she discuss with any of Oravida’s three directors before she left New Zealand on her ministerial visit any of the issues that Oravida was having with testing requirements for its products to enter China?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: Obviously not, because I did not think it had any problems.
Grant Robertson: That is a good answer. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I am just waiting for some assistance from your colleague.
Grant Robertson: Was she aware of Oravida’s request to her fellow Ministers Tim Groser and Nathan Guy for ministerial intervention to gain access for Oravida’s products into China before she went on her ministerial trip in October 2013?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: Certainly not.
Grant Robertson: Does the Minister understand that by refusing to rule out that she met with an official from the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine, she leaves open the perception that she went to China to make sure that her husband’s company’s products got entry; and will she now rule out that she met someone from the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine while she was in China?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: Answering the first part of that rather long question—well, of course, the member knows fully well I was invited in July 2013 by the Ministry of Justice in China to attend.
Energy and Resources, Minister—Statements
4. Dr RUSSEL NORMAN (Co-Leader—Green) to the Minister of Energy and Resources: Does he stand by all his statements?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES (Minister of Energy and Resources): Yes.
Dr Russel Norman: Does he stand by his statement that it is “emotional claptrap” to stand up for the New Zealand fernbird—the threatened fernbird—to try to protect it from drilling rigs?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: Yes, because I think what the member was doing was presenting the worst conceivable scenarios as if they were fact. The member was totally ignoring the extensive consultation process with the Department of Conservation, iwi, and local government. He was ignoring the extensive legal processes—which we are, really, just at the start of here—that involve, again, the Department of Conservation, access arrangements, Resource Management Act processes, and the like, which very much safeguard environmental factors. Fundamentally, he was also ignoring the fact that the area he talks about has been mined for 100 years.
Dr Russel Norman: Is he aware that the Victoria Forest Park, which he unknowingly opened to petroleum drilling, is home to the kākā and the rock wren—two birds ranked last week in the scientific journal Current Biology as being in the top 100 most evolutionary—[Interruption] I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Prime Minister’s shouting is making it very difficult for us to hear over here.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! It would certainly assist the order of the House if the member could ask a substantially shorter question and without injecting his own opinion as to whether the Minister knowingly or unknowingly approved a particular site. I invite the member to reword his question.
Dr Russel Norman: Is he aware that the Victoria Forest Park, which he unknowingly opened to petroleum drilling, is home to the kākā and the rock wren, two birds ranked last week in the scientific journal Current Biology as being in the top 100 most evolutionarily distinct birds under threat from extinction?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: I always knew there was conservation park here that I was deliberately opening up. I also know that fundamentally the Green Party is anti-development. That is OK—that is a perspective. But it also means no taxes and royalties and no jobs, including the hundreds in this park in gold mining and other activities.
Dr Russel Norman: In the extensive consultation that he described earlier, did he realise that the Victoria Forest Park is home to the kākā and the rock wren, two birds that were ranked last week in the scientific journal Current Biology as being in the top 100 most evolutionarily distinct birds under threat of extinction in the world?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: At the end of the consultation process, I received extensive documentation. I studied it conscientiously, and it made very clear that there are a number of areas of sensitivity that were excluded and, indeed, others that I excluded as well. But I come back to it: this particular area of conservation park, which the Labour members laugh about, includes hundreds of jobs that, frankly, Damien O’Connor should be standing up for. I appreciate the member’s position of no development; that is not the Government’s position.
Dr Russel Norman: I seek leave to table a journal article that is not readily available, “Global Distribution and Conservation of Evolutionary Distinctness in Birds” from Current Biology No. 24, May 2014.
Mr SPEAKER: On the basis that it is not—I will take the member’s word that it is not—readily available to members, I will put the leave and the House will decide. Leave is sought to table that particular journal. Is there any objection? There is objection.
Rt Hon John Key: Can the Minister tell us how many previous mining permits were on the Victoria Forest Park, and does he have any idea what view other parties in Parliament took on that?
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The first part of the question can be answered.
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: Well, there are 58 mining permits in that area. Some 12 at least were granted by the last Labour Government, when the Green Party did absolutely nothing.
Dr Russel Norman: Are New Zealanders wrong to love the unique and threatened rock wren, with its rounded olive brown wings, and to want to protect it from the bulldozers and gigantic drilling rigs that this Minister is proposing to send in to wreck the habitat of this globally threatened bird?
Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. It was very hard to hear what Dr Norman was asking there—
Hon Annette King: Because you were yelling.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: No, Mrs King, I was not laughing, although every time you speak the House does come to a certain standstill.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Will the member please get to his point of order, otherwise—
Hon Gerry Brownlee: Well, I would if I was not interrupted. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! This is a point of order and it will be heard in silence.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: Could I ask you to consider whether, in fact, the material that Dr Norman is putting into his question is reasonable under the Standing Orders. He is making all sorts of assertions, casting aspersions, etc., and then asking a question that is always couched in a catch-22 nature. Everyone knows that the Greens support this sort of thing when Labour is in Government but not when National is.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! That last part is unnecessary. [Interruption] Order! Would the member asking the question please have a look at Speaker’s ruling171/1: “Questions are meant to be succinct, not speeches or long statements.” If the member was prepared to adhere to that Speaker’s ruling, he would greatly assist the order of this House. The member does many times ask very long questions that do invite a lot of disorder and a lot of interjection, and the answer he then gets is probably one that is unhelpful to the member anyway. But I am not going to rule that question out of order. I am relatively generous in allowing fairly extensive questions to be asked, but extensive questions are very unlikely to deliver an answer satisfactory to the person asking them.
Gareth Hughes: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: Can I just clarify that the member is not in any way disputing a ruling I have just made?
Gareth Hughes: No, I am not disputing; but it is related.
Mr SPEAKER: Good.
Gareth Hughes: I would just like to point out to the House, in terms of the Standing Order around disorderly conduct, that we have twice seen questions interrupted by interjections from the Government side, and twice you have chastised the Opposition side of the House for the questions when, in fact, all the disorder was coming from the Government side of the House.
Mr SPEAKER: I would really appreciate it if the member would listen to the point that I have just made. When we get lengthy questions—almost speeches—that inject a lot of opinion from a particular member, it does create disorder. So it would be helpful if we could get away from these lengthy questions that are full of a particular member’s opinions. Are there further supplementary questions?
Dr Russel Norman: How can the Minister justify his attempt to destroy the habitat of the kāka, which many New Zealanders—if not the Minister—love and want to protect, when this is a treasure for all of New Zealand and he is letting it be destroyed?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: Well, I repeat what said last week. The member is scaremongering, because he is simply not taking account of the extensive consultations and legal processes that protect our environment in this area and will be ongoing. The fact is that actually New Zealand is one-third conservation estate, and 40 percent of that is in schedule 4, and we should be proud of that. But I repeat: where was the member when the Labour Government, in this very area that he talks about, opened up open-cast coalmining, which he is all of a sudden upset about?
Dr Russel Norman: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I seek leave to answer the Minister’s question.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member is now trifling with the Chair. Question No. 5— [Interruption] No. Question No. 5. The Hon Kate Wilkinson.
Dr Russel Norman: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I asked for a supplementary question, as is my right. You may not like my questions, but none the less they are questions within the Standing Orders of this House. It is my right to ask questions.
Mr SPEAKER: The member will resume his seat. I have already explained to the member that I find his questions very difficult to chair because of the length of them. He has done nothing to rectify that. He then trifled with the Chair with his point of order. I have moved to question No. 5. The Hon Kate Wilkinson.
Grant Robertson: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Minister invited Dr Norman to answer a question. I have heard many times in this House people doing exactly what Dr Norman did, and seeking leave to answer a question. Clearly, you did not feel that that was in order. The next step is then to ask whether there are any more supplementary questions. Dr Norman had one. I think it would help the order of the House if he were able to ask another supplementary question.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I hope that members will listen to the rulings that I have given today. Question No. 5. The Hon Kate Wilkinson.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. You will know that the House is the master of its own destiny. If the member seeks leave in the way that Dr Norman did, that leave should have been put to the House. We run this in the end, not just you.
Mr SPEAKER: No, no, no. The leave was sought to answer the question on behalf of the member. That is not appropriate leave. If the member sought leave to ask an additional supplementary question that he is asking, that is leave that I would have to put.
Gareth Hughes: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Greens have more allocated questions as of right by proportionality in this House. So I think the member Dr Russel Norman should be able to ask a supplementary question if he wishes.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member is now questioning a decision I have made. I have moved to question No. 5. The Greens—[Interruption] Order! If the Greens wish to use their supplementary questions, they have another opportunity later in the day. Question No. 5—
Hon David Parker: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: I want to be fair to all members. I have made a decision—[Interruption] Order! I have made a decision that we are moving to question No. 5. If any member is now relitigating that decision, I will be inclined to ask that member to leave the Chamber.
Hon David Parker: It is a new point of order. The Minister in his answer was out of order. I would ask why you did not call him to order in that he is meant to answer questions, not ask questions. I am surprised that he was not stood down in the way that Mr Norman was for breaching the Standing Orders.
Mr SPEAKER: It is a reasonable point the member has made. I can assist the member. If you go back and look at the context of the question that was asked—how the Minister can justify destroying habitats etc.—it was a question that some might say was emotive. It was certainly full of opinion. On that basis, as I have said to this House on many occasions, it gives wide licence to the Minister when he answers the question.
Chris Hipkins: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. There was a ruling made by Speaker Hunt in the term of the last Labour Government that political parties would be able to determine how they allocated their supplementary questions. Previously, there were set numbers of supplementary questions per primary question, and the responsibility was then given to parties as to how they allocate them. You have now indicated that it is no longer up to a party to indicate how it allocates its supplementary questions, and that you will determine when you have had enough supplementaries on a particular primary question. I wonder if you could give us some further clarity around that ruling.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member is now in danger of leaving this Chamber. He is relitigating a decision I have made. I was very unhappy with the point of order raised by Dr Russel Norman. I have put up now with lengthy questions, despite asking him to ask them consistent with the Standing Orders and being completely ignored. We are moving to question No. 5.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: I just want to be absolutely fair to the Hon Trevor Mallard—if in any way this is a point of order that relitigates my decision to—
Hon Trevor Mallard: No, not all.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I am talking. If it—[Interruption] Order! If it in any way relitigates the decision I have made to move to question No. 5, I will then be asking the member to leave the Chamber.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I am not relitigating the question. I am making it absolutely clear—I am not asking you to reverse your position now but to consider an alternative method going forward, and that is to allow members, if you believe their questions are out of order and inappropriate, to ask their questions and then rule them out of order the way that previous Speakers have.
Mr SPEAKER: I will consider that.
Christchurch, Recovery—Housing Initiatives
5. Hon KATE WILKINSON (National—Waimakariri) to the Minister for Canterbury
Earthquake Recovery: What new initiatives is the Government supporting to assist housing affordability in Christchurch?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE (Minister for Canterbury Earthquake Recovery): This morning, on behalf of the Government, the Hon Dr Nick Smith signed a housing accord with the Mayor of Christchurch to increase the number of affordable houses in the city. The accord includes a $75 million Government commitment to develop temporary and affordable housing, and a $50 million Christchurch City Council investment in a new housing entity. This adds to the Land Use Recovery Plan, which will make as many as 40,000 greenfield sections available for development, as well as private sector development. The Land Use Recovery Plan will facilitate Housing New Zealand’s programme to build 700 new homes in Christchurch and repair 5,000 of its homes over the next short while.
Hon Kate Wilkinson: How is the Government reducing regulatory barriers to housing development in Christchurch?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: Under the new housing accord the Government and the council will be working closely together to minimise the barriers to development, to make consenting processes more flexible, and to explore a one-stop shop for consenting. The Land Use Recovery Plan has already removed the need for a resource consent to build two homes on earthquake cleared sites where once only one was allowed, or to convert a single home into two dwellings, and it enables higher-density developments in certain areas under certain criteria. These new rules are expected to result in 10,000 to 12,000 new homes in addition to the new greenfield sections. I hope that the housing accord announced today by the Government will see the Christchurch City Council able to consent land for affordable homes as quickly as Waimakariri and Selwyn have done.
Hon Kate Wilkinson: What housing projects will be funded through the Government’s $75 million commitment?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: The Government fund will be used for a number of housing initiatives. This includes the potential sites at Welles Street and Colombo Street, which will total up to 180 homes. These will expand the number of homes available for temporary accommodation for families while their homes are rebuilt or repaired, and they will be sold as affordable homes on the open market when that demand subsides. The Government fund will also be used to facilitate the construction of other affordable homes, like the 270 proposed on the Awatea block near Carrs Road.
Justice, Minister—Visit to China
6. Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First) to the Minister of Justice: Why will she not identify the senior Chinese border official with whom she met on 20 October 2013, and disclose the business that was discussed at the dinner with him that evening?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS (Minister of Justice): It was a private dinner with friends, the Chinese guest is entitled to privacy, and no business was discussed.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: When she spoke to the Prime Minister’s office and the Prime Minister, did she provide it and him with all the facts and details so that he could make a prime ministerial decision on her behaviour?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: Of course.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Why has she repeated denials in this House when she knows that she was enlisted specifically to address issue 2, page 2, of the 6 August Oravida letter to the Hon Tim Groser and the Hon Nathan Guy about border testing?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: The member is quite incorrect, and he knows it.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Why did she try to tell this House, and the media and the country, that she merely stopped off at Oravida on the way to the airport for a cup of tea or, later, that she merely went to a private dinner, when she knew at the time the name and the status of the senior Chinese official and, more particularly, why she and he were at that meeting?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: I actually had difficulty following what the member was saying. Perhaps you would like to try it again.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I’ll repeat it.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! That is the best way forward. Would the right honourable gentleman repeat the question.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Thank you very much. Why did she try to tell this House, and the media and the country, that she merely stopped off at Oravida on the way to the airport for a cup of tea or, later, that she merely went to a private dinner, when she knew at the time the name and the status of the senior Chinese official and, more particularly, why she and he were at that meeting?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: Well, I count at least three questions in that, so I will deal with just one of them, and the one that I will say is this: I do not try to say anything. Whatever I have said, I have said.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Could I ask the Minister as to how does it work that she and her colleagues give Oravida $40,000 of taxpayers’ money and then Oravida gives the National Party $56,000—was that for services rendered by her to that company?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: I think that the member is confusing me with himself.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. That cannot be a satisfactory answer to a serious question.
Mr SPEAKER: The difficulty was that it was not a very satisfactory question.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Who says so?
Mr SPEAKER: I did.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. If that is the case, you should have said so before I gave the Minister a chance to speak.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member will resume his seat. I did not say that the question was out of order; I said that it was a question that was full of opinion and was alleging money-swapping from one to another. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! If I am on my feet, the Hon Ruth Dyson will remain quiet. [Interruption] Order! So the question got an answer that addressed the question. It was not to the satisfaction of the member, I accept, but the question was addressed.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. These documents categorically set out that Oravida got $40,000 from the taxpayer. Other publicity disclosed by Oravida says that it gave $56,000 to the National Party—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! If the member has documents he wants to table, seek leave to do so.
Hon David Parker: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am surprised that you made the comments about the Rt Hon Winston Peters’ question. A question might be about something distasteful, but it does not make the question out of order in terms of the Standing Orders. Your comments implied that it did.
Mr SPEAKER: No, I was quite clear. I will relook at the Hansard, and I invite the member to do so. I did not rule the question out of order. I was quite clear about that when I spoke earlier.
Hon David Parker: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: Can I just understand what the fresh point of order is?
Hon David Parker: Your response to the Rt Hon Winston Peters was that he could not expect an answer because it was a distasteful question—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member now is just trifling with the Chair. I said that the answer the Minister gave addressed the question within the frame it was asked. Question No. 7—
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. You do not mind if we have our quota of supplementary questions too, do you?
Mr SPEAKER: If the member wants to take a supplementary question, well, he rises—
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Of course I do.
Mr SPEAKER: Supplementary question—[Interruption] Order! The member has been here a long time. If the member wants to ask a supplementary question, he rises to his feet and says “Supplementary question.”
Rt Hon Winston Peters: You were in such a rush to move on. Now we know why. Is she telling the House that she has disclosed everything to the Prime Minister’s office and the Prime Minister, because if that is the case, both she and he are involved, first, in a deep conflict of interest and, second, in committing in her case and abetting in his case a corrupt action by the Minister?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: Well, that question is so loaded with allegations that are false, I cannot be bothered answering it.
Grant Robertson: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I invite you to reflect on what is clearly concerning you, which is a level of disorder in the House and from where that generates. It generates from a Minister who has simply, over the last 2 weeks, not been prepared to answer straight questions about her actions as a Minister on a ministerial trip to China. I ask you, Mr Speaker, what is the remedy for the Opposition when a Minister will not answer questions about the business she does on a ministerial trip?
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I would have thought that the remedy available to Opposition members is the one that they are using. My duty is to listen very carefully to the question and then to judge whether I think the Minister has addressed that question. Many times, the answer that is given will not be of satisfaction to the questioner, in this case, the Opposition, and then the tactic that is used is for the Opposition to continue to ask supplementary questions.
Hon David Cunliffe: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. You have previously ruled in this House that a Minister is entitled to use the defence that answering a question is “not in the public interest”. I seek your clarification of whether the phrase “I cannot be bothered.” is the same thing as “not in the public interest”.
Mr SPEAKER: No. In my opinion it would not be.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Point of order, Mr Speaker. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I am trying to hear a point of order from the Hon Trevor Mallard.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I seek leave to table a speech about clean and open Government, given by Judith Collins in Beijing.
Mr SPEAKER: On the basis that that speech has not been made freely available, I will put the leave and it will be over to the House to decide. Leave is sought to table that particular speech. Is there—[Interruption] The Minister is saying that it is already a published speech.
Accident Compensation Corporation—ACC167 Form and Operational Policy
7. IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY (Labour—Palmerston North) to the Minister for ACC: Does she stand by her answers to Oral Question No. 10 yesterday?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS (Minister for ACC): Yes. I especially stand by my answer when I said that the policy was first agreed to by the Hon Ruth Dyson when she was Minister for ACC.
Iain Lees-Galloway: When she answered the primary question, saying: “The policy in respect of stopping paying weekly compensation to clients who refused to provide a signed, unaltered copy of the ACC167 form was first agreed to by the Hon Ruth Dyson in March 2006 in a briefing paper signed by her as Minister for ACC after discussions with officials.”, was she aware that the briefing paper she referred to contained no reference whatsoever to stopping payments to ACC clients?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: No; the report makes it very clear that that is exactly what is going to happen. If people cannot fill out a form and the form is required for the application, clearly that is exactly what is going to happen.
Iain Lees-Galloway: Where in that briefing paper does it reference stopping payments to claimants?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: How can anybody get a claim through if they cannot fill out the form? It is pretty obvious.
Simon O’Connor: What was the Minister’s reaction on being briefed by ACC about the decision of the High Court as to the legitimacy of stopping weekly compensation for clients who refused to sign an unamended form ACC167?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: My advice to ACC was that I believed that it should comply with the ruling. I agreed with the decision that it advised me that it had taken—that is, not to appeal the decision. I also asked ACC to attend to the form forthwith so that people could not have their claims disallowed or not even received for not having completed the form in an altered form.
Iain Lees-Galloway: When she answered the first supplementary question to question No. 10 yesterday, saying: “The question is in relation to the ACC167 form and the policy’s adoption. It
was adopted by the Hon Ruth Dyson. I do not have details on any other details he has asked for.”, was she aware that paragraphs 2.6 and 3.2 of the briefing paper she tabled in the House yesterday did provide the details I was asking for in that supplementary question and indicated that claimants were able to place conditions on ACC’s authority to collect data in 2006 without fear of losing their weekly compensation?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: He is going to have to do that again. It was such a long question.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! If the Minister is saying that she could not clearly hear the question, we have no choice but to hear it again.
Iain Lees-Galloway: When she answered the first supplementary question to oral question No. 10 yesterday, saying: “The question is in relation to the ACC167 form and the policy’s adoption. It was adopted by the Hon Ruth Dyson. I do not have details on any other details he has asked for.”, was she aware that paragraphs 2.6 and 3.2 of the briefing paper she tabled in the House yesterday did provide the details I was asking for in that supplementary question and indicated that claimants were able to place conditions on ACC’s authority to collect their data in 2006 without fear of losing their weekly compensation?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: It was such a long briefing paper and I had just tabled it, so I did not actually have it with me.
Iain Lees-Galloway: Why did she make any claims about what that briefing paper actually said if she had not read the thing?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: The member is asking about a particular point within in it. Since I did not have it with me, having just tabled it, I presumed that he had it.
Iain Lees-Galloway: You lied. You lied and you know it.
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: No. Mr Speaker, I ask for that member to be asked to withdraw and apologise for that comment he has just made.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Will the member withdraw and apologise for that interjection?
Iain Lees-Galloway: I withdraw and apologise. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! That sort of interjection leads to disorder. We have just had it withdrawn by one member. It will cease.
Student Loans—Debt Recovery from Overseas-based Borrowers
8. TIM MACINDOE (National—Hamilton West) to the Minister for Tertiary Education,
Skills and Employment: What progress has the Government made in ensuring overseas-based student loan borrowers meet their obligations to New Zealand taxpayers?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment): We are making very good progress in what is a big project. There are around 110,000 student loan borrowers overseas and repayment of their loans by them has historically been very low. The previous Government put it in the too-hard basket. In 2010 we launched a comprehensive programme of work to improve repayment rates, and borrowers do need to know that when they go overseas their loan does not disappear; their obligation to repay it continues. Today I was able to announce with the Minister of Revenue that the Inland Revenue Department has now received over $100 million extra from overseas borrowers as a result of this initiative. As I say, it is a good start on tackling a large problem. For every dollar the Government has invested in this initiative, taxpayers have received about $11 in additional repayments, so it has been a very worthwhile investment.
Tim Macindoe: What tools has the Inland Revenue Department been using to increase repayments from borrowers who are based overseas?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Well, it is a multi-agency initiative, and the first thing we did was make it easier for overseas borrowers to actually repay their loans. The Inland Revenue Department set up toll-free phone numbers for borrowers in Australia and the UK, and they can choose from four online money transfer companies offering fee-free services, and they waive the convenience fee for
credit or debit cards as well. The Inland Revenue Department has also been advertising on social media, directly contacting borrowers, working with private debt collection companies to assist in tracking and collecting from borrowers in default, and taking legal action against those who continue to ignore their obligations. It is important that they do meet their obligations to the people who have supported their tertiary study, wherever they are in the world.
Tim Macindoe: How has the Inland Revenue Department been working with other Government agencies to increase repayment rates?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Well, recently we had an information-sharing agreement signed between the Inland Revenue Department and the Department of Internal Affairs so that passport applications to the Department of Internal Affairs are matched with the Inland Revenue Department’s database of overseas-based loan defaulters. Since October last year, as at earlier this year, over 500 contacts have been made, and repayment arrangements totalling $1.2 million have been set up from that initiative alone. Thirteen borrowers actually immediately paid their loans in full. The Inland Revenue Department is also notified by the Customs Service now when overseasbased borrowers in serious default return to the country. Over $2 million has been received as a result of contacts through that approach. Finally, the Inland Revenue Department now has the ability to seek an arrest warrant to deal with the most serious cases, when all other efforts to persuade the borrower to make repayments have failed. It has received over 3,000 calls from overseas borrowers since this power was introduced through the Student Loan Scheme Amendment Act 2014.
Housing, Affordable—Minister’s Statements
9. PHIL TWYFORD (Labour—Te Atatū) to the Minister of Housing: Does he stand by his statement that it will take “a period of a decade or two” to get housing affordability to his long-term target?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH (Minister of Housing): I have set a long-term target of house price to income ratio of 4. Nationally it is currently 5.5. In Auckland it is over 7. I note that independent housing commentator Bernard Hickey has noted it would take 19 years of wage growth over 3 percent over house prices to reduce the house price ratio back down to 4 in places like Auckland. I also note that if house prices had not doubled between 2000 and 2008, this target could be achieved in a small number of years.
Phil Twyford: Does he agree with the country’s largest real estate group, which says that loanto- value ratios have been a failed experiment that have had little effect in the heated Christchurch and Auckland markets, and why has he chosen to force a generation of aspirational, hard-working Kiwis to abandon their homeownership dreams, when the obvious solution is to abandon his failed housing polices and build 100,000 affordable homes?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: I find the first question about loan-to-value ratios ironic from that member, in that only a year ago he was advocating for us to have loan-to-value ratios as an alternative policy for the Reserve Bank. Secondly, in respect of how successful they have been, I note that over the last 3 months, house price inflation nationally has been just 0.1 percent, the lowest in many years. In respect of the Government’s housing policies, I know that the number of houses being built per year has increased from 13,000 per year to 23,000 per year, and I rate that as a success.
Phil Twyford: Does he stand by his statement that “I’m satisfied the number of overseas buyers is tiny and not having any substantive effect on prices.”; if so, has he spoken to the Prime Minister, who used to agree with him, but now thinks that something needs to be done about it, to cover up for the Government’s preference for offshore speculators?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: I note that the independent Productivity Commission spent 18 months looking into the issue of house prices after the disaster of the last Labour Government. It received over 150 submissions. It produced a comprehensive report of over 200 pages. It made absolutely no
mention of foreign buyers having any impact and that is the view that is supported by the advice of Treasury and my own ministry.
Accident Compensation Corporation—Privacy and Security of Information
10. KEVIN HAGUE (Green) to the Minister for ACC: Have all of the recommendations of the 2012 Independent Review of ACC’s Privacy and Security of Information been implemented; if not, why not?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS (Minister for ACC): ACC advised that it has implemented 37 of the 44 recommendations. A number have ongoing activity associated with them. Of the remaining seven, two are under active management, which relate to information governance and the implementation of data loss protection software. The other five involve a fundamental review of ACC’s end-to-end claims process activity. Accordingly, ACC advised that it has taken a deliberate decision to complete the end-to-end process review of claims management as part of its work around improving trust and confidence. This is to ensure all processes and information technology changes required under these five recommendations comprehensively meet the intent of the report.
Kevin Hague: Is she confident that the recommendations to ensure that consent forms follow the law and are best practice have been properly implemented, given that the court has just found that the way that ACC was using its ACC167 form was actually illegal?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: I do not want to argue with the member, but, strictly speaking, the form was not held to be illegal, but the way in which it was used was outside of the statutory requirements. I agree with the member that the form must be changed to comply with the latest decision. I have also been advised by ACC that this form has in the past been approved by the Privacy Commissioner, by the Human Rights Commission, and, I have been told, by six different District Court decisions. So the fact that this latest decision has said that it has been wrongly used is something that ACC is taking very seriously, as am I.
Kevin Hague: How does she reconcile ACC’s illegal use of this form with the privacy review’s findings that stakeholders’ single-biggest concern was the attitude and culture of the organisation in dealing with their personal information, and the report’s finding that a consistent theme was that information not relevant to the claim was held on file?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: I also recall that the review said that the form itself was able to be used. So I think the problem is that the past decisions of the courts and of other agencies, like the Human Rights Commission, the Privacy Commissioner, and also the review, have not actually said that the form has been misused. But I believe that the member is right that the form should be changed. ACC told me on Monday this week that it was not going to appeal the decision and that it would abide by it. I think that is the right outcome.
Kevin Hague: How do revelations today that ACC has been handing people’s full ACC files— including information on sensitive claims—over to prospective employers stack up against the recommendations of the privacy review?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: I am sorry, I have not heard that claim, but if the member would like to provide me with the information, I will be happy to take some action. I seek leave to assist the member with the summary—
Mr SPEAKER: You are seeking leave to table a document?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: It is a document that is the independent review recommendations and summary of actions as at 24 January this year, and I think that might help the member.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that summary of actions. Is there any objection to that being tabled? It can be tabled. Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Kevin Hague: How does the Minister reconcile the responsibility she took as Minister in 2012 and her comment that “I’m not going to sit back and let one of the most important Government
entities we have let people down time and time again around things such as privacy. They have to act in the way that I expect them to act.” with her comments over the past several days that the implications of the court decision are an operational matter?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: Well, strictly speaking, forms are an operational matter, but if the member is going to come to see the progress that has been made and what actions I have taken, I think that I have been very strong on this issue relating to ACC. I can look at the proof of just how successful that has been. In August 2012 there were 80 privacy breaches from ACC. A year later, in August 2013, that was down to 28. In March 2014—the month just past—it was down to 19. There are significant improvements in the ability of ACC to protect people’s privacy, and at the same time, to comply with its obligations under its own Act.
11. ANDREW LITTLE (Labour) to the Minister of Finance: Does he stand by his statement “we still have much more to do to improve New Zealand’s economic growth and to support higher incomes across the board”?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): Yes, I do because the first stage of Government action was to undo the damage done by the previous Government, including home mortgage interest rates at nearly 11 percent, a current account deficit of 8 percent, and houses prices that had more than doubled in 9 years. Having undone a fair bit of that damage, there is much to do to build our future capacity to deliver higher incomes to households.
Andrew Little: In light of the fact that two-thirds of wage and salary earners earn less than the average wage, that the average wage has increased in real terms over the last 5 years at less than half the rate it increased under the Labour-led Government, and that incomes for the bottom half of all earners have either stayed the same or gone backwards, what exactly will his Government do to lift incomes higher across the board?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: In the first place the facts do not back up the member’s assertion that the incomes at the lower end have fallen further behind. That is simply not the case. The process set up by the previous Government to measure income inequality shows that despite a recession, over recent years incomes have been flat, not declining. In respect of the Government’s plans, we intend to persist with a comprehensive strategy to raise educational achievement so that every young New Zealander gets a decent start in the workforce; continue to fine-tune the skills system, which was very wasteful under the previous Government but is now starting to produce some real benefits for young New Zealanders; continue to negotiate free-trade agreements with more of the world’s fastergrowing economies so we can sell more to the rest of the world at higher prices; and continue to reform the Government itself so we deliver more benefits and more value to those who are very dependent on the Government for their standard of living.
Andrew Little: What specifically will he do to ensure that the nearly 50 percent productivity improvement achieved by New Zealand workers since 1992 will be fully shared with them rather than the 14 percent to date that has gone to wages?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I cannot confirm whether the member’s figures are actually correct. There is a bit of a challenge in that there is a worldwide phenomenon where the proportion of where the benefits of productivity lie has changed, particularly since the global financial crisis. We do not know all the answers to that puzzle, actually. In the first place, in New Zealand we need to raise our productivity levels so that we will be working out how to divide a larger cake. In fact, that is the Government’s top priority because whatever the proportions are between wages and capital, the larger the pie is the more the workers are going to get.
Andrew Little: In light of his Government’s employment legislation currently before the House allowing employers to peremptorily walk away from collective bargaining and to abolish the application of collective agreements to new employees, and his claim in 2011 that low wages are an
advantage for New Zealand, does he now accept that his claim of an increase in incomes of $7,500 over the next 4 years is just deceitful and cynical?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I certainly do not agree with that. I mean, I made a similar claim about increases in the average wage over the last few years, and that was actually the basis on which this Parliament decided that New Zealanders over the age of 65 should get their superannuation. I do not think that Parliament was being deceitful when it used the average wage as a measure of incomes in New Zealand appropriate to apply to every single New Zealander over the age of 65. Where I think we differ is that the member believes that collective bargaining is the only way workers can get wage increases. In fact, collective bargaining applies only to quite a small proportion of the workforce, and the rest of them are getting significant wage increases in any case. We would like to see them get more.
12. Dr PAUL HUTCHISON (National—Hunua) to the Minister of Health: What investments has the Government made to support new technology for paramedics?
Hon TONY RYALL (Minister of Health): New technology partially funded by the Government is being introduced by St John Ambulance. Using a new hand-held device while on the road, ambulance crews will be able to send photos of injuries and accident scenes direct to hospital specialists for advice. This will also mean that emergency departments can be better prepared to receive a patient. The Government has allocated $2.5 million towards the cost of the development and roll-out of these devices.
Dr Paul Hutchison: How will this technology improve patient care?
Hon TONY RYALL: For the first time, ambulance officers will now be able to notify GPs that their patients have called upon the services of St John Ambulance. This is a world-leading move. Previously, some GPs never knew that their patients were calling an ambulance. In one case, a patient called an ambulance eight times about their medication before their GP was finally notified and made a minor change, which stopped the calls. This is very significant—as the member knows—when you consider that nearly 20 percent of ambulance call outs are for high users with four or more call outs a year.