Questions and Answers - May 27
QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS
1. TRACEY MARTIN (NZ First) to the Minister of Immigration: What is the Government doing to reduce the inflow of immigrants?
Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE (Minister of Immigration): Talofa lava, Mr Speaker. The Government is ensuring that our demand-driven policies deliver the right skills in the right places, when they are needed, as well as meeting family and humanitarian obligations. I note that this has resulted in a reduction in the number of immigrants gaining residence from more than 51,000, when David Cunliffe was immigration Minister, to less than 39,000 last year. I would also be interested in whether that member believes, as is implied in the question, that the inflow should be reduced further, and whether that reduction should come from engineers, medical specialists, IT experts, or the construction workers whom we need to assist with the Canterbury rebuild, because that is the practical implication of reducing the inflow further.
Tracey Martin: In light of that answer, with 147,000 unemployed Kiwis, why is the Government allowing record numbers of unskilled migrants into New Zealand?
Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE: The question is simply not correct in implying that there are increases in the number of unskilled migrants coming into New Zealand to take jobs. The number of labour market - tested work visa holders has dropped materially through the recessionary period since 2008 and has flat-lined. I reject the question.
Tracey Martin: I seek leave to table a Parliamentary Library document showing Immigration New Zealand figures that close to 50 percent of migrants in the 2013-14 year were not identified as skilled workers—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The document has been described. It was prepared by the Parliamentary Library, presumably for the benefit of the member. Leave is sought to table that. Is there any objection? There appears to be none. Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Tracey Martin: As the Government claims that New Zealand needs more skilled migrants to sustain economic growth, why were close to 50 percent of the migrants granted residency last year not identified in the skilled worker category?
Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE: It is important to understand the context of those figures. The Government has, as there was under the previous Government, a loose target of up to about 150,000 over a 3-year period. I think the last 3 years have seen about 123,000 residence visas granted, so it is below the lower limit of the 3-year target. The balance of those includes the spouses, partners, and children of skilled migrants, the partners of people who are Kiwis coming home, having done overseas visits, and our humanitarian Pacific and Samoan quota obligations. So
it is absolutely appropriate that between 50 and 60 percent of those people gaining residence are skilled and the balance are connected.
Tracey Martin: Will the Government cut the numbers of unskilled reunion migrants; if not, why not?
Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE: There is no such category as reunion migrants. There are categories for partners and for certain reunifications of family members. Those policy settings are accurate and I have no plans to adjust them.
Tracey Martin: Why is the Government ignoring Treasury’s warnings around the impact on housing of 41,500 extra people entering New Zealand in the 2014 year?
Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE: I preface the answer to this question by pointing out that in 1999 to 2001, when there was large negative net migration, house prices still went up materially, particularly in Auckland. The report that the member refers to is a report on the question of the positive impact that immigration has on macroeconomic policy. In respect of housing, it said that there was a tension there, but that the dominant tension is in supply-side inelasticity—a pointyheaded way of saying that we are not building enough houses. We are fixing that by increasing land supply, reducing the consenting barriers, and reducing the cost of materials.
Tracey Martin: How would the Minister explain to an unemployed worker in Porirua, Ōpōtiki, or South Auckland why his Government is allowing record numbers of migrant workers into New Zealand?
Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE: If there is a record, it is the record low in the residence programme, particularly in recent years. As I said in an answer to an earlier question, there are far fewer numbers being given residence than there were under the previous Government, and that is because we have demand-driven policies. Ask any employer in this country about how hard it is to employ a migrant and to ensure that they pass the labour-market test, and I think they would say that there are plenty of opportunities for those New Zealanders to get work.
Budget 2014—Economic Programme
2. Hon KATE WILKINSON (National—Waimakariri) to the Minister of Finance: How is Budget 2014, as part of the Government’s wider economic programme, helping New Zealanders to get ahead?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): It has been received positively, especially the $500 million support package for families and children. It is helping New Zealanders to get ahead in several ways. For instance, the economy grew by 3.1 percent in 2013—the fifth-highest growth rate in the developed economies. Growth is forecast to reach 4 percent next year, a far cry from the deep domestic recession that we inherited in 2008. Average wages have increased by $3,000 in the past 2 years, and the average wage is forecast to rise by $7,600, to $62,300, by 2018.
Hon Kate Wilkinson: How are the benefits of the Budget and the Government’s wider economic programme being reflected in the labour market, and how do average wage increases compare with cost of living changes?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: In the past year another 84,000 jobs were created across New Zealand. Treasury forecasts 172,000 jobs being created over the next 4 years. As some members of the House will recall—
Andrew Little: You promised that 6 years ago.
Hon BILL ENGLISH: —or as that member recalls—Budget 2011 did, in fact, forecast 171,000 jobs to be added to the economy by mid-2014. That member will be pleased to know that we are exactly on track to achieve 171,000 jobs as forecast in Budget 2011. These new jobs will help bring unemployment down to 4.4 percent, according to Treasury forecasts. Of course, low cost of living increases are helping. Inflation was just 1.5 percent in the year to March, and the average weekly wage increased by 3.2 percent in the same period.
Hon Kate Wilkinson: How have the Budget and the Government’s wider economic programme helped to address the twin fiscal and current account deficits this Government inherited 6 years ago?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: When the Government came to office, the previous Government’s final Budget set a course for a $3.9 billion deficit in 2008-09. The current account deficit was running at record levels of between 7 and 8 percent, having doubled over the previous 9 years. Budget 2014 confirmed that the Government is on track for a small fiscal surplus next year and increasing surpluses to follow on. The current account deficit has fallen to 3.4 percent from 7 to 8 percent of GDP and is forecast to fall further over the coming year before extending after that.
Hon David Parker: Does he agree with the New Zealand Institute of Economic Research and Treasury that on his economic settings the current account deficit will blow out to more than 6 percent of GDP by 2017 according to Treasury and to more than 7 percent by 2018 according to the New Zealand Institute of Economic Research, close to $20 billion; or are the New Zealand Institute of Economic Research and Treasury wrong?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: On recent forecasting history, yes, they probably are wrong. Over the last 4 years they have been forecasting that deterioration, and it has not occurred. The current account is currently 3.4 percent in deficit. I think that forecasts in 2010 had it at 7 percent by now. But we do not follow the same policy settings as the previous Government, which blew out the current account deficit, and it is likely that the current account deficit certainly will not go back to record levels as it did under Labour.
Hon David Parker: Does he agree with the New Zealand Institute of Economic Research in its recent report that “The current boosts to growth are from a post-drought rebound in farming, acceleration in the Canterbury rebuild, and net migration. All of these are likely to fade from next year.”?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The Government has been saying exactly the same, and that is why we are focused on lifting the long-term supply capacity of this economy, particularly through the wide range of policy initiatives in the Business Growth Agenda, all of which are building confidence in businesses to invest for future growth and create more jobs. We are pretty pleased with progress on that.
Hon Kate Wilkinson: How are the Budget and the Government’s wider programme helping to keep interest rates lower for longer, and what reports has the Minister received suggesting more New Zealanders are supporting its programme?
Mr SPEAKER: The Hon Bill English, in as far as there is ministerial responsibility for the second part.
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The Government is going to keep interest rates lower for longer, first, by constraining its own spending—if Government spending blew out now, interest rates would be pushed higher—and, secondly, by focusing on influencing councils in their decisions about the housing market to ensure there is more supply of more houses. In answer to the second part of the question, data from Statistics New Zealand shows that more New Zealanders are voting with their feet and coming home or staying home. There was a net loss of only 200 migrants to Australia in April—the lowest since the series began in 1996.
3. Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does he stand by all his statements?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): Yes, particularly the one that says it would be superfluous using the Samoan language if you would not let any migrants in from Samoa.
Hon David Cunliffe: In light of that answer, is he aware that the Salvation Army reports that more than twice the number of New Zealanders of Pacific origin are unemployed now than when he took office?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I have not seen the particular report, but what I can say is that the Government is working hard to make sure everyone has a job.
Hon David Cunliffe: Is he therefore satisfied that under his Government only 18.5 percent of Pacific people own their own home, compared with 49.8 percent for the general population and 56.8 percent for those of European origin?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: One of the things the Government has been working very hard on is ensuring that people from the Pacific can participate in our education system, as we would hope for everyone. That means much a greater focus on early childhood education. It means Pacific students are actually doing a lot better. And the very reason why all that is important, of course, is that, as you know, as people get better and higher levels of education, they can afford to buy their own homes. But I am surprised that the member is in Parliament today pretending like he cares about the people of the Pacific, because he does not. [Interruption]
Grant Robertson: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! This is a point of order. It will be heard in silence.
Grant Robertson: My point of order is that the Prime Minister—he did sit down just as I raised it—was moving into material that was outside of the question, which was about housing. He was attributing policies to the Opposition that are simply not correct.
Mr SPEAKER: On this occasion, the Prime Minister addressed the question to my satisfaction.
Hon David Cunliffe: Does the Prime Minister, if he does not wish to comment further about housing, stand by his statement that the timber processing industry is not shrinking; if so, what does he say to the 180 people who recently lost their jobs at Southern Cross Forest Products in South Otago?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I do not know the exact details of why that particular mill is closing, but what I do know is that forestry overall has actually been booming. What I also know is that for forestry processing to be successful, two things are actually required: a reform of the Resource Management Act is one of those things that would substantially help, and the second thing is a stable electricity supply—neither of which would occur under a Labour-led Government.
Hon David Cunliffe: Why did the Prime Minister not take up the Labour Opposition’s offer to split the Resource Management Act amendment bill and speed up by bipartisan consensus the processing dimensions while preserving the core principles of the Act for future generations?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Because it would not be possible to achieve the outcomes of cheaper and more affordable housing by doing that. And, secondly, we actually did not need his help to do that; we already had that from the Māori Party and United Future. If he wanted to have a proper and serious bill, the member would have joined in the debate, but he did not. He should be careful reading too much into the John Armstrong column at the weekend.
Hon David Cunliffe: Eat your heart out, Mr Prime Minister.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Can I just invite the member to start his supplementary question.
Hon David Cunliffe: Does the Prime Minister know that Red Stag Timber in Rotorua has committed to almost double its current production if Labour is able to implement its forestry upgrade package of tax deferrals, a pro-wood policy, and secure wood supply, thus providing higher-paying and better jobs?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I have been to Red Stag Timber and I am quite aware of its operations. Actually, its operations have been expanding anyway, irrelevant of what goes on. Secondly, the Government is supportive of the use of wood but it is not actually going to tell every building in the country that it has to be built out of wood. We do not think that makes sense.
Hon David Cunliffe: Is he concerned that New Zealanders in other industries are also suffering, like the 48 staff who were laid off recently at Griffin’s or the 125 who are going to lose their jobs at Cerebos Gregg’s; and when will he show vision and a plan for growing better jobs and higher wages in the New Zealand economy?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: It is a little hard to take that comment seriously when the economy generated 84,000 new jobs in the last 12 months. It is on track to create 170,000-odd jobs, as we said it would. Anybody who knows anything about the labour market knows that there are always companies that close or shed employees and that, at exactly the same time, in a fast-growing economy, there are plenty of jobs that are created. In fact, in New Zealand, as Treasury documents show, we are on track for a much lower level of unemployment.
Louise Upston: Has he seen any statements regarding immigration?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I have. I have seen a statement that says: “Migrants from all over the world play a vital role in the economic transformation and wonderful diversity of this country. … that role is set to increase in the future as our need for skilled, talented people continues.” I’ve also seen this: “We know that we can’t sustain the economy we want without the skills, investment and international connections that migrants can bring.” Finally, I saw a statement that said: “So fostering immigration is a no-brainer.” Those statements were, of course, from the then immigration Minister David Cunliffe.
Hon David Cunliffe: In light of that excellent response, with which I thoroughly agree, does he support the right of every young New Zealander to aspire to own their own home, and of every parent to want that for their children, and does he believe that a well-managed immigration policy should contribute to that goal?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Yes. The Government is working hard to ensure that as many New Zealanders as practically can can own a home. The way to fix that is actually to build more homes. But if the issue is solely one of migration, well then, why did 43,000 leave under Labour? Why did Labour do nothing to reform the supply side of the housing issue? The reality is that when you are looking down the barrel of 30 percent and falling, what you do is you have a whack at your core constituency. I remember when that member became the leader of the Labour Party. What happened? Someone came up with a Pacific lei—
Mr SPEAKER: Order!
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: —and put it around his neck.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! This answer has now gone on for long enough.
Methamphetamine Action Plan—Initiatives
4. MIKE SABIN (National—Northland) to the Minister of Police: What steps is the Government taking to reduce the harm caused by methamphetamine in New Zealand?
Mr SPEAKER: I inform the House my office has been advised that this answer may be somewhat longer than normal.
Hon ANNE TOLLEY (Minister of Police): Yesterday the Prime Minister announced over $6 million worth of new initiatives to continue reducing the supply and demand of methamphetamine in New Zealand. This funding, part of the Government’s Methamphetamine Action Plan, will be used by Government agencies to target the drug trade and to help those affected by it to get the help they need. Over $3.8 million has been allocated to the police to target organised crime and drug syndicates and fund legal costs for civil actions to recover proceeds of crime. Health will receive $1.8 million to double existing support for mothers of young children and pregnant women who have alcohol and drug issues. Corrections will receive $300,000 to help offenders with alcohol or drug issues to reintegrate back into the community, and $105,000 has been provided to justice to further support offenders seeking treatment through the alcohol and other drug treatment court. These initiatives are important steps that will help police fight organised crime dealing methamphetamine and will ensure that addicts get the treatment that they need.
Mike Sabin: How are these new initiatives being funded from those who profit from the drug trade?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY: Funding for all of the initiatives announced by the Prime Minister yesterday is from money recovered under the Criminal Proceeds (Recovery) Act. As part of the
Government’s Methamphetamine Action Plan, we committed to using the money recovered from criminals who profit from the drug trade to fund actions against them and to help those affected by them to get addiction treatment. Since the Act came into force in 2009, the police have obtained forfeiture orders for assets worth approximately $38 million, over half of which were related to methamphetamine offences. Since November 2013, over $10 million has been allocated from the proceeds of crime to increase residential alcohol and drug treatment, enhance front-line screening at the border, train drug dogs to detect large amounts of cash, and fund the establishment of a police attaché officer in China.
Mike Sabin: What results has the Government seen from the Methamphetamine Action Plan?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY: The plan aims to reduce the demand and supply of methamphetamine in New Zealand. The latest progress report shows that the price, purity, and availability of methamphetamine remain high. The average price of a gram of methamphetamine increased from $678 in 2012 to $684 in 2013, indicating a possible scarcity in supply. The report also shows that since 2004, more offenders are receiving drug and alcohol assessments as a condition of their sentence, up from 5 percent in 2004 to 20 percent in 2013. In addition, since 2008 there has been a 1,500 percent increase in the number of drug and alcohol treatment places in our prisons. The plan is hitting criminals where it hurts, reducing the supply and demand for methamphetamine and then using their illegal profits to disrupt the market.
5. METIRIA TUREI (Co-Leader—Green) to the Prime Minister: Does he stand by all his statements?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): Yes.
Metiria Turei: Does the Prime Minister stand by his statement that the Warm Up New Zealand: Heat Smart scheme, run with the Green Party as part of our memorandum of understanding with National, was “potentially one of the most significant public health initiatives of the decade.”?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Yes.
Metiria Turei: Is it not then the case that it is ordinary Kiwi families who are missing out on a warm, dry home, and not millionaires, when only 12,000 homes have been insulated under his restricted scheme, compared with 60,000 homes in the final year of the Greens-National Heat Smart programme?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I am not sure I can agree with the figures of the member, but what I can say is that under the Warm Up New Zealand: Heat Smart programme, which we ran, approximately 238,000 homes were insulated at a cost of about $347 million. In addition to that, the Warm Up New Zealand: Healthy Homes scheme in Budget 2013 was allocated over $100 million over 3 years, and that will insulate a further 46,000 homes. So in total that is around 300,000 homes.
Metiria Turei: Can the Prime Minister confirm that an ordinary family with two kids on the median income earns about $30,000 too much to qualify for support under his restricted insulation scheme?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: What I can confirm is that the scheme has changed from the early days where, essentially, it was a scheme where the Government put in about a third of the contribution, and about two-thirds was paid by the individual. What we actually agreed with our partners the Māori Party in Budget 2013 was that the real focus should go on those who have got no capacity to make a contribution. So we allocated $100 million and we said that those 46,000 homes would be the total focus of that programme and they would be for very low-income New Zealanders. I think that is actually a good thing to do. They are people who are in desperate need and normally seem to be the people whom the member wants to stand up for. Today she seems to be saying that middleincome New Zealanders should get it at those people’s expense.
Metiria Turei: Why has the Prime Minister given the vast majority of Christchurch families the cold shoulder by rejecting the Green Party’s proposal to allocate $60 million for ceiling, wall, and floor insulation, just as Christchurch approaches its fourth post-earthquake winter?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I think it is a real stretch to make the claim that the member has. If you look, for instance, just at the Clean Heat and clean air programmes that we ran in Canterbury, over 10,000 homes between 2009 and 2013 were converted to clean heat or clean air. A great many of the 300,000-odd homes, including all of the State homes that could be insulated, were part of that programme. I think that, for the most part, the people of Christchurch would say that they had been fairly treated by the Government.
Metiria Turei: Why is the Prime Minister locking out most ordinary Kiwi families from support to insulate their homes, when he himself has said: “Warmer, drier homes mean energy savings, lower power bills, and healthier communities. The programme also stimulates the economy and creates jobs.”?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I think it is a stretch to say that we are. This is a Government that when it came into office was committed to this programme. It has seen 300,000 homes insulated under our watch. That is massive multiples more than had been the case under the previous Government, which over 9 years insulated very few homes. I simply say to that member that it is all very well getting up and making promises that she will insulate so many homes, but to do that she would actually have to be part of the Government. I do not know whether she got the memo, but according to Labour it wants to marry New Zealand First. It does not want a bar of you. You are just a welcome mat.
Metiria Turei: Given the Prime Minister’s support for a scheme that provided significant access for ordinary Kiwi families to insulate their homes, to keep their children healthy and well, will he now commit to supporting the Green Party’s extended Warm Up New Zealand: Heat Smart programme of $300 million over 3 years to ensure that another 200,000 New Zealand homes are insulated, as well as the Warm Up Christchurch programme of $60 million, to make sure that Christchurch homes are as warm and dry as possible?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No. What I can say is that the Government has run an extensive programme over the course of the last 6 years. It has seen 300,000 homes insulated. The Government may consider its options of what it wants to do in the future. But what I find absolutely incredible is that the member was here in the House last week telling me that I should, basically, be extending greater benefits and resources to children of beneficiary homes. Today she is telling me that they are probably the very homes that, arguably, we are insulating under the programme we are doing with the Māori Party. She does not want us to do that; she wants us to go back and give more money to middle New Zealand. I just cannot work the member out, which is probably why the Labour Party does not want her and is trying to marry New Zealand First.
Housing, Affordable—Register of Foreign Ownership
6. PHIL TWYFORD (Labour—Te Atatū) to the Minister of Housing: Does he stand by his statement that a register of foreign ownership “would be a waste of money”?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH (Minister of Housing): As I said last week, I am open to having more information on overseas ownership, but I do not favour a register. For it to be accurate, it would need to trace not only the 80,000 houses per year that are sold but the 100 million - plus people who come and go from New Zealand. That is because a significant number of overseas homeowners are people who are in the process of gaining residency, and, for the register to be accurate, it would need to trace people’s immigration and residency status.
Phil Twyford: How much would it cost to require the conveyancing solicitor to certify whether or not the purchaser is a resident or a citizen?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: For a register to be accurate, it would need to do more than that. It would also need to follow any change in people’s residency or immigration status after that point.
Otherwise, the moment the register is created, it would be inaccurate. I do note with some interest, though, that in 2005, after even higher house-price inflation and even higher immigration, a previous Labour Minister said, when a register and restrictions were suggested, that it would be “impossible and absolutely stupid”. That Minister was Dr Michael Cullen.
Phil Twyford: How many of the 39,000 houses he has promised to build in Auckland over the next 2 years will be sold to cashed-up overseas buyers, shutting out local Kiwi families, and what restrictions has he placed on these homes to ensure they do not end up in offshore ownership?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: I would suggest that the member has a chat with the leader of his party, who has been facilitating overseas persons buying homes in Auckland. We are a party that takes an open view of New Zealand and I am confident that those tens of thousands of additional homes that we are building will go to good old New Zealand families.
Rt Hon John Key: Has the Minister seen reports of a German who is looking to buy a very large home in New Zealand, and does the Minister think it would be unusual for a party that is opposed to foreigners buying homes to then want to form a Government with that said German?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: I have noticed that there is a German overseas interest who has a big interest in owning very large homes, and I note that Labour is keen to form a coalition with the—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! That part has nothing to do with the Minister’s responsibility.
Phil Twyford: Is he aware that the new Australian Federal Government has launched an inquiry into Australia’s foreign ownership restrictions, which is aimed at toughening up the rules and increasing enforcement, and is this just another example of the Minister being right and everybody else being wrong?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: I am taking a considerable interest in the Australian inquiry, because it has been triggered because their overseas ownership restrictions have been proven to not work— that is, there are a huge number of people who get around them by creating properties in trust, it is very difficult to trace the change in residency, and, in fact, Australia has a higher level of overseas ownership than New Zealand has, despite their restrictions.
Phil Twyford: Why is the Productivity Commission concerned in its report that New Zealand residential property is becoming more attractive to overseas buyers, and to what extent does an average Auckland house price of over $700,000 increasing by over $1,000 a week make residential property less attractive to Kiwi families and even more attractive to offshore speculators?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: I am delighted the member has raised the issue of the Productivity Commission, because the commission did a comprehensive report on housing affordability. It received over 200 submissions and it did not make a single recommendation saying that a capital gains tax would work. It also said that the issues of overseas ownership would have absolutely no effect. It said that there were five important issues that needed to be addressed. The Government is addressing all five of those because we are interested in the substance and not the politics of housing affordability.
Budget 2014—Cancer Services
7. SHANE ARDERN (National—Taranaki - King Country) to the Minister of Health: What investment is the Government making in Budget 2014 to improve cancer services?
Hon TONY RYALL (Minister of Health): Budget 2014 builds on the John Key - led Government’s strong record of providing better and faster cancer treatment services and improving the early detection of cancer. A $33 million funding boost over 4 years will further improve cancer services, including further funding for breast and cervical screening and reduced waiting times for colonoscopies. Every year, more than 20,000 New Zealanders are diagnosed with cancer, and this Government is committed to providing them with better, faster cancer diagnostic and treatment services.
Shane Ardern: What difference will this funding make for patients with cancer and their families?
Hon TONY RYALL: As the member will appreciate, being diagnosed with cancer can be an incredibly anxious time not only for the patient but also for their family as they deal with not only the emotional anxiety but also the financial strain. That is why Budget 2014 picks up on the recommendations of a large number of cancer groups, and they are to improve the psychological support that we are providing cancer patients and their families. Part of this money will go to establishing six psychologists across the six cancer centres in New Zealand, who will provide dedicated assessments and advice on how these people can be further supported. We expect also to fund up to 20 cancer care workers across the nation, based out of the major hospitals, who will provide further psychological support and counselling for patients and their families.
Teachers and Support Staff, Payroll—Novopay Payment System
8. CHRIS HIPKINS (Labour—Rimutaka) to the Minister responsible for Novopay: Does he stand by his statement with regards to Novopay, “I want to see within three months a situation where, as much as possible, workloads from administrators are back to where they were before this thing started”; if so, when did he make that statement?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister responsible for Novopay): Yes. I can advise the member that the most recent pay period reports show complaints and notifications for pay periods two, three, and four this year were at 0.09 percent, 0.11 percent, and 0.18 percent respectively. With the exception of issues that arose for the three start-of-year pay periods this year, all pay periods since the time I made that statement have been below the 0.5 percent steady-state level identified by the Novopay technical review, and that statement was made in March of last year.
Chris Hipkins: Is he satisfied that the workload of school administrators is back to where it was, given that over a year after he made that statement over 1,250 schools still had outstanding backlog issues and almost 2,000 schools were reporting that they were still experiencing problems; if so, why?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Well, I am not sure where the member is getting that particular piece of information from, but the reality is actually that the numbers are considerably lower than that, from pay period to pay period. There are historic things that are being still resolved, as there have been for many years, including the previous system, which the member recommended be replaced to the Minister at the time because it had too many issues with it.
Chris Hipkins: For the Minister’s help, I seek leave to table the Weekly Backlog Clearance Unit Report from the Ministry of Education to the Minister, from 7 February.
Mr SPEAKER: I will put the leave. Leave is sought to table that particular document. Is there any objection? There is none. It can be tabled. Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Chris Hipkins: Supplementary question? [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! I am just waiting.
Chris Hipkins: Is he satisfied that a year after he made that statement, Novopay still had over $9.3 million in debts outstanding to recover, and it was still making errors that resulted in hundreds of thousands of dollars of new debt being created; if so, why?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: The member needs to be clear that the total amount of outstanding debt originally was $18 million, and actually about $10 million of that has been collected. Yes, there is still debt to be collected. That relies, of course, on people paying that money back, which they are doing over a period of time. In fact, both this system and the previous system create debt through overpayments that need to be repaid. In fact, this system inherited a number from the previous system—
Andrew Little: Oh, rubbish! What rubbish!
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Well, actually, it is true, which is why that member advised the previous Government to change that system. I only wish it had not listened.
Chris Hipkins: Is he satisfied that Novopay will ever be able to work effectively, given that recent defect reports still highlighted 125 serious or very serious defects with the system itself; if so, why?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I think it identified about two very serious defects in that previous report. There are some other serious defects—there is no doubt about that—but it is down from around 600, about 14 months ago, to some today. Those defects do occur, but I can tell the member that the system is running a lot better and is actually well within what the technical review said. If he is about to suggest that we replace Novopay, I probably will not take his advice, with respect, and I only wish that the previous Government had not taken his advice when it decided to replace the Datacom system.
Chris Hipkins: Will schools be given any further support to cover the cost of administering the Novopay payroll system, given that over a year and a half has now passed and it is still experiencing major problems, resulting in time and energy that should be going into supporting kids’ education instead going into dealing with the ongoing payroll chaos that Novopay has created?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: The member completely mischaracterises the situation today. He completely mischaracterises it. I appreciate that this was the same sort of panicky approach that he took back when he was advising the Minister about replacing the previous pay system, but, actually, the system is running a lot better. There are still some issues—
Dr David Clark: Why does the Minister hate teachers?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Oh, for goodness’ sake—
Mr SPEAKER: Order!
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: —shut up. [Interruption] Shut up, you clown.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! When I rise to my feet, I expect the member to stop his barracking.
Hon Paula Bennett: Bit angry about the polls, are you?
Mr SPEAKER: Order! And I would also be grateful if there were fewer interjections on this side of the House.
Better Public Services Targets—Skills, Productivity, and Economic Growth
9. Dr CAM CALDER (National) to the Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills and
Employment: How is the Government lifting the skill levels of New Zealanders to lift productivity and deliver higher economic growth?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment): Improving skills is a key part of National’s agenda to get more people into work, to help businesses grow, to improve productivity, and to build a stronger economy with higher-paying jobs. Today I released the Ministry of Education report on tertiary education enrolments for 2013. It shows that 56 percent of study by New Zealanders at tertiary level in 2013 was at degree or post-graduate levels, which is a big increase compared with 48 percent 10 years ago. Domestic enrolments by younger people—those aged 18 to 24 years—in Bachelor’s degrees and higher qualifications continue to increase, by 1 percent from 2012 to 2013. Demand for tertiary education remains high. Around 418,000 students were enrolled in formal tertiary programmes last year. In part that is due to the improved performance of students in National Certificate of Educational Achievement, and that flows through into the tertiary figures. That, of course, is also a key focus of this Government.
Dr Cam Calder: How is the Government delivering more apprentices?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I am pleased to announce that new enrolments in apprenticeships training have grown by 24 percent since 2012, following the introduction of the apprenticeship reboot. That programme has been very successful, and in the Budget a couple of weeks ago we announced a further $20 million for 6,000 new apprentices through the apprenticeship reboot. That will bring the total funding for that programme to nearly $70 million. The average number of
people signing up to apprenticeships in New Zealand has risen from 827 a month in 2012 to 1,028 now. Last year there were 33,000 people in apprenticeship training, and so far this year, there are 27,000. A big part of vocational training has always been apprenticeships, but under Labour the importance of that slipped in favour of more generic industry training.
Dr Cam Calder: What are the outcomes for individuals from having higher skill levels?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Well, the income premium for people with higher skills is quite substantial. A further Ministry of Education report shows that people with a Bachelor’s degree or higher earn, on average, 62 percent more than those without a qualification. There is a very large jump in earnings between those who hold a degree and those who hold a lower-level qualification, which is why the Government has put a lot of emphasis on getting young people to study at higher levels. In some fields there is a larger income premium from higher-level study—in science, technology, engineering, and maths, for example—and it is for that reason that the Government has boosted investment in many of those areas, most recently in the Budget 2 weeks ago.
10. Dr RAJEN PRASAD (Labour) to the Associate Minister of Immigration: Is she satisfied with all aspects of her decision on Sanil Kumar?
Hon NIKKI KAYE (Associate Minister of Immigration): Yes, I am.
Dr Rajen Prasad: What weight did she give to the advice she received from Cathy O’Malley of the New Zealand Ministry of Health that “The Government of Fiji funds 3 months’ free treatment for local patients needing to start dialysis. During this time they need to either find a live donor and be prepared to pay for their treatment thereafter, or get their affairs in order in preparation for their death a week or two after dialysis is withdrawn.”?
Hon NIKKI KAYE: The member has asked a question that goes to the heart of the case. I asked Mr Kumar for a privacy waiver in this case before he died. He declined to give me that privacy waiver. I have said to the member previously that I would appreciate his not making incorrect statements. In terms of generally, though, I am happy to make general statements around the advice that I receive. In this particular case I did seek advice in terms of the care that is available in Fiji, and I can confirm that both dialysis is available and also access to transplants.
Dr Rajen Prasad: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The question arises from a quote that the Minister provided herself—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! If the member is leading to saying he does not think the question has been adequately addressed, then I am ruling that it has been, particularly in the light of the information that the Minister gave at the start, where the Minister did not want to get into any personal details.
Dr Rajen Prasad: What weight did the Minister give to the information provided to Immigration New Zealand on 7 March, and confirmed on 23 April, that the family was well on its way to raising the funds to pay for the kidney transplant and that his cousin was undergoing tissuematching procedures to be a donor?
Hon NIKKI KAYE: Again, the member asks a specific question that cuts to the heart of the case. I have been very clear with the member on a number of occasions that I requested a privacy waiver from Mr Kumar. He declined that privacy waiver. If the family did provide the ability for me to talk about the case via their providing a privacy waiver, I would be happy to give further information. But there is a difference. Sometimes in this House members get privacy waivers but the Minister does not. That sometimes happens, and that is what has happened in this case. It does not mean that I can speak to those bits of paper. The other thing I would say to the member specifically, though, is that I did take a very unusual step in this case of writing to Dr Prasad and saying two things: that he was making inaccurate statements, specifically regarding the cost of treatment, and that I would ask that Dr Prasad stop making inaccurate statements, particularly given the circumstances in this case.
Dr Rajen Prasad: I seek leave of the House to table the report to the Minister from Cathy O’Malley, a deputy director-general of the New Zealand Ministry of Health, in which the quote I came up with—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member has sought leave to table a document that was supplied to the Minister—[Interruption] I am ruling on a point of order. When I have finished, the member can raise his point of order. The member has sought leave to table a document written by Cathy O’Malley that was presented to the Minister. Leave is sought to table—
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: I will put the leave and then I will—
Hon Trevor Mallard: No, before you put it—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I will hear from the Hon Trevor Mallard.
Hon Trevor Mallard: It is the normal practice of this House to seek an assurance from the member that he has a privacy waiver or has the permission of the family to table a document that goes to an individual case. I would like to know whether he has that permission.
Mr SPEAKER: I was just assuming, maybe incorrectly, that that waiver had been obtained by Dr Rajen Prasad. But, to clarify the matter, we will clarify that with Dr Prasad.
Dr Rajen Prasad: Yes. I have the approval.
Mr SPEAKER: Then leave is sought to table this particular document. Is there any objection to it being tabled? There is none. It will be tabled. Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Dr Rajen Prasad: To the Minister—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Can we just move to the supplementary question?
Hon David Cunliffe: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! This is a point of order from David Cunliffe and it will be heard.
Hon David Cunliffe: Can I seek your guidance? Firstly, the Minister has declared that she cannot answer the member’s question because she does not have a privacy waiver, yet the Minister has been referring to a document that she has released, and the Minister has then called into question the member’s integrity. That is the first point. The second is that the Leader of the House, no less, is now barracking across the Chamber and calling into question the member’s integrity again. I ask you what protection there is for members of this House who are following due process and obeying the Standing Orders, because that is abuse.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: I think the point is that the member over the other side clearly has some information that the Minister does not have or cannot use in answer to the question—[Interruption]
Hon David Cunliffe: Oh, rubbish!
Hon Gerry Brownlee: I am sorry, are we hearing a point of order or not?
Mr SPEAKER: Yes, we are hearing a point of order.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: Or she cannot use it, because she does not have the permission of the family to use it. For a Minister to be put on the hotplate, when the member over there knows full well that there is a whole lot more to this story than the Minister is able to tell, is completely unreasonable, and frankly, it does question his integrity.
Mr SPEAKER: Can I ask the Hon David Cunliffe to refer to Speaker’s ruling 173/1. It is a relatively lengthy ruling, but a recent one, by Speaker Wilson, whereby it is certainly acceptable for any Minister in this House to rise, in answering a question, and effectively to invoke a privacy reason as to why she does not want to give personal details.
Hon David Cunliffe: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I seek your clarification of, firstly, whether that Speaker’s ruling still applies when the Minister concerned has already released the very same information to the member of Parliament who is asking the question. Secondly, that member of Parliament has given an assurance to this House that he has received a privacy waiver from the family concerned, so that no question of privacy could possible arise.
Mr SPEAKER: No, I do not agree with the last part of the member’s point of order. That Speaker’s ruling is still applicable today. The Minister has seen fit to answer the question in the way that she has. The honourable Dr Rajen Prasad has then sought leave to table a particular document, which he said he had permission of the family to table. It has now been tabled. That is the end of the matter.
Dr Rajen Prasad: When the Minister received assurances from Cathy O’Malley of the Ministry of Health that treatment was available to Sanil Kumar in Fiji, did she factor in that Sanil Kumar’s family lived in Ba, dialysis was only available in Suva and Nadi, and that other local hospitals could not treat Sanil for any complications and also provide dialysis?
Hon NIKKI KAYE: Again, I want to make a couple of points here. Although I requested a privacy waiver, Mr Kumar declined it. I am aware that he gave Opposition members a privacy waiver, and I actually wrote to Opposition members telling them information about the case after I was assured that they had a privacy waiver. That is not the same thing as my being able to release that information, even if they have it in their hands. That is a very different scenario for me as the Associate Minister. The second point I would like to make is that there are a range of factors that are considered in a particular case, and I will take into account the cost of medical services, criminal convictions, and family members, as have previous Ministers in this House. The final point that I would like to make is that I did seek certain advice regarding access to treatment. What I would say is that there is no requirement for immigration officers under immigration instructions to look at the availability of services overseas, but I personally—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Just bring the answer to an end.
Hon NIKKI KAYE: —took the step of taking a further step in this case.
Dr Rajen Prasad: What would have been the harm to New Zealand had she enabled Sanil Kumar, through issuing an appropriate visa, to undergo treatment for which funds had been raised, a donor was undergoing tissue-matching, and a payment plan was in place for the arrears owed to the Waitematā District Health Board?
Hon NIKKI KAYE: Again, I do not have a privacy waiver on this case. The thing that I would say to the member is that there were a number of statements the member made that are incorrect.
Dr Rajen Prasad: Would it not have been wise and compassionate to enable Sanil Kumar to undergo treatment in New Zealand before returning to Fiji, given these facts: Sanil Kumar was admitted to a hospital in Ba after contracting an infection; he had to be discharged from hospital to take a 3-hour round trip to Nadi each time he needed dialysis treatment, and then be re-admitted on his return; when he was transferred to Lautoka Hospital as a critical patient he was not able to be given treatment consistent with his limited kidney function; and he died yesterday morning?
Hon NIKKI KAYE: Can I first express condolences to the family—
Mr SPEAKER: Would the Minister just answer the question, in so far as there is ministerial responsibility.
Hon NIKKI KAYE: Yes, but can I first express condolences to the family. Secondly, can I say that overall I think we have a very compassionate health and immigration policy in New Zealand. I can confirm that the New Zealand Government, under our Government, invests over $25 million into providing access to health care in the Pacific. We also have the ability of the ministerial discretion. As Associate Minister, I do know that there are many cases—I will not go into the detail—where I have enabled people who have conditions that have high costs to stay in New Zealand, but I take into account a range of factors that often are not in the public domain. What I really appreciate in this House are those members of Parliament who talk to me about particular cases and get their facts right. The facts are that I can talk about specific details regarding Mr Kumar that are in the public domain. Those are that he was here unlawfully, he was unwell, I sought advice regarding the fact that there are treatment facilities available, but, overall, I declined his case.
Dr Rajen Prasad: I seek leave to make a personal statement.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought—can you explain?
Dr Rajen Prasad: Yes, I am happy to. It is concerning the allegations the Minister has just made about the information that I have and that she does not have. I want to make a personal statement about that. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! This is easily decided by the House. Leave is sought to make a personal explanation in regard to some statements that have been made today in question time by the Minister. I will put that leave. Is it accepted? OK, it is not. [Interruption] Order! The matter has been determined. That is the end of the matter.
Hon David Cunliffe: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: I expect this point of order to be heard in silence.
Hon David Cunliffe: I seek your general advice as to whether there are any other avenues available to my colleague Dr Prasad, who has sought to use the Standing Orders in an appropriate way. The leave has been denied; that is accepted. The Minister has impugned Dr Prasad’s integrity and has hidden behind a punitive privacy waiver in respect of a document that has already— [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I am listening to a point of order. I have asked for it to be heard in silence and I do not want any interjections from members on my right-hand side.
Hon David Cunliffe: A document that has already been released to members opposite. That leaves Dr Prasad in an impossible position. The Minister has used her reply to the question to impugn his integrity, and he has been—I must say, almost without precedent—denied an opportunity to make a personal statement in reply. Does he have any other remedy?
Mr SPEAKER: Yes, he does. I refer the member to Standing Order 355, which sets out exactly the process now, by which the member, if he feels he is being misrepresented in this House, can take the matter further.
11. SIMON O’CONNOR (National—Tāmaki) to the Minister of Immigration: What steps has the Government taken to encourage better outcomes for migrants?
Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE (Minister of Immigration): Last week I announced an extra $7.6 million in Budget 2014 to help combat migrant exploitation in Canterbury. This weekend I announced an extra $5.6 million over 4 years to help newly arrived quota refugees settle into New Zealand life and get into work. One in four New Zealanders were born overseas, and although the National-led Government is focused on putting New Zealanders at the front of the job queue, we recognise the value of migration and the huge contribution that migrants make to our economy, to rebuilding Christchurch, and to our communities.
Simon O’Connor: What recent trends have we seen in migration?
Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE: Breaking down the recent trends in net migration, the story is one of more New Zealanders coming home from abroad, and fewer New Zealanders leaving, which this side of the House believes is a very good thing. Estimates for this year put net migration at around 30,000, which is largely due to 15,000 fewer New Zealanders leaving than was the case 5 years ago. Another concerning migration trend is the increased risk of an attempt by asylum seekers to travel by boat to New Zealand. That is a trend about which I am very concerned.
Simon O’Connor: What other reports has he seen on the increased risk of a maritime arrival?
Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE: I have seen a report that showed that not only did Labour and the Greens oppose the legislation passed to deter and manage a mass arrival, should one occur, but one speaker, trivialising the risk, stated that “There is no protection from alien landings, and that is exactly the same probability of an alien invasion from Mars as there is of boat people from Indonesia or ‘Wogistan’—exactly the same probability.” That came from the present leader of the Labour Party, David Cunliffe. That is not something, I suspect, that the public would expect to come from someone who aspires to be the Prime Minister.
Emissions Trading Scheme—Commentary and Progress
12. Dr KENNEDY GRAHAM (Green) to the Minister for Climate Change Issues: What is his response to comments by former New Zealand climate ambassador, Dr Adrian Macey, that the New Zealand emissions trading scheme has led in the “opposite direction to that of the intended policy, and is most likely to delay New Zealand’s transition to a low-carbon economy”?
Hon TIM GROSER (Minister for Climate Change Issues): My response to Dr Macey would be: “Compared with what?”. Is it compared with Australia, which is in the process of removing its climate change policies and the institutions that underlie it? Is it compared with Japan, which has removed an earlier offer to reduce emissions by minus 25 percent and replaced it with a positive 3 percent? Would he be comparing us with the United States, which must rely now entirely on the Clean Air Act since there is no political possibility of the US Congress ever passing an economywide measure? Or is he comparing New Zealand with Canada, which, unlike New Zealand, has withdrawn from the Kyoto Protocol and has no intention whatsoever of fulfilling its Kyoto Protocol commitments?
Dr Kennedy Graham: Given that the answer is probably Europe, has the former climate ambassador got it wrong when he says that the emissions trading scheme was designed to incentivise emission reductions, clean technology, and tree planting, but that under current policy settings, none of these is happening?
Hon TIM GROSER: I would agree very strongly with the first part of the statement. That is exactly what I understood were the intentions and continue to be the intentions of the emissions trading scheme. But, as I have made clear on numerous occasions, at the current international price, it does not drive that process forward in a fast way, and that is entirely the point of the difference between Dr Macey’s analysis and this Government’s analysis—we do not wish to depart and put costs on New Zealand households and businesses that are higher than our competitors.
Dr Kennedy Graham: Did the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment get it wrong when she said that the Government’s changes to the emissions trading scheme, notwithstanding international prices, make a farce of New Zealand’s response to climate change?
Hon TIM GROSER: Not at all. The response of New Zealand Government has been to join that 7 percent of emissions that are actually covered by some type of price on carbon and to make a huge contribution internationally, which is actually recognised in Dr Macey’s article, including leading the world in terms of emissions from agriculture, which are exactly 100 times as large as New Zealand’s emissions of 0.14 percent.
Dr Kennedy Graham: Can the Minister point to one expert who says that New Zealand’s emissions trading scheme has reduced our emissions, incentivised tree planting, and helped the transition to a low carbon economy—can he point to just one expert who says that the emissions trading scheme has been a success?
Hon TIM GROSER: Yes. I can point the member to the OECD’s environment report, prepared for the last environment Ministers meeting in Paris, which I had the privilege of representing New Zealand at, which described the New Zealand emissions trading scheme as one of the most advanced in the world.
Dr Kennedy Graham: Mr Speaker— [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! This is a point of order?
Dr Kennedy Graham: I seek leave to table two documents relevant to the question. One is the article in Policy Quarterly by the former climate ambassador we referred to headed “Climate Change towards Policy Coherence”. The second is the press release covering the submission by the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment headed “ETS changes a farce”.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Well, I will not be putting leave for the second one. With regard to the first one, the Macey article, is it freely available or difficult for members to get hold of?
Dr Kennedy Graham: It is reasonably difficult and this will help the House.
Mr SPEAKER: I will accept the member. Leave is sought to table the article by Dr Adrian Macey. Is there any objection to that? It will be tabled. Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Although the House did not object to that tabling, it might have been useful to note that the Minister gave answers to Dr Macey’s report clearly having seen it, so it is not exactly difficult for members to get hold of it.
Mr SPEAKER: If the member objects to it being—[Interruption] Order! The tabling of documents is a means by which we inform other members. I accept that Mr Groser, as the Minister responsible, may well have read the article. What I was doing was ensuring that other members who might be vitally interested in reading such an article have the opportunity. Therefore I put the leave and if the Hon Gerry Brownlee was so incensed he had the opportunity to decline it.