Questions and Answers - June 25
QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS
Inequality—Economic and Social 1. Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does he accept inequality, including asset inequality, is increasing in New Zealand?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): No. The best evidence shows that income inequality is not increasing in New Zealand, and I am advised that there is no reliable time series on changes in wealth inequality. As the Minister of Finance noted yesterday, the OECD has reported that New Zealand was one of only six developed economies in which both income inequality and disposable income inequality were flat or slightly better between 2007 and 2011. This is quite an achievement through one of the worst recessions in decades.
Hon David Cunliffe: How does the Prime Minister feel about the Oxfam report that shows that the top 10 percent of wealthy New Zealanders own more than the other 90 percent put together?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I suspect that is probably similar to lots of parts of the world, but what I can say is that under a Labour Government, with its announcements today, every single New Zealander in KiwiSaver will be worse off when they have a capital gains tax on their KiwiSaver account.
Hon David Cunliffe: How can he be so relaxed about the growing gap between the rich and poor, when the median income in, say, St Heliers has increased by $6,700 a year since 2006 to $42,700, while the median income in Māngere has fallen by $200 to just $19,700?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I did not actually say what the member said that I said. What I would say is that at a time when the economy is in surplus, when it is earning more than it is spending, putting a tax on every farm, on every business, and on every KiwiSaver will simply make the situation worse for so many New Zealanders. No wonder they will not vote for that.
Hon David Cunliffe: In light of that answer, does the Prime Minister agree that a 35 percent increase in luxury car sales over the past 2 years while at the same time the number of children living in poverty has grown to 285,000 shows that inequality is rising, or does he not?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No, that is not a reliable measure of income inequality. What would be worth noting, though, is that households that earn $60,000 or less—that is, 50 percent of all New Zealand households—pay $2.5 billion in tax and they receive over $7 billion in benefits. Through the worst of the economic times this Government has supported those most vulnerable New Zealanders.
Hon David Cunliffe: How does the Prime Minister feel about the fact that homeownership rates are at their lowest levels in 50 years, and does he think it acceptable that half of the pupils in schools in our lower income areas are changing schools once a year or more? So we have declining homeownership, dislocated children, and growing inequality—how does he feel about that?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: One thing I do know is that if you put a capital gains tax on rental properties, as the member is suggesting—because, in fact, virtually all property is excluded under the Labour plan—what that will do is put rents up. So those who are renting a property and watching parliamentary question time today better know that under a Labour Government they will
pay more. In other words, they will have less to spend. No wonder they will never support that policy.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: If New Zealand is doing so well and Australia is doing so bad, how is it that the income gap between New Zealanders and Australians has grown, not shrunk, since he has been the leader of this country?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: The member is utterly wrong.
Hon David Cunliffe: Does the Prime Minister think it is fair that the incomes of the top 1 percent of income earners in New Zealand have risen 10 times faster than the bottom 10 percent, and does he think that a capital gains tax might just help equalise some of that growing gap between the rich and the poor?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: In answer to the last part of the question, no. What is really important that New Zealanders understand is that a capital gains tax in the way that Labour has described today will be on every small business in New Zealand, every business in New Zealand, every KiwiSaver account in New Zealand, and every part of the productive sector of New Zealand. If we want people in poverty, then we should cancel their jobs, and that is what Labour would be doing—putting a tax on prosperity for New Zealand.
Hon David Cunliffe: Since the Prime Minister opened by quoting the OECD report and then went on to criticise our capital gains tax, could he confirm to the House whether his and the OECD’s measure of income inequality that he just cited, includes capital gains as income, or would he accept that his credibility is now down the “Liu”?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I would need to check the paperwork on that, and it would have been quite helpful if David Cunliffe had as well.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Seeing as Mr Liu has been put into contention, how is it, Prime Minister, that just 6 weeks ago, according to Maurice Williamson, Mr Liu did not speak a word of English, so he could not have a relationship, but now he is singing like a bellbird to the Prime Minister in the best of English?
Mr SPEAKER: If the Prime Minister considers there is any prime ministerial responsibility—
Hon David Cunliffe: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Labour Opposition would like to yield a question to New Zealand First to enable Mr Peters to re-ask that question so that the Prime Minister can recover his memory.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member can resume his seat. I know we are in an exciting time of the year, but members still have to abide by the Standing Orders. Question No. 2—Metiria Turei. [Interruption] Order! Show some respect to Metiria Turei, whom I have called for question No. 2.
Prime Minister—Statements 2. 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 rejection yesterday of research that showed 40 percent of New Zealand’s poorest kids cannot afford a raincoat, given that the research was based on Ministry of Social Development data?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: The member is incorrectly paraphrasing me from yesterday.
Metiria Turei: Does the Prime Minister also think that Ministry of Social Development data is wrong when it shows that 42 percent of New Zealand’s poorest children do not own two pairs of decent shoes because their families cannot afford them?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I cannot talk about the veracity of their data, but what I can say is that the Government has been supporting the least well off New Zealanders through a variety of programmes, as I described yesterday, similar to the ones we are doing with KidsCan.
Metiria Turei: Will the Prime Minister commit to reading even just a few pages of Bryan Perry’s 2013 Ministry of Social Development report, which explains the basic items poorer Kiwi
kids are regularly going without, because of the cost, such as their own bed, their school uniforms, all the way from their jumpers to their shoes, and healthy food?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I have read part of the report and I have had Bryan Perry in my office. The very interesting thing, when you have him in your office and talk to him, is he is absolutely adamant that income inequality in New Zealand is not widening and has not widened. So if the member is now quoting Bryan Perry I congratulate her, because he is actually right, but it defeats her own argument.
Metiria Turei: I seek leave to table two documents. The first is pages 196 to 200 of Household incomes in New Zealand: Trends in indicators of inequality and hardship, written by Bryan Perry, from July 2013, showing the non-monetary indicators of hardship and deprivation.
Mr SPEAKER: And the second? Is that the two documents?
Metiria Turei: The second document is page 9 from theSolutions to Child Poverty in New Zealand, showing also the level of deprivation—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I am assured that both of those documents are publicly and freely available to members.
Metiria Turei: Does the Prime Minister agree or disagree with the new Ministry of Health findings that 27 percent of Māori children do not go to the doctor when they need to, often because their parents cannot afford the cost of transport to get them to the doctor?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Again, I cannot talk about the veracity of that quote. Often they are misquoted by the member. But what I can say is that this is the Government that provided free doctors visits for children under the age of 13. That is a tremendous step for any Government to take.
Metiria Turei: Why did the Prime Minister say to the House yesterday that the Government had borrowed $5 billion to support vulnerable New Zealanders during the global financial crisis, when in fact it borrowed $5 billion to pay for tax cuts for the very wealthy; and when will he stop blaming poor New Zealand children for the country’s debt?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: The member is quite wrong. But what the member is demonstrating, which she is in agreement with the Labour Party on, is that they want to tax New Zealanders a lot more. Fair enough, but that is going to slow the economy down, cost jobs, and put more people into welfare.
Metiria Turei: Does the Prime Minister believe it acceptable for him to be wilfully ignorant of his Government’s own evidence of serious child poverty and deprivation suffered by 25 percent—one in four—of all New Zealand children?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: The member is wrong.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! This is a point of order and it will be heard in silence.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Thank you, Mr Speaker. I just want to seek your assurance that the interjections from the Minister for Social Development that gave you the assurance that you needed to reject the tabling of documents will show in Hansard.
Mr SPEAKER: The member will have to wait and look at Hansard, but I doubt it. If there was not any response to the interjection, I would not expect them to show.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: What is the point of order?
Hon Trevor Mallard: The point of order is that you responded by saying you had received an assurance that they were in the public record. That was done by way of interjection while Metiria Turei was taking a point of order.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I knew they were in the public arena. [Interruption] Order! We are not going to have a repeat of yesterday. When I am on my feet I expect all members to be silent, and that includes the Hon Trevor Mallard. I was listening very carefully to what those documents were.
I am absolutely confident that they are within the public arena. They are easily available. In fact, I think I have had one of them across my desk relatively recently.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: Again, can I just check before I take this point of order that this is a fresh point of order—
Hon Trevor Mallard: It is a fresh point of order.
Mr SPEAKER: —and not in any way relitigating a decision I have already made.
Hon Trevor Mallard: No, I am not. I have not relitigated any decision.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Then the member will get to the point. Thank you.
Hon Trevor Mallard: My point of order is will you withdraw the assurance you gave the House that you had received—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member will resume his seat, and if I get another point of order like that, the member will be leaving the Chamber for the balance of question time.
Metiria Turei: Will the Prime Minister take full responsibility for the fact that there are 45,000 more children living in severe poverty since he became Prime Minister?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: For a start off, that is not correct. What I will take responsibility for is that we have got one of the fastest-growing economies in the OECD. At the worst of times we borrowed billions and billions and billions of dollars to support New Zealanders in need, and we have got a system in New Zealand that is fair and highly redistributive, and that is the way it should be to protect the most vulnerable New Zealanders.
Economic Programme—Support for New Zealand Families 3. JAMI-LEE ROSS (National - Botany) to the Minister of Finance: As part of its wider economic programme, what progress is the Government making in dealing with the most challenging social issues facing New Zealand families and children?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): The Government is making good progress. Much of this is as a result of the Better Public Services targets that the Prime Minister set in place a couple of years ago. By honing public services on specific and measurable objectives such as higher educational achievement, better health care, less crime, and less long-term welfare dependency, we are starting to make significant gains on those things that are a feature of long-term deprivation. For example, as at the end of 2013, 91 percent of babies were fully immunised by 8 months of age, and we are on track to achieve 95 percent by the end of this year—much higher immunisation rates than at any time in the last 30 years. We are finding that what is good for communities is good for the Government’s books, so we are willing to spend where we can get a pay-off and better results.
Jami-Lee Ross: What specific measures did the Government take in Budget 2014 to help New Zealand’s children and families?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: As New Zealand is one of a handful of developed countries heading into Budget surpluses, we believe it is important that all New Zealanders can benefit from a stronger economy and better Government books. In Budget 2014 we provided five elements of a $500 million package: $171 million to boost paid parental leave by 4 weeks to 18 weeks; $42 million to increase the parental tax credit from $150 a week to $220 a week and increase the entitlement from 8 to 10 weeks; $90 million to provide free doctors visits and free prescriptions for children aged under 13 years; $155 million to help early childhood centres remain accessible and affordable; and $33 million targeted on doing a better job for our most vulnerable children. So, although our spending is constrained, it is well targeted at where we can get results.
Jami-Lee Ross: What other measures has the Government taken to support the most vulnerable New Zealanders, particularly those on low incomes facing challenging social issues?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Despite that the fact that we have had significant deficits, the Government has made a priority of supporting the most vulnerable. The Budget last year, for instance, included $100 million to extend the home insulation programme, $20 million for
rheumatic fever prevention, $35 million for the Grandparents Raising Grandchildren Trust, microfinancing options for those on low incomes, and progressing a warrant of fitness for all State houses to ensure they meet basic requirements. In addition, the Government is working with other providers to provide free healthy lunches in schools that choose to take part in the programme. This is a range of measures designed particularly to help those who suffer from persistent deprivation.
Jami-Lee Ross: What were some of the main social challenges inherited by this Government in 2008?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: These were set out comprehensively in the Salvation Army state of the nation report of February 2008. It talked about the rising number of referrals for abused children and increased numbers underChild, Youth and Family care. It talked about rising youth offending, climbing teenage pregnancy rates, and continued educational inequality, and it talked about climbing prison numbers. This was all through a period when the economy was growing significantly. All up, the Salvation Army said that significant extra Government spending under the previous Labour Government contributed little to social progress. Since then we have been spending less and making a lot more progress.
Budget 2014—Revenue and Expenditure over Next 4 Years 4. Hon DAVID PARKER (Deputy Leader - Labour) to the Minister of Finance: Does Budget 2014 show the full effect of revenue cuts and expenditure that the National Government expects over the next four years?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): Yes. It reflects all the decisions the Government has made and also any risks that Treasury sees both to expenditure and to revenue over the next 4 years.
Hon David Parker: What did he mean when he said that his next Budget “will be the most radical restructuring of government spending in 50 years”, as quoted in the Rod Oram column in the Sunday Star-Times?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I do not think that I actually said just what he wrote down, but it was in the context of a discussion about the greater use of data and analysis to understand at an individual level the needs particularly of our most challenged families and children, so that we can act individually across departments to change the path that those people are on—investing now to save money later.
Hon David Parker: So when will he show us the money?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: You can see in the surpluses the impact of a much more focused Government spend on reducing welfare dependency, and on reducing crime and the flow of people into the very expensive justice system. So the money is there in the surpluses.
Andrew Williams: Can the Minister of Finance assure the public that no Government payments arising under the Christchurch rebuild were deferred in order to achieve the surplus announced in Budget 2014?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Yes.
Hon David Parker: Why will he not commit to maintaining the real value of health and education spending adjusted for inflation and population change through to 2021?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: There is a very good reason why we will not commit to that. We do not fund the services just in order to have them; we put in more money to get better results. For instance, the Government has put more money into health, and it has achieved higher immunisation rates, shorter waiting times in emergency rooms, more elective surgery, and faster access to cancer treatment, even though the new money going in has not been as much as the Labour Party says it should be. That is Labour’s problem: it just shovels money in and it thinks that is an indication of success.
Richard Prosser: Is the fact that police are having to choose between protecting vulnerable children or pursuing organised crime yet another hidden cost of the so-called Budget surplus?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: If the member followed the activities of the Government, he would know that we are doing both, actually. We are pursuing organised crime in a vigorous manner, backed up by changes in policing activity and better use of intelligence, with a 20 percent reduction in crime. We are also spending more on doing a better job of supporting our most vulnerable children, where the issue is not so much about money; it is actually about how the Government organises itself and whether it is serious about protecting vulnerable children or is just maintaining its own agencies.
Hon David Parker: By what date does his Government plan to have paid down all of the debt it has borrowed since 2008?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: We have got a date, and a track that is honest about the numbers. The Labour Party says it can reduce debt by redefining it to make it look a lot smaller; we are not going to do that.
Hon David Parker: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My question—
Mr SPEAKER: I invite the member to repeat the question.
Hon David Parker: By what date will the Government have repaid all of the debt it has borrowed since 2008?
Mr SPEAKER: It is a slightly different question, but—the Hon Bill English.
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I cannot give the member an exact date, but what I can tell him is that by the time of the election, we will not have done dodgy accounting to make it look like we are paying down debt.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Will the Minister of Finance read pages 15 and 16 of the Finance and Expenditure Committee’s record last week, where Mr Brownlee confirmed that in the last Budget the Christchurch repair costs were down by approximately $500 million and that the Prime Minister has talked about an extra $5 billion being required into the future? That $500 million is, of course, the same sum that is in the surplus. Why should not someone conclude that the people of Christchurch—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Just bring the question to a conclusion.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: —are paying an awful cost for his mythical so-called surplus?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I cannot confirm that, simply because it is not correct. There has been no doubt about the Government’s commitment to the rebuild of Christchurch, and at the same time there are ongoing discussions with the Christchurch City Council to ensure that it can meet reasonable costs but does that in the context of strong Government support. Of course, we do not know yet what the final numbers will be, because there are still some years to go in the rebuild of Christchurch.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Seeing as it is apparently not available at this point in time to the Minister of Finance—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member will resume his seat. [Interruption] Order! The member has the opportunity to raise a point of order. I have failed to understand what the point of order was that the member was raising, but it is not a means of contesting the answer that has just been given.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: Then I will listen to the member.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: That is the last thing I did. What I did was seek to table the transcript—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Then if the member wants to table something, the procedure is he rises to his feet and he seeks leave to table. [Interruption] No, he did not. He took a point of order and then there was a long lead-in to a rather garbled message—[Interruption] Order! If the member wants to table a transcript from a select committee, that is something that I assume is freely available—
Hon Gerry Brownlee: No. No.
Mr SPEAKER: It is not available?
Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: I will hear from—[Interruption] Order! The member wishes to speak to the point of order?
Hon Gerry Brownlee: Yes, I do.
Mr SPEAKER: I will hear from Mr Brownlee.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: I am loath to make any comment, because the member is attributing a certain comment to me, which I am not disputing. However, these are transcripts from the estimates hearings, which are not yet reported to Parliament. They cannot be tabled.
Mr SPEAKER: On the basis that they are not yet reported to Parliament, I do not think it is appropriate to put that leave, and I will not.
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: I hope it is a point of order. Let us hear it.
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: You may be able to tell me before I make it—
Mr SPEAKER: Order!
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: You made a ruling in respect of Mr Peters. When you ruled you said, I think, that Mr Peters put a preamble in front of his point of order. Mr Brownlee did exactly the same thing by contesting—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member will resume his seat. [Interruption] Order! The member will be accompanying other colleagues if he also continues to talk when I rise to my feet.
Kris Faafoi: There’d be a rather long queue.
Mr SPEAKER: There could be a rather long queue; that is indeed so. [Interruption] Order! I was informing the Rt Hon Winston Peters of the correct process for tabling a document. The correct process is to raise a point of order and then simply say “I seek leave to table a document.” The member himself, Mr Cosgrove, has been here now for a few years. He should actually know that.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. In this I am going to plead guilty immediately to contesting a ruling. A public—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member does not need to go any further. [Interruption] Order! The member does not need to go any further. I warned the member that if he was going to raise spurious points of order, I would be asking him to leave the Chamber. The member will now leave the Chamber.
Chris Hipkins: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! We have another point of order. There is a habit developing here, but I will hear it.
Chris Hipkins: It is a new point of order. The issue that I want to ask you to give further consideration on is that where a select committee meeting is held in public and a transcript is taken of it that would not otherwise be available to all members of the House, it seems quite reasonable that a member may seek leave to table that. If it was a confidential part of a meeting, it would therefore be subject to the privilege of the committee, but if it is a public session of the committee, then, in fact, members who were not present at the meeting would be disadvantaged compared with members who were. So I wonder whether you could give some further consideration to that matter.
Mr SPEAKER: I thank the member. I will give it further consideration, but also affecting my decision will be the fact that all transcripts after the report back are subsequently available to all members.
Louise Upston: How has the Government used revenue reductions to make the tax system fairer for New Zealand households and families over the last 5 years?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Over successive Budgets the Government has made a number of changes to repair the damage done to the tax system by the previous Labour Government. In particular, we have removed the ability for people to shelter their income, raised the effective tax rate on property investment, increased funding for the Inland Revenue Department to target property speculators, prevented people using investment losses—including from rental properties—
to make themselves eligible for Working for Families and other Government support, and brought in stricter rules to ensure multinational companies contribute their fair share of tax. The result of all that is that people on the highest incomes now pay a slightly larger proportion of the tax then they used to when rates were higher but there were more loopholes.
Better Public Services Targets—Reduction in Reoffending 5. SCOTT SIMPSON (National - Coromandel) to the Minister of Corrections: What progress has the Government made in reducing reoffending rates for prisoners?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY (Minister of Corrections): I am pleased to advise the House that the number of prisoners returning to prison within 1 year of release has dropped by 4 percent since June 2011, with a 3 percent drop last year. Prisoners are the most serious offenders in our community. Less than 10 percent of convicted offenders are imprisoned, and they often have a long history of criminal behaviour. For this reason they are often the most difficult offenders to successfully rehabilitate. Our unrelenting focus on rehabilitation has seen New Zealand’s prison population stabilise. It is now forecast to fall in the coming years. By comparison, Australia’s prison population has increased by 10 percent in the last 18 months. The House might also be interested to note that the current prison population is 8,600 prisoners, which is significantly lower than the 10,200 prisoners who were forecast by 2014 when Labour was last in Government.
Scott Simpson: How has the Government achieved this reduction in reoffending by prisoners?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY: To reduce reoffending, we are focused on tackling prisoners’ alcohol and drug addictions, supporting them to get an education and work skills training, and providing them with appropriate support when they are released from prison. Every sentenced prisoner now receives an education assessment when they enter prison and has an individual learning programme developed. Since 2008 there has been a 1,500 percent increase in places on drug and alcohol programmes, a 155 percent increase in the number of offenders in numeracy and literacy programmes, and an 830 percent increase in the number of prisoners gaining qualifications from the New Zealand Qualifications Framework. To better support prisoners on release, corrections launched the Out of Gate programme last year, which sees prisoners work with a dedicated provider, connecting them with social services, and helping with accommodation, employment, and general living skills.
District Health Boards—Health Benefits Ltd 6. Hon ANNETTE KING (Labour - Rongotai) to the Minister of Health: What recent action, if any, has he taken to find the leak of information relating to Health Benefits Limited?
Hon JO GOODHEW (Associate Minister of Health) on behalf of the Minister of Health: None. However, the Minister of Health has been asked to comment on the document supposedly leaked, but that member will not make it public. It appears to be an undated, unsigned opinion piece printed on a plain piece of paper. I—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The question was asked. I want to hear the answer, even if some of the members here to my left do not.
Hon JO GOODHEW: I invite the member to table it. The Health Benefits Ltd strategy aims to free up hundreds of millions of dollars for front-line services. It has already delivered over $200 million in savings.
Hon Annette King: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Points of order are heard in silence.
Hon Annette King: They might need to leave.
Mr SPEAKER: We do not need school teachers here; I just need—[Interruption] Order! OK. [Interruption] Order! Now let us get back some order. I am going to hear a point of order from the Hon Annette King, and I am going to hope to hear it in absolute silence.
Hon Annette King: Mr Speaker, I am seeking your guidance, in fact. The Minister, in her answer, said I have refused to provide the information. I have never been asked—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! That is not a valid point of order. If the member feels—[Interruption] Order! If the member feels that in any way she has been misrepresented, she knows what to do—refer to Standing Order 355.
Hon Annette King: Aha! Thank you, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: You asked for guidance; I am here to help.
Hon Annette King: Did he say in September 2012 that he would use powers under the Crown Entities Act—powers he called “a very big stick”—to force district health boards into a partnership with Health Benefits Ltd if they did not comply with his instructions?
Hon JO GOODHEW: I do not have in front of me a transcript that would confirm that member’s allegation that that is what the Minister said. However, what I do know is that the district health boards have taken some time to come to the table to see the benefits of this—a little longer time than we would have wished. However, they are now all engaged in the various committees that will assist Health Benefits Ltd to achieve savings for New Zealand’s health sector. These savings translate into front-line services, which is what the health care public of New Zealand are asking for—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! That is a very long answer.
Hon Annette King: Did he threaten to withhold approval of district health board annual plans for organisations that did not overtly support Health Benefits Ltd?
Hon JO GOODHEW: Again, I am unable to confirm the veracity of that. However, what I do know is that when this Government was elected in 2008, procurement services were very inefficient. Twenty district health boards all having a procurement service is very inefficient. Therefore, gains will continue to be sought so that the health care public of New Zealand will be the beneficiaries.
Hon Annette King: Is he aware that the pressure he has applied to district health boards to continue to support Health Benefits Ltd has led to “a culture of fear and distrust that is producing a range of consequences that are short-sighted at best and dangerous to patient care at worst.”?
Hon JO GOODHEW: Again, I would repeat an answer that I gave yesterday, which is that this is exactly the sort of rhetoric that we would expect 12 weeks out from the election. However, what we do know is that district health boards are engaging constructively and collaboratively in trying to achieve back-office savings to deliver more money to the front line.
Hon Annette King: Could the loss of confidence by district health boards in Health Benefits Ltd be because of the fact that although 400 staff throughout New Zealand look set to lose their jobs, Health Benefits Ltd has grown to have staff of 49 employees and 81 contractors, a total of 130 staff, and nearly double the policy staff at the Ministry of Health?
Hon JO GOODHEW: What I do know and can assure the member of is that when there is significant change in the health sector—or in any sector, in fact—there is always some discomfiture on the part of the people who are working through change process. However, what I can tell you is that these processes are being worked through collaboratively and that the beneficiaries, in the end, will be the health care public of New Zealand.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I listened very carefully to that question from Annette King, because it concerned some numbers—
Mr SPEAKER: Can the member just make his point of order, please? What is the point of order?
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I will do it as succinctly as I can.
Mr SPEAKER: No, the member will not do it as succinctly as he can; he will do it in accordance with the Standing Orders. What is the point of order?
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I listened carefully to the Minister’s answer to a question about numbers. None of that happened in that answer.
Mr SPEAKER: The member is now questioning whether the Minister answered the question in accordance with the Standing Orders. In this case, the question was addressed in accordance with the Standing Orders.
Oil and Gas Development—Reports 7. JONATHAN YOUNG (National - New Plymouth) to the Minister of Energy and Resources: What reports has he received on likely future support for oil and gas development in New Zealand?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES (Minister of Energy and Resources): I have seen several reports this very morning about an upbeat and confident attitude to oil and gas development and its future under this Government. By way of contrast, yesterday I saw reports, within hours of each other by the same person, emphatically ruling out and then ruling in future Taranaki oil and gas activity. Then this morning I saw a report ruling out future oil and gas activity in Taranaki, despite what his leader had just said. David Carter should reign in his new candidate—
Grant Robertson: Point of order, Mr Speaker—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The Minister should not bring the Speaker into the debate. And, anyway, I will hear from Grant Robertson.
Grant Robertson: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Previous Speakers have ruled—particularly on Government questions, and this is a Government primary question here—that the Minister should be talking about things that he has responsibility for, and he is not doing that.
Mr SPEAKER: No—[Interruption] Order! The question was certainly in order and accepted, but the answer is seriously close to breaching the Speakers’ rulings, and I refer the member to Speaker’s ruling 154/2(a) and 154/2(b), which, in effect, say that it is not in order to put a question down that is simply a means of then commenting on any comments made by the Opposition. I invite the member to ask his supplementary question, but I will be listening very carefully to it and the answer.
Jonathan Young: What are the implications for the Taranaki region if the oil and gas sector does not continue to be supported by the Government?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: Flip-flops on policy do no good for business certainty, but fortunately this Government knows its policy positions and knows that oil and gas ensures that Taranaki has the highest GDP per capita in New Zealand. Average salaries from oil and gas are twice the national average, and the region has the lowest unemployment in New Zealand. We do not have renegade candidates saying—
Mr SPEAKER: Order!
Jonathan Young: What are the implications for New Zealand if oil and gas sector development is brought to a standstill?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: It would be very bad. Oil and gas is New Zealand’s fourth-largest commodity merchandise export earner. It employs thousands of people and brings in nearly $1 billion in royalties and taxes a year, providing for schools, hospitals, and other infrastructure. So it is very clear that we cannot have people out there, like Tāmati Coffey this morning, saying the sorts of things he—
Mr SPEAKER: Order!
Grant Robertson: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. For the second time during this question, Mr Bridges has strayed well outside the Standing Orders and has defied your ruling. You have told us on this side of the House consistently that if we defy rulings, we get thrown out. He just did that—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member is very close to also coming—[Interruption] Order! I listened very closely to both answers, and the member is right. Towards the end of the answer, Mr Bridges strayed into material that was not going to help the order of this House. I, on both
occasions, immediately ceased the Minister’s answers. But prior to that, his answer was adhering to the Standing Orders and Speakers’ rulings—prior to that.
Grant Robertson: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: A fresh point of order, Grant Robertson.
Grant Robertson: Yes. You ruled after the primary answer that Mr Bridges gave that he should not stray into material for which he is not responsible, saying that it would lead to disorder in the House. He then did that again. That is in defiance of your ruling. You have ejected someone from this side of the House today for exactly the same crime.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member is wrong, and I invite him, afterwards, to have a look at the Hansard. Both questions were quite in order. One was on the implications for the oil and gas industry. We listened to that, and when the Minister then strayed into something to do with an Opposition party’s policy, I shut it down immediately. The second question was around implications for the New Zealand economy. Again, it was answered quite in order until the Minister strayed, and the moment he strayed, I rose to my feet and stopped that answer—[Interruption] Order! I cannot continue with the points of order when the member is going to continue to talk above me. The member may well shake his head, but there is a certain decorum required in this House that when I am on my feet, members should cease interjecting, and that applies to all members in this House.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Just to be clear, can a Minister be asked for an opinion that relates to his portfolio and then go ahead and give the information to the House, indicating who actually supplied him with the information that causes him concern?
Mr SPEAKER: It is a matter of my ruling on the occasion, but it is not appropriate for any Minister. He may well be aware of alternative policies, which he can mention, but then to lead the answer into blatant criticism of the Opposition policy is not a responsibility of any Minister in this House.
Hon Annette King: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: A further point of order?
Hon Annette King: No, it is a new point of order. During the point of order, when my colleague was on his feet and there was meant to be complete silence otherwise people would be kicked out, the Leader of the House, Gerry Brownlee, interjected very loudly with: “Sit down.” So I wondered whether you heard that and whether you would be taking action.
Mr SPEAKER: I did not hear that, but—[Interruption] Order! I did not hear that—[Interruption] The same comment I have just made applies to Clare Curran. I did not hear it, but there have been numerous occasions when I have been on my feet and members from both sides of the House have continued to talk. I have asked for it to cease. I will continue to ask for it to cease, but in this particular case I did not hear the interjection, and I am not proposing to ask Mr Brownlee to leave the Chamber.
Brendan Horan: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. You said you were listening very closely. Prior to that question, did you hear the Minister refer to a candidate’s sexuality? I did and I found it outrageous.
Mr SPEAKER: No, I did not hear such an interjection, but if the member did and he takes offence, we will take the matter from there.
David Shearer: Why did the Minister jump the gun when he announced the major commercial discovery of West Coast oil byMosman Oil and Gas, the company, when the company said it was not even at the stage of economic assessment?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: No, I have not jumped the gun. I stand by everything I said—unlike Tāmati Coffey, who today has been saying the precise opposite to that of his leader, David Cunliffe.
Roading, Bay of Plenty—Hairini Link 8. BRENDAN HORAN (Brendan Horan) to the Minister of Transport: Can he assure the people of Tauranga that the Hairini Link project will include four-laning from the Cameron Road intersection to the Maungatapu and Hairini roundabouts; if not, why not?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE (Minister of Transport): The four-laning still remains a project in the National Land Transport Programme, but it is a low priority because it currently does not meet the funding cut-off. To try to sort this out, the New Zealand Transport Agency has reached agreement that State Highway 2A will be revoked and will become a local road. This is programmed to occur in the middle of next year. When this does occur, the four-laning project will become a local road, and that project will be funded from local road activity classes and subject to standard New Zealand Transport Agency funding rules for a National Land Transport Fund contribution. The council has agreed to this position.
Brendan Horan: Can the Minister explain what happened to the Prime Minister’s ironclad guarantee on 4 November 2008 of a four-lane State Highway running along Fifteenth Avenue, along Turret Road and the Hairini Bridge to the Hairini roundabout; and is this now a case of the National Party saying one thing in Opposition and doing another thing in Government?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: The programme I have just outlined and the process that is going to be put in place, with agreement with the council up there, indicates the exact opposite of the position the member is putting. I am deeply disappointed for the member that his legacy will not include this project being opened by him.
Brendan Horan: We will see on 20 September. If the bridge remains two lanes, can the Minister commit to the city’s proposal to provide a safe pedestrian cycle access walkway for pupils who attend the three large connecting schools and who are having bus services cease next year?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: If I may answer the first part of that question, it is that I think I am in the same camp as the speaker. I can see the future, and I bet I am right.
Conservation Land—Commercial Logging Operations 9. EUGENIE SAGE (Green) to the Minister of Conservation: Have any commercial logging operations started on conservation land since the Department of Conservation was established in 1987?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH (Minister of Conservation): Yes, many times. Operations of commercial forest harvesting have been authorised by my department in Northland, Hauraki Gulf, central North Island, Bay of Plenty, Wellington, Marlborough, Golden Bay, Canterbury, the West Coast, Otago, and Southland. Some of these operations are exotic trees, some are areas approved for mining where the native timber is permitted to be removed, some is where the trees pose a safety risk, and others are areas after 1987 where native forest harvesting was still permitted. There is nothing wrong with commercial timber recovery off conservation land in the right circumstances. The important fact is that under this Government, the area of native forest is growing, as is the area of public conservation land.
Eugenie Sage: Is the Minister weakening our conservation law and overturning the 27-year national consensus that we do not log native forest on conservation land, because the department is short of funding as a result of National’s $54 million cut to the Department of Conservation’s budget?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: I am all for saving live trees, but when you have a massive storm and tens of thousands of hectares are felled I cannot get the conservation idea of leaving it there to rot. The extreme green position seems to be that the bugs and slugs that want to eat the rotten timber have rights ahead of West Coasters who might want a job.
Eugenie Sage: Is the Minister saying that Emeritus Professor of Botany Sir Alan Markis wrong when he says: “Preserving and understanding natural processes, no matter how destructive, is a key reason why we have preserved these conservation forests.”?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: I know Sir Alan Mark well. He is at the extreme green end, and I do not share his view on this and on many other issues. That is because we are a balanced Government that wants to look after New Zealand’s national treasures, but we also want a strongly growing economy, something that the Greens just do not understand.
Eugenie Sage: Will the Minister rule out any further weakening of our conservation law, which for decades has prohibited logging in reserves and on conservation land, or will New Zealanders have to rally to protect our native forests from logging every time there is a big storm?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: I think New Zealanders are in a very practical space, so that when a storm kills a tree we should not prohibit New Zealanders from being able to use the timber. Only the extreme Greens go out in that space that says that a dead tree has to be protected. I further point out to the member that there are numerous examples over the last 25 years where the department has been pragmatic and has allowed the wood from such events to be used.
Tim Macindoe: What indications of support has the Minister had for the commercial recovery of timber felled in Cyclone Ita; and is he confident that he has the numbers to pass the bill tomorrow?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: I have had very strong support, particularly from the West Coast community. I have also had other support, and I thank both the United Future party and the Māori Party for recognising the unique situation on the West Coast. I have also had indications of support from New Zealand First, but my understanding is—
Rt Hon Winston Peters: No, you haven’t.
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: Yes I have. Andrew Little told me yesterday.
Hon Member: Andrew Little?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: Andrew Williams—I apologise. They are hard to distinguish, but I understand that the Labour caucus had a right row on Tuesday—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The Minister has no responsibility for that.
Hon Damien O'Connor: Will the Minister support an amendment to his legislation that will guarantee it is West Coasters who get the job opportunities and West Coast businesses that are the beneficiaries of his piece of legislation?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: I know that protectionist arguments about nations might fly, but this narrow idea—
Hon Damien O'Connor: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My question was very simple. Will the Minister support—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! What we then want is the opportunity for the Minister to answer before the member raises the point of order, but what we are going to do is—
Hon Damien O'Connor: I would just like to clarify the—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I am going to allow the member to re-ask his question. There was so much noise that it was actually difficult for me to hear the intricacies and the subtleties of the question.
Hon Damien O'Connor: Will the Minister support an amendment to his bill that will ensure that West Coast businesses and West Coast people are the beneficiaries of the jobs that he claims will come from his bill?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: It would be a nonsense for us to say that the timber can be used only on the West Coast. [Interruption] I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I cannot even hear myself think, and I am attempting to—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The question has been asked, and an answer is required, and it will be given without this level of barracking coming from my left.
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: I point out that there is a sawmill in Moutere, in the Nelson area, that could well use the timber. I have had letters from furniture makers in Auckland and Christchurch who would want to use the timber. I cannot believe the Labour Party is now going to require that
natural products be used only in their local area. It seems like an out for a very embarrassed member for West Coast - Tasman.
Student Achievement—Investing in Educational Success Programme 10. CHRIS HIPKINS (Labour - Rimutaka) to the Minister of Education: Is she satisfied that the $359 million Investing in Educational Success Programme is the most effective way to invest that money to lift student achievement; if so, why?
Hon HEKIA PARATA (Minister of Education): Tēnā koe, Mr Speaker. Yes; evidence shows that quality teaching and school leadership have the greatest in-school influence on student achievement, as the member is on record agreeing.
Chris Hipkins: What specific evidence does she have that removing great teachers from their own classrooms and replacing them with relievers, while they go off to work in other schools, will raise student achievement?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: I can refer the member to a wealth and a body of evidence up on the Ministry of Education website. We know that professional collaboration—
Chris Hipkins: Name one.
Hon HEKIA PARATA: Well, Professor Fullan has talked at length about the point of collaborating. Professor Stuart McNaughton has talked about how to raise achievement in difficult areas. We have evidence, in the best evidence synthesis, that says in a meta-analysis of 800,000 pieces of evidence the two biggest in-school effects are quality teaching and quality leadership.
Chris Hipkins: Why is she confident that the policy can even be implemented, when 69 out of 73 regional principal representatives at a recent meeting voted total no-confidence in the policy, or does she expect the applications for the new roles to materialise out of thin air?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: The president of the New Zealand Principals Federation, in reporting on that particular meeting, said that there were 72 members there, and with a show of hands they said that they felt it was unworkable. Since then they have continued to be members of the working group—
Chris Hipkins: Brilliant—69 out of 73.
Hon HEKIA PARATA: Well, Mr Hipkins, there are 52,000 people in the full-time workforce and 100,000 in the part-time workforce. We are beginning planning for negotiation with the teacher and principal unions, and we will wait for their views on that. In the meantime we have had reports of support all around the country.
Chris Hipkins: In that case, will she rule out legislating for the policy’s implementation in the event that teachers and principals vote against it during their bargaining; if not, why not?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: In response to the member for the New Zealand Educational Institute, can I say that—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! That sort of commencement of an answer will not help the order of this House.
Hon HEKIA PARATA: We will not predetermine the outcome. We are looking forward to hearing back from teachers and principals, and what we are hearing is very positive.
Chris Hipkins: Has she seen the comments by John Prescott, president of the North Otago Principals Association, who has argued that the policy will do little, if anything, to raise student achievement, and he also said it was fraught with difficulties and unworkable; if so, why does she continue to press ahead when those who are supposed to do these new jobs are clearly saying they do not think they will work?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: No, I have not seen those particular comments. But can I point out to the member—[Interruption] Those particular comments. But can I point out to the member that there will be no compulsion for people to apply for these 250 principal positions, out of a pool of 2,500; or for the 5,000 lead teacher positions, out of a pool of about 100,000; or for the 1,000 expert teacher roles, out of that same pool.
Courts and Tribunals—Reforms 11. JOANNE HAYES (National) to the Minister for Courts: What recent announcements has he made on work to modernise and improve specialist courts and tribunals?
Hon CHESTER BORROWS (Minister for Courts): The Government is working hard to modernise the way our courts and tribunals work. I announced yesterday a package of legislative changes to the 24 tribunals run by the Ministry of Justice. These reforms will update and standardise tribunal processes and powers, such as practice notes, suppression of sensitive information, and publication of decisions. These changes will give tribunals the tools they need to work faster and more transparently, and address weaknesses or loopholes in their current processes. These changes will be included in a bill I intend to introduce to Parliament later this year.
Joanne Hayes: How will these changes address delays in dealing with appeals against ACC decisions?
Hon CHESTER BORROWS: ACC appeals are handled by a specialist District Court registry and a tribunal, depending on where the case stems from. Both of these bodies face significant delays, with cases averaging over 695 days for one and over 1,100 for the other. To wait 2 to 3 years for a decision on an ACC appeal is simply not acceptable, and that is why these reforms replace both appeal avenues with a new specialist tribunal. This tribunal will apply the same substantive law as existing bodies, but will have dedicated members and improved processes and powers. The new tribunal will aim to decide cases within 250 days—an improvement of around 60 percent for most types of ACC appeals.
Joanne Hayes: What progress are other specialist courts and tribunals making towards reducing the time it takes for court cases to be dealt with?
Hon CHESTER BORROWS: Like all our courts, specialist courts and tribunals are working towards improving the speed they deal with cases, measured by the average age of active cases in the system—by 20 percent this year on the April 2013 baseline. Collectively, tribunals have already achieved a 16 percent reduction in the average age of active cases, well on track to their 20 percent target. In the specialist courts since last April, the coroners have cut 54 days off the average age of cases, the Employment Court has cut 85 days, the Environment Court has cut 64 days, and the Māori Land Court has cut 69 days. All are either at, or well on their way to, their end-of-year goals. These results are a real credit to the court staff in the judicial offices in our specialist courts and tribunals.
Climate Change Policy—Government Position 12. MOANA MACKEY (Labour) to the Minister for Climate Change Issues: Does he agree with reported moves by Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper to build an alliance with like-minded countries to dismantle carbon pricing initiatives and undermine recent efforts by United States President, Barack Obama, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions; and if not, will he rule out his Government joining such an alliance at any point in the future?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES (Associate Minister for Climate Change Issues) on behalf of the Minister for Climate Change Issues: I am aware of conflicting media reports on t+he existence of such a proposal, but the Government has seen nothing to suggest that such an alliance has been proposed.
Moana Mackey: Will his Government lobby his Australian and Canadian counterparts and encourage them to address climate change with urgency, given that the impacts of climate change are already being felt in our own backyard by our Pacific Island neighbours, who have consistently called on developed countries, including New Zealand, to do a lot more domestically to reduce emissions?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: The member misses the point. There is a conflict in the media reports as to what is actually going on here. It is a little like what we saw from the Labour Party this morning where Tamati Coffey is still continuing to insist—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! I was expecting somebody to acknowledge that the question was not even addressed, in which case I would have invited the member to ask it again.
Moana Mackey: If President Obama can make significant progress on climate change despite huge resistance from Congress, why has his Government utterly failed to do the same here, given that moves to ensure an effective price on carbon and to stop price gouging by energy companies, thereby reducing costs to businesses and households, would attract overwhelming support in this Parliament?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: The member is entirely wrong. New Zealand is respected internationally for its climate change efforts. Indeed, last week New Zealand was praised by Barack Obama as a key ally on climate change. We can get our stories straight—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order!
Moana Mackey: Does he agree with one of our Pacific Island neighbours, the Marshall IslandsVice-President Tony de Brum, who at last year’s Pacific Islands Forum said that New Zealand should be doing far more than we are currently doing, and that our 5 percent reduction target is “a joke”; if not, what action will he take to meet John Key’s pledge, signed at that forum, that New Zealand would do more domestically to address climate change?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: We do our fair share. We are the only country outside the European Union to have an emissions trading scheme. We are the only one that is comprehensive with our emissions trading scheme, including all gases. We show real leadership internationally, where we have got a comparative advantage, and domestically, of course, we also do a lot. I think of the things that I am doing as the Minister of Energy and Resources with the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority in our wider energy emissions profile. There is a lot that is going on. The member maybe should read some more of my press releases.