Questions and Answers - July 1
QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS
Prime Minister—Statements 1. Dr RUSSEL NORMAN (Co-Leader - Green) to the Prime Minister: Does he stand by all his statements?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): Yes.
Dr Russel Norman: Does he stand by his statement in relation to the Ruataniwha Dam that “there’s quite a bit of debate about the science ...”; if so, is the debate that he is referring to being generated by other scientists or is the debate being generated by Federated Farmers?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: In answer to the first part of the question, yes.
Dr Russel Norman: Well, with regard to debating the science, does he agree with the statements by Associate Professor Russell Death that “More pollutants, lower water quality, it’s not rocket science.”, or by Professor David Hamilton that “ ‘business as usual’ will not get us over the line ...” on water quality, or is it that he wishes to dispute the statements of Dr Mike Joy that the “Impacts on fresh water from dairying have definitely got worse ...” in the last 3 years?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Well, some of those statements have an element of truth in them, but there is a range of particular views from the scientific community, and we will see how the thing plays out.
Dr Russel Norman: Well, with regard to the range of views, when he said on the BBC’s HARDtalk programme 3 years ago that he could find another scientist to state that intensive agriculture is not polluting our rivers, how is that going, and can he tell us the names of these other scientists?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Well.
Dr Russel Norman: Can he tell us the names of those other scientists?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: There would be a range of people who would indicate that you can actually increase agriculture and do it in an environmentally balanced way.
Dr Russel Norman: Does the Prime Minister agree with the Otago Regional Council, which stated that his Government’s water-quality rules misapply the science and would result in water bodies that are not only unsafe for swimming or for letting your dog swim in but are potentially toxic and unsafe for stock to drink from?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No.
Dr Russel Norman: Is the reason that his Government is repeatedly rejecting the scientific evidence when it comes to Māui’s dolphins, polluted rivers, or climate change that the scientific evidence conflicts with his economic agenda of more oil, more cows, and more motorways?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: In answer to the last part of the question, no.
State-owned Assets, Sales—Allocation of Proceeds 2. JOHN HAYES (National - Wairarapa) to the Minister of Finance: What progress is the Government making in allocating proceeds from its share offer programme to pay for new public assets through the Future Investment Fund?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): The Government continues to make good progress in investing almost $4.7 billion from its share offer programme into new public assets. We are able to invest this money without having to borrow more from overseas lenders. At the weekend the Prime Minister and Minister Brownlee confirmed that $212 million from the Future Investment Fund will be invested in 14 important regional State highway projects around New Zealand. That is on top of the $360 million that we have already proposed for regional roads across New Zealand. This investment will continue to build on the Government’s extensive investment in vital infrastructure, which includes ultra-fast broadband, schools, hospitals, roads, and rail, and more of it will be financed from the Future Investment Fund.
John Hayes: How will the latest investment in regional roads meet the objectives set for using capital raised from the Government’s share offer programme?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: This investment follows through on the logic of the sales, where the Government sold shares to investors, the investors passed cash to the Government, and now we have the opportunity to invest that cash. As the Prime Minister said at the weekend, the investment in regional roads is a perfect example of money from the share floats being invested for the benefit of New Zealanders, its economy, and its families. The 14 projects are spread across the country from Otago to Northland, from the West Coast to the East Coast.
John Hayes: What other investments in new public assets has the Government confirmed using proceeds from the share offer programme?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: As the House is now familiar with, there is $4.7 billion of proceeds from the share offer programme. In Budget 2014 the Government confirmed a further $1 billion of new investment. This included $200 million for health, including $67 million for the new Grey Base Hospital on the West Coast. This took health spending from the Future Investment Fund to $684 million. It also allocated $172 million to education, including the upgrade and replacement of schools in Canterbury. KiwiRail received another $198 million. All up, the $1 billion allocated from the fund in Budget 2014 brought the total allocated to almost $3 billion, which left nearly $1.7 billion in the fund for new public assets over the next couple of years without having to borrow more money.
John Hayes: What reports has he seen supporting the Government’s approach to investing proceeds from the share offer programme in new public assets?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I have seen reports from an unlikely source: an alternative budget that was issued in the last week or two. The reports indicate that this alternative approach to the Government’s finances will continue the current Government’s approach of using proceeds from the share offer programme. The Opposition budget includes the $4.7 billion proceeds from the asset sales being spent on public assets, which was rather a surprise given that they had spent 4 years vigorously opposing the policy.
Education, Minister—Confidence 3. Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does he have confidence in the Minister of Education and all of her decisions?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): Yes.
Hon David Cunliffe: Did the Prime Minister agree with the decision in 2011 to increase class sizes, which was heavily criticised for cherry-picking research, misinterpreting findings, and the Government deliberately ignoring conflicting studies?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: By definition yes, because it went through Cabinet. The view taken was that a small increase in class sizes with money used to lift professional development at a time when the country was cash-strapped would deliver better results for New Zealand children.
Hon David Cunliffe: In light of that answer, when he announced his teacher bonuses and part-time principals policy to try to recover lost ground in education, did he expect it to be received as unworkable and lacking direct benefit for children, and so bad that teachers and principals were actually willing to turn down pay rises of up to $40,000 a year?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: We all know that the member has been working with the New Zealand Educational Institute and was very miffed when we came out with our announcement prior to them getting a chance to announce theirs. But if we go back and look at that announcement, it is $359 million aimed at keeping the very best teachers in their classroom, aimed very much at making sure that expert principals can go out there and lend a hand to other organisations, and aimed at making sure that the very best teachers can get greater progression in their careers. That is why the Post Primary Teachers Association and other unions are supporting it. I might add that all of the unions came with the ministry when it went on a number of tours to look at this in cities where it has been very, very effective.
Hon David Cunliffe: In light of that answer about the importance of quality, does he agree with ACT leader, Jamie Whyte, that schools should be like supermarkets; and what will be the special of the week at these expensive, State-subsidised, supermarket shop-ins?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I have absolutely no doubt what the special will be. It will be a moa burger.
Hon David Cunliffe: Has the Prime Minister sought adequate funding for education when parental donations to schools have increased by 30 percent under his Government so that parents are having to shell out tens of millions of dollars every year for the cost of their kids’ education?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: This year the Government has allocated $10.1 billion for education, a record in the history of New Zealand. I do not want to remind the member, but the last time members opposite were in Government there were donations being made by parents back then, just as there are today.
Hon David Cunliffe: I am sure he believes that if he looks after the pennies, the pounds will look after themselves. Does he therefore stand by his decision to transfer responsibility for the Novopay debacle from Hekia Parata to Steven Joyce given that she could not fix it and he could not either?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I know what she did do and that was to inherit it from Labour. Actually, I think we would all agree that Mr Joyce has done an outstanding job in a very difficult situation, resolving those issues across the country. I guess that back in the days when moas walked around New Zealand there were not computer systems to pay teachers. Nowadays there are, and under a National Government we are fixing that up.
Hon David Cunliffe: Does the Prime Minister stand by each of his Government’s decisions in education over the last 6 years, including increasing class sizes, introducing charter schools, the debacle over closing Christchurch schools, Novopay, and now teacher bonuses?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I think it is best summed up with a few stats. In 2008, 66.5 percent of young New Zealanders got National Certificate of Education Achievement (NCEA). Today that is 76.8 percent. Back in 2012, even, the number of Māori students with NCEA level 2 was 44.4 percent. Today it is 58.6 percent. If we look at Pasifika students we see that back in 2008, 55.3 percent of them had NCEA level 2. Today it is 71.8 percent. We know it is the same in terms of participation in early childhood education, and we certainly know, if we look at the results of students going through our tertiary facilities, that they are doing extremely well. Also, if the member wanted to spend a bit of time wandering around Christchurch, he might be surprised to find how much support there is for the Government actually spending $1 billion on new schools—
Dr Megan Woods: Oh, rubbish!
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: —than half a billion dollars on old ones. The members opposite say “Rubbish!”, so I welcome them to go to Christchurch and say they will build the old schools back, and not build the new ones. Good luck; I will see you down there at the press debate.
Transport Funding—Regional Projects 4. DAVID BENNETT (National - Hamilton East) to the Minister of Transport: What recent announcements has the Prime Minister made regarding the Government’s commitment to transport infrastructure in regional New Zealand?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE (Minister of Transport): On Sunday the Prime Minister announced an accelerated regional roading package of $212 million, which fast tracks 14 important regional projects throughout New Zealand. This is in addition to the Government’s recently announced draft Government Policy Statement on Land Transport 2015/16 - 2024/25, which includes a specific regional fund of up to $360 million over the first 4 years of that plan. Between the Government policy statement and the accelerated regional roading package, the Government is making over $3.7 billion available to local and regionally important roads in New Zealand over the next 4 years.
David Bennett: What are some of the projects included in the package?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: Although our opponents on the other side of the House are determined that these projects should not go ahead, they are projects that communities have been wanting for a very long time. One of these projects is the Normanby Overbridge improvements, which will straighten the approach road and create traffic underpasses below the rail track. Another is theŌpawa and Wairau bridges in Blenheim, where those two bridges will be replaced. Time does not allow me to extol the virtues of all 14 projects, but what New Zealanders will know is that if they want them, we are who they will vote for, not that lot.
David Bennett: What has been the reaction to this announcement?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: I think we have seen much of the reaction expected this afternoon in the House: crying and weeping from the Opposition, which is accusing the Government of pork-barrel politics, but it is a surprise—and then they say we should have funded all this out of the normal transport funding from the National Land Transport Fund. Somehow, though, if someone goes out there and builds an electrified railway network in Auckland or an electrified railway network in Wellington outside of the National Land Transport Fund, that is OK; it is not pork barrel.
Phil Twyford: Does he agree with Ken Shirley of the Road Transport Forum that the lack of analysis of these projects points to “pork-barrelled politics and just throwing money into marginal electorates. That’s the old days.”; if not, will he release the benefit-cost ratios of each of those projects or at least the polling data that he based the decision on?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: I do not agree with Mr Shirley and the statements he has made, and I am quite sure he finds himself in disagreement with the people who pay his salary. Frankly, if we want to talk about benefit-cost ratios, I will put the benefit-cost ratios up for the rail loop, and if the member agrees they are as bad as they are and is so concerned about them, I expect Labour to change its policies.
Hon Member: A living moa.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order!
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: I am not a living kiore like that guy there.
Mr SPEAKER: Order!
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: I am just telling him—I am not like the living kiore over there.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I am going to invite the member to start his question again. I hope there will not be the same level of interjection from my right-hand corner.
5. Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (NZ First) to the Prime Minister: Is the Government “working for New Zealand”; if so, does that apply to all New Zealanders?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): Yes; and yes, and that is why the Government was smart enough to support a situation where we would allow Coasters to be working, and where we would ensure that wind-blown timber was actually harvested. We are amazed that some political parties oppose that.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: If “working for New Zealand” applies to all New Zealanders, then why has the unemployment figure in this country increased by almost 60,000 people under his leadership since 2008?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: As the member will be aware, New Zealand went through the global financial crisis and the like. But our unemployment rate is 6 percent, it is on track to go down to 4.4 percent, and the participation rate is, I think, pretty much the highest in the developed world at 69.3 percent. But if the member is worried about creating jobs, then I would have thought his party would be out there supporting jobs on the West Coast of the South Island to process timber that was blown over in a natural disaster.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: How has the Government been working for New Zealand and all New Zealanders when almost one in four young Māori and Pasifika aged between 15 and 24 years of age looking for work are still without jobs?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I am glad the member asked that question, because the Government has been putting a huge—
Rt Hon Winston Peters: No you’re not.
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Well, no, I am actually delighted. The Government has been putting a huge number of resources into Māori and Pacific trade training. Actually, only last Friday I was out at WelTec visiting the Māori and Pacific trade training. What was remarkable was how well it is doing. I think 100 of its students have just gone down to Christchurch to be part of the rebuild. We are seeing an increase in the rates of Māori and Pasifika success at school. The member measures the small group of Māori youngsters who are not actually in training or employment or other forms of work.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: If the Government is working for New Zealand and if that was a fact, why is the Government expanding student visa work rights to 79,000 international students, in direct competition with Kiwi students desperately needing work to keep their student loans down?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: We know the member does not like foreigners, but I hate to point out to him that it is an industry that is worth about $2.5 billion or $2.6 billion a year to New Zealanders. We get 28,000 people employed as a result of that. If the member does not like foreigners, he should just get up and continue to talk about it and hark back.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: If the Government is working for New Zealanders, then why would National’s plan to spend over $2 million on election campaign propaganda be needed to convince New Zealanders that that is what is going on?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: We will obviously be running a campaign. I have got a feeling that actually it is going to catch on, because every single question from New Zealand First has been about our slogan—“Working for New Zealand”. So I am happy to spend a few moments talking about that if he likes—about the way the Government is working for New Zealand in creating infrastructure, making sure our health system is working efficiently, and making sure that New Zealand is delivering for this country. But if the member wants to talk about our campaign, we are happy to do that.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: If the Government is, as it claims, working for New Zealand and New Zealanders, then can he explain how export education works when 79,000 international students get to pay for a New Zealand education with income from the New Zealand economy? How does that work?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: For a start off, when people come to New Zealand as part of export education, they actually pay to be here. That is why it is worth about $2.6 billion. Secondly, there probably are a few students who come to New Zealand and who choose to work in restaurants and bars and cafes and motels and all sorts of other things. That just shows how industrious they are. But if the member would prefer that no one comes to New Zealand, then he is harking back to a day when moa used to freely walk through the forests of New Zealand. I know that is an era he looks back to with great—
Mr SPEAKER: Order!
Regional Economies—Development 6. GRANT ROBERTSON (Labour - Wellington Central) to the Minister for Economic Development: What does he consider are the core components of a regional economic development plan?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister for Economic Development): I thank the member for his excellent question. It may take a little bit of time, given he has asked for the core components. In my view, a regional economic development plan needs a number of elements. An important component is access to capital, encouraging companies to invest. That is why, for example, New Zealand Trade and Enterprise has established a new regional investment attraction programme to help regions attract new investment and take advantage of their opportunities. Another key area is skills. Right around the country the Government is investing in more closely matching the skill levels of New Zealanders with jobs in regions through our universities and polytechs, and apprenticeships and industry training. Of course, developing our natural resources is also important. That is why we are focused on reforming the Resource Management Act to make better decisions; developing our oil and gas resources; water storage and irrigation; and reforming the Maori Land Act. Infrastructure is vital as well, which is why the Government is building the roads of national significance and investing heavily in regional roading projects, as well as innovative technologies like ultra-fast broadband and rural broadband. In fact, I would say there are many key areas of a regional development plan, so, yet again, I invite the member to take a look at the Government’s Business Growth Agenda, which contains 350 initiatives across six key areas to grow jobs and growth in regions around New Zealand.
Grant Robertson: In light of that answer around infrastructure, is clear planning an important part of creating a regional economic development plan; if so, how does spending hundreds of thousands of dollars doing an upgrade to the Motu Bridge near Gisborne—an upgrade that is due to finish in the next fortnight—only to decide to fund a project that will see the newly strengthened bridge knocked down a good use of taxpayer money?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: The member makes an interesting point. That particular bridge is going to have $100,000 spent on it, which is going to keep it in shape for the next 4 years, and then the big one can be built. If the member is opposing the new bridge at Motu or repairing the existing bridge, I think that is going to be very well received in Gisborne. All of those projects that the member raises, which are a small but significant part—
Phil Twyford: Loony economics!
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Do not be talking loony economics; you have got “Mr Moa Hunter” behind you. That is loony economics.
Grant Robertson: Is Gisborne MayorMeng Foon correct when he says about the replacement of the Motu Bridge “Now they can throw that money in the drain and get a new bridge.”, and does throwing money down the drain represent National’s great regional economic plan?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I understand that that is not what the mayor said. I have been advised—
Grant Robertson: It is!
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: But again, the member needs to go to Gisborne and talk to the people there, as Mr Brownlee and I did with Mrs Tolley not very long ago, launching the East Coast
Regional Economic Potential Study. They are very keen to see those projects develop, and this Government has invested significantly in roading projects in the Gisborne region. I encourage the member to continue on with his approach, because, once again, he is showing he knows nothing about economy development.
Grant Robertson: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. In light of the Minister’s answer, I seek leave to table the comments of Gisborne Mayor Meng Foon—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I simply need to know the source of that document.
Grant Robertson: Well, the source is a media report, but he has challenged my word on this—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I am not putting the leave. The member may have further supplementary questions.
Grant Robertson: When Gerry Brownlee said that the current strengthening project would pay “instant dividends” to the local economy, can he assure the House that there will hundreds of thousands of dollars of “instant dividends” before the bridge just gets pulled down?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Let me explain to the member. This is 2014. The new bridge will be finished around 2017. So, yes, it needs to keep the existing bridge for awhile, while the new bridge is built. If the member turns his mind to that, he can see that that will be $100,000 well spent for Gisborne.
Grant Robertson: Would a core component of a regional economic development plan include developing plans to support industries that are significant to a region; if so, why has he ignored the pleas of the East Coast region that if money is to be spent on roads, it should be spent on upgrading forestry roads, as Labour has committed to in our forestry upgrade package?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I do believe that we should be encouraging the development of industries in regions, which is why this Government supported the West Coast Wind-blown Timber (Conservation Lands) Bill last week, which the Labour Party did not support. It is why this Government is unambiguously in favour of oil and gas exploration in the Taranaki Bight, where the Labour Party was like “Yeah, nah.” and was not interested in that. This Government, as I have pointed out, has 350 separate initiatives in regional economic development through the Business Growth Agenda, but I have to admit that we do not have the resuscitation of the moa project in this book at this stage, but we will look into it for the members.
Grant Robertson: Why is it that after 6 years National’s best effort on regional development is a somersault while standing on a pork barrel, and where is the support for regional initiatives that will actually grow sustainable jobs, like supporting the Mayors Taskforce for Jobs, for instance?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: The member, I am sorry, is so out of touch. This Government has supported a huge range of projects in the regions.
Phil Twyford: Struggling!
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Well, let me take you through some. Thank you—I will take the extra time. We are supporting ultra-fast and rural broadband around New Zealand; the Primary Growth Partnerships for the agricultural industry; the research and development funding for companies all over New Zealand; and New Zealand Trade and Enterprise’s regional business partners programme, which works on developing management and research and development capability in businesses around the regions. We are encouraging oil and gas exploration. Dare I say it, we are encouraging water storage and new irrigation projects, the national cycle trails, export education, and so on and so on. We have a range of projects. Mr Robertson has just platitudes.
Transport Funding—Regional Projects 7. JULIE ANNE GENTER (Green) to the Minister of Transport: Why are the regional State highway projects announced at the weekend being funded from asset sales rather than the transport budget?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE (Minister of Transport): The Future Investment Fund was created to ensure that New Zealand has high-quality productive infrastructure. The Accelerated
Regional Roading Package delivers, as announced on Sunday, high-quality infrastructure that will be of benefit to New Zealand’s regions.
Julie Anne Genter: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. This was a question on notice, and I think that the intent of the question is quite clearly to ask why the projects are not being funded from the transport budget. The Minister did not address that in his answer.
Mr SPEAKER: No, the Minister did. You ask in your question about why it has been funded by asset sales. The Minister then went on and said that the purpose was to create this fund to be used to develop quality infrastructure. The question was certainly addressed.
Julie Anne Genter: Is not the reason that the $3 billion transport budget is not enough to fund crucial regional transport projects that this Government has starved the regions to pay for its low-value roads of national significance programme?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: No, that is not true. The Government has had a considerable amount of funding going into the regions. The point that has been made over the last couple of days is that that will continue for the years to come. In actual fact, that $3 billion-plus that is going to the regions reflects an increase on what has been spent over the last few years, but it is incremental on what has been spent. So suggestions that we have cut them off and cut them short are utterly ludicrous. This is an extra that will make a difference to communities. They are roads and improvements that those communities have asked for, and this Government will deliver them. Any other Government will not.
Julie Anne Genter: I seek leave to table an update from the New Zealand Transport Agency stating that there was a moratorium on new infrastructure for State highways because of the roads of national significance.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The document has been described. I assume it is something that is not easily available to members?
Julie Anne Genter: It is not easily available. It was sent to me—
Mr SPEAKER: On that basis I will put the question for the House to determine. Leave is sought to table this particular New Zealand Transport Agency document. Is there any objection? There is none. It can be tabled.
Julie Anne Genter: Is the reason that the Government is raising the petrol tax today that it has spent so much money on its uneconomic roads of national significance programme, at a time when road use is declining; if not, why not?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: No.
Julie Anne Genter: Would the Government have had to raise the petrol tax and sell assets to pay for regional roads, given that there is a $3 billion transport budget, if it had not wasted so much money on its low-value roads of national significance programme?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: I doubt that anywhere in New Zealand where those roads of national significance are being built, or anywhere in New Zealand where these regional roads are being proposed, or anywhere in New Zealand where the $3.7 billion is going to be spent in the next 4 years there will be a majority of people who agree with the member that these roads should not progress. The first point is that the National Land Transport Fund is created by virtue of the road tax. We are making roads faster for people, more efficient for business, and safer for motorists.
Rt Hon John Key: Can the Minister confirm that one of the reasons why petrol tax has declined is that cars have become so much more fuel efficient and so much more environmentally friendly; and can the Minister also confirm whether the money that is going into roading is being spent to make our roads safer, so that fewer people die on those roads, and is that not a good thing for New Zealanders—that we have much safer roads?
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The Hon Gerry—
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. You have been at pains in recent months to abbreviate questions that are asked—supplementary questions, in particular. Why did you not act then?
Mr SPEAKER: I invite the member to go back and listen to the tape afterwards, because he will see that I did. As soon as the question went on to the third question—[Interruption] Order! As soon as the Prime Minister’s question got to the third question within a supplementary question, I decided that two were more than enough and I rose to my feet and stopped the question. I now require the Hon Gerry Brownlee to answer it.
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: Not only are vehicles becoming more fuel-efficient, the Government has moved to allow high-productivity vehicles—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I am just having trouble hearing the answer because of the interjections still coming from the Rt Hon Winston Peters. Could he cease? If he wants to have a conversation afterwards, I am happy to have it, but I would be grateful if we could have this question answered so that I could at least hear the answer.
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: Thanks, Mr Speaker. I heard the noise, and until now I did not know what a moa sounded like.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Simply answer the question.
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: Not only are vehicles becoming more fuel-efficient but also the Government has moved to introduce high-productivity motor vehicles or freight transport to try to get better efficiency out of our roads. Also, it is worth noting that if you take a road of national significance, like the Christchurch Southern Motorway, the time that it now takes to travel from well south of the city to the Port of Lyttelton is reduced by around about 25 minutes. You can only speculate about what a huge benefit that will have not only for efficiency and for the economy but also for the environment as well.
Julie Anne Genter: For the benefit of the Prime Minister, I seek leave to table evidence that vehicle kilometres travelled are falling on State highways—
Mr SPEAKER: And the source of the document?
Julie Anne Genter: The New Zealand Transport Agency.
Mr SPEAKER: Well, again that information, I assume, is on its website, or is the member saying it is not?
Julie Anne Genter: He is apparently—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The point of raising a point of order seeking leave to table a document is to inform members. If it is information freely available to members, then they will, if they want the information, source it.
Julie Anne Genter: I seek leave to table a report from MWH on the Whirokino Trestle, which is one of the regional road projects, showing that it has a benefit-cost ratio of—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The document has now been described. On the basis that it is not freely available to members, I will put the leave. It is a MWH report. Leave is sought to table it. Is there any objection? There is none. It can be tabled.
Economic Recovery—Role of Regional Economies 8. LOUISE UPSTON (National - Taupō) to the Minister for Economic Development: What reports has he received on how the regions contributed to New Zealand’s economic recovery?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister for Economic Development): Yes, I have received a variety of reports that indicate that the regions have led New Zealand’s recovery out of the global financial crisis. The recent regional GDP data released by Statistics New Zealand shows that regions like the Bay of Plenty, Gisborne, Hawke’s Bay, Nelson-Tasman, Canterbury, Otago, and Southland all experienced growth above the national average for the 5-year period from 2008 to 2013. I have also received the recent ANZ Regional Trends report, which notes that 11 regions reported growth in the first quarter of 2014. The Nelson-Marlborough economy has risen for 12 consecutive quarters, the Bay of Plenty economy has risen for nine quarters in a row, while ANZ estimates that Northland grew at 7.4 percent in the last year.
Louise Upston: What policies has the Government put in place to strengthen the regions?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: For New Zealand to build a more productive and competitive economy, we need all of our regions to achieve their potential. That is precisely what the Government’s Business Growth Agenda is all about. So here is a list of just a few of the things that we are doing to help grow jobs and investment in regions around New Zealand—
Hon Member: Where are the jobs?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: —84,000 in the last 12 months—all of which sit alongside the big investment in regional roads announced by the Prime Minister at the weekend. These include our Rural Broadband Initiative project in ultra-fast broadband, Primary Growth Partnerships, Callaghan Innovation’s research and development funding, the New Zealand Trade and Enterprise regional business partners programme—
Hon David Parker: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I had the Parliamentary Library calculate the average length of answer from Mr Joyce, because of our repeated points of order as to his breaching theStanding Orders. It is 111 words per primary answer, which is unheard of, and I seek leave to table—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I just remind members that it was a point of order. I was trying to listen to it. There was a lot of interjection coming from my right, which is unacceptable. I presume the Minister has now completed his answer?
Hon David Parker: I sought leave to table that document.
Mr SPEAKER: I would be quite interested in it. So leave is sought to table that document.
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! No. On occasions, if the member has something to relevant to ask, I will allow it, but on this occasion I think we will put the leave and then we will move on. Leave is sought to table this particular Parliamentary Library document. Is there any objection to it being tabled? There is none. I look forward to seeing it.
Louise Upston: What policies would, in his view, hold the regions back from growing strongly and delivering more jobs and more growth?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I have seen a number of policies advocated that would hold the regions back. For example, a carbon price that is five times the world price would hold New Zealand’s regions back; a capital gains tax on every productive business and farm in the country, while exempting two-thirds of residential property, would harm regional New Zealand; stopping people using wind-blown timber on the West Coast would hold that region back; rolling back reforms of the Resource Management Act would hold all our regions back; and policies that are anti-trade, anti-investment, anti - oil and gas, anti-dairy, and anti anything that develops our national resources would hold our regions back, and those—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I think we have all got the picture.
Louise Upston: What recent innovative ideas for regional development has he seen that merit closer attention?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I have seen one as late as this morning that I could only describe as genius. A gentleman has proposed the resuscitation of our extinct flightless bird known as the moa. I think this is a serious proposal that requires some examination. It shows the value of having somebody with this gentleman’s long experience around in the policy development process. He is probably the only member who can personally recall how successful—
Mr SPEAKER: Order!
Rt Hon John Key: Does the Minister feel he has expertise in this area, having a degree in zoology?
Mr SPEAKER: I will listen very briefly to the answer.
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I think I do possibly have some experience in this area, but then I think so does the person who came up with the idea, of course. With the name Mallard, he would know a lot about birds of different feathers.
Housing, Affordable—Auckland 9. PHIL TWYFORD (Labour - Te Atatū) to the Minister of Housing: Does he stand by his statement that the rate of new house builds in Auckland “is the highest it has been in years, and it shows the progress we are making”, given the average number of building consents issued for new dwellings in the last six years is 4,408 per year, compared to an average of 9,055 from 1999-2008?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH (Minister of Housing): Yes, because the 33 percent annual increase in new house builds in Auckland to May 2014 is the highest annual growth since records began in 1991. The member’s selective use of averages hides the fact that the collapse in Auckland’s new house build rate occurred between 2004, when there were 12,000 houses built, and 2008, when there were only 4,000. It is significant to note that the worst quarterly Auckland house build rates since records began in 1991 were at the end of 2008. In December 2008 there were 233 building consents in Auckland. In May, the latest figures, there was 611—i.e., treble the number last month.
Phil Twyford: Why is it, if his special housing areas are so successful, that not a single new house has been built in them that anyone is living in, and why have Auckland consent numbers dropped to 611 in the last month, including apartments, down from 697 the month before, and down on the same month last year, when Labour built twice as many dwellings when we were in Government compared with his abysmal record?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: The member is hiding the fact that there was a massive collapse in house build numbers from 12,000 a year back to 4,000 a year in Labour’s last 5 years in Government. His colleague the Labour spokesperson on finance was complaining in the House only last week that there was too big a growth in GDP and residential house builds, that it was happening too fast, and that there were too many new houses. I think that just illustrates the level of contradictions of members opposite.
Jami-Lee Ross: What steps has the Government taken this week to further help housing supply in Auckland?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: Yesterday Cabinet approved Orders in Council for 41 special housing areas. This process zones areas “residential” in 7 weeks in a process that previously took 7 years. Cabinet approved a greater area of new land for residential in 1 day than occurred in 9 years of the previous Labour Government. Let me say that again: yesterday Cabinet approved a greater area of residential land in Auckland in a single day than what members opposite approved in 9 years.
Phil Twyford: Does he stand by his statement on becoming Minister of Housing “My ambition in housing is to make the dream of home ownership a reality for more New Zealanders.”; if so, when will he acknowledge that he has completely failed with the Massey index yesterday showing that house prices and interest rates have gone up so much in the last year that affordability across New Zealand has declined by 7.6 percent, even worse in Auckland with a decline of 9.1 percent, and 10.6 percent in Canterbury—all since he became the Minister of Housing?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: I am delighted that the member has raised the Massey surveys on housing affordability so that I can give the member the figures. Nationally, housing affordability was worse in all centres in 2008. In Christchurch it has improved by 31 percent, in Auckland it is 25 percent better than what it was in 2008, nationally, it is 35 percent better than what it was in 2008, and in Wellington housing affordability is 44 percent better than what it was in 2008. I rest my case.
Phil Twyford: What is he doing to deal with the consequences of his failed housing policy in the regions where homeowners are losing equity in their homes as a result of first-home buyers being shut out by loan-to-value ratios, with Southland down by $22,000 in the last year alone while house prices continue to spiral out of control in Auckland and Canterbury?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: I note that, according to the same survey that the member wanted to quote, housing affordability in the regions is 40 percent better than when interest rates were 11 percent when we came into Government, and in the course of the 9 years of the previous Government average house prices in New Zealand doubled. So I simply ask that member to reflect on the failed policies of the previous Government that are taking time for us to work through. I just
note, for example, development contributions were changed by Labour’s legislation in 2002. It resulted in their trebling up to $60,000, although I note that Labour has now done a backwards flip—
Hon David Parker: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. We all know that the election is coming, but I thought that election speeches were meant to be for the campaign trail, not answers at question time.
Mr SPEAKER: That is not a valid point of order. [Interruption] Order! I am on my feet. The interesting thing, if the member had some time, would be to ask the library to detail the length of questions that are being asked. I would not mind that as a comparison.
Phil Twyford: Can he confirm the panicked phone call from the Minister of Local Government about an hour ago to confirm Labour’s support for the development contributions bill at its third reading; if so, why is the Government continuing to play politics with Auckland’s housing and growth like it did with the Resource Management Reform Bill?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: The more extraordinary story on both development contributions and the Resource Management Act is that the previous Labour Government spend 9 years making changes to the Resource Management Act and changes to development contributions that actually resulted in house prices doubling. Let me give a simple example. Labour removed the appeal rights on development contributions. We are going to put them back. Labour changed the Resource Management Act, which meant that regional policy statements overruled councils on issues like metropolitan urban limits, and it is as a very latecomer that Labour now accepts that its changes to the Resource Management Act and its changes to the Local Government Act were wrong.
Māui’s Dolphin—Preservation 10. GARETH HUGHES (Green) to the Minister of Conservation: Did New Zealand officials at a recent International Whaling Commission meeting in Europe agree with or disagree with the Commission’s recommendations that protection for Māui’s dolphins be granted out to 20 nautical miles from Maunganui Bluff down to Wanganui?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH (Minister of Conservation): New Zealand officials at the International Whaling Commission argued against extending the area of protection on the basis that the protections put in place by this Government were appropriate. We have doubled the area of set net ban to 6,200 square kilometres, or over 100 square kilometres per Māui’s dolphin. There have been no sightings of Māui’s dolphins outside the protected area in 809 independently observed fishing trips since.
Gareth Hughes: Well, if that is the case, why did not a single New Zealand Government representative at that International Whaling Commission meeting lodge a formal vote against the unanimous motion that more needs to be done to protect the Māui’s dolphins, or is the Minister simply contradicting his own officials and the marine scientists at that meeting?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: I spoke this morning to our officials who were at that meeting and they very clearly said that they did not support the extension beyond the existing area. If the member had attended international negotiations, he would know that it is very rare to take a vote.
Gareth Hughes: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I understand that this is a document on the public register. However, the Minister is not aware of it. The scientific committee’s report said that it was unanimously—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! That is now a matter for debate. It is not a point of order.
Gareth Hughes: What is the Minister’s response to Māui’s dolphin expert Dr Elizabeth Slooten’s description of his Government’s seismic testing measures for Māui’s dolphins as being feel good at best and a public relations gimmick with no conservation value at worst?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: I am not at all surprised by that statement of Liz Slooten. She has always opposed measures of every Government. She has no interest in New Zealand’s economic development, and if we were to take the extreme Green position, we would be shutting down the oil
and gas industry. I would point out to the member that 40 percent of New Zealand’s gas is taken from that area and the consequences for New Zealand’s greenhouse gas emissions would be enormous and negative if we shut down that gasfield.
Tim Macindoe: What records are there of Māui’s dolphin deaths caused by humans, and when did they occur?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: All of the recorded deaths of Māui’s dolphin have been fishing-related. There were four during the last Government. There was one in 2012. All of the deaths occurred in areas that this Government has protected.
Accident Compensation—Hearing Loss 11. MIKE SABIN (National - Northland) to the Minister for ACC: What changes has the Government announced about the way ACC covers claims for hearing loss?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS (Minister for ACC): From 1 July 2014 changes to the hearing loss regulations will significantly improve access to treatment for ACC clients with hearing loss. We are addressing cost barriers as well as improving competition in the market, to ensure clients with hearing loss have better access to the help that they are entitled to under the legislation. The changes include increasing choice for clients, allowing multiple repairs to each hearing aid, and increasing ACC contributions to the cost of the device. ACC will now pay separately for the hearing consultation, which means that clients will be able to shop around for the best price in hearing aids rather than having to buy where they had the initial test. It is important that clients have the option to look for the best price and service. Children will be removed from the adult regime so that their special needs as they grow and enter school can be better catered for. This is good news for people who have been injured at work, who have injury or work-induced hearing loss.
Mike Sabin: Was the hearing loss sector consulted about these changes?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: Yes. Members of the hearing loss sector were involved in workshops with ACC and jointly worked on the update to the regulations. The consulted parties include the New Zealand Audiological Society, the National Foundation for the Deaf, and six other organisations that represent providers to the sector. There was also a further targeted consultation with the sector for 3 weeks, once the proposed changes were determined. The hearing loss sector has supported the changes.
Iain Lees-Galloway: Will people like railway worker Malcolm Stone, who lost $6,000, which was 80 percent of the funding ACC had previously provided for hearing aids, as a result of National Government cuts in 2010, have all of that funding restored under the changes she has announced?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: The changes are from today. They are not retrospective.
Education, Minister—Statements 12. CHRIS HIPKINS (Labour - Rimutaka) to the Minister of Education: Does she stand by all her statements?
Hon NIKKI KAYE (Associate Minister of Education) on behalf of the Minister of Education: Yes, in the circumstances they were made, and when they have been accurately quoted.
Chris Hipkins: Does she stand by her statement that “Government is fully funding the delivery of the school curriculum.”; if so, how does she explain the fact that parental donations to schools have increased to over $100 million during National’s term in office, and some schools are now asking parents to donate as much as $600 per student per year?
Hon NIKKI KAYE: Firstly, I would just make this point: under our Government after six successive Budgets we have increased operational grants by $600 million. Donations are not compulsory. It is my advice that the amount that is given on average in terms of donations represents a couple of percentage points of the overall funding schools receive.
Chris Hipkins: Why does she claim that Government funding for education is increasing, when, adjusted for inflation and population growth, overall funding for education has fallen in four out of National’s six Budgets?
Hon NIKKI KAYE: I can confirm that, as I said before, I do not agree with the member. We have increased the education budget for six education budgets. We have now spent $10.1 billion. That is one of the highest amounts in the OECD.
Chris Hipkins: Does she stand by her statement that “My education agenda is clear and transparent and responsive.”; if so, will she now categorically rule out allowing existing State schools to convert into charter schools; if not, why not?
Hon NIKKI KAYE: A couple of things: our agenda is incredibly transparent. It is very transparent given that we have seen incredible improvements in National Certificate of Educational Achievement level results. I can say to the member that it is not our intention to adopt that policy.
Chris Hipkins: Does she stand by her statement with regard to the creation of executive principals and expert teachers: “We have had reports of support all around the country.”; if so, is she reconsidering that statement in light of a recent survey of school principals that found that 54 percent of them were opposed outright to the plan, 27 percent had concerns about the policy, and only 4 percent were actually supportive?
Hon NIKKI KAYE: I do stand by my statement. I can say to the member, as I have said to the member before, that we have a working group that has now formed an advisory group. We have said that we are consulting on this policy. But I can draw the member’s attention to, for instance, the Post Primary Teachers Association’s comments when it was incredibly supportive around this policy. Although we accept that some people around the country may have concerns, ultimately we are doing this to raise achievement and also to have proper career progression for teachers. We are very confident of this policy, and we are working well with the sector to implement it.
Chris Hipkins: Does she agree with the statement that “Governments should have no more involvement in the education business than it has in the food business.”; if not, in what particular regard does she disagree with that statement?
Hon NIKKI KAYE: I am assuming that the member is referring to ACT Party leader Jamie Whyte’s comments. I would refer him this week to his colleague who has promoted, I think, a genetically modified midget moa to roam the streets of Rimutaka. I would ask that member to consider whether he has actually consulted with the Green Party, because, as is the case, many different political parties across this House will have different views. From our perspective, we are very confident of our policy.