Questions and Answers - July 2
QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS
Education—Prime Minister’s Statements 1. Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Is he still committed to “ensuring our schools are working for all students”, and is he satisfied his Government has done enough to ensure that every child has equal access to a low-cost public education?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): Yes.
Hon David Cunliffe: Can he confirm that the amount sought by schools in so-called voluntary donations has increased by around 30 percent since he took office, and that parents are facing increasing pressure to pay these donations at a time when the education budget has been cut in real terms in four out of his six Budgets?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No, I cannot confirm that. What I can confirm is that donations make up about 2 percent of the money that schools receive. I can confirm that an additional $600 million is being granted in operational grants in the last 6 years. I can confirm that if somebody says to a school that you will get $100 a child but, by the way, the activity fee will still be applied, the parents will end up paying exactly the same as they are today.
Hon David Cunliffe: Does the Prime Minister think it is acceptable that schools are punishing the children of parents who simply cannot afford to pay these so-called donations by shaming them in ways such as giving out “donation paid” tags to children to attach to their schoolbags?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No, I do not think it is right, actually, that parents should be belittled if they cannot afford to pay a donation. But I go back to the primary point. It is one thing to say to a school “I’ll give you $100 for a child.”, but if you leave the activity fee there, all we know is that taxpayers are going to pay probably nearer $75 million in additional costs, and, by the way, parents are going to pay exactly the same, because, like a normal Labour Party policy, you have to read the fine print to work it out.
Hon David Cunliffe: Given that answer, does the Prime Minister have any proposals to limit either donations or activity fees?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: That is for the schools to set what they believe is appropriate. It would continue to be under Labour, because under “Tricky Dave” they will still be paying their activity fee.
Hon David Cunliffe: If it is parliamentary to use that phrase, would “Slippery John” like to confirm why the education budget is 2.3 percent lower today than it was when he took office, and is that why school donations have increased by 30 percent over his watch?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I would have thought that the Leader of the Opposition would be better at counting, because he is constantly having to count numbers in his own caucus. But $10.1 billion—
Hon David Cunliffe: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. In the first place, the Prime Minister had not begun to address the question. In the second place, he has no responsibility for the Labour caucus, unlike his own Minister of Foreign Affairs.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I do not need assistance—no. [Interruption] Order! On this occasion the Prime Minister did address the question by disputing the figures that the member had raised in his question. Further supplementary? [Interruption] Order! No. Order! [Interruption] Order! The member the Hon David Cunliffe raised a point of order through the answer. The Prime Minister clearly wants to add further to the answer. The answer has not, at this stage, been too long, and I invite the Prime Minister to complete his answer.
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Thank you, Mr Speaker. So going back to the primary point, this Government is spending $10.1 billion in education, more than has ever been spent on education in the history of this country.
Hon David Cunliffe: Given that answer, will the Prime Minister now adopt Labour’s guarantee of ring-fencing the real value of education investment so that New Zealand’s schoolchildren and hard-up parents are not pressured for so-called voluntary donations that have increased by a third under his watch?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: The only thing that the Labour policy is guaranteeing is that taxpayers will pay an extra $75 million and parents will pay exactly the same. The member knows that, because what will happen is every school in the country will charge more for activities. Every school in the country will look for other ways to raise money from their parents. In the end, New Zealanders will pay more.
Hon David Cunliffe: What would the Prime Minister say to the mother of two school-aged boys whom I met in Papakura who was working two jobs on a minimum wage to put food on the table for her family and cried because she faced the choice of working more hours and being worried her children would go further off the rails to pay for his voluntary school donation?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: What I would say, firstly, is that there are plenty of parents who, for financial reasons, do not make a payment towards donations, and that is totally acceptable. Secondly, what I would say to that family is that you will, under a Labour policy, pay more for your activity fee—so, in effect, you will not pay less. The third thing I would say to that hard-working woman is: “Continue, as I am sure you do, because you are in Judith Collins’ electorate, to vote National, because if you vote Labour”—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The answer is sufficient.
Government Financial Position—Forecast Debt and Measures to Address 2. CLAUDETTE HAUITI (National) to the Minister of Finance: What steps has the Government taken to turn around the Treasury’s forecast net Government debt?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): The initial forecasts of Government debt prior to the 2009 Budget showed that net Government debt would soar to over 60 percent of GDP by 2023 and never come down. Under this Government’s management, net debt is now expected to peak at 26.4 percent of GDP and fall below 20 percent by 2020. That is despite an extra $15 billion contribution to the rebuild of Christchurch. We have been able to turn round those earlier debt forecasts by spending taxpayers’ money more effectively—for instance, in education, where the extra money has gone on achieving better results, not just on maintaining spending.
Claudette Hauiti: Approximately how much less net debt does the Government expect to have on its books in the early 2020s, compared with Treasury’s projections 6 years ago?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The difference will be significant, including using money freed up from the share offer programme to invest in public assets. The Budget 2014 projections show that by 2023 net Government debt will be around 13 percent under the Government’s current policies. That is well below the forecasts from 2009, where net debt exceeded 60 percent of GDP. That means
that, in dollar terms, it will amount to around $150 billion less debt for taxpayers by 2023 under this Government’s responsible policies, compared with the policies we inherited.
Claudette Hauiti: Having successfully completed its share offers as part of its wider programme to get debt under control—
Hon David Parker: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Standing Orders require that questions are questions, not unfounded assertions.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! A correct interpretation of the Standing Orders is that a question should be a question, so I invite the member to ask the question without the lead-in comments.
Claudette Hauiti: Having completed its share offers as part of its wider programme to get debt under control, has the Government observed any changes to dividends received from the share offer companies?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Yes. The share offer programme has increased the requirement for the floated companies to perform better, and that is flowing into higher dividends than if the companies had remained in 100 percent Crown ownership. This is particularly noticeable with Genesis Energy. Despite selling just under half of the shares in the company, the Crown expects to receive nearly twice as much in dividends from Genesis Energy this year than it did in the best years between 2001 and 2012, when the Crown had 100 percent ownership. The Crown is also forecast to receive more in dividends from Genesis Energy this year as a 51 percent owner than it received in 2012, when we were 100 percent owners. So with half the ownership, it looks like we are going to get about twice the dividends. This is just one of the benefits of a very successful share-selling programme.
Hon David Parker: Could I have the same figures in respect of that other State-owned enterprise, Solid Energy?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Solid Energy is not being sold, because it is not viable to do so.
Claudette Hauiti: What other benefits has the share offer programme brought to the Government’s finances, particularly in helping to keep debt lower than it would have otherwise been?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The $4.7 billion raised through the share offer programme is meeting all discretionary capital spending over three or four Budgets. That has allowed the Government to have no new capital allowance in those years. That capital allowance would have had to be met through additional borrowing. I am pleased to see support in other fiscal packages accepting the Government’s previous measures to curb spending and control debt by using proceeds from the share offer programme to invest in new public assets. I was, I have to say, surprised to see that Labour and the Greens, having opposed the assets sales for a number of years, have budgets that rely on spending the proceeds of those sales.
Prime Minister—Statements 3. 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: When the Prime Minister said “the much more pertinent question to ask is income sufficiency. Do people have enough to live on?”, does he think that the 40 percent of all children living in poverty whose parents work have enough to live on?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: What I do know is that those families receive Working for Families. They probably receive an accommodation supplement. As we know, the 50 percent of New Zealand households who earn $60,000 or less pay approximately $2.4 billion in tax and receive approximately $7.4 billion in benefits. So what I can say is that the Government is supporting those families as best it can, and has done so over very difficult economic conditions.
Metiria Turei: Is the Prime Minister saying that children whose parents work full-time and get their full suite of entitlements from Working for Families will have incomes above the poverty threshold because of those additional payments?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: They may do. To give you an example, if somebody earned $40,000, lived in Auckland, and had three children, then the very good question to ask is what the equivalent take-home pay or equivalent earnings of their next-door neighbour are if they have no children. The answer is $73,000. So, in principle, I think the Government does give a fair degree of redistribution to those families.
Metiria Turei: Does the Prime Minister agree with the analysis from the Parliamentary Library showing that an Auckland family with two children working full-time on $15 an hour, with their full Working for Families entitlements, is still $132 a week below the poverty threshold?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No.
Metiria Turei: I seek leave to table the research from the Parliamentary Library dated 1 July 2012 provided to me, which shows—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The document has been described and it was utilised in the question. Leave is sought to table that particular paper prepared by the Parliamentary Library. Is there any objection to it being tabled? There is.
Hon David Cunliffe: On what date was he, his office, or his officials first advised of the alleged sex crime by a Malaysian diplomat, and what action did he then take?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I was advised soon after the incident took place—so that would have been at some time in the latter part of May—that there was an incident involving someone from the Malaysian High Commission. I was not given details of it or that it was a sexual offence; just that there was an issue with a member there. I was formally advised of all of the details on Saturday.
Hon David Cunliffe: Was the Prime Minister advised that New Zealand Ministers or officials may have tacitly or actively sanctioned the use of diplomatic immunity by the Malaysian Government?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No. On Saturday when I was advised that the topic was going to be in theHerald on Sunday, I was advised that New Zealand had issued a third-party notice, which is the formal notification for the fact that New Zealand wanted diplomatic immunity waived. I was advised that that was refused by the Malaysians.
Metiria Turei: Does the Prime Minister consider it acceptable that children whose parents are working full-time and earning $15—well above the minimum wage—are still living in poverty and going without the basics, or do these people just not exist for him?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Well, firstly the member was attempting to table a document that was 2 years out of date. Secondly, I haven’t denied that there are people in New Zealand who are on low incomes. What I can say is that the Government, firstly, is working very hard to support the economy so that more jobs and more opportunities can be created. Secondly, the Government invests heavily in education to allow people to move up into more highly skilled jobs. Thirdly, I go back to the basic point: the Government has invested, in the worst of economic times, to ensure those most in need continue to get Working for Families payments, income-related rents, and a variety of other support mechanisms. New Zealand has, for instance, the highest minimum wage in the OECD as an average compared with the rest of the countries. It is 50 percent of the average wage. The Government is as generous as it practically can be at this time.
Metiria Turei: In light of the research provided by the Parliamentary Library—yesterday, Prime Minister—showing that families who work full-time for $15 an hour are still $132 a week below the poverty threshold, what guarantee can he give those families and the thousands of children who live in those families that a family on $15 an hour now will be out of poverty through work within 2 years?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Well, the first guarantee I can give them is their household will not be $500 a year worse off because of the emissions trading scheme that the Green Party would bring in. I can guarantee them that they are far more likely to have a job, because under a Greens Government they would not. Thirdly, I can guarantee that family that their community would be
safer, because we are a political party that believes both in law and order and national intelligence agencies to protect those families, unlike the Green Party.
Metiria Turei: Will the Prime Minister finally take responsibility for the fact that the children of ordinary New Zealand families, both those who work and those who are out of work, are going without warm homes, without proper food, and without decent clothing because he has allowed them to fall impossibly behind and neither he nor his supposed team are working for them at all?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: The reason the member is getting no traction in the public domain with that argument is New Zealanders know it is factually incorrect. If this was a Government that, in the worst of economic times in the recession and the global financial crisis, had cut the main support mechanisms for those families, including things like Working for Families, that argument might have some traction, but in fact this Government did not do that. It borrowed the money. If this was not a Government that was working hard to ensure that New Zealand families have jobs, I could accept that argument, but in fact this Government has been very focused on that. If this Government had not insulated nearly 300,000 homes—
Dr David Clark: Where are the jobs?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Well, there will be one as Leader of the Opposition on—
Mr SPEAKER: Order!
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: This is a Government that has—[Interruption] And Grant is counting the days. Do not worry—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The answer has now gone on long enough, but it is an example of what happens when we get interjections.
Economy—Forecasts 4. Hon DAVID PARKER (Deputy Leader—Labour) to the Minister of Finance: Does he agree with Infometrics that after the Canterbury rebuild peaks, the New Zealand economy will experience a “hangover” with slow income and GDP growth?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): I agree with Infometrics’ short-term forecast of wage growth of 4 percent in the economy, the economy growing by over 11 percent in the next 3 years through to 2018, 180,000 more jobs over the next 5 years, export growth averaging 4 percent per year, private investment to remain elevated, and a declining current account deficit from 2016. However, I am more optimistic than Infometrics about long-term growth, for this simple reason: this Government learnt the lessons from the mistakes made by the previous Labour Government, particularly in respect of runaway Government spending when the economy was already growing. We are not going to increase spending by 50 percent in the next 5 years and put the export sector into recession, so we are likely to have more sustainable growth.
Hon David Parker: Does he now accept that unchecked residential housing speculation in Auckland and a narrowing of our export base shows that he has failed to rebalance the economy and is the cause of the weak growth that is forecast after rebuild peaks?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: No. On the contrary, I think the export sector has put in a very impressive performance, where, even with a relatively high currency—in fact, I think, the highest 5-year average since the Second World War—it has continued to grow and be profitable, and New Zealanders have had the strongest Kiwi dollar, which can buy more goods than it has been able to in a generation. So I simply do not agree with the member.
Hon David Parker: Does he agree that ongoing and increasing inequality in New Zealand, including the lowest homeownership rates in 50 years and income gaps widening between wealthy and poorer suburbs in Auckland, makes the economy unbalanced and out of whack, which means it does not perform as well as it could for everyone?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: No. As the member will know, he is wrong about the facts. Income inequality in New Zealand is not increasing on any measure. Across the country, income inequality is not increasing. As for everyone benefiting from the economy, that is why the Government had its
$500 million families package in the Budget. But as we have small surpluses, we want to make sure everyone can benefit from a stronger economy.
Hon David Parker: Well, then, does he agree with the chief executive officer of that far-left institution Goldman Sachs that increasing economic inequality destabilises society, or does he agree with Warren Buffett that income inequality, which is rising around the world, including in New Zealand, is a drag on economic growth?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Goldman Sachs is not well known as an expert on inequality, and certainly its comments may be applicable to the United States of America, but they are not applicable to New Zealand, where the regular statutory reports set up by the previous Government demonstrate that it is not the case that the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. Income inequality is flat to slightly falling over the last 15 years.
Tim Macindoe: What steps is the Government taking to lock in the gains for the long term from New Zealand’s current growth?
Hon David Parker: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. It is another of those questions that contains an erroneous and incorrect assertion that should not be in a question, according to the Standing Orders.
Tim Macindoe: My question is quite deliberately linked to the primary question and is simply asking what steps the Government has taken. That is not an assertion; that is a question.
Hon David Parker: Speaking to the point of order—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order!
Hon David Parker: —there is a loaded statement in the question about locking in gains—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Before the member takes his point of order, I was just trying to get silence from behind him so I could actually hear it.
Hon David Parker: If the question was as the member just recounted, that would be OK, but it was not. It included a loaded assertion that, plainly, we disagree with on the other side, and it should not be in a question.
Mr SPEAKER: This close to an election I am not surprised that there are issues of difference between the two sides. I will listen to the question again. As I heard it the first time before it was interrupted, in my mind it was likely to be in order, but I will hear it.
Tim Macindoe: What steps is the Government taking to lock in the gains for the long term—
Hon Members: What gains?
Tim Macindoe: What steps is the Government taking to lock in the gains for the long term from New Zealand’s current growth?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Mr Speaker—
Grant Robertson: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I will hear from Grant Robertson.
Grant Robertson: I was waiting to see whether you ruled on whether or not that question was in order. It clearly includes assertions and statements that are not statements of fact. I am also wondering why the member Mr Macindoe said that it related directly to the primary question, which was specifically about Infometrics and its opinions, and I am not sure that the supplementary question is in order at all.
Mr SPEAKER: No, I need no further assistance. This is getting to the stage where it is getting a bit silly. The member Mr Grant Robertson says it is not related to the primary question. When I consider where the question subsequently went to and the answers, there is no doubt that this is a question about the economy in the future, and therefore it is in order in that regard. I do not think this is a question that is out of order in any way, and I invite the Hon Bill English to answer it.
Hon BILL ENGLISH: There are plenty of steps, but I am not surprised that 170,000 more jobs and higher incomes are irrelevant to the Labour Party, when you compare that to moa hunting. The Government is focused on further long-term investment in infrastructure—we will continue with that programme—continuing to grow and refine our skills development process, so more young
people arrive in the labour market ready to work in the skilled jobs of the future; and also dealing with, for instance, the balance of environmental and economic opportunities in our agricultural sector, through the freshwater framework. These are just a few of the steps we are taking to lock in gains, and I think they are more important than hunting moa.
Family/Whānau Violence—Initiatives to Address 5. SCOTT SIMPSON (National—Coromandel) to the Minister of Justice: What justice initiatives has she announced to address family violence in New Zealand?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS (Minister of Justice): Today the Prime Minister, Minister Tolley, Minister Turia, and I announced a cross-Government approach to address the unacceptable rate of family violence in New Zealand. We will establish a Chief Victims Advisor to the Minister of Justice, test an intensive case management service for high-risk victims, establish a nationwide home-safety service to help victims who want to leave a violent relationship, review the Domestic Violence Act, explore options to allow prosecutors to comment on the failure of an offender to give evidence, explore the possibility of a conviction disclosure scheme, and offer more GPS monitoring of high-risk family violence offenders and mobile safety alarms for high-risk family violence victims. Research shows that 6 percent of victims experience 54 percent of violent crime. Better protecting victims of family violence will have a significant impact on reducing family violence in New Zealand.
Scott Simpson: How will the justice sector initiatives complement the social sector initiatives announced today?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: This Government is committed to doing more to end family violence. Justice sector and social sector agencies have been working together to develop programmes that improve the way offenders and victims are dealt with in the justice system and that also change attitudes and support communities to reject family violence. The Hon Tariana Turia as Associate Minister for Social Development has announced initiatives to mobilise and support communities, strengthen support for young people’s healthy relationships, raise awareness of and change attitudes and behaviours towards family violence, develop an integrated approach to early interventions for alcohol and drug addiction and family violence, and review the current arrangements for the delivery and funding of domestic violence programmes.
Scott Simpson: How will the position of the Chief Victims Advisor to the Minister of Justice function?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: I have considered models of victims commissioners overseas and I have decided that the best model for New Zealand is to have a Chief Victims Advisor to the Minister of Justice, modelled on the highly successful Chief Science Advisor to the Prime Minister. The Chief Victims Advisor will ensure that the Minister is informed of the needs and views of victims. The Victims Centre, based in the Ministry of Justice, will continue to operate as the agency responsible for coordinating victims’ support and victims’ grants. It will also promote the new Victims Codes. The Chief Victims Advisor will be expected to have a close relationship with the Victims Centre.
Andrew Little: Why will the Minister not consider suggestions from the Law Commission to change trial procedures in sexual violence cases so that victims are afforded more protection, rather than having defendants treated as guilty until proven innocent, which her proposal to allow an adverse inference if a defendant elects not to give evidence would lead to?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: Well, I completely disagree with that member’s assertion about the effect of an adverse inference being able to be drawn from a defendant who sits and listens to a victim having to state what has happened to them and be cross-examined, and then sits there and says nothing. That is actually something that has been brought into the UK for some years, which, from the comments of judges and others to me, has been highly successful.
Hon Anne Tolley: How will the trialling of mobile safety alarms help police provide better protection to victims of domestic violence?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: Some high-risk victims currently have safety alarms installed in their homes. However, we know attacks often occur outside the home. Mobile safety alarms in the form of a bracelet or other device that can easily be carried or worn by a family violence victim are a much more effective tool to improve the safety and peace of mind of those who may be at risk. New Zealand Police will trial updated safety alarms, including mobile alarms with GPS technology, that may be used anywhere with a cellphone signal. This trial will run for 2 years from early 2015.
Carol Beaumont: Why was the leading NGO in the domestic violence sector, the National Collective of Independent Women’s Refuges, not consulted or even briefed about the justice initiatives announced today?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: There are actually many very significant and leading advocates in this area. It is very important, as a Government that has worked with these agencies over many years, that having received their views, we now come out with our policy.
Grant Robertson: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Sorry, I can see that you are not looking forward to the point of order, but the question asked by Carol Beaumont was specifically about the National Collective of Independent Women’s Refuges. The Minister did not address that part of the question.
Mr SPEAKER: No, I am sorry, but the Minister did. The question asked about why—in the opinion of the asker—the leading NGO was not asked, and the Minister responded immediately by saying that there are a number of organisations involved. On that basis, I am ruling that the question was addressed.
Diplomatic Incident—Briefings 6. DAVID SHEARER (Labour—Mt Albert) to the Minister of Foreign Affairs: When did he first become aware of allegations that led to a Malaysian diplomat being charged with assault with the intent to commit rape and burglary, and what actions did he take?
Hon MURRAY McCULLY (Minister of Foreign Affairs): On Saturday, 10 May I was advised that on 9 May a Malaysian diplomat had been arrested in relation to alleged serious offences and that the ministry had formally requested that diplomatic immunity be waived in order for charges to be proceeded with. This advice was provided to me because of the prospect of media inquiries. No steps were called for from me. The prosecution was a matter for the police, and the immunity issues were dealt with by the protocol division of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
David Shearer: Is the Malaysian Foreign Minister correct in asserting that Malaysia was willing to waive diplomatic immunity to allow the diplomat to face trial in New Zealand and enable a young New Zealand woman to receive justice; if so, why did he not take him up on that offer?
Hon MURRAY McCULLY: I have both seen the reported remarks of the Malaysian Foreign Minister and spoken to him last night, and it is his position that his Government would be prepared to consider providing immunity. I have indicated to him that that was a matter for the New Zealand—
Hon Members: Waiver.
Hon MURRAY McCULLY: Sorry?
Hon Members: Waiver.
Hon MURRAY McCULLY: Oh, sorry—a waiver. That is a matter for the New Zealand Police to consider. I want to make it also very clear that, having been provided with advice on 10 May, I was not aware that the immunity that was sought had not been waived until Friday of last week.
David Shearer: Does he feel that his contradiction of the Malaysian Foreign Minister’s account of offering to waive immunity in front of the world’s media and then his blaming his officials for his lapse has damaged New Zealand’s excellent relationship with Malaysia?
Hon MURRAY McCULLY: No. I can report that New Zealand’s relationship with Malaysia remains robust and strong. Until I saw Minister Anifah’s remarks yesterday, I had no reason to believe that the information provided by officials to both me and the Prime Minister was incorrect. It was only when I saw Minister Anifah’s comments that I decided to undertake further inquiry, to see how he had been under the impression that the outcome that occurred here was acceptable to the New Zealand Government.
David Shearer: Given that the diplomat charged had been home in Malaysia for over 6 weeks when the story broke, is it not true that if this issue had not been raised by the media, he would have quietly swept it under the carpet and never mentioned it?
Hon MURRAY McCULLY: If the member is suggesting that it would have been very desirable indeed for the ministry to have told me that the waiver of immunity sought had not been granted, then I very strongly agree with him. I did not know until last Friday. I should have been informed.
David Shearer: Given, according to the Prime Minister today, that he did not formally advise the Prime Minister earlier than last Saturday about the alleged assault by the Malaysian diplomat, does he not think that he has failed in his duties as a Minister of Foreign Affairs and to the young woman concerned?
Hon MURRAY McCULLY: I have made clear to the media today that I think there are two respects in which this matter is unsatisfactory. Firstly, what should have been a clear and unambiguous communication of New Zealand’s desire to see the immunity waived seems to have been clouded by some informal communications, which I saw for the first time last night, and I have asked the chief executive to look into those matters in an appropriate way. With regard to the advice to the Prime Minister and to me, it was incomplete. The advice that we had given to the news media and the New Zealand public was incomplete for that reason, and I have taken that matter up separately as well.
Family/Whānau Violence—Support for Victims 7. MARK MITCHELL (National—Rodney) to the Minister of Corrections: What recent announcements has she made on how technology can be used to better protect victims of domestic violence?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY (Minister of Corrections): Today the Prime Minister, the justice Minister, Minister Turia, and I announced that the Government will be introducing new legislation enabling a greater number of high-risk domestic violence offenders to be subject to GPS monitoring. Unlike offenders released on parole, current legislation prevents the Department of Corrections from electronically monitoring offenders who have served a sentence of under 2 years in prison or who are serving a sentence of intensive supervision, even if they are considered a high risk to their victims. The changes outlined today mean that the Department of Corrections will be able to apply to the court to use GPS to monitor high-risk offenders serving these sentences, enabling the department to better manage these dangerous criminals and provide a greater level of protection to victims.
Mark Mitchell: How will GPS monitoring protect victims of domestic violence from their offenders?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY: Offenders on GPS monitoring are subject to strict conditions that limit their movements. Each offender has exclusion zones established, where they cannot enter. For an offender convicted of domestic violence, this could include an exclusion zone around the victim’s home or around the place of work, or perhaps both. Offenders on GPS are under 24-hour monitoring, and if they enter an exclusion zone an alarm is sent to the monitoring team. This allows immediate action to be taken, including the assistance of police, if necessary. The Department of Corrections currently uses GPS monitoring for high-risk violent and sexual offenders on parole, including a few who have been convicted of domestic violence. The changes announced today will allow this cutting-edge technology to be expanded to a greater number of dangerous criminals.
Diplomatic Incident—Briefings 8. JAN LOGIE (Green) to the Minister of Foreign Affairs: Was he made aware of the wishes, if any, of the woman at the centre of the assault with intent to rape charges laid against a Malaysian diplomat, regarding his return to Malaysia; if so, when?
Hon MURRAY McCULLY (Minister of Foreign Affairs): No, but it is the longstanding policy of the New Zealand Government to formally request the waiver of diplomatic immunity conferred by the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations in such cases.
Jan Logie: Why was the first question he asked of officials not about whether the woman wanted the alleged offender to face trial here, and does he agree that his failure to consider her early on contributed to officials allowing Malaysia to extricate the man, thus potentially denying the complainant justice?
Hon MURRAY McCULLY: It is, I think, a presumption in New Zealand’s policy of seeking the waiver of diplomatic immunity that victims will want to see this matter and other matters brought to trial in this country. That is the whole basis of our policy. With regard to this particular case, I was not kept up to date with the developments that occurred when the Malaysian Government responded to the request.
Jan Logie: Was this issue not of an important enough nature that the Minister would remember to follow up and ask what happened?
Hon MURRAY McCULLY: As I made clear in an answer to an earlier question, matters relating to prosecutions are for the police. The issues around the waiver of diplomatic immunity are for protocol officials to transact. I think the day when we see Ministers getting involved in the prosecution process or the immunity waiver process will put us on a very slippery slope.
Jan Logie: Since the victim told the police from the start that she wanted the man prosecuted in New Zealand, will the Minister immediately request an extradition of the alleged offender so that she does not have to go to Malaysia to give evidence, which the police have told her might be her only chance to see justice done?
Hon MURRAY McCULLY: Firstly, I sought and received an assurance from the Malaysian Foreign Minister that the board of inquiry process, which is effectively a court martial in Malaysia, would receive all of the material provided by New Zealand Police based on their interviews with the victim, which is something that I welcomed.
Hon Phil Goff: What about the extradition? Are you seeking an extradition? You were asked that question.
Hon MURRAY McCULLY: I am sorry. I should have answered that question. The matter of extradition is not one for the Foreign Minister or any other Minister. It is a matter for the police to follow up, and I have drawn this matter to the attention of the police so that they can consider that course of action.
Health Services—Taranaki 9. JONATHAN YOUNG (National—New Plymouth) to the Minister of Health: What investments has the Government made in health services for Taranaki?
Hon TONY RYALL (Minister of Health): Last week we opened the new $80 million clinical building at the Taranaki Base Hospital. With six new operating theatres this new facility will help meet the current and future needs of the region and make it easier for Taranaki residents, and the district health board will be able to provide more hip, knee, and other elective surgery for the community. The new development will ensure that the 109,000 people living in Taranaki continue to receive better, faster, and more convenient health care into the future.
Jonathan Young: What other investments has the Government made in regional health services?
Hon TONY RYALL: The Government has established a very strong programme of regional investment in public health facilities. In the last 6 years we have spent around $1 billion on projects
for district health boards, including an $83 million revamp of Rotorua Hospital, $67 million at Whakatāne Hospital, $41 million at Whangarei Hospital, a $27 million east wing redevelopment at Tauranga Hospital, and, of course, we have recently announced the $67 million new Grey Base Hospital on the West Coast.
Schools—Funding 10. CHRIS HIPKINS (Labour—Rimutaka) to the Minister of Education: Is she satisfied that schools receive sufficient funding to deliver the New Zealand curriculum?
Hon HEKIA PARATA (Minister of Education): Yes. The Government is fully funding the delivery of the school curriculum. Over the last 6 Budgets we have increased operational grants by more than $600 million, which has been in line with inflation, and which is made as a cash grant to schools for them to use as they decide. The Government is now investing $10.1 billion in Vote Education—the highest ever. We have also invested nearly $700 million in digital learning infrastructure, and this year a further $284 million in new school buildings. Parents have paid extra when they particularly want something different and on top of the curriculum as part of their children’s schooling, and that is a conversation that parents should have with their boards. School donations are not compulsory. If a school community does not agree a donation should be requested, then parents can make their voices heard. If they decide they do want it, it is unreasonable for other taxpayers to foot the additional bill.
Chris Hipkins: Has she discussed the matter of school donations with the Minister of Finance, Bill English, who claimed in Opposition that without parental donations schools were screwed, and who has done absolutely nothing as Minister of Finance to do anything about it?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: I have had several very helpful discussions with the Minister of Finance about what we are doing in education, and over the last 3 years—and certainly over 6 years—we have seen that budget increase from $7.5 billion to $10.1 billion.
Chris Hipkins: Why have parental donations to schools gone up to nearly $100 million a year under this National Government if the funding is keeping pace with the rising costs of educating kids?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: Parents are highly aspirational, and, as reported by schools themselves, the donations that are made across the country amount to 1.8 percent of all funding into schools.
Chris Hipkins: Has she seen the comment from former Principals’ Federation president Paul Drummond, who stated: “No school is collecting donations to make money. They have to balance their expenditure … donations are critical and the margins for schools are tight. Their discretionary spend is becoming less discretionary and more necessary.”; if so, why, after 6 years in office, has the National Government done nothing to ease the pressure on schools seeking supposedly voluntary donations from parents?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: I have not seen that particular comment by Mr Drummond, but I cannot see how raising Vote Education from $7.5 billion to $10.1 billion—the highest ever—constitutes doing nothing, according to that member’s numeracy.
Chris Hipkins: Has she seen the comments from Mount Maunganui College principal Russell Gordon: “Donations are important because they help us bridge the gap. For example last year we spent over $160,000 on computer technology and the government only paid $30,000 of that. We are living in a world where students live and breathe technology so they have to have a modern learning environment.”; if so, once again, why are parents being asked to stump up more and more of that money while the Government does nothing about it?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: I have not seen that particular comment either, but what I do know is that we have invested—
Chris Hipkins: She doesn’t read much.
Hon HEKIA PARATA: Well, I do not spend my time trawling newspapers; I spend it looking at the evidence, and what the evidence says is—[Interruption] Yes, I am sorry that that is a surprise
to members of the Opposition. That is why we have spent $700 million—$700 million—on digital technology infrastructure alone. We have already got nearly 500 schools connected, and all the rest that wish to be connected will be by 2016. That is the best any Government has ever done in investing in and raising technology across the board for all schools. I am proud of us.
Food Labelling—Health Star Rating 11. KANWALJIT SINGH BAKSHI (National) to the Minister for Food Safety: What recent announcements has she made regarding food labelling?
Hon NIKKI KAYE (Minister for Food Safety): Last week I was pleased to announce New Zealand’s intention to adopt a new Health Star Rating food labelling system. The voluntary system has been developed as part of the Australian and New Zealand Ministers’ food forum and will help New Zealanders make healthier food choices. The system uses up to five stars to indicate the level of nutritional value of a food product. It will be able to be used on packaged food products for retail sale in New Zealand. Today we have announced the launch of an online star rating calculator tool and style guide through the Ministry for Primary Industrieswebsite. I have been very pleased with the companies that have indicated they are going to adopt this system.
Kanwaljit Singh Bakshi: What are the benefits of having voluntary food labelling such as the Health Star Rating system?
Hon NIKKI KAYE: There are a number of benefits for consumers and businesses. Having nutritional information on the front of packaging will make it easier for busy shoppers to make healthier choices. Overall nutritional ratings will also enable shoppers to choose healthier products and compare them with similar products. This system will also encourage companies to reformulate their products to make them healthier. That is good for New Zealand.
Kanwaljit Singh Bakshi: What responses has she seen to the introduction of the Health Star Rating food labelling system?
Hon NIKKI KAYE: I have seen significant support as a result of this announcement. The Heart Foundation has said that the star rating system “provides a ‘win win’ situation for public health organisations, consumers and food industry groups.” I have also seen a supportive statement from the New Zealand Food and Grocery Council saying: “The star rating system on food packaging will be another important guide to make it easier for shoppers to identify more healthy choices,”. I am also very pleased to see that Sanitarium has announced its intention to adopt the new system across its entire product range, and it is my understanding that several other major food production companies are also considering adopting this system.
Earthquake Commission—Claims on Multi-unit Dwellings 12. DENIS O’ROURKE (NZ First) to the Minister responsible for the Earthquake Commission: Is he satisfied with the progress of the Earthquake Commission in the settlement or disposition of all claims in respect of multi-unit dwellings, arising from the Canterbury earthquake; if so, why?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE (Minister for Canterbury Earthquake Recovery): I thank the member for his question and recognise him as one of Parliament’s foremost experts on multi-unit dwellings. The Earthquake Commission has worked through 21,000 dwellings in multi-unit buildings. Of these, two-thirds have been resolved, including 4,100 repaired under the Canterbury Home Repair Programme. For almost all of the remaining properties, the commission has a detailed clear path to settlement. Seventy-two of the most complex properties are being managed in conjunction with the insurers, to determine the best way to repair entire buildings where some claims are with insurers and some with the Earthquake Commission. The problem has largely occurred through neglect of conveyancers over years to recognise the importance of body corporate rules.
Denis O'Rourke: Can the Minister tell us what proportion of all of the claims relating to multi-unit dwellings have been settled or completed?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: Two-thirds.
Denis O'Rourke: Where the units of individual owners in multi-unit dwellings are assessed by the Earthquake Commission as being under the $100,000 cap but the damage claimed is greater than this, and when the cost to repair the building as a whole may exceed the total of the Earthquake Commission’s assessed damage for all individual units together, why in so many cases is the commission resisting a realistic total sum for repairs?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: The Earthquake Commission is an insurer just like any other insurer, and when you get situations that would see damage on one side of a party wall under the cap but damage on the other side of the wall over the cap, in recognition that in order to repair the under-the-cap property you have to damage further the over-the-cap one, naturally there is going to have to be an unders and overs arrangement between the Earthquake Commission and all of the insurers. In many cases, inside a single multi-unit block there will be multiple insurers. The member knows this; it has been explained to him many, many times.
Denis O'Rourke: What does the Minister say to the people who are caught in the trap of an inadequate offer by the Earthquake Commission, where it insists that units are under the cap, and who are then expected to pay tens of thousands of dollars to engineers and assessors to do the commission’s job for it as well as pay lawyers’ fees and other costs in order to get the Earthquake Commission to acknowledge its real liabilities?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: That is an interesting proposition to put to us, but I want to explain it to the member like this. Where there are a number of units all joined together but with separate letterboxes, there may be separate insurance bills going into each of those letterboxes, and there will therefore be separate contracts on each of those properties. Where the Earthquake Commission has a liability less than $100,000, those properties can go into the repair programme, and 4,100 of them have done so, so far. So what the member is outlining is a situation that should not exist. If he has details of those properties, let us know.
Denis O'Rourke: What actions has the Minister taken to ensure that a rigorous quality control regime is in place so that the assessments relied upon by the Earthquake Commission are fair and realistic for multi-unit buildings?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: If they were not fair and realistic, then they would be progressively handed back to the commission by the private insurers. What the member is not fairly representing is that if you have, for example, a building with—as I know of in one case in Christchurch—43 units in that structure, with 13 different insurers alongside the Earthquake Commission, sometimes it is difficult to sort those things out. But I have to say that there is a cooperative atmosphere and we are getting through them. As I say, out of 21,000, two-thirds are settled and most of them have a clear path now, and there are 72 difficult properties remaining, with a lot of work going into them. I need to report to the House too that these dwellings were not even easily recognisable by the policies that they had. That failing goes straight back to the lawyers who conveyed them inappropriately.
Denis O'Rourke: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. That is a very long answer but it does not even get close to answering—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] The member can resume his seat. The question was also quite a long question and it has been addressed by the Minister. Does the member have a further supplementary question?
Denis O'Rourke: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. You did not allow me to ask—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! The member will be lucky to stay for the balance of the afternoon. The member raised the issue about whether the question had been addressed. I have concluded quite clearly that the question was addressed. I am inviting the member, if he has a further supplementary question, to ask it now; otherwise, we will move on.
Denis O'Rourke: Why was the Earthquake Commission not better prepared before the earthquakes so that the complex issues around multi-unit dwellings could be promptly and fairly dealt with when an earthquake, such as that which devastated Christchurch, occurred?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: If the Earthquake Commission had had just one cover on a multi-dwelling property, that would be a fair proposition. But, as the member knows, as these properties have been conveyed from one owner to another over a period of years, body corporate rules have been ignored by the legal fraternity. Multiple insurers have coverage, and therefore there are multiple Earthquake Commission claims on a single property. That is exactly the problem we are trying to work through. It is typical of a lawyer to just tell us what is wrong and forget about the fact that lawyers were largely responsible for the problem.
Hon Ruth Dyson: Will he give a guarantee to the people of Canterbury that they will not be forced to accept a disputed cash settlement imposed so that the Earthquake Commission can meet his deadline that all claims will be resolved by the end of this year, and does he still stand by that deadline?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: There is every effort being made to reach settlement on claims. At the moment, as the member knows, all claims under $15,000 are cash-settled. People have an option, where their claims are between $15,000 and $20,000, to go into the Canterbury Home Repair Programme, but many people, with the encouragement of a lot of other leaders in the community, are going to private providers. You see the ads in the paper almost every day. Those people are choosing to cash out, but my information is that no one is being forced to accept a cash settlement.