Questions and Answers - July 3
QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS
Economic Programme—Interest Rates 1. Hon PHIL HEATLEY (National—Whangarei) to the Minister of Finance: How will the Government’s responsible fiscal management help to ensure interest rates will remain lower than they were in the previous economic cycle?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Associate Minister of Finance) on behalf of the Minister of Finance: The Government will continue to responsibly manage its finances by being careful with its spending and focusing on delivering better results to New Zealanders. It is important that we do not allow interest rates to increase to levels seen in 2007 and 2008, when homeowners were paying almost 11 percent on their floating mortgages. That would be irresponsible. So we have stuck to our very tight operating allowances for new spending and revenue initiatives for 2014-15, and that allowance will increase marginally to $1.5 billion in the 2015 Budget. Treasury has confirmed that this is around the upper limit of new spending before it starts to materially affect interest rates, and it is well below the enormous $7 billion operating allowance under Labour in 2008.
Hon Phil Heatley: What are some of the benefits of the Government’s responsible approach to carefully managing its finances?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: There are a number of benefits. Firstly, the Government remains on track to return to fiscal surplus in the current financial year. Secondly, the latest Budget projections indicate that net Government debt—and I stress that is excluding the New Zealand Superannuation Fund—will have fallen to around 13 percent of GDP by 2023. In dollar terms that will be about $150 billion less than Treasury projected before our first Budget in 2009. Thirdly, we have been able to redirect taxpayers’ money to where it achieves the best results, such as the $500 million package for families and children, which we announced in Budget 2014. The Government’s responsible fiscal management is delivering many benefits to New Zealanders.
Hon Phil Heatley: What other examples—[Interruption] Mr Speaker, the crowds are cheering; I cannot hear myself.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Just get on with the question. Otherwise we will move somewhere else.
Hon Phil Heatley: What other examples can he provide of the Government’s responsible fiscal management delivering better results for New Zealanders?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: There are many. I could just give one example: my colleague the Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment has released figures today showing the Government’s strong focus on results in tertiary education is delivering for New Zealanders. In 2013 a record 25,800 domestic students completed Bachelor’s degrees, which is 24 percent higher than those who graduated in 2008. Overall, the number of qualifications achieved in 2013 by all students was 20 percent higher than 5 years ago. Also, the performance of Māori and Pasifika students is improving dramatically. The number of Māori students who have completed Bachelor’s
degrees has increased by 62 percent since 2008, and the number of Pasifika students has increased by 56 percent over that same period. Back in the 2000s, the previous Government threw more and more money at tertiary education and the number of people achieving degrees stayed static at the 20,000 mark. With a focus on performance and results we are lifting achievement and delivering a more skilled economy.
Hon Phil Heatley: My last ever supplementary question. It is a big moment.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! It will be a bigger moment if the member leaves the Chamber early.
Hon Phil Heatley: What reports has he received of fiscal proposals that are not fully costed and would fail to deliver the benefits to families that their proponents claim?
Mr SPEAKER: In so far as there is some ministerial responsibility, the Hon Steven Joyce.
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I have seen reports, including one of a particularly irresponsible proposal that has not been properly costed or accurately explained. A press release issued yesterday claimed the proposal would “end ‘voluntary’ school donations” at a cost of apparently $50 million a year. One of the problems with that is that school donations—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I have listened to the question; I have now listened to the answer so far and I cannot see any ministerial responsibility whatsoever.
Hon David Parker: How is it fair and fiscally responsible to tax salary and wage earners on every dollar they earn while refusing to tax the capital gains of property speculators?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: The member makes an interesting point, except I have not seen any proposals that propose to actually tax property and not tax, for example, people in businesses. In fact, the only proposal I have seen on the table proposes to tax 100 percent of productive businesses—
Hon David Parker: You’re on the wrong side of this one.
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: —I do not think so—and only about one-third of houses. Apparently it is designed to tackle housing speculation.
Foreign Affairs, Minister—Confidence 2. Hon PHIL GOFF (Labour—Mt Roskill) to the Prime Minister: Does he have confidence in his Minister of Foreign Affairs; if so, why?
Hon Annette King: He’s only the tea boy.
Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister for Economic Development) on behalf of the Prime Minister: Even the tea boy gets his day in the sun. Yes; because he is a competent and hard-working Minister.
Hon Phil Goff: If the Minister is as competent and hard working as the Prime Minister alleges, why did he take no steps between 12 May and 30 June to secure the waiver for diplomatic immunity that the Malaysians had on offer, given the seriousness of the offence and given that high-level intervention was needed?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I reject the premise of the last end of the member’s question. It was reasonable for Mr McCully to believe that an appropriate process was under way and that he would informed appropriately by the ministry if that process was not proceeding satisfactorily.
Hon Phil Goff: Why was the incident apparently of so little importance to Mr McCully that he never even raised it with his Secretary of Foreign Affairs and Trade, who was never informed of it?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Mr McCully did have the matter drawn to his attention, as you know, and he was of the belief—and I think it an entirely fair belief—that an appropriate process was being followed, as is followed in all these situations, and he would have been notified if there was an issue. That, of course, is the subject of an investigation that is being commenced by the chief executive of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, to determine why it was that neither Mr McCully nor, in fact, the Prime Minister was informed earlier than they were.
Hon Phil Goff: Is Mr McCully just a rubber stamp, or is he paid a quarter of a million dollars a year to exercise leadership and oversight over his ministry, and why did he not do it?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I think Mr McCully looks a lot less like a rubber stamp than the member opposite.
Hon Phil Goff: Why has the Prime Minister not asked for and accepted the resignation of the Minister of Foreign Affairs for being negligent and failing to do what any other Minister of Foreign Affairs would have done, which is to take personal responsibility to ensure that the rights of that victim were upheld and the waiver was asked for?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I think the member is suggesting an approach that, in actual fact, is not appropriate in the circumstances. The situation is simply this: the chief executive of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade is undertaking an independent review into the circumstances of this situation, the protocol processes to manage these types of situations and whether they are fit for purpose, and the ministry’s communications, and make recommendations for change. Out of that, any particular decisions that need to be made in terms of repercussions will be made.
Freshwater Management—Reform 3. MAGGIE BARRY (National—North Shore) to the Minister for the Environment: What recent announcements has she made aimed at improving our freshwater management system?
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The level of interjection from both sides of the House from relatively senior members is unacceptable in this question time.
Hon AMY ADAMS (Minister for the Environment): Today Minister Guy and I announced New Zealand’s robust national standards for freshwater. Included in the changes are an agreed science basis, explicit recognition of tangata whenua values, compulsory ecosystem and human health measures with new mandatory bottom lines for each, and a requirement for full accounting of all water takes and discharges. Until now, there has been nothing stopping councils permitting water to be of an unacceptable quality, and in some places, it is. Today this changes.
Maggie Barry: How have the final amendments incorporated feedback from the submissions process?
Hon AMY ADAMS: We have listened to feedback following the release of the discussion document, and some of the key changes following consultation include ensuring the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management expresses the national significance of freshwater and te mana o te wai, the creation of a single human health value, making it compulsory for all councils to consider swimmability in all cases, the deadline for implementation being brought forward by 5 years, and the removal of the exception for historical contamination. It has been a very valuable consultation process, and I want to thank all of those who took part.
Hon Tariana Turia: Tēnā koe, Mr Speaker. Tēnā tātou e te Whare. Is it true that specific proposals that were agreed to with the iwi leaders group were removed fromDelivering Freshwater Reform, and why were they removed?
Hon AMY ADAMS: No, that is not correct to my understanding.
Hon Tariana Turia: So are we to believe that iwi leaders are not telling the truth?
Hon AMY ADAMS: Iwi leaders have not communicated to me that that is the case. They made reference to a document that they had prepared. Unfortunately, that document was never sent to my office, which they have acknowledged.
Diplomatic Incident—Briefings 4. DAVID SHEARER (Labour—Mt Albert) to the Minister of Foreign Affairs: Did he seek any information from MFAT officials on the case of the alleged assault with the intention to rape and waiver of diplomatic immunity by the Malaysian diplomat after his initial briefing on 10 May, 2014 and before the case became public; if not, why not?
Hon TIM GROSER (Minister of Trade)on behalf of the Minister of Foreign Affairs: No. The Minister was briefed as to the circumstances of the arrest and the New Zealand request for a waiver
of diplomatic immunity on 10 May. The Minister was not made aware the Malaysians had declined the request for the waiver until Friday, 27 June.
David Shearer: Given the incident included an alleged assault with the intent to rape against a New Zealand woman, why did it not occur to him to follow up and simply ask what was being done?
Hon TIM GROSER: Because there are two procedures in place that require professional attention: the police inquiry into the facts of the alleged crime, followed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade protocol division’s handling of the quite complicated procedures around diplomatic immunity. It is a very bright line to cross when a politician starts to interfere in those processes.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I am just requiring a bit of silence to assist the member to ask his supplementary question.
David Shearer: Does the Minister believe then that he is blame-free in his handling of the case and that it is the complete fault of his officials; if not, what responsibility does he take as the Minister of Foreign Affairs?
Hon TIM GROSER: The Minister has already stated publicly that he takes responsibility for the issue, but I think all of this is rather missing the point. The No. 1 requirement is to ensure that the young woman has proper support around her, which is being done by the police, I am assured. Secondly, now that the accused is coming back to New Zealand, we have the very real possibility that this victim may now receive proper justice.
David Shearer: Given that the Minister stated yesterday that “There was never any intention ... to let this matter rest,” at what date was he planning to do something, when he had done precisely nothing for 7 weeks?
Hon TIM GROSER: I could repeat exactly the same point that I made in the preceding answer. The issue was that the Minister had every right to expect that he would be kept informed of the matter. He had been so informed and had every right to expect that that was being enacted.
David Shearer: Does the Minister think that the New Zealand woman who was involved in this case would agree with him, as he said this morning, that it was a good and proper process, when his chief executive was completely unaware of it, the ministry had given the Malaysian authorities completely contrary advice to what was intended, and there had been no follow-up whatsoever from his office?
Hon TIM GROSER: Well, I am sure the first issue is that the young woman who is the victim of this alleged crime is now in a position to receive some restorative justice. The Minister has had immediate discussions with his Malaysian counterpart when it became evident, to his surprise, that what he had been informed of may not have been the same understanding on the part of the Malaysian Foreign Minister.
Freshwater Management—Water Quality of Rivers 5. EUGENIE SAGE (Green) to the Minister for the Environment: What percentage of river swimming sites, where data is collected, in the most recent Ministry for the Environment Suitability for Swimming Indicator Update were graded poor or very poor?
Hon AMY ADAMS (Minister for the Environment): Of the few hundred river sites that are monitored, 61 percent of them are graded poor or very poor. As the member is aware, though, these few hundred sites are monitored generally because there is a quality concern, so that data set is therefore in no way representative of the 425,000 kilometres of New Zealand rivers and streams, which are generally regarded as being in good condition by international standards. However, we are concerned that in the areas where fresh water quality is deteriorating, we do need to take action, which is why I was pleased earlier today to be announcing that from 1 August national standards for fresh water will be in place across the country, which is a critical milestone in improving the picture of fresh water quality in New Zealand.
Eugenie Sage: Why, if she is concerned that fresh water is deteriorating, did she announce a national bottom line for human health today that means that our rivers will have to be safe only for secondary contact—that is, wading and boating—and not clean enough for swimming?
Hon AMY ADAMS: At the moment, of course, the counterfactual is that there is no requirement for any particular standard for human health. Actually putting in place a minimum requirement that at the very least every fresh water area must be safe for wading and boating is a big step forward. What we have done today is confirm that every council must consider whether it is appropriate to also manage for swimmability. What has to be understood is that each time we move the bar up through that ladder, it brings considerable extra cost on to communities and councils. If the member is campaigning that her party will set the standard there and not leave that choice to local communities, it is welcome to do so, but I look forward to seeing those billions of dollars included in its financial estimates.
Eugenie Sage: Why is the Minister leaving it to regional councils to consider swimmability, and does she not think that it is a national issue and a central government responsibility to ensure that rivers across New Zealand are clean and safe for swimming?
Hon AMY ADAMS: Well, I had always thought that that member was a proponent of local decision-making, but actually we do think it is for communities to decide—above that minimum standard, which is brand new and has never been there before—which areas are to be used for swimming and are to be protected for that, and which are not. We are not going to impose billions of dollars of costs on ratepayers and communities in areas where they do not seek it. What we have put in place is a considerable step forward from what Labour and the Greens were happy to live with, and we are very proud of it.
Eugenie Sage: What does she say to the Otago Regional Council, which said that the bottom line for human health should be contact recreation because such a low standard as secondary contact, where rivers are fit for only wading and boating, is “not consistent with the national identity New Zealand associates with its clean image of its water resources”?
Hon AMY ADAMS: What I would say to the Otago Regional Council is that it is very welcome to set that standard across its water bodies if that is what its community chooses. The difference now is that we have a national expectation of a minimum standard, which has never been there before. That alone is going to impose some costs on communities, but the extent to which they want to go beyond that is up to them. It would be a nonsense to impose costs on water bodies that no one wants to use for swimming or that no one has contemplated for swimming. That is why regional decision-making then becomes important.
Eugenie Sage: Why did the Minister ignore the approximately 90 percent of submitters who wanted the bottom line for human health to be rivers that are clean and safe for swimming?
Hon AMY ADAMS: We have not ignored it. What we have done is made it compulsory now for every council to consider whether swimming is the appropriate standard for that water body. That was not in the draft, and the reason we have done that is that we understand the cost impact that goes with that. As I have said, if those members want to include the billions of dollars of impact from putting that standard in, I look forward to seeing that in their alternative budgets.
Eugenie Sage: Does the Minister still claim that no river quality is allowed to deteriorate, when the Freshwater Sciences Society said that the proposed limits on nitrate in her proposals last November have the potential for “New Zealand’s rivers to become some of the most nitrogen-polluted amongst OECD countries whilst still remaining compliant” and her announcements today have not changed the nitrate limit?
Hon AMY ADAMS: I do not accept that, because, as that member well knows, there is already a requirement for water quality in a region to be maintained or improved. There is no ability—and nor do I imagine there is any desire—for councils to suddenly rush downwards in their water quality. In my experience, communities and councils are absolutely focused on improving water quality, but the important point is this: today there is nothing stopping our lakes and rivers from
being completely dead environments. That is what Labour and the Greens were happy with. We are not. This is a step forward, no matter how the member tries to spin it.
Eugenie Sage: Did the Minister ask the Ministry for the Environment to tighten the nitrate limits in the national policy statement following the board of inquiry’s decision on the Tukituki plan change, which rejected her Government’s approach of allowing nitrogen pollution to reach limits that are toxic to fish and algae; if not, why not?
Hon AMY ADAMS: First of all, the member is entirely wrong in her categorisation of the impact of the Tukituki decision on this framework. It simply does not do what she is suggesting—which is typical—but, more important, the Government has made it very clear that we are not looking to re-engineer what has come out of the Science Review Panel. We engaged a science panel deliberately so that there would be a nationally agreed and settled science basis, and in no instance have I or other Ministers directed it to change those numbers.
Eugenie Sage: If the Minister engaged the Science Review Panel, why was a basic and well-established measure of river health, the Macroinvertebrate Community Index, excluded, when the Freshwater Sciences Society and many others said that it should be included?
Hon AMY ADAMS: This is a question I have answered time and time again in this House, and the answer is this. We do accept that the macroinvertebrate index is a very useful performance measure and indicator of ecosystem health. That is not the same thing as saying it is suitable or possible to include in a national framework like this. Actually, the member may be interested that the advice I have had says that because of the way the Resource Management Act currently constrains what can go in a national policy statement, I am prevented from including it as a performance monitor within the framework. We do encourage councils to use it in that regard and we do think it is useful, but it does not fit into a framework set at a national level like this.
Eugenie Sage: Is the real reason the Minister has ignored the advice of water quality scientists, the calls by thousands of New Zealanders, the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, the Otago Regional Council, and many others, for national bottom lines that provide for swimmable rivers that this Government stands up for polluters and irrigators, and not for ordinary New Zealanders who want to swim in our rivers?
Hon AMY ADAMS: I think the fact that the Green Party can stand there and not find one good thing to say about the fact that this is a step forward in water quality says far more about its politicking and ideology than any desire to actually see water quality improvements.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Can the Minister advise the House what progress Environment Canterbury—the Canterbury Regional Council—made in setting minimum water quality standards in that region over 18 years, including the period when Eugenie Sage was a member?
Hon AMY ADAMS: Well, the member raises a very valid point. Over that time the regional council made zero progress. It completely failed to have an operative water quality plan, leading to deterioration of water in our home region of Canterbury. This Government was not going to stand for that. The appointment of commissioners has made incredible strides forward. They are doing great work on pioneering the collaborative process, and finally, under a National Government, we are getting some progress on water quality in Canterbury.
Eugenie Sage: Is the Minister taking her ministerial duties seriously, when the national bottom line for our rivers will keep the dairy industry happy, as evidenced by its media statements today, but will not make our rivers clean and safe for swimming for all New Zealanders?
Hon AMY ADAMS: I take the fact that I had introduced any national bottom line incredibly seriously. That is something that Labour and the Greens never prioritised. They were happy for there to be no bottom lines and no requirements. They were happy for there to be no rules at all. We are not. We are lifting the game.
Better Public Services Targets—Education Sector 6. TIM MACINDOE (National—Hamilton West) to the Minister of Education: What recent announcements has she made on Better Public Service Targets in education?
Hon HEKIA PARATA (Minister of Education): Today I was pleased to announce that thousands more young people are on the road to success. We now have 78.6 percent of 18-year-olds with a minimum of National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA) level 2. In the past 2 years alone, nearly 1,600 more kids are over the line, and we are up more than 10 percentage points overall since we came to Government. On early childhood education participation, the increase to 95.9 percent gives so many more children the right start in life. It represents another 3,839 kids participating in early childhood education since mid-2011. Under this Government, more kids are starting earlier, staying longer, and leaving better qualified.
Tim Macindoe: What progress in achievement can the Minister report for particular groups?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: We have focused on collecting good information across the whole education system. That has helped to identify which students need what kind of support. The results announced today show that our targeted approach to education works. Since 2011 we have seen a 6.2 percentage point increase for young Māori 18-year-olds achieving NCEA level 2, and an increase of 5.9 percentage points for Pasifika. As my colleague the Hon Paula Bennett announced today, through better integration of education and welfare there has been real progress in the achievement of NCEA credits amongst those involved in the Youth Service programme. We know there is more work to do to ensure educational success for all, and we are doing it.
Tim Macindoe: What changes are being made across the system to lift achievement?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: Changes across the education system and funding boosts will allow generations of children more promising futures. These changes include investing in teaching and leadership, strengthening the parental voice, and improving the quality and availability of achievement information. This information shows parents how well their children are doing in school. It enables our teachers and leaders to know how they can give more assistance to those students who need it most. We can look at the results of investments, and not just how much we are spending. We must ensure we are targeting our resources to the students who need them the most. We have made big strides; we will continue to build on that to ensure success for five out of five students. There is more work to do.
Chris Hipkins: What evidence does she have to assure the public that improved NCEA achievement statistics have not come about as a result of lowering standards to fit required pass rates rather than a genuine lift in student achievement?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: It saddens me immensely that the member wishes to impugn the professionalism of teachers, who across the country are ensuring that young people are getting the best-quality credits possible. How am I sure? Because we have dropped unit standards—we have achievement standards—because we have monitoring every term of how well students are doing, because every school now keeps an achievement profile by gender and ethnicity, and because any assertion that that is occurring is investigated promptly and assiduously by the New Zealand Qualifications Authority.
Chris Hipkins: No evidence.
Hon HEKIA PARATA: The member says “No evidence.” Well, I do not know what I have to give him to show what the New Zealand Qualifications Authority does, what teachers themselves do, and what the kids and parents themselves do. If the member wants to keep belittling that rather than celebrating the very success these numbers reflect, it is a very sad Opposition over there.
Public Service—Performance 7. ANDREW WILLIAMS (NZ First) to the Minister of State Services: What assurances can he give the public of the competence of senior management in the Public Service?
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN (Minister of State Services): Overall the senior management of the Public Service is performing well and working hard to deliver better public services. The Better Public Services programme results continue to show that public servants are making a difference for New Zealanders, as evidenced by the very pleasing progress in our schools announced today by the Minister of Education. The Kiwis Count survey is an objective measure that shows a sustained lift in performance across the Public Service since 2008, with increasing public trust in our State services.
Andrew Williams: How will the public have confidence in the competence of senior management in the Public Service in light of the Auditor-General’s recent report on Central Agencies Shared Services, known as CASS, and the recent debacle at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade over the Malaysian diplomat?
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: I think that if you look at that Central Agencies Shared Services project, it is a very worthwhile project that will deliver real benefits across the central agencies, ultimately helping in the delivery of better services and better results to New Zealanders. I think that is something that the public really do appreciate.
Andrew Williams: Why then did the central agencies—and I quote the Auditor-General—“not follow best practice in setting up CASS.”? Why is that, and why does he not take responsibility as the Minister for it?
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: This is a pioneering project that will deliver real results, but there are learnings from it that will be applied to similar sorts of projects in the future. In retrospect, yes, it could have been done better, but it is actually delivering very, very well.
Andrew Williams: What accountability does he accept as Minister of State Services in light of the manifold failures set out in the Auditor-General’s recent report on the Central Agencies Shared Services?
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: Look, I think it is incumbent on senior public servants, as well as Ministers, to apply the results and learnings from that study.
Andrew Williams: As the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Treasury, State Services Commission, and the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet are all core agencies of the Public Service, what steps have been taken to prevent this type of failure recurring?
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: He is painting a very bleak picture there, which, frankly, is completely unrealistic. If you look at the overall picture, the Public Service is delivering for New Zealanders. We are achieving much better results than the Labour Government ever did, and I think he should talk up some of the good news and take notice, because we are delivering for the public.
Student Achievement—Investing in Educational Success Programme 8. CHRIS HIPKINS (Labour—Rimutaka) to the Minister of Education: Is she satisfied that spending $359 million on the Investing in Educational Success Initiative is the best way to lift student achievement?
Hon HEKIA PARATA (Minister of Education): Yes. Investing in Educational Success looks beyond the teacher in the classroom to strengthening all of the teachers in all of the schools over time. In my travels around the country teachers tell me that they want opportunities to collaborate and learn from each other. Evidence locally and from around the world clearly shows that raising the quality of teaching and leadership is the best way within schools to raise student achievement. Of course, what works in one country cannot just be transported in its entirety to another. That is why Investing in Educational Success draws from the best features of several different education systems as well as our own, and the final design is being carried out in consultation with the New Zealand profession and with critical contributions by very reputable New Zealand and international academics.
Chris Hipkins: How will she ensure that removing expert teachers for 2 days a week from their own school and away from the students they have been so successful in teaching will not have an impact on the existing students’ academic achievement?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: Because the modern learning practice that is increasingly taking place in schools across the country is not the one that the member and I probably experienced, which was only one teacher to one group of students for the entirety of their school year.
Hon Trevor Mallard: They threw out open-plan learning in the 1970s.
Hon HEKIA PARATA: There is a lot more team teaching, as that other member may not know since he comes from the dinosaur era, but there is greater improvement in the way that teaching is occurring. What we also know from the Learning and Change Networks, which came from the sector itself, is that they learn better when they learn from each other. Newer teachers learn better from more senior teachers, so the provision is to ensure that we get better teachers in every class across every school across our entire country.
Chris Hipkins: Why is she satisfied that the money will lead to a lift in student achievement given that a recent survey of school principals found that 54 percent were opposed to the plan outright, 27 percent had concerns about the policy, and only 4 percent were actually supportive of it?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: I am aware of that particular survey, but I am also aware of the over 70 engagements that have been held with teacher groups, with principal groups, and with parents across the country, many of whom want to understand what the proposal is and how it will work. There is a lot of growing support for this. I just remind the member that of the $359 million only half of it is for salaries for these roles. The other half of it is for inquiry time, and the member himself has made speeches about the importance of that. The other half of it is for backfill time, because we have about 30,000 qualified teachers—
Hon Trevor Mallard: Now we’ve got three halves.
Hon HEKIA PARATA: I know that fact confuses that member but the other $10 million is—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The answer is now long enough, but it is not helped by the constant interjection coming from one member to my left.
Chris Hipkins: Why is it not the Government’s goal to ensure that all New Zealand school students are taught by expert teachers, given that it is limiting the number of roles to just 1,000 across the country or about 2 percent of the teaching workforce?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: It is our goal. That is indeed our goal and our intention is that over time the expertise and leadership quality across the system will be consistently raised. The member may know, because he will be intimately knowledgable about this, that in last year’s New Zealand Educational Institute collective bargaining it bargained for 800 of these very teachers in order to lift the quality. This is significantly more. It is heading in the same direction. The member should be leading the charge.
Chris Hipkins: Has she seen the comment from Principals’ Federation—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I am going to ask the member to start that question again.
Chris Hipkins: Has she seen the comment from Principals’ Federation president, Phil Harding: “It’s vital the Government doesn’t steamroll another flawed model over the top of a profession holding significant and legitimate concerns.”; if so, will she rule out legislating for the policy’s implementation in the face of such strong opposition by the people who are expected to implement it?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: Indeed, I have seen a number of quotes by Mr Harding and many of them are contradictory. Mr Harding led the response to the introduction of this policy by congratulating us and complimenting it. Sorry, what was second part of the member’s question? Oh, right; let me just say we are continuing to work with the profession, and, indeed, the member may know that we have already entered bargaining with the Post Primary Teachers Association. We have, across the country, a lot of interest in this policy, so we propose to continue consulting.
Health Personnel—Training of General Practitioners 9. PAUL FOSTER-BELL (National) to the Minister of Health: What investment has the Government made in new training places for general practitioners?
Hon TONY RYALL (Minister of Health): The Government is announcing today that we are investing an extra $3.8 million to further increase the number of general practitioner and primary-care doctor training places. The additional funding will mean that up to 170 junior doctors will be accepted into the general practice education programme run by the Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners. This will be the biggest intake ever. In 2008 there were only 74 general practitioners trained and this Government has more than doubled that number. The extra funding brings our total investment in general practitioner and primary-care doctor training places to $22 million.
Paul Foster-Bell: How many applications have been received this year for general practitioner and primary care doctor training, and how does this compare with previous years?
Hon TONY RYALL: There has been a massive increase in the numbers of junior doctors expressing an interest in becoming general practitioners. This is thanks to the hard work of Health Workforce New Zealand, the College of General Practitioners, and the Medical Council of New Zealand. There has been a record number of applications this year. The college received over 200 this year compared with about 120 at the same time last year. Our plan is to keep building our own health workforce and to keep them here in New Zealand.
Family/Whānau Violence—Initiatives to Address 10. CAROL BEAUMONT (Labour) to the Minister for Social Development: What input did she have on the new suite of initiatives to prevent family violence and keep women and children safe that were announced yesterday?
Hon PAULA BENNETT (Minister for Social Development): I had significant input in regard to the announcements that were made yesterday. Actually, this is a great opportunity for me to congratulate Minister Collins on her leadership in the justice sector and on the difference that those initiatives will make. I also want to acknowledge Minister Tolley for her leadership within corrections and police. Most certainly, I want to acknowledge Minister Turia, who has obviously announced her retirement. Her leadership over the last 6 years within social development and the issues of family violence, quite frankly, has been extraordinary.
Carol Beaumont: How does yesterday’s package, primarily focused on those who report domestic violence, assist the 80 percent of victims of domestic violence whom the Women’s Refuge says do not report that violence?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: I think that those justice announcements are significant, particularly for those who are revictimised and are often the ones who actually end up dead. I think, for that, we should acknowledge this package as being very vitally important in terms of those next steps. There is a huge amount of work that was announced yesterday, particularly from Minister Turia, around the current work programme that is really focused on strengthening and improving the cross-agency response. Within that, it is a long list so I will not go into it, but there is young people’s healthy relationships, developing that cross-agency research and evaluation data—there is an agenda that goes on there—raising awareness and changing attitudes and behaviours, and improving the whole family violence sector workforce development and training. There are a number of initiatives there that I think will deal with prevention, which is obviously where we want to put the biggest emphasis.
Carol Beaumont: What NGOs, if any, were consulted with or even briefed about the social sector initiatives, or the Achieving Intergenerational Change—A whole-of-Government approach initiatives, announced yesterday?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: Actually, most of them were based on the work of the expert advisory group, which did actually go out to the sector and talk to it extensively. Minister Collins
made reference to the family violence ministerial group. She also made reference to the justice symposium that was held earlier this year, which had everybody involved, including those NGOs. She talked to Shine, particularly around those Safe Network ones. We meet regularly with Women’s Refuge and other departments. But at the end of the day, Ministers are here to design and implement policy. That is what is expected of us, and that is what we have done.
Carol Beaumont: Does she agree with the Hon Tariana Turia that “International research indicates that stopping violence from occurring in the first place is the key to the long-term reduction in family violence.”; if so, can she explain why the announcement made yesterday had very little focus on prevention, with no new initiatives and no new funding in the prevention area?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: I encourage the member to actually read the information that is out there on the work that is going on. We will not make apologies for focusing on those who do report violence. As we say, more often than not they are revictimised, and these are more often than not really the biggest tragedies that happen in this country. So making them safe and putting around them those mechanisms that were announced yesterday is important. But there is a range of work that is going on in the preventative space. We are spending nearly $70 million just within social development. That does not recognise the contributions from ACC, the police, and other departments that go in. It is our focus. It is where we are going. Cross-agency work, including those NGOs, is actually where it needs to happen.
Carol Beaumont: I seek leave to table Parliamentary Library research showing that three of the initiatives that seem to be the centrepiece of—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Just describe it briefly.
Carol Beaumont: —achieving intergenerational change, which are the It’s Not OK campaign—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Just briefly describe it, and I will put the leave.
Carol Beaumont: OK. It is Parliamentary Library research showing that three main initiatives were launched in 2007—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Leave is sought, if anybody can sort out exactly what we are tabling. It is parliamentary research information. Leave is sought to table it. Is there any objection? There is objection.
Sue Moroney: Has she had any input into the plight of the Sexual Abuse Survivors Trust, an organisation with 20 years of experience supporting victims of sexual abuse in Christchurch, which has been forced to shut down its service tomorrow because of a $34,000 shortfall in funding?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: I have answered questions on this organisation in just the last 2 or 3 weeks, so, obviously, yes, if the member had taken any notice of that. What we are saying is that there are issues around that provider. It is not our desire to see it shut down. We have ensured that the services will be available for those who need them. We have worked with other NGOs that say they do have the capacity to fill that gap and that have had extra funding through this excellent Government, which put more than $10.4 million more into sexual violence services under this latest Budget.
Housing Accords—Progress 11. BRENDAN HORAN (Brendan Horan) to the Minister of Housing: What, if any, specific progress has he achieved on completing housing accords with Tauranga City Council and Western Bays District Council?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH (Minister of Housing): Tauranga and the Western Bay of Plenty were formally gazetted and added to schedule 1 of the Housing Accords and Special Housing Areas Act 2013 early this year. I met with the mayors and chief executives of both councils on 29 April. My officials have subsequently been in detailed discussions on the terms of a housing accord, including identifying potential special housing areas. I am hopeful that we will conclude negotiations prior to the House rising.
Brendan Horan: What does the Minister have to say to Bob Clarkson, who for 3½ long years has been unable to start building 1,700 homes, including 500 affordable homes with green belts, cycleways, walkways, services, and free infrastructure costs; does this mean the Minister has not delivered on housing accords?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: The Government has made a priority of housing accords in Auckland, Christchurch, and Wellington ahead of Tauranga because the housing affordability in those major centres is worse and required we give them a priority. Bob Clarkson is a colourful character from Tauranga. He belongs to a great political party and was a good member of Parliament in this House. My ears are always open to Bob’s ideas.
Brendan Horan: Given the ranking that the Minister places on Tauranga, will the Minister agree that it is one thing to rule by edict but another to deliver, and is the Minister’s promise of affordable homes as shallow as the Prime Minister’s promise to four-lane the Hairini Bridge 6 long years ago?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: If I look at the Roost housing affordability index, it shows that when we came to Government, 101 percent of an average Tauranga person’s income was required to service a mortgage—101 percent. That figure today is 57 percent, showing that as a consequence of keeping interest rates lower and the other important work that we are doing, housing affordability in Tauranga is 44 percent more affordable than when we took the Treasury benches.
Health and Safety, Workplace—Asbestos 12. ANDREW LITTLE (Labour) to the Minister of Labour: What steps, if any, are being taken to protect working New Zealanders from asbestos or products with asbestos in them?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES (Minister of Labour): We are taking the issue of asbestos seriously, particularly in the Christchurch rebuild. WorkSafe’s assessment inspectorate team in Canterbury has more than doubled since the beginning of this year. In the last 4 years inspectors in Canterbury have completed more than 2,000 proactive assessments in construction, focusing on key issues like asbestos, and have issued more than a thousand enforcement notices. WorkSafe also provides guidance on the handling of asbestos and has been running seminars in Canterbury, which have been attended by more than 1,350 workers and contractors. We are also, of course, in the process of strengthening the regulatory regime on asbestos, as part of the Working Safer reform package.
Andrew Little: Is he aware that a product, a 125 NB 150 ring gasket—an example of which I hold in my hand—which sits between the flanges in pipe connections, and which is intended to be drilled, is available for sale across the counter, and this gasket contains no warning that it contains asbestos, in this case chrysotile, or white asbestos?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: I am not aware of the precise matter that the member raises. I certainly will look into it, given that he has raised it. I think the member alludes to the broader issue of a ban on asbestos or asbestos-related products. Certainly, I think that is not a matter I have specific responsibility for. But I think I can tell the member that the Ministry for the Environment is doing an inventory of all imports and exports of products in this area, which I think can foreseeably help us understand this matter better and form a policy position on that issue.
Andrew Little: In view of the harmful effects of asbestos, in particular as the cause of mesothelioma in thousands of workers in New Zealand over the last few decades, does he accept that this is a substance that needs tighter control, and will he take immediate steps to tighten controls?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: Well, of course, we have a regulatory regime that is adequate, but, as I said in the primary answer, we are also consulting right at the moment, through to 1 August, on what I think would be fair to say is a more stringent regime. I think that will certainly be helpful. Broadly speaking, it is an adoption of the Australian approach, and effectively one of preventing all work with asbestos other than where there are specified exemptions that do allow work. As I say, we are consulting on that right now.
Andrew Little: In light of that answer—or, perhaps, notwithstanding it—as it is Action Mesothelioma Day tomorrow, will he take the opportunity to take meaningful steps to protect workers who would otherwise be exposed to products like the 125 NB 150 ring gasket, such as encouraging his colleague the Minister of Customs to prohibit the import of it, under section 54 of the Customs and Excise Act 1996?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: As I have already made clear, the Ministry for the Environment is currently conducting an inventory to inform that issue. But, of course, to be very clear, even were a ban on asbestos to occur, we would still be in the position of having many decades of asbestos products and installations in homes and the like. What I think we can say is that the Government takes these issues seriously. That is why we have beefed up the inspectorate. That is why we are doing much more in education, assessments, and enforcement. That is why we have an inter-agency officials group working on all of these issues, why very recently we have set up an occupational health advisory group to advise on strategies for the board, and why we are strengthening the regulatory regime.
Darien Fenton: Does he accept that New Zealand is now out of step with other countries when it comes to a complete ban on the importation of asbestos-containing products, and will he support a similar ban here in New Zealand, especially given the epidemic of asbestos-related disease we are facing from the unnecessary exposure to asbestos in the Canterbury rebuild?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: Firstly, I just acknowledge what may be one of the member’s last questions and her sticking up for workers in this Parliament—better than some of her colleagues, I might say. I do not accept her question, though. I think obviously this is a complex matter that has a range of policies applied all over the world. I think we certainly have a sufficient regime, as I have already said, but, as I have also said, we are in all probability moving to a more stringent framework.
Andrew Little: I seek leave to table two items. One is a document: a certificate of testing from Capital Environmental Services confirming that this gasket has asbestos in it. The second is the gasket itself.
Mr SPEAKER: I will put the leave. It is for the House to decide. Leave is sought to table both the certificate and the particular product itself on the basis it may be informative to members of the House. Leave is sought to table those two items. Is there any objection? There is none. They can be tabled.