Questions and Answers - July 31
QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS
Economic Programme—Challenges 1. JAMI-LEE ROSS (National—Botany) to the Minister of Finance: What has been the Government’s main challenge in implementing its economic programme during this term of Parliament?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): It is my pleasure to answer my 389th primary question in this parliamentary session with one of my 10 answers. Without doubt, the Government’s biggest challenge over the past 3 years has been steering New Zealand through a series of crises that have been declared in our economy. We have apparently had a manufacturing crisis, a regional crisis, a jobs crisis, a migration crisis, a current account crisis, and, just this week, the declaration of an export crisis. The declaration of these crises has turned out to be instrumental in resolving every one of them because on all of those measures the economy has done very, very well, which, of course, has left the Labour Party with no crisis on which to fight the election.
Jami-Lee Ross: Following a crisis being declared in the manufacturing sector and another in the regions, what do the most recent indicators confirm about the performance of manufacturing companies and regional New Zealand?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The performance index shows that the manufacturing sector has been in expansion mode for 21 consecutive months, from a low reading—a very low reading—when it actually was in crisis, in 2008. In terms of the regions, the regional GDP data shows that the Bay of Plenty, Gisborne, Hawke’s Bay, Nelson-Tasman, Canterbury, Otago, and Southland all grew faster than the national average in the 5 years to 2013, and the most recent ANZ Regional Trendssurvey shows rural regions growing faster than urban areas. Just two more examples where the Labour Party has declared—
Mr SPEAKER: Order!
Jami-Lee Ross: Following a crisis being declared in the jobs market, what progress has been made over this term of Parliament in supporting new jobs, and what impact has this had on the so-called migration crisis?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: In the past year alone an extra 84,000 jobs were created across New Zealand, and there is a credible forecast of 172,000 more jobs over the next 4 years. This has been recognised, if not by Opposition parties, then by ordinary Kiwi battlers. They have decided not to go to Australia. Three years ago there was a net outflow of 43,000 New Zealanders, mainly from the regions, to Australia; last month the net outflow was zero. Kiwis are voting with their feet and staying home.
Jami-Lee Ross: Does the Minister expect another crisis to be declared any time soon; if so, which sector of the New Zealand economy will be most affected?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: There are signs of a crisis emerging from one small and shrinking minority group in New Zealand. It surfaced late last year following an unpopular senior personnel change. It now runs a real risk of creating more unemployment in this increasingly marginalised and backward-looking—
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Mr Ross mentioned the word “business” with his question, and so to deviate to something that is not a business means he is having no regard to the question in the first place.
Mr SPEAKER: Yes, I think the member, on this occasion, makes a reasonable point. The question has been asked. It is a marginal question, and it is effectively commenting on Opposition political issues. The question has now been completed, and unless there are any further supplementary questions, we will move to question No. 2.
Prime Minister—Statements 2. Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does he stand by all his statements?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Deputy Prime Minister) on behalf of the Prime Minister: Yes, and he particularly stands by his statement “I think Labour will be very worried about [this poll]. You’ve got a situation where David Cunliffe is now polling worse than David Shearer.”
Hon David Cunliffe: Does he stand by his statement that “National is not going to raise GST.”, despite the fact that he did?
Hon Steven Joyce: That’s current.
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Yes, this is not exactly a new attack line here. As the Prime Minister said, I think 5 years ago—which the Labour research unit has just discovered—and in the context in which he said it of course he was correct: “The Government is very proud of its 2010 tax reforms. They’re helping underpin the current high growth, high confidence, high jobs economy.”
Hon David Cunliffe: Does he stand by his statement “I’m not interested in selling assets—”, despite the fact that he did?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The Prime Minister stands by all the statements he made, starting at the beginning of 2011, when he told the country that a re-elected National Government would sell 49 percent of these companies to Kiwis at the front of the queue; the statements he made that the Opposition referendum would come to nothing; and the statements he made that we would have $4.7 billion in the Future Investment Fund to spend on schools, hospitals, and other public infrastructure.
Hon David Cunliffe: Does he stand by the Minister of Finance’s statement that they would get $5 billion to $7 billion for those assets and that Kiwis would be at the front of the queue, when they got less than $5 billion and only 2 percent of New Zealanders own the shares?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Yes, he does stand by those statements. He also stands by his statement that the Opposition members do not seem to have anything new to say that they have not said in the 2008 election.
Hon David Cunliffe: Does the Prime Minister stand by his statement that there is no housing crisis in New Zealand, despite the fact that there is?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Yes. He also stands by his Ministers who have done pretty much everything except take the housing decision-making role off our metropolitan councils. But the efforts we have made working with them have led to record building consents in the last couple of months. And the good news is that New Zealanders can look forward to more affordable housing over the next 3 to 5 years.
Hon David Cunliffe: Does he stand by his statement: “We need all New Zealanders to have jobs and security.”, despite the fact that the Government changed the law to fire people at will and despite the fact that he opposed Labour’s $2 increase to the minimum wage?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: With respect to employment, the Prime Minister restates his concern that that member’s job security and employment—
Mr SPEAKER: Order!
Hon David Cunliffe: Does he stand by his statement that he expects high standards from his Ministers despite the fact that that list includes John Banks, Peter Dunne, Judith Collins, Maurice Williamson, Richard Worth, and Pansy Wong, not to mention others like Aaron Gilmore, Claudette Hauiti, and so on and so forth?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Yes, and I would have thought that the member going through the list would be able to see that where standards were not met, there were significant consequences in almost all of those cases.
Superannuation—Current Policy 3. Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First) to the Minister for Social Development: Are the current policy arrangements for New Zealand Superannuation fair and equitable?
Hon PAULA BENNETT (Minister for Social Development): Yes. I would note that under the National-led Government the married rate of New Zealand superannuation has increased by 29 percent. This has boosted the fortnightly married rate payments by $249, to $1,129, since 2008. This significant increase reflects inflation adjustments, increases in the average wage, and tax and ACC reductions. That may well be the reason for this Government’s strong support from older New Zealanders.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: How can she justify the confiscation of contributory overseas pensions under section 70 of the Social Security Act for those who have spent part of their working lives in countries such as the UK, the Netherlands, Canada, and Germany?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: Because we believe that the direct deduction policy is to ensure that all superannuitants are treated equitably and receive the same income. It is for that reason that we do it.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Why is there a double standard between those penalised by section 70 and the migrants from countries with no State-run pensions who are given full New Zealand superannuation after only 10 years’ residency, keeping their private savings intact?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: The direct deduction policy is about those who have paid into a Government superannuation scheme overseas. For those who are in New Zealand and who have been here for 10 years as residents, we consider them New Zealanders and they are eligible for New Zealand superannuation, and I do think that is fair.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: What justification is there for the unfair application of section 70 to a spouse’s entitlement to New Zealand superannuation, and how would the Minister respond to the human rights class action in regard to spousal entitlement in New Zealand?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: For the very reason that it is a spousal entitlement, so it considers both people. It is about those people who have been in New Zealand for over 45 years, as the member knows, and have been paying their taxes towards a universal superannuation scheme. It is not fair that those who have been overseas for some time actually get more than they do. We think it is fair to New Zealanders, and that is why we have the policy.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: How is she expected to be believed in defending the right of people who have been here for 10 years only—no need to pay tax or make any contribution at all—and her vote against the review of section 70 in 2013, and will she commit to a mandatory review of section 70, to give 70,000 people affected adversely by her policy on overseas pensions a fair and equitable outcome?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: I encourage that member to actually go and price out his policy, because, actually, it is hundreds of millions of dollars to look at section 70. We do not think that is fair to New Zealanders who have been working here and who have, in many respects, through their
taxes paid towards a universal superannuation scheme. They should be on an equal footing with those who have been overseas for some time.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Supplementary question—
Mr SPEAKER: I—
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Yes, five.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member is entitled to four supplementary questions today. He has had his allocation.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Oh, this is a dynamic question. Could I seek leave to ask this question on the last day of the House in the—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! The member is absolutely entitled to seek leave. I will hear from Mr Brownlee before I put the leave.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: Mr Spirit—Mr Speaker. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order!
Hon Gerry Brownlee: I want to make it quite clear that was no reference to the Rt Hon Winston Peters, but—
Mr SPEAKER: I was more concerned it was a reference to me.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: No one would—surely, Mr Speaker. Can I suggest that you take one of our allocation and we will give it to Mr Peters. This is going so well.
Mr SPEAKER: That seems a very fair solution.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I knew those polls were shifting. Thank you to my colleague over there. Has the Minister considered New Zealand First’s enlightened and fair solution of proportional entitlement to New Zealand superannuation based on adult years of residence in New Zealand and leaving people’s overseas pensions alone, as considered by the retirement policy and research centre, to be a fair policy?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: I have looked at it, and I do not think it is fair. Firstly, some people would lose money, and I do not think that that is right. Equally, I think the difference is that we believe that those who have been eligible for New Zealand residency and have been here and present for 10 years are New Zealanders. Actually, unlike that member, who thinks that they should be treated differently and worse, we think they should be treated equally with other New Zealanders.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I just want to check the rules with regard to flashes in the House. Mr Hayes appears to be flashing from a camera.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! I will deal—[Interruption] Order! I am on my feet.
Hon Member: Don’t stand up.
Mr SPEAKER: —and I am standing up. There was an issue that I was going to raise later in the day. There are, frankly, no rules around the use of cell phones by members while they are in this House, but for the benefit of Mr Mallard and for all members, I think that is starting to create some difficulties where we impose very stringent rules on the way the press gallery is allowed to photograph members in this House. It is going to be very difficult for any Speaker to enforce those rules if we have a carte blanche arrangement here in the House when members are using phones to photograph others. But in simple answer to your question, this issue, Mr Mallard, has yet to be addressed.
Brendan Horan: I seek leave to table a letter I received from a 76-year-old pensioner who has been in New Zealand for 40 years and would lose—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! The member will resume his seat. The document has been suitably described for the House to decide whether it wants it tabled. Leave is sought to table this particular letter. Is there any objection? There is.
Local Government Act 2002 Amendment Bill (No 3)—Effect on Costs 4. JACQUI DEAN (National—Waitaki) to the Associate Minister of Local Government: How will the Local Government Act 2002 Amendment Bill (No 3), passed on Tuesday, help local government reduce costs for ratepayers, families and communities?
Hon Peseta SAM LOTU-IIGA (Associate Minister of Local Government): The bill encourages and facilitates improvements in how local government operates in New Zealand. It does this by supporting councils to operate more efficiently and effectively for our ratepayers. It will do this on issues such as improved shared services, more flexible community consultation, and better transparency in decision making. The bill also helps deliver more concise and easily understood long-term strategic plans that focus on the issues that matter to the community. Finally, the bill will also improve housing affordability for our families and communities by making development contributions fairer and more transparent.
Jacqui Dean: How does the change to development contributions support the Government’s programme to improve housing affordability?
Hon Peseta SAM LOTU-IIGA: Development contributions are a charge on developers that allow territorial authorities to recover some of the capital costs that they incur when building or expanding infrastructure required to serve new developments. The Productivity Commission report on the Inquiry into Housing Affordability in 2012 recognised that development contributions are a key factor in higher house prices. The bill improves housing affordability by, first, including a schedule of assets that provides greater transparency in development contributions policies, and, secondly, including a new objections process with independent decision makers. It also encourages councils to enter into development agreements with developers, to provide innovative solutions. [Interruption] It also—and members opposite know this—better targets what development contributions can be used for, by narrowing the definition of “community infrastructure”. All of this contributes to bringing down the costs of building a home, and improving housing affordability.
Jacqui Dean: How is the bill supporting communities to participate in the forward planning of community infrastructure?
Hon Peseta SAM LOTU-IIGA: Good question. Communities are at the heart of local government, and they should be assured that their community assets are managed carefully. The bill enables communities to participate more fully in decision making, with more flexible arrangements. It provides transparency around key asset management issues, and principal options to address those issues. The bill also introduces mandatory long-term planning for 30 years, as opposed to the current 10 years. This is about having more informed and productive consultation, and making sure the community is heard on the issues that matter to them.
Prime Minister—Government Policy 5. METIRIA TUREI (Co-Leader—Green) to the Prime Minister: Does he stand by all his Government’s policies?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Deputy Prime Minister) on behalf of the Prime Minister: Yes, particularly the policies that are leading to a stronger economy, a better community, balanced Government books, the rebuilding of Christchurch, and building a platform for further sustained growth for higher incomes and more jobs in New Zealand.
Metiria Turei: When I asked the Prime Minister about the 205,000 New Zealand children who are now living in severe poverty—that is, in families living on less than half the median income after housing costs—he answered that he “questions my facts”; what facts was he questioning?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: He was questioning just the shift that we have seen from that member, where the number used to be 270,000. But I think from question time last week to this week it has dropped by 50,000, which simply shows that one can select any measure of income that demonstrates there are thousands of people below it. What the Prime Minister does stand by is the persistent and increasingly successful effort by this Government to address the worst aspects of
long-term hardship and dependency. These are complex intergenerational problems, and this Government has done more than any previous Government to address them directly, in a way that may lead to sustained solutions.
Metiria Turei: Is the Prime Minister saying he disagrees with the finding in the household income survey at table F5 on page 135 that says that 205,000 New Zealand children are now living on less than 50 percent of the median wage after housing costs?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I think the Prime Minister would accept that there is any number of official measures of what income level a household lives on and how many thousand people there are below it. What the Prime Minister finds difficult to understand is the member’s very strong focus on measuring the problem, with almost no suggestions about how to deal with long-term hardship, persistent deprivation, and long-term welfare dependency. This Government is producing an increasingly complex, assertive, and successful set of policies—for instance, the investment approach in welfare, which is mobilising more Government support for our beneficiary population than has ever occurred in the past. I invite the member to support those efforts rather than spend all her time measuring the problem yet again.
Metiria Turei: So does the Prime Minister agree with the findings in the household income survey, also on table F5 of page 135, that under his watch, in the 6 years he has been Prime Minister, there are now 35,000 more children living in severe poverty on less than 50 percent of the median wage after housing costs than before he took office?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: It simply shows the limitations of this endless re-measurement of the problem. The Prime Minister’s response would be, for instance, that there are 30,000 fewer children in benefit-dependent households now than there were 5 years ago. But whatever numbers you use, this Government’s interest is in which children, in which household, in which community, and what measures are we specifically taking to work with those children in that household in their community. We are increasingly able to do that.
Metiria Turei: Does the Prime Minister then also disagree with the findings of the household income survey on table H5 on page 159 that 37 percent of all New Zealand children in poverty have parents who are in full-time work, an increase from 28 percent on the previous year?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I can only repeat my previous answer. We can debate forth and back any number of measures. Overall, the measures show that there is no increase in inequality in New Zealand in the last 15 years or so. It is flat. In fact, the most recent statistics show it falling. But, in any case, the real question is: what are we doing about particular children in particular families with the particular challenges that they have? Increasingly, this Government is addressing those problems at an individualised level, backed up with smart policy and sometimes more funding where that is required. We invite the member to move on from 58 different ways of measuring it—the Government employs an army of people who can measure the problems—and join those, like this Government, which is trying to find sustainable solutions for people who need them.
Metiria Turei: Seeing as the Prime Minister will not engage with the facts from his own official data, will he commit to watching the Nigel Latta documentary—
Hon Member: “Lat-ta”.
Metiria Turei: —Latta, thank you—where Talasia and Sio explain how as parents working two jobs under his Government’s watch they still cannot afford to feed their kids lunch every day?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The Prime Minister is much more likely to engage with those parents than he is with the statisticians, whom the Greens seem to be mostly engaged with. The fact is that the official data shows that in most of the dimensions that enable people to get out of poverty we are now making progress, person by person. The number in long-term welfare dependency is dropping. The number of young people going through our courts is down 25 percent in the last 3 years. The rate of prison reoffending is dropping. The rate of educational achievement is rising. The rate of immunisation is rising. On any number of measures New Zealand is making progress because we are addressing particular families, particular children in their communities, and
supporting them to get out of the cycle of dependency perpetuated by the kinds of ideas that that party pedals.
Metiria Turei: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My question was very specific: will he commit to watching the documentary where these families describe their circumstances as the working poor?
Mr SPEAKER: I ask the member to go back and have a look at her question. Her question started with the words “Seeing as the Prime Minister will not engage with the facts”, etc., and the Minister answering on behalf of the Prime Minister immediately said that the Prime Minister would rather engage with the people who have the problem than engage with statisticians. He addressed that part of the question. As I have frequently said to the member, if you have a specific question, ask it, and I can help.
Metiria Turei: So is the Prime Minister continuing to deny the poverty statistics produced by his own Government agencies and also ignoring the families who are suffering from that poverty, because he would rather play golf on “Planet Key” where poverty does not exist, let alone require #Team Key’s efforts to solve the serious national crisis?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I do not think that the member realises just how mean her personal attacks on the Prime Minister sound, actually. It does not help demonstrate the warm-heartedness of the Greens. The Prime Minister is absolutely well aware of it, and, in fact, his initiative to bring in the Fresh Start programme for our youth in 2008-09 will lead directly to closing a youth prison, probably in the next few months. That is just one small measure of the focus that he brings to these issues, but I have to say he is a bit more practical and a bit less statistical than the member.
Finance, Minister—Statements 6. Hon DAVID PARKER (Deputy Leader—Labour) to the Minister of Finance: Does he stand by all his answers to Oral Question No 6 on 30 July 2014?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): Yes, particularly that part of my statement where I said the member was wrong.
Hon David Parker: Why in question time yesterday did he deny that exports have fallen to 29 percent of GDP since he took office?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Actually, I did not deny it. What I said was I could not tell the member the number. I remember that because he laughed.
Hon David Parker: I seek leave to table the transcript of yesterday’s Hansard, where the Minister denied—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The transcripts are available to all members.
Hon David Parker: What remedy, then, do I have? I authenticated this question when it was submitted to the Clerk, and the Deputy Prime Minister did, on the advice of Mr Joyce, deny that question.
Mr SPEAKER: The remedy available now, if the member thinks he has been misrepresented by the Minister, is to apply to me under Standing Order 355.
Hon David Parker: Is the reason he chose to misrepresent export figures in question time yesterday because the drop in exports from 33 percent to 29 percent of GDP shows he is failing in his promise to lift exports to 40 percent of GDP?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: No. I could have a discussion with the member about the way the economy is progressing but, for instance, one factor in GDP, which the member often mentions, is the rebuild after the Christchurch earthquakes. It is sucking in an enormous amount of resources that cannot be available for exporting, so it is not surprising if, in this phase, GDP is not being driven entirely by exports. But I would repeat what I said yesterday. Our exporters have done incredibly well in the face of a high exchange rate. They have become more innovative, more resilient, and they are in great shape to do well under a re-elected National Government.
Hon David Parker: How many jobs does he expect will be lost as a consequence of the significant drop in export prices?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I do not think there would be any credible estimates of that, but the drop in export prices is not unexpected. When we had a record high dairy price—the highest ever—it was always going to come down. I do not know why the member is so surprised about that. Does he not understand how the world works?
Hon David Parker: Is he now aware that in his Budget his own department forecast that over the next 2 years exports will drop in dollar terms, and as a percentage of GDP to 26 percent of GDP, less than the 33 percent of GDP it was when he took office, and in the opposite direction of his 40 percent target?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I am aware of the content of the Treasury forecasts, and as with its other export-orientated forecast, the current account deficit, it has been consistently wrong for the last 4 years. I will not be at all surprised if our export sector shows that it is more resilient than Treasury expects, more profitable and more successful. Certainly, that has been our view, and so far Treasury has been not quite on its game and our exporters have been ahead of the game.
Conservation Land—Recovery of Wind-blown Timber 7. CHRIS AUCHINVOLE (National) to the Minister of Conservation: How many expressions of interest have been received for the recovery of wind-blown timber on the West Coast when they closed on Friday 25 July, and how many of these are from West Coast companies?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH (Minister of Conservation): Fourteen applications have been received and I can confirm that 12 of those are West Coast companies. These are for thousands of tonnes of valuable rimu and beech that were felled in the windstorm, albeit it is a small fraction of the total wind-blown timber. The recovery of this wood will provide many jobs on the West Coast over the coming years, providing there is not a change of Government. It will provide the opportunity for New Zealanders to access the beautiful sorts of woods we see in this Chamber, rather than having to import millions of dollars of decorative timbers from overseas.
Chris Auchinvole: What assurances is he able to give that the funding derived from selling the timber will go back to the Department of Conservation?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: Cabinet ticked off a paper this very week that says that every net dollar that is achieved through this programme will be reinvested back into the Department of Conservation for important work like pest control and improving visitor facilities. All of those things I think New Zealanders will see as a win-win: more jobs, New Zealanders getting access to our beautiful timbers for wood that would otherwise have gone to rot, and more funding for the Department of Conservation to do its crucial work.
Chris Auchinvole: How does this policy fit with National’s approach to regional development and New Zealand creating more jobs in the forestry sector?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: I think this policy really is quite telling about the differing policies on this side of the House as compared with the opposite. This will provide regional development benefits for the community of the West Coast, not by the Government providing subsidies or grants, but actually just by the Government passing sensible law that will let regions take those economic opportunities. In terms of creating more jobs in the forestry sector, yes, of course it will. It will enable the wood to be processed, and actually there have been expressions of interest from over 20 different furniture manufacturers from all over New Zealand that are wanting to get access to this wind-blown timber.
Novopay, Minister—Statements 8. CHRIS HIPKINS (Labour—Rimutaka) to the Minister responsible for Novopay: Does he stand by his statement from over 16 months ago with regard to Novopay “I want to see within three
months a situation where, as much as possible, workloads from administrators are back to where they were before this thing started”?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister responsible for Novopay): Yes, I do. I appreciate the member might have missed it, given that he has asked me only two or three questions during that time of the 2,821 questions—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Just answer the question.
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: But I am pleased to advise him that within 3 months of making that statement the error rate, or the incidence of people overpaid, underpaid, or not paid, had fallen to less than 0.5 percent, as recommended by the ministerial inquiry. It has remained that way for all but three start-of-year pay periods this year. That is a total of 30 of the last 33 pay periods. For example, in relation to the most recent pay period, pay period 8, a total of 14 staff were notified as not paid, 15 underpaid, and 11 overpaid. For the benefit of the member, that is 40 out of 9,953 staff.
Chris Hipkins: Is he satisfied that the workload for school administrators is now back to where it was before Novopay was implemented; if so, what evidence does he have to demonstrate that that is actually the case?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: For the majority of administrators the workload is back, as I said, as much as possible to where it was before this thing started. There are some administrators who are still finding challenges. The ministry has provided payroll advisers to those people to assist them with the issues they have.
Chris Hipkins: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I apologise to you and to the Minister, because I know the noise was coming from my side of the House. I could not hear the Minister’s answer, and I cannot ask a supplementary question if I could not hear what he was actually saying.
Mr SPEAKER: I am going to ask the Minister if he would repeat his answer, because I was having trouble hearing it as well.
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: As I said, most administrators will find their workload back to approximately where it was when this thing started. There are some who are still having challenges, I agree. They are being assisted by dedicated payroll advisers employed by the Ministry of Education.
Chris Hipkins: Has he started working on alternatives to Novopay in the event that the ongoing problems with Novopay cannot be resolved; if not, why not?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I am not sure that the member should recommend that as the member who actually recommended to the previous Minister to start the Novopay process in the first place. He will forgive me if I do not take his advice on this occasion, because I am sure the former Labour Minister wished he had not taken his advice on the earlier occasion.
Chris Hipkins: Did the Ministers responsible receive advice prior to signing off Novopay’s implementation that there were 147 known software defects with the system and that “the risk of failure is high and the consequences of failure serious”; if so, why, after 2 years of this debacle, is he refusing to explore alternatives to sticking with a payroll system he himself has described as “a dog with fleas”?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I am sorry the member does not understand this, but when 90,913 staff are being paid correctly and 40 are not, in a pay period—
Andrew Little: Answer the question.
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: —I am answering the question; hold your fire—the simple reality of it is that it would make no sense to put the staff through what Mr Hipkins now proposes they be put through. But, then, his advice does not surprise me because it was he who was advising the previous Minister to throw out the previous pay system, and put Novopay in, in the first place.
Chris Hipkins: Why should the taxpayer have confidence that his decision to take complete control of Novopay will produce better outcomes and provide better value for money given that buried within the agreement he has committed to making ongoing payments to Talent2 of over $9 million for a system that does not work?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Dear, oh dear! This is another example of why it would have been a good idea to have a better ministerial adviser back in 2008 than this one. The member seems to be suggesting that the solution to Novopay now is to say that we should not pay for any maintenance or any services over the next 6 years of its use to try to prove that that would be a good idea, and that Talent2 would still look after the programme on that basis. This member was out of his depth in 2008 and he is out of his depth now.
Greenhouse Gas Emissions—Evidence of Reductions 9. Dr KENNEDY GRAHAM (Green) to the Minister for Climate Change Issues: Can he point to anything to show New Zealand’s net greenhouse gas emissions are reducing, in light of a call from Pacific Island leaders for a clear demonstration of this?
Hon TIM GROSER (Minister for Climate Change Issues): Yes, I can point to the one internationally legally binding commitment New Zealand has in respect of its net emissions, which is under the Kyoto Protocol, and I am pleased to report that we are reducing our net emissions at least to the level and quite probably below a quarter of a century ago, in 1990.
Dr Kennedy Graham: Given that his own Government’s figures show that our net emissions will rise 50 percent over the next 10 years, on what basis can he tell New Zealanders with family members in the Pacific that he is doing all he can for their brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, friends, and children when it comes to climate change?
Hon TIM GROSER: Well, since the member did not particularly like the statistics from the official Kyoto repertoire, let me just remind him that in the 5 years of this Government between 2008 and 2012, we reduced the level of net emission, compared with the 5 years under the previous Government between 2003 and 2007, by 11 percent.
Dr Kennedy Graham: Does the Minister support statements made by the Minister of Finance that climate change is a non-issue; if so, does he believe it is a non-issue for our Pacific neighbours?
Hon TIM GROSER: Again, that is a classic example of taking something out of context. The Government is pursuing more than one policy objective. Climate change is absolutely one of them, but we are trying to produce answers that meet demands of New Zealanders across a broad range of concerns, and I am very confident we have got a winning formula.
Dr Kennedy Graham: Has his Government been too busy wooing oil company executives and spending $850,000 to help host the last petroleum conference atSkycity to notice the plight of our Pacific neighbours, or is it that it has noticed and does not care?
Hon TIM GROSER: Putting aside the preceding remarks around our efforts to produce our own petroleum resources and create jobs and employment in regions that will vastly benefit from that, let me just point out in respect of the Pacific that this Government has spent $90 million on fast-start climate change finance, the vast bulk of which is in the Pacific, and that this Government supported, with the cooperation of the European Union, the renewable energy conference in Auckland in 2013, which produced $635 million worth of bids for projects for the Pacific. An example of this, in respect of the Cook Islands, will be the creation of eight new solar generation systems and upgrades of their distribution system in six islands of the Cook Islands.
Dr Kennedy Graham: I seek leave of the House to table a United Nations document dated 2012, which shows that New Zealand’s net greenhouse gas emissions have increased 22 percent—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The document has now been described. I will put the leave. Leave is sought to table a United Nations document for 2012. Is there any objection? There is objection.
Te Ururoa Flavell: Does he agree with the submission from iwi leaders to the expert review panel that New Zealand’s biennial report is inaccurate and misleading, and that New Zealand’s strategy to meet its medium and long-term emissions reduction obligations were fundamentally flawed; if not, why not?
Hon TIM GROSER: Absolutely not. New Zealand’s biennial report is compiled by New Zealand experts consistent with the methodologies of the United Nations Framework Convention
on Climate Change. It is then reviewed by international experts. The criticism is completely misguided.
Te Ururoa Flavell: What will he do in response to concerns from hapū and iwi Māori that there has been negligible investment in low-emissions technologies, resulting in foresters leaving the climate change scheme?
Hon TIM GROSER: What we will do is explain once again the very extensive research and investments that this Government has, in fact, done in low-emissions technologies and renewable energies, starting with the $45 million we have allocated to the Global Research Alliance—which is addressing 49.4 percent of New Zealand emissions—the additional substantial moneys going to the Primary Growth Partnership agreements, the additional substantial millions going to the consortium of companies doing pastoral greenhouse gas research, the $42 million we have committed over the last 5-year period towards research to advance biofuels, and I could go on.
Minimum Wage—Increases 10. ANDREW LITTLE (Labour) to the Minister of Labour: What measures, if any, will he take to lift pay rates so that workers on the minimum wage get their fair share of the economy?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES (Minister of Labour): The Government is committed to growing the economy through the recent Budget and the Business Growth Agenda, and ensuring that everyone gets a fair and growing share of the pie. This includes our year-on-year increases to the minimum wage, which now sits at $14.25 and is one of the most generous in the OECD. The April increase of 50c was higher than the CPI increase, which helps ensure the lowest-paid really do get a fair share of economic growth.
Andrew Little: In light of his public comments yesterday that increasing the minimum wage according to Labour’s policy will cost jobs, why does he continue to make that claim when the last Labour Government increased the minimum wage by 70 percent and saw unemployment fall to as low as 3.5 percent—then the lowest in the OECD—towards the end of its term?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: Because all of the advice that I have had shows that raising the minimum wage quickly and unsustainably, like the member wants to do, would result in 6,000 New Zealanders who are in jobs right now losing their jobs. So I think that the policies announced by the Labour Party yesterday should properly be seen as unemployment policies.
Andrew Little: Why does he continue to claim that raising the minimum wage causes job losses when the last Labour Government more than doubled the training rate, from $4.20 an hour to $9.60, and saw the unemployment rate for 15 to 19-year-olds drop from 16.5 percent to a low of 11.8 percent in 2005—a rate that has been consistently above 22 percent since 2009—after this Government introduced youth rates and the hated 90-day, no-rights law?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: It is, of course, a question of where the minimum wage starts. We start right now with a minimum wage that has gone up by, I think, 19 percent since we have been in office. At $14.25, it is the highest minimum wage in the world, relative to average wages, and is the fifth-highest in real terms in the world—past three European countries and Australia. Taking it to $16.25 at the start of the next year would result in thousands of New Zealanders losing their jobs.
Andrew Little: Why does he continue to claim that raising the minimum wage causes job losses when the United States Department of Labor recently advised that after reviewing 64 studies on minimum wage increases, it found no discernible effect on employment, and when the United Kingdom Low Pay Commission commissioned over 130 pieces of research from economists—
Hon Steven Joyce: What happened to 30 bucks an hour? Why not 30 bucks? Why not $35?
Andrew Little: —Mr Joyce, you might want to listen to this and learn a few facts, for a change—and found that minimum wages—
Hon Steven Joyce: No, you could learn a few facts. Why not $35, Andrew?
Andrew Little: —sensitive, Mr Joyce, sensitive—boost workers’ pay but do not harm employment?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: Without being an expert on the United States, what is very clear is that it is starting from a much lower base in terms of its minimum wage than we are. Where we start, as highest in the world relative to average wage, makes it very clear that we put people out of jobs if we do otherwise. It is also clear that in New Zealand we are talking about a country made up of small and medium sized businesses that actually need increases in productivity and growth to take on more people. That is why the 90-day trial, the starting-out wage, and all of these policies that National has been promoting are creating real jobs for real people, not unemployment policies, like Labour announced yesterday.
Andrew Little: When will he and his Government come into the 21st century and accept that a fair minimum wage that allows workers to earn a decent income and live in dignity lifts productivity, is good for business, and is good for all New Zealanders?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: We are already, of course, in the 21st century and we know that the policies we have got are creating jobs. I would like to know when the Greens will start supporting the 7,000 people in oil and gas in Taranaki and the Labour Party will do something about an appalling policy that would see something like 16,000 New Zealanders in the film industry put out of jobs. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I am just waiting for the cousins to finish their discussion.
Road Safety—Initiatives 11. MIKE SABIN (National—Northland) to the Minister of Transport: What has the Government done to make roads safer for New Zealanders?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE (Minister of Transport): Last night Parliament passed the Land Transport Amendment Bill. This bill comes into force on 1 December, and it will lead to a saving of lives. The Government has also, under my associate Michael Woodhouse, continued to press ahead with the Safer Journeys strategy. We have introduced electronic stability control for new cars, we have increased the driving age to 16, and we have fixed the give-way rule. We have named the 100 riskiest intersections in New Zealand and begun planning their upgrades, and we have instituted a zero blood-alcohol limit for under-20s. Importantly, in terms of results, we have seen the last 3 years’ road tolls coming down to 50-year lows. But there is still, with that large number of people who die on the roads each year, a lot to be done.
Broadband, Ultra-fast and Rural—Progress 12. CLARE CURRAN (Labour—Dunedin South) to the Minister for Communications and Information Technology: What percentage of the 1,592,000 target households for both the Government-subsidised rural and urban broadband programmes have actually connected and why are the figures so low?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister for Economic Development) on behalf of the Minister for Communications and Information Technology: I am surprised that the member has gone on to judge them as being low before hearing the answer, but, nevertheless, of the estimated 747,000 end-users who can now receive either package, the answer is 13 percent. Of the remaining end-users who have not had it built out to them yet, the answer is, weirdly enough, zero.
Clare Curran: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. This question was a simple question. It was a question on notice. It asked for two percentage figures for the target households—these are the households able to connect. It asked what the number of households actually connected is, and it asked for two percentage figures.
Mr SPEAKER: The Minister has given two percentages. He gave 13 percent for those who are able to connect at this stage and zero for those who are not, so he has given two percentage figures. I think the best way forward is I will allow the member an additional supplementary question.
Clare Curran: Why are there no figures for the actual number of people living in rural New Zealand who are connected to the taxpayer-funded rural broadband programme, which she has touted as being the envy of other countries but which is clearly failing to deliver?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: There are numbers. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: I did not—[Interruption] Order! I actually did not hear the answer. Could the Minister repeat the answer.
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Well, the member asked why there were not any figures, and I said there are figures.
Clare Curran: What is the percentage figure for the number of people connected to rural broadband?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I thank the member for her question. The rate of uptake for the rural broadband package fixed line is 22.6 percent, which is about 57,000 rural homes and businesses, while the wireless Rural Broadband Initiative has approximately 6,000 end-users. We cannot give exact percentages for each component as there are some that have a crossover of both fixed line and wireless coverage areas, but that gives the member a reasonable estimation.
Grant Robertson: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am reluctant to do this on the last day, but we have had the Minister deliberately fudge the answer to a primary question, making a member use three supplementary questions to then get information that he actually should have given out in the primary question or in either of the first two supplementary questions. Unfortunately, this has been the pattern of Mr Joyce throughout this sitting time. It is not fair for members to have to use supplementary questions in that way.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: The first question was about percentages. She asked for two percentages; two percentages were given. The second was about whether numbers were available; the answer was yes, they are available. The third question got to the point, and there was a very clear answer once the member got to the point. It is not the Minister’s job to pre-empt what it is that people might particularly want if their question does not indicate that.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! I do not need further assistance. I have listened very carefully to the questions and to the answers, and my job is to address whether the questions have been addressed. I do not have to judge the quality of the answers; it is for the members in this House and the public to judge the quality. In one case I thought there was a question about whether it had been satisfactorily addressed. I did what I often do and gave an additional supplementary question. I think that that was the way forward. So the member Clare Curran still has, I think, two supplementary questions to use.
Clare Curran: How can she claim that when after 6 years, and where her Government’s investment in broadband infrastructure was touted as the big flagship programme in 2008, only 2 percent of New Zealanders in the target households have connected to ultra-fast broadband, and a report out last week from the Commerce Commission showed that the speed of rural broadband has significantly declined in the last 2 years?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: The member is simply wrong. She is simply wrong. The reality of it is that the rate of uptake for the ultra-fast broadband—
Grant Robertson: Patronising. Arrogant.
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Be quiet, Mr Robertson, and just listen for a minute. The rate of uptake for the ultra-fast broadband is at the end of June for end-users who are able to connect—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! We could be here for a long time to finish question time unless we get a bit of cooperation.
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Again, the rate of uptake for the ultra-fast broadband as at the end of June for end-users who are able to connect is 7.6 percent, which is 39,510 end-users. That is a 44 percent increase on the number of connections on the previous quarter, which is an excellent result.
Mr SPEAKER: Before I call the member, the member has two further supplementary questions.
Clare Curran: I seek leave to table two documents, including the last quarterly figures for ultra-fast broadband uptake, where it shows that—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I do not need to know any further information than that. I just need to know the source of the document.
Clare Curran: It is a quarterly update document from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! This is easily resolved on the basis that they may be difficult for members to obtain. I will put the leave and the House can decide. Leave is sought to table those two documents. Is there any objection?
Clare Curran: That is only one document.
Mr SPEAKER: Sorry, I apologise. Leave is sought to table one document. Is there any objection? There is.
Clare Curran: Point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: A further point of order.
Clare Curran: Can I table another document? I seek leave to table another document.
Mr SPEAKER: If the member briefly describes it and includes the source, I will put the leave.
Clare Curran: It is a report on rural broadband speeds going backwards, produced last week by TrueNet for the Commerce Commission.
Mr SPEAKER: I will put the leave. Leave is sought to table that particular report. Is there any objection? There is.
Clare Curran: What does she say to the hundreds of communities in New Zealand who experience substandard, slow broadband, are treated like second-class citizens to their urban cousins, and cannot either afford or get access to anything better—communities such as Outram and Karitane, near Dunedin; Ōtaki, north of Wellington; Waverley, near Wanganui; Haast, Hokitika; and Westport on the West Coast, to name just a few? Has not her Government just abandoned these communities?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I did not know we were doing speeches. The point of this is that the member is simply wrong again. The member is simply wrong again. Again, I tell her that the rate of uptake for improved rural broadband is 22.6 percent, about 57,000 rural homes and businesses, and the roll-out continues. If I could be helpful to the member, and I genuinely mean this, the answers I was giving her earlier are actually more up-to-date information than is publicly available, but she does not seem to want to get the answer to the question at question time.
Clare Curran: Why is it that after 6 years in Government more than one in five New Zealanders do not have regular access to the internet, and 62,000 households with school-aged children do not have access to the internet at home; why is the digital divide increasing under her Government and becoming a new measure of poverty?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I sense another crisis coming on. It is late in the term, but I suspect a crisis. This Government has done a very good job of lifting connectivity for New Zealanders on the internet and with broadband. This Government has achieved something that has not been achieved anywhere else in the world, which is the progressive roll-out of ultra-fast broadband to a population density that is fairly small. We have achieved a connection rate already of 7.6 percent, which is exactly on target. We are rolling out a rural broadband initiative, which both that member and her party have opposed all the way through.
David Shearer: I would like to seek leave to table a document that is the credit card statement of Murray McCully from 22 May, including a charge for internet connection to receive a note he should have been able to receive on the Malaysian diplomat case.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that particular information.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: It doesn’t actually say that.
Mr SPEAKER: Well, if the member was misleading the House, that is a very serious offence—[Interruption]. Order! I am putting the leave. It is over to the House as to whether it wants to see
that document tabled. Leave is sought to table that particular document. Is there any objection? There is none. It can be tabled.