Questions and Answers - October 22
QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS
Child Poverty—Government Priorities and Policies 1. Hon ANNETTE KING (Acting Deputy Leader - Labour) to the Deputy Prime Minister: Will he make reducing child poverty a Better Public Service target given the statement in the Speech from the Throne that his Government will continue to “have a focus on poverty, especially child poverty”?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Deputy Prime Minister): Yes. The Government already has a number of Better Public Services related to children’s welfare and poverty, and we have focused on these results because we believe they have a longer-term impact on child poverty—for instance, reducing long-term welfare dependency, increasing participation in early childhood education, reducing assaults on children, and, in particular, increasing educational achievement. These targets are published regularly in the fashion that no previous Government has been able to be held to account on in respect of progress on its social policy, and the member is free to contribute any good ideas that she has to enable us to, for instance, reduce assaults on children or increase educational achievement.
Hon Annette King: If child poverty is a Better Public Service target, how will the Ministerial Committee on Poverty that he is to chair measure the success of the cross-Government approach announced as the method for focusing on poverty over the next 3 years?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: That committee is likely to do the same thing as the Government, and that is measure success in terms of better outcomes for real people. That is, for instance, higher levels of educational achievement and more people having their serious housing needs met, which is not one of our formal targets but something we will be very focused on. Another one that has been topical recently is that we will measure success by trying to reduce the proportion of household incomes that is spent on housing costs, because those have risen over the last 20 years, particularly for low-income households.
Hon Annette King: Will the ministerial committee use the EU measure of poverty, as the Prime Minister did on Radio New Zealand this morning, which, when applied to New Zealand, indicates 180,000 children living with seven or more items of deprivation; if not, what will the committee use to measure progress over the next 3 years?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Of course we can use that measure. There is any number of income measures available, including the EU threshold, which is a bit lower, actually, than the one that was discussed during the election campaign. But those measures are all readily available. They are tracked regularly by the Ministry of Social Development. We have come up with a series of in many ways more challenging measures, and those are ones that are directly related to the welfare of the children, not just to the measure of the income of the household in which they live.
Hon Annette King: The Prime Minister stated today: “There will be extra money to fight child poverty.” How much has he earmarked over the next 3 years to spend on this policy, and how has he calculated the amount required?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: That is all a matter for discussion. What we do know is that if you were going to try to shift some of the indicators, such as with the EU measure, then you would need to spend maybe several billion dollars to get some appreciable change. What the member can be reassured about is that the Government will take the investment approach; that is, we will look at putting money in where we can see there are clearly going to be payoffs in the future, as we have done with welfare dependency, as we expect to be doing with housing, and as we want to do with any number of other Government interventions.
Hon Annette King: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I wonder whether the Minister answered when I asked how much he had earmarked over the next 3 years to spend on this policy. He gave nothing other than airy-fairy sorts of answers about some money, sometime, somewhere.
Mr SPEAKER: No, on this occasion I think that to ask how much is being earmarked when budgets have not been presented by this new Government—I think the chance of getting an answer to that was not good. [Interruption] Order! The interjection question would have been better—and I will invite the member to ask an additional supplementary question.
Hon Annette King: Why is the Government, to quote the Prime Minister, “just starting to produce some paperwork on child poverty and a programme that we can work on.” when the Government already has numerous reports, and one exceptional one from the Children’s Commissioner?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: We do, but, as the member will well understand, child poverty is a complex problem. Fortunately, we are learning a lot more about what sorts of interventions might work, which ones do not, and too many of them do not. And so the work the Prime Minister is referring to is the ongoing evolution, actually, of issues this Government has been focusing on for the last 5 or 6 years.
Hon Annette King: Was the Prime Minister correct when he stated this morning that 15 percent of children go to school hungry; if not, is he prepared to spend some of the extra cash that is in the Budget for the next 3 years to provide some hard data, not just guesswork and anecdotal stories, about how many children go to school hungry?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Of course the Prime Minister was correct. There is quite an interesting issue—
Hon Annette King: On what measure?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Well, there is an interesting issue around data, and that is that most of the data held by the Government is organised around Government departments, not around families and communities. That is one of the reasons why we cannot know for sure how many kids turn up to school without having had breakfast. One of the challenges for the Public Service is to reorganise the millions and millions of dollars’ worth of data that it has in a way that is much more relevant to decisions about families and communities, not about Government departments.
Hon Annette King: The Prime Minister has said that there are a number of children who live in an unacceptable level of material deprivation—how will the committee identify those children so that it can address their issues?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: That is a very good question. The measures of hardship and deprivation are, by definition, statistical measures. What you then have to do is turn it into identifying actual families. The important point is this: the Public Service knows all these families—they are in our health population registers, they are in our school enrolment registers, they are in our State houses. The challenge is how to reorganise that information so that we can ensure that every single family in persistent deprivation is known to the Government and that for each one of those families, we are thinking much more deeply about the interventions that will change their life course.
Mr SPEAKER: Question—[Interruption] Order! I gave the additional one supplementary question, not two.
Economic Programme—Policies 2. DAVID BENNETT (National—Hamilton East) to the Minister of Finance: What will be the main features of the Government’s economic plan during this term of Parliament?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): The Government’s economic plan will reinforce all those decisions and actions taken by New Zealanders over the last 4 or 5 years that have put this economy in the right direction. It grew by 3.9 percent in the year to June, 83,000 new jobs have been created in the past 12 months, and, on average, wages are rising faster than inflation. So we want to build on this progress: first, by keeping our spending under control, getting back to surplus, and reducing debt; secondly, by continuing to encourage what is now strong business investment and the enterprise needed to create new jobs; and, thirdly, we will focus on rewarding New Zealanders’ hard work—for instance, by reducing ACC levies and with modest tax reductions when we can afford them.
David Bennett: What reports has he received confirming the Government’s economic programme is helping to support more jobs?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The most important thing to support more jobs is businesses having the confidence to invest another dollar and employ another person, and, fortunately, more New Zealand businesses are doing that. Since the House was last sitting, Statistics New Zealand has reported that the unemployment rate fell to 5.6 percent as at 30 June, the number of people unemployed in the June quarter fell by 9,000, and the number of people employed increased by 10,000. This encouraging labour force data is backed up by other indicators, such as employment confidence among businesses. Total job advertising increased by 2.4 percent in September, following a 1.7 percent lift in August, according to the ANZ job ads survey.
David Bennett: How is New Zealand’s improving economy being reflected in confidence among manufacturers?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: We track manufacturing because the Opposition decided a couple of years ago that it was in crisis. Last week the BNZ - BusinessNZ Performance of Manufacturing Index came out for September. It rose by 1.1 points to 58.1 points. The manufacturing sector has now expanded for 25 consecutive months, beginning in about the month when the Opposition said the sector was in crisis.
David Bennett: Since the election, what reports has he received supporting the Government’s economic plan?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Well, a number of reports, but one particularly strong endorsement. The report said: “Well, I think at the end of the day people wanted stability. They wanted prosperity. They saw the current Government as for now delivering that for them, and they weren’t prepared to take what they saw as some kind of risk for a change.” That was from the then Labour leader, David Cunliffe.
Dr David Clark: Given the forecast of his own department that exports as a percentage of GDP will this very year fall to their lowest level in 25 years, will he finally concede that he has failed to rebalance the economy?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: No. The measure the member is using is, as I understand it anyway from what he said, the nominal measure, which actually is not the volume measure. But the Government, rather than attacking the export sector for non-performance, as the Opposition is, has been backing it solidly while it has been dealing with the headwinds of a high exchange rate. As the exchange rate comes off and our exporters show that they have become very competitive, we expect them to perform pretty well, actually, over the next few years.
Dr David Clark: Has he in the past month come up with any new ideas to rebalance the economy, given that his own department forecast exports as a percentage of GDP by March 2016 to be the worst since Robert Muldoon became Prime Minister—the worst exports to GDP ratio in 40 years?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: As I pointed out before, our exporters have done a fantastic job, given that they have been dealing with the highest exchange rate since the Second World War. Despite that, they have been able to hold their own. As the pressure comes off, they will be able to succeed. But, of course, alongside growing exports we have to do some domestic work in New Zealand—for instance, expanding the housing supply. So resources that are applied to that very vital task will not be able to be applied to exports until the construction catch-up is complete.
Dr David Clark: I seek leave to table a document.
Mr SPEAKER: The source of the document?
Dr David Clark: From the Parliamentary Library.
Mr SPEAKER: And what is the document?
Dr David Clark: It is outlining the extent of the Minister’s abject failure to rebalance—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member will resume his seat. It is a privilege the member is asking for—the ability to table a document. He stands and describes the document without that form of embellishment and then I might consider putting the leave. I will give the member a second chance.
Dr David Clark: I seek leave to table a document outlining the extent of the Minister’s failure to rebalance the economy.
Mr SPEAKER: I gave the member a second chance. He has not accepted it. I am not putting the leave.
Prime Minister—Communication with Blogger 3. Dr RUSSEL NORMAN (Co-Leader - Green) to the Prime Minister: How many times since November 2008 has he spoken with blogger Cameron Slater on the phone and how many times, if any, has he texted him?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): None in my capacity as Prime Minister. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! When I remain on my feet, I do not expect interjections to continue from my left.
Dr Russel Norman: Given the Prime Minister’s previous statements to say that he regularly talked with Mr Slater on the phone, is the Prime Minister now claiming that when he talked with Mr Slater he was talking with Mr Slater as the leader of the National Party, not as the Prime Minister; and does he wear a different hat when he takes those phone calls?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I am not now claiming that. That has always been the claim.
Dr Russel Norman: Did he call Cameron Slater to discuss the backlash Slater received after describing a young car crash victim as a feral who deserved to die; if so, what did he tell Slater about the dead man’s mother?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I have never rung Cameron Slater in my capacity as Prime Minister.
Chris Hipkins: Has he ever phoned or texted Cameron Slater on a phone funded or provided by Ministerial Services?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I am not 100 percent sure of that, but what I can say is that—as Prime Minister Helen Clark would have told him—that is not the test of whether it is in my capacity as Prime Minister.
Dr Russel Norman: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. [Interruption] Mr Speaker—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I do not need the Leader of the House’s assistance at this stage.
Dr Russel Norman: The Prime Minister gave an answer to the primary question on notice, on the basis that he never called Mr Slater as the Prime Minister. We have now established that there are occasions where he used the prime ministerial phone to call Mr Slater. I would ask you to rule as to whether the Prime Minister’s original answer was within the Standing Orders of the House, given that he himself has now acknowledged he used a prime ministerial phone to call Mr Slater.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! In regard to the answer given by the Prime Minister to the first question, that answer was definitely in order.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. There is something particularly disturbing about the Prime Minister’s answer, because it would appear that any Minister can make this claim and say: “Not in my capacity as a Minister.” Around about now, we have got no accountability at all in this Parliament if you allow that to stand.
Mr SPEAKER: In regard to the very first question that was asked, the Prime Minister is perfectly entitled to answer it in the way he did. He is then responsible for that answer. Further supplementary questions have been asked that attempt to tease this issue out. They are equally in order.
Dr Russel Norman: Why did he tell Cameron Slater that the dead man’s mother was the same woman who sometimes confronted him at Pike River meetings?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I am not going to describe conversations I have in capacities other than those as Prime Minister.
Dr Russel Norman: Was Cameron Slater correct when he said that the Prime Minister told him that the dead man’s mother—so these are the Prime Minister’s own words—was “ ... the same woman f—ing feral bitch that screams at him when he goes to Pike River meetings.”? Is Cameron Slater correct that that is what the Prime Minister said?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I made clear at the time that that was not correct.
Dr Russel Norman: Is it not the truth that until theDirty Politics book came out, he chose to have regular dealings with Cameron Slater, a man who is a hired gun for the tobacco industry, whose blog subjected a public servant to death threats, and who celebrated the death of a car crash victim, calling him a feral?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Over the time I have been Prime Minister, the answer to that question is no.
Dr Russel Norman: Is it appropriate for the Prime Minister or his staff to use an attack blogger like Cameron Slater as a platform to “get their message out”, as the Prime Minister’s spokeswoman described it on 12 December last year?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: The Government and Ministers do talk to bloggers, for a variety of reasons. The reason we talk to social media is that they are part of the overall media that communicates with New Zealanders. That would be no different from other political parties. I have seen that member quoted on numerous blog sites. One assumes that he and his office talk to them, and I am sure he and his office probably talk to Nicky Hager.
Dr Russel Norman: Did he instruct his staff to cease all links with Cameron Slater after the blogger accused an alleged sexual attack victim of bringing it on herself, or after Slater described a car crash victim as a feral who deserved to die? Did the Prime Minister direct his staff to cease all contact with Cameron Slater after Slater made those comments?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No.
Dr Russel Norman: Does he not think that he should set a standard for the Prime Minister’s office by directing his staff to cease all contact with the attack blogger Cameron Slater, after Cameron Slater accused an alleged sexual attack victim of bringing it on herself, and Slater described a car crash victim as a feral who deserved to die? Would it not set a standard for the Prime Minister’s office to direct his staff to no longer have contact with Cameron Slater?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I have made it clear that we do not endorse many of the stories or comments that are run by a range of different bloggers, but, no, I will not be instructing my staff to do that.
Dr Russel Norman: Is he saying it is business as usual for the Prime Minister of New Zealand and his staff to deal on a regular basis with the most vicious and notorious blogger in New Zealand and for his staff to leak information to that blogger in order to intimidate public servants and silence his political opponents?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I do not believe that to be an accurate statement.
Chris Hipkins: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I ask that after question time you review the overall question here today, because I suspect this issue is going to arise again around the distinction between the Prime Minister’s other capacities and his capacity as Prime Minister. The issue that I would like you to consider—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! This is a point of order.
Chris Hipkins: —is that, in fact, it is the content of the communications and not the means by which they are transmitted, or the hat that the Prime Minister claims to be wearing at the time that he makes the communication, that is at issue here. So if the Prime Minister is communicating with someone about matters relating to his role as Prime Minister and about activities he has undertaken as Prime Minister, then they are, by nature, prime ministerial activities that he should be answerable for. So I ask you to give some further consideration to the interchange today, and, in fact, perhaps come back with a more substantive ruling on the matter, because it seems to me that the Prime Minister could stand up and give any answer to any question and say: “Well, I wasn’t doing that as Prime Minister.”, and therefore would not be held to account.
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I think it has been well established in this House for a very long period of time that Prime Ministers wear a variety of different hats, and that includes as leader of the National Party, and can include as a citizen. I fondly remember sitting in this House for years hearing Helen Clark saying that she made statements, or had conversations, or undertook actions as the leader of the Labour Party. I happen, for the record, to use my Ministerial Services - funded cellphone to ring my wife. When I ring my darling wife and when I put the cat out at night, I do that in my capacity as a husband, not as Prime Minister. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I am on my feet. In regard to the very first point Chris Hipkins raised, I certainly give an assurance I will review the interchange today. As to the appropriate course of action following that review, I will be bound. If it is necessary to come back with a further more substantive ruling, I will consider doing so.
Dr Russel Norman: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! This is a point of order. [Interruption] Order! We just need to get the rules straight for everybody. This is a point of order, and it will be heard in silence.
Dr Russel Norman: Thank you for that ruling. Given that it related to my questions, I would just like to make one point with regard to the point that Mr Hipkins made, which was that the issue was about John Key acting as Prime Minister—
Hon Gerry Brownlee: What’s the point of order?
Mr SPEAKER: Order!
Dr Russel Norman: The point of order is that it is relevant to this question because he was acting as Prime Minister in the Pike River capacity. That is why it is relevant to this question.
Mr SPEAKER: The attempt to raise a point of order is not actually adding to the situation. I have given an assurance following the point of order raised by Chris Hipkins that I will have a look. I always review the transcripts of question time. As to what action may then be required, that will be determined by the conclusions I make in that review.
Dr Russel Norman: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: Is it a fresh point of order? I have dealt with this matter. If it is a fresh point of order I am happy to hear it, but we are not going to relitigate this matter any further.
Dr Russel Norman: Thank you, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: Is it a fresh point of order?
Dr Russel Norman: Yes. Mr Speaker, while you were on your feet, and several times while I was trying to make a point of order, the Prime Minister interjected even after you had directed him not to. It seems to me that if we are going to have order in this House, it is very important that the Prime Minister in particular should set an example of not speaking while the member with the call is trying to speak.
Mr SPEAKER: That is a reasonable point of order to raise. I did not actually hear the Prime Minister continuing in a conversation. I did hear it from another frontbencher of the Government. The member is making a fair point. I do not want to get into a habit of ejecting many members on any day, but points of order should be heard in silence, particularly when I call the House to order and ask for the point of order to be delivered. For members to continue to interject is going to create problems and leave me with no choice but to ask that member, be it a Minister or a Prime Minister, to leave the Chamber.
Housing—Government Priorities and Policies 4. PHIL TWYFORD (Labour—Te Atatū) to the Minister for Building and Housing: Does he agree with the statement from the Speech from the Throne that the Government will “have a focus on housing in this Parliamentary term. More special housing areas will be created—and therefore more new housing developed—as a result of Housing Accords signed between the Government and local councils”?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH (Minister for Building and Housing): Yes, because it was a very good speech.
Phil Twyford: How many houses have been completed in the special housing areas and have people living in them?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: There have been 294 building consents granted. There have been 46 resource consents granted for 617 sections. There has never been a record kept of houses with code compliant certificates, not under the previous Government or the Government before that. What I would say is that there is a housing build going on in Auckland as a consequence of our policies.
Phil Twyford: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. This is a very straight question. In fact, Auckland Council, who is the partner in the Auckland Housing Accord, has been talking publicly about the number of completed houses. It simply defies credibility that the Minister says that he does not know how many houses have been completed.
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: Mr Speaker—
Mr SPEAKER: I will hear from the Minister, because he did not say that he did not know; he said there were no records kept, which I found quite a surprising point. I will hear from Dr Nick Smith.
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: The Auckland Council has said that six houses have been completed in one of the 80 special housing areas. It too has said that there never has been a record kept of the number of code compliant certificates on houses that are completed.
Mr SPEAKER: Before I invite the member to ask a supplementary question, it seems now that the first question has been answered as to how many houses have been completed. It is six.
Phil Twyford: Was he embarrassed to hear comments made by property developer Jon Maplesden that many developers signed up to the special housing areas simply to increase the capital gain on their property and have no intention of building houses any time soon and reports that land in some special housing areas is now selling for three times its earlier value? Why did he conceal this information from the public while he was so busy trying to blame councils for the failure of his policy?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: The 80 special housing areas that have been granted in Auckland, we know, is a good policy, because the member Mr Twyford said on the platform in the election campaign that it was such a good policy he would be keeping the housing accords and special housing area initiative. It is true that when areas do get special housing area status, the value is going up, but I would point out to the House that a block of dirt in Flatbush inside the metropolitan urban limit sold for $800,000 in 1998 and in 2008 sold for $113 million—more than a hundred times the price—because of the stupid policy of the metropolitan urban limit that that member has consistently backed.
Phil Twyford: I did not back it.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! When I rise to my feet, it is important that all members resume their seats. Supplementary question, Phil Twyford.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: No wonder you want a capital gains tax.
Mr SPEAKER: Order!
Phil Twyford: A very good policy, capital gains tax.
Mr SPEAKER: Just ask the supplementary question.
Phil Twyford: Does he stand by his statement that it will take some years for the market to respond to the special housing areas, and at the rate of five houses a year how many years will it take to meet his target of the 39,000 houses he promised Aucklanders?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: The building consent figures show that in the last year 7,200 houses have been built in New Zealand, double the rate when we became the Government and the highest rate for 7 years. We know that the number of resource consents for housing is at the highest level for 10 years. We know from the GDP data that the residential building construction market has grown faster in the last year than it has in the last 20 years. We know from the employment data that the number of people working in residential housing is the highest for 10 years. That shows a housing building boom by anybody’s measure.
Phil Twyford: Will he concede that the average monthly building consent rate under National is 32 percent less than it was under the last Labour Government and 46 percent less in Auckland?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: I am happy to share the exact numbers with the House. In the last 3 months of the previous Government, housing consents in New Zealand averaged 1,000 a month—1,000 per month. In the last 3 months we have done 3,000 a month. That is double. But let us talk about Auckland. In Auckland in the last 3 months of the previous Government, we averaged 200 a month. In the last 3 months, we have averaged 600 a month—a trebling. Not bad. I will settle for that.
Phil Twyford: I seek the leave of the House to table data from Statistics New Zealand that shows that the building consent rate is 32 percent less under National than it was—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Statistics New Zealand information is available very easily to all members.
Joanne Hayes: What progress has the Government made in developing new housing at Hobsonville in Auckland, and how does this compare with progress under the previous Government?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: The Hobsonville development is progressing at pace. Two hundred and thirty houses have been completed and another 208 are under construction. Two new schools have been built and a new ferry terminal has opened. This contrasts with the previous Government, which turned the first sod in 2002 and 6 years later that was all it had done.
Housing—Number of New Builds 5. ALFRED NGARO (National) to the Minister for Building and Housing: What advice has he received on the monthly rate of new house builds from when this Government was first elected in 2008 and the current rate?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH (Minister for Building and Housing): As I just informed the House, we have basically doubled the rate nationally from 1,000 houses a month to about 2,000 a month, and in Auckland we have trebled it from an average of 200 a month when we became the Government; now we are building 600 new houses a month.
Alfred Ngaro: How are the Government’s measures like housing accords and special housing areas helping to build momentum in increasing housing supply?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: There are four steps required to convert bare land into housing. The first is a plan change, and I am advised that that normally takes 7 years. We are doing it with special housing areas in 7 weeks. The second stage is gaining a resource consent for a subdivision. The average period that that used to take was 2 years; the average period in the special housing areas is
2 months. After that stage, you need to construct the roads, the sewerage, the water, the drainage, and the power and the telecommunications infrastructure, and that is being completed in a number of those special housing areas. Then you require a building consent—
Denis O'Rourke: Why did it take 6 years?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: For the benefit of the member opposite, it is delightful to see that we have doubled the rate of housing building, and it will just be great to have the support of parties like his.
Alfred Ngaro: What further initiatives is the Government planning to ensure that a greater proportion of new homes are in a price range affordable for first-home buyers?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: The Prime Minister announced in campaign 2014 the Homestart grant scheme, which will provide $418 million of support over the next 4 years for first home owners, starting from 1 April next year. The Homestart scheme specifically targets first-home buyers and will help an estimated 90,000 young New Zealanders to get access to a first home.
Phil Twyford: Discredited by all the commentators. It failed in Australia. Treasury advised against it.
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: This is about increasing housing in the affordable range for those Kiwi families that aspire to get ahead under a National Government. For the interjecting member, I think it is about 1 million who voted for our plan and about less than half that who voted for that lot’s plan.
Prime Minister—Statements 6. Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First) to the Prime Minister: Does he stand by all his statements?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): Yes.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Does he stand by his statement of 13 October: “I would certainly describe my style as open and transparent.”?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Yes.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: If that is true, why did his Government withhold the two child poverty reports for 17 months in an abuse of the Official Information Act?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: The member really should direct that to the responsible Minister; it was not in my office. But I think I am correct in saying—I could stand corrected—that it was because it was a work in progress and there were particular reasons as it was going through that process.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Having regard to the Hon Jim McLay’s comment in this House when the Official Information Bill was being passed, and he said: “The underlying philosophy of the bill is that official information should be made available unless there is good reason for withholding it.”, and that being the case, why has he admitted on 15 October to using delaying tactics for political purposes?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I have not.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I seek leave to table the evidence that he did admit that on 15 October.
Mr SPEAKER: What is the source of this evidence?
Rt Hon Winston Peters: It is a Radio New Zealand transcript.
Mr SPEAKER: No. That is also available to all members. Does the member—
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Well, he’s just denied it, for goodness sake!
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I heard that. Does the member have a further supplementary question?
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Why are US congressmen kept well informed about the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations whilst New Zealand parliamentarians are kept totally in the dark on this matter?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Well, every system is different, so I cannot speak for what happens in the United States. But what I can say is that in New Zealand it has been a longstanding tradition for free-trade agreements to be negotiated behind closed doors, essentially, until the point an agreement
is reached, because we do not believe it is in the best interests to be discussing those in the public domain because it weakens our bargaining position.
Iraq—Deployment of New Zealand Special Forces 7. Hon PHIL GOFF (Labour - Mt Roskill) to the Prime Minister: Why has he changed his pre-election commitment not to deploy New Zealand Special Forces to Iraq to his post-election statement that deployment is “definitely an option”?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): This is a rapidly evolving issue, and countries including New Zealand are having to consider the issue as it intensifies. The increasing threats from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and the global response will require New Zealand to carefully consider this issue. Therefore, officials are preparing advice for Ministers and Cabinet to consider a range of options, including humanitarian, diplomatic, and military contributions. I would stress that no decisions have been taken at this time. As members know, my least preferred option is to deploy the SAS, but I expect it to be part of the range of options. Over the last few months countries around the world have been considering their contributions to the coalition to combat the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), and New Zealand shares the international community’s outrage at its brutal actions. We have seen clear evidence of what this group is capable of doing.
Hon Phil Goff: When he said on 16 June, without any qualification, that he ruled out New Zealand special forces being deployed to Iraq—even in an advisory capacity, he said—where in that assurance did he warn New Zealanders that straight after the election suddenly sending special forces to Iraq was definitely an option?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: For a start off, let me make it clear: that was the best information and advice I had at the time, and I believed it to be correct at the time. What I can say is the issue is evolving. I stand by the view that I have expressed, which is that sending the SAS is the least preferred option of the Government, but as I have said when I have been asked these questions, the Government will get a range of options presented to it. We do not pick and choose those options that are presented to us; we pick and choose the options we ultimately want to deploy.
Hon Phil Goff: When he told the country last week that the New Zealand Chief of Defence Force was attending just a regular meeting in Washington, is he telling the House that neither the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, the Ministry of Defence, or the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade had informed him that President Obama would be addressing that meeting and the specific purpose of that meeting was to map out a strategy of military commitments to that war when that was in the International News Services wires 12 hours before he made that outrageous comment?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: It is only outrageous if it is incorrect, and it was absolutely correct. We were not aware that President Obama was going down to speak to the meeting and taking the White House press corps with him. That has been confirmed by the Chief of Defence Force.
Hon Phil Goff: Why does his believe that Western-led military intervention to remove ISIS will be more successful than Western-led military intervention to remove oppressive regimes in Iraq in 2003 and Libya in 2011, both of which he supported and both of which were spectacularly unsuccessful, with disastrous unintended consequences?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Firstly, given the member’s previous roles, the differences between the situation in Iraq today and then will, hopefully, not be lost on him. In 2003 there was a situation where there was action taken to oust a regime. Whatever one thinks of that, that was the view that was taken against a regime that was believed to be oppressive. The current situation is quite different in Iraq. It is one where the Iraqi Government is actually asking both the United States, I think, and countries from around the world to give them support against ISIS. ISIS is an organisation that we have designated as a terrorist group. ISIS is an organisation that I believe presents both international, regional, and domestic threats. It may be extremely convenient or easy for the member to be in Opposition and to not care about the responsibilities that I have as Prime
Minister, but I am not going to walk away from those responsibilities. I think that member should himself be very, very careful indeed about the claims that he makes, because I can assure the member that the actions I will be taking are those that are in the bests interests of New Zealanders, even if he can afford the luxury of not doing so.
Hon Phil Goff: Why does it make sense for New Zealand to be part of a so-called coalition of the willing of 22 military countries represented at the meeting in Washington and to make a decision to put the lives of New Zealand soldiers at risk, when two members of that coalition of the willing, NATO ally Turkey and American ally Saudi Arabia, have both supported ISIS, and Saudi Arabia, in fact, is the major provider of weaponry and funding to the ISIS terrorists?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Well, it is not the Saudi royal family who are in that position. There may be individual people who live in Saudi Arabia who happen to—
Hon Phil Goff: They allow it to happen.
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Well, if the member is aware of what Saudi Arabia is doing, then he must also be aware that they gave half a billion dollars of humanitarian aid and are seriously considering what their next steps might be to combat ISIS. You cannot rule out that there are individual people who live in Saudi Arabia who happen to believe in the particular form of Islamic faith that ISIS is following. I will go back to the original point. In the end, the Government will consider what is in the best interests of New Zealanders. The Government will act to do the right thing by New Zealanders even if he, as the spokesman for the Opposition, chooses to ignore what the right thing for New Zealanders is.
Ebola—Readiness and Response Planning 8. SIMON O’CONNOR (National—Tāmaki) to the Minister of Health: Is he confident that New Zealand is prepared to deal with a case of suspected Ebola?
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN (Minister of Health): I am. Although the risk that Ebola poses to New Zealand remains low, we are treating the situation very seriously and taking every precaution to keep New Zealand protected. I am receiving daily updates on the situation from both here and abroad, and officials are constantly updating the comprehensive measures that are in place as part of the international response to the threat of Ebola. I would like to recognise the hard work of officials, doctors, and nurses and all those involved in preparing New Zealand to respond to this threat.
Simon O’Connor: What particular measures are being undertaken as part of the comprehensive preparation in place to protect New Zealand?
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: It is worth noting that this is not just a Ministry of Health response to keeping New Zealand protected. The Ministry of Health is working with Immigration New Zealand and the Customs Service to constantly monitor and update protections at the border. Officials are running specific Ebola-readiness activities, coordinated across 20 agencies, to model New Zealand’s whole-of-Government response.
Hon Te Ururoa Flavell: Tēnā koe, Mr Speaker. Kia ora tātou. How does he propose, in the event that Ebola might reach these shores, that we ensure that access to health services is equally available for everyone, particularly for vulnerable communities, many of which include Māori, Pasifika, and those on low incomes?
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: The comprehensive steps we are taking are to protect all New Zealanders. There are more than 200 isolation rooms to deal with suspected cases, right across all district health board hospitals, and four specialist units, one of which, of course, is at Middlemore Hospital in South Auckland. There is also extensive engagement across the primary health sector to ensure high levels of awareness and preparedness, and of course this Government has worked very hard to increase access to primary care for all New Zealanders.
Hon Annette King: Is he aware that Queensland, our nearest neighbour, with a population about the same as New Zealand, has three isopod units to safely transport Ebola patients to high-level isolation; how many does New Zealand currently have, and are more to be provided?
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: We have four units, and we are currently in the process of implementing their deployment in New Zealand.
Simon O’Connor: What capacity is there across the health sector to deal with a suspected case of Ebola?
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: The health sector is well prepared. There are more than 200 negative pressure isolation rooms across all district health boards around the country, with specialist Ebola treatment facilities in Auckland, Middlemore, Wellington, and Christchurch. Guidelines for health professionals in hospitals, public health, primary care, and pharmacies have been distributed by the Ministry of Health. Relevant public health services are expected to undertake timely and effective management of ill travellers at borders, and all public health services are expected to manage routine public health activities including contact tracing in response to a suspected or confirmed case.
Student Achievement—Investing in Educational Success Programme 9. Dr JIAN YANG (National) to the Minister of Education: What recent updates has she received on the progress of the Government’s $359 million Investing in Educational Success initiative?
Hon HEKIA PARATA (Minister of Education): I recently received an update that shows momentum and enthusiasm are growing as we implement this initiative to raise teaching quality and school leadership to deliver a better education to every student. This is evident by the keen interest already being shown in the process to form these new communities of schools. It is also very clear from what I have been hearing as I have been up and down the country visiting schools and talking with parents.
Dr Jian Yang: What has she heard from others about the importance of this initiative in lifting achievement for kids?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: I have also been hearing and receiving a lot of other support. For example, the Secondary Principals’ Association of New Zealand has said: “Let’s keep the best teachers in the classroom. Let’s share the best practice that we’ve got in communities of schools.” The Ngā Kura-ā-Iwi has described the initiative as a winner, potentially transformational, and providing a real solution to improving achievement for kids. A top chief executive has said: “It’s the encouragement of inspirational teachers that sees kids from tough homes lift their sights”. That is why we are continuing to do the work that needs to be done and that gets this right for kids, their parents, and their schools.
Prisons—Staff and Prisoner Safety 10. MIKE SABIN (National - Northland) to the Minister of Corrections: What announcements has he recently made to help improve safety for frontline corrections officers in our prisons?
Hon Peseta SAM LOTU-IIGA (Minister of Corrections): Yesterday I announced the release of a tender for 1,000 on-body cameras for our front-line corrections officers. This follows a successful 6-month trial for these cameras conducted in high-security Rimutaka Prison and maximum-security Auckland prison. We want prisoners focused on their own rehabilitation through education, skills, and training, and not on causing disruption to other prisoners and staff. Front-line correction officers are well trained and resourced to deal with difficult situations in our prisons, but we remain focused on continually improving the safety of our staff and prisoners. These cameras will be another measure available to de-escalate what can sometimes be highly tense situations.
Mike Sabin: What did the 6-month trial of on-body cameras in both Rimutaka Prison and Auckland prison reveal?
Hon Peseta SAM LOTU-IIGA: When we compared the average rate of prisoner-related incidents during the 180-day trial with the same 180-day period during the previous year, there was a 15 to 20 percent reduction in both trial units. This was compared with a 4 to 5 percent reduction for the wider trial prison sites. The trial also revealed that the use of cameras reduced the severity of incidents and allowed staff to use the footage in their debriefs as evidence of misconduct, in staff development and prisoner coaching. As I said in answering the primary question, we want prisoners focused on their own rehabilitation and working on learning, upskilling, and training for a productive and meaningful life outside prison.
Judith Collins—Inquiry into Compliance with Cabinet Manual 11. Dr MEGAN WOODS (Labour - Wigram) to the Prime Minister: What are the allegations that led to him establishing the Chisholm inquiry into the allegations regarding Judith Collins and a former Director of the Serious Fraud Office?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): The allegations are that during her time as Minister of Police, with responsibility for the Serious Fraud Office, Judith Collins acted inappropriately to undermine the then director of the Serious Fraud Office, Mr Adam Feeley. These allegations have been totally rejected by Miss Collins, and she asked that I establish an inquiry so her name could be cleared. I was happy to oblige. I do not believe it is in the public interest for me to make any further comments while the inquiry is still in progress.
Dr Megan Woods: Is he still expecting the findings of the inquiry to be reported back to him by 28 November 2014, and when does he expect to publicly respond to it?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: In answer to the first part of the question, yes. In terms of the second part of the question, I am not sure at this point.
Dr Megan Woods: If the inquiry clears Judith Collins of the accusations, will she be reinstated to his ministry forthwith?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I have made that clear. The answer is no, not forthwith.
Dr Megan Woods: Has he received specific information about Judith Collins’ conduct as a Minister since the initiation of the inquiry into the matter; if so, what is the information?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No.
Dr Megan Woods: What factors, including any other activities of Judith Collins not included in the inquiry, are preventing him from giving a guarantee to reinstate her to his ministry?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: People are appointed to the ministry when I feel it is appropriate that they are and when we have an opportunity. As the member will be aware, we have just announced a new Cabinet line-up. That is where it stands at the moment.
Immigration Policy—Numbers 12. RON MARK (NZ First) to the Minister of Immigration: Does he have an ideal number of migrants coming to New Zealand; if so, what is that number?
Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE (Minister of Immigration): I do have an ideal situation for migrants coming to New Zealand and it is quantifiable, but not in a single number. My ideal is: as many international students as want to come and study at our tertiary institutions; as many tourists who want to come and enjoy our beautiful country; as many skilled migrants as is necessary to fill the skill demands that we have; and, because migration data also includes New Zealanders coming home, as many New Zealanders who want to come home and contribute to this country’s social and economic development.
Ron Mark: As the Minister has just admitted to the House that he has no clear idea of what an ideal level of immigration is—
Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Ron Mark: —does he not realise—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I have a point of order, and no one should be surprised.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: The Standing Orders are very clear on what must be, or should be, in a question. Equally, they are clear on what there should not be. Statements of supposition that were a statement, effectively, at the beginning of what we hoped would be a question are not inside the Standing Orders and should not be allowed in this Parliament.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: The problem with that complaint is that the Minister did say that he did not have an optimum figure that he could give the House. He admitted that he did not have that figure. He referred to tourists and he referred to students, none of which was part of the primary question, and so, frankly, he is guilty by the statement he made.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: The Minister made it clear that he did not have an ideal number, but he had a series of scenarios that were acceptable. For the member to characterise the start of a question as there was an admission, etc., etc., it is not an acceptable way to ask a question in this House.
Mr SPEAKER: I have heard enough. [Interruption] Order! I am on my feet. Strictly interpreting the Standing Orders, all questions should start with a question, but if members also take the opportunity to review Hansard today they will see that on many occasions members take the opportunity to add an introduction, which I have been relatively lenient in allowing. But, as the member who is asking the question will have noted, when he starts a question like that, it will inevitably lead to disorder. So I invite the member, if he wants to ask a supplementary question, to now rise and ask a supplementary question without the additional comments about a Minister having no idea, etc.
Ron Mark: Thank you, Mr Speaker; thank you, Gerry. Does the Minister, noting that he has not given an ideal level of immigration to the House today, realise that uncontrolled immigration is forcing Kiwis into queues for hospital beds, queues for housing, and queues for jobs, and is driving down Kiwi wages?
Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE: I think it would be helpful to assist the member by describing what migration definitions informed the permanent and long-term migration data that he sees. A migrant includes somebody who is here for a short time, for a long-term temporary basis, and permanently, and New Zealanders returning home. The member describes an out-of-control or uncontrolled permanent residence migration by foreigners. That is not true. We have a planning range of between 45,000 and 50,000 residents per year, and in the 5 years to 2014 we have not met that range because migration policy is demand-driven, and the demand during the recession has not been there. So I reject the assertion that it is somehow uncontrolled immigration.
Ron Mark: Is it not a fact that a Government using open-door immigration policies is likely to drive down wages and living standards, and when will he admit that we—New Zealand—are on track to replicate exactly what is happening in the United Kingdom right now?
Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE: I simply reject the prefacing comments about uncontrolled migration. We have very strict immigration policies, which are labour market - tested for temporary visa holders and are very well controlled for permanent residence visa holders. I note that permanent residence visa numbers presently are 20 percent below the 2006-07 numbers that existed when that member’s party was supporting Labour on confidence and supply.
Ron Mark: So if the number of people coming into New Zealand, as reported recently, in 1 year is such that it translates into a need for 8,000 new homes just to meet their requirements, and the Minister of Building and Housing has just told the House today that he has managed to build six houses this year—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! We are now getting to the stage where it is a speech. Ask the supplementary question.
Ron Mark: Thank you, Mr Speaker. What is the whole-of-Government plan to cater for this level of immigration in terms of infrastructural needs, in terms of housing needs, and in terms of
catering for the hospitals and their extra workload? What is this Government’s population plan for New Zealand?
Mr SPEAKER: Hon Michael Woodhouse, in so far as he has ministerial responsibility.
Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE: As I think I have already explained, the migration data on which the member bases his question include working holidaymakers; international students; people who are going to help us rebuild our second-largest city; and, above all, Kiwis coming home. Yes, they need houses, and this Government does have a plan to fix housing supply, but I reject the inference that this is somehow some kind of peril that we need to be managing.