Questions and Answers - March 24
Questions to Ministers
Social Housing Reform—Objectives
1. TIM MACINDOE (National—Hamilton West) to the Minister responsible for HNZC : What are the objectives of the Government’s social housing reform programme?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister responsible for HNZC): The programme will assist more people with serious housing need by delivering more social houses where they are most needed. The Government has set out five objectives: to ensure people who need housing support from the Government can get it; to help social housing tenants to independence, as appropriate; to ensure that the properties for social housing are the right size and in the right place; to help increase the supply of affordable housing; and to encourage more diverse ownership of social housing.
Tim Macindoe : What steps is the Government taking under the social housing reform programme to deliver on these objectives?
Hon BILL ENGLISH : A number of steps. We will purchase 3,000 more social housing places over the next 3 years, and are currently in the process of purchasing 300 of them in Auckland. We will accelerate Housing New Zealand builds and disposals. We will open up access to income-related rents to the community housing sector. We are committed to 5,000 tenancy reviews over the next 2 years to support tenants back into independence. Building is under way in the Tāmaki regeneration of up to 3,000 houses. We are committed to the transfer of 1,000 to 2,000 houses to the community sector in the next 12 to 18 months.
Tim Macindoe : What steps is the Government taking to get more social housing to where it is most needed?
Hon BILL ENGLISH : Around one-third of Housing New Zealand houses—$18.7 billion worth of them—are the wrong size and in the wrong place. Just, for instance, 45 percent of current tenancies are for one single person—45 percent of our houses are occupied by one person—but only 9 percent of the housing stock has one bedroom. So we have thousands of single tenants in three-bedroom and two-bedroom houses. Housing New Zealand is making good progress in rebalancing its portfolio. Last year it sold 600 houses, mostly in areas of low demand, and it is currently building around 700 new houses this year.
Darroch Ball : Does the Minister stand by his statement in reference to the social housing reform programme that “These other agencies are having a thorough look and are telling us a whole lot about our business we didn’t know.”?
Hon BILL ENGLISH : Yes. State housing has been run by a Government monopoly for, I think, at least 70 years, and because there has been no pressure to compete or to do a better job, there have been significant aspects of that that were not clear to previous Governments or to this Government. But in this whole process of social housing reform, we are finding things out, like the fact that although 45 percent of our tenants are single-person households, only 9 percent of our houses are single-bedroom households.
Darroch Ball : Has his Government not released the findings of the warrant of fitness trial, which includes 20 State houses in the Northland electorate, because the results would show that these houses are falling apart around thousands of vulnerable tenants, or is he waiting for these other agencies to tell the public what a disgrace these State houses are in?
Hon BILL ENGLISH : The results of that trial will be released in due course, but the member does highlight a reasonable issue. Pretty much every MP knows, if they are doing their constituent work, that this large-scale Government agency could have been doing a better job. I am pleased to say that Housing New Zealand’s performance is improving pretty rapidly now, and I think the main reason is that there are others showing up where they could do it better.
Tim Macindoe : What examples can the Minister provide of a community housing provider supporting the social housing reforms but opting not directly to buy former State houses on its own in the immediate future?
Hon BILL ENGLISH : Yes, I am aware that the Salvation Army yesterday confirmed that it supports the Government’s policy to have community organisations involved in the management of social housing, and that under the current policy it will continue to provide and expand its social houses. It confirmed that it is keen to pursue housing partnerships between itself, the Government, and other groups, but it did say that it would not take part in these particular transactions. I am pleased to say that there is widespread interest in the Government housing policy, because unlike the Labour Party, everyone else in New Zealand thinks it can be done better.
State Housing—Sale of Housing Stock
2. ANDREW LITTLE (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister : Does he stand by his statements that his plan to sell state houses “is not about selling to developers” and he would be “amazed” if the likes of the Salvation Army were hesitant to get involved?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Acting Prime Minister): Yes, the social housing reforms are about better outcomes for our tenants, many of whom have been locked into dependency for decades when Governments have done very little to assist them to housing or economic independence. The Salvation Army yesterday said it is keen to pursue housing partnerships between itself and the Government and others. In fact, I am advised that it is in the process right now of registering as a community housing provider, which will, of course, give it access to income-related rents for the many hundreds of seriously needy tenants whom it currently looks after. I am sure the Salvation Army will welcome access to a larger subsidy for New Zealanders in serious housing need.
Andrew Little : Is it correct that he is considering a sweetheart deal for private developers, with measures including selling the houses below book value, offering subsidies, allowing houses to be rented at market rates, or allowing them to be sold into the private market?
Hon BILL ENGLISH : As a result of the first opportunity in 70 years for many people to have an opinion and to participate in better housing for the most needy New Zealanders, we have heard all of those ideas. We are going through a process of working with them and listening to them because we all have a common purpose to do a better job for the tenants. The transactions that had been proposed, however, will be run on a commercial and competitive basis.
Andrew Little : Was today’s New Zealand Herald editorial correct when it said his policy “amounts to a subsidy, leaving taxpayers out of pocket. And it raises the question of the whole point of the exercise.”?
Hon BILL ENGLISH : No, but the New Zealand Herald may be interested to know that the Government values its houses currently as if it is a developer. It values them as if it can get the highest price for an individual house on the day and, of course, social housing providers who are more focused on looking after the tenants do not believe that those valuations are correct—that as social houses they are not there to capture the full capital gain and that the issue is precisely the opposite of the one the New Zealand Herald thinks that it is.
Andrew Little : Which of these community housing experts is wrong and why: Major Campbell Roberts, who said of the housing sell-off: “I don’t there’s been enough thinking gone into it.”; or Property Institute chief executive officer, Ashley Church, who said “If a large, credible, social agency like The Salvation Army thinks that the current proposal is too risky— it’s unlikely that any other group is going to be any more willing to pick it up.”; or, thirdly, the Iwi Leaders Forum housing spokesperson, Sonny Tau, who said: “I don’t think it’s a good policy.”?
Hon BILL ENGLISH : Well, two of those three have been knocking on my door for 3 years telling us to hurry up. The iwi leaders group has been criticising the Government for taking too long to work out the details of how to do these transactions. So we have every confidence that there is widespread interest in a once-in-a generation opportunity to redevelop communities that have suffered from the blight of mismanaged State housing and whose tenants have been neglected by Governments that did not support them into independence. Increasingly, the Labour Party members are about the only people who believe that the way it is being done now is perfect.
Andrew Little : In light of that answer, then, is Major Campbell Roberts wrong when he says the policy will not “improve the lives and living conditions of State tenants.”?
Hon BILL ENGLISH : Yes, I believe that he is wrong. But I do not believe that is the Salvation Army’s views, frankly; otherwise, it would not have invested 5 years in assisting the Government to develop the policy. Major Campbell Roberts was in the initial advisory group. He has been supportive and testing about the policy for 5 years. I respect his view, but on that one I differ from him.
Tim Macindoe : What reports has the Prime Minister seen supporting the Government’s social housing reform programme?
Hon BILL ENGLISH : I have seen one that is a pretty good description of the possibilities: “We need large-scale urban developments backed by private sector developers and community housing organisations. Such developments cannot happen without the Government playing a role. Private sector developers will invest and do what they do best—designing and building great places for people, and there is a vital role for community providers to add affordable housing.” That is a description of what the policy could be from Phil Twyford—the Labour housing spokesman.
Andrew Little : It is 31 for 2 and time is marching on. We need to get a move on. After telling the House last week that “there is not a housing crisis”, is it not true that not only does New Zealand have a social housing crisis and a housing affordability crisis but now the Government has a housing policy crisis as well?
Hon BILL ENGLISH : What we know with the track record of the Labour Party is that as soon as it starts calling it a crisis, it comes right. The manufacturing crisis disappeared pretty much the day Labour christened it that way. No, I disagree with all those comments. We have a once-in-a generation opportunity to improve the lives of the most seriously needy New Zealanders who have been neglected by past Governments in housing that was of low quality. This Government is going to change it with the assistance of many hundreds, if not thousands, of other people in New Zealand who want the same thing.
Andrew Little : Why is the Government wasting so much time and public money on this convoluted policy that will not do an ounce of good rather than just getting on with the job and building more houses for Kiwi families in need?
Hon BILL ENGLISH : Well, of course, it is doing both. We are not just dealing with the short-term issue of more supply on the ground faster—and Housing New Zealand can become a major supplier of that under these reforms—we are also dealing with the longer-term issue of people locked into long-term welfare dependency, or in some cases underservicing of their need, in a system that focused on houses rather than people. We are happy to be the party bringing in a policy that focuses on the people who need housing, rather than the Labour Party’s focus on the State houses.
State Housing—Sale of Housing Stock
3. METIRIA TUREI (Co-Leader—Green) to the Minister responsible for HNZC : Can he rule out selling Housing New Zealand-owned homes to private developers; if not, will any sale be contingent on developers housing low-income or vulnerable tenants in those homes?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister responsible for HNZC): No, I cannot rule that out. Housing New Zealand in the last year sold 600 houses, and probably quite a number of those were sold to private developers. But anyone who wants to buy State houses that have low-income and vulnerable tenants in them will need to register as a community housing provider and meet the criteria set out in the regulations.
Metiria Turei : How is it “perfectly logical”, as he has said, to sell a large slice of our $18 billion State home asset for cheap so property developers can make a profit from it?
Hon BILL ENGLISH : In the first place, Housing New Zealand has an ongoing sales policy, and often it is selling houses that we do not need or that are in the wrong place, or some of them have just become unsuitable to be lived in and cannot be upgraded at reasonable cost. In respect of the transactions that are coming up over the next 6 months or so, there is a process of testing what the real values of those houses are. For instance, many community providers believe those houses are not up to date on maintenance, and therefore are overvalued when they are valued as if they can be sold for the best price on the day in the location that they are in. Those are exactly the things we are having discussions about over the next few months.
Metiria Turei : Will the Minister cancel his plans if it turns out that property developers will buy State homes only if they do not have to house low-income or vulnerable tenants in them, given his statement today that the purpose of this plan is to increase the supply of social housing and assist more people?
Hon BILL ENGLISH : Neither property developers nor community housing providers are compelled to buy houses off the Government. If they do not want to do that—if they do not want to manage the tenants or own the stock, which may be the wrong size in the wrong place—then they certainly do not have to do that. But we are finding that there is an opportunity to work with a whole range of groups to do a better job, particularly in those locations where there is a high density of State housing and there is an opportunity to redevelop a sense of aspiration in those communities. If property developers can supply their expertise to do that, well, we are not going to turn them away, that is for sure, but it will have to be lined up with people who have the skills to manage tenants and redevelop communities.
Metiria Turei : Was the Minister suggesting earlier that the Salvation Army was lying when it said, when it rejected the State house sell-off programme, that it will not improve people’s lives?
Hon BILL ENGLISH : It is the member who is misrepresenting the Salvation Army. It did not reject the programme; what it said was that at this stage it does not want to participate in those particular transactions. In fact, the Salvation Army has been an advocate for change, and I am a bit surprised to hear the so-called radical Greens arguing for the status quo, as if State housing in New Zealand is done so perfectly well that it cannot be done any better. That is a ridiculous position, and the only people the Greens share it with are the Labour Party members.
Metiria Turei : Why is his Government—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER : Order! Can I ask the member to start again, please.
Metiria Turei : Why is his Government so hell-bent on transferring New Zealand’s public resources, assets like power companies and now our State homes, to private business, regardless of how bad this extremist policy is for New Zealanders?
Hon BILL ENGLISH : In respect of State housing, the policy that has been bad for New Zealanders is the one that for 50 years has focused on who owns the house. The policy that is going to be much better for New Zealanders is one that recognises the dignity of tenants and the aspirations they have for independence and a better life, and that allows communities to redevelop themselves when they have been blighted by the policies supported by the Greens and Labour. We are not in favour of the status quo; we want to change it. Labour and the Greens are the last people in New Zealand who think that long-term State housing is the best we can do for Kiwi citizens. It is not. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER : Order! I am just waiting for the Hon Annette King.
Metiria Turei : Can the Minister confirm that the only group to benefit from his fire sale will be property developers as the taxpayer loses a large asset, the Government will pay more to these property developers through income-related rent subsidies, and vulnerable families will still have no guarantee of a decent home?
Hon BILL ENGLISH : No, I do not agree with that. The beneficiaries of this policy will be, first and foremost, the tenants, who will find themselves getting Government support that recognises their dignity and aspirations and shows a path to independence. Lots of other low-income families will benefit too because the Government is the most inefficient user of land in all our urban markets, and through this process we will see the redevelopment and supply of that land to the lower-income market. That member supports planning policies that have driven poverty in low and middle income households by driving up the cost of housing. It is time the Greens changed their policies.
Metiria Turei : Is this not the perfect deal for property developers—National will give away these homes for cheap along with guaranteed taxpayer-funded income streams and no obligation to house needy people; if so, how is this not the sale of the century?
Hon BILL ENGLISH : I just disagree with the member. It would be worth her while reconsidering the role of property developers. The Greens support smart growth that limits the supply of land, which in the Auckland market has virtually dried up the supply of lower-value housing to that market. Those policies have had more impact on inequality than any other policy in New Zealand for low and middle income households. Why the Greens support that poverty-inducing policy is beyond me.
Regional Economies—Access to Export Markets
4. ALASTAIR SCOTT (National—Wairarapa) to the Minister of Trade : What progress has the Government made in opening up export markets for our regional economies?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Acting Minister of Trade): Good progress, just like the Black Caps this afternoon. Yesterday the New Zealand - Korea free-trade agreement was signed in Seoul, Korea, by our Minister of Trade and his Korean counterpart. Upon ratification, the free-trade agreement will ensure that nearly half of New Zealand’s exports to Korea will be immediately tariff-free, and then will progressively remove tariffs on 98 percent of total exports. The impact of tariffs is twofold. New Zealand exporters pay a high cost in tariffs, and tariffs also substantially reduce the volume of our exports into markets. Both of these problems combine to reduce the availability and competitiveness of New Zealand products. Tariff removal is therefore a key focus of the Business Growth Agenda target to grow our exports, and comprehensive free-trade agreements like the Korean free-trade agreement and others are an important part of that.
Alastair Scott : How do free-trade agreements like the one signed with Korea yesterday help grow regional economics like, for example, Northland?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE : Most of our regional economies rely strongly on the performance of the primary sector, and it is the primary sector that has most to gain by the removal or reduction of heavy tariffs. If you look specifically at Northland, Northland is the second-largest supplier of avocados to Korea from New Zealand, with the Northland region responsible for 37 percent of them. The Korean free-trade agreement will eliminate the 30 percent tariff on the import of avocados into Korea. Kiwifruit is another important industry in Northland. New Zealand exports a lot of kiwifruit to Korea. The tariff is 45 percent. Under the Korean free-trade agreement the tariff on kiwifruit exports will be reduced to zero over the next 5 years, and so it goes on, with forestry, dairy, and so on. Free-trade agreements like the one with Korea are critically important for improving growth in places like Northland, as they provide more jobs, higher wages, and opportunities for young people.
Richard Prosser : Does the Minister believe that the Korean free-trade agreement will actually be of any benefit to the dairying economy of the Northland region when it will take 10 years to reach a final tariff-free milk power quota of just 2,000 tonnes—0.13 percent of our current exports—with anything over that amount permanently subject to a tariff of 176 percent?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE : I do believe it will, because in a number of key tariff lines great progress has been made. For example, with cheddar cheese we have got an equivalent deal with that of the US and a better deal that Australia’s, and that is very important for competition in Korea. If you look at infant formula and at butter, for example, all those higher-value products have got very good tariff elimination. If the member is suggesting that is not a good thing for Northland, I would be very surprised indeed.
Alastair Scott : What support has he seen for the Korea free-trade agreement and for reducing costs on New Zealand’s primary sector?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE : Support for the free-trade agreement, particularly from the primary sector, has been very positive. As I said, the Korean free-trade agreement eliminates the 40 percent tariff on beef, the 22.5 percent tariff on sheepmeat, the 45 percent tariff on kiwifruit, the 30 percent tariff on avocados, and the 89 percent tariff on butter. Despite this, I have also seen a curious media report that the Korean free-trade agreement does “no favours to New Zealand farmers”. There is also, in fact, draft legislation—before this House shortly—that would have the effect of torpedoing the Korean free-trade agreement and a number of other trade agreements we are currently negotiating. The origin of that comment and that legislation, and the person who wants to kill off jobs and growth in the Northland electorate, is the same Winston Peters who is standing for the by-election.
Richard Prosser : Is the Minister satisfied with the terms negotiated under the Korea free-trade agreement when the tariff on New Zealand beef under this agreement will be 40 percent but the tariff imposed by the Koreans on American beef is just 32 percent?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE : The tariffs under this agreement are declining across a whole range of areas, as I just detailed in my previous answer, including in the areas of sheepmeat and beef. It eliminates the 40 percent tariff on beef, and these are good things for the New Zealand primary sector. For the member and his colleagues to suggest that it is not beneficial suggests that they are literally not focused on what is important to New Zealand farmers and, frankly, Northland farmers.
5. DENIS O’ROURKE (NZ First) to the Minister for the Environment : Does he agree with the Northland Regional Council’s 2012 State of the Environment Report that “large areas of land with prime soils suited for agriculture and horticultural production continues to be subdivided for lifestyle blocks and urban development”; if not, why not?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH (Minister for the Environment): Yes, but the report also said that it was not a regionally significant issue, and they decided to not include specific provisions for protecting such soils in their proposed regional policy statement. This Government supports the growth of Northland’s agricultural and horticultural industries, with initiatives like opening up trade and providing funding to support Northland irrigation initiatives. Our plans for Northland horticulture do not include the option of legalising marijuana, as proposed yesterday by Winston Peters.
Denis O’Rourke : Can the Minister give an assurance that the proposed reforms announced in his speech of 21 January 2015 on overhauling the Resource Management Act will not exacerbate housing development on prime agricultural land in Northland?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH : I welcome the fact that building consent numbers in Northland have grown over the last 3 years, showing an increased level of confidence. I also welcome the fact that many landowners in Northland are converting over to products like avocados, and the good work of the Korean free-trade agreement is going to enable greater wealth. We are a party that believes the best choices about land use are actually made by the landowners themselves, and our Resource Management Act reforms will be good for Northland by giving those landowners the freedom to be able to use their land profitably.
Jacqui Dean : What specific initiatives has the Government taken that would support the growth of Northland’s agricultural and horticultural industries?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH : The Northland Regional Council has indicated two particular areas in which it is working with the Government to advance the Northland economy. The first of those is a real concern that too much of the prime land in Northland is tied up in the complexities of the Te Ture Whenua Maori Act, and they are very keen to work with the Minister for Māori Development, my colleague Chris Finlayson, and the Government to reform that Act to ensure that more of that productive land can produce more exports and wealth for Northland. The Northland Regional Council indicated its second priority was in respect of water, and quite recently the Minister for Primary Industries has provided funding for the Northland region to be able to expand irrigation and expand the exports from that region, although I accept we do not share New Zealand First’s enthusiasm for growing marijuana.
Denis O’Rourke : Are the proposed Resource Management Act reforms, which are aimed at freeing up more land for housing, at the expense of agricultural land, consistent with the Government’s aim of doubling agricultural production by 2025; if so, how?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH : Members on this side of the House want a Resource Management Act that is going to protect the environment, but also ensure that economies like Northland are able to grow. The consistent message I have had from organisations like Federated Farmers in Northland, and the business associations in Northland, is that Resource Management Act reform is pivotal to unlocking the economic opportunities in Northland, and that is why members on this side of the House are committed to that reform.
David Seymour : Is the Minister aware of historic reports of subdivision of productive land, including as long as 70 years ago in St Mary’s Bay?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH : I do understand that one of the candidates in Northland has a very intense interest in St Mary’s Bay and what might occur there. Our candidate in Northland is far more interested in the practical job opportunities for the people of Northland.
Tracey Martin : I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER : Order! It is a point of order, and it will be heard in silence.
Tracey Martin : Could you please clarify how the answer had anything to do with the question.
Mr SPEAKER : I am not—
Hon Gerry Brownlee : I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER : I will hear from the Hon Gerry Brownlee.
Hon Gerry Brownlee : Well, the question related directly to St Mary’s Bay and was answered directly about St Mary’s Bay. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER : Order! The member will resume her seat. The question asked for any historic reports on the subdivision of land around St Mary’s Bay. That is a question that is quite legitimate. I could tell where it was going, but it was a legitimate question to be asked in this House, and that is why the member then addressed it.
Roading, Northland—Bridges Upgrade
6. GRANT ROBERTSON (Labour—Wellington Central) to the Minister of Finance : What advice, if any, did he receive from the Treasury on the Government policy to double-lane ten Northland bridges?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): None.
Grant Robertson : When was the proposal to fund the 10 bridges first raised with him as finance Minister?
Hon BILL ENGLISH : I could not give the member that detail. I would have to go back—it may not even be in a diary, actually. But it is a proposal by a political party, and you would not expect Treasury to be costing it.
Grant Robertson : Why did he not seek advice from Treasury about the expenditure of $70 million?
Hon BILL ENGLISH : Because I follow the rules, and if I had not followed them, that member would be asking me questions about why I had asked Treasury for costing information about it.
Grant Robertson : How does he reconcile his repeated statements that he stands for fiscal responsibility, when he is prepared to throw $70 million at the bridges, seven of which have never even been mentioned by the New Zealand Transport Agency, and he does not even bother to get any advice on them?
Hon BILL ENGLISH : The member is a wee bit ahead of the circumstances. A political party has made an undertaking in an election, the Northland by-election. Whether it can be executed may well depend on the outcome of that election and how far and how deep Labour is willing to bury its candidate, whom I understand is popular, has a lot of people who could help her out, but Labour insists—
Mr SPEAKER : Order! I do not see any ministerial responsibility.
Grant Robertson : In light of that answer, where he said that the policy to build the 10 bridges may or may not be executed, can he confirm to this House that there will be the 10 bridges completed under a National Government?
Hon BILL ENGLISH : That is certainly National’s view, but in order to achieve a majority in this House you have to work with other parties. So when we have a by-election we do not know exactly what the result will be. We may find ourselves working with different people who have a different view. But it is certainly the Government’s position that Northland needs the bridges. We have made that undertaking and we will follow through on it.
Grant Robertson : Is the fact that he sought no advice on spending $70 million proof that he and his Government are prepared to abuse their power in what John Armstrong called a “Brazen, shameless, cynical and more than a little desperate” attempt to cling on to the Northland seat?
Hon BILL ENGLISH : I find that people’s cynicism about the bridges in Northland is directly proportional to how far away they live from them. I invite that member, or John Armstrong, to go and stand on the bridge in Matakohe and just see what it is like on the one-lane bridge on a main road. Yes, we believe the bridges should be built and, as I said to the member before, if I had asked Treasury for advice he would be accusing me of breaking the rules around election promises.
Accelerated Regional Roading Programme—Progress
7. SARAH DOWIE (National—Invercargill) to the Minister of Transport : What progress has the Government made on its Accelerated Regional Roading Programme?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES (Minister of Transport): Great progress is being made. First up, the Government is committing up to $80 million to accelerate five critically important regional projects in Northland, the East Coast, Taranaki, Canterbury, and Otago as but a few examples. Work is already under way on the East Coast to improve, and make safer, opportunities for passing on State Highway 35 north of Gisborne at Panikau Hill and Wallis Hill. Work is also under way on the reconstruction of the historically dangerous Normanby overbridge in South Taranaki. I visited it with my colleague the Hon Chester Borrows. And, of course, work on the Akarama curves realignment project in Northland is under way. Once completed, these projects and others will provide safer and more reliable road journeys for motorists in the regions.
Sarah Dowie : How will the Accelerated Regional Roading programme improve single-lane bridging infrastructure in the regions?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES : Well, bridges are important. That is why the Accelerated Regional Roading programme includes a number—quite a number—of bridge upgrades as but a couple of examples show. Work to replace the single-lane Kawarau Falls Bridge near Queenstown with a new two-lane bridge is planned to start in the middle of this year and I look forward to being part of that. Also, investigation work has been accelerated for the replacement of the single-lane Motu Bridge near Gisborne as well as the single-lane Taramakau road-rail bridge on the West Coast of the South Island.
Denis O’Rourke : When will the Minister come clean with the people of Wellsford, Te Hana, and Northland generally that the Government actually has no route through the Dome Valley and no idea whatsoever when construction could begin on the Wellsford to Warkworth section of the new motorway?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES : The member is talking nonsense. We have been over this last week and it is old news. I will not rehearse the arguments, suffice to say that we on this side of the House know that we back the regions with, in fact, billions of dollars’ worth of projects that matter in those regions, whereas on the Opposition side all we hear is carping, because outside of two or three main cities they do not care.
Denis O’Rourke : I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. This question was specifically—
Mr SPEAKER : Order! [Interruption] Order! The member will resume his seat. [Interruption] The member will—[Interruption] I have got a very good mind to ask that member to leave the Chamber, but I will not because he would get an advantage on the rest of us to, actually, watch the cricket. When the member starts a question with “Why won’t the Minister come clean”, he can expect the sort of answer he got. He would be better after question time to go back and make his questions far more concise and without that sort of innuendo.
World Trade Organization, Director-General—Support for Tim Groser
8. DAVID SHEARER (Labour—Mt Albert) to the Prime Minister : Does he stand by his quote regarding Hon Tim Groser’s bid to be Director-General of the World Trade Organisation that if “he decided to put his name in the ring then the New Zealand Government would give him 100 percent support”; if so, precisely what support did the Government provide to Mr Groser?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON (Attorney-General) on behalf of the Prime Minister : Yes. The Prime Minister also stands by a very similar statement that he made in 2009 that Helen Clark had all the support of the New Zealand Government as a candidate to head the United Nations Development Programme. The Government’s support for Mr Groser included lobbying other leaders for support, New Zealand missions promoting his campaign, and assistance with developing key messages and a campaign strategy. A lot of resources were used to back Mr Groser’s bid, just as they were used to back Helen Clark’s bid. We were, of course, all delighted that Helen Clark was successful, but, sadly, Mr Groser was not.
David Shearer : As the Prime Minister and the Minister for National Security and Intelligence, would he expect to be briefed if the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) was undertaking intelligence gathering on behalf of a Minister in his Cabinet?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON : The answer to that would be yes.
David Shearer : What reports did the GCSB provide to the Prime Minister in relation to Tim Groser’s bid for the World Trade Organisation (WTO) job?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON : It has been the policy of successive Governments, both National and Labour, not to comment on operational aspects of the work of the intelligence agencies because it is not in the public interest to do so.
David Shearer : Will he agree to authorise the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security to investigate the GCSB’s activity of the alleged spying on candidates vying for the WTO role and to report her findings either publicly or to the Intelligence and Security Committee?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON : The Prime Minister does not need to instruct the inspector-general or ask the inspector-general to do anything. The inspector-general has wide-ranging powers, many of which came through the 2013 amendments to her legislation. So if she wants to investigate any matter, she has the ability to do so.
David Shearer : On what basis did he say that Korea “doesn’t give a monkey’s” about New Zealand spying on one of their nationals, and, as Prime Minister, does he give a monkey’s about foreign powers spying on our Cabinet Ministers?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON : The Prime Minister is very concerned to make sure that our intelligence agencies act in accordance with their statute and in accordance with the rule of law. The Prime Minister is also concerned to make sure that they are subject to proper democratic oversight.
9. STUART SMITH (National—Kaikōura) to the Minister for Communications : What are the latest towns to be fully fibred under the Government’s Ultra-Fast Broadband programme?
Hon AMY ADAMS (Minister for Communications): Over the last 2 weeks I have announced the completion of the ultra-fast broadband service in both Blenheim and Ashburton. In Blenheim around 12,500 homes, schools, businesses, and health facilities can now access fast and efficient internet, and uptake there has been one of the highest in the country. In Ashburton they are similarly grabbing with both hands the opportunity ultra-fast broadband provides. Those towns join Whangarei, Te Awamutu, Ōāmaru, Cambridge, Tokoroa, and Hāwera, which have all been completed in the last 12 months, with three more towns scheduled for completion during 2015.
Stuart Smith : How can other towns not part of the original ultra-fast broadband programme get access to fibre?
Hon AMY ADAMS : As part of our manifesto promise to extend the ultra-fast broadband programme to 80 percent of New Zealanders, earlier this month we released a registration of interest process to ask communities and their councils to get directly involved in identifying the next priority areas and in thinking about ways that they can better support connectivity in their districts, whether that is under the ultra-fast broadband extension, the Rural Broadband Initiative, or as part of our plans to address mobile coverage black spots. I encourage all councils that are keen to see increased connectivities to get involved in the process.
Employment Relations—Effect of Legislative Reform
10. SUE MORONEY (Labour) to the Minister for Workplace Relations and Safety : Does he agree with the Prime Minister’s assertion that we will “absolutely not” see thousands of workers denied their tea breaks under his changes to the Employment Relations Act 2000?
Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE (Minister for Workplace Relations and Safety): Yes, I do.
Sue Moroney : Well, why is it that prior to National taking away tea break entitlements, Cotton On gave warehouse workers more than the previous law required—that is, a 30-minute lunch break on full pay—but after National’s law change, wants to scrap tea breaks all together?
Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE : The Employment Relations Act has not done away with rest and meal breaks—
Hon Annette King : Oh, yes it has.
Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE : —and it does not matter how many times the member says it, it does not make it so. To the second part of the question, as I understand it, in respect of the negotiations the member refers to, they are ongoing.
Sue Moroney : Does the Minister believe then that New Zealand workers like those at Cotton On should have to threaten strike action in this day and age, just to get basic provisions like a lunch break or a tea break at work?
Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE : It is not appropriate for me to comment on a specific negotiation between an employer and a union, but the only situations where an employer does not have to give meal breaks are when the employee agrees and it is reasonable. The union can say no.
Sue Moroney : What will he do to ensure that the Cotton On workers continue to get their tea breaks at work, given that he assured Parliament on 22 October last year that “It has to be done with the agreement of the employer and the employee together.”? What will you do, Minister?
Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE : It appears that I have a great deal more faith in the unions’ ability to negotiate an agreement than that member does. I can tell the House what I will not do. I will not be injecting myself into a matter that a politician has no place going into. I have confidence in the process.
Sue Moroney : Why did his law change, which he claimed just removed “unnecessary burdensome regulation”, also prompt Postie Plus to issue individual agreements before the law even took effect that state: “Branch managers are not required to provide rest breaks and meal breaks.”?
Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE : I would have to check the veracity of the member’s claims, but if they are in agreements as the member describes, they are likely to be in breach of the present law, as they would have been in breach of the past law, and there are remedies available.
Sue Moroney : To assist the Minister to check the veracity of the statement—
Mr SPEAKER : Order! Just ask to table the document without—
Sue Moroney : I seek leave to table a copy of the individual employment agreement that is in the name of Postie Plus, which says—
Mr SPEAKER : Order! Leave is sought to table that particular document. Is there any objection? There is none. It can be tabled. Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Sue Moroney : I seek leave to table a copy of the claim that Cotton On has put before FIRST Union in their negotiations, which strikes out the requirement—
Mr SPEAKER : Order! Leave is sought to table that particular document. Is there any objection? There is none. It can be tabled. Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
World Trade Organization, Director-General—GCSB and Candidates
11. Dr KENNEDY GRAHAM (Green) to the Minister responsible for the GCSB : Is the spying on candidates vying to be the Director-General of the World Trade Organization an appropriate use of the Government Communications Security Bureau?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON (Minister responsible for the GCSB): The member is asking a question based on allegations made in the media over the last few days. The allegations rely on inferences drawn from stolen documents, parts of which may even be fabricated. It has been a longstanding practice of successive Governments not to discuss the operational activities of the intelligence agencies. I do not intend to do so today because it is not in the public interest.
Dr Kennedy Graham : In light of the credibility of the sources that the Minister refers to, and in the interests of the transparency that he cites, how can the Government justify obtaining a personal benefit for one of its Ministers through the use of espionage, when that is a clear violation of the Cabinet Manual, the Speaker’s Directions, and possibly section 105 of the Crimes Act?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON : The member is asking a question based on allegations made in the media over the last few days. The allegations rely on inferences drawn from stolen documents, parts of which may even be fabricated. It has been the longstanding practice of successive Governments not to discuss the operational activities of the intelligence agencies. I do not intend to do so today, because it is not in the public interest.
Dr Kennedy Graham : Given the credibility of the public sources that the Minister refers to, and in the interests of transparency that the Minister cites, why does the Government continue to use the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) and the SIS for its political gain, including smearing the Hon Phil Goff during the 2011 election, declassifying documents on a whim during the 2014 election, and using the GCSB as a private recruitment manager for Tim Groser’s election?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON : The allegations made in that question are grubby and beneath the member. This Government, and successive Governments, have gone to great lengths to ensure that these intelligence organisations are subject to proper democratic oversight and act in accordance with their statute. The allegations made by that member are unworthy of him.
Dr Kennedy Graham : Is it not true—although this may be above the Minister—
Mr SPEAKER : Order! Just ask—
Dr Kennedy Graham : Is it not true that under this Government the GCSB and the SIS have gone from working for our national interest to working for the National Party’s interest?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON : No, it is not true, and it is not above me, but it is certainly a question that is beneath that member.
12. JONO NAYLOR (National) to the Minister of Commerce and Consumer Affairs : What is the Government doing to help small businesses raise funds?
Hon PAUL GOLDSMITH (Minister of Commerce and Consumer Affairs): The Government is working hard to make it easier for small businesses to access the capital necessary to grow. Under the recently passed Financial Markets Conduct Act, small businesses may raise up to $2 million in 12 months through licenced equity crowdfunding platforms. This means that Kiwi businesses have more options to raise money and fund their growth, without all the red tape that was involved previously.
Jono Naylor : Has the Minister seen any reports of small businesses making use of new crowdfunding options?
Hon PAUL GOLDSMITH : Yes, I have seen reports of a number of small businesses that have benefited from the new crowdfunding options. For example, I understand that Invivo Wines has raised $1.6 million so far through the crowdfunding platform Snowball Effect. Previous examples also include Renaissance Brewing, which last year raised $700,000 to expand its production capability. National is committed to giving small businesses the best chance at success. These changes are just another example of the Government making it easier for New Zealand companies to do business through our Business Growth Agenda.
Dr David Clark : Has he taken the time yet to advise Cabinet of the benefit to small business funds of reducing ACC charges by $350 million, as recommended by ACC, Treasury, and every struggling small-business owner?
Hon PAUL GOLDSMITH : Yes. Cabinet has been advised, and this Government is focused on keeping the costs of business down as low as possible so that New Zealand businesses can flourish.