Questions and Answers - March 25
QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS
State and Social Housing—Reports 1. PHIL TWYFORD (Labour—Te Atatū) to the Minister for Social Housing: What reports, if any, has she received about the Salvation Army saying it felt pressured into carrying out expensive, time-consuming research on buying unwanted State houses because the Government repeatedly referred to the charity as a likely buyer?
Hon PAULA BENNETT (Minister for Social Housing): I have not received any such reports. What I have seen reports of, though, is the Salvation Army saying that it is supportive of the Government’s intentions to have community housing organisations involved in the management of social housing. Ironically, a similar statement has been made in the past from that member himself. The Salvation Army has said that it is keen to pursue housing partnerships between itself, the Government, and other groups, and that is exactly what our social housing reforms are all about.
Phil Twyford: Was she consulted before Bill English cynically politicised the good name of the Salvation Army to sugar-coat this Government’s crumbling policy to flog off thousands of State houses to property developers; and if she was consulted, why did she not stop him?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: The only thing that is crumbling is some of those houses because of the neglect from Labour for so long on the maintenance of them, so that this Government is having to play catch-up. That is actually the state of those State houses. So, yes, we have been putting in literally billions into maintaining them and making sure that they are warm and that they have got the right things. But at the end of the day that is what is crumbling, and it is that member’s past history in State housing.
Phil Twyford: Given the Prime Minister’s statement that “This is not about selling to developers,”, and Bill English’s statement that “We are in talks with developers.”, where does she stand on selling State houses to property developers?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: This Government has always been very clear that it is likely to be a housing consortia that get together, that it will be community housing providers that are leading that, and they must be registered, and when we are looking at the sales of these houses we are also looking at the tenants that are within them, and that is the difference with it. Yes, we imagine that community housing providers will go into partnership with some developers. I see that happening already, and we already see some quite impressive developments going on that are working alongside community housing providers. It is consistent with what both the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister have said.
Paul Foster-Bell: What reports has she seen about support from the community housing sector for the Government’s social housing reforms?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: During our national consultation I saw just how much support there is from the community housing sector for what the Government is doing. I have also seen a press 25 Mar 2015 Oral Questions Page 2 of 15
release from an approved community housing provider, Accessible Properties, which says that “Accessible Properties remains committed to pursuing the purchase of housing from the New Zealand Government … ‘We’ll keep talking to the Government and to the private sector in our commitment to help people in need into good quality homes.’ ”
Phil Twyford: Does she agree with the Prime Minister’s promise that houses sold on would have to be retained for social housing, or with Bill English’s statement this week that this would no longer be the case; and was she consulted on the flip-flop?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: There has been no flip-flop, and I know the member has struggled to understand the policy that we have when it comes to housing tenants, and that is what this is actually about. So the member might count houses and think that the job is done, but actually we have a number of New Zealanders who have been living in completely unsatisfactory conditions for generations, and, to my mind, have been neglected. We will do better than this.
Phil Twyford: So you weren’t consulted on the flip-flop?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: Trust me, I am consulted, and working the whole way through this policy.
Paul Foster-Bell: What other reports has she seen about support for the Government’s social housing programme?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: I have seen a report agreeing with the direction the Government is taking with housing, and it says “we need large scale urban developments backed by private sector developers and community organisations. Such developments cannot happen without the Government playing a role. Private sector developers will invest”—it says—“and do what they do best: designing and building great places for people.” And that, of course, ladies and gentlemen, was from Phil Twyford himself.
Phil Twyford: Is it not true that by contrast her policy will allow private developers and speculators to buy these houses at knock-down prices, sit on them for a short time, kick out the tenants, flog off the houses, and pocket the capital gain; and how will this policy help poor and vulnerable families who need secure State and social housing?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: Absolutely not; none of that is true.
Phil Twyford: Can she confirm that her emergency housing boost, announced today, is a full $500,000, less than the cost of a two-bedroom unit an hour out of Auckland; and how will that make up for the damage done to Kiwi families living in garages and camp grounds on her watch, by her State house sell-off?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: By the very policy—if it was true, which of course it is not; it has not even started yet. So the $500,000, which I am quite proud of, is to support those providers that are providing emergency housing now, while we work through a longer, more sustainable funding process.
Social Development, Minister—Statement on Child Protection 2. DARROCH BALL (NZ First) to the Minister for Social Development: Does she stand by her statement, “Every child has the right to be safe from abuse and neglect and these guidelines will help us build a stronger culture of child protection across New Zealand where the safety and security of children is paramount.”?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY (Minister for Social Development): Yes. I made that statement when I launched two new guidelines, Safer recruitment, Safer children and Safer organisations, Safer children, in Hamilton earlier this month. These guidelines are important and will assist organisations employing people working with children by outlining the steps they should take when recruiting, as well as developing good child protection policies.
Darroch Ball: How can she say that the safety and security of children is paramount when of the 18,000 individuals who recognise themselves as social workers in New Zealand, more than half 25 Mar 2015 Oral Questions Page 3 of 15
either are not qualified or, at best, hold a certificate level qualification, and only around 4,000 of them are actually registered?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY: I think that is a good question, and one that I have had discussions about already with the Social Workers Registration Board. It was an issue that was raised in its briefing to me, and it has gone away to, first, review its Act, and, second, come back to me at the end of the year, in concert with the work that we are doing around the modernisation of Child, Youth and Family and also the roll-out of the children’s teams. I think the board agrees with me that that is the appropriate time to then be looking again at this issue, which has been current ever since the Social Workers Registration Board was put in place.
Darroch Ball: Does she then share the concern of the Social Workers Registration Board about the number of front-line Child, Youth and Family staff who are not currently registered social workers; if so, what does she plan to do about it?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY: As I said to the member, there is a process that we have put in place now with the registration board and those are issues that we will be discussing, but Child, Youth and Family has worked very hard over the years to support its staff to get the training and the necessary qualifications in order to become registered, and it is working towards full registration of all the social workers that it employs.
Darroch Ball: How are our vulnerable children protected when, under this current voluntary registration regime, there is no protection for the title “social worker”, whereby even if an individual is deregistered for malpractice, they can simply start social work again outside your ministry’s oversight?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY: I think that those are very good issues to be discussed and they should be discussed by the Social Workers Registration Board. I am sure that not only will that form part of the work that it does, but also, through the Child, Youth and Family modernisation process, it should also be addressed. So, as I say, by the end of this year I think the discussion will have been had. The term “social worker” is used very widely in the community, and one of the things that we might be doing is looking at how we define that better and then make sure that we have qualified staff.
Darroch Ball: Will she ensure that the Vulnerable Children Act stipulates that all social workers working with our children are under mandatory registration, given that the public rightly assumes that this is already the case; if not, why not?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY: Under the Vulnerable Children Act there is a very clear process laid out, the first part of which I launched in Hamilton, which the member’s primary question referred to. So that was the guidelines and the advice for organisations on how to make sure that they are employing people who are safe to work with children. The second part of that will come into force when the regulations come into force. That will mean that all State agencies that are employing people who work with children will have to go through a very rigorous employment process, part of which will relate to their registration, but not all of it will relate to that. So the member just needs to hold his breath and wait for those regulations to come into force.
External Debt—Reports 3. JAMI-LEE ROSS (National—Botany) to the Minister of Finance: What reports has he received on progress the New Zealand economy is making in reducing its external debt position?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Associate Minister of Finance) on behalf of the Minister of Finance: The latest balance of payments data issued by Statistics New Zealand shows that New Zealand is making some good progress in reducing its external debt. Our net external debt fell by $900 million in the December quarter of 2014, to 59.4 percent of GDP. That is the lowest level for 11 years. In addition, the maturity profile of New Zealand’s external debt has lengthened considerably, which means that we are less vulnerable to short-term changes in global financial markets. The report also shows that the current account deficit in the year to December was 3.3 percent of GDP. Although 25 Mar 2015 Oral Questions Page 4 of 15
this was an increase on the previous quarter, largely due to falling dairy prices, the deficit is much less than half of that delivered by the previous Government in the late 2000s.
Jami-Lee Ross: How is the savings behaviour of households contributing to New Zealand’s overall improving debt position?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Households are making a positive contribution to New Zealand’s improving overall position. In fact, households have had positive savings for 5 consecutive years now in the 5 years to March 2014. That has not happened since the early 1990s. The Statistics New Zealand figures show that before 2010—so, that period from 1995 to 2010—household savings had been negative in all but 1 year. Household savings totalled $11.6 billion over the last 5 years, which is a major turn-round on the $15.5 billion in net borrowing over the 5 years previously. This was the result of resilience by households, a Government policy of encouraging savings, and a rebalancing of the economy.
Jami-Lee Ross: What economic factors have influenced the ability of households to make these household savings?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: The growing economy is continuing to support more jobs and higher incomes. Statistics New Zealand figures show that in 2014 there were 80,000 new jobs created across the country. Average wages rose 2.5 percent last year. Since this Government came into office in late 2008, average wages have increased by more than 20 percent to $56,000, compared with the rate of inflation, which over the same period went up around 11 percent. In December 2014 the labour market participation rate increased to a record 69.7 percent, and unemployment at 5.7 percent is lower than most other developed economies. The growing economy is helping New Zealand families in many ways, but the Government still has more work to do to drive further gains for the longer term.
Dr David Clark: Can he confirm that this Government has borrowed more money than Muldoon’s and, in fact, more money than any other Government in New Zealand history?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: No, I do not have those numbers for the member today. But I would say to him that given we had the global financial crisis and the Canterbury earthquakes, it would make sense to have borrowed some money. And given the value of the New Zealand dollar now compared with then, that would also make—if the member is suggesting that we should not have borrowed for the Canterbury earthquakes, that would be news to the people of Christchurch. If he considers we should not have borrowed for the global financial crisis, that would have been news to vulnerable New Zealanders.
Dr Shane Reti: How is the growing economy helping regions such as Northland?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Good question. Recent figures across a range of indicators highlight the benefits to regions like Northland from the Government’s strong economic management—in particular, strong GDP growth above the national average in the year to March 2014, and 7,500 new jobs in the region across a range of roles in the last year, including 6,600 full-time positions. That is the second-highest employment growth in the country for the December quarter last year. These are all strong signs of a positive turn-round under this Government in the Northland region. But, of course, we are not done, and we will continue to help regions through initiatives such as the Korean free-trade agreement, which will deliver real benefits to exporters in regions like Northland, allowing them to invest in more jobs and deliver higher wages.
David Seymour: How would New Zealand’s net external indebtedness be affected by a large increase in low-quality Government spending and, therefore, the non-tradable sector, as it did between 2004 and 2009?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: That is a very good question the member raises. He is right to raise the period 2004 to 2009, because what we saw was a big increase in low-quality spending, a big increase in external debt, a crowding out of the private sector, and big increases of our net international liabilities towards 80 to 85 percent of GDP. 25 Mar 2015 Oral Questions Page 5 of 15
National Library—Changes to Curriculum Topic Loan Service 4. JACINDA ARDERN (Labour) to the Minister of Internal Affairs: How will his decision to cut funding by $392,000 a year to the specialist non-fiction service provided by the National Library affect access to educational resources for rural schools?
Hon PETER DUNNE (Minister of Internal Affairs): The member’s question is based on a false premise. There has been no cut in funding to the National Library, nor have I ordered one. The service that she is referring to will be an enhanced service ensuring that more books and resources from the National Library go to more schools rather than sitting on the library shelves in Wellington gathering dust.
Jacinda Ardern: If there has been no cut why is the National Library claiming it will save $392,000 through these proposed changes and that it will loan up to half the number of books that it currently loans under the specialist non-fiction service?
Hon PETER DUNNE: There are two points. The National Library currently loans around 655,000 books per annum. That will continue in the future. As to the argument about this alleged cut, there has been, as I said, no cut. [Interruption] She is now changing her language to “savings”—it is a bit like changing from black to white. It shows economic illiteracy. The reality is that there has been an estimate provided by the library, which has yet to be quantified, that there would be a saving of around that figure from this new service. But the point of the matter is there have been no cuts ordered. This is about enhancing the service offered to schools and it will be better all round.
Jacinda Ardern: At what point will all schools be in a position to take advantage of digital resources equally, given the digital divide that many of our rural and low-decile schools face in regard to information and communications technology resources; and will it be in time for these dramatic changes?
Hon PETER DUNNE: Around 90 percent of schools are on track to have broadband uptake so the issue is resolved for those 90 percent. For those schools that are not in that category, the library will be working with them with targeted programmes to ensure that they continue to receive the service that they have and can convert to the new service as soon as it becomes available. There are no losers from this plan.
Tracey Martin: Did the Minister consider the findings of the 2012 Inquiry into 21st century learning environments and digital literacy, which identified that although schools may have connectivity to ultra-fast broadband, access to individual student devices both at home and school continue to be a barrier, before signing off on these changes; if not, why not?
Hon PETER DUNNE: Yes, the 2012 changes informed the 2013 round of consultation on the impact of those changes, and it was on the basis of those two considered pieces of work—which covered, I think in the first instance, around 159 different organisations, and a significant number of people in the second instance—that the changes were made with confidence, with support from educators, that this was in the best interests of children moving forward into the digital environment.
Tracey Martin: Will the Minister consider establishing an implementation phase for the new reading engagement service for any schools still challenged with accessing connectivity and digital devices from term 3 of this year; if not, why not?
Hon PETER DUNNE: I do not think that the member understood or heard correctly my earlier answer. In those cases where schools do not have the level of connectivity at this point in time there will be a targeted programme to ensure that they can continue to receive the service that they do and that none of their students will miss out.
Jacinda Ardern: If there are no losers with these changes as he claims, why have the School Library Association; the History Teachers’ Association; the Post Primary Teachers’ Association (PPTA); countless schools, including those who are isolated and in rural communities; countless 25 Mar 2015 Oral Questions Page 6 of 15
teachers; and more than 20,000 New Zealanders all signed a petition opposed to the changes he is recommending; or does their opinion not count?
Hon PETER DUNNE: Of course, their opinion counts. The fact that the Labour Party has stirred up a campaign of misinformation, and then when I offered the Labour Party a briefing it said: “Yes, thanks, but not for a month yet, because we are running this campaign in the meantime.”
Jacinda Ardern: We took the briefing; we are still right.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Just ask the supplementary question.
Jacinda Ardern: How can he claim, as he has in this House, that the changes he is proposing were based on “wide consultation with teachers, librarians, and the community” when his own answers to written questions show that during the consultation process the changes he is making were not mentioned once.
Hon PETER DUNNE: I make the claim because it is correct. I make the claim because it is right. I make the claim because the changes being made are in the best interest of equipping our children for the digital future ahead of them. If the Labour Party wants to play politics with kids’ futures, let it do so, but the reality is that this is about improving service. Let me add one other thing. The member cannot go on playing two games. She cannot go on—as she did last week—thanking my office for the information that it provided her on a particular instance and then raise the issue again in the House today. It is pure, naked politics designed to appease the Post Primary Teachers’ Association.
State and Social Housing—Reform 5. Dr PARMJEET PARMAR (National) to the Minister for Social Housing: What are the next steps in the Government’s social housing reform programme?
Hon PAULA BENNETT (Minister for Social Housing): Good progress is being made on the Government’s social housing reform programme, which will deliver more social houses of the right size and in the right place to families in need. We have announced an extra 3,000 income-related rent subsidies so more families can be housed, and we are working with Housing New Zealand to speed up its build and redevelopment programme. We have also started the tenancy review process, which sees people who can afford to leave social housing move on to make room for someone in more need. So far, 37 people have moved into private rental and four have actually moved into their own home that they have purchased. The next steps, including the release of the Ministry of Social Development’s purchasing intentions about where and for how much they will be buying social housing places, will be announced very soon.
Dr Parmjeet Parmar: How does the reform programme help those in need of emergency housing?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: The Government’s reforms will help people across the housing continuum, from those wanting to buy their own home to people living in tents and cars. Today I announced details of the $500,000 cash injection for emergency housing providers. The funding will go to 16 providers and will help them continue to support vulnerable families while we do a thorough review of funding to the sector. This comes on top of the Government already contracting with two community housing providers in Christchurch who are housing single people and families in short-term accommodation.
Dr Parmjeet Parmar: What feedback has she been getting about the Government’s social housing reform programme?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: We have held six public meetings around the country and the feedback from the community sector has been positive, inquisitive, and quite challenging. It is very keen to get involved. Another positive piece of feedback about the Government’s plan to diversify social housing by growing community providers was that “Tenants with high and complex needs may be better off being transferred to a community housing provider …”. That support, of course, is coming from Phil Twyford himself. 25 Mar 2015 Oral Questions Page 7 of 15
Greenhouse Gas Emissions—Increases between 2008 and 2012 6. Dr RUSSEL NORMAN (Co-Leader—Green) to the Minister for Climate Change Issues: Does he stand by the Prime Minister’s answer that it is “misinformation” that New Zealand’s net greenhouse gas emissions have increased by 20 percent between 2008 and 2012; if so, by what percentage did New Zealand’s net greenhouse gas emissions increase between 2008 and 2012?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES (Acting Minister for Climate Change Issues): Yes, I stand by the Prime Minister’s statement in the context in which it was made. The member has been highly selective with his data.
Dr Russel Norman: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. There were two legs to the primary question.
Mr SPEAKER: Can I invite the member now to repeat the second leg to that question, and we will expect an answer.
Dr Russel Norman: If so, by what percentage did New Zealand’s net greenhouse gas emissions increase between 2008 and 2012?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. That was not the second half of that question.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The question is on notice. There are two parts to it: does the Minister stand by the Prime Minister’s comment, and he answered yes; and then the second part is “if so, by what percentage did New Zealand’s net greenhouse gas emissions increase between 2008 and 2012?”. I invite the Minister to answer.
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. That is not what he said, but I will answer the question—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I invited the member to repeat just the second part of the question, because the Minister—[Interruption] Order!—failed to answer the question in his first attempt. I am now inviting the Minister to answer the question.
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: The reality is that there was a significant reduction in the rate of deforestation with the introduction of the emissions trading scheme in 2008. Focusing only on the trend of fluctuations in net emissions between 5 years is misleading. If the member looked at net emissions in 2012, they were approximately at the same level as they were in 2007.
Dr Russel Norman: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The question was on notice. It is a very simple question. The Minister has still not addressed the question.
Mr SPEAKER: No, I think the Minister has addressed it. Whether there is accuracy in the answer that he has given, he has addressed it and he quoted, I think, effectively stable emissions over that period of time. If the member wants to make more progress, he now does that by using supplementary questions.
Dr Russel Norman: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Sorry to take your time again. The Minister referred to the period 2007 to 2012. The question is on notice. It is very specific. It is 2008 and 2012.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I appreciate the point the member is now making. The way forward is that I will allow the member an additional supplementary question.
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The issue we have here is that, effectively, what the member has done is ask two questions in one question. I have answered a question that he has asked in his initial question. You have then asked him to ask again the second limb, and in fact I have had a go at that question. With the greatest respect, that was not what he asked but in any event the tape will show that.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I have heard enough from the Minister. The member has a perfect right to ask a primary question with two legs to it. In the first instance, the Minister made no attempt whatsoever to answer the second part of that question. I invited the Minister to do so. There is some discrepancy now around the years that he used, and that becomes a debatable item. The question has certainly been addressed by the Minister—not to the satisfaction of Dr Russel Norman. I have 25 Mar 2015 Oral Questions Page 8 of 15
allocated an additional question to Dr Russel Norman, and Dr Noman can now proceed with those questions.
Dr Russel Norman: Can the Minister now please answer the second leg in the primary question, which is: by what percentage did New Zealand’s net greenhouse gas emissions increase between 2008 and 2012?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: Yes, but the member is being tricky. He is being entirely selective with—
Dr Russel Norman: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. This was a very simple, non-political question. The Minister immediately attacked the questioner. It is a very simple question.
Mr SPEAKER: I do not think it is a non-political question, but it would be helpful if the Minister could simply address the question to the best of his abilities.
Dr Russel Norman: By what percentage did New Zealand’s net greenhouse gas emissions increase between 2008 and 2012?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: As the member has said, by 20 percent, but he is being highly selective with his data to the point of being misleading. He is trying to arbitrarily line up climate figures with electoral cycles when, in fact, emissions have no regard to that. Over the 5 to 6 year period to 2012, emissions are broadly the same. Net emissions that we are seeing today are really as a result of sustainable harvesting and then replanting over a 28-year cycle, and that is where we are at today. We are seeing harvesting but we will see replanting.
Dr Russel Norman: So, for clarity, the Minister is now agreeing that New Zealand’s net greenhouse gas—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! That question is just going to lead to disorder, as the member sees. The Minister has clearly given an answer. It has taken some time to get it, but the member now has the answer. So—[Interruption] Order! I would appreciate it if the member would sit down. If the member can now proceed with his questioning without a repeat of the answer—he has got the answer he has been wanting. He should now proceed with further supplementary questions that are in line with the Standing Orders.
Dr Russel Norman: Given that the Minister has said in his answer that there was a 20 percent increase in New Zealand’s net greenhouse gas emissions from 2008 to 2012, does he accept any responsibility for that increase in emissions?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: The Minister is responsible for climate policy in this country, and what we have seen, actually, as a great marker for success, is emission intensity reducing over time in this country, which is precisely what you would want to see in a country with effective settings. I repeat that what the member has been doing is being tricky with the data and the facts.
Dr Russel Norman: With regard to the Minister’s answer, is he responsible for the increase in New Zealand’s net greenhouse gas emissions since he has been in Government—and the key markers for that would be the year before he was in Government, 2008, and the last year for which we have official data, which is 2012?
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The question I will not rule out, but, again, the member needs to understand the level of disorder that will be created. The effect of the question is whether the Minister is accepting responsibility for that particular increase in net greenhouse gas emissions.
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: The Minister is responsible for climate change policy. The member is being trickier than Winston Peters on a bad day. The figures here, over a 5 or 6-year period to the latest figures in 2012, are flat. They are the same.
Dr Russel Norman: Does the Minister believe he is achieving the Government’s own stated objective of reducing New Zealand’s net greenhouse gas emissions when, over the years that he has been in Government, 2008-12, comparing those 2 years, the net greenhouse gas emissions have increased by 20 percent according to his own Government statistics?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: Yes, absolutely. We have a comprehensive emissions trading scheme, one of the best, if not the best, in the world. We show global leadership internationally in a wide 25 Mar 2015 Oral Questions Page 9 of 15
variety of areas, which the member knows, whether it is the Global Research Alliance, whether it is fossil fuel subsidy reform, or whether it is the Climate and Clean Air Coalition—I could go on. We also, in terms of our complementary measures, do a host of things in this country, over and above what many other countries do. But as I have made quite clear to the member in a direct response to his question, we are part of a sustainable forestry cycle over a 28-year period. Right now what we are seeing is sustainable harvesting, and that explains almost entirely the figures he wants to cherry-pick and be misleading with.
Dr Russel Norman: Why have New Zealand’s net greenhouse gas emissions increased so dramatically, by 20 percent, under this Government? Is it because the Government fundamentally weakened the emissions trading scheme, resulting in close to a zero price for carbon and hence incentivising the cutting down of—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! That question is now out of order. It is simply too long. I have warned this member on many, many occasions. He must abide by the Standing Orders. He needs to refer to Standing Order 380. Questions must be concise. They are not an opportunity to raise a debating issue like that. They are not an opportunity to, effectively, have the general debate before question time finishes.
Dr Russel Norman: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: Is this relitigating a point I have just made?
Dr Russel Norman: No, it is a different one.
Mr SPEAKER: A fresh point of order—Dr Russel Norman.
Dr Russel Norman: You have repeatedly, during this session, said that if my questions cause disorder, then you will say that that is a problem. The disorder comes because Mr Brownlee starts shouting in Parliament instead of—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member will resume his seat. The disorder comes because the question is simply too long and it is full of imputation and allegations. If the member would go back to his office and practise asking short, concise questions, he would make far more progress in question time.
Hon David Parker: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. That same ruling or Standing Order applies to answers, Mr Speaker, and I would ask that you apply the same ruling to answers, particularly from Mr Joyce. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! That is a reasonable point. Where I allow longer answers is when I get a very long, lengthy question with a lot of political innuendo. But, generally speaking, answers should also, as the Hon David Parker pointed out, be in accordance with the Standing Orders.
Hon David Parker: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: A fresh point of order?
Hon David Parker: Yes, there is. That is an explanation sometimes in respect of Opposition questions, but the length is also apparent in Government members’ own questions to their own Ministers.
Mr SPEAKER: I will address it on the occasion.
Dr Russel Norman: Does he accept that if the rest of the world followed New Zealand’s example by increasing greenhouse gas emissions, net emissions, by 20 percent, then we would fry the planet and leave our children an unliveable future?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: What we have seen there, in the talk of frying, and in fact in the whole line of questioning here, is the member seeking to scare people with petty politics and misinformation on what are issues that need to be taken with care and responsibility. That has been the approach of this Government on this issue. That is why we have kept an emissions trading scheme that is one of the best, if not the best, in the world. That is why we have shown international leadership in a host of areas where we have comparative answers, and do much more than I think any country of our size, or many countries of our size, certainly, and that is why, in terms of a host of— 25 Mar 2015 Oral Questions Page 10 of 15
Metiria Turei: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. That was an exact example of an extremely lengthy answer to a concise question.
Mr SPEAKER: It was, but, again, it followed a very long, politically phrased question from Dr Russel Norman, even though I repeat my many requests for him to abide by the Standing Orders.
Dr Russel Norman: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member will resume his seat. I am not prepared to entertain any more discussion on this. If the member has a fresh point of order I will hear it. [Interruption] Order! If it is not a fresh point of order, I will be asking the member to leave the Chamber.
Dr Russel Norman: Yes, it is, Mr Speaker. It is the question of, when we ask very straightforward questions—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member will resume his seat. I have warned the member that we are not relitigating this matter in Parliament today. I have given very clear rulings.
Cochlear Implants—Reports on Funding 7. SIMON O'CONNOR (National—Tāmaki) to the Minister of Health: What reports has he received in relation to the increased funding for cochlear implants announced in Budget 2014?
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN (Minister of Health): Budget 2014 provided an extra $6.3 million over 4 years for a bilateral cochlear implant programme for children, meaning that children with profound hearing loss now receive two funded cochlear implants and children under 6 with only one implant are offered the opportunity to have a second funded implant. Twenty-nine newborn babies and children have now received two funded cochlear implants since this additional funding was announced last year, and that is really something to celebrate.
Simon O'Connor: Has access to cochlear implants been improving, and what benefits do they provide to recipients?
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: Funding for the cochlear implant programme has been increased over the last few years, which has resulted in record numbers of children and adults receiving implants in the last year. In 2007-08 there were 87 patients provided with cochlear implants. In 2013-14 there were 131 children and adults treated. Cochlear implants are life changing. They can significantly improve children’s hearing and learning abilities, and the earlier they are fitted the better.
Skycity, Convention Centre—Funding 8. Dr DAVID CLARK (Labour—Dunedin North) to the Minister for Economic Development: When did his officials first learn of SkyCity’s desire for a public funding top-up in order for the International Convention Centre to meet the Preliminary Design specifications?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister for Economic Development): I am cautious, in light of recent events, but this is quite a long answer, to get some detail out for the member. As I have previously advised the House, I was advised of the cost escalation of the preliminary design in a briefing dated 15 October. I am advised that Skycity’s preliminary design was delivered to Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment officials on 6 October. The preliminary design included an estimated construction cost that exceeded the agreed amount by $70 million to $130 million. I made it clear to ministry officials that, as much as possible, any cost escalations should be designed out in the final design, and that of the various options then being discussed by Skycity and the ministry for closing the funding gap, our least-preferred option was any form of Government contribution. Following further discussions between officials and Skycity, Skycity accepted that position by way of a market update on 15 February 2015, and agreed to amend the design to ensure no financial contribution was required.
Dr David Clark: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. This was a question on notice. The Minister has referred to the time when a report was delivered, but he has not answered the question, 25 Mar 2015 Oral Questions Page 11 of 15
which is pretty clear and, I think, non-political. It is seeking a date: when his officials first learnt of Skycity’s desire.
Mr SPEAKER: I listened to the answer. I thought there were some dates given, which were reasonably specific. Does the Minister have anything further to add? Otherwise we will move on.
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Perhaps I can, by way of explanation. I think the difficulty, in terms of the question, is that the member speaks of a desire for a public funding top-up. Certainly, officials have been through and they do not see that as being actually expressed as a desire. It was Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment officials and Skycity looking at options to address the issue.
Dr David Clark: In light of that answer and in light of clause 9.5 of the New Zealand International Convention Centre deal, stating that each design phase will be developed collaboratively between the Crown and Skycity, why was the Minister keep in the dark during an election year about the possibility of a Budget blow-out or the need to downgrade the convention centre’s iconic design?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: For the member’s benefit, to give him a bit of a feel for it, the preliminary design when it was delivered to the ministry was a total of 10 kilograms of documents that had to be delivered across a whole range of information. So, yes, there were collaborative elements in terms of discussion with officials, but my understanding is that then, at the end of that process, Skycity goes off and gets its costings and then delivers it, and I was advised as soon as reasonably practical after the information was delivered.
Dr David Clark: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. That was a question about the collaboration aspect. Is the Minister saying that 10 kilograms of documents were delivered without any collaboration?
Mr SPEAKER: That is exactly the way the member now needs to proceed. The question has been addressed. The member has additional supplementary questions. Do not raise them as a point of order; raise them as a supplementary question to the Minister.
Dr David Clark: Is the Minister saying that the collaboration was limited between officials and Skycity to the extent that 10 kilograms of documents were delivered before officials had had anything to do with the development of the design?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: No, I am not saying that. What I am saying is that there was collaboration over elements of the design as the process continued, but, actually, the costing of the design was done by Skycity as part of the finalisation of that process, and that was presented to officials on the date described as 6 October.
Dr David Clark: Was the Minister aware that the preliminary design phase was scheduled to run from June to September 2014; if so, why did the Minister not inquire as to the prospective changes in Crown costs during election year?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Actually, the member may recall that I have been saying in the House previously that in the concept design phase there was a prediction of a smaller cost overrun, which it was agreed would be designed out during the preliminary design phase. Officials and Skycity went off to do that, and reported back to me, as I say, on 15 October 2014, at which point they advised that it had not been able to occur and in fact it had come to a larger amount, and all this is in the public domain.
Dr David Clark: Given the legal expectation that each design phase would be a collaboration between Skycity and the Crown, is he currently engaged in the design process?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I have had very little advice in terms of the process that is being gone through currently to control costs around the convention centre, but, again, it is a discussion around potential changes to the design, and matters in relation to cost would be determined at the end of that process. In any event, it is now to Skycity’s cost, but there will be, as I said to the member Metiria Turei at some point, a balancing exercise at the end, which will look at the overall cost and 25 Mar 2015 Oral Questions Page 12 of 15
additional benefits for Skycity, and making sure that the net cost exceeds the value of the concessions.
Dr DAVID CLARK: Why do a series of briefings released under the Official Information Act, including a briefing for the Prime Minister, refer to a September preliminary design?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I presume because, as the member referred to earlier—I do not recall the particular briefing but I presume it is because that was the plan. But, of course, as the member knows, it was delivered on 6 October, and then I was briefed on 15 October.
Dr David Clark: I seek leave to table a briefing for the Prime Minister from November 2014, referring to a September preliminary design.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Is it an Official Information—
Dr David Clark: Yes.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that particular document. Is there any objection? There is none. It can be tabled.
Better for Business Programme—Impact on Small Businesses 9. MATT DOOCEY (National—Waimakariri) to the Minister for Small Business: How are small businesses benefiting from the Better for Business – Result 9 Programme?
Hon CRAIG FOSS (Minister for Small Business): The Better for Business - Result 9 Programme is a partnership of Government agencies that are working to make it easier and cheaper for businesses by reducing the time, effort, and cost of dealing with the public sector. Some examples of those benefits, introduced to make things easier for small businesses when dealing with the Government, include things such as the New Zealand Business Number, the employer registration tool, and the Compliance Matters online tool. A business reference group made up of 1,200 small and medium enterprises has been surveyed over the last 6 months. The latest report shows a net 7 percent reduction in the reported effort required to deal with Government agencies, and an improvement in reported performance by Government agencies.
Matt Doocey: What other initiatives are under way to reduce red tape, which will benefit small businesses?
Hon CRAIG FOSS: Silly and sometimes contradictory rules add costs to small business and have a negative impact on their cash flows. They encourage small business owners to make submissions to the Rules Reduction Taskforce. They can do so online. Although the task force is primarily focused on property regulations administered by local authorities, unnecessary or pedantic rules administered by central government will also be considered. Reducing red tape will make it easier for small businesses to do their business and help the New Zealand economy grow.
Matt Doocey: What other initiatives could impact the cash flow of small businesses?
Mr SPEAKER: Provided it is within the responsibility of the Minister, I call the Hon Craig Foss.
Hon CRAIG FOSS: Of course, Mr Speaker. Small businesses work hard and strive to achieve positive cash flows. There are a number of ways in which those cash flows could be negatively affected. For example, new and complex taxes would negatively impact small business cash flows across New Zealand, and higher than necessary minimum wage costs would. Costs such as those, which would have a negative impact on small business cash flows, are still the policies being proposed by—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member has no responsibility for another political party.
Jacinda Ardern: What will Result 9 save small to medium sized businesses, and will it exceed the up to $3,000 that the Government could save in small to medium sized enterprises tomorrow, or $350 million in total, if it reduced ACC levies?
Hon CRAIG FOSS: I welcome the question from the member. Small businesses will enjoy the benefits, first of all, of the existing locked in $1.5 billion reduction in ACC levies committed to and announced by this Government. As small businesses engage with the Government online, using 25 Mar 2015 Oral Questions Page 13 of 15
tools such as the small business calculator, they will go through and see the benefits of such reductions in ACC levies.
Jacinda Ardern: What evidence does he have that a reduction in ACC levies would be unsustainable, as he so vehemently claimed in the House last week?
Hon CRAIG FOSS: From memory—sitting in this House in about late 2008 and looking at the sad state of ACC that this Government inherited and the devastating impact of the changes in those levies as a result of ACC being financially unsustainable at that time. It had a devastating impact and there is solid evidence that those levies need to be managed appropriately, as they are, allowing $1.5 billion in ACC levy reductions over the term of this Government so far.
Schools, Canterbury—Advice on Closure of Redcliffs School 10. Hon RUTH DYSON (Labour—Port Hills) to the Minister of Education: What further advice, if any, did she receive that led to her decision to consult on the closing of Redcliffs School, following the advice she received from geotechnical experts in September last year that “with the mitigation measures in place, the risk from rockfall is considered to be no higher on the school grounds than on any site remote from the Port Hills”?
Hon HEKIA PARATA (Minister of Education): I have made no decision. I have initiated consultation on a proposal. My proposal is based on all the reports I have received. Families want assurances of safety and certainty, not just now but into the future. Although the modelling and risk mitigations propose measures of safety, they also predict further rockfalls from the cliffs’ ongoing degradation. Periodic removal of the students may be required to ensure that the school grounds remain safe. I am concerned that families cannot be given assurance that this will be a safe school site over time.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: Reckless Labour.
Hon Ruth Dyson: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I take offence at the interjection from Minister Brownlee and ask that you require him to withdraw and apologise.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member has taken offence. I ask the Hon Gerry Brownlee to withdraw that remark.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: For the offence, I withdraw the remark. But it is reckless—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! No, no—that is where we get into trouble, Mr Brownlee. If I ask any member to withdraw, they do so without any further comment.
Hon Ruth Dyson: Why has she cited safety and uncertainty as the primary driver of her proposal to close Redcliffs School when the MWH, Beca, and GNS reports all say that a simple and cost-effective bund at the back of the school property would provide a level of safety that is significantly greater than what is required to live in the surrounding houses?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: I cited safety over time, and in the primary response to the question I indicated that although the engineers have certainly said that they could make mitigations to make the school site safe, they have also said that there will be further rockfalls, that periodically the bund may not be able to maintain the capacity it has and will need to be repaired, and that during those reassessments it is likely that the students will need to be removed from the school site.
Hon Ruth Dyson: What specialist advice, if any, did she receive that led her to say that the reassessment, clearing, and repairing of the bund, if damaged in a possible future cliff collapse, could take 2 years?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: What led me to say that was reading the reports that had been provided. What led me to say that there was a need for this consultation to occur was because of my ongoing concern for the safety of students on that site and for undisrupted provision of good quality education, not only now but into the future. May I repeat that I have made no decision. I have initiated consultation on a proposal.
Hon Ruth Dyson: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My last supplementary was very specific: what specialist advice did she receive— 25 Mar 2015 Oral Questions Page 14 of 15
Mr SPEAKER: No—[Interruption] Order! It was not. The question was what specific advice, if any, led the Minister to say that. The Minister obviously just moved to the second part and told the House what led her to say the comments that the member quoted in her question.
Hon Ruth Dyson: What advice has she got for the thousands of Sumner, Clifton, and Redcliffs residents who drive along the main road every day who are at greater risk from the potential rockfall than the pupils and staff of Redcliffs School if they went home?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: The advice that I have taken into account relates to the school grounds, and as Minister of Education that is my primary responsibility and that is the one that I am discharging.
Hon Ruth Dyson: If the Redcliffs community demonstrates through the consultation period overwhelming support for their school to come home, will she support that school returning?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: The consultation period provides not only for the specific Redcliffs School community but for anyone else to make a submission. I will consider every submission that is put forward to me during that process.
Aged Care, Residential—Employment 11. JAN LOGIE (Green) to the Minister for Workplace Relations and Safety: Does he agree with the previous EEO Commissioner Judy McGregor’s statement on aged care that “The sense of crisis that surrounds aged care is partly a reflection of our collective knowledge that we are not being fair and that a large group of workers is being discriminated against.”?
Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE (Minister for Workplace Relations and Safety): I share her wider concerns that workers in lower-paid roles are properly treated and receive fair pay for their important work. Dr McGregor’s comments are from a 2012 report, which goes on to refer to pay inequality and in-between travel. I note the Government has acted to resolve the longstanding issue of compensation for in-between travel and that the issue of equal pay is currently being considered by the courts, and I am watching that process with interest.
Jan Logie: Does the Minister believe that the minimum wage, or not much more, is appropriate pay for a job mostly done by women that involves caring for the most vulnerable—bathing them, helping them to go to the toilet, and providing emotional support in the last days of their lives?
Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE: In respect of the minimum wage, we have one of the highest minimum wages in the OECD in real terms and as a proportion of the median wage, but I do share the member’s concern that all workers are appropriately remunerated according to their skills and experience.
Barbara Stewart: Does he agree that aged-care workers who are performing comparable medical tasks to that of nurses, such as testing blood sugars, checking blood pressures, and giving out medication, are doing so only because they are regarded as the cheaper option?
Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE: No, I do not. There are very strict guidelines around the appropriate discharging of responsibilities in health care facilities, and those aged-care workers clearly have a scope of practice that is significantly reduced from registered nurses and that is appropriate, given the safety requirements of those facilities.
Jan Logie: Does the Minister find it acceptable that while the estimated earned income for men and women is now equal in several countries in the world, the annual median gender pay gap in New Zealand, as at the 2013 census, was 36.7 percent?
Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE: I put those comments in the context of this. From 2001 to 2008 the gender pay gap effectively flat-lined. It has reduced by nearly a quarter since 2008, and I would caution the member to be very careful about statistics produced in international comparisons. I suggest she looks at the health and survival indicators, where New Zealand ranks 96th in terms of mortality. Syria is ranked 1st, because men and women die at equally young ages. It is very important not to read the statistics on the face of it. 25 Mar 2015 Oral Questions Page 15 of 15
Jan Logie: In recognition of Caregivers Week, their essential and very skilled work, and the absolute importance of gender equality as a human right, will the Minister advocate for an increase and ring-fencing of funding to address the exploitation of these women?
Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE: As someone who has employed aged-care workers, I would join with the member in agreeing that they do a fantastic job for a very important, vulnerable section of our community. Pay rates for aged-care workers is the responsibility of providers in district health boards, so I have no ministerial responsibility for that, but I am advised that despite very tight financial situations the Government has increased district health board funding of aged residential care by 27 percent between 2008-09 and 2013-14. I think that in straitened times that is a very good record.
Mr SPEAKER: The member can seek leave. Leave is sought to ask an additional question on the basis that there are only 11 on the sheet. Is there any objection? There is objection.