Questions and Answers - Nov 5
Questions to Ministers
Wage Rates—Cost of Living
1. JACQUI DEAN (National—Waitaki) to the Minister of Finance: How does growth in the average wage compare to cost of living increases of 0.4 percent over the last year, according to labour market data released by Statistics New Zealand yesterday?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Associate Minister of Finance)on behalf of the Minister of Finance: Data from Statistics New Zealand yesterday shows that the annual average wage is now over $57,300, which is over $10,000 more than when National first came into office in 2008. Over the last year, wages have increased by 3.1 percent, which is considerably higher than the rate of inflation, at just 0.4 percent. Of course, the 0.1 percent increase in unemployment to 6 percent is higher than we would like it to be, but we should note that although the household labour force survey noted the first quarterly fall in jobs in 3 years, the quarterly employment survey, released on the same day, recorded filled jobs increasing by 0.7 percent and hours worked increasing by 0.9 percent.
Jacqui Dean: What is the Government doing to assist firms to grow jobs and deliver higher wages?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: The Government recognises, of course, that it is businesses that create jobs, and what the Government does is to create an environment and a platform from which businesses can have the confidence to invest and employ more people. That is what this Government is doing—for example, by reducing income taxes to increase incentives to work, reducing ACC levies, spending $110 billion on infrastructure over the next 10 years, and negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership and also the New Zealand - Korea free-trade agreement. In all, the Business Growth Agenda has nearly 500 initiatives in it, and these are all being used to encourage—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! There are five people to my left who have been consistently interjecting since question time started. If any of those five—and I am happy to name them if they are in any doubt as to who they are—continue to interject, then they will be asked to leave the Chamber. Does the Minister wish to complete his answer?
Hon David Cunliffe: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I confess that I was one of the five, and part of the reason for the disorder—
Mr SPEAKER: Order!
Hon David Cunliffe: But the point of order—
Mr SPEAKER: I want the point of order.
Hon David Cunliffe: —is: what guidance can you give the House about the maximum duration of ministerial responses?
Mr SPEAKER: I have given that guidance on many occasions, and I am sure that the member has been here. I am the sole judge as to the length of answers.
Jacqui Dean: What does the recent data show about businesses’ hiring intentions, particularly in respect of the services and manufacturing sectors?
Hon Steven Joyce: As I mentioned earlier this week, we saw weak economic growth in the first half of the year, in part due to the significant fall in dairy prices. More recent data points have been more positive, including last week’s ANZ Business Outlook survey. That survey reported higher investment intentions, increased employment intentions, higher profit expectations, and a lift in residential investment intentions. Other data indicates that the services sector is seeing the largest expansion in activity in 8 years, and we have now seen a record 36 consecutive months of growth in manufacturing. There are, of course, risks to the outlook from the weak global economy, but, overall, the country remains on track for continuing moderate growth.
Jacqui Dean: What does the latest data from Statistics New Zealand show about employment outcomes for young people?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: The data released yesterday shows that the outcome for young people is increasingly positive, with the number of 15 to 24-year-olds not in employment, education, or training down to 11 percent, which is the lowest level in 7 years. Within that, the figure for 15 to 19-year-olds has fallen to the lowest level ever recorded in the survey—it is the lowest level ever recorded. It is particularly positive that this fall is due to more young people participating in education.
New Zealand Security Intelligence Service—Confidence
2. JAMES SHAW (Co-Leader—Green) to the Minister in charge of the NZ Security Intelligence Service: Does he have confidence in the NZSIS in light of the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security’s conclusion that the agency did not have “sound compliance procedures and systems in place”; if so, why?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON (Minister in charge of the NZ Security Intelligence Service): Yes, because the SIS is making very good progress towards improving its compliance procedures and systems—something that the inspector-general acknowledged in her report.
James Shaw: When was the Minister first made aware that the SIS had breached the law by not providing a copy of the visual warrants to the inspector-general, as referred to in her report?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: From memory, about a fortnight before the inspector-general released her report.
James Shaw: Was it the inspector-general or the SIS who told the Minister that the SIS had breached the law by not providing a copy of the visual warrants to the inspector-general, as referred to in her report?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: It was the SIS itself, because the director, in her weekly meeting with me, mentioned it and formally apologised to me.
James Shaw: Will he remove the new visual surveillance powers that he granted the SIS, given the finding that it has misused these powers 100 percent of the time?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: Well, that is, in fact, totally wrong. I am not some kind of Joe Stalin who can simply remove the provisions of a statute—
Grant Robertson: It’s an aspiration though, Chris, isn’t it?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: It may be an aspiration. That is the job of Parliament. What I can say is that the inspector-general has done a very good job. The SIS has undertaken to improve its procedures. One thing I can say to the honourable member is that the relevant section talks about doing things as soon as practicable, which is a very flexible and, frankly, unsatisfactory term. I think the language needs to be tightened up, but these and other matters can await the review, which is shortly to be released.
James Shaw: How many people have been wrongly denied security clearance because the SIS failed to follow its legal obligation of procedural fairness?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: Well, I cannot answer that. What I can say is that deficiencies have been identified in the vetting procedure, which goes back many years, and these issues are being addressed by the SIS and by the director. I have great confidence in the director to put things right. Just last week, for example, I was having a meeting with vetting staff about ways in which the vetting procedures could be improved.
James Shaw: Will he instruct officials to reassess those New Zealanders who have been wrongly denied security clearance because the SIS failed to follow its legal obligation of procedural fairness?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: I do not know whether I can get myself involved in operational matters. What I can say is that the director, who is a very careful and professional woman, is looking at those issues right now.
James Shaw: Will the director of the SIS face any consequences for the breaches of law that have happened on her watch?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: I am not into witch hunts. I am more interested in putting things right, as LV Martin used to say. It is extremely important that these lapses be addressed in a professional and thorough manner, and as I have said, I have great confidence in the director to do exactly that.
Health Services—Funding Levels
3. Hon ANNETTE KING (Deputy Leader—Labour) to the Minister of Health: What did he mean by his statement on 29 July that core Crown health expenditure since 2009/10 covers “most, but not all, inflationary pressures”?
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN (Minister of Health): I have answered this question many times, and I mean exactly that—it does cover most but not all inflationary pressures. The balance is found within baselines by redirecting spend from areas where it is not delivering results to areas where it is delivering the results that New Zealanders need and expect.
Hon Annette King: If the district health boards are meeting cost pressures from within their baselines, why have 13 district health boards exceeded their budget by $8.4 million in August alone?
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: Actually it is a huge improvement. The collective district health boards’ deficits are about $50 million at the moment—a big improvement from the $150 million we inherited from Labour. So Labour knew how to run a deficit; it did not know how to deliver the services.
Hon Annette King: If district health boards are managing their cost pressures because there is enough funding, why is the National Health Board meeting with the Lakes, Tairāwhiti, Capital and Coast, Hutt Valley, and MidCentral district health boards to discuss their financial performance?
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: Because, unlike Labour, we are not going to let the deficits blow out.
Hon Annette King: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: I am answering the question.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! A point of order has been raised.
Hon Annette King: That was a very straight question; he goes straight to the Labour Party. Why does he not answer his own questions?
Mr SPEAKER: It was certainly not helpful the way the Minister started, but it would be helpful if the Minister could answer the question, and then we will judge the adequacy of the answer.
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: Because we are not going to let deficits blow out. We cannot go back to the situation back in 2008 of a $150 million deficit. I see Mr Robertson saying today that actually he is prepared to run deficits if he ever becomes the Minister of Finance, which would be a massive problem for the health system and New Zealand.
Hon Annette King: If all district health boards’ inflationary pressures are basically being covered, as the Minister is telling us, why did the figures provided by his office show a shortfall of $152 million in this financial year?
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: As usual, Mrs King is not giving the full picture. The picture that she is painting is an early Budget document. The rate of inflation changed considerably from that time, so she is using out-of-date information, but worse, she knows it.
Hon Simon Bridges: Annette!
Hon Annette King: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Hon Simon Bridges: You shouldn’t do that.
Hon Annette King: Yes, it is Annette; that is right.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! A point of order—the Hon Annette King.
Hon Annette King: I have a written answer to the Minister—not using ministry figures.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Can I have the point of order?
Hon Annette King: The point of order is that I would like to table the written answer because the Minister disputes my figures.
Mr SPEAKER: The Minister certainly did dispute the figures, but that is a debatable matter. If it is a published written answer, then it is available to all members anyway.
Hon Annette King: Were the figures supplied by his office correct when they showed that nine district health boards will need $61.4 million out of their budgets this year to manage the Government’s shortfall in funding?
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: It is a heck of a lot better than their needing $150 million, and we are determined to make sure that the deficits do not blow out. If you look at the wider fiscal strategy, we are determined that district health boards live within their means. We are not going to do like Grant Robertson is promising, which is to run deficits to fund heath—a very bad idea.
Hon Annette King: If district health boards are being funded for all their cost pressures, why have 73 percent of staff recently surveyed at the Taranaki District Health Board reported that in the past 6 months patient care or treatment has been compromised?
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: I have not seen that survey, but, look, I would not be surprised if it is not exactly saying what Mrs King is saying it does. What she is saying in her—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! There is a point of order. The Minister will resume his seat.
Hon Annette King: I seek leave to table the said survey from the Care Capacity Demand Management programme—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I will put the leave, but—[Interruption] Order! I will put the leave, but it is customary, certainly in this House, to do so at the end of an answer. But I will put the leave, certainly in view of the circumstances. Leave is sought to table that particular survey—
Hon Annette King: Have a read.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I might, if I have time. Leave is sought to table that particular survey. Is there any objection? There is none. It can be tabled. Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Hon Dr Jonathan Coleman: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. We just had a situation there where I was asked a question, I was halfway through my answer, and you allowed Mrs King to table a document—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! The Minister will resume his seat. That is not exactly as it happened at all. A member has a right to raise a point of order at any stage, but—[Interruption] Order! If the Minister wishes to stay in the House, he will not interrupt while I am on my feet. The member has a right to raise a point of order at any stage. At the time I accept the point of order, I have no idea what that point of order is. Subsequent to accepting the member having the right to raise a point of order, she then took the opportunity to seek leave to table a document. I did point out to her that it is not the custom of the House to interrupt an answer to do so but, in view of the circumstances, once the interruption had occurred I allowed the tabling to proceed. Question—[Interruption] Order! We do not need further interjections between the two members.
4. JONO NAYLOR (National) to the Minister for Social Development: What is the Government doing to support beneficiaries to find work as part of Budget 2015?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY (Minister for Social Development): Today I announced that 40,000 more intensive case management places have been made available for beneficiaries following the funding boost in Budget 2015. The increase means that the number of clients supported has increased from 80,000 to 120,000. These increased services will be focused for sole parents and for jobseekers with health conditions and disabilities who want to work but need some extra support and guidance.
Jono Naylor: How does work-focused case management fit within the Government’s plan in Budget 2015 to support New Zealanders off benefits and into work?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY: Work-focused case management is just one of the tools that this Government is using to support New Zealanders off welfare. Budget 2015 also includes initiatives such as expanding the 3K to Christchurch scheme and increasing funding for the out-of-school care and recreation childcare subsidy to remove barriers for parents moving into work. We have already seen the number of children in a benefit-dependent household reduce by over 42,000 in the past 3 years and the number of sole parents on a benefit is down by almost 22 percent over that same time. This Government is doing more to try to help these clients off welfare and into work so they and their families can lead successful lives.
Darroch Ball: How can she say that she is supporting youth beneficiaries into work when she is contributing to the rise of youth unemployment to a shameful 22 percent by reducing funding for the likes of the highly successful youth Limited Service Volunteers programme?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY: Well, on the contrary, of course we can say that we are supporting young people into work and off benefits. We have a very successful youth services programme that provides wraparound, intensive support to young people and we have the Limited Service Volunteers scheme, which is a suitable scheme for a number of young people. We increased the numbers during the global financial crisis because more young people were out of work. Now that the crisis is over, we have restored it to its original numbers and we are continuing to use it in partnership with the Defence Force.
5. GRANT ROBERTSON (Labour—Wellington Central) to the Minister of Finance: What was the rate of unemployment and the total number of people unemployed, according to the household labour force survey, when he took office, and what is that rate and that number now?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Associate Minister of Finance) on behalf of the Minister of Finance: The data from Statistics New Zealand yesterday shows that the unemployment rate is currently 6.0 percent. This is 0.1 percent higher than the previous quarter and compares with 4.6 percent at the end of 2008. The number of employed people is 2,347,000 in the household labour force survey yesterday, compared with 2,195,000 at the end of 2008. The number of people unemployed is currently 151,000. At the end of 2008 it was 105,000. Of course, in the meantime we have had a number of moderately significant world events: the global financial crisis, in New Zealand’s context the Canterbury earthquakes, and of course, this year, a fragile world economy that has seen significant drops in commodity prices, including in one of the commodities most important to New Zealand.
Grant Robertson: Is it correct that the lowest unemployment he has got on his watch is 5.4 percent, or 138,000 people out of work?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I cannot verify the exact figures for the member, but I can say that across the world it has been more difficult to generate employment post the global financial crisis than prior to the global financial crisis, and the member may be aware of that.
Stuart Smith: What recent reports has he seen showing how regional economies are supporting new jobs and more investment?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Businesses throughout New Zealand continue to invest and employ more people. Just this morning I saw a report showing a number of companies in the Clutha district advertising to Dunedin jobseekers to fill up to something like 350 vacancies. Then, of course, there are companies like Proliant in Feilding, where we are seeing “new investment creating new jobs, making the most of Manawatū’s strengths”. That statement, which came just a couple of hours ago, is promoting the Government’s work for the council and Spearhead Manawatu in bringing Proliant to New Zealand, and that was from a Mr Lees-Galloway. It is important that we recognise that businesses around the country are continuing to invest and hire, and the Government is helping them to attract new investment to regions around the country.
Brett Hudson: How is the Government supporting jobs and diversification as part of building a resilient New Zealand economy?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: The Government is taking a range of measures to support a growing New Zealand economy. For example, there is a lot of activity recently in free-trade agreements in the export market sector of our Business Growth Agenda, with the Government signing up to the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement. I am not sure whether all other parties in the House have yet formed a position on that, but this Government certainly has because it will help job growth in the regions. We have reduced taxes on work supporting higher employment, we have maintained a 90-day trial period that encourages more jobs, and we are investing in new public assets using the $4.7 billion raised by the mixed-ownership model, which, of course, has been opposed by some other parties in the House. We have cut red tape to get more houses built, and there are any number of further initiatives: the innovation initiatives, the infrastructure initiatives, the water storage initiatives—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Bring the answer to a conclusion.
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: —many of which are opposed by other parties in this House.
Grant Robertson: Why did he say that 151,000 New Zealanders being out of work was “to be expected”, and does that mean that unemployment at that level is collateral damage in his hands-off style of economic management?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I think the answer to the supplementary question previously shows that this Government is anything but hands-off, notwithstanding Mr Robertson’s talking points. The reality is that New Zealand participates in a global economy, and our job as a Government is to come up with a range of initiatives that assist further growth and investment. We have any number of them, and if the member would like me to go through them all again, given that he has not heard them and wrote his talking points without them, then I am happy to.
Grant Robertson: Can he confirm that the extent of the Government’s response to yesterday’s announcement was “for people to try harder to get work”, as he said on the radio this morning; and does he not think that the person in this instance who should be trying harder is him?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I note that the Minister’s response was to a direct and different question from the one that Mr Robertson characterised, but fair enough. But this Government is exactly focused on those things, and the interesting thing is that the Business Growth Agenda is encouraging growth in our export markets; it is encouraging growth in innovation of companies, which is criticised by the Opposition; it is encouraging growth in infrastructure, which is criticised by the Opposition; it is encouraging greater availability of natural resources, which is criticised by the Opposition; it is encouraging more investment—
Mr SPEAKER: Order!
Hon Nanaia Mahuta: Is the increase from 8.7 percent to 12.9 percent in Māori unemployment under his watch indicative of the Government’s plan for economic success; if so, how many new jobs have been created for Māori?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I do not have those exact numbers available for the member today, but if she puts it down in a question to, perhaps, the Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment, I am sure he would be happy to answer that question on her behalf. But the important thing is that the Government has a range of initiatives, working alongside the Māori Party, with the Māori and Pasifika Trades Training Initiative, for example, and the Youth Guarantee programme. [Interruption] And the “neet” figures in New Zealand for 15 to 19-year-olds are the lowest—lowest—they have ever been, and that is Māori, Pasifika, and every other ethnicity in New Zealand.
Su’a William Sio: How will an unemployment rate for Pasifika people of 13.1 percent compare with 7.7 percent when he became Minister, and the accelerating income inequalities and the lowest homeownership rate for Pasifika people that follow it, create the brighter future the Prime Minister promised?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I agree with the member that Pasifika unemployment is still too high, and that is why the Government is focused on a range of initiatives that attract investment, particularly in South Auckland, where a lot of our Pasifika population lives. That includes areas such as transport infrastructure, where we have made very big investments. It includes the investment into the Auckland University of Technology to ensure that it grows its campus, and the very big investment in the Manukau Institute of Technology, which is encouraging skills development for young people across South Auckland, including young Pasifika.
Jenny Salesa: How does the Minister think his measures to tackle youth unemployment are working, given it is now 16.65 percent for all young people under 24, up from 10.95 percent when National came into Government in 2008?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: That member, I am sorry, is completely incorrect, because the unemployment figure for young people should not be quoted because it is only unemployed as a percentage of those people who are at work. Every Government—and, generally, every responsible Opposition—quotes the “neet” figure, because the “neet” figure refers to those not in education, employment, or training. So we will quote the “neet” figure, which is the lowest it has been in 7 years, at 11.0 percent, and the 15 to 19 rate is the lowest it has ever been—and it should be celebrated, not talked down, by the Opposition.
Canterbury District Health Board—Funding
6. NUK KORAKO (National) to the Minister of Health: Can he confirm that Canterbury District Health Board is receiving an extra $16 million in funding, which acknowledges Canterbury’s unique circumstances and will see the DHB break even for the 2015/16 year?
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN (Minister of Health): Yes, I can. The Government has decided to give Canterbury District Health Board an additional $16 million in funding to ensure that it is well placed to continue delivering high-quality services to patients. In response to issues that the district health board has raised with me, I asked PricewaterhouseCoopers to carry out a financial review so as to gain a fuller understanding of the district health board’s position. The PricewaterhouseCoopers review found that although the district health board has a stable financial position, drivers of future cost relate to the operating cost of the $1 billion hospitals redevelopment and the unique circumstances in Canterbury. The $16 million is in recognition of those cost pressures, and it means that the district health board will break even this year.
Nuk Korako: What other assistance has the Government provided Canterbury District Health Board as it rebuilds from the earthquakes?
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: The Government is investing heavily in Canterbury in order to assist the region to rebuild after the earthquakes. This week I visited the Burwood Hospital construction site, which, together with the redevelopment of Christchurch Hospital, is a $650 million investment in Canterbury health facilities. In addition, we have provided funding support totalling $70 million and have boosted mental health services, and the district health board is delivering more services for patients, such as the 50 percent increase in elective operation numbers.
Hon Annette King: Why did he need to put PricewaterhouseCoopers into Canterbury District Health Board, at considerable cost to the taxpayer, to find out that it needed additional funding, when the district health board told him and his ministry back in November 2014 of its circumstances but was disbelieved?
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: Because it was necessary to do the analysis.
Tertiary Education Organisations—Agribusiness Training Limited
7. Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE (Labour—New Lynn) to the Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment: On what date was he or his office first notified that Agribusiness Training Limited was seriously under-delivering its contracted teaching hours and/or receiving funds to which it had not been entitled?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment): Actually, there are three key dates that I can provide to the members. As the member knows, there were six tertiary education organisations that were specifically chosen for focused reviews late last year. No substantive issues were found with five of the six reviews, but on 22 January this year the Tertiary Education Commission advised me that the Agribusiness Training Limited targeted review indicated there could be significant under-delivery of teaching hours of the sample programmes reviewed. The Tertiary Education Commission then engaged Deloitte to investigate Agribusiness Training Limited’s programmes between 2009 and 2014, and I was advised of its findings after Deloitte reported to the Tertiary Education Commission on 19 May 2015—I think I was advised in June. Finally, having provided the findings to Agribusiness Training Limited itself for a response, the Tertiary Education Commission requested repayment on 23 September this year, and I was advised on or around this date.
Hon David Cunliffe: Given that answer, why did the Minister not disclose to Parliament the name or the nature of the issues at Agribusiness Training Limited, when he had known for months about the issues?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: In the interests of natural justice, I think it is important to see that the Tertiary Education Commission has the opportunity to engage with the provider and then inform me, and then I was in a position to inform the House.
Hon David Cunliffe: Why, then, was public announcement of the liquidation of Agribusiness Training Limited delayed several days until the Friday afternoon after Parliament had risen for the last adjournment—or was that just coincidence?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I reject the insinuation in the member’s question, but the point is that, actually, the liquidation of Agribusiness Training Limited came, I believe, as a surprise to both the Tertiary Education Commission and my office, and, actually, the decision was taken to make a public announcement earlier in response to the liquidation. It was not a situation where the liquidation was delayed in any way, shape, or form. We were advised that it was liquidated, and once the liquidation was announced, we then proceeded to inform the public of some of the details as quickly as possible.
Hon David Cunliffe: Given the considerable delays since the Minister was first notified of the problems with Agribusiness Training Limited on 22 January, what action has been taken to prevent students from being left in the lurch with unfinished qualifications because of the failure of this private training establishment or to transfer them to other, equivalent providers without loss of credit; if this has not been achieved for all students, why not?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Again, I think the member is mischaracterising that particular January date. I have actually been through, in my primary answer, the order of events that occurred. In terms of the liquidation and the impact of that, the New Zealand Qualifications Authority does have a process, which is a very well-organised process, to protect the interests of students. As I understand, there is still to be a decision from the liquidator as to whether the organisation will continue to trade. Both the New Zealand Qualifications Authority and the Tertiary Education Commission are continuing to work very closely not only with that organisation but also with other organisations that may be needed in order to provide further education for the learners, to ensure that the things the member is worried about do not actually come to pass.
Hon David Cunliffe: When the Tertiary Education Commission selected a sample of providers to be investigated by Deloitte and PricewaterhouseCoopers, what was the threshold for their third criterion—being “high numbers of course and qualification completion rates”—and how many providers, in fact, meet that threshold?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: The criteria for the six focused reviews were that the providers had some features in common with those found at Te Whare Wānanga o Awanuiārangi and the Western Institute of Technology at Taranaki. Those were: rapid growth of individual courses, coupled with unusually high completion rates, and a high reliance on subcontracted provisioning. So it was the three things taken together that determined the level of interest in a focused review.
Hon David Cunliffe: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I wish to draw to your attention the overdue reply to—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Can I just—
Hon David Cunliffe: —written parliamentary question 133242015 to Minister Joyce in relation to—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! I will look into the matter.
Tracey Martin: If Agribusiness Training and Taratahi Agricultural Training Centre have been proven to show provider rorts, how confident is he that other providers are not rorting immigration, given that 47,000 foreign students have obtained residency here since 2008?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I think it is a very big stretch for the member to say that just because a number of students have obtained residency in New Zealand, there is, by definition, fraud. We actually have around 109,000 international students studying in New Zealand every year, and some of them do go on to obtain residency and—
Tracey Martin: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I asked the Minister—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I heard what the question was. Would the member please show courtesy by giving the Minister time to answer it? Hon Steven Joyce—to complete the answer.
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I do not think it is unreasonable that there might be that sort of number over that period, given the number of students who are studying here. I would add for the member that, actually, many of these students go on to make a considerable contribution to New Zealand—including sometimes marrying the locals.
Security and Intelligence Agencies—National Security
RON MARK (Deputy Leader—NZ First): Thank you, Mr Speaker. My question is to the—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! I will not hesitate to ask the member on my right-hand side to be leaving. The member has a right to ask a question.
8. RON MARK (Deputy Leader—NZ First) to the Minister in charge of the NZ Security Intelligence Service: What is the Government doing to resource and address national security concerns identified in the ministerial briefing he received from the NZSIS and GCSB?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON (Minister in charge of the NZ Security Intelligence Service): The Government is doing, and has already done, a great deal, including changing the law to address the problem of foreign fighters, something New Zealand First opposed; giving the SIS a funding injection of almost $7 million to increase the number of staff it has working on monitoring and investigating issues; giving both the New Zealand SIS and the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) a funding boost of $20 million over 4 years for essential security services; continuing very important work on cyber-security to protect key New Zealand businesses and organisations; and working to improve oversight, public engagement, and openness.
Ron Mark: Are the SIS and GCSB racist for making unchecked immigration their leading—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member has a right to ask the question. Start the question again.
Ron Mark: Thank you, Mr Speaker. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I will not be issuing a further warning to interjectors from my right-hand side for the balance of this question. If members choose to interject, they will be leaving the Chamber.
Ron Mark: Are the SIS and GCSB racist for making unchecked immigration their leading national security concern?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: No, they are certainly not racist. There are a number of national security issues, and they are all being looked at competently and professionally by those organisations.
David Seymour: Do these agencies have the ability to do sophisticated screening for threats, or do they merely impute motives on New Zealand citizens according to their ethnicity and try to send them home?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: They certainly do not do the latter. The George Wallace or Enoch Powell approach to dealing with immigrants is not desirable.
Ron Mark: Will the SIS, GCSB, and the Civil Aviation Authority be verifying all airport ID cardholders’ security clearances, given the reports that the Russian airplane was probably brought down by a bomb; if not, why not?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: I cannot say what the cause of that dreadful accident was; it is still being investigated. There is quite a lot of speculation. I can assure that honourable member and the House, probably on behalf of the Minister of Transport, actually, that airport security is a huge issue and is constantly being looked at by the Minister and by his officials to ensure that we never have anything like that in this country.
David Seymour: Are the agencies sufficiently resourced to detect whether racist attitudes are a security concern in New Zealand?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: Well, there can be a number of security issues that arise. If, for example, there was a sort of KKK group—not referring to anyone in this House of course—that indulged in that kind of thing, then that could well be a security issue and engage the interest of the SIS. But, normally, those sorts of matters are best dealt with by the Human Rights Commission unless and until a security issue arises, or by people who make unfortunate statements having the bottle to stand up and apologise.
Mr SPEAKER: Order!
Ron Mark: Will the Minister tell the Minister of Immigration to halt special visa processing for elite China UnionPay credit card holders, and elite status passengers of China Southern Airlines; if not, why not?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: All I can say is that the Minister of Immigration, my ministerial colleague, is a very professional and competent person. I do not go around directing my colleagues what to do—that is the preserve of the Prime Minister—but I can assure that honourable member that the Minister of Immigration is alert to all security issues and approaches them in his usual competent and professional manner.
David Seymour: Does the Minister or do the agencies view a correlation between racist attitudes and severely limited intellect as a security concern?
Mr SPEAKER: Order! That question is not going to help the order of this House. Further supplementary question—Ron Mark.
Ron Mark: Better to be an old lion than a young ass—
Mr SPEAKER: Order!
Ron Mark: —but moving on.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! If the member wants to continue I suggest he just rises and ask the supplementary question.
Ron Mark: Will the Minister support an increased defence budget given that the South Pacific is considered a security risk and given proposals to slash Defence Force staffing by 700 and the documented shortcomings of the new NH90s?
Mr SPEAKER: In so far as there is ministerial responsibility, the Hon Chris Finlayson.
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: With respect, I do not think there is any ministerial responsibility. The Minister of Defence is an extremely competent person and can be relied on to address those issues. This week I am the Acting Minister of Defence. If he wants to ask me questions in that exalted capacity, I am happy to answer them.
Ron Mark: I seek leave to do exactly that, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: The member is seeking leave to ask an additional supplementary question?
Ron Mark: The stand-in Minister of Defence—a supplementary question.
Mr SPEAKER: It is unusual but leave is sought. Is there any objection? There is objection.
9. JULIE ANNE GENTER (Green) to the Minister of Transport: Does he stand by his statement that New Zealand is “the most electric-vehicle-ready country in the world”?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES (Minister of Transport): Absolutely, and one of the many reasons why is the massive roading investment that the National Government has made, ensuring large, long roads for them to roar along.
Julie Anne Genter: In light of that answer, is it because National has done almost nothing to support electric vehicles for the past 7 years that New Zealand has only about 800 while the Netherlands have 45,000 and Norway has nearly 70,000?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: There have been a number of initiatives in this area. I would remind the member that the number of electric vehicles and plug-in hybrid vehicles in this country has gone up 500 percent, albeit from a low base, in the last couple of years. If this is a competition about who loves electric vehicles the most, I can assure the member that I will be winning because I actually like cars and the roads that they travel on, unlike her.
Julie Anne Genter: Is he aware that a number of electric vehicle manufacturers are not supplying electric cars to the New Zealand market because they consider there to be insufficient Government policy supporting their uptake, and what does he intend to do about it?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: I think that is entirely a mischaracterisation of what the position is. We are a small market. There is a range of reasons why. I agree it would be good to see many more electric vehicles and other low-emission vehicles here. But, as the member knows, these are things that we are thinking about and will have more to say on in due course.
David Seymour: Would the Minister be concerned by reports from places such as Silicon Valley that subsidies paid for by middle-income taxpayers have been used by the super-rich to buy a third car, in the form of a Tesla Roadster, and does he think that is the sort of policy the New Zealand Opposition should support?
Mr SPEAKER: Again, either of those two supplementary questions—the Hon Simon Bridges.
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: I think there is a real jeopardy in relation to a range of new technologies, solar included. You have got to be very careful about not robbing Peter to pay Paul. I think the best policies are ones that remove unnecessary barriers and nudge things along, not the big spending and subsidising policies that the Greens favour.
Julie Anne Genter: If he is serious about encouraging uptake of electric vehicles here in New Zealand, will he support a policy that will actually result in a transition to electric vehicles, like my member’s bill that encourages businesses to choose clean transport options for staff by exempting electric vehicles and public transport passes from fringe benefit tax?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: I thank the member for her party political broadcast. Can I make very clear that this is a Government that favours new technologies and does want to remove unnecessary barriers, but we will not be supporting the member’s bill.
Roading, Auckland—Southern Corridor Motorway
10. KANWALJIT SINGH BAKSHI (National) to the Minister of Transport: What updates can he provide on the Southern Corridor Motorway improvements project in Auckland?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES (Minister of Transport): The $268 million project, which is part of the Government’s accelerated Auckland roading programme, will make improvements to State Highway 1 between Manukau and Papakura by adding 11 kilometres of extra lanes to improve capacity and traffic flow. It will also include an upgrade of the Takanini interchange. The improvements will tackle congestion and keep traffic flowing along the southern motorway and ensure that the motorway is ready to support the rapid population growth that has been happening—[Interruption]—and is expected in South Auckland over the next 30 years. As the member next to me, Steven Joyce, points out, they will also support many electric vehicles well into the future.
Kanwaljit Singh Bakshi: How will the southern corridor motorway improvement project benefit road users in Auckland?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: As the transport economists amongst us may like to know, this has a massive benefit-cost ratio of some 6:9 as a project. As a key transport route for Auckland, the southern corridor forms a strategic link between the western ring route, State Highway 20 and State Highway 16, the airport, and the Greater Auckland area. It is going to improve the movement of people and freight locally, but also from Northland through Auckland to the Waikato, Tauranga, as well as further south to the rest of New Zealand. Accelerating improvement to the southern motorway, as well as projects at Kirkbride Road, on the Northern Motorway, and the East West Connections, will help ensure that the key routes in the city continue to meet the future transport needs of a growing and dynamic Auckland City.
Free-trade Agreements—New Zealand - South Korea
11. Hon DAVID PARKER (Labour) to the Minister of Trade: What steps, if any, has his Government taken to renegotiate the provisions in the South Korean FTA to ensure New Zealand can ban overseas buyers of our homes since he received the select committee report on the South Korean FTA recommending that this be clarified, noting, as the select committee report did, that the Australian FTA with South Korea does allow Australia to ban overseas buyers of Australian homes?
Hon TIM GROSER (Minister of Trade): We have taken no steps to renegotiate a trade agreement that we think confers substantial net benefits on New Zealand, particularly not to implement a policy of outright banning of sales of homes, with which we do not agree.
Hon David Parker: I seek leave to table the page from the South Korea - Australia free-trade agreement where Australia is reserved the right—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I will put the leave. Leave is sought to table that particular page of the South Korea - Australia free-trade agreement. Is there any objection? There is none. It can be tabled. Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Hon David Parker: Why was the right of the Government to ban foreign buyers of New Zealand homes given away in the South Korean free-trade agreement, when the Australians have that right under its free-trade agreement with South Korea?
Hon TIM GROSER: It was not a question of giving anything away; it was a question of not wishing to implement a policy we do not think is central to New Zealand’s interests. It is a policy stance that has informed a series of free-trade agreements that have commanded wide support over the years from the Labour Party.
Hon David Parker: Under the free-trade agreement with South Korea, has South Korea reserved for itself the right to adopt a ban on New Zealand people—not being corporates—buying South Korean residential land or homes?
Hon TIM GROSER: I would have to seek advice on that.
Hon David Parker: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. This is a question on notice—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! No, it was not. It was a supplementary question. The question on notice was answered. [Interruption] Order! If the member has further supplementary questions, he is entitled to ask them.
Hon David Parker: Point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: If it is a matter of whether the Minister should have had an answer more acceptable to the member, that is not a point of order; that is creating disorder. Has the member got further supplementary questions?
Hon David Parker: Is the Minister so incompetent—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! That question is out of order.
Hon David Parker: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. It is not unreasonable for the Opposition to expect the Minister responsible for the free-trade agreement—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member is coming very close to being asked to leave. He is creating disorder in this House.
Hon David Parker: Does the Minister believe that a competent Minister of Trade would know whether the South Koreans have reserved for themselves the right to ban New Zealand “real people” purchasers of residential land?
Hon TIM GROSER: I think a competent New Zealand trade Minister would be focusing on New Zealand’s real interests instead of phoney solutions to Labour’s problems with the Auckland housing market.
Hon David Parker: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I have a number of overdue questions—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I will look into it. If there is a matter of late answers to written questions, I will look into the matter, as I said I would for another member earlier. I will be annoyed if there has not been some communication between the member and the Minister’s office, and I will certainly be equally annoyed if the delay is a matter of a day or so, but I will look into the matter.
Hon David Parker: To assist—
Mr SPEAKER: No, I do not need further assistance. I have said I would look into the matter. [Interruption] Order! The member is going very close to being asked to leave the Chamber.
Local Government—Regional Economic Development
12. SCOTT SIMPSON (National—Coromandel) to the Minister of Local Government: What is the Government doing to ensure councils are best placed to support regional economic development?
Hon PAULA BENNETT (Minister of Local Government): This week I announced that I will introduce legislation to give councils greater flexibility to work more together and set up regional structures that better suit economic growth. Councils manage close to $100 billion of fixed assets, and over the next decade plan to spend another $41 billion in capital expenditure. Current legislation prevents multiple councils from setting up a shared council-controlled organisation that could, for example, manage their water or transport assets on a regional level. I want to give them this option so that they can have a coordinated regional approach aimed at maximising economic growth.
Scott Simpson: What kinds of benefits could regional council-controlled organisations deliver?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: Regional council-controlled organisations have the potential to achieve significant efficiencies through bulk purchasing and shared expertise—something many councils can simply not achieve on their own. Assets will still be owned by ratepayers through the controlling councils, but the assets themselves can be managed regionally. This is vital to ensure there is a strategic regional approach to make sure infrastructure supports economic development. Communities have made it clear that they do not think mass amalgamation is the best option. What we want to do is give them other tools where they can manage their assets.
Scott Simpson: What reports has the Minister seen about the eagerness of councils to take up the opportunity to work together?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: For example, I have seen comments today from Whanganui mayor, Annette Main, who says “Our council believes that the future success of regions like ours depends on how collaborative we are. The new legislation will give us the ability to be more confident about raising new and more innovative ways of working together.” There are also several other regions that have said they are interested—like Waikato and Canterbury—in setting up a regional council-controlled organisation. I hope others take up the opportunity as well.
Darroch Ball: I seek leave to table a document prepared by the Parliamentary Library, which shows the December 2008 “neets” rate are 10.9 percent, which is lower than the 11 percent that Mr Joyce quoted today.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! We do not need the qualification. I will put the leave. It is a marginal call, but I will put the leave and the House will decide. Leave is sought to table that particular Parliamentary Library information. Is there any objection? There is none. It can be tabled. Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Ron Mark: Would the Minister be prepared to speak to the Minister of Transport about the adverse effect on economic development within territorial authorities’ regions of the reduction in funding assistance for rural roads, which sees Masterton, Carterton, and South Wairarapa being reduced 1 percent per annum for the next 4 years; and the reduction—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The question is quite long enough.
Hon PAULA BENNETT: What I will say—and I am always happy to talk to my colleague about transport issues, and particularly in the regions—is that Wellington has recently made it very clear that it is not interested in amalgamation. However, it has been talking about some form of transport council-controlled organisation or something else that actually looks at the region as a whole—public transport as well as our roads—and how that could work better from a regional perspective. I certainly welcome that, and I hope that those mayors and the leaders of this region continue to show their commitment to that process.
Dr David Clark: I seek leave to table a document that shows that every area the Government has had a regional growth programme has lost jobs—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Source of the document?
Dr David Clark: It is from the Government’s statistics—from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.
Mr SPEAKER: No, statistics are easily available for members to get for themselves.