Questions and Answers - Nov 10
Questions to Ministers
Australian Detention Centres—New Zealand - born Detainees
1. ANDREW LITTLE (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: What action, if any, has he taken to follow up on his statement to Malcolm Turnbull regarding New Zealand - born Australian detainees on Christmas Island, “I think, in the spirit of mateship, there should be some compassion shown”?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): My full statement to Mr Turnbull was: “where someone isn’t the highest risk where someone has a long-term community of interest in Australia, I think in the spirit of mateship, there should be some compassion shown,”. That statement was made with regard to appeals by detainees. Since I met with Mr Turnbull, Ministers Amy Adams and Michael Woodhouse have travelled to Australia and, with my approval, have met with immigration Minister Peter Dutton to get additional information about how Australia is managing the issue. Ministers and officials are working hard to ensure that what I agreed with Prime Minister Turnbull is implemented as soon as possible. Australia has doubled resources to speed up the appeals process. I have made my views very clear to Prime Minister Turnbull, and I continue to receive regular updates on progress. I have asked Minister Adams to follow up with Mr Dutton, and we expect an ongoing dialogue about where things stand.
Andrew Little: What representations to Australia has he made in the last 2 days to raise concerns about events on Christmas Island or to offer his help?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I personally have made none, but, of course, the officials and my Ministers have worked their way through that process.
Andrew Little: Which of his statements of earlier today is correct: his statement to Radio New Zealand that the New Zealand detainees are “free to leave” and “are staying there voluntarily” or his statement to reporters that the New Zealand detainees who wanted to leave face many weeks of delays in a remote detention centre before they can go anywhere?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: For a start, I did not make the last statement. What I did point out was that it depends on the circumstances. In terms of an individual, there are a number of factors that have to be considered: firstly, as I pointed out this morning, whether the person has travel documentation, a passport; secondly, whether the person has a history of violent or criminal activity; thirdly—
Hon Annette King: You said it was easy.
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Well, it is not actually easy, because these people—some of them are rapists, some of them are child molesters, and some of them are murderers. These are the people whom the Labour Party is saying are more important to support than New Zealanders, who deserve protecting when they come back here.
Kelvin Davis: A detention centre; not a prison.
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Mr Davis, if you want to put yourself on the side of sex offenders, go ahead, my son, but we will defend New Zealanders. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! I am on my feet.
Andrew Little: Given that Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Switzerland, the US, and many other countries all criticised Australia’s treatment of many of the Christmas Island detainees at the UN just yesterday, why did his Government fail to raise any concerns at all about the ill-treatment of New Zealand - born detainees?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Because we do not need to go to Geneva to do that; we do it in person with the Prime Minister of Australia. We have done that, and we do it with the Australian Ministers. I say again that we have a responsibility to those New Zealanders, and we will bring them home to New Zealand, but we will do so by protecting New Zealanders. We are not on the side of sex offenders; we are on the side of New Zealanders. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! I am attempting to call the Leader of the Opposition for a supplementary question. It requires some silence before I do so.
Andrew Little: Why is he so weak that he spends his time with Malcolm Turnbull talking about what ties to wear rather than having the moral courage to demand that Australia do what is right for the detainees?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: We spent a considerable portion of the one-on-one meeting that we had with Malcom Turnbull talking about this issue. Two Ministers have gone to Australia to talk to Minister Dutton about this issue. I have raised this issue with Prime Minister Abbott. There have been considerable conversations going on. When it comes to these people coming home to New Zealand, they are free to come home, and we will allow them to come home and we will ensure that they can come home as long they have the travel documentation. They cannot go on a commercial aircraft if they are violent or if they have mental health issues. I have a responsibility to the New Zealanders here at home that they are looked after. What the Labour Party is saying is: “To hell with the rest of New Zealanders; these people should be put on a commercial aircraft and despatched to New Zealand.” Well, you back the rapists; I—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! When I rise to my feet, I expect the Prime Minister to then resume his seat.
Andrew Little: Why has it taken an inmate to die, a 2-day fire, and a full-blown riot for him and his Ministers to finally lift a finger to do something about it?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: The member is just completely misrepresenting the facts. I raised this issue in February after it became Australian law in the late part of December. I raised the issue with Malcolm Turnbull all the way through this, and our Ministers have been working on this issue. We cannot stop Australia having its sovereign right to ultimately decide to deport people who are serious criminal offenders. We cannot stop that any more than Helen Clark could stop the fact that back in 2001 a whole category of New Zealanders did not get the right to residency. They are the very people, actually, who, if they had residency and citizenship, would be able to stay.
Marama Davidson: E te Māngai o Te Whare, tēnā koe. Tēnā koutou e Te Whare. Given that New Zealanders, some of whom are people with disabilities, some of whom are in there merely for an unregistered vehicle, some of whom are in there for driving offences—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! I will certainly give some leniency to the questioner—in that this is her first supplementary question. We need to get to the question. There were a lot of “givens”. Maybe one is acceptable, but a whole list of them will not be acceptable. I do need the question.
Marama Davidson: Why did the Government not criticise Australia for its offshore detention centres in our submission on Australia’s human rights record at the UN yesterday?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Because we raised it directly with the Australian Prime Minister.
Marama Davidson: I seek leave to table New Zealand’s submission to the United Nations Human Rights Council on Australia’s appalling human rights record.
Mr SPEAKER: Can I just check the source of this document?
Marama Davidson: It is not public as far as I know, and we have searched.
Mr SPEAKER: I am in a difficult situation. I do not know whether it is public. The member needs to be very careful that she is not misleading the House. If the member says that it is not publicly available, I will put the leave and it will be up to the House to decide. I am just going to clarify with the member again whether it is publicly available.
Marama Davidson: It is from a journalist, as the source.
Mr SPEAKER: Then I think that it is available to all members.
Marama Davidson: Given Australia’s continued abuse of New Zealanders’ human rights on Christmas Island, is it right for the Prime Minister to support Australia’s bid for a seat on the United Nations Human Rights Council?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: As I said earlier, in terms of any concerns we have, the Government raises those issues directly. We have said for a long period of time that we do not like this policy. This policy is not directed specifically at New Zealanders. It is a policy that they apply to all countries, but, as I said earlier, when it comes to those New Zealanders—who are people, by the way, who do not want to claim to be New Zealanders; the whole point is that they do not want to come back to New Zealand—I have a responsibility to make sure that other New Zealanders are safe. The people who are in those detention centres have a criminal offence that has seen them incarcerated for 1 year or more, or they have serious character issues. If they actually have connection with New Zealand, the advice from the Australian Minister is that a third to a half of all those appeals are being accepted. I am sorry, I am not just going to take people back into New Zealand without information and without being able to protect the New Zealand public, and if those members want to protect sex offenders, rapists, and murderers, go ahead. I am not going to.
Grant Robertson: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I was going to wait until the end of the question but the Prime Minister has repeated what he said more directly in an earlier supplementary answer when he accused the Labour Party of “backing the rapists”. I am deeply offended at that and I ask that it be withdrawn. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! This is a political debating chamber. The member may well be offended by that, but in the context of the answers given, I am not going to take that as—[Interruption] Order! I do not want to start this week by asking a member to leave the Chamber, but I want to make it absolutely clear that when I am on my feet, there is no opportunity for members to continue to interject, and that applies to both sides of the Chamber.
Rt Hon John Key: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Grant Robertson: . I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: I just want to clarify with Grant Robertson that it is a fresh point of order. I will hear from the right honourable Prime Minister first.
Rt Hon John Key: I do not have the document with me but in the meeting that I held with Malcolm Turnbull—I am not sure whether I can actually table it; I might be able to—he gave a detailed outline of the people who are in question; the New Zealanders who are going to be deported—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The Prime Minister will resume his seat. That is not a point of order. I have dealt with that matter.
Grant Robertson: I have taken offence at—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! On occasions in this House—and I have heard many rulings and I have given some—it is not a matter of whether the member was offended; it is a matter of whether the House was offended. [Interruption] I do not want to see the whole of this left-hand side evacuated. Members may be offended—[Interruption] Order! I have to judge the seriousness of the allegation, and I have determined that the House should not be offended at that. [Interruption] Iain Lees-Galloway, I ask you to leave the Chamber. I can only give so—[Interruption] Iain Lees-Galloway withdrew from the Chamber.
Mr SPEAKER: Are there any further—
Chris Hipkins: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I will hear it in a minute. [Interruption] Order! I will hear it in a minute when the House settles.
Chris Hipkins: I ask you to reconsider. There is nothing more offensive than being accused of backing rapists—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! We have covered that matter. If you take the contents of the Hansard—and I will certainly be looking at the Hansard; I give the member that assurance—as I recall the answers given by the Prime Minister, he was saying that the people who are in detention, whom some members of the left-hand side are expressing a great deal of sympathy for, are there for reasons of serious crimes. That is how I took it. Now, we have dealt with the matter. If the members want to continue to stand and relitigate or voluntarily leave, they are welcome to do so. Are there any further supplementary questions?
Metiria Turei: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: I will hear it, but if it is—[Interruption] Order! [Interruption] Order! The Hon Gerry Brownlee will also remain quiet while I hear a point of order. Before I accept the point of order, I have dealt with this matter—
Metiria Turei: Dealt with that matter.
Mr SPEAKER: Yes. Then, as a fresh point of order, I am happy to hear it—but it had better be.
Metiria Turei: I take offence at the Prime Minister’s accusation that the Green Party, and particularly Marama Davidson, as our representative, backs rapists and murders—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! You are only relitigating where I have already been.
Marama Fox: What do you say to the family of Ko Rutene, who is a decorated soldier, having served for New Zealand in Afghanistan and who has committed no crime in Australia and no crime in New Zealand but who has been detained by the Australian Border Force and is being held in a detention facility in Australia, awaiting deportation?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I do not have the details of his case.
Marama Davidson: Then will the Prime Minister today rule out supporting Australia’s bid for a seat on the UN Human Rights Council?
Mr SPEAKER: I will allow the question. The Rt Hon Prime Minister was brought in in an earlier supplementary question.
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: The Government put in the submission last night, and we continue to support that submission.
Government Financial Position—Return to Surplus
2. MELISSA LEE (National) to the Minister of Finance: What steps has the Government taken to move its books from an $18.4 billion deficit to surplus between 2011 and 2015, while still supporting New Zealand families?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): Although money has been tight, we have focused on continuing to support New Zealand’s families and making sure that every dollar we spend goes a long way. That is why we have been able to do things like extend paid parental leave from 14 to 18 weeks, extend free doctors’ visits and prescriptions for children under 13, and raise benefit payments for families with children, which will occur on 1 April next year while still moving the books from a large deficit to a round balance.
Melissa Lee: What additional support has the Government provided to superannuitant families in particular?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The payment for national superannuation is automatically indexed to a combination of the average wage and the consumer price index. Since April 2008 the amount a couple receive in national superannuation has increased from $880 a fortnight to just over $1,150 a fortnight, an increase of over 30 percent. In that time, the cost of living has increased by around 15 percent. So superannuitants have had payments increased at twice the rate of inflation since 2008. We are committed to keeping the retirement age at 65 and ensuring that the national superannuation keeps pace with the average wage.
Andrew Little: No, you’re gilding the lily now—gilding the lily. Can’t tell us straight.
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Well, it is good the see over the weekend the Labour Party adopting our policy.
Melissa Lee: How has the Government been supporting families to get better jobs and earn higher incomes?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Of course, the job is never done on better jobs and higher incomes, but the average annual wage is now $57,300. That is over $10,000 per annum higher than it was in 2008. Over the last year average wages increased by 3.1 percent, when inflation was just 0.4 percent. Of course, the unemployment rate is higher than we would like it, and the Business Growth Agenda sets out 500 specific policies to assist with more investment and more employment.
Melissa Lee: How has the Government been supporting New Zealanders who cannot get a job?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: For those who have children, in the last Budget we announced an increase of benefit levels for the first time in 43 years, coming into effect on 1 April 2016. However, we have a very broad and flexible programme through the welfare reform to assist people who do not have jobs. We are now using extensively data that enables us to work out who will benefit most from assistance from the Government, and we have been targeting particular groups such as single teen parents and those who have some disabilities, either of a mental or physical nature, to assist them to get ready to be able to take jobs.
Superannuation—Minimum Income for Retirees
3. DENIS O’ROURKE (NZ First) to the Minister of Finance: Is he concerned that Massey University has found that the minimum income needed by a single retiree in the main centres is $489.77, when New Zealand Superannuation is only $374.53 per week, and many may have no other means?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): I reject the premise of the question. In fact, the study by Massey University does not report minimum incomes needed, or recommend levels of expenditure. In fact, it quite specifically says that it is not reporting recommended levels of expenditure. There is an annual survey by the Ministry of Social Development of levels of hardship, which shows that levels of hardship among older New Zealanders are low, which is one of the reasons that Parliament supports universal national superannuation. The survey that the member is referring to records the average amount spent by households that are on national superannuation—that is, income from all sources, not recommended minimum expenditure.
Denis O’Rourke: How is the Minister planning to address growing elder poverty, given the main drivers of this are the cost of accommodation—especially in the main centres—inflation-busting electricity increases, and inflation-busting rates increases?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: We certainly acknowledge the challenge for some older people of living on a relatively low fixed income for a long time. I think the household expenditure and income survey records that around 40 percent of people over 65 have no income other than their national superannuation. The way that the Government is dealing with it is to fund the significant increases in the weekly national superannuation payment that I referred to in my answer to the last question—that is, while those households do feel the pressure of cost of living increases, in fact, national superannuation over the last 6 years has risen at twice the rate of inflation. So they are in a better position now to deal with those pressures than they used to be.
David Seymour: Does the Government face the trade-off between the age of entitlement for New Zealand superannuation and the level of entitlement?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: No. We have committed to the policy of keeping the age of entitlement in place and also the current level of entitlement. One of the ways that we are focusing on the long-term ability of New Zealand to pay for that is to deal with all the other long-term liabilities, particularly in our welfare system, where we have people who are on benefit for 20, 25, 30 years. We believe that with a more active, compassionate, and competent welfare State we can get more of those people back into participating in society.
Denis O’Rourke: Does the Minister accept that the percentage of the average wage on which superannuation is based needs to be substantially increased; if not, why not?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: No, I do not think it should be increased. We have now had a couple of decades of consensus in Parliament about that particular formula, which has been studied in great detail, and we believe it is about a fair balance of meeting the needs of older people who cannot earn an income, on the one hand, and the ability of the wider community to pay for that in the face of an ageing population.
Denis O’Rourke: Why has Mr Fin Heads not received the superannuation back-pay and other compensation he is still being deprived of, despite the Human Rights Review Tribunal finding in his favour and the Government accepting that section 68 in Part 4 of the first schedule to the Accident Compensation Act needs amendment?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I am aware, not of the individual’s circumstances, but of the tribunal decision, and I understand that matter is under consideration.
David Seymour: Can the Minister of Finance confirm his earlier answer that, other things being equal, there is no trade-off between the age of entitlement to New Zealand superannuation and the level of entitlement?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Yes, I can confirm the Government policy, which is to maintain the age of eligibility at 65 and to maintain the current level of payment. When we look out ahead over the ability of the economy to pay for that, one of the ways we can ensure that is, of course, a more flexible, productive economy, and the other is to deal with the other long-term liabilities such as the welfare spending and also control of health spending. In both of those areas we have shown some progress in being able to control spending.
Denis O’Rourke: When will the Government next review New Zealand superannuation, and can he assure superannuitants and those close to retirement that it will meet their actual needs while also fixing the other obvious injustices and inadequacies?
Mr SPEAKER: The Hon Bill English—either of those two supplementary questions.
Hon BILL ENGLISH: We are always willing and open to deal with issues that the member might characterise as “injustice”—as, I understand, in the case he was referring to earlier—but generally we think the settings are about right. There has been much discussion for a long time about national superannuation in New Zealand, and New Zealand First should take credit for winning a number of arguments over the last 15 or 20 years about national superannuation. We believe those arguments are largely settled and should remain so.
4. ANDREW LITTLE (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: When he said that New Zealand is on the “cusp of something special”, did he mean 6 percent unemployment and 11,000 jobs lost in the last quarter?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): Actually, in retrospect, I was referring to things like the Government getting the books back into surplus, concluding a free-trade agreement covering 40 percent of the world’s economy, seeing the record levels of tourism, creating an ocean sanctuary in the Kermadecs, giving under-13s free doctors visits, signing a free-trade agreement with Korea, and joining the World Trade Organization Government procurement agreement to give New Zealand firms access to $1.7 trillion of potential Government contracts. All of these things will help New Zealand to succeed as a prosperous trading nation, not just this year but well out into the future.
Andrew Little: How can he be surprised that he has lost 11,000 jobs in the last 3 months when he refuses to back Kiwi jobs when spending $39 billion of taxpayers’ money?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: One of the fastest ways to back Kiwi jobs would be to say that the member would support the Government in signing a free-trade agreement with 40 percent of the global economy, which sees a 93 percent elimination of tariffs and is worth nearly $3 billion to New Zealand.
Andrew Little: Why does his Government not make job creation in New Zealand a priority when spending $39 billion of taxpayers’ money?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: It is a priority, and that is why over the last 3 years the number of working people has gone up by 160,000 and the number of people out of work has gone down by 19,000. We have one of the higher levels of employment—one of the higher levels of participation—around the developed world.
Tim Macindoe: What steps is the Government taking to support more jobs and higher incomes?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Firstly, it is important to understand that the Government does not create jobs; businesses do that. We have taken several steps to help them do that. For example, we have reduced tax on work to encourage more jobs and increase take-home pay; we have introduced a 90-day trial to encourage businesses to hire new staff; we are controlling Government expenditure, which helps to keep pressure off interest rates; and we have negotiated New Zealand’s biggest trade deal, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, to support more jobs and diversify the economy. Every one of these measures has a common theme: they were all opposed by the Labour Party.
Andrew Little: Does he agree with Steel Construction New Zealand that the “inevitable outcome” of his Government’s approach to procurement is that “local industry is disadvantaged”, and is that why the Glenbrook steel mill may now need to cut 1,000 Kiwi jobs?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I do not think either of those statements are correct. In fact, if the member looks at the Trans-Pacific Partnership, what it does do is open up much greater and less protected access to New Zealand companies to procurement all around the world for Government contracts as part of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. We encourage New Zealand companies to be involved, and we have done lots of things. The Inland Revenue Department’s new computer system has been divided in a way that will make it much more accessible for Kiwis to actually get a chance for that.
Tim Macindoe: How has the New Zealand labour market responded to improving economic conditions over the past 3 years?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: In the last 3 years alone the number of working people has gone up by 160,000. The number of people out of work has gone down by 19,000. The labour force participation rate has increased strongly and, at 68.6 percent, remains near record levels. The unemployment rate has dropped by 1.2 percentage points, and the average wage has increased by around about 8 percent, compared with inflation of under 3 percent. So overall the labour markets have improved, leaving more New Zealanders in jobs and, on average, with higher incomes.
Andrew Little: Why does he not stop being so gutless and failing New Zealanders and stand up for New Zealanders on Christmas Island and the 151,000 who are now out of work under his Government?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: We do stand up for people and their rights, but we also have a responsibility to protect New Zealanders. The record, as I have just read out, stands for itself. In the last 3 years 160,000 more people are in work. I know that is very inconvenient for the Labour Party—it did not quite fit in with the speech on Sunday—but actually more New Zealanders are in work than before.
Regional Economies—Bay of Plenty
5. TODD MULLER (National—Bay of Plenty) to the Minister for Economic Development: How is the Government helping to grow regional economies like the Bay of Plenty?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister for Economic Development): In the last adjournment, alongside my colleagues Simon Bridges, Anne Tolley, and Te Ururoa Flavell, I launched the Toi Moana Bay of Plenty Economic Action Plan, a set of key initiatives prepared by central government, local government, and business leaders locally that will help to lift employment incomes and investment across the Bay of Plenty. It identifies nine priority work areas across the wider region, in areas like agribusiness, agriculture, forestry and wood processing, geothermal, horticulture, Māori land utilisation, the visitor economy, and water management. The Bay of Plenty region is now growing well as a result of the recovery from the kiwifruit Psa crisis and the rapidly growing tourism industry. This action plan will help to ensure the growth is maintained and extended to all parts of that region.
Todd Muller: What initiatives and opportunities are identified in the action plan to promote growth in the Bay of Plenty?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: There are a number of things. For example, in agribusiness the action plan sets out a programme to expand mānuka honey production to help meet an increasing global demand for high unique mānuka factor honey grade mānuka honey. In horticulture, the report lays out a plan including additional training, irrigation, and water use, and unlocking Māori land to grow the kiwifruit industry further, particularly in the Eastern Bay of Plenty. In the visitor economy, the action plan identifies the potential of more cycleways to further grow tourism. And in aquaculture, the action plan identifies the Ōpōtiki sea farm and harbour development as a potential significant growth opportunity. The Government agrees, and that is why we are funding up to $3 million to finalise the geotechnical investigations and the design options for the new harbour entrance in Ōpōtiki.
Todd Muller: What else is the Government doing to help grow regional economies?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: In addition to the Bay of Plenty action plan and regional growth study, we launched similar programmes in Northland last year, Manawatū, Whanganui, and the East Coast to help them make the most of their opportunities, encourage investment, and grow jobs. We are investing in critical infrastructure, like ultra-fast and rural broadband and national and regional roading projects. We are rolling out the regional business partners network and regional business hubs to make it easier for businesses to access the help they need. We are establishing regional research institutes, and, of course, we are signing significant international trade agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Korean free-trade agreement, which give exporters in our regions more access to major international markets and grow more jobs. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! We will have the general debate tomorrow.
Housing—Auckland Housing Accord
6. PHIL TWYFORD (Labour—Te Atatū) to the Minister for Building and Housing: Does he agree with the New Zealand Herald that it is no surprise his Auckland housing accord has been a flop?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH (Minister for Building and Housing): No, I do not agree with that editorial. But I do agree with the editorial in the Dominion Post today, describing Labour as a corpse and a policy desert, and a little party lacking leadership or any new—
Mr SPEAKER: Order!
Phil Twyford: How many houses have been built in his special housing areas in the 2 years since his housing accord was signed?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: There have been 8,700 homes consented in Auckland over the last year. There have been 2,049 consents—
Phil Twyford: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The question was very explicitly—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I agree with that. I am hoping it will be answered. Let us wait for the end of the answer, and then we will make a decision. Does the Minister wish to add to his answer?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: There have been 2,049 building and resource consents issued in those special housing areas. We will not have accurate data on the number of houses completed because that is only collected through the census.
Phil Twyford: Does he agree with the New Zealand Herald, which said that at least 25,000 new houses should be built or nearing completion by now if his 3-year target is to be met, and that the tally of 102 houses completed and known to the council is “pitiful”?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: The number of 102 is a nonsense. It counts houses in only two of 97 special housing areas, and even there that is not correct. What is more, the housing accord always said that it counted consents over all of Auckland. That number is currently standing at 19,921, and is 1,000 ahead of the same time the accord projected.
Joanne Hayes: Why does the Minister have confidence that the building consent data can be relied upon as an accurate measure of how many houses are actually built?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: The reason I have confidence that the building consent data is reliable is that it almost perfectly matches the census data on the number of new houses. For instance, between 2006 and 2013, 32,600 homes were consented in Auckland, and the census showed that over the same period there were 33,000 new homes. If we compare all of the census data since 1991, the correlation between consents and new homes is better than 98 percent. Furthermore, it makes common sense. Who is going to spend $15,000 on getting a building consent if they do not actually intend to get on and build a house within the 12-month period that the consent is valid?
Phil Twyford: Why does he continually boast that the consenting rate on his watch is better than it was in the depths of the global financial crisis, when the industry all but collapsed, and why does he not admit that the current consenting rate means that the shortfall of houses built up under this Government is getting bigger by 4,500 every year?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: The number of consents issued in Auckland in the 2008-09 year was 3,400. The number of consents that have been issued in the last year is 8,700. That shows you the phenomenal growth that has occurred since the disaster that the previous Government left.
Phil Twyford: How humiliating was it to have his finance Minister say that the Auckland housing market is “a major risk to the economy?”, after 7 years in Government and nearly 3 years while he has been Minister, and is that not an admission that his housing policy has been a total failure?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: Over the years that I have been Minister the rate of house build growth in Auckland is faster than at any period in Auckland’s history. It is true that the challenges go on, for this reason: during the previous Government we had 40,000 Kiwis leaving for Australia each year. They are not leaving, they are coming home, and that is putting more pressure on the housing market, and that is why we need to keep the foot on the accelerator.
Joanne Hayes: What consideration has the Minister given to the proposal of the infrastructure for new housing being funded by council debt and repaid by way of specially targeted rates on new housing development, rather than the infrastructure costs being included in the price of a section?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: Such an approach is just creative accounting and will make no real difference to the affordability of housing. It just transfers the cost from the homeowner’s mortgage to the homeowner’s rates bill. For instance, if the infrastructure cost is $30,000, that would mean that they would pay $1,500 less in their mortgage, but they would pay $1,500 a year more in terms of the specially targeted rate. Claims that such an approach is groundbreaking and would reduce new housing costs are nothing more than fool’s gold.
New Zealand Security Intelligence Service—Minister’s Statements
7. METIRIA TUREI (Co-Leader—Green) to the Minister in charge of the NZ Security Intelligence Service: Does he stand by all of his answers to Oral Question No. 2 on 5 November 2015?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON (Minister in charge of the NZ Security Intelligence Service): Yes, although in response to a supplementary question from James Shaw asking when I was first made aware that the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service had not provided a copy of two visual warrants to the inspector-general, I replied: “From memory, about a fortnight before the inspector-general released her report.” I have now checked the exact date. I can advise the House I was made aware on 28 October 2015.
Metiria Turei: Given that the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service Act explicitly states that the director must provide copies of visual surveillance warrants to the inspector-general, does he believe that Rebecca Kitteridge breached the law by not doing so?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: What I certainly believe is that the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service did not comply with a reporting requirement in the legislation, but I also need to say to the House that the inspector-general has not raised any issues regarding the propriety or the lawfulness of the warrants themselves. Both the director and the commissioner, and I, all read, reviewed, and approved the warrants for issue in our respective capacities. The failure was the failure to comply with a reporting requirement.
Metiria Turei: On what date did the Minister first review the two visual surveillance warrants?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: I do not carry that level of detail around in my head, and even if I did, I would not say, because that would be a sensitive issue that could give rise to issues about who was being surveilled.
Metiria Turei: After the Minister approved the two visual surveillance warrants, did he immediately follow up with the director to ensure that she had a plan to send those warrants to the inspector-general?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: I do not think the member understands the procedure. I do not approve warrants. The director makes an application to me. The Commissioner of Security Warrants and I both look at the matter and then sign them out. In answer to the particular question—“Did I say ‘Has the reporting requirement been complied with?’ ”—no. I would regard that as an operational issue.
Metiria Turei: Why did he not follow up with the director to ensure she had followed the reporting requirements in his new legislation over the many weekly meetings he had between signing off on those visual warrants and being finally told that the reporting had not been done?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: I do not think the member listened to the previous answer. I regard compliance with reporting operations as being an operational matter. I have every confidence in the director to attend to those matters. She is now putting in place steps to ensure that there is no repeat of this failure to comply with a reporting issue.
Metiria Turei: On what basis does the Minister have confidence in the director, when for a number of months during which she had weekly meetings with him she failed to advise him that she had not completed the reporting requirements set out in new legislation that he had passed just a few months before?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: That is not the correct chronology. The director advised me that she first became aware of the issue of 19 October. When we had our first regular meeting after Labour Weekend, she pointed out the issue to me, she apologised—as I said in answer to a question from Mr Shaw last week—and she has put in place steps to ensure that this reporting requirement is complied with in the future. That is what I expect of her. She is a very competent and trustworthy person, and I expect that this will be done.
Metiria Turei: How can the public have any faith in his statements of the competence and trustworthiness of the director when she did not give the inspector-general copies of warrants, as she was required to under his new legislation, and she failed to tell him about that failure over many months of weekly meetings, or does he blame himself, given he failed to follow up and check that the law had been complied with?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: The member is choosing to create a narrative to make this into a first-grade federal crime. The fact of the matter is it was a failure to report to the inspector-general. As soon as the director found out about it, she told me, and has put in place steps. I ask the honourable member to bear in mind that the propriety of the warrants and the steps taken to see that the warrants were properly executed were all complied with under the law. This was a reporting requirement.
Housing, Auckland—Building Consents
8. ALFRED NGARO (National) to the Minister for Building and Housing: Can he confirm that the number of building consents issued for homes in Auckland over the last year is at a 10-year high, and can he advise what increases have been achieved in each of the last four years?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH (Minister for Building and Housing): Yes, 8,700 building consents were issued in Auckland in the last year, and this is the highest for more than a decade. The annual rate of growth in Auckland house build rates over the past 4 years has been 18 percent, 31 percent, 28 percent, and then 27 percent, in each of those last 4 years. This is the fastest and longest sustained growth in Auckland since records began. There were 2 years of growth over 15 percent in 2002 and 2003, and 2 years in 1993 and 1994, but, never before, 4 years of year-on-year growth over 15 percent.
Alfred Ngaro: Does the Minister have any other economic data alongside the building consent numbers that supports the picture of rapid construction growth in Auckland?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: Yes, I do. All of the relevant data points to a construction boom. The labour force figures from Statistics New Zealand show the number of people employed in construction has gone from 45,000 to 75,000. That is the highest number ever, and with an additional 30,000 people in Auckland working in construction, shows the pressure we also have to ensure that the quality of building work is maintained. We also have the value of residential building work. That has gone from $1.4 billion per year to $3.5 billion per year. We have the AECOM National Construction Pipeline Report, which shows that 80,000 new homes in Auckland are to be built over the next 5 years, compared with 30,000. The last figure I would draw the House’s attention to I accept is crude but is an international measure, and that is the skyline crane count, which is currently in Auckland at 79, which is also an all-time high.
Alfred Ngaro: Have any independent estimates been made of the number of houses expected to be constructed in Auckland in this parliamentary term, and how do they compare with other previous Parliaments?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: The National Construction Pipeline Report is produced by AECOM and is based on both actual building consents issued and the forward projections, based on the number of subdivisions that have been approved. It projects 36,000 homes being built in Auckland during this parliamentary term. That compares with 17,000 in the last parliamentary term—so, more than double—and that 36,000 would actually be an all-time record of more houses built in Auckland during the term of this Parliament than any other Parliament in the history of this country.
9. KELVIN DAVIS (Labour—Te Tai Tokerau) to the Minister of Corrections: Does he have confidence in Serco’s ability to train its prison staff; if so, why?
Hon Peseta SAM LOTU-IIGA (Minister of Corrections): There are a number of issues to do with Serco under review at the moment, and my ongoing confidence will be dependent on the outcome of that review. I expect the Department of Corrections to hold Serco to account for the terms of its contracts—that includes the necessary training for staff, required under legislation.
Kelvin Davis: Does he think it acceptable that after 2 years Serco has still failed to meet the standards set out by the New Zealand Qualifications Authority when training prison staff?
Hon Peseta SAM LOTU-IIGA: My understanding of the New Zealand Qualifications Authority report is that 100 percent of those at Auckland South Corrections Facility and 95 percent of those at Mt Eden Corrections Facility had completion rates to qualify as corrections officers, as required by the law.
Kelvin Davis: What sort of employer has his Government contracted that sends its staff into dangerous situation without proper training and then wonders why there are fight clubs and contraband?
Hon Peseta SAM LOTU-IIGA: As I have said in this House already, those allegations are currently under review. I am awaiting the findings of that review, and until we receive those, I cannot make conclusions from that.
Mahesh Bindra: What training support does the Department of Corrections provide to Serco; and who pays for it?
Hon Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga: I am sorry. Can you just repeat that question?
Mr SPEAKER: Would the member please repeat the question.
Mahesh Bindra: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am happy to repeat the question and simplify the question to suit the Minister’s level of understanding.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! That is the sort of behaviour—[Interruption] Order! That is the sort of behaviour that brings the House into disrepute. Would the member—[Interruption] Order! Would the member repeat the first question as asked.
Mahesh Bindra: What training support does the Department of Corrections provide to Serco; and who pays for it?
Hon Peseta SAM LOTU-IIGA: According to the New Zealand Qualifications Authority report, there is no support in terms of the Serco New Zealand Training Limited services that are provided to Serco.
Kelvin Davis: Why did he refuse to front up to Kiwis and give comment to media on this story yesterday?
Hon Peseta SAM LOTU-IIGA: Well, I front up to Kiwis every day, so I do not know what that member is talking about.
Emergency Services—111 Emergency Call Service
10. RIA BOND (NZ First) to the Minister for Communications: Does she have confidence that all New Zealanders have ready access to the 111 emergency call service; if so, why?
Hon AMY ADAMS (Minister for Communications): I have confidence that the system is working as intended as anyone with a landline or usable mobile connection is able to access this service free of charge 24/7, and call answering targets are not only being met but significantly exceeded.
Ria Bond: How can the Government be meeting its Kiwi share obligations, given that Spark must answer 111 calls, yet there is no obligation or timescale on this Government to end mobile blackspots in rural New Zealand?
Hon AMY ADAMS: Mobile blackspots is drifting quite a long way wide of 111 calling, but I can assure that member that this Government has actually invested nearly $450 million in mobile rural connectivity, and that means that we now have coverage to more than 97 percent of New Zealanders. We have just announced another $50 million into mobile blackspots, and I am just proud to be part of a Government that is doing something about it after years of neglect under parties including that member’s party.
Ria Bond: When will she prioritise areas of rural New Zealand such as Mōtatau in Northland and Wyndham in Southland, which have no stable mobile coverage, as evidenced when I personally tried to save a life in Mōtatau on 24 October and could not—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The question is too long.
Hon AMY ADAMS: We prioritised rural connectivity on 8 November 2008 and have been doing so ever since, which is why this Government has spent $450 million improving connectivity, why we now have rural mobile coverage to 97 percent of where New Zealanders live and work, and why we are now spending another $50 million to further enhance mobile blackspot coverage in New Zealand. But it is true that not every single part of New Zealand will be covered. We have an incredibly vast mountainous country, including vast ranges of unexplored and undeveloped areas, and people going into those areas, I think, have an expectation that they will not get mobile coverage. But I can say to that member that 97 percent of mobile coverage is, I think, a very, very good position to be in.
Ria Bond: In light of her answer, is she concerned enough to prioritise alternative infrastructure technology for rural communities to save rural lives; if not, why not?
Hon AMY ADAMS: As I said at the outset, anyone with a landline and anyone with a mobile phone is able to access 111. If you are leaving areas of accepted mobile coverage, it is recommended that people carry alternative means of communication like satellite phones when they are out in the high country. But 97 percent mobile coverage is significant. It is better than it has ever been before, and yet this Government is still investing further money in it, and it is pretty rich for parties that have never done anything to advance it, and never supported what this Government is doing, to try to now criticise it.
Question No. 1 to Minister
RICHARD PROSSER (NZ First): I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I seek your clarification on an issue that occurred earlier during question time with regard to a member taking offence and requesting that words be withdrawn.
Mr SPEAKER: Where is the member referring to?
RICHARD PROSSER: It is Standing Order 119. My question is as to what criteria are used by yourself in determining whether the House has taken offence, because there appears to be some ambiguity between Standing Order 119 and Speaker’s ruling 61/1.
Mr SPEAKER: I can assist the member. I determine whether the House has taken offence, judging by the order of the House at the time and the context in which the remark is made. In this particular case I was conscious that the Prime Minister had said that he had information from an Australian politician—I think it was from the Australian Prime Minister—stating that a number of these people who are detained are there for very serious crimes. That influenced the decision I gave earlier. But what the member is doing now is simply taking an opportunity at this stage to relitigate a decision I made earlier. That in itself leads to disorder.
Christchurch Recovery—Justice and Emergency Services Precinct
11. MATT DOOCEY (National—Waimakariri) to the Minister of Justice: What progress can she report on construction of the Christchurch Justice and Emergency Services Precinct?
Hon AMY ADAMS (Minister of Justice): The $300 million Christchurch Justice and Emergency Services Precinct continues to make good progress. The superstructures for both the justice and emergency services buildings are now complete, with two of the three buildings to have roofs on by the end of this month. Work has also started on the foundations for the car park building, which is the final building in the precinct. The project remains within budget and on track.
Matt Doocey: How will the Justice and Emergency Services Precinct improve the way the Government delivers justice services in Christchurch?
Hon AMY ADAMS: When completed, the precinct will encompass around 1,100 staff and 900 visitors across five levels, 42,000 square metres of floor space, and 19 court rooms. It will locate the key justice agencies, allowing, police, the Department of Corrections, and the courts to share services and resources—for example, having one set of secure cells to house offenders, saving cost, travel time, and risk. These financial savings alone are estimated to amount to $9.8 million per year, to say nothing of the intangible benefits that will accrue.
Free-trade Agreements—New Zealand - South Korea
12. Hon DAVID PARKER (Labour) to the Minister of Trade: Does the provision at page 8 of Annex II of the New Zealand - South Korea FTA mean South Korea can adopt or maintain a ban on New Zealand people buying South Korean homes?
Hon TODD McCLAY (Associate Minister of Trade) on behalf of the Minister of Trade: Yes.
Hon David Parker: Is the reason that Minister Groser would not answer that same question last week that he did not know, or was it that it shows up his Government’s incompetence in giving up New Zealand’s right to ban foreign buyers of New Zealand homes while agreeing that South Korea can?
Hon TODD McCLAY: No. New Zealand has applied a consistent approach to this issue in all free-trade agreements. I understand that the Minister of Trade followed exactly the same strategy as the then trade Minister, Phil Goff, used with the China free-trade agreement negotiations. The outcome is exactly the same in both the China and the Korea free-trade agreements. They are both high-quality agreements, they both deliver jobs and investment for New Zealanders, and they both treat property transactions the same. Mr Parker needs to talk to Mr Goff.
Hon David Parker: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I have a point of order from David Parker.
Hon David Parker: I seek leave to table the relevant pages of the free-trade agreement with China, under which New Zealand can ban foreign purchasers—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Again, that information is very available to all members if they want to go and look it up.
Hon David Parker: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: Is it a fresh point of order?
Hon David Parker: No, it is speaking to that point of order.
Mr SPEAKER: I will hear very briefly from the member.
Hon David Parker: The free-trade agreement with China runs to many thousands of pages, as most free-trade agreements do. It is very difficult for members—and obviously, the Minister—to find the relevant clause, so—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I have heard enough. I will accept the member’s first point. I will put the leave to the House, and it will be for the House to decide. Leave is sought—the member wants to table the relevant pages regarding the section of the China free-trade agreement. Is there any objection? There is none. He can do so.
Hon David Parker: Is the Minister saying that the free-trade agreement signed with China stops the New Zealand Government banning the sale of New Zealand homes to foreigners, including China?
Hon TODD McCLAY: What I am saying is that the approach of the China free-trade agreement negotiation and the Korea free-trade agreement negotiation is the same, and the outcome is the same. But in respect of the primary question, the Government had a number of priorities it negotiated: preserving sensitive land provisions under the Official Information Act, and we were successful in this; ensuring that there were no adverse changes to the foreign investment provisions, and we were successful in this; ensuring Treaty of Waitangi exemptions were done; getting a good deal for New Zealand exporters to create opportunities and jobs in New Zealand and grow the economy, and that was done; and to ensure the outcome of equal standing to the China free-trade agreement on that issue, and this too was successful.
David Seymour: Does New Zealand have a history of unilaterally dropping trade barriers; if so, to what effect and under which parties?
Mr SPEAKER: The Hon Todd McClay—either of those two supplementary questions.
Hon TODD McCLAY: One of the challenges New Zealand exporters face is barriers to trade. The high-quality free-trade agreements that have been entered into by successive New Zealand Governments open up access. They level the playing field. They allow New Zealanders to produce and export. They secure jobs for New Zealanders. These are two good free-trade agreements, and Mr Parker voted in favour of both of them. He should be proud of that.
Hon David Parker: Given that countries like Australia, Switzerland, and China have bans on the sale of their homes to foreigners, why did he not even try to protect New Zealand’s sovereign right to do the same?
Hon TODD McCLAY: There are a range of policy options available to the Government, depending upon the circumstances, but a ban would not be consistent with the Closer Economic Relations agreement with Australia. It would not be consistent with the Singapore, the China, the Korea, or the Taiwan free-trade agreements. This is exactly the same as the Korea agreement. It is a high-quality agreement, as are previous agreements that have been negotiated by previous Governments.
Hon David Parker: Is he still asserting that the Chinese free-trade agreement prevents the New Zealand Government from introducing a ban on the sale of residential homes to foreigners?
Hon TODD McCLAY: I refer to my earlier answers. One thing, though, that is clear in the text that the member—[Interruption]
Hon David Parker: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I have asked that question in three forms, and he has not answered it—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The way forward is I am going to invite the member to restate that question, and then this time we do hope we get an answer.
Hon David Parker: Is the Minister still asserting that the provisions of the Chinese free-trade agreement prevent the New Zealand Government from imposing a ban on the sale of New Zealand homes to foreigners?
Hon TODD McCLAY: What I am asserting is that the approach to the negotiating of those two agreements and the outcome is the same.
Question No. 10 to Minister—Amended Answer
Hon AMY ADAMS (Minister for Communications): I seek leave to correct an answer given in question time earlier today.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to correct that. Is there any objection to that course of action—[Interruption] Order! Is there any objection? There is none.
Hon AMY ADAMS (Minister for Communications): In answer to a supplementary question during question No. 10 today it has been brought to my attention that my answer may have indicated that the $50 million Mobile Black Spot Fund is in addition to the $450 million this Government is spending on rural connectivity. It is, in fact, included in that $450 million.
Point of Order—Standing Order 386(2)(c)
DENIS O’ROURKE (NZ First):: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Concerning Standing Order 386(2)(c), which refers to “discreditable references to the House or any member of Parliament”, may I respectfully request that you reflect upon whether any of your rulings today were not consistent with the Standing Orders?
Mr SPEAKER: I already gave an assurance earlier to Chris Hipkins, who asked that I do reflect. I will do so.
Point of Order—Speaker of the House of Representatives
CHRIS HIPKINS (Labour—Rimutaka): I seek leave to move, without notice, a motion of no confidence in you as the Speaker, as a result of your rulings today.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought for that course of action. Is there any objection? [Interruption] Order!
Point of Order—Speaker’s Ruling 61/1, Definition
JAMES SHAW (Co-Leader—Green): I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. In relation to Speaker’s Ruling 61/1, which reads: “The cause for a matter to be withdrawn in the House is not that one member feels aggrieved. A member is required to withdraw something because the House itself is affronted.” You referred to this in your earlier ruling. It says “not one”. How many members would need to feel affronted before you ruled that it would be affronting the House?
Mr SPEAKER: There is no formula that I can give the member that may help in a future situation. I have got to judge the tone of the questions that are being asked, the tone of the answers that are being given, and then make a call. There is no formula that I can give about whether it is four who rise to do so. Often we get the case—in fact, I can think of numerous cases—where a member says that he has taken offence, I rule that that is, in my mind, not a matter of offence, and three or four others will rise, almost in an orchestrated campaign, to try to join in. That has happened before in the past. I make a call depending on the circumstances, as I have explained. As I have said to this House, I will certainly review the proceedings earlier today.
James Shaw: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: A fresh point of order?
James Shaw: Well, in relation to—
Mr SPEAKER: No. I have dealt—[Interruption] No, we have spent a lot of time on this matter. I have dealt with it. If the member has a fresh point of order, I am only too happy to hear it, but, at this time, I have dealt with this other matter.