Questions and Answers - Nov 11
QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS
TODD BARCLAY (National—Clutha-Southland): My question is to the Minister of Finance and asks: does he stand by his statement that building a more productive and competitive economy that supports jobs—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! If I hear that level of interjection from the Hon Ruth Dyson, she will leave me no choice but to ask her also to leave the Chamber. Would the member please start his question again so I can hear it.
1. TODD BARCLAY (National—Clutha-Southland) to the Minister of Finance: Does he stand by his statement that building a more productive and competitive economy that supports jobs and higher incomes is one of the Government’s priorities?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): Yes. Wages are up 3.1 percent in the last year, with inflation of just 0.4 percent, meaning a real lift in the spending power of New Zealand households. Beneficiary households with children will on 1 April receive a $25-a-week increase—the very lowest-income families, something the Labour Party never saw fit to do in its 9 years in office with very large surpluses.
Todd Barclay: What overseas reports has he received showing New Zealand’s resilient economy is well placed to continue moderate growth despite international uncertainty?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The International Monetary Fund issued its concluding statement about the New Zealand economy. It says that the economy is flexible, “underpinned by strong policy frameworks”, and “is well-positioned to weather the recent slowdown … and manage financial stability risks.” It says that medium-term prospects for the economy are positive, with “Business and consumer confidence [having] recently picked up” and net immigration remaining strong. It points to a number of risks around the world, but says that the “strong public sector balance sheet … underpins confidence in New Zealand’s economy.” This outlook is consistent with moderate growth in jobs and moderate growth in wages.
Grant Robertson: What does he say to the people of Gisborne, where there are now one in 10 people unemployed, about whether or not jobs are a high priority for his Government?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Gisborne is fortunate to be a resource-based economy, and the lower exchange rate and low interest rates are supporting businesses there to invest, to expand their exports, and therefore to employ more people. That is backed up by the Government’s comprehensive approach to economic development in the regions.
David Seymour: Does the Minister of Finance still stand by his statement that the Government faces no trade-off between the age and level of entitlement to New Zealand superannuation?
Mr SPEAKER: The Hon Bill English—that is some distance from the original question, but I will allow it.
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Yes. As I pointed out to the member yesterday, it is Government policy to maintain the age of eligibility and to maintain the current rates of payment. As I pointed out yesterday, the rate of national superannuation payment has grown twice as fast as inflation over the last 7 years. So inflation since this Government has been in power has been 15 percent; national superannuation has risen by 30 percent.
Todd Barclay: What steps is the Government taking to support employment through increasing exports and innovation?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The Government takes every step it can to support businesses to do employing, because the alternative is that the Government would have to employ everybody. These are some of the things we are doing to support businesses: creating a Trade Single Window for exporters and importers, which reduces barriers to exporting and importing; improving the Export Credit Office products and services to help support exporters who are bidding for new contracts in difficult markets; signing free-trade agreements with Malaysia, Hong Kong, Korea, and ASEAN, and negotiating a free-trade agreement upgrade with China; and, hopefully with the support of the Labour Party, signing off on the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement. But who would know whether the Labour Party is for it or against it?
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Could the Minister advise the country as to which sector is the biggest contributor to New Zealand’s gross external debt, thereby retarding a more productive economy and slowing jobs and higher incomes?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I suppose the sector that is the biggest contributor to that would be the one that borrows the most. That appears to be New Zealand households. Of course, it might be a bit difficult to say to New Zealanders that they cannot have access to borrowed money, because actually for a quite a few of them it helps them to buy a house and it helps them to finance their business. We believe New Zealand is gradually improving its external exposure—that is, its proportionate external debt is actually dropping a bit. The current account deficit is progressively a bit better than expected year after year, and New Zealanders’ savings have been positive for 5 years, which has not happened for the last 25 years.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I seek leave to table evidence from the Parliamentary Library that it is the banks that are borrowing $117.9 billion—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! The document has been described. It is a very marginal call, from my point of view, but I will put the leave and let the House decide. Leave is sought to table that information from the Parliamentary Library. Is there any objection? There is none. Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Todd Barclay: How is the Government supporting jobs growth through investment in infrastructure and by improving links between education and employment?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: In respect of infrastructure, easily the largest investment is in extending ultra-fast broadband and rural broadband. That is part of a very extensive spend on infrastructure over the next decade. But to improve the links between education and employment, the Government has launched over recent years a large number of schemes that assist the progress of young people from education into jobs. One of the results of that is we now have the lowest rate ever of young people not in education, employment, or training. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! To Darroch Ball—when I rise to my feet, I expect the member then to cease his loud interjection.
Australian Detention Centres—New Zealand - born Detainees
2. ANDREW LITTLE (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does he stand by all his statements regarding New Zealand - born Australian detainees in Australia?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): That was not actually the question.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Listen, I think it was close enough, and, frankly, that is a matter for me to attend to. I would prefer the Prime Minister to answer it.
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Yes.
Andrew Little: Does he stand by his statements on Radio New Zealand this morning that he has not been told how many New Zealand - born Australian detainees on Christmas Island have convictions for rape or murder?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Yes, at the time that I made that statement. What I can say is that Minister Amy Adams’ office was today, actually, presented by the Australian Government with a very detailed list of the sorts of offences committed by New Zealanders who are on Christmas Island. It is unlikely for privacy reasons that she will be able to release that, but I can give you a flavour of the types of people. [Interruption] I can give the House a flavour of the types of people—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Can I ask the Prime Minister to resume his seat. I would have thought that there was interest in this answer, but it is not going to be heard if the level of interjection continues from my immediate left.
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I can give the House a flavour. Some of them are offences that I do not even think the House would want me to read out, but others include, for instance: indecent treatment or dealings with a child under 16; the murder of an individual; manslaughter of an individual; armed robbery and robbery with actual violence; aggravated assault with weapons against their own child; assaulting a police officer; common assault and family violence; drug supply and possession; grievous bodily harm and weapon possession; and stalking. That sits on the back of the information we have from Australia that, as of 31 May 2015, 585 New Zealanders are pending visa cancellation. Of those, 50 are involved in rape, sex offences, or child sex offences.
Andrew Little: Given that of the 199 detainees on Christmas Island, roughly 130 have convictions for offences such as prison for cannabis supply and a fifth conviction for shoplifting—in this case worth $1,300—and that the vast majority are of sentences at the low end of the scale, how does he justify his disgraceful statements in the House yesterday?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Because they have the advantage of being true. I do not know where the member gets his information, but we have the information by name, by offence—I can read them out again if the member wants. But let me quote from the Minister of immigration in Australia, who gave an interview to the Australian media yesterday and said about the detainees on Christmas Island: “It is a hardened criminal population that occupies the immigration detention centre on Christmas Island. They are people whose risk profile is based not just on conviction but on their activity within detention, or within the community as well. It may be that they’ve threatened officers or they’ve carried out acts against other detainees. There are a number of reasons why they’re there. The vast majority of people within the Christmas Island Detention Centre are serious criminals.”
Andrew Little: Given that most of the detainees are people who have lived virtually all their lives in Australia, why should New Zealand shoulder responsibility for these people? [Interruption] Why doesn’t he stand up for what is right, pick up the phone and talk to Malcolm Turnbull?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Because we have a legal obligation to take them back to New Zealand, but let us just understand this one point: if you were a New Zealander who went to Australia prior to 2001, as a resident you had a pathway to citizenship, which would mean that if you gained that citizenship, you could not be deported to New Zealand. One Government and one person stopped that. It is called the Labour Government and Helen Clark—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order!
Andrew Little: Does he accept that, for the majority of New Zealand - born detainees whose offending is at the lower end of the scale, their best chance of rehabilitation is to stay close to their families and the community they know, which is in Australia?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Firstly, from the information that I have, the 585 New Zealanders, as of 31 May 2015—
Dr David Clark: Answer the question.
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Well, just allow me to and I am happy to do it for you, mate. OK. So of the 585, as of 31 May 2015, here are the sorts of characterisations: murder, 22; child sex offenders, 34; rape, 16—
Andrew Little: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I did not ask for the statistics, which are being massaged by the Prime Minister. I asked him: does he accept that for people in the circumstances I described it is better for them to stay in Australia than come here?
Mr SPEAKER: As I—
Hon Annette King: Just answer the question.
Mr SPEAKER: No. I do not need assistance. [Interruption] No. I do not need assistance from the Prime Minister. As I recall the question, it was: accepting that the majority are there on relatively minor convictions, does he not accept the best chance of rehabilitation is by remaining in Australia? The Prime Minister is rebutting part of that by saying that he does not feel that many of them are there on minor convictions. That—
Andrew Little: He’s not giving us the proportion—misleading.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! No. Listen. My job here is to adjudicate as to whether the question has been addressed. On that occasion the question has been addressed—I accept, not to the satisfaction of the member. The way forward then is further supplementary questions. Andrew—
Rt Hon John Key: Mr Speaker, I just want to carry on my answer.
Mr SPEAKER: No, well, I have heard enough.
Hon Annette King: He’s making it up.
Mr SPEAKER: No. Order! [Interruption] The Prime Minister will resume his seat. The answer has been given.
Andrew Little: Why did his Government take no action in December 2014 when he was first told Australia was going to deport hundreds of New Zealand - born Australians for committing lower-level crimes such as shoplifting and driving offences? No, Bill will not have the answer.
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: The Minister of Justice informs me the direction was signed on 22 December, at the first available meeting I had with the Prime Minister of Australia, Tony Abbott. We did that in the bilateral in February. We have continued to have those discussions the whole way through. The Ministers of Justice and Immigration have talked their way through. We have been working through the memorandum of understanding. When the Opposition says the Government has done nothing, let us get a few facts right. We have got an assurance from the Australian Government that deportees can be sent to New Zealand and have their assessment done for their appeal in New Zealand. We have doubled the resources there. We have added the extra resources there. We have made sure there is a memorandum of understanding. We have made a significant number of representations. Actually, the Leader of the Opposition met—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! No, the answer is now going on too long.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Can the Prime Minister tell us what his response is to former National Government Minister Hugh Templeton’s call for him to display some leadership and statesmanship on this matter?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: The member will appreciate Hugh Templeton goes a long way back in the New Zealand Parliament and I was not here then, so maybe he would like to remind me of the context of it all.
Andrew Little: Why has he said that New Zealand - born Australians detained in Australia at the completion of their sentences are free to return at any time, but now says that he has not even got the legislation ready to manage their return and it can take up to 20 weeks for them to get here anyway?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Firstly, I have never said it could take up to 20 weeks. The member has said that, and it is not correct. Mr Dutton confirmed once again last night—yesterday—that they can come within 2 weeks if they are at the absolute worst end of things. The legislation is going to be ready in the House next week. I hope the members vote for it.
Medical Technology Sector—Growth
3. PAUL FOSTER-BELL (National) to the Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment: How is the Government encouraging New Zealand’s medical technology sector to grow and contribute to the economy?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment): Recently I opened the Medical Technologies Centre of Research Excellence, which is based at the University of Auckland and has been allocated core funding of $23.6 million through to the end of 2020 to bring together clinicians and industry in partnership to develop new health technologies for the prevention, early diagnosis, and management of disease and improve the health and well-being of New Zealanders. Medical Technologies will also help accelerate the growth of New Zealand’s emerging medical devices and health IT sector of around 150 companies with an estimated value of around $1 billion. Medical Technologies is assisted by a partnership that includes the Auckland University of Technology, Callaghan Innovation, of course the University of Auckland but also Canterbury University, Otago University, and Victoria University.
Paul Foster-Bell: How are centres of research excellence supporting health research?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Overall, four of the ten centres of research excellence funded from now until 2020 focus on health research. Medical Technologies is the second of two new health centres of research excellence (CORE) I have had the opportunity to launch this year, the other being the Brain Research New Zealand centre of research excellence, co-hosted by the Otago University and Auckland University. These are joined by two other health-related COREs: of course the Maurice Wilkins Centre for molecular biodiscovery, which develops cutting-edge drugs and vaccines and tools for early diagnosis and prevention; and the Riddet Institute, which focuses on food and material science, novel food processing, human nutrition, and gastrointestinal biology. Including centres of research excellence funding, New Zealand spends a total of around $300 million on health research and development, with about two-thirds of this coming through direct Government and higher education funding and the other third coming from business.
Paul Foster-Bell: What else is the Government doing to encourage high-quality research in the health system?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Yesterday my colleagues the Minister of Science and Innovation and the Minister of Health, Dr Jonathan Coleman, announced a new health strategy that will be developed to focus on and align the economic and health goals of the health research sector. In addition to improving health outcomes and quality of care for Kiwis, health research is a strength for New Zealand in terms of scientific quality, which generates new high-value knowledge-intensive companies. The new strategy will help to enhance the impact, relevance, and uptake of health research and maximise the contribution of health science to New Zealand’s economic growth and the well-being of New Zealanders. This afternoon the Minister of Science and Innovation opened the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment contestable research fund for research proposals. This fund is worth about $35 million a year and is available for investment in excellent mission-led research that has the potential for long-term impact for New Zealand.
4. METIRIA TUREI (Co-Leader—Green) to the Prime Minister: Does he stand by his statement, “Well, you back the rapists …”?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): Yes.
Metiria Turei: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. As the victim of a sexual assault, I take offence at the Prime Minister’s refusal to deny his statement of yesterday.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! It is put down as a question on notice. The Prime Minister then has to answer it.
Chris Hipkins: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: Is this a fresh point of order?
Chris Hipkins: It is a fresh point of order. It just relates to the general principle of the issue, which is where something is ruled unparliamentary and a member then reaffirms whatever it was that they said that was unparliamentary—does that not then bring it back into the current debate?
Mr SPEAKER: Unfortunately, to some extent, yes. The question has been accepted. It has been ruled in order. The Prime Minister now has a responsibility to answer it. He answered it with “yes”. That in itself is certainly not unparliamentary. We have now got to move forward with a series of, I hope, helpful supplementary questions. If the Prime Minister was then to repeat such remarks, as I said earlier, I will deal with that issue.
Metiria Turei: Would he agree that when he made jokes about the convicted murderer and molester Phillip John Smith, he was backing the rapist and not the victims of his sexual abuse?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No.
Metiria Turei: Would the Prime Minister agree that when he said of the Roast Busters case that “These young guys should just grow up.”, he was, in fact, backing those alleged rapists and not the alleged victims of those young men?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No, but I think the member is trying to raise a defence to absolve herself from the fact that she has now learnt that 50 of the people whom they have been interested in are—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Can I remind the Prime Minister of my earlier ruling, Speaker’s ruling 196/7. The question was asked directly. The next part of the answer is not necessary.
Metiria Turei: Does the Prime Minister now consider it appropriate to apologise to Tania Billingsley, given his Government’s interference in a case that involved an alleged rape against her?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No. What I find disappointing is that in all of this debate, the victims of these crimes in Australia and in other parts have never been represented by Opposition parliamentarians—only the actual people who have perpetuated these rapes, these murders, these abhorrent acts. Unfortunately, that is the reality of what has happened in this Parliament in the past few weeks.
Metiria Turei: Does the Prime Minister think that in light of his own comments, where he has joked about rapists and child molesters, where he has backed alleged rapists of young women—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Can I just have the question please—the question.
Metiria Turei: —that it is now time for the Prime Minister to show some leadership on the serious issue of sexual violence in New Zealand and apologise for his comments from yesterday?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I do like to show leadership on that issue, but I am not responsible for other people who may advocate for people who commit crimes, not for the victims of crimes.
Hon Member: He’s reaffirming the same thing.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Again the member is interjecting. She may not realise it, but she is.
Metiria Turei: Will the Prime Minister apologise for his comment directed at the Opposition yesterday, in light of his own comments where he has clearly backed rapists and alleged rapists?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I utterly refute the last part of the question, and no in terms of the first part of the question.
Metiria Turei: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Prime Minister has consistently supported his statement of yesterday. He has—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Can I just—[Interruption] Order! [Interruption] I remind the member that when I stand, it is time for the member to cease speaking. That is not a point of order. The Prime Minister, in his answer, has said nothing that is unparliamentary in that answer.
Metiria Turei: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Having perused the—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Can I have the point of order.
Metiria Turei: There is nothing in the Standing Orders or Speakers’ rulings that puts a time limit on seeking a withdrawal and apology. The Prime Minister has affirmed his commitment to this—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! The member will resume her seat. We spent quite some time at the start of question time today with my pointing out to the member quite clearly that if it is a matter of an unparliamentary comment made at the time and objected to at the time, I can deal with it. If it is raised subsequently—and in this case 24 hours later—the time has passed.
Chris Hipkins: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Jacinda Ardern: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: Chris Hipkins first.
Chris Hipkins: It is simply to ask you to reflect, perhaps with a considered ruling, on the matter of effective repetition. I am not going to re-traverse it here, but I would like to ask you to reflect, in light of your earlier ruling today, on whether in fact the issue of effective repetition should be reconsidered—maybe not using the exact words. In the case of the Privileges Committee, where there was an issue of a member repeating a comment outside the House, all they said was “I stand by my comment.” and the courts deemed that to be an effective repetition.
Mr SPEAKER: I will certainly, as I always do, go back and review today, but I have been listening very carefully to the answers that were given, and as I said to Metiria Turei, I do not think there are any words in the answers that were given that would concern me as being unparliamentary. The question was put down and the question was accepted—the question, therefore, had to be answered, and none of the supplementary questions that were answered were ruled out of order either. So I will review it, but I will not promise to the member that I will come back with a considered ruling. Is there a further point of order from Jacinda Ardern?
Hon Simon Bridges: Speaking to the point of order.
Mr SPEAKER: No, I have dealt with that matter.
Metiria Turei: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I would seek your clarification on this matter. You have ruled that the Prime Minister’s statement cannot be relitigated today, because Opposition members did not raise it at the first opportunity yesterday. You have seen the Hansard, as have I. I raised that issue with you at the very first opportunity, and as a result of your denying that, you are now justifying not requiring the Minister—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! No. I invite the member herself to take the time that I have taken to go back and watch the video clip. The comment was made. It is 4½ minutes later that it is raised on the first occasion. My point, strongly to this House—and I am surprised that we are still having to explain it—is that it must be dealt with immediately. That makes my job a lot easier. When it is then dealt with subsequently—and, in fact, there are a lot of other comments that are made in the meantime—it is difficult for me to then demand an apology subsequent to the event.
5. Hon ANNETTE KING (Deputy Leader—Labour) to the Minister of Health: Are health patients getting access to publicly funded health services as prescribed by their health professionals; if not, why not?
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN (Minister of Health): Yes; for example, in the last year we have completed 88,000 elective day surgery procedures, filled 43 million prescriptions, and seen and treated over 1 million people in our emergency departments. But there is always more we can do, and that is why we are implementing further initiatives such as the Local Mobility Action Teams, which will work with community health providers to better diagnose and manage musculoskeletal conditions. Our ability to treat more patients comes from the Government’s ever-increasing health budget, which now stands at almost $16 billion dollars annually, a $4.1 billion increase since 2008.
Hon Annette King: If patients are getting access to the health services they need with the additional money being put in, why has the Auckland District Health Board lifted the threshold at which patients can get hip and knee replacement surgery from 50 points in June 2012 to 70 points in June 2015?
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: The district health board has an ever-increasing budget. I mean, in Auckland it has gone up $1.248 billion over the last 7 years, and it is also doing more operations all the time. So in the last 7 years it has increased its annual elective discharge output by nearly 5,000 operations per year. There is always more we can do, and the district health board has to decide how best it allocates the funds to deliver the services that it thinks appropriate.
Hon Annette King: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The question I asked is—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I listened to the question, and the member was right until the very end of the answer. The question was not answered at the initial part, without doubt, but at the very end the Minister did address the question.
Hon Annette King: I seek leave to table an Official Information Act request from the Auckland District Health Board setting out that the points for getting hip and knee surgery is 50 points. That is dated December 2013. The second one is an Official Information Act request dated 20 August 2015 saying it has been lifted to 70 points.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table those two documents. Is there any objection? There is none. They can be tabled. Documents, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Hon Annette King: Why have 13 of the 20 district health boards lifted the threshold at which patients can get hip and knee surgery since June 2012, including Counties Manukau, Hawke’s Bay, and Waikato, right down to the West Coast, Nelson Marlborough, and South Canterbury?
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: Because each year they have to decide how they best allocate the funds that they do have. But overall they are doing an extra 50,000 operations more than they were 7 years ago.
Hon Annette King: Has he seen correspondence sent to patients who were denied orthopaedic surgery, even though they are in considerable pain, that states that they are being adversely affected by funding limitations; if so, why does he keep denying there is a serious problem with access to surgery for thousands of New Zealanders?
Mr SPEAKER: Either of those two supplementary questions, the Hon Dr Jonathan Coleman.
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: I think I am aware of the specific letter she is talking about from a Hawke’s Bay surgeon, but the fact is there is always more we can do, and that is why we are doing more. That is why we are doing an extra 50,000 operations a year, an extra 60,000 appointments for surgical appointments, and also an extra 60,000 medical appointments on top of that.
Hon Annette King: If patients are able to access public health services they desperately need, why have more than 650 appeals been started by patients, their families, and their friends this year alone, begging for money because they have got nowhere else to turn to get help for their health problems?
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: Right throughout history we have not been able to give every patient every treatment that they would like. It happened under the Labour Government, and it is a factor in all medical systems throughout the Western World. The fact is, though, the answer to unmet need is to do more, and we are doing more all the time. If you look at pharmaceuticals, we are funding more, more New Zealanders are getting access to the medicines they need, and we are doing more all the time. That is the answer.
Barbara Stewart: Are health patients in Auckland getting appropriate access to emergency health services when Auckland District Health Board emergency departments have been at or above full capacity for 8 out of 10 days so far during 2015; if so, why?
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: Yes.
Barbara Stewart: I seek leave to table an Official Information Act request from the Auckland District Health Board, dated 7 October 2015, outlining exactly how many days that Auckland emergency departments—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The document has been well described, in light of the question. Leave is sought to table that particular Official Information Act request. Is there any objection? There is none. It can be tabled. Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Housing New Zealand—Impact of Methamphetamine Use on Properties
6. JONO NAYLOR (National) to the Minister for Social Housing: What reports has she received about the impact methamphetamine use is having on Housing New Zealand’s ability to house people in need?
Hon PAULA BENNETT (Minister for Social Housing): I have recently seen a report from Housing New Zealand about an increasing number of its properties that are having to be decontaminated or even demolished because—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I apologise to the Minister. I cannot hear the answer because of interjections from my immediate left.
Hon PAULA BENNETT: I was just ignoring the angry man. Last year 229 homes had to be decontaminated, up from just 28 a year earlier. Fourteen houses were actually so badly damaged that they had to be demolished. Being in a social house is a privilege that comes with a huge subsidy from the taxpayer, and it also comes with responsibilities. It is simply unacceptable that some people are abusing that privilege by using meth, leading to delays for others.
Jono Naylor: How many houses currently cannot be used because of methamphetamine contamination?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: Currently there are 322 Housing New Zealand homes that are sitting empty because they are contaminated or suspected of being meth infected. Those homes could house 7 percent of the people currently sitting on the social housing register. Houses can take months to decontaminate, meaning that those in real need are having to wait longer, of course, which is simply unacceptable.
Andrew Little: What steps is the Minister taking to remove the offending substances in the house of Jaymie Tihore and William Aue in Porirua, whose child is suffering so far incurable respiratory diseases because of her failure to fix up the mould and damp in their State house?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: In February this year, actually, $16,500 was spent on that home in ensuring that it had thermal curtains and carpeting. Housing New Zealand also put a heat pump in—
Andrew Little: Kids are sick. The kids are still getting sick.
Hon PAULA BENNETT: I am answering your question—I am actually answering your question.
Andrew Little: No, you’re not, Paula.
Hon PAULA BENNETT: Settle down; you are getting a little angry.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The question was asked—I think it was a good question. I want to hear the answer.
Hon PAULA BENNETT: That house, before it was tenanted in March, had more than $16,500 spent on it. Housing New Zealand upgraded the kitchen. It actually repainted all the walls. It put a heat pump in, and thermal curtaining, and it put carpet on the floors. Housing New Zealand also informs me that it has been trying to get hold of the family in the last couple of months—and has been unable to—to look at some of the phone calls it has had from them. We have actually spent more than $400 million on maintaining and actually building more homes, and we have got the Warm Up New Zealand programme, which is really working to try to heat up those houses. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order!
Jono Naylor: What is it costing Housing New Zealand to deal with the meth contamination in its homes?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: Last year alone—[Interruption] Goodness gracious!
Mr SPEAKER: I have given a specific warning to that member once already. I will issue now the very final, final one.
Hon PAULA BENNETT: Housing New Zealand has spent $2.3 million on decontamination, retesting, and remediation—more than three times what it spent in 2013. Each decontamination can cost up to $16,000, and, of course, a demolition means that that whole house needs to be rebuilt, and that takes time. Housing New Zealand spent a record $400 million on home maintenance and upgrades just in the last 12 months alone.
Silver Fern Farms—Minister’s Statements
7. Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First) to the Minister of Finance: Does he stand by all his statements regarding Silver Fern Farms; if so, why?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): Yes, in the context in which they were made.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: How can he stand by his comment that farmers should put their money where their mouth is when farmers thought they were getting a $261 million investment and when that, instead, is going into a separate company controlled by a Chinese State-owned enterprise?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The commercial arrangements between the investors are not really the Government’s business. I have noticed, though, that a number of hardened, long-term shareholders in Silver Fern Farms, many of whom I used to represent, turned up to meetings and voted overwhelmingly in favour of the transaction. I prefer to back their judgment on it over the member’s.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: What substantial and identifiable benefit is there from the Chinese paying only $57 million for Silver Fern Farms when Silver Fern Farms has announced revenues of $2.45 billion, a 28 percent surge in operating profit to $86.9 million, and a reduction of debt of $168 million?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Getting into a discussion with him about the accounting would be, I think, as the member used to say, like going into a battle of wits with a one-armed opponent. So I do not intend to do that. I think we can rely on the correct processes, and that involves the shareholders—who, after all, have a more vital interest in this than we do and have supported the transaction—the Overseas Investment Act, and a screening regime through which the transaction will need to pass.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: How is it possible that Silver Ferns Farm, a Coda company, is allowed to sell half of its share-backed assets without a special resolution to shareholders; and the sale of half of our largest meat exporter is not a major financial transaction as defined in the Companies Act?
Mr SPEAKER: So far as there may be some ministerial responsibility, the Hon Bill English.
Hon BILL ENGLISH: In the same way as having a duel over the accounting might not work—
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Point of order. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! David Bennett. Order!
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I have not called the member yet.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I suspect that we are beginning to hear a repeat of the insult in the last supplementary question in terms of the Minister’s answer, and he is not allowed to do that. I just want him to tell me what the answer to my question is.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! And I am quite keen to hear the answer as well, but I do point out that with both this question and the previous one it is difficult for me to actually decipher the responsibility of the Minister of Finance in regard to that matter. I have allowed the questions to be asked, and now both of us should wait for the answer.
Hon BILL ENGLISH: In the same way as the discussion between myself and the member about the accounting may be fruitless, I suspect that a discussion between us about the legal definitions applied to the transaction might be fruitless. I cannot help but think that he is heading in the direction of the ferry bottom that scraped Cook Strait—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! That is not going to help. [Interruption]. Order!
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I never said that his bottom was scraped by anybody.
Mr SPEAKER: And I have not been here that long either. Would the member now ask his supplementary question.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Will the Government now investigate this legally questionable deal, designed by Goldman Sachs, along with the $7 million payment to the Silver Ferns Farm board, which, given its profit announcement, smells to high heaven; if not, why not?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: No. The parties to the deal have every incentive to ensure that it is a good deal, and, actually, every incentive to ensure that it is lawful. I am quite sure that the bankers, accountants, shareholders, and company directors have an interest in complying with the law. That member may have more wild allegations, as has been his wont, but we have found from experience that it is best that those are tested properly.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. With the greatest respect, I am relying upon your own rulings on this matter. He should not be allowed to do a detour or a roadblock on his answers by insulting the questioner. I asked him a plain question.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! No, the member asked two questions. The first one was answered immediately—“Will there be an investigation?”—and the second supplementary question, which in my generosity I allowed to go through was: “If not, why not?”. I do accept the member’s final point, though—where the Minister was then going with the last part of his answer is not going to add to the order of this House.
Hon Damien O’Connor: How will the National Government ensure that the benefits claimed by Shanghai Maling when it takes over Silver Fern Farms will be delivered, given the absence of any Overseas Investment Office reports to assess the merits of any other overseas business investment in New Zealand?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: In the first place, the best monitors of the benefit will be the shareholders and the suppliers of Silver Fern Farms, who, from my knowledge of them, apply a forensic and intense scrutiny to everything that the company does. Secondly, it is part of the role of the Overseas Investment Office to monitor investments after the fact, and it will be doing so in this case.
Economy—Dairy and Housing Sectors
8. GRANT ROBERTSON (Labour—Wellington Central) to the Minister of Finance: Does he agree with Reserve Bank Governor, Graeme Wheeler, that there are increased risks to financial stability arising from the dairy and housing sectors?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): It is up to the Governor to make his own assessments about financial stability, but I can agree with the Governor’s full statement, which reads: “New Zealand’s financial system continues to perform well despite a deterioration in the outlook for global financial stability and increased risks related to the dairy and housing sectors.”
Grant Robertson: Is the Reserve Bank Governor correct to say that “House prices now exceed nine times gross income in Auckland, placing it among the most expensive cities in the world.”?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: If the Reserve Bank Governor made that statement, he would simply be repeating statements that have been made any time over the past few years about the relative expensiveness of Auckland house prices. In fact, that is why the Government initiated the Productivity Commission inquiry into land pricing, I think 2—if not 3—years ago, and why it has taken a raft of measures to try to make progress with more supply of housing into the Auckland market.
Grant Robertson: Does he accept any responsibility for the increase in the price-to-income ratio for Auckland housing going from 6 in 2011 to 9.2 in 2015?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The responsibility lies with the decision maker, which was the Auckland City Council, and we are reaping the rewards of 20 years of misguided planning that was designed to stop the city growing. Secondly, the responsibility lies with the people buying the houses. At a time when we have 50-year lows in interest rates, clearly the buyers believe that they can afford those prices. I agree that that ratio is far too high, and I look forward to the support of the Labour Party for further measures to help to reduce it.
Grant Robertson: Is the Minister telling the House that he does not accept any responsibility for a 9.2 price-to-income ratio for Auckland housing, given that we have heard the news this week that his special housing areas, brought in by his Government, have created a grand total of 102 houses?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The member is simply wrong about special housing areas—and I am not surprised, because he almost never does his homework properly.
Grant Robertson: Was he correct to say that his 2010 tax change would shift the economy towards savings, investment, and exports, and away from the over-investment in housing of the past decade, given that 5 years later the IMF says that we have “chronically low national savings” and the Reserve Bank says that rising house prices present a significant risk to the New Zealand economy?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Yes, I do stand by those statements, and here is one reason: because of the changes made in that tax package, we now collect around $800 million more tax off landlords. So whatever the house price rises in Auckland are, they may well have been more if we had not made that tax change, and we have got the revenue to show for it.
9. BARBARA KURIGER (National—Taranaki - King Country) to the Minister for Primary Industries: What recent reports has he received on the contribution of aquaculture to the Marlborough economy?
Hon NATHAN GUY (Minister for Primary Industries): This week I attended the launch of a New Zealand Institute of Economic Research report on the contribution of aquaculture to the Marlborough region. The report highlights that aquaculture generates around $276 million of export sales revenue for the Marlborough region, or nearly 6 percent of its economic activity. There are 859 local Marlborough jobs supported by aquaculture, and the Government is working closely with the industry to reach its aspirational goal of growing to a billion dollars by 2025.
Jami-Lee Ross: What are some of the ways in which the Government is supporting growth in the aquaculture industry?
Hon NATHAN GUY: The Government is supporting aquaculture through enabling greater market access and also supporting research and development. The Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement will be a major boost for this industry. All tariffs will be eliminated on seafood exports to those 11 countries, resulting in an estimated saving of around $8 million for the industry. The Government is also co-investing with the industry into the Primary Growth Partnership. A great example of this is the local SPATnz programme. It is improving the quality and quantity of mussels, and could increase exports by $80 million by the mid-2020s.
10. CHRIS HIPKINS (Labour—Rimutaka) to the Minister of Education: Is she confident that her Government is fully resourcing the Ministry of Education to provide quality support for schools and students?
Hon HEKIA PARATA (Minister of Education): Yes. My focus is not just on how much money is being spent, but also where it is being spent and how effective it is being. We should be using taxpayers’ money efficiently to provide support and assistance for those students who need it most.
Chris Hipkins: Did the Ministry of Education fail to meet three out of four special education services performance targets; if so, how is that an indication that they are being sufficiently resourced in order to ensure there is equality of support for schools and students?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: There was indeed a $3.6 million underspend in special education. Mostly it was outside the direct control of the ministry, as two-thirds of it—$2.4 million—was in expenditure by schools. The remaining fund of $1.2 million was an accumulation of amounts underspent in the network contingency, the intensive wraparound service, and the Incredible Years teaching programme. Despite these underspends, the ministry has, in fact, helped an additional 2,818 children with early intervention services over the target set for that year.
Chris Hipkins: Why has the Ministry of Education cut 41 front-line special education staff since 2011?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: I am not aware that the Ministry of Education has cut front-line staff of that description. I am not aware that the ministry has cut those—
Chris Hipkins: They’re her answers. She gave us that material in written answers. Don’t you read your own answers?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: I am not sure whether you want to hear me answer, or you just want to shout over the top of me. So the employment decisions are made by the Secretary for Education. We have increased funding for special education by 26 percent. We are currently undertaking an update of special education because there does need to be improvement in the way that services are provided to kids who need it most, and that is why the ministry has been conducting this year over 157 workshops with parents and school communities, to understand how that service can improve.
Chris Hipkins: Is she satisfied that at the same time as the Ministry of Education has cut the number of special education advisers, speech and language therapists, and early intervention teachers, the amount of spending on public relations staff at the ministry has increased by almost 200 percent; if so, why?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: Although that is true, the order of expenditure on both those items is significantly different. Special education is $530 million and has gone up 26 percent. The communications budget is $2 million and has gone up by the amount the member speaks about. That has largely gone into improving and integrating the websites, of which there was a proliferation, in order to ensure that parents and educators had quick and easy access to the information they require. It has resulted in a 2-weekly newsletter with principals, which they greatly appreciate, and in being far more responsive to the concerns that schools have raised.
Chris Hipkins: By how much has the Ministry of Education spending on press secretaries and communications advisers increased during that period of time?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: I cannot give that specific—
Chris Hipkins: Oh, so she doesn’t have that information.
Hon HEKIA PARATA: Ha, ha! Are you feeling happy as a result of that? I cannot give the specific figure for that, but what I can tell the member is this: the employment decisions are made by the Secretary for Education, not by me.
Climate Change—Prime Minister’s Statements
JAMES SHAW (Co-Leader—Green): To the—[Interruption] I am sorry? Speak up.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption]
JAMES SHAW: Speak up.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! I require less interjection from my right.
11. JAMES SHAW (Co-Leader—Green) to the Minister for Climate Change Issues: Does he stand by the Prime Minister’s statement that “New Zealand can hold its head up high when it comes to climate change”?
Hon TIM GROSER (Minister for Climate Change Issues): Yes, because no other country in the world has established an international research institution devoted solely to trying to find real solutions to 14 percent of global emissions—I am referring, of course, to the Global Research Alliance on agricultural emissions; because when the member joins me and other New Zealanders in Paris, and we are looking forward to that occasion, if there is a deal of a new, comprehensive agreement, it is highly likely, he will discover, to be based on the New Zealand proposal on legal form; because he will also be invited to a special event in Paris where we are hosting people celebrating the huge political success we are having in combating the $500 billion of wasteful subsidies on fossil fuel subsidies; and because we spent $100 million helping South Pacific countries convert from diesel to renewable energy.
James Shaw: When he has saved the planet, how high will the gold statue be to himself?
Mr SPEAKER: That question is not in order.
David Seymour: Why has the Government ceased to allow the redemption of international units to fulfil New Zealand obligations, and what has that done to the cost of emissions for New Zealanders vis-à-vis those in other countries, such as those where international units can be redeemed to fulfil such obligations?
Hon TIM GROSER: We did this because international carbon prices collapsed. The member is well aware of the history of this, and it was designed to give a better signal to New Zealand emitters to get on the path towards a lower-emissions economy.
James Shaw: Given that strong action to prevent climate change means we will have to stop burning fossil fuels in the foreseeable future, what advice has he given to the Minister of Finance about protecting people’s pensions against the risk of stranded assets in fossil fuel companies?
Hon TIM GROSER: I have given no advice, because the Minister of Finance does not need advice, but our party and Government’s position on this is crystal clear. We have a number of public agencies that have investment charters. They are expected to follow, and do follow, responsible codes of conduct very closely aligned to the United Nations principles on this, and we do not interfere with their decision-making process.
James Shaw: So is he then saying that as the Minister for Climate Change Issues he bears no responsibility for policies to rein in the causes of climate change?
Hon TIM GROSER: No, I am not saying that at all. I am just saying that if Mr English were to ask my advice I would give it, but I do not bother giving Mr English advice on matters where he seeks no advice, because he does not need it.
James Shaw: So has he seen the Business New Zealand survey results released yesterday—[Interruption] I am sorry? [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order!
James Shaw: Has he seen the Business New Zealand survey results released yesterday that showed that businesses want to see cross-party agreement on policies to address climate change; if so, why does his Government keep opposing the practical policies that the Green Party brings to the table?
Hon TIM GROSER: Yes, I have seen that report. I read it yesterday, in fact, and I took it to be—perhaps this is a little unkind on my part—a very veiled criticism by Business New Zealand of the Green Party for trying to jettison the cross-party support we have that the emissions trading scheme, not a carbon tax, should be the main vehicle. Question time interrupted.