Questions & Answers - 12 October 2016
• WEDNESDAY, 12 OCTOBER 2016
Mr Speaker took the Chair at 2 p.m.
QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS
1. ANDREW LITTLE (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Is the Government on course to meet all the targets it has set; if not, which is it missing?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): The Government has a large number of targets for the various things we want to achieve, from the roll-out of ultra-fast broadband to reductions in welfare dependence and contributors to poverty. Generally, we are on track, but, as I said when we set the Better Public Services targets, they are deliberately challenging and we may not meet all of them. For many we will not know the results for a number of years, so it is not feasible to give a comprehensive list of which will be missed. It is important not to make judgments too early, though, as the member found when he described the 2014-15 Budget surplus target as "the biggest political deception … of our lifetime". How wrong he was.
Andrew Little: Does he stand by his statement that "We've set targets within the Auckland Accord to ensure the city's housing supply and affordability issues are addressed."; and if so, what proportion of houses in special housing areas needs to be affordable to meet that target?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: In answer to the first part of the question, yes. In answer to the second part of the question, you need to direct that to the Minister for Building and Housing.
Andrew Little: After 3 years, what is the minimum number of affordable houses in Auckland special housing areas sold to first-home buyers that would be acceptable to him?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I do not have that particular data, but what I am proud of is the Government's first-home buyers' grant scheme through KiwiSaver HomeStart, which has assisted a great many young New Zealanders into buying a first home.
Andrew Little: Of the roughly 1,400 houses completed in Auckland special housing areas, how many have been affordable according to the definition in the Auckland Housing Accord?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I do not have that data with me.
Andrew Little: I seek leave to table a letter from the Auckland Council to my office, dated 5 October 2016, showing that 18 affordable houses have been sold to first-home buyers in Auckland special housing areas. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Leave is sought to table that particular letter from the council to Mr Little. Is there any objection to it being tabled? There is objection. [Interruption] Order! [Interruption] Order! I put the leave; objection was given. There is no need to further explain why the objection was given.
Andrew Little: Is just 18 affordable houses in 3 years enough—or, to put it another way, is that it?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: The member's numbers are quite incorrect. If he goes out to Hobsonville or Weymouth, or a number of other projects, he will see that it is considerably more than that. In fact, I recall reading the front page of the New Zealand Herald on Monday, where the Minister of Finance was quoted about the extensive number of affordable properties that will be sold as a result of the redevelopment of Housing New Zealand projects. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Before I call the member, can I have less interjection when an answer is given, even if the answer is one that the Labour Opposition might object to.
Andrew Little: After all the public outcry and all the official advice about the chronic housing shortage in Auckland and across New Zealand, and given the thousands of young families missing out on the Kiwi Dream of homeownership, does he really think 18 affordable houses in 3 years is anywhere near good enough?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: If the member wants to believe some dodgy number, he is welcome to, but then, he believes a whole lot of dodgy numbers sometimes. If one goes and has a look at the number of houses being sold, the consenting that has been going through, the additional people working in housing and construction in Auckland, and the number of people drawing down on first-home buyers and the like—the member will know that when I first became Prime Minister, 10 houses a day were being sold in Auckland; now it is probably on its way to 45 or 50 houses, and it will be considerably more next year.
Andrew Little: With only 18 affordable houses sold to first-home buyers, developers pulling out, land bankers sitting on sites instead of building houses on them, and a Minister incapable of doing his job, is it not now just time to admit that National's flagship housing policy has been a complete and unmitigated disaster?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: In answer to the last part of the question, no, that is not true. In answer to the first part of the question, it is not 18, but even if it were 18 it would still be five times the number of people who voted for Andrew Little to be the leader. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Question No. 2—[Interruption] Order! I have just asked for some cooperation from my left. I will get more severe if I have to, with reluctance.
• Prime Minister—Government Policies
2. METIRIA TUREI (Co-Leader—Green) to the Prime Minister: Ka tū a ia i runga i te mana o ngā kaupapa here katoa o tāna Kawantatanga?
[Does he stand by all his Government's policies?]
Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): Yes.
Metiria Turei: Does the Prime Minister still believe, as he said in this House yesterday, that it is better and more effective for the Government to set individual targets on components of child poverty rather than a specific child poverty reduction target?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Yes.
Metiria Turei: When the Prime Minister talked yesterday about the Better Public Services targets, like rheumatic fever and early childhood education, did he know that the expert advisory group on child poverty provided a comprehensive list of 51 child poverty - related indicators, including both of those?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Yes, but that is exactly the point, is it not? Last week the member was saying that the target should have 17—today she seems to be saying it is 51. For the last while she has been saying that the number of children is 360,000 and then she said yesterday that she wanted to accept that the Government's number of 85,000—or at least, 60,000 to 100,000—was correct. She is all over the map, and that is the point. The Government is far better to approach—
Metiria Turei: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. He has not addressed the question, and has instead talked about a Green Party position, which he has no authority over.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! No. When the Prime Minister rose to answer the question he addressed the question immediately. He certainly has gone on to enlarge on that answer, which is probably unnecessary, but he certainly answered the question immediately.
Metiria Turei: When the Prime Minister committed to his Government using individual indicators and targets to address child poverty, did he mean that he would adopt the expert advisory group's recommendations for a comprehensive list of child poverty - related indicators?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: What the Government did—and, I think, quite correctly—was to say that poverty is a very complicated issue, but that there are some individual component parts which, if the Government focuses resources on and gives attention to, can make significant gains. We are doing that in terms of rheumatic fever. We are doing that in terms of the number of children being immunised. We are doing that in terms of the number of children having access to early childhood education. We are doing that in terms of the number of teenage pregnancies, with young mums on the equivalent of the domestic purposes benefit. I think it is far more sensible for the Government to approach this issue in a systematic and thorough way, dealing with each of these issues, rather than the member spending, as she wants to, her lifetime dreaming up some dodgy number that she knows is wrong.
Metiria Turei: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. That was an unnecessary and personal attack—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I could not hear correctly what the point of order is.
Metiria Turei: I take personal offence at that personal attack on my integrity, and I ask him to withdraw and apologise.
Mr SPEAKER: I do not think that the final part of the answer was helpful to the order of the House; I accept that. But I hardly think it was a personal attack on the member.
Metiria Turei: So will the Prime Minister expand the Better Public Services targets to include all of those other indicators that experts have said contribute to child poverty, such as household crowding, infant mortality, self-harm and suicide by children, and serious skin infections?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I doubt we would have an individual Better Public Services target for each one, or there would be so many individual targets that it might lose some of its meaning. All of those issues are on the Government's radar, and all of them are getting attention.
Metiria Turei: When the Prime Minister is refusing to establish official measurements of child poverty, and also will not set targets for a comprehensive list of child poverty - related outcomes, is he not really telling the country that he will avoid any attempt to identify, to measure, or to reduce child poverty in New Zealand?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Quite the opposite. This is the first Government in the history of this Parliament that has had a list of Better Public Services targets and has been quite happy to be measured against them, and has set those targets in quite challenging areas. The Government produces a raft of different measures and reports in relation to poverty and income, including the longitudinal study by Bryan Perry, which shows that income inequality is not getting worse. The reason the member does not quote it is that she does not like it, because it does not suit her arguments.
Metiria Turei: So what has changed since 2012, when the Prime Minister said: "If you don't measure, monitor and report on things, I don't think you can make progress."?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Absolutely nothing, and that is why the Government has these individual targets and has a range of different measures. But it is not this Government; there has been longstanding advice from officials that one single measure of poverty in this country would be an inappropriate way of dealing with it.
• Household Debt—Reports
3. ANDREW BAYLY (National—Hunua) to the Minister of Finance: What reports has he received on household debt?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): The latest Monthly Economic Indicators report from Treasury shows that average household debt as a proportion of household disposable income is now at 165 percent—slightly higher than the level between 2007 and 2010. However, Treasury notes that, somewhat surprisingly, household bank deposits have been growing at around the same rate or slightly higher than the accumulation of debt. This is in contrast to the experience prior to 2009 when debt accumulation increased faster than household savings growth. Overall, Treasury concludes that the household debt levels remain manageable.
Andrew Bayly: What are some of the factors that Treasury points to as mitigating risk from rising household debt?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I think it is pretty much common sense that households that are borrowing very large amounts of money against uncertain incomes, and assuming that interest rates will stay where they are, are taking a risk. Treasury has set out four reasons why for many householders the debt would be less of a concern—that is, currently, low interest rates mean that debt servicing rates, which is the proportion of household incomes spent on interest, are well below the peak reached in 2008. So, in 2008, households spent 14 percent of their incomes paying interest. Today they spend just under 9 percent. It also points out that household net wealth has been increasing and debt to asset ratios have fallen to their lowest level since 1998.
Andrew Bayly: How does New Zealand's household debt compare with household debt in other OECD countries?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: It depends a bit on which measure you use. Under a definition of debt that excludes borrowing for rental properties—that is, including debt where people are borrowing just for their own home—New Zealand's ratio of household debt to income is in the middle of the OECD. If you include rental loans, that puts New Zealand into the top third. So our ratio is 165 percent. Others such as Australia are at 199 percent, Norway is at 211 percent, and Denmark is at 266 percent.
Andrew Bayly: How are higher household incomes and savings helping to offset risk associated with household debt?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Probably an unusual feature of this cycle of increase in debt has been a marked change in household savings behaviour since the global financial crisis. Between 2010 and 2014, household saving was positive, following negative savings rates over the previous decade. Savings turned slightly negative in 2015, reflecting a fall in farm incomes, but it is possible that savings will again become positive as farm incomes rise. And, as I pointed out earlier, one indication of a change in household behaviour is that bank deposits have been rising just as fast as household debt.
• Health, Minister—Statements
4. Hon ANNETTE KING (Deputy Leader—Labour) to the Minister of Health: Does he stand by his statement that "it's important people can access the appropriate mental health and addiction services that they need"?
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN (Minister of Health): Yes. That is why this Government has increased mental health and addiction services funding from $1.1 billion to $1.4 billion. That includes $64 million as part of the Prime Minister's Youth Mental Health Project and an extra $24 million in Budget 2016 for increased access to mental health services. That includes support for early access to services via a telephone triage service. Working in mental health is always a very challenging job, and I value the professionalism and dedication of our mental health workforce.
Hon Annette King: In light of that answer, how does he account for the Waikato District Health Board (DHB) reporting on 24 August "extreme risk to patients' safety", because the number of patients needing treatment had led to "excessive wait times for emergency departments and delay with assessment and treatment"?
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: As the member knows, those comments were made following a very serious incident, and unfortunately it was a tragedy in the Waikato. As a result the director of mental health went there. He undertook an investigation. He made a series of recommendations, which have been acted on.
Hon Annette King: I seek leave to table a memorandum from the board dated 24 August—well after the event, and the public were excluded, so it is not available; I got it through the Official Information Act (OIA)—showing that the risks are current now.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that particular memorandum. Is there any objection? There is none. It can be tabled.
Hon Annette King: Is he aware that mental health patients presenting to emergency departments have increased by nearly 30 percent between June 2011 and December 2015, while at the same time DHBs are reporting blowouts in their mental health budgets?
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: There is no doubt there has been an increase in demand. There are a full range of factors that explain that. One of the reasons around increased presentations at emergency departments is that the police are now taking those patients directly there, as I understand it, rather than them being assessed out in the community. At the same time, as the member will know, there was an extra $568 million that went into the health budget this year. There is a mental health ring-fence and, on top of that, DHBs have the discretion to direct part of that money—on top of the ring-fence—into mental health services. So I am confident that, although it is a tough area to work in, we actually have a very good mental health service.
Simon O'Connor: How is mental health demand increasing, and how is the Government providing better access for these services?
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: Demand for mental health services has increased from 2.3 percent of the population a decade ago to 3.5 percent of the population in the last year, so that is a huge increase, from 96,000 people to 164,000 people accessing specialist services each year, but that is consistent with international trends. Despite that steady increase in demand, more Kiwis are being seen sooner by mental health services. For example, back in 2011 only 60 percent of young people seeking mental health help for the first time were seen within 3 weeks. By 2015 that had risen to 70 percent—so from 60 to 70 percent being seen within 3 weeks. The system is improving, but there is more work to be done. Officials also advise me that the district health boards have in place crisis response teams that will respond to psychological emergencies within a target for 24 hours.
Hon Annette King: Does the Government's allocated funding for mental health and addiction services to DHBs fully fund its ring-fenced mental health expenditure?
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: Yes.
Hon Annette King: Is Canterbury DHB a beacon of his success in adequate funding for mental health, when it revealed a $23 million shortfall in mental health funding this year and is now forecasting a $37 million deficit by the end of the year, with one of the main reasons being a demand in mental health services?
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: I do not accept the member's interpretation of those figures. I mean, the Canterbury DHB budget went up $44 million this year. The population statistics that we use are those that are provided by Statistics New Zealand. Funding in Canterbury for health has gone up, there is a ring-fence, and Canterbury DHB has the discretion to spend extra money on mental health. On top of that, in February the Government put in an extra $20 million for mental health services. It consulted the sector, and that was widely accepted. So people are not missing out on mental health services in Canterbury.
Hon Annette King: I seek leave to table a letter from the Canterbury District Health Board under the Official Information Act showing the $23 million shortfall this year in mental health funding. That is dated 24 June.
Mr SPEAKER: Is there another document?
Hon Annette King: And the second document I seek leave to table is the board minutes from the Canterbury District Health Board dated 15 September, showing a predicted $37 million deficit for this year.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Can I just clarify, with the second document, is it—
Hon Annette King: I got it through the Official Information Act.
Mr SPEAKER: In both cases, the response to the OIA? I will therefore put the leave for both the letter from the Canterbury DHB and then the minutes of the board meeting of the Canterbury DHB. Is there any objection to those two documents being tabled? There is not.
Documents, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Hon Annette King: Does he still think there is no need for an inquiry into mental health in New Zealand, in light of the recent reviews into Waitemata, Waikato, and Capital and Coast DHB mental health services, and Northland, MidCentral, and Nelson Marlborough carrying out their own reviews around patient and workforce safety?
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: No, I do not accept that there is a need for a further inquiry. It is always a difficult area. The Government has increased funding, and, as I said, more New Zealanders are receiving more services more quickly than previously.
• New Zealand Residence Programme—Changes
5. JONATHAN YOUNG (National—New Plymouth) to the Minister of Immigration: What recent announcements has he made regarding the New Zealand Residence Programme?
Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE (Minister of Immigration): Yesterday I announced a number of changes to the New Zealand Residence Programme. The Residence Programme is reviewed every 2 years to ensure we have the right number and mix of people gaining residency. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The question has been asked; I want to hear the answer. I want less interjection from one member in particular.
Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE: The changes to the programme include lowering the maximum range for residency approvals for the next 2 years from 100,000 to 95,000, raising the number of points required for residency under the skilled migrant category from 140 to 160 points, and reducing the number of places for the family categories to 2,000 per year. Migrants make a valuable contribution to New Zealand, both culturally and economically. The Government periodically reviews all its immigration settings to make sure they are working as intended.
Jonathan Young: What effects will these changes have on the New Zealand Residence Programme?
Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE: Demand for residency is currently high. Increasing the points required to gain residence from 140 to 160 will maintain the long-run average of residents visas granted. It will also prioritise visas for higher-skilled migrants to ensure we get the right balance between attracting skilled workers who allow companies to grow, and managing demand in periods of high growth. The changes to the Residence Programme demonstrate that this Government is taking a responsible and pragmatic approach to managing immigration.
Iain Lees-Galloway: Can the Minister confirm that reducing the target band from 100,000 to 95,000 could mean that just 68 fewer permanent residency approvals are made in each of the next 2 years, given that over the last 2 years there were 95,137?
Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE: No, I cannot confirm that—and, quite the opposite, because if the member breaks down those numbers across the previous 2 years, 2014-15 was 43,085, and 2015-16 was 52,052. And the projections are for that number to continue to grow were it not for the changes we are announcing.
Iain Lees-Galloway: What changes to the system for temporary work visas is he considering; will any of them include Labour's proposals, which he described as "thinly-veiled xenophobic rhetoric"?
Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE: In answer to the first question, the member will just have to wait and see; in answer to the second question, I can tell the member that it certainly will not have any reference to people with Chinese-sounding surnames.
• Immigration, Minister—Statements
6. Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First) to the Minister of Immigration: Does he stand by all his statements; if so, how?
Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE (Minister of Immigration): Yes; and in the usual manner.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: That'll be true enough.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! We will just have the supplementary question.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: If parents from China still overwhelmingly dominate the parent category, what happened to his 2014 promise of "a much fairer system to spread the origin of parents over more countries"?
Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE: That is a question that is open to speculation, but I would certainly be prepared to speculate that the policy that was in place under the previous Government—which was a home alone policy giving favour to Chinese parents because of China's one-child policy, and which this Government dispensed with some years ago—is likely to still have a resonating effect on the number of applications coming from that country.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Why has he allowed tens of thousands of migrants into this country without any real skills, or a backlog of well over 2,000 parent category applications, of which 70 percent are from China, against the statement he made in 2014?
Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE: The Residence Programme covers three main categories. They are "humanitarian", including our refugee commitments and our Pacific Island commitments; they are "partnership", including the children and spouses of people returning home; and they are "skills". So the broader programme includes a number of things, skills notwithstanding.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Why has he allowed and facilitated the parent category to be so grossly abused when, in countless cases, the New Zealand taxpayer has been "ripped off"—his words—because parent category promises made at the time of application were simply not kept or monitored by him or his department?
Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE: I reject the prefacing statement about that category being grossly abused, but there will be a review of the parent category visa because of some concerns about higher costs, and I look forward to the outcome of that review. [Interruption]
Rt Hon Winston Peters: What did you say, midget? What sort of system is he running when, first of all, 31 percent of migrants using the parent category have abandoned this country and dumped their parents on the New Zealand taxpayer and not looked after the commitments they gave in the first place?
Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE: A system that has increasingly high levels of confidence on the timeliness and quality of decision making at Immigration New Zealand, and certainly a lot better than under the previous regime.
• Tax Cuts—Prime Minister's Statements
7. GRANT ROBERTSON (Labour—Wellington Central) to the Minister of Finance: Is the Prime Minister correct with respect to tax cuts that "The options are: either include it in Budget 2017 or we campaign on that as part of Election 2017. Those are the two most likely options, taking into consideration we have a responsibility to take into account two things, which are the fiscal and economic conditions, and how well we are doing in terms of addressing the reduction in debt"?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): Yes, the Prime Minister is correct, and in my experience he is correct a lot more often than the member is. And, as he pointed out, lowering taxes is Government policy; so is investing in infrastructure and better public services. We have always made it clear that tax cuts are dependent on supportive fiscal and economic conditions.
Grant Robertson: In light of that answer, why are tax cuts still the most likely option when he has failed to meet one of the core tests, reducing net debt, which he admitted yesterday had not decreased in dollar terms at all on his watch?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The member is trying to talk about the Government fiscal objectives in a way that is simply incorrect. For instance, in respect of net debt, the target has been to reduce it to 20 percent of GDP. That has been the target for a number of years. It is now starting to decrease, at the same time as the Government is managing increased spending on infrastructure, reinforcement of core public services, and an overhaul of much of the Government machinery so it is more customer friendly. All of these things can be achieved, as well as reducing taxes, if fiscal conditions are good enough.
Grant Robertson: Are his officials working on a tax cut plan for Budget 2017?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: No, but they will certainly be working on the longer-term fiscal outlook. In fact, I think Treasury is going to publish the long-term fiscal outlook shortly, and we would expect in the run-up to Budget 2017 to look at all the options. The member should not be surprised about that, but he is probably quite concerned at the range of choices the Government has, because with good fiscal management over the last 6 or 8 years, including rebuilding Christchurch, we are one of the few developed countries that have rising surpluses and, therefore, choices, which this Government intends to make wisely.
Grant Robertson: What does he consider to be a meaningful tax cut for the average wage earner in dollar terms per week?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I have not been considering that matter, but the member can be reassured that the Government will look, as it does each Budget, at the whole range of options. I know that it concerns him greatly that this Government is making a lot of progress on dealing with New Zealand's most intractable social problems, for instance. We will be applying more funding, for instance, to caring for our most vulnerable children, but doing it in a way that is focused on results, unlike the Labour Party, which is stuck in the best thinking—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! We do not need to go there with the answer.
Grant Robertson: Which is a higher priority for him: restarting contributions to the Superannuation Fund or tax cuts?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The member will just have to wait and see, but I know he is concerned at the range of choices the Government has. I think that New Zealand is one of only three developed countries in the situation we are in, with growth around 3 percent—
Grant Robertson: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Minister did not address the question, and even if you argue that he did, by saying I have to wait, he has now moved into utterly irrelevant material. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! He certainly did not answer the question to the satisfaction of the member, but when I consider the question, it was never going to be answered to the satisfaction of the member.
• Child Health Services—Free GP Visits
8. Dr SHANE RETI (National—Whangarei) to the Minister of Health: Can he confirm that there have been 190,807 more children's visits to the GP, an increase of 16.6 percent, in the last 12 months since the Government introduced free GP visits for under-13s?
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN (Minister of Health): Yes. Back in Budget 2014, we committed $90 million over 3 years to extend free GP visits and prescriptions to children aged under 13. As a result, we now have more than 780,000 children under 13 benefiting from those free GP visits during business hours and also from free prescriptions, with over 99 percent of general practices signing up to the scheme. Importantly, this data shows that there has been a 17.1 percent increase in visits for Māori children and a 13.5 percent increase in visits for Pasifika children.
Dr Shane Reti: What positive effects have the introduction of free doctors visits and prescriptions had?
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: As a result of the under-13s visits, we have seen an encouraging decrease of 1,600 presentations to hospital emergency departments. That is a drop of 4.7 percent. We have also seen an increase in access to medicines, with the number of prescriptions dispensed increasing by 23.9 percent, showing that the removal of costs has improved access to medicines. It is clear that the free-under-13s policy is supporting the Government's strategy in health, which aims to have interventions delivered much earlier in a community setting, which means that children are prevented from getting sicker, and that is going to be a good thing.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: When will his Government acknowledge that this visionary, far-sighted, inspirational policy came from New Zealand First and was delayed to 12-year-olds only by an obstructive, jealous, recalcitrant National Government?
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: Probably never.
• Accident Compensation Corporation—Performance
9. RON MARK (Deputy Leader—NZ First) to the Minister for ACC: Is he confident that ACC is making decisions in accordance with the purpose, principles and intention of the Accident Compensation Act 2001, and in the best interest of claimants?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Deputy Prime Minister): on behalf of the Minister for ACC: Yes.
Ron Mark: Why did ACC ignore treatment recommendations for Northlander Noah Wakelam despite (1) sending him to multiple specialists; (2) ignoring the advice of six doctors who favoured Mr Wakeland's case; and (3) declining his claim because one specialist provided a report that suited ACC's interest?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I cannot answer those questions.
Ron Mark: Does he think it is acceptable for ACC to take over 9 months to make a decision on Mr Noah Wakelam's claim and then deny him access to the public health system while his symptoms continued to worsen?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The person concerned may be dealing with distress related to health issues, but the entitlements are determined by the legislation or by subsequent review. If the person concerned feels he is not getting his entitlement, then he is able to review.
Ron Mark: Does he think it acceptable for ACC to pressure claimants such as Mr Noah Wakeland to return to work after 3 months when he (1) had not recovered; (2) had medical specialists saying he had not recovered; and (3) needed a transition period that should have included intensive rehabilitation and a staged transition back into work?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I hope that the person he is referring to gets the best treatment and gets a path back to work. That is one of the purposes of ACC. But I cannot comment on the individual case.
• Housing—Government Measures to Address
10. PHIL TWYFORD (Labour—Te Atatū) to the Minister of Finance: What has convinced him to announce a Government-backed building programme to build medium-density housing using economies of scale to drive down costs, and why is it now a priority after 8 years in Government?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): The member is wrong. The Government did not need to be convinced. Since the day we took office in 2008 we have been working on the Tāmaki redevelopment programme—
Phil Twyford: Rubbish. There was a 5-year hiatus.
Hon BILL ENGLISH: —which will deliver 7,500 houses to the Auckland market in the coming years. Well, the member should ask Mr Pat Snedden about the meetings that were held at that time. We started working on a Government-backed—
Phil Twyford: You did nothing for 5 years.
Hon BILL ENGLISH: No, no. The member should listen. In February 2011—for the member's information—a large earthquake hit Christchurch, which required a Government-backed building programme to build 700 new houses and repair 5,000 Housing New Zealand houses in Christchurch. Of course since then we have accelerated the work at Hobsonville. Now that we have the new Auckland Unitary Plan, the member is starting to take notice of the large-scale Government building programmes that have been going on through the last 8 years.
Phil Twyford: Can he confirm that the compelling new information that shows that his housing policies have failed completely and that his housing crisis is spinning out of control was provided by that well-respected housing policy thinktank Curia Market Research?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Absolutely not. As I have pointed out to the member, he may not have done his homework but a number of large-scale programmes have been under way. In fact, I invite the member to visit Christchurch to see the 700 new Housing New Zealand houses that were built and the 5,000 repairs. I invite him to visit Hobsonville. I invite him to visit Tāmaki, which is out in the market right now, procuring large-scale developers so that 7,500 houses can be built there. And we have only just got started.
Phil Twyford: Why is he refusing to guarantee that all the new houses he now promises to build will be for first-home buyers and Kiwi families, and not for property speculators, or is he still on the side of the speculators?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: It shows the member fundamentally misunderstands housing markets. The fact is that under the Auckland Unitary Plan the Government owns sufficient land already in Auckland to now build another 30,000 houses. They will be a mixture of houses sold to the market—medium-priced houses for first-home buyers or lower-income families that can afford them, but, most importantly, social housing, because the Government is responsible for meeting the growing demand for social housing in Auckland. We will make those decisions as we go.
Phil Twyford: How many of his promised "maybe 30,000 homes in Auckland over the next maybe 7, 8, 9, or maybe 10 years" are to make up for the deficit of 42,000 homes in Auckland, built up on his watch, or are they in addition to the 42,000 homes he is already running behind on delivering?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I am not exactly sure what the member means, but I can tell him this. It is only in the last couple of months that it has now become legally possible to build at the scale that I have indicated. The Auckland Unitary Plan, and previous Auckland plans in which that member participated, prevented the building of the number of houses that Auckland needed. Now it is going to be possible, and that is a major achievement on the part of Dr Nick Smith and the Auckland Council.
Phil Twyford: Would he agree that with his track record of flogging off State houses, pensioners living in campgrounds, property speculators running riot, and his so-called building boom, delivering 18 affordable homes in 3 years, the public are likely to see his latest musings for what they are: another poll-driven diversion from his failed housing policy?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I can understand the member's concern that the Government's policy for social housing is now so popular that we cannot meet the demand for changes and for transfers and for better services. I can also understand the member's concern that the size of the Government's rebuilding programme has become apparent even to him—even to him—and that is not going to help him politically.
• Pesticide Use Reduction Policy—Government Position
11. STEFFAN BROWNING (Green) to the Minister for the Environment: Will he set a pesticide use reduction policy for Aotearoa New Zealand, such as exists in many Scandinavian and EU countries?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH (Minister for the Environment): The Government's policy is to focus on reducing the risk and harm from pesticide use rather than any arbitrary reduction. The New Zealand situation is quite different from Europe. Our greatest environmental challenge is the threat that introduced pests pose to our unique biodiversity, and, as the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment said, we should be increasing the use of pesticides like 1080 if we are serious about ensuring the survival of our special birds, like kiwi, like kea, and like kokako. There is actually far more harm caused by rats, stoats, and possums than the pesticides to control them. Our major industries, like kiwifruit, apples, wine, and other horticultural industries are making enormous progress—
Steffan Browning: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: —in reducing the risk of pesticide use by using smart technology—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Is there a point of order?
Steffan Browning: There was a point of order. I did ask around the reduction—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I know the question. What is the point of order?
Steffan Browning: Well, what was the dribble-on that was—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! I accept it was a long answer—[Interruption] Order! I accept it was quite a long answer, but I thought the Minister was actually making a relatively genuine attempt to explain why we would not be following a policy that is prevalent in Europe.
Steffan Browning: Given that the EU has recently recommended that the highly toxic polyethoxylated tallow amine (POEA) in weed killers such as Roundup be banned, will he instruct the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) to objectively reassess the full formulation of these products, to protect New Zealanders' health; if not, why not?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: This Government makes its environmental decisions on the basis of good quality independent science. The Environmental Protection Authority has responsibility for the regulation of our chemicals. The advice that it has provided to me, in respect of Roundup and the active ingredient glyphosate, is that there is not sufficient evidence to warrant a reassessment.
Steffan Browning: When will he give us the names of the 69 herbicide products on the market that include POEA, or will he continue to stand by commercial confidentiality as a reason for not telling New Zealanders that they are exposed to a chemical that has been described as deadly to human embryonic, placental, and umbilical cord cells?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: I simply do not accept the claim by the member, which contradicts the technical advice that I have received from the Environmental Protection Authority. If we are to make smart regulatory decisions about the effective management of chemicals, we should follow the evidence of scientists, and not of politics.
Scott Simpson: What are the greatest risks posed by pesticides in New Zealand, and what steps is the Government taking to address those risks?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: The greatest concern that we have is older, less safe pesticides, and also older chemicals that are stored in farm sheds and garden sheds in deteriorating bottles and drums. That is why the Government initiated a major collection programme in 2010, the agrichemicals collection programme, which has collected and appropriately destroyed 54,000 tonnes of older chemicals like DDT, Lindane, and Dieldrin. The second priority is phasing out chemicals like some persistent organic pollutants, as per the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants, and we are on target for phasing out those chemicals that are unsafe. I note that our agricultural industries have moved away from those—what I refer to as hard pesticides—to those that are far safer and pose very low harm and environmental risks.
Steffan Browning: When the EPA reviewed the carcinogenicity of glyphosate, why did it not use the independent published research but instead use a narrow selection of mostly Monsanto-funded unpublished research that did not reflect the full herbicide formulations actually used in our streets and parks?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: I just simply have far more confidence in the independence and the scientific integrity of the work of the EPA than I do in the Green Party.
• Mystery Creek National Fieldays—Economic Impact
12. BARBARA KURIGER (National—Taranaki - King Country) to the Minister for Primary Industries: What recent reports has he received on the economic impact of the Mystery Creek National Fieldays?
Hon JO GOODHEW (Associate Minister for Primary Industries) on behalf of the Minister for Primary Industries: The Minister is this afternoon heading to Mystery Creek, where a report will be released tonight that shows that this year's national Fieldays generated $430 million in sales revenue for New Zealand firms. This included $125 million in revenue for the local Waikato economy. Gate entries were the second-highest ever, at 130,684, up 3.7 percent on last year. Each one of these entries generated $3,300 in sales revenue on average. The event also attracted 500 international guests from 42 different countries, many interested in the showcase of our $1.2 billion in agritechnology exports.
Barbara Kuriger: What did the event highlight in regard to confidence in the primary sector?
Hon JO GOODHEW: The event demonstrated that although dairy prices have been low, the overall primary sector is very diverse and in good heart. A wide range of Ministers and MPs attended the Fieldays, including the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister. Over the course of the Fieldays, the Government launched the primary industry champions initiative to encourage young people into the primary sector, the Fieldays Careers and Education Hub, and also an extra $600,000 of funding to help strengthen local mental health networks for farmers in rural communities across New Zealand. The team at Mystery Creek includes 240 volunteers, without whom the event could not be such a raging success.