Questions and Answers - August 29
QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS
Child Poverty and Living Standards—Reports
1. DAVID SHEARER (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Has he seen recent reports on the level of inequality and child poverty in New Zealand?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE (Leader of the House) on behalf of the Prime Minister: Yes. I have seen a recent report that says: “A parent obtaining full-time paid employment is the most important event to lift children out of poverty.” That is why the Government’s welfare policies have an unrelenting focus on work, and I look forward to the member’s support for them.
David Shearer: Does he stand by his statement that “the Government has spent the last 3 years ensuring that it has done whatever it can to help the most vulnerable New Zealanders through.”; if so, why is inequality at its highest level and why has child hardship increased from 15 percent to 21 percent?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: The inequality of income in New Zealand is measured in different ways. If you take the report that is produced by the Ministry of Social Development, on page 81 it shows that inequality was greatest during the years 2000-05. We have not got back to those levels. But on the following page it shows a different picture. What I would say is that this Government has recognised, as these reports do, that the global financial crisis has put stress on those on the lowest incomes, and therefore we have had programmes in place to try to make life a little easier for those people.
David Shearer: In light of that answer, does he agree with Paula Bennett, who said last week that she did not believe that measuring poverty was a priority; if so, why?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: Yes, the Minister for Social Development is correct; because there are so many different ways in which it can be measured. What is absolutely clear is that the best way of removing child poverty is to ensure that there is parental and caregiver employment.
David Shearer: In light of that answer, does this mean he has abandoned his view that the Ministerial Committee on Poverty should “have an official way of measuring poverty”, something he said earlier this year?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: Far from it. I think the fact that there are so many measures out there that give all sorts of pieces of information—
Hon Member: Pick one!
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: The member over there calls out “Pick one!”. That is something those members cannot do when it comes to getting a decent leader, but I will have a go on this. If I pick two, in the report by the Ministry of Social Development, on page 81, a report showing that during the period 2001-05 there was massive—
David Shearer: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. That was a pretty straight question. I asked whether he was suggesting that he could have an official way of measuring poverty. That was something that he actually mentioned.
Mr SPEAKER: I am not sure that is what the member actually asked. If I remember correctly, it was to do with—I think, in fairness, the Minister did actually answer the question. He has perhaps now gone on for a little long, but what he said was “Not at all.” He did not—what is the correct word I am looking for—he did not resile from the previous statement made, and he was explaining why. But I think he has gone on for sufficiently long.
David Shearer: In the four meetings that the Ministerial Committee on Poverty has held, what decisions have been taken to improve children in hardship?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: I would suggest that the member put that question down to the chairman of the committee. What I can tell you, as a member of Cabinet, is that there are regularly discussions in Cabinet about this particular issue.
David Shearer: Which statement does he stand by: “we have a very targeted system through Working for Families.” or that Working for Families is “communism by stealth … It didn’t work very well for Eastern Europe and it won’t work very well for New Zealand.”?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: Both are true statements.
Hon Peter Dunne: Do the reports that the Prime Minister has seen include any reports suggesting that the imposition of an inefficient and poorly targeted capital gains tax, and the increase in the top tax rate to merely spur further avoidance and evasion opportunities, will do anything to reduce the level of poverty in New Zealand?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: No.
Economic Programme—Economic Growth and Living Standards
2. PAUL GOLDSMITH (National) to the Minister of Finance: What is the Government doing to encourage economic growth and raise New Zealanders’ standard of living?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Acting Minister of Finance): The Government has taken a number of very important steps to support sustainable economic growth based on more savings and exports rather than unsustainable growth based on consumption, debt, and property speculation. Some of those steps include rebalancing the tax system with higher taxes on consumption and property speculation and reducing taxes on work and savings, improving education standards and skills, increasing investment in science and innovation, better incentives to get more New Zealanders off welfare and into work, a multibillion-dollar investment in infrastructure, delivering better public services, reducing Government costs on business, and, last but by no means least, getting the Government’s own finances in order by setting a path back to surplus, which provides a stable macroeconomic environment to assist competitive businesses to have confidence to invest and grow.
Paul Goldsmith: Are we seeing positive signs of growth?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: In the midst of a very deep global downturn we expect volatility and low growth, as we are seeing around the world economies. So against that backdrop I was pleased last week, for example, to see the latest monthly overseas merchandise trade figures showing that in July the value of exported goods rose by 8 percent to $4 billion to help the country record a July trade surplus. Exports to China rose by 39 percent, led by whole-milk powder. Merchandise imports were up by 11 percent over July last year. These are the kinds of figures that help indicate that, volatility month to month notwithstanding, the country is on course to growing a stronger economy. Of course, this follows the March GDP figures, which the Opposition does not want to know about, which showed 1.1 percent growth for the quarter—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Question time should not be an opportunity to make mini-speeches. The Minister’s answers tend to go on a little long. I am sure he will claim he has got lots to talk about. Despite that, this is question time.
Paul Goldsmith: How does economic growth help reduce poverty?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Poverty is reduced in households where adults are in paid work. More than half of the children considered to be living in poverty are in benefit-dependent households. That is why the Government is very focused on economic growth. Growth gives people the confidence to start businesses and grow their businesses, to hire more people, and to pay higher wages. That matters because although issues around persistent poverty are complex and interrelated, what is very clear is that paid employment is the most significant factor in lifting a household out of poverty.
David Shearer: Given that paid employment is so important for reducing poverty, why is it that 40 percent of those people in paid employment are in poverty, and will he agree to lift the minimum wage?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: The member may not know, but it is very difficult—in fact, impossible—for Governments to legislate their way to prosperity. The only way that you grow wages and actually secure opportunities for more jobs is to give businesses the confidence to invest, grow, and actually add jobs themselves. That is actually done by making some decisions that give businesses opportunities in New Zealand in areas like, for example, intensification of agriculture, oil and gas exploration, and, dare I say it, convention centres. All of those things assist to provide the opportunities to grow incomes.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Given his admitted concern that primary sector export growth has been adversely affected by the highly inflated value of the New Zealand dollar, how will the Business Growth Agenda—his third economic strategy in 4 years—address this problem?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Well, I would argue that the Government’s economic approach is addressing the problem, because what we have seen—notwithstanding, as the member has pointed out, pretty high rates against the US dollar in recent times—is very significant growth in exports over the last 4 years. I think, from memory, it is about 5.5 percent goods exports and 4.5 percent in total. That is notwithstanding some of the challenges, where areas like the tourism industry have been hit hard by things such as—
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am asking the Minister to tell me how his Government’s plans intend to address the volatility or the inflated value of the New Zealand dollar, which the Government has admitted. I am not asking about all the rest. How do his plans intend to fix up the volatility of that dollar? That is the direct question.
Mr SPEAKER: I think the member’s point is fair enough. That is what the question asked, and I think the Minister was not really focusing sufficiently on that aspect. The Minister started by saying that he believes that the Government’s policies are addressing that issue, and went on to talk about exports rather than the value of the New Zealand dollar.
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Yes, the point I was making was that, actually, exports were growing, notwithstanding the volatility and highness of the New Zealand dollar. My point to the member would be that, in fact, there are no effective means by which Governments can do that. There are many people who promote options by which they can do that, but for a small and open economy like New Zealand, doing the sorts of things that are advocated by the member and other members of the Opposition would actually, effectively, be a one-way bet against world markets that are much, much faster than New Zealand. I would suggest that a much more productive approach is looking to improve the environment so that competitive businesses can compete and succeed in the world environment that we have today.
Paul Goldsmith: What programmes is the Government undertaking specifically to support the least well-off New Zealanders?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: The Government has worked very hard to maintain support for the most vulnerable New Zealanders during the global financial crisis and, of course, the economic impacts of the Christchurch earthquakes, which are substantial as well. We have maintained indexes of benefits to the Consumers Price Index to maintain their real value, even through the recession.
Similarly, entitlements to Working for Families have been maintained broadly through the recession. We have also strived to improve the quality of publicly funded health services that can assist vulnerable New Zealanders—for example, with initiatives like free after-hours general practitioner care for under-sixes, the increased participation in early childhood education, increased immunisation rates and reducing the incidence of rheumatic fever, and making a major drive to improve house insulation. All of those things are supporting the least well-off New Zealanders.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: How can he be confident that the Government will meet its export growth targets, given that his latest economic strategy—the third announcement in the last 4 years—contains no plan for increasing the value of primary sector exports and no plan to address major skill shortages?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I think the member has misread the document. He will—
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I’ve read it all right.
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: No, he has not read it, because—
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Nothing at all.
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Well, that is because it is one of six documents, and one of the things that is addressed in future ones is primary resources and skills. If he had even read the first page, he would know that. Fundamentally, if you want to see further exports in the primary sector, which the Government is certainly very focused on, we need to achieve some things such as the modification of the resource management framework to speed up decision making—and I look forward to the member’s support on that. We also need further capital investment in our primary sector industries. That comes from domestic capital investment and also international capital investment. I look forward to seeing the member’s support of international capital investment in the New Zealand economy.
Incomes, Household—Changes Measured in Household Economic Surveys
3. Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE (Labour—New Lynn) to the Minister of Finance: What was the change in real equivalised median household income (before housing costs) of New Zealand households from 2009-10 to 2010-11 as measured in the Household Economic Survey in dollar and percentage terms?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Acting Minister of Finance): Over that particular time period real equivalised median household income fell by $900, or 2.7 percent. The report notes that this is a direct result of the global financial crisis and the recession, so it should come as no surprise to members. The measure is quite volatile, and in six of the last 14 observations it has fallen. This means that the long-term trend is very important. Since 1994, for example, real equivalised median household income in New Zealand has increased by 43 percent.
Hon David Cunliffe: In light of the answer the Minister has just given, that median incomes fell by nearly 3 percent in the years in consideration, does he agree with the Prime Minister’s answer to question No. 3 on 28 August that said: “Median income in New Zealand has risen.”; if so, why does he consider a 3 percent drop to be a rise?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I think the point is over what period of time the median household incomes have increased. The member has—[Interruption] No, the member has selected a period from 2009-10 to 2010-11. He has to look back only a couple of years prior to that to see that it has actually grown. But the fundamental point is that there has been a global financial crisis. I know that on “Planet Labour” it did not happen, but out here in the real world it did, and that has undoubtedly had an impact on the growth rate of people’s incomes.
Hon David Cunliffe: In light of the Minister’s reply that it was all a fault of the global financial crisis and the Canterbury earthquake, can he explain to the House why he thinks that the global financial crisis has increased the average and the income of top income earners while decreasing the median and the income of bottom income earners?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: The incidence of the impacts of the global financial crisis has occurred with different effects across the income spectrum. I freely acknowledge that. That is largely because there are fewer jobs in the New Zealand economy, and we all know that, because those numbers have been there and the unemployment rate, as we know, has been at 6.7 percent to 6.8 percent.
Hon David Cunliffe: How about those tax cuts?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Well, actually, tax cuts do not affect people who are on benefits. What affects people on benefits is the opportunity to obtain a job, which means encouraging businesses to have confidence and grow, which means creating opportunities to do so such as intensification of agriculture, gas and oil exploration—all those things that the Opposition shouts down.
Hon David Cunliffe: In light of the answer he has just given, that the tax cuts had no impact on the level of upper income earners, why does he believe that policy changes that gave tax cuts to the top, increased GST on the rest, and cost the country a deficit of an extra $1 billion over 4 years—
Hon Paula Bennett: That’s just factually incorrect.
Hon David Cunliffe: —it is factually correct, Minister—have not impacted negatively on median incomes?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Well, the member makes about four or five propositions that are, frankly, incorrect. He runs a question that is: “Given this, which I believe, given this, which I believe, and given this, which is rubbish, what do you think?”. The answer is this: the tax changes that we made were broadly equivalent across the sector. Yes, some individual elements of them have different effects. [Interruption] They do not want to hear, but it is true.
Hon David Cunliffe: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I do not believe the Minister has addressed himself to the precise nature of that question, which was—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Where members insert what they claim to be fact into question the risk they run is the Minister may dispute them, which the Minister did, and that is perfectly legitimate.
4. BRENDAN HORAN (NZ First) to the Minister of Transport: Does he stand by his statement that “I think the issue about the sleepers is being over beaten-up.”?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE (Minister of Transport): Yes. Safety is KiwiRail’s key priority, and KiwiRail advised me that it would not be running services if safety had been compromised by damaged rail, bridges, tunnels, tracks, or sleepers. KiwiRail has a number of measures in place to manage rail network assets. At the core of this management practice is safety.
Brendan Horan: Have KiwiRail staff been told to replace rotting sleepers with “visually sound” sleepers, given that a report on inspection standards presented by national structure maintenance engineer Graham Boorman stated: “The internal condition of hardwood timber is required to be ascertained by inspection boring.”?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: There are 6 million wooden railway sleepers across the New Zealand railway network. Of those sleepers, 100,000 have been imported from a source that does not meet the Australian hardwood standard, and 7,000 have been found to have some degree of decay. There is a replacement programme. The staff are required to confirm by presumably looking at a number on those sleepers that they are meeting the Australian standard. There is a court case currently going on with the supplier of the 100,000 sleepers that are potentially difficult, and there are only 7,000 of those that are being used across a total of 6 million. Yes, they are being replaced.
Brendan Horan: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I asked whether—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I apologise to the member—
Brendan Horan: If I might repeat the question—
Mr SPEAKER: No, the member will resume his seat for the moment. I apologise to the member, but that kind of interjection when a point of order is being heard is not on, I say on this occasion to the National Party backbench.
Brendan Horan: The question asked whether, given that the ascertaining of the internal condition of hardwood was best done by boring into the wood, he would not then instruct KiwiRail to use this method when inspecting sleepers, instead of the “visually sound” test outlined in internal memos. This is a question of safety—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I am on my feet. The Minister replied by saying that it was not realistic to do drill tests on a million—what was it? I cannot remember—6 million sleepers. So he did answer the member’s question that, in fact, that process was, it seemed from the Minister’s answer, not something the Minister supported. That seemed a reasonable answer to the question.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The question asked simply whether KiwiRail staff had been told to replace rotting sleepers with “visually sound” sleepers. That is the question.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! The member has got a right to raise issues. I invite the right honourable gentleman to check the Hansard, because I am absolutely confident that was not the question. The member went on and inserted a whole lot more information about what was alleged to be in a report. If members want questions answered, keep it succinct to that kind of question. Sadly, his colleague added a whole lot more to the question than that.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. With respect, my colleague asked whether rotting sleepers were being replaced with visually sound sleepers, given that there was a report saying that the sleepers should be test bored before being used. That is simply adding information; it is not asking a second question, a supplementary question, or an additional question. It simply asked: “Was there an order for rotting sleepers to be replaced with visually sound sleepers, given that there was a report saying they should be inspection bored?”. That is pretty clear. He did not add anything else to it. I do not need the Hansard; I have got the question here. It was targeted to make sure it passed even your inspection.
Mr SPEAKER: I apologise to the right honourable gentleman, but I heard the member insert a whole lot more into his question. I could have assisted so much more if the member had asked just a simple question: “Will replacement sleepers be required to be tested by whatever?”. That is a straight question, and I can make sure the Minister, if it is in the public interest, will answer that kind of question. But where a whole lot more stuff is put in, members run the risk of Ministers being able to pick on some of that and dispute it, and that is the end of the matter. I dearly would like to be able to help the member, but I cannot turn the wheel back and say to the Minister: “Look, the member meant to ask this, and therefore I think the Minister should answer that.” I cannot do that. I have got to work with the question actually asked. The member has a further supplementary. If he asks a specific question, I will make sure that he gets an answer.
Brendan Horan: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The first question I asked was asking about the replacement of the rotting sleepers. It was in the point of order that I actually gave the additional information, but the first question was quite succinct.
Mr SPEAKER: As I understand it, the member has two further supplementary questions. I understand what the member is trying to get, and he has two questions to get it. I urge the member to ask the supplementary questions, keep them succinct, and let us get the answer.
Brendan Horan: If public safety is important to the Minister, why is KiwiRail facing a general structures inspection backlog in the South Island, with some sleeper and culvert inspections being many years overdue?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: Largely due to neglect by a previous Government.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Does the Minister believe that ascertaining the internal condition of hardwood used in transport structures is best done by boring into the wood; if so, will he instruct KiwiRail to use this method—
Hon Dr Nick Smith: This is as bad as submarines in Cook Strait.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: And this is the man who got fired from his office.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I apologise—[Interruption] Order! Look, I say to David Bennett that I am on my feet. Members will be silent. The National backbenchers know that if they interject like that, it will lead to disorder, which is not going to be helpful to anyone. I just ask them to please be patient. The member was asking a perfectly fair question, and I want to hear it.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Does the Minister believe that ascertaining the internal condition of hardwood used in transport structures is best done by boring into the wood; if so, will he instruct KiwiRail to use this method when inspecting sleepers, instead of the “visually sound” test outlined in internal memos?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: The first point I make is that there are many engineers who will tell you that boring a hole into a beam is likely to weaken its structure, so I do not think that is a particularly smart idea in every case. Secondly, I would point out that every sleeper laid in New Zealand since the inception of New Zealand railways has been placed as a result of visual inspection. The third point I would make is that there are 6 million sleepers across the network. They are all supposed to meet the Australian hardwood standard; 100,000 do not, and 7,000 of those are already placed and will be replaced because they do not meet that standard.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I seek to table a Queensland Rail internal memo from Graham Boorman, dated 5 April 2012, stating that the boring test should be undertaken, unlike what the Minister has just said.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is no objection. Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
5. JAMI-LEE ROSS (National—Botany) to the Minister of Transport: What recent announcements has the Government made around transport investment?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE (Minister of Transport): Mr Speaker—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I just say to members to please be a little more reasonable on interjections. They have just been too loud today on my left. Please be a little more reasonable.
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: Earlier today I launched the National Land Transport Programme 2012-15, which details $12.28 billion of transport spending over the next 3 years, the largest 3-year transport spending programme in the country’s history. The programme focuses on key areas like economic development, road safety, and reduction of congestion. The Government is committed to making important investments while getting the best value for taxpayers in this big infrastructure spend.
Jami-Lee Ross: How is the Government showing its commitment to public transport?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: The Government is investing over—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I apologise to the Minister. [Interruption] Listen, I am on my feet. [Interruption] Can Ministers, on this occasion, please be restrained. How can I ask the Labour front bench to be interjecting less if I have Ministers carrying on like that? Please, members, be a little more reasonable.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I think it was, but was it not one of the Government members who said: “He’s not as bad as Paul Goldsmith.”?
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I think the House has had its fun.
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: The Government is investing over $1.7 billion in public transport—an increase of 21 percent on the 2009-12 actual spend. This includes spending on new infrastructure like new rolling stock, improvements in ticketing, and real-time systems in urban centres. The Government believes in public transport as an important element in solving congestion problems in major cities.
Jami-Lee Ross: How is the Government investing in local roads?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: Another good-news story here: under the National Land Transport Programme 2012-15, the Government is investing over $4 billion, which is an increase of 14 percent on the 2009-12 actual spend. No roading controlling authority is receiving less funding than its previous allocation. In July 2011 the Government formed the Road Maintenance Task Force to drive value for money and seek opportunities to reduce costs in roading authorities around the country. The interim findings will also help the New Zealand Transport Agency and local authorities to work together to achieve greater efficiencies in tough economic times.
Jami-Lee Ross: How is the Government continuing to invest in State highways, including the roads of national significance?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: This is a particularly good story. The Government is committed to the State highway network, including the roads of national significance programme. It is investing over $5 billion over the next 3 years—7 percent more than in the previous programme. These roads will improve access to our ports and markets, and are linked to our five largest centres of economic activity. The Victoria Park Tunnel, the first of the roads of national significance, was completed in 2012, under the stewardship of the previous Minister of Transport, ahead of schedule and within budget. The Waikato Expressway, the Tauranga Eastern Link, the western ring route, the Wellington Northern Corridor, Pūhoi to Wellsford, and the Christchurch motorways will all be progressed in the next short while.
Phil Twyford: Is it not true that today’s announcements really show that local roads and State highway maintenance continue to be starved to pay for his gold-plated motorway projects, that KiwiRail is being set up to fail, and that now he is having to borrow and raise taxes to make up for his wasteful mismanagement?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: No, it shows that the member asking the question has a very dismal view of the portfolio.
Child Poverty—Prime Minister’s Statements
6. METIRIA TUREI (Co-Leader—Green) to the Prime Minister: Does he stand by his statement “I don’t want to see any New Zealand child in poverty”?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE (Acting Prime Minister): The Prime Minister stands by his full statement, which is: “I don’t want to see any New Zealand child in poverty, and one thing I’m absolutely committed to is making sure they get a decent education, so they can choose their own life, but I think the argument here has to be to move people out of welfare into work.” That was reinforced by the child poverty report yesterday, which says that a parent obtaining full-time paid employment is the most important event to lift a child out of poverty.
Metiria Turei: Why has the Prime Minister scorned the idea of a new child payment, which has been recommended by the Expert Advisory Group on Solutions to Child Poverty as a key way to eliminate child poverty in New Zealand?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: The comments were made because a universal payment does not target those in most need.
Metiria Turei: Does the Prime Minister agree with the household incomes report that shows that universal superannuation has contained poverty for older New Zealanders to just 7 percent, while child poverty is at a high of 21 percent, and that is one in five New Zealand children?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: It makes many, many assertions and the member can pick off bits and pieces of it if she likes, but overall what it says is that the best way to deal with child poverty in New Zealand is to ensure that there are employment opportunities for people who are caregivers or parents. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I want to hear Metiria Turei’s question.
Metiria Turei: Does the Prime Minister agree with Professor Philippa Howden-Chapman, a member of the Expert Advisory Group on Solutions to Child Poverty, that in New Zealand we have
compulsory superannuation for all older people, regardless of their income, and so we should also have universal support for our youngest and most vulnerable children?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: She is correct in what she says about the superannuation system, but what I would say is that when it comes to protecting vulnerable New Zealanders, we have a welfare system that in fact does allocate larger amounts of money to those who are caregivers. But what we can be certain of is that if parents and caregivers have work, you will lessen the prospect of child poverty.
Jacinda Ardern: Does he acknowledge that two out of five children living in poverty are in the homes of families who are in work?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: Yes, and that is why we are placing a huge focus on growing the economy. Our opponents seem to think that people’s income situations can be advantaged by stifling an economy, by saying no to everything that might grow an economy, and that is not going to lift anybody, let alone any child, out of a difficult circumstance.
Metiria Turei: Does the Prime Minister think that the Children’s Commissioner is wrong to conclude that a universal child payment for children aged to 6, and then targeted until age 7, would in fact capture very few wealthy families, but ensure that those kids who are most in need get the help that they do need?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: I do not agree with that statement, and I am surprised that the member can come into this House regularly, criticising the Government for apparently putting in place a tax system that advantages the highest earners, and then make a case for the highest earners to receive a universal child benefit. That does not make sense, and it will not lift a single child out of poverty. What will is supporting economic growth in this country, and it is a shame the member and her party do not wake up and realise that.
Jacinda Ardern: If, as he says, his Government’s focus has been on growing the economy for those in poverty, why has the latest income report shown that those in poverty have stayed in poverty, those in the middle have gone backwards, and those on upper incomes have all improved their economic status?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: Once again, you go to the particular measure that might be used and on two pages of the report, page 81 and page 82, there are conflicting informations about the difference between incomes in New Zealand. What it does show very clearly, though, is that between the years 2000 and 2005 the income disparity in New Zealand, the inequity, was at its widest point. Even though we have had this spike up, due to very, very real circumstances in this country and internationally, we are nowhere near those huge gap levels of the early 2000s to mid- 2000s.
Jacinda Ardern: Can he confirm that the figures he just quoted from were before Working for Families had had its impact in terms of reducing inequality in New Zealand?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: There is no evidence to suggest that Working for Families has been taken away, because it has not. Therefore, any suggestion—[Interruption]—well, it is quite simple. The gap between those income groups were in the years 2000 to 2005. I do not think it is fair to say that the figures in here do not show an effect when, in fact, our opponents will not accept that the figures in here do show the effect of the global financial crisis and the Christchurch earthquakes.
Jacinda Ardern: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I asked specifically about the impact that Working for Families has had on inequality, and on the figures that the Acting Prime Minister was quoting. I have not come away with a clear answer from the Acting Prime Minister. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The Hon Gerry Brownlee, to answer further. [Interruption] Order!
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: Well, in the graph on page 81 that shows the greatest disparities— [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I apologise to the Minister—just one moment. Look, the member asking the question raised a point of order, her question had been answered, and the Minister realised he
did not answer that part of the question. He is now answering it and I believe it is reasonable he should be heard. There is too much noise.
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: On the two graphs that I am talking to, on pages 81 and 82, the greatest disparity is shown in the years 2000 to 2005, under a Labour Government, but on the other graph between those same years the trend line is flat. So that would not support the argument being put forward by the member.
Metiria Turei: Why did the Prime Minister tell reporters yesterday that “the very targeted” Working for Families payments was a better option than a universal child payment when that very targeted in-work tax credit system deliberately excludes the poorest children in this country—those whose parents cannot work?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: There are two things that need to be pointed out there. The first is “in work”, and that is our focus. We want more people who are currently having to live on benefits to be in work. The second point was “can’t find work”. We want people to make themselves workready, and we are prepared to assist them to get work-ready. So let us be very, very clear: if people are working, they need to be given an opportunity to get the benefit of their work. When it comes to people who are not working, it seems strange, but you just do not put benefits up to destroy the prospect of work in the first place.
Metiria Turei: Since the Prime Minister has now rejected a universal child payment in favour of targeted assistance, will he support the Green Party member’s bill that replaces the in-work tax credit with a child payment targeted at the poorest children in New Zealand, those who need it the most; if not, why not?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: The figures here speak for themselves. There are many people in work who need that assistance, so we are not going to take it away. Therefore, we will not support the Green Party bill.
TIM MACINDOE (National—Hamilton West): My question—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Have the members at the back of the House quite finished? Because I want to be able to hear Tim Macindoe.
7. TIM MACINDOE (National—Hamilton West) to the Minister for Social Development: Why is the Government making changes to the welfare system?
Hon PAULA BENNETT (Minister for Social Development): We believe that work is the best path out of poverty—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: I apologise to the Minister. Look, the noise is unreasonable today. The Minister had not even started to say a word and there was a barrage of noise from the Opposition benches, and that is not reasonable. I ask members just to be a little more reasonable— that is all.
Hon PAULA BENNETT: We believe that work is the best pathway out of poverty. That is why more than 88,000 people cancelled their benefit last year to go into work. That does not count those—[Interruption] It is in your own time. But that does not include those who have travelled overseas.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Yes, it does.
Hon PAULA BENNETT: No, it is those who left welfare to go into work—more than 88,000 people. It is well and truly in line with the recent Expert Advisory Group on Solutions to Child Poverty report, which says: “Research indicates that a parent obtaining full-time paid employment is the most important event to lift children out of poverty.” [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Before I go to Tim Macindoe, I say, in fairness, to the Hon Trevor Mallard that the level of interjection is just unreasonable. The continual yelling across the House is not necessary during question time. Interjections can be made, but that is just unreasonable. I call Tim Macindoe. [Interruption] Order! How does that help? Tim Macindoe.
Tim Macindoe: What do we know about—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Look, the House has had a bit of fun today, but it has got totally unreasonable and some members will have an early shower if we do not get this under better control. Let us just take a deep breath and get this under control. We are meant to be grown up.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I think that, seeing as the public are watching this, someone should rush to say that on this side of the House we have a shower in the morning; we do not come here unclean. I cannot speak for the other side over there.
Mr SPEAKER: I think none of this is terribly helpful. We must get on with question time. It is not fair to the public if there is too much noise, because they cannot hear clearly, and that is simply not fair. I ask members to show a little more respect.
Tim Macindoe: What do we know about the outcomes for families and children who are welfare dependent?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: There are people in work who struggle to make ends meet, and there is no doubt about that, but all research indicates that paid work is generally not just good for your bank account but also good for your mental and physical well-being, and that is why this Government has a clear focus on the benefits of work for those who are welfare dependent.
Mr SPEAKER: Question No.—[Interruption] Supplementary question, Tim Macindoe.
Tim Macindoe: I am sorry, Mr Speaker. There was a member opposite in the House and I was offering her a chance. How will an investment approach support the Government’s welfare reforms?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: We currently put 90 percent of our employment assistance funding into the unemployment benefit, yet the expert advisory group highlights that sole parenthood is a major factor of poverty. Surely, then, it makes sense to redirect support where it is needed most, and the investment approach will do that.
Jacinda Ardern: Does she believe that there is a period when a child will be better off with their sole parent at home caring for them; if so, up to what age?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: I have seen research that actually shows indications that in some instances it is for short periods of time, and for other parents it is for different and longer periods of time. So I do not put an actual month or year date on it. I think that it is different for different families, and that they should have that choice.
Child Poverty—Expert Advisory Group Report
8. Su’a WILLIAM SIO (Labour—Māngere) to the Minister for Pacific Island Affairs: Does she agree with the Expert Advisory Group on Solutions to Child Poverty that “For New Zealand to do well, Pasifika children must do well”?
Hon HEKIA PARATA (Minister for Pacific Island Affairs): I do agree with that statement. That is why the National Government is committed to delivering 10 challenging Better Public Services results within the next 3 to 5 years. Many of these targets prioritise Pasifika children and the aiga. For example, 98 percent of children starting school will have participated in quality early childhood education by 2016, 85 percent of all 18-year-olds will have achieved National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA) level 2 or equivalent or better in 2017, and the incidence of rheumatic fever will be reduced by two-thirds to 1.4 cases per 100,000 by June 2017.
Su’a William Sio: Given that on some measures 40 percent of Pasifika children live in poverty, which of the measures put forward by the expert advisory group will she support in order to halve child poverty among the Pacific community?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: A quality education that secures a quality qualification will put all young Pasifika learners on a better pathway. In fact, the draft report says at page 22: “The most important factors in improving Pasifika schooling outcomes is quality teaching practice and professional leadership that connects with Pasifika students, their families, and the wider community. There are initiatives in hand that aim to address Pasifika underachievement: the implementation of national standards in primary schooling, the development of Trades Academies,
a greater range of pathways in secondary education, and the Pasifika Education Plan. We endorse”—says the expert advisory group—“all the Better Public Services Targets for education.”
Su’a William Sio: Does she agree with the expert advisory group that Pasifika children are currently not well served by the New Zealand education system; if so, will she be raising her concerns about current education policies, like increasing early childhood education fees, with the Minister of Education?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: I am concerned that the New Zealand education system has not served Pasifika learners as well as it can and will, and that is why we are investing in not only early childhood education; in Vote Education 2012-13 $47.9 million of equity funding was directed explicitly at the issue of how we raise the level of Pasifika engagement, participation, and retention in early childhood education.
Su’a William Sio: Does she consider it her responsibility to help create job opportunities for Pasifika youth; if so, what opportunities has she created, given that the unemployment rate for Pasifika girls aged 20 years is a staggering 50.3 percent higher than the youth unemployment rate in Italy and just below Greece’s rate?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: I do indeed believe that both in this portfolio as Minister for Pacific Island Affairs and as the Minister of Education I do have a responsibility to contribute to young Pasifika being able to attain employment. The fastest and most sustainable way of doing that is to raise the quality of educational achievement. Both my portfolios are directed at that outcome.
Su’a William Sio: Is she aware that Pasifika households have seen the biggest declines in income since the 1990s, according to the household income report from the Ministry of Social Development; if so, what action, if any, has her ministry taken over the last 4 years to prevent Pasifika households being disproportionately affected by the recession?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: The Ministry of Pacific Island Affairs has been engaged in a number of projects that have been directed to this end. The Pacific Employment Support Services has seen 61 percent of its 434 participants into sustainable employment. The ministry has been involved in the youth skills and development initiatives, working with the churches across New Zealand to secure trades training places—300 of those. It has been involved with the Ministry of Education in revising the Pasifika Education Plan so that we can see 1,100 more Pasifika people achieving NCEA level 2 or an equivalent qualification over the next 5 years, because the most sustainable way of achieving employment for Pasifika learners is for them to have an excellent education.
Su’a William Sio: I seek leave to table unpublished Statistics New Zealand data obtained from the Parliamentary Library for the June 2012 quarter, highlighting significant unemployment for Pasifika youth.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is no objection. Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Health Targets—Increased Immunisation
9. Dr CAM CALDER (National) to the Minister of Health: What progress can he report on immunising young children against common infectious diseases like whooping cough and measles?
Hon TONY RYALL (Minister of Health): The latest quarterly national health targets will be published tomorrow. In 2007 only 67 percent of 2-year-olds were immunised on time against the most common childhood diseases. Tomorrow the figures will show that the country has achieved 93 percent immunisation coverage for 2-year-olds. What is most significant is that the families that achieved the highest immunisation rate were the most well-off families in New Zealand and also the poorest families in New Zealand—both on 94 percent. Pacific Island and Asian children have the highest immunisation rates of all—97 percent and 98 percent. With Māori children at 92 percent fully immunised, there is virtually no gap to the overall rate of 93 percent.
Dr Cam Calder: What further progress does he intend making with immunisation rates?
Hon TONY RYALL: We are now changing the national immunisation target to focus not on 2- year-olds but on 8-month-olds, so that they get their primary immunisations at 6 weeks, 3 months, and 5 months. Younger children are the most vulnerable to these infectious diseases—61 percent of all hospitalisations for whooping cough are, in fact, infants. The new target will ensure that our children are vaccinated earlier and on time. The Government is also making it easier for parents to get their babies immunised at the right time. We have introduced at-birth enrolment, which means that maternity unit staff will be able to notify general practices of a child’s birth before the mother and baby leave the maternity unit.
Child Poverty—Expert Advisory Group Report
10. Hon ANNETTE KING (Labour—Rongotai) to the Minister of Housing: Which of the recommendations on housing from the Expert Advisory Group on Solutions to Child Poverty will he implement?
Hon PHIL HEATLEY (Minister of Housing): I note that the paper contains many proposals that are worthy of serious consideration and that complement many existing initiatives. However, the paper is currently a draft. It has been released for public comment and is not expected to be submitted to the Government until later this year in its final form. I look forward to working with my colleagues in due course on the Government’s response.
Hon Annette King: Does he agree with the Expert Advisory Group on Solutions to Child Poverty that there is a lack of supply of housing, especially in Auckland, leading to overcrowding, temporary housing shortages, and homelessness, which is linked to affordability?
Hon PHIL HEATLEY: Yes, I agree with many aspects of the report. Many of them are not news to me or this Government. They may be news to the Labour Party.
Hon Annette King: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Was that necessary? It was a straight question.
Mr SPEAKER: I think the member’s point is fair enough, that the member did, in fact, ask a very specific question. The Minister said he agreed with many aspects of the report. He did not actually answer as to whether he agreed with that aspect. And as he gave an unnecessary comment at the end, he will now get to his feet and answer the question.
Hon PHIL HEATLEY: I agree with many aspects of the report, and many of the examples in the report, or conclusions that the member read out, I agree with. She raised several about overcrowding, expensive housing in Auckland, and so forth.
Hon Annette King: Does he agree with the Expert Advisory Group on Solutions to Child Poverty that there is a limited stock of community housing and there are policy impediments to its expansion?
Hon PHIL HEATLEY: Yes, and that is why we are working hard with community housing organisations to increase the stock in Auckland and elsewhere across the country. I believe that in the last 3½ years we have jointly funded—that is, a collaborative approach, where we have put up $1 and they have put up $2—about 700 new builds across New Zealand, many of them in Auckland. We are very proud of our relationship with the community housing sector.
Hon Annette King: Does he agree with the Expert Advisory Group on Solutions to Child Poverty that the Government needs to take immediate action to increase the number of social and affordable houses; if so, why, after 4 years as Minister, can he not identify which State houses are in the wrong place, are the wrong size, and are in poor condition?
Hon PHIL HEATLEY: We do agree that we need an increase in social housing across New Zealand. We have said—at least, I have said in the last year or two—that the Housing New Zealand Corporation will contribute to new housing. In fact, we have supplied 2,000 new builds or leased new builds over the last 4 years. However, it is the community housing sector that we see as the area for growth. We are saying that State housing and the Government cannot do it alone. That is
why I am very proud of our record working with the community housing sector to increase the housing supply throughout New Zealand.
Hon Annette King: Why is he unable to identify which State houses are in the wrong place, are the wrong size, and are in poor condition—something that he has been saying for 4 years but is unable to provide in terms of an answer to this House?
Hon PHIL HEATLEY: Well, I will give the House two examples of where houses are in poor condition or they are the wrong size or whatever it is. One is in Farmer Crescent, where we decided to remove those ugly State houses and all the problems that came with them, and the Labour Party opposed us doing that. The other place is in Tāmaki, where we have got 3,000 State houses on quarter-acre or half-acre sections. Interestingly, the Mana Party, the Green Party, and the Labour Party are opposing us fixing up those houses as well. So everywhere we identify old, cold, and mouldy State houses on large sections that are the wrong size, the Labour Party opposes us doing something about it.
Hon Annette King: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am seeking your guidance. I asked this question because I have asked it in a written form, and the Minister said he is unable to provide me with the information as to where State houses are in the wrong place, of the wrong size, and in poor condition. But today he has started to provide some answers—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! No, the member is now debating the Minister’s answer. I mean, I cannot be party to all that information. The Minister did answer the question asked. The member asked why he could not identify certain things, and the Minister explained what happened when the Government did identify certain things and why it was difficult. It was an answer to the question.
State Housing—Number of Houses Insulated
11. MELISSA LEE (National) to the Minister of Housing: How many State houses have been made warmer and drier under this Government?
Hon PHIL HEATLEY (Minister of Housing): Over the last 3½ years the Government has taken improving the condition of the State housing stock and the living conditions of our tenants very seriously. Over 19,000 State houses have been identified and found, and then they have been insulated in that time. Over 9,000 houses received a new form of heating. Altogether we have invested over $75 million on energy-efficiency retrofits and heating upgrades. We have got just under 8,000 houses to go. We hope to have those insulated by the end of next year.
Melissa Lee: What other improvements have been made to the State housing stock under this Government?
Hon PHIL HEATLEY: The Government has invested over $300 million on upgrading State housing stock so that thousands more of our tenants are living in houses that are fit for purpose. In addition, we have also spent over $600 million on acquiring over 2,000 new State houses—new builds or new-build leases—in the right place, of the right size, and of good quality. We are partnering with the community housing sector and have co-funded projects that will result in 700 new houses. We have spent, on average, over $200 million a year on maintenance, compared with $133 million a year under the previous Labour Government.
Melissa Lee: What other initiatives has the Government taken to support the provision of housing for those most in need?
Hon PHIL HEATLEY: Recently, over $37 million allocated in the 2011-12 Budget for social housing projects by community housing organisations was handed over. This will result in 250 new houses for affordable rental and homeownership across the country. A further $104 million is appropriated over the next 3 years. The Government is also looking at opportunities to use Crown land or State housing stock to grow the community housing sector.
Agricultural Biotechnology International Conference 2012—Cost to Government
12. STEFFAN BROWNING (Green) to the Minister of Science and Innovation: What is the cost of the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment acting as a founding partner of the 2012 Agricultural Biotechnology International Conference; and what is the total cost of all Government sponsorship of this conference?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister of Science and Innovation): I am advised that the cost to the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment is $100,000. I am further advised that a number of Crown research institutes are also sponsors of the conference, but given that Crown research institutes are only partly Government funded, it is not possible to quantify the Government funding used by Crown research institutes to sponsor the conference as well. The goal of the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment’s funding of the conference is to promote New Zealand’s expertise in agriculture, innovation, science, and technology, which helps our credibility and reputation in the global market place. One of the ministry’s key roles is to facilitate connections between scientists and users, and an international conference of this scope is an excellent way to showcase New Zealand’s research and development capabilities and advances to a global audience.
Steffan Browning: Is the fact that the Government is sponsoring this conference financially an endorsement that genetically modifying crops is the right direction for the New Zealand economy, despite the risk of this approach to our clean, green advantage?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: No, the Government’s role in sponsoring this conference and what it is seeking to achieve is to bring a world-quality agricultural biotechnology conference to New Zealand to discuss a whole range of agricultural technology issues.
Steffan Browning: What economic return, if any, has the Government seen from its investment of tens of millions of dollars in genetically engineered pasture plants?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I do not have that particular matter to hand, but what I can tell the member is that, in a broader sense, New Zealand’s investment in agricultural technology has been absolutely fundamental to our economic success over decades and decades.
Steffan Browning: I seek leave to table a report by the Sustainability Council that shows that tens of millions of dollars of Government money has been spent on GE pasture plants, with no return.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is objection.
Steffan Browning: Is he concerned that the New Zealand Crown research institutes sponsoring this conference have all seriously breached their GE field trial approval conditions?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: No, I am not aware that that is the case, but I am concerned that the Crown research institutes periodically get attacked at their GE facilities. For example, recently, I think $100,000 worth of crops were damaged at a Scion facility by Wild Greens activists. I think that is a difficulty because that actually does create risks.
Steffan Browning: I seek leave to table the 2009 Plant and Food Research report prepared by Biosecurity New Zealand that shows that Plant and Food Research breached its own GE field trial conditions.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is no objection. Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Steffan Browning: I seek leave to table the University of Canterbury’s 2011 report that shows that AgResearch breached its GE field trial monitoring requirements.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection?
Hon Gerry Brownlee: It is publicly available.
Mr SPEAKER: Well, members can object. Is there any objection? There is objection.
Steffan Browning: I seek leave to table the 2008 Biosecurity New Zealand report that shows that Scion has breached its GE field trial conditions.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is objection.