Questions and Answers - November 19
QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS
State-owned Assets, Sales—Completion of Programme
1. Dr RUSSEL NORMAN (Co-Leader—Green) to the Minister of Finance: Why has he announced that the Government plans to end its asset sales programme given that he claims it has been a success?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): I merely pointed out that the Government’s only plan is the share offer programme set out in January 2011, on which we campaigned all of election year—and the Government actually won that election; not the Opposition, as it alleged the other day. If there were any further share sales we would be transparent about it and campaign on it. The programme is a success because we have met the objectives we set 3 years ago in the sales that we have executed so far, with another one to be completed today or tomorrow.
Dr Russel Norman: Can he categorically rule out selling Kiwibank at any point in the future, given that when he was asked in 2008 whether he wants to sell Kiwibank, his answer was: “Eventually, but not now.”?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: That, I understand, was a tape recording, which, by the admission of the person who recorded it, was doctored. I can give the member that categorical assurance.
Dr Russel Norman: Can he categorically rule out selling the $1.3 billion Landcorp at any point in the future, given that it was National Party policy to sell Landcorp in the 2005 election campaign, when the current Prime Minister was National’s finance spokesperson?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The Government is actually selling bits of Landcorp all the time. The member may not be aware of it but the point of Landcorp was to preserve lands and survey farms for the purposes of Treaty settlements. As Treaty settlements are executed, the Government is involved in selling bunches of five, six farms. I know that offends the Greens deeply because they think the Government should own all the farms and then shut them down, but, actually, we want to get on with Treaty settlements. Landcorp is buying and leasing farms as well.
Dr Russel Norman: Given that that was a no, can he categorically rule out selling the remaining 51 percent—
Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: Point of order, Dr Gerry Brownlee—Gerry Brownlee.
Grant Robertson: Dr Gerry Brownlee!
Hon Member: That’s impossible.
Mr SPEAKER: That is probably true. The Hon Gerry Brownlee.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: I am not surprised that you would make that mistake, Mr Speaker. Can I just ask you to consider whether it is appropriate for someone asking a question to start with the words: “Given that is a no,”? That is not acceptable and Mr Norman needs to be held to account.
Mr SPEAKER: It is certainly not a useful way to start a question because in actual fact, it was not factual, given the answer the Minister gave. But in this case, if the member could just ask a supplementary question he would assist the order of the House.
Dr Russel Norman: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Can I take it from your intervention that you have interpreted the Minister’s answer as a yes?
Mr SPEAKER: I certainly interpreted the answer as a satisfactory answer to the question that the member gave. If the member wants to continue asking supplementary questions on this question, then we will do so, but if not, we will move to question No. 2.
Dr Russel Norman: Can the Minister categorically rule out selling at any point in the future the remaining 51 percent of the electricity companies that remain in public ownership given that partial privatisation was a stepping stone to full privatisation for the Bank of New Zealand in the 1990s?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Yes, I can give the member that assurance, and I pleased that he has now realised that these companies are 51 percent owned by the Government. I hope he will inform all of those who want to vote in his referendum that that is the case, because those who have listened to him so far think that these companies have been 100 percent sold when they have not.
Dr Russel Norman: Can he categorically rule out privatising ACC at any point in the future, given that it was a previous National Government that privatised ACC in the past?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Yes, I can do that, but I am very pleased with the performance of our ACC Ministers, Nick Smith and Judith Collins, who have overseen a remarkable turn-round in the performance of that organisation, after it was left in a complete mess by the previous Government.
Dr Russel Norman: In light of the Minister’s previous comments in support of Kiwibank, in light of the fact that it has been National Party policy previously to sell Landcorp, and in light of the fact that a previous National Government did privatise the ACC, is it not true that the National Party wants to sell assets but that it is public pressure that prevents it from doing so?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: No, what is true is that when the National Party sets out to execute a policy that is challenging for the public, we make it quite transparent what we are going to do if we are elected, and we give the voters the chance to cast their votes knowing that those policies have been proposed. I would invite that member to set out just as transparently, and in detail before the election, the impact of his climate change policy on household costs so that voters have the chance to look at that.
Dr Russel Norman: How can members of the public express their opposition to the Government’s asset sales programme?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: They take the opportunity, I am sure, sometimes to address that directly to MPs. They had the opportunity in the 2011 election to weigh up the significance of that policy versus others, and if they followed the direction of the member, they knew that the 2011 election was a referendum on asset sales. As I recall it, under the rules of our democracy the National Party and its supporters won that election. In fact, the Opposition did not win the election, as that member claimed last week.
Dr Russel Norman: Is public pressure the only thing that will stop National privatising more assets, given its intent from the past; and given that public pressure can be expressed first by voting “No” to asset sales in the upcoming referendum, is that a perfect way for the public to have their views expressed?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The member is now scraping around for a reason to try to make his referendum look relevant, when, of course, it never was because the Government had a mandate, and it got that mandate because it announced its policy 11 months ahead of an election, campaigned on it in detail, and debated it with the Opposition. One of the results of that was that the National Party received the highest-ever single party vote under MMP. So we proceeded with that plan, it is almost finished, and the member can do what he likes with his referendum.
Question No. 2 to Minister
GRANT ROBERTSON (Labour—Wellington Central): I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I raise it under Speaker’s ruling 152/1. Question No. 2 was originally set down for the Prime Minister and it asked whether he stood by a particular statement that he had made. The Government has chosen to transfer that to the Attorney-General. Under Speaker’s ruling 152/1 and also Speakers’ ruling 151/5, which would allow you to potentially not allow the transfer of a question, the practice of the Government when we ask questions about specific statements that have been made, in this case by the Prime Minister—to transfer that to the Attorney-General, I do believe, breaches these Speakers’ rulings, because how Mr Finlayson would be able to read the mind of the Prime Minister in this case, I do not know. I would ask under what circumstances you would be prepared to intervene in a situation such as this, when a question is about whether a particular Minister, in this case the Prime Minister, stands by the statement, and that is why we put the question down to the Prime Minister.
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE (Leader of the House): Can I suggest that if the member had watched the news for perhaps just the first few minutes of the last number of days, he would have realised that there was always going to be a question about who might be answering this particular question. It does raise the issue of, if it was so specific to a Minister, why in this circumstance it was asked of that Minister, given the knowledge that the Opposition had about the ability of that Minister to answer today.
GRANT ROBERTSON (Labour—Wellington Central): That is all very well, and I did watch the news, at least until the first ad break, and I did notice that the Prime Minister was not here. That is, of course, irrelevant in this House because Mr English is the Acting Prime Minister and speaks for the Prime Minister. We wanted to know whether the Prime Minister stood by his statement.
Mr SPEAKER: Can I address the last part of the first point of order the member raised: in what circumstances I would not consider accepting a transfer. That would be a circumstance where I saw it was an attempt by the Government to not give an answer to this House as required. In this particular case I am aware of a discussion that took place with the Office of the Clerk. The essence of the question is what is important, and the essence of the question is: the Government believes there is no cause of action to further consider compensation. xxxfo In that regard the Government speaks with one voice, and on this occasion I think the Government has a perfect right, in line with the Speaker’s ruling to which the member refers, Speaker’s ruling 152/1, to make that transfer. So the question has been transferred, and now the Hon David Cunliffe can indeed ask the question.
Pike River Mine Disaster—Compensation
Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE (Leader of the Opposition): My question is to the Attorney-General: has he been advised whether the Prime Minister stands by his statement that “the Government believes”—[Interruption]—“there is no cause of action” to help contribute to the compensation for the Pike River families?
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Can I just ask security—[Interruption] We will just wait for a minute while security deals with this. A disturbance took place in the gallery, and members of the public were removed.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Can I just remind the media that there are some rules around the filming of that particular incident. I am happy to talk to the media after the event.
2. Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE (Leader of the Opposition) to the Attorney-General: Has he been advised whether the Prime Minister stands by his statement that “the Government believes there is no cause of action” to help contribute to the compensation for the Pike River families?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON (Attorney-General): Yes, and yes. The Prime Minister stands by his statement when it is read in full and in context.
Hon David Cunliffe: Why, when the court has awarded compensation against Pike River Coal Ltd and the Department of Labour was found sufficiently at fault for its Minister to resign, has the Government decided to take no action to either compensate or enforce compensation for the families?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: There are two parts to that question. The first is whether or not there is a legal obligation on the part of the Crown for the company that the member refers to. There is not. Then there is a second part to the question about the Department of Labour. The Government is very aware of its obligations to these families on today, of all days, which is why it has an ACC scheme to ensure that people are compensated. We have worked closely with the families over the past few years to try to help them through this dreadful time.
Hon David Cunliffe: Why is the Minister hiding behind generalities like ACC when the Pike River partners are without husbands, children are without fathers, and families are without compensation, and does he agree with the Minister of Labour, Simon Bridges, that Cabinet considered whether it had further moral obligations but decided that it did not?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: The Government is fully aware of its obligations to these families. We are not hiding behind the ACC scheme at all. The issue is whether or not the Government has a legal obligation to pay compensation or damages, and that is the issue. The member himself, in his press conference, has admitted as much, because he said he would make an ex gratia payment without any admission of liability. There are two different things here.
Hon David Cunliffe: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. First of all, to the best of my knowledge, I did not use the phrase “ex gratia”, but if the Minister would care—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Order! That is not a point of order; that is a debating matter.
Hon David Cunliffe: I seek leave to table the report of the Royal Commission on the Pike River Coal Mine Tragedy, in which it concludes that the Department of Labour was at fault—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! That document has been made available to all members of Parliament.
3. TIM MACINDOE (National—Hamilton West) to the Minister of Finance: What progress is the Government making in building a more competitive and productive economy that supports more jobs and higher incomes for New Zealanders?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): The Government is making good progress. A more productive economy will be able to support higher wages for New Zealanders. Yesterday Minister Steven Joyce and I issued the 2013 progress report for the Government’s Business Growth Agenda. This covers around 350 initiatives across capital markets, innovation, skilled and safe workplaces, natural resources, infrastructure, and export markets. It is all focused on creating the conditions for business to invest another dollar and employ another person for jobs and growth, and for the regions to take advantage of the enormous opportunities available to them. I would recommend that the Opposition reads the update to observe the significant progress the Government has made across a broad range of economic policy.
Tim Macindoe: How many of the Business Growth Agenda initiatives have been completed?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: There are a large number of initiatives because there is not one significant or even half a dozen significant policies that would transform this economy. Nearly half of the 350 initiatives have now been completed, and 120 more are in the implementation phase. So, for example, 23 of the 55 export market initiatives have been completed. They include the first phase of the New Zealand Story, improving New Zealand firms’ access to international markets, and a range of initiatives to increase value from tourism and from our international education sector. Work has already begun to identify future priorities for the Business Growth Agenda—
Rt Hon Winston Peters: What’s No. 7? What’s No. 8? All bulldust.
Hon BILL ENGLISH:—and that member would be welcome to contribute.
Tim Macindoe: According to the progress report issued this week, what other progress is the Government making across the Business Growth Agenda?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: There are so many things to pick from. We remain on track for surplus in 2014-15. The Government has completed two Government share offers and a third is under way, putting billions of dollars into the Future Investment Fund for investing in new public assets— money that we have sourced mainly from New Zealand investors, rather than the preferred option for the Opposition, which is foreign bankers. We have established Callaghan Innovation and made $566 million in research and development grants available over 4 years. And we have announced the 10 National Science Challenges, which have fully engaged the interests of the scientific community. There are dozens more initiatives, but I do not have time to go through them.
Tim Macindoe: How is—
Grant Robertson: They’re so riveting!
Tim Macindoe: Very good indeed. I am glad the member is enjoying them. How is progress with the Business Growth Agenda being reflected in the recent Economic Indicators?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Reasonably well, and I think rather better than the Opposition would have hoped. Economic growth is gaining momentum and we have one of the fastest-growing developed economies in the world, probably in the top half-dozen. Unemployment is falling, 53,000 new jobs were created in the past year, and wages and household incomes are growing moderately. We are particularly pleased with how well the regions have done, leading New Zealand out of the recession. Most regions have stronger growth and lower unemployment than, for instance, our larger metropolitan area of Auckland.
Dr David Clark: Does he believe that a more competitive and productive economy would result from destroying a proven animal productivity innovation hub surrounding Invermay, Dunedin?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: As the member will know, the relevant research community—that is, the scientists who provide, and have done for many years, the high levels of research and development for the agricultural industry—has been through a process to try to decide how to do a better job of what it does. Part of the task was for that research community to explain, particularly to the rural community, including those in my electorate, just what the benefits of the changes at Invermay would be. I am sure that that will be a fruitful discussion.
Dr David Clark: I seek leave to table the most recent report, which the Otago Daily Times said blew the business case—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! If that is a newspaper clipping—
Dr David Clark: No, no, the independent report.
Mr SPEAKER: Is it in the public arena?
Dr David Clark: It is not, as far as I am aware.
Mr SPEAKER: It is not. On that basis I will take the member’s word for it and I will put the leave. Leave is sought to table that particular document. Is there any objection? Yes, there is.
4. Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does he stand by all his statements?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Acting Prime Minister): Yes.
Hon David Cunliffe: Does he stand by his statement that “the Government believes there is no cause of action” to help compensate the Pike River families?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I stand by the full statement in the context in which it was made.
Hon David Cunliffe: Why will his Government not pursue the parent shareholder of Pike River, New Zealand Oil and Gas, which has received $42 million in insurance payouts since the company incurred the disaster and which has a moral obligation to contribute to the compensation of the Pike River families?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The Government has no legal means of doing so. There may be extralegal means, and that might be what the member should explain, because he, as I understand it, has announced that he will pursue the company if he is in Government. He needs to explain just on what basis he would do that.
Hon David Cunliffe: Is the Prime Minister aware of whether ACC and the New Zealand Superannuation Fund were among the New Zealand Oil and Gas shareholders who voted against paying compensation?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: No, I am not aware of how they may or may not have voted on that matter.
Hon David Cunliffe: I might be able to help the Acting Prime Minister. Given that 99 percent of the shareholders of New Zealand Oil and Gas voted against paying compensation, and given that ACC owns 6 percent of it and the New Zealand Superannuation Fund owns 1.2 percent of it, has he been able to work out whether they voted for or against compensation, or perhaps he could ask them whether they voted for or against compensation?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I would want to look into the facts of the matter, rather than rely on the member’s assertions.
Hon David Cunliffe: Why, when Solid Energy has been paid $1.2 million of the insurance money when none was paid out to the families, has the Prime Minister taken no action in respect of Solid Energy, which the Crown owns?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I am not exactly sure what connection the member is trying to draw there. I think that we need to keep in mind here that in the case of Pike River, we have seen a real tragedy that has created real suffering for those families. I think that every member of Parliament would find that week to week they are also dealing with families who have suffered real tragedy, although not in such large numbers. The question the member is opening up is the obligation of the Crown to deal with all of those cases in the way he is suggesting we should deal with Pike River.
Hon David Cunliffe: Given that, in this particular case, 29 miners are dead, a royal commission has found that one of his ministries is partially culpable for failing to close the mine, the Minister responsible has resigned, a court has ordered compensation, the parent of the company now in receivership has refused to pay that compensation, two Crown entities that are ultimately answerable to him through their boards have voted against the parent company paying compensation, and yet another Crown entity has received insurance payouts and refused to contribute a cent, has the Government honoured all of its moral obligations to the Pike River families?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The answer to that question is yes, in the same way—
Hon David Cunliffe: Shame!
Hon BILL ENGLISH: —listen—that the Government honours its obligations to every single family in New Zealand who suffers from a death in the workplace, or from a death by accident, or from lifelong disability. Any Government has to keep in mind the hidden, as well as the high profile, tragedies.
Hon David Cunliffe: Why did the Prime Minister say last Thursday that no immediate sale of Air New Zealand shares was planned and that he had not received any advice on the sale, when he must have known that the sale process was going to begin in less than 24 hours?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: He said it because it was correct. The decision that Air New Zealand would be sold at some stage had actually been signalled 3 years ago—almost 3 years ago—and the final decision to proceed with the transaction was made on Friday last week.0
Hon David Cunliffe: Is the Prime Minister aware that a day before that statement, the Australian Financial Review and the New Zealand Herald were carrying initial reports of the imminent sale of the airline, and why does he think it is fair that the so-called Kiwi mum and dad investors were kept in the dark by their own Prime Minister until Sunday, while at the same time
insiders, sharebrokers, and institutions were being told the opposite as early as the Wednesday prior?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The member is simply wrong. [Interruption] Well, he is. There is a complex set of rules, passed by this Parliament just recently, that govern the procedure around this sort of sale. The Government has stuck to it, and the member’s allegations about the Prime Minister misleading people are simply wrong.
Immigration New Zealand—Performance
5. Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First) to the Minister of Immigration: What concerns, if any, does he have regarding the operation of Immigration New Zealand?
Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE (Minister of Immigration): I am constantly concerned to ensure that the operation of Immigration New Zealand contributes to fair, timely, and consistent decision-making across its global network, and I am pleased to report that that vigilance is paying off. Despite significant increases in demand, there have been material improvements in all measures of those things when compared with the previous Government, with whom that member’s party had a confidence and supply agreement.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Which part of that answer was relevant?
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Is this a supplementary question?
Rt Hon Winston Peters: A supplementary question. Well, apparently anything goes now—but supplementary question. When did he first, as Minister of Immigration, become aware of Iraqi national Mr Abu Tarek—real name, Hakim Salga—issuing false documentation to smuggle people into New Zealand?
Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE: There is absolutely no evidence that that is the case. What I have become aware of is that one reporter has spoken to another reporter, who claims to have spoken to a people smuggler, who claims to be making outrageous claims about the opportunities to emigrate to New Zealand. I can reassure the House and that member that there is absolutely no evidence of the veracity of any of those claims.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: In respect of the Australian journalist and the team who tracked this man for 2 months, is the Minister saying that all the evidence they got that led them to produce a report on people-smuggling into this country—because we are a soft touch—is not true?
Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE: I am saying two things. Firstly, people-smugglers are not only heinous criminals but they are liars. Secondly, we have, in association with the Customs Service and immigration officials, very, very good border protection processes, which mean that people cannot simply board a plane and claim asylum at the border. In fact, I can report that in the last 3 months there has not been a single Lebanese national who has done so. Probably in the region of four or five jumbo jets worth of people have been declined boarding on to the plane as a consequence of those processes, so I am confident that it is nothing more than a heinous lie.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Well, then, if Abu Tarek—real name Hakim Salga—is a liar, why did he call him a people-smuggler?
Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE: Well, because he is, but he may well also be a peoplesmuggler. What I am confident of at this stage, on the very good information made available by the Customs Service and Immigration New Zealand, is that the claims that were made on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s Four Corners show last night—which, I hasten to add, mentioned New Zealand only once in the 45-minute show—are not correct. We are vigilant and we are continuing to monitor the situation, but I am satisfied that our borders are safe.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: If the Minister is proven on this issue to be wrong, will he resign?
Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE: I stand by every single statement I have made. I can reassure the House that if there are errors in process, they will be quickly remedied. But there is no evidence that that is the case.
Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The core part of that question is simply this: if the Minister is proven to be wrong on this issue, will he resign?
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The question was heard by not only the Minister but the members. The Minister can answer, and I will address whether he addresses the question. Does the Minister wish to conclude his answer?
Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE: No, I have answered the question.
Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Your ruling was that if he completes his question, you could make a judgement on it then. I asked him whether, if he is proven to be wrong as Minister, he will resign. It is a clear enough question.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The question was very clear; there is no doubt about that. It has now been repeated three times. The Minister was giving an answer and it was interrupted, so I did not hear the last part of the Minister’s answer. I asked the Minister whether he wanted to complete his answer. He said he did not, so the matter rests there if the Minister does not want to complete his answer.
Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. With respect, it does not rest there because my contention was that he was not answering the question. Your response was that he had not had a chance to finish it. Now, when you gave him a chance to finish it, he no longer wished to answer the question, suggesting that I was right.
Mr SPEAKER: The essence of the complication here is that the member, in asking the question, wants a categoric yes or no answer. He cannot insist on that, and there are consistent Speakers’ rulings that say that.
Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I want to be fair to the member. Can I just clarify now—I have ruled on that matter. If the member wants to raise a fresh point of order, he is quite entitled to do so, but to now continue to relitigate a decision that I have made will only bring this House into disorder.
Hon Winston Peters: With respect, Mr Speaker, I do not believe—
Mr SPEAKER: Is this a fresh point of order?
Hon Winston Peters: It is. I do not think that such a procedure is seen out there by the public to bring anything into disorder. They would like to know the answer as much as the House and I do. My real point is—
John Hayes: So that wasn’t a real one?
Rt Hon Winston Peters: No, it is my real new point. For the slow-witted, it is my real new point.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member will now resume his seat. This matter has now gone on for long enough. I asked the member whether he was raising a fresh point of order. All he has done is relitigate an answer whereby he wanted a clear yes or no answer. The Speakers’ rulings are quite consistent. He cannot do that. If the member rises to his feet to relitigate again, I will have no choice, sadly, but to ask the member to leave the Chamber.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I will be back tomorrow with a better one.
Mr SPEAKER: And the member is welcome to come back tomorrow with a better one.
Schools, Christchurch—Building and Redevelopment Projects
6. NICKY WAGNER (National—Christchurch Central) to the Minister of Education: What recent announcement has she made on the single largest investment in education infrastructure in Christchurch?
Hon HEKIA PARATA (Minister of Education): Tēnā koe, Mr Speaker. Last week the Minister for Canterbury Earthquake Recovery and I announced that 80 percent of classrooms across Greater Christchurch will be modernised within 10 years, changing the way teachers teach and children learn. The Christchurch earthquakes had the biggest impact ever on educational infrastructure in New Zealand. The damage sustained demanded a significant response and a serious
investment. This Government is investing over $1 billion in a 10-year programme to provide modern learning environments for the children and young people of Greater Christchurch.
Nicky Wagner: Why has the Government opted to spend $1.137 billion rather than just repair existing facilities at a lower cost?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: The Government looked at a range of options for education renewal, and it chose the most comprehensive option requiring the biggest investment because it will generate the greatest lift in educational achievement.
Nicky Wagner: What other educational issues confront Christchurch?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: The issues that confront Christchurch are those that confront New Zealand as a whole. Although our education system is top-performing for many, it is not for all. This Government is focused on raising achievement for the children and young people of Christchurch and across the entire country. To achieve this, the Government has been investing in, and delivering on, a plan to better engage with parents, report on achievement data, value and strengthen the teaching profession, and support 21st century learning environments. The delivery of safe and inspiring, modern and connected learning environments will support a lift in student engagement and drive up achievement levels across Greater Christchurch.
Chris Hipkins: How much of the over $1 billion announced last week will come from money the schools were already due to receive in the form of regular property funding, leaky buildings remediation, and insurance payouts?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: It is no secret that the $1 billion investment includes Government moneys appropriated for property, it includes an insurance payout, and it will include new money.
Chris Hipkins: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: I just invite the member to repeat his question.
Chris Hipkins: Thank you, Mr Speaker. How much of the over $1 billion announced last week will come from money the schools were already due to receive in the form of regular property funding, leaky buildings remediation, and insurance payouts?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: I cannot give you that absolute detail, because we do not yet have the insurance payout and because those other matters are still being factored in. The fact is that the Christchurch community is getting over $1 billion invested, which will modernise 80 percent of classrooms in that education network.
Housing, Affordable—Advice Received on Reserve Bank Intervention
7. PHIL TWYFORD (Labour—Te Atatū) on behalf of Hon DAVID PARKER (Labour) to the Minister of Finance: Was he advised prior to signing the Reserve Bank Memorandum of Understanding that LVR restrictions would disproportionally affect first-home buyers and that regional exemptions would not apply?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): In answer to the member’s question, no, because the discussion prior to signing the memorandum was not a discussion of that nature. The memorandum of understanding gives effect to the macro-prudential tools for the purposes of financial stability. It covers the four tools that were discussed: adjustments to core funding ratios, the counter-cyclical capital buffer, adjustments to sectoral capital requirements, and quantitative restrictions on the share of high loan-to-value ratio loans on residential property. As part of the consultation process required by the memorandum, when a tool is being considered for use by the bank, the Government is subsequently advised of a range of effects of loan-to-value ratio restrictions.
Phil Twyford: Given that the Reserve Bank said last week that if it were to implement exemptions for new builds to loan-to-value ratio limits, it could turn to the memorandum of understanding that it has with the Government, why did he not ask the Reserve Bank or Treasury to conduct analysis on the effect of loan-to-value ratios on young first-home buyers or the regions before negotiating and signing off the memorandum of understanding?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Because that was not the purpose of the memorandum. The purpose of it was to do what the Opposition, I think, was actually arguing for a couple of years ago, and that was to provide a framework for the use of macro-prudential tools. The member still misrepresents or misunderstands the role of the Reserve Bank. Regardless of what advice we took—and we did take advice—on the impact of loan-to-value ratio restrictions, the decision maker is the Governor of the Reserve Bank.
Phil Twyford: Does he agree that the fact that the Reserve Bank Governor is now suggesting that new builds might be exempted from loan-to-value ratios shows that the loan-to-value ratio policy was rushed out untested because his Government had done nothing on housing in 5 years?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: No, and, again, the question shows that the member is not really watching his portfolio area. The Government initiated the first Productivity Commission Inquiry into Housing Affordability, which produced advice that we should concentrate on getting a faster supply of more houses on the ground more quickly. I would note that in recent reports from Australia, which is a country that has a capital gains tax, no loan-to-value ratio restrictions, and a restriction on foreign buyers, it now has record low participation by first-home buyers in its market, as reported in the last couple of days. That tells us that first-home buyers in Australia and New Zealand both face the same challenge, and that is that the houses are just too expensive relative to their incomes, and it tells us that we need to free up the supply of housing to get those ratios down.
Phil Twyford: Does it not speak volumes that his Government’s 5 years of inaction in housing has brought about loan-to-value ratio restrictions, a policy that disproportionately impacts on firsthome buyers, the young, and the regions, while he opposes a capital gains tax that disproportionately affects rich multimillion-dollar property speculators?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: No. The Government is actually very proud of the action it has taken on housing because of the contrast to the housing market it inherited, where first-home mortgage rates were 10 percent—they are currently just over 5 percent—where house prices had doubled, and where we had become one of the least affordable housing markets in the developed world. That is what happened under Labour. We are very pleased to have the opportunity to fix those problems.
Kanwaljit Singh Bakshi: What steps has the Government taken to support first-home buyers?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The Government has moved to ensure that, within the restrictions the Reserve Bank put in place, first-home buyers will get more choices. The Government has increased the number of Welcome Home Loans, which means an additional 1,600 first-home buyers will get priority from banks. The Government changed the criteria for accessing the subsidy from KiwiSaver, which means that first-home buyers have the opportunity to pull together a bigger deposit. In the longer term we have moved to cut red tape through the Resource Management Act and local government reforms, and we have moved to lower the costs of construction, increase land availability, and sign up accords, particularly with the council of our largest market, Auckland, which has agreed with the Government that we should aim for 39,000 new houses in the market over the next 3 years. Just a few weeks ago the Minister of Housing announced the first batch of special housing areas, bringing 6,000 new homes to the Auckland market.
Oil and Gas Exploration—Risk Management for Deep-sea Drilling
8. GARETH HUGHES (Green) to the Minister of Energy and Resources: Does he stand by the Prime Minister’s statement that, “the reality is that there’s been 50,000 wells drilled in the Gulf of Mexico since the 1960s and they’ve had a problem with one of them.”?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE (Leader of the House) on behalf of the Minister of Energy and
Resources: In the context in which it was said, which was in response to Greenpeace’s report last month on worst-case oil spill scenarios, yes.
Gareth Hughes: Is the Minister now aware that there have been 74 spills from deep-sea wells in the Gulf of Mexico, releasing greater than seven tonnes of oil—that is one in every 30 deep-sea wells—and would he call that a problem?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: I am not in a position to confirm that.
Gareth Hughes: Is the Minister going to adopt the Vladimir Putin approach and arrest the New Zealanders in the oil-free seas flotilla, who are standing up for a clean, green environment safe from the risk of those one in 30 deep-sea wells spilling?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: No. It was an interesting analogy that the member decided to use. I would simply like to note, then, that that flotilla is out there powered by dirty diesel-guzzling engines. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! A supplementary question has been called. Gareth Hughes.
Gareth Hughes: I think the Minister will find that they are yachts. My question to the Minister: as of—[Interruption] Can I continue my question?
Mr SPEAKER: The member does not help himself when I call the House to order, I give him a chance to ask a supplementary question, and he makes an interjection. I will now ask the member to ask his supplementary question.
Gareth Hughes: Thank you. As of now, have any enforcement agency personnel, such as the navy or police, been sent to the vicinity of Anadarko’s drill ship to enforce the exclusion zone enacted by the Minister of Energy and Resources?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: I am unable to answer that question.
Gareth Hughes: Why did the Minister limit the civil liberties of New Zealanders in order to protect the interests of Anadarko, which is partially responsible for the worst oil disaster in the world?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: Firstly, that question is loaded with speculation at its end. Secondly, what I would say is that the enforcement arrangements are about the protection of New Zealanders’ rights.
Health Services—Elective Surgery
9. Hon ANNETTE KING (Labour—Rongotai) to the Minister of Health: How many patients in the year to June 2013, who have been assessed as needing an operation, but are unable to receive it within 5 months, have been told they will not be receiving an operation at this time?
Hon TONY RYALL (Minister of Health): As the member will know from her time, I am unable to provide this information as it has never been collected nationally by the Ministry of Health, and the vast majority of district health boards advise that they do not collect this data or that there were no such patients. What I can advise the member is that the number of patients who have been told they will receive elective surgery and have received it has increased by 40,000 more patients this last year compared with 5 years ago. This increase in procedures means district health boards have been able to reduce the number of patients waiting at June 2013 from 7,000 in June 2005 under that member—
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. We all know what the question was. The Minister said he could not answer it, said he did not have the information, and then proceeded to answer some question that was never asked in the first place. He should have been stopped in his tracks.
Mr SPEAKER: I think on this occasion the member has got a fair point. The answer was certainly lengthy enough. I invite the Hon Annette King to ask a supplementary question.
Hon Annette King: If, as he claimed last week, and again today, the ministry is not counting the number of people rejected from waiting lists because they cannot get their operation within 6 months, and if, as he said last week, it is “incredibly difficult to measure”, how does he know that only 11 people are waiting longer than 6 months for their operation as of June 2013, which he has claimed for months now?
Hon TONY RYALL: It is quite simple, because, although the member is trying to deliberately confuse the people of New Zealand, there are two separate figures. One is how many people were
on the waiting list at a certain date. She keeps referring to people who did not even get on the waiting list—two separate figures.
Hon Annette King: Well, in light of that answer, who should the public believe about the number of people being dumped off waiting lists: the specialists, who deal daily with people who are in pain, and who claim that his claims are nothing more than double-speak, bearing no resemblance to reality, or the chief executive officer of Hawke’s Bay District Health Board, Kevin Snee, who says that district health boards are dealing with “a shortage of cash for orthopaedic operations” and “are struggling to meet demand”, or the Minister, who says “I [won’t] stand any criticism”?
Hon TONY RYALL: Well, the one person they should not believe is the person who was in a Government that cut 30,000 people off hospital waiting lists, and is in a party that—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! That is a relatively political answer, but it does not actually address the question that was asked. I can have it repeated if the Minister likes.
Hon TONY RYALL: They can certainly believe the answers that are provided by me and the Ministry of Health. More people are getting operations, and they are getting them faster. We are not culling 30,000 people off hospital waiting lists like that member opposite did when she was in Government.
Shane Ardern: What reports has the Minister seen about waiting times for patients, in particular in the MidCentral District Health Board and the Waikato District Health Board?
Hon TONY RYALL: Well, I saw a report last week from the Opposition health spokesperson, where she stood in this Parliament and claimed that there were 376 patients waiting longer than 6 months at Waikato and 161 patients waiting at MidCentral. Those numbers were a complete misrepresentation of the facts, as none of those people were on a waiting list, despite what Mrs King claimed. Of course, this follows up on a document sent to the Timaru Herald, where the numbers had been inexplicably changed in handwriting. Mrs King has yet to explain why she did this.
Hon Annette King: Are the views of clinicians still important to him, as he used to claim; if so, will he listen to Mr Bruce Hodgson, an orthopaedic surgeon who recently wrote to a general practitioner saying that the waiting list system is being run in a clearly manipulated process and that “he can’t see patients now because there are too many waiting to carry out their surgery within 5 months.”?
Hon TONY RYALL: I have not seen that report at all. Based on that member’s previous behaviour in this House, I would have to actually check the context and the letter. But what I can say on the matter of orthopaedic surgery is that more New Zealanders are getting orthopaedic surgery and they are getting it faster than ever before. A record 23,000 patients received orthopaedic surgery last year. Canterbury District Health Board does have capacity to do more, but, unlike the previous Government, we will not be cutting 1,000 orthopaedic patients from the Canterbury waiting list, like that Government did in 2006.
Hon Annette King: Has he read the editorial in the Southland Times today, which says that there is no excuse for the Government keeping “truly crappy records of the level of unmet need.” in elective surgery, and that it is not “morally defensible … to trivialise the suffering of … New Zealanders”, as he did last week, or is this another case of him not standing criticism?
Hon TONY RYALL: I have read that editorial from a small provincial newspaper, but I have also read the editorial in the Christchurch Press, which, when referring to the Government’s performance—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I am having trouble hearing the answer, because of the noise. Can the Minister please continue.
Hon TONY RYALL: I have also read the editorial in a very substantial provincial newspaper, the Christchurch Press, which, when referring to the massive increase in elective surgery under our
Government, says: “Those are impressive figures and it would be mean-spirited to downplay them.” What a jolly good editorial that paragraph was.
Hon Annette King: I seek leave to table a letter from Bruce Hodgson, orthopaedic surgeon, to a general practitioner, which says exactly what I said—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Leave is sought to table that particular letter from an orthopaedic surgeon. Is there any objection to that course of action? It will be tabled. Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Hon Annette King: I seek leave to table 16 letters from 16 district health boards, which all send these letters out to patients saying that their surgeon recommends them for surgery but it cannot be offered to them at this time, making up the waiting list—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! That is enough of a description. Leave is sought to table 16 letters from district health boards sent to patients. Is there any objection? There is none. They can be tabled. Documents, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
10. JACQUI DEAN (National—Waitaki) to the Minister for the Environment: What recent announcements has she made to protect wild and scenic New Zealand rivers?
Hon AMY ADAMS (Minister for the Environment): I have recently announced my decision to gazette amendments to the Kawerau River water conservation order to prevent damming on the Nevis River in Otago. A dam or diversion on the lower Nevis River would have major negative effects on its wild and scenic qualities, fishing, and kayaking. The amendments also add further tributaries to the order and recognise further characteristics for protection.
Jacqui Dean: Why did she determine that the Nevis River required this level of protection?
Hon AMY ADAMS: In weighing up whether to amend the water conservation order to add outstanding characteristics and prevent damming on the Nevis River, I decided that the benefits of protecting the unique native fish species—the Nevis galaxias—the trout fisheries, and the wild and scenic characteristics of the river in this case outweigh the benefits of preserving the option of a dam on this river. I was guided by the findings of the special tribunal and the Environment Court, and I am of the opinion that the environmental and recreational benefits of banning future damming are more compelling in this case and of greater national benefit than any electricity generation potential on this particular water body.
Brendan Horan: Does the Minister agree that if the philosophy of wairua—that the blood and bones and, therefore, the spirit of our ancestors flow through our scenic rivers—was adopted, then there would be a much greater public commitment to protecting our scenic and wild rivers and that removing pollution would be a priority?
Hon AMY ADAMS: I certainly share the member’s view that most New Zealanders want to see the quality of our freshwater waterways protected and I can assure the member that that is why this Government has made such a substantial commitment over our 5 years to protecting our freshwater waterways through much better frameworks for managing them, from the creation of the Land and Water Forum, the institution of the first national policy statement, and just last week the announcement of the national objectives framework. This is an ongoing piece of work, but I certainly do share his concern for protecting our wild rivers.
Brendan Horan: Is the Minister aware of the extremely polluted state of some New Zealand rivers including, for example, the Kaituna River, particularly between Paengaroa and the Maketū River mouth, and is she prepared to apply science and technology to resolve those issues?
Hon AMY ADAMS: As I mentioned in the answer to the member’s first supplementary question, I am certainly aware that there are a number of rivers and water bodies around the country that are of real concern to their communities. I have seen some information specifically in relation
to the Kaituna River, which the member refers to. What I would say to the member is that in each of those localised situations the primary response is driven by the regional council, but we are very happy to assist the regional council. I do think that the work we are developing through the Land and Water Forum and the national objectives framework will certainly help to inform that debate, and the Government is absolutely committed to assisting communities in that regard.
11. MOANA MACKEY (Labour) to the Minister for the Environment: Does she stand by all her statements?
Hon AMY ADAMS (Minister for the Environment): Yes, in full, and in the context in which they were given.
Moana Mackey: Does she stand by her statements in relation to her proposal to make exploratory drilling for oil and gas a non-notified process: “I consider that this classification is appropriate because exploratory drilling takes place over a short space of time,”, and “exploratory drilling for oil and gas generally takes place over a period of about 4 to 6 weeks, so a simplified process that retains full regulatory discretion appears to be an appropriate response.”?
Hon AMY ADAMS: I have not got the text but that sounds right, and I do stand by the fact that that represents the advice that I have received.
Moana Mackey: If an exploratory well is successful, will any appraisal wells, which are wells drilled to establish the limits, productivity, and properties of the reservoir, have to go through a separate consenting process; if not, what does this do to her claimed time frame for drilling activity of 4 to 6 weeks?
Hon AMY ADAMS: One of the issues that we are looking at in relation to the classification of exploratory wells, and I can remind the member in this House that no decisions have been made as to how they will be classified as yet—as part of that process we are absolutely looking at exactly what is encapsulated in the definition of exploratory well drilling. But I would point out to the member and to this House that until the passage of the exclusive economic zone regulations there was absolutely no oversight of these, and this is a massive step forward in the protection of our oceans.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Can the Minister advise the House what consents were required when deep-sea drilling was done last decade?
Hon AMY ADAMS: I can. The Minister of Energy and Resources granted a permit, and that was it.
Moana Mackey: Why has she gone out of her way to point out that exploratory drilling takes only 4 to 6 weeks as justification for removing the public’s right to have their say, when she knows full well that this time frame is accurate only if the well is unsuccessful, and that if successful the actual drilling period will take far longer than she has been letting on publicly?
Hon AMY ADAMS: First of all I can confirm that the advice that I have received consistently is that the average period of time for such drilling activities is 4 to 6 weeks, as I have indicated to the House. Secondly, it is impossible to remove a public right involvement that never existed. Under the Labour Government the public had zero input into these decisions. Under this process there will now be a very clearly defined process, and no well will be able to move to production without every New Zealander having a chance to have a say in its drilling.
Anzac Day Centenary—Commemorations at Gallipoli
12. Hon TAU HENARE (National) to the Minister of Veterans’ Affairs: What progress has been made in planning for Anzac Day at Gallipoli in 2015?
Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE (Minister of Veterans’ Affairs): The public ballot to attend the 100th anniversary of Anzac Day at Gallipoli in 2015 opened last Friday and has seen significant interest already. The 1915 campaign is important to our history and helped to shape our nation’s
identity, so we expected demand to exceed the safe capacity of 10,500 people, which is why the ballot process was established. New Zealand was granted 2,000 places, and I encourage all those hoping to attend Anzac Day services at Gallipoli to enter the ballot, as that is the only way they will be admitted to the peninsula.
Hon Tau Henare: Has he had any updates on the ballot so far?
Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE: Yes, I have. There has been strong interest in the ballot since it opened, and more than 2,700 people have now registered for the New Zealand ballot in just the first 4 days. But it is worth remembering that there is not an advantage to early registration. The ballot is open for another 10 weeks, so there is plenty of time for anyone who is interested to enter before the ballot closes on 31 January 2014. The 100th anniversary of Anzac Day in Turkey will certainly be an important event, and anyone interested in intending to enter the ballot can visit the Gallipoli 2015 website for details.