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Question and Answers - 3 March 2009


1. Public Finance Act—Reports

[Uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing.]

1. CRAIG FOSS (National—Tukituki) to the Minister of Finance: Has he seen any recent reports relating to the Public Finance Act 1989?

Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance) : Yes, I have. A ministerial inquiry around the disclosure of funding shortfalls in the Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC) non-earners account has found that under the Public Finance Act the previous Labour-led Government should have revealed a projected $300 million a year shortfall in the account in the run-up to last year’s election. The report found that the shortfall was known to the ACC, the Department of Labour, Treasury, the previous ACC Minister, Maryan Street, and the previous finance Minister, Michael Cullen.

Craig Foss: According to the report, for how long did previous Government Ministers know about the shortfall?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: Evidence presented in the report shows that on 14 April 2008 the chairperson of the ACC board met with the Minister of Finance to discuss the issue of non-earners account funding. On 22 April 2008 an ACC board paper warned the Department of Labour that it would need to look carefully at that, given that the ACC was anticipating a significant deficit in the next year. That deficit, which requires the Government to put in $300 million before the end of this financial year to keep the account going, has now grown to $384 million.

Hon David Cunliffe: Has the Minister seen reports from Treasury accepting responsibility for this error, does he accept that admission, and does he accept the report’s finding that the reason for the information not being disclosed at the pre-election fiscal update can be attributed to Treasury’s interpretation of the Public Finance Act? Does he further accept that as at the October pre-election fiscal update, the Department of Labour had also failed to provide Ministers with a recommendation on whether to accept the ACC’s numbers?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: Yes, I do accept that Treasury has admitted its part in this debacle by acknowledging—

Hon David Cunliffe: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am concerned that the Minister is misrepresenting Treasury. I have a copy of its press release—

Mr SPEAKER: The member is an experienced member. That is not a point of order, and the House does not have to suffer that behaviour.

Hon BILL ENGLISH: I accept that Treasury has taken responsibility for the error that it had made in not including this issue in the pre-election fiscal update. However, the pre-election fiscal update is signed by the Government, and the Labour Government knew 6 months before the election that there would be a significant shortfall in the non-earners account, which is the ACC account that provides for the care of the most vulnerable New Zealanders. The previous Government did not care enough to fix the problem or tell the public about it.

Hon David Cunliffe: Does the Minister agree that if any adverse finding against either Minister had been proposed by the experienced independent reviewers at Martin, Jenkins, and Associates, natural justice would have required them to discuss that with the Ministers concerned; and as there was no consultation nor interview with either Minister, and as no Official Information Act requests were granted, does he now accept that both Ministers must have been exonerated?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: What the paper trail shows is that the ACC was regarded as a political plaything by the Labour Government, which actively worked to hide a deteriorating performance at the ACC, with the effect that the incoming Government now has to find $384 million before 30 June, and a further $1.2 billion over the next 3 years, to fill the hole that the previous Government left behind and hid.

Hon Sir Roger Douglas: Does the Minister intend to refer the previous Minister of Finance and Treasury to the police for what can only be described as a blatant breach of the Public Finance Act; if not, why not?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: It is now clear that this $384 million should have appeared in the pre-election fiscal update. However, I have to say that the issues with regard to the ACC are now very significant, with the liability growing rapidly, and it has now been revealed that the ACC’s performance has been deteriorating significantly for the last 3 or 4 years. That is much more important than a theoretical constitutional discussion about whether previous Ministers can be prosecuted.

Hon Sir Roger Douglas: How, given the $9 billion growth in ACC liabilities to 2009 and the increase in employer premia of over 50 percent, can the Government not take action?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: The Government will be taking action, because we must correct, quite quickly, the debacle that was the Labour Government’s stewardship of the ACC. Liabilities are blowing out, rehabilitation rates are dropping, claims costs are out of control, and levies are going through the roof, and that will continue unless we make significant changes.

Hon David Cunliffe: Will the new-found acolyte for the former Minister Mr Douglas confirm—

Mr SPEAKER: The honourable member knows the question should be framed a little more carefully than that. Please start again.

Hon David Cunliffe: Will the Minister confirm that the real reason this political charade is going on is that he is softening the ACC up for privatisation, on the grounds of an international equity slide that—

Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Even with all that theatrical sort of addition, there was no question from the Minister.

Hon Members: There was.

Hon Gerry Brownlee: No, there was not. A question should not contain a supposition. I ask that you require the member to simply ask the question.

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: This case could be described as the Triumph of the Will! The question started with the word “will”.

Mr SPEAKER: I noted that myself. The member will repeat his question, please.

Hon David Cunliffe: Will the Minister confirm that the real reason for this political charade is that he is softening the ACC up for privatisation on the back of an international equity slide that has affected every comparable institution?

Hon Bill English: I wish the facts presented to the new Government were not true, but, unfortunately, it is the case that between now and 30 June this Government has to find $384 million to put into the non-earners account, because, if we do not, the ACC will be unable to pay for the care of the most vulnerable people in our community. The record shows that as early as 18 April and as late as 15 August 2008, former Ministers knew exactly—

Hon David Cunliffe: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I expect that you already know what the point of order is. The member has not sought to address the question of privatisation; he is simply reading out elements from the report, telling us what everybody knows—

Mr SPEAKER: The member has made his point. The question was a somewhat political question; it got a somewhat political answer.

Craig Foss: What actions is the Government taking to ensure greater transparency in the disclosure of financial risks?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: Systems were put in place under the Public Finance Act to ensure transparency in the position of a Government in the run-up to an election, but in this case, for various reasons, they did not work. The Government is committed to implementing the report’s recommendations in full in order to ensure there is no repeat of a situation where a significant risk in the Government’s books, and a major risk to New Zealand households, is concealed from the public in the run-up to an election.

2. Climate Change—Treasury Report, Australia

[Uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing.]

2. JEANETTE FITZSIMONS (Co-Leader—Green) to the Prime Minister: Did he discuss with Kevin Rudd the report from the Australian Treasury entitled Australia’s Low Pollution Future: the Economics of Climate Change Mitigation that says “economies that defer action face higher long-term costs, as global investment is redirected to early movers”; if so, what implications does he see for New Zealand?

Hon BILL ENGLISH (Deputy Prime Minister) on behalf of the Prime Minister : No, the Prime Minister did not discuss that report with the Prime Minister of Australia.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: Why is it that although the Australian Treasury now understands that acting promptly to address climate change brings prosperity and a host of “Green New Deal” jobs, the Prime Minister has given into pressure to set up a time-wasting review with terms of reference that question whether we should act at all, and has created yet another year of business uncertainty and lack of investment in solutions?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: Mr Key did discuss with Prime Minister Rudd the importance of a successful Copenhagen climate change conference in December to decide on the post-Kyoto framework, and they also discussed the desirability of harmonising to the greatest extent possible the emissions reduction regimes in both countries.

Charles Chauvel: Is not the real reason for the foot-dragging by the Prime Minister’s Government on climate change policy revealed by the Prime Minister’s reference, in an interview with Mr Ian Wishart in this month’s Investigate magazine, to the need to “have flexibility so that if the science deteriorates and the climate change sceptics are right, we have an ability to alter the impact on our economy”?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: I think the member can understand how much uncertainty there is around the climate change policy process. The Australian Government is not exactly clear where it is going, the world carbon price is very difficult to predict, and the effect of recession on carbon emissions is also very difficult to predict. The Prime Minister is wisely making sure that people understand that the Government retains the flexibility to adapt to those circumstances.

Charles Chauvel: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My supplementary question was very clearly directed to a quote that the Prime Minister gave about whether the science deteriorates and the climate change sceptics are right. The answer had nothing to do with the science and everything to do with the economics. I ask you to ask the Minister to answer the question.

Mr SPEAKER: As I heard the honourable member’s question, it was seeking an opinion. Often when members seek an opinion they may not get the exact answer they are seeking.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: Will he—[Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: The member will show a senior member of the House some courtesy as she seeks to ask a question. Thank you.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: Will the Prime Minister instruct officials working on the cost-benefit analysis of New Zealand’s emissions trading scheme to take into account the methodology and the conclusions of the Australian Treasury report, or will oversight of that analysis be left entirely to those in his Government with extremist views on climate change?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: My understanding is that the cost-benefit analysis that the member is referring to has been commissioned by the select committee, so it will be subject to the committee’s oversight. I would imagine that any such analysis would draw on credible sources.

Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. In a somewhat jocular way I probably inappropriately interjected before, but can I ask you to clarify the ruling you have just made as to whether a Minister holds a view previously expressed is a matter of opinion for that Minister, or just a matter of fact. I think when Government policies—

Mr SPEAKER: The honourable member knows that a member who asks a question does not necessarily get the answer he or she might want. That has been very clear for many years in this House. When Ministers are asked their view about a statement, members are seeking an opinion, and they cannot be too prescriptive about the answer.

Hon Trevor Mallard: It’s their statement, not someone else’s.

Mr SPEAKER: I think that matter has been dealt with.

Hon BILL ENGLISH: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. On advice from the Minister responsible for Climate Change Issues, I will correct an aspect of my last answer: the cost-benefit analysis has in fact been commissioned by the Government for the select committee. But the same direction applies—that is, the analysis should look to credible sources.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: Is the Prime Minister satisfied with the Job Summit not mentioning in its proposals the benefits of investing in emissions reduction through energy efficiency and renewable energy, despite worldwide evidence that they are job-rich and cost-effective? Is it not time New Zealand embraced a “Green New Deal” that tackles the economic recession and climate change together?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: No, the Prime Minister is not disappointed about the Job Summit not prioritising that particular policy proposal, because the summit put up a number of other quite constructive proposals that the Government will work through. But that does not prevent the Government from investigating the kinds of stimulatory activities the member is referring to.

Jeanette Fitzsimons: Has the Prime Minister studied the economic stimulus packages of the United States, France, Germany, Denmark, Spain, Australia, South Korea, China, or Mexico—some of which are actually called a “Green New Deal”—and when will he orient New Zealand’s economic stimulus packages to tackle the triple crises of oil depletion, climate change, and economic recession, as those other countries are doing?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: Yes, the Government has studied those packages, and the Government has included that orientation in its own package. For instance, it announced $500 million of infrastructure spending a month or so ago that includes significant upgrades of the insulation of State houses. The Government has signalled an interest in the same kind of package for non-State houses.

3. Tax Cuts—Implementation

[Uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing.]

3. Hon PHIL GOFF (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does he stand by his response last week, when asked whether the next two rounds of tax cuts legislated for last year will go ahead: “We live in dynamic times but I wouldn’t jump to conclusions on that. It is my expectation they will go ahead.”?

Hon BILL ENGLISH (Deputy Prime Minister) : on behalf of the Prime Minister: Yes.

Hon Phil Goff: Does the Prime Minister agree with Air New Zealand’s chief executive, Rob Fyfe, that “We need to stimulate this economy and there are more effective ways than broad-brushed tax cuts.”; if not, why not?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: Mr Fyfe, along with anyone else, is entitled to his own views about the right balance of Government efforts to stimulate the economy. I note that the travel and tourism industry relies on households having discretionary spending, and Mr Fyfe’s company will benefit from New Zealanders who decide they can afford to travel because they are receiving tax cuts.

Hon Phil Goff: Does the Prime Minister agree with economists Brian Gaynor and Gareth Morgan, and the Deputy Governor of the Reserve Bank, Grant Spencer, that tax cuts for those on higher incomes tend to get saved rather than spent—or perhaps used on overseas trips, as the Minister said—and therefore do not meet the most important criterion in the current circumstances of being cost-effective in preserving and creating jobs?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: The Government has been attempting to strike a balance between the short-term need to cushion people from the sharper edges of recession, and the long-term need to lift our growth prospects. As the Government has always said, it will not try to tell people how to use the money. Those who have high debt or high credit card debt will use tax cut proceeds to reduce that debt, and they probably should do that. Others who do not have high levels of debt will spend it. We believe that it is up to them to make that decision.

Hon Phil Goff: Why did the Prime Minister even bother holding the Job Summit if he intended to ignore the views of key participants such as Rob Fyfe and Stephen Tindall that the tax cuts needed to be properly targeted, as Labour’s were, to achieve the best outcome in preserving and creating jobs, or did he believe that $50 million for a cycle track was more important than the $4.5 billion that, properly targeted, would have created tens of thousands of jobs?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: One of the benefits of the summit was that it gave a number of people the opportunity to express views, and some of those views were different from the Government’s views; we were listening. One thing I never heard them say, even when they disagreed with the Government, was that they wished Labour were back.

Hon Phil Goff: Can the Prime Minister tell the House one thing that came out of last Friday’s Job Summit that will help the 160 Sealord workers who lost their jobs yesterday, whom I will visit this afternoon, or the 120 Irwin Industrial Tools workers at Wellsford who are likewise likely to lose their jobs this week?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: I think what did come out of the Job Summit was a strong resolve by everyone who participated, regardless of whether he or she supports the Government, to do everything he or she can to give those people the confidence that they will be able to get another job. We all realise what a big and difficult challenge that is, but the Government and the participants at the summit are strongly committed to it.

Hon Phil Goff: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My question was very straightforward; it asked the Prime Minister to tell the House one thing that the summit would do, and the Minister has not mentioned one thing.

Mr SPEAKER: The Minister, in answering the question on behalf of the Prime Minister, did say what the summit set out to do. He may not have said the one thing the member might have wanted him to say, but he did set out what the summit sought to do. I believe that, to that extent, the question was answered.

Hon Phil Goff: I seek leave of the House to table a document. I will just mention the different parts of it in one go, rather than take several bites at it. They are comments from Rob Fyfe, Fran O’Sullivan, Brian Gaynor, Grant Spencer, and Gareth Morgan, and are sourced from various areas, including transcripts from Radio New Zealand and news media.

Mr SPEAKER: Could I just be clear that this is a composite document the member has prepared from press releases.

Hon Phil Goff: It is a document. In each case the source is given and in each case the person quoted says that the Government was on the wrong track—

Mr SPEAKER: I thank the honourable member of the Opposition. Leave is sought to table a composite document made up of a set of press releases. Is there any objection to that? There is objection.

4. Job Summit—Objectives and Outcomes

[Uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing.]

4. DAVID BENNETT (National—Hamilton East) to the Prime Minister: What were the objectives of the Prime Minister’s recent Job Summit, and is he satisfied that it was a successful event?

Hon BILL ENGLISH (Deputy Prime Minister) on behalf of the Prime Minister: The Prime Minister’s Job Summit was designed to be a forum for generating new ideas for maintaining and creating jobs during this recession. The event was a success. It brought together more than 200 representatives from businesses, unions, local authorities, community organisations, and Government. The participants demonstrated a serious commitment to working together to protect and create jobs. The result of their working session was a list of ideas, out of which the summit selected its top 20.

David Bennett: How will the Government respond to the ideas generated by the Job Summit?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: The Government will respond positively. We are looking very thoroughly at the 20 ideas that the summit chose, fleshing them out, looking at whether those ideas can be properly costed and implemented, and weighing them up against other Budget proposals. We have committed to continuing discussion about these ideas with those who proposed them.

Hon David Cunliffe: What was the net number of jobs created in the week of the Job Summit and since then, given the 180 jobs lost at Sealord, the 120 jobs lost at Irwin Industrial Tools in Wellsford, the 70 jobs lost at GE Money, and the 29 jobs lost at CWF Hamilton; and can the Prime Minister confirm how many job losses have been announced in the 3 days since the Job Summit?

Mr SPEAKER: The Hon Bill English may answer one of those questions.

Hon BILL ENGLISH: The member seems to misunderstand how an economy works. A discussion about what the Government can do to prevent the loss of jobs and to create new jobs does not automatically head off decisions that may have already been made before the summit. I think just about everybody there recognised the huge challenge of dealing with sharply rising unemployment in New Zealand. The member can go around saying that the summit should have stopped this or that, but the best thing we can do for all those people who have actually now lost their jobs is take every possible step to give them confidence that at some stage they will be able to get another job.

David Bennett: What reports has the Prime Minister received about participants’ views on the Job Summit?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: I have received one report from a former member of the House, one Ms Laila Harré—

Hon Darren Hughes: Hon Laila Harré.

Hon BILL ENGLISH: The Hon Laila Harré, from the National Distribution Union, said: “I think it will certainly achieve something; I think it already has. It’s brought a sort of new approach to looking at what is a fast-moving and changing environment … sitting through the summit I found it difficult to imagine the Labour Party under Helen Clark really taking a risk like that, which was to give a group of people an open brief in a very public way to propose some ideas and solutions.”

Hon David Cunliffe: Speaking of former members, I ask what the Government will do to ensure that banks play their role in helping households and businesses through the recession, as outlined by Dr Alan Bollard when he stated: “… they have profited from good times in this economy, and we expect them to be there for the tough times too.” Is he concerned about reports from the New Zealand business community, which is finding it more difficult to obtain commercial credit than previously, and will potentially find it more difficult than its Australian competitors?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: Yes, the Prime Minister is concerned about any reports that credit could be more difficult to obtain. At the Job Summit there was a vigorous public discussion between banks and others interested in their policies, and the banks—to their credit—have made some proposals about how they can work with the Government to alleviate a situation that could be potentially quite damaging in New Zealand. But, as the member will know, in a recession some businesses are just less creditworthy, and that is one reason they may find it harder to get credit.

Hon Jim Anderton: Is the Government seriously considering a cycleway as a strategic answer to the greatest financial crisis the world has faced since the Great Depression; if so, has it given consideration, given its disinvestment in rail, to turning the railway system in New Zealand into a cycle track so that everyone can join in?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: No. We had hoped to be able to make use of that member’s jobs machine, but it failed to produce jobs even in a period when the economy was growing.

5. Non-governmental Organisations—Funding

[Uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing.]

5. Hon ANNETTE KING (Deputy Leader—Labour) to the Minister for Social Development and Employment: Can she confirm whether her Government still plans to fully fund the essential services of non-governmental organisations by 2012; if not, why not?

Hon PAULA BENNETT (Minister for Social Development and Employment) : We are currently working through the Budget process. In these tough economic times, and with a number of unfunded promises from the previous Government, we have to set priorities.

Hon Annette King: Does she agree with the Federation of Voluntary Welfare Organisations, which stated that the money allocated by the Labour Government through the Pathways to Partnership scheme would have provided a major boost to its on-the-ground services, and helped with managing the impact of the recession on communities; if so, why does she not stop hiding behind reviews and give those services the money they need now, because people need help now?

Hon PAULA BENNETT: We are currently working through the Budget process. Nothing is in and nothing is out, and the sector will be consulted.

Hon Annette King: Why, then, did the COmVOiceS network of leading community organisations describe the Government as failing to engage with the sector about how to deal with the recession? Was it because the Government did not invite them or many other representatives from the non-profit sector to its Job Summit last week?

Hon PAULA BENNETT: I do value the sector’s views. In fact, yesterday I wrote to sector representatives to invite them to join an unprecedented dialogue with the Government. We are inviting them to sit alongside us as we enter Budget negotiations, and to have direct input into the process. For all Labour’s rhetoric about being close to the sector, it would never have given those representatives a seat at the table.

Hon Annette King: Will the Minister honour the commitment made by John Key and Judith Collins during the election campaign to provide additional funding of $5 million for health camps; if so, when?

Hon PAULA BENNETT: We are currently working through the Budget process. Nothing is necessarily in, and, most certainly, nothing is necessarily out. That will be part of our discussions.

6. Sealord Plant, Nelson—Job Losses

[Uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing.]

6. RAHUI KATENE (Māori Party—Te Tai Tonga) to the Minister for Social Development and Employment: What assistance will be available to help the affected workers and communities as a result of the decision to lay off as many as 180 jobs from Sealord’s processing plant in Nelson?

Hon PAULA BENNETT (Minister for Social Development and Employment) : Work and Income has a longstanding relationship with Sealord. With the local MP, Dr Nick Smith, Work and Income is already working alongside Sealord to mitigate the effects of the lay-offs. Work and Income is meeting with Sealord this week to provide on-site, individualised support. It is coordinating support and services with other agencies, helping staff find other jobs, offering help with CV preparation and upskilling, and providing information about the income support that is available, including this Government’s ReStart package.

Rahui Katene: Has the Minister seen the statement from the Service and Food Workers Union, which suggests that Sealord may introduce a $70-a-week cut in wages across the board for workers who would otherwise face dismissal; and what action can the Government take to provide other options for Sealord?

Hon PAULA BENNETT: In the short term, Work and Income will be on-site on Friday, having further discussions on how it can best support these workers. Work and Income will work to ensure that people are receiving any income assistance that they are entitled to. For example, they may be entitled to accommodation assistance or Working for Families assistance.

Hon Annette King: Can the Minister confirm that many of the workers who are losing their jobs are women who are supplementing their families’ incomes just to keep their heads above water; if so, will she support a policy of providing a job seekers allowance to second-income earners who are made redundant but are unable to get a benefit, until they get back to work?

Hon PAULA BENNETT: We are in unprecedented tough times. We certainly acknowledge that women who are in that position are in for tough times. I encourage them to go to Work and Income, to check their partners’ income, to check how it works against them, and to check whether they are eligible for some sort of assistance.

Rahui Katene: Is the Minister aware that the Māori shareholders of Sealord attended the Prime Minister’s Job Summit last Friday, and what plans does the Government have for working with companies to make them responsible employers?

Hon PAULA BENNETT: Yes, I am aware that they were there. I am not in the business of telling businesses how to run their businesses. What I am here to do is support those workers and those employees who need that assistance via Work and Income.

7. Superintendent Graham Thomas—Briefing

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7. Hon CLAYTON COSGROVE (Labour—Waimakariri) to the Minister of Police: Was she briefed on the issues surrounding allegations in respect of Superintendent Graham Thomas; if so, what was the date and content of the briefing?

Hon JUDITH COLLINS (Minister of Police) : Yes; I was verbally briefed by police on 27 December 2008. I was informed that there had been an incident involving a senior member of the police, and that it was being investigated. I was later advised that, in accordance with the requirements of the police code of conduct, once it became clear there was insufficient evidence to proceed with a criminal case of drink-driving, police moved swiftly to institute employment-related processes.

Hon Clayton Cosgrove: Has the Minister received an assurance that the correct procedure was followed in respect of investigating this matter, so as to ensure that the officer in question was treated no differently from the way any member of the public would be; if so, does she accept that assurance?

Hon JUDITH COLLINS: The police have made it very plain to me that they are following procedures absolutely to the book in all matters in relation to this.

Hon Clayton Cosgrove: How could she accept an assurance that correct procedures were followed to ensure that the officer in question was treated no differently from any member of the public, when police human resources manager Wayne Annan has stated publicly that specific information about the incident would not be provided because it “does not exist”? That quote comes from the Herald on Sunday of 1 March, this year.

Hon JUDITH COLLINS: I note for the member’s benefit that departmental responses to Official Information Act requests are the responsibility of the police. I am advised that the police answered the specific questions from the journalists correctly, but that does not mean to say that the police answered them to the extent that perhaps they should have.

Hon Clayton Cosgrove: Does the Minister not accept that she has a duty to assure the public that proper processes have been followed in respect of this police officer, who as national prosecution manager is responsible for decisions to prosecute members of the public; or is the best assurance she can give New Zealanders the one she gave to journalists as late as a few hours ago when she said: “This is not a good look.”?

Hon JUDITH COLLINS: I actually agree with Mr Cosgrove when he stated—as he was quoted today in the Dominion Post—that continuing speculation about the case damaged public trust in police and undermined their good work. Certainly I know that he will have the opportunity tomorrow during the select committee process to make more detailed questions available to the Commissioner of Police, because this is actually an employment matter that the Commissioner of Police may be able to answer.

Hon Clayton Cosgrove: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I do not quite know where that answer was going. I asked the Minister, as per your rulings, a specific question. I asked her whether she accepts that it is her duty to take a number of actions in this case to reassure the public. In no way did she even address or answer that question. Was it her duty?

Hon Gerry Brownlee: Mr Speaker, when you read the Hansard you will find that the Minister actually said she agreed with Mr Cosgrove’s comments about the need to reassure the public. Now, surely that is a clear answer to his particular question.

Hon Clayton Cosgrove: I think that was an own goal. I did not ask the Minister whether she agreed with me. I asked the Minister whether she expects that she has a duty to reassure the public—not whether she agrees with me or any other member of the House. It was a specific question: does she accept she has a duty?

Mr SPEAKER: I have heard sufficient.

Hon Gerry Brownlee: Mr Cosgrove’s statements were in fact about reassuring the public, and I am sure that when the public hear Mr Cosgrove speak, as they often do, they are greatly reassured by their choice last November.

Mr SPEAKER: This is quite a difficult question because there are constraints around what the Minister can say in respect of this matter, as there are issues of privacy in employment matters, etc., as the Minister has explained. However, I invite the member to repeat his question in respect of assurances to the public, and I will listen. I want to satisfy myself that I have heard the question properly, and then I will let the Minister answer it.

Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. During the last point of order, some comments were made to you by the Hon Gerry Brownlee. I think that if they had been made in the frivolous and facetious way they were by someone on this side of the House, we would have been admonished. You did not admonish him.

Mr SPEAKER: I obviously did not hear it. I thank the member for his attention. I did not pick up on what he is concerned about and therefore I could not take action. I have invited the honourable member to repeat his question. Let us listen to it very carefully, and then the Minister, where she can, will answer it.

Hon Clayton Cosgrove: Does she not accept that she has a duty to reassure the public that proper processes have been followed in respect of this police officer who, as the national prosecution manager, is responsible for decisions to prosecute members of the public; or is the best assurance she can give the one she gave journalists as late as a few hours ago today, when she said: “This is not a good look.”?

Hon JUDITH COLLINS: I have already answered that question. I have said that it is important—and I have said that the police commissioner has assured me that processes have been completely followed according to the book. If the member did not remember that answer, I am quite happy to provide it again. Police have given me those assurances. I think it is very important that the public have confidence in the police, and I am surprised that that member keeps wanting to undermine them all the time.

Hon Clayton Cosgrove: Is her silence on this matter—[Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: The member has a right to ask his question.

Hon Clayton Cosgrove: Thank you, Mr Speaker. Is her silence on this matter over the last week as a result of advice that she has received from the Minister of Corrections on how not to handle employment matters?

Hon JUDITH COLLINS: Obviously I cannot have been silent, otherwise that member could not have quoted me.

8. Auckland District Health Boards—Proposed Surgical “Super” Centre

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8. Dr PAUL HUTCHISON (National—Hunua) to the Minister of Health: Did he meet with the three Auckland district health boards earlier this year to discuss a proposal for a four-theatre elective “super” centre; if so, why?

Hon TONY RYALL (Minister of Health) : Yes, I met with them to deal with a major problem inherited from the previous Government: despite a doubling of the health budget, on a population basis fewer New Zealanders have access to elective surgery after 8 years of the previous Government. It failed to increase elective discharges at the rate of population growth, let alone of population ageing, and that is why it resorted to culling thousands of New Zealanders from waiting lists. The best way to address this elective failure is to build capacity—hence National’s commitment to build dedicated elective surgery theatres, separating emergency and planned surgery. The district health boards have responded with the first joint regional proposal, which will see the first elective surgery “super” centre built at Greenlane.

Dr Paul Hutchison: What contribution would the proposed super-theatre complex make to delivering extra elective surgery?

Hon TONY RYALL: The proposed Greenlane elective surgery “super” centre would, on its own, deliver an estimated additional 5,000 people a year with surgery. This will be a step change in the elective surgery services we are providing in Auckland. To put that figure in context, I say Ministry of Health reports reveal that under the previous Government the average increase was 1,432 people a year, lower than the rate of population growth. The Greenlane “super” centre alone will deliver more than triple that increase.

Hon Ruth Dyson: Can the Minister confirm that he will match Labour’s record of opening and funding 20 new operating theatres; or is he satisfied just with receiving a proposal for four new ones that, if built, will be funded from within the existing health budget?

Hon TONY RYALL: I find it remarkable that the Opposition spokeswoman would dare to ask questions about Vote Health money and services, because just prior to the general election Labour stealthily cut $50 million out of Vote Health for next year and $100 million for the next year—a total of $150 million cut from Vote Health.

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. We had a lot of play-acting previously from Mr English about the Public Finance Act. Given that the money referred to by the Minister was in the pre-election fiscal update, I am not sure how he managed to arrive at some—

Mr SPEAKER: What is not clear to me—[Interruption]—and members will know that points of order are meant to be heard in silence, is what remedy the member is seeking.

Hon Dr Michael Cullen: Basically to smack him on the wrist, if that is at all possible.

Mr SPEAKER: That was an abuse of the point of order system.

Hon Ruth Dyson: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Minister did not address the question. I seek your support in asking him to at least attempt to address the question.

Mr SPEAKER: The member raises an interesting point. She asked a question, and the answer started with an attack on the questioner. I think it would be helpful if the Minister, in answering the question, were to give some information before launching an attack on the questioner. I invite the Hon Ruth Dyson to repeat her question.

Hon Ruth Dyson: Can the Minister confirm that he will match Labour’s record of opening and funding 20 new operating theatres, or is he satisfied with just receiving a proposal for four new operating theatres, which, if built, will be funded from within the existing health budget?

Hon TONY RYALL: This Government’s record will more than match the previous Government’s behaviour.

Dr Paul Hutchison: What is different, in the way this proposal was developed, from past proposals?

Hon TONY RYALL: There are a number of special features about how this proposal was created, but the two most important features are, firstly, that in seeking to deliver a very different health system from the increasingly centrally controlled and bureaucratic system we have inherited, we have required district health boards to work closely with their neighbouring district health boards and take a joint approach to improved service, and, secondly, we have required them to demonstrate the active engagement of doctors and nurses in the development of the proposals from the earliest stage. This Government means to deliver on its commitment to clinical leadership and improved front-line services.

9. Employment Probation Periods—Work and Income Support

[Uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing.]

9. SUE BRADFORD (Green) to the Minister for Social Development and Employment: Are those who are offered employment under the 90-day probation law entitled to the same support from Work and Income as those offered employment not under the 90-day probation law?

Hon PAULA BENNETT (Minister for Social Development and Employment) : No, they are offered more protection.

Sue Bradford: Why, then, has a Christchurch Work and Income office declined an application for relocation assistance from an unemployed person who had just found a job, on the grounds that the job was subject to the 90-day trial and therefore not considered “permanent employment” by Work and Income?

Hon PAULA BENNETT: It must have been yesterday that that information came through, because the law came into effect on Sunday. Otherwise, it simply cannot be true that the employee was under the 90-day employment trial period.

Katrina Shanks: What impact does the Minister think the legislation will have on beneficiaries’ ability to move into employment?

Hon PAULA BENNETT: This legislation is an incentive for employers to give a beneficiary a go. Most beneficiaries just want a chance to improve their lives and get into paid work. I believe that this 90-day trial period will give them that chance.

Sue Bradford: Can the Minister give an assurance that, in future, unemployed people who find themselves in jobs that are subject to the 90-day probationary period will have their employment counted as a real job and will be offered the same entitlements as any others who find themselves work—which, after all, is what the Government so badly wants them to do?

Hon PAULA BENNETT: This Government’s main focus and priorities are on helping people into work and into jobs, and there are many individual scenarios when dealing with those people. I would welcome seeing the particular case that has come to the member’s attention, because our whole intention is to help people into work wherever possible.

Dr Rajen Prasad: How will the Minister guarantee that Work and Income staff members do not play judge and jury where there is some doubt about who is at fault in cases where workers are fired during the 90-day trial?

Hon PAULA BENNETT: Our intention is that we will look at the individual circumstances of the person and, in discussion with both that person and the employer—as is the current practice—we will make decisions on all benefit entitlements.

10. Tax Cuts—Effects on Māori Incomes

[Uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing.]

10. Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA (Labour—Ikaroa-Rāwhiti) to the Minister ofFinance: What reports, if any, has he received on what effect the Government’s tax cut package will have on Māori incomes?

Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance) :I have received reports on what effects the Government’s tax cut package might have on Māori incomes. It will increase their after-tax incomes. However, I have received another report that the Labour Party has proposed that the Government not proceed with tax cuts. The after-tax incomes of Māori would go down if we followed Labour’s policy.

Hon Parekura Horomia: What is the Minister’s response to the statement from the Minister of Māori Affairs that his Māori Party felt forced to vote in favour of National’s tax cut legislation, which does not benefit low and middle income workers, even though it did not want to?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: The Māori Party supported the Government’s income tax cuts, and I think that now it knows that Labour’s policy is to do away with tax cuts, it will be very pleased that it supported National’s policy, because it means that the incomes of Māori will go up, instead of going down.

Hon Parekura Horomia: Is the Minister of Finance answering questions on Māori issues instead of the Minister of Māori Affairs because the Minister of Finance is worried that Dr Sharples would confirm that he opposes the 1 April tax cuts, which leave out low-income workers, and the 90-day fire-at-will law, or is it because the Minister of Māori Affairs did not want to answer the question?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: The Labour Party needs to work out whether its policy is the one it ran before the election of lower taxes, or the one it ran last week of not having lower taxes. A lot of Māori voters would be interested to know that, because what they do know is that under National they will get tax cuts on 1 April, and they will be better off because of those tax cuts, whereas if Labour were in power, it would be abandoning the tax cuts and Māori voters would be worse off.

11. Electricity—Investment in National Grid

[Uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing.]

11. JONATHAN YOUNG (National—New Plymouth) to the Minister of Energy and Resources: What steps has he taken recently to accelerate investment in the national electricity grid?

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE (Minister of Energy and Resources) : Yesterday I released a new Draft Government Policy Statement on Electricity Governance for consultation. The new policy proposes streamlined and simplified processes for transmission investments that are under $20 million in value. The current processes can involve lengthy duplication of engineering and systems planning. Although the work was already in progress, I was interested to see that this proposal was a recommendation made at last Friday’s Job Summit.

Jonathan Young: What further steps will the Minister be taking to ensure investment in the national grid?

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: I am currently working on terms of reference for a ministerial working party to look at disentangling the overlapping roles of the Electricity Commission, the Commerce Commission, and Transpower. There has been a great deal of criticism of the current regulatory and governance arrangements. The aim of the working party will be to improve those arrangements.

12. Young Offenders—Boot Camps

[Uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing.]

12. JACINDA ARDERN (Labour) to the Minister of Youth Affairs: Does she agree with the statement by the Principal Youth Court Judge, Andrew Becroft, that boot camps for young offenders are “arguably the least successful sentence in the Western world”; if not, why not?

Hon PAULA BENNETT (Minister of Youth Affairs) : Yes, I agree with Judge Becroft. That is why we are not following that model.

Jacinda Ardern: Does the Minister agree, then, with the statement made by her leader, John Key, that the Government’s programme would require young people who are serious offenders to take part in military-style activity programmes run by the army, using army-type facilities or training methods? And if she does not think that is a boot camp, then what is it?

Hon PAULA BENNETT: Yes, I do agree with the Prime Minister. In fact, I have seen a Waikato Times editorial that says that National has done its homework on this policy. The editorial states: “A boot camp on its own will achieve nothing, but combined with mentoring, drug and alcohol rehabilitation and educational programmes it is better than sitting idly by as young thugs turn into older thugs.”

Simon Bridges: What reports has the Minister seen on what works for young offenders?

Hon PAULA BENNETT: We know that the thousand worst offenders that Fresh Start targets need a programme of long-term, wraparound care, intensive monitoring, self-discipline, personal responsibility, drug and alcohol treatment, and parenting skills.

Jacinda Ardern: Does she know what her mentoring programmes for young offenders will involve, given they are such an integral part of her Government’s recent bill, or does she stand by her statement made at the Rotorua youth planning day that mentoring is “just another fancy word”?

Hon PAULA BENNETT: Yes, I do stand by what we need to do as far as mentoring programmes are concerned. We are going to make sure they are truly effective, and not just about words but about action. The simple truth is that if we keep doing the same stuff, we will get the same results. This Government says that is not good enough.

Simon Bridges: Why is the Minister proposing changes to the Youth Court’s powers?

Hon PAULA BENNETT: We know that the system works for the majority of young people, but there are a small group of recidivist serious offenders. We listened to feedback from the judiciary, which wanted a wider range of tools to individualise sentences. It also wanted longer sentences, to have the chance to make a real difference in those offenders’ lives. That is what we are giving the judiciary.


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