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Questions And Answers - 6 May 2009


1. Budget 2009—Superannuation

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

1. CHRIS TREMAIN (National—Napier) to the Minister of Finance: What measures will the Government consider in the Budget to ensure the long-term security of New Zealand superannuation?

Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance) : The Government has given a strong commitment to maintaining New Zealand superannuation. Entitlements will remain at 66 percent of the average wage after tax, to be paid from age 65. Future funding at this level is locked into the Government’s long-term spending projections. The best guarantee of New Zealand superannuation entitlements is sound Government finances and a healthy economy that can afford and deliver future retirement incomes. That is what the Budget will focus on.

Chris Tremain: What risks result from funding future superannuation payments through buying investment assets?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: Such investments over the next few years mean that the Government accumulates investment assets on one side of the balance sheet while increasing public debt on the other. As the Crown accounts released today show, such investments can be risky. Over recent months the New Zealand Superannuation Fund has lost many billions of dollars in value. The Government accounts are, in fact, around $5.5 billion below expectations. As entitlements are guaranteed, this loss is borne by taxpayers, and is not available to be spent elsewhere or returned via lower taxes. The Government is carefully considering how much risk it is appropriate to bear, so that it can avoid such losses in the future.

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Chris Tremain: What other financing options are available to address the demographics of an aging population?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: It makes sense that the cost of an aging population be smoothed over time—and, in fact, National voted for the legislation when it came in. However, that requires the Government to run stronger Budget balances before the baby boomers retire than it otherwise would have done. Reducing debt is also an approach that can help deal with the demographics of an aging population and provide a safe and sound guarantee that future superannuation payments will be affordable. I am a bit surprised that Labour, which used to believe in running surpluses in order to finance an aging population, now believes that we should spend and run up debt.

Hon David Parker: Why does the Minister hide from the reality that cutting the $2.2 billion due to the New Zealand Superannuation Fund means cuts to future superannuation entitlements; and does he think that New Zealanders are so gullible that they will believe his claims to the contrary when they know that when National was last in Government and he was the Minister of Finance, National repeatedly cut superannuation?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: Any decisions about that will be announced in the Budget. The member should go back and read the legislation his own party drew up. It allowed for Governments to make decisions in each Budget about what the contribution should be, and to explain any departure from the standard formula for the contribution. That was because the fund was set up on the assumption that there would be permanent surpluses. Because of Labour’s reckless spending and a global recession, there no longer are permanent surpluses.

Hon David Parker: Why does the Minister not fess up that his tax cuts, of which one-third go to the top 3 percent of income earners, were not just unfair but a substantial cause of the structural deficit that New Zealand now faces, and are the reason he is now cutting payments to fund future superannuation?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: That is a bit rich coming from Labour, whose tax cuts had exactly the same fiscal impact as ours did. [Interruption] Ours were not less; ours were about the same. This Government is committed to a longer-term increase in economic performance, and lower taxes will increase our economic performance.

John Boscawen: Does the Minister agree that the only way to secure the future of New Zealand’s superannuation is stronger economic and productivity growth; if so, would he care to indicate to the House what progress has been made on cutting wasteful Government expenditure, freeing up the labour market, and reducing the tax burden?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: I think the events of the last 6 months have shown that no amount of shifting around money in the Government accounts actually guarantees anything. I do agree with the member that high growth and high productivity are the keys to providing a decent retirement income for New Zealanders. That is why this Government is focused on lifting our growth performance and lifting our productivity—because without that, superannuation entitlements will be at risk in the future.

Hon Sir Roger Douglas: How does the Minister intend to safeguard the long-term security of New Zealand superannuation from politicians like Muldoon and Peters, who were prepared to make unaffordable promises in order to win votes from the retired?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: The voters seem to have dealt with, at least, the more recent version of Mr Muldoon; he is not here any more. The Government is walking a well-judged line between maintaining entitlements in order to give people a sense of security in the shorter term, and measures to lift our economic productivity and growth in the longer term. In the longer term, it is growth and productivity that guarantee entitlements, not politicians’ wish lists.

2. Prime Minister—Statements

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

2. Hon PHIL GOFF (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does he stand by all the statements he has made in the last 2 weeks; if so, why?

Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister) : Yes, but there are one or two statements I could have been a little more precise about.

Hon Phil Goff: Does the Prime Minister stand by the statement he is reported as making in the New Zealand Herald this morning that he caused confusion by telling the Minister of Māori Affairs first that he could go to talk to Commodore Bainimarama as a private citizen, then that he could not; if so, what caused this indecisiveness?

Hon JOHN KEY: Yes.

Hon Phil Goff: Which of the five statements in the last 2 weeks that the Prime Minister has made about Fiji does he stand by: that he would consider sending troops to Fiji and then he would not, that the Minister of Māori Affairs could go as a private citizen to meet Commodore Bainimarama or he could not, or that Hone Harawira could go if he wanted to; or does the Prime Minister need to check with Bill English first to find out what the Government’s real policy is on any of those issues?

Hon JOHN KEY: I stand by all the statements I have made in the last 2 weeks, but, like any politician, I could choose my phrases a little more accurately sometimes, just like yesterday when the Leader of the Opposition said about Mr Mallard: “He’s a guy that’s got a lot of punch as a parliamentarian.”

Hon Phil Goff: Is the Prime Minister satisfied that the Māori Party met the conditions of his no-surprises policy, and that in turn he reciprocated by respecting its mana-enhancing policy?

Hon JOHN KEY: Yes.

Hon Phil Goff: Does the Prime Minister stand by his statement on Sunrise regarding removing point-of-sale advertising on tobacco products: “Now, like all things in life, um, we’re not saying no. We’re quite prepared to have a look at that, quite prepared for it to evolve over time, but, at this stage, it’s one of those things where there’s no free lunch here.”, and can he explain to the House what on earth he meant by that?

Hon JOHN KEY: I absolutely stand by that. I know that the Leader of the Opposition cannot make up his mind about the super-city, but I am quite clear in my mind about point-of-sale advertising. As the Government said, we have seen some research at this point but not enough to convince us that we should get rid of point-of-sale tobacco advertising, because it would be tremendously expensive to do so and quite hard to administer. But, like all good-thinking Governments, over time we will consider the issue.

Hon Phil Goff: When does the Prime Minister think that the Government will find the courage to take a stand on this issue, given that the Ministry of Health has estimated 5,000 people a year die from smoking—13 a day—and when he has been personally given evidence showing that kids exposed to such advertising are three times as likely to take up smoking?

Hon JOHN KEY: The Government agrees with the Leader of the Opposition if the point he is making is that smoking damages the health of New Zealanders. I saw a report from the Minister of Health just a few days ago indicating that that is an issue of concern to him, and that he is looking at ways to try to ensure that fewer New Zealanders take up smoking.

Hon Phil Goff: Does the Prime Minister then stand by his statement in the Westport News last Friday, that the top personal tax rate in the United Kingdom is 70 percent; if so, can he explain why he made that up, when it is actually 50 percent?

Hon JOHN KEY: It is a shame the Leader of the Opposition was not there to hear the speech, because it was a good speech; the point I made was that the top rate is going to 50 percent in the United Kingdom, plus VAT of 17.5 percent. It means that higher-income earners are given a tax rate of approximately 70 percent.

3. Whangarei Hospital—Building

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

3. Hon PHIL HEATLEY (National—Whangarei) to the Minister of Health: What announcements has the Government made regarding building developments at Whangarei Hospital?

Hon TONY RYALL (Minister of Health) : Yesterday the Government announced approval for stage one of the redevelopment of Whangarei Hospital. This redevelopment involves a $25 million investment by the district health board to replace the existing acute mental health unit by constructing a purpose-built 25-bed facility. In addition, stage one includes a new hospital kitchen and other infrastructural work that will allow for a more comprehensive future redevelopment of the Whangarei Hospital.

Hon Phil Heatley: Does the Minister accept that mental health buildings at Whangarei Hospital have reached an unsatisfactory condition, and that much of the rest of the hospital is in need of improvement as well?

Hon TONY RYALL: Yes, there is no doubt that the acute mental health facilities at Whangarei Hospital need replacement. That is why the district health board and the Ministry of Health have given this project priority. I am advised that the current facility was built pre-1940, and was extended in 1992. To secure the best facilities outcome, the Northland District Health Board has developed a stage-by-stage master plan that will enable it to look at the results of each stage and then inform and make changes to subsequent stages as necessary.

4. Banking—Government Measures

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

4. Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE (Labour—New Lynn) to the Minister of Finance: What is his Government doing to encourage responsible behaviour by the banking system?

Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance) : As the member will know, the New Zealand banking system is regulated and subject to the prudential supervision of the Reserve Bank—a longstanding framework.

Hon David Cunliffe: Is he concerned about Reserve Bank of New Zealand reports that business borrowing costs—the red line—have hardly budged, despite dramatic falls to the official cash rate; if so, what is he doing about it?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: Yes, I am concerned about that, and I understand the Reserve Bank will be paying some attention to the matter. I suggest that if the member wants an explanation of that, he could get it directly from the banks by going and asking them.

Hon David Cunliffe: Does the Minister believe it is fair that three major Australian-owned banks made a combined profit of more than $2 billion last year, while keeping business lending rates way above those that should have applied if they had matched wholesale rates set by the Reserve Bank, and what does he say to the decent, hard-working Kiwi businessmen and women who are paying too much for their business loans?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: That member was not complaining when the rates for those hard-working, decent people who are running small businesses were much higher under his Government. But I suggest that the member get a briefing from the banks, as the Reserve Bank almost certainly will, about the reasons that they believe the rates are where they are at. I am concerned about it. I know it is very tough on businesses, and I would ask the member what he thinks the Reserve Bank should do about it.

Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga: What was the highest variable mortgage interest rate faced by homeowners in the past 10 years, and how does it compare with the current rate?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: According to official Reserve Bank data, average variable mortgage housing rates peaked at 10.9 percent in June 2008, and I do not recall hearing complaints from Labour at that stage. They had fallen to 6.41 percent by last month, and that is good for householders.

Sue Bradford: Does the Minister think that the Government should expect anything back at all from the banks in terms of social responsibility, given the huge risk the country is taking in providing the wholesale funding and retail deposit guarantee schemes?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: Yes, I do. The taxpayer is helping to underwrite the banking system. We expect the banks to give their clients a fair go, and to stick with them through tough times. I might say that it is also in our interests to have a strong banking system. Only New Zealand, Australia, and Canada have escaped the collapse of their banking systems, and that is a huge advantage to New Zealand. We need to keep a balance here between the taxpayer underwriting the banking system and also ensuring the banks are strong, because the costs of the banks failing are very high.

Hon David Parker: Why does the Minister think he has that balance right when New Zealand taxpayers are guaranteeing over $120 billion of bank debt, while those banks that are making billions of dollars in profit from New Zealanders are the same banks that are preferring the interests of their Australian shareholders over New Zealand’s interests by shipping hundreds of jobs overseas?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: I think the balance is about right. The taxpayer is underwriting the banks to ensure the benefit to the whole country of having a sound banking system, and a comparison with what has occurred in other countries shows why that is worth it. I do not think the banks should be expected to be as profitable as they were, because they are, in respect of depositors, taking much less much risk than they were. I hope that we will see banks accepting that trade-off.

Sue Bradford: Why does the Minister believe that the New Zealand Government cannot expect some commitments on things like requirements to provide finance for homes and businesses, caps on executive pay and bonuses, job retention, and other things that jurisdictions overseas are expecting precisely in return for substantial Government backing for their financial and banking sectors? Why are we standing out on this?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: The difference is that in the countries where all of those requirements are being made, taxpayers have actually put in billions of dollars. Fortunately, we have not had to do that yet. As I said yesterday, I understand the concerns of the financial sector union about jobs being lost, but I think it is a bit heavy-handed to say that if banks lay some people off, we will remove the guarantees. That would be a very disproportionate response, and bad for the economy.

5. Māori Aquaculture—Settlement

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

5. COLIN KING (National—Kaikōura) to the Minister of Fisheries: What progress is the Government making on settling the Crown’s obligations to Māori in relation to the Māori Commercial Aquaculture Claims Settlement Act 2004?

Hon PHIL HEATLEY (Minister of Fisheries) : This afternoon the Prime Minister, a number of Ministers, and I will be signing a deed of settlement with iwi of Te Tau Ihu, Ngāi Tahu, and iwi represented by the Hauraki Māori Trust Board. This gives effect to a $97 million early settlement of the Crown’s pre-commencement space obligations to iwi, as per the Māori aquaculture settlement. The Crown promised iwi the equivalent of 20 percent of aquaculture space created between 1992 and 2004, and 20 percent of new space. This Government has great pleasure in being part of such a historic occasion.

Colin King: Why was this settlement undertaken, and who has been instrumental in making it happen?

Hon PHIL HEATLEY: As new aquaculture space has not flowed through in recent years, because the aquaculture reforms failed dismally, it was acknowledged that to meet the settlement obligation, a payment of the financial equivalent would be necessary. Iwi actually approached the Government with a number of parties, and have been involved in negotiating the settlement. The Government certainly acknowledges their work, and the work of previous Ministers and agencies such as the Ministry of Fisheries, as well as Te Ohu Kai Moana Trustee Ltd iwi leaders and negotiators, for their good faith and pragmatic approach.

Colin King: What role will his ministry play in future Treaty settlements?

Hon PHIL HEATLEY: The settlement of Treaty of Waitangi grievances is a very high priority for this Government. We have set a target of 2014 for settling all historical Treaty claims. The Government believes that all New Zealanders stand to gain from faster completion of the settlement process. The Ministry of Fisheries has played, and will continue to play, a key part in this process and will continue to work with our Government departments and iwi and hapū to make it actually happen.

Rahui Katene: Why have iwi not benefited from a single transaction for marine farms created before the signing date of 2004, when the original deal gave them 20 percent of all marine farm space created between 1992 and 2004?

Hon PHIL HEATLEY: That is because the previous Government’s solution, which was passed into legislation in 2004, has not resulted in a single hectare of new aquaculture marine farming area anywhere in New Zealand, so, unfortunately, we were not able to pass sea space over to iwi; we have to give them a cash equivalent instead.

Hon Parekura Horomia: Why do we not take the Government seriously when it talks about—[Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: I beg the member’s pardon but I ask members to be a bit more reasonable with the noise. The Hon Parekura Horomia has the floor.

Hon Parekura Horomia: How can we take the Government seriously when it talks about its obligations to Māori when it is clearly failing its obligations to hold a mana-enhancing relationship with its coalition partner the Māori Party, and does the Minister agree with his National colleagues that the allocation of aquaculture space to Māori was going to cause bitterness and grievance, and that Labour was encouraging a race-for-space mantra; if so, why?

Hon PHIL HEATLEY: The Māori Party will be joining us today as signatories for the aquaculture settlement. I am a little bit confused, given the track record of Labour delivering no new aquaculture space at all to anyone in the industry, and therefore, by default, no new aquaculture space to Māori, that it is making some sort of claim to fame. I know that Parekura Horomia, having had his 9 years of opportunity and failing in this area, feels ashamed. It would be better if the little man could hide.

Rahui Katene: What progress has been achieved in working with iwi who should have been covered by the Act but have not negotiated a settlement to date?

Hon PHIL HEATLEY: That is a very fair question. This Government is committed to its Treaty obligations. The Ministry of Fisheries is working with Te Ohu Kai Moana Trustee Ltd to provide an early settlement with the remaining regions—between 17 and 19 of them. The Ministry of Fisheries has engaged expertise to investigate the value of the pre-commencement space obligations for the remaining regions. Over a range of areas of Government we are actually making progress and getting runs on the board. I know that New Zealanders, and certainly Māori, are delighted with that.

6. Northland Region Corrections Facility—Staff Injuries

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

6. Hon CLAYTON COSGROVE (Labour—Waimakariri) to the Minister of Corrections: Why did she tell the House yesterday, in respect of the incident at the Northland Region Corrections Facility, that “a number of staff received minor injuries.”?

Hon JUDITH COLLINS (Minister of Corrections) : What I actually said was: “Unfortunately, a number of staff received minor injuries. The most serious injury is a suspected fractured shoulder,”. Yesterday that member claimed that five prison officers were attacked by 15 prisoners; in fact, there are three identified assailants. He claimed that a staff member suffered a smashed Achilles heel; the staff member did not. He claimed that there was double-bunking in that part of the prison; there was not. To exaggerate claims about prison incidents to score political points undermines the excellent work of our corrections officers.

Hon Clayton Cosgrove: Does the Minister dispute the Corrections Association advice that a male officer had his nose broken, a female officer dislocated her shoulder and had a ball joint in her arm broken, and another female officer seriously injured her Achilles tendon, resulting in three officers requiring hospital treatment; and does she still characterise these injuries as minor?

Hon JUDITH COLLINS: I am happy to table for the House the list of injuries to staff that the Department of Corrections has provided to me—including, by the way, the comment about the supposed broken Achilles. The prison manager asked the prison officer whether her ankle was broken and whether the Achilles tendon was damaged. She replied “No.”; she has a sprained ankle. The prison officer who was reported to have received a broken nose actually sustained a bloodied nose, and he returned to full duties the following day. I am happy to table that list.

Sandra Goudie: Has the Minister received any other reports regarding assaults on staff?

Hon JUDITH COLLINS: Yes, I have seen a report that in the last 4 months of Mr Goff’s term as Minister of Corrections there were 36 assaults by prisoners on staff, compared to 17 in the first 4 months of this Government. In September 2006 a prisoner took a female officer hostage, requiring the armed offenders squad to intervene. In January 2007 a prison officer was set upon by four prisoners armed with weapons fashioned from knives and scissors. In May 2007, 15 youth prisoners took control of a wing at Rimutaka Prison for 5 hours, causing substantial damage to such an extent that that wing has not yet been reopened. In May 2008 a prison officer was seriously assaulted by a prisoner and required plastic surgery. In July 2008 a prison officer lost an eye following an assault by a prisoner.

Mr SPEAKER: I think the Minister has made her point fairly clearly.

Hon JUDITH COLLINS: Those are very serious assaults.

Hon Clayton Cosgrove: Does the Minister consider, listening to the following statement reported by a prison officer who was a victim of the incident, that this injury was minor or serious? I quote from one of the official incident information reports of 4 May 2009: “I was punched in the head, the back of the head, and chest approximately 10 times. I couldn’t identify who the prisoners were that punched me because they turned me face down on the bed. Then I got thrown out of the cell door.”

Hon JUDITH COLLINS: Obviously, it is very serious whenever a prison officer is actually attacked.

Hon Clayton Cosgrove: Oh, it’s serious now? It wasn’t serious yesterday.

Hon JUDITH COLLINS: The question that the member asked yesterday was about the injuries.

Mr SPEAKER: I apologise to the Minister, but I cannot hear her answer. I just ask members please to be reasonable in their interjections. I apologise to the Hon Judith Collins for interrupting.

Hon JUDITH COLLINS: It is never acceptable for staff to be assaulted by prisoners, and that is one of the reasons that this Government has stamped down on prisoners collecting razor blades in their cells, which the previous Government was quite happy to have happen. It is never acceptable.

Sandra Goudie: What is the Government doing to make prisons safer for staff?

Hon JUDITH COLLINS: The safety of prison staff and the public is my No. 1 priority. Unlike the previous Minister of Corrections, Labour member Phil Goff, I am actually doing something about it. For example, just this week we have stopped high-security and remand prisoners from hoarding razor blades in their cells. This was a common-sense initiative that Mr Goff could have easily implemented, but chose to not be bothered to. [Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: Can members on both sides please be a little more reasonable.

Hon Clayton Cosgrove: Does the Minister now admit that both her description in the House yesterday of the injuries, and the description of the incident by one Warren Cummins, northern regional manager of the Department of Corrections, that “the worst you could say is they”—the prisoners—“might have thrown some peas or potatoes.”, are inaccurate, offensive, and insulting to the staff who were injured and involved?

Hon JUDITH COLLINS: No. What I can say is that the complete over-rarking of this whole incident by Mr Cosgrove has undermined the excellent work in response of the Department of Corrections officers involved. I am quite happy to table as well for the House a complete rundown on the assaults on staff—exactly what happened—for the benefit of the member and the rest of the House. Every time prisoners think they are getting something over our prison officers—like that member wants to promote—the prison offers get the promotion, not that member.

Hon Clayton Cosgrove: Have any prisoners in the unit been interviewed—either internally or externally, by police or by Department of Corrections staff—or been charged, and have any procedures in the unit been changed as a result of this incident, or is it as one prison official described: “Nothing has been done in the unit. It’s as if the incident never happened. The only thing that’s changed is that some prison officers are walking around in cells with black eyes and fat lips.”?

Hon JUDITH COLLINS: I prefer not to take the reports of the next Labour candidate for Tukituki into account when I am providing information to the House. I am able, however, to provide to the House—and I have already offered to do so—a full report from the Department of Corrections about the incident. The member has asked whether the police were involved; I understand that the police have been involved.

Hon Clayton Cosgrove: When will this Minister admit that she called this one wrong, and that it was a serious incident that resulted in serious injuries to officers; and will she visit the injured victims and apologise to them for her dismissive and flippant answers in the House yesterday, when she characterised those officers’ injuries as “minor”?

Hon JUDITH COLLINS: I know that that member is struggling to make an impact in his shadow portfolio, but, really!

Hon Trevor Mallard: Point of order, Mr Speaker.

Mr SPEAKER: Point of order, the Hon Trevor Mallard.

Hon JUDITH COLLINS: Three into 15 goes five times—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! A point of order has been raised by the Hon Trevor Mallard.

Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am actually going to change my points of order—to take them in a different order. The first thing is that Ministers should be addressing you, Mr Speaker, when they are answering questions. If the Minister had been doing that, she would have seen you stand and call her to order. I ask you first to rule on that. [Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: Members must be quiet while points of order are being dealt with. I accept the point the member makes: the Minister should have sat down and ceased answering the question when I called “Order!” and stood. In the overall scale of crimes, though, I do not think it is a hanging offence. But the member makes a perfectly valid point of order.

Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The first point of order that I was going to raise relates to the first sentence of the Minister’s answer. Ministers are required, I think, at least to start with something that addresses the question. They should not introduce outside matters before they even attempt to address it.

Hon Rodney Hide: The Hon Trevor Mallard makes a reasonable point to a degree. However, the Hon Clayton Cosgrove was clearly trying, through those questions, to make political points. If a member sets out to make political points, it is not unreasonable for the Minister to point out the political failings of the member asking the question. I suggest to the Hon Trevor Mallard that if his front bench is not up to taking a political—

Mr SPEAKER: No, no, the member must not use a point of order to criticise another party. Did the Hon Gerry Brownlee wish to add to the issue?

Hon Gerry Brownlee: I really just back up Mr Hide, in a way. You yourself, Mr Speaker, have ruled in recent weeks and on numerous occasions that if questions are loaded in a political sense, so will the answers be. [Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: There will be no interjections, please, while we are dealing with this matter. In normal circumstances, the point the Hon Trevor Mallard has raised is a perfectly good point: Ministers should not commence an answer to a question with a political attack on the person asking the question. That is totally outside the Standing Orders. But the other point made is certainly valid: where members asking questions make a political statement, they are likely to get a political statement back. I ask Ministers to please address the question or attempt to answer the question, rather than launch into a political attack on the questioner. But the point is well made that where members ask politically loaded questions, they are likely to get a politically loaded answer. Let us see whether we can bring a more settled atmosphere to the House today.

Hon Clayton Cosgrove: I seek leave to table an incident information report—and I note for the record that the names of the innocent have been deleted—of 4 May 2009 in which a victim of this assault notes being punched 10 times.

Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is no objection.

* Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.

Hon Clayton Cosgrove: I seek leave to table a transcript of Television One of 6 May 2009 in which Mr Warren Cummins notes that potatoes and peas were thrown in this incident.

Mr SPEAKER: I take it that it is a television transcript. The member is seeking leave to table a television transcript. Is there any objection? There is objection.

Hon JUDITH COLLINS: I seek leave to table a report from the Department of Corrections on the incident—dated 4 May—and on injuries to staff.

Mr SPEAKER: Is there any objection to that document—

Hon Trevor Mallard: Yes, there is. Point of order, Mr Speaker.

Mr SPEAKER: I think the honourable member has—

Hon Trevor Mallard: No, she has had one. We have dealt with it. Point of order, Mr Speaker.

Hon JUDITH COLLINS: No, I have another one.

Mr SPEAKER: Will both members please resume your seats. We are not going to have this. Leave was sought to table a document; the leave was denied, so that matter has been dealt with.

Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I wish to make it clear to Ministers—I know that some of them are relatively inexperienced—that they do not need the permission of the House to table a document.

Mr SPEAKER: I appreciate the honourable member’s advice. I will check it out to make sure. I will seek advice right now so that the House can benefit. If we can have some silence for a moment. I apologise to the honourable member that I was not absolutely certain of the point he just raised, but the advice I have received is that a Minister, like any other member wishing to table a document, does have to seek the leave of the House to do so. I will—[Interruption]—I am dealing with a point of order. I will check the matter further, because the honourable member has raised a perfectly sensible point as to whether Ministers have the right to simply table documents. That is fine. I will check it out further, but that is the advice I have at this moment.

Hon JUDITH COLLINS: In light of that, I seek leave again to table the report from the Department of Corrections on the injuries to staff.

Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is none.

* Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.

Hon JUDITH COLLINS: I seek leave to table a report from the Department of Corrections on assaults to staff. It includes a full run-down of what happened, including the 1 minute that it took for other staff to come and help.

Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is none.

* Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.

7. Bees—Pesticide

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

7. SUE KEDGLEY (Green) to the Minister of Agriculture: Is he confident that New Zealand will not suffer from the massive bee deaths that have occurred in other countries; if so, why?

Hon DAVID CARTER (Minister of Agriculture) : Yes, I am, although the member needs to understand that the cause of colony collapse disorder is unknown. I therefore cannot give a cast-iron guarantee that such a disease will never occur in New Zealand.

Sue Kedgley: Is he aware that honey bees are acutely vulnerable to some pesticides, and will the Government take action to phase out the pesticides that are the most toxic to bees, as Italy, Germany, France, and other European countries have done following the loss of millions of honey bees there; if not, why not?

Hon DAVID CARTER: I am aware that some pesticides are toxic to bees. However, such pesticides are an essential tool for farmers to use to control other insects. What needs to be done is to take care in the application of pesticides in order to minimise any risk to the bee population.

Shane Ardern: What would be the impact of banning all pesticides capable of harming bees?

Hon DAVID CARTER: Such a ban would have a significant impact on the viability of our farmers and our growers. A prohibition of that type would expose the sector to the very real risk of significant crop loss and economic harm. Although very few producers like to use pesticides, almost all producers regard them as a necessary component of modern agriculture.

Sue Kedgley: What evidence does the Minister have to support his theory that we can safely continue to use pesticides that are acutely toxic to bees, given that a number of European countries are banning them or phasing them out because they recognise that the stakes are simply too high to take that kind of risk?

Hon DAVID CARTER: We have a very thorough process here for the approval of any pesticide to be used in New Zealand. An independent panel is currently examining the decisions by the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, and the independent panel of the Environmental Risk Management Authority reviews the standards very carefully before any approval is given for the use of any pesticide in this country.

Sue Kedgley: Does he agree with Federated Farmers that without bees, our ecosystem and our economy would collapse; if so, why will he not take a precautionary approach when the stakes are so high?

Hon DAVID CARTER: I totally agree with Federated Farmers as to the importance of the bee population to this country, but, as I have explained to the member, to simply ban the use of pesticides, without considering the other economic impacts on the rest of agriculture, would be folly indeed.

Sue Kedgley: Can the Minister confirm that I was talking not about all pesticides but about those pesticides that are the most toxic to bees, and does he agree with Landcare Research that human health depends on pollinators, as 70 percent of crop species need them, and does he agree with Horticulture New Zealand that there are multibillion dollars in export earnings derived from pollinated crops, which put jobs in our rural towns and moneys in the bank; and if he does agree with those organisations, can he explain exactly how high the stakes would have to get before his Government would act to phase out those pesticides that are most acutely toxic to bees?

Hon DAVID CARTER: I fully appreciate the importance of bees to our agricultural and horticultural industries. That is why it was with pleasure that I was involved with the launch of National Bee Week in Parliament yesterday in association with the National Beekeepers’ Association. If any information is presented to me or to my other parliamentary colleagues, particularly with regard to the safety of any chemical in the light of fresh information, of course I will look at that. But I am not going to make decisions based on emotional claims. The decisions must be based on science.

Sue Kedgley: I seek leave to table a document from the Soil Association in the United Kingdom, which is a briefing about the toxicity to bees of groups of pesticides that are widely used in New Zealand.

Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is none.

* Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.

Sue Kedgley: I seek leave to table a list of bee-toxic pesticides that are registered in New Zealand.

Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection to that course of action? There is none.

* Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.

8. Labour, Minister—Priorities

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

8. Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Labour—Hutt South) to the Minister of Labour: What are her priorities for the period between now and 30 June 2009?

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE (Leader of the House) on behalf of the Minister of Labour: The portfolio priority is to move New Zealand towards having a labour market that helps New Zealanders get jobs, keep jobs, and earn higher wages. One initiative is to provide greater flexibility and certainty, and a review of the Holidays Act will be part of that process. The review will include the calculation of relevant daily pay and the question of whether to give workers the choice to trade their fourth week of annual leave for cash.

Hon Trevor Mallard: What is the relationship between those priorities and the ones set out in the Prime Minister’s letter to her?

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: I am more than happy to ensure that those letters are tabled in order that the member may make some analysis on his own.

Hon Trevor Mallard: How does the Minister feel about getting a letter from the Prime Minister indicating that she has just over a month before a team he has selected will interview her in relation to her future as a Minister?

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: Whatever information the member has to suggest that is complete and utter rubbish.

Hon Tau Henare: What are the Minister’s priorities in relation to mediation services?

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: The Government is committed to ensuring that mediation services are adequately resourced and that the independence of the Mediation Service is maintained. The Government understands—and so will members opposite—that when relationships in the workplace break down, even to the point of fisticuffs, there can always be redemption.

Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I have now finished my questions, and I do not think there are any further supplementary questions. I ask that the Minister follow through and formalise his undertaking to table the letter from the Prime Minister.

Mr SPEAKER: The Minister is at liberty to seek leave if he wishes to, but if the Minister was not quoting from an official document, there is no necessity to table it.

Hon Trevor Mallard: Will the Minister fulfil the undertaking given on her behalf in the House today by Gerry Brownlee that she will table the letter to her from the Prime Minister outlining his expectations of her?

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: The Minister will consult Mr Brownlee about this particular matter. But there would seem little point in tabling it as the member appears to have the letter anyway.

9. Parents, Teenage—Employment

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

9. LOUISE UPSTON (National—Taupō) to the Minister for Social Development and Employment: What is the Government doing to improve education opportunities for teenage parents?

Hon PAULA BENNETT (Minister for Social Development and Employment) : This Government will be giving young parents who want to stay in education a childcare payment of up to $180 per week to help with childcare costs, so that they can stay in education.

Louise Upston: What programmes has the Minister seen that help young parents access education, and create opportunities for them and their children?

Hon PAULA BENNETT: I visited a number of these programmes over many years, most recently as the Minister. I can tell the member that supporting young parents to stay in education not only helps them but helps their children with their future. We are delighted to be able to continue a payment that was going to stop under Labour; we have now committed to keeping it. The reason that the payment is being announced now is that it is vitally important to those young parents so that they can make decisions about their education this year.

Louise Upston: What is the Minister’s view on the timing of changes to the work-testing requirements of the domestic purposes benefit?

Hon PAULA BENNETT: This Government is committed to helping sole parents into work. We intend to change the work-testing rules to incentivise those parents to get a part-time job when their youngest child turns 6. However, I am committed to setting up domestic purposes beneficiaries to succeed, so we will hold off on making the changes until the economic conditions change and there are jobs for those people to be getting those sorts of opportunities.

Hon Annette King: Does the Minister agree with John Key’s statement that people on the domestic purposes benefit have been “breeding for a business”; if so, will she require that the people he has so insultingly labelled undertake educational opportunities or be trained in another business?

Hon PAULA BENNETT: I support the comment made by John Key that young parents should be supported to stay in education. He has had a hand in making sure that these childcare payments are available. He has visited teen parent units. He backs young parents, and we certainly back him.

10. Broadband Roll-out—Connection Costs

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

10. CLARE CURRAN (Labour—Dunedin South) to the Minister for Communications and Information Technology: Will the Government’s $1.5 billion election promise to deliver ultra-fast broadband fibre to 75 percent of New Zealand homes include the cost of taking fibre from the street into the home?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister for Communications and Information Technology) : The Government is committed to making the $1.5 billion investment in accelerating ultra-fast broadband to 75 percent of New Zealand homes, alongside private co-investors. The exact methods of deployment, the level of fibre backhaul required, the level of acceptable overbuild, the common technical standards, and the level of consumer contribution will all be resolved as we move through this process that we have embarked upon.

Clare Curran: When the Minister told the House last week that the Government’s goal was to provide availability of ultra-fast broadband, did his definition of “availability” mean that families would have to bear costs of thousands of dollars to connect ultra-fast broadband to their homes?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: There will, of course, be an element of cost, an element of service rental, and an element of installation cost. The amounts will be commercial decisions, but the local fibre companies and retailers will be acutely aware that the level of installation cost will greatly impact take-up. I point out to the member that nobody has ever said that ultra-fast broadband will be provided to 75 percent of New Zealand homes completely free of charge.

Clare Curran: Does the Minister agree with John Key, who promised to provide ultra-fast broadband to where people work, live, or study; if so, is not true that people live at home and not on the street, that children study at schools and not on the street, and that it is to homes and schools that ultra-fast broadband needs to be delivered and not the street?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: There were four questions there but I think the answer to all of them was yes.

Clare Curran: I seek leave to table two documents. The first is an opinion piece titled “Telcos universally challenged”, dated 4 May, by—

Mr SPEAKER: Is that document from a newspaper?

Clare Curran: It is published on the Stuff website.

Mr SPEAKER: A document published on a staff website? Leave is sought to table that. Is that any objection? There is.

Clare Curran: I seek leave to table edition No. 46 of John Key’s newsletter entitled Key Notes, published 9 April.

Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There appears to be none.

* Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.

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 reports has he received on approval of investment in the national electricity grid?

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE (Minister of Energy and Resources) : I have received a report indicating that last Friday the Electricity Commission announced that it was approving the $473 million North Auckland and Northland project, reversing its earlier decision to decline it. The project will involved installing 37 kilometres of 220 kilovolt underground cable from Pakuranga to Penrose, and then through the central business district into Albany, reducing the risk of events taking out electricity supply to the north of Auckland. The proviso, of course, is that the Electricity Commission has restricted the commissioning date to some years out: 2014.

Jonathan Young: Why is the North Auckland and Northland project so important?

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: The major benefit of the project is that it provides an additional and separate line into North Auckland and Northland, reducing the risk of disruption or blackouts north of the Auckland Harbour Bridge. Businesses and consumers in Auckland and North Auckland deserve to have secure electricity supply, and this project will help ensure that.

Mr SPEAKER: I call question number 12.

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. There was an extraordinary interjection across the House a few minutes ago from Mr Jones suggesting that what I have been talking about was Labour Party policy. I need to tell—

Mr SPEAKER: That is not a point of order; the member will sit down.

12. Auckland—Local Government Reform Costings

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

12. PHIL TWYFORD (Labour) to the Minister of Local Government: Has he costed the Government’s super-city proposal outlined in Making Auckland Greater: The Government’s decisions on Auckland Governance; if not, why not?

Hon RODNEY HIDE (Minister of Local Government) : Yes.

Phil Twyford: Why will the Minister not follow his own advice that “it’s a good test for a planned spend-up to get the agreement of those who are paying for it.” and get the agreement of Aucklanders to pay for his super-city plans, rather than just forcing these costs on them?

Hon RODNEY HIDE: I struggle to get to the bottom of the member’s question. The Government is fully engaged with Auckland; that is why we had the previous Government’s royal commission. The Government has given its high-level response and, through Parliament and the select committee process, it will be engaged with Auckland. Aucklanders will be able to consider that cost. I think that the highest cost so far has been to that member, with his questions. It has seen him drop from list place No. 26 to No. 42 in the Labour Party’s rankings, and—

Mr SPEAKER: That is not relevant to the answer.

Phil Twyford: Can the Minister confirm that in 4 weeks he has spent $500,000 on advertising, and was this money spent to give the Government’s uncosted super-city plans “the sense of stature” that he told Cabinet the announcement needed?

Hon RODNEY HIDE: The question of the advertising cost is correct. That was in response to people wanting to know what was going on with regard to the Government’s proposal. I hasten to add that that was done entirely within departmental baselines, so it cost no extra money. The proposal from the previous Government for the royal commission cost $4 million. The previous Government did nothing for Auckland; this Government is acting.

Phil Twyford: Given that the Government has spent $500,000 on advertising its super-city plans in only 4 weeks, how much has the Minister budgeted for the next 12 months to change the minds of the 71 percent of Aucklanders who believe the Government should pay for their reforms and of the 63 percent who believe there has been too little consultation?

Hon RODNEY HIDE: The great news about this Government is that we do not believe in spending taxpayers’ money to change people’s minds, unlike the previous Government. The previous Government developed that into an art form, so much so that the Labour Party had to come up with $800,000 to pay back taxpayers for money that was spent on trying to persuade taxpayers to vote for Labour. This Government is concerned about listening to the people of Auckland. That is why we are committed to the parliamentary process; that is why we are committed to the select committee process. I suggest to Mr Phil Twyford that he, along with Mr Goff, should listen to Aucklanders now and again. It is not a bad idea for a politician to do that.

Mr SPEAKER: I ask Ministers, when answering questions, to please keep them a little briefer than that. That answer did go on for an excessive length of time. Did Phil Twyford have a supplementary question?

Phil Twyford: How does the Minister justify spending $500,000 to increase his own stature, when he is not prepared to pay one cent towards the $240 million transition cost, which works out at $550 per ratepayer?

Hon RODNEY HIDE: Easily.

Hon John Carter: What reports, if any, has the Minister seen on the cost of not reforming Auckland governance?

Hon RODNEY HIDE: The royal commission, set up by the previous Government because it could not make up its own mind about Auckland in 9 years, spent $4 million and had this to say: “It is important to recognise”—

Hon David Cunliffe: And you ignored them! The little man is easily distracted. Carry on, Rodney.

Mr SPEAKER: If the member is quite finished.

Hon RODNEY HIDE: —“that there are wider costs associated with not taking action. Failure to take action will result in citizens and businesses continuing to incur high transaction costs in dealing with councils, in important decisions either not being made or made too late, and in central government being unable to develop an effective partnership with Auckland local government.”

Phil Twyford: I seek leave to table a document dated 4 May from the Government’s website, detailing spending on advertising over 4 weeks to the tune of $533,000.

Mr SPEAKER: I just seek clarification: is the member seeking to table something from a website?

Phil Twyford: Yes, it is from the Government’s website.

Mr SPEAKER: It is from the Government’s website. Is there any objection to that document being tabled? There is objection.

Hon John Carter: Has the Minister of Local Government seen any reports of the previous Government being concerned about the cost of local government in Auckland?

Hon RODNEY HIDE: Yes, I have had a report. I was surprised by the fact that the previous Government was never concerned about the cost to ratepayers or Auckland of local councils. That cost went up from $1 billion when the Labour Government took office, to $1.5 billion when it was booted out—an increase of 50 percent. I never saw one member of that Government have one ounce of concern for the people of Auckland or the ratepayers about the cost of that local government.


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