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Questions And Answers - 30 July 2009

Questions for Oral Answer

30 July 2009

Questions to Ministers

1. Economy—Reports

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

1. Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE (Labour—New Lynn) to the Minister of Finance: What reports has he received on the New Zealand economy?

Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance) : I have seen reports that a combination of a global recession and a decade of economic mismanagement has left New Zealand with very large fiscal deficits and a weakened export sector. That will present significant challenges in getting this economy on the road to recovery, but there are some interesting signs, such as the National Bank’s National Business Outlook survey this week, which shows increasing business confidence.

Hon David Cunliffe: Does he agree with the Reserve Bank governor’s statement today that “The level of the dollar in particular, is not helping the sustainability of future growth, and brings with it additional economic risks” and with the statement from the Manufacturers and Exporters Association that “High interest rates hurt the real economy, put upward pressure on the exchange rate and put more jobs at risk.”?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: I do agree with the view that for New Zealand to have a sustained recovery based on a stronger export sector will be a challenge with the dollar at the current levels. But I imagine that that member will not try to make a political point about that, because it is precisely record-high interest rates and a record-high dollar, driven by the previous Government’s reckless economic management, that have put the export sector into such a difficult position.

Amy Adams: What other reports has the Minister received on the economy?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: I received a report that the Opposition’s recession response package is still on its way. The early indications, though, are that it will remove means testing for social welfare, raise the age of New Zealand superannuation eligibility, and spend a lot more public money on things that do not work.

Hon David Cunliffe: Does the Minister agree with the Reserve Bank governor when he said that: “the forecast recovery is based on a further easing in financial conditions. If this easing does not occur, the forecast recovery would be put at risk. In these circumstances we would reassess policy settings”; if so, does he consider that the failure by banks to pass on cuts to the official cash rate could constitute just such circumstances?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: I think that would be a very marginal influence on financial conditions. The fact is that what will drive recovery in the short term is a very substantial drop in interest rates in New Zealand—in fact, it is the largest cut in the official cash rate in the developed world—along with Budget 2009, which has pumped around $3 billion of Government money into protecting people from the sharpest edges of the recession. But in the long run neither of those is sustainable, and we will have to shift from borrowing and consumption to investment and exporting.

Hon David Cunliffe: Why does the Minister consider that the pass through of cuts to the official cash rate through the financial system would be of only “marginal” relevance to policy settings, when the official cash rate is the primary, indeed only, instrument of monetary policy used to control inflation and credit conditions?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: I was referring simply to the issue that the member has raised a number of times, and that is the issue of the pass through from the official cash rate to the floating mortgage rate, where, as I think we have agreed, there are some questions as to whether banks have passed through enough. But the larger picture is that the official cash rate cut from the peaks under that member’s Government to what they are now is one of the largest in the developed world, and many New Zealanders are enjoying the benefits of lower interest rates.

Dr Russel Norman: Does the Minister agree that the high interest rate - high exchange rate reality we find ourselves in is driven, in part, by the Reserve Bank’s concern to keep the lid on house price inflation; and hence, will he adopt measures that specifically target potential inflation that could come out a housing bubble rising again?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: I think members on all sides of Parliament would share a concern that New Zealand does not head off down the track of another housing bubble. As the Government has indicated before, we are quite happy to see an open debate about what measures might assist the Reserve Bank governor to avoid the situation that occurred over the last 3 or 4 years.

Hon David Cunliffe: If the Minister is happy to have that debate, and in light of reports that the Bank of New Zealand has cut its bank fees by up to $25 million per year, and given estimates that similar fees across the sector amount to some $100 million per year, will he now allow Government members to participate in the banking inquiry, in order to encourage other banks to follow suit?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: We welcome that move by the BNZ, because it proves the point that the Government has been making for a number of months—that is, the power to change banks’ behaviour lies primarily in the hands of their customers. I hope that the BNZ will enjoy the benefits of customers putting pressure on other banks to go down the same path as it.

Dr Russel Norman: Does the Minister agree that part of the reason for the housing bubble is the way that housing investment is treated under the taxation system, and hence, would he support a reconsideration of the taxes around capital gains tax, excluding the primary family home, and also ring-fencing the losses around investment properties so that we can change the incentive structure created by the taxation system, which contributed to the bubble at the heart of a lot of the problems in the New Zealand economy?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: I would not want to prejudge any position that the Government might take, other than to say we have indicated publicly that the advice from Treasury and the Inland Revenue Department is to go down that track. We have said they would find it hard to win an argument with us about that. Nevertheless, the Tax Working Group that the Government has set up with Victoria University will be canvassing those issues, and we welcome further debate on them.

* Question time interrupted.

2. Treaty of Waitangi Settlements—Progress

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

2. PAUL QUINN (National) to the Minister for Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations: What progress is the Government making towards its goal of settling historical Treaty of Waitangi claims?

Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON (Minister for Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations) : Today the House will vote on the third reading of the Port Nicholson Block (Taranaki Whānui ke Te Upoko o Te Ika) Claims Settlement Bill, which will settle the claims of those iwi whose rights were breached in the sale and the management of the Port Nicholson Block. The settlement provides for cultural and commercial redress, including a financial package of around $25 million. It will vest a number of culturally significant sites in Taranaki whānui. However, it is worth noting that no public access will be affected by the settlement, which satisfies all historical claims by the iwi involved. This is a significant step towards the Government’s goal of settling all historical Treaty claims in a just and durable manner.

Paul Quinn: Why is the enactment of this bill significant?

Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: Once the bill has been passed the Prime Minister will deliver the Crown’s apology to Taranaki whānui representatives, and then they will formally forgive the Crown in accordance with the deed of settlement. This is an unprecedented step for an iwi to take. It marks the desire on the part of the trust to ensure that there is closure between the Crown and Taranaki whānui, and, hopefully, it will mark the beginning of a new relationship between iwi and the Crown. This is very welcome, and it shows how successfully Māori and the Crown have succeeded in working together to address the wrongs of the past for the good of all New Zealanders.

Paul Quinn: What benefits will the Taranaki whānui settlement bring for the Wellington region?

Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: One of the features of this settlement is the extent of engagement between iwi, local government, and central government. This will result in better conservation outcomes, and management of a number of natural resources and specific sites in the region, although, as I said in my answer to the primary question, it is important to emphasise continued public access being protected for all New Zealanders. The Government is committed to helping local government and iwi work together to promote the best possible management of natural resources in a way that ensures all New Zealanders can continue to enjoy them in a sustainable way.

3. Corrections (Contract Management of Prisons) Amendment Bill—Reports on Submissions

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

3. Hon CLAYTON COSGROVE (Labour—Waimakariri) to the Minister of Corrections: What reports, if any, has she received about submissions to the Law and Order Committee on the Corrections (Contract Management of Prisons) Amendment Bill?

Hon JUDITH COLLINS (Minister of Corrections) : On 11 May 2009 the chief executive advised me that staff from the Department of Corrections would be making submissions to the Law and Order Committee in a private capacity or as Corrections Association of New Zealand representatives. Obviously, I had no concerns about this. Staff have the same rights as anyone else in terms of making submissions to a parliamentary select committee.

Hon Clayton Cosgrove: Has the Minister seen reports about ACT MP and select committee member David Garrett threatening prison officers who submitted against the bill yesterday, saying: “You’d be aware that given your submission here, you wouldn’t get offered a job anyway, would you?” Will she be seeking assurances from the ACT leader and Government coalition partner, Rodney Hide, that Mr Garrett will be required to withdraw his threats and to discontinue threatening the future job prospects of Department of Corrections staff; if not, why not?

Mr SPEAKER: Before I call the Minister to answer that question, I point out to the House that there is no responsibility on the Minister’s part for the actions of another member of Parliament. She has no ministerial responsibility for that. I am happy to let the member not waste a supplementary question, but it needs to be in order.

Hon Clayton Cosgrove: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The initial question asked was a straight question to the Minister about whether she had seen reports about Mr Garrett’s comments, and I think that is in order. The second question simply asked whether she would be seeking any assurances. It is up to the Minister to answer, of course, but the first part of the question has to be in order. It asked simply whether she had seen reports regarding his comments. If she chooses to go on to say she will seek assurances, or whatever—

Mr SPEAKER: I hear the honourable member. Certainly the first part of the question is in order, but I am afraid the second part is not.

Hon JUDITH COLLINS: I have heard some reports about what happened in the select committee yesterday. I am clearly not responsible for comments that Mr Garrett made, but I note that the member who is asking the question was the chair of the committee, and the order of the committee should have been controlled by him.

Chester Borrows: What other reports has the Minister received on the Corrections (Contract Management of Prisons) Amendment Bill?

Hon JUDITH COLLINS: I have received a report that new section 199, inserted by the bill, describes details that must be covered in every prison management contract, including the fact that objectives and performance standards for the management and care of prisoners cannot be lower than the standards applicable to prisons operated by the Department of Corrections. In addition, the contracts will provide for programmes designed to ascertain and address the causes of prisoners’ offending, and to assist their reintegration into society.

Hon Clayton Cosgrove: Will the Minister give the House an assurance that, contrary to Mr Garrett’s threats, no prison staff members will jeopardise their future job prospects by expressing their personal views to a select committee on proposed Government policies; if not, why not?

Hon JUDITH COLLINS: I can certainly give an assurance to the member that I believe, and this Government believes, absolutely in the right of individuals, including our staff members, to make submissions to a select committee. In fact, I will read from a letter from the assistant regional manager at Auckland prison to staff that said quite clearly that officials have the same political rights as other members of society, including the right to make submissions to, and appear as witnesses before, select committees. It also said that officials should be careful, however, that their attendance in a personal capacity is consistent with their professional obligations to the Government of the day; it goes on to talk about that. I absolutely support that view.

Hon Clayton Cosgrove: Given that answer and the gravity of the threats, will the Minister go further and ask her chief executive to assure all Department of Corrections staff that they are entitled to comment on proposed Government policy in the manner that these prison officers did, and that, despite some worrying trends in this Government, they should not feel threatened or intimidated by Mr Garrett’s behaviour?

Hon JUDITH COLLINS: Yes; I can even go further than that. In fact, I can read from a statement that the chief executive of the Department of Corrections has asked to be attributed to him today. It says: “I refute absolutely any suggestion that I threaten staff with disciplinary action should they appear before the select committee in their private capacity. My understanding is that those appearing made it clear at the beginning of their submission that they were there in a private capacity.” That was from the chief executive, Barry Matthews. I understand that numerous reports have described comments otherwise from the department, and I am happy to front up with the information and the evidence.

Hon Clayton Cosgrove: Will the Minister give the House a further assurance that she will not be releasing private information held on Department of Corrections databases about these prison officers—or any other staff who choose to exercise their democratic rights and oppose her Government’s policies—in an attempt to intimidate them in the same way that her ministerial colleague Paula Bennett did in respect of two solo parents?

Hon JUDITH COLLINS: I do not think that question even deserves the dignity of an answer. It is so bad. Quite clearly I do not have access to such information; I do not want access to such information. Frankly, if I wanted to intimidate someone, they would know it.

Hon Clayton Cosgrove: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. [Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: I must have silence to hear the point of order being raised by the Hon—[Interruption] I want to hear a point of order from the Hon Clayton Cosgrove.

Hon Clayton Cosgrove: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Disregarding the smokescreen at the end—

Mr SPEAKER: I have asked the House to be quiet so I could hear a serious point of order, and what the member has just said is not within order. He must come to his point of order.

Hon Clayton Cosgrove: It was a straight question and has to be seen as such, given the fact that the Minister’s colleague has already released information using databases, and given that this Minister, as Minister of Corrections—

Mr SPEAKER: I have heard enough—

Hon Clayton Cosgrove: —does have access—

Mr SPEAKER: The member will sit down now. The member admittedly started with a fair point of order questioning whether the Minister had answered his question, but went on to try to bring in information. That is out of order. Look, the member’s question was highly political and he got a highly political answer. He can expect that when he asks highly political questions.

Hon Clayton Cosgrove: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The question asked whether she would be accessing databases. That was the question—

Mr SPEAKER: The member will sit down now. If that was all he had asked, it would be fine, but he went on to make significant political imputation in the rest of his question. If he wants a simple straight answer to a question, he should ask a simple straight question and not load it with the political loading that he built into that question.

Hon David Cunliffe: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Given that Standing Order 401(l)—[Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: This is a point of order.

Hon David Cunliffe: —prohibits a member from “assaulting, threatening or intimidating, a member or an officer of the House”, would it be in order to seek clarification from the Minister as to whether her previous statement extended as far as members of this House?

Mr SPEAKER: Before I call the Hon Rodney Hide I must say I did not hear the first part of the member’s point of order, because there was noise in the House. I apologise for that, but I will hear the Hon Rodney Hide.

Hon Rodney Hide: The member has been here a while and should appreciate that what he is raising is a matter of privilege. There is an appropriate way of doing that and it is not by way of point of order.

Mr SPEAKER: I thank the honourable member for his intervention. He is quite right.

4. Economy—Reports

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

4. CRAIG FOSS (National—Tukituki) to the Minister of Finance: What recent reports has he received on the economy?

Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance) : I have seen several reports, including comments made by the Governor of the Reserve Bank today. The basic picture is that the economy shows signs of stabilising following a recession that has lasted about 18 months. Growth is not yet strong, but at least the economy appears to have stopped contracting at the rates of last year and earlier this year. There is, however, a marked difference between leading and lagging indicators. Lagging indicators such as employment are still worsening; we expect unemployment to keep rising for some time. By contrast, forward-looking indicators such as business and consumer confidence have improved over the past 6 months.

Craig Foss: What reports has he seen about the outlook for unemployment?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: Employment is one of the last indicators to respond to changing economic conditions. It is the last to improve in an upturn and the last to turn down when the economy is slowing. So, unfortunately, employment is likely to continue to rise. The household labour force survey for the June quarter will be published next Thursday. We expect it to show an increase on the 5 percent unemployment rate reported for the March quarter, as the impacts from the recession continue to show through.

Hon David Cunliffe: In light of the massively rising unemployment, is he concerned that the OECD has recently re-rated the efforts of his Government’s stimulus package from the claimed 5 percent of GDP to only 3.5 percent of GDP, and has dropped New Zealand’s rating from the top five to the ninth in the OECD on a per capita basis; and can the Minister therefore explain why his Government is retrenching at the same time that unemployment lines are growing?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: The member just contradicted himself. If there is a stimulus of 3.5 percent of GDP, that is precisely not retrenching. The evidence for that is that the Government is out in the market right now, in the process of borrowing billions of dollars to inject into the economy. One of the effects of that is that our unemployment rate is one of the lowest in the developed world. Despite the fact that Australia has not had a technical recession when we have had seven quarters of contraction, our unemployment rate is still lower than Australia’s.

Craig Foss: What indicators has he seen showing an improvement in business confidence?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: The National Bank’s National Business Outlook shows an improvement in business confidence, but, as I have said before, an improvement in the outlook for businesses is not a guarantee that unemployment will stop rising, nor is it a guarantee that the economy will pick up strongly. We would expect that, on the basis of these indicators, the economy will show some improvement in the last quarter of this year or perhaps in the first quarter of next year, but the situation remains patchy. Some businesses are doing quite well, and others are really struggling.

Craig Foss: What comments has the Minister seen about the Government’s role in keeping down unemployment?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: I have seen one relevant comment, and I will quote: “Any mug, or any Government, can overspend, live on borrowed money, and, in the short term, sustain consumption and demand, and thus keep unemployment down a little lower than it otherwise would have been.” Those comments came from former employment Minister Phil Goff, when he was the fresh face of the Labour Party. He appears to have changed his mind, though. Well, it was 20 years ago! It—

Mr SPEAKER: The Minister had gone on for quite long enough. When I get to my feet, the Deputy Prime Minister will cease and sit down. I alert him to that point.

5. Beneficiaries—Release of Personal Information

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

5. CHARLES CHAUVEL (Labour) to the Minister for Social Development and Employment: Was the personal information she released relating to two solo mothers retrieved from a SWIFTT terminal located in her ministerial office complex?

Hon PAULA BENNETT (Minister for Social Development and Employment) : First of all, there is no terminal. Second, yes, the system was accessed from my office. Third, the member may not be aware that the Social Welfare Information for Tomorrow Today (SWIFTT) access was actually installed by the previous Government into my office in order to make it easier for seconded staff to access benefit information in the course of their work.

Mr SPEAKER: I call Charles Chauvel. [Interruption] The Hon Trevor Mallard and the relevant Government member will cease that level of interjection. I have called Charles Chauvel for a supplementary question.

Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I did create half of the noise then, but Gerry Brownlee created the other half. I object to being named, when he was not.

Mr SPEAKER: The Hon Gerry Brownlee, likewise, will not interject like that. We have had enough of that. I have called Charles Chauvel on a supplementary question. [Interruption] Members, please show some courtesy to Charles Chauvel asking a supplementary question.

Charles Chauvel: What advice has the chief executive of her department, Peter Hughes, given her about the appropriateness of her actions in regard to the public release of confidential information held on his ministry’s database?

Hon PAULA BENNETT: The chief executive has been unwell with the flu for the last couple of days, but I had a conversation with him. At the end of the day, it was my decision, not his. He certainly acknowledged that I had made that judgment call and that he backed me on that.

Charles Chauvel: Does the Minister recall the following part of the Privacy Commissioner’s guidelines, which she said she read, that state: “If the individual has misrepresented the facts on which … actions were based, the Minister could say that there are some undisclosed facts which give a somewhat different picture and, if the individual would authorise release of further details, … the Minister would be happy to oblige.”; if she does, why did she not follow those guidelines in this case?

Hon PAULA BENNETT: As I have said numerous times, I certainly did look at those ministerial guidelines. I made a judgment call based on them, and I am quite willing to stand by that.

Sue Bradford: Can the Minister tell the House what would be likely to happen to a Work and Income front-line case officer who released personal details about a beneficiary to the national media without that beneficiary’s knowledge or permission, and is she at all conscious that she might apply the same standards to herself?

Hon PAULA BENNETT: That would be an operational matter.

Hon Lianne Dalziel: Why did the Minister tell the House yesterday: “There is certainly access to interest-free student loans.”, when beneficiaries are not entitled to use student loans for the particular purposes she was outlining, as she had just been told by one of the women who presented to her “a compelling argument to extend these loans to beneficiaries for these purposes.”?

Hon PAULA BENNETT: Thank you for the opportunity to clear this up. That sole mother was saying that the $1,000 she could borrow for course-related costs was not enough and that she needed more to get her through her study. That is what her argument was. She can borrow up to $1,000 under the student loans scheme for course-related costs if she fits the criteria. I think the member may be getting student loans and student allowances mixed up. Yesterday in the House, when she was trying to table things, she said allowances in one place and loans in another place. Yes, beneficiaries can access student loans for course-related costs of up to $1,000.

Charles Chauvel: Is the report in today’s New Zealand Herald stating that the Minister has asked her officials to look into interest-free study loans not an admission that her decision to cut the training incentive allowance was a lousy one in the first place?

Hon PAULA BENNETT: It is really clear that that sole mother yesterday put to me that the $1,000 she could borrow was not enough to cover all of her course-related costs, and as a consequence she may need to borrow a uniform on top of that. We had a discussion about how that would be, and I said I certainly would look into some of that. She made a compelling argument, and that is fair. That is what a debate is about.

Katrina Shanks: Can the Minister assure the House of the Government’s commitment to protecting core benefits?

Hon PAULA BENNETT: Yes. We are totally committed to maintaining core benefits. One thing I have learned since becoming Minister is that the previous Government avoided tough decisions by adding layer upon layer; no hard decisions were really made. We are in tough times, and I have had to make hard decisions. However, I have been upfront and honest about every one of those hard decisions. I have not hidden behind staff members, which is a bit hard for that side to understand, and I will continue not to do so.

Hon Trevor Mallard: Would the Minister support a front-line Work and Income official who released the details of the amount that she, the Minister, received as a beneficiary on the training incentive allowance without the Minister’s consent; if not, why not?

Hon PAULA BENNETT: Members on the Opposition side of the House are always keen to blame the staff. Just yesterday we saw that member Trevor Mallard try to blame the staff in my office for accessing information—that was the furthest from the truth. Now Opposition members are trying to bring in hypothetical staff situations in the ministries. I made a decision and I will stand by it. I know that is hard for the member to understand.

Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. It was a very direct question, and it was: “Would the Minister support a front-line official who released her details?”. It had nothing to do with the Minister’s release of a beneficiary’s details.

Mr SPEAKER: I hear the honourable—

Hon Rodney Hide: Speaking to the point of order.

Mr SPEAKER: I say to the honourable member that I do not need help on this point of order. I hear the point the member makes—and he makes a genuine point—but the dilemma is that it is a hypothetical question. Our Speakers’ rulings show that where hypothetical questions are asked there is a wide latitude in the way Ministers can answer them. Members cannot expect Ministers to answer hypothetical questions. That is the dilemma in asking that kind of a question.

Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I will continue that discussion a little bit. No one expects—

Hon Member: Is it a point of order?

Mr SPEAKER: It is a point of order.

Hon Trevor Mallard: No one expects a definitive answer. We changed the Standing Orders in order to allow for hypothetical questions. Even a hypothetical question should be addressed. My submission to you is that nowhere in the Minister’s answer, which referred entirely to the past, was there any reference to, or any addressing of the hypothetical question.

Hon Rodney Hide: Mr Speaker, I will take you back to question No. 5. It was actually about the Minister’s actions and the use of a terminal in the Minister’s office. It was all about the Minister’s behaviour. The Minister was subsequently asked about the behaviour of staff, and she quite rightly pointed out that that was an operational issue. The member has come along with a hypothetical question that talked about the behaviour of staff, when the substantive question was all about the Minister’s behaviour, which she has been upfront and honest about, and has answered all questions about. The substantive question is not a question about the behaviour of particular staff.

Mr SPEAKER: I appreciate the member’s points. This is a difficult issue. One of the dilemmas with hypothetical questions is that if we try to force Ministers to answer them too closely, we can create hypothetical answers that then really lead to major problems for the House. That is why I have real difficulty in asking the Minister to be more precise in answering a hypothetical question, especially when it relates to hypothetical actions about a staff member. That is what is such a dilemma.

Hon Lianne Dalziel: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. It is a difficult point of order to make, because I am not sure how we have got to this point. The question I have asked was directly related to a question that I asked yesterday, and referred specifically to course costs over $1,000. That was the original question. The answer the Minister gave was that is where the question of the student loan scheme came in. I knew that the student loan scheme did not apply, and that is why I sought leave after you rightly pulled me up for taking a point of order that was not a point of order. Mr Speaker, you said to deal with it in a proper way, so I sought leave to table the criteria that related specifically to these elements. If the Minister now knows that her answer yesterday was incorrect, she needs to make a formal correction to the House.

Hon PAULA BENNETT: Speaking to the point of order.

Mr SPEAKER: I will hear the Hon Paula Bennett, but I do not want to go any further than that.

Hon PAULA BENNETT: It is a debating issue. We disagree on this point.

Mr SPEAKER: I think that is the dilemma I have. I found the exchange today to be informative, yet I still must confess that I am not clear on exactly what the provisions are. That is why the point that the Hon Paula Bennett has made, which is that there seems to be some debate over these exact arrangements, shows that it not a matter of the Minister having given an incorrect answer. What is more, Minister must decide if an incorrect answer has been given, and correct if it has been given. As Speaker, I cannot ask the Minister to correct an answer. I cannot judge an answer’s accuracy or otherwise. That is why I do not believe I can assist the member beyond that. The previous supplementary question was a good question. I see no reason why further supplementary questions cannot be asked in order to clarify the issue.

Hon Dr Nick Smith: When the Minister received the extra information about the person on the benefit, did she consider putting the information in a brown envelope and slipping it under the door of a member of the press gallery, as occurred under the previous Government with the member who just asked the question?

Hon PAULA BENNETT: Well, yes, I knew that another practice had gone on previously, but I decided to be upfront and honest. I know that Labour struggles with this fact, but, yes, I was on a benefit for years; yes, I managed to get off it; and, yes, I then joined the National Party. That is the way it goes. I seek leave to table a letter written by the Ministry of Social Development to Ministerial Services in 2005 explaining why it was advantageous for Minister Maharey and Associate Minister Barker to have those systems installed in their offices.

Hon Trevor Mallard: We are highly supportive of it being tabled.

Mr SPEAKER: Is there any objection to that document being tabled? There is no objection.

6. Government Expenditure, Increase—Effect on Productivity

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

6. JOHN BOSCAWEN (ACT) to the Minister of Finance: Will increasing Government expenditure by 17 percent from 31.8 percent to 37.3 percent as a percentage of GDP over the next 2 years improve productivity and enable us to achieve the Government’s goal of closing the income gap with Australia by 2025; if so, how?

Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance) : As I have said previously, the sharp increase in Government spending in recent Budgets has left us with a large deficit burden, which is not helpful to New Zealand’s economy and, at the moment, that will take 10 years to clear. The Government believes, however, that reversing this trend in Government expenditure is essential if we are to achieve better long-term growth. We are going about this in a responsible and measured way. Budget 2009 halved future spending allocations to make it clear to the public sector, and to the public, that the rate of growth will be slowing right down. We are working with the Public Service on a range of initiatives to increase its productivity and provide more services for less money.

John Boscawen: Does the Minister regard Michael Cullen as a fiscal conservative; if not, why had he, in just 2 years, increased Government spending by over $100 per week, per household?

Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.

Mr SPEAKER: I think I can anticipate the member’s point of order. I invite the member to rephrase that supplementary question, because the honourable Minister has no responsibility for the views of the previous Minister of Finance.

Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. It might be slightly unusual, but I think Rodney Hide and I may be up on the same point of order. The Minister has no responsibility for Michael Cullen, but he can have an opinion on Michael Cullen’s spending habits. It would be absolutely wrong to say that Ministers cannot have a view. I am proud of the work of Michael Joseph Savage—

Mr SPEAKER: We will not get into the debate by way of a point of order. The dilemma is that the supplementary question invites the Minister to comment on Labour Party policy. That is the dilemma with the question. I guess the Minister could tell the House what he understands that to have been, but he must not then climb into criticising it or commenting on it. I will hear the Hon Rodney Hide, though.

Hon Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. It seems self-evident to me that a Minister of Finance can be asked to comment on previous Budgets, and therefore on former Ministers of Finance. Maybe the question should be regarded as being whether the Minister regards the previous Minister of Finance, Michael Cullen, as a fiscal conservative. Of course a Minister has to be able to take questions about previous Budgets. How else could we establish a comparison, over time?

Mr SPEAKER: I will hear the Hon Peter Dunne, because I must confess I am—

Hon Peter Dunne: I think the point that has just been made is true up to a point, but that point is that it can be only with reference to policies that are of relevance today. Otherwise, we could start comparing this Minister of Finance with Richard John Seddon, Julius Vogel, or any historic figure. Surely it must be only where there is a link to something that is relevant to the circumstances of the time.

Mr SPEAKER: The way we normally handle these matters is that Ministers are asked whether they have reports on certain previous policies. The idea of phrasing it in that way is to try to avoid inviting Ministers to climb into the policies of other parties, which are not their responsibility. I invite John Boscawen to repeat the question and to try to avoid the risks of inviting the Minister to climb into another party’s policies.

John Boscawen: I will make the question even simpler and ask: why has the Minister been prepared to increase Government spending by over $100 per household per week, in a period of just 2 years?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: That is a much less interesting question. Michael Cullen might regard himself as a fiscal conservative, and compared with the current people who are leading the Labour Party, he certainly was, because this crowd want to send the pixies to the bottom of the garden to get the printing presses running flat out. The reason this Government has increased its spending is that we believe it is important to protect people from the sharpest edges of the recession, but the member should not take that as an indication that the Government thinks all existing Government spending is effective. Quite a bit of it is not, and over time we will find that ineffective Government spending and stop it.

Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga: What steps is the Government taking to lift productivity?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: The Government has been very busy taking steps to lift productivity. We are getting our regulatory regime right, so that business can thrive; we are setting out to lift performance in the public sector; we are investing in productive infrastructure; we are introducing national standards into our education system; and we are undertaking a stocktake of our taxation system, to ensure that it is world class.

John Boscawen: Would the Minister like to hazard a guess as to what the average household is getting for the extra $100 a week, apart from the cycleway?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: I am sure the householder is not getting the full $100 value for Government spending, because the way in which the Government has been run for the last 10 years means that it has not been focused on delivering value for money. It has not been focused on getting the best out of every dollar. That is one reason that New Zealanders changed the Government. They want the new Government to be careful with their money and to make sure it does protect the vulnerable and provide high-quality services.

7. Ministers—Confidence

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

7. Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Labour—Hutt South) to the Prime Minister: Does he have confidence in all his Ministers?

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

Hon Trevor Mallard: Does he still have confidence in Paula Bennett, given her use of confidential beneficiary details; if so, has that confidence been dented?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: The Prime Minister does have confidence in Ms Bennett. He also has confidence that she will see off the member’s boasts around the place that he is going to get her because Labour does not like her.

Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I have a particular problem now because I know of your rulings, but I want to make it clear that the Prime Minister told an untruth about something that I said. It is just not—

Mr SPEAKER: The member must sit down now. If he wishes to ask further questions around his question he will obey the Standing Orders. The member cannot litigate an answer by way of point of order. That is simply what the Standing Orders provide.

Hon Trevor Mallard: I seek leave to make a personal explanation in relation to comments made by the Prime Minister.

Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to make a personal explanation in relation to the answer given by the Hon Bill English with respect to comments made by the Prime Minister. Is there any objection to that course of action? There is no objection.

Hon Trevor Mallard: The Prime Minister’s reply indicated a set of words that I had used about Ms Bennett. They were untrue.

Jo Goodhew: What other reports has the Prime Minister seen on the use of personal information by previous administrations?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: The reports the Prime Minister has seen indicate that previous administrations, such as the previous Labour Government, made a habit of releasing information. The previous Prime Minister released a lot of personal details about the police commissioner, and then when she was asked she had no comment and said it was nothing to do with her. A former Minister of Immigration put information in an envelope and slipped it under the door of the press gallery, and then she got sacked because she said she did not do it.

Hon Trevor Mallard: Does the Prime Minister agree, in view of Paula Bennett’s answer today—that is, that it would be an operational matter if a staff member released private information—that Paula Bennett’s actions are completely his responsibility as the Prime Minister?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: One of the differences between the previous Government and this one is that Ministers in this Government make decisions and take responsibility for them, which is exactly what she has done. I have to say that getting lectured by that member and the Labour Party about intimidating people is absolutely ridiculous.

Hon Trevor Mallard: How does the Prime Minister explain how it is in the public interest to suppress the reason he lost confidence in Richard Worth as a Minister, but then to publish private, personal, and confidential information from beneficiaries?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: Labour members may be surprised to know this, but what is paid to beneficiaries is actually advertised heavily in every Work and Income office. People can walk into my parliamentary office, pick up a pamphlet, and look up the payment that is made to a sole parent with three children. That is not confidential information, actually.

Jo Goodhew: Does the Prime Minister know of other examples where personal information was leaked to the media through anonymous sources?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: There are so many examples of that occurring under the previous Labour Government that the Public Service thinks that that is how things are meant to be done. They are as surprised as Labour members are that a Minister who provided information to get a balanced debate has said that she did it and she stands by the decision. I must say, public opinion seems to be with that Minister.

Hon Trevor Mallard: Would the Prime Minister have confidence in the Minister for Economic Development if he revealed commercially confidential information supplied to New Zealand Trade and Enterprise if the company that supplied it criticised Government policy; if not, where is that line drawn?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: I think that is about two layers of hypothetical questions. What I can say is that Ministers are not going to go down the track of a former environment Minister who used the briefing from his chief executive to attack a Government whistleblower as “sad and incompetent” and then publicly revealed employment details about that whistleblower. In a case I dealt with in Opposition a teacher gave me details of National Certificate of Educational Achievement exam results, which are publicly available, and was pursued as a “sad alcoholic” for weeks on end.

Hon Trevor Mallard: I seek leave to make a personal explanation in relation to the answer that has just been given.

Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to make a personal explanation in relation to theanswer just given. Is there any—[Interruption] I put this again to the House because it is an important issue. Denying leave to make a personal explanation is a major issue. Leave is sought to make a personal explanation. Is there any objection? There is objection. Before I call the member for his supplementary question, I will say that I know, as I said yesterday, that this issue is deeply held, but when a Minister answers a question that might be a hypothetical question, that is no reason to depart miles away from the question and to make a very provocative answer. I am troubled that the House declined leave for the Hon Trevor Mallard.

Hon Trevor Mallard: Would the Prime Minister have confidence in the Minister of Police if she used the police computer in her office to access the criminal records of Sue Bradford when she opposed, as she regularly does, Government policy on police matters; and if not, where is the line drawn?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: This line of questioning makes me wonder just what Labour was up to when it was in Government. The fact is the Prime Minister expects Ministers to follow the protocols, guidelines, and legal principles in respect of the treatment of private information in the public environment.

Jo Goodhew: What commentary has the Prime Minister seen on the release of the information?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: This release of information has certainly prompted widespread public debate—and it is a legitimate debate—about how balanced this kind of information should be, whether a Government is being attacked or not. We had some concern about the strength of public commentary against a sole parent receiving a benefit; we do not endorse that. A number of newspaper editorials, though, have supported the Minister. The New Zealand Herald said the Minister was right to give the public the facts. The Press in Christchurch said the Minister was justified, and the Dominion Post commended the Minister for commendable openness. The Labour Party attitude, I think, just shows how far out of step with the public mood it is.

Hon Trevor Mallard: Would the Prime Minister have confidence in his Deputy Prime Minister if that Minister revealed the abortion records of someone who took a public pro-abortion position in opposition to Bill English; if not, where is the line on revealing private information drawn?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: This really does confirm my concerns about what the Labour Government was up to. That is a ridiculous question. The Prime Minister would expect every Minister to follow those guidelines and conventions that respect the privacy of information that is private, and make well-judged use of public information for the purposes of public debate, which is what the Minister has done.

8. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples—Recognition of Māori Rights

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

8. CATHERINE DELAHUNTY (Green) to the Minister of Foreign Affairs: Why has he not recognised the collective rights of Māori as affirmed by the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples?

Hon SIMON POWER (Minister of Justice) on behalf of the Minister of Foreign Affairs: Although New Zealand has not yet publicly affirmed and recognised the declaration, the Prime Minister has indicated that he would like to see New Zealand move to support the declaration, provided that we can protect the unique and advanced framework that has been developed for the resolution of issues related to indigenous rights. The Government has sought advice on the implications of supporting the declaration, and the extent to which any risks can be mitigated. Officials are still preparing that advice, and no decisions one way or the other have yet been made.

Catherine Delahunty: Why is the Government so reluctant to recognise Māori rights under international law, when Māori have been so generous and practical in their negotiations with the Crown over these rights in Aotearoa?

Hon SIMON POWER: There is not reluctance, just care, involved in this process. New Zealand’s position on the declaration does not change the Government’s ongoing commitment to a good-faith approach to working with Māori.

Catherine Delahunty: Would it not be timely, given that it is Te Wiki o Te Reo Māori and the end of Matariki, for the Government to recognise the UN declaration, which upholds the rights of tangata whenua and te reo Māori?

Hon SIMON POWER: I understand the member’s point, but it would be more timely to make sure that if support was forthcoming, it would be done in a way that was carefully thought out, meaning that any proposition would be enduring.

Catherine Delahunty: Could he outline the advantages to Aotearoa New Zealand of supporting the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples?

Hon SIMON POWER: The advantages are that, in an aspirational way, it would reflect many Governments’ commitments to working in good faith with Māori on many issues. However, as the Prime Minister and I have both said—in this House, I believe, and certainly before a select committee in recent times, in any event—the important point is to make sure that the unique framework constitutionally put in place primarily by the Treaty of Waitangi is not disrupted by any affirmation of the declaration, and it is important to make sure that any affirmation, if it were to occur, was enduring.

10. Kōpū Bridge Replacement—Progress

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

10. SANDRA GOUDIE (National—Coromandel) to the Minister of Transport: What progress has been made on replacing the 82-year-old single lane Kōpū Bridge?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister of Transport) : I am pleased to report that on Tuesday the Prime Minister and I joined 94-year-old George Williams as he turned the first sod for the replacement Kōpū Bridge. The people of Coromandel and Hauraki Plains have waited a long time for this moment. This Government is honouring the commitment made in February in the half a billion dollar “Jobs and Growth” package to accelerate roading projects and other infrastructure projects around the country. This particular project has been accelerated by over 12 months.

Sandra Goudie: What economic impact will this project have on the region?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: The $47 million project will employ 50 people on site at its peak, and provide a further 100 jobs in downstream activities supplying material and providing support services. I am sure locals will appreciate those jobs. The project will greatly improve freight and passenger access into the Coromandel region, which will boost the economy and tourism. It will also result in significant time savings of up to an hour, at times, for travellers. This comes on top of other recent announcements, such as the Kamo bypass project, which will provide 80 jobs, and the Victoria Park project, which will provide 300 jobs.

Sandra Goudie: What feedback has the Minister received from locals on the progress now being made?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I received much positive feedback yesterday from locals, who are pleased the project is finally going ahead. I also saw the comments of Pipiroa Country Kitchen cafe owner, Sydney Campbell who said: “the sod-turning for the new bridge is a great advance for the whole district. … work on the bridge was supposed to have started in 2006 and locals have been taking bets as to whether it would be finished in their lifetimes.” I am pleased to report that under this Government, the locals will have a new bridge in 3 years.

11. Workforce Productivity—Information and Technology Industry

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

11. CLARE CURRAN (Labour—Dunedin South) to the Minister for Communications and Information Technology: Does he stand by his statement: “The government wants to ensure New Zealand has a skilled and productive workforce.”; if so, does he believe this should apply to the information and technology industry?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister for Communications and Information Technology) : Yes and yes.

Clare Curran: In light of Telecom’s decision to contract out the work done by its telecommunication engineers, does the Minister agree that the industry is now running the risk of losing many skilled engineers? Should not the Government be doing something about it to ensure New Zealand has the capability for the roll-out of ultra-fast broadband?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: It is not my role as Minister to comment on specific private contracting relationships between private companies. Telecom, of course, is a private company, having being sold by a previous Government.

Louise Upston: What is the Government doing to ensure that New Zealand has a skilled and productive workforce with good information and communications technology skills suited to the 21st century?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: The National Government knows digital literacy across our population—along with smart, connected communities—is critical to this country’s future. To this end, the Government has given a $3 million boost to the Computers in Homes programme, which will empower over 1,600 families throughout the country who do not currently use the Internet to bridge the digital divide. We have also given over $1 million in support of the expansion of the Computer Clubhouse programme, and we have made $34 million available in this year’s Budget for upgrading school computer networks to prepare schools for the ultra-fast broadband initiative.

Clare Curran: Will the Minister deny that as result of Telecom’s contracting out of engineering those engineers could have their income cut by 50 to 66 percent; and will he take action to prevent New Zealand telecommunications engineers leaving for higher incomes in Australia?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Once again, I am not, as Minister, able to comment on specific private contracting relationships. I understand that Chorus recently signed contracts with three service provider companies to provide the workforce that Chorus relies on. In an industry where the norm is for 2 to 3-year contracts, Chorus has committed to 10-year contracts worth a total of around $3 billion to provide long-term certainty and confidence within the telecommunications industry.

Clare Curran: Why did the Minister tell the Commerce Committee that an industry training organisation needs to be driven by the information and communications technology industry itself when it is now becoming abundantly clear that Telecom’s decision will see a severe skills shortage in the industry?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I am not sure that I agree with the member’s contention, but I certainly believe that the first port of call for industry training is with the industry that seeks the training. It is most important that the industry takes the initiative.

12. Medicines—Funding

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

12. Dr JACKIE BLUE (National) to the Minister of Health: What extra funding has the Government made available for medicines this year?

Hon TONY RYALL (Minister of Health) : I am pleased to confirm today that the Government has increased the funding for subsidised medicines by $40 million for the 2009-10 financial year. The increase is made up of $31 million for the community pharmaceutical budget managed by Pharmac, and $9 million extra for cancer medicines managed by the district health boards and the Ministry of Health, including Herceptin. It takes the total community pharmaceutical budget to $694 million. That is a huge increase at the time of the worst recession since the 1930s, and fulfils another election promise made by the Government.

Dr Jackie Blue: What is Pharmac doing with this big increase in spending for medicines dispensed through community pharmacies and hospitals?

Hon TONY RYALL: Pharmac advises me that planning on how the new community budget will be spent is well advanced. It includes new spending on medicines to treat cystic fibrosis, hepatitis B, leukaemia, auto-immune disorders, heart disease, and arthritis, and to support smoking cessation. It is a good first step forward in the Government’s aim to achieve better access to medicines for New Zealanders.

Hon Ruth Dyson: What additional funding for statins and insulin will be required as a direct result of his cancellation of obesity reduction programmes?

Hon TONY RYALL: I think the member is hypothesising about what may or may not be the impact of things that may or may not be happening. I observe that the member was in a Government that cut the budget for chronic disease management affecting some of the most vulnerable New Zealanders in this country by $10 million. That Government also cut $26 million from public health promotion.

Hon Ruth Dyson: In order to ensure that people can afford to collect their medicine from the chemist, will he now guarantee that the $3 prescription charge will not be increased?



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