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Questions and Answers - 28 Oct 2009

(uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing)

WEDNESDAY, 28 OCTOBER 2009

QUESTIONS FOR ORAL ANSWER

QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS

Education—Support Staff

1. Hon PHIL GOFF (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does he stand by his statement “Let’s have teachers taking less of a pay rise so it can be put toward education support staff”?

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE (Leader of the House) on behalf of the Prime Minister: I think it is worth noting that the comment was made by the Prime Minister in a circumstance where he was being—

Hon Member: Who is the Prime Minister today?

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am answering on behalf of the Prime Minister—[Interruption] Is this a point of order or not?

Mr SPEAKER: I apologise to the honourable member. The Hon David Cunliffe will be a little careful. He not only interjected loudly during a point of order but has continued to interject while I am on my feet. I accept that the member apologises for that.

Hon Bill English: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Just so the member can relax, I was delayed—[Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: I thought that a point of order was being raised by the Hon Bill English. I have accepted a point of order, and it will be heard in silence.

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Hon Bill English: I was delayed by answering questions from the media in relation to an issue the member raised yesterday in the House.

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: I think it is a fair point, and we have raised it a number of times. I do not want to use the word “ambush”, but sometimes it is very difficult to meet the obligations of talking to the media and being in the House on time. I was in the House about 7 minutes before question time began, and I had passed Mr English, who was in discussion with the media at that time. It is not as though there was not an attempt to get here. That is why I was answering initially.

Mr SPEAKER: This is not strictly a point of order, at all. I must make it very clear to Ministers that this House takes absolute priority. Talking to the media is absolutely no reason whatsoever to be late if Ministers wish to be able to answer their own questions. I would like the Government to sort out who is answering this question. It has been asked by the honourable Leader of the Opposition to the Prime Minister, and I will call whoever wishes to take the call.

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. You cannot remove yourself from the circumstances entirely, because you are in charge of the parliamentary complex. It is unreasonable to suggest that a Minister being held up by the media on his way to the House is not your concern. I raised a matter, which I think we need to sort out over a period of time, by way of an explanation of why I was answering for the Prime Minister today. I suggest that the way forward might be to invite the Leader of the Opposition to ask his question again.

Mr SPEAKER: I do not need any further assistance on this matter. Let me make it very clear: as I observe what goes on outside the Chamber, as members seek to come to this Parliament, there is absolutely no physical barrier to members coming here. If they choose to continue to talk to the media, that is their decision. It is also, equally, the Government’s decision as to who answers any question. The honourable Leader of the Opposition has asked his question. Maybe to ensure that members have not forgotten the question he asked, I invite the honourable Leader of the Opposition to ask his question again.

Hon Gerry Brownlee: Is it Rick? Is it Darren?

Hon Phil Goff: If the person who was going to answer the question would shut up—

Mr SPEAKER: No, I will not tolerate any more of this, at all. I call the honourable Leader of the Opposition to ask his question, but if he does that again, he will lose it.

Hon Phil Goff: Does he stand by his statement “Let’s have teachers taking less of a pay rise so it can be put toward education support staff”?

Hon BILL ENGLISH (Acting Prime Minister): Yes, and the Prime Minister also pointed out that these staff, who are regarded as being low paid, find themselves in that position after 9 years under Labour, where teachers had significant pay increases and education support staff did not.

Hon Phil Goff: Why is the Prime Minister advising teachers to take a cut in their real incomes when he has been absolutely silent about chief executives taking huge bonuses while laying off their workers, often without any redundancy payments?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: If the member is referring to chief executives in the public sector, I can absolutely assure him that the bonuses and pay rates of the chief executives are entirely due to the actions of the previous Labour Government.

Hon Phil Goff: Does he agree with the statement made by his Minister of Finance that workers in the public sector should have zero wage increases for 5 years—a comment that the Minister of Finance made while accepting a huge increase in his own housing allowance?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: No, because the Minister of Finance did not say that. What the Minister of Finance said was that because of the extravagance of the previous Government we have to contain Government spending, and that public services should not expect new money for the next 3 to 5 years.

Hon Phil Goff: Is the Prime Minister expecting ordinary, hard-working Kiwis to take cuts to their incomes through imposing demands on State-owned enterprises to increase their prices, thus increasing power prices, so that the Government could take another half a billion dollars a year in those dividends out of the pockets of ordinary New Zealanders?

Mr SPEAKER: Before I call the honourable member, I say that the question is getting a fair way away from the primary question, but if the Hon Bill English feels capable of answering it, that is fine.

Hon BILL ENGLISH: That is a bit rich coming from Labour, which, when in Government, extracted record dividends from State-owned enterprises, along with consistently record power price increases. In fact, under Labour power prices went up at something like 6 or 7 percent a year for the last 4 or 5 years.

Hon Phil Goff: Is the Prime Minister therefore saying that the letter from the Minister for State Owned Enterprises to the State-owned enterprises in order to get a better return for the Government, and therefore push power prices up, was right or wrong?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: The member should not confuse price with performance. These organisations have suffered for the last 10 years under the Labour Government. They became fat and lazy, and we have had to sort out their performance.

Te Ururoa Flavell: Kia ora—[Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: The House will come to a little order. I have called Te Ururoa Flavell, and I would appreciate it if he were shown some courtesy.

Te Ururoa Flavell: Kia ora, Mr Speaker. What is being done to invest in key support staff such as those focused on improving levels of literacy and numeracy, which is one of the Māori Party policy priorities attached to the confidence and supply agreement with National?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: The Government supports the view of the Māori Party that we should focus on literacy and numeracy and on improving the levels of achievement among our children. In that respect, the Government has committed about $36 million over the next few years to assist schools in delivering national standards and, most important, in assisting those children who need more help in order to achieve at adequate levels.

Recession—Position of New Zealand Economy

2. AARON GILMORE (National) to the Minister of Finance: What reports has he received on how the New Zealand economy is placed coming out of the recession?

Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): New Zealand is reasonably well placed coming out of the recession, after we inherited an economy that had been mismanaged for the last 9 years by the Labour Government. Both business and consumer confidence have risen significantly in recent months. We have yet to see whether real economic activity follows this improvement in the leading indicators.

Aaron Gilmore: What factors account for the lift in confidence?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: I think one of the significant factors is having a Government that stays focused on the big picture of lifting economic performance and providing New Zealanders with jobs. Many New Zealanders have lost their jobs or are worried about losing them. We are taking every step that we can to ensure there is investment and employment, so that people can have secure jobs.

Aaron Gilmore: How credible is the consumer confidence survey?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: The most recent consumer confidence survey was the ANZ-Roy Morgan survey. I understand that when it rings up to ask people their opinion it, actually says where the inquiry is from, unlike the Labour Party’s pollsters. Clearly, that survey did not use Rick Barker’s volunteers, who apparently have now been totally disowned by the current leadership.

Hon Sir Roger Douglas: Why has the Minister decided that the best way to deal with the fiscal problem he faces is to simply take on $40 billion of debt over the next 4 years, and heaven knows how much thereafter?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: The Government is taking a balanced approach to dealing with the Government’s very significant fiscal problems. We are borrowing money because we believe that throughout the recession it is better to maintain entitlements and public services, and to keep the economy ticking over. But we are now taking steps to make sure that public debt does not grow out of control.

John Boscawen: Can the Minister explain how the continued ownership of KiwiRail, Television New Zealand, Learning Media, and the telecommunications company Orcon will lead to the future prosperity of New Zealand, rather than the disposal of those liabilities and the paying off of debt?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: The Government has made an undertaking to maintain the ownership of all significant current Government assets. However, there is a huge clean-up job to do with regard to those assets, because under the previous Government there were too many political appointments to boards, and they lost their focus on financial performance. We are going through the process of fixing them.

Finance, Minister—Statements

3. Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE (Labour—New Lynn) to the Minister of Finance: Does he stand by all his recent statements?

Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): Yes.

Hon David Cunliffe: In which capacity did he make the statements on the TVNZ 7 “in plain English” promotional video—as Minister of Finance or as Bill English in his private capacity?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: I am a bit more modest than that member, and I have to say that if I were not the Minister of Finance, I would not have been on the programme.

Hon David Cunliffe: Can he confirm that he or his office corrected inaccuracies in the script; if so, what were those inaccuracies, what was corrected, and by whom?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: My understanding is that the journalists involved were taking what they regarded as abstract economic concepts and trying to turn them into plain English. I am advised that they got some of it wrong, so the scripts were checked for economic accuracy.

Hon David Cunliffe: Does the Minister—

Hon Gerry Brownlee: Smile at the camera; you might be discovered!

Hon David Cunliffe: The member might be in the—

Mr SPEAKER: If the House would just settle down, I ask the Hon David Cunliffe to ask his supplementary question.

Hon David Cunliffe: Does the real Minister of Finance stand by his statement that the advertisement looked “quite good”, or will he concede that it was not a good look for a shareholding Minister to take hundreds of thousands of dollars of free advertising from a State broadcaster?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: All decisions about putting together the promotion and the use of it are being made by Television New Zealand (TVNZ), as I understand it. That is the normal relationship that politicians have with TVNZ. It could, of course, have chosen that member to front it, but it did not. It could have chosen Mr Goff to front it, but it did not. I think the reasons are pretty obvious.

Mr SPEAKER: The Hon David Cunliffe—[Interruption] I have called the Hon David Cunliffe. [Interruption] Would the members please show some courtesy to their own front-bench colleague.

Hon David Cunliffe: Is he satisfied that he avoided any perception of a conflict of interest, as required by the Cabinet Manual, after previously abusing TVNZ management over unfavourable double-dipping coverage, only to receive hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of free advertising shortly after?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: That is a ridiculous allegation. Of course I am satisfied.

Mr SPEAKER: I call question No. 4; Metiria Turei.

Hon David Cunliffe: Does the Minister think—

Mr SPEAKER: I have called question No. 4.

Hon David Cunliffe: Mr Speaker, I ask for a supplementary question on question No. 3.

Mr SPEAKER: I looked around the Chamber and I could see no one seeking the call, so I called question No. 4. Maybe the member thought I was going on too fast, so I will come back to him. But I make the point that if members wish to ask supplementary questions, they must seek the call. I cannot read their minds, and I had gone on to question No. 4. But I will come back to a supplementary question from the Hon David Cunliffe. [Interruption] Please, I have called the honourable member.

Hon David Cunliffe: Does he think it is a good look that he is continually embroiled in controversies over his personal judgment, when he should be focused on making life better for ordinary New Zealanders?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: I reassure that member that the amount of time I spend on the controversies generated by the Labour Party would be about 0.5 percent of my time, and the rest of the time I am focused on serious issues, like the 45 people who lost their jobs in my electorate today. Those people are getting my full attention; that party is not getting my full attention.

Mr SPEAKER: I call question No. 4; Metiria Turei. [Interruption] I say to the Government members that they have expressed their views with their applause, and I ask them to please not continue to interject, because we have gone on to the next issue. I have called Metiria Turei.

United Nations Human Development Report—New Zealand Results

4. METIRIA TUREI (Co-Leader—Green) to the Minister for Social Development and

Employment: What is her response to New Zealand’s inequality ranking in the United Nations Development Programme’s Human Development Report 2009?

Hon PAULA BENNETT (Minister for Social Development and Employment): I agree with one of the report’s findings—that people will move to better-off countries. That is why we are following an economic programme that is designed to narrow the income gap with Australia.

Metiria Turei: I seek leave, at this early stage, to table the United Nations Human Development Report 2009, which was published by the United Nations Development Programme on 16 October 2009.

Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is objection.

Metiria Turei: Is the Minister aware that Social Report 2009, published by her Ministry of Social Development, uses the same measure as that of the United Nations Development Programme report to compare New Zealand’s inequality score with other countries and notes that New Zealand ranks 23rd out of 30 OECD countries for inequality?

Hon PAULA BENNETT: What I am also aware of is the report that has just come through today—

Mr SPEAKER: The Minister will resume her seat. The Minister may be aware of all sorts of things but she has actually just been asked a question that related, very directly, to the primary question. The Minister being “also aware” of something else was not what she was questioned about. Where a member asks a question absolutely directly related to the primary question, and although the Minister may be intending to get to that matter, her answer should indicate that she is answering the question and not going on to something else. The Minister started: “I am also aware of” something else. That cannot be the way to start answering that perfectly fair question.

Hon PAULA BENNETT: I was heading toward discussing the OECD rankings in the social report that the member brought up. I am also aware that the report that was in the original question has New Zealand ranked at 20 out of 182 countries. That was the answer to the member’s question. She had a question about a certain ranking within an OECD report. The original had us ranked 20th for inequality out of 182 countries.

Metiria Turei: I seek leave to table table M from the United Nations Human Development Report, which, while listing New Zealand in the table at No. 20, when using the Gini index for inequality clearly shows New Zealand is ranked 6th worst for inequality.

Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that table from the named document. Is there any objection to that? There is no objection. Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.

Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. During that point of order, which was a reasonable one and went as quickly as someone could to the tabling of the document, there was an interjection from the Leader of the House, which was loud. My view, Mr Speaker, is that you had drawn the line on that behaviour earlier in the day and your ruling should be consistent.

Mr SPEAKER: I was concentrating so much on what the honourable member Metiria Turei was saying that I did not even notice the interjection. But I would ask the member, Gerry Brownlee, to cease from interjection when a point of order is being heard.

Dr Kennedy Graham: Has she discussed with her Cabinet colleagues the findings of British researchers, Wilkinson and Pickett, authors of The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better, that more unequal societies are bad for almost everyone within them, the well-off as well as the poor?

Hon PAULA BENNETT: No.

Sue Kedgley: Is she concerned that the same research shows teenage birth rates and infant mortality are higher in more unequal countries, with New Zealand above the average; if so, what is the Government doing to improve New Zealand’s inequality ranking from that reported by the United Nations Development Programme?

Hon PAULA BENNETT: This Government is certainly concerned about teenage birth rates, and the support that we put around teenage parents. A programme of work is going on around that at the moment. It includes focus groups for teen parents and a range of other initiatives.

Catherine Delahunty: Does she think her policy of cuts to the training incentive allowance, which prevents people on low incomes from accessing further education to increase their earning power, will increase or decrease the gap between rich and poor in Aotearoa New Zealand?

Hon PAULA BENNETT: I do not agree that those changes will prevent people from going on to further education. What they are doing is putting resources into those people who are going to Level 3 or higher, so I do not agree.

Dr Russel Norman: Does she think that her Government’s policy of tax cuts for high-income earners will increase or decrease the gap between rich and poor in Aotearoa New Zealand?

Hon PAULA BENNETT: I saw tax incentives and tax cuts for all New Zealanders, which I know are being spent wisely, and which those people desperately need.

Metiria Turei: Does the Minister think that salary increases for chief executives at the same time as there are wage freezes for ordinary workers at State-owned enterprises like Television New Zealand will increase or decrease the gap between the rich and the poor in Aotearoa New Zealand?

Hon PAULA BENNETT: I am not responsible for salary increases for chief executives.

Metiria Turei: I seek leave of the House to table a section of the Social Report 2009 pertaining to income and equality in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that portion of the document. Is there any objection? There is no objection. Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.

Metiria Turei: I seek leave of the House to table a graph showing that teenage birth rates are higher in more unequal countries, with New Zealand above the average.

Mr SPEAKER: Is the graph from that same document?

Metiria Turei: The graph was published in a book called The Spirit Level in 2009.

Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that page from the document The Spirit Level. Is there any objection to that being tabled? There is no objection. Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.

Metiria Turei: I seek leave of the House to table a graph showing that infant mortality is higher in more unequal countries, with Aotearoa New Zealand above the average, published in The Spirit Level, 2009.

Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that graph from the book The Spirit Level. Is there any objection to that being tabled? There is none. Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.

Metiria Turei: I seek leave to table a graph showing that more people are in prisons in more unequal societies, with New Zealand above the average, published in The Spirit Level, 2009.

Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that graph from The Spirit Level, 2009. Is there any objection? There is no objection. Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.

Metiria Turei: I seek leave to table a graph showing that people suffer from mental illness in more unequal societies, with New Zealand above the average, published in The Spirit Level, 2009.

Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that graph from The Spirit Level, 2009. Is there any objection? There is no objection. Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.

Metiria Turei: I seek leave to table a graph showing that more adults are obese and more children are overweight in more unequal countries, published in The Spirit Level, 2009.

Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that graph from The Spirit Level, 2009. Is there any objection? Did I hear objection? There is objection.

Metiria Turei: Finally, I seek leave to table a graph showing the educational outcomes are lower, and educational performance is lower, in more unequal countries.

Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that graph. I take it that it is from The Spirit Level, 2009. Leave is sought to table that graph from the book The Spirit Level, 2009. Is there any objection? There is no objection. Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.

Accident Compensation—Investment in Programmes

5. Hon RUTH DYSON (Labour—Port Hills) to the Minister for ACC: Does he stand by his statement “The board is saying we need to invest in cost-effective programmes for injury prevention and not just in any old programmes.”?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH (Minister for ACC): Yes, I do. This was in response to a question about the Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC) board’s decision to discontinue t’ai chi, an older person’s exercise programme, started under the previous Government, that cost millions. A recent return on investment calculation shows for each dollar spent there is a return of only 77c. Section 263 of the Injury Prevention, Rehabilitation, and Compensation Act, passed by Labour, requires that levy money can be spent only on programmes that result in a reduction in levies, and this does not meet the legal test.

Hon Ruth Dyson: How does he view the research from the University of British Columbia, which found that for every dollar invested in the New Zealand school prevention programme, $2 was saved?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH: If that were true, then, perhaps, having had the programme going for 6 years, I would not, as Minister for ACC, be facing losses of billions of dollars in the accident compensation scheme.

Michael Woodhouse: Is the Minister aware of any policy initiatives aimed at reducing costs that had the opposite effect for the scheme?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH: Yes. In 2004 Cabinet approved a free physiotherapy policy on the basis that it would cost $9 million per year but save money by improving rehabilitation rates. The policy is actually costing an extra $66 million per year. There are no signs of any improvements in rehabilitation rates. In fact, in 2004 rehabilitation rates have been in decline. I note that Labour’s spokesperson on accident compensation, David Parker, has acknowledged that the policy was a mistake, but it has cost the levy payers $244 million. The architect of that failed policy was Ruth Dyson.

Hon Ruth Dyson: Will he advise the ACC that it is flawed accounting for it to say that for every dollar invested in the falls prevention programme it gets only a 77c return, and that the reason the corporation’s advice to him differs from the research from the University of British Columbia is that the corporation is not including either the cost or the savings to Vote Health or to individuals?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH: I would ask that member to reflect, because she and her Government passed section 263 of the Injury Prevention, Rehabilitation, and Compensation Act, which states that levy money can be spent only on programmes that result in a reduction in accident compensation levies, and this does not meet the legal test passed by that member.

Mr SPEAKER: I struggled a little with the question that was asked of the Minister and with the answer the Minister has been giving, interesting though it might be. I invite the Hon Ruth Dyson to ask her question again—she will not lose a supplementary question—just to make sure that the House is getting an answer to it.

Hon Ruth Dyson: Will he advise ACC that it is flawed accounting for it to say that for every dollar invested in the falls prevention programme it gets only a 77c return, and that the reason ACC’s advice to him differs from the research from the University of British Columbia is that ACC does not count either the cost or the savings to Vote Health and to individuals?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH: My answer is that the very Act that that member passed requires that the ACC board can take into account only savings to levy payers. That is the law that members opposite passed. This is a decision that has been made by the ACC board under an Act passed by those members.

Hon Ruth Dyson: Why does he say that he knows better than academics, better than researchers, and better than physiotherapists like Jacqui Bath who have proven the benefit of the falls prevention programme and who know that scrapping this programme will shift huge costs and pain on to Vote Health and to individuals and their families?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH: The member opposite claimed in her question that I had made the decision. I had not. The decision has been made by the ACC board. Members opposite are the same members who last week were complaining that I was interfering in the board’s decisions. They should make up their minds.

Michael Woodhouse: If the corporation is going to fund exercise programmes on the basis that they are good for people’s health, why would it not also fund bowls, croquet, walking groups, golf, rest home Olympics, and all sorts of other activities that are good for old people’s physical wellbeing?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH: The member makes a very good point. If ACC is going to fund t’ai chi, what else is it going to fund? The truth is that there are all sorts of activities. My colleague the Minister of Health is a keen cyclist, and it keeps him fit and beautiful. Does that mean the Government should fund his cycling? If we are going to fund every single activity that does some good, there is no end to what ACC would fund.

Hon Ruth Dyson: I seek leave to table the University of British Columbia research showing that for every dollar invested in the falls prevention programme, New Zealand saves $2.

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 Dr NICK SMITH: I seek the leave of the House to table the report from ACC about the disastrous policy of free physio as it was advanced by that member, which has cost ACC—

Mr SPEAKER: That is sufficient description. Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is. Leave is not granted.

Hon Ruth Dyson: I seek leave to table an email from Jacqui Bath to the Nine to Noon programme expressing dismay at ACC’s decision to cut the falls prevention programme.

Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is objection.

Environment Canterbury—Exercise of Ministerial Powers Under Resource Management Act

6. JO GOODHEW (National—Rangitata) to the Minister for the Environment: Will he use his powers under section 24A of the Resource Management Act 1991 to investigate the poor performance of Environment Canterbury?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH (Minister for the Environment): Today I have announced a formal investigation into Environment Canterbury under section 24A, and in parallel with action by my

colleague the Minister of Local Government. Environment Canterbury performed 84th of 84 councils in processing resource consents and has not performed well in developing plans for managing Canterbury’s natural resources. The Government has received strong submissions from Canterbury MPs and mayors, including the member, for intervention. The powers have previously not been used, but are necessary to get Environment Canterbury back on track.

Jo Goodhew: What consultation has the Minister undertaken with Environment Canterbury regarding the intervention, and what has been its response?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH: Back in June, I wrote to the eight worst-performing councils in respect of non-compliance with the Resource Management Act. I received a constructive response from Environment Canterbury, and met with it to further discuss these issues. I, along with my colleague Rodney Hide, met again yesterday with the chair and the chief executive of Environment Canterbury to consult on the terms of reference for the investigation. I am encouraged that it has welcomed the review, accepts that it has problems, and is committed to working with the Government to put things right at Environment Canterbury.

Hon Shane Jones: Will this review consider the disestablishment of the regional council or the removal of some its current resource management functions?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH: No. I would be happy to table the terms of reference. This Government is committed to working with Environment Canterbury to ensure that it is able to meet its statutory and important functions under both the Local Government Act and the Resource Management Act.

Amy Adams: What submissions has the Minister received from other Canterbury councils on problems with Environment Canterbury, and has he considered their perspective in the terms of reference for this investigation?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH: The Minister of Local Government and I received a letter on 18 September from Canterbury mayors concerning pressure points between them and Environment Canterbury. Mr Hide and I have subsequently met with the Canterbury mayors. The Canterbury mayors’ concerns are reflected in the Minister of Local Government asking the Department of Internal Affairs to conduct a non-statutory assessment of the council to look at the wider issues. We are looking forward to receiving the review report in February next year.

Hon Shane Jones: Does he agree with David Carter that irrigating the Canterbury Plains is a significant issue, and that there was “more to infrastructure than just Auckland roads”; and how will this review simplify the process of water allocation, which is an issue obviously vexing MPs in the National Party with associations with Canterbury?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH: It is this Government’s view that irrigation and water management are huge strategic issues for Canterbury. The problems within Environment Canterbury have been a barrier and a problem in developing proper plans for the management of water resources, from both an environmental and a development perspective. It is our view that Environment Canterbury getting its act together is an important part of enabling Canterbury to get the very best from those important natural resources.

Jacqui Dean: What advice has the Minister for the Environment given him on the performance of other local authorities, and is he taking any action in respect of other councils to improve delivery of the Resource Management Act?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH: The Ministry for the Environment survey on local government performance identified eight councils that were performing poorly. I wrote to those councils requesting that they identify what they were going to do to improve their performance. Following these responses, the Ministry for the Environment has recommended that in addition to investigating Environment Canterbury, I also investigated the Far North District Council under section 24A of the Resource Management Act. Today I notified the Far North District Council of that decision. I note that that investigation is constrained to the Resource Management Act issues, and does not involve a more formal review of the Local Government Act functions, which are the responsibility of Rodney Hide.

John Boscawen: In terms of his working with his colleague the Hon Rodney Hide on this investigation, how are the Minister of Local Government and the Minister for the Environment coordinating efforts to ensure that Environment Canterbury lifts its game?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH: Rodney Hide and I have been working closely on this issue, as have our officials. The investigation is a joint effort, covering both the Resource Management Act and the Local Government Act functions. The Minister of Local Government and I share a view that this council is underperforming and is holding Canterbury back. We consider that interventions such as this undertaking, as well as the broader reforms that the Minister of Local Government is advancing, are needed to lift the performance of this important sector.

Accident Compensation, Minister—Statements

7. Hon DAVID PARKER (Labour) to the Minister for ACC: Does he stand by all his statements on ACC?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH (Minister for ACC): Yes.

Hon David Parker: Does the Minister stand by his statement that proposes a $500 fee increase for motorbikes, and is this in accordance with the accident compensation scheme’s principle of fairness?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH: The proposal for the increase in motorcycle levies is one made by the Accident Compensation Corporation board. The board then comes back, after a process of public consultation, with recommendations to the Minister, which I expect to receive in December. Then they will go to Cabinet for a final decision. I do think the increases that are being proposed by the board are quite steep, and I was taken aback by the scale of those increases. I also have to say I was taken aback by just how expensive motorcycle accidents are for New Zealand.

Hon David Parker: Does the Minister stand by his statement that drivers of cars with a higher safety-rating could pay lower accident compensation levies, while most Kiwis, who cannot afford the latest and safest cars, pay more?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH: Firstly, the operative word is “could”, and then the member has put his own interpretation on it. Let me make plain that it is my view that we need to provide—and it is in the bill I introduced to the House yesterday—stronger financial incentives for both employers and motorists to display safer behaviour. I make no apologies about this Government wanting to improve safety, and using incentives and no-claim bonuses as instruments for improving safety.

Michael Woodhouse: Has the Minister received any reports of statements on accident compensation?

Mr SPEAKER: I think it would be helpful—there was a fair bit of noise going on—if Michael Woodhouse would repeat the question. I ask the House to be a little quieter when a member is asking a question from the backbenches.

Michael Woodhouse: Has the Minister received any reports of statements on accident compensation?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH: Yes, I have. Mr Goff said yesterday: “It was just not good enough that sexual abuse claimants had to show a mental illness to be eligible for ACC support.” That is surprising, because Labour’s 2001 Act requires just that, in section 27. It is not good enough that Mr Goff is misleading the public of New Zealand.

Hon David Parker: Is the Minister pleased—

Hon Dr NICK SMITH: I seek leave of the House to table section 27 of the Injury Prevention, Rehabilitation, and Compensation Act, which was passed by the previous Government and requires just that.

Mr SPEAKER: This is a point of order, but I am again troubled by leave being sort to table something that is freely available to members of the House. I will be dealing with this matter in the future. I did not put leave for a Labour member yesterday when I thought the document was readily available to the House. To be even-handed, I am not going to put that leave, either.

Hon David Parker: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. With respect, I think that the Minister should be able to make that point of order. The House is free to decline leave.

Mr SPEAKER: I have ruled as Speaker. The member will resume his seat. The Minister sought leave to table some legislation that is freely available to all members of the House. There is absolutely no value, in terms of adding information for members of this House, in leave being sought for that purpose. I did not put leave for a Labour member who sought leave yesterday to table an answer to a written question, and I am not going to put this leave today. As I say, I will be dealing with the matter more fully in the future. I am not going to put leave today for a member seeking leave to table a piece of legislation that is freely available to members of this House.

Hon David Parker: When the Speaker comes down with that formal—

Mr SPEAKER: Is this a point of order?

Hon David Parker: Yes, it is—sorry, Mr Speaker. I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I urge the Speaker to consider the knock-on effect that that will have if the Speaker takes a particular course of action. We have seen today that Metiria Turei, acting within the Standing Orders, was able to table a long list of documents, which delayed the House more than your letting the House flow with short points of order that sometimes have political connotations.

Mr SPEAKER: The member may recollect that the member Metiria Turei sought leave, if I recollect correctly, to table the entire document. That leave was denied by the House. She then sought leave to table graphs from—[Interruption] Oh, I beg your pardon. They were from a different document. I beg your pardon; I am not correct on that. I hear what the member says, but the information that Metiria Turei was seeking leave to table was information that members would not automatically have available to them—

Hon Lianne Dalziel: I’ve got the book here.

Mr SPEAKER: One member has the book, but the information was something that could inform the House. The Standing Order does not provide for the leave process to be used to make political points. Previous Speakers have pointed out that it does not provide for that, and it will not be used for that purpose in the future. It is to provide information that is not normally available to members of the House. Does the Hon David Parker have a further supplementary question?

Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I apologise for adding to something that you have ruled on, but my reading of those rulings from previous Speakers was that they were recommending to the House—that they were, if you like, editorialising, rather than refusing members’ right to seek leave. I think that is something quite important. The right to seek the leave of the House to do anything is something pretty well established right through the Westminster tradition. If one looks back to Erskine May, if one goes to the British House of Commons, one sees that unless there is a specific Standing Order that forbids the seeking of leave in a particular area, my view is that the Speaker has an obligation to put the leave. I do not think that is right; I—

Mr SPEAKER: I hear the point the member makes. There is a specific Standing Order that was recently introduced to cover the tabling of documents. It is Standing Order 368. There is also Standing Order 2, which gives the Speaker responsibility to handle questions that arise as to the interpretation or application of a Standing Order. That is up to the Speaker. I will be making some rulings in respect of the application of Standing Order 368.

Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I have just looked at Standing Order 200; it relates to select committees.

Mr SPEAKER: No, Standing Order 2.

Hon David Parker: Is the Minister pleased with the decrease in workplace accidents in 2007 and 2008 as announced by Statistics New Zealand today, or will he be spinning it to assert mismanagement of accident compensation by the previous Government, to justify cuts to accident compensation cover, and to justify privatisation?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH: Of course. Every member of this House would be pleased with any reduction in accidents. The reality is—

Hon David Parker: Where’s the case for privatisation?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH: The member asks where the case is for choice in competition—I think that is the term he should use. You see, for every single issue—it does not matter whether it is any sort of issue, or whether it is my colleague Anne Tolley or me—the only word Labour knows in opposition is “privatisation”, which is not on the Government’s agenda.

Michael Woodhouse: What other reports has the Minister received of inaccurate statements on accident compensation?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH: Yesterday a press release claimed that the Government’s accident compensation reform bill repealed provisions in the scheme to provide assistance for superannuitants and for those who suffered a mental injury at work. Both these statements are wrong. There is no change in the bill to those provisions. Mr Parker should apologise for unnecessarily causing concern and unease to New Zealanders.

Hon David Parker: I seek leave to table a release from Statistics New Zealand showing a decline in work-related injury claims in 2007 and 2008.

Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is objection.

Benefits, Invalids and Sickness—Management

8. KATRINA SHANKS (National) to the Minister for Social Development and

Employment: What recent reports has she received on the management of sickness and invalids benefits?

Hon PAULA BENNETT (Minister for Social Development and Employment): The Auditor- General has released a report that looks at changes attempted by the Labour Government. These changes were supposed to actively help and encourage sickness and invalids beneficiaries back into work. The report says that Labour simply did not do enough. Clearly Labour did not, with the increase we saw in invalids benefit and sickness benefit under the previous Government.

Katrina Shanks: What recommendations did the Auditor-General’s report make?

Hon PAULA BENNETT: The report confirms that the changes we committed to before the election are firmly heading in the right direction. The recommendations focused on improving the determination of eligibility, providing more comprehensive case management, and extending the monitoring and evaluation, as National campaigned for.

Hon Annette King: Where in the audit report does it state that the case management of sickness and invalids beneficiaries is a failed programme, as she claimed last week; and is it not true that the audit report actually said: “The Ministry … has a challenging task in managing large numbers of … beneficiaries”, and encouraged the department “to build on the progress that it has made so far.”?

Hon PAULA BENNETT: The numbers speak for themselves. Since 1999 there has been a 73.9 percent increase in those on the sickness benefit, and a 65.9 percent increase of those on the invalids benefit. Unlike Labour, we have high expectations for those people. We think we can help get them back into work, and that is what we will do.

Hon Annette King: If the changes she claims her Government has made “are … heading in the right direction”, why are sickness benefit and invalids benefit numbers soaring to the highest level we have seen in 5 years?

Hon PAULA BENNETT: Those changes are to be introduced via legislation next year. At the moment we are still operating on the obviously failing policies of the previous Government, and we see that the mechanisms that are implemented through Work and Income are not working. We will actually be making changes that mean positives for those who are on those benefits.

Television New Zealand—Cost of Advertisement for Spotlight on the Economy

9. BRENDON BURNS (Labour—Christchurch Central) to the Minister of Broadcasting: What reports, if any, has he received from the board of TVNZ on the estimated market value of the

airtime for the advertisement featuring the Hon Bill English promoting TVNZ 7’s Spotlight on the Economy series that is being run 130 times on TV One, 2, 6 and 7?

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE (Leader of the House) on behalf of the Minister of

Broadcasting: He has not received any reports and does not expect to receive any.

Brendon Burns: Is the Minister satisfied with the processes at Television New Zealand (TVNZ) that have seen airtime valued in the hundreds of thousands of dollars given over to the “in plain English” promotion involving the State broadcaster’s shareholding Minister?

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: Yes.

Brendon Burns: Is he satisfied that TVNZ news managers were not consulted during the internal vetting of the “in plain English” promo, given today’s Dominion Post reports that news staff expressed “strong concerns” about the promotion.

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: The Minister of Broadcasting does not involve himself in the internal workings of any broadcast agency in this country.

Brendon Burns: Is the Minister aware of any proposals by TVNZ to extend its new-found interest in promoting politicians in difficulties, and will we soon be seeing a helicopter view of education, with 135 trailers for “Plain Tolley”, and “ACC Cuts Made Simple” promoting “Plain Smith”?

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: He has no idea what the programming future might hold for TVNZ, but I suggest that if the member wishes to advance those ideas, he talks to the broadcaster directly himself. They seem very good ideas to me.

Aged Residential Care—Improvements

10. NICKY WAGNER (National) to the Minister of Health: What reports has he received in relation to improving residential care for the aged?

Hon TONY RYALL (Minister of Health): There has been mounting public concern about poor care in rest homes for the elderly, and the Government has taken steps to address it. We have injected an extra $18 million in this year’s Budget to improve nursing quality and supervision in rest homes, and from 1 January next year we are launching a new spot auditing regime for aged residential care, whereby rest homes will not know when the auditors are coming. We are currently in the middle of a 2-month pilot of the tool to do that, and I understand that it is going very well. We will be making adjustments in the run-up to 1 January.

Nicky Wagner: What other decisions have been taken in order to improve care for the elderly?

Hon TONY RYALL: The elderly and their families need to have greater confidence in the monitoring of residential care services, and to have an opportunity to understand the various results of audits. That is why the Government has, for the first time, required a summary of the various audits of rest homes to be made available on the Ministry of Health website. The summary has an easy-to-read colour coding, ranging from blue, which means a very good performance, through the spectrum to red, and the red means significant action is needed to achieve the required levels of performance.

Hon Luamanuvao Winnie Laban: Has the Minister seen any reports from his colleague Nick Smith, who has just slashed a programme to prevent over-80s from falling, whether they choose to live at home or in a rest home?

Hon TONY RYALL: I am aware of those reports, having read some of them in the news media. I have to say, having sat through question time today, I think the decisions and announcements that are being made are entirely defendable and make sense.

Rahui Katene: Does the Minister agree with the Māori Party, when it said in its policy statement He Aha Te Mea Nui?, that the aged-care workforce is underpaid, understaffed, and too often does not receive the training it requires in order to deliver the best care, and what will he be doing to address these concerns?

Hon TONY RYALL: There is no doubt that many of the people who work in the aged-care sector think of themselves as being underpaid. It is very hard work, and that is one of the reasons why the Government has increased the subsidy for the provision of aged residential care by 5 percent this year.

Rest and Meal Breaks—Proposed Legislative Change

11. Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Labour—Hutt South) to the Minister of Labour: What has happened since compulsory rest and meal breaks for employees came into effect this year, which has led to her proposing changes to that legislation?

Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON (Acting Minister of Labour): From complaints received by the Minister it has become clear, if it was not already, that not everyone has a cup of tea at 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. and stops for lunch precisely at 1 p.m., except possibly Parliament when it is in urgency and, on most occasions, the courts. The changes are aimed at ensuring flexibility in the workplace by allowing employers and employees to time their breaks in a way that does not disrupt their work. The Government does not believe it should restrict the rights of employees to ask their employer if they can skip afternoon tea and go home a little earlier than usual in order to pick up their children from sports practice.

Hon Trevor Mallard: Is the Minister asserting that the legislation requires breaks to be taken for tea at 10 a.m. and lunch at 1 p.m.?

Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: I am sorry but, because of the interjections, I could not hear that. Would the Minister—and, of course, it is one law for all of us—

Mr SPEAKER: I will ask the member to repeat his question, because it was hard to hear it. I ask members to be a little quieter, please.

Hon Trevor Mallard: Is the Minister asserting that the legislation requires breaks to be taken for tea at 10 a.m. and lunch at 1 p.m.?

Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: What the Minister is asserting is that the current legislation has unnecessary inflexibility. The proposal aims to restore flexibility to the workplace.

Hon Trevor Mallard: Why did the Minister vote for the legislation?

Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: She and the National Party voted for the legislation at the first reading and, indeed, I spoke on it in the first reading and said it should go to a select committee, because it raised important issues that needed to be looked at. We voted against the legislation in the Committee stage because there were some concerns about flexibility, but, in the overall mix, we voted for it at the third reading.

Hon Darren Hughes: What a shambles!

Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: I cannot see where the shambles was in doing that and then seeking to improve the legislation when the opportunity arose.

Hon Trevor Mallard: Will the Minister assure the House that she will not move to foreshorten the length of the select committee process?

Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: I can say that the bill that was passed last year went through a select committee process, which was very thorough. The current bill is in the nature of a tidying-up.

Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. It was a very—

Mr SPEAKER: Is this a point of order?

Hon Trevor Mallard: Yes, it is a point of order. It was a very specific question, seeking an assurance that the Minister would not move to foreshorten the select committee process. An assurance was not given. No answer was given to that question; there was a repetition of what happened last year. There was reference to this legislation being tidied up, but the actual question was not addressed.

Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: I will try to help the member. The issue is what “foreshorten” means.

Mr SPEAKER: The Minister has made it clear that he was not sure what the member meant in his question by asking about the process being foreshortened. If the member wants to— [Interruption] If it will assist the House to get the information, I invite the member to reword his question.

Hon Trevor Mallard: Will the Minister give the House an assurance that she will not move as part of the referral motion to a select committee that the bill have a shortened period for the report back?

Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: I am no expert in parliamentary procedure, but I would have thought that was a matter for the House.

Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Again, that was a very specific question about whether the Minister would move a motion. That motion is not a matter for the House; it is a matter for the Minister. The Minister makes a decision on that motion. How the House votes is a matter for the House to decide, but is there an assurance that the Government will not move to cut workers out of their rightful—

Mr SPEAKER: That is not acceptable in a point of order. It would seem that what is happening here is that a hypothetical question is being asked about what the Minister may or may not do. The Minister has pointed out, in answering the question, that, finally, that is a matter for the House. That is, as I understand it, a fair answer to the question. If the Minister believes that helpful information can be added to assist the House, I am happy for the Minister to do that, but he would need to do that now if he wishes to do so.

Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: No.

Mr SPEAKER: I believe that under the circumstances, given that it is a hypothetical question, I cannot insist on a clearer answer than that. The Minister answered the question by saying it was a matter for the House at the end of the day, and that is a fair answer to the question.

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

Mr SPEAKER: I fear the member is about to litigate the quality of an answer—

Hon Trevor Mallard: I know that I am sailing slightly close to the wind. It is not a matter, though, for the House as to whether a Minister moves something; that is something for a Minister to do. A Minister must, at the end of the first reading of the bill, which is currently sitting on the Table and will soon be up for its first reading, move a motion. The movement of that is not a matter for the House and the detail as to whether there is a short select committee process is something for the Minister to include in the motion, not for the House.

Mr SPEAKER: Before I take the matter any further, I say my dilemma is that it is a hypothetical question. When a Minister moves that motion at the end of the first reading, the Minister will not necessarily spell out the report-back time at all; the Minister will spell out the committee to which the bill is to be referred. This is a hypothetical question because the Minister is not required to specify that matter when the motion is moved, so I believe that I cannot force the Minister to answer it in that kind detail. The Minister has, in my view, given an adequate answer by pointing out that, at the end of the day, that is a matter for the House.

Government Procurement—Achieving Value for Money

12. PAUL QUINN (National) to the Minister for Economic Development: What is the Government doing to achieve better value for money in Government procurement?

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE (Minister for Economic Development): In June this year the Government launched a 4-year Government procurement reform agenda. The major reform is the establishment of new centres of expertise. These will be specialist teams to negotiate all Government contracts, particularly where Government agencies duplicate their spending decisions. In other jurisdictions an all-of-Government approach to procurement has returned on average between 5 and 10 percent savings.

Paul Quinn: What are the aims of the Government procurement reform agenda?

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: There are a number of aims to the Government procurement reform agenda, including cost savings, the building of procurement capability and capacity, enhancing the opportunity for New Zealand businesses to participate in Government procurement, improving governance, oversight, and, of course, accountability as well. New centres of expertise will be focused mainly on driving cost savings in the first year but in the future will also support procurement capability to build and manage supplier relationships across the key purchase areas for Government expenditure.


ENDS

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