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Questions and Answers - 15 Dec 2009

(uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing)

TUESDAY, 15 DECEMBER 2009

QUESTIONS FOR ORAL ANSWER

QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS

Economy—Forecasts Compared with Budget 2009

1. AMY ADAMS (National—Selwyn) to the Minister of Finance: How does the outlook for the economy compare with forecasts provided in Budget 2009?

Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): Today I released a half-year update, which includes a new set of forecasts that update the Budget forecast. They show that the New Zealand economy did not shrink as much as anticipated in the Budget, and that growth rates over the next 2 or 3 years are a little better than forecast in the Budget.

Amy Adams: How are these small improvements in the outlook showing through in the economy?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: The most significant improvement is in the outlook for employment. The forecasts say that the unemployment rate will peak in the early part of next year at 7 percent, compared with Budget forecasts of an 8 percent unemployment rate peaking in the second half of 2010. The forecasts also show that the economy has lost fewer jobs than was anticipated in the Budget by a figure of around 80,000.

Hon David Cunliffe: With the Reserve Bank forecasting GDP growth of 3 percent in 2010 and 4 percent in 2011, why is his party describing the improvements as “small”, and why is he telling New Zealanders that this recovery is shallow?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: Because that is the case. The New Zealand economy still has some significant imbalances that need to be worked out, and the higher exchange rate is making that a bit more difficult. The pick-up in the economic outlook will lead to some improvement in the Government’s books, but that is several years away. For instance, we thought we would reach surpluses in 10 years; that has now been brought back to about 6 or 7 years.

Hon David Cunliffe: Will he at least concede that Treasury’s forecasts of stronger economic growth and a lower deficit, as they are still significant, give him more flexibility, therefore, in drawing up Budget 2010; if not, why not?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: No, I do not think it gives the Government much more flexibility. At the moment we are borrowing $250 million per week, on average, every week for the next 4 years. The forecasts will drop that borrowing to $240 million per week every week for the next 4 years, so it is some improvement, but not yet significant enough.

Amy Adams: What particular economic and fiscal challenges does the Government have, heading into 2010?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: The main challenge for the Government’s books is simply to stick to the plan that was outlined in the 2009 Budget. The Government is trying to arrest the rapid growth in Government expenditure, and to make sure that every dollar we take off taxpayers each week is used effectively.


Hon David Cunliffe: Why is the Minister sticking to the plan of the 2009 Budget, when today’s announcements show a significantly different and improved fiscal outlook that would enable all New Zealanders to benefit more significantly in the recovery? Is it a case of a breath of relief for Mr English and Mr Key, and crumbs for ordinary Kiwis?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: We are sticking to the plan because it is a far-sighted and thorough plan.

Recession—Supporting Employment and Managing Economy

2. Hon PHIL GOFF (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does he stand by his statement that “The first year of our economic plan has been about protecting families from the sharpest edges of the recession, supporting jobs and preparing for future growth.”?

Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): Yes.

Hon Phil Goff: How is he protecting families from the sharpest edges of the recession by having Government employers such as hospitals refuse to give any pay offer, at all, to low-paid workers, whose power prices, doctors’ fees, and grocery costs have gone up, and whose rents went up this year, on average, by 8 percent? How is that protecting families?

Hon JOHN KEY: Firstly, we are giving pay increases to low-paid workers; school support staff are one example of that. Secondly, anyone who wants to take a moment to go back and re-read Phil Goff’s general debate speech of last week—and I do not necessarily suggest they do—will realise that it did not have one single fact in it. If he wants to ask me a few questions in question time about what he said in that speech, I look forward to giving him answers of the truth, not what he made up while he was on his feet last week.

Hon Phil Goff: How is the Prime Minister protecting families earning less than $40,000 a year with dependent children when he gave them no tax cut and they are being offered no pay rise, and when the Prime Minister gave himself a very generous tax cut and the man sitting next to him doubled his housing allowance to $47,000—more than all of these families earned in the entire year?

Hon JOHN KEY: My only question is whether the real Leader of the Labour Party, Shane Jones, could ask a better question in this instance.

Hon Phil Goff: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. You know the point of order: that answer made no effort at all to answer the question, which was quite straightforward.

Mr SPEAKER: I hear the honourable Leader of the Opposition’s point of order. I must say that the Prime Minister started down a track that has led to a fair bit of disorder with his previous answer. There was no way I could then prevent the Leader of the Opposition from asking a pretty loaded supplementary question, and so it got worse. It was my fault; I apologise to the House for letting that happen, and I ask the Prime Minister to answer, in so far as he can, the question from the Leader of the Opposition.

Hon JOHN KEY: I will go back to square one. Not one part of the question that the Leader of the Opposition asked was factually correct—not one bit of it. Actually, low-paid workers got a tax cut—the independent allowance saw to that, as did the tax cuts across the board. So that part was not true. I will not go into the other bits. To give members an idea of the sorts of things he is saying, in his general debate speech last week he said: “the cost of their groceries is going up,”. I guess that is factually true; under the National Government the cost of groceries that New Zealanders buy has gone up 0.9 percent. The only problem with that figure is that the year before, under Labour, the cost of groceries went up 10.3 percent.

Hon Phil Goff: Mr Speaker—[Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: I apologise to the Leader of the Opposition. I have called the honourable Leader of the Opposition and I expect him to be shown some courtesy.

Hon Phil Goff: How is allowing the number of workers who are unemployed to nearly double to 150,000 in the last year helping those people escape the sharpest edges of the recession; and why is

it that, for the first time in decades, unemployment in this country exceeds the unemployment rate across the Tasman in Australia? Is that his achievement?

Hon JOHN KEY: As the Minister of Finance said today when he released the Half Year Economic and Fiscal Update, the Treasury expectations were that we would lose 120,000 jobs over this period; we have lost 60,000. I think that is a pretty good result. Last week Phil Goff said in his general debate speech that the rents of New Zealanders who are in work had gone up by 8 percent. Actually, that is not correct: rents have gone up by 1.1 percent, not 8 percent. The year before rents went up 3.1 percent.

Hon Phil Goff: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. [Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: I have recognised a point of order from the honourable Leader of the Opposition.

Hon Phil Goff: I seek the leave of the House to table the news report from Statistics New Zealand showing that on average rents have gone up by 8 percent in the last year.

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 Phil Goff: Is it not obvious that the Government has failed to protect tens of thousands of families from the bitter effects of recession when the Auckland City Missioner, Diane Robertson, said this morning that literally thousands of additional people have come through her agency this year compared with last year, and that families who were doing OK this year have lost their jobs, lost their homes, and been thrust into poverty?

Hon JOHN KEY: One of the most important things a Government can do, if it wants to look after those in our society, is to make sure that electricity prices are not going up so much. Last week Phil Goff, in his general debate speech, said: “We have seen power prices go up.” Darn right we have; we saw them go up 72 percent over 8 years under Labour. I congratulate the Minister of Energy and Resources for doing something—

Hon Phil Goff: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. That rave did not attempt to answer my question, at all. I ask you to bring the Prime Minister to the question.

Mr SPEAKER: I ask members to be a little reasonable here. I must say to the Prime Minister that he should not be going quite as far down the track as he is in referring to the speech of the honourable Leader of the Opposition last week. It will lead to disorder, as we have seen. What I will do, because I think it is reasonable, is invite the Leader of the Opposition to repeat his question without penalty.

Hon Phil Goff: Is the Prime Minister aware of the comments made on radio this morning by the Auckland City Missioner, Diane Robertson, that thousands of extra families have required the services of her agency this year, and that families that were doing OK last year have found that they have been thrust into poverty—losing their jobs and losing their homes—when last year they were doing OK? Is this what he means by blunting the sharp edges of the recession?

Hon JOHN KEY: Yes. The reality is that we are coming out of a global economic recession. The reality is that people lose their jobs, they struggle, and they suffer. That is why the Government has had such a comprehensive programme for getting New Zealanders back into work. That is why week after week we have seen the unemployment rate fall. That is why I am very proud of the Minister for Social Development and Employment and all that she has been doing to help New Zealanders through these tough times.

GDP Growth—Government Plan to Close Income Gap with Australia

3. JOHN BOSCAWEN (ACT) to the Minister of Finance: By how much does New Zealand’s annual GDP growth rate need to exceed Australia’s to achieve the Government’s concrete goal of closing the income gap with Australia by 2025, and do Treasury’s 2010 Half Year Economic and

Fiscal Update forecasts, released today, indicate that the Government’s economic plan will achieve the required rate over the next 5 years?

Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): The growth rate needed to close the income gap by 2025 would be 1.8 percent per capita income growth higher than Australia’s. Today’s forecast does not indicate that the plan will achieve that rate over the next 5 years.

John Boscawen: When does he expect “Treasury to increase their growth forecasts to account for the Government’s comprehensive plan to catch Australia by 2025”, or has it already done so?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: Treasury, as an independent forecaster, will make a judgement roughly every 6 months, when the forecasts are updated, as to whether it believes New Zealand’s growth potential has increased. It is as aware as the Government that we are now dealing with the burden of 10 years of economic mismanagement. It will take some time to clear that out.

John Boscawen: By what date does he expect Treasury forecasts to show that we are on track to catch Australia, or does he not know that?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: The Government has not set some artificial date for that; we have focused strongly on putting in place an economic programme that will sort out the mess we were left with from the previous Government—which squandered one of the best decades New Zealand could have—and putting in place a platform for lifting our economic performance.

Family/Whānau Violence—Preventative Initiatives

4. Hon ANNETTE KING (Deputy Leader—Labour) to the Minister for Social

Development and Employment: What action has she taken to reduce family violence since becoming Minister?

Hon PAULA BENNETT (Minister for Social Development and Employment): I have a long list of actions that I would like to read out, but out of respect to the time constraints of the House I just say that yesterday Minister Turia, who has delegated responsibility for family violence, announced the E Tu Whānau Ora programme, and a few weeks ago I announced the First Response pilot in Auckland, amongst many other initiatives.

Hon Annette King: Can the Minister confirm that 33 women have been killed through family violence so far this year—double last year’s figures—and why are these statistics being withheld from the public by the Government; is it because it having said that family violence was a top priority, all the action so far this year has been to review, to reduce, or to stop services?

Hon PAULA BENNETT: Let me list more of those initiatives, because this is something that is absolutely important: new safety orders put in place by the police, the ability to respond proactively to protection order breaches, more front-line family violence specialists, $2 million a year for the new family violence Whānau Ora fund, and an additional $1 million going into the “It’s Not OK” campaign this year. I would say that this Government takes the issue of family violence very, very seriously.

Hon Annette King: Did she object to the removal of independent victim advocates in family violence courts, whose role was to assist victims of family violence, with the funding now going to the Whānau Ora programme; and what has been the reaction from Judge Peter Boshier, the Principal Family Court Judge, who said recently that such advocates are “vital ingredients in making sure things happen for victims”?

Hon PAULA BENNETT: Yes, Minister Turia has recently announced $2 million a year for the new family violence Whānau Ora fund that will go directly to those families who need it, and to those programmes that will make a difference for those families. The independent advocates in the courts were not actually in there; they were in a process. The money has been well-spent, and spent on family violence.

Hon Annette King: Why is the very successful “It’s Not OK” campaign against family violence being stopped in June next year and replaced with a campaign aimed at Māori whānau only; is it because the Government believes that family violence is a Māori-only problem; if so, what is the

evidence she has to show that that is the case, when it is well-known that family violence affects all parts of our society?

Hon PAULA BENNETT: Victims are disproportionately Māori. In 2006 nearly 50 percent of hospital admissions because of family violence were Māori. If the victims are disproportionately Māori, should not the solution be, as well? That member should remember that the public care just as much about Māori children as they do about Pākehā ones.

Te Ururoa Flavell: Tēnā koe, Mr Speaker. Kia ora tātou. Me pēhea e whakamimitihia e te pūtea whānau ora hōu ngā mahi tūkino i roto i ngā whānau Māori me ngā whānau Pasifika? [An interpretation in English was given to the House.] [How will the newly established Whānau Ora fund reduce family violence in Māori and Pasifika communities?]

Hon PAULA BENNETT: The family violence Whānau Ora fund is part of the Māori and Pasifika programme of action for addressing family violence, which was launched by Minister Turia in August 2009. It is based on strengths, and focuses on strategies and solutions that encompass the whole whānau rather than just the perpetrators and victims.

Roading—Wellington-Levin Road

5. HEKIA PARATA (National) to the Minister of Transport: What progress has been made on the Wellington-Levin road of national significance?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister of Transport): I am pleased to announce to the House that this Government and the New Zealand Transport Agency have green-lighted a $2.2 billion package of improvements covering the corridor between Wellington Airport and Levin. This is the first time that a coordinated sequence programme has been planned, along with the funding track to build it, in the form of the Government’s commitment to an $11 billion investment in State highway infrastructure over the next 10 years. The package includes Basin Reserve improvements, the Levin bypass, an Ōtaki bypass, the Kapiti Expressway, the Mount Victoria Tunnel duplication, the Terrace Tunnel duplication, and finally, after years of debate, Transmission Gully.

Hekia Parata: What benefits will these developments bring to the Wellington Airport to Levin corridor?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: This package will reduce congestion, improve safety, and support economic growth in our capital city and its region, and also nationally. The improvements are expected to deliver travel-time savings of around half an hour between Levin and Wellington during peak times. Improved access to areas north of Wellington will support and encourage growth across the whole lower North Island, including Palmerston North and Wanganui. This highway is crucial for the efficient north-south movement of freight and people. About 7 million tonnes of longdistance freight leaves Wellington by road and rail every year, including 1 million to 2 million tonnes crossing Cook Strait.

Hon Darren Hughes: What level of tolling for Transmission Gully is the Government prepared to entertain? Is it likely to exceed $5 per trip?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: No, it is not likely to exceed that amount, although it is very early days. As the member will know, the consultation process on tolling is quite a long and involved one, but consideration will be given to a toll, and the New Zealand Transport Agency will consult and make recommendations in due course.

Hon Luamanuvao Winnie Laban: Why is the Mayor of Kapiti, Jenny Rowan, wrong when she says that this proposal damages Kapiti for ever?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Mayor Jenny Rowan advocates on behalf of her district, but, as we all know, in the Kapiti Coast area there has been a strong and divergent range of opinions as to what would be the best approach for State Highway 1 through the district. I am confident that the

Transport Agency has taken everybody’s views into account and has come up with an option that will benefit not only the Kapiti Coast but also areas north and south of the Kapiti Coast.

Accident Compensation—Fairness of Scheme

6. Hon RUTH DYSON (Labour—Port Hills) to the Minister for ACC: Is he committed to making New Zealand’s accident compensation scheme fair?

Hon PANSY WONG (Acting Minister for ACC): The no-fault accident compensation scheme was established to avoid lengthy litigation for injury claimants. I am committed to the scheme striking a fair balance between levy affordability and claimant entitlements. What is not fair is that Labour left the accident compensation scheme with net liabilities that soared by $4 billion to $12.7 billion, and claim costs have risen 57 percent in those 4 years.

Hon Ruth Dyson: How can it be fair that injured New Zealanders now wait 6 weeks for a decision from the Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC) about surgery, compared to 10 days last year, that 80 percent of people with shoulder injuries are being refused surgery, and that the decisions to decline surgery are made by people who are not clinicians and who quote from a 1937 textbook?

Hon PANSY WONG: The ACC operates under very strict regulations under the legislation. There are protocols for assessments for acceptance of coverage. If the member had any specific evidence, she would have written to me, and she has not.

Hon Ruth Dyson: Is it fair that the ACC is putting levies up and turning down legitimate claims so that people are paying more and getting less, and so that orthopaedic surgeons are being forced to spend their time writing appeal letters to the ACC instead of operating on their injured patients?

Hon PANSY WONG: The accident compensation scheme has a process for entitlement and coverage and also an appeal process. Once again, if the member had specific evidence for so-called wrong decisions, she would have written to me, but she has not.

Hon Ruth Dyson: I seek leave to table a letter from Dr Josie Sinclair, an orthopaedic surgeon, outlining the very points I made during my questions.

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.

Darien Fenton: How can it be fair that in the last 9 months alone, 8,454 injured Kiwis have had accident compensation - funded surgery declined—people such as Pauline Grogan from the North Shore, who was just one of the many affected by the huge jump in injured people being declined and being left unable to get back to work and full productivity?

Hon PANSY WONG: The accident compensation scheme operates under the Injury Prevention, Rehabilitation, and Compensation Act 2001, and there are strict protocols and dispute resolution procedures. Claimants have many processes that they can go through to seek the appeal of decisions.

Darien Fenton: I seek leave to table a letter from Pauline Grogan of the North Shore to ACC outlining her struggle to get treatment for her injury. Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.

Climate Change—Draft Copenhagen Climate Agreement

7. Dr RUSSEL NORMAN (Co-Leader—Green) to the Prime Minister: Does his Government support clause 16 of the 11 December draft text for the Copenhagen climate agreement that states: “Developed country Parties shall achieve their … emission reduction objectives [primarily] through domestic efforts”?

Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): New Zealand, together with others represented at the climate change conference in Copenhagen, is currently taking part in negotiations about the content

of a formal agreement. I do not intend to comment prior to the conclusion of those negotiations on the likely specifics of the final agreement. However, in a general sense, New Zealand continues to hold the view that climate change is a global problem and that our focus needs to be on reducing worldwide emissions in the most efficient way. We are less concerned with where emissions reductions occur, and more concerned to ensure that all countries do their fair share.

Dr Russel Norman: Does he agree that this clause is important because if every developed country tried to reach its emissions reduction target by continuing to emit and purchasing carbon credits offshore, then globally no one would reduce their emissions?

Hon JOHN KEY: Yes, of course it is important, but I think the member needs to take into consideration the argument purported by Treasury about relative equivalents and the ease of some countries to reduce their emissions relative to others. We need to make sure that in finding a solution to these problems we do not end up with a perverse outcome where we close factories and lose jobs in New Zealand, only to have those same factories established in other parts of the world where, in fact, the profile of greenhouse gases is rising.

Dr Russel Norman: Is it not the case that every country on the planet has unique circumstances and a unique carbon profile that make it hard to reduce emissions, and that if every country asked for special treatment, as the current Government is asking for New Zealand, then no one globally would reduce their emissions?

Hon JOHN KEY: Yes, but some are more unique than others.

Dr Russel Norman: Is it not the case that his Government has failed to give a clear commitment to support this clause because he actually lacks a Government strategy for reducing New Zealand’s domestic emissions?

Hon JOHN KEY: No, and the member will be aware that just last week he was quoting a climate watch group—a group that is known for being environmentally knowledgable—that has done an analysis of countries, based on the relative equivalents that I talked about, and came up with the result that New Zealand is in the median group. It has looked at countries like Australia and said it is in an adequate group. It has taken into consideration everything—from our emissions trading scheme to our target and our support for a global alliance—and determined that New Zealand is in pretty good shape.

Dr Russel Norman: Is the Prime Minister aware that the report that he has just used to defend the Government’s position assumes that forestry and land-use rules will remain the same, but New Zealand’s 10 to 20 percent offer is entirely conditional on changes to the forestry and land-use rules—changes that would suit New Zealand?

Hon JOHN KEY: Yes, and we are very hopeful we will get those changes because that would be in New Zealand’s and the planet’s best interest.

Dr Russel Norman: How is the announcement today of a new $2 billion motorway in the Wellington region, a motorway that will result in a 12 percent drop in the use of public transport and a big increase in greenhouse emissions, consistent with reducing New Zealand’s domestic emissions, given that our emissions from transport are up 63 percent since 1990?

Hon JOHN KEY: I do not know whether the member has driven out to Kapiti recently, but if he has at any time of the day when it is a little busy on the road, he would find he is stationary for a lot of the time, and that cars are expelling a lot of greenhouse gases. In my view, fixing that road is an example of the kind of Government we have now—one that actually delivers on its word, that is progressing, and that is building a fundamental infrastructure for a stronger economy. What a great day it is for Wellingtonians! They now know that, under a National Government, Transmission Gully will be built.


Question No. 2 to Minister

Hon PHIL GOFF (Leader of the Opposition): Before I sought leave to table a document from the newspaper. I can now table the original document from Statistics New Zealand, but could I seek leave to correct the statement that I made that was in the document?

Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to correct that statement.

Hon PHIL GOFF: I said before that it was 8 percent. Actually, the median rent has gone up by 9.5 percent—

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 JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): I seek to leave—

Hon Darren Hughes: Seek to leave? Sure.

Hon JOHN KEY: Well, I will be leaving pretty soon for Copenhagen, but I will try to see if I can—

Mr SPEAKER: I suggest that members be quiet—

Hon JOHN KEY: But if you’re going to let me go early—

Mr SPEAKER: —and that the Prime Minister too will resume his seat for the moment, please. A point of order was called and members know that they cannot carry on with that sort of noise during a point of order. It is the festive season, I know, but we need a little decorum.

Hon JOHN KEY: I seek leave to table the Consumer Price Index, which shows that for the year to September, the rise in accrual rents for housing was 1.1 percent, as I said in my answer.

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.

Question No. 8 to Minister

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA (Labour—Ikaroa-Rāwhiti): Does he, as the Minister of Māori Affairs, believe—[Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: Order!

Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA: —that establishing a Māori statutory board to advise the Auckland Council on policy matters is a good enough replacement for dedicated Māori seats?

Mr SPEAKER: Forgive me, there was a lot of noise in the House, but that does not appear to be the question that I have—[Interruption] I say to honourable members that the Speaker is on his feet and there will be silence, or, despite it being close to Christmas, someone will become only the second person to be thrown out of the House in the year. I am serious about that. We will have a little decorum. I ask the Hon Parekura Horomia to please read the question on notice.

Māori Affairs, Minister—Statements

8. Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA (Labour—Ikaroa-Rāwhiti) to the Minister of Māori

Affairs: Does he stand by his statement “I have a responsibility to represent the views of Māori people”?

Hon Dr PITA SHARPLES (Minister of Māori Affairs): Yes, absolutely, unlike the previous Minister of Māori Affairs, who ignored the foreshore and seabed, the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the Māori seats, and the Māori flag, and who failed to deliver social and economic benefits—

Mr SPEAKER: The question asked only whether the Minister stood by his statement. It did not actually ask why, and I think we have heard sufficient.


Hon Parekura Horomia: Does he, as the Minister of Māori Affairs, believe that establishing a Māori statutory board to advise the Auckland Council on policy matters is a good enough replacement for dedicated Māori seats?

Hon Dr PITA SHARPLES: Absolutely not—

Hon Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. We had the benefit of hearing that supplementary question ahead of the primary question, which allowed me to judge it. I ask you—

Hon Members: What’s your point of order?

Hon Rodney Hide: I called for a point of order—

Mr SPEAKER: There will not be interjection. A point of order is being heard, and there will not be interjection. I ask the Minister to come directly to the point of order, please.

Hon Rodney Hide: My point of order is that the supplementary question that has been asked does not follow at all from the primary question that was asked.

Mr SPEAKER: I will ask the member to repeat his question, and to take care that it does. The primary question asked whether the Minister stood by his statement: “I have a responsibility to represent the views of Māori people”. With that primary question in mind, I ask the member to repeat his supplementary question.

Hon Parekura Horomia: Does he, as the Minister of Māori Affairs, believe that establishing a Māori statutory board to advise the Auckland Council on policy matters is a good enough replacement for dedicated Māori seats?

Hon Dr PITA SHARPLES: Absolutely not. I have attended a hui held by the local tangata whenua, and I still support Māori being at the top table. This has been voted down by Cabinet, but I still support it.

Hon Tau Henare: How has the Minister worked with the Government to allow the voice of Māori to be heard in the review of the Foreshore and Seabed Act?

Hon Dr PITA SHARPLES: I have been working closely with the Attorney-General to set up the panel to review the Foreshore and Seabed Act. It had 21 hui—public meetings across the country—to allow New Zealanders, including Māori, to have their say. This is in contrast to the previous Government, whose Prime Minister preferred to meet with sheep rather than hear the voice of 40,000 New Zealanders who marched on Parliament.

Hon Parekura Horomia: Has he as Minister of Māori Affairs seen a press release from the Māori Party welcoming a report that shows that local government authorities work more effectively when they have Māori representation; if so, has he shown it to the Minister of Local Government and the Prime Minister, and why is he voting with the Government?

Hon Dr PITA SHARPLES: I voted against taking away those Māori seats, but I will still fight for the tangata whenua to have those seats restored through another avenue. There is a possibility, but at least I am working with the people.

Carmel Sepuloni: Does he as Minister of Māori Affairs support the decision of the Government to remove guaranteed Māori representation from the boards of polytechnics; if so, how does that represent the views of Māori?

Hon Dr PITA SHARPLES: We are putting forward today a Supplementary Order Paper to ensure that there is Māori representation on those boards.

Carmel Sepuloni: Why is he going around the country indicating support for some models of Māori representation on boards of polytechs, while at the same time supporting a Government measure to remove Māori representation from the boards of polytechs?

Hon Dr PITA SHARPLES: I do not think the member heard my previous answer. I do not support the measure. We have a Supplementary Order Paper asking for Māori representation.

Hon Shane Jones: Does he believe that having a flag referred to by some as “Hone’s flag” hoisted upon us is a good enough alternative to having proper representation in New Zealand’s largest city, and, indeed, in polytechs? What does he plan to do to remedy his failings to date?


Hon Dr PITA SHARPLES: It matters not what I believe. Eighty percent of Māori who were canvassed in 1,200 submissions wanted to have that flag as their flag.

Education, National Standards—Endorsement

9. ALLAN PEACHEY (National—Tāmaki) to the Minister of Education: What reports has she received that endorse the implementation of the national standards?

Hon ANNE TOLLEY (Minister of Education): I have seen two editorials today—the first is in the Dominion Post and the second is in the New Zealand Herald—that back the Government’s implementation—

Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. It was a very direct question on the part of Allan Peachey. It asked “What reports has she received …”. A newspaper editorial is not a report to a Minister.

Mr SPEAKER: I think that in recent times we have accepted that “reports” have become something of a device for all kinds of information. I think that it is not unreasonable for the Minister to outline what information she is aware of that supports the particular view put forward in the question.

Hon ANNE TOLLEY: Those two editorials—

Hon Maryan Street: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I do not wish to take exception to your ruling, but the question—which did not come from this side of the House— asked what reports she has received, not what reports she has seen, which might be any other thing. It was quite specific about receiving reports.

Mr SPEAKER: I do not think there is need—

Todd McClay: They’re ready to govern again!

Mr SPEAKER: Mr McClay is a new member and not used to sitting near the front; I can hear much better at the front. I ask that he be more careful. Obviously, the Minister may well have received the report, because the newspapers may well have been taken to her office, so she has received them in her office. As Speaker, I cannot determine by what means Ministers receive reports. I invite the Minister—

Hon Trevor Mallard: What a clown!

Hon ANNE TOLLEY: They do not like it!

Mr SPEAKER: I apologise to the Minister. There is no need for that. The Minister was asked a perfectly simply question “What reports has she received that endorse the implementation of the national standards?”. It does not deserve that kind of abuse being hurled across the House, and I think the member should desist. We have had enough from both sides of the Chamber now.

Hon ANNE TOLLEY: Thank you, Mr Speaker. Both of those glowing editorials recognise, as does this Government, that we have to support parents by providing them with good, clear, honest information about how their kids are doing at school and what they can do to help them do better.

Allan Peachey: What reports has the Minister―[Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: I apologise to the honourable member. When I cannot hear, there is no way I can perform my role of Speaker. I could not hear Allan Peachey, at all. I ask members to be a little more reasonable. This is perhaps the second-to-last sitting of the House this year and we do not need to finish in disarray.

Allan Peachey: Thank you, Mr Speaker. What reports has the Minister received from the education sector endorsing the use of national standards?

Hon ANNE TOLLEY: I have reports of numerous supportive messages from teachers and principals that show that the unions are out of step with their members. One principal said: ‘Not all principals share the view of the NZPF and the NZEI. Some of us are quite capable of thinking for ourselves. My senior staff have begun to look at the standards, and the self-review we are doing is very useful.”


Auckland, Local Government Reform—Minister’s Statements

10. PHIL TWYFORD (Labour) to the Minister of Local Government: Does he stand by his statement “the new local governance structure will deliver decisive leadership, robust infrastructure, and facilities and services of a world class city”?

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

Phil Twyford: Does he stand by his statement “We believe in one law for all, every citizen having a vote of equal value”; if so, how does he reconcile it with the fact that under the recommendations of the Local Government Commission one vote in South Auckland is worth only three-quarters of a vote in Rodney?

Hon RODNEY HIDE: Yes, I do. As the member should be aware, the Local Government Commission is a body that is independent of the Minister and the Government. I hope that Mr Twyford put in a submission so that it could consider his views.

Phil Twyford: What concerns, if any, have National MPs, including the Prime Minister, raised with him about the inequities of the proposal on the ward boundaries from the Local Government Commission, or are they happy with them?

Hon RODNEY HIDE: The Prime Minister and other Ministers have not raised any concerns with me, because they are aware of the proper process and the operation of the Local Government Commission. I myself understand Mr Twyford’s disappointment, because it has not come up with a local board small enough that he could gain a position of representation on it.

Sue Kedgley: When the third Auckland Council bill is passed, and almost all of the functions of the Auckland Council are siphoned off into Crown-owned companies that will be stacked with his political appointees, what will there be left for Auckland councillors to do?

Hon RODNEY HIDE: If the Green member for Wellington, Sue Kedgley, went to Auckland, she would realise there is a great deal to be done by the council. The Auckland Transition Agency has developed a structure for the delivery of services to Aucklanders through council-controlled organisations, and that allows the council to exercise governance and control while ensuring those services have professional operational management. In fact, there are over 40 council-controlled organisations in Auckland now.

Phil Twyford: Why did he promise in a speech that the third Auckland governance bill would “fill in the detail on the functions and powers of local boards”, when his third bill failed to clarify the powers of local boards and passed the buck to the transition agency?

Hon RODNEY HIDE: It is a shame that Mr Twyford has not followed the process, because the Auckland Governance Legislation Committee, which considered the second Auckland governance bill, decided against specifying a list of local board functions in the legislation. The select committee stated that the reasons were that the range of activities undertaken by each local board would be different and likely to change over time, that including a prescriptive list in legislation would limit flexibility, and that it would not be practical or a good fit with the board-enabling framework for local government under the Local Government Act 2002. The Government heard those views in the select committee and took them on board.

Work and Income—Improved Reform

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

Employment: What is the Government doing to deliver services more efficiently through Work and Income?

Hon PAULA BENNETT (Minister for Social Development and Employment): One of the many initiatives is the new electronic payment card to administer emergency food grants. This replaces the previously outdated paper voucher system. The technology has been available for years, and it seems sensible for this Government to roll it out as soon as possible. It is better for beneficiaries, it saves money for taxpayers, and it is easier for retailers.

Katrina Shanks: How does the payment card operate?


Hon PAULA BENNETT: It works just like a bank card, but it has restrictions on it. It has approved providers and has spending control, so it is only for food and household costs. It is also faster and quicker to administer. It has been so successful that we will be rolling out the second wave shortly using it to administer all special-needs grants and advances.

Education, National Standards—Minister’s Approach

12. KELVIN DAVIS (Labour) to the Minister of Education: Does she agree with the 14 December New Zealand Herald headline “Tolley talks tough in clash with teachers”?

Hon ANNE TOLLEY (Minister of Education): If the headline is suggesting that I am prepared to defend parents getting good information on how their kids are doing against national standards, and what they can do to help their kids do better, then the answer would be yes.

Kelvin Davis: Has she begun the hunt for 80 commissioners to replace the 80 boards of trustees from Te Tai Tokerau whose principals “last week unanimously agreed not to implement the standards until their effect was better known”?

Hon ANNE TOLLEY: I am very confident that the boards of trustees of the schools of this country who represent the parents know that national standards will help lift the achievement of those students who are currently failing in our schools.

Kelvin Davis: Does she realise that with her threat to sack boards of trustees that allow teachers to boycott national standards, along with noises from the State Services Commission to try to prevent teachers and principals from speaking out on issues like this, she is practically inviting civil disobedience from the educational sector?

Hon ANNE TOLLEY: I suggest that that member read more than the headlines in the newspaper. If he had read through the rest of the article, then he would have seen I stated that I do not believe it will come to that. I have every confidence in the boards of trustees of schools in this country representing parents who want to do better for their children.

Kelvin Davis: Does she agree with the Minister of Health, Tony Ryall, who claims to listen to clinicians when making decisions on health; if so, why does she refuse to listen to principals who consistently say that her plans will do nothing to stop kids failing in the system?

Hon ANNE TOLLEY: I have listened to the sector; I have listened to a whole year of reasons why it does not want national standards. I have heard reason after reason. The parents of children in this country want national standards, they voted for them, and we will deliver them.

Mr SPEAKER: I say to Government members that it is impossible to hear questions being asked if they keep up that level of noise.

Hon Trevor Mallard: Is the Minister seriously suggesting to this House that she will sack a board of trustees that decides to have a trial within a region of the national standards?

Hon ANNE TOLLEY: I have said in this House that I have every confidence that the boards of trustees of schools in New Zealand who are the representatives of parents will implement the national standards next year because they know that they will help them raise the achievement of the one in five students who are currently failing the school system.

Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My question was a very direct, simple, and unloaded question. It asked whether she would sack a board of trustees that decided to implement a trial. That question was not addressed.

Mr SPEAKER: The dilemma I have as Speaker is that it was a hypothetical question. It incorporated questions about what a board might do in the future and whether a trial might be involved in the future, and those are all hypothetical issues. Although the Minister’s answer may not have been quite what the member wanted, as Speaker I have to be so careful about insisting on any particular kind of answer where the question is hypothetical like that one.

Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. You were given, through your office, a copy of a press clipping from the Minister that indicated that that was her intention. My question was about her intention, as she has already publicly outlined it. It might have been hypothetical in

asking whether she would be in that position, but it is obviously a formed view that she has, and it is something that she has said publicly. What you are essentially saying is that we cannot question her on the detail.

Mr SPEAKER: I am aware that there was some to-ing and fro-ing on the wording of this question, but, regardless of that, the primary question that was put down asked whether she agreed with a certain headline in a newspaper, which is a fair enough question. But to then go on and ask the Minister about a hypothetical situation, should a board of trustees do something to do with a trial or not to do with a trial, is clearly hypothetical. I cannot insist that a Minister answer that kind of question. That would be unreasonable, on my part as Speaker. I believe that under the circumstances I cannot assist the honourable member any further.


ENDS

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