Questions and Answers - 31 March 2010
(uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing)
WEDNESDAY, 31 MARCH 2010
QUESTIONS FOR ORAL ANSWER
QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS
Budget 2010—Challenges Compared with Budget 2009
1. AMY ADAMS (National—Selwyn) to the Minister of Finance: What challenges does the Government face in preparing Budget 2010 compared with Budget 2009?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): Budget 2009 was presented when New Zealand had been in recession for 18 months under the previous Government’s economic mismanagement, and then it was suffering from a global recession. At the time, the Government faced wasteful government expenditure that was out of control, a depressed and demoralised bureaucracy, and a large number of inefficient and ineffective programmes. So Budget 2009 dealt with many of those issues; Budget 2010 will focus on positioning New Zealanders for sustainable growth and recovery.
Amy Adams: What reports has he seen on the economic problems this Government inherited?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The New Zealand Institute has issued a report card on the country’s economic performance over the last 20 years. It notes that New Zealand’s productivity growth from 2005 to 2008 was 23rd out of 30 OECD countries. Greece passed New Zealand in 2007, and workers in Italy produced $15 more per hour than workers in New Zealand. The report card acknowledges that a range of Government measures in place now will contribute to lifting per capita output.
Stuart Nash: Speaking of the New Zealand Institute, which of the following is true: the Minister’s statement that the Government has focused on one top priority, which is the large number of young New Zealanders who are either losing their jobs or cannot get a job; or the finding in the New Zealand Institute report card that this country has the second-highest unemployment rate—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: I apologise to the honourable member. Thanks to interjections, I could not hear that question, at all. I ask members to be a little more reasonable with their interjections, and I ask Stuart Nash please to start his question again.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I accept that both sides of the House were responsible for that, but while you were on your feet Sandra Goudie loudly interjected at you while you were speaking. I think that in the interests of equity it would be good for there to be at least some reprimand for her. I think you heard her.
Mr SPEAKER: I do not think we need to be too pedantic. I heard someone interject while I was on my feet, but I could not pick up who it was. The member will have noticed that I looked around. I will not invite members to tell tales on each other under points of order. But I say to members on the Government backbench that they should be a little more careful. If they interject when the Speaker is on his feet, they may find they take an early shower.
Stuart Nash: Which of the following is true: his statement that the Government has focused on one top priority, which is the large number of young New Zealanders who are either losing their
jobs or cannot get a job; or the finding in the New Zealand Institute report card that this country has the second-highest unemployment rate for 15 to 19-year-olds in the OECD?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: It is quite likely that both statements are true. In fact, I know that the first one is certainly true. The Government is focused on creating jobs for young people. The member will know that a lot of those young people lost their jobs in the retail, domestic construction, and government sectors, when the previous Government was pumping up this economy way beyond its capacity. They were not real jobs, and it is unfortunate those young people lost them—very unfortunate. We are motivated to provide sustainable jobs in real industries.
Amy Adams: What will Budget 2010 do to address this country’s economic underperformance?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The Government has made a good start in turning round the poor productivity and growth record. We have been assisted by a recovery in the global economy. Budget 2010 will set out the next steps in the Government’s plan, including billions of dollars of investment in infrastructure, overhauling our regulatory framework, redesigning the New Zealand tax system, lifting productivity in the public sector, improving capital markets, and continuing to aim for higher educational standards.
Associate Minister, Social Development and Employment—Statements
2. Hon ANNETTE KING (Deputy Leader—Labour) to the Associate Minister for Social
Development and Employment: Does she stand by all her recent statements?
Hon TARIANA TURIA (Associate Minister for Social Development and Employment): I stand by 99.9 percent of them.
Hon Annette King: Who is correct—the Associate Minister, who said yesterday: “At the last minute we were given a copy of the reforms. That makes it difficult to have input into them.”; or the Minister for Social Development and Employment, Paula Bennett, who said yesterday that the first meeting on the social welfare reforms occurred on 26 November 2009, 4 months ago?
Hon TARIANA TURIA: I was talking about the policy design. Those policies were designed before the election and, of course, the Government has every right to implement its policy without consulting us.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I think that the Minister was given a couple of choices on when she heard about a particular matter—not a policy, but a Government matter, because she would not have been responsible if it was policy. We cannot ask her questions about consultation before the election, and you would have ruled it out if we had. Therefore, I think you understand that she—
Mr SPEAKER: I hear the honourable member. I invite the Hon Tariana Turia to make a somewhat greater effort to answer the question asked, please.
Hon TARIANA TURIA: I am responsible for the comments that I made, and I made those comments on the basis that National had designed those policies before becoming the Government and that we were not party to that. I at no point talked about consultation. I never used those words in my interview.
Hon Annette King: Has the Prime Minister told her why he said that there was complete and full consultation by the Minister with all relevant Ministers, including those in the Māori Party, and that the consultation started as late as December last year; or does she believe that the Prime Minister has been misinformed about the quantity and quality of consultation undertaken by the Minister for Social Development and Employment on a policy that has such a major impact on Māori people?
Hon TARIANA TURIA: It is important for the House to realise that I was not present in Parliament from mid-November right through until January, because I was in hospital.
Hon Annette King: Is the Minister for Social Development and Employment correct in her chronology of events, in which she indicates that the Associate Minister did not attend meetings, cancelled meetings, and had to be sent a second set of policy papers, implying lost papers? Paula
Bennett said that she actually gave the Minister all the related papers on 24 February, which is 1 month ago.
Hon TARIANA TURIA: I am not going to respond to the issues of there being no papers or of lost papers. I have already made it clear that, in fact, I returned to Parliament around 3 or 4 February. Since then, I have seen the papers that were spoken of. I responded to them. I saw that more as my being informed of what the Government was doing than a consultation document, which had taken place before the election.
Rahui Katene: Does she agree with the sentiments of Māori Party MP Hone Harawira that “Māori have never sought the debilitation that comes with crippling dependency, and nor do we seek poverty.”; and how does she reconcile this with her statement that she supports the notion of benefit reform?
Hon TARIANA TURIA: I agree with many statements that Māori leaders have made over the years: Tuini Ngāwai and the waiata she wrote about benefit dependency, and Sir Apirana Ngata. He saw such a net as a danger as he believed that it would undermine the work ethic of our people, and he was correct.
Hon Annette King: In light of the Minister’s answer that she did not realise that the papers she was receiving were consultation papers, was she given a copy of the regulatory impact statement on the welfare system changes prepared by the Ministry of Social Development, in which Te Puni Kōkiri and the Minister of Pacific Island Affairs raised concerns over the impact of the changes on low-income Māori and Pacific people; if she did receive that statement, which came out some time ago, why did she not take the fight about these changes to the Government several months ago?
Hon TARIANA TURIA: I responded in writing to the issues that were raised, and I was responded to in writing, also.
Foreshore and Seabed Act Review—Progress
3. Hon TAU HENARE (National) to the Attorney-General: What progress has the Government made in its response to the review of the Foreshore and Seabed Act 2004?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON (Attorney-General): Today the Government released a public consultation document outlining the Government’s preferred approach, and seeking feedback from the public on each aspect of that broad framework and the various options within it. The current Act has proved to be anything but an enduring solution. Significant numbers of New Zealanders have complained, and continue to complain, that that Act is unfair and discriminatory. It is important that we find an enduring solution, so I am very much looking forward to hearing what New Zealanders have to say.
Hon Tau Henare: How is the Government responding to the review panel’s report of 30 June 2009?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: The panel advised repeal and enactment of replacement legislation. The Government has carefully considered the report, and in the months since the panel reported it has been engaged in an extended conversation with iwi representatives and other interested parties. The Government has picked up, and is consulting on, a number of the panel’s recommendations, including repeal of the Act, protecting public access, removal of formal Crown ownership, providing for recognition of customary title, and restoring the fundamental right of access to the courts.
Hon Parekura Horomia: Did the Prime Minister say that people would see little change because the Government’s preferred option is really just to repeal and re-enact the current law?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: The current Act does not include that fundamental right of access to the courts so that people can seek justice. That is what caused so much ill feeling in 2004, and it is what we are trying to address.
Rahui Katene: How will the Government avoid making the same mistake identified by the ministerial review panel in 2009, which characterised the former Government’s decision to legislate
as unacceptably interventionist and overriding the option of allowing the judicial process to take its course, thus removing the right to due legal process?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: The most important thing I think we can do as we contemplate repeal and a new enactment is to ensure that any reform recognises the fundamental right of access to justice that all New Zealanders have.
Hon Tau Henare: What consultation will the Government be undertaking during April this year?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: Over the next month I will be attending quite a number of hui—I think it is 11 hui—and numerous other public meetings throughout New Zealand.
Hon Parekura Horomia: What about some “do-ee”, not hui?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: The aim of these meetings is to consult with interested parties on the Government’s proposals for reform. Following that consultation I will be reporting to Cabinet, and final Cabinet decisions can be expected in late May and June. I will tell Mr Horomia when I will be in Gisborne, because I look forward to his positive participation.
David Garrett: How is the Government solving the problem by recommending that no one owns the foreshore and seabed, and establishing an entirely new legal concept of takiwā iwi whānui, the legal meaning of which can only be determined in the future through case law?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: There are essentially four options. There is absolute Crown ownership, which is what the previous Government tried, which was unacceptable—
David Garrett: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I did not ask the Attorney-General what the options were; I asked how one of the options recommended by the Government could solve the problem. I did not ask for a list of the options.
Hon Simon Power: The Attorney-General had barely got the first option out. I am sure that, knowing him, he was preparing a well-crafted answer directly in respect of the question asked, and giving it the context that he usually does.
Mr SPEAKER: In fairness to the member who feels that his question was not being answered, I invite him to repeat his question so that everyone can be absolutely sure exactly what he asked, and we will listen to the answer with interest.
David Garrett: How is the Government solving the problem by recommending that no one owns the foreshore and seabed, and establishing an entirely new legal concept, takiwā iwi whānui, the legal meaning of which can only be determined in the future through case law?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: There are a number of options, and the member does not want to hear the detail of them, but the Government considers that the public domain concept is a very sensible way of proceeding to deal with this issue in that it provides a staging post where customary title can be investigated.
David Garrett: Will he legislate to guarantee public access to the foreshore and seabed; if not, why not?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: The answer is yes, and public access was never legislated for before the 2004 Act. One of the aspects of that Act was that it made it clear beyond peradventure that there is public access, and those provisions confirming public access will be carried over.
Mr SPEAKER: I call the Hon Ruth Dyson to ask question No. 4. [Interruption] I ask all members, including a colleague of the Hon Ruth Dyson who is right beside her, to please show some courtesy to the Hon Ruth Dyson.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. We had called for the Minister to give a legal translation for members down here.
Mr SPEAKER: That is not a point of order.
Health Services—Minister’s Statements
4. Hon RUTH DYSON (Labour—Port Hills) to the Minister of Health: Does he stand by all his statements about health services?
Hon TONY RYALL (Minister of Health): Yes, including the statement that Labour culled over 30,000 people from hospital waiting lists.
Hon Ruth Dyson: What does he say to Dr Sandy Simpson, another front-line, experienced mental health specialist who is heading overseas, who said on Nine to Noon yesterday: “Front-line mental health services are suffering. The reality this year is that the squeeze is horrible, and the cost of providing services is not being met.”?
Hon TONY RYALL: I would say two things. The first is that the Government has increased the budget for mental health services by $85 million. The second thing I would say is that under the previous Government, back-office bureaucracy grew from 8,000 managers and administrators in district health boards to over 10,500 managers and administrators. Our cap is working, and we are employing more nurses and other personnel than previously.
Hon Ruth Dyson: Which is correct: the statements made by Marion Blake, chief executive of the non-governmental organisation Platform, who said it was facing a funding cut in Wellington alone of $2 million in mental health services, or the Minister’s reported comments that planned changes in front-line services should not threaten NGO services?
Hon TONY RYALL: I am aware that the Capital and Coast District Health Board, in preparing its annual plan, is looking at how it can address the fact that the previous Government left it delivering over $60 million in unfunded services. Despite the fact that this Government has increased the overall funding for the Capital and Coast District Health Board by more than $32 million this year and will give it more next year, changes will have to be made.
Michael Woodhouse: What reports has the Minister seen in relation to delivering better health services?
Hon TONY RYALL: The House will appreciate that in order for our 21 district health boards to have security and certainty in their services, they need to be on a solid financial footing. Members will also recall that the new Government inherited a district health board sector that was on track to a financial crisis, with unfunded services assessed at $155 million worth, and forecast to grow to over $200 million worth. I am pleased to say that as a result of the Government putting a record $536 million into the district health boards and those boards looking carefully at their plans, the health service is turning round from that track to financial crisis, and it is expected to have a significant improvement in the amount of unfunded services this next financial year.
Hon Ruth Dyson: When he said at the Sprott House event last week “this Government is committed to supporting our elderly to stay in their homes as long as they can.”, was it better and more convenient for him to forget about the hundreds of elderly people in Otago and Southland who have had their home help cut?
Hon TONY RYALL: I think what is apposite to that comment is to refer to a recent report in Grey Power Lobby Report about when Grey Power met the member opposite. They reported on the Opposition spokesperson on health in relation to health care, saying: “She is totally against assessing by telephone and has stated that the only way to assess a person is to visit them in their homes to see firsthand how they are coping.” That is what she said about Otago and Southland. What is interesting is that it was in fact Mrs Dyson’s Government that formalised telephone assessments as a pilot in 2006, and, further, it was Mrs Dyson’s Government that voted for the public money to roll out that project nationally in the 2008 Budget.
Hon Ruth Dyson: Is it not a bit rich for him to continue to describe his cuts as changes when Dr Simpson, who has had over 20 years of mental health advocacy, said “the current cuts are, frankly, worrying. They cannot continue to deliver the services at the size that they are at the moment. There will be further cuts.”?
Hon TONY RYALL: No.
Aviation Security—Changes to Charges Per Passenger
5. DAVID BENNETT (National—Hamilton East) to the Minister of Transport: What changes is the Government making to per-passenger aviation security charges?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister of Transport): Beginning tomorrow, the aviation security charge paid by airlines will be reduced by $5, from $15 to $10, per departing international passenger. The charge for domestic travellers will also drop from $4.66 to $4.35 including GST. This Government is always on the lookout to reduce costs wherever possible, and I am pleased to have the opportunity to do so with aviation security charges. I hope and expect that the airlines will pass most of this reduction on to their passengers.
David Bennett: How was the Government able to reduce these levies?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: The Aviation Security Service has accumulated a very significant surplus since the last increase in levies in 2007. The surplus is about $35 million from international security charges and $6.5 million from domestic charges. Although some level of surplus is necessary to buffer against fluctuations in passenger volumes and unforeseen requirements, the current level of surplus is an unfair imposition on airlines and the travelling public.
Associate Minister, Education—Statements
6. KELVIN DAVIS (Labour) to the Associate Minister of Education: Does he stand by all his statements?
Hon Dr PITA SHARPLES (Associate Minister of Education): I stand by 99.98 percent of them.
Kelvin Davis: Which of his statements does he stand by: the one that national standards are dangerous for Māori, the one that national standards are OK; the one where he told his staff kura kaupapa Māori did not believe in national standards and neither did he, and that he was fundamentally opposed to them; or the one where he said he was, again, comfortable with them but was still worried about league tables?
Hon Dr PITA SHARPLES: Those are the 0.02 percent! I stand by all those statements, which were made at different times. Initially, when I had no documentation, I was scared of the league tables; as I got information and consultation, I moved to support them.
Kelvin Davis: What has he learnt since he stated he was opposed to national standards that has caused him to now find them acceptable?
Hon Dr PITA SHARPLES: My main fear was the intrusion on the tino rangatiratanga of each kura kaupapa Māori, because kura kaupapa Māori not only have to teach education; they have to teach two languages, as well. So it is very local. As we developed a consultation process, and iwi, the schools, and the families were allowed input, I was satisfied to let it go.
Kelvin Davis: Can he confirm that he is concerned only about Māori students in kura kaupapa Māori, and not the 141,000 other Māori students in mainstream schools, and that he is quite comfortable leaving them and their parents to deal with the implementation of national standards, which he himself called dangerous?
Hon Dr PITA SHARPLES: I can confirm that I care not only for every Māori student but for every Pākehā student, every Indian student, and every Chinese student—every student in school. But I have a particular responsibility in these matters for kura kaupapa Māori children.
Hon Trevor Mallard: What was the detail of the assurance he was given by the Prime Minister in relation to the publication of league tables?
Hon Dr PITA SHARPLES: I cannot remember the details of it. I still oppose league tables being published by, for example, the media after their own private investigations, but I understand that the Government has no intention of publishing league tables.
Welfare Reforms—Reports on Long-term Welfare Dependency
7. HEKIA PARATA (National) to the Minister for Social Development and Employment: What reports has she received on long-term welfare dependency?
Hon PAULA BENNETT (Minister for Social Development and Employment): I have seen research showing that the longer a person spends on a benefit, the harder it is to get off welfare. I have seen a report that shows that a third of those currently on the domestic purposes benefit became parents in their teenage years, and of those teenagers on that benefit, if they are under 18 they are 35 percent more likely to be on it in 10 years’ time. This is a particular group that we are focused on in wanting to help them and to help them to get off long-term welfare dependency.
Hekia Parata: How many beneficiaries might be considered at risk of long-term dependency on welfare?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: Of those who currently receive a benefit, over one-third have been on welfare for more than 3 years. That is around 117,880 people or about 34 percent of those who are on welfare. Of those on supposedly short-term, temporary benefits—the unemployment and sickness benefits—29,580 receive the sickness benefit for more than a year, and over 12,000 receive the unemployment benefit for more than a year.
Carmel Sepuloni: What reports has the Minister read that have caused her to change her mind about a woman’s right to choice, as stated in her maiden speech “I advocate for choice—for women to work part time or full time in paid work, or not at all, or to stay at home and raise their children.”?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: I certainly do, and I see that need for parents to actually be moving ahead for themselves for the benefit of their children, and that is what is really most important. I certainly do advocate choice for those who can have it, but there is an obligation, as well, for them to be getting ahead themselves and then actually making that for their children.
Carmel Sepuloni: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I asked what reports she has read with regard to changing her mind about whether women should stay home and raise their children or go out and work. I did not hear whether she actually referred to any reports.
Mr SPEAKER: The difficulty I have is in understanding exactly what the member is asking. Normally members do not read reports about why they changed their minds; it is something they know themselves. It is difficult for me to say to the Minister that I expect her to give a more clear answer to the House, when it is difficult to see exactly what the member was after.
Hekia Parata: How does the Minister expect Future Focus to improve outcomes for beneficiaries?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: Despite labour shortages, the culture of welfare dependency grew on Labour’s watch. From 2000 to 2008—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: I assume the member is seeking my intervention about that barrage of interjection. That is unacceptable. The members may not like the Minister’s answer, but the Minister is entitled to answer the question as she sees fit. If members do not like it, they can ask supplementary questions, but they cannot just shout like that.
Hon Chris Carter: So lies are OK?
Mr SPEAKER: Did I just hear someone say lies are OK?
Hon Chris Carter: It was a rhetorical question.
Mr SPEAKER: Well, we will not have that kind of interjection.
Hon PAULA BENNETT: To give details, from 2000 to 2008 sickness benefit numbers doubled, up by 17,000 people. To give members the actual numbers on that, 33,560 people were on the sickness benefit in the year 2000, and 50,896 people were on the sickness benefit in 2008. That is just one example.
Carmel Sepuloni: If the Minister is serious about supporting women into paid employment, why did she ignore the phase 1 and phase 2 evaluation of the training incentive allowance reports, which
highlight the role of the training incentive allowance in reducing the time spent on benefits and increasing the amount of time spent in paid employment?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: Future Focus exempts people who have children over the age of 6 and are in tertiary study, in recognition that tertiary study can work for some people on the domestic purposes benefit. We have also introduced other pathways for them to gain those skills and to get the training that they need. That is something that, quite frankly, makes sense, and something I am proud to deliver.
Mr SPEAKER: That was a very interesting piece of information that the Minister just gave the House. It may be what the Minister wanted to provide by way of answer, but I am not sure whether it was exactly an answer to the question asked. I did not support Carmel Sepuloni when she previously appealed that her question had not been answered. I invite her to ask her supplementary question again without the first bit about how the Minister can be taken seriously. That will be excluded from the repeat of the supplementary question. It will be a straightforward, objective question if she wants an answer.
Carmel Sepuloni: Why did she ignore the phase 1 and phase 2 evaluation of the training incentive allowance reports, which highlight the role of the training incentive allowance in reducing the time spent on benefits and increasing the amount of time spent in paid employment?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: I did not, but as I said, when we looked at tertiary study for those people on the domestic purposes benefit we recognised that they should be exempt if they are in study while their children are over 6 years old. The Government made that decision and it is one that I am proud to represent. There are many opportunities for those people on the domestic purposes benefit to get the training and education that they need to move off long-term welfare dependency.
Education, National Standards—Minister’s Statements
8. Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Labour—Hutt South) to the Minister of Education: Does she stand by her reported statement in regard to national standards that “criticism has been based on misinterpretations”?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY (Minister of Education): Yes, and I am pleased that so many teachers and principals are engaging with the national standards rather than misinterpretations of them.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Does she accept that if a newspaper now asks two schools for their results, it can publish a local league table?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY: It can do that now.
Hon Trevor Mallard: How, then, can she explain the Prime Minister’s comments to Pita Sharples that league tables could not be published under national standards for at least 2 years?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY: I was not at the meeting that took place between the Prime Minister and Minister Sharples, but the Government—and Minister Sharples repeated this earlier in the House— will not be publishing league tables.
Allan Peachey: What reports has the Minister received of teachers and principals engaging with national standards?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY: I have received a report from the Ministry of Education that states that so far 81 percent of schools have registered for, or participated in, the first round of workshops on the implementation of national standards. That is 4,695 principals and teachers, representing 1,759 schools. That is an excellent response, and it shows that teachers, as professionals, are getting on with the job of implementing national standards.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Who is responsible for the misinterpretation of the fact that those workshops have been described as being fully funded, when schools have to pay over $200 a day for a reliever to replace the staff member and pay the travel costs as well?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY: It is interesting that the Labour Party does not even want there to be training on national standards.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. It was a simple question: who was responsible for that misinterpretation?
Mr SPEAKER: I accept the member’s point of order. The Minister should not commence a perfectly reasonable question with a gratuitous comment.
Hon ANNE TOLLEY: Professional development worth $26 million is being made available to teachers, at their request, for training on the national standards. It is perfectly normal practice for schools to fund relievers.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. It was again a very simple, easy question to answer. It asked who was responsible for the statement that the workshops were fully funded. The Minister knows that she made that statement. She should admit it to the House.
Mr SPEAKER: The last bit of that point of order was out of order. The member knows that. He has been in this House long enough to know that he cannot make that kind of accusation or comment under a point of order. I am not sure why he expects me to be terribly sympathetic to his point of order when he does that. In my view, the Minister did answer the question. She pointed out what “fully funded” means in normal circumstances for teacher professional development. Other people may have a different view of what it means, but that seems to me to be what the Minister was saying. The member has further supplementary questions available should he wish to ask one.
Civil Defence and Emergency Management, Ministry—Communication with Public
9. CHRIS AUCHINVOLE (National—West Coast - Tasman) to the Minister of Civil
Defence: To the Minister of—
Mr SPEAKER: I say to both front benches that I have called Chris Auchinvole. Please show him some courtesy.
CHRIS AUCHINVOLE: Thank you, Mr Speaker. How has the Ministry of Civil Defence enhanced its communications with the public?
Hon JOHN CARTER (Minister of Civil Defence): The recent tsunami event of 28 February showed that the ministry’s revised 24/7 duty arrangements and process for working with the media worked well. In addition, the Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management website received 44,000 visitors on 28 February. This compares with an average of 350 visitors a day for the rest of February. The ministry’s Twitter feed went from 166 followers to 1,347, and the ministry’s RSS feed also had 2,800 individuals subscribing. The significant increases over normal traffic show the usefulness of social media for civil defence purposes. However, I remind members of the House that it is what the individual knows to do in time of emergency, and how prepared people are, that determines whether people will get through.
Chris Auchinvole: What other technical advances has the Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management put in place?
Hon JOHN CARTER: I am happy to announce that just 2 weeks ago I attended the demonstration of the Emergency Management Information System, known as EMIS, for use in the National Crisis Management Centre. This system will greatly enhance New Zealand’s civil defence capabilities by allowing the Crisis Management Centre and the regions to coordinate information in real time to help us better manage emergencies, and thereby make New Zealand safer and more resilient.
Mining in Conservation Areas—Discussion Document on Minerals Stocktake
10. CHARLES CHAUVEL (Labour) to the Minister of Energy and Resources: Does he think that his discussion document on the stocktake of schedule 4 provides sufficient information to New Zealanders to be fully informed about the issue, given the statement made on his behalf after the release of the document that “the information about the value of New Zealand’s mineral resources is not well known”; if so, why?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON (Acting Minister of Energy and Resources): Yes; the stocktake is a carefully considered document, and it contains a great deal of useful information. In his question the member quotes out of context a previous reply in this House concerning the further scientific investigation of the mineral potential of some areas, as signalled in the discussion paper.
Charles Chauvel: How can New Zealanders be confident about the analysis of the Minister’s proposals, when he himself has said that the value of minerals is not well known, and the figures in the discussion document have been widely criticised as being made up, misleading, wildly optimistic, and nothing more than desktop studies?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: The point is that one can always obtain better and better information depending on one’s access to methodology. The paper was perfectly adequate to enable New Zealanders to have a good discussion about the issue. Of course, as techniques improve, further information and ways of obtaining that information will become available.
Charles Chauvel: Is he not concerned that Parliament’s independent environmental adviser, Dr Jan Wright, has said that the consultation period available is “insufficient”, given public confusion; if not, will he be issuing further and better information to ensure that New Zealanders are properly informed?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: No.
Charles Chauvel: Why were no new studies undertaken on the value of minerals in New Zealand for the review of schedule 4; and instead of presenting New Zealanders with made-up, misleading, and wildly optimistic figures, would it not have been wiser to conduct a proper evaluation of the relevant conservation, cultural, tourism, and mineral values before trying to force his ideas on the New Zealand public?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: The Minister is not trying to force his ideas on anyone; he is presenting a consultation paper so there can be a sensible consultation. It is just that. I think the Labour Opposition is treating this Government by its own standards. When we have consultation we mean just that.
Canterbury—Irrigation and Water Storage
11. Dr RUSSEL NORMAN (Co-Leader—Green) to the Prime Minister: Does the Environment Canterbury (Temporary Commissioners and Improved Water Management) Bill fulfil his intention to “remove particular regulatory roadblocks to water storage and irrigation in Canterbury”?
Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): The biggest regulatory issue in Canterbury has been the absence of a regional water plan. Nineteen years after the Resource Management Act was passed there is still no organised system for managing water in that region. I am sure everyone wants to see an effective plan in place, and passing this bill is a step towards achieving just that.
Dr Russel Norman: Is the proposed Hurunui irrigation scheme one of the water storage and irrigation projects in Canterbury he would like to see advanced as a result of this bill?
Hon JOHN KEY: That would depend on whether it could achieve its mixed objectives of preserving the environmental responsibilities that we have along with our economic growth objectives. We will know that only when it has been referred back to the commissioners to review the whole project.
Dr Russel Norman: Did any Cabinet Ministers declare conflicts of interest in Cabinet discussions about the Environment Canterbury bill; if so, what were those conflicts of interest?
Hon JOHN KEY: To the best of my knowledge, I do not recall any conflicts of interest being raised, but I can go and check that for the member.
Dr Russel Norman: Is he aware that the Minister of Agriculture, David Carter, owns a farm with an irrigation consent in the Hurunui district, and stands to benefit financially if the proposed Hurunui irrigation scheme goes ahead?
Hon JOHN KEY: I am aware that he owns a farm in that area. I am not aware whether he would benefit from the scheme. The whole matter needs to be considered by the commissioners.
Dr Russel Norman: Given that the Environment Canterbury bill will make it easier for the Hurunui irrigation scheme to go ahead, does he believe that David Carter should have declared a conflict of interest in the Cabinet discussions given that he stands to gain financially if the scheme proceeds?
Hon JOHN KEY: I would have thought that referring a matter to the new commissioners for consideration does not raise a conflict of interest. We can check that with the Cabinet Office, but referring something that might happen does not actually raise a conflict of interest until it does happen.
Dr Russel Norman: Given Mr Carter’s ownership of the farm, was it appropriate for him to approach—
Mr SPEAKER: I apologise to Dr Russel Norman, but I ask the Government backbenchers again to show some courtesy to the member asking the question. I cannot hear his question.
Dr Russel Norman: Given this conflict of interest, was it appropriate, at a function on 3 September 2009, for David Carter to approach the people who applied for the water conservation order, requesting that they freeze their application for 12 to 18 months, while they were in the middle of a judicial process?
Hon Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. A question can only have facts in it. We often fall short of that but this “given” has not been established as a fact by Dr Russel Norman. Also, in stating that allegation he is actually casting a slur on a Minister who is not here to take offence, so in his absence I certainly take offence.
Mr SPEAKER: It is a very interesting point that the honourable member raises: that supplementary questions should not contain allegations, and certainly not contain allegations of, perhaps, impropriety. They are not meant to contain statements of assumed fact, anyhow; they are meant to ask questions. I think the best way to handle this is to invite Dr Russel Norman to rephrase his question in a way that is more consistent with the Standing Orders.
Dr Russel Norman: Was it appropriate for Minister David Carter at a function on 3 September 2009 to approach the people who applied for a water conservation order, requesting that they freeze their application for 12 to 18 months, while they were in the middle of a judicial process for the water conservation order?
Mr SPEAKER: I am not sure that that realistically altered the question that the member asked. I would have thought he could word a question instead of making a statement that suggests that the Minister may have done something the member considers to be inappropriate. Maybe he could phrase it as a question.
Dr Russel Norman: The question is whether it is appropriate. The Prime Minister is responsible for his Ministers, so I am asking—
Mr SPEAKER: I will just point out my concern. My concern is that the member is alleging that the Minister did what the member is saying he did, and the House has no validation of that. We do not know whether the Minister, in fact, did what the member is alleging. The problem with the question is that the member is implying that if the Minister did, in fact, do that, then it may not have been appropriate. It may be possible to phrase it in a way that asks a question rather than makes a statement that the Minister did something, when the Minister may or may not have done that. The House has no way of validating that supplementary question.
Hon Trevor Mallard: It may help the member to phrase the question something like: “Would it be appropriate if a Minister did”. In that way he could get there.
Dr Russel Norman: It may assist the House if I table a file note from one of those present when the Minister allegedly approached the applicants for the water conservation order and asked them to hold their application for 12 to 18 months. I seek leave to table that.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table a document. Is there any objection to that document being tabled? There is objection.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I think at that point, when authentication has been offered, and declined by Government members, it becomes almost impossible to ask questions and have them ruled out for lack of authentication.
Mr SPEAKER: I hear what the member is saying. I invite the member to ask his question, because maybe I am being excessively sensitive about the issue.
Dr Russel Norman: Was it appropriate for David Carter to allegedly approach the people who applied for the water conservation order at a function on 3 September 2009, requesting that they freeze their application for 12 to 18 months, while they were in the middle of a judicial process to apply for a water conservation order?
Hon JOHN KEY: I am not going to offer a view on wild and unproven allegations from the member, but I point out that water conservation orders are a matter for the Minister for the Environment, and that is not Mr Carter.
Dr Russel Norman: In light of David Carter’s failure to declare his conflict of interest, and the fact that he inappropriately intervened—
Hon Simon Power: I raise a point of order—
Mr SPEAKER: I can anticipate the member’s point of order. The member must not preface his question with another statement, because in answering a question the Prime Minister has already explained that in his view there is no conflict of interest involved in this matter. The member should not start his question “In light of failure to declare a conflict of interest”. I invite the member to rephrase his question.
Hon Simon Power: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I appreciate that we are trying to work our way through some complex wording, but you will recall that yesterday a member from this side of the House had three opportunities to get a question right and at the point of a third opportunity, when you were still not happy with the wording, you moved on. I ask you to consider a similar set of circumstances that have now occurred in this question.
Mr SPEAKER: I do not need to hear—[Interruption] I am considering a point of order. The Government backbenchers are testing my patience, probably for the first time, today, and I suggest they do not do it any further. The difference on this occasion is that it is not all over one question; it is over a further supplementary question. Therefore, it is a different situation from yesterday. I call Dr Russel Norman—please without the preface.
Dr Russel Norman: Is the Prime Minister of the view that the Minister of Agriculture is meeting his high standards of ministerial behaviour when he inappropriately intervened in a water conservation order process and approached the applicants?
Hon Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. That is three.
Mr SPEAKER: By my count it is two on this supplementary question—[Interruption] I am considering a point of order.
Dr Russel Norman: Speaking to the point of order—
Mr SPEAKER: I do not need to hear from the member. He must not allege that the Minister behaved inappropriately. The Standing Orders are very clear on that. The member can ask his question without making that allegation, and this is the last occasion on which I invite him to ask his question.
Dr Russel Norman: If the Prime Minister discovers, when looking at the documents that I have been unable to table in the House, that it is the case that Minister Carter asked the applicants not to proceed with the water conservation order, does he believe that it does meet the high standards he requires of his Ministers?
Hon JOHN KEY: Once again, I am not going to answer hypothetical questions on unproven situations. All I can tell the member is that one thing I know about David Carter is he manages his superannuation fund better than the Green Party does.
Mr SPEAKER: I am not sure what members had for lunch, but I ask a little respect as I have called Brendon Burns on this occasion for a supplementary question.
Brendon Burns: Does he agree with comments from Nick Smith, reported today in the Timaru Herald, that part of his consideration in sacking Environment Canterbury was he does not trust Canterbury voters to make what he considers the right decision in October’s local body elections?
Hon Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Again, we have the exact same problem that we had with Dr Russel Norman. I do not believe that the facts of that supplementary question are true.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I think we had an assurance from the member that he was quoting from a newspaper. Mr Speaker, you have already said we are not allowed to table things in order to authenticate.
Mr SPEAKER: I have heard the member. I just remind members what the substantive question is: “Does the Environment Canterbury (Temporary Commissioners and Improved Water Management) Bill fulfil his intention to ‘remove particular regulatory roadblocks to water storage and irrigation in Canterbury?’ ”. I am not sure what that has to do with the supplementary question. It is a long bow to then specifically go to the issue of claiming the sacking of the board. I invite the member to relate his question more directly to that substantive question.
Brendon Burns: I will completely rephrase the question. Is the Prime Minister aware, in stating he expects to see water storage schemes identified in the Canterbury Water Management Strategy built next year, that the strategy’s first order of priority is the environment and that it wants a phase of restoring water quality before new projects are built?
Hon JOHN KEY: I can say that the aim of the moves yesterday was to make sure we get an operative regional water plan in Canterbury. That is something that has not been the case for 20 years. Clearly it will be a matter for those commissioners to balance both the needs of the environment and the needs of the economy in the local region. All I can say is that the moves from the Government yesterday have the overwhelming support of all of Canterbury’s district mayors, and I think that represents, as the Otago Daily Times stated, that they had had enough of a dysfunctional Environment Canterbury.
Brendon Burns: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My question was specifically about whether the Prime Minister was aware of what was in the Canterbury Water Management Strategy. He has not addressed that question.
Mr SPEAKER: I think that is being pretty tough. I think the Prime Minister gave a reasonable answer to that question.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I apologise to the member. Mr Speaker, this might be something you would want to take under consideration. We have hit today— I think, twice—a point where a ruling on which you have been very strict, and one which I have supported, has come up against the ability of Opposition members to ask supplementary questions. Twice, members have given assurances in their supplementary questions that they are quoting from reports. Mr Hide, I think, went as far as to say that he did not believe the member for Christchurch Central. In the past, it has always been a rule of the House that a member’s word is taken. Mr Speaker, I ask you to think about that in the future, when you are interpreting whether something is properly authenticated.
Mr SPEAKER: I will take the member’s point of order seriously, because it is an important issue. With supplementary questions, they are always accepted; there is no means of authenticating them. That is why members have to be a little careful, though, in asking supplementary questions— to make sure they do not make unreasonable allegations. But I will hear the Prime Minister on the issue.
Hon JOHN KEY: I think it would be useful if members who claimed to have quotes were to bring down to the House the newspaper article they were quoting from, and read it out directly. We have found that on recent occasions the Leader of the Opposition has done exactly that—that is, not
reading from a document, and actually the statements have not been correct. So reading them out would be quite useful.
Mr SPEAKER: No, I am not going to get into a debate. I have allowed both sides—
Hon Annette King: Paula Bennett’s answers—
Mr SPEAKER: I am on my feet, I say to the honourable deputy leader of the Labour Party. I will not get into a debate on this matter now. The reason why the issue arose today was there was an implication, which a member took offence at, that another member might have acted improperly. That is where we have to be very careful. There are ways of asking questions, and I think we finally got to the point where the member was able to ask the questions he wanted to ask in a way that did meet the Standing Orders. But it is not often we come up in quite such a sharp way against the requirement of the Standing Orders not to make allegations in questions that can cause offence, etc. I think the points have been well made, but we will not be able to take the issue any further right now.
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I ask for your consideration of a slightly separate point from Mr Mallard’s. It is simply that, again, there appears to possibly be a conflict with the convention you have adopted, and that is where a member is allegedly quoting from an article, and a point of order is raised like the one Mr Hide raised today in which he said he did not believe that. Mr Speaker, apart from Mr Mallard’s point, you have also ruled that, in your view, we cannot table an article that is recent. That can, in this circumstance, prevent a member from proving that what he is quoting is correct. I invite you, as you consider Mr Mallard’s point, to consider that.
Mr SPEAKER: I hear the member, but we will not be taking that matter any further today.
Brendon Burns: Point of order, Mr Speaker—
Mr SPEAKER: I have made it very clear that I do not intend to take this matter any further. If the point of order debates or relitigates this issue, I will not be happy.
Brendon Burns: I am not seeking to do that. I am seeking to table a couple of documents, because I am able to provide the authentication that was sought from me on both of the questions I asked—
Mr SPEAKER: If the member is seeking leave to table documents, please do so.
Brendon Burns: Thank you. The first document I seek leave to table is an extract from today’s Timaru Herald—
Mr SPEAKER: On this occasion I will allow the member to seek leave to table the document, because of the dispute that has occurred. Normally, I would not, because the Timaru Herald is a readily available newspaper, but on this occasion—
Brendon Burns: Because I was not sure whether the issue was to do with the first or the second question that I had asked, the second document that I seek leave to table is written question No. 291, from Dr Russel Norman to the Prime Minister, in relation to water storage schemes.
Mr SPEAKER: Normally, I would not be putting leave to table the answer to a written question, either, but because of the dispute that has arisen—and only on this occasion—I will put leave for both those documents to be tabled. Is there any objection? There is no objection. Documents, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Dr Russel Norman: I seek leave to table a copy of resource consent CRC91.1, in the name of David Cunningham Carter, to take water from the Hurunui River for his cattle farm in the Hurunui District.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is no objection.
Hon Ruth Dyson: How can the Prime Minister say that Canterbury does not have a water management strategy, when it is actually contained in the legislation that the House is currently debating under urgency—legislation that also sacks our elected regional councillors, appoints
commissioners who will be paid $2,000 a day, and takes away Cantabrians’ right to elect their regional councillors, leaving us with no voice, no vote, and a big rates bill?
Hon JOHN KEY: Because I am right, and, the last time I looked, Trevor Mallard agreed with me.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Point of order, Mr Speaker—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: A point of order has been called.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: I seek leave to table a letter to the previous Government, dated 30 June, in which the chairman of Environment Canterbury specifically notes his meeting with Ruth Dyson and other members of the Labour Cabinet to seek their intervention to try to have water management in Canterbury sorted out—a request that was ignored.
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.
Employment Relations Amendment Act 2008—90-day Trial Period Exclusions
12. DARIEN FENTON (Labour) to the Minister of Labour: Which employer and employee groups has the Government specifically excluded from the 90-day trial period as introduced by the Employment Relations Amendment Act 2008?
Hon KATE WILKINSON (Minister of Labour): As set out in section 67A of the Employment Relations Act, employers with more than 19 employees cannot employ new staff for a trial period. I also note that trial periods are only entered into by agreement from both parties.
Darien Fenton: Will she consider excluding vulnerable groups from the 90-day trial period, such as the solo parents and sickness beneficiaries that her Government intends forcing into work for as little as $1 an hour?
Hon KATE WILKINSON: As the member knows, there is a discussion paper in relation to personal grievances, which includes the trial period, of course. The submissions on that paper will close in 1 hour and 55 minutes, so she still has time to make a submission. We will listen to those submissions and consider the feedback before making any decisions.
Darien Fenton: Will she, then, consider excluding any person who has ended up on the unemployment benefit as a result of the 90-day trial period from further 90-day trial periods if, and when, they are lucky enough to find work?
Hon KATE WILKINSON: Under section 67A of the Employment Relations Act employers with more than 19 employees cannot employ new staff for a trial period. Trial periods are by agreement.
Darien Fenton: Considering the massive increase in the number of people on benefits since the 90-day fire-at-will legislation was passed, does she now accept that her claim that it will “provide real opportunities for people at the margins of the labour market” was wrong, and that it does the opposite by making it easier for employers to discriminate against those workers by using them then discarding them within 90 days with no risk of a grievance claim?
Hon KATE WILKINSON: It has been 13 months since the 90-day trial period for small businesses was introduced, and in that time we have had very positive feedback from both employers and employees on the use of trial periods.