Questions and Answers - 22 July 2010
(uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing)
THURSDAY, 22 JULY 2010
QUESTIONS FOR ORAL ANSWER
QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS
1. Hon ANNETTE KING (Deputy Leader—Labour) to the Minister for Social
Development and Employment: What reports has she received on the performance of the Community Max scheme?
Hon PAULA BENNETT (Minister for Social Development and Employment): I have received many reports on the success of the Community Max programme, and I will quote four of them: “It would be good to find a way to keep similar programmes going. There’s a real gap there that needs to be filled.”; “the Community Max scheme that I visited in Thames demonstrated positive gain for the community and individuals involved,”; “a step in the right direction”; “Any initiative that creates opportunities for young people is to be welcomed,”. Those are all direct quotes from Opposition members.
Hon Annette King: Was one of those successful Community Max programmes in the Kaikoura electorate where the National member of Parliament, Colin King, claimed yesterday that 90 percent of the young people involved in that programme moved into full-time work; if so, why did she refuse to listen to her colleague when he asked for it to continue and said: “my argument with the Minister for Social Development and Employment fell flat.”, with the funding being removed, and do not the young people in Mr King’s electorate deserve the same support?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: Let me be quite clear that the member came to see me. He specifically asked for a meeting to talk to me about that issue and I listened. Yes, his request for Community Max to continue in that area and have additional resources—of course, nothing had been cut; it was simply that the time and the money were up—did fall flat. To put it in perspective, 81 young Māori people are on the unemployment benefit, not just for Blenheim but for Blenheim, Nelson, and the whole of the West Coast. As the member would be aware, there are about 21,000 of them throughout New Zealand. So some other areas are in more need.
Hon Annette King: What checks have been put in place to ensure Community Max projects using subsidised workers on short-term contracts do not undercut successful and legitimate existing businesses, putting them at risk of having to lay off permanent staff?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: There is always some tension there, particularly when one is going into a programme. But as the member’s own colleagues have identified, this has been incredibly successful and has been very, very well-received in communities. There are some questions around contracts, in so far as how we make sure they are community-based programmes and that they are doing stuff that would not normally be done. Certainly the reports I have seen to date have had positive results and it has been positive in that area.
Hekia Parata: Can the Minister comment on the impact Government programmes like Community Max and Job Ops have had on youth unemployment?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: The programmes are having an effect and in some areas it has been quite significant. For example, in the last 7 weeks the number of young people on the unemployment benefit in Auckland has reduced by 7 percent. That may not sound like much but when unemployment is going up in other areas and for other groups, that is incredibly positive and is the result of Job Ops and Community Max.
Hon Annette King: What has been her response to Mike Tāmaki, who operates the Tāmaki Heritage Group in Christchurch, who wrote to her recently telling her that the Community Max programme there has put at risk the employment of his employees, undercutting his successful business of 25 years, and how can she claim that Community Max is a great success if all the scheme does is to employ 10 young people for a short term but throws 10 permanent, loyal people on to the dole?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: Yes, I have seen that letter from Mr Tāmaki. I think there is room for 10 extra young people in Christchurch to be doing cultural activities and to be learning on the ground. I think that there is room for that, and I will encourage it. A few weeks ago this scheme was the greatest thing and we were being asked why were we not extending it, and today it is not successful and Labour thinks it is the worst thing, so I cannot quite work where Labour stands on it.
Te Ururoa Flavell: Has she visited or received any visit from young people enrolled on the Community Max scheme, and what has been their experience of the programme?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: Actually, a fine member of Parliament in this House coralled me about 2 months ago and wanted me to meet some young people who were here and who were seeing successes from the Community Max programme. That member was the member who asked the question himself, Te Ururoa Flavell. There were 100 young people from the Ōtaki area who were here, and the light was going on for them. A real difference was being made in their lives, and positive effects from that, and the representations from the member and his party meant that we extended the programme.
Hon Annette King: If checks do exist, could the Minister explain why a community project in Ōpōtiki received considerable funding to build what has been called “an unsightly zigzagged path” up Makeo Mountain, sacred to Ngāti Rua hapū, with no authorisation from the hapū and no authorisation from the landowner, who was forced to take out trespass notices to stop the project?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: To put that one into perspective, we are talking about four young people and a supervisor. I will not get involved in local politics in a small area like that and make a judgment call on who did or who did not. I will say that that particular programme has finished; it has been completed. It went on for 6 months, and all four of those young people are in work.
Hon Annette King: In light of that answer, what has been her response to Ngāti Rua, who wrote to her on 8 July, and as of 2 days ago she had not responded to them, setting out their concerns for her, including asking for accountability for the damage done, the illegal removal of flora and fauna, the remains of an unsightly path, desecration of a sacred site, and the lack of respect shown for the hapū and the community in that area; has she responded, and does she intend to?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: That letter was received in my office on the Monday that has just been. I am advised that the department met with the parties involved yesterday, and that it has been resolved and they all feel they have had a satisfactory outcome. They are all pretty excited that four young people who did not have opportunities are now in work and are moving ahead. That is the advice I have been given.
Economic Challenges—Addressed by Economic Programme
2. AARON GILMORE (National) to the Minister of Finance: What is the main economic challenge facing New Zealand and how is this being addressed by the Government’s comprehensive economic programme?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): New Zealand’s main economic challenge is that our growth rate fell sharply from about 2005. The economy, from about then, became heavily
reliant on unsustainable Government spending and excessive borrowing for housing speculation. So we went into recession before the global financial crisis. Our average per capita growth rate for the 3 years to 2008 was negative 0.5 percent per year. The Government has sought to address this challenge by means of a substantial tax reform programme, a multibillion-dollar infrastructure programme, sorting out the Government’s finances, which were left in a mess, improving skills and education, and cutting red tape.
Aaron Gilmore: What are the main symptoms of the significant imbalances that have been built up in the New Zealand economy over the past 5 or 6 years?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: There are two main symptoms. One is that the tradables sector, which is exporters, tourism, and import-competing industries—the earning side of the economy—went into recession in about 2004. There have been no net new jobs in agriculture and manufacturing since 2002. Since then, however, the non-tradables sector, the spending part of Government and domestic industry, has grown by about 10 percent. The second symptom is a sharp rise in New Zealand’s net external liabilities, which have grown from about $100 billion in 2000 to about $170 billion this year. They are forecast to increase to $250 billion—or one-quarter of $1 trillion—by 2014. Both of these trends need to be turned round.
Hon David Cunliffe: Given the cancellation of the much-touted programme to mine national parks and the failure so far to fund the roll-out of broadband, can he confirm that the only comprehensive economic programme left for the Government is its policy to reduce or destroy labour rights?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: No. Our programme needs to be comprehensive in order to turn round the mismanagement of the previous Labour Government, which caused the significant imbalances that I just talked about. From 2002 there have been no new jobs in agriculture and manufacturing, although on the other hand the Government sector and domestic housing, spending, and consumption spiralled out of control.
Aaron Gilmore: What early signs of progress has he seen that some of New Zealand’s economic imbalances are being turned round?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: First, the economy is actually growing now instead of shrinking, as it was in 2007 and 2008. The tradables sector has grown by 3.4 percent in the 9 months to March 2010—faster than the non-tradables sector. That would be the first time since December 2002 that our earning capacity has grown faster than our spending. Finally, New Zealanders are being more careful with their spending. Per capita private sector consumption has grown by only 1 percent in the past year, after consistently increasing at above 4 percent per year between 2002 and 2007. Household debt is also easing, after a decade of rapid growth under the previous Government.
Hon David Cunliffe: Is it not true that skills and technology are some of the primary drivers of productivity, and that productivity is one of the key issues that is holding back New Zealand; if so, why did the Government scrap the research and development tax credits, cut the Skills Strategy, cut education, and cut the Fast Forward fund?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: We ditched a whole lot of verbose, meaningless strategies that the previous Labour Government spent millions of dollars on workshopping, drafting, redrafting, and publishing, because none of them had worked. The evidence for that is that under the previous Government, growth virtually stopped, our spending went out of control, our earning capacity was throttled, and New Zealand built up record amounts of debt. We are changing that.
Aaron Gilmore: What economic policy prescription would put these early signs of recovery at risk and cost thousands of jobs?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Pretty much anything that the previous Labour Government did, and anything that the current Opposition promises to do.
Mining in Conservation Areas—Reduction in GDP Growth Projections
3. Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE (Labour—New Lynn) to the Minister of Finance: By what amount will the cancellation of the Government’s plans to mine sensitive conservation land reduce GDP growth projections in the next 5 years?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): It will not have any effect.
Hon David Cunliffe: Why, if there was no projected GDP impact from mining, did John Key describe it as central to the Government’s plans for a step change in the economy?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Because we have a visionary and aspirational Prime Minister who can see what this economy needs over the next 10 years. That is backed up by a Minister of Energy and Resources who has done an excellent job of building a profile of that industry. After the Government’s decisions on schedule 4, investors now have certainty and encouragement to expand mining and resources significantly. I expect that it will show up in the GDP figures in the future.
Hon David Cunliffe: What contribution to GDP growth projections will the proposed fire-atwill labour legislation make, and is it true that the Government’s step change plan is now centred on reducing the cost of labour?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I do not know what legislation the member is referring to as “fire-atwill”, but I can confirm for the member that the Government has announced that it will extend the 90-day trial period. We believe it will give businesses, particularly smaller business, more confidence to hire, and give employees who need it a better opportunity to get their foot on the bottom rung of the ladder.
Chris Auchinvole: How has the output of mining and related sectors changed in recent years?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Mining is one of the sectors that exports and competes directly with the rest of the world. This sector performed poorly under Labour’s mismanagement. Currently output from tradable industries remains below 2002 levels. By contrast, output from non-tradable sectors has grown by over 20 percent. The mining analogy is apt. Labour mined the economy for all it was worth with no thought to the future. It left the country with a pile of toxic sludge, and we are cleaning it up.
Hon David Cunliffe: Given the cancellation of plans to mine sensitive conservation areas, the tyres of the national cycleway going flat, and the end of the 9-day working fortnight is the dangerous proposal to reduce labour rights now the centrepiece of the Government’s strategy for jobs and growth?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: One of the centrepieces of the Government’s strategy for jobs and growth is the multibillion-dollar infrastructure investment programme, which is employing thousands of skilled New Zealanders at a time when no one else would be employing them. Another policy at the centre of our plan to turn round the economy is the significant decreases in income taxes and a switch to consumption taxes. We believe, unlike that party, that savings, investment, work, and exports are good, and that over-consumption and too much borrowing are bad. I understand that the Opposition has the opposite view.
4. SHANE ARDERN (National—Taranaki - King Country) to the Minister of Fisheries and
Aquaculture: What recent announcements has he made about aquaculture?
Hon PHIL HEATLEY (Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture): The Government has today announced further steps of aquaculture reform, which is a key priority for our economic growth agenda. These decisions will boost aquaculture’s potential to reach the industry’s goal of $1 billion in annual sales by 2025. They are about enabling the sustainable use of our natural resources to build the economy, to create new jobs, and to get more people into work, especially in the regions. I thank the Ministry of Economic Development for working with the Ministry of Fisheries on this matter.
Shane Ardern: What does this mean for the current backlog of existing aquaculture applications?
Hon PHIL HEATLEY: Currently more than 60 applications relating to an area exceeding over 8,000 hectares are awaiting a decision. Under the previous Government they were waiting, waiting, and waiting. But now we will see those applications progress. This reform will effectively free-up the bottleneck that kept the industry’s growth in limbo for many, many years while the previous Government talked, talked, and talked.
5. Hon RUTH DYSON (Labour—Port Hills) to the Minister of Health: Is he comfortable with the numerous announcements of health cuts in the last 20 months?
Hon PETER DUNNE (Associate Minister of Health) on behalf of the Minister of Health: There have been no cuts in the health budget in the last 20 months. In fact, Government funding for health services has increased by $1.3 billion in that time, a billion dollars of which has gone to district health boards.
Hon Ruth Dyson: Does he think that the people who are waiting in corridors without even a corridor bed at North Shore Hospital’s emergency department will agree with him about no health cuts, or will they find his total lack of action to help them rather confusing, given his noisy attacks against health staff at that hospital on this very issue in the winter of 2007?
Hon PETER DUNNE: I should point out to the member that funding for that particular district health board has increased by over $100 million in the last couple of years. The issue of how it deploys that funding is a matter for the district health board. Perhaps I could give the member an analogy. This is about reprioritisation, in just the same way as the previous Government reprioritised $110 million out of the health system just before the last election. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: The member has to have a reasonable chance to ask a supplementary question.
Hon Ruth Dyson: What does he say to the nurses in Taihape, at Ōtaihape Health, who have been told to take a 30 percent pay cut or the hospital in which they work will be closed?
Hon PETER DUNNE: The advice that I have received is that that matter is currently the subject of negotiations with the Whanganui District Health Board. It is grossly inappropriate for Ministers to intervene in what is an industrial relations process—something that I thought the members of the party opposite would well understand.
Dr Paul Hutchison: What recent reports has he seen on improved front-line services?
Hon PETER DUNNE: I have seen some reports that indicate a number of improvements over the last 20 months. For instance, we now have shorter emergency department waiting-times, a record rise of some 13,000 patients getting additional elective surgery last year, shorter waitingtimes for cancer treatment, higher levels of fully immunised 2-year-olds, and over 240,000 New Zealanders now getting access to medicines that they were not getting previously.
Hon Ruth Dyson: What does he say to the good people of Taihape, who face losing all their locally delivered front-line health services if their hospital is closed, or will he wash his hands of that responsibility as well?
Hon PETER DUNNE: The member is jumping to a number of unwarranted conclusions. There is no suggestion that the closure of that hospital is in the pipeline. The reality is that the matter of the processes that are being gone through between the staff of the district health board and their employer should be left to resolve itself.
Hon Ruth Dyson: What, if anything, will he do to support the elderly man who has dementia and Parkinson’s disease who is being held in Rimutaka Prison, not because of his risk to the community but because nobody can find a health-funded home for him to live in?
Hon PETER DUNNE: If the member cares to take up that case directly with the Minister’s office, it will be addressed.
6. JO GOODHEW (National—Rangitata) to the Minister for Economic Development: How will the Government’s procurement reforms provide value for money?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE (Minister for Economic Development): Yesterday I announced the awarding of the first of a series of State sector – wide contracts, with more to come into effect progressively during July. This will create great value for money and will save the taxpayer millions of dollars.
Jo Goodhew: What is the targeted saving to the Government once the first four contracts are in place?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: Once all of the contracts are in place they are expected to save more than $115 million over the next 5 years. This harnesses the collective buying power of the whole of the State sector. The benefit to the Government and to taxpayers will be significant, gaining the best value for money.
Clare Curran: What process did he use to ensure that New Zealand – owned companies were given full consideration as part of the tendering process?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: I am confident that the department has used appropriate tendering procedures to ensure that New Zealand manufacturers had a fair go. But I would say that if the member can show me that she uses New Zealand – manufactured computers, laptops, single multifunctional printing devices, photocopiers, printers, passenger vehicles—which, I understand, have not been produced in New Zealand for some years now—and office consumerables, then I would be interested to know.
Mining in Conservation Areas—Minister’s Intentions
7. Hon DAVID PARKER (Labour) to the Minister for Economic Development: Does he agree with the Dominion Post article “From step change to a giant U-turn” regarding the Government’s plans for mining, and what plans in his capacity as Minister for Economic Development does he have to replace that step change?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE (Minister for Economic Development): No; and if the member had been listening yesterday he would have heard a list of the initiatives this Government is undertaking to enhance the development of the New Zealand economy. Achieving an economic step change for New Zealand is not reliant on one single sector of the economy as the member seems to wish to suggest. We want a balanced economy with widespread markets and a broad range of products and services. The member should know that one swallow a summer does not make.
Hon David Parker: Has the Minister seen the pages on his own Ministry of Economic Development website entitled “Regional Development” and “Industry Development”, which list about eight initiatives, all of which were put in place under Labour, with no new additions from him?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: I have seen the website. I am aware of those many initiatives, but I would say that the one stark difference between this Government and the Labour Government is that where those programmes have been seen to have value and to be able to make a difference, we have funded them; Labour did not. For 9 years it did not fund them.
Hon David Parker: Has the Minister seen the very lonely update on his own ministry’s website under “NZ Economic Development—Recent Updates”, which has only one entry, the Large Budget Screen Production Grant introduced under Labour and retained without amendment under his busy watch?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: The Ministry of Economic Development website is an excellent place to find out what that Government department is doing, and I commend others to have a look, as well.
Katrina Shanks: How can the Government assist the development of the New Zealand economy?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: The economic step change in New Zealand will be achieved by working towards developing a more dynamic economy with a diverse range of export sectors and a range of markets for those goods. I simply ask the member to consider exactly what is going on in the New Zealand economy at the moment. Prior to the election, we had 5 years of going backwards, 5 years of negative growth, and 5 years of exports going down the tube. We now have projections of 170,000 new jobs over the next 4 years and household incomes rising over that time by some $7,000, and, as Mr English explained to the House before, for the first time since 2002 the tradable sector now exceeds the non-tradables. These people do not have a clue how an economy would work.
Hon David Parker: Why, when John Key last December said that there would be many new moves in the economic development space and promised a step change to catch up with Australia, is there scant evidence of the plan and no targets or dates before 2025 against which National is willing to be judged?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: I have just outlined two very, very significant measures that New Zealanders tangibly feel. I think the member needs to stop believing his own rhetoric, stop puddling around in his dream that one can change the economy by winning Lotto, and look at some of the real things that this Government is doing.
Hon David Parker: I seek leave to table copies of the pages of the Ministry of Economic Development website—
Mr SPEAKER: We will not be doing that. It is available to all members.
Violence, Domestic—Police Safety Orders Issued Since 1 July 2010
8. CHESTER BORROWS (National—Whanganui) to the Minister of Justice: How many on-the-spot police safety orders for victims of domestic violence have been issued since the Government’s amendments to the Domestic Violence Act came into force on 1 July 2010?
Hon SIMON POWER (Minister of Justice): I am advised that between 1 and 21 July the police issued 198 safety orders. These orders give the police the power to remove a potentially violent person from the home for up to 5 days in situations where there are no immediate grounds for arrest but where, in their judgment, there is a likelihood of further violence occurring. I see these orders as being a vital tool, because they are designed to stop domestic violence from escalating and they tackle the problem before it could be too late.
Chester Borrows: How many police safety orders have been breached so far?
Hon SIMON POWER: Sixteen of the 198 police safety orders issued since 1 July have been breached. That means that, to date, in 92 percent of cases the orders are working as intended. I would like to make it clear that any breach is serious and unacceptable. However, I am confident that these orders will continue to be vigilantly policed.
Catherine Delahunty: Tēnā koe, Mr Speaker. Tēnā koutou katoa. Is the Minister concerned that the Ministry of Justice is not able to provide statistics on domestic violence perpetrators who have been issued with protective orders more than once, and that victims of domestic violence have to pay for their protections orders?
Hon SIMON POWER: The original question was about police safety orders, not protection orders. The two are different. But I am happy to take the member’s question and look more closely at it.
Interest Rates—Lending Practices and Vulnerable Consumers
9. CAROL BEAUMONT (Labour) to the Minister of Consumer Affairs: Does she think that there is a serious problem with fringe lenders who are lending to vulnerable consumers at extremely high rates of interest or in an irresponsible manner?
Hon HEATHER ROY (Minister of Consumer Affairs): Yes.
Carol Beaumont: Is the Minister willing to work with Labour and other parties to find real solutions to the exploitation caused by loan shark activities?
Hon HEATHER ROY: I am willing to talk to anyone, and I have talked with the member on numerous occasions. The fact is that credit and fringe lending is a very complex area that requires comprehensive solutions. As I have said to the member, although her Credit Reforms (Responsible Lending) Bill—which was debated in the House last night—had considerable merit, it was too limited in scope. There would have been undesirable, unintended consequences from its implementation that would have most affected the very people whom it aimed to protect. The Government already has a large number of measures in place to deal with the issues that were raised in Ms Beaumont’s bill.
Carol Beaumont: Why has the Minister delayed work on the review of the Credit Contracts and Consumer Finance Act, which she has consistently provided as an example of the Government’s work on dealing with the problem of fringe lending?
Hon HEATHER ROY: The review of the Credit Contracts and Consumer Finance Act, which the member is referring to, has not been deprioritised as she has claimed a number of times. It has been reprioritised alongside the consumer law reform. We need to fix the issues in the Credit Contracts and Consumer Finance Act and the Credit (Repossession) Act that are not working, and there needs to be thorough analysis of the impacts on credit providers and consumers.
Hekia Parata: What legislative reform is the Minister considering that will provide enhanced protection against usurious lending practices for all New Zealanders, and what assistance is currently available until these changes are implemented?
Hon HEATHER ROY: The Government is looking at comprehensive measures to address these issues with real solutions. That includes a review of the Credit Contracts and Consumer Finance Act, work in progress to address problems with credit repossession law, and work in progress to extend the hardship provisions in the current law. There is also work as part of the securities law review that looks at measures to ensure that consumers are treated fairly. By 1 December financial service providers must be registered and belong to a disputes resolution scheme. My consumer law reform process is under way, and the Minister of Commerce and I are working closely to ensure that fringe lenders and unscrupulous lending processes and practices are covered by these measures.
Carol Beaumont: When will the Minister stop reviewing and start doing in relation to the harmful activities of loan sharks, who cause damage to some of our most vulnerable families?
Hon HEATHER ROY: I think the member did not hear the answer to the previous question. We have a number of initiatives under way. The financial service providers legislation introduced by the previous Government, will come into effect on 1 December in relation to the registering of financial service providers. In order to register, all financial service providers must belong to a disputes resolution scheme. The consumer law reform process is under way.
Hon Ruth Dyson: What are you doing, though?
Hon HEATHER ROY: This is exactly what I am doing, if the member would like to listen. The consumer law reform process will consider measures to protect vulnerable borrowers, such as protection against unfair contract terms and unconscionable content. It is important that these things happen quickly, and I am working as fast as I can to ensure that they do.
Petroleum Resource—Customary Rights
10. DAVID CLENDON (Green) to the Minister of Energy and Resources: Does he agree with Crown Minerals’ testimony to the Waitangi Tribunal’s inquiry into the management of the petroleum resource, which confirmed that the Crown has an obligation under international law and the Treaty of Waitangi to investigate claims of customary rights?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE (Minister of Energy and Resources): I understand that the comments referred to by the member came at the end of a very long cross-examination in front of the Waitangi Tribunal, and I do not want to make any comment on that matter at all. But I say that
New Zealand is a sovereign coastal State and the Crown is therefore the only legal person that has any right to explore, exploit, conserve, and manage natural resources on the continental shelf as recognised by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and ratified by the Continental Shelf Act 1964. I suggest that if the member wants to argue that the United Nations has it wrong, he needs to take that argument to a different forum. He may also like to consult with his colleague Dr Kennedy Graham, who is an expert on the effect that United Nations declarations such as this one can have.
David Clendon: Does the Minister agree with Crown Minerals’ testimony that the ownership of oil in the exclusive economic zone is “a live issue”?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: No, I do not. Section 10 of the Crown Minerals Act reserves all petroleum, including that in the foreshore and seabed and the outer limits of the territorial sea. Section 5A of the Continental Shelf Act refers back to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which I spoke of before, and makes it clear that all rights that are exercisable by New Zealand in respect of the continental shelf and its natural resources for the purposes of exploring the shelf and exploiting its resources are vested in the Crown.
Rahui Katene: Is the Minister aware that in its 2003 report the Waitangi Tribunal found that the expropriation of the pre-existing Māori rights to petroleum arose from a context that was riddled with breaches of the Treaty; and what will he do to assure iwi that further breaches will not be created either through his actions or those of Crown Minerals?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: Firstly, there is no intention to overturn the 1937 Act that nationalised the particular minerals that the member mentions. As for ongoing participation, I have given in verbal form my commitment to the aggrieved parties in the most recent case that we would do better in the future.
David Clendon: Does the Minister agree with Crown Minerals’ testimony to the Waitangi Tribunal that the Crown does not own the oil in our exclusive economic zone?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: No. I refer the member to the answer I gave just a few minutes ago.
David Garrett: How can he possibly disagree with the contention that the Crown has an obligation under international law to investigate Māori claims to petroleum, when he is part of a Government that has signed up to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: Quite simply, because I do not entangle the requirements of both declarations.
David Clendon: Is the Minister saying Crown Minerals was wrong when it said the Crown does not own the oil in our exclusive economic zone?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: The questioner asks me to agree with the proposition he set out in his primary question. I made the point that I will not make a comment on that, and I will not do so now.
David Garrett: Can he rule out granting compensation to iwi for the confiscation of petroleum resources, as required by articles 10, 26, and 32 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples; if not, why not?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: Quite apart from the fact that domestic law takes precedence over United Nations law, although United Nations declarations can clearly give credence to domestic law, I am afraid that I am not able to bind any future Government.
David Clendon: Does the Minister believe he acted appropriately when he disregarded a claim raised by Te Aupōuri iwi about ownership of oil off the Reinga coast?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: No.
Hon Nanaia Mahuta: How does the Minister reconcile his answers with the requirement to engagement effectively with iwi, and with the Government’s expressed support of the Declaration
of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples; and why is the Minister ignoring comments of support party MP Hone Harawira with regard to deep-sea mining in Northland?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: The Government is currently engaged in a very, very constructive dialogue with our support partner the Māori Party about the future of the foreshore and seabed. Quite clearly, customary rights and territorial rights will be better recognised under the new arrangements than the previous Government was prepared to allow.
David Clendon: Will the Minister commit to undertake a thorough investigation of Te Aupōuri’s claim to ownership of the oil in the Reinga Basin, and will he commit to reporting back promptly to them the findings of that investigation?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: No.
Biofuels—Bio-diesel Production Grants
11. CHRIS HIPKINS (Labour—Rimutaka) to the Minister of Energy and Resources: How much funding has been granted to date under the bio-diesel grants scheme, and is he satisfied with the scheme’s progress?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE (Minister of Energy and Resources): So far the figure granted is $230,332. I do not want to express either satisfaction or dissatisfaction with that. Rather, I wish to express my profound disappointment that an industry that promised so much has delivered so little despite such an extraordinary available subsidy.
Chris Hipkins: How many of the 240 jobs he claimed in May last year would be created by the bio-diesel grants scheme have actually eventuated, particularly given that only five companies have signed up for the scheme, no new companies have signed up since July last year, and less than $230,000 of the $36 million has actually been taken up?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: As I said, I am extremely disappointed by the failure of this industry to respond to the Government’s stimulus. I think the fact that it has failed serves as testimony to the mistruths put in front of this House by the member and his colleagues.
Chris Hipkins: Does he stand by his statement in the House that there is no doubt that biofuels will play a big part in our energy mix in the future; if so, what is his response to Ecodiesel chairperson—
Mr SPEAKER: I am on my feet. Whoever interjected just then is lucky; I could not see who it was. All of us at times get a frog in our throats and lose our voices. I invite the member to have a drink of water, and I invite members to give him a reasonable chance to ask his question.
Chris Hipkins: Does he stand by his statement to the House that there is no doubt that biofuels will play a big part in our energy mix in the future; if so, what is his response to Ecodiesel chairperson Lindsay Fergusson’s comment that scheme will work only for small-scale producers and those who “are not the future of the bio-diesel industry in New Zealand.”?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: I stand by my statement that bio-diesel will play a bigger role in the future, simply because I think that that is what will happen. I do not put a timeframe on that. The reality is that if people do not buy the product, we cannot sell it. That is the problem the industry has. It has failed to sell the product.
Chris Hipkins: Why should the public of New Zealand have any confidence in anything that this Minister says when his bio-diesel grants scheme has been a total flop, the revised energy strategy he has been promising for 18 months has not eventuated, his Electricity Industry Bill has been panned by critics, and his plan to mine national parks has been left in tatters, or is this just the usual standard of ministerial performance people can expect under a National Government?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: I think the crackly-voice performance we heard from the member before indicates that he is a very young man, and none of what he said is true.
Road Transport—Efficiency Improvements
12. TIM MACINDOE (National—Hamilton West) to the Minister of Transport: What efficiency improvements is the Government making to the road transport system?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister of Transport): The Government has announced major changes to the road-user charges system that will simplify and modernise a key part of New Zealand’s transport operation. Changing the definition of licence weights, removing supplementary licences, removing the confusing time licence system, and simplifying the list of exempted vehicles will all reduce compliance costs and simplify administration processes for industry and Government. This will reduce transport costs for our businesses and help make getting exports to markets cheaper.
Tim Macindoe: What has been the response of the transport industry to these changes?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: The transport industry has been very positive about these changes. I have spoken to a number of operators who are very enthusiastic, and the Road Transport Forum said the Government has “recognised the inherent waste and inefficiency in the current RUC system. It is very refreshing to be working with Government on these issues for the overall benefit of the economy.” Truckers already receive 6 weeks’ notice of any road-user charge increases, which the previous Government refused to do, and we have allowed for electronic distance recording and electronic display of road-user charge licences. In addition, the revenue from road users is now largely invested back into the roading network. By our creating a modern, fairer, and more efficient road-user charge system, the industry is free to get on with the job of helping New Zealand grow.
Hon Darren Hughes: Why does he choose to put a—
Hon Gerry Brownlee: It’s Youth Week.
Hon Darren Hughes: I think you have had your day, Gerry.
Mr SPEAKER: I have to be able to hear the supplementary question, and the member’s own colleague, the Minister, has to be able to hear the supplementary question.
Hon Darren Hughes: Why does he choose to put greater emphasis on getting people to their holiday homes more efficiently, at the expense of other transport modes that would also result in greater efficiency of the road transport system, such as committing to an airport-to-city rail link for the city of Auckland?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: The member opposite once again shows a disturbing misunderstanding of economics and economic efficiency. The reality in this country is that 85 percent of passenger transport occurs in private vehicles, and that will continue to occur. The highway that the member referred to is massively more used than almost the entire current rail system in Auckland.
Sue Moroney: Is he aware that around 60 people met in Te Kauwhata this week to support the establishment of a passenger train service between Hamilton and Auckland, and does he agree that that service could improve the efficiency of road transport for those stuck in traffic on Auckland’s southern motorway every morning and every afternoon?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I am doing this from memory, but my understanding is that the cost of subsidising a passenger on a train from Hamilton to Auckland is something like $15,000 or $16,000 per trip. It would be cheaper to hire a helicopter to fly someone from Hamilton to Auckland than actually to subsidise that train service.