Questions and Answers - 8 September 2010
(uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing)
WEDNESDAY, 8 SEPTEMBER 2010
QUESTIONS FOR ORAL ANSWER
QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS
Earthquake, Canterbury—Government Assistance
1. CRAIG FOSS (National—Tukituki) to the Minister of Finance: How is the Government helping households and businesses affected by the Canterbury earthquake?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): The Government is prioritising help for households and businesses affected by the Canterbury earthquake. The Government yesterday announced a wage subsidy to support employees of small businesses seriously disrupted by the earthquake. The aim of the initiative is to keep people in jobs and to support small businesses that are unable to operate or pay their staff. We have put aside $15 million for the wage subsidy, because those businesses have been hard-hit and they need some help through the worst of it.
Craig Foss: How will the subsidy work?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The subsidy will be paid to businesses with fewer than 20 employees where earthquake damage means they cannot operate or pay wages. It will be paid for up to 4 weeks initially, and businesses can reapply if after 4 weeks they are still unable to operate. The Prime Minister has indicated that businesses with just over 20 workers may also be accommodated on a case by case basis, depending on their circumstances. Eligible employers will receive a wage subsidy of $350 per week gross paid in advance as a lump sum and backdated to the date of the earthquake, and, of course, employers will be free to top up the subsidy.
Craig Foss: When will the subsidy become available?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Affected businesses can apply to Work and Income for the subsidy from tomorrow, and they will be paid within 24 hours—that is, the next day. The Government has deliberately fast tracked this response, because we are aware that small-business people who, for instance, turned up to work on Monday and had nothing to sell could find themselves very rapidly under financial pressure and unable to pay their staff, who in many cases are personally vulnerable at this time, as well.
Craig Foss: What assistance is available to homeowners with damaged land or buildings?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Any business or homeowner with insurance cover is eligible for assistance from the Earthquake Commission. In the first instance they can claim up to $100,000 plus GST at 15 percent for damage to buildings, and $20,000 plus GST for damage to contents. After that, their own insurance kicks in. If land requires remediation or cannot be built on, the Earthquake Commission will pay out that cost. The exact amount of required remediation and payment will be determined by an Earthquake Commission engineer. As at midday today the Earthquake Commission had received about 30,000 claims. In total, it is expecting to receive about 100,000 claims, with a cost somewhere between $1 billion and $2 billion.
Craig Foss: What challenges does the Earthquake Commission face in assessing claims?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: There are huge challenges in assessing the large number of claims. Along with private insurers, the Earthquake Commission faces the massive task of compiling and processing up to 100,000 claims. It has staff on the ground now, and it hopes to have the first of 10 field offices opened by Friday. Each of the 10 offices will have around 40 staff. We have been assured that they are working as fast they can to assess and process claims, but this still could take some time. Of course, once claims are processed, it may be some time before building services are able to be procured. But the Earthquake Commission is working with the councils, private insurers, and the Government; in fact, they have been having a meeting since 2 o’clock to find out how this process can be expedited. In the meantime the Earthquake Commission advises that the best way for homeowners to lodge their claim is through the Earthquake Commission website.
Hon Annette King: Is it the Government’s approach to err on the side of generosity when assessing the eligibility of Cantabrians for Government support?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: In respect of welfare assistance and the wage subsidy, I think that has been the case. In respect of insurance cover, we want to be sure that all the available insurance cover is fully understood. It seems likely that much, if not most, of the potential liability is covered by the private insurers, which have reassured us that they have the capacity to pick up costs, and by the Earthquake Commission, which equally has the capacity to pick up the likely costs.
Tax System Changes and GST Increase—Effect on New Zealanders
2. Hon ANNETTE KING (Deputy Leader—Labour) to the Prime Minister: Does he stand by his statements that after the Government’s tax changes, including the increase to GST, “the vast bulk of New Zealanders will be better off” and “If the Government cannot achieve that, we would not increase GST”?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): Yes.
Hon Annette King: How can he stand by the statement that the vast bulk of New Zealanders will be better off, when economists from the Institute of Economic Research estimate that rising food prices, the GST increase, and other cost increases that he has introduced will leave around half of all householders worse off by the end of the year?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Because the advice I have had from Treasury is that a family will be better off by about $25 a week post the personal income tax / GST switch, and that an individual will be about $15 a week better off.
Hon Annette King: Is he aware that power companies are increasing their charges on 1 October, with Contact Energy being the latest company to inform customers of a 6 percent increase in power prices, leading to an increase of about $6 a week, on average, for families; if so, how will New Zealanders be better off, as he promised?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I am aware that power prices have risen under the National Government by about 3 percent since we came into office. I am aware that power prices will increase by half what they would have increased under Labour, in relation to the emissions trading scheme. I am aware that power prices went up by 72 percent when that lot were in office, and I think that New Zealanders, broadly speaking, can take comfort that we are doing what we can to control power prices and make sure that this economy operates efficiently.
Hon Annette King: Is he aware that public transport costs are increasing on 1 October, with the GO Wellington bus company increasing its fares for some passengers by $5 a week—that is what it will cost them to get to work each day—if so, how will New Zealanders be better off, as he promised, when $11 of their so-called tax cuts have been eaten up in just the two price increases that I have mentioned today?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Well, if the GO Wellington bus company is raising its prices by $5 a week as of 1 October because of the GST increase, then it is ripping people off, because, quite frankly, GST going up by 2.5 percent is unlikely to equate to an extra $5. I can say that inflation under the National Government has run at about 1.8 percent, and I can contrast that with inflation under the
previous Labour Government, which was at 5 percent. It is worth remembering that any cost increases that occur because of increased GST will be more than compensated for by personal income tax cuts.
Hon Annette King: Would the Government consider holding GST at 12.5 percent to help the about 100,000 households in Canterbury who will have to rebuild their homes, in light of the fact that about $7,000 will be added to the cost of the average new house because of the GST increase on 1 October?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No. That is because the first $100,000 of payments made under an Earthquake Commission claim will be funded at a figure plus GST of 15 percent, and contents will be funded at $20,000 plus GST.
Hon Annette King: What action will the Government take to avoid a repeat of the so-called Edgecumbe factor, which following the earthquake there saw the cost of building materials and supplies increase dramatically, and which, if it happened in Christchurch and is combined with the GST increase, would see the cost of rebuilding people’s homes increase markedly?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: That is one of the issues that the Government is focused on. The Minister responsible for rebuilding and recovery in Canterbury, Gerry Brownlee, is having discussions with building companies about that. Building companies that undertake work in the rapid rebuild phase, which we want to occur, will have to sign conditions to ensure that their work is done at a fair and reasonable rate. I expect all builders who are operating in Christchurch and helping people to recover from the earthquake to do so in a reasonable and fair way. We expect them to make money and a profit, but we certainly do not expect them to rip people off.
Marine and Coastal Area (Takutai Moana) Bill—Access Under Customary Title
3. DAVID GARRETT (ACT) to the Attorney-General: Where in the Marine and Coastal Area (Takutai Moana) Bill is it guaranteed that access to beaches held under customary title will be free?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON (Attorney-General): The whole scheme of the bill prohibits charging for public access. I invite the member to look at clause 27, which guarantees public access to the common marine and coastal area; clause 60, which specifies that customary marine title exists in a particular part of that area; clause 63, which sets out the scope of rights that may be exercised by customary marine title-holders; and clause 64, which specifies that those rights do not include charging for public access. The only restrictions on public access in the areas are the reasonable ones that already exist—for example, picnicking at ports, fly-fishing off naval bases, or playing beach cricket on burial grounds.
Metiria Turei: Can the Minister guarantee public access to the foreshore areas currently held in the 12,500 private titles?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: The position with the 12,500 titles remains what it was when the 2004 Act was passed. The titles are private titles, and we are dealing with other areas of the coastal marine area.
Metiria Turei: How does the Minister justify legislating for public access to foreshore held in Māori customary titles but not for that held in those 12,500 private titles—why the discrimination?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: There is no discrimination. It recognises—and this was the case in the 2004 Act, as well—that there are private titles for various reasons in the coastal and marine area. Those titles include land held as Māori customary land, and freehold titles held by both Māori and Pākehā.
David Garrett: If Māori owners under customary title do start charging for access, or restricting access, to the foreshore and seabed, what penalty is there in the new law to stop them from doing so?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: I have already said that it is not possible to do so. Any attempts to deal with that situation will be made by the Minister of Conservation, who will have adequate powers to deal with those sorts of problems.
Te Ururoa Flavell: Has he seen the comment from Ngāti Porou leader Dr Apirana Māhuika: “My advice to the Maori Party is to persist with the repeal because all iwi want a repeal of the act so that their mana can be assured by the Crown, and that their mana be inalienable, unbroken and sustainable.”; and how well does the Marine and Coastal Area (Takutai Moana) Bill respond to this advice?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: No, but like so much of what Dr Māhuika says, it seems to be very sound advice. The mana of iwi and hapū is explicitly recognised in the bill. It provides for a recognition of tūpuna or ancestral connection to the coastal area. It contains an acknowledgment of the mana-based relationship of iwi and hapū to the marine and coastal area in their rohe.
289David Garrett: Does the Attorney-General agree with Māori Party MP Te Ururoa Flavell that “another go” may be required; if not, can he categorically rule out extending the time available for claims from 6 years while he is the Attorney-General?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: The limitation period is 6 years. That is what the Government thinks represents a fair balance of all rights. As to whether I agree with Mr Flavell, he is an excellent MP. It is great to work with him so that we can get rid of this disgraceful 2004 Act.
Hon David Parker: Does the Attorney-General agree with the Prime Minister that the proposed legalisation should settle the legal framework for foreshore and seabed claims?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: Well of course I do. He is the Prime Minster and he is always right.
Hon David Parker: Given his belief that the legislation should settle foreshore and seabed issues, is he concerned that the Māori Party acting leader publicly stated yesterday “We will certainly be looking at it again” and there would be “another time for our people to come back and have another go in the future.”?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: I know this is probably an alien concept to the Labour Party but that is democracy.
Hon David Parker: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. In response to my prior question he agreed that this should be the legal framework for settling claims, and my question was quite simple: was he concerned by the Māori Party saying that it would have another go. That answer did not address that question.
Mr SPEAKER: The Minister in answering the question said that that is democracy, and I imagine he was indicating that it is impossible to bind what future Parliaments might consider doing.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. If that is what the Attorney-General had said, and all he said, then I think the people on this side would not be happy but I think there would not have been a breach of the Standing Orders. I invite you to, maybe afterwards, have a look at what he did say in particular about a party on this side of the House and whether that was conducive to good order.
Mr SPEAKER: The member’s point of order is fairly made that if Ministers are going to give an answer that is perhaps on the margins of being acceptable, then they should not preface it with a criticism of the questioner’s party. It is probably a bit late for me to go back on this one now but I warn the Minister that if he is going to give an answer that is marginally acceptable, then to not preface it with that kind of comment. The Hon Trevor Mallard’s point of order is perfectly well made.
Hon David Parker: Does he agree with the Prime Minister’s statement earlier in the year: “In the end if we can’t reach an agreement then the status quo will remain”; if so, does the Government intend to seek an acknowledgment from the Māori Party that it will accept that the legislation settles the issues, and if it will not give that assurance, then will the status quo remain?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: Again, as to the first part of the question, of course I agree because the Prime Minister said it.
Te Ururoa Flavell: Does he agree with Hokianga elder Rudy Taylor in his comments regarding the Marine and Coastal Area (Takutai Moana) Bill that Māori have always shared the coastline with their Pākehā neighbours and it is absurd to suggest that that will change; if so, what does he think will be the key impact of the racially divisive campaign promulgated by the Coastal Coalition?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: I strongly agree that a culture of welcoming people, of sharing, and of hospitality pervades Māori culture. That has always been my experience, whether visiting iwi to discuss the Government’s proposals this year, or going out on the road to discuss settlement of historical Treaty grievances—and I understand why those members get excited about that proposition, because they never did it.
South Canterbury Finance Bail-out—Cost to Taxpayers
4. Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE (Labour—New Lynn) to the Minister of Finance: Did the Government minimise the cost to the taxpayer of the bail-out of South Canterbury Finance; if so, how?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): First of all, I make it clear that the taxpayer has not bailed out South Canterbury Finance. The taxpayer is paying out depositors according to a guarantee offered to those depositors in October 2008. This payout was well signalled through provisions to the public accounts, and we have taken at least one step to minimise cost to the taxpayer—that is, to make quick payments to all depositors, which is estimated to save about $100 million. Of course, the more important step is still ahead of us—that is, a receiver recovering the maximum value possible from the remaining assets of South Canterbury Finance.
Hon David Cunliffe: What advice did the Minister receive from KordaMentha relating to South Canterbury Finance’s financial condition prior to approving the extension of the Crown Retail Deposit Guarantee Scheme?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I would need to look at what advice was received; I would not want to misrepresent it or partially represent it to the member. I make a couple of points. One is that Treasury was delegated the responsibility of administering the scheme. That was part of the original set-up agreed between the parties in Parliament and the Minister of Finance at the time. We have stuck pretty much to that process, where Treasury has made the operational decisions about the guarantee. My view is that regardless of whatever advice or decisions the Government made, South Canterbury Finance’s problems were so significant by mid-2009 that despite ongoing efforts to give it the best possible chance to survive and incur no cost to the taxpayer, those efforts failed.
Hon David Cunliffe: Was he concerned about the level of related party transactions and the earlier growth in South Canterbury Finance’s loan book; if so, what measures were put in place at what time to deal with those issues?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The great thing about hindsight is it is never too late to use it. Concerns grew through 2009 that South Canterbury Finance was not as strong and robust as had been represented. The Crown, at least, came to the conclusion that there was a problem when in the 2009 accounts we put aside a provision of $830 million in the event that the deposit guarantee was triggered. That $830 million was based largely on an assessment of the risks to the Crown should South Canterbury Finance fail. A product of both KordaMentha advice and Treasury’s own views, at least by the middle of 2009, was that there was a risk that it would fail.
Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga: How large has the failure of deposit-taking institutions been, and what are the prospects for improvement?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Unfortunately, South Canterbury Finance’s failure is just one of a number. I refer members to an analysis published on interest.co.nz, which lists 61 finance industry failures, with total deposits of $8.5 billion, that have been either in receivership or in moratorium since May 2006. Of those, 47 of the institutions failed before the guarantee scheme was introduced in 2008. There were 73 institutions covered by the guarantee, and, as I think I indicated to
Parliament earlier, the extended guarantee from 13 October will now cover around seven or eight institutions, and obviously a much smaller potential liability.
Dr Russel Norman: How will he ensure that farmland held or controlled by South Canterbury Finance does not fall into overseas ownership?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: In the first place, if there was any transaction involving potential overseas ownership of those farms, it would be dealt with by the existing Overseas Investment Act, which the member’s party had a hand in writing when it was redone in 2005. Secondly, because of the way the receivership has been structured, the Crown is able to exert significant influence over any initial decisions abut how that land might be sold. I might say that the Government is in no hurry.
Hon David Cunliffe: On what date did Cabinet agree to the bail-out package he implemented on 31 August 2010?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Again, I would prefer to check the record. From what I can recollect— after what seems to have been a very long week or 10 days—Cabinet’s decision on the package was made right at the last minute, through either a Cabinet meeting or a group of Ministers with delegated power. As the member will be aware because it has been publicly stated, the company itself was negotiating right up until the last minute, and certainly it was our desire that it was able to be recapitalised by the private sector, thereby enabling the company to continue, and thereby preventing the Crown having to meet any obligation to depositors.
Hon David Cunliffe: Having extended South Canterbury Finance’s guarantee in order to seek a potential recapitalisation solution, why did the Government not agree to a potential recapitalisation deal that could have released South Canterbury Finance from its guarantees at potentially much lower cost to taxpayers than is now expected?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I think if such a deal from a credible source had been put before the Government, we certainly would have considered it. That did not happen. There is much speculation about what different people have said or might have offered, but at no stage was there a deal before the Government that had the support of Treasury that met those criteria.
Earthquake, Canterbury—Community Involvement in Rebuild
5. Dr RUSSEL NORMAN (Co-Leader—Green) to the Prime Minister: How will the Government ensure community involvement in decisions around the rebuilding of Christchurch?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): The Government has been closely involved with local authorities in Christchurch right from the beginning of this tragedy. We intend to continue to work closely with local government and the community to ensure that Christchurch and the surrounding areas are rebuilt reflecting the wishes and concerns of Cantabrians. I think it is important to point out that this will be a locally led process. We will not be imposing a central government - driven vision on Christchurch.
Dr Russel Norman: Will the Government consider supporting a panel of representatives that would encompass the community, local government, business, planning, architecture, and heritage sectors to plan a way forward for the rebuilding of Christchurch?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I think it is too early to make those comments. At the moment we are dealing with the immediate after-effects of the earthquake. I can say that the Government is considering the option of putting in an earthquake commissioner, who would be responsible for the rebuild and recovery phase. It may be an option that we want to consider. All I can say, having been there on Saturday, last night, and today, is that there is an enormous amount of goodwill from all participants to try and take this process forward constructively and in the best long-terms interests of Christchurch. If the member wants to suggest some people, they may or may not form part of the mix.
Dr Russel Norman: Can the Prime Minister give us some sense of what the powers of the commissioner would be that the Government is proposing?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: It would be too early for us to comment on that. Our primary focus at the moment, as I said, outside of providing emergency services for people in terms of welfare relief and trauma counselling, as well as getting immediate infrastructure services reconnected, is to start looking at how we can expedite the rebuilding of people’s homes in Christchurch. That is our primary focus at this stage. There is a meeting taking place this afternoon with relevant players that may shed some light on whether any changes need to be made to the law to help that process take place or whether it can happen with the existing legislative framework.
Dr Russel Norman: Can his Government allay the concerns expressed on Close Up by Peter Beaven, a Canterbury architect, who was concerned that some buildings could be needlessly torn down, destroying Christchurch’s heritage and changing some of the unique character of Christchurch?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: The advice I have is that the decision to demolish buildings is a local decision based solely on public safety. That is the primary reason a building would be destroyed. We cannot override that. This morning I visited, amongst other sites, St John’s Church at Hororata. Clearly, in the case of buildings like that one with a strong historical significance for the people of Canterbury, it would be wonderful to save them if it was possible. But the first and primary concern has to be for the public safety of those who might go into those buildings.
Early Childhood Education Centres—Effect of Funding Reductions
6. Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Labour—Hutt South) on behalf of SUE MORONEY
(Labour) to the Minister of Education: Does she stand by her statement in relation to her funding reductions for some early childhood education centres “I think it is unlikely that most centres will pass on those costs, because they are able to change their staffing, they are able to change their services—they are able to do a number of things in order to make those changes.”?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY (Minister of Education): Yes.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Did she receive advice that if she funded only up to 80 percent of teachers being registered, fees would rise by $40 to $80 a week, and over 80,000 children would be affected?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY: That was some advice that was given of one scenario that could happen in early childhood education.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Was the option not to fund above 80 percent part of the only scenario related to that option?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY: I do not have that briefing document in front of me, so I cannot comment on the details of the advice. The member has received all the briefing documents that I released. I received a lot of advice, but the core advice was that the cost of early childhood education had almost trebled in the past 5 years, whereas participation had grown by less than 1 percent. So we were addressing a blowout in expenses that was unsustainable.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Will early childhood education that retain 100 percent trained staff be able to charge a fee to cover the additional costs of having trained staff for the 20 free hours component for 3 and 4-year-olds?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY: We have not changed the restrictions on the 20 free hours.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Although the response said “We have not changed …”, I am not sure that anyone in the House knows whether the answer to the question was yes or no. I will point out that the Minister—
Mr SPEAKER: No, no, the member was fine until that point; he did not need to point out anything further. I accept the point being made. The question was a fair one. It did not contain any political accusations or anything like that. It was a straight question about the outcomes of a policy decision. I am not sure that anyone listening to the answer, as the member suggests, would be aware of what it meant. I invite the member to repeat his question.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Will early childhood education providers that retain 100 percent trained staff be allowed to charge a fee to cover their additional costs of having trained staff for the 20 free hours component for 3 and 4-year-olds?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY: This Government has maintained the previous Government’s fee controls, which prevent compulsory top-up charges.
Louise Upston: How will the reprioritisation of early childhood education funding help to raise the participation of children who are currently missing out?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY: Reprioritising the top two funding bands has allowed us to invest an additional $91.8 million over 4 years in a package to boost participation amongst groups that are currently missing out. Recently I announced that Waitakere and Northland children will be the first to benefit from the package. In some parts of those regions, up to 25 percent of children are not getting any early childhood education at all, and we are committed to addressing that.
Hon Trevor Mallard: In light of her response to my last supplementary question, why did she tell the New Zealand Free Kindergarten Associations conference that in order to make up the difference for the 3 and 4-year-olds, and the cost of maintaining the trained staff who are not covered, they should “go for it” and increase their fees?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY: I did not. I received an email after the spokesperson for Labour had put out her statement. The email asked: “Was Sue at the same meeting I was? The Minister did not say kindergartens should ‘go for it’ and increase fees. What I heard her say was she hoped that the last thing kindergartens and centres would do was increase fees to parents.”
Earthquake, Canterbury—Civil Defence and Emergency Management Operations
7. JACQUI DEAN (National—Waitaki) to the Minister of Civil Defence: What is the update on civil defence and emergency management operations in Canterbury?
Hon JOHN CARTER (Minister of Civil Defence): The 7.1 earthquake in Canterbury on Saturday morning was one of the most significant natural disaster events in New Zealand’s history. It is incredible that in the initial quake there was no loss of life. I have travelled to Canterbury three times since Saturday, and the uncertainty for people in the area is exacerbated by ongoing aftershocks, some of them quite severe, with the potential to further damage buildings. The House may be interested to know that there have been 284 aftershocks, six of them over 5.3 on the Richter scale. The Government is working with the local government authorities that are involved to ensure Canterbury is restored to business as usual as quickly as possible. Many Government agencies are involved, and 69 percent of the downtown businesses in Christchurch have now been cleared. Both central and local government are operating in accordance with plans under the Civil Defence Emergency Management Act. That Act was developed to deal with exactly this kind of situation and is working as it should. New Zealand is vulnerable to natural disasters, and I believe we have in place one of the best processes in the world to manage them. We are now on day 5 of this significant event. The situation changes, sometimes hourly. There are states of emergency in place, and that will continue while it is necessary to ensure the safety and security of the people of Canterbury. Part of the problem we are finding is that a house that may have been declared safe yesterday is found, as a consequence of an aftershock, not to be today. The recovery phase has begun, but due to extensive damage through the three regions affected by this earthquake and its aftershocks—that is, Selwyn, Waimakariri, and Christchurch—recovery will take time. Everyone on the ground in Canterbury is working as fast as they can to restore the essential services, and no one is being ignored or forgotten. This is a huge exercise.
Jacqui Dean: How are the civil defence and emergency management operations in Canterbury coping?
Hon JOHN CARTER: I am very proud to say that the response in Canterbury has been fantastic. Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management personnel are working around the clock to respond to the many demands that the 7.1 earthquake and ongoing aftershocks are
presenting. The offers of help have been incredible, and the civil defence and emergency management sector is coordinating both the offers of help and the requests for help. This is a huge job. The three mayors of the region—Ron Keating, Kelvin Coe, and Bob Parker—have shown true leadership. It is important for all stakeholders to know that the Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management is the lead agency in this response and recovery. All statements and activities should be coordinated with the ministry. A Canterbury civil defence and emergency management group is coordinating external support with the assistance of the National Crisis Management Centre in Wellington. Today a number of building inspectors are being sourced from elsewhere to supplement the existing capacities in Christchurch, and additional sewerage repair teams are being mobilised from outside the Canterbury region. Importantly, the people of Canterbury are responding really positively, despite the stress of repeated aftershocks. Volunteers have been out doing all sorts of things to help the people affected by this disaster, and students have mobilised themselves. I must say that the people of Canterbury make us proud to be New Zealanders.
Jacqui Dean: What issues do we need to address as we go forward?
Hon JOHN CARTER: There are many, quite honestly. This recovery will take months, rather than weeks. But I think we need to focus on two things in the early stages. Firstly, use of our welfare areas has already been made by a number of people, but it is very likely that this demand will grow. There are people who have been taken in by friends and family around the region, but of course their stay, as the weeks go by, will tend to cause them difficulties and problems. It means that our welfare centres are likely to come under more and more demand and more and more pressure. Indeed, we may well have to establish more centres than we have. Secondly, we all need to understand that this disaster has caused huge pressure on everybody in Christchurch. The trauma that people are under and the personal effect it has had on people is just hard to believe unless one has been there, or has experienced it. The problem is that the aftershocks are likely to continue extensively, and maybe for longer than 2 months. Following the Haiti earthquake there was a magnitude 6 aftershock a week later; following the Mexico earthquake there was a magnitude 6 aftershock 2 months later. It is likely that the aftershocks will continue for some time. Each aftershock causes more stress and alarm. There are people who are not sleeping and children who are not sleeping. We need to be aware that we will have to deal with major issues about people’s lives as we go forward.
Education, National Standards—Support of Trustees
8. Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Labour—Hutt South) to the Minister of Education: How many letters and emails has she received from school board of trustee representatives since she told the House on 24 August 2010 that members of the New Zealand School Trustees Association are “extremely supportive of National Standards” that expressed support for the current national standards, and how many have expressed concern about the national standards?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY (Minister of Education): I am advised that correspondence is logged by the name of the signatory, and it is not always recorded that correspondence is from a board member. However, five letters and emails have been received and logged as being correspondence from a board of trustees member. All were supportive of national standards and contained the following positive statements: “As an experienced trustee who is not afraid to challenge the current norms when we’re discussing student achievement, I along with my fellow trustees are very much in favour of the new standards. Despite what you may hear—”
Mr SPEAKER: If the Minister had listened to the question, she would know that it was very simple in terms of what it asked. I think the Minister answered it quite a while back.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Has she read the letter she received by email yesterday from a board of trustees chair outlining “his very serious concerns” about national standards and describing the situation that schools are currently in as “trying to fly an aeroplane that is still being built”, which
was written by David Bishop, chairperson of Spotswood Primary School board of trustees, of whom I had never heard before he sent me the email yesterday?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY: No, but I did go back and look at the emails that the member talked about on 24 August. Of the 51 emails, only 20 were received this year. The rest of them were received last year, and some of them were received during the consultation period. When I looked at the 20 emails received this year from board of trustees members, who that member said were anti national standards, I found that in fact they were asking questions about national standards and were not expressing any discontent with the standards themselves.
Allan Peachey: What reports has the Minister seen that show that boards of trustees are getting on with the job of implementing national standards?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY: The Education Review Office recently found that 80 percent of schools are either well prepared to work with the standards or have preparation under way.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Yes, 20 percent were ready.
Hon ANNE TOLLEY: Regardless of what that member and that party think, the facts are that the majority of schools are getting on with the job of implementing national standards, telling parents and whānau how their children are achieving, and giving our children the skills that they need to succeed.
Hon Trevor Mallard: How does she reconcile her statement that the applause while she was on the stage at the New Zealand School Trustees Association conference was a sign of support for her standards with the association president’s statement that the applause was in recognition of the president’s 21 years of service as a school trustee?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY: Easily, because I did not say that.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I do not know what to do, because she said that in the House, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: No, no. The Minister absolutely answered the question. Does the member have a supplementary question?
Hon Trevor Mallard: Yes, but I will be back with another pointless letter, I am sure.
Mr SPEAKER: The member will just ask his supplementary question.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Does she maintain that the New Zealand School Trustees Association is “extremely supportive of national standards”, following its president’s comments that she “ ‘never said’ the boards were supportive of the policy”?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY: I said to the member who asked the question that I was at the New Zealand School Trustees Association conference, and I know that the comments made to me about the national standards were many and supportive. However, Lorraine Kerr, the president, says “If we truly subscribe to the notion that our schools exist for our students, and that students are at the centre of all quality teaching and learning, then a degree of discomfort is an acceptable price to pay for a very real opportunity to improve the lot of every student. We are saying let’s just get on with it.”
Hon Trevor Mallard: If the Minister is so certain of her national standards, will she agree to Gary Hawke and John Hattie, who are working for the Prime Minister and her, appearing before the Education and Science Committee in order to outline progress that they are making in their committee?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY: Actually, that is an advisory group that provides free and frank advice to me as the Minister. I just remind the member that he said himself, in—
Mr SPEAKER: The Minister may wish to tell the House what she would like to tell the House, but the question was a very specific one. The question did not contain any criticism of the Government’s policy; it simply asked whether the Minister would consider allowing two people— from memory, Gary Hawke and Professor Hattie—to appear in front of the Education and Science Committee. That is not an unreasonable question.
Hon ANNE TOLLEY: Actually, it is not my business to dictate what happens in the select committee. The committee is perfectly free to invite whomever it would like to appear in front of it.
Earthquake, Canterbury—Damage to Transport Infrastructure
9. DAVID BENNETT (National—Hamilton East) to the Minister of Transport: What updates has the Minister received on damage caused by the Canterbury earthquake to the region’s transport infrastructure?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister of Transport): I am receiving updates two to three times per day, currently. The latest situation is that Christchurch airport is open and both terminals are operational. Rail services were disrupted by the large aftershock this morning, again, but are now back running. There continues to be significant rail damage near Kaiapoi, and services are operating with speed restrictions in other areas. The Port of Lyttelton has suffered damage but is operational. The State highway network is predominantly open, except for State Highway 74 at Heathcote Valley off-ramp, a slip on State Highway 77 between Glentunnel and Glenroy, two sections of State Highway 74 on Anzac Drive, and the State Highway 1 Chaney’s Road on-ramp. The Lyttelton tunnel was reopened at 11.30 this morning, following a brief closure to inspect cracks that appeared after this morning’s aftershock. A section of State Highway 77 between Methven and Windwhistle has one lane open. Christchurch arterial roads outside the central business district are open. The main damage appears to be suburban streets, and extensive repairs will be necessary in conjunction with repairs to services like water and waste water. I take the opportunity to thank all the people who have worked tirelessly to ensure that emergency services, people, and supplies can move around the region and around Christchurch City.
David Bennett: What funding has the Government made available to repair road and rail links?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: The damage to the State highway network, so far, has been remarkably light, with an initial estimated repair bill of around $6 million to $10 million. Rail too has suffered relatively light damage, so far, with a repair bill estimated at $2 million. Local roads, however, have been extensively damaged, and a cost estimate is not yet available. The New Zealand Transport Agency is able to provide initial funding assistance for the reinstatement of local roads in the case of natural disasters, and initially has $94 million available for the current financial year. The agency is working closely with local councils to estimate the size of the damage and what contribution will be needed. Aftershocks are continuing to cause ongoing damage, so all cost estimates are very preliminary at this point.
Question No. 8 to Minister
Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Labour—Hutt South): I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I should have done this at the end of my question No. 8. I seek leave to table the letter from two individuals whom I had not heard of before—David Bishop and Allan Day—to the Minister of Education that she received by email yesterday.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document.
Hon Member: Have you got permission?
Mr SPEAKER: I guess the onus is on the member seeking to table the document. Is there any objection to that document being tabled? There is objection.
Overseas Investment—New Zealanders’ Concerns
10. Hon DAVID PARKER (Labour) to the Prime Minister: Does he believe that New Zealanders who have concerns about overseas ownership of New Zealand land are racist?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): No.
Hon David Parker: Does the Prime Minister believe it was wise for the Minister for Land Information, Maurice Williamson, to say that opponents of land sales to foreigners are racist?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I believe that the Minister was using humour. That humour may well have backfired and I think that is the way it should be considered.
Hon David Parker: Are the Japanese, the Americans, the Canadians, the Chinese, and the Australians who all have restrictions on the sale of their land to foreigners racist?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I do not have responsibility for those countries.
Hon David Parker: How can the Prime Minister have confidence in the Minister for Land Information’s ability to make a wise decision on the Crafar farm purchases by overseas interests, when the Minister thinks that opposition to overseas land sales is, in large part, racist?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I am confident that the Minister, in due course, will be presented with a recommendation from the Overseas Investment Office one way or the other. No one knows what will be in that recommendation. He is an intelligent Minister and I believe that he will follow that recommendation through and consider all the merits of the case.
Earthquake, Canterbury—Housing New Zealand Corporation’s Response
11. HEKIA PARATA (National) to the Minister of Housing: What actions has Housing New Zealand taken to assist its tenants following the Christchurch earthquake?
Hon PHIL HEATLEY (Minister of Housing): Following Saturday’s earthquake, staff immediately swung into action to assist affected tenants. As of today, the Housing New Zealand Corporation has either visited or spoken to almost all of its 6,000 tenants in Christchurch. To date, 11 extra staff have been brought in from outside Christchurch, with an additional 20 arriving tomorrow to assist with operations. Since this morning’s aftershock, the Housing New Zealand Corporation has received an additional 880 work requests, mainly related to damaged chimneys, jamming doors and windows, roofs, and hot-water cylinders. On-site inspections of State houses are being prioritised by areas that have been most affected and have sustained the most damage, as well as tenants contacting Housing New Zealand Corporation to report damage to their homes. Of the houses that have received an initial assessment, over 200 properties have been identified as requiring very high-priority work, and given that the Housing New Zealand Corporation has prioritised the most-affected areas, it is anticipated that properties likely to have sustained the most significant damage have already been identified. Where tenants need short-term housing while urgent repairs are undertaken on their houses, the Housing New Zealand Corporation is working closely with a number of agencies to locate emergency accommodation, and it is also coordinating on behalf of the Government people seeking and offering long-term accommodation. I take this opportunity to thank the Housing New Zealand Corporation staff, some of whom have sustained damage to their homes yet have still worked tirelessly since Saturday to assist those in need.
Hekia Parata: What progress has Housing New Zealand made with assessing the damage to its stock?
Hon PHIL HEATLEY: The State housing stock in Christchurch is valued at almost $1.1 billion. Of almost 6,000 properties that the Housing New Zealand Corporation has in Christchurch, most have already had an initial assessment, either from on-site visits or by reports by phone. Thirty additional property inspectors will arrive in Christchurch tomorrow, and each day 350 to 400 homes will receive comprehensive on-site inspections until all homes have been physically assessed. Urgent health and safety repairs are being undertaken immediately, with less-urgent repairs being addressed through a planned programme of work that will be developed over the next couple of weeks.
12. Hon DARREN HUGHES (Labour) to the Minister of Transport: When he said that not enough New Zealand research has been done to justify a reduction in the blood-alcohol level for drivers, had he read the report entitled the Review of effectiveness of laws limiting blood alcohol
concentration levels to reduce alcohol-related road injuries and deaths, which draws on New Zealand data?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister of Transport): No, but I have read the New Zealand research cited in that British report—research that contributed to Safer Journeys. I note that the British report has the same difficulty with the New Zealand data that we have, in that one has to estimate the impacts from very limited data collection from only fatally injured drivers in this country. As I have stated in the House many times before, there is no data showing the actual impact on the New Zealand road toll from drivers having a blood-alcohol level between 0.5 milligrams and 0.8 milligrams who are not already deceased.
Hon Darren Hughes: Is he aware that the report acknowledges that there are various reports of various qualities, but states: “Overall, there is sufficiently strong evidence to indicate that lowering the legal BAC”—blood-alcohol content—“for drivers does help reduce road traffic injuries and deaths” regardless of what jurisdiction was being referred to?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Yes. The report also states that “a large number of factors” can affect the results, including related policies, enforcement, and publication. It also notes the importance, in some cases, of a higher minimum legal driving age, points-based licensing, and random checks. The House will note that it is planned to raise the minimum legal driving age in this country, and random checks are already in place.
Hon Darren Hughes: Does the observation in the 184-page report—that one of the factors of a lower blood-alcohol content limit being successful is public awareness and support—reflect this Government’s policy; if so, what does he make of the 64 percent support rate for lowering the blood-alcohol limit for driving, as my member’s bill would do, which is reflected in New Zealand opinion polls by New Zealand drivers?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: As the Government said when it made the decision regarding the package of measures to be taken in relation to drink-driving, we are seeking two things in particular. One is clear evidence of the impact of drivers driving with a blood-alcohol level between 0.05 milligrams and 0.08 milligrams; we cannot currently collect that information in this country and we are going to change the law to enable us to do that. The second thing we were seeking was very broad public support for the change. Although there appears to have been an increase in public support up to this point, there is still the need to collect this data to ensure enduring public support for any change.
Hon Darren Hughes: Does the finding in the report—that currently the actual and perceived risk of being detected and sanctioned for drink-driving in the context of the limit of 0.08 milligrams blood alcohol is low, and therefore does not act as a sufficiently strong deterrent—reflect Government thinking?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I think that assessment in the report refers to the British environment, in which it was written, not necessarily to the New Zealand environment, so I am not convinced that it is directly applicable to the New Zealand environment. Nevertheless, the report points out the importance of enforcement and education regardless of the level at which the blood-alcohol limit is set. That also bears out research in Australia, which says that when a limit has changed, the enforcement and the educational effects of the change could be at least as important as the change itself.
Hon Darren Hughes: What factors has he identified about New Zealand drivers that lead him to disagree with this 184-page report, which has a finding that a blood-alcohol content of between 0.05 and 0.08 milligrams makes a driver six times more likely to die in a road crash?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: There is significant research around that has different views in terms of that difference. It does not change the reality that in this country we do not have the actual data on the impact caused by drivers driving with a blood-alcohol level of between 0.05 and 0.08 milligrams. The last time this matter was before the Government of the day, which was in about 2001, the Government had the opportunity to legislate to enable that data to be collected. It never took that step. This Government is taking that step, and from it we will be able to make an informed decision based on actual harm.