Questions And Answers Nov 9 2010
(uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing)
TUESDAY, 9 NOVEMBER 2010
QUESTIONS FOR ORAL ANSWER
QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS
Unemployment Rate—September 2010 Quarter Compared with September 2009 Quarter
1. Hon ANNETTE KING (Deputy Leader—Labour) to the Minister for Social
Development and Employment: How many fewer people were unemployed at the end of the September 2010 quarter compared to the September 2009 quarter, according to the household labour force survey?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS (Acting Minister for Social Development and Employment): According to the survey, no fewer people were unemployed. However, 39,000 more people have been employed, because the labour market grew in the last year. That is the largest annual increase in employment since the year ended December 2007, despite New Zealand’s experiencing the worst financial recession since the 1930s.
Hon Annette King: Can she confirm that the number of people classified as jobless in New Zealand—that is, those who want to work, but who do not have a job—is now well over a quarter of a million New Zealanders, having gone up by 64,000 in the last 2 years; and does she agree with the Minister of Finance that they are considered to be collateral damage in rebalancing the economy?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: I do not believe for a moment that the Minister of Finance has ever made such a statement.
Hon Annette King: Does she agree with the Minister of Finance that being made unemployed is not “brutal at all”; and does she think that the extra 6,000 women who have just been made unemployed in the last quarter will agree with Bill English that they are just part of rebalancing the economy?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: That is a very loaded question, but I am happy to say to the member that we have had 39,000 more people employed in the last year, which is good news for those people. We would like very much to get more people employed, but we have inherited the worst recession since the 1930s. I say to the member that something that is very hopeful for her is that we have had more economic growth in the past 9 months than in the previous 4 years under the previous Labour Government.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. It is a relatively simple point of order. Other than saying that was a very lowly question—
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: Loaded!
Hon Trevor Mallard: Oh, loaded—the question was not addressed.
Mr SPEAKER: The member makes a valid point of order. Although the question was somewhat political, that does not mean to say it should not be addressed. There is certainly no precise answer to a political question, but in that circumstance Ministers should at least address the question. Simply to say it is a loaded question, I do not think sufficiently addresses it. I invite the Minister to
answer again. If she cannot recollect the question, I am happy to have the Hon Annette King repeat the question. Maybe if it was a little less political, that would be helpful.
Hon Annette King: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am happy to table the transcript from Q+A, which I am quoting directly from.
Mr SPEAKER: The member will just ask her question.
Hon Annette King: Does she agree with the Minister of Finance that being made unemployed is not “brutal at all”, and does she think that the extra 6,000 women who were made unemployed in the last quarter will agree with Bill English that they are just part of rebalancing the economy?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: It is very difficult for people who have lost their jobs in times like this, and I think it is unfortunate for the member to try to say Mr English is saying they are just collateral damage. They are not just collateral damage. Every single one of them is a human being, and both Mr English and I would agree with that.
Hon Annette King: Is she aware that underemployment—that is, people who are in part-time work, but who want more hours of work—has jumped by 8,000 people, or nearly 10 percent, in the last quarter; and does she consider this increase to be an indication of an improving economy or of one where employers are being forced to downsize and reduce workers’ hours in order to survive?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: With more economic growth in the past 9 months than in the previous 4 years, we are seeing an improvement in the economy.
Hon Annette King: Has the Minister of Finance raised with her his concern about the jump in unemployment in Southland, where an extra 600 people are now claiming an unemployment benefit, and does she agree with the chief executive of Southland Chamber of Commerce, who said “we’re now at the stage where businesses have had to cut back.” yesterday; and when will that region see the aggressive recovery that John Key has promised?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: I am sure that when the October figures come out, and the November figures, there will be an improvement across the board. As we can see in the October figures that have just come out, there has been a modest fall. Overall benefit numbers are down by 332, with unemployment benefit numbers down by 483.
Economies and Financial Markets, International—Current Developments
2. CRAIG FOSS (National—Tukituki) to the Minister of Finance: What are the implications for New Zealand of current developments in international economies and financial markets?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): It is clear that the global economy is recovering from the recent financial crisis, but there are a number of uncertainties and risks. For instance, emerging economies are experiencing a strong recovery and our trade with those economies is growing. However, developed economies are recovering more slowly, and economies such as the UK and the US are adopting policies that tend to devalue their exchange rates and therefore create a headwind for our export recovery. That reinforces the need for New Zealand to continue along a path of improving our competitiveness, so that we can achieve faster growth and sustainable jobs.
Craig Foss: What commitments have New Zealand and other Asia-Pacific countries made to help overcome their current economic challenges?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: At a recent meeting of APEC finance Ministers there were a number of common views—for instance, countries with current account deficits should take steps to boost domestic savings, and those with surpluses should take steps to increase domestic demand; we should continue moving towards more market-determined exchange rate systems that reflect the underlying economic fundamentals rather than competitive devaluation of currencies; and we should ensure sound fiscal management. There was unanimous support from finance Ministers across well over a dozen economies for those propositions.
Craig Foss: How does New Zealand’s economic programme compare with the approach outlined by APEC finance Ministers?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The Government’s current comprehensive economic programme is very much in line with the general international consensus. In particular, there is some real interest in New Zealand’s tax package, because it is seen as a concrete measure that is helping this country move away from borrowing and consumption, towards favouring exports, savings, and investment, and, in that sense, it is undoing the severe damage done to the economy by the last Government.
Craig Foss: What kinds of economic policies were rejected by APEC finance Ministers?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The policies that were rejected not just by the APEC finance Ministers, but, I think, by most economies around the world were: wasteful and fast-growing Government spending; ad hoc and opportunistic changes to tax systems; larger deficits; fiddling with monetary policy; and trying to pretend the exchange rate can be fixed. Those are essentially the policies of the current Labour Opposition.
Economic Performance—Minister’s Statement
3. Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE (Labour—New Lynn) to the Minister of Finance: Does he stand by his statement: “we came into office with a very sound plan to lift New Zealand’s economic performance”?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): Yes, I do stand by that statement. I could outline the six pillars of that plan, but what I will say is that there are some early promising signs for the economy. Over the past 2 years we have seen five successive quarters of economic growth, real after-tax wages have grown by more than twice the amount they did over the previous 9 years, the balance of payments deficit has fallen from 8 percent to 3 percent of GDP, tax rates have reduced to the extent that two-thirds of New Zealanders now pay 17.5c in the dollar, and over 40,000 jobs were created in the past year. These are early and modest gains, and we suspect we will build on them with real strength over the next few years as our plan for the economy has more impact.
Hon David Cunliffe: Which part of his “very sound plan” delivered the decline in business tax revenue in the last quarter, which is more than 20 percent below the forecast amount, and cut the total number of businesses by 1.7 percent for the first time in 9 years?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: In case the Opposition finance spokesman has not noticed, there was a recession for the first time in 9 years, starting in 2008, well before the global financial crisis. A lot of New Zealand businesses had to deal not just with that recession but with the build-up of red tape and misjudged economic policy over the last decade. This Government is moving as quickly as possible to undo the red tape, invest in infrastructure, make the public sector more productive, reduce tax rates, increase education and skills, and revamp our innovation system.
Amy Adams: What problems did the Government’s plan have to address when the Government took office?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I will give only a selection of the large range of problems. When we became the Government New Zealand was already in its third quarter of recession. The export sector had been in recession for 5 years. In this great little export-earning country, the previous Government had had the export sector in recession for 5 years. The fundamental problem was that that Government was fantastic at spending and hopeless at earning, and we have to turn that round.
Amy Adams: What steps has the Government taken to implement its plan?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: We have reduced personal taxes across the board, we have got Government debt and deficits under control, we have reprioritised $4 billion that the previous Government was wasting on back-office bureaucracy and moved it to the front line, we have introduced national standards for reading and maths, we have cut red tape, we have injected hundreds of millions of dollars into research and innovation, we have invested $7 billion in productive infrastructure, we have maintained New Zealand’s high tax rating, we have streamlined the Resource Management Act, we have reduced taxes on savings, and we have streamlined employment law. The result is that real after-tax wages have been growing.
Hon David Parker: Why, then, will the Government not even belatedly include in its plan to lift New Zealand’s economic performance meaningful milestones upon which New Zealanders can judge National’s success or failure in meeting its election promise to close the wage gap between New Zealand and Australia, which even the 2025 Taskforce report notes is growing?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Because New Zealanders are smart enough to know that if their jobs are more secure and their incomes are rising, then this economy is going somewhere. We are very happy to be judged, day by day, by the voters, who threw out that party’s Government because it did so much damage to this economy.
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: Will he rule out selling State-owned assets, as proposed in the 2025 Taskforce report, and will he rule out campaigning to do so in next year’s general election?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The Government’s position has been quite clear on that matter. The Government promised that there would be no asset sales in its first term of office, and that if it changed that position, it would campaign on that change. But I will make this general point. The Government owns $200 billion of assets, and that party’s Government left the asset management system in a shambles. So we have been working flat out to try to improve the effectiveness of how we use $200 billion of taxpayer-owned assets, and we are starting to do a pretty good job of it.
Hon David Cunliffe: Was the Prime Minister correct when he admitted this morning that the Government has “no plan” to deal with the high New Zealand dollar; if so, how much more damage will the volatile dollar have to do before he will act to protect struggling exporters?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: A couple of countries fix their exchange rate, and they have two characteristics. One is that they have several hundred billion US dollars in the bank. Well, the previous Labour Government made very sure that we did not have several hundred billion dollars in the bank; in fact, we have a $150 billion debt to overseas lenders. The other thing is that those countries tend not to be democracies. That was also a trend under the previous Government, but without $200 billion in the bank it is actually pretty hard to fix one’s exchange rate.
Hon David Cunliffe: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: A point of order has been called. [Interruption] I say to both the deputy leader of the Labour Party and the senior Government whip that they will not carry on interjecting when a point of order has been called.
Hon David Cunliffe: My point of order is that the Minister did not address the supplementary question. At no time did the question mention fixing the exchange rate, which of course is not our position; it asked when the Prime Minister or the Minister would act to assist exporters.
Mr SPEAKER: I am not sure that the member did ask whether they would act to assist exporters. I clearly remember the member, in his question, talking precisely about the exchange rate. The Minister, in my view, answered that.
Hon David Cunliffe: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. We did mention the higher dollar, but at no point did we suggest fixing the dollar. So what the Minister is doing a painting us in a position we do not hold.
Mr SPEAKER: I do not think the House should take further time on this particular question. The member asked a question in respect of, if not fixing the exchange rate, taking some action in respect of it. The Minister answered in respect of one aspect of managing exchange rates, where he expressed a view that was not very supportive of it, and I think the House should not take more time on a question that was not very precise in the first place.
Kenepuru Hospital—Increased Services
4. HEKIA PARATA (National) to the Minister of Health: What progress has been made at Kenepuru Hospital to provide more services for patients?
Hon TONY RYALL (Minister of Health): I can inform the House that in the last 2 years, 2008-09 and 2009-10, under this Government the number of surgical procedures carried out at Kenepuru Hospital has increased by 57 percent. In the last financial year 3,630 surgical procedures
were carried out, which is an increase of 1,321 on the last year of the previous regime. This is further evidence of improved front-line services under this Government. Unfortunately, I regret to inform the House that over the last 3 years of the previous Government, 2005-06 to 2007-08, the number of surgical procedures carried out at Kenepuru Hospital actually fell by 13 percent.
Hekia Parata: What other progress has been made at Kenepuru Hospital to provide further services to patients?
Hon TONY RYALL: In the last 2 years the number of out-patient consultations carried out at Kenepuru Hospital has increased by 30 percent. In the last financial year 19,635 out-patient consultations were carried out, which is an increase of 4,500 on the last year of the previous Government. I regret to inform the House that over the last 3 full financial years of the previous Government the number of out-patient consultations carried out at Kenepuru Hospital actually fell by 18 percent.
Hon Ruth Dyson: How many additional Mana residents have joined the surgery waiting list at Kenepuru Hospital because ACC has declined their claim for help, and how many extra staff will be needed to care for them?
Hon TONY RYALL: Of course, one is not going to have that data with them. But what I can tell that member is that under this Government the people of Kenepuru have enjoyed the introduction of neurology clinics, general surgery breast clinics, newborn hearing clinics, four new observation beds, an anaesthetic pre-assessment clinic, a pain management clinic, psychiatric liaison services, and haematology—
Mr SPEAKER: I am sure it is very interesting information, but the member did not actually ask for that. The Hon Ruth Dyson—
Hon Ruth Dyson: Are you giving me an opportunity to answer?
Mr SPEAKER: No, I am just pulling the Minister up from going on for too long. Does the member wish to ask a supplementary question?
Hon Ruth Dyson: Absolutely.
Mr SPEAKER: She should not push her chances too far.
Hon Ruth Dyson: How many more elderly from the Mana electorate will be seeking treatment at Kenepuru Hospital as a result of his decision to further cut home help for elderly people?
Hon TONY RYALL: What I can tell that member, with regard to the older people of the Mana electorate, is that Capital and Coast District Health Board has made some changes to its home-care services that bring the same policy there in line with the rest of the country. I can also say that many people in the Mana electorate are not having to be transported to the emergency department at Wellington Regional Hospital, because of the urgent-care initiative involving Wellington Free Ambulance, which this Government has funded, which means that 70 percent of patients are treated at home, rather than going to the emergency department.
Roading, State Highway 1—Breakdown of Consultation Meetings’ Costs
5. Hon DARREN HUGHES (Labour) to the Minister of Transport: What is the breakdown of the $22,000 spent by the New Zealand Transport Agency for consultation meetings outlining the proposed route of the new State Highway 1 through Kapiti that have now been postponed until possibly after the Mana by-election?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister of Transport): I congratulate the member opposite on his sartorial elegance today. The $22,000 is made up of postcards at a cost of $10,492, brochures at a cost of $9,605, five storyboards at a cost of $1,150, and, finally, advertisements at a cost of $1,000.
Hon Darren Hughes: Is it his expectation as Minister that there will be meetings before the Mana by-election takes place to inform the community about where new State Highway 1 will go?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: That is a decision for the New Zealand Transport Agency.
Hon Darren Hughes: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I understand what the Minister has said—that it is a decision, apparently, for the agency—and that is why I did not ask him that. I
asked him whether it was his expectation, as the Minster of Transport, that these meetings would take place before the Mana by-election. He did not answer that question; he told me something I already knew.
Mr SPEAKER: After listening to the answer, I assume the member would take it that the Minister does not know. He is telling the House that someone else makes the decision; he does not know. If I am wrong, the Minister should correct that perception. The Minister is indicating that that is the situation.
Hon Darren Hughes: Have any National MPs contacted him to complain about the agency’s decision not to release this information this week as planned?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: No. No MPs have contacted me to complain about the delay on the decision; in fact, no MPs have contacted me since the decision has been announced.
Hon Darren Hughes: Will the Minister come to a meeting tonight in Kapiti at Southward Theatre in Paraparaumu at 7 p.m. to explain to local people why this information about where State Highway 1 will go is now being withheld from them?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: No, I will not. The point is that the decision is made by the Transport Agency. I think the agency is in the situation where it is balancing the obvious desire for timeliness with the obvious desire for certainty as to where the highway will go.
Gareth Hughes: Does he really expect the voters of Mana to believe that he was not involved in the decision to pull this meeting to avoid announcing in the middle of the Mana by-election that homes will be destroyed by his uneconomic motorway?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I should clarify for the member that the Transport Agency briefed me on its proposed documentation before it made its decision. But the agency took its own decision that the consultation should not go ahead, because—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: I apologise to the Minister. A member of the Green Party, Gareth Hughes, has asked a question. I doubt that he can hear the answer, because of the noise of the Labour Party front bench. That is not fair. I ask them to be more reasonable when a member from another party asks a supplementary question.
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: As I was saying, the Transport Agency took its own decision, I understand, because it was concerned that it had insufficient detail on a section of the road towards the northern end of the alignment that, if consulted on as it stood, would leave too much uncertainty for local residents.
Hon Darren Hughes: When was he first informed by the agency that it was considering delaying the meetings to inform the people of Kapiti about where new State Highway 1 would go, and when was he informed that it had finally made that decision?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: The chairman of the agency spoke with me on the weekend of 30-31 October. It made the decision, I understand, at a board meeting on the following Monday.
Gender Equality—Leadership Roles and Closing Pay Gap
CATHERINE DELAHUNTY (Green): My question is to the Minister of Women’s affairs and asks—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: I apologise to the honourable member. Members have to be a little more reasonable. Question No. 5 has been dealt with. Members may not be happy with the answers, but there is always another day to ask more questions. I have called Catherine Delahunty to ask her question, and to keep interjecting is not fair.
6. CATHERINE DELAHUNTY (Green) to the Minister of Women’s Affairs: Is she satisfied with progress towards her goals of getting more women in leadership and closing the gender pay gap following the release of the New Zealand Census of Women’s Participation 2010, which records a backwards slide?
Hon PANSY WONG (Minister of Women's Affairs): The report raises no new issues, and that is why two of the Ministry of Women’s Affairs’ priorities are to increase the number of women in
leadership positions and to reduce the gender pay gap. I am disappointed at the dismal increase of 8.6 percent to 9.3 percent of women on the boards of the top 100 listed companies. That is why the Ministry of Women’s Affairs has launched the Women on Boards initiative. As far as the pay gap is concerned, when I became the Minister of Women’s Affairs in 2008, the New Zealand gender pay gap had stalled at 12 percent for a decade. Since then, the gap has reduced to 11.3 percent in 2009. It is now down to 10.6 percent.
Catherine Delahunty: Has she had any advice to explain why 24 public sector departments have larger gender pay gaps than the gap across the total labour force, including a massive 39 percent gap at the Ministry of Defence and even an 8 percent gap at the Ministry of Women’s Affairs?
Hon PANSY WONG: Each chief executive of each Government agency is responsible for addressing any pay discrimination within their own organisation. The National-led Government expected the State Services Commission to be a good employer and to understand that the Equal Pay Act was passed in 1972 by a National Government. The Department of Labour has provided, and continues to provide, public and private sector organisations with pay and employment equity tools and resources to assist employers to do that.
Catherine Delahunty: Does she agree with the Prime Minister that the best way to measure income in New Zealand is the quarterly employment survey; if so, why does she not use this survey to measure the current gender pay gap?
Hon PANSY WONG: Part of the measurement that the Ministry of Women’s Affairs adopted in 2004 is comparing the median hourly earnings of men and women. It is released annually as part of the quarterly employment survey, but we rely on the annual figure. That basis needs to be adopted on a consistent base because otherwise it would be distorting and we would not know whether the gap was closing. On this happy occasion, I am happy to inform the member that the gap has been closing for 2 years in a row, after it had stalled at 12 percent under the previous Labour Government.
Catherine Delahunty: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I asked her whether she agreed with the Prime Minister that the best way to measure income is the quarterly employment survey. She did not answer that question.
Mr SPEAKER: I believe the Minister answered why she believed that a certain series should be used in measuring the pay gap. If I recollect correctly, there were two parts to the member’s question, and the Minister chose to answer that part.
Catherine Delahunty: Is the real reason that she continues to hide behind median income statistics to explain away the gender pay gap the fact that the Prime Minister’s preferred method shows that the gender pay gap is growing?
Hon PANSY WONG: The measurement chosen by the Ministry of Women’s Affairs was adopted in 2004, under the previous Labour Government. If I had wanted to choose to hide behind anything, I would shift the base of measurement. The happy news is the gap has now been closing for 2 years in a row. But we are not complacent; we will continue to work on it.
Catherine Delahunty: Why has the number of women on Government and private sector boards decreased when the No. 1 priority of her department has been to get more women on boards?
Hon PANSY WONG: Let me repeat again: there has been a very slow increase in the percentage of women on the boards of publicly listed companies from 8.6 percent to 9.3 percent, but we are not happy about that. We want to increase it. As far as State sector boards are concerned, the percentages fluctuate between 40 percent and 42 percent. I am comfortable with a range between 40 percent and 60 percent in the State sector. Australia has just adopted 40 percent as its target. Norway has legislated for only 40 percent for a publicly listed company. I think we should be proud of New Zealand for what we have done on State sector boards.
Catherine Delahunty: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Minister has not answered the question as to why the number has decreased.
Mr SPEAKER: If the member wants specific answers to questions, she must make her questions shorter and ask only one question instead of putting two or three things into the question. I believe that the Minister gave a reasonable answer to the question. The member has a further supplementary question, as I understand it.
Catherine Delahunty: Will the Minister commit to the agenda for change outlined in the New Zealand Census of Women’s Participation 2010 and join with the Green Party in a cross-party parliamentary caucus, as that report requests, to advance women’s progress inside and outside Parliament?
Hon PANSY WONG: The Ministry of Women’s Affairs has three priorities: having more women in leadership, closing the gender pay gap, and tackling violence against women. We have the agenda for change and I think it has been embraced by New Zealand women throughout the country. When the chief executive of the Ministry of Women’s Affairs conducted 52 forums— [Interruption]
Catherine Delahunty: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: I think I can anticipate the member’s point of order. Having defended the Minister against the point of order in just the previous supplementary question, I would have thought it behoved a Minister to listen to the next supplementary question, which sure left the Minister plenty of room to give a political answer should the Minister have wished, but to ignore the question totally is not very wise. So I invite Catherine Delahunty to repeat her question and I ask the Minister to listen to it. The Minister should not give the House a mini-speech about what she wants to tell the House but give at least some sort of answer to the question. The question was so political and there were heaps of opportunities to give an answer, but I would like to hear some sort of answer.
Catherine Delahunty: Thank you, Mr Speaker. Will the Minister commit to the agenda for change outlined in the New Zealand Census of Women’s Participation 2010 and join with the Green Party in a cross-party parliamentary caucus, as that report requests, to advance women’s progress inside and outside Parliament?
Hon PANSY WONG: The Ministry of Women’s Affairs sets its own priorities. We have the Government’s priorities—for example, I have already given—
Hon Annette King: That’s no answer.
Hon PANSY WONG: If Labour members are not interested in the answer, although someone else might be, they should keep quiet. For example, one of the recommendations in the report called for a range of 50:50, and, as I indicated earlier, I am comfortable with a range of 40:60. I think that the ministry’s three priorities dovetail with quite a range of the recommendations.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. It is sort of like ibid to your previous intervention. The Minister has yet to answer whether she or her party is prepared to do something with other parties in Parliament, and her reading out pre-prepared speeches about what her ministry is doing does not even address the question, despite, I think, your latitude and invitation earlier on to give the member a whack.
Mr SPEAKER: It is frustrating. Catherine Delahunty’s question was not unreasonable; it asked the Minister what the Minister was prepared to do—would she commit to something. I am not going to insist on the Minister giving chapter and verse of what she would commit to, but some attempt to answer the question would be helpful to the House. This is my third attempt to ask that the question be addressed, and we will just have to leave it up to the public to judge if it cannot be addressed. The Minister heard the question, so I ask her to try to at least address the question.
Hon PANSY WONG: When those recommendations coincide with the priorities of the ministry, we work on those.
Hon Pete Hodgson: Did she discuss the goal of getting more women into leadership roles when she visited the Lianyungang Supreme Hovercraft Ltd in China?
Hon PANSY WONG: I am not too sure what that question is all about. The issue of women in leadership relates to New Zealand and I addressed women’s concerns throughout New Zealand.
Hon Pete Hodgson: Was she acting in her ministerial capacity when she signed herself as “Minister of New Zealand Government” on a document for the Lianyungang Supreme Hovercraft Ltd and for Pacific Hovercraft Ltd?
Hon PANSY WONG: I was not aware that I signed a document overseas in my capacity as Minister of Women’s Affairs, when it had nothing to do with the ministry.
Mr SPEAKER: I call the Hon Pete Hodgson and I remind him of the primary question.
Hon Pete Hodgson: Indeed. Does a woman demonstrate leadership when, having reached the status of Cabinet Minister, she then witnesses a commercial deal as a Minister even though she is in that other land on a private trip?
Hon Simon Power: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Although the member attempted to wind the two words “woman” and “leadership” into the question, it is clear that the question set down by the member originally related to closing the gender pay gap. That part of the primary question was nowhere near the attempt that that member just made to put a question to the Minister.
Hon Trevor Mallard: The first of the supplementary questions asked by my colleague Pete Hodgson very directly asked whether getting more women into leadership or the issue of the gender pay gap were subjects she addressed on a particular visit to a particular company when she was in China. It is for her to say yes or no, but to ask her whether she did that is, I think, well within her areas of responsibility. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: There will not be any comments. On the first occasion when the member asked a supplementary question, I allowed it because it was not immediately obvious where the member was seeking to take his questioning. But given this primary question, I believe that it is not reasonable to try to link such a totally different issue to it; there is plenty of opportunity in question time. Ministers can be questioned on all sorts of matters and there are all sorts of opportunities to pursue these things, but this question is to the Minister of Women’s Affairs, and I do not believe that it is reasonable to simply pretend to link it in the way now being attempted. That is why I am ruling out the question.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I listened carefully to your comments. It is my understanding that a direct question to a Minister about the activities of the Minister on a private trip would not get through the Clerk’s Office because it does not relate to ministerial responsibility. You said that there were plenty of opportunities to question the Minister on that. My submission to you is that if members here attempted to ask a question based on the misbehaviour—
Mr SPEAKER: The member will resume his seat immediately. He knows that he is departing from the Standing Orders there. The member is a particularly talented member when it comes to finding ways to achieve things in this House. It is not beyond my simple wit to work out how such a question would be asked, so I am sure it is not beyond that member’s wit to work out how to pursue the matter if it is of interest to the Opposition. I am sure that there are all sorts of ways that can be done, but this is not an acceptable way in response to this particular primary question.
Hon Pete Hodgson: Does a woman demonstrate leadership when, as a Cabinet Minister, she witnesses a deal in China to advantage her husband even though both of them travelled to China privately?
Mr SPEAKER: That question is also ruled out.
Hon Pete Hodgson: Inevitably there is a little bit of documentation to table, concerning the deal in question and the witnessing by the Hon—
Mr SPEAKER: The member will just describe the documents he is seeking leave to table.
Hon Pete Hodgson: I am trying to do just that.
Mr SPEAKER: Well, he had better do it or he will not have the opportunity.
Hon Pete Hodgson: In describing the document in question, can I get more generic than that, do you think? In particular, it is the signature of the witness being the Minister in question.
Mr SPEAKER: For the House to decide whether it will grant leave to table a document, it would be helpful for the member to actually describe what the document is. The House does not know what the document is. It might have the Minister’s signature on it, but we need to know what the document is.
Hon Pete Hodgson: I was trying to appeal to your need for brevity. The document is a deal between Lianyungang Supreme Hovercraft Ltd and Pacific Hovercraft New Zealand Ltd. It is dated 3 December 2009—in fact, it is not dated then; it is dated some other date, I apologise. It has given rise to a bunch of legal activity subsequently—
Mr SPEAKER: That does not help describe the document. Leave is sought to table this document or set of documents. Is there any objection? There is objection.
Methamphetamine Precursor—Importation of Pharmaceutical Products
JONATHAN YOUNG (National—New Plymouth): My question is to the Minister of Customs—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: I apologise to the member. That matter has been dealt with, and a member is asking a question from the back of the House. I expect the House—again, on this occasion especially the Labour front bench—to display some courtesy.
7. JONATHAN YOUNG (National—New Plymouth) to the Minister of Customs: What steps has the Government taken to address the importation of pharmaceutical products used to manufacture P?
Hon MAURICE WILLIAMSON (Minister of Customs): I have recently returned from a very productive trip to China, where I engaged in high-level meetings with senior members of China Customs and with the Chinese Minister of customs, Minister Sheng. During those talks I described to Minister Sheng the problem that New Zealand has with large volumes of pharmaceutical products containing ephedrine and pseudoephedrine being smuggled out of China and into New Zealand. Minister Sheng showed genuine concern about the issue, and, as a result, the two countries have now signed a statement of cooperation to tackle the issue. I personally told Mr Sheng about the damage and the danger that these precursors were causing, and he has given a very strict directive to his 50,000 customs officers to be extra vigilant on the matter and to begin a new period of cooperation. The agreement will see China and New Zealand customs share intelligence, identify and develop opportunities to coordinate short-term targeting exercises in both China and New Zealand, and increase the disruption of traffic of the drug and its precursor.
Jonathan Young: What success have customs officers had in protecting our borders in the war on P?
Hon MAURICE WILLIAMSON: Well, 2010 will be a challenging year, given that in 2009 we set an all-time record for interception of the precursor. In fact, over 1.2 tonnes of pseudoephedrine was intercepted at the border. However, the good news is that this year to October we have intercepted 821 kilos. Also we have started making some quite important interceptions on the actual drug P, not just the precursor. Recently some individuals were apprehended at Auckland Airport who held large quantities of the drug P inside their bodies. One Lithuanian individual had 1.4 kilograms of the drug inside his body. So far we have had very good progress, but it will be a real stretch to see if by 31 December we can beat last year’s all-time record.
Education, National Standards—Ngā Whanaketanga
8. Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Labour—Hutt South) to the Minister of Education: Does she agree with Te Ururoa Flavell when he said “Unlike National Standards in mainstream schooling, Nga Whanaketanga has been trialled and has a direct connection to the curriculum.”; if not, why not?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY (Minister of Education): No; because national standards also have a direct connection to the curriculum.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Is that connection a linear connection?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY: I just happen to have with me here in the House a chart that shows very clearly the level of the standards in reading, writing, and maths, and, underneath them all, where they are connected to the curriculum. If the member asking the question is interested, I am happy to forward him a copy.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Does she agree with Te Ururoa Flavell when he said: “The Government bureaucracy must never think that they know more than our communities and I commend them for reaching out to Maori, for giving them a real say in the future education of their children.”; if so, why does she think she knows more than teachers and parents in Pākehā communities who have been raising concerns about national standards, or is that one of the things that happen just for Māori?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY: I agree totally with Te Ururoa Flavell when he said in his press release: “Whanau, hapu and iwi have worked so hard for so long to build an entire kaupapa Maori education system from scratch—one that reflects their world view and tikanga and ensures their language and culture are maintained by future generations.” I also agree with him that the community should have a say in the education of their children, and that is why it is so important that national standards will deliver good information to parents on the progress that their children are making in reading, writing, and maths, so that they not only can ensure that their children are getting a good education from the schools but also can be part of it and help.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Will the Minister explain in plain English what her writing standards mean when they state that at the end of year 7 a student “plans effectively by using mind-mapping in addition to other planning strategies and uses her information literacy skills to find and make use of relevant information for her writing purpose;”? What does that mean, in plain English?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY: I am not a teacher in a classroom. As the Minister, I am not required to deliver the curriculum to children in the classroom, but I do have a responsibility to ensure that teachers have the resources and the support in order to deliver the New Zealand curriculum to schools. So it is my responsibility to make sure that teachers have the information and the resources that they need to deliver exactly that in relation to the curriculum.
Hon Trevor Mallard: How, then, can a parent be expected to understand what a standard means, if the Minister says that she herself does not have to understand it?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY: I refer the member again to the very good wallchart that I hold up now. For each one of the years displayed on the chart there is a booklet that explains to parents in very good, clear language exactly what the expectations are. If they are not explained in language that the parents can understand, the most important part is the conversation that happens between the teacher and the parents. National standards are about creating good information that is shared by schools and homes.
Louise Upston: What feedback has the Minister received about national standards in mainstream schooling?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY: Following last week’s reports of a boycott by boards of trustees, which was fostered by the Labour Party and unions, many upset parents have emailed me about national standards. One stated: “This country really does need to have those national standards. Please put these standards in place and let them be implemented.” Another parent wrote to me and summed up the situation: “Thousands of Kiwi parents simply want to know where our kids stack up.” This Government is absolutely committed to making sure that parents have that information.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Is it still her intention to dismiss boards that do not fully implement national standards?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY: That has never been my intention. In fact, the papers that have been taken through to Cabinet—papers that that member has in his possession, because I released them to
him—show that we have in place a very good process of working with schools that are having difficulty implementing the standards, to make sure that they have the support they need, that they are assisted by the Ministry of Education, and that they get professional development for their teachers wherever it is needed.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I might get myself into trouble here, but the Minister told Kathryn Ryan on the radio very clearly that it was her intention to dismiss boards. I do not think she can just deny the fact.
Mr SPEAKER: That is not a point of order, and the member knows that. He should not do that. There are other ways of pursuing concern about an answer, but he should not use that way.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Can you outline whether that involves a change in your policy? You have had a policy, when we have complained of breaches of privilege in terms of errors that Ministers have made in the past, that we cannot—
Mr SPEAKER: The member listened to the Minister’s answer very carefully. What the member can do with his information, where he believes that the Minister indicated a different course of action would be taken, is question the Minister even more tightly, to pin the Minister down. To come back to the member’s exact point of order, I say that primary questions are a matter of some formality in this House, so Ministers need to be very careful how they answer primary questions. They should be careful how they answer any question, but it is difficult for a Minister to be absolutely accurate in response to every supplementary question. But in response to a primary question they must be absolutely accurate, so the opportunity exists for the member to pin the Minister down more tightly on the matter.
Marine and Coastal Area (Takutai Moana) Bill—Customary Title
9. Hon RODNEY HIDE (Leader—ACT) to the Attorney-General: Is it Government policy through the proposed Marine and Coastal Area (Takutai Moana) Bill to enable the Minister responsible to recognise customary marine title by agreement with an applicant group; if so, which parts, if any, of New Zealand’s foreshore and seabed could not be applied for under the proposed Act?
Hon MAURICE WILLIAMSON (Minister for Building and Construction) on behalf of the
Attorney-General: Yes, the Marine and Coastal Area (Takutai Moana) Bill provides for customary title to be recognised either by a recognition order of the High Court, or by agreement with the Crown after the agreement is given effect by an Order in Council. In respect of the second element of the member’s question, any part of the marine and coastal area that was part of a private title could not be subject to an application.
Hon Rodney Hide: Can the Minister tell the House of any precedent, either within New Zealand or in any other Westminster jurisdiction, that would enable a Minister of the Crown to transfer valuable title to private groups without involving the courts, Parliament, or, indeed, public scrutiny?
Hon MAURICE WILLIAMSON: I doubt whether we could find a precedent anywhere else in the world, as there are Treaty obligations under the Treaty of Waitangi, and New Zealand is the only country to which the Treaty applies.
Hon Rodney Hide: Does the Minister accept that when we have Treaty settlements that shift property and titles to iwi groups, those settlements are brought before the House and select committees for public scrutiny and ratification by Parliament, yet when it comes to the foreshore and seabed a Minister, by private treaty in his or her office, can sign the deal, with no public scrutiny and no oversight by Parliament?
Hon MAURICE WILLIAMSON: Yes, but the bill does not restrict the rights of groups to seek customary marine title in the common marine and coastal area. It does, however, have very strict conditions. In order to successfully obtain recognition of customary marine title, the applicant group must prove that it has had exclusive use and occupation of that area since 1840 without substantial
interruption, and that the area has been held in accordance with tikanga. That will obviously rule out many parts of marine and coastal areas.
Hon Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. It is very interesting to hear about the thresholds, and no doubt there will be more questions on that—
Mr SPEAKER: What is the member’s point of order?
Hon Rodney Hide: He did not address the question of the difference between Treaty settlements, which are brought to Parliament for scrutiny, and this particular case—why those procedures are not applying.
Mr SPEAKER: The member can repeat his question, because I do accept the point he makes. That was a very particular question. I invite him to repeat it.
Hon Rodney Hide: I will not get it exactly accurate but I will do my best. Does the Minister accept that when it comes to Treaty settlements, where valuable title is transferred across to iwi or other groups, they are brought to Parliament for public scrutiny and, indeed, to select committee for public input, and the deal has to be ratified by the Parliament; but in this proposed bill when it comes to our valuable foreshore and seabed, the deal can be done in the Minister’s office without public scrutiny, with no oversight by Parliament; why would the Minister not accept that there is a proper role for Parliament and the public?
Hon MAURICE WILLIAMSON: When the member asked that question the last time, I replied as my very first word “Yes”, because the question asked whether I accepted that there is a difference between the regime for Treaty settlements and the regime for this. My answer was absolutely specific: yes, I do accept that.
Mr SPEAKER: The Minister has definitely answered the question.
Accident Compensation—Focus of Scheme
10. Hon DAVID PARKER (Labour) to the Minister for ACC: Is a focus of the ACC scheme still to support the needs of injured New Zealanders?
Hon PANSY WONG (Associate Minister for ACC) on behalf of the Minister for ACC: Yes. However, I know that a scheme needs to be financially sustainable to achieve this focus, which it was not under the previous Labour Government, extending entitlements and including—
Mr SPEAKER: The question asked was whether a focus of the ACC scheme is still to support the needs of injured New Zealanders. It did not need an attack on the questioner. I am sure there will be plenty of opportunity in the supplementary questions to get back at the previous Government, but not in a simple primary like that. I think we got the answer; I think it was yes.
Hon David Parker: Is the Minister aware that the number of injured New Zealanders whose accident compensation cover has been wrongly denied by ACC but overturned on review is set to double from 897 cases in 2008 to an unprecedented 2,000 cases this year?
Hon PANSY WONG: As far as I am concerned, every individual who has been turned down by ACC rightly can approach the review, and if ACC is found wrong it will correct that mistake. But also I say that for the year June 2009 to July 2010, even though the request for elective surgery decreased by 5 percent the approval rate went up by 2 percent.
Hon David Parker: Does the Minister agree with claimants and surgeons that ACC’s deliberate policy of unfair refusal of treatment to thousands of New Zealanders each year is causing unnecessary distress to injured New Zealanders as well as causing a blowout in legal costs for both claimants and ACC?
Hon PANSY WONG: As I just said, although the claims for surgery have decreased by 5 percent, the approval rate has gone up by 2 percent. ACC reveals what happened as a result of the review. It has its procedure; what ACC has to do is prescribed by legislation. Under the previous Labour Government there was a huge blowout in ACC’s performance, with $2.4 billion losses followed by $4.8 billion losses, and that is not sustainable.
Hon David Parker: What steps has the Minister taken to ensure that ACC complies with review decisions that go against it, given the Dominion Post article yesterday showing that ACC is refusing to abide by review decisions and is acting above the law even when proven wrong?
Hon PANSY WONG: A high level of performance from ACC is expected, and on that particular case we are waiting for a full report.
Allan Peachey: What reports has the Minister seen regarding the improved performance of ACC?
Hon PANSY WONG: The Accident Compensation Corporation’s annual report shows a marked turn-round, enabling the corporation to reduce its net liability by $2.5 billion in the year ended 30 June 2010. This has been achieved with a marked improvement in rehabilitation rates—just 1 percent improvement would reduce liability by $500 million—and also is helped by a strong recovery in the investment markets.
Māori Language / Te Reo Māori—Strategy and Funding
11. TE URUROA FLAVELL (Māori Party—Waiariki) to the Minister of Māori Affairs: Kei te ngata a ia ki te whakahaerenga o te rautaki me te pūtea tautoko mō te reo Māori? [Is he satisfied with the management of the te reo Māori strategy and funding?]
Hon Dr PITA SHARPLES (Minister of Māori Affairs): Tēnā koe, Mr Speaker. Kāre anō. Ahakoa ngā rautaki o ngā kāwanatanga ō mua kua whakature kia ora ai tō tātou reo, ā, kāre e whai hua. Pēnei i tēnei kaupapa kua whakaturea e tēnei kāwanatanga reipa i te tau 2006, kāre i whaihua. Iti haere ngā tāngata e kōrero Māori ana i tēnei wā. [Greetings to you, Mr Speaker. Not yet. Despite legislative strategies by previous Governments so that our language survives, nothing beneficial has accrued. It is like the Labour Government’s policy enacted in 2006—nothing came out of it. As a consequence, fewer people are speaking Māori today.]
Te Ururoa Flavell: He aha ngā rautaki e wānangahia e ia kia toitū Te Reo? [What strategies is he considering to save the Māori language?]
Hon Dr PITA SHARPLES: Nāku i whakatū tētahi rōpū te paepae motuhake kia arotakengia tō tātou reo me te whakapaunga pūtea o te kāwanatanga mō te oranga o tō tātou reo, mā ratou e whakarite pūrongo me pēwhea tā rātau whakataunaki, e whakaora ai i tō tātou reo. [I established a special panel to review our language and Government spending on the revitalisation of our language; it is to produce a report and make recommendations on how our language should be revitalised.]
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I know that there are rulings against members shifting seats in order to interject, but to follow the cameras around in the way that Ms Parata is doing, I think, might be something that will bring the House into disrepute.
Mr SPEAKER: There is no need to take this matter any further. And that was not a point of order.
Te Ururoa Flavell: He aha ngā whakaaro kua whāngaia e ngā iwi, e ngā hapū, e ngā whānau hoki ki a ia ki te tautoko i te whakapūmautanga o te reo Māori? [What feedback has he received from families, subtribes, and tribes that will assist the revitalisation of the Māori language?]
Hon Dr PITA SHARPLES: Tuatahi, kī mai ngā iwi e hari koa ana rātou kua puta mai te pūrongo o te Taraipiunara nama WAI 262 mō tō tātou reo na te mea, ko tēnei pūrongo e tautoko ana taku arotakengia o te reo. Tuarua, kei te haere au ki roto i ngā rōpū whakaako i te reo Māori, mai i Te Kōhanga Reo i tērā wiki, ā, i tēnei wiki, kōrero au ki Te Aataarangi, i tērā atu wiki ki ngā Kura Kaupapa Māori. Ko ēnei āhuatanga katoa, he āhuatanga Māori kua whakatūria mō tō tātou reo, kia ora ai tō tātou reo. Nā reira, kei te mōhio au ngā hiahia ō ratou, kei te pīrangi rātou me kaha tātou ki te mahi kia pakari ai te ako i tō tātou reo kei roto i Aotearoa nei.
[Firstly, people said to me how overjoyed they were that the Waitangi Tribunal Report Wai 262 on the language has been published, because it supports my call to review the language. Secondly, I am out and about at the moment amongst organisations that teach the language; last week I was with te kōhanga reo, this week I am talking to the Te Ataarangi people, and a week back I was with the kura kaupapa Māori schools. All these institutions are Māori in nature and were established for our language so that it is not lost. And so I am totally aware of their aspirations. They want us to work hard so that the teaching of our language here in New Zealand is at its strongest.]
Police—Digital Radio Network Roll-out
12. Dr CAM CALDER (National) to the Minister of Police: What reports has she received on the roll-out of the police’s new digital radio network?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS (Minister of Police): I am very pleased to report that the Christchurch City area successfully cut over to the new digital radio network on 1 November. The cut-over of Christchurch City follows the first transfer from the ageing analog network that took place in the Wellington Police District last year. It means that two of our major cities now have secure radio networks that cannot be snooped on by criminals using scanners. Police are able to detain criminals who previously evaded arrest by obtaining an early warning of police attention.
Dr Cam Calder: What other areas will be upgraded to the digital radio network as part of the roll-out?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: The digital radio network is scheduled to be rolled out in Auckland City next week, followed by Counties-Manukau and Waitematā over the next few weeks. In the meantime North Canterbury and Selwyn will switch over later this month, and mid-Canterbury and South Canterbury will do so in February next year. This will complete the roll-out of phase one of the programme and provide three of our major population centres with secure digital radio communication. It will ensure that police communications are more reliable, officer safety is improved, and the police are more effective in doing their job of keeping our community safe.