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Questions And Answers Nov 24 2010


(uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing)

WEDNESDAY, 24 NOVEMBER 2010

QUESTIONS FOR ORAL ANSWER

QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS

Economic Programme—Savings and Investment

1. AARON GILMORE (National) to the Minister of Finance: What does he believe will be the main features of the economic recovery under the Government’s programme to encourage more savings and investment?

Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): I think it is now obvious that the economic conditions in the years leading up to 2008 were not normal, because we saw excessive consumption and housing speculation, and borrowing to finance both. Looking ahead, New Zealand’s economic growth will need to be considerably different from the growth that occurred during those years. It will need to be based on savings and investment and led by the earning side of our economy, especially the export sector. That is why the Government’s economic policy programme is designed to encourage savings, investment, exports, and new jobs.

Aaron Gilmore: What were the features of the economy’s performance before the 2008 recession?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: In retrospect—

Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. It is a pretty simple one—that is, the question asked about the features of something that occurred before the Minister was responsible. He was not asked about any reports he had; he was asked about something that he has no responsibility for.

Mr SPEAKER: With respect, the Minister of Finance does have a reporting responsibility on what the features were. He should not pass too much comment on them, but he definitely has a reporting responsibility on what the features were.

Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. If in fact he had been asked that, I would not have taken a point of order, but he was not.

Mr SPEAKER: I believe the Minister was asked what the features were of—[Interruption] He has a reporting responsibility on the economy prior to his time as the Minister of Finance, but he should not be passing too much judgment on the policies of the time. He certainly does have a reporting responsibility on the features of the economy.

Hon BILL ENGLISH: I did not plan to pass any judgment. In retrospect, it is clear that the 5 years to March 2008 were an unusual period. The growth in private consumption was about 4.5 percent a year, which is almost twice its long-run average. House prices doubled, and credit—that is, mortgages, credit cards, and other forms of credit—grew by 83 percent in the 5 years to 2008. By the end of that period, households were borrowing $10 billion a year to finance consumption, and we had record balance of payment deficits.

Aaron Gilmore: What trends have been evident in the New Zealand economy since 2008?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: Since 2008, fortunately, those trends have reversed. Households have become strongly averse to debt. They have lifted their savings and are trying to restore their balance sheets. The housing market and credit demand have stalled; in fact, credit growth is close to zero. The banks realise that they were overextended with too much foreign borrowing, and the balance of payments has dramatically improved. The policy challenge now is to lock in the long-term benefits of this sharp correction.

Hon David Cunliffe: If households have lifted their savings, why is the New Zealand Institute of Economic Research forecasting national savings to collapse to minus 1.2 percent in 2015, compared with a positive 5.2 percent in 2004?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: I have no idea why the New Zealand Institute of Economic Research is forecasting that. The forecasting is, I think, a bit of a mystery even to the forecasters who are doing it. What is pretty clear is that New Zealanders are saving more now and not spending. That is one of the reasons that the economic recovery is a bit flatter than was expected, but that is a good thing. New Zealand needs to have more savings.

Te Ururoa Flavell: Has the Minister seen mention in the report of the Welfare Working Group of a recent review of social services in Masterton that found that many Pākehā preferred Māoriprovided services because they offer a more family-based approach, and will he respond to this finding by seeking to encourage more investment and subsequent long-term savings in the Whānau Ora approach?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: We are a Government that prefers people, including those who use social services, to be able to exercise some kind of choice. I am interested to hear that in Masterton, a number of Pākehā families prefer Māori providers because they do a better job. It may well be that as many Māori families prefer non-Māori providers because they believe the same thing. Either way, we want to foster that kind of choice, and, of course, the development of Whānau Ora means there will be considerably more choice for families in need of social support. That is a good thing.

Hon David Cunliffe: Can he confirm that Standard and Poor’s projects that the current account deficit will grow to an average of 5.9 percent over the next 3 years, and that Treasury forecasts it to rise to 7.3 percent in 2014; and does he share Standard and Poor’s disappointment that his policies have failed to make any structural difference to this situation?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: No, I do not share those points of view. There has been a considerable change since the record current account deficits that the previous Government left behind, and that change is driven largely by changes in the behaviour of New Zealand households, which are saving more and spending less. The Government’s tax package is designed to push in the same direction and lock in long term the benefits of those changes in behaviour, and that policy has been effectively endorsed by voters at the recent Mana by-election.

Aaron Gilmore: Mr Speaker—[Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: I have called Aaron Gilmore.

Aaron Gilmore: What economic trends can we reasonably expect in New Zealand in the years ahead?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: We can expect that the economy will grow by about 2.5 percent to 3 percent a year over the next 2 or 3 years. I believe we will see more savings. I think we will see much less growth in credit, and we will certainly see a much better-run Government and much better-run public services. The Government simply cannot afford to grow at the rapid rate that it did, and the new jobs are more likely to be in the export-orientated part of our economy, rather than jobs in other non-tradable sectors, such as domestic construction.

Hon David Cunliffe: With unemployment staying high at above 6 percent, with tax revenue down by $1.1 billion and business tax collapsing by 22 percent, with real wages falling and the gap with Australia widening, and with Standard and Poor’s now giving him a clear fail in the latest report, will he now admit that the so-called recovery is not happening and that his policies are not working; and will he hand over his portfolio to Steven Joyce, as everybody expects?

Mr SPEAKER: If the Minister can discern a question in that, he is welcome to answer it.

Hon BILL ENGLISH: No, the member is wrong. If anyone believed him, Labour would have had a substantial majority at the Mana by-election; instead, it almost lost it.

Infrastructure Investment Programme—Jobs

2. METIRIA TUREI (Co-Leader—Green) to the Minister of Finance: Does he stand by his statement that “the Government is playing its part by spending billions on infrastructure, which is underpinning the employment of thousands of skilled and unskilled people”?

Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): Yes, I do. I understand that recent estimates are that, for instance, the programme of building roads of national significance is employing around 8,000 people. A large construction firm told me recently that over 90 percent of its work was Government-funded. I do not think there is any doubt at all that the Government’s multibilliondollar infrastructure spending programme is well-timed and is employing thousands of people who, in a recession, would otherwise lose their job.

Metiria Turei: Does the Minister accept that the estimated 20,000 people living in caravans, camping grounds, garages, and boarding houses consider housing to be critical infrastructure?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: Yes, they do, and at the beginning of this year the Government put together a group of New Zealanders who are experts in housing to deal with the legacy that was left to this Government, which is a very expensive and inefficient social housing sector that is not helping nearly as many New Zealanders as it should. I am pleased to say that everyone who is interested in social housing broadly supports the Government’s new direction and we will proceed to implement it in the new year.

Metiria Turei: How much money is the Government spending on building enough homes for the 20,000 people in extreme housing need, and how many jobs will be created by that spend?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: For the benefit of the member I point out that the Government owns $15 billion worth of houses. In our view, not enough New Zealanders are being assisted because of the inefficient management of those houses. The Housing Shareholders’ Advisory Group tells us that about 30 percent of those 67,000 houses are the wrong size and in the wrong place, or have the wrong people in them. If we can make a 30 percent improvement, it will easily be enough to help most of the people who have serious housing need, and we are keen to achieve that.

Metiria Turei: Does the Minister agree that with the current level of Government spending for the proposed 1,500 new State homes over 4 years, the Government could expect to fill the current deficit of 70,000 homes in New Zealand in about 200 years’ time?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: We are moving from targeting a fixed number of houses, which was the method of the last 10 years, to targeting needy New Zealanders. That means we will not be focusing as much on some magic number of houses, because, as I said, 30 percent of them are the wrong size and in the wrong place. We believe that we should focus on people rather than houses, and, as we do that, we will be able to help more people with the 67,000 houses that we have.

Metiria Turei: Does the Minister accept that the 375,000 children who live in cold, damp housing at present, which causes them severe illness—at great cost to the health system—could benefit a great deal not from the 1,500 houses over 4 years that his Government proposes but from the 6,000 State homes over 3 years, creating 28,000 new jobs, that the Green Party has proposed in its Mind the Gap package?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: What we do agree on is that insulating houses is a good thing. The Government has allocated $700 million for subsidies to assist houses across New Zealand to be insulated, and I think we might have got to 100,000 houses. We are aiming to ensure that almost all of the State housing stock is properly insulated. I have to say that we were disturbed when we came into Government to find just what bad shape that State housing stock was in, but we are spending considerable money upgrading it and making sure that those children can benefit from warm, dry houses, which will help their health.

Taeaomanino Trust—Inquiry into Activities

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

Development and Employment: In light of reports that Taeaomanino Trust, which the Ministry of Social Development has given funding to, is under investigation by police relating to allegations of misappropriation of money, will she undertake a full inquiry into the activities of the trust; if not, why not?

Hon PAULA BENNETT (Minister for Social Development and Employment): I have been assured that these allegations have been investigated by the trust itself, by Deloitte, and by the ministry’s contracting team. I have also been assured that no Government money was involved in the February 2009 fraud, that the staff member is no longer involved with the trust, and that there is a police investigation under way—I think it should be allowed to continue.

Hon Annette King: When did she become aware that the trust was under investigation by the police for the misappropriation of money dating back to March 2009?

Hon PAULA BENNETT: The fraud was first brought to my attention in February 2009 but the police investigation only recently via the newspaper.

Hon Annette King: Was she aware that there were serious issues of honesty being raised about the trust, before agreeing to half a million dollars for Family Start in May this year?

Hon PAULA BENNETT: As I indicated, in February 2009 it was drawn to the ministry’s attention that there were some allegations. It was followed up by three investigations that I am aware of. At the end of the day, the conclusion that they came to was that no Ministry of Social Development money had been involved in the fraud, and that the person was no long working there. When it came to administering a Family Start contract, the four top tenders were actually investigated by PricewaterhouseCoopers, and the Taeaomanino Trust was one that was allocated in Porirua.

Hon Annette King: Has she read the independent forensic report carried out by Deloitte for the ministry in November last year, which was damning of the trust, found numerous issues relating to honesty; if so, given that many of the same people are still at the trust, can she give an assurance to taxpayers that the money is now being used appropriately?

Hon PAULA BENNETT: I am not involved in the independent report. When I looked at the contract that was being administered via Family Start, my interpretation of it was that there was no need for ministerial intervention, and I felt that the allegations had not been proven—and that is what I did.

Hon Annette King: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am sure you heard my question. I asked whether she had read the independent forensic report carried out by Deloitte; if so, given that the same people are there, can she give an assurance that taxpayers’ funding is now being used appropriately?

Mr SPEAKER: I think the Minister responded to the second part of the question. Because there were two parts to the question, she did not have to comment on whether she had read the report. But I think she did give the assurance to the House that she is satisfied that this outfit will be utilising taxpayers’ money effectively under the contract involved. But if I have got that wrong the Minister is free to correct me.

Hon Annette King: Did she provide the Deloitte report to the Minister responsible for Whānau Ora before that Minister announced the trust as a whānau ora provider last month, with up to $1 million of taxpayers’ money at stake; if not, why not?

Hon PAULA BENNETT: I do not have the Deloitte report in front of me, but my understanding is that it did not find allegations of fraud—that is in there, just to give some clarification of that. The Minister responsible for Whanau Ora has made decisions about who should do that. I think they will do an outstanding job, as far as initiating those sorts of programmes for Māori, and I welcome them.

Crime Proceeds—Seizures

4. SANDRA GOUDIE (National—Coromandel) to the Minister of Police: What reports has she received on the Government’s efforts to confiscate the proceeds of crime?

Hon JUDITH COLLINS (Minister of Police): I am very pleased to report that since the Criminal Proceeds (Recovery) Act came into force last December, the police asset recovery unit has investigated 201 cases. That has resulted in an estimated $34.6 million worth of assets being made subject to restraining orders under the Act. Those assets are now in the hands of the official assignee, awaiting further legal orders, with the objective of confiscation. The assets involved in those cases include $6 million in cash and bank accounts; 36 residential and commercial properties worth an estimated $15.8 million; eight farms, orchards, and lifestyle blocks worth an estimated $10.5 million; 44 cars, vans, and four-wheel drives worth an estimated $852,000; and 24 motorcycles worth an estimated $423,000.

Sandra Goudie: How are the funds gained from confiscated assets likely to be used?

Hon JUDITH COLLINS: The Government is planning to put the money to good use. Police are working with other agencies on plans to expand alcohol and drug treatment and extra law enforcement initiatives to fight organised crime groups.

Cancer, Paediatric Services—Wellington

5. Hon RUTH DYSON (Labour—Port Hills) to the Minister of Health: Can he guarantee the provision of child cancer services in Wellington?

Hon TONY RYALL (Minister of Health): Shortly the National Health Board will release a national child cancer plan, which will incorporate a shared-care agreement for child cancer services in Wellington, as agreed between the Canterbury District Health Board and the Capital and Coast District Health Board. In relation to patients in the Wellington region, I am advised that it is expected that they will receive between 80 and 90 percent of their treatment in Wellington depending on their type of cancer.

Hon Ruth Dyson: Does he stand by his statement that the recommendation for three oncology centres, including Wellington, should be implemented, and that there is no reason to doubt the continued logic of that recommendation?

Hon TONY RYALL: I think it would depend on the context of that statement, if that was in fact what I did say. The point is that the people of Wellington cannot carry on with an on-again offagain service. What is being proposed in the plan and in the shared-care arrangement with Canterbury will provide 80 to 90 percent of the care for kids with cancer in Wellington.

Hon Ruth Dyson: Has he renewed his call for the Health Committee to conduct an urgent inquiry into the provision of child cancer services in Wellington, as he screeched for in 2007?

Hon TONY RYALL: I did more than a select committee inquiry; I have had a committee of some of the best officials in cancer services in New Zealand looking at the issue. That is why we have come up with both the shared-care plan between Christchurch and Wellington and the new national service plan. That is far more certainty and progress than the party opposite ever, ever, ever achieved.

Hon Ruth Dyson: Does he still maintain that it is “appalling” that our capital city is unable to offer the full range of cancer services for its children, as he said in 2007; if he is still appalled, what is he doing about it?

Hon TONY RYALL: It is disappointing that the full range of services cannot be provided. But what is important is that we should have some real action to make sure that we have certainty of the services. That is why the shared-care plan has been put in place between Canterbury and Wellington. It is far more than we had previously. It means that 80 to 90 percent of the children with cancer in Wellington will get their treatment in the capital city. That provides a greater level of certainty for those people than there was previously for the last few years.

Katrina Shanks: What does he say to the parents of children with cancer who have been told that capital child cancer care is in doubt again?

Hon TONY RYALL: I can tell those parents that those reports are incorrect; the agreement reached between the Capital and Coast District Health Board and the Canterbury District Health Board, which was announced in September, has not changed. A national plan for child cancer services will be released, which includes the shared-care agreement between the Capital and Coast District Health Board and the Canterbury District Health Board. It is expected that 80 to 90 percent of cancer treatment for children in the Wellington region will happen in Wellington, depending on the cancer. We all know that this is an incredibly tough time for the parents and families, but I am confident that this plan gives certainty of services in the future, as close as possible to home.

Hon Ruth Dyson: Will he now show those parents some compassion and change his mind about refusing to meet with them, and front up and explain the situation directly to them?

Hon TONY RYALL: I actually met those parents from the cancer group earlier on. I am very happy to meet with them now that the plan has been put in place.

Hon David Cunliffe: Three years ago.

Hon TONY RYALL: The member says they asked me 3 years ago. Actually, I met those parents this year as we began this process. I think that many of them will realise that a very good arrangement has been put in place so that we do not have the on-again off-again service that we have seen for the last half decade here in Wellington.

Emissions Trading Scheme, Deal with Māori Party—Enviroschools/Kura Taiao

6. TE URUROA FLAVELL (Māori Party—Waiariki) to the Minister for the Environment: What progress has there been in building a network of Kura Taiao / Enviroschools as negotiated by the Māori Party in the emissions trading scheme package of concessions announced on 23 November 2009?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH (Minister for the Environment): The Government and the Māori Party, as part of our broader programme of work, agreed to provide from Te Puni Kōkiri and the Ministry for the Environment funding for the first 6 months of this year, and that has been successfully delivered. We also have work under way as part of the Waste Minimisation Fund for a new programme with Enviroschools in the early childhood sector, to embed a culture of recycling at an early age. I am working with his colleague the Minister of Māori Affairs on that programme, and I am hopeful of being able to make some announcement on that next year.

Te Ururoa Flavell: Has the Minister received any feedback in response to the Māori Party’s advocacy to retain Kura Taiao / Enviroschools, and what is the long-term vision for sustaining such a significant programme?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH: I do acknowledge the very strong advocacy by the Māori Party for both Enviroschools and ensuring that it is delivered in te reo. The Ministry for the Environment is to have discussions with Enviroschools on the te reo component of the new programme intended for early childhood centres. I hope to be in a position to make an announcement on that next year.

Hilary Calvert: What is the total cost of the emissions trading scheme’s package of concessions negotiated with the Māori Party, including Kura Taiao / Enviroschools and the handing over of 35,000 hectares of conservation land to five iwi?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH: The member is incorrect in asserting that there has been a handover. There is a proposition, as part of the agreement with the Māori Party, to plant trees on conservation land. I think most members of this House would welcome that initiative, because in partnership with the Māori Party we have been able to reverse a trend of the worst deforestation under the previous Government, and actually get some trees planted in the ground. National and the Māori Party are very proud of that.

Hon Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The question asked about costs. It may be that the Minister does not know what they are, but he certainly has to address that question. He cannot just say—

Mr SPEAKER: No, the question also inserted a statement about land being handed over to Māori interests, or something, as part of it. The Minister disputed that part of the question. If the questioner wanted to receive an answer on the cost, she should have restricted the question just to that issue.

Hilary Calvert: What does he say to those New Zealanders who complain that the Government gave away taxpayers’ dollars and 35,000 hectares of conservation land, just to secure five votes for its emissions trading scheme legislation?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH: The first point I would make is that the ACT Party has chosen not to take a responsible and reasonable view around climate change policy, but rather has stuck its head in the sand and pretended that climate change is a non-issue. Having said that, I have found a really constructive approach from the Māori Party around environmental issues, and I will tell members why. It is because both the Māori Party and National want to take a balanced approach around both the environment and the economy—something that I think has been an ethos of Māori for a very, very long time.

Charles Chauvel: How is it fair to have made the 73 kura nationwide eligible for Enviroschools funding, while the staff, students, and parents at New Zealand’s other 6,900 schools now have to do all their own fund-raising if they want to run an Enviroschools programme after his Government cut the $19.4 million made available to Enviroschools by the previous Government?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH: It is quite the contrary of that. I do not know where the member gets his information from, but it is grossly inaccurate. The simple point about the representations I have received from the Minister of Māori Affairs is this: the Government, with Enviroschools, is proposing a programme of promoting recycling in our early childhood centres, and the Minister of Māori Affairs has made representations that that programme should be available to kōhanga reo. Which member of this Parliament would stand up and say that a programme should be available only in kindergartens and Pākehā centres, and not in kōhanga reo? [Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: Is the House quite finished. I allowed a fairly high level of interjection around that question and answer, but I would like the House to come back to order, please.

Police Resourcing—Minister’s Statements

7. Hon CLAYTON COSGROVE (Labour—Waimakariri) to the Minister of Police: Does she stand by all of her statements and commitments in relation to resourcing the New Zealand Police?

Hon JUDITH COLLINS (Minister of Police): If they are reported accurately and in the correct context, yes. In particular, I stand by my statement that New Zealand Police are the finest police in the world.

Hon Clayton Cosgrove: When she said on 11 November 2010 that 384 extra front-line police officers had been deployed since December 2008, how many of those 384 officers were funded by the current Government as opposed to the previous Government?

Hon JUDITH COLLINS: Actually, the numbers that were funded under Budget 2008 were 250, and the member who has just resumed his seat was quite incorrect on that day when he made allegations otherwise.

Shane Ardern: Can she provide an update on the impact of the new police officers on the level of public safety in Counties-Manukau Police District?

Hon JUDITH COLLINS: Yes. Last month I personally welcomed the 300th new officer into Counties-Manukau Police District. This extra resourcing has allowed the police to take a strong proactive approach to policing by setting up six neighbourhood policing teams, a major crime team, and child abuse teams. The focus on prevention is showing its effect with all crime reduction targets

being met in the 2010 calendar year to date. For example, burglary is down 13.5 percent in this last month, compared with the year before. Motor vehicle crime is provisionally down 28.8 percent. These are fantastic results because of positive, proactive policing.

Hon Clayton Cosgrove: Was Deputy Commissioner Viv Rickard correct when he confirmed to the Law and Order Committee in public session this morning that as at September 2010 the current Government had contributed just 30 new police officers nationwide since it came into Government. Was he correct?

Hon JUDITH COLLINS: That is not, in fact, what Deputy Commissioner Rickard said.

Hon Clayton Cosgrove: Does she stand by her statement to the House on 11 November 2010 “this Government is putting in 600 extra police”, given that Deputy Commissioner Viv Rickard confirmed to the Law and Order Committee this morning in public session that not one single officer, as at June 2009, had been funded by the current Government, and therefore 333 of the 600 police she refers to were actually funded by the previous Government?

Hon JUDITH COLLINS: The member is again wrong. National promised that we would deliver 600 extra police by the end of next year, and we will. We have already delivered over 380 police. The member who has just resumed his seat might have promised them, but we delivered them. [Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: I ask the House to show a little more courtesy.

Hon Clayton Cosgrove: Does she stand by her statement that she is shifting more police to the front line, given that Deputy Commissioner Viv Rickard confirmed to the Law and Order Committee in public session this morning that although constabulary staff have been decreasing in many districts, non-constabulary staff have been increasing, which makes a mockery of her claim to be shifting resources to the front line?

Hon JUDITH COLLINS: Unless the member can give me a direct quote from Deputy Commissioner Rickard, I do not believe for a moment that he said that.

Roading—Waikato Expressway

8. DAVID BENNETT (National—Hamilton East) to the Minister of Transport: What further progress has been made on the Waikato Expressway road of national significance?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister of Transport): The New Zealand Transport Agency board has announced that it has approved funding for the $169 million Ngāruawāhia section of the Waikato Expressway. It marks another big step forward in developing this particular road of national significance. The construction contract is now out to tender and is likely to be awarded in April of next year. Construction is likely to begin in 12 months, and will take 3 years.

David Bennett: How does the Ngāruawāhia section fit into progress on the Waikato Expressway overall?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Construction of the Ngāruawāhia section will add another 10 kilometres to the expressway, and will create up to 300 jobs directly, with many more jobs in downstream industries. Construction will get under way later next year, meaning that three sections of the Waikato Expressway will be under way next year: Te Rapa, Rangiriri, and Ngāruawāhia. This is excellent progress towards National’s challenging pre-election commitment to improve the Waikato economy by completing the road within 10 years.

Hon Darren Hughes: By what percentage was the benefit-cost ratio of this project increased when the new tool known as wider economic benefits was added to the analysis?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: The standard benefit-cost ratio for the Waikato projects is 1:4—I do not have the ratio for that particular section with me. Including wider economic benefits it is 1.8 at the 8 percent discount rate. Those figures increase to 1.9 and 2.4 respectively at the 6 percent discount rate.

Tax System—Minister’s Statement

9. METIRIA TUREI (Co-Leader—Green) to the Minister of Finance: Does he stand by his statement that “We want a tax system that tilts the economy towards work, investment and savings and away from the unsustainable borrowing, consumption and over investment in housing of the past decade”?

Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): Yes, and the tax package announced in the Budget this year and implemented on 1 October and 1 April next year will go some way in that direction.

Metiria Turei: Why, then, did the Minister ignore Treasury’s advice and not bring in a capital gains tax on property excluding the family home, which would have helped to reduce housing speculation?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: I know that the Green Party has advocated for a capital gains tax for some time. The Government decided not to proceed with one, for a couple of reasons. One was the complexity of such a tax. The second was that it would take quite a long time to generate significant revenue compared with the other measures available from the Tax Working Group. Nor did we want to cause too much disruption at a time when many New Zealanders were concerned about their house values and their job security.

Metiria Turei: Why will he not actually do something about both the medium and the long-term effects of unsustainable borrowing to fund housing speculation, and take Treasury’s advice, and the Green Party’s advice in the Mind the Gap package, that a capital gains tax excluding the family home is a critical step towards tilting the economy to meet his intentions?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: I can only give the same answer as I did before. The Government has looked at the option seriously, because it is a serious proposition. A number of countries have capital gains taxes of some sort. We decided in the circumstances earlier this year not to take that option. However, we did increase the effective tax rate on investment housing by abolishing allowances for depreciation.

Early Childhood Education—Police Checks for Limited-attendance Centre Carers

10. Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Labour—Hutt South) to the Minister of Education: When she said in her reply to question 11 yesterday “the Education Act is not the appropriate place for these types of regulations”, had she considered which legislation would be appropriate to ensure that carers in gyms and shopping mall creches have had a police check; if so, what is that legislation?

Hon ANNE TOLLEY (Minister of Education): Yes, but there is already a variety of legislation covering gym and shopping centre creches, including normal health and safety requirements, which require all practicable steps be taken to ensure that no action or inaction of any employee harms another person. We are also aware that providers are working to develop goodpractice guidelines, and that the best approach is to work with them to ensure that they have the flexibility to provide the best and safest service.

Hon Trevor Mallard: Does she think that convicted paedophiles should be given access to children through employment in gym and shopping centre creches?

Hon ANNE TOLLEY: I think we are talking about paedophile spelt p-a-e-d, not p-e-d as in the member’s press release—

Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I suggest that the member, if she is going to be offensive, looks at a dictionary, which shows alternative spellings—[Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: I say all round the House that this interjection will stop. I think the question was in order. It asked an opinion, and the Minister perhaps should come to the question.

Hon ANNE TOLLEY: I think the member asking the question is getting a bit hysterical, because there are large numbers of situations where parents make the choice to leave their children where it is not required under law to have police checks. Some examples are Sunday schools, which

the previous Government exempted. Guides, Scouts, Cubs, Brownies, swimming lessons, pony clubs, rugby practice, netball practice, soccer practice, hockey practice, athletics clubs, au pairs, school camps—the list goes on and on.

Mr SPEAKER: The information is very interesting, but the member asked a very simple question about what the Minister believed. There is no specific answer for what the member believes, but that was a very roundabout way to answer a very simple question. I think we have heard enough.

Hon Trevor Mallard: Can she remember reading in a briefing to her before introducing the Education Amendment Bill (No 2) that an effect of it was to remove police checks from staff at limited-attendance early childhood education centres; if so, why did she then tell the House during the first reading of the bill that that was not her intention?

Hon ANNE TOLLEY: I have had a great deal of advice on this issue. The crux of the issue is, though, whether those centres are educational centres or whether they are part-time babysitting creches. So, having received advice from a variety of places, including from the Ministry of Education, this Government has made the decision that those centres are part-time, temporary, babysitting creches, and, therefore, it is not appropriate to have them covered under the Education Act. That means that they are not covered by the regulations. There is no opportunity, then, to regulate them.

Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The core of my question was why she told the House in the first reading of the bill that it was not her intention to do what she has done. She did not address that.

Mr SPEAKER: The dilemma was that that was not the full extent of the question. The question started out about advice to the Minister, if I recollect correctly. The Minister responded to that part of the question, and I do not believe I can, therefore, specifically ask her to respond to the second part of the question.

Hon Trevor Mallard: In light of her answer to the previous question, why did she tell the House during the first reading of the bill that that was not her intention?

Hon ANNE TOLLEY: Originally, it was not. The crux of the matter is that those centres are not providing education. They are not education centres, and, therefore, it is not appropriate for them to be covered by the Education Act. But there is legislation that covers them, and the requirements of the Health and Safety in Employment Act mean that providers are obliged to provide a safe environment for children.

Hon Trevor Mallard: How could the Minister say that it originally was not her intention, when she has received advice from her ministry that said that that would be an effect of the change?

Hon ANNE TOLLEY: As I said in this House to that member, there has been a great deal of discussion, and we have looked at where to draw the line in making provisions for the safety of children. I read out to the House a great long list of times when parents make a choice about where they leave their children for various activities. Those centres are places in gyms, and in shopping centres. They are so defined that parents have to be close at hand and have to be recalled. As the member said himself in the first reading of the bill in this House, more often than not, parents are within sight of those children. So the decision was made to take those centres out of the Education Act, because they are not providing education.

Hon Trevor Mallard: Will she support a minor amendment to the Education Amendment Bill (No 2) to keep police checks in place for carers in gymnasia and shopping centre creches, until such time as an alternative system for ensuring such checks to ensure that paedophiles do not have access to those children is legislated for?

Hon ANNE TOLLEY: We will not support a change that brings under the regulations of the Education Act places like gym creches, shopping centre creches, Sunday schools, Guides, Scouts, Cubs, and the myriad of places that parents choose to leave their children for short amounts of time.

Immigration Legislation—Changes Implemented on 29 November

11. MICHAEL WOODHOUSE (National) to the Minister of Immigration: What major changes in immigration legislation are being implemented on 29 November this year?

Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN (Minister of Immigration): The Immigration Act 2009 comes into effect on Monday, 29 November. The new Act significantly modernises New Zealand’s immigration laws, and provides us with a robust framework for the future. It will help us improve the efficiency of immigration services and so help encourage the visitors, students, skilled workers, and new residents that New Zealand needs in order to grow our economy.

Michael Woodhouse: What are some of the key aspects of the new Act?

Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: The key aspects of the new Act include the ability to utilise biometrics, a new refugee and protection system, a strengthened framework for sponsorship, and a universal visa system. It is vital we have immigration legislation that allows us to protect the security of New Zealand’s borders and the integrity of our immigration system. At the same time we must manage immigration in a fair and balanced way. This Act allows us to do all of these things.

Michael Woodhouse: How is Immigration New Zealand assisting employers to meet their requirements under the Immigration Act 2009?

Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: To assist employers, Immigration New Zealand has developed an online tool, VisaView, that allows employers to check whether employees are entitled to work in New Zealand for that employer. VisaView is a free online service and will help employers meet their immigration obligations without having to grapple with red tape and overly bureaucratic measures. VisaView has been operating since August and already 920 employers have registered. Feedback from employers has been very positive.

Pansy Wong—Overseas Travel

12. Hon PETE HODGSON (Labour—Dunedin North) to the Prime Minister: On how many occasions has he approved overseas travel for Hon Pansy Wong since the last election?

Hon BILL ENGLISH (Deputy Prime Minister) on behalf of the Prime Minister: Eleven. The last approval was for a ministerial visit to India, which will no longer take place.

Hon Pete Hodgson: How many of those trips were ministerial trips, and how many were, therefore, private?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: I cannot answer that question. Generally, the Prime Minister would be involved with approving ministerial trips. There may be a private trip in it; I am not sure.

Hon Pete Hodgson: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I concede at the outset that you cannot require a Minister to answer in a certain way; I understand that well. But you have ruled that whereas a primary question must be answered, a supplementary question may be answered to the best of the Minister’s ability. My point of order is this: anyone who has been a Minister—and you and I are two of those people—will know that in preparation for this question, that Minister would have been told how many trips were ministerial trips by Ministerial Services, which advised him. He has chosen not to know that by the time he came to this House. Sooner or later, that is a disorderly act.

Mr SPEAKER: I understand the member’s point of order, because the primary question is very direct, but I did not perceive that the Minister was trying not to answer the question. The Minister, I think, has told the House—and I ask him to correct me if I am wrong—that to the best of his knowledge, they would have been ministerial trips. But if he can help with the answer, I would appreciate it.

Hon BILL ENGLISH: The answer to that question is one.

Hon Pete Hodgson: One ministerial trip, I am assuming?

Mr SPEAKER: Could the Minister please clarify the House’s clear confusion now. Was he saying it was one personal trip?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: That’s right.

Mr SPEAKER: It was one personal trip among those 11 trips.

Hon Pete Hodgson: Ten ministerial trips for the Minister of Women’s Affairs? Hmmm. In exercising his prime ministerial oversight as the Prime Minister lifted his pen to sign off on each trip, did it ever occur to him to ask his Minister why she kept going offshore?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: As I understand the process, Ministers get approval for a trip that is proposed in some detail, and I am sure that that is what happened in this case.

Hon Pete Hodgson: Did it ever occur to him that for the Minister of Women’s Affairs and Minister for Ethnic Affairs to travel in this calendar year to the USA, Hong Kong/China, China, Australia, China, and Japan—and it would have also been to India—was a little on the high side?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: It all depends on relativities. We could easily go through the list of Labour members’ travel. The fact is that among those trips there will be, for instance, several trips to Australia, no doubt—and I have to say they are increasingly regarded as domestic trips as much as international trips. The Prime Minister scrutinises the proposals and signs them off.

Hon Pete Hodgson: Did he, like many of the rest of us, know or hear rumours that the Hon Pansy Wong and/or her husband were mixing private business with public travel, or was he completely and utterly unaware of that?

Mr SPEAKER: The question verges on being out of order. I would have thought that the Prime Minister is not responsible for the private affairs of—

Hon Members: Prime ministerial business.

Mr SPEAKER: But the question asked whether the Prime Minister had heard rumours about whether a member was mixing private business with—I would ask the member to reword his question a little, to make it securely within the Standing Orders.

Hon Pete Hodgson: In respect of any of the Hon Pansy Wong’s ministerial travel, was he aware of many rumours that she and/or her husband were mixing private business as they went along?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: I would recommend that the member waits for a report on the facts of the matter, before proceeding to make any further allegations.

Hon Pete Hodgson: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I would respectfully suggest that the question was not answered. I asked about the Prime Minister’s awareness; he asked me to wait for a report that will not look at the Prime Minister’s awareness.

Mr SPEAKER: I think the Prime Minister is indicating that the facts in respect of this particular former Minister’s travel are a matter that is under investigation. I do not think it is unreasonable for the Prime Minister to refer to that fact and suggest that information will be better available for everyone when that report is available.

Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Really just following on from my colleague’s point of order, this goes to the question of the contents of the report, and the ability of the person who has ordered and will be presenting the report to look into the issue that my colleague has raised by way of a supplementary question. I would have thought that the state of the Prime Minister’s awareness would have been ultra vires in relation to the report that has been called for.

Mr SPEAKER: I have to confess that the member’s superior legal knowledge has me a bit confused there—

Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. You are not allowed, as Speaker, to look into the Prime Minister’s mind on these matters—it is not your responsibility.

Mr SPEAKER: That is true, but I am just being reasonable about this. The member asked a question. This is a serious matter; the matter is under investigation. The Hon Bill English, on behalf of the Prime Minister, suggested, in respect of some of the detail of these issues, that more information will be available. That, I think, indicated that he did not necessarily have sufficient information to give a fuller answer, and that is not unreasonable. I just suggest to the House that that is not unreasonable, given that the matter is being looked into. In this House Ministers have to

respond on what they are responsible for, and they are not responsible for digging into the private affairs of members. That is very clear. I believe that the Minister’s answer was reasonable.

Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. One of the things that the Prime Minister is responsible for is the Cabinet Manual and the integrity of that system. If Ministers are doing private business when they are on official ministerial trips, he does not have to dig. If he is aware of that, then he is aware of a breach, and he should have acted.

Mr SPEAKER: We need to be a bit careful around things here, because the Prime Minister is not accountable to this House for the Cabinet Manual. He is not accountable to this House for that. There are issues in respect of whether he retains confidence in his Ministers; absolutely, that is a matter for this House. Matters to do with the Cabinet Manual are not irrelevant. They are relevant matters, but he is not specifically accountable to this House for them. That issue has been looked at on several occasions. The Prime Minister is accountable to this House for whether he has confidence in his Ministers, and certainly issues to do with the Cabinet Manual can have an impact on that. But I just come back to what is reasonable about the question that was asked. I believe that the Minister gave a reasonable answer to the question in the circumstances and, as Speaker, I cannot ask Ministers to do more than that. There are more question days, a report will become available to some extent, and there will be further questioning, I am sure. I believe that I have ruled in a reasonable way on the matter.

Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I think I will ask you to come back with a considered ruling, after looking at the ruling you have just made. Prime Ministers have been repeatedly asked in this House about matters to do with the operation of the Cabinet Manual. My primary question—

Mr SPEAKER: No, I have heard the member, and I have extended some courtesy to him on this question. I repeat what I have said, though: in this House the Prime Minister is accountable for his confidence in his Ministers. The details of how they behave in respect of the Cabinet Manual is a matter that can affect his confidence in Ministers, but he is accountable to this House for his confidence in his Ministers and that is the limit of his accountability in this House.

Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The published primary document on the way in which the system of Cabinet Government runs in New Zealand is the Cabinet Office guidelines. The Prime Minister is responsible for their implementation. That goes much further than—

Mr SPEAKER: I have listened to the member. He may be overlooking the fact that he is no longer in Cabinet; he is now back in this House. This is the House of Representatives where members ask Ministers about matters that are their responsibility. The Cabinet Manual is a matter for the Prime Minister in dealing with his Ministers, but the issue for which the Prime Minister is accountable to this House is whether he has confidence in those Ministers.

Hon Trevor Mallard: He’s wrong. It’s much broader than that.

Mr SPEAKER: I see that the member disagrees with me. I am very happy to look into it further, and I will certainly come back to the member if I have erred in the matter. In the meantime we will move on—I am sorry, I call the Hon Pete Hodgson.

Hon Pete Hodgson: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I apologise too, Mr Speaker. I wonder whether I could, through you, ask for clarification of the answer to the first supplementary question about the number of those trips that were ministerial and those that were private. I understand it to be 10:1. Is that—

Mr SPEAKER: The member should not be raising that as a point of order. He heard the Minister’s answer, and I think it was pretty clear. Points of order should not be used to relitigate answers. I do not think there was any doubt about clarity. In fact, the Minister assisted the House by giving further information when there was a question about the answer. The member will recollect that he raised a point of order on the matter, and the Minister assisted the House with further information on the answer. I think that was most reasonable.

Hon Darren Hughes: In response to the first supplementary question asked by the Hon Pete Hodgson, the Minister standing in for the Prime Minister consulted some prepared notes that were stapled together like a document. If they are official advice I request that he table them, as that is a requirement under the Standing Orders.

Mr SPEAKER: Members are fully aware that notes prepared for Minister’s answers are not official documents. If the Minister was quoting from something beyond that—a more official departmental document—then he would need to table it. But if they are notes prepared for his answer, then that is not the case.

Hon BILL ENGLISH: I am advised that it is information that has already been provided to Mr Hodgson, in response to questions for written answer. He already has the information. [Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: A point of order is being dealt with; there will be no further interjection. If the Minister is quoting from an official document, then he has been asked to table it. If they are notes prepared to assist him in answering today’s question, he is not obliged to table them.

Hon BILL ENGLISH: It is, yes.

Mr SPEAKER: As they are notes prepared for the Minister, that is the end of that matter.

Hon Pete Hodgson: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. As it is a matter of fact that I do not know the answer to the first supplementary question, is it within the bounds of possibility that the Minister has made errors in other answers that he has given—

Mr SPEAKER: No, no, that is not a point of order. Members are stretching my patience. As Speaker I heard the Minister’s answer very clearly, and he assisted the House by providing further information. The member asked a question about how many of the trips were on ministerial business, and the Minister did not give a definitive answer. When a point of order was raised, the Minister gave a definitive answer on that. The member who asked the question has been assisted by the Minister, and that is the end of the matter.

QUESTIONS TO MEMBERS

Marine and Coastal Area (Takutai Moana) Bill—Written and Oral Submissions

1. Hon JOHN BOSCAWEN (Deputy Leader—ACT) to the Chairperson of the Māori

Affairs Committee: How many submissions have been received on the Marine and Coastal Area (Takutai Moana) Bill, and how many of these submitters have requested to be heard in person?

Hon TAU HENARE (Chairperson of the Māori Affairs Committee): 4,178.

Mr SPEAKER: The question asked for two figures: how many have been received and how many have asked to be heard in person.

Hon TAU HENARE: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. There were two questions within that question. As far as I am aware, I have to answer only one.

Mr SPEAKER: Let me make it clear that that is certainly the case with supplementary questions, but this was a primary question on notice. It asked “How many submissions have been received …”, and I presume that was the answer the Minister gave—4,000 and something—and it also asked “how many of these submitters have requested to be heard in person?”. The House has a reasonable expectation to get that figure.

Hon TAU HENARE: 522.

Hon John Boscawen: Will he ensure that, as is required of him under Standing Order 220, the select committee’s examination of submitters is done in a fair way, and that, as per Standing Order 401(t), evidence is given without intimidation from committee members?

Hon TAU HENARE: I take my job as chairman of a select committee very seriously, and I am sure that the other members of my select committee do so, as well. I hope that member does his job as well as we do ours.

ENDS

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