Questions And Answers Dec 7 2010
(uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing)
Tuesday, 7 December 2010
Questions For Oral Answer
QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS
Trans-Pacific Partnership—Benefits for United States
1. Dr RUSSEL NORMAN (Co-Leader—Green) to the Minister of Trade: Does he still consider that the United States will benefit from being part of the Trans-Pacific Partnership; if so, how?
Hon MURRAY McCULLY (Acting Minister of Trade): Yes. Clearly, all nine parties see the benefits of such an agreement, which is why they are in Auckland this week for a fourth round of negotiations.
Dr Russel Norman: Has the Minister been briefed on the submission by tobacco maker Philip Morris on the Trans-Pacific Partnership calling for the US Government to enshrine the right to challenge anti-smoking laws in the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement; if so, does he support such an approach?
Hon MURRAY McCULLY: I have not been briefed on that submission, but I am aware of its existence. I point out to the member that this is the fourth round currently under way in Auckland at this moment. It is projected that there will be another five rounds of negotiations next year, with an ambition of getting to some sort of resolution in roughly a year’s time. I do not think it would be helpful for us to speculate on all of the submissions and all of the matters that might be proposed by parties associated with these negotiations during that period. Clearly, we will find out when get to an agreed resolution, should we do so. We will have an opportunity to comment at that time.
Dr Russel Norman: Will the Minister assure New Zealanders that his Government will not weaken our overseas investment laws as part of the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, given that the United States has identified our overseas investment laws as a barrier to trade that it aims to eliminate as part of the negotiations?
Hon MURRAY McCULLY: New Zealand has a framework for ensuring that foreign investment is for the benefit of New Zealand. The Government has recently reviewed the overseas investment regime, to ensure that foreign investment is in our interests. I assure the member that that is the approach that the New Zealand officials will be taking to these negotiations.
Dr Russel Norman: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My question was specifically in relation to whether the Government would weaken our overseas investment laws. The Minister said he likes our overseas investment laws—which is great—but I asked whether he would weaken them, and to give us an assurance that he will not weaken them.
Mr SPEAKER: I do not think the member can insist on the Minister giving an assurance. The Minister certainly gave an answer on the Government’s attitude towards our overseas investment laws. In these circumstances I think it was a reasonable answer. The honourable member has further supplementary questions.
Dr Russel Norman: Will he assure New Zealanders that his Government will not weaken our GE food - labelling laws as part of the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, given that the United States has identified our GE food - labelling laws as a barrier to trade that it would like to eliminate as part of the negotiations?
Hon MURRAY McCULLY: I repeat to the member that this is the fourth round of these negotiations. It is expected there will be five more such rounds next year. I am sure that from not just the United States but also the other parties to the negotiations we will see many matters floated that they would wish to see progressed in the context of negotiations. It is not helpful for us to speculate about all of them from this distance. All I can say is that the Government’s position on most of these matters is well known, and that is the approach that our officials will take into the negotiations.
Dr Russel Norman: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I take note of your earlier ruling that the Minister had addressed the question, and that was fair enough. On this occasion he did not even mention the specific issue, which is GE food - labelling rules, at all.
Mr SPEAKER: If the member had listened to the Minister’s answer, he would have heard the Minister clearly tell the House that in his view it was not in the public interest to try to conclude a trade negotiation by way of question and answer in this Parliament. The Minister was making it very clear that he did not believe it was in the public interest to give a more specific answer, and that is perfectly within order.
Dr Russel Norman: Will he assure New Zealanders that his Government will not weaken Pharmac as part of the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, given that the United States has identified Pharmac as a barrier to trade that it wants to eliminate as part of the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations?
Hon MURRAY McCULLY: The Government’s support for the Pharmac model is well known. Pharmac is perceived to deliver significant benefits to New Zealand taxpayers. Again I remind him that there will be a number of further rounds to these negotiations. Many matters will be floated by other parties, and I do not intend to speculate upon them. I simply say that with regard to Pharmac, the instructions to the New Zealand officials are very clear.
Dr Russel Norman: Can the Minister confirm that the New Zealand Government has provided a number of position papers to other Governments as part of the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations, and will he publicly release these position papers to the New Zealand public?
Hon MURRAY McCULLY: I have two responses. Firstly, clearly some position papers have been lodged by New Zealand officials. Some people who would be quite well known to him leaked one of them a few days ago, for which the Government is entirely grateful, because it served to demonstrate that the New Zealand Government and officials are standing up for the interest of New Zealanders in these negotiations. Secondly, in relation to the process itself, I say it is not a closed process. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade has called for submissions from New Zealand interests in relation to the Trans-Pacific Partnership. All parties are welcome to make such submissions. The discussions under way in Auckland at the moment are open, in the sense that over 100 national and international observers from interest groups are there, making their views known. That will continue to be the approach that is taken as we progress this Trans-Pacific Partnership discussion.
Dr Russel Norman: Why will he reveal the New Zealand negotiating position to foreign Governments in the form of these position papers, but not reveal New Zealand’s Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiating position to the people of New Zealand?
Hon MURRAY McCULLY: I have just indicated to the member that the approach that New Zealand is taking to these discussions is well known and open. To the extent that he and his colleagues want to engage with officials they are entirely welcome to do so, including in Auckland this week. I say to him that as far as the various papers are concerned, clearly our negotiators are taking a view about how they can ensure that they serve New Zealand’s interests in the best way, in
the course of a lengthy negotiation. I am not going to second-guess their tactics. It is entirely a matter for them as to how they sequence the release of information. I simply ask that they achieve the best result for New Zealanders.
Dr Russel Norman: Supplementary question, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: I believe that the member has had six supplementary questions. My advice is—I apologise to the honourable member, but I am afraid that is the case.
Dr Russel Norman: I seek leave to release the submission of Philip Morris International on the Trans-Pacific Partnership to the United States Government.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is no objection. Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Dr Russel Norman: I seek leave to release the submission by the biotech industry on New Zealand’s GE labelling laws, which it would like to eliminate.
Mr SPEAKER: I believe that the member is seeking leave to table it, not to release it.
Dr Russel Norman: I seek leave to table it—my apologies.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is no objection. Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Dr Russel Norman: I seek leave to table one of the position papers by the New Zealand Government that were released recently—leaked, in fact—and that the Minister referred to.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is no objection. Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Dr Russel Norman: I seek leave to table the US Trade Representative document 2010 Report on Technical Barriers to Trade, which identifies GE labelling as one of the things that the United States wants to eliminate.
Ministers—Compliance with Cabinet Manual
2. Hon PHIL GOFF (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does he believe that all persons who have served as Ministers in his Government have met the requirement of the Cabinet Manual to behave in a way that upholds, and is seen to uphold, the highest ethical standards in their ministerial capacity, their political capacity, and their personal capacity; if so, why?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): Yes, with the exception of Dr Richard Worth; because they are talented people who are working hard for New Zealand.
Hon Phil Goff: What ethical standards did his Minister Pansy Wong and her husband breach in their publicly funded travel to China in December 2008, which required her resignation?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: The former Minister has accepted that she made an unplanned and inadvertent mistake, and I have accepted that. As we all know, from time to time we all make mistakes.
Hon Phil Goff: Is he fully satisfied that the misuse of public funds to travel to China to carry out private commercial business, the signing as a Minister of a business agreement in which her husband had financial interests, and promoting that business in China on a website were the only breaches of the highest ethical standards by his Minister?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I do not accept the second part of the question. The advice I have had is that the signing of a document is not in breach of the Cabinet Manual.
Hon Phil Goff: Will he, in the interests of transparency and the highest ethical standards, ask the Auditor-General to investigate any misuse of ministerial travel or authority relating to Pansy Wong, given her proven misuse of parliamentary travel funding, and given the precedent of his referring Phil Heatley’s case to the Auditor-General; if not, why not?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I think it is worthy to note a few things. Firstly, in the case of Mr Heatley, I was the responsible Minister as Minister responsible for Ministerial Services. In the case of Pansy Wong, it was a matter for the Parliamentary Service, and therefore the report was sanctioned by the Speaker. But I say to the member that if he has any information that he feels is relevant, he is welcome to refer it to the Auditor-General himself.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. That was an elongated way of refusing to answer a question. The Minister was saying he was not responsible for your expenditure. The question was directly about Ministerial Services expenditure and Pansy Wong’s air travel.
Mr SPEAKER: I hear the point the member is making, but he would note that the Prime Minister, in the last part of his answer, answered it by saying if the member asking the question had any relevant information in respect of that matter, then he was welcome to take up the matter with the Auditor-General himself. I believe that was an answer to the question.
Hon Phil Goff: If the issue is about ministerial travel and misuse of ministerial authority, why is it not his responsibility?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I have no advice on that matter.
Hon Phil Goff: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I ask you to reflect on the Prime Minister’s answer. He said it was not his responsibility. What advice does he need that he cannot answer that question in a straightforward way?
Mr SPEAKER: The Prime Minister has answered the question. Members may not like the answer, and the public can judge the answer, but I believe it was an answer.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. That could be an answer to any question. Any ignorant Minister could stand up and say “I have not had advice on that matter.” He is—
Mr SPEAKER: Order!
Hon Trevor Mallard: —clearly responsible, and he knows it.
Mr SPEAKER: I have heard the member’s point, but the public will judge the quality of an answer. It was an answer, and members do not have to like it, but I cannot insist on a more precise answer to a question exactly like that. I will listen very carefully to the member’s next supplementary question—I am sure he will have one.
Hon Phil Goff: Why will this Prime Minister not accept his responsibility for any misuse of ministerial travel and ministerial authority?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Because none has been brought to my attention.
Hon Phil Goff: Is the Prime Minister telling this House that he is not aware of the fact that his Minister misused her authority to expend public funds for a business trip, and misused her position to promote a private business interest on a website in China?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No, I am telling the member that she travelled as a member, not as a Minister.
Hon Phil Goff: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. It is actually a proven fact that—
Mr SPEAKER: The member is now debating the issue; that is not a matter of order. The member will resume his seat.
Hon Phil Goff: Did Pansy Wong sign that document as a Minister of the Crown?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No, she signed that document saying her occupation was a Minister of the Crown.
Financial Position, Government—Reports
3. CRAIG FOSS (National—Tukituki) to the Minister of Finance: What reports has he received on the Government’s financial position?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): Yesterday Treasury issued the Crown accounts for the first 4 months of the financial year. They show that the impact of the Canterbury earthquake and lower than expected tax revenue contributed to a higher than forecast $4.4 billion operating deficit in the period. The $1.1 billion lower than forecast tax take for the period was largely the result of lower than expected business profits and lower GST as New Zealanders spend less and save more. This drop in revenue was partially offset by a $440 million lower than forecast Government expenditure, showing the merits of Government control over spending and the need for ongoing fiscal discipline.
Craig Foss: What steps is the Government taking to manage its finances responsibly?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The Government will continue to focus, right across the activities of the Crown, on reducing low-priority and ineffective spending, and on redirecting that spending to frontline services and more worthwhile initiatives. We are also committed to capping future new budget spending at $1.1 billion per year, adjusted for inflation. As a result, the deficit over the next couple of years might be a bit higher than previously forecast, but Government deficits will, from this year on, begin to shrink.
Craig Foss: What measures will the Government consider next year to ensure agencies operate more efficiently?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The Government has taken a pretty considered approach to our objective of achieving better public services for fewer resources. Over the last couple of years all Government agencies have had to learn a lot more about how their organisations run, what costs drive their budgets, and how they will improve their services to the public. Over the next couple of years we would expect to see, as a result of that greater understanding and the tools that the Government has given them to use, considerable and significant change across most Government agencies as they aim to provide more services for less money.
Craig Foss: What alternative approaches to managing the Government’s finances would lead to bigger budget deficits and more debt?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I have seen some alternatives: expensive spending promises and a return to bloated bureaucracy, tax increases, borrowing on world finance markets to invest in world share markets, borrowing another $250 million to take GST off fruit and vegetables, and not taking dividends from electricity State-owned enterprises. But I am confused about whether these—
Hon David Cunliffe: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. You have ruled several times that the obviously desperate Minister over there—
Mr SPEAKER: No, no. The member will resume his seat. There will be no comment. I am afraid the member just blew his point of order. I think we have probably heard a sufficient answer.
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I had not finished.
Mr SPEAKER: I think the member indicated a range of policy possibilities that would have a negative impact. That is what he was asked, and I believe that the House heard a fairly lengthy list. I think that should be the end of that.
Hon Sir Roger Douglas: Does the Minister agree with the policy of Labour’s finance spokesman, David Caygill, that State-owned assets should be partially privatised; if not, why not?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Perhaps one of the reasons the Leader of the Opposition is confused about whether he is working with David Cunliffe or David Caygill is that I think the second David announced the other day that Labour is now interested in partial privatisation. That might explain why Phil Goff called him David Caygill.
Hon David Cunliffe: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Hon Phil Goff: He’s got a bit more hair.
Mr SPEAKER: The House is having a bit of fun, but a point of order is being raised by the Hon David Cunliffe.
Hon David Cunliffe: Only to state the obvious—the Minister has ministerial responsibilities for neither David, and this one has more hair, thank you.
Mr SPEAKER: Now that the House has had a bit of fun, we will come back to order. The question asked an opinion and it was highly marginal; I accept that. The answer was in reasonably good humour.
Hon Sir Roger Douglas: Does the Minister support Phil Goff’s pledge to cut national debt at a faster rate than the present Government; if so, what steps is he taking to speed up his current slow progress?
Hon Darren Hughes: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Minister is not responsible for any pledge made by any person in this House other than the Minister’s.
Hon Rodney Hide: The question was actually asking the Minister of Finance whether he agreed and supported the pledge. Certainly the Minister has responsibility for whether he supports a policy.
Mr SPEAKER: The member raises an interesting point. The dilemma I have as Speaker is that questions seeking opinions are allowed under the Standing Orders these days. In essence, the Hon Sir Roger Douglas has asked the Minister of Finance for his opinion—whether he supports a statement that is claimed to have been made by the Leader of the Opposition. I think the Minister, in answering, would need to be a little careful not to go too far over the top in expressing his opinion, because it is marginal. Opinion questions are allowed, but he should be a little careful in answering it.
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I do support Mr Goff’s undertaking, but I cannot understand how he is going to do it by spending more money, which, I understand, is the rest of his policy.
4. Hon ANNETTE KING (Deputy Leader—Labour) to the Minister of Tourism: How many full-time permanent jobs has his cycleway project created?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Minister of Tourism): I am advised that 215 people have been employed in the construction of the “Great Rides” under the New Zealand Cycle Trail project to date. Officials do not hold the number of hours worked by each individual worker on the 18 separate projects around the country, nor do they record the number of volunteer workers. I have no doubt there has been quite a large number of them, but they are not included in that figure.
Hon Annette King: How many of the 4,000 jobs predicted to arise from the cycleway project are construction jobs only, and how many are long-term permanent jobs relating to the operation of the cycleway?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: The early advice I have had is that there will be about 500 jobs in relation to construction. Of course, once the 18 rides around New Zealand are established, there will be, as we have seen with the Otago Central Rail Trail, many hundreds, if not thousands, of other jobs to support them.
Mr SPEAKER: The Hon Annette King. [Interruption] I say to the Labour front bench on this occasion that I have called its deputy leader, the Hon Annette King.
Hon Annette King: How many of the over 500 jobs that he promised last week would arise from the cycleway project by the end of 2011 will be jobs for women, in light of the growing number of unemployed women in New Zealand, which is now at 7.2 percent, the highest level since 1998—12 years ago?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I do not know the answer to that. But as a woman maybe Annette King could go and work on the cycleway, because she is not making much difference to Labour.
Mr SPEAKER: I think that final comment was pretty unhelpful. [Interruption] If members expect the Speaker to do something about it, they had better remain silent. I ask the Prime Minister to withdraw the last part of that answer.
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I withdraw.
Hon Annette King: Is he aware that communities around New Zealand have been led to believe by him that the cycleway project will provide hundreds of jobs in places like Te Aroha, as shown on television last night, which has just lost 160 jobs; and how many real jobs can the people there expect from the cycleway, bearing in mind that only two people have been employed so far?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I do not have the exact details on that, but it is important to understand that those who work on the cycleway are actually employed by the local community, which works in partnership with the project. I can tell the member, though, that the co-funding, which has come on top of the $45 million the Government put in, is over $30 million. That shows incredible local support.
Hon Annette King: If the cycleway project, the one big idea to arrive out of his Job Summit, is about creating jobs, why did a region like Gisborne, which has 7.3 percent unemployment—above the national average—and whose community got behind the project, miss out on funding, and why was it told that it should not line up for any money until 2012 to 2015?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: That is a reflection of how successful the project has been. We were absolutely swamped with applications from all around the country, and they were actually supported by members on that side of the House.
JONATHAN YOUNG (National—New Plymouth): My question is to the Minister for Communications and Information Technology and asks—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: I apologise to the honourable member. I ask both front-benchers please to show some respect to the questioner.
5. JONATHAN YOUNG (National—New Plymouth) to the Minister for Communications
and Information Technology: What progress has been made on the ultra-fast broadband initiative?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister for Communications and Information Technology): Today marks a very important milestone for ultra-fast broadband as the Government green-lights the first regions to move from the development phase to the roll-out phase. This phase begins next week with Northpower deploying fibre in Whangarei, closely followed by WEL Networks in the central North Island early next year. Ultra-fast broadband is coming to the member’s city of New Plymouth, to Whangarei, to Hamilton, to Cambridge, to Te Awamutu, to Tauranga, to Wanganui, to Hāwera, and to Tokoroa.
Jonathan Young: What products can consumers expect to receive as a result of ultra-fast broadband being deployed in these urban centres?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Crown Fibre Holdings is very pleased with the pricing it has secured on behalf of customers. Wholesale household prices will start at $40 or less per month for an entrylevel product and $60 per month for the 100-megabit product. There are no connection charges for households. Businesses, schools, non-governmental organisations, and households will all soon be benefiting from new fibre connections, bringing them high-quality video conferencing, opportunities for e-health, and interactive education, and increasing New Zealand’s connectivity as a driver for greater productivity and economic growth.
Clare Curran: Will the Government guarantee that Crown Fibre Holdings will have concluded negotiations and that the Government will have announced agreements with the remaining 25 ultrafast broadband regions before the next election?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: That is certainly my expectation, but I point out to the member that it is important that when we conduct these commercial negotiations we do not put artificial deadlines on individual negotiations. We could throw as much money as we wanted at them and do the deal tomorrow—I know that is the member’s party’s past history—but actually we are looking for the best value for money for taxpayers.
Jonathan Young: What economic benefits does the Government expect from investing in ultrafast broadband?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: This is the start of a nationwide roll-out process that will see 75 percent of New Zealanders able to access the Internet at ultra-fast speeds. The Government is making this very significant investment in ultra-fast broadband because it will have a transformational impact on how we work and interact in the years ahead. It complements other sizeable investments we are making in infrastructure like roads, rail, schools, and hospitals. In the short term the projects announced today will employ hundreds of people in the network deployment and operation, and in the long term it will give our economy a competitive advantage against the rest of the world.
Clare Curran: Will the Government make public the details of how it arrived at the access prices negotiated by Crown Fibre Holdings with partner companies, given that it is about to legislate to provide those companies with a 10-year period free from regulation by the Commerce Commission, and given that its ultra-fast broadband programme is being funded by $1.5 billion of New Zealand taxpayers’ money; if not, why not?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: For the member’s benefit I say that we have obviously released the pricing today, and all the information that goes with that pricing will be released in due course. But, of course, we are in the middle of commercial negotiations. I note for the member that these are very, very competitive prices, and if we are able, as I believe we are, to lock them in for the next 9 years, that is of great benefit to New Zealanders all over the country.
Hone Harawira: Tēnā koe, Mr Speaker. Is he aware that in a bid put forward by Torotoro Waea Partnership, an alliance of 24 members including various iwi and industry partners, there is an intention to link 1,000 marae? Will marae be prioritised in the broadband initiative?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I am aware that Torotoro Waea Partnership has submitted a bid to the Ministry of Economic Development for the $300 million Rural Broadband Initiative, which is separate from the ultra-fast broadband initiative for urban areas, which I have made announcements about today. The Rural Broadband Initiative provides an opportunity for marae to be connected to better broadband services. I am looking forward to seeing the Ministry of Economic Development’s analysis of how bidders meet objectives around connecting marae, as well as schools and rural communities. I intend to announce a short list for this initiative before Christmas. Once again, this is excellent progress when compared with the previous Government, which took about 7 years to get around to doing anything in the broadband space.
Early Childhood Education—Consultation on Police Checks for Limited-attendance Centre
6. Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Labour—Hutt South) to the Minister of Education: Which Ministers, if any, did she personally consult on the question of removing the requirement for police checks for employees of limited-attendance early childhood centres before she introduced the Education Amendment Bill (No 2)?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Deputy Prime Minister) on behalf of the Minister of Education: The Minister consulted all her colleagues in the normal Cabinet process.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Why is she proposing to remove the primary protection against paedophiles working in gym and shopping mall creches?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: That is not correct. As has been explained in the House by the Minister a number of times, the advice is that the Education Act 1989 is not the appropriate place for regulation of an activity that is not related to education. Laws such as the occupational health and safety legislation cover this situation. There is a legitimate argument about the extent to which Parliament should try to legislate for police checks on anyone who is caring for children who are not in the care of their parents, which includes everybody from Sunday school teachers through to sports coaches. That is a legitimate argument, but the Education Act 1989 is not the place to legislate for it.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Who is the Minister who will be responsible for the limited-attendance centres when the legislation is passed?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I do not have that information in front of me, but I am happy to go and get the answer for the member.
Hon Trevor Mallard: In light of the fact that she will be the Minister responsible when the legislation is passed, will she take responsibility for ensuring that paedophiles do not work in gyms and shopping mall creches?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: That responsibility, as it should be, is primarily the responsibility of those who have responsibility for those workplaces. It is the same responsibility that is given to sports coaches, people who run Cubs, and people who run swimming lessons and music lessons. I appreciate that this is a legitimate issue about which we may be concerned, but Parliament would need to consider pretty carefully how far it went in requiring police checks of anyone who was not a parent and who was looking after a child.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Did she read the advice from the Ministry of Education prior to introducing the Education Amendment Bill (No 2) that warned her that an effect of it was to remove police checks from staff at limited-attendance early childhood centres?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Yes, the Minister did read the advice, and she considered that advice in the context of the wider issue that we have been discussing, which is that these centres are not providing early childhood education; therefore, they will not be regulated in the same way as an early childhood education centre. There is a legitimate issue about the extent to which Parliament would require police checks of any adult who is supervising a child. In this context, the occupational safety and health law puts responsibilities on people in charge of those workplaces to ensure that they take all practicable steps to make sure of the safety of the people in them.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Having received and read the advice prior to introducing the bill, why did she then tell the House during the first reading of the bill that it was not her intention to remove police checks from staff at limited-attendance early childhood centres?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I am not sure that the member is representing the Minister’s comment correctly. The Minister was commenting to the effect that the Education Act 1989 was not the place for regulating these types of centres, any more than it is the place to write rules for sports coaches, in whom many of us parents commit the trust and care of our children for many hours a week, as we also do with music teachers and people who run any kind of youth group. The Minister has considered those issues and believes—as, I think, Parliament would—there is a legitimate issue about how far Parliament goes to require police checks on any adult who is not a parent and who is in charge of children.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I seek leave to table a document that indicates that at the first reading, the Minister said that it was not—
Mr SPEAKER: What is this document?
Hon Trevor Mallard: It is my Hansard.
Mr SPEAKER: We do not do that.
Social Assistance—Abuse of Process
7. AARON GILMORE (National) to the Minister of Revenue: What examples can he give of families claiming social assistance for which they are not entitled, and what has this Government done to stop this abuse?
Hon PETER DUNNE (Minister of Revenue): I am aware that 9,700 families have been using losses from investment properties to reduce their family income and to increase their Working for Families entitlements, and that some families who structure their financial affairs through trusts are also claiming Working for Families tax credits, despite earning substantial incomes. For example, a family whose trust-owned company earned over $700,000 a year in taxable income was able to claim $12,000 in Working for Families tax credits. Working for Families tax credits are intended to
support families in genuine need, not to boost the incomes of wealthy families like those. Therefore, the Government will change the law later this week to extend the definition of “income” for Working for Families purposes, to prevent such abuses continuing. This will make it fairer for middle-income New Zealand families, in particular, and for the taxpaying public, which foots the bill for these social assistance programmes.
Aaron Gilmore: Is the Minister aware of other examples of families unfairly claiming Working for Families tax credits?
Hon PETER DUNNE: Yes. I am also aware of other examples of families with substantial economic means reducing their family income by placing their investments in their children’s names. I have been informed of a family with parents who earned about $36,000 a year, but with children who had a combined investment income of nearly $90,000 a year, and that family claimed $13,000 in Working for Families tax credits. Another family’s children earned over $150,000 a year in investment income, yet that family was still able to claim more than $4,000 in Working for Families tax credits.
Aaron Gilmore: What does the Government intend to do to make Working for Families fairer?
Hon PETER DUNNE: I said in my primary answer that legislation will be passed later this week to broaden the definition of “income” for Working for Families. The new income test will include trustee income, major fringe benefits, and the income of overseas spouses. It will also apply to the parental income test for eligibility for student allowances and the community services card. The principle is simply that parents should not be able to receive different levels of assistance depending on how they structure their affairs to maximum advantage, because that is simply inequitable, unfair, and wrong.
Economy—Forecasts Compared with Budget 2010
8. Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE (Labour—New Lynn) to the Minister of Finance: How much lower will the growth forecast be for the year to March 2011 in the Half Year Economic and Fiscal Update compared with the Budget 2010 forecast?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): The member will have to wait and see. We have signalled that growth forecasts are likely to be lower—I think that anyone out in the street could tell us that. However, the figures are likely to be better than those of 1988 and 1989 when, apparently, that member was the Minister of Finance.
Hon David Cunliffe: How does he reconcile—[Interruption]—not John Key’s assertion of the presidency of the United States but John Key’s prediction of an aggressive recovery, with the latest economic data showing that corporate tax flows have collapsed a staggering 28 percent below 2010 forecasts?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The Prime Minister was correct when he was referring to the economy turning round from the bottom of quite a sharp recession, which bottomed out in early 2009 and turned round from shrinkage of something like 2 or 3 percent to growth of 2 percent. That was an aggressive turn-round. In respect of company tax, as the member will know, it is one of the more volatile tax bases that we have. It tends to drop fast in recessions and rise fast in recoveries. On balance, other tax revenue from other sources is offsetting those losses to some extent, although overall tax revenue is down about a billion dollars on what was forecast.
Hon David Cunliffe: Which of his Government’s initiatives most contributed to the Government deficit growing by almost $2 billion more than he expected in just 6 months since his last Budget, and does he, in light of that, now wish that John Key had got his wish and become leader of the Labour Party?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Well, the Canterbury earthquake was not an initiative of the Government, but it has had a significant impact on our books. I am interested that the member might be criticising a deficit being a bit larger than expected when he spent most of the last 2 years telling us we should be spending more to stimulate the economy more.
Hon David Cunliffe: In light of the Minister’s passionate desire for stimulus, in how many of the last six quarters has annualised GDP per capita fallen according to Treasury data released this week?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I cannot answer that question directly, but I would not be surprised if in a recession, where the population has been growing and the economy has been shrinking, there would be some quarters where it was negative. What is very surprising is that through the period 2005 to 2008, when everyone thought we were having a boom under the previous Government, per capita real GDP incomes actually dropped, which is really quite startling given that they were the best economic conditions in a generation.
Hon David Cunliffe: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Minister has raised an interesting conundrum for us. He seems to have data about the previous Government but not his own.
Mr SPEAKER: That is not a point of order. The Minister answered the question in that he said he did not have detailed information about the successive quarters that the member asked about. I think that is the end of that matter.
Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga: How will the updated forecast compare with the actual economic performance achieved in the 3 years to 2008?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Although the updated forecasts may not be as strong as they were at the Budget, they were still a lot better than the 3 years to 2008. In the 3 years to 2008 per capita GDP actually declined, before the global crisis and while the rest of the world was booming. The first task of this Government has been to stop the rot of a severely unbalanced economy. These forecasts will show at least some progress in people reducing their appetite for debt, being careful with their spending, increasing their savings, and increasing exports. That is the kind of change that the economy needs.
Pig Farming—Code of Welfare
9. SHANE ARDERN (National—Taranaki - King Country) to the Minister of Agriculture: What recent actions has the Government taken to improve the welfare of pigs in New Zealand?
Hon DAVID CARTER (Minister of Agriculture): Last week I was pleased to issue a code of animal welfare for pigs. The new code, which is now in effect, will limit the use of sow crates from 2012 and will prohibit them completely from 2015, while also placing new limits on the use of farrowing crates. The code confirms New Zealand’s position as a world leader on animal welfare and positions us at the forefront of efforts internationally.
Shane Ardern: What feedback has the Government received on the new code?
Hon DAVID CARTER: The new code has had overwhelmingly positive feedback. My office has received a large amount of correspondence praising the Government for its decision. Even Save Animals from Exploitation has publicly praised it as “surprising”, “unprecedented”, and a “reason to congratulate a Minister of Agriculture”. This move, plus legislation toughening the penalties for animal welfare offences and the substantial increase in funding for animal welfare activities in Budget 2010, is a clear indication of just how important animal welfare is to this Government.
10. Hon RUTH DYSON (Labour—Port Hills) to the Minister of Health: Will he act to prevent closure of health services in Taihape?
Hon PETER DUNNE (Associate Minister of Health) on behalf of the Minister of Health: The Minister is keeping in close touch with the Whanganui District Health Board as it works to get the best possible outcomes for Taihape in the light of the decision of the trustees of the Ōtaihape Health Trust to place the facility into liquidation. As a result of those efforts, the district health board has ensured the continuation of general practice, primary maternity, day services for older people, home-based support services, radiology, specialist out-patient services, palliative care, the mobile bus surgical service, and more for the people of Taihape.
Hon Ruth Dyson: Will he apologise to Donna Wood, the clinical coordinator of Ōtaihape Health, who says in her letter to him of 23 November that his statement that Taihape will retain all its services is not true, and that Taihape will in fact lose its 24-hour access to PRIME-trained registered nurses, its medical beds, its in-patient palliative care, its respite care and day-care services, its maternity services, its meals on wheels, and its mortuary service? Will he now apologise to Donna and the people of Taihape?
Hon PETER DUNNE: I think it is important to put in context what the Ōtaihape facility actually is. It is not a public hospital; it is a rest home. Despite significant contributions made by the district health board, including writing off some $450,000 of back rent and other support in the order of $1 million, the facility is simply not sustainable. As I said in the primary answer, a range of services in Taihape will be retained, and they will be to the benefit of the people of that particular town.
Hon Ruth Dyson: Will he step in to ensure that aged care, post-operative and medical beds, palliative care, and respite-care services will not be lost to the Taihape community, as John Key, the Prime Minister, promised it recently?
Hon PETER DUNNE: The Minister has made it clear to the district health board that he expects the needs of the elderly population of the Taihape area to continue to be met. I am sure the Minister will keep the district health board to its obligations in that regard.
Hon Ruth Dyson: Does he have any concern at all for the residents of Ruanui Hospital, particularly for one who turns 94 this Saturday and who is getting an eviction order from the hospital as her birthday present—a situation described by the area’s current member of Parliament, Simon Power, as “unsettling”, but clearly more than unsettling for the 2,900 people who have signed a petition asking that these services be retained?
Hon PETER DUNNE: This is always going to be a very stressful and testing time for people involved in that situation. That is fully understood. But the fact of the matter is that the trustees have decided to put the facility into liquidation because despite the fact that there has been a substantial cash injection into it, a $450,000 debt is still arising from back rent. They have made the call that this particular facility is not sustainable. As the Minister has pointed out, he is seeking assurances from the Whanganui District Health Board that a range of services will continue to be provided and that the people will not be adversely affected.
Hon Ruth Dyson: I seek leave to table the letter of 23 November that I referred to in a previous question. It is the letter from Donna Wood to Tony Ryall that points out that his statements, just repeated by the Acting Minister of Health, are entirely wrong.
Earthquake, Canterbury—Funding for Resurveying
11. AMY ADAMS (National—Selwyn) to the Minister for Land Information: What steps has Land Information New Zealand taken to help in the rebuilding of Canterbury following the 4 September earthquake?
Hon MAURICE WILLIAMSON (Minister for Land Information): The Government has just granted $850,000 to Land Information New Zealand so its experts can start the important work of resurveying parts of the region damaged by the September 4 earthquake. New Zealand’s survey control system is made up of physical markers known as a geodetic network. The network provides surveyors with accurate information about the area’s topography. The Canterbury earthquake caused significant disturbance to that region’s geodetic control network, making it incredibly unreliable. With the resurveying done, repair work on important infrastructure such as roads, water, waste water, and sewerage networks can be carried out effectively with the correct information
about the land. The surveying work is important because it will not only help local authorities to rebuild key infrastructure but also inform them about changing drainage patterns and flood risks.
Amy Adams: How will this help residents of Canterbury whose land has been damaged by the quake?
Hon MAURICE WILLIAMSON: The resurveying work will help determine property boundaries, which will help ease homeowners’ stress and reduce any potential property disputes. The work will help homeowners in their rebuilding, as currently some work is being delayed due to a lack of accurate data following the quake. In other words, the earth is not where it used to be.
Roading and Public Transport Projects, Auckland—Benefit-cost Ratios
12. Hon DARREN HUGHES (Labour) to the Minister of Transport: Which project has the higher benefit-cost ratio: the Auckland CBD rail loop or the Pūhoi to Wellsford road of national significance?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister of Transport): Neither. I refer the member to table E-1 on page 6 of the recently released Business Case Auckland CBD Rail Link, which states that at an 8 percent discount rate and including wider economic benefits, the benefit-cost ratio is 1.1. The benefit-cost ratio calculated in exactly the same way for the Pūhoi to Wellsford road of national significance is also 1.1, and it can be found on page 8 of the project’s summary, I say to the member.
Hon Darren Hughes: If wider economic benefits and the Treasury discount rate are applied to both projects, why does he defend the Pūhoi to Wellsford road, which gets a benefit-cost ratio of 1.1 on that methodology, but say he is sceptical about the benefits of the central business district rail loop, which would deliver a benefit-cost ratio over three times that of the Pūhoi to Wellsford road?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Well, that is a difficulty as well, because the member refers to a very, very new, innovative way of calculating benefit-cost ratios, which Treasury advised me it had never seen before—the proposed “Net Value Added from CBD Increased Productivity”. Treasury say to me that it does not appear to have any theoretical or evidential underpinning whatsoever.
Hon Darren Hughes: Picking up on that point, I ask whether, when he questioned the inclusion of the transformational benefits of the central business district rail loop, he had consulted his colleagues on the value of such a measurement, given that as recently as this question time the Minister for Communications and Information Technology was promoting the broadband policy on the basis of its transformational benefits.
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Undoubtedly the Minister for Communications and Information Technology, whom I respect immensely, is well aware of the transformational benefits, but even he would not be so ambitious and creative as to suggest a benefit-cost ratio of 3.5 on the grounds that the central business district rail case suggests.
Hon Darren Hughes: Is he aware of any other political figure who is less enthusiastic about Auckland’s central business district rail project than he is; if so, who?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Possibly the Minister of Finance—and I think he is identifying himself.I say for the member’s benefit that it is quite possible, and I am more than willing to accept, that the central business district rail project could be a good project for Auckland. But a number of questions need to be answered. For example, the business case appears to assume a level of existing infrastructure that does not exist, it appears to underestimate the additional infrastructure that is required, it does not say how many extra people would use the project compared with the number who would use the electric network without the tunnel, it does not tell us how many cars it would take off the road and whether it would reduce congestion, and it does not tell us when the Britomart Transport Centre will run out of capacity without it. All those questions are appropriate to be answered before the member starts getting out the Government’s cheque book and waving it around.