Questions And Answers Feb 17
(uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing)
THURSDAY, 17 FEBRUARY 2011
QUESTIONS FOR ORAL ANSWER
QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS
Transport Stimulus Package—Progress
1. Dr JACKIE BLUE (National) to the Minister of Transport: What progress has been made on the Government’s jobs and growth stimulus package for transport?
Hon NATHAN GUY (Associate Minister of Transport) on behalf of the Minister of
Transport: The Minister of Transport was in Rotorua this morning for the opening of the Fairy Springs upgrade, which is one of the many projects that have been advanced under the jobs and growth plan. The $322 million investment in roading projects around the country has provided 550 jobs and has supported a further 1,200 jobs in associated trades. This investment has given a real boost to the regions by utilising regional workforces and local contractors. The jobs and growth plan provides a short-term stimulus, but the real value is the construction of projects that will support prolonged growth when completed.
Dr Jackie Blue: How many more jobs have been created by the Government’s roads of national significance?
Hon NATHAN GUY: The 550 jobs I mentioned in the primary answer are over and above those of the more than 1,500 people working on the Government’s roads of national significance and the many thousands working on the overall road-building programme. These jobs would not exist if the previous Government had had its way and scaled back the roading programme. This investment in infrastructure will improve key roading corridors and will reduce bottlenecks to growth as the economy picks up.
Community Programmes, Funding—Factors Influencing Expansion
2. Hon ANNETTE KING (Deputy Leader—Labour) to the Minister for Social
Development and Employment: What factors will she take into account when making decisions about expanding funding for community programmes?
Hon SIMON POWER (Acting Minister for Social Development and Employment): A number, but two factors would include giving young people a foothold into work and ensuring value for taxpayers’ money.
Hon Annette King: Does she believe taxpayers would support extending funding for Community Max, when they read of a programme that costs more than $175,000 to employ 12 people for 6 months to produce a Māori business directory that was launched in January last year and canned 5 months later, because better Māori business directories were already available online?
Hon SIMON POWER: Yes, if a large number of those people who attended the course subsequently did not require the assistance of a benefit.
Hon Annette King: When the Acting Minister said in Parliament, in response to a question earlier in the week, that Community Max programmes were value for money, unlike “hip-hop tours
going around the world for $26,000”, was he aware that the same amount of money was being spent on hip-hop training in Christchurch; if so, do the 16 people who finished the course and who are not on a benefit have a job?
Hon SIMON POWER: The member is labouring under some misapprehensions about how those two schemes compare, so let us take a bit of time to clarify that—let us clear that up. Firstly, two people teaching hip hop in a classroom as an alternative to sport does not compare to $26,000 on a hip-hop tour for a mother and daughter who went to New York, Los Angeles, Paris, Hawaii, and Fiji. Secondly, there was no chill-out time built into this programme, as there was under that programme when the two participants stopped off in Fiji for a holiday. Finally, and most important, of the 19 participants in this programme, 18 are no longer on benefits.
Hon Annette King: If the Government is interested in value for money, when will she stop funding boot camps, a programme that was the brainchild of the Prime Minister, which, after less than 1 year in operation, has had a reoffending rate by those who completed the course of 50 percent, a rate that is estimated to reach 65 to 70 percent after 2 years, and which is costing $36,000 for every person on it?
Hon SIMON POWER: No, funding will continue for those camps, and the reason is that once the two trials that the member referred to were completed, the one full course, which has undergone some tweaks since those trials, has seen only two people reoffend since that part of the course was completed.
Hon Annette King: Why did she allow Work and Income to enter into a funding arrangement of nearly $40,000 with a charity in Christchurch, when she was advised that the principal of that charity was an overstayer in this country, and is this not just another example of the shambles that the Government’s programmes are in, even though the Minister tries to pretend they are working?
Hon SIMON POWER: In respect of the second part of that question, they are working. Approximately 70 percent of those who attend these courses are no longer on a benefit. In respect of the first part—
Hon Trevor Mallard: They’re in Australia.
Hon SIMON POWER: —not necessarily. In respect of the first part of the question, I am sorry that I do not have that detail to hand.
Jacinda Ardern: Is it correct that the 70 percent figure that she and the Prime Minister continues to use actually represents the number of graduates that Work and Income cannot account for, as stated by Peter Hughes; and that after spending more than $50 million on this scheme, she has no idea what impact it has had?
Hon SIMON POWER: That is a very cynical slant to put on the information that has been made available to date. The fact is approximately 70 percent of the people who have completed these courses no longer receive a benefit. I think that is a good-news story, and I do not know why members on the other side want those people to be back on a benefit.
Jacinda Ardern: Does she acknowledge that her ministry can claim to have placed only 936 Community Max graduates into work, and that that represents just 1 percent of the young Kiwis who are not in work, education, or training?
Hon SIMON POWER: I cannot comment on the raw number that the member uses, but I can give some percentages. As at November 2010 of those who had contacted the ministry, which they are not required to do, 28.7 percent were in work—part-time or full-time—and 10 percent were in training or education. There is a large number who have not contacted the ministry, but we do know they are not on a benefit.
Hon Annette King: Could the Minister tell the House how many of the 40,000 young people between the age of 15 and 19 who are currently unemployed would actually qualify for a benefit?
Hon SIMON POWER: No.
Economic Stimulus Package, Housing—Results
3. KATRINA SHANKS (National) on behalf of TODD McCLAY (National—Rotorua) to the Minister of Housing: What were the results of the $124.5 million that the Government invested in State housing in February 2009 as part of its Jobs and Growth stimulus package?
Hon PHIL HEATLEY (Minister of Housing): The package was to upgrade 10,000 existing State houses and build 69 new State houses over and above those already planned. Housing New Zealand exceeded both these targets by upgrading 11,290 State houses and building 87 over and above those planned. That is 11,000 State houses and families who would otherwise live in cold, old, and mouldy houses that the previous Government left.
Katrina Shanks: What jobs have been created as a result of the Government’s additional investment in State housing?
Hon PHIL HEATLEY: This programme ensured that nationally the maximum number of contractors gained work. At its peak 52 contracting firms were involved in the delivery of this programme. On average, an additional 1,528 people were employed each month around the country to deliver warmer, healthier, more liveable homes for State housing tenants.
Moana Mackey: Is he seriously saying that his 1-year “stimulus package” was adequate to address the current shortage of social housing, with a waiting list of nearly 11,000 people, let alone a national housing shortage of 70,000 dwellings; and does he still stand by his decision to slash the budget to State house acquisitions and maintenance by more than 80 percent in Budget 2010?
Hon PHIL HEATLEY: No, I am saying that 11,290 people now live in nice, warm homes. When we came into Government they were living in old, cold, and mouldy homes. I do not know why the Labour Government did not just pitch tents for them.
Moana Mackey: Has he seen any reports linking the current pressures in social housing to the actions of his party when last in Government, which hocked off 13,000 State houses to its development mates and carried out no modernisation; if so, instead of lecturing the Labour Party, which spent 9 years trying to undo the damage, maybe he should just apologise, get off his chuff, and do something about the ever-worsening housing crisis, which has got far, far worse under his watch?
Hon PHIL HEATLEY: No.
Surgery, Elective—Waiting Times
4. GRANT ROBERTSON (Labour—Wellington Central) to the Minister of Health: Does he stand by his health target to get genuine reductions in waiting times for elective surgery?
Hon TONY RYALL (Minister of Health): The premise of the member’s question is incorrect. The health target for elective surgery—
Grant Robertson: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I do not want to interrupt the Minister just as he is beginning his answer, but—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: I say to the National backbench that the noise coming out of the back corner of the House is unacceptable.
Grant Robertson: A question, as you know, has to be authenticated, and so the premise of the question has been authenticated with your office. For the Minister to begin his answer by saying that the premise of the question is incorrect cannot possibly be true.
Mr SPEAKER: Although questions are authenticated in terms of the face of the question, it does not necessarily mean that the question is not out of context, or is not in a somewhat different context from where a Minister’s statement or target may have been placed. So I do not want to hear the Minister criticising the member for asking the question, but it is not out of order to argue that it may be out of context or that the premise is not correct.
Hon TONY RYALL: The premise of the member’s question is incorrect. The health target for elective surgery is an increase in the volume of elective surgery by an average of 4,000 discharges per year. The Government’s concern is that sick people should get their operations as soon as
possible, and far more people are getting their operations now than under the previous Government. This year the Government will deliver 140,000 elective operations, which will be 22,000 more patients a year than that member’s Government ever delivered.
Grant Robertson: Given that answer, is the Auditor-General wrong when she says that the waiting times for elective surgery are between 9 months and 1 year, not the 6 months required by his target?
Hon TONY RYALL: The member has to note that I have not seen the Auditor-General’s report. I can tell the member that when we inherited this portfolio there were a lot of people who were waiting more than 6 months to get their operations. For example, 5 years ago, in January 2005, of the thousands of people who had been promised treatment and had not received it, 4.5 percent—or over 1,348 patients—had been waiting for more than 18 months. By January 2010 that figure had been dramatically reduced to 0.3 percent, or 118 patients.
Mr SPEAKER: I was critical of the National backbench. I say to the Labour front bench that the noise is pretty excessive today. But I say to the Minister that the question was pretty simple. The member asked a very simple question about the Auditor-General’s report. The Minister used the opportunity to tell the House what he wanted to tell the House, and not actually answer the question. That is not really a part of the game or the rules, but I will let him get away with it on this occasion. I am just alerting him to that.
Grant Robertson: Is the Auditor-General wrong when she says that it appears that district health boards are actually working towards providing a first specialist assessment within 12 months and treatment within 9 months, instead of the 6 months required by the strategy?
Hon TONY RYALL: As I said earlier on, I have not read the Auditor-General’s report. I know that the report is at the Ministry of Health. I also know that I am never going to fix a waiting list problem by culling 30,000 people off the waiting list just because I want the numbers to look good, which was what the party opposite did.
Dr Paul Hutchison: What reports has he received about how the previous Government handled elective surgery?
Hon TONY RYALL: I have received a number of reports that under that Government elective surgery did not keep up with population growth, which meant patient access was cut. Five years ago, of the thousands of people who had been promised treatment but had not received it, 4.5 percent—or 1,348 patients—had been waiting for more than 18 months. By January 2010 that figure had been dramatically reduced to 0.3 percent, or 118 patients. There is more to be done, but this Government is providing thousands more people with surgery, and we will not do what the party opposite did, which was fix the problem by sending 30,000 people a letter saying that they had been culled off the waiting list.
Grant Robertson: Will he commit to releasing the Auditor-General’s report as it now stands, without his interfering or trying to doctor it?
Hon TONY RYALL: I have the report. The report is the property of the Auditor-General, and I am sure she will release the report once she has had the numbers checked and precisely looked at by the Ministry of Health. But despite whatever may be in the Auditor-General’s report—
Mr SPEAKER: The Minister had answered the question absolutely adequately, and he is not to go on to say “despite” and attack the questioner.
Grant Robertson: Will he allow the Auditor-General to investigate the credibility of his other target, in particular his target on cancer treatment, given the cutting of cancer patients from waiting lists in the central North Island?
Hon TONY RYALL: I would welcome the Auditor-General’s looking at the cancer radiation targets. I am sure she would find that, unlike the previous Government, we do not have lots of women’s lives being disrupted by being sent to Australia for treatment. We are providing most treatment within 4 weeks, which is a world standard that that failed party opposite could never match.
Warm Up New Zealand: Heat Smart—Number of Retrofitted Houses
5. JONATHAN YOUNG (National—New Plymouth) to the Minister of Energy and
Resources: How many houses have been retrofitted under the Government’s Warm Up New Zealand: Heat Smart home insulation scheme?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE (Minister Energy and Resources): I am very pleased to advise the House that since July 2009 just under 89,000 houses around New Zealand have been retrofitted under the scheme. Nearly 50,000 houses occupied by people on low incomes will have been retrofitted. The insulation and clean heating programme will go a long way to improving the quality of their lives.
Jonathan Young: What is the effect on employment of the Warm Up New Zealand scheme?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: The Warm Up New Zealand scheme has had a positive effect on employment during some tough economic times. Officials estimate that around 2,000 jobs will be created as a result of the scheme.
Rahui Katene: What provision has been made for Māori families to take up eligibility for the home insulation scheme, and how many of the houses are owned or occupied by Māori families?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: Māori families are eligible, like all other New Zealanders, to access the scheme, and a great many have done so. The Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority also has a number of special projects that aim to deliver to Māori households, including agreements with Ngā Rauru, Waikato-Tainui, and Whānau-a-Apanui.
6. Hon DAVID PARKER (Labour) to the Prime Minister: Does he stand by all of his statements on the sale of shares in State-owned enterprises?
Hon SIMON POWER (Minister of Justice) on behalf of the Prime Minister: Yes, although I repeat that no final decision has been made about extending the mixed-ownership model.
Hon David Parker: When the Prime Minister said on radio this morning that the vast bulk of Contact Energy’s shares remain “in widespread Kiwi mum and dad ownership”, why did he not tell New Zealanders that 75 percent of all Contact’s shares are owned by big corporates, with the majority of those shares being owned by an Australian company?
Hon SIMON POWER: Presumably, the Prime Minister meant that the vast majority of shares originally obtained by mum and dad investors remain in their hands.
Hon David Parker: If the Prime Minister cannot even get his statements about asset sales in the past right, why would anyone believe that he can get his statements about asset sales in the future right?
Hon SIMON POWER: Because the Prime Minister has a very good record for keeping his promises to the public of New Zealand, unlike when that party came into Government in 1984 promising not to sell State-owned assets, and then went ahead and did it.
Chris Tremain: Has he seen any other reports on Government plans to reduce shareholding in an asset?
Hon SIMON POWER: Yes, he has seen a press release stating that the Government has approved a proposal, subject to competition watchdog approval, to reduce its shareholding in Air New Zealand to 63.55 percent. That would have meant a 22.5 percent shareholding going to Qantas, a foreign investor. That press release was from 2002, and released by Ministers Cullen, Swain, and Mallard.
Hon David Parker: Did the Prime Minister also say on radio this morning in regard to Contact Energy that “The float when it started gave 51 percent to an Australian company Origin. That was the starting position and it did not change.”; if so, was his statement correct?
Hon SIMON POWER: Fifty-one percent of the shares in Contact did become held by Origin.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Was it a starting position? Answer the question.
Hon SIMON POWER: I am just finishing the answer. Originally, of course, Edison bought its original 40 percent directly from the Government, and not, by the way, from Kiwi mums and dads.
Hon Sir Roger Douglas: Does the Prime Minister accept that the sale of any asset to a foreign buyer or purchase of any foreign asset by a New Zealander cannot possibly change the net claims of one country on another, because for a foreigner to buy a New Zealand asset is simply to swap a foreign for a New Zealand asset—nobody wins, nobody loses; they just end up with a different portfolio of assets and liabilities?
Hon SIMON POWER: Broadly, the theory may have some merit, but this Government has laid out five tests that have to be met and they are slightly different from the model that the member outlines.
Hon David Parker: Did the Prime Minister in that same radio interview this morning make an accusation that Phil Goff was “financially inept” for supposedly not understanding that Origin owned 51 percent from the start, when it did not; and if the Prime Minister did make that statement and the statement was wrong, does the Prime Minister now accept that it was he who was mistaken?
Hon SIMON POWER: In respect of the first part of the question, yes.
Hon Sir Roger Douglas: Does the Prime Minister see any validity in the arguments from Labour and the Green Party that the sale of any shares in State-owned enterprises will lead to increased overseas ownership of New Zealand; or does he agree with the ACT Party that this argument reflects the unfortunate common economic illiteracy in Labour and the Green Party about savings and investment issues?
Hon SIMON POWER: That is a far more straightforward question from the member. The answer is that he agrees with the ACT Party.
Hon David Parker: I seek to table a Treasury document from its website, which shows that the sale of Contact Energy was originally a 40 percent sale to Edison and not a 51 percent sale to Origin.
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.
Employment Relations, Health and Disability Sector—Payment for Sleepover Shifts
7. NICKY WAGNER (National) to the Minister of Health: What is the Government’s response to the Court of Appeal decision in the so-called “sleepovers” case and to its impact on health and disability services?
Hon TONY RYALL (Minister of Health): The decision of the Court of Appeal is extremely significant for public health services. It will have significant financial ramifications for some providers, and for the people who live in the residential services, and it could have implications for the way support is provided for in the future. Therefore, the Government will carefully consider the implications of the Court of Appeal decision. As we work through this issue, though, people with disabilities and their families can be assured that the provision of best-quality care will remain a top priority for the Government.
Nicky Wagner: What other reports has he seen in relation to the “sleepovers” decision?
Hon TONY RYALL: I have seen statements made by the Leader of the Opposition, by Labour’s past health spokesperson, and by the Opposition spokesperson on labour that Labour would fund the shortfall for providers. I am advised that the Ministry of Health has estimated the cost of this decision to be over $50 million a year for ongoing extra wage costs, and up to $350 million in backdated pay. There is an estimated cost of over $500 million over 3 years, which Labour would pay out, without even knowing the numbers, without careful analysis of the implications of the decision, and without saying where the money would come from.
Darien Fenton: Is he prepared to meet with unions, disability providers, and representatives of service-users to find a durable way forward for funding the disability support sector so that quality services continue to be provided and workers are paid their entitlements to the minimum wage, according to the Court of Appeal decision?
Hon TONY RYALL: There have already been discussions with participants involved in this matter, and I am sure there will be ongoing discussions. But what I need to make absolutely clear is that this is a very significant financial cost for the public health service, and this Government will take a responsible approach that makes sure we can provide affordable care for people who are vulnerable. We will not go around promising spending, without even knowing the price tag.
Nicky Wagner: What other implications is the Minister aware of that could flow from the court decision on the “sleepovers” case?
Hon TONY RYALL: I am aware that the decision of the “sleepovers” case could have significant implications for Child, Youth and Family and also for the Ministry of Education. For example, teachers and teacher-aides who stay overnight at school camps potentially could be paid the minimum hourly wage while sleeping at the school camp. It has been estimated—[Interruption] Labour should not have made the promise. It has been estimated that the costs in education could be—[Interruption] Labour members can shout as much as they like, but they made the promise and they do not know what the cost is. It has been estimated that the costs in education could be around $57 million for past liability and $9 million per annum for ongoing wage increases. The Ministry of Health advises that the cost is $350 million in back-pay and $50 million in ongoing costs, and that is why this Government is seriously considering the implications of the judgment.
Grant Robertson: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. If the Minister was quoting from official advice in that answer, could I ask that he table it please?
Mr SPEAKER: I will ask the Minister: was it material prepared for his answer to today’s question, or is it an official paper that he was quoting from?
Hon TONY RYALL: It was material prepared for the question.
Mr SPEAKER: Material prepared for answering today’s question is not required to be tabled.
Hon Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I heard most of that answer, but for members sitting on this side of the Chamber it was quite hard to hear because the shouting was coming across. To be fair to members on this side of the Chamber, I ask that you keep an eye on that so that we can hear the answers.
Mr SPEAKER: I hear what the member is saying. It would be my understanding that the information the Minister was giving in his answer was seen to be somewhat provocative by some members of the House, and they did respond to that. I believe it was possible to hear what the Minister was saying, and I believe the interjections were not gratuitous because members were responding to what the Minister was saying.
8. Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Labour—Hutt South) to the Minister responsible for
Ministerial Services: Was he or any other Minister aware before the end of last calendar year that the ministerial BMW fleet was to be replaced?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE (Minister for Economic Development) on behalf of the Minister
responsible for Ministerial Services: Ministers were not briefed ahead of the decision to replace the fleet, which was made by the Department of Internal Affairs in November 2010. Following the department’s decision, it is my understanding that the Minister of Internal Affairs wrote to the Minister of Finance on 17 December about the retention of surpluses on the sale of VIP fleet vehicles.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Is he, John Key, responsible for the budget of Ministerial Services for the 2010-11 financial year?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: The Minister responsible for Ministerial Services is responsible for the Ministerial Services budget.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Was the spokesperson for the Department of Internal Affairs correct when he said yesterday that the contract entered into during the term of the last Government had no obligation to purchase further cars this year or in any other year, and that there would be no penalty if no cars were purchased?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: My information is that that is correct. If the contract is terminated, there is no contract penalty for ending the contract during its term. But there would be substantial cost in managing a further competitive tender, and there is no evidence that a less expensive fleet of fit-for-purpose vehicles could be bought. What I would say is that the previous Government did such a splendid job that there is no way that, even now, any other company can compete for the contract.
Sue Kedgley: Which of the following optional extras that come with the new BMWs will be supplied with the new fleet: the massage chairs that relax the occupant’s thorax, shoulders, and lumbar spine; the four air conditioning units that enable the driver and the front and rear passengers to each set their own individual air temperatures; the DVD players in the rear seats; the 16 highperformance speakers; or the automatic closing doors?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: Can I simply say that we would expect the same austerity to be exercised by those purchasing the cars on behalf of the Government as was the case under the Helen Clark regime.
Sue Kedgley: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. That was a very specific and serious question. Taxpayers’ money is being spent on this. I request a list of what has been—
Mr SPEAKER: The member asked a question and the Minister answered the question. That may not have been done in exactly the way that the member asked it, but the Minister gave a perfectly reasonable answer that a whole lot of options were missing from the cars the first time round and he expected the same options to be missing from them the second time round. That seemed to be a perfectly reasonable answer. We cannot insist on anything further.
Hon Trevor Mallard: How often has John Key used the new BMW currently carrying a CR number plate in Auckland?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: I am not able to answer that question, but I suggest to the member that when the Prime Minister travels on behalf of the nation the last thing he is interested in is the number plate or the model and make of the car.
Greenhouse Gas Emissions—Effect of Proposed Lignite Mining Projects
9. Dr KENNEDY GRAHAM (Green) to the Minister of Energy and Resources: By how many tonnes would Solid Energy’s proposed lignite projects in Southland increase New Zealand’s gross greenhouse gas emissions in 2020?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE (Minister of Energy and Resources): I understand that this morning Solid Energy informed the Commerce Committee that depending on the scale of technology used, gross emissions could be 10 million to 20 million tonnes per annum. I also understand that Solid Energy has said on many occasions that taking full responsibility for greenhouse gas emissions is a key consideration in its lignite developments and it expects its lignite-based plants to achieve full carbon compliance.
Dr Kennedy Graham: If by achieving compliance the Minister is referring to carbon capture and storage, as indeed Solid Energy identified as one of the means this morning, can the Minister name one suitable reservoir to store carbon dioxide in the Southland lignite region?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: I am not able to give operational answers on behalf of Solid Energy, but I would say that we have introduced an emissions trading scheme that will enable carbon compliance.
Dr Kennedy Graham: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I was not asking the Minister to speak on behalf of Solid Energy. I was asking the Minister whether he could name one reservoir that would engage in carbon capture and storage. I am asking him for his knowledge.
Mr SPEAKER: The Minister is answerable to this House only for what the Minister is responsible for. He is not answerable to this House for his knowledge about what various issues may be. The Minister referred to the matter as being an operational matter for Solid Energy. I cannot dispute that with the Minister.
Dr Kennedy Graham: The Minister and his Government are responsible for ensuring a net decrease in carbon emissions for this country. Knowing whether there is adequate carbon capture and storage in Southland does not fall solely within the operational responsibility of Solid Energy but within his ministerial portfolio.
Mr SPEAKER: I am sure if the Minister—[Interruption] Does the Minister wish to add to his answer?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: Well, it may help if I simply said that there is no proposal yet from Solid Energy to engage in a particular type of lignite recovery, and therefore no indication yet of how carbon emission may be mitigated.
Dr Kennedy Graham: Does the Minister agree with his colleagues Nick Smith and Tim Groser that to efficiently address climate change, fossil fuel subsidies should be phased out?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: Yes, and I am not aware that we do have fossil fuel subsidies in New Zealand.
Dr Kennedy Graham: Then what is his response to the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment’s statement that under this Government’s emissions trading scheme, companies such as Solid Energy are likely to receive subsidies of millions of dollars a year from New Zealand taxpayers to develop products from low-grade coal, that is to say lignite?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: I simply do not accept that that is the correct position.
Dr Kennedy Graham: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Do I understand that to mean that he does not accept that that—
Mr SPEAKER: That is not a point of order. The Minister has answered the question. The member has the chance to ask further questions, but he cannot by way of a point of order give his interpretation of a Minister’s answer. That is not what a point of order is all about, at all.
Dr Kennedy Graham: Sorry, Mr Speaker, I was just seeking clarification. Will the Minister consider extending Government support to renewable energy schemes in wind and solar so that we can meet our national energy needs while leaving the lignite deposits in the ground?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: I do not believe the two objectives are either complementary or opposed to one another. The lignite opportunities will reduce, if they come to fruition, significant imports of urea and will also make a significant difference to the availability of fuels in New Zealand.
Pay Equity, Gender Gap—Ministry’s Priority
10. CAROL BEAUMONT (Labour) to the Minister of Women’s Affairs: Is it still the priority of the Ministry of Women’s Affairs to close the gender pay gap?
Hon KATE WILKINSON (Minister of Conservation) on behalf of the Minister of Women's
Affairs: The Minister has a range of priorities and that is one of them.
Carol Beaumont: What has been done to action a suggestion made in the December issue of the Ministry of Women’s Affairs newsletter, Pānui, that there is a need to “speed progress” to eliminate the gender pay gap, which is urgent in light of the real financial pressure facing many low and middle income New Zealand families?
Hon KATE WILKINSON: I say to that member that obviously the ministry has done some tremendously good work, because the pay gap has fallen from 13 percent in 2008 to 11.3 percent in 2009 and to 10.6 percent in 2010—the third lowest in the OECD.
Carol Beaumont: Is the Minister aware that the income survey she has just referred to showed that overall wages had dropped 1.7 percent and that inflation had risen 1.7 percent, showing that real wages went backwards 3.4 percent, and that is no reason to celebrate?
Hon KATE WILKINSON: I say to that member that had Labour been in Government, the wage gap would have been even worse —
Mr SPEAKER: The Minister should make some attempt to answer the question. The question, admittedly, was an opinion question; it asked whether the Minister was aware of something. But to just attack the questioner’s party is not the way to start answering a question.
Hon KATE WILKINSON: I would have to say that those numbers can be disputed and are disputed. I refer to previous comments that have been made by both the Minister of Women’s Affairs and the Prime Minister.
Carol Beaumont: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Those figures, which the Minister quoted herself, were from the—
Mr SPEAKER: The point of order procedure is not for disputing the Minister’s answer. The member can ask a further supplementary question if she disagrees with the answer.
Carol Beaumont: I would like to table the New Zealand Income Survey for the June 2010 quarter, which contains the figures that the Minister used and also the figures I used.
Mr SPEAKER: There must be silence, because I missed the detail of the document the member is seeking leave to table.
Carol Beaumont: The New Zealand Income Survey for the June 2010 quarter.
Mr SPEAKER: Conducted by?
Carol Beaumont: Statistics New Zealand.
Mr SPEAKER: Those statistics releases are available to everyone, so I will not be putting the leave to table that document.
Carol Beaumont: What would the Minister say to education support staff, school support workers, and other women who are doing important jobs but earning less than they should because of gender discrimination and struggling to manage family budgets and ever-rising prices?
Hon KATE WILKINSON: I would say to those women that they should be grateful that there is a National Government that has a focus of lifting New Zealand’s economic performance, and ensuring the well-being of families and communities.
Air Quality Standards—Business and Local Government Concerns
11. Dr CAM CALDER (National) to the Minister for the Environment: What decisions has the Government made in response to concerns from local government and business groups that resource management relegations on air quality unfairly target industry and would put thousands of New Zealanders out of work?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH (Minister for the Environment): There is a serious disconnect in the current air quality regulations. Although 60 to 80 percent of the problem comes from home fires, only industry faces any penalty if the standard is not met by 2013. These regulations reflect the antibusiness culture of the previous Government: even if it is not businesses’ fault, they get the punishment. The implications are very serious. Over 100 businesses would be prohibited from renewing their consents, putting over 17,000 fellow New Zealanders out of work. The Government has decided to change the regulations, to provide a more balanced and practical approach. This approach includes tighter rules on home fires and an early requirement for industry to reduce pollution, without the arbitrary penalty that would put so many people out of work.
Dr Cam Calder: How many households have received Government assistance to convert to clean-air home heating in the last 2 years, and how does this figure compare with support provided in previous years, noting that if we are serious about reducing smog, the key is to convert open fires and old, dirty log burners in polluted areas?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: The member is quite correct that the most important issue in making progress on air quality is about converting those old household fires to clean technology. This Government is very proud of its record. We have invested over $16 million in converting 20,000 households in 2 years—or 10,000 per year. This figure compares with just 100 households per year over the previous 9 years. We have, in fact, made progress at 100 times the rate of the previous Government. We are making progress at 100 times the rate in converting home fires. I expect this rate of conversion to accelerate with the good work that my colleague is doing in Christchurch in the recovery from the earthquake, where up to $100 million will be spent on clean heaters to replace the chimneys damaged in the Christchurch earthquake.
Dr Cam Calder: What response has there been to the changes that the Government has made to the air quality standards?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: The changes that the Government has made have been welcomed by Local Government New Zealand, by mayors, by councils, by industry—
Hon Maryan Street: Not in Nelson.
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: The member mentions Nelson. I challenge her to compare the record of how many homes this Government has converted with the previous Government’s record. I note the very positive editorial in the Christchurch Press. Even the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment said the previous Government’s rules were unfair and would not work. I particularly note and highlight the comments of air quality experts, who refer to the fact that even moving from the 30 exceedances per year in many communities to one exceedance by 2013 was near to impossible. But to get down to three by 2016 and one by 2020 will require considerable change.
Rahui Katene: What requirements is industry expected to address in order to reduce emissions, and what progress is he able to report on its compliance with such measures?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: One of the changes that the Government has announced is that on 1 September next year, each industry will be required to offset its emissions—that is, to fund the conversion of households in order to more than offset the emissions from its own industry. In our view, providing the financial incentive for industry to positively contribute to less pollution is a more sensible approach than just putting 17,000 New Zealanders on the unemployment heap by making those industries have to close.
Hon Annette King: That is just made up.
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: The deputy leader of the Labour Party claimed I had simply made up the numbers. I seek leave to table the Cabinet paper that shows the details of the 17,000 jobs that would be lost under Labour’s regulations.
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.
Wong, Pansy—International Travel
12. Hon PETE HODGSON (Labour—Dunedin North) to the Prime Minister: Is he prepared to ask the Auditor-General to inquire further into the overseas travel of former Minister Pansy Wong?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE (Minister for Economic Development) on behalf of the Prime
Minister: No, as the Prime Minister has stated previously, if anyone has evidence that they believe has not been looked at, then they should refer it to the Speaker or the Auditor-General for further investigation.
Hon Pete Hodgson: In light of the Campbell Live investigation that was aired last night, which found evidence that in June 2008 Sammy Wong took a taxpayer-subsidised trip to China that included business activity, is it Government policy to attempt to recover taxpayers’ money from people who have spent that money wrongly?
Mr SPEAKER: Before I invite the Minister to answer the question, I point out that the Prime Minister is not responsible for a matter to do with part of Parliamentary Service. Any travel by Sammy Wong is a matter for the Speaker. The Speaker can certainly be questioned on the matter if the member wants to put a question in writing to the Speaker, but the Prime Minister is not responsible for travel funded by Parliamentary Service, under the Speaker’s directions.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I think the question was very deliberately worded in such a way that it was to do with the overall responsibility of the Government to recover Crown funds that appear to have been stolen.
Mr SPEAKER: The member must not allege that sort of thing in the House. It is not fair to use parliamentary privilege in that way. It is not fair to treat New Zealand citizens in that way.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I think there is a real matter of fairness here. I do not know whether you saw the television programme last night, but it did show dated photos of Sammy Wong—
Mr SPEAKER: The member will resume his seat immediately. Labour has certainly just lost a supplementary question, and any repeat of that behaviour will result in the shadow Leader of the House leaving the Chamber. When I get to my feet, he will resume his seat. I make that absolutely clear. He will not use the point of order procedure to try to make allegations about another New Zealander. It is irrelevant whether the Speaker saw some television programme last night—totally irrelevant. The member will not abuse the House in that way. The member is better than that.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: The member will resume his seat. I am still on my feet. That is enough. I have been giving thought to the issue of the budgetary considerations of the Government. The Speaker is responsible for the budget of Parliamentary Service. If the Minister wishes to answer the part of the question about the Government’s overall budgetary responsibility, I am happy for him to do so. But if the Minister feels that that is not the Prime Minister’s responsibility, then that is certainly a perfectly fair response. I do not want to prevent the Minister from answering the question.
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: It is not under his jurisdiction.
Mr SPEAKER: The Minister is making it clear that he does not consider that is appropriate, and that is where the Speaker must leave it.
Hon Pete Hodgson: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I ask whether you could tell me now, if I were to ask a question that read “Is it Government policy to attempt to recover taxpayers’ money from people who have spent that money wrongly?”, that question would be in order?
Mr SPEAKER: The Speaker should not be answering that kind of question, although I sympathise with the member in that he wants to be able to ask questions that are in order on this particular issue. Normally when members are questioning Ministers about their budgets, they are asking specifically about matters to do with the budgets they are responsible for, and that is correct and a Minister could be questioned in that way. The dilemma with this particular question is that the “Minister” responsible for that budget is the Speaker. There is a procedure for questioning the Speaker. The member is perfectly at liberty to put down a question for written answer to the Speaker, and I can assure the member that the Speaker will answer it. That is the difficulty I have with questions of that nature, because it is absolutely clear that the Prime Minister is not responsible for Sammy Wong’s travel and is not responsible for a budget that the Speaker is responsible for. That is the dilemma I have with this line of questioning.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I know that you are relatively unhappy with me at the moment, but I ask you to consider this question again. I think you are responsible for the appropriation. You are responsible for the expenditure; you are not, I think, responsible for the revenue of the Crown. That is the responsibility of the Government led by the Prime Minister.
Mr SPEAKER: I accept that the member’s point of order is being made in good faith, but the dilemma I have is that I have put it to the Minister as to whether the Minister answering on behalf
of the Prime Minister believes there is ministerial responsibility for the question put to him, and the Minister has indicated to me that he does not believe there is ministerial responsibility for that question as it was put to him. I cannot argue that with a Minister; the Minister is a better judge of that matter than I am. All I can say is that matters relating to travel by members of this House who are not Ministers are the responsibility of the Speaker, and that is the difficulty we have on this question. The Minister has indicated that he does not believe that the Prime Minister is answerable for that matter in this House, and I cannot dispute that.
Hon Pete Hodgson: How much does he think Mr and Mrs Wong need to pay back?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: I have no knowledge that they need to pay back anything, and I would suggest to the member that if he has any evidence that has not been considered so far, he needs to make it available to either the Auditor-General or the Speaker in order for that evidence to be considered.
Hon Pete Hodgson: How can the Prime Minister tell the House that in his view the answer to the question about how much needs to be paid back is zero, when documentary proof of a further rort was aired on television just last night?
Mr SPEAKER: In so far as the Prime Minister is responsible, I call the Hon Gerry Brownlee.
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: The Prime Minister did not see Campbell Live last night, and speaking for myself, I seldom watch it. But I would say that if there is further evidence that needs to be considered, then the member should make it available to either the Speaker or the Auditor- General.
Hon Pete Hodgson: Noting that Mr Wong reportedly told Mr McPhail that he went to Shanghai in June 2008 to visit friends when he actually went to Lianyungang to put a hovercraft deal together, does he now think that the McPhail report is flawed?
Mr SPEAKER: That question is totally out of order. The member knows that he should not have asked that question, because he knows that it is out of order. He was using the question as an opportunity to try to score a political point, and that is not an appropriate use of question time in this House, especially by an experienced member.
Questions Nos 1 to 3 to Member Questions withdrawn.
Telecommunications (TSO, Broadband, and Other Matters) Amendment Bill—Submissions
4. CLARE CURRAN (Labour—Dunedin South) to the Chairperson of the Finance and
Expenditure Committee: How many submissions have been received to date on the Telecommunications (TSO, Broadband, and Other Matters) Amendment Bill?
CRAIG FOSS (Chairperson of the Finance and Expenditure Committee):Two submissions.
Clare Curran: Has the committee considered extending the closing date—
Mr SPEAKER: The chair is not answerable for what the committee might have decided.
Telecommunications (TSO, Broadband, and Other Matters) Amendment Bill—Closing Date
5. CLARE CURRAN (Labour—Dunedin South) to the Chairperson of the Finance and
Expenditure Committee: When do submissions close on the Telecommunications (TSO, Broadband, and Other Matters) Amendment Bill?
CRAIG FOSS (Chairperson of the Finance and Expenditure Committee): Submissions close on 25 February 2011.
Clare Curran: Is it the intention of the committee to extend—
Mr SPEAKER: The chair is not answerable for what the intention of the committee might be.