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Questions And Answers April 12


(uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing)

TUESDAY, 12 APRIL 2011

QUESTIONS FOR ORAL ANSWER

QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS

Finance, Minister—Confidence

1. Hon PHIL GOFF (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does he have confidence in his Minister of Finance?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): Absolutely.

Hon Phil Goff: Does he agree with his Minister of Finance’s statement that the fact that wages are 30 percent cheaper in New Zealand than in Australia is “an advantage and a good thing”?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I agree that it is likely to attract investment in certain areas, because the New Zealand workforce is highly skilled.

Hon Phil Goff: When he claimed on Television One that his finance Minister had been quoted out of context in saying that cheap wages were an advantage, what from the following quote of what Mr English was saying is not clear? Espiner: “you said … that one of our advantages over Australia was that our wages were 30 percent cheaper. I mean, is that an advantage now?”; English: “Well, it is a way of competing, isn’t it?”. And, later, Espiner: “But is it a good thing?”; English: “Well, it is a good thing, if we … attract the capital ...”.

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: The finance Minister gave a speech in Auckland that was quite wideranging. That was one point that he made. But I would make the point that when one looks at real after-tax wages from September 2008 to the present point in time, one sees that in New Zealand terms they have grown 10 percent and in Australia they have grown 6.2 percent. On my calculation this Government has closed the gap with Australia.

Hon Phil Goff: Nobody believes it.

Mr SPEAKER: Order!

Hon Phil Goff: With inflation under his Government in the last quarter at a 20-year high, does he think New Zealand workers facing a rising cost of living agree with him that having wages 30 percent lower than those of their Australian counterparts is an advantage and a good thing?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: For a start off, the wage gap blew out under the 9 years of the Labour Government, so let us get a few things right. Secondly, inflation was higher because of the GST adjustment, which was fully adjusted for. New Zealand workers are happy that this Government has been cutting taxes and therefore lifting real after-tax wages.

Hon Phil Goff: Why does the Prime Minister go on pretending that the wage gap with Australia is closing, when the 2025 Taskforce, which he himself set up, reported last year, and I quote: “we do not see any realistic possibility that the gap in real per capita income has narrowed in the past year ...”?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: If anyone is pretending, it is Phil Goff to be the leader of the Labour Party, because it is about to be Andrew Little.

Hon Phil Goff: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.

Mr SPEAKER: Members know that when a point of order is called they must treat it with respect and silence. I have not asked anyone to leave the House for breaching that very strict rule, but my patience is wearing a bit thin.

Hon Phil Goff: Is it in order for the Prime Minister to answer in that way, simply because he knows that he is wrong—

Mr SPEAKER: No, no. I extended the member the courtesy of making sure the House was quiet for his point of order, and the point of order was fair enough in the way it started, but then it departed from what is acceptable by way of point of order. The reason why the Prime Minister answered in the way he did was the nature of the member’s question. The member asked why the Prime Minister pretends something. When members ask that kind of question they will probably get an answer about why the Prime Minister pretends, or what pretentions there may be. It is the sort of question where, as Speaker, I cannot insist on any particular answer. The solution is in members’ own hands, and they need to be a little more cautious with the language in questions.

Hon Phil Goff: Was the $43 million bail-out of MediaWorks by way of a deferred payment a loan under the Public Finance Act, as set out in the document that Mr English signed, or not a loan, as Mr English claimed on the television programme on Sunday?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I do not have the public accounts with me, so I cannot confirm that. The member can look at it. But I will say one thing about that particular situation, and it is this: that deal was offered to any media company; nine companies, from memory took it up; a number of companies did not. If it was such a good deal, why did not every company take it up?

Hon Phil Goff: Does the Prime Minister have confidence in the Minister of Finance’s decision to extend a taxpayer guarantee to four at-risk finance companies that could impose a liability on the New Zealand taxpayer of a further $1.7 billion? He did that in January.

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Yes.

Earthquakes, Canterbury—Projected Government Spending

2. CRAIG FOSS (National—Tukituki) to the Minister of Finance: How much does the Government expect to spend over the next few years to help rebuild Christchurch in the aftermath of the two earthquakes?

Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): At this stage the Government expects to spend about $8.5 billion over the next 4 or 5 years rebuilding Christchurch. The latest estimates put the direct cost to the Government of the two earthquakes at about $5.5 billion. The other $3 billion is the cost to the Earthquake Commission of paying the excess on its insurance. These will be fully provided for in the Budget next month. Of the $5.5 billion, about $3 billion relates to the taxpayers’ share of local government infrastructure, insurance excesses on schools and hospitals, temporary housing, the costs already incurred in supporting businesses and making cash payments, ACC costs, and demolition costs. The remaining $2.5 billion will be allowed for to cover uncertainty and decisions that have not been made yet, particularly around land remediation.

Craig Foss: What impact are the earthquakes likely to have on the Government’s tax revenue?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: Treasury had estimated that as a result of the two earthquakes and an economy growing more slowly than it had expected, tax revenue would be $3 billion to $5 billion less over the next few years. A small bit of good news is that current forecasts show that the loss of tax revenue will be just a bit less than $3 billion, rather than the higher figure of $5 billion. This will be finalised in the Budget.

Craig Foss: How significant are the costs of the two earthquakes, and how will the Government go about paying its share of those costs?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: The costs are significant, but they do not fundamentally change the economic situation or the Government’s programme. They need to be put in the context of New Zealand’s annual GDP of about $200 billion a year. So when we are talking about direct costs to the Government of $5.5 billion over the next 4 years, during that time total GDP will be about $800

billion. Meeting the Government’s share will require quite a substantial front-loading of Crown debt in the next year or two, because we need the money now in order to start rebuilding now, and the Budget will clearly set out the Government’s plan to return to surplus.

Craig Foss: Why does the Government prefer not to impose a special earthquake levy?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: When Kiwi families are under some pressure, particularly because their wage increases have not been significant, the last thing they need is a new tax. The Green proposal for a relatively small levy would need to stay in place for about a decade to pay for the quake, but particularly at this time, when we are absorbing these unexpected events but need to put them behind us and get on with growing the economy, we do not want to reverse the direction of tax cuts, which were intended to be an incentive for growth.

Hon Clayton Cosgrove: What advice has he received from Treasury or any other Government agency on the cost of providing income support to earthquake-affected Cantabrians once the Government’s business support package is terminated in the next few weeks; if so, what was that advice?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: Really, the only advice we have received about that is the uncertainty of knowing what will happen, particularly when the employment support subsidy winds up. The point of the subsidy was to allow people sufficient time for a transition, during which a number of them will have to make quite difficult personal decisions about whether they can start up their business again or whether there is a job for them. We expect that as the package runs off, more Cantabrians will be applying for benefits.

Hardship Assistance—Minister’s Statement

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

Development and Employment: Does she stand by her statement in regard to hardship assistance that “… I think it proves that the help is there when people need it,”; if so, why?

Hon PAULA BENNETT (Minister for Social Development and Employment): Yes; because hardship assistance payments were given to 51,000 people for the month of March 2008, but 91,000 were given out for the month of March 2011.

Hon Annette King: Why did she tell the meeting of 48 budget advisers on Friday that it was her staff’s fault for misinterpreting her instruction and not understanding her intent with regard to changes to hardship grants that have led to even more hardship for some people, and what will her new directive to staff be?

Hon PAULA BENNETT: That is not what I said to the budgeting services on Friday. I said to them that there is a leadership issue—that it should start here, and then go through managers to front-line staff, who simply interpret what information comes to them. We said there should be budgeting activity. That was interpreted as meaning that everyone had to go to a budgeting service. We can look at changing that instruction so that we do not have quite the same number going through to budgeting services.

Hon Annette King: When she said on Television One on Friday night that there would be extra funding for budget advisers from unspent funds from this year’s Budget, what increased figure did she have in mind to give them?

Hon PAULA BENNETT: As I explained on Friday to those services, we are still working through that process. Family and community services are looking at how we can fill some of that gap, because we certainly recognise that they have had an increase and have had trouble filling it. We are looking backwards a bit to make sure we fill the gap for them.

Hon Annette King: Why did it take 2 months for desperate budget advisers to get a confirmed meeting with her to discuss the explosion in the number of people being sent for budget advice, and why was the appointment confirmed only the morning after their spokesperson appeared on television?

Hon PAULA BENNETT: That is not true. The meeting has been my diary for more than 3 weeks. To be fair, the request came through in mid-February, and we then had a wee thing called the earthquake, which meant that the next 3 weeks were taken up with trying to deliver aid—which is what a Minister does and what one would expect. So when the budget advisers made the suggestion of the date, Friday, I confirmed it—and it was actually weeks ago.

Hon Annette King: What did the Prime Minister tell her about the difficulties that low-income New Zealanders are facing and the pressure that budget advisers are under in light of his statement last week that he regularly goes out to see social services, which leads one to assume that he knows what is happening to the so-called underclass in New Zealand?

Hon PAULA BENNETT: In all fairness, the comments the Prime Minister makes to me about social services and what they are delivering are so many that I do not have time to stand here and relate them to the Opposition. He follows what is happening in the different regions and with the different organisations all the time. He is rather forward in giving me his opinion on them.

Hon Annette King: Will she now admit that she had no idea of the level of hardship that some New Zealand families are facing and the pressure and problems that community services have been trying to deal with, and does she think that turning up in a BMW—with or without a heated seat— removed her from the real world they are living in?

Hon PAULA BENNETT: I will not play politics with people’s lives like that. I will say that— [Interruption] It is about time you got riled up about something. What is happening as far as hardship assistance is concerned is that in March 2008, under the Labour Government, 51,000 payments were given out, at a cost of $12 million, and in March 2011 the National Government gave out 91,000 payments, at a cost of about $20 million.

Mr SPEAKER: I assure the Minister that the Speaker is not getting riled up about anything.

Colon Cancer—Treatment of Māori Patients

4. RAHUI KATENE (Māori Party—Te Tai Tonga) to the Minister of Health: What action, if any, has been taken in light of the study Ethnicity and Management of Colon Cancer in New Zealand: Do Indigenous Patients Get a Worse Deal?, which concluded that Māori New Zealanders with colon cancer were less likely to receive adjuvant chemotherapy and experienced a lower quality of care compared with non-Māori patients?

Hon TONY RYALL (Minister of Health): The study the member refers to was published in July last year and was based on data from 1996 to 2003. The study is, however, consistent with many earlier reports that show that access to cancer treatment for all needs to be improved further. The issues raised in the study were incorporated in the planning and design of the Government’s $24 million bowel cancer screening programme announced last year, which is being piloted by the Waitematā District Health Board.

Rahui Katene: What explanation can be given for the fact that Māori were more likely to die during their post-operative period, significantly less likely to receive chemotherapy for stage III disease, and more likely to experience a delay of at least 8 weeks before starting chemotherapy?

Hon TONY RYALL: There is a complex range of contributing factors and a range of opinions as to the relative weighting of those factors—for example, socio-economic factors, and the proximity of treatment services. What I can say specifically on chemotherapy is that treatment times are now being much more actively monitored, and I am advised the latest data shows that no one has needed to wait more than 6 weeks to start chemotherapy, and most started within 4 weeks. That is a significant improvement from the time the survey was taken.

Rahui Katene: Does the Minister agree with the article published in 2010 that attention to health system factors is needed to ensure equal access and quality of cancer treatment for indigenous and ethnic minority populations; if so, what is he doing to address these factors?

Hon TONY RYALL: I think there certainly is a need to improve the services, as just stated by the member—indeed, for all patients. That is one of the reasons why the Government is investing

$24 million in a bowel cancer screening programme. The Waitematā project will include 7,000 Māori in the pilot population. I can also advise the member that Pharmac has widened access to two additional drugs for bowel cancer: octreotide in July 2010, and capecitabine in October 2010.

Electricity—Generation from Renewable Resources

5. CHRIS AUCHINVOLE (National—West Coast - Tasman) to the Minister for the

Environment: What steps is the Government taking to increase renewable electricity generation in light of reports that greenhouse gas emissions from this sector have increased by 120 percent, which is more than any other sector since 1990?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH (Minister for the Environment): Our first step, in 2009, was streamlining the Resource Management Act with our new national consenting process that enables timely decisions on projects. Our second step, in 2010, was the introduction of the emissions trading scheme, which provides a competitive advantage for renewable generation over thermal generation. The third step, which we are taking today, is the new national policy statement on renewable electricity generation. It provides clear direction to our 78 councils on the importance of renewables, and consistent and clear rules to enable the development of New Zealand’s wind, geothermal, hydro, and tidal energy resources.

Chris Auchinvole: What interventions have Governments made in the last decade affecting electricity generation, and how have these interventions affected greenhouse gas emissions from the sector?

Hon Dr NICK SMITH: An intervention was made in 2003, with the then Government deciding to build the new diesel-powered generator at Whirinaki. The Government further intervened in 2005 to underwrite the investment in the very large e3p gas turbine at Huntly. In the last decade we also saw the proportion of New Zealand’s electricity produced from burning coal more than double. These decisions contributed to New Zealand’s highest-ever electricity emissions in 2008, which was somewhat at odds with the then Government’s policy of carbon neutrality. I welcome the fact that we have seen a record high investment in 2010 in renewable generation in New Zealand.

Companies, Financial Support—Government Guarantee

6. Hon CLAYTON COSGROVE (Labour—Waimakariri) to the Minister of Finance: Excluding the banks and non-bank financial institutions covered by the deposit guarantee scheme, are there any other companies that might be provided with a Government guarantee while the Rt Hon John Key is Prime Minister?

Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): Yes. Crown guarantees and indemnities arise in many forms. For example, the New Zealand Export Credit Office has, since 2001, offered a wide range of working capital and credit guarantees to a large number of New Zealand exporters. There are numerous other examples of Crown guarantees, such as those by Housing New Zealand Corporation, Landcorp, New Zealand Railways Corporation, the Reserve Bank, and others. I refer the member to the fiscal risks chapter of each economic and fiscal update for more information about these guarantees.

Hon Clayton Cosgrove: Does he accept Treasury’s advice, found at pages 30 and 32 of its paper entitled Crown ownership of commercial entities, that partly privatising the energy State-owned enterprises might create the perception of an “implicit Crown guarantee”?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: Probably the single action that created the perception of implicit Government guarantees was the decision made by the previous Labour Government to offer a deposit guarantee to the banks. It is now taken as implicit that all our main banks have an implicit guarantee. In respect of State-owned enterprises, people will draw their own conclusions. It has not stopped a State-owned enterprise like Air New Zealand, under the mixed ownership model, being a successful a company.

Hon Clayton Cosgrove: Has he considered the possibility that an implicit Government guarantee, as described by Treasury, might incentivise risk taking by private investors who manage to get influence over a company, and that such risk could include asset stripping and a lack of reinvestment, the kinds of practices that forced the previous Government to buy back Tranz Rail and bail out Air New Zealand after they were run into the ground by private investors?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: Of course that is possible, but the Government is considering whether the tests it has laid out for the mixed ownership model can be met. Those tests focus on maintaining majority Government ownership and providing an opportunity for New Zealanders, as preferential investors, to be able to invest in some sound, long-term companies, thereby encouraging more savings by New Zealanders and strengthening our capital markets, which badly need it after 9 years of the previous Labour administration.

Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga: How have the guarantees of banks and financial institutions reduced under this Government?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: The coverage of the deposit guarantee scheme has narrowed considerably. The initial Crown scheme guaranteed 73 institutions with total deposits of $125 billion, and most of those organisations paid no fees. The current scheme, which charges commercial fees, covers just four institutions, instead of 73, and $1.7 billion of deposits, instead of $125 billion. The current scheme will cease from 31 December this year, and it is possible that at that stage we will be one of the very few developed countries that will have been able to get out of a Government guarantee of depositors.

Hon Clayton Cosgrove: Given that the National Government has already spent billions of dollars on bailing out South Canterbury Finance, MediaWorks, and now possibly expenditures in relation to AMI Insurance, does he think it would be prudent to refrain from partly privatising New Zealand’s energy infrastructure, eliminating the possibility that risky private sector practices could lead to future bail-outs of former State-owned enterprises?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: The two issues are unrelated. The Government has been very reluctant to enter into arrangements such as the support package for AMI Insurance, and the Opposition is giving the appearance of being against it, which is something that member should try to explain to policyholders of AMI Insurance who are sitting in their wrecked houses in Christchurch.

Hon Clayton Cosgrove: Is it worth risking the failure of an energy company through privatisation, when the advice he has received from Treasury says “there is—

Hon Dr Nick Smith: Oh!

Hon Clayton Cosgrove: Well, the Minister may not like the advice, but it is there. Treasury says “there is little evidence to suggest that privatisation would significantly improve the financial performance of many of the SOE companies.”

Hon BILL ENGLISH: The member needs to make up his mind whether it is a big change or a small change if it goes into the mixed ownership model. Either hardly any benefits will come from it or it will be a major disaster. The Government is doing the work now to see whether the mixed ownership model will meet the tests. I must say, though, that my colleague Simon Power has done a good job of tidying up the grossly irresponsible stewardship of our State-owned companies by the previous Government.

Petrobras—Petroleum Exploration Permit

7. JONATHAN YOUNG (National—New Plymouth) to the Acting Minister of Energy and

Resources: What is Petrobras able to do under the permit granted to it in the Raukūmara basin?

Hon HEKIA PARATA (Acting Minister of Energy and Resources): Under the 5-year permit Petrobras can acquire and interpret 2-D and 3-D seismic data, and is consented to drill one exploratory well. At the end of the 5-year period, if Petrobras wishes to move on to extraction and production, a petroleum-mining permit will need to be applied for.

Jonathan Young: What activities have previously been undertaken in petroleum exploration and production in New Zealand?

Hon HEKIA PARATA: New Zealand has a long history of petroleum exploration and production dating back to 1864. In 2010, 18 seismic surveys were undertaken in New Zealand, and 59 exploration and development wells were also drilled. This demonstrates that petroleum activity is currently carried out regularly in New Zealand in a responsible manner. Petroleum is New Zealand’s fourth-largest export earner. Last year it brought in $2.1 billion in revenue, and directly and indirectly employed over 7,000 people. The Government is committed to wealth-creating opportunities, including the potential in New Zealand’s petroleum and mineral resources.

David Clendon: I seek leave to table the exploration permit issued to Petrobras, which clearly states that the company is obliged to drill, rather than consented to drill, within a 60-month period of commencing.

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.

Petrobras, Petroleum Exploration Permit—Environmental Protection Provisions

8. DAVID CLENDON (Green): to the Acting Minister of Energy and Resources: What environmental protection provisions, if any, did the Government include in the permit granted to Petrobras to explore for oil and drill off the East Cape?

Hon HEKIA PARATA (Acting Minister of Energy and Resources): Petrobras, like all operators, must apply with applicable law and regulations in New Zealand for the activities it conducts, including the Crown Minerals Act, the Resource Management Act, the Maritime Transport Act, the Biosecurity Act, and the Health and Safety in Employment Act. Petrobras has also committed to complying with the Department of Conservation’s guidelines for minimising acoustic disturbance to marine mammals from seismic survey operations, and has an independent observer on its survey vessel to ensure that is happening.

David Clendon: Can the Minister confirm that outside the 12 nautical mile limit the Resource Management Act does not apply and that there is no requirement for resource consent or any equivalent environmental approval?

Hon HEKIA PARATA: In New Zealand’s exclusive economic zone and extended continental shelf, beyond the territorial sea, the Maritime Transport Act 1994, which is administered by Maritime New Zealand, applies when a party is operating a ship or installation for seismic survey, drilling, and production-associated activities. Under the Maritime Transport Act, safety and marine protection standards—which are known as maritime rules, marine protection rules, and emergency marine protection rules—apply, and operators must have maritime and marine protection documents. This is an issue on which my colleague the Minister for the Environment, Dr Nick Smith, has been actively working, as part of the Environmental Protection Authority reforms.

David Clendon: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. That was a very fulsome answer, but it did not go to the heart of my question, which asked about resource consent or equivalent environmental approval. The Minister referred to safety and other issues, but not to environmental approval.

Mr SPEAKER: The dilemma I have as the Speaker is that if the question had asked specifically about resource consent processes, it would have been much simpler, but it went on to ask about “or equivalent” measures. In her answer the Minister appeared to me to be giving information about equivalent measures relating to other legislation that did have environmental protection implications. I cannot judge how comprehensive those are, but the member has further supplementary questions to pursue that issue.

David Clendon: Why has a foreign oil company been permitted to explore and drill for oil in deep water when, according to the Ministry of Economic Development’s review of offshore petroleum operations, there is a “lack of an environmental permitting regime”?

Hon HEKIA PARATA: As I have previously answered, we have a sufficient legislative and regulatory regime in place to cover the permit that has currently been made available to Petrobras. We are addressing other, wider exclusive economic zone legislation as part of our work agenda.

Hon Rodney Hide: Why does the Government stand by and allow these ecoterrorists to humiliate New Zealand and cost us potential jobs and income?

Hon HEKIA PARATA: Police are responsible for operational decisions, and they make those decisions independently of Ministers.

David Clendon: Given that there is no environmental permitting regime or requirements in the permit issued to Petrobras, how can the Government be sure that there will not be a catastrophic leak such as the one that occurred in the Gulf of Mexico last year?

Hon HEKIA PARATA: I reject the premise of that question. In previous answers I have indicated the regulatory and legal regime that is in place to provide for environmental management.

Hon Rodney Hide: What action is the Government taking to enable people to go about their lawful, legal business in New Zealand waters, free from the harassment of eco-fascists who want to put New Zealand back into the Dark Ages?

Mr SPEAKER: I do not think it is appropriate to refer to any New Zealanders as fascists, unless they wish to be so referred to. But, more than that, I do not see how the question is the responsibility of the Minister. It relates to law and order, and the primary question was set down for answer by the Acting Minister of Energy and Resources. I do not want to deprive the member of a question. I invite him to rephrase his question and try to bring it into line with the Minister’s responsibilities.

Hon Rodney Hide: What action is the Government taking to enable people to go about their lawful business, which she as Minister has consented them to do, free from the harassment of these—what could we possibly call them—eco-protesters who want to put New Zealand back into the Dark Ages?

Hon HEKIA PARATA: As the Prime Minister has said, and as I have repeated, protesters have the right to peacefully protest, but Petrobras has the permit to go about its survey business, and the rule of law will be upheld by police making operational decisions that are outside my portfolio.

David Clendon: Does the Minister think that one part-time inspector will be sufficient to adequately monitor all offshore petroleum activities in New Zealand?

Hon HEKIA PARATA: As I have already indicated, there is a comprehensive regime in place that involves hundreds, if not thousands, of public servants who carry out their responsibilities under that Act. We are also reviewing areas that we need to strengthen.

David Clendon: Why has a foreign oil company been permitted to explore and drill for oil in our sensitive marine environment, with no prior consultation with directly affected iwi and hapū?

Hon HEKIA PARATA: That is simply untrue. Both Te Rūanga o Ngāti Porou and Te Rūnanga o Te Whānau a Apanui were invited, on several occasions, to contribute to the permitting process.

David Clendon: What is the Government’s contingency plan if there is a catastrophic oil spill or leak resulting from exploratory drilling?

Hon HEKIA PARATA: Maritime New Zealand is responsible for ensuring that New Zealand is prepared for, and able to respond to, marine oil spills. The Marine Pollution Response Service consists of internationally respected experts, who manage and train a team of about 400 local, Government, and Maritime New Zealand responders.

David Clendon: Supplementary—

Mr SPEAKER: I believe that the member has had his six.

David Clendon: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. We are exercising the extra supplementary questions we received from the Hon Chris Carter.

Mr SPEAKER: Well, I will allow the member to do that, but I ask that in the future the member makes sure I am advised of that. I was not advised of that, and normally I am required to be advised of that. But I will allow the member to ask his supplementary question.

David Clendon: Apologies, Mr Speaker; thank you for that. What resources or infrastructure does the New Zealand Government have to deal with a catastrophic oil spill that was not available to the American Government or BP Oil in the Gulf of Mexico?

Hon HEKIA PARATA: I believe that I answered the front-end of that question in my last answer, and I have no responsibility for the US response.

David Clendon: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I do not think that the Minister addressed the question, let alone answered it, and I would appreciate a more direct answer than that.

Mr SPEAKER: The question was actually not an unreasonable question. It asked what mechanisms or resources the Government has to deal with an oil spill that were not available to the US. It may be that the Minister does not have that information, because she certainly does not have any responsibility for the US. If the Minister has any information on that, then it is not an unreasonable question. But if the Minister does not have any information on that, then it is perfectly reasonable for her to tell the House she does not have specific information on that.

Hon HEKIA PARATA: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The response I gave to the previous question was that Maritime New Zealand is responsible for ensuring that New Zealand is well prepared, and that the Marine Pollution Response Service consists of internationally respected experts who train a team of 400 local, Government, and Maritime New Zealand responders. But as to whether they were made available in terms of the US response I cannot answer.

Mr SPEAKER: The member is now going further than necessary. I believe that I cannot take the matter further, because the Minister cannot be expected to have that information. I accept that the member’s question was not an unreasonable question, but an answer to it would depend on whether a Minister has that specific information. I do not think we should take the further time of the House on that. The question specifically asked what extra facilities or resources we have, and all the Minister can outline is what we do have. That may or may not be extra, but we cannot expect the Minister to know what the US has.

David Clendon: I seek leave to table two documents. The first is a Ministry of Economic Development report of September 2010 entitled Comparative Review of Health, Safety and Environmental Legislation for Offshore Petroleum Operations, which states that there is a lack of an environmental permitting regime in the exclusive economic zone.

Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is objection.

David Clendon: I seek leave to table the Environmental Defence Society’s submission on the Ministry of Economic Development offshore petroleum review, which provides evidence that the inspection office is severely under-resourced, with only one part-time inspector.

Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is objection.

Hon Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The matter has just come up, and I ask you to reflect on it. Speaker Hunt made a new ruling in this House by allowing parties to shift the day on which they would ask a question, or, indeed, enabling parties to shift questions from one party to another. We have just had an instance of the apparently Independent member Chris Carter not asking his question when it came up, but, rather, transferring it to the Greens. I ask you to reflect on whether that is allowed under the rules, and, indeed, whether it should be allowed under the rules. Chris Carter gets a question once in a blue moon. If he cannot be bothered coming here to ask the question, he can actually postpone it to another day. And he was actually elected as a member of the Labour Party, not the Greens.

Hon Trevor Mallard: Far be it from me to defend Chris Carter, but I would just like to remind Mr Hide that his party has come to Labour in order to request supplementary questions be transferred in that very way.

Mr SPEAKER: I do not believe we need to take this matter any further today. Supplementary questions are always at the discretion of the Speaker, because there are not rules over this matter. What the Speaker did establish—during Speaker Hunt’s time, as the Minister pointed out—is that supplementary questions can be transferred provided that the Speaker is advised. Today the Speaker was not advised. I re-emphasise the point. I allowed the supplementary question to be transferred. We keep track of how many questions are available to Independent members so that they cannot transfer more than they have available to them in the course of a week. We keep track of all of that, but the Speaker must be advised. In the future I will not allow the transfer of a question unless I am advised.

Dr Russel Norman: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I ask you to reflect. Normally, you have ruled that one should not use the point of order process to cast aspersions on other members of the House or to make political points. Mr Hide clearly said in reference to Mr Carter that Mr Carter could not be bothered to turn up, which was clearly a negative connotation to put on Mr Carter. He was using the point of order process in a manner that it was never designed to be used.

Mr SPEAKER: I hear what the member said, and he will note that I did get to my feet and cut off the Minister before he had completed his point of order, for those very reasons. I felt he was starting to depart from the proper process for a point of order. If I was perhaps a little slow in getting to my feet, I do apologise for that.

Hon Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Just for future reference, Mr Speaker, what assurance do you need as Speaker that, in fact, an Independent member of Parliament has allowed their question—

Mr SPEAKER: We do not need to take further time on this. The Speaker, of course, must be satisfied of that. That is why the Speaker must be advised—so that the Speaker can keep track of all these things and make sure it is all done in a proper manner, and we do that.

MediaWorks, Payment Arrangement—Confidence in Ministers Involved

9. Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Labour—Hutt South) to the Prime Minister: Does he have confidence in all Ministers involved in the MediaWorks frequency payment arrangement?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): Yes.

Hon Trevor Mallard: Does he agree with Steven Joyce’s statement of 10 March 2011 that there was no Government loan to MediaWorks, and with a similar statement on Q+A last Sunday made by Bill English?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Yes.

Hon Trevor Mallard: Why, then, did the arrangement require the approval of the Minister of Finance as a loan under section 65N of the Public Finance Act?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Because that was the accounting treatment required under the Public Finance Act.

Hon Trevor Mallard: Was Cabinet advised that this arrangement was a loan requiring the authority of the Minister of Finance under the Public Finance Act?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Not to the best of my knowledge, but I do not have the papers with me.

Hon Trevor Mallard: Did he personally sign, or give a specific authorisation for his electronic signature to be attached to, his original answers to written questions Nos 2043 and 2044 in 2011, which said that he had not had any discussions with the board or senior management of MediaWorks about the deferral scheme?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: From memory it was about “meetings”. I did not have a meeting with them; I ran into Brent Impey at a function. In the newspapers he is actually described as saying that he was just showing me around. He said he would like to come and see me about the licence. That

was it. It was very light. The conversation was a couple of sentences. I have hundreds of encounters like that with people every week.

Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. [Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: A point of order has been called.

Hon Trevor Mallard: I am somewhat at a loss. I know that we are not allowed to table answers to written questions and we are not allowed to argue about answers. But the Prime Minister said the question was about meetings. I have his reply, which was about discussions.

Mr SPEAKER: The member knows he cannot litigate by way of point of order an answer given. He can put down further questions in the future if he wishes to pursue a matter, and he can ask further supplementary questions today, of course.

Hon Trevor Mallard: Did he read the advice from Deloitte in its report on this proposal?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: To the best of my knowledge, no.

Hon Trevor Mallard: Was he told that the Deloitte conclusion was that “the licence purchases at the prices contracted with the Ministry should be affordable without compromising the longer term financial viability of the companies … This conclusion does not change, even for the worstcase scenario modelled.”, and that this issue was a problem of the low capitalisation of MediaWorks by its Australian private equity owners; if so, what is the public interest in bailing out Australian companies that do not properly capitalise their New Zealand subsidiaries?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: At the time the Government approved that offer, it was approved for a number of companies. Every company in that sector was able to take up the offer. It was brought to us by the Radio Broadcasters Association and it was considerably changed by Cabinet. The fact that some companies chose not to take up the offer shows that it was not as good a deal as that; if it was a sweet-heart deal, every company would have taken it up. I might add that members on the Opposition benches seem terribly confused, because last week David Cunliffe—

Mr SPEAKER: No, I think the answer—

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: It is quite a salient point.

Mr SPEAKER: The Opposition does not deserve to be attacked. Accusing—[Interruption] I am on my feet. Accusing parties or members of being confused in this place is kind of an attack. The Prime Minister had given a perfectly good answer and did not need to add that last bit to it.

Earthquake, Christchurch—Inland Revenue Department Support

10. AARON GILMORE (National) to the Minister of Revenue: What has Inland Revenue done to assist the people in Christchurch after the February earthquake?

Hon PETER DUNNE (Minister of Revenue): Inland Revenue Department has responded both nationally and locally to this extraordinary event. Initially the response was focused on communicating to taxpayers that they should focus first on family and friends, and not on tax. Subsequently Inland Revenue Department has also been working with the Ministry of Social Development to deliver the earthquake support package. The second stage of support has been focused on addressing issues with regard to ongoing tax compliance and helping taxpayers to get back on their feet. In that regard Inland Revenue Department has applied all tax discretions available to it to Canterbury people who have been affected by the earthquake.

Aaron Gilmore: What policy changes has the Government announced as a result of the earthquakes, and how will they help the people of Christchurch?

Hon PETER DUNNE: A number have been announced. I made an announcement this morning regarding depreciation roll-over relief and the recognition of employer welfare contributions made to staff not being taxable. We have also provided an exemption so that businesses do not have to pay tax or gift duty on trading stock donated within 4 months of either the September or the February quakes. We are proposing to extend the redundancy tax credit to 30 September this year, to alleviate the impost of use-of-money interest on late payments of tax. The commissioner will use his discretion to extend statutory tax dates on a case by case or class by class basis, and we have

exempted certain payments made to families who receive Working for Families tax credits as a result of the earthquakes from having to count as income.

Ministerial Vehicles—Replacement

11. GRANT ROBERTSON (Labour—Wellington Central) to the Minister responsible for

Ministerial Services: Does he stand by his statements in relation to the purchase of 34 BMWs by Ministerial Services, including one with heated seats, that “Yeah I don’t know what’s in Dunedin” and “It’s beyond me, it’s not my car anyway”?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Minister responsible for Ministerial Services): No, and the reason is that that was not my statement. I have a copy of the transcript and it states: “That’s what I said. I don’t know why it’s in Dunedin.”

Mr SPEAKER: Supplementary question, Grant Robertson. [Interruption] I have called Grant Robertson.

Grant Robertson: How are things in the fourth form.

Mr SPEAKER: No, no. When I call a member to ask a supplementary question, the microphone is open and there will not be that kind of interjection. But, then, the House should be more orderly.

Grant Robertson: As Minister responsible for Ministerial Services, is he responsible for the 2010-11 budget of Ministerial Services, as Gerry Brownlee told the House in February?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Yes.

Grant Robertson: Is it correct that the decision to replace the VIP transport fleet was put to him, as Minister responsible for Ministerial Services, four times through March and April 2009 as part of the statement of intent process, and that as Minister responsible he signed off on those documents on each occasion?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No, it is not correct.

Grant Robertson: I seek leave to table a Department of Internal Affairs briefing note of 18 February 2011 that lists the four occasions on which the Minister signed off the statement of intent.

Mr SPEAKER: I say—and it is very much to the Labour front bench on this occasion—that points of order will be heard in silence. I will not predict when I will evict the first person for abusing that, but I will not tolerate it further. Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? Did I see objection? No, there is no objection. Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.

Grant Robertson: Can he see why, given that he is the Minister responsible for the VIP transport fleet, he was told about the fleet replacement, and he signed it off four times, perhaps people might expect just a little bit more responsibility than his channelling of Bart Simpson with his: “I didn’t do it. No one saw me do it. It’s not my car anyway.”, routine?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: The statement of intent does not say what he says; it says that they “may” replace the fleet. There was no proposal that was given to me. In relation to the add-on extras commented on in the papers yesterday, none of those were brought to my attention. The decisions were made by Ministerial Services, with no reference to me or any Minister.

Hon Trevor Mallard: Is he responsible for the processes in Ministerial Services?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Yes. It depends. [Interruption] It depends on the circumstances. I was not responsible for this particular instance, because it was not brought to my attention, and there was no reason for it to be.

Grant Robertson: Can he assure the House that there will now be no further additional expense to the taxpayer as a result of the decision of the Minister of Finance— communicated to the media—to refuse to use the Dunedin-based BMW, given that his other option is his self-drive ministerial car, which is likely residing, along with its owner, in Karori, Wellington?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: The decision to buy a heated seat for the car was made by Ministerial Services, without reference to me. At the point at which it was brought to my attention, when I was

answering a parliamentary question, my office rang Ministerial Services and asked whether it was possible to remove that extra, because it was not wanted by the Government. The answer that was given was that the cars had been ordered—under the Labour contract, I might add—and were on the water.

Grant Robertson: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.

Mr SPEAKER: Are members going deaf or something, because the point of order was called very clearly, and members know that they must cease interjecting. The problem is so many members are interjecting that I would have half the House out if I were to evict the offending members. But I would ask members to respect the Standing Orders of the House.

Grant Robertson: My question asked the Minister whether he could assure the House that there would not be any additional expense as a result of the Minister of Finance’s decision not—

Mr SPEAKER: I think the member’s question was so coloured that he was kind of lucky he got the detailed answer that he did. If members want to get straight answers, they have to ask pretty straight questions. The member heard a very good example of that today where one of his colleagues asked a set of very straight questions and got some pretty straight answers. But if members dress their questions up with cleverness, they will get clever answers. They should not seek my help as Speaker, if they do not get the answer they might be looking for.

Fisheries, Ministry—Compliance Operations

12. SHANE ARDERN (National—Taranaki - King Country) to the Minister of Fisheries

and Aquaculture: What has been the result of enforcement action taken by the Ministry of Fisheries under Operation PAID and Taskforce Webb?

Hon PHIL HEATLEY (Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture): Last month the offenders involved in Taskforce Webb were sentenced. Aurora Fisheries Ltd and Kanai Fishing, along with key individuals involved, were all convicted and fined a total of $840,000, bringing the total penalties in relation to this case to $4.1 million. This is the most significant penalty ever achieved by the ministry, and is a signal of the seriousness that the courts place on fisheries offending. Secondly, Operation PAID—a 2-year operation—netted a total of 53 defendants, who faced 321charges. Most of the defendants have now been sentenced, 28 of them to prison time.

ENDS

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