Questions And Answers August 16
(uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing)
TUESDAY, 16 AUGUST 2011
QUESTIONS FOR ORAL ANSWER
QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS
Children, Welfare—Policy Priorities
1. Dr RUSSEL NORMAN (Co-Leader—Green) to the Prime Minister: Does he stand by his reported statement that the needs of children should be balanced with the needs of other New Zealanders?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): Yes.
Dr Russel Norman: Is it not wrong to pit the needs of our children against the needs of other New Zealanders, because children are the future of our country and every dollar spent on children is a dollar spent on our own future?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No, because the Government actually raises an enormous amount of revenue through taxes, and part of the job of the Government is to allocate those resources as and where it sees fit. If every dollar of Government resources was to be spent on children, no resources would be spent on pensions, no resources would be spent on rest homes, no resources would be spent on the environment, no resources would be spent on the health system, no resources would be spent on police, and no resources would be spent on the military.
Dr Russel Norman: Does the Prime Minister accept that no one is arguing that every dollar in Government spending should be spent on children; rather, that we should not be pitting the interests of children against other New Zealanders because every dollar spent on our children is a dollar spent on our future?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I was simply answering the question I was asked. But the Government puts a high priority on young people, and that is why an enormous amount of resources are applied towards young people.
Dr Russel Norman: Does the Prime Minister agree with the economic consultancy Infometrics that the cost to the country of child poverty is about $6 billion per year in increased spending in health, welfare, education, and justice, and as a result of decreased productivity?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Mr Speaker, can I just ask the member to clarify that the work he is referring to came from the Every Child Counts research done by Infometrics, right?
Dr Russel Norman: The work was done by Infometrics; that is right.
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: It was done for Every Child Counts. Actually, largely I thought the report was rubbish. For a start-off, the data in it was simply wrong: six of the indicators were not available; two of them it got wrong. The data was an indictment on the then Labour Government, because the data was from 2003 to 2005. By the way, although Infometrics was looking at the spending on children, the report did not include health spending, Working for Families payments, or domestic purposes benefit funding.
Dr Russel Norman: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: If members had not been interjecting so loudly, they may have heard that a point of order was called.
Dr Russel Norman: My question was specifically about whether he agreed with the estimate of the cost of $6 billion per year. There were many other points he could disagree with, but the question related to that cost.
Mr SPEAKER: I think the Prime Minister indicated what he thought of the report, and therefore of the cost. I think that was pretty clear.
Dr Russel Norman: Does the Prime Minister find it acceptable that under his Government there are still 270,000 children living in poverty?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: That is not my preference. My preference is that those numbers are considerable lower—in fact, my preference is that the number is zero. That is one of the reasons why in the weekend we have made announcements in terms of reform of the welfare system, and there will be more reforms to come. The reason for that is that if one analyses that figure of the 270,000 children who are in poverty, one will find that the vast bulk of them are growing up in welfare-based homes.
Dr Russel Norman: In reference to his welfare announcements, and given his admission yesterday that the Government cannot provide enough teen parent skills for every mum, will his new policy to force sole parents to be in education not involve the forcible separation of 18 year-old mothers from their babies?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No. As I pointed out when I made a substantial number of remarks in relation to that issue, we can work with teen mums for solutions that may be in their homes. It may be that a group of mothers gets together with an educationalist providing them with support, or it may be that they go to a number of other courses. Frankly, I am a little surprised that the member does not think it is a good idea that we are asking teen mums, if they are in need of drug or alcohol counselling, to attend those courses, or asking them to attend parenting courses if they would benefit from that. I am also surprised that the member does not fundamentally think that 16, 17, or 18 year-old teen mums should get an education. I am sorry; he might have that view, but it is not shared on this side of the House.
Dr Russel Norman: Given the Prime Minister’s new-found love of education for poor people, will he support the reintroduction of the training incentive allowance so that young mums can get a degree-level course, because we know that when young mums get access to education there are better educational outcomes, and better welfare outcomes for their kids?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I think the member needs to reflect on how much this Government is actually spending on education, and the steps this Government has been taking to make sure that that spending, where it can, targets at-need, at-risk young people. One of the things we did in Budget 2010 was cap the amount of expenditure going into early childhood education facilities in terms of their being 80 percent - teacher-led, so that we could put $500 million into targeting at-risk young people.
Dr Russel Norman: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My question was specifically about whether the Prime Minister would support the reinstatement of the training incentive allowance. He did not address that question.
Mr SPEAKER: I invite the member to have a look at what he actually asked. The start of his question was not in order, but I was not going to stop it because it gave the Prime Minister almost free licence as to how he answered the question. If the member wants to have a particular answer, he must ask only what he said he asked, because he included a whole lot more in his question.
Dr Russel Norman: I seek leave of the House to table the Green Party’s policy priority for addressing child poverty in New Zealand. It was produced by the Green Party this year.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is objection.
Youth Unemployment—Trend Since October 2009
2. Hon ANNETTE KING (Labour—Rongotai) on behalf of Hon PHIL GOFF (Leader—
Labour) to the Minister for Social Development and Employment: Since the Prime Minister said in October 2009 that “we are particularly concerned about high rates of youth unemployment”, what has been the trend in youth unemployment?
Hon PAULA BENNETT (Minister for Social Development and Employment): In October 2009 there were 19,444 18 to 24-year-olds on the unemployment benefit. This peaked in January 2010 at 23,545. In July 2011 the figure was 16,530, so since January 2010 the figure has fallen by 7,000, which is pleasing. In December 2009 the household labour force survey unemployment rate for young people aged 15 to 24 years was 18.4 percent, and it was 17.4 percent in the last quarter. Under either definition youth unemployment has been reducing.
Hon Annette King: Has she sufficiently briefed the Prime Minister about the high rates of youth unemployment? Because he transferred a simple question about his own statement to her, he obviously does not feel sufficiently confident to answer the question himself.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] I do not think the Speaker does need to get his head out of the sand. The last part of that question was totally out of order.
Hon Annette King: Why?
Mr SPEAKER: It was totally out of order. I just invite the member to look at the relevant Standing Order. Members are not meant to include statements of opinion in questions like that. But the first part of the question was answerable, on whether the Minister had briefed the Prime Minister.
Hon PAULA BENNETT: Yes, of course, if members opposite will put questions in my portfolio area, I am more than happy to answer them. Mr Goff sort of scuttled out of the House a few minutes ago, but—
Mr SPEAKER: I am on my feet. One out of order part of a question should not provoke an out of order response from the Minister, but, given that both were out of order, I will leave the situation to lie there. The Minister knows that that was totally out of order, but so, I am sure, did the questioner know that the last part of the question was out of order.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I realise that it is belated and after the fact now, but I ask you to examine and get back to us, possibly privately, and indicate since when it has been out of order to indicate that a question has been transferred, when a Minister does not want to answer it.
Mr SPEAKER: Members are skating on thin ice here. The first part of that point of order was fine. The last part was totally out of order. To suggest that a Minister may not want to answer a question is totally out of order. It is totally out of order to claim that in a point of order. This exchange will stop, or there will be some consequences. I will leave it at that, but I am serious about it, because points of order must not be abused like that. I allow a lot of licence in questions being asked. There have been a couple of questions asked today that were not compliant with the Standing Orders, but I let them go because I do not want to be intervening too often. There is a limit to what can be allowed by way of a question. That is where I will leave it.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I think I would like to reiterate my request. The question, very carefully, did not go to questions of reasons for the Prime Minister—
Mr SPEAKER: The question did go to reasons. The question did allege a reason for the question being transferred, and that is not in order. I invite the member to look at the relevant Standing Order—forgive me for not remembering it off the top of my head—which is 371. That is simply not in order. It is Standing Order 371(1)(b), if the member wants to look at the relevant Standing Order.
Hon Annette King: Can she confirm that the Government declared that the New Zealand recession was officially over on 31 March 2009; and if the recession was over, what has caused youth unemployment to grow by 8.5 percent, or 7,000, since that announcement?
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I would like to indicate to you that there appears in my copy of the Standing Orders to be no Standing Order 371(1)(e). It stops at (c).
Mr SPEAKER: I said (b).
Hon PAULA BENNETT: What we have seen is that those in the age group of 15 to 19 years are still feeling the lags of the recession. They are the last to get into a job and often the first to go off employment, unfortunately. They have low skills. Hence we are putting even more of an emphasis on making sure that they have employment and training opportunities. We want to see them get sustainable jobs; hence we made the announcements that we did on Sunday, putting investment in that area.
Hon Annette King: Has she told the Prime Minister that long-term youth unemployment has trebled for young people between the ages of 15 and 19 under his watch, and why has the urgency about this huge waste of young life become a priority only 3 months out from the election?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: This Government has invested a huge amount of money into 18 to 24-year-olds, in particular in making sure that we give them work opportunities, and we have seen successes with that. For example, in January 2010 we had more than 23,000 on the unemployment benefit, and that figure is now down to close to 16,000. That is 7,000 people coming off the unemployment benefit. Now we need to look at the transition from school into further education and training, and that is certainly what this Government was concentrating on with its announcements on Sunday.
Hon Annette King: Does she agree with commentators who have said that the number of young people not in education, training, or employment could now fill Eden Park, and that the situation has reached crisis point; if so, why has the Government announced a policy at the weekend for only 1,600 of the 58,000?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: The member is actually incorrect. It is not 1,600; it is more like the 13,000 who are in the 16 and 17-year-old age group. [Interruption] Actually, it is. It is those who are in the Youth Transitions Service programme, as well, and it is also those who are on the independent youth benefit. Members need to go back and look at the actual announcements that were made. They are the young people who will get older and keep having unsuccessful lives and careers unless we do something at that age group. It is most definitely the age group to concentrate the most on.
Mr SPEAKER: Question No. 3, Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga. I beg your pardon, Hilary Calvert; is this a supplementary question? There was no way I could hear the member call for a supplementary question, because of the interjections. It is no use pointing the finger across the House, because they started on my left. Admittedly they were added to, but I was watching very carefully, and there will be no more argument about that.
Hilary Calvert: Does she believe that increasing the minimum wage for 16 and 17-year-old people by 33 percent would increase youth unemployment; if not, why not?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: In all fairness, I have seen a number of different reports, some saying exactly that and others saying it is not having an effect. So it would be fair to say that there is a middle ground there, and that the jury is still out.
Hilary Calvert: How much would increasing the minimum wage by 33 percent raise unemployment by: dozens, or hundreds?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: I am afraid I do not have that kind of analysis in front of me.
Hilary Calvert: Does she then accept that the abolition of the youth rate, which increased the minimum wage for young people by 33 percent, contributed to the youth unemployment rate skyrocketing to an all-time high of 27.6 percent, nearly double what it was when the rate was abolished?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: What I do have concerns about is the education and training level of some of the 16 and 17-year-olds who are leaving school too early, and who have not even got National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA) level 2. It is very difficult for them to
even get into the workforce, and then when they are they are often the first to drop out when we see the kind of global recession that we have seen of late. That is what this Government is concerned about, and that is where we are putting our investment. I think that is a great thing.
Hon John Boscawen: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Minister was asked a very specific question. Although she expressed a concern about education, she was specifically asked whether she believed the abolition of the youth rate had contributed to the rise in unemployment. She avoided that question.
Mr SPEAKER: I invite Hilary Calvert to repeat her question, because it seemed that it was not actually answered, at all. Hilary Calvert may repeat her question.
Hilary Calvert: Does she then accept that the abolition of the youth rate, which increased the minimum wage for young people by 33 percent, contributed to the youth unemployment rate skyrocketing to an all-time high of 27.6 percent, nearly double what it was when the rate was abolished?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: It is possible, but I actually think a lack of education and training, and being left on the scrap heap for many years by the previous Government, which did not pay attention to that group of young people, has had more of an effect.
Economic Position—Financial Market Signals
3. PESETA SAM LOTU-IIGA (National—Maungakiekie) to the Minister of Finance: What reports has he received on what financial markets are signalling about New Zealand’s economic position?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): Financial markets are signalling a growing aversion to continuing to lend to borrowers who have accumulated excess debt. Indebted countries are increasingly being sorted into the strong and the weak, with the weak facing significantly higher interest rates. In New Zealand, our longer-term interest rates have declined steadily over the past 2 years, indicating that we are regarded by the markets as being in a relatively strong position as one of the more creditworthy countries with a sound fiscal plan.
Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga: How much have interest rates declined over the past 3 years?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: There are any number of measures one could use, but interest rates have declined by large amounts across the board. Since August 2008, 5-year Government yields— [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: I apologise to the Minister. The Hon Trevor Mallard will get to his feet, and withdraw and apologise for that kind of interjection, which he knows is totally out of order.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I withdraw and apologise. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: It does not make the job very easy for the Speaker when I deal with one situation, and another one, almost as bad, crops up. I ask members to be a little more reasonable, please.
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Interest rates have declined significantly across the board. The overnight cash rate has declined from 8 percent in August 2008 to 2.5 percent today, and floating mortgage rates have almost halved, down from 10.9 percent in 2008 to 5.9 percent today. It looks as if the trend towards lower interest rates for longer will be maintained as long as we stick with our sensible plans.
Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga: What benefits have lower interest rates brought to New Zealanders?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Lower interest rates encourage investment and, therefore, help to sustain growth, which will give us higher incomes and more jobs, but they also bring direct benefits to borrowers. A family with a floating $200,000 mortgage now pays about $10,000 a year, or $200 a week, less in interest than it did just 3 years ago.
Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga: What are the policies that put New Zealanders’ financial stability most at risk?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: What is becoming clear is that financial markets are becoming increasingly sensitive to both the debt levels countries have and whether they have control over those debt levels. The biggest danger is getting into a spiral of borrowing more money, which helps drive up interest rates, which makes it harder to service that debt and requires borrowing more money. So we would not expect that the world that has lent us so far $170 billion would welcome any economic plans that propose more debt.
Question No. 4 to Minister
Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Labour—Hutt South): I seek the leave of the House for question No. 4 to be set down for questioning after question No. 10 today, so the Prime Minister can answer it when he returns from his urgent public business.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought for that course of action. Is there any objection? There is objection. [Interruption]
Hon Simon Power: Point of order.
Mr SPEAKER: I think I can anticipate the member’s point of order. The Hon Trevor Mallard will leave the House. We will not tolerate that kind of accusation in the House. Hon Trevor Mallard withdrew from the Chamber.
Children, Welfare—Policy Priorities
4. Hon PHIL GOFF (Leader of the Opposition) on behalf of Hon ANNETTE KING
(Deputy Leader—Labour) to the Prime Minister: Does he stand by his reported statement that he agrees that the future of some children is at risk but it is a balancing act?
Hon PAULA BENNETT (Minister for Social Development and Employment) on behalf of the Prime Minister: Yes.
Hon Phil Goff: I will wait for the Prime Minister to answer the question he should—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] I am on my feet, and this nonsense will stop immediately. We will not have any more of this.
Hon Phil Goff: Has he failed that balancing act when New Zealand’s teenage unemployment rate has trebled under his watch and when the Human Rights Commission reports that having 58,000 young people not in education, employment, or training threatens New Zealand’s social cohesion?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: No.
Hon Phil Goff: With the unemployment rate amongst 15 to 19-year-olds increasing from less than 10 percent when he, the Prime Minister, took office to nearly 28 percent, why has he cut funding for industry skills training by $145 million this year?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: He has not, but what we have done is insist that there be quality. Recycling young people into substandard education and training opportunities is not doing anything for them. That is something the Opposition was quite happy to see when in Government but this side of the House is not. We will insist that training is meaningful and that it opens up young people to opportunities.
Hon Phil Goff: Why is he denying that his Government has cut $145 million from industry skills training this year when he acknowledged that fact last week in the House?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: We are insisting on quality. The other side of the House was interested in quantity and whether young people were sitting on seats and being there. We are—
Hon Phil Goff: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I think you will recognise that I asked why the Prime Minister is now denying that he has cut $145 million this year when he acknowledged that fact in answer to a question last week. The Minister has not attempted to answer that part of the question.
Mr SPEAKER: I call the Hon Paula Bennett. The question repeated by the honourable Leader of the Opposition is what he asked.
Hon PAULA BENNETT: I think the member needs to look at how he asked those questions both times and see that they justified different answers.
Mr SPEAKER: As Speaker I have accepted that the repeated question seemed to me to be a reasonably accurate representation of the first question.
Hon PAULA BENNETT: I was referring to his question last week, not to the two questions today.
Mr SPEAKER: I beg your pardon. I understand the answer. That is a perfectly acceptable answer.
Hon Phil Goff: How does the cutting of 31,000 industry skills training positions and having 1,000 fewer young people in Modern Apprenticeships reduce young people’s risk of unemployment and disengaging from the community?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: I will go back to the original answer. As I was explaining, we need to look at the quality of the training that these young people are seeing. We have repeatedly seen young people being recycled because the incentives have been wrong. We will demand more from those organisations and more for these young people, and we will make no apologies for it.
Hon Phil Goff: Does he count his young unemployment policies a failure when Statistics New Zealand records that the nearly 28 percent unemployment rate for 15 to 19-year-olds is the highest since the Great Depression; if not, why not?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: Because when one looks at it in bigger terms one sees that for 15 to 24-year-olds that number has gone from 18.8 percent on 11 March to 17.4 percent now. In January 2010 we saw that there were more than 23,000 on the unemployment benefit; there are now just over 16,000. Investment into things like Job Ops has made a difference, with more than 90 percent staying in those jobs and not going back on a benefit. That is a success.
Hon Phil Goff: Is the Prime Minister therefore saying that Statistics New Zealand has it wrong in saying that the rate of unemployment for 15 to 19-year-olds is the highest since the Great Depression?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: No, we are saying that there are a number of factors. We are putting the investment into young people, where it is needed; 43,000 are going to new jobs created in the last year. There is a lot further to go, but we will get them education and the right sort of training so that they can take up those jobs as they come up.
Hon Phil Goff: Does he accept that his unemployment policies for young people have failed when the New Zealand Institute reports that youth unemployment rates in New Zealand are the highest of any developed country?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: There is room for celebration in some of this. For example, Māori youth unemployment rates have gone from 30.3 percent in June 2010 to 24.8 percent now. That is still too high—it is still too high—but we are tracking down. There is a long way to go, but 43,000 new jobs last year—15,000 of them for young people—is a good start. We will continue to celebrate and recognise the contribution those young people can make.
Hon Phil Goff: Is it really a cause for celebration that the youth unemployment rate for 15 to 19- year-olds is the highest since the Great Depression and the highest of any developed country; if so, how is that a cause for celebration?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: That is not what I said. But I will say that this Government is doing something about it. We are putting the investment where it should be, we are recognising that those 16 to 17-year-olds—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] It is lucky I did not hear that. The member must not interject while I am on my feet. We will not have any more of that. A question was asked and an answer was being given. It was a perfectly reasonable answer, and the level of interjection made it impossible to hear. If a question is serious, members should want to hear the answer.
Hon PAULA BENNETT: We have 16 and 17-year-olds leaving school and no one even knew who they were or where they were.
Mr SPEAKER: I want members on both front benches please to cease this carry-on that we have had today. It is unhelpful. I have already dealt with one member and I do not want to deal with any more.
Hon PAULA BENNETT: We have 16 and 17-year-olds leaving school whom no one can track. In all the years under the Labour Government nothing was done about them. We saw them leaving school, unable to be tracked. We were unable to know where they were, and we were unable to make contact with them. We are doing something about that.
District Health Boards—Shorter Stays in Emergency Departments
5. NIKKI KAYE (National—Auckland Central) to the Minister of Health: What progress have district health boards made towards shorter stays in emergency departments for patients?
Hon TONY RYALL (Minister of Health): The latest quarterly health targets, to be released shortly, will show that a record 92 percent of emergency department patients were admitted, treated, or discharged within the 6-hour target. This compares with the endless stories of patients languishing in hospital corridors for days on end only a few short years ago. For example, 2 years ago the Auckland District Health Board was at 70 percent of the target, and it is now at 95 percent. The average time for a patient to get a bed at the Auckland emergency department and go into the ward has dropped from an average of 7 hours and 48 minutes to 1 hour and 18 minutes. Congratulations to the team at the Auckland District Health Board.
Nikki Kaye: What benefits do shorter waiting times have for patients in hospitals?
Hon TONY RYALL: How long patients wait in an emergency department has a direct impact on the outcome of their care and their recovery. Hospitals around the country are being innovative in how they make waiting times shorter. The Canterbury District Health Board, for example, has met the 95 percent target, despite losing 100 beds as a result of the earthquake and the ongoing challenges the board faces, and, for example, a minor injuries clinic at Hutt Hospital has freed up emergency departments for more serious conditions. This is in stark contrast to just 3 years ago, when patients waited to be seen for days, and days, and days.
Grant Robertson: Can the Minister confirm that the criteria for his 6-hour target was met, when Chris Kennedy from Timaru waited for 6 hours at Timaru’s emergency department, and was seen by a nurse who took his temperature and then left; if so, does he think that might make his target somewhat meaningless?
Hon TONY RYALL: I would have to check the veracity of that claim.
Grant Robertson: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: I ask members, please; the House is getting very messy.
Grant Robertson: I could clarify that, I think, if I could seek the leave of the House to table— and I know this is unusual—the article from the Timaru Herald of 10 August that outlines the case I raised in my question.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table the document. I do not normally allow tabling from newspapers, but the Minister in answering said he would need to check the veracity so I will put the leave to the House. Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is objection.
Hon TONY RYALL: I would have to check that, because I recall that only a few weeks ago the member tabled letters saying that they showed people had been cut from waiting lists, when in fact in researching the cases it was shown they were never even on a waiting list.
Grant Robertson: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. You allowed me to table the document because of the Minister’s answer. I do wonder what is available to members when, having done that, they hear the claim repeated by the Minister—which is what he did. I do not know what
members on this side of the House can do when Ministers repeat something that is out of order— question the word of another member. It is also out of order to interject—
Mr SPEAKER: No, no—that is it. Let me just warn members. It is just possible the House may go into urgency. A member thrown out may be out of this House for a long time this week, so I just suggest to members they think about that and behave a little. Grant Robertson has raised a point of order, and the only advice I can offer the member is that it is possible to think of a supplementary question that could tie the Minister down. That is the way, in my view, to deal with that situation. But I acknowledge the frustration—[Interruption] I am on my feet. As Speaker, I cannot be held responsible if there are not sufficient supplementary questions, but that is the way I would deal with that situation. But I do not blame the member for feeling frustrated.
State-owned Assets, Sale—Projected Revenue
6. Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE (Labour—New Lynn) to the Minister of Finance: Has he asked Treasury to re-estimate the projected sales revenue from his proposed privatisation policy in light of Contact Energy’s share price falling 20 percent so far this year?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): First, can I correct the member: it is a policy of Government control of these energy companies with a sell-down of up to 49 percent. Secondly, the change in the Contact Energy share price highlights the risks to taxpayers from owning commercial assets. As a rule, Governments are poor at managing these risks. Part of the reason for the share price weakness, I am advised, for Contact Energy is that it made a rights issue to raise $350 million for a new geothermal plant. This is a key benefit of the mixed-ownership model because it gives companies access to capital to expand without having to come to the Government and compete with schools and hospitals for capital investment.
Hon David Cunliffe: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Minister has not addressed the question, which asked: “Has he asked Treasury to re-estimate the projected sales revenue?”. He did not go near that question.
Mr SPEAKER: Well, he did answer the—if the Minister could answer that part of the question, it would be helpful.
Hon BILL ENGLISH: No.
Mr SPEAKER: I appreciate that.
Hon David Cunliffe: Has the Minister either sought or received any other advice in respect of either the timing or the total value of the proceeds of his part-privatisation programme in light of the carnage in international equity markets in recent weeks; if not, why not?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: No, because the Government is not getting ahead of itself. We have always said to the New Zealand public that we would pursue this policy if we were re-elected. In the context of an upcoming election there is no point in the Government taking advice about whether to float those shares now.
Hon David Cunliffe: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I seek leave to table page 159 of the Economic and Fiscal Update of the Budget, which shows—
Mr SPEAKER: No. The member cannot use that tactic to try to make a political point. He must ask a question.
Hon David Cunliffe: Can the Minister confirm whether the cash flows shown on page 159 of the Economic and Fiscal Update, which show $100 million capital transferred from the balance sheet into new capital spending in 2011 as a result of asset sales, $650 million in 2012, $800 million in 2013, $1.6 billion in 2014, and $3.6 billion in 2015—estimates of cash flows that, in part, derive from his partial privatisation programme—have been changed in light of the carnage in international markets, or had he not noticed?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Treasury will, no doubt, update its cash-flow statement in line with its statutory obligations in the run-up to the election. But the member cannot have it both ways. Either these are gold-plated assets with absolutely certain value and dividend streams that he is counting
on for the next 10 years, or, as he is pointing out today, they are risky assets whose share prices could fluctuate because their custom has disappeared.
Hon David Cunliffe: Which of the following two positions the Minister has just taken is, in fact, true: that there is no timetable for realising the proceeds from State-owned enterprise asset sales, and that, therefore, there was no need to take advice from Treasury on the impact on those sales of the carnage in financial markets; or that there is a timetable represented by the page I have quoted in his Budget and that, therefore, he should consider those matters, which he now says Treasury will update? Which of those two positions does he hold to?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The Government has stuck to one timetable, which is that if it is reelected, it will then set out a programme for the retention of 51 percent control by the Government of these companies and the sell-down of 49 percent of these companies to Kiwi mums and dads. The events of any particular week in respect of fluctuations in the markets over the next few months are pretty much irrelevant to that timetable.
Aaron Gilmore: What other implications has he drawn from recent volatility in markets?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The volatility in sharemarkets shows that it would be risky to borrow to invest in share markets, because although that looks like a sound proposition when markets are going up, it does not look quite as sound when markets are dropping or showing considerable volatility. That is one of the reasons why the Government suspended contributions to the Superannuation Fund a couple of years ago, because we did not believe that it was appropriate to be borrowing money in volatile financial markets to invest in volatile share markets.
Hon David Cunliffe: Is it correct that New Zealanders, therefore, have three options in regard to his part-privatisation programme: spending thousands of dollars and risking money on the stock market to buy assets they already own; not buying shares and seeing those assets sold offshore, leaving the country more exposed to international markets; or voting out his Government on 26 November?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: They will certainly have the opportunity to vote for or against the Government in an election in November, and I expect they will at that time take the opportunity to vote for or against—probably against—plans for higher taxes, more spending, and excessive borrowing, which is what he is proposing.
Welfare Reforms—Youth Initiatives
7. Hon TAU HENARE (National) to the Minister for Social Development and Employment: What announcements has she made that will invest in young people who are not in education, training, or work?
Hon PAULA BENNETT (Minister for Social Development and Employment): We have announced radical changes for young people aged 16 and 17, and teen parents aged 18 as well, which will transform the way the Government provides not just financial assistance but also services to these young people. We have anywhere between 7,000 and 13,500 young people aged 16 and 17 who are not in education, training, or work. It is estimated that up to 90 percent of this group will end up on an adult benefit unless we intervene. We will be intervening.
Hon Tau Henare: What will be different for those receiving benefits, particularly for teen parents, and especially those living in the electorate of Te Atatū?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: The other group we are concentrating on a lot are teen parents, including those in Te Atatū. We are moving to a far more targeted supportive approach. It is of real concern to me and to this Government that we have young people with very small babies, who are quite isolated, on their own, and need our support. We are determined to wrap more around them and also help them with financial assistance, budgeting, parenting courses, and the like.
Te Ururoa Flavell: Tēnā koe, Mr Speaker. Kia ora tātou. What arrangements will the Government recommend to enable tertiary institutions and training providers to take on more
students in order to truly invest in the potential of all of our young people to succeed in education, training, and work?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: Actually, work for teen parents is of particular importance for their education and training—and is also important for young Māori and young Māori mums. We are very keen to work with wānanga, polytechs, and other organisations to make sure that some of those Youth Guarantee places are used for teen parents, and that it is a wraparound service. We see some of it being in homes, but I know that the Minister of Education and the Minister for Tertiary Education have a number of initiatives also encouraging more places for those most vulnerable.
Hon Tau Henare: How will providers be working with these young teens, especially in areas such as west Auckland?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: How non-governmental organisations work with these groups, particularly these teen parents, will really be the measure of the success of the initiatives we announced on Sunday. We can envisage organisations such as the Waipareira Trust, for example, Presbyterian Support New Zealand, or some iwi-based organisations having a wraparound service, particularly with young mums, ensuring that they have education and training. When it comes to the Youth Transition Service and making sure we have those organisations working with it, we see that very much as an investment approach. Less is spent on those who are lower risk, and we are spending more money on those who are higher risk, to make sure they are of value, and to make sure that we do not see organisations just picking off the easy kids but that they are wanting to work with the more difficult ones, as well. Those relationships are vital.
Health Services—After-hours Medical Treatment
8. GRANT ROBERTSON (Labour—Wellington Central) to the Minister of Health: Does he stand by all the statements he has made in relation to after-hours medical services?
Hon TONY RYALL (Minister of Health): Within the context in which they were made, yes. I also stand by my comment that tomorrow I am travelling to Nelson—or I am planning to travel to Nelson—to inspect the potential site of a new after-hours joint venture in that city.
Grant Robertson: Did he say to Temuka Grey Power president Shirley Gilmer that cuts to afterhours services in Temuka “might not happen”, when in fact after-hours general practitioner services in Temuka and Geraldine have ceased from today; if so, why?
Hon TONY RYALL: I did have a conversation with that lady. I cannot remember the exact words, but I can say that I spoke to the district health board chief executive on Sunday about this issue. I am told that the district health board is keen to get back around the table with the general practitioners as soon as possible. There is a difference of opinion about the funding that is required for this service, which is not uncommon. In fact, Timaru general practitioners raised problems about after-hours funding in 2007. I can assure the member that people seeking after-hours care in Temuka and Geraldine can access a comprehensive nurse-led telephone triage service, and there is still a doctor providing after-hours care in Geraldine.
Grant Robertson: Is the Minister aware that there are now no after-hours general practitioner services available in Temuka and Geraldine from today?
Hon TONY RYALL: The information I have received is that there is still a doctor providing after-hours care in Geraldine. It is being provided by one doctor who is not in with the Temuka doctors. I can assure the member that alternative arrangements in terms of the nurse-led telephone service are in place after hours. There is also a need, I think, for ongoing discussions between the general practitioners and the district health board. The district health board is very keen to see whether it can address the issue in relation to the money and what the expectations are. This is not uncommon in these sorts of negotiations.
Grant Robertson: Can the Minister guarantee to the people of Temuka that they will have afterhours general practitioner services, given that from today those services are not available?
Hon TONY RYALL: I am not in a position to be able to guarantee that the general practitioners themselves will provide that after-hours service. Nor can that member guarantee that there will definitely be a general practitioner after-hours service. What I can guarantee is that arrangements are being put in place in order to meet the needs of those people. There is still an after-hours general practitioner available in Geraldine, and the district health board is very keen to meet with the general practitioners in terms of addressing this issue. We have put quite a lot of extra money into the South Canterbury District Health Board, and I am sure that it is investing it wisely.
Youth Unemployment—Job Creation
9. HONE HARAWIRA (Leader—Mana) to the Minister for Social Development and
Employment: Does the Government’s policy announcement on Sunday regarding youth unemployment include plans to create large-scale, quality employment for youth in Aotearoa; if not, why not?
Hon PAULA BENNETT (Minister for Social Development and Employment): This policy focuses on two main groups of young people, as we have discussed. Firstly, it focuses on those 16 and 17-year-olds who are completely disengaged, 90 percent of whom are at risk of ending up in the benefit system. These 16 and 17-year-olds, by virtue of the fact that they have left school early, are unlikely to be work-ready. The focus is clearly on getting them into education and training, so that they are able to get good jobs that will sustain them long term. Forty-three thousand new jobs were created last year. More are coming, so let us make sure that these young people are ready to take them up.
Hone Harawira: Does the Minister agree with the comment that policies that concentrate the wealth of the nation in the hands of the few, driving people into poverty and then penalising them for being poor, are the reasons behind the riots in London; and how long does the Minister think it will be before disillusioned youth in this country take to the streets like their mates in England have done?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: What we are doing is spending more money on those young people, because we see them as being valuable. We see them as having potential, and we want to realise that potential. That is actually putting the focus on them and making sure that we see that there are those kinds of employment and training opportunities. In fact, we are kind of making those young people valuable, because we are saying to a non-governmental organisation that we will pay it to actually take a special interest in them and connect them into that training and education.
Hone Harawira: Does the Minister agree with the comment that the Government does not have a policy on full employment because wide-scale unemployment enables it to push for greater cuts in the rights of unemployed youth; and how does she think that forcing young mothers off the benefit and into work will solve the problem of unemployment when there are no jobs and no plans to create them?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: No, I do not—not at all. I do believe that what we are currently doing with them is actually abandonment. We are saying to 16 and 17-year-olds, and 18-year-old teen mums: “Here is a few hundred dollars a week, and good luck out there.” I think we can do better than that. I take responsibility for them, and as such I will step up, put a focus on them, and make sure that we wrap the right kind of support around them.
Early Childhood Education—Playcentre Funding
10. SUE MORONEY (Labour) to the Prime Minister: Does he stand by all of his answers to Oral Question No 12 on 9 August 2011?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): Yes.
Sue Moroney: Will the Prime Minister rule out funding cuts of up to 80 percent for home-based early childhood education, proposed by the Government-appointed Taskforce on Early Childhood Education, as he did for Playcentre recently; if not, why not?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: The Government is in the process of digesting all of the information from the Taskforce on Early Childhood Education, but it is fair to say we will not be accepting all of it.
Kelvin Davis: Will the Prime Minister rule out funding cuts of up to 78 percent for kōhanga reo as proposed by the Government-appointed Taskforce on Early Childhood Education, as he did for Playcentre recently; if not, why not?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: As I said, the Government is in the process of digesting all of the recommendations of the Taskforce on Early Childhood Education, but I would not read anything into that report.
Sue Moroney: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Prime Minister has been asked two very specific questions now, about whether he could rule out funding cuts from the recommendations made by the Taskforce on Early Childhood Education. He has failed to rule out those funding cuts.
Mr SPEAKER: We have had this issue raised before, and the member will recollect that it is difficult for me to insist that a Minister gives a different answer, if, in fact, the Government has not made decisions in relation to a task force report. If I heard the Prime Minister correctly, I think he said the Government was digesting the recommendations and had not made any final decisions. I think he went on to add some views about some things being unlikely. I cannot insist on anything more precise than that, at this stage.
Sue Moroney: Will the Prime Minister give a commitment, then, to the existing rate of subsidy for 20 free hours’ early childhood education for all the children to whom it currently applies, in light of the proposal of the Government-appointed Taskforce on Early Childhood Education to cut funding by up to $50 per child, per week?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Yes, as I said last week, we support having the 20 free hours. We are just considering the recommendations of the Taskforce on Early Childhood Education. I am not actually expecting major changes.
Sue Moroney: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Just a point of clarification, with the Prime Minister—
Mr SPEAKER: There is no such thing. It is a point of order if the member wishes to raise a matter to do with the order of the House, but there is no such thing as a point of clarification. The member can ask a further supplementary question if she wishes, though.
Resource Management Act Reforms—Role in Infrastructure Upgrade and Economic Growth
11. JONATHAN YOUNG (National—New Plymouth) to the Minister for the Environment: How have the Government’s amendments to the Resource Management Act assisted in upgrading New Zealand’s infrastructure and how have they supported economic growth?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH (Minister for the Environment): A major change was made with the introduction of national consenting, which enabled major projects to be considered by a single, time-limited, robust process. The new process has worked successfully for the $1 billion Tauhara stage two geothermal power station, the $2 billion Waterview Connection project, and the $420 million Wiri Prison. I contrast this with projects like the Northern Gateway Toll Road project, which took 10 years, and the Wellington inner city bypass, which took 15 years. The Environmental Protection Authority yesterday received two further significant applications. The first is for New Zealand King Salmon for a plan to double its production in the Marlborough Sounds, which would generate over $100 million extra in export earnings. The second application received yesterday by the Environmental Protection Authority was for the $1 billion Transmission Gully motorway, north of Wellington.
Jonathan Young: Has the Minister received any feedback from submitters or objectors on the robustness of the new national consenting process?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: Yes, I have. A letter to the Environmental Protection Authority from the Auckland Volcanic Cones Society was very complimentary of the process, saying that the Environmental Protection Authority had done a thorough and fair job, and “a fairer hearing has
been achieved than under the old system”. I also note that both cycle advocacy groups and local residents affected by the Waterview project were also quite complimentary, saying that the board listened fairly and understood their concerns, and that although they had preferred that the project not proceed, they accepted the decision. These comments are a tribute to the two respective boards. These positive comments also reinforce how the new process is fair and is delivering timely results for infrastructure and economic development.
Youth Unemployment and Job Creation—Prime Minister’s Statements
12. JACINDA ARDERN (Labour) to the Prime Minister: Does he stand by his statement in relation to job creation and young unemployed people that “the most important thing is to not necessarily link the two because they’re quite different things”?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): I do, because I think the statement was actually in relation to the job creation vis-à-vis welfare reform for young people that we were talking about in the weekend. They are in one sense different. But I stand by my full statement, which said: “We need to create jobs, and that in all parts of the economic reforms for which we have a plan— everything from the tax system right through to investment infrastructure.” But the most important thing here is not necessarily to link the two, because they are quite different.
Jacinda Ardern: What part of his announcement on Sunday included investment in “sustainable jobs”, as stated by his Minister for Social Development and Employment in the House today?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: One of the things is ensuring that young people—and we are talking about the 8,500 to 13,500 people who leave school between 16 and 17, are not in education, work, or training, and not engaged in any of those activities—have a wraparound provider and get those skills. That is the clearest way to make sure they can actually go into work, because if we do not do that, as we know, 90 percent of them will go on a benefit. The member is now part of an Opposition that supports keeping those people in that way and putting them on a benefit; this side of the House does not.
Jacinda Ardern: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Minister for Social Development and Employment said today that the Prime Minister’s announcement on Sunday included investment in sustainable jobs. I sought clarification from the Prime Minister about what part of his announcement included sustainable jobs; he did not make any reference to my question.
Mr SPEAKER: The difficulty in my trying to intervene with a question like that is that I cannot be expected to adjudicate whether that is a fair reflection of what the Minister for Social Development and Employment said, so the Prime Minister picked up on what part of the question he could make sense of. My dilemma is that I cannot adjudicate on that.
Jacinda Ardern: What is the time line for Cabinet’s consideration of a youth wage rate, which he indicated would occur on Firstline this morning?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Within the next 2 months.
Jacinda Ardern: What advice has he received on how many of the 27.6 percent of unemployed young people will move into work as a result of his announcements on Sunday?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I am not sure of the answer to that at this point because I have not seen any analysis, but I think it is worth doing a couple of things—that is, to make sure we fully understand what we are talking about here. If one looks at those on an unemployment benefit in New Zealand, one sees that that number for young people aged 18 to 24 has actually dropped from 23,545 in January 2010 to 16,363. The member actually quotes the household labour force survey, which relates to people who are indicating they are looking for a job. The member nods, and I appreciate her agreeing with this point. Sixty percent of unemployed people listed in the household labour force survey aged 15 to 19 are at school or university.
Jacinda Ardern: I seek leave to table a spreadsheet from Statistics New Zealand, which shows that—
Mr SPEAKER: Order!
Jacinda Ardern: —23,900 15 to 19-year-olds—
Mr SPEAKER: The member heard me calling order because I wanted to identify for the House the source of the document from which this table comes.
Jacinda Ardern: Statistics New Zealand.
Mr SPEAKER: Statistics New Zealand has regular publications, and if it is a publication that is readily available to the House we do not table it. I am just trying to make sure that the member is not trying to get around a convention we have established. Is the member assuring me that this is not part of the regular Statistics New Zealand releases?
Jacinda Ardern: It might be an early publication.
Mr SPEAKER: The thing is: how can we seek leave for a document if we do not know the source of the document? When the member says it might be an earlier publication, either the member knows what document this table is from, or she does not.
Jacinda Ardern: Just for clarification, it came via the Parliamentary Library. I cannot be sure whether it has been published publicly as yet via Statistics New Zealand.
Mr SPEAKER: I accept the member’s explanation. Leave is sought to table this document. Is there any objection? There is objection.