Questions And Answers Sept 8
(uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing)
THURSDAY, 8 SEPTEMBER 2011
QUESTIONS FOR ORAL ANSWER
QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS
Child Poverty—Estimated Cost Per Year
1. Hon ANNETTE KING (Deputy Leader—Labour) to the Minister for Social
Development and Employment: Does she stand by all her answers to Oral Question No 2 on 7 September 2011?
Hon PAULA BENNETT (Minister for Social Development and Employment): Yes, I do. However, the House might note that I did correct one figure late last night. But I particularly stand by my statement: “We had a huge hole in funding that we had to find millions of dollars to fill”.
Hon Annette King: In light of her answer yesterday that there was no official measure of child poverty in New Zealand, so therefore she could not comment on the accuracy of figures arising from various reports, has she considered using the Child Poverty Action Group figures; if not, why not?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: It takes its information from Statistics New Zealand and also from the household income survey via the Ministry of Social Development, so it is not where it is getting the information from, it is how it is analysing it. I think that some will find merits in it, but some will also find holes in that study.
Hon Annette King: If the Child Poverty Action Group figures are not acceptable to the National Government, why were they acceptable and used by the current Minister of Finance when in Opposition as the measure for child poverty in New Zealand?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: I think the difference between members on that side of the House and this side is that we are actually getting on with solutions, putting money into those children, and making sure that they get the kinds of services they need. We are not debating whether there is a problem; I think the debate is how we fix it. We are working on solutions, not measures.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. It was a relatively straightforward question as to why figures that were acceptable for use by a member before he was a Minister are now no longer acceptable to the Government.
Mr SPEAKER: The member has just answered his own query in his point of order. The Minister has no responsibility for anything that the Hon Bill English may have said while he was a member of the Opposition. The Minister has no responsibility for that whatsoever. That is the risk of that kind of question.
Hon Annette King: If the Government is addressing child poverty as she claims, and is putting “millions and millions of dollars into those children”, how is she measuring the effectiveness of the expenditure and how are the programmes being evaluated?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: That is a good question. In many different ways, to be quite frank. Some of it is based on outcomes, some of it is based on the number of visits by, for example, Family Start, and how it is dealing with those. They are being evaluated, as such, through studies on
that. The Centre for Social Research and Evaluation is doing a whole lot of the research on those sorts of programmes. There are other organisations that are also doing that themselves. But I am the first to admit, as I did yesterday, that a whole lot of evaluating did not happen, particularly in the years when that member was in Government. We are trying to fill a hole there so that we can fix it and know exactly what is working and what should be funded.
Hon Annette King: Why did she tell the House yesterday that she did not have all the facts about the Growing Up in New Zealand longitudinal study because the question had not been set down as a primary question, but she managed to tell reporters on the way into the House how much money was being spent, and that she had told the university to seek funding from philanthropic sources to continue their work?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: I did not have the figure that the member was seeking yesterday in front of me, and as such I was open about that. In relation to the slight error that we made on one of the figures, I came back in and corrected that. If the member would like to explore it further, then let us go.
Hon Annette King: Does the Minister have the information today? Will the Ministry of Social Development cease funding the Growing Up in New Zealand longitudinal study, as has been reported?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: What we have here is a study that was launched in 2008 by Labour. It was not actually fully funded. It was not fully funded in the years when it was launched, let alone in the following up—
Mr SPEAKER: This question was a very straightforward question, and I believe that when straightforward questions are asked the House deserves to be treated with a little more respect than that. The question was very simple. It asked whether the Ministry of Social Development would be continuing to fund this particular study, or whether it would not be, as had been reported. There was no attack on the Minister or anything like that. The question just asked whether the funding would be continued. No decision may have been made yet—who knows. It is OK to talk a little bit about the history, so long as we do get an answer to the question.
Hon PAULA BENNETT: In actual fact no funding decisions have been made for the 2012 Budget. What I will say is that the university fund that Labour launched has a shortfall of $97 million over the next 25 years. I am sure that Labour members might like to go out and promise that sort of funding, but members on this side of the House will be taking it as it comes.
Hon Annette King: What knowledge does she have of longitudinal studies, particularly this one, which she called some kind of a study yesterday, and why is she demanding they show the merits of their work 2 years into a study that has to last many years before we get the results?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: Let us deal with the actual facts of the situation. Labour launched the study in 2008 with much fanfare, and without any idea or plan on how it would fund it. That longitudinal study will cost at least $113 million over the next 25 years, and that is not funded. Labour had no idea how it was going to be funded. This side of the House has been trying to fund some of that shortfall and has put in $9.5 million to date since it has been in Government. We will take it from there.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I seek leave to table a document that shows that the Labour Government funded this programme for the first 2 years, the first two Budgets that were presented by Bill English.
Mr SPEAKER: Could the member indicate the document—
Hon Trevor Mallard: Obviously our Budget.
Mr SPEAKER: No, we do not table Budget documents in this House.
Hon PAULA BENNETT: I seek leave to table a document from the Ministry of Social Development’s financial ledger that shows the longitudinal study reconciliation for Growing Up in New Zealand and the actual funding that has gone into it.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is no objection.
Hon Annette King: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I seek your guidance. You have listened to answers from the Minister over the last 2 days on this study where she has claimed the previous Government did not put money in the Budget for this at all. In fact, she has said that she had to go cap in hand to Ministers soon after she became Minister, to get the money. We have tried today to table our Budget documents that show that that is incorrect. I believe we ought to have the opportunity to do that.
Mr SPEAKER: I hear the member’s point. I can understand the point of grievance, but I believe perhaps we are in debating territory here because what one would need to do—and this is why we do not table documents to make points, we table documents to provide information to the House, and it already has the Budget information. I would be surprised if the Minister had said there was no budget for this study. I do not believe she said that. What I understand the Minister said, as I understand the answers given, is that after a certain point there was no funding for a longitudinal study. Longitudinal studies obviously go on for quite a while and that was something that troubled her. Obviously the member can follow that up and if the Minister said there was never any budget for it, that is very good material for a question in this House.
Hon Annette King: Could I ask you, when you have a moment, to relook at the tape of the replies the Minister gave to these questions yesterday where she said exactly what I have just said.
Mr SPEAKER: I am very happy to do that, but the point I make to the member is that if in fact she believes that the Minister has given an incorrect answer, then to question the Minister with a primary question along those lines will certainly flush that out. A primary question is an issue of some formality and if the Minister does not make the position absolutely clear and correct following a primary question, the Minister would then be in some difficulty. Rather than try to score political points, question time is a chance to really test whether a Minister has given accurate information and that is an excellent opportunity to do that.
Hon PAULA BENNETT: I seek leave to table a document I would not normally table, to be quite frank. It has been prepared by my office and it gives the time line for funding of Growing Up in New Zealand, which might actually clarify some of those things that the Opposition members are talking about. What they would discover is—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member described the document and cannot go on to make argument from it. The member is seeking leave to table a document prepared by her office on the time line of the funding of Growing Up in New Zealand. Is there any objection? There is objection.
Hon Trevor Mallard: When she told the House that within weeks of getting the job “I was informed that we had to find money to keep the study going. I had to go to my colleagues, cap in hand,” was she cognisant of the fact that the Labour Government in 2008-09 had funded the 2009- 10 and 2010-11 years, so in fact had funded it 3 years out from the Budget and she did not need to go urgently cap in hand at all?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: It is a shame that the member did not let me table the document, because it would have explained this quite well. But let us get clear on this. Yes, Labour had put in some money, which was actually $5.8 million in April 2008—[Interruption]—do not clap yet, guys, because members have not quite got the full story—and then it put some in the Budget for the years 2009-10 and 2010-11, and it was nowhere enough. Within weeks of getting into this job, I was told that there was a $10 million shortfall in funding. There had been no funding plan by the previous Government for a study that it had launched. I have found $9.5 million in the last 2 weeks to prop up a Labour study that it had initiated without funding it as it went forward.
Hon Trevor Mallard: When she said in answer to the last supplementary question that there was not enough put in for those 2 years, did she put in more for those 2 years, or are her Budget figures, which show that she put in not another cent for those years, accurate?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: I invite the member to look at the document that I have tabled, which shows how much we did put in. Let us be quite clear: Labour had put in money, $4.75 million and $3.1 million, over those 2 years; National actually put in more. Just because there is not a Budget line in with this actual money, it does not mean that it does not come through the policy advice appropriation. [Interruption] The member knows that; she was a Minister at some stage. But because there is not, one will see in the financial ledger how much money was put in. This National Government has put in over $9.5 million in the last 2 years. I stand by that. I would absolutely guarantee it.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Is she, therefore, saying that in the 2009-10 Budget and 2010-11 Budget, the Minister of Finance tabled documents signed off by her as to the amount of spending on the longitudinal study that were inaccurate?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: No. Actually, Labour has got it wrong in this case. Yes, Labour put in some money. It put in nowhere near enough to actually cover what had to happen for that longitudinal study. I have gone to my members, who have fronted up with some, and I think that that is where they will see it lands.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Why did she not—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: I have called the Hon Trevor Mallard.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Why did she not, when she got the extra money for this longitudinal study, show it in the two Budgets?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: The member was once a Minister. He should know that line items change in the Budget. I have absolutely presented documents that prove that that money was paid out to the longitudinal study. Labour itself in a press release yesterday said that it had $25.9 million, and it has been $23.3 million.
Hon Annette King: Not all from MSD.
Hon PAULA BENNETT: Of that, $13.8 million was from Labour’s appropriations and $9.5 million was from National, as it was brought forward. Not all of that $9.5 million was from the Ministry of Social Development, but I can guarantee it.
Regulatory Reform—Compliance Costs for Businesses and Consumers
2. TIM MACINDOE (National—Hamilton West) to the Minister of Finance: What reports has he received on the Government’s progress in cutting red tape and reducing compliance costs for businesses and consumers?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): It was very important for the Government to make progress in cutting red tape and reducing compliance costs, because they had got completely out of hand under the previous Labour Government. The Ministry of Economic Development issued its first report measuring the Government’s progress since 2008, which estimates that the Government is on track to reduce compliance costs by around $250 million. This will be partly offset by an estimated $50 million of new costs, relating mainly to strengthened rules for financial advisers, anti - money-laundering measures, and farm animal identification and tracing. So we are making some progress. We have a great deal more to make, and I acknowledge the significant contribution of the Minister for Regulatory Reform, Rodney Hide.
Tim Macindoe: Why is it important to reduce red tape and improve the quality of regulation?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: One reason it is important is that New Zealand has run a real-life experiment from about 2004 onwards in what happens in an economy when poor quality regulation and red tape is allowed to get out of control. It strangled the country’s export sector and helped to drive the economy into a speculative bubble, which has leg-roped our opportunity to make more economic progress now. Good quality regulation improves the lives of citizens, encourages investment, helps to create more jobs, and lifts incomes. We have a great deal more to do in that respect.
Tim Macindoe: What steps has the Government taken to reduce compliance costs and improve regulation for businesses and consumers?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Well, we could go through a list of the huge efforts we have had to make to untangle the mess left by the last Government, but there are a number of examples of positive measures the Government has been able to take. We have streamlined resource management regulations, abolished gift duty, eased financial reporting requirements for small businesses, and reduced air passenger waiting times at customs by introducing the SmartGate passport control. These are just some of the measures designed to free up time for business and the public and allow them to get on with their lives.
Tim Macindoe: What further plans does the Government have to improve regulation and cut red tape?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Probably the most important but unglamorous part of the plan has been to change the culture of reflexive regulation that had built up within Government departments over the last 10 years, when they had got into the habit of thinking that every problem had to be fixed with a new regulation. We have encouraged them to plan their regulations each year, to sort out which ones are prioritised to encourage economic growth, and to drop those that are unimportant. But there is much more to do. The Government has specific changes under way to the Building Act, the Resource Management Act, and the Securities Act, and we intend to publish progress reports annually.
Dr Russel Norman: Is the Minister aware that the lack of proper regulations, also known as red tape, has made New Zealand an easy target for overseas criminals using the company registration process to set up bogus companies to facilitate money-laundering, tax evasion, and fraud internationally?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I understand there has been some concern in that respect, and there have been measures taken recently that we are yet to legislate—
Hon Simon Power: There’ll be a bill before the House lifts.
Hon BILL ENGLISH: There is a bill coming before the House to deal with some of those issues. The Government has spent quite a bit of time in getting international anti - moneylaundering requirements into place, and that will also help.
Dr Russel Norman: How long will it be before the Government introduces regulations, also known as red tape, to introduce new law to close these loopholes in the company registration process and stop the damage being done to our reputation as a good place to do business?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I understand the legislation will be introduced before the House rises for the election.
Conservation, Department—Support for Vision Statement
3. Hon RUTH DYSON (Labour—Port Hills) to the Minister of Conservation: Does she support the vision statement of the Department of Conservation which states “Conservation work is an investment in New Zealand’s prosperity because our environment plays a central role in our health and well-being, and wealth”?
Hon KATE WILKINSON (Minister of Conservation): Absolutely. In these tough economic times we are all tightening our belts a little, and although the shape of restructuring is largely an operational matter, I am pleased to see that the Department of Conservation is confident that it can continue to deliver its core conservation work, and that front-line staff and services will be retained.
Hon Ruth Dyson: How will the loss of incomes, expertise, and the community contribution of Department of Conservation staff sacked from their Whanganui and New Plymouth offices contribute to the well-being of the staff, their families, and their region?
Hon KATE WILKINSON: It is never an easy task when people lose their jobs, but I am assured that the department is confident that it can continue to deliver core conservation work. Front-line staff, rangers, and services will be retained.
Hon Ruth Dyson: How will the department perform its key function of protecting biodiversity, after sacking the scientists who identify the threats, write the recovery programmes, and then do the field work required?
Hon KATE WILKINSON: Just exactly who may lose their job is still unknown, as the Department of Conservation is working through the options. But can I say that I am assured the department is confident it will continue to deliver core conservation work and that front-line staff and services will be retained.
Rahui Katene: What consultation was taken with iwi, before announcing the disestablishment of some 20 jobs in the New Plymouth, Whanganui, and Tūrangi offices, and what has been their view about the decision to move the conservancy away from Whanganui, which has traditionally been the centre of government for the central North Island?
Hon KATE WILKINSON: That matter is an operational matter. I suggest that discussions be had with the Director-General of Conservation and the conservancy concerned. I am certainly happy to take further questions and put a more definitive answer to the member.
Hon Ruth Dyson: How will the department stand up to the mining industry and protect our precious public land from mining, as demanded by thousands of New Zealanders, given that the scientific and technical experts from the department are being sacked, at the same time as the Ministry of Economic Development is doubling the number of staff in its oil and minerals unit?
Hon KATE WILKINSON: I think that question actually relies on a false assumption. I say that the member might like to have a chat with her colleague Damien O’Connor, who has said that the world still relies on coal and oil to run, so stopping the mining of high-quality coal was a “dumb idea”. I also say that I welcome the member’s new-found interest in conservation—
Mr SPEAKER: Order!
Hon Ruth Dyson: Does she agree with the increase of staff in the department’s new commercial business unit, compared with the loss of scientists who were working to prevent the North Island kiwi from becoming extinct, and, if she does not agree with that, will she act to save these jobs and the kiwi?
Hon KATE WILKINSON: Can I say that the commercial business unit is doing a fantastic job and, if the member really did have an interest in conservation, she would be aware that only last week Genesis gave $2.5 million to help with the blue duck programme.
Human Rights, West Papua—United Nations Secretary-General’s Statement
4. CATHERINE DELAHUNTY (Green) to the Minister of Foreign Affairs: Does he support United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s statement regarding human rights in West Papua that “we will do all to ensure that people in West Papua, their human rights will be respected”?
Hon SIMON POWER (Minister of Justice): on behalf of the Minister of Foreign Affairs: We support the Secretary-General’s call for the human rights of the people of West Papua to be respected. Human rights are universal and indivisible. That is one of the fundamental principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, drafted in 1948.
Mr SPEAKER: I apologise to the House that I did not officially call question No. 4. I was kind of nonplussed by the previous answer to a supplementary question, and lost the flow for a moment. We are on question No. 4.
Catherine Delahunty: What actions, if any, has he taken to condemn the Indonesian Government for the widespread human rights abuses in West Papua, which were brought to light last year in videos showing torture?
Hon SIMON POWER: The incidents that the member refers to, which I believe are the unlawful detention and torture of individuals, were a breach of international law, and, in particular, the UN Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. New Zealand plays a particular role in continuing to raise human rights issues with the
Indonesian Government in that regard. The advice I have is that those involved in the ill-treatment of the West Papuans were eventually dealt with by the courts.
Catherine Delahunty: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Minister stated a position but he did not say what actions he has taken to condemn those particular acts of torture—those particular ones.
Hon SIMON POWER: I think if the member reviews the Hansard, she will find that I said that New Zealand continues to raise human rights issues with the Indonesian Government.
Catherine Delahunty: Will he urge his colleagues in Cabinet to halt plans to strengthen bilateral defence arrangements with Indonesia considering the 10-month sentences given to Indonesian soldiers found guilty of torturing indigenous West Papuan citizens by burning their genitals?
Hon SIMON POWER: No.
Catherine Delahunty: Will he urge his colleague the Minister of Defence to reconsider current plans to visit Indonesia and instigate reciprocal high-level visits, given Indonesian President Yudhoyono’s comments that the torture of West Papuan citizens is only a minor incident?
Hon SIMON POWER: In respect of the first part of that question, no.
Catherine Delahunty: What is his response to the call this week from West Papuan representatives that New Zealand should act as a facilitator between Indonesia and representatives of West Papua in peace talks?
Hon SIMON POWER: I am sorry, but I do not have enough information on hand to answer that question specifically. I am sure if the member puts the question down to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, he would be happy to respond to it.
Catherine Delahunty: Does he agree with United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s view expressed yesterday that the issue of Papuan self-government “should … be discussed at the Decolonisation Committee of the United Nations General Assembly.”?
Hon SIMON POWER: I have not seen those particular comments from Ban Ki-moon, but I know that with any issues that the New Zealand Government has with matters relating to West Papua, the opportunity will arise in 2012, I understand, as part of the universal periodic review of Indonesia. New Zealand will have the opportunity at that time to ask questions that may cover some of the matters the member has raised.
Catherine Delahunty: Point of order—was that a yes?
Mr SPEAKER: The member must be acknowledged in seeking a point of order. The member is seeking a point of order. What is the point of order she is raising?
Catherine Delahunty: Was that a yes?
Mr SPEAKER: That is not a point of order. The member can lodge that as a further supplementary question, should she wish.
Catherine Delahunty: Will he join Amnesty International in asking for the release of West Papuans imprisoned simply for raising the Papuan nationalist morning star flag?
Hon SIMON POWER: I do not have any advice with me today on the specific issue of the matters raised by Amnesty International, and I would be reluctant to commit to the House without that information to hand.
Catherine Delahunty: I seek leave to table from the EngageMedia website on 21 November 2010 the testimony of West Papuan farmer Tunaliwor Kiwo, recounting the detail of his torture by Indonesia soldiers.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table this document. Is there any objection? There is no objection. Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Catherine Delahunty: I seek leave to table a photograph from the westpapuaunite channel on YouTube from 25 October 2010 of a West Papuan farmer being tortured, while the soldier says—
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.
Catherine Delahunty: I seek leave to table a photograph from the AlJazeeraEnglish channel on YouTube from 18 October 2010 of a Papuan farmer having his genitals burnt.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? Is there objection? There is objection because it is on the website. There is objection to that document being tabled.
Public Transport, Auckland—Rail Capital Projects
5. PHIL TWYFORD (Labour) to the Minister of Transport: Aside from completing Project DART and the Auckland Rail Electrification Project, what rail capital projects in Auckland does the Government’s transport strategies contemplate funding over the next 10 years?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister of Transport): I thank the member for his question, because the Government, of course, in addition to the two projects he mentioned, recently announced the deal for the final electric multiple unit train purchase with Auckland Council, which will give us the opportunity to procure 50 percent more electric trains than were originally proposed as a result of the $500 million Crown loan and the additional Government funding of up to $90 million. Following on from that, probably the best answer for further projects is to quote for the member’s benefit from Connecting New Zealand: a summary of the government’s policy direction for transport, which I happen to have in the House for the member. It states: “Attention is now turning to which major projects and developments will need to be prioritised after these current projects are completed. This includes consideration of a third harbour crossing, improved central business district access including a possible city centre rail link, and further infrastructure to support ferries and bus transport.” The document goes on to say: “Careful prioritisation will be needed to provide the right solutions at the right time, and to ensure that we are maximising the efficient and effective use of … networks.”
Phil Twyford: Given that Auckland Council confirmed by 18 votes to two that the city rail link was the “top priority transport project for Auckland,” is he concerned about the level of misalignment between the Government’s transport priorities for Auckland and those of Auckland Council?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: No, it is quite common for councils to have views and then to come to Government to seek funding for different projects. The Government, of course, has to prioritise all the projects across the country, and it tends to do so with things such as benefit-cost ratios to allow it to evaluate the difference projects. Currently, the central business district rail link —
Hon Annette King: Like the “Holiday Highway”.
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: —I will come to that—has a benefit-cost ratio of 0.3, as against some of the other projects that members opposite are concerned about, which are all in excess of one.
Phil Twyford: In relation to the Ministry of Transport’s review of the city rail links business case, which has led to the number that the Minister just quoted, does he know that that review relies on Fanshawe Street, Albert Street, and Symonds Street coping with more than 1,000 buses per hour by 2040, and are such huge numbers of diesel buses in the city centre consistent with this Government’s vision for Auckland?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I think the member will find he has been reading too many left-wing transport blogs.
Hon Bill English: How many are there?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Oh, there are two or three. The reality is that the Government’s review of the business case does not require any such thing. The reality is, and it is very important, that we assess all the options for transport into the central business district in Auckland, going forwards,
and I think it is important we do that without rushing straight to one solution. That is what the Government is seeking and that is what the business case review recommends.
Phil Twyford: I seek leave of the House to table the report Additional Waitemata Harbour Crossing Network Plan, which was commissioned by the New Zealand Transport Agency. It is the document that actually sets out that more than 1,000 buses will be in the central business district.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? [Interruption] A point of order has been called by the member’s own colleague. Is there any objection to that document being tabled? There is no objection. Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Phil Twyford: What steps, if any, is the Government taking to reduce the misalignment between its transport priorities and those of the Auckland Council, or are we seeing a deadlock between these two parties, the exact type of paralysis for Auckland that the super-city was designed to avoid?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Well, the Auckland Council and the Government have agreed on a forward plan for discussing that project alongside other projects. That involves, firstly, finalising and implementing the Auckland Spatial Plan and the city centre master plan to establish achievable growth projections for the central business district; secondly, demonstrating a commitment to resolving current and emerging central business district access issues—for example, by improving bus operations and addressing capacity issues; thirdly, development of a robust and achievable multi-modal programme for transport in the central business district, which considers a thorough analysis of alternatives and identifies the optimal mix of modes to meet demand; fourthly, beginning implementation of large-scale residential developments along the rail corridors, which were anticipated by the Auckland regional growth strategy; and fifthly, implementation of additional park and ride sites and changes to bus feeder services where appropriate, in terms of overall public transport demand. I think that those sorts of initiatives will ensure that we come to a cost effective and appropriate transport response in Auckland for the benefit of Aucklanders, and also, for the whole country.
Phil Twyford: Why is this Government so intent on undermining the council’s transport goals and its plan for a compact city, and so reluctant to work with Mayor Len Brown and the Auckland Council on making Auckland the most liveable city in the world?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: For goodness’ sake! I mean, really. I tell Mr “Twifford” that we have just announced the investment—
Phil Twyford: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Minister seems to have fallen into Rodney Hide’s—
Mr SPEAKER: Whether the Minister has fallen into anything to do with Rodney Hide is nothing to do with the proceedings of this House. If the member wishes to raise a point of order, it must relate to the proceedings of the House.
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I was just trying to point out to the member that the reality is that the Government has just announced a very good project with the Auckland Council. We have worked together and agreed a 50 percent increase in the number of electric trains that was contemplated by the previous Government and previous Auckland Councils, to ensure that we have a modern electric fleet in Auckland. That is the sort of cooperation we are achieving. It is going very well between us and the Auckland Council.
Health Professionals, Training—Doctors and Nurses for Rural Areas
6. JO GOODHEW (National—Rangitata) to the Minister of Health: What action is the Government taking to encourage young medical professionals to work in rural areas?
Hon TONY RYALL (Minister of Health): The Government has made it very clear that meeting New Zealand’s longstanding health workforce challenges is a priority. That is why we have
pursued policies such as the Voluntary Bonding Scheme and tax cuts, which are important. I am pleased to inform the House that last week the Government launched a partnership with Otago and Auckland universities to train a variety of health students at the Whakatāne and Gisborne hospitals. Up to 120 positions a year will be available to students in medicine, nursing, pharmacy, and physiotherapy at both hospitals, with Gisborne offering dentistry as an additional option. We congratulate the universities, the district health boards, and all those involved on making this exciting initiative a reality.
Jo Goodhew: What are the objectives of this Rural Medical Immersion Programme?
Hon TONY RYALL: This is a $4.5 million programme over 3 years. We know that if health students come from rural areas, it increases the likelihood that they will work in rural areas. But if they are trained in rural areas, it doubles the likelihood of their working in rural areas. So it is a very, very sensible policy from the National-led Government.
Road Safety—Government Initiatives
7. DARIEN FENTON (Labour) to the Minister of Transport: What action, if any, has the Government taken to improve road safety?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister of Transport): I thank the member very much for that question. There are almost too many to list. We took immediate action when coming into office to ban handheld cellphone use in cars, we passed new legislation to crack down on illegal street racing, we passed New Zealand’s first drug-driving laws, we raised the driving age from 15 to 16, we introduced a zero blood-alcohol limit for young drivers and another one for repeat drink-drivers, we doubled the penalties for dangerous and drunken driving causing death, and we introduced alcohol interlocks, amongst other actions. Although there is always more to do to keep New Zealanders safe on the road, I am pleased with progress so far, in terms of the road toll. We will continue to make progress with the Government’s agenda on this matter.
Darien Fenton: Who was right: the Minister of Transport and the Minister of Education, both of whom told media that seatbelts on school buses are not compulsory, or the Prime Minister, who said that it is already a legal responsibility for seatbelts to be fitted on all school buses?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: This may be weird for the member, but, in fact, all are correct. Where seatbelts are fitted, it is a requirement that they be worn, but there is no requirement at this stage that seatbelts be fitted in buses. The reality is that no Government has yet decided to make that call. The reason is that, on the whole, notwithstanding the very sad accident in the Bay of Plenty this week, buses have proven to be very safe on the way to school. In fact, thankfully, the last school bus fatality for an occupant of a school bus—be it a driver or passenger—was 13 years ago.
Darien Fenton: What has he done to improve road rage and anger management, which, left unchecked, can cause harm to other road users?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I think the member might want to be careful heading in that direction. We are certainly working in a number of areas, including on cycle rage, road rage, and in a range of areas. But I just recommend that all drivers on the road be courteous and be focused on their driving and on acting responsibly while they are doing so.
Darien Fenton: Does driving around in a red Audi station wagon splashed with National Party colours constitute a road safety hazard; if so, what is he doing about it?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I think the member needs to consider whether she is in glass houses and stones territory when she uses words like “speeding”, “South Canterbury”, “cycle rage”, and some other things that come to mind, which I will not mention. I am sure that it is not very helpful to start down that track.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Is it the Government’s intention to allow a change of the law so that a plea of mitigation for their bad driving can be made for people upset by their low rankings?
Mr SPEAKER: I do not really think that such a question can be taken seriously.
Child Abuse and Neglect—Support for Social Services
8. KATRINA SHANKS (National) to the Minister for Social Development and
Employment: How is Child Youth and Family supporting social services to recognise and respond to signs of child abuse and neglect?
Hon PAULA BENNETT (Minister for Social Development and Employment): We have funded the NGO Child Matters to run free 1-day workshops around New Zealand providing training to over 2,000 health, education, and social service professionals in identifying signs of child abuse. Recognising abuse is not obvious; it is not instinctual. Unless we train people to see the signs and ask the right sorts of questions, the abuse is silently allowed to continue. The training includes recognising when children and families are vulnerable, and guidance on what steps to take.
Katrina Shanks: Can she update the House on other initiatives that are part of the Government’s programme of action for vulnerable children?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: The Government’s Green Paper for Vulnerable Children, recently released, is currently receiving public submissions. There have been around 20 community meetings so far to talk about the issues the green paper has raised. Over 30 community forums are planned throughout September, and I welcome anyone who is interested in holding a meeting to get in touch with the Ministry of Social Development so we can provide them with the right kind of material.
Science and Innovation—Investment
9. DAVID SHEARER (Labour—Mt Albert) to the Minister of Science and Innovation: Does he stand by his statement “Attracting, empowering, and retaining talent must be the foundation on which our innovation future is built. This means investing more into our young scientists”?
Hon DAVID CARTER (Minister of Agriculture) on behalf of the Minister of Science and
Innovation: He does. This Government has invested strongly in our science and innovation system, including in supporting young scientists. As a Government, we have consistently lifted the appropriation in Vote Science and Innovation, and I personally certainly hope that this trend is able to continue.
David Shearer: Does he value the work of Professor Shaun Hendy, deputy director of the MacDiarmid Institute for Advanced Materials and Nanotechnology; Dr Rebecca McLeod, MacDiarmid Young Scientist of the Year in 2008; Associate Professor James Curran, from Auckland University; Dr Stuart Parsons, deputy director of the school of biological sciences at Auckland University; and Dr Nicola Gaston, senior scientist at Industrial Research Ltd—and I could go on—all of whom used the postdoctoral scholarship funded by the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology, without which many of them would be living overseas now?
Hon DAVID CARTER: I am not familiar with the exact work done by the particular scientists that the member asked about. But, frankly, I value all the work that our scientists do. That is why when we look at the funding that we inherited for the postdoctoral fellowship scheme, we see that in 2008 it supported 27 scientists. In 2012 we expect 30 to be supported by the Rutherford Discovery Fellowships. That number will increase by 10 in each of the next 2 years.
David Shearer: I seek leave to table a letter dated 6 September, sent to the Minister, and to Professor Sir Peter Gluckman and others, and signed by Melanie Massaro and 520 scientists, asking the Minister to reinstate the postdoctoral scholarships that give our smarter scientists the chance to stay in New Zealand.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document.
Hon DAVID CARTER: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: I should put the leave first.
Hon DAVID CARTER: This is a point of clarification.
Mr SPEAKER: I will hear the Hon David Carter, although there is no such thing as a point of clarification.
Hon DAVID CARTER: I just want to check that the member is right in tabling a letter dated 6 September, because I have a copy of that letter and it is dated 7 September. I just want the member to check the date. It may well have been sent to him—
Mr SPEAKER: That is sufficient.
David Shearer: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I have the letter here, addressed to Dr Wayne Mapp, Minister of Science and Innovation, and it is dated 6 September.
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.
David Shearer: Why has the Minister not listened to scientists, who have been telling him for over a year that these cuts to postdoctoral scholarships will leave top scientists with no support, and that they will probably head overseas?
Hon DAVID CARTER: We have listened to scientists. We have spent considerable money on the Rutherford Discovery Fellowships, on the basis of advice given to us that it was critical to support these scientists not immediately after they become eligible for a postdoctoral scholarship but subsequently in their career, and that is equally why we have announced we will review the scheme to make sure sufficient money is going into this area to attract New Zealand’s talented and best scientists.
David Shearer: If he has listened, why was it that yesterday, the same day that he received the letter from those scientists, he brought forward a review of scholarships from the end of next year to now?
Hon DAVID CARTER: The letter was received yesterday. Clearly, that letter was advanced to the Labour Party on the day before that. We are concerned about that letter, and therefore we have initiated a review of the matter.
David Shearer: Will he commit to reinstating the postdoctoral fellowships funding today rather than waiting until next year, in response to the 520 scientists who believe that their careers and many other careers are in jeopardy?
Hon DAVID CARTER: No, this Government does not make spontaneous decisions like the previous Labour Government did. We will make sure we have the right decision made, backed by the right information and research.
Australia and New Zealand CER Trade Agreement—Rules of Origin
10. JONATHAN YOUNG (National—New Plymouth) to the Minister of Customs: What reports has he received on developments to the Closer Economic Relations Trade Agreement between New Zealand and Australia?
Hon MAURICE WILLIAMSON (Minister of Customs): More good news. Recent changes to the CER rules of origin will mean it is now easier to use material from other countries in textiles and clothing, headgear, glass jewellery, copper tools, machinery and appliances, vehicles, boats, furniture, and toys. These new rules of origin determine which products are New Zealand or Australian goods and hence able to be exported between the countries free of duty. This will make trade between our two countries even more competitive.
Jonathan Young: What benefits does the CER trade agreement bring to our exporters and manufacturers?
Hon MAURICE WILLIAMSON: These changes to the rules of origin mean CER continues to be a world-class free-trade agreement. The new rules of origin will enhance the competitiveness of our manufacturers and reduce compliance costs. CER is possibly the world’s most comprehensive free-trade agreement. Since it was signed in 1983, total trade between New Zealand and Australia
has grown at an average of almost 7.5 percent per year. In the 12 months ended June 2011 we exported over $10 billion worth of goods to Australia and imported just over $7 billion worth of goods. That proves the importance of this market to both countries.
State-owned Assets, Sales—Shares
11. STUART NASH (Labour) to the Minister of Finance: Further to his answer to Oral Question No 10 yesterday on the Government’s asset sales policy, in which he agreed that “New Zealanders already ‘own’ these shares”, why should Kiwi families have to pay again to buy what they already own?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): As is often the case, I did not say what the member alleges I said. No one will be forced to own anything. If people want to buy these shares they can. If they are satisfied with the view that they own them by being New Zealand taxpayers then the Government will continue to hold 51 percent of shares of their behalf.
Stuart Nash: Given that he hopes to raise $6.8 billion from asset sales, and there are 1.6 million households, is he not saying to every Kiwi family: “Pay $4,000 for shares that you already own or I’ll sell them offshore.”?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I think that Kiwis will see the sense in an arrangement that provides an opportunity for them to invest their increasing savings in New Zealand, and for the Government to get money that it can use for important public investment—and to get it from New Zealanders rather than borrowing it from foreigners.
Stuart Nash: Which does he think is the main reason that Kiwis oppose this Government’s privatisation plan by a margin of 2:1: first, that Kiwis object to paying again for assets that the Minister freely acknowledges they already own; or, second, that they know it does not make sense for the Government to give up ownership of assets that pay hundreds of millions of dollars a year in dividends that help fund our schools and hospitals and sell that profit stream to foreign buyers?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I am sure that Labour MPs are finding out more about those reasons at the very large public meetings I understand they are running in phone boxes around the country. There will be a couple of tests. One is that the Government is being quite clear that it will put this policy to the test in an election campaign. That is the first test of whether New Zealanders support it. The second test will be whether they are interested in buying shares. We expect that they will be.
Mr SPEAKER: I hope the honourable member could hear that answer because his own colleagues were making so much noise I surely could not hear it.
Stuart Nash: I think he was talking about the meeting that—
Mr SPEAKER: No, can the member please just ask his supplementary question.
Stuart Nash: Why has not he or any other member of his Government been willing to turn up to defend their privatisation policy on shows such as Q+A and in all other public forums to which they have been invited?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The Government is explaining its policy at every opportunity it can get. As I said, the test of the policy will be, first, whether the Government gets a mandate at the election—because we are doing what we said we would do, which is put it to the people first—and, secondly, whether New Zealanders put their hands up to buy shares. Members can make their own judgments about it, but we are reasonably confident that if we have the opportunity to provide those shares to New Zealanders they will probably be interested.
Teacher Competence—Number of Complaints Received
12. Hon JOHN BOSCAWEN (Leader—ACT) to the Minister of Education: How many complaints about teacher incompetence, if any, have been received by the Teachers Council since she took office?
Hon TONY RYALL (Minister of Health) on behalf of the Minister of Education: The Minister is advised that there were 144 complaints regarding competence over the 2008-09 and 2010-11 financial years out of a total 899 complaints about various matters to the Teachers Council.
Hon John Boscawen: Does it surprise the Minister that of these complaints only four resulted in teachers being deregistered for incompetence, and does the Minister therefore have confidence that the remaining 28,000-odd teachers are all competent and meet the standards that parents would expect of them?
Hon TONY RYALL: It does not surprise me about the number four because I was advised of that before I came to the House. I can advise the member that the Minister of Education is aware is that the Teachers Council has a number of avenues in order to support those teachers who are found to be wanting, and that is certainly supported by the $90 million of professional development support that the Government provides. We know that it is a very important responsibility for the Government to ensure that. It is one of the reasons why the Minister of Education has put 1,600 extra teachers in front of classrooms over the last 2½ years.
Hon John Boscawen: If all but four of New Zealand’s 28,000-odd teachers are fully competent, why is it that 20 percent of students are still leaving secondary school with no formal qualifications, given that it is apparently not the incompetence of teachers that is at fault?
Hon TONY RYALL: The number four relates to those who were considered by the Teachers Council. The Teachers Council has not made a ruling on the competence of the remaining teacher workforce. The reason why 1 in 5 New Zealand children are leaving school unable to read and write sufficiently is related to the poor state of the education system that this Government inherited. That is why the Minister of Education is working assiduously to have national standards put across New Zealand schools, and it is great—
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Hon TONY RYALL: —that more and more schools—
Mr SPEAKER: A point of order has been called.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Should not the Minister, when he is criticising your work, address you?
Mr SPEAKER: The member knows that is not a point of order.
Hon John Boscawen: Does the Minister know of any other profession or industry where the level of incompetence is 0.0014 percent; if not, is it not so that the public school system protects incompetent teachers and fails to reward good teachers at the expense of parents and students?
Hon TONY RYALL: The numbers that we are talking about relate to decisions made by the Teachers Council. They are not a measure of competence of the 28,000 or so individual teachers across the country. I can assure the member that the Minister of Education is putting a huge amount of public resource—$90 million a year—into professional development to support and improve the teacher workforce, and on top of that, the Minister of Education has put 1,600 extra teachers in front of classrooms during her time in education so far.