Questions And Answers Sept 13
(uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing)
TUESDAY, 13 SEPTEMBER 2011
QUESTIONS FOR ORAL ANSWER
QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS
Financial Markets, European—Implications for New Zealand
1. PESETA SAM LOTU-IIGA (National—Maungakiekie) to the Minister of Finance: What are the implications for New Zealand’s economy from the current turmoil in European financial markets?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): The news from Europe continues to get worse. There are ongoing worries that a number of countries, starting with Greece, may be forced to default on their Government debt. The resulting losses would affect the soundness of European banks and possibly send Europe back into recession. Europe still accounts for 13 percent of our merchandise exports, so any economic weakness in Europe is not good news for New Zealand. There is also the possibility that the financial markets in which the New Zealand Government and New Zealand banks borrow could be disrupted at times.
Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga: What are the main actions the Government has taken to help New Zealand ride out this crisis and keep interest rates low?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: There has been concerted action since the 2008 financial crisis to reduce New Zealand’s vulnerability to the financial markets in which we borrow. The Reserve Bank has ensured that our banks are in a sounder position now than they were then. The Government is also ensuring work to shore up its own position, at the same time as dealing with the recession, by aiming to keep net debt below 30 percent, to do what it can to keep interests low, to continue to protect the most vulnerable, but also to begin the task of making our export sector as competitive as possible so that regardless of what happens in Europe, New Zealand can continue to increase jobs and incomes.
Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga: What has been the main benefit to New Zealand of having a stable economy and sound finances?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: There have been some direct benefits to households. Despite a recent recession, there has been continued job growth in New Zealand, which will assist those who lost jobs in the recession. Interest rates for mortgages have almost halved over the last 3 years, falling from 11 percent to about 6 percent today. That is worth around $200 per week or $10,000 a year to a borrower with a typical mortgage. On current trends we should be able to keep lower interest rates for longer.
Hon David Cunliffe: In relation to his claim of sound fiscal management, how many deficits has his Government run in the 3 years of office, and how does this compare with the record of surpluses in the previous 9 years?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The Government has run three deficits in 3 years. I think it is only Labour that still regards the last 10 years as the benchmark for economic management.
Hon John Boscawen: Would the implications for New Zealand be worse if his Government had implemented a tax-free threshold of $5,000, removed the GST from fruit and vegetables, and restored research and development tax credits, as Labour has proposed; if so, how much worse?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: It would be worse for New Zealand but particularly worse for householders. Any policy that involves significantly more spending and more borrowing when world financial markets are becoming more volatile would make things worse for New Zealand.
Rugby World Cup Opening—Overcrowding and Transport Issues
2. Hon PHIL GOFF (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Which Minister, if any, has responsibility for issues related to overcrowding in downtown Auckland and transport issues at last Friday’s Rugby World Cup opening?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): Can I start by saying the Rugby World Cup got under way on Friday night with a spectacular opening ceremony that I enjoyed at the game alongside the Leader of the Opposition—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: I am on my feet. I am sure many people may feel exactly that, but the question asked which Minister, if any, has responsibility for certain issues, and the question should be answered.
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I was getting there, Mr Speaker. Let me say this, then. There were problems with both the public transport network and the sheer volume of people who wished to be at the waterfront. On that basis, the Ministers who have responsibility for working with the Auckland authorities to ensure we do not see a repeat of those issues are the Minister for the Rugby World Cup and the Minister of Transport.
Hon Phil Goff: As the Prime Minister, as he has just indicated, is very keen for the Government to claim credit for any success of the Rugby World Cup, why is it that the Minister in charge of the Rugby World Cup will turn up for photo opportunities but refused to front when it came to being held to account for the bad failures that occurred with transport and the dangerous situation on the waterfront?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Far from that, the Minister for the Rugby World Cup was down at the waterfront late on Friday night, and he fronted on The Nation on Saturday morning—and we are in what is called question time and I do not see one single question from the Opposition to the Minister for the Rugby World Cup.
Hon Phil Goff: The Prime Minister was the one claiming the credit—
Mr SPEAKER: Order!
Hon Phil Goff: —so he is being held responsible.
Mr SPEAKER: The Leader of the Opposition knows he cannot do that, and there was too much noise from the Government front bench, as well. It will settle down.
Hon Phil Goff: When the Minister for the Rugby World Cup promised on TV3 on 2 June, in relation to the transport arrangements in Auckland, that “we intend to make sure that we are ahead of the game”, what steps did he actually take to ensure that would be the case?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Literally hundreds of meetings have taken place in the course of the last 2 or 3 years. The delivery agent for transport services in Auckland is Auckland Transport, and that is the council in Auckland, in just the same way that Wellington Regional Council is responsible for the games that took place here in the weekend. What did happen on Friday night in Auckland was that it was a spectacular success. There were more people than anticipated on the network, and that did cause some problems, for which we have some regret.
Hon Phil Goff: Although there were obviously dozens of meetings—and I think 43 photographs, or something like that, at railway stations—what did he actually do to carry out his word that the Government would be ahead of its game in ensuring that those transport arrangements would work when he had been warned that they would not?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: For a start off, I think it is important to understand that the responsibility for them working is with Auckland Transport. They are ultimately the people who are responsible for that. A huge amount of energy and effort went in there by the authority in Auckland, but, clearly, it was not enough for the massive number of people who turned up on Friday night.
Hon Phil Goff: When Steven Joyce gave an assurance 20 months ago that the transport system would be OK when he had just received a report saying that this event is something we have never coped with before and there are real problems with it, and when he again, 3 months ago, said he was confident that contingency plans were in place to make sure it would work, what responsibility does he bear for the failure of that transport system?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: For a start off, if the member is referring to the Auckland Regional Transport Authority report from about 20 months ago, every single one of those recommendations, I understand, has been implemented. So the first thing is that he certainly takes responsibility for ensuring that that work was carried out, and it was carried out. In terms of the network, the network actually worked on Friday night in terms of the fact that there were no mechanical failures. What did happen was that there were a huge number of people on that network, far more than was expected, and there were some people who took action that actually stopped that network. But mechanically it worked.
Hon Phil Goff: When he as Prime Minister announced, launched, and, for 18 months, promoted Queen’s Wharf as party central, what consideration did he give to the ability of that venue and of the transport network to be able to cope with the 150,000 to 200,000 people he might have expected to come to it, and what responsibility does he therefore take?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Never in my wildest dreams did I think that 200,000 people would go to party central, nor did they. Interestingly enough, one good example of where the Government was the agent responsible for administration is party central, where it had joint responsibility. That worked absolutely perfectly in terms of the 12,000 people.
Hon Phil Goff: Why was it never in the Prime Minister’s wildest dreams that he could expect numbers like that when we had, first of all, the hype and excitement around the opening of the Rugby World Cup; secondly, a spectacular fireworks display; and, thirdly, a concert planned for the wharf when those sorts of things have attracted several hundred thousand people to the Domain at Christmas time; and why did he not have any foresight in that matter, and does he therefore accept any responsibility for the overloading of the transport network and the chaos that ensued downtown?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Because if 200,000 people were put on Queen’s Wharf, it would sink.
Hon Phil Goff: Is the Prime Minister saying that he washes his hands of any responsibility despite the fact that he promoted an event, consistently and repeatedly, that easily could have been expected to attract those sorts of numbers to the downtown area; and why does he not take responsibility instead of pointing the finger at everyone else?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Interestingly enough, I have not been the one pointing the finger. Actually, when the Leader of the Opposition was on the radio on Monday, trying to be cool with Radio Wammo, he also said that he was not interested in pointing the finger of responsibility—but that was with Wammo. Back here in reality, what actually happened was that where there was joint responsibility for administration at Queen’s Wharf, it worked absolutely perfectly; there were 12,000 people. The agent for other areas was the Auckland Council.
Children, Health—B4 School Health Checks
3. TIM MACINDOE (National—Hamilton West) to the Minister of Health: What progress has the Government made towards ensuring all eligible New Zealand four-year-olds get a B4 School health check?
Hon TONY RYALL (Minister of Health): B4 School checks are a comprehensive free health and development check for 4-year-olds to make sure they are well set up for school. I can advise the
House that in the past 2½ years children have received over 100,000 B4 School checks. About onefifth of these kids have been identified with eyesight, hearing, or developmental problems, and have been referred to appropriate services. In making this programme work better, we are not only making kids’ health better but improving their education and their ability to interact in the community. I contrast the 100,000 in the last 2½ years with the 3,000 achieved by the previous Government before it left office.
Tim Macindoe: What enhancements is the ministry making to this preventive health programme?
Hon TONY RYALL: The Ministry of Health has entered into a partnership with Sir Richard Taylor’s television characters the WotWots to promote B4 School checks. Already we are receiving positive comments. These include feedback from a coordinator in Invercargill who said that using the WotWots colouring-in book she was able to keep the kids occupied with recognising their shapes, colours, and numbers, which assisted her assessment of the kids while at the same time she talked to their parents about their children.
Child Poverty—Effect of 2011 Funding
4. Hon ANNETTE KING (Deputy Leader—Labour) to the Prime Minister: Does he stand by his statement “the Government prioritised funding increases to health and education, in part because we recognise the fundamental role these public services play in lifting children out of poverty”; if so, how many children are expected to be lifted out of poverty as a result of this year’s funding?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): Yes. In particular I stand by the actions we have taken to improve the lives of children, including the following: 3,500 new places in early childhood education in low participation areas; an increase in general practitioner subsidies so that now 95 percent of high-needs children aged 6 and under have free general practitioner visits; PlunketLine is now fully funded 24/7; immunisation rates have gone from 73 percent to 90 percent; the number of children getting B4 School checks has gone from 3,000 under Labour to over 100,000 under my Government; and massive progress has been made in home insulation, particularly for poorer families. I could go on. I cannot say exactly how much these actions will improve child poverty, but I know they will be a lot more effective than having a Minister of Children.
Hon Annette King: What official advice has he received on the number of children who are classified as living in poverty in New Zealand, and has he sought advice on the costs to taxpayers each year as a result of that poverty; if not, why not?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I may be incorrect but I do not think there is one official measure of poverty for children in New Zealand. I think the Government uses a range of different indicators. So in some of those indicators I have seen as high as one in five children in poverty, which might be explained in one part because there are about 320,000 New Zealanders of working age on a benefit, supporting some 228,000 children. For the most part, those children are probably deemed to be in households that are, for a developed economy like New Zealand’s, considered to be living in poverty.
Hon Annette King: Does he agree with the Minister for Social Development and Employment, who said today that the report from the Child Poverty Action Group released yesterday is a political document and a rehash of work already done, and does this mean that the Government intends to disregard its recommendations?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Yes, and no, that does not mean that the report will be totally disregarded, but not all of the actions will be followed.
Hon Annette King: What did he use to measure poverty and an underclass in New Zealand when he was in Opposition, and if he was using figures from the Child Poverty Action Group then, as Bill English was, why will he not accept its figures now?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I do not think the debate is necessarily about the figures; it is about some of the recommendations. We use the same measures as we used then, and the measures we use are of a variety of different indicators, from the household labour force survey through to a number of others that the Government would use, like lack of immunisation and other measures.
Hon Annette King: Does he still disagree with Unicef, which called the New Zealand Children’s Social Health Monitor: 2010 Update “deeply concerning”, as he did in the House in December 2010, and is he still unconcerned about child poverty growing under his Government in the last 3 years, as shown in the New Zealand Children’s Social Health Monitor: 2011 Update, which was released last week?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I cannot recall the first document, so I would need to go back and refresh my mind on that. In terms of the latter point, all I can say is that I have not refreshed my memory on that. In terms of the latter point, I have never argued that I am satisfied, if that was the word the member used, or—
Hon Annette King: “Unconcerned”.
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: —“unconcerned”. I have never argued that I am unconcerned. Actually, I am deeply concerned about every child in New Zealand who is in poverty. One of the reasons why we ran deficits—even though I think David Cunliffe argued that we should have slashed Working for Families and therefore not run a deficit before—was exactly to help those children. We will not slash Working for Families, we will not hurt those vulnerable children, I tell Mr Cunliffe, like he was suggesting we should have done, a few questions ago.
Hon Annette King: Does the Prime Minister still believe that Working for Families is “communism by stealth”, as he said when he was in Opposition, and said that he would change, but changed his mind when he got into Government?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Absolutely I do, when the abatement rates are 102 percent of income. I am pleased to say we are a Government that effectively dealt with that issue.
Hon John Boscawen: Does he agree that lifting New Zealand children out of poverty is critical to achieving the joint goal of ACT and National of catching up with Australia’s income per head by 2025?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Absolutely it is, because if one can lift average incomes, then on that basis more and more people will benefit from those higher incomes, and therefore there will be greater support for those families. In the end, that is why both parties agree with sensible economic policies that will advocate for that case.
Metiria Turei: Does the Prime Minister agree with the Child Poverty Action Group that successive Governments—Labour and National—have failed the poorest children in New Zealand with discriminatory Working for Families tax credits; and will he commit to ending this discrimination against our poorest children and their families?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I am sure the member will appreciate that that matter is before the courts at the moment, so I am quite limited in what I can say, except to say that as an overarching principle, when in-work tax credits were introduced by the previous Labour Government it was to ensure that there was always a difference between working and welfare. That strikes me as a sensible concept.
Metiria Turei: Is the Prime Minister not aware of the Ministry of Social Development report that shows that for every five children living in poverty, two are in households that earn an income through work, which clearly shows that work is not the solution to poverty, because wages have been kept so low by his Government and the previous Government so that working parents cannot even afford the basics for their kids?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Maybe I can answer the question by asking a question: if the way to get out of poverty is not work, why are the vast bulk of people who are working not in poverty?
Metiria Turei: Does the Prime Minister agree that setting bold targets, just as the Government did with the historical Treaty settlements, provides a clear focus for policy that increases the chance
of success; if so, will he join with the Green Party in setting a goal to bring at least 100,000 children out of poverty by 2014?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No, we will not be joining with the Green Party, but our goal is certainly to lift as many youngsters out of poverty as we can.
Canterbury Water Management—Improvements
5. AMY ADAMS (National—Selwyn) to the Minister for the Environment: What recent reports has he received regarding improvements in water management in Canterbury following the Government’s decision to appoint commissioners in 2010?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH (Minister for the Environment): The Government’s concerns in appointing commissioners were: the lack of a resource management plan for the huge water management issues in Canterbury, an appalling record of resource consent processing, and a lack of progress in addressing the deterioration of water quality in Canterbury. The latest report from the commissioners shows great progress: an operative natural resources plan is now in place for the first time since 1991, and compliance with resource consents has improved more in Canterbury than in any other region, with serious non-compliance halved from 19 percent to 8 percent. Another significant achievement has been agreement on the $12 million clean-up of New Zealand’s most polluted lake, Te Waihora/Lake Ellesmere, that I recently launched with the local member, in partnership with Ngāi Tahu, Fonterra, and local councils.
Amy Adams: What progress has been made on Environment Canterbury’s appalling record of resource consent processing, which saw it rated as the worst council in the country in the 2007-08 year?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: In that year Environment Canterbury processed only 29 percent of consents within the statutory time frames. The latest report shows that there has been a dramatic improvement. Within the last year 92 percent of resource consents have been processed on time. This improvement from 29 percent, when Labour was in Government, to 92 percent now is a real credit to the work of the commissioners and their staff. It is a relief for the thousands of homeowners, businesses, and farmers who have previously been held up by poor processes. With the rebuild of Canterbury it is particularly important that we have efficient resource consent processing, so that we can rebuild Canterbury.
Government Borrowing—Amount Borrowed Since December 2008
6. Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE (Labour—New Lynn) to the Minister of Finance: How much money has his Government borrowed since coming to office?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): Net core Crown debt has risen $31.2 billion, or 15 percent of GDP, in the 3 years from 1 July 2008 to the end of June 2011. This has helped to pay for the rebuilding of Canterbury, maintain welfare and superannuation payments, and protect the most vulnerable New Zealanders through the recession.
Hon David Cunliffe: Why, then, did his Government implement a tax package last year that Budget 2010 says will result in a billion dollars of extra borrowing in its first 4 years?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The Government’s tax changes since it has been in office represent a net fiscal gain. We have focused on changing the tax system to rebalance this economy from excessive speculation on housing and excessive consumption and borrowing to a focus on savings, investment, and exports, and there is some progress in that respect.
Hon David Cunliffe: Speaking of tax system rebalancing, what was the net fiscal cost over 4 years of reducing the top marginal personal tax rate from 39c to 33c?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The Government calculates the impact of the tax changes as a package. The most recent package in 2010 was broadly fiscally neutral. The decisions made in 2009 were actually fiscally positive, so the calculation of the top tax rate does not make any sense on its own. I cannot tell the member the numbers off the top of my head.
Hon David Cunliffe: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. By the Minister’s own admission, he has not addressed the question, which was about the fiscal cost of changing the top tax rate.
Mr SPEAKER: Had the member listened to the Minister’s answer, he would have heard the last past of the answer in which the Minister said he did not have those figures.
David Bennett: How does this Government’s borrowing compare to the forecasts it received immediately after the 2008 election?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: This calculation is based on what would have happened if we had continued with the policies we inherited in the context of a New Zealand and global recession. The forecast we had stated that if we had not changed those policies, then we would have had never ending fiscal deficits and Government debt rising to 60 percent of GDP, which is around twice the ceiling the current Government has set of 30 percent. The decisions in the last three Budgets mean that by 2015 we will have cut the borrowing that would have been needed to support Labour’s policies by $40 billion.
Hon David Cunliffe: To assist the Minister’s memory, can he confirm that the gross cost of tax reductions in his last Budget was $14 billion, of which two-thirds of the revenue reduction went to the top one-third of income earners?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: No, I cannot confirm that, but I can confirm this: higher-income taxpayers under National actually pay the amount of statutory tax, which is a levy. The system Labour left was full of holes, rorts, and avoidance, and we have closed up those.
David Bennett: What steps has this Government taken to get on top of debt and reduce the need for extra borrowing?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Probably the main focus has been on tidying up the extensive, wasteful spending that was built into the tax system by the previous Government. Depending on how we calculate it, we have reprioritised around $9 billion of spending into more effective front-line services that are actually beneficial to the public.
Social Services—Contracting Arrangements
7. JONATHAN YOUNG (National—New Plymouth) to the Minister for Social
Development and Employment: What progress has been made to better streamline the way the Government contracts with social services?
Hon PAULA BENNETT (Minister for Social Development and Employment): We began the contract mapping project in mid-2010 to provide greater transparency and access to the Government’s funding of social services providers. This was done by overlaying around 24,000 contracts and their information from Child, Youth and Family, Work and Income, the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Education, the family and community services group, Te Puni Kōkiri, the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Youth Development, and the Department of Internal Affairs. It includes who and what is funded and where on Google Maps, and it provides greater access to transparency for our communities.
Jonathan Young: Can she update the House on the Government’s high-trust contracts?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: Coming into Government, we saw the need to support social services to streamline the way we contracted with them, in particular with our funding. Believing that it is local communities that can make the biggest difference for those families, high-trust contracts recognise those community providers. It actually delivers them their contracts all up front before they have done it, and all at the beginning of the year. It consolidates other contracts and makes a big difference to them, how they work, their speed and flexibility, and how they work with families.
Rahui Katene: What level of savings can the Government expect from the integration of Government contracts under the Whānau Ora model against the silo approach of years gone by?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: I cannot give the member an absolute on what the savings are under the integration of contracts under Whānau Ora, and in all respects I think that what it has actually done is provide more services to people and to whānau. There will be some savings because that is
inevitable when one sees those contracts merged together and integrated. I think what it has done is more on the delivery side. What it will deliver to those whānau well exceeds any small savings that you might get from bringing those contracts together.
Health, Ministry—Advice on Employment of Consultants
8. GRANT ROBERTSON (Labour—Wellington Central) to the Minister of Health: What advice, if any, has he sought or received on the contracting of Mervyn English and Paul McCormack to work in the Ministry of Health?
Hon TONY RYALL (Minister of Health): I have been advised by the Director-General of Health that the Ministry of Health retained these men in accordance with the ministry’s employment and procurement policies respectively. I have also asked the State Services Commissioner to confirm that these appointments were consistent with the ministry’s policies and procedures.
Grant Robertson: What information has he received from the Ministry of Health to justify why the jobs being filled by Mervyn English and Paul McCormack were not advertised?
Hon TONY RYALL: Those are matters that the Director-General of Health is in charge of, because those matters are operational. He has assured me that everything has been done in accordance with the ministry’s policies and procedures.
Grant Robertson: Was he aware of the employment of Mr English and Mr McCormack at the Ministry of Health before they signed contracts for their positions?
Hon TONY RYALL: No.
Grant Robertson: Did he discuss the work of the Health Sector Forum with Mervyn English before he was appointed to his position?
Hon TONY RYALL: No.
Grant Robertson: Did he seek advice from the Minister of State Services with regard to whether the contracting of Mervyn English and Paul McCormack was in line with the State Sector Act as soon as he found out about their appointments?
Hon TONY RYALL: No. I sought advice on these matters following an article that appeared in the newspaper on Saturday. I have received advice that the appointments were in accordance with the ministry’s policies and procedures.
NICKY WAGNER (National): To the Minister of Conservation—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: I apologise; my ears have still not come right, but I will not have a chance of hearing Nicky Wagner. I want to hear her question No. 9.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Normally when one of us—someone like Annette King—interrupts like that, you rebuke us specifically. You did not do so to Bill English, who made that loud noise.
Mr SPEAKER: Forgive me—I do accept that my ears are very poor at the moment—but with all respect I believe that I heard noise from far wider quarters. I could not identify where it was all from, but it was more than would have allowed me to hear Nicky Wagner. I just say to the honourable member that I am not sure whether his team has been totally without significant interjection today. There is nothing wrong with that, I acknowledge, but there has been quite a lot of interjection.
9. NICKY WAGNER (National) to the Minister of Conservation: What events are being held to celebrate Conservation Week this week?
Hon KATE WILKINSON (Minister of Conservation): More than 120 events are being held across the entire country for Conservation Week, including Living Legends—tree plantings in Northland, Waikato, King Country, and Taranaki—a wetland restoration project in Canterbury, and a conservation-themed quiz night on Stewart Island. The theme for the week is “Show New Zealand
you love it”. I encourage all members of this House to get outside and participate in as many community events as they can.
Nicky Wagner: What other announcements or events are planned for Conservation Week?
Hon KATE WILKINSON: Tomorrow I will visit the Ōtaki electorate with my colleague the Hon Nathan Guy, where we will announce the purchase of 17 hectares of wetland to be protected as a scenic reserve. On Thursday night I have the privilege of launching the most comprehensive book on New Zealand’s native trees at Unity Books here in Wellington. Thanks to the Dick Roberts Community Trust, this book will be donated to hundreds of intermediate and high schools across the country.
Rugby World Cup—Auckland Public Transport Preparedness
10. PHIL TWYFORD (Labour) to the Minister of Transport: Does he stand by all his previous statements regarding the preparedness of Auckland’s public transport systems for the Rugby World Cup?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister of Transport): Yes. The Government completed a number of rail infrastructure upgrades that were necessary to increase the transport capacity service in Auckland. Having said that, it is clear that last Friday the sheer volume of people attempting to use the services in the afternoon and early evening exceeded everybody’s expectations, leading to significant operational issues. I can report to the House that I met this morning with the Auckland mayor, Len Brown, and representatives of Auckland Transport, and I can report that they are committed to ensuring that additional capacity is made available over the rest of the tournament, to cater for all eventualities.
Phil Twyford: When he was advised by officials 18 months ago that Auckland’s public transport system would not cope with Rugby World Cup crowds and he said he was confident it would cope, what was the basis of that confidence?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I think the member is referring to a report created by the Auckland Regional Transport Authority that indicated a number of things that needed to be addressed prior to the Rugby World Cup proceeding. All of those matters have been addressed, including making available the amount of capacity the report anticipated would be required. Those matters also included dealing with parking availability; ensuring that the train fleet would be available, increasing from 32 sets to 38 sets; ensuring that there was no shortage of additional facilities such as barriers, bollards, fencing, and communication systems; and, of course, ensuring integrated ticketing was available to allow free travel for holders of match tickets. All those matters were addressed and were in place, but, again, the amount of demand on Friday was unprecedented and was not anticipated by that report.
Phil Twyford: When he said in relation to the same report that the Government had a lot of skin in the game, did he mean that, having appointed the chairman and a majority of the directors of Auckland Transport, the Government would then be accountable for its performance?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: With regard to the directorate of Auckland Transport, that was confirmed by Auckland Council after it was—
Phil Twyford: You appointed them.
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Yes, and from the moment the council was elected it had the opportunity to change them. In any event, the point I was making to the member before stands: all the issues identified in that report were addressed. So to the extent that people failed to anticipate the volume of people wanting to use the system last Friday, that report failed to do so as well.
Phil Twyford: Have the Auckland Transport directors whom he appointed performed, in terms of getting passengers to the rugby in time, to the standard he hoped for when he appointed them?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I think it is fair to say that all those involved believe there were operational shortfalls last Friday in delivering some people to Eden Park in Auckland. I do not think that is in doubt.
Rugby World Cup—Public Transport Provisions
11. GARETH HUGHES (Green) to the Minister of Transport: Is he confident the Government has done everything possible to provide sufficient, high-quality bus, rail and ferry services during the Rugby World Cup?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister of Transport): Yes. In the time the Government had available to it, that is the case. The Government funded and completed the scheduled infrastructure improvements, and, of course, it subsidises public transport services. However, as I said in answer to the previous question, it is clear that last Friday the sheer volume of people attempting to use the services in the afternoon and early evening exceeded everybody’s expectations, leading to significant operational issues being reported. I have met the Mayor of Auckland and Auckland Transport this morning, and they are committed to ensuring that additional capacity is made available over the rest of the tournament.
Gareth Hughes: Will the Minister apologise to the people of New Zealand, and was not the transport fiasco on the opening night of the Rugby World Cup caused by systematic underfunding of the trains and buses by successive Governments?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: In answer to the second part of the question, no. The reality, though, is that to an extent the member is correct: infrastructure takes a long time to put in place. For example, there has been some suggestion that electric trains should have been made available at the time of the Rugby World Cup. Well, the decision to not do that was made by the previous Labour-Greens Government in 2007. When it announced its initial regional fuel tax to fund new trains it declared— and, in fact, the former Minister of Transport declared—that they would not be available in time for 2011, because it would be too risky.
Phil Twyford: What were the back-up public transport plans if buses or trains were to break down during the Rugby World Cup, which he referred to in June in relation to the Auckland Regional Transport Authority report?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Significant back-up plans were available, including a number of, if you like, reserve buses—and tens of those. But again, I think it is fair to say—and in defence of the people in Auckland who were charged with providing the services—that the demand was unprecedented and certainly greater than anybody anticipated, including, notably, that Auckland Regional Transport Authority report.
Gareth Hughes: Given that the Minister keeps referring to this unprecedented demand, is it not the case that the Government regularly underestimates the demand for trains, as it did last Friday, and as it has done in its recent review of the central business district rail link business case?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I am not sure what political point the member is trying to make, except I would point out that it is hard to justify the central business district rail link on the same basis as transport last Friday, because transport last Friday was free. I am not sure whether the member is suggesting that somehow travel on the central business district rail link should be free.
Gareth Hughes: Why will the Minister not approve funding for the central business district rail link, which would hugely improve the already pretty dire reliability of the entire Auckland rail network and would have avoided one of the most serious problems that occurred on the opening night of the Rugby World Cup?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I appreciate that for the member the answer to every problem is the central business district rail link, no matter what it is, including some potentially non-transport problems. But the reality is that if the answer is a $2.4 billion rail link in order to get some people from town, down to Eden Park, then I think we are asking the wrong question.
Gareth Hughes: Will the Minister commit to an independent review of what happened on Friday night?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Auckland Transport and the Auckland Council are conducting a review currently. They are putting together a report and mitigations. The Government will assess that review when it receives it during the next 24 hours.
Gareth Hughes: I ask again: will the Minister apologise to the people of New Zealand and why did you, the Prime Minister, and the Minister for the Rugby World Cup give repeated assurances over the last couple of years that the transport arrangements would work on the night, that contingency plans would be successful, yet you are now passing the buck, faster than a Sonny Bill Williams offload, to the Auckland Council?
Mr SPEAKER: I think the questioner asked why did he, not you—
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I appreciate the member’s confidence in both my rugby playing ability and my physique, but I suspect he is wrong on both counts. [Interruption] OK, perhaps I am close to Sonny Bill Williams. The reality is that I made the point in answer to the member’s primary question that the level of demand was unexpected by all parties, and that was one of the primary reasons, I understand, for the operational issues that occurred on Friday. The Auckland Council and Auckland Transport are working hard to address those issues.
Gareth Hughes: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I was not referring to his physique in my question. In fact, he did not answer any part of the question.
Mr SPEAKER: The member’s question was quite out of order anyhow. He referred to the Speaker during his question, and asked why “you” did not do something, but I let the Minister answer.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I just want to make it clear I was not suggesting that you should get your shirt off. I think I have seen enough of that.
Mr SPEAKER: Just as well.
Gareth Hughes: I seek leave to table research from the Parliamentary Library. It is an eightpage document, with assurances by the Prime Minister, the Minister for the Rugby World Cup, and the Minister of Transport that everything would be fine on the night.
Mr SPEAKER: This document is prepared by the Parliamentary Library?
Gareth Hughes: It is a collection of press clippings over the last 2 years.
Mr SPEAKER: No, we do not table press clippings.
Pike River Tragedy—Victim Recovery
12. Hon DAMIEN O’CONNOR (Labour) to the Prime Minister: Does he still stand by his statement “I gave a commitment to the families at Pike River that I’d do everything I could to get their men out and I stand by that”; if so, will he commit to funding the recovery of bodies when a plan to do so is established?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): Yes. As I have said on a number of occasions, when we are presented with a credible plan with a good chance of success, we will look at funding issues.
Hon Damien O’Connor: Has he asked the receiver to provide funding for the recovery of the bodies of the miners lost in the Pike River tragedy?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No, because I am not a party to the receivership.
Hon Damien O’Connor: Given the announcement yesterday that the receiver is providing payment to Pike River contractors, what obligation will he be expecting of the receiver to provide funding for the recovery of the 29 men?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: That matter will have to be worked through, but if I am to understand the receiver’s public comments as I have seen them, I think the receiver has indicated that it will look very closely at that. I think it is conscious of all the issues involved. The position has always been, certainly from the Government’s point of view, that show us a credible plan that does not endanger any more lives and has a good chance of success, and we will have a look at it financially beyond there. That position remains.
Hon Damien O’Connor: Does the Prime Minister have full confidence in the management of the disaster, and does he consider it appropriate that the police managed the process given their limited knowledge of underground mines?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I think the member would fully appreciate that there is a royal commission going on at the moment. It would be most unhelpful for me to wade in and answer that question.