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Questions And Answers Sept 14


(uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing)

WEDNESDAY, 14 SEPTEMBER 2011

QUESTIONS FOR ORAL ANSWER

QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS

Rugby World Cup, Minister—Confidence

1. Dr RUSSEL NORMAN (Co-Leader—Green) to the Prime Minister: Does he have confidence in his Minister for the Rugby World Cup; and in his Minister’s handling of the Government’s relationship with the Auckland Council?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): Yes, and yes.

Dr Russel Norman: Is it acceptable that the Minister for the Rugby World Cup failed to tell Mayor Len Brown that the Government was about to seize extended control of the waterfront in an unprecedented takeover?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: My understanding is that the officials had been working together on this— from the Auckland Council and from the Minister for the Rugby World Cup’s office—from the weekend. There was an assumption that Neville Harris had spoken to Len Brown’s chief of staff, Doug McKay, and an assumption that the mayor knew. Obviously, it turns out that that was not the case. My understanding is that it is a shame that that phone call did not take place, but as soon as the Minister understood that that was not the case, he rang quickly.

Dr Russel Norman: Then what is his response to Brian Rudman, who wrote in the New Zealand Herald: “Mr McCully and Mr Key have not just demonstrated their contempt for the city’s leadership, they have deliberately humiliated the mayor and shown how hollow their talk of partnership was.”?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I do not believe that to be a correct assessment by Mr Rudman. I would say that what was demonstrated on Friday night was a situation where an enormous number of people went down to the waterfront or attempted to use Auckland transport, and, at some point, for some people, that failed. It is unacceptable, and it has to be fixed.

Dr Russel Norman: Does he agree that the best outcome for the Rugby World Cup celebrations will be achieved—

Mr SPEAKER: I apologise to the member. I say to the National Party backbench on this occasion, please, Dr Russel Norman has every right to ask his question.

Dr Russel Norman: Does he agree that the best outcome for the Rugby World Cup celebrations will be achieved by a collaborative approach by all parties involved, and that the constructive partnership with Auckland is being sabotaged by his Minister’s unilateral approach?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No, I do not agree with that last point.

Dr Russel Norman: Is it not common courtesy when throwing a party in someone else’s home to work closely and constructively with the hosts, which in this case are the people of Auckland, represented by their democratically elected council?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I believe that is happening. As I said, the officials from the Minister for the Rugby World Cup’s office and the Auckland officials have been working collaboratively on this project not only for a long period of time but actually over the weekend.

Dr Russel Norman: What specific action did Auckland Council not agree to that justifies this unprecedented Government takeover?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Well, with all due respect, I do not think that the member actually understands the empowering legislation. The legislation, and the use of the Government’s place in that legislation, is required in order to get those consents in a time frame that would allow Captain Cook Wharf to be used as a back-up facility by Friday night.

Dr Russel Norman: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I was asking specifically what actions did the council not agree to. I appreciate the Prime Minister’s framing of the issue, but the question was what actions did the Auckland Council not agree to that justified the action?

Mr SPEAKER: As I understood the Prime Minister’s answer, he indicated that it was not a matter of specific actions not being agreed to. A matter of some urgency, I think the Prime Minister indicated in his answer, was the relevant issue, and I think he is entitled to do that—to indicate that what was implied in the question is not, in his view, the relevant issue.

Dr Russel Norman: How can this Government, or any other, lay the blame for the failure of public transport on the Auckland Council when Deputy Mayor Penny Hulse said this morning on Radio New Zealand National: “six years ago every single mayor in Auckland flew down to Wellington …” to try to get central government to increase investment in public transport, but were ignored by both that Government and this Government, who delayed further electrification—

Mr SPEAKER: I must be able to hear Dr Norman’s question.

Dr Russel Norman: How can he lay the blame for the failure of public transport with the Auckland Council when Deputy Mayor Penny Hulse said on Radio New Zealand National this morning: “six years ago every single mayor in Auckland flew down to Wellington …” to try to get central government to increase investment in public transport, but were ignored by both that Government and this Government; and is it not time that this Government called a truce in the war on Auckland—

Mr SPEAKER: I apologise to the member, but I just cannot hear the last part of the question. When we get to a certain point in the question, the interjections on my left mean that I just cannot hear the last part of the question. I will invite Dr Norman to start again, and I hope that the House is sufficiently sick of hearing the question to be sufficiently quiet for the Prime Minister to hear the question.

Dr Russel Norman: How can he lay the blame for the failure of public transport with the Auckland Council when Deputy Mayor Penny Hulse said this morning on Radio New Zealand National: “six years ago every single mayor in Auckland flew down to Wellington …” to try to get central government to increase investment in public transport, but were ignored by both that Government and this Government, who delayed further electrification; and when will his Government end the war on Auckland and get on with building a decent public transport system?

Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I invite you to rule whether there was any irony in that question and, if there was, to rule it out.

Mr SPEAKER: The question, as far as I am concerned, meets the Standing Orders. I cannot be a judge of the accuracy in any question. I did not detect any undue irony in it.

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I find myself in an incredible position that I never thought I would find myself in, and that is that I am in total agreement with Trevor Mallard. What nonsense!

Mr SPEAKER: Question No. 2, the honourable Leader of the Opposition. [Interruption] I have called the honourable Leader of the Opposition, and he has every right to ask his question.

Rugby World Cup, Minister—Use of Provisions in Act

2. Hon PHIL GOFF (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Did he raise with the Minister for the Rugby World Cup the need to utilise the provisions of the Rugby World Cup 2011 (Empowering) Act 2010 before the opening night; if not, why not?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): From time to time there were very informal discussions about the circumstances under which the Act may be required to be used, but before this week there were no discussions about the specific use of its powers.

Hon Phil Goff: In relation to the chaos in downtown Auckland and the debacle around the transport system, why was the Government not “ahead of the game”, as the Minister for the Rugby World Cup assured New Zealand that it was and promised that it would be?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Because we relied on the assurances given by, amongst others, Auckland Transport and those managing the downtown waterfront that they had all contingencies covered.

Hon Phil Goff: What does the Prime Minister say, in response to this email by Jan Gillespie to him: “You’re extremely lucky that there was no death or serious injury from crushing or trampling in Quay Street.”, and then further: “It was an extremely dangerous and scary situation to be in. If anyone had fallen, they would have been seriously trampled. There was no supervision in sight.”; and does he take any responsibility for that?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I do not think it would be right to say there was no supervision in sight, because I am aware that literally dozens and dozens of police were dispatched to Quay Street, but what I would say is that I actually agree with her that we cannot take that risk. That is why the Minister for the Rugby World Cup used the empowering legislation to have a back-up at Captain Cook Wharf, and that is why I think the Government has taken the right course of action.

Hon Phil Goff: Does he accept any responsibility, in this sense: that party central on Queen’s Wharf was his idea, and it was at his insistence that the council focused on that instead of having diverse fan zones from around the city, which would have prevented the crush of people who could not be properly contained, and the disaster in the transport system and people trying to get there?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: In a previous question the member said there was no crushing and we were lucky; now the member is claiming there was crushing. So the member really should get his question right, before one of the “camp Davids” takes over. But anyway, to go back to the more serious point: the Government has taken, I believe, the appropriate steps to ensure that it is in a better place. In terms of the environment onQueen’s Wharf, it operated very effectively on Friday night. That was the bit that did work well, because it was a controlled environment where there was access. It was co-managed by the Government.

Hon Phil Goff: What does the Prime Minister say to Jason and Cheryl, who said this about the situation on the trains, and I am quoting: “People were having trouble breathing, due to lack of oxygen. People started to become concerned and agitated. Babies were crying. Elderly people were changing colour. Some needed water, some needed the toilet.”; and why does he blame them for pressing the emergency button, instead of accepting responsibility for having the wrong venue and an inadequate transport system?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: It would depend on where they were on the train, in relation to whether one could even claim it was the wrong venue. They may well have been going to the Eden Park stadium. Secondly, I invite the member and those people who wrote the email to read the Auckland Transport report when it is finally published this afternoon, to see exactly where the blame might lie. They may find it quite interesting reading.

Hon Phil Goff: Given the promises that he and his Ministers repeatedly made that everything would be right on the night, why did ministerial oversight fail?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: The first thing is that a lot was right on the night. An awful lot was right on the night. I know that the member wants to create a misery out of what was otherwise a great celebration for New Zealand. On this side of the House we are not doing that. It is clear that there

was an operational failure in transport, and an operational failure in the downtown part of Quay Street, in certain parts. The Government is working very hard to resolve those matters.

Hon Phil Goff: Given that events like Christmas in the Park have attracted hundreds of thousands of people, how many people did he expect to go to the free concert, the spectacular fireworks display, the waka display, and the hype and excitement around the waterfront areas?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: The advice we had from Auckland Transport was 50,000 people. That advice was tested by the Rugby World Cup officials on at least one occasion, and they came back to say their advice was absolutely right and they stood by it.

Hon Rick Barker: Who wrote the speech he gave at the opening of the Rugby World Cup?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I did. I would not go as far as to say I wrote a speech; I would say I created one.

Economy—Protection from Global Market Volatility

3. TIM MACINDOE (National—Hamilton West) to the Minister of Finance: How is the New Zealand economy placed to withstand current global financial market uncertainty?

Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): As I mentioned yesterday, we are continuing to see bouts of concerning economic news from Europe, and I expect that this will continue. The effect of this is to put every debtor country under the microscope. In particular, financial markets are asking whether debt levels are acceptable, whether there are plans to contain debt and get it down, and whether Government policies are helping or hindering growth. In this respect the New Zealand ship is in better shape than it was 3 years ago, but the seas are getting rougher, so there is more work to do.

Tim Macindoe: How does New Zealand’s economic position compare with that of other countries?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: Compared with similar developed countries we have come through the recession and on-going market volatility in reasonable shape. However, compared with developing countries with significant surpluses we are much more vulnerable to volatility in financial markets. However, looking ahead we have many opportunities, particularly to increase our trade and therefore our ability to earn higher incomes and create more jobs for New Zealanders by trading with countries in the Asia-Pacific region with fast-growing surpluses.

Tim Macindoe: What risks does New Zealand face from the current global economic environment?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: There are really two sorts of risk. One is financial market risk. New Zealand has high levels of external debt, mainly in its household sector, and we have to continually return to those financial markets to borrow more from them. If they are volatile that may make the borrowing a bit more problematic. The other risk we have is demand risk. That is, when those highvalue markets such as the US, the UK, and Europe are facing financial volatility and a slow-down in growth, it is likely they will be less willing to pay the prices we want for our products. So that could flow through to a slow-down in the New Zealand economy.

Tim Macindoe: What steps has the Government taken over the past 3 years to reduce our vulnerability to volatile global markets?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: First, can I say that our exposure to these markets has built up over quite a long period of time—over the last 20 years or so, but particularly so since about 2005. It will take some time to get New Zealand back into a position where it is not vulnerable to these markets. In the meantime the Reserve Bank has taken a number of steps to ensure that our banking system is secure and well capitalised. The Government has taken significant steps to get its own debt under control and to encourage the household sector to get its debt under control.

Hon John Boscawen: Would narrowing the gap between New Zealand’s GDP per capita and Australia’s GDP per capita make the New Zealand economy more able to withstand global financial market uncertainty; if so, has the gap narrowed or widened since he took office?

Hon BILL ENGLISH: I cannot answer the second question in detail, although it is likely that in the current calendar year the New Zealand economy will grow faster than the Australian economy, which tells us that we may be more likely to close the gap. But, certainly, if we were able to increase our savings and channel our investment into the tradable economy rather than reduce our savings and borrow money to fund consumption and housing bubbles, then we would be more likely to close the gap with Australia.

Rugby World Cup—Briefings on Auckland’s Preparedness

4. Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Labour—Hutt South) to the Minister for the Rugby World

Cup: Has he received any reports or briefings, verbal or written, since he became the Minister for the Rugby World Cup on the ability of downtown Auckland to host Rugby World Cup 2011 related events and what were the dates of those briefings?

Hon MURRAY McCULLY (Minister for the Rugby World Cup): The member may be aware that the Government is leading the delivery of a range of activities at Queen’s Wharf, of which it is the part-owner. As a consequence I receive a range of regular reports and briefings regarding its capacity to host planned events. With regard to the wider waterfront, ATEED— Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development—the events arm of Auckland City, is active in the lead role. Officials would have received reports and briefings in the context of the management committee responsible for Queen’s Wharf.

Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. That was a deliberately straight, direct question asking—in the end—what the dates of those briefings were. I think he has had plenty of time to sort through his files for them. He did not attempt to answer that part of the question.

Mr SPEAKER: I think it is a fair point of order. Although it may not be reasonable to expect all the dates, because there may be quite a long list of briefings—the Minister indicated a number of briefings—some dates, I think, would be appropriate to answer the question, since it is a primary question.

Hon MURRAY McCULLY: I can indicate that there would have been a substantial number of those reports around the time of the acquisition of Queen’s Wharf, and, more recently, as we got closer to the opening of the Rugby World Cup there would have been a significant increase in the number of reports on the various activities to be engaged in at Queen’s Wharf. If the member would like me to supply a list of the dates of all of the reports I have received, I would be happy to make it available to him separately.

Hon Trevor Mallard: I accept the offer. Did he receive in the briefing to him as an incoming Minister at the end of 2008 warnings about transport and crowd issues in central Auckland for the Rugby World Cup?

Hon MURRAY McCULLY: Yes.

Hon Trevor Mallard: What priority did he give to the task of sorting that, as Minister for the Rugby World Cup, between December 2008 and last Friday?

Hon MURRAY McCULLY: With regard to the transport challenges, it would be fair to say that they would have received the highest priority. It is no great secret that I identified in the risk assessments that were undertaken in conversations with agencies, including directly with the Auckland Transport Agency itself, that I assessed that the transport challenges were one of the greatest risks facing the Rugby World Cup, and, accordingly, a good deal of time and discussion have gone into managing those challenges. Again, I would be very happy to make a list of the various discussions with the Auckland Transport Agency available to the member. Further, the issues of crowd control and participation on the Auckland waterfront have been managed by ATEED and the Auckland City Council. The Queen’s Wharf interface has been the focus of the Government’s attention in that respect, but, of course, it has, alongside other elements of the Rugby World Cup, received attention from officials, and therefore from me, from time to time.

Hon Trevor Mallard: Did he receive a full-day briefing, along with the Minister of Transport on the Rugby World Cup—mainly transport issues—in June of this year, which led to some photo opportunities, and did he express at the end of that briefing satisfaction with the arrangements?

Hon MURRAY McCULLY: It was not, in fact, a full-day briefing, but it was a substantial part of a day. It involved a range of visits, including a visit to the transport control centre to see how it worked. But, no, it would not be fair to say that I pronounced myself fully satisfied with arrangements as a consequence of that briefing, and as the member will discover when I give him an ongoing list of the interactions, there were further matters that I was exploring with the Minister of Transport and directly with transport officials.

Hon Trevor Mallard: Did the Minister spend more time focused on crowd issues in the event that more than 12,000 people wanted to go down on to the wharf, or on picking the colour of the shirt for the Prime Minister to mince in?

Hon Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I think you will find that that comment was totally unacceptable to this House.

Mr SPEAKER: I do not want to be ruling out words that may be marginal words. I am sure we are big enough children not to take offence at every possible word. If I thought the Prime Minister was going to be terribly upset by that word, I might rule it out, but I do not want to be ruling out endless words.

Hon MURRAY McCULLY: It has been my impression that the Prime Minister has an extraordinarily good sense of fashion judgment and therefore is in no need of advice from me. Indeed, were he in need of such advice, I doubt he would seek it from me.

Criminal Procedure (Reform and Modernisation) Bill—Views of Chief Justice

5. Hon JOHN BOSCAWEN (Leader—ACT) to the Minister of Justice: Does the Government share the Chief Justice’s “grave concern” stated in her 25 February submission on the Criminal Procedure (Reform and Modernisation) Bill that the proposed notification of issues in dispute in advance of trial and also at the commencement of trial is “contrary to longstanding principle, being inconsistent with a defendant’s right to have the prosecution prove its case beyond reasonable doubt, not being obliged to assist the prosecution by volunteering information”; if not, why not?

Mr SPEAKER: I am not sure I heard exactly the question in front of me, but I think it was close enough to be reasonable.

Hon SIMON POWER (Minister of Justice): No; because I am advised that the Chief Justice’s concerns were based on the bill as introduced. As the member knows, the bill—and in particular the issues in dispute provisions in the bill—underwent change at the select committee.

Hon John Boscawen: Does the Minister find it acceptable that in the Attorney-General’s report on the bill, dated 15 November 2010, he clearly said: “I have considered this bill for consistency with the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 and report it separately to the House that in three respects it appear to be inconsistent with the rights affirmed by section 25 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act.”; if so, is the Minister prepared to resubmit the amended bill as reported by the Justice and Electoral Committee for further vetting by the Attorney-General?

Hon SIMON POWER: I believe that the first part of the question related to the acceptability of the Attorney-General’s report. I find all of the Attorney-General’s reports to be acceptable. I note that I am advised that the issues the Attorney-General raised in respect of those reports were generally resolved at the select committee.

Hon John Boscawen: Is he aware that the departmental report for the Justice and Electoral Committee dated 16 May 2011 described several submitters, including the New Zealand Bar Association and the Criminal Bar Association, as being in support of the bill, when in letters provided by those organisations and tabled in this House on 16 August this year each confirmed its opposition; if so, will he take action to correct that select committee report?

Hon SIMON POWER: The report is a matter for the select committee, not for the Minister in charge of the bill. I have to say that although I read the report at the time, I have not read it recently.

Charles Chauvel: Will the Minister confirm to the House that he has the Labour Opposition’s assurance of support to pass the bill, provided he is willing to make only eight changes to it?

Hon SIMON POWER: Yes, I am aware of the changes that the member refers to. He has written to me about these matters, and I thank him for his constructive approach to this legislation. As my office informed him yesterday, I am taking a close look at the points he raised in his letter, and I expect to be in a position to respond shortly. I think that in the interests of good-faith discussions that is all I am prepared to say at this stage.

Rugby World Cup Opening—Transport Issues

6. PHIL TWYFORD (Labour) to the Minister of Transport: Does he accept any responsibility for the failure of the train services in Auckland on Friday night?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister of Transport): No. The Minister of Transport has roles in the provision of infrastructure, funding, policy, and legislative matters. The Minister of Transport’s remit does not extend to transport operations, although there are some days when I wish that it did. As members will be aware, the issues that occurred on Friday were the result of operational matters. They are currently being addressed by the operator, Auckland Transport, and its contractors.

Phil Twyford: Does section 50 of the Local Government (Auckland Council) Act prohibit Auckland Council from public transport management and vest that power in Auckland Transport, and did his Government pass that Act?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Yes, the Government passed that Act.

Phil Twyford: Did he see any warnings about establishing an autonomous body to run Auckland Transport instead of making Auckland Council responsible, and did he ignore those warnings?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: No. If the member thinks that that would be the issue, then obviously we would not allow Air New Zealand to run air transport, we would not allow KiwiRail to run rail transport, we would not allow road freighting companies to run road transport, and we would not allow bus companies to run bus transport. That premise obviously does not apply.

Phil Twyford: Does he take responsibility for creating the structure and appointing the people, and for the subsequent debacle produced by the structure he created and the people he appointed?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: No, for the points that I have just made in answer to the previous supplementary question. The member seems to suggest that only elected bodies can run transport operations. I suggest that the evidence worldwide is that that is not the case. If he thinks that, for example, Councillor Mike Lee would be better to run it, that is entirely up to him.

Phil Twyford: Does he agree with the statement of Nikki Kaye that due to his Government reorganising Auckland local government and splitting Auckland Transport off as an autonomous organisation, “We will be able to get rid of those transport bottlenecks.”; if so, why was he not able to get rid of the transport bottlenecks in Auckland last Friday?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: The Government has had considerable success in improving the transport situation in Auckland, but the issues last Friday, as I explained to the member yesterday, were, to be fair, at least in part the result of much, much higher transport loadings than were anticipated by any party that considered the matter over the last 4 or 5 years—

Phil Twyford: Not true. Michael Barnett said 150,000 people.

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: No, that is incorrect. And—

Hon Trevor Mallard: Why did McCully appoint him in a cafe?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Oh, for goodness’ sake!

Jacinda Ardern: Does he intend to reconsider and take into account any factors in addition to his ministry’s cost-benefit ratio when considering funding of the city rail link, such as our inability to manage international events without it?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I must say I find amusing the suggestion that somehow the answer to the question is a $2.4 billion central business district rail link through the middle of town. If that is what is required to move people from downtown Auckland to Eden Park, then we have a very big issue indeed. I am sure we can find a slightly more economical way of doing that. But it is important to point out that Auckland Council and Auckland Transport are meeting pretty much as we speak to address those issues, and will be making announcements later on this afternoon on both the causes of what happened last Friday and their mitigating actions, and I think we should give them the opportunity to do that.

Health Care—Surgical Specialist Assessments

7. Dr PAUL HUTCHISON (National—Hunua) to the Minister of Health: What progress has been made in providing improved access to surgical specialist assessments over the last three years?

Hon TONY RYALL (Minister of Health): First specialist assessments are the gateway to elective surgery and most diagnostic tests. I am pleased to advise the House that over the last 3 years the number of patients benefiting from first surgical specialist assessments has increased by 24,000. This compares with an increase of just over 2,000 over the term of the previous Government, which meant that access in real terms was cut.

Dr Paul Hutchison: What other progress is being made to such assessments?

Hon TONY RYALL: Many patients are referred to a specialist in order to get a diagnostic test or scan, like endoscopy or magnetic resonance imaging, and this, of course, involves waiting to see the specialist, who then refers the patient on to the test or scan. That is one of the reasons why, under the Government’s “Better, sooner, more convenient care” policy in primary care, we are progressively giving more general practitioners the ability to refer patients directly for a test or scan, without having to go to the hospital to see the specialist first. This, of course, means less waiting and faster service, and it also frees up specialist time to deal with other patients.

Youth Unemployment—Human Rights Commission Report

8. JACINDA ARDERN (Labour) to the Minister for Social Development and Employment: Does she agree with the report by the Human Rights Commission released in June entitled Tracking Equality at Work that “unless action is taken urgently, the youth situation will become unsustainable, representing a threat to social cohesion”?

Hon PAULA BENNETT (Minister for Social Development and Employment): To date I have found very few reports from the Human Rights Commission that I entirely agree with. I do, however, agree with the report where it states: “over 3,000 employers, employees and job seekers broadly said they enjoyed their work, cared about the people they worked with, were proud of the services and products they delivered and loved the challenges of working life. For many, work defines them and was a critical aspect of self-identity and self-esteem, not just a pay cheque.”

Jacinda Ardern: How many young people will move into employment, education, or training through the Government’s welfare reform for 16 and 17-year-olds, and does this figure take into account that roughly 50 percent of independent youth benefit recipients, the main target of her reforms, are already in education and training?

Hon PAULA BENNETT: What the member has not understood about our reforms for that age group is that we are actually looking at those who are not in education, employment, or training. That is anywhere between 8,500 and 13,500, and that was a major part of the announcement we made—we connect them. We changed the law so that we can actually get that information from education and from schools, and we then connect those young people, through a transition service, into a provider that will wrap a service around them and get them into training or education. The part the member talks about was a small but significant part, but the bigger part is around those young people—up to 13,000—who are not in education or employment.

Jacinda Ardern: What proportion of her $20 million to $25 million Securing a Brighter Future package will go towards the establishment and administration of the benefit card system and what proportion will go towards the Youth Transitions Service network, which currently covers only half of all school-leavers?

Hon PAULA BENNETT: Again, the member has kind of got it wrong. She is lumping everything together into the payment card and to that small number who are on benefit. There are a small number, under our package, that were on benefit, but a much bigger number are not on a benefit but are on a fast track there unless we intervene. This side of the House is committed to intervening, to intervening properly, and to making sure we wrap a service around those young people that sees them connected into something more, and more into education and training. For years, under the previous Government, we have seen one in five young people leaving school illiterate in what they can take forward. We are determined to do better by them.

Jacinda Ardern: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I understand entirely that there were two parts to the Government’s package, but we were given only one figure for that package. That is why I explicitly asked the Minister what proportion of the $20 million to $25 million was for the benefit card and what proportion was for the transition service.

Mr SPEAKER: The member may repeat her question, just to make sure there is no misunderstanding.

Jacinda Ardern: What proportion of her $20 million to $25 million Securing a Brighter Future package will go towards the establishment and administration of the benefit card system, and what proportion will go towards the Youth Transitions Service network, which currently covers only half of all school-leavers?

Hon PAULA BENNETT: A very small proportion.

Mr SPEAKER: I did not hear the Minister.

Hon PAULA BENNETT: A very small proportion.

Mr SPEAKER: I thank the Minister.

Jacinda Ardern: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.

Mr SPEAKER: The Minister’s answer was “A very small proportion.”

Jacinda Ardern: I was asking of either package—

Mr SPEAKER: It would be helpful if the Minister indicated to which of the two components her answer refers.

Hon PAULA BENNETT: The member, to my understanding, was asking—[Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: I want to hear the answer. I apologise to the Minister. I have specifically asked the Minister to provide the House with more information, and there is no way it will hear that information if the Hon Shane Jones keeps up such successfully loud interjections.

Hon PAULA BENNETT: So there—

Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Straight after you admonished one of my colleagues, the senior Government whip yelled out to the point where I am having trouble hearing the Minister—who has the mike.

Mr SPEAKER: I accept that my right ear is—I will not use the language I would normally used to describe it at the moment—not functioning well. Members will notice that it is not because I have a crick in my neck that I am listening like this; it is because this ear is the only one working. I warn Government members that if they take advantage of that, I will come down on them heavily.

Hon PAULA BENNETT: As I was explaining, a very small proportion of the $22 million to $25 million that is part of that package would be going to any administration. The fundamental part of that package is around the support we give to non-government organisations. We will be funding them to work with these young people. We are taking the current funding under the Youth Transitions Service and extending it further, and that is what the cost is for.

Jacinda Ardern: Does she believe that young people are eager to take up employment opportunities where work exists; if not, how does she explain that in 2008 there were roughly only

200 young people on an unemployment benefit long term but that on her watch that number is now eight times higher?

Hon PAULA BENNETT: And in January 2010 we saw that number at about 23,500 young people who were on an unemployment benefit. I am pleased that the member is acknowledging how important it is for those young people, because that is now down to fewer than 16,000 young people. So we have seen over 7,000 young people come off that benefit and into work. Have we got more work to do? Absolutely. But is what we are currently doing working? The proof is in those numbers and the number who are getting into work.

Earthquakes, Canterbury—Temporary Accommodation Assistance Payment

9. AARON GILMORE (National) to the Minister for Social Development and Employment: Has the Government made any recent announcements on the Canterbury Temporary Accommodation Assistance Payment?

Hon PAULA BENNETT (Minister for Social Development and Employment): The Temporary Accommodation Assistance payment provides financial support to homeowners affected by the earthquake who have dual housing costs while their homes are being rebuilt or repaired. It is for those who cannot access cover through other means such as insurance. We recognised that there needed to be more flexibility around the end date to support those homeowners most affected, so we have made some changes. These changes will allow those eligible for the Temporary Accommodation Assistance payment to continue to receive support after the first Government deposit.

Aaron Gilmore: Given that excellent announcement, how can people apply for the Canterbury Temporary Accommodation Assistance payment?

Hon PAULA BENNETT: To apply, information can be found at the Canterbury Earthquake Temporary Accommodation Service website, which is www.quakeaccommodation.govt.nz. So far, for the House’s information, 195 homeowners have taken up the Temporary Accommodation Assistance payment with the average payment being around $280 per week, which is costing the Government about $55,000 a week in total.

Hon Lianne Dalziel: I seek leave to table a document, which is in fact three emails. The first one is the follow-up from the cross-party forum, where we asked for this change to be made. The second one is dated 19 August, asking whether there has been any progress on a reply to the inquiry. The third one is dated 30 August, saying that this is now urgent and we are getting increasing inquiries about this matter.

Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there an objection? There is no objection. Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.

Minimum Wage—Value Relative to Cost of Living

10. DARIEN FENTON (Labour) to the Minister of Labour: What advice, if any, has she recently received on the value of the minimum wage relative to the cost of living?

Hon TONY RYALL (Minister of Health) on behalf of the Minister of Labour: I can reply that as part of the annual review of the level of the minimum wage, she has received advice on a range of measures concerning the changing cost of living and wages here in New Zealand.

Darien Fenton: How will her Government compensate minimum-wage workers when the annual increase in food prices of 6.6 percent in the August 2011 year has far outstripped the minimum-wage increase of 25c per hour, which was delivered by her Government on 1 April 2011?

Hon TONY RYALL: As the member knows, there is an annual process of consideration about what the minimum wage will be set at, and the Minister will no doubt take that information into account in her consideration.

Darien Fenton: Does she accept that the income of minimum-wage workers has declined in real terms by $16.80 a week since June 2010; if so, will she take that into account in this year’s minimum-wage review and increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour?

Hon TONY RYALL: Since 2008 the Government has increased the minimum wage from $12 to its current level of $13 per hour. This is an increase of 8.3 percent, which is in line with the CPI. I would reflect that that party opposite had 9 years, while previously in Government, in which to put the minimum wage up to $15.

Te Ururoa Flavell: Kia ora, Mr Speaker. Kia ora tātou. Does the Minister agree with the proposals put to the Prime Minister by the Māori Party that lifting the minimum wage to $15 per hour would have a hugely positive effect on reducing child poverty and on the cost of living for many people; if not, why not?

Hon TONY RYALL: The Government is working every day to raise the living standards for all New Zealand families in the most difficult economic times for generations. Advice from the Department of Labour suggests that, in fact, the policy the member has described would have the opposite effect, with the loss of more than 6,000 jobs.

Darien Fenton: What plans does her Government have to improve the situation for other wageworkers whose real income has declined under her Government, with an average increase of just 1.9 percent in the past year compared with 5.3 percent inflation?

Hon TONY RYALL: This Government has a plan that will grow the economy and create more opportunities for New Zealanders by lowering taxes, by investing in skills, by making sure that infrastructure is boosted, and by ensuring that science and innovation remain strong priorities for national investment.

Student Loans—Debt Recovery from Borrowers Based Overseas

11. Hon TAU HENARE (National) to the Minister for Tertiary Education: What action is the Government taking to ensure overseas-based student loan borrowers are meeting their repayment obligations?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister for Tertiary Education): We are expanding our successful debt-recovery programme, which is a pilot programme in conjunction with the Minister of Revenue, Peter Dunne, to target a further 50,000 debtors in Australia and the United Kingdom. This follows an Inland Revenue Department pilot that targeted around 1,000 Australia-based loanholders, which has in the past 10 months led to the recovery of more than $6.6 million. This extended campaign will see loanholders across those two countries contacted either directly or through their nominated contact person in New Zealand to pay the arrears or set up payment arrangements. Legal action will follow for cases of continued non-compliance.

Hon Tau Henare: How do the repayments of overseas-based borrowers compare with those of New Zealand-based borrowers?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Most New Zealand-based borrowers comply with their repayment obligations. In fact, the median repayment time for New Zealand-based borrowers after they leave tertiary study is just 4½ years, compared with overseas-based borrowers at around 14 years. Student loan borrowers need to understand that if they choose to access the loan scheme, they are also choosing to take on the responsibilities that come with it, even if they head overseas. We remain committed to providing interest-free student loans, so improving the repayment rate by overseas borrowers is a priority in order to deliver greater value for taxpayers, who fund the student loan scheme.

Roading, Auckland—Pūhoi to Wellsford Route Costs and Benefits

12. DAVID SHEARER (Labour—Mt Albert) to the Minister of Transport: Is he satisfied that the Pūhoi to Wellsford road of national significance represents good value for money and has had its costs and benefits adequately assessed?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister of Transport): In regard to the Pūhoi to Wellsford road it is too early to confirm exactly what the final cost-benefit ratio will be. The New Zealand Transport Agency remains in the design and investigation phase and this work is ongoing. The most recent published benefit-cost ratio is 1:1, including wider economic benefits, and this can be found on the New Zealand Transport Agency website. Given the nature of the ongoing work, the exact cost—the “c” of the “b-c”—will not be known until the design is complete, and the New Zealand Transport Agency will continue to update me as this work progresses.

David Shearer: I seek leave to table the Pūhoi to Wellsford: Project Summary Statement, which states that, according to a Treasury calculus, the cost-benefit is—

Mr SPEAKER: Before the member goes into that detail, what is the source of the document?

David Shearer: The New Zealand Transport Agency, 2010.

Mr SPEAKER: A New Zealand Transport Agency document. 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: Was a specific cost-benefit analysis of the Pūhoi to Wellsford “Holiday Highway” project undertaken, or anything like that, before it was identified as a road of national significance?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: In answering the member’s question, I should point out that he is inaccurate. There is actually a table of benefit-cost ratios, with different discount rates, and with or without wider economic benefits—I should point that out. That table is, of course, in the report that the member has just tabled. In relation to the question, though, the projects were specifically identified as strategic projects that the Government sought to see developed, and the identification of the actual benefit-cost ratios has continued through that process, as the member is aware.

David Shearer: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I specifically asked whether a benefit-cost analysis was done before the road was declared a road of national significance, and I do not think the Minister really addressed that.

Mr SPEAKER: The Minister believes he has answered that. Maybe if the Minister just clarified that part of his answer, because he did start his answer with some rather different information.

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Repeating that answer for the member, I say that the projects were identified based on their strategic benefit for the country. The benefit-cost ratios of all the projects have been calculated. Some of them had benefit-cost ratios calculated at the time, and others had them developed through the process. But as I said to the member in my answer to his first question, these continue to be refined over time, so there is no final benefit-cost ratio.

Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I apologise to my colleague. It was a very specific question, which had to do with one project. The Minister made general comments about other projects, but did not answer that question for this project.

Mr SPEAKER: It seemed to me, despite my ear being terrible on the right, that he was saying that at the time it was named as a road of national significance there was no information about the costs, so it was impossible to have a benefit-cost ratio. That is what he seemed to be saying. The answer to the member’s question seemed to be no, therefore.

David Shearer: Does the Minister still have confidence that the “Holiday Highway” can be built under a budget of $2 billion, when the State highways manager, Tommy Parker, recently stated: “Every time you put a spade in the ground up there you’ve got to put in retaining structures, or tunnels or something. The level of ground movement is more than we had anticipated, which makes huge problems and huge costs.”; if he does have confidence, what might minimise these unforeseen costs?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Obviously the member has been catching up with his reading. I mean, this was publicised in mid-July of this year—

Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. It was a straight question—although you, Mr Speaker, do not like the title given to the highway—and it was a gratuitous initial response.

Mr SPEAKER: An opinion was sought, asking whether the Minister agreed with Tommy Parker, and questions asking for an opinion are always less precise. But perhaps the start of the answer was unnecessarily gratuitous.

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Speaking to the point of order—

Mr SPEAKER: No, I have dealt with the question. The Minister should—

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. It is a further point of order. The member persists in calling it a “Holiday Highway”, which I think many people around the country find a little offensive, and I think that is a gratuitous and opinionated matter, so I think that on balance the question was met with a similar answer.

David Shearer: Point of order—

Mr SPEAKER: I will deal with this matter right now and take no further points of order on the matter. The Minister does make a valid point that calling a road of national significance a “Holiday Highway” is gratuitous. The Minister makes a perfectly fair point. However, let us get on with the answer, because a question was asked, and, apart from the unnecessary use of that language, the question was a perfectly reasonable question, so let us hear the answer.

David Shearer: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Although I take your advice on that, about a year ago, Mr Joyce was at a meeting where he called the highway the so-called “Holiday Highway”—

Mr SPEAKER: I am on my feet and there will be no further comment from anyone. Clearly, if the member wants a straight answer to a question, the road being referred to is the Pūhoi to Wellsford road on State Highway 1. If the member wants answers to questions, it is best to use the straight language. It leaves Ministers less opportunity to wriggle.

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: The point I was making to the member is that we have been aware for some time that particularly north of Warkworth there are some challenges. In fact, the New Zealand Herald of Friday, 15 July broke the story for the member by saying that there were some issues in Dome Valley, in particular. I think that is the point—it is challenging and there are significant challenges to be worked through, and there are engineering challenges, which I believe I have also acknowledged previously in this House. There is more work to be done and, again, we will not know the final benefit-cost ratio until that work is done.

David Shearer: Given that more than 40 people have died on the Pūhoi to Wellsford road in the past 9 years, what action has the Minister taken to upgrade the existing State Highway 1 while we wait for his Pūhoi to Wellsford road?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: The Transport Agency has taken a number of initiatives, including two—I would have to say—varied reviews, lowering the speed limit on part of the section of that road to 80 kilometres an hour to assist in lowering the road toll. As I say, they have been varied reviews, but doing that has actually had some success in the incidence of accidents. It remains a very dangerous piece of road, though, and ultimately the answer is to have a separated highway for those high-volume highways around the country where we have high volumes of traffic seeking to pass each other in opposite directions in very difficult conditions. That is why this road is being developed.

ENDS

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