Questions And Answers Feb 14
(uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing)
TUESDAY, 14 FEBRUARY 2012
QUESTIONS FOR ORAL ANSWER
QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS
1. JOHN HAYES (National—Wairarapa) to the Minister of Finance: What progress is being made in rebalancing New Zealand’s economy towards paying our way in the world?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Associate Minister of Finance) on behalf of the Minister of Finance: New Zealand is making steady progress rebalancing the economy with an improved merchandise trade result and improved household savings in 2011. Merchandise trade grew to a $3 billion surplus, notwithstanding the significant external challenges of a high dollar and, of course, weak global growth. Overall, our exports grew an impressive 9.7 percent by value in the calendar year last year. There is still a long way to go, of course, but these early signs are encouraging for exporters, and reinforce the Government’s commitment to helping build a platform from which our businesses can compete and trade in the wider world.
John Hayes: How much did New Zealand’s merchandise trade with Australia and China grow in 2011?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: New Zealand expanded exports to our key market Australia by 8.45 percent over the last year to just under NZ$11 billion. This percentage increase is a very significant result given the higher volume of existing trade. It continues a trend evident over the last few years of strong year-on-year growth. In addition, New Zealand’s exports to China grew by over $1 billion in the calendar year last year. That is 22 percent annual growth, which is a fantastic achievement for exporters, and reinforces the importance of China as our second largest export market.
John Hayes: What progress is being made on increasing New Zealand’s national savings?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: More good news. New Zealand’s savings rates are steadily improving. Statistics New Zealand figures show household savings in the year to March last year were positive for the first time in a decade. This is quite a turn-round from 2007, when households were spending about $1.11 for every dollar they earned. It remains early days, but it does show the importance that households are now placing on savings. The shift from net borrowing to savings, if it continues, will help provide a stronger platform for faster economic growth.
Hon David Parker: By how much are New Zealand’s net international liabilities projected to grow over the next 5 years?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I do not have the net international liabilities, but I do have the current account deficit, which, I think, alludes to the same thing that the member means, in terms of that being expected to widen out from March 2012 to the year to March 2016. That is due to, primarily, the Canterbury—
Hon David Parker: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My question was not about the current account deficit. I do have a question about the current account deficit, but this is not it.
Mr SPEAKER: I appreciate the member’s point of order. I think, though, the Minister indicated he did not have the net liabilities figures with him, and he tried to be helpful by at least providing some information about the current account. But I do accept that is not exactly the same issue.
Hon David Parker: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. This is question No. 1, it is the Government’s own question to the Minister of Finance, it is about progress on the economic growth agenda, and I have asked about one of the most basic indicators as to whether that is working. I would have thought that the Minister—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member is quite correct. It is the Government’s own question, and asking about net liabilities is not exactly way out of line; there is no question that the supplementary question is in line. But I take the Minister at his word that he does not have the figures. People can make their own judgment about that, but that is what the Minister indicated to the House, and there is nothing I can do about that.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Could you at least ask the Minister whether he has general indications—for example, the percentage of GDP liabilities. I mean, any Associate Minister—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! That is not strictly a point—[Interruption] Order! The Minister wants to speak to the point of order?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: That was exactly what I was doing by referring to the increase in the balance of payments deficit—
Mr SPEAKER: No, we are now debating the whole issue. New Zealand’s net liability is a reasonably standard figure, and it is not exactly the same as the current account deficit. The question was very specific about net liabilities, but I take the Minister at the Minister’s word: the Minister does not have those figures. Members can be critical of the Minister for not having those figures—that is the situation we are in—but I cannot ask the Minister to provide what he does not have with him.
Hon David Parker: Given that the Minister in answer to the last supplementary question acknowledged that New Zealand’s current account deficit is projected to grow over the next 5 years, from $5 billion this year to a $17 billion deficit in 2016, is he surprised to learn that over that period New Zealand’s net international liabilities are projected to grow from $140 billion to $200 billion— an increase of 10 percent of GDP?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I do understand that the current account deficit figures and the international liabilities figures—it would not surprise me at all, which I think underlines the point that we were making with the primary question, which is the importance of growing exports and the importance of also—[Interruption] The importance of growing exports. The reality of it is that that is due to happen because of the Canterbury rebuild—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I apologise to the Minister. Look, the Labour spokesperson on finance asked a supplementary question. I presume he wants to hear the answer, and the Minister is answering this question. I think the interjections are beyond reasonableness.
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: The point I was making is that the member inadvertently underlines the exact point that I was making in the responses to the question. The way you deal with that is by improving domestic savings and by improving our exports as we sell to the rest of the world. Those are the ways in which you primarily address those issues, and I was reporting to the House that we are making some reasonable—in fact, good—progress in doing that.
Hon David Parker: I seek leave to table two documents, both prepared by the Parliamentary Library. The first is a graph of New Zealand’s increasing net liabilities; the second is the graph of the increase in the current account deficits every year to 2016.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table those documents. Is there any objection? There is no objection. Documents, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Can I ask the Minister as to how he concludes that a seriously overvalued dollar, massive borrowing, and key asset sales to foreign ownership could do anything other than balance our economic position worse?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Although some people undoubtedly believe the New Zealand dollar to be overvalued, I think the point is that, actually, our total exports grew last year to $47.7 billion. So although it obviously had an impact on some exporters, it did not obviously have an impact on all exporters, because we had that growth in exports over the full calendar year of 2011. So the dollar is challenging, but it is good to see that our exporters are continuing to grow.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I asked him about the seriously overvalued dollar and massive borrowing, which everybody admits. The third aspect was key asset sales to foreign ownership. He answered one part of that question—
Mr SPEAKER: Order!
Rt Hon Winston Peters: —but I asked only one question.
Mr SPEAKER: The Minister is required to answer only one part of a supplementary question. It has been a longstanding requirement in this House of Ministers—
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Point of order—
Mr SPEAKER: The member may resume his seat while I am on my feet. Thank you. It has been a longstanding practice in this House that a Minister is required to answer only one part of a supplementary question. If members want to put more than one part to a question, that is the risk they run.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I did not put more than one part to the question. The question was relating to the rebalancing of this country’s economy. I gave it three aspects and asked which one of those, or those collectively, would do what he said. I am not asking three questions; I am asking questions with a few details. Surely the Minister is capable of answering that.
Mr SPEAKER: Well, the member just destroyed any merit his point of order had, because he does not make that kind of derogatory comment under a point of order. I am sorry, but—
Rt Hon Winston Peters: My point of order, Mr Speaker, is—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I have not recognised the member yet. Does he wish to raise a further point of order?
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I do, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: I have ruled already that the Minister has answered that question, so it must be a further point of order and a different point of order.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. It is a different point of order. I want to know how it is that one could ask a question like I have put, with facts a, b, and c. If I am to get b and c answered, how does one make that question work in this House?
Mr SPEAKER: Very simply, questions do not contain facts; they seek facts.
State-owned Assets, Sales—Prime Minister’s Statements
2. DAVID SHEARER (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does he stand by his statement made with regard to the revenue from asset sales “I don’t know the exact number that they have in their books today”?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): I stand by the full statement I made in November 2011 when asked what value Treasury had put on the mixed-ownership assets. The exact quote was: “I don’t know the exact number that they have in their books today. But I know the estimations they gave to us—if we release 49 percent in the equity markets there’s five to seven billion.”
David Shearer: Did he state when announcing these asset sales 1 year ago that $10 billion would be realised, and if he does not stand by that figure, how does he justify this much lower figure?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: In terms of the latter part, that is the best estimates we have, and—as I said yesterday—in the end, obviously, it will be what the market is prepared to pay, and it will depend how much of the 49 percent we sell. But the best estimates we have at the moment would be in the order of about $6 billion, maybe a little more.
David Shearer: Did he state that the figure could be up to $10 billion?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Probably, and it could be; you never know.
David Shearer: In light of his description of the Solid Energy account as “ropy”, is it his opinion that some of the other State-owned enterprises up for sale are also significantly overvalued in the audited accounts; and if so, which ones?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: The leader’s own member has been making that point—that there is quite a range of valuations, which was, as Clayton Cosgrove said, a commercial value for Solid Energy of $3.5 billion, an updated board valuation of $2.8 billion, and a Crown Ownership Monitoring Unit valuation of $1.7 billion. As I have said on numerous occasions, there is a variety of reasons why companies have different valuations, and they depend on whether they look at net asset value, book value, or equity value. In the end the value that actually matters is the one that the market will pay, and in our view it is in the order of about $5 billion to $7 billion.
David Shearer: Is there a bottom line below which he would not sell our profitable assets; if so, what is that bottom line?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: The bottom line is that it has got to be the right thing for New Zealand, and it is.
David Shearer: How much less will the Crown receive as a result of the uncertainty around the Treaty clause?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Well, that would depend on the consultation process and what the final Treaty clause looks like. In my view we will find our way, through an elegant solution, which will mean that private sector shareholders will be happy about the outcome.
David Shearer: What is his elegant solution for dealing with the Treaty clause?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: It is one that makes it clear to Māori that the Crown is bound by the Treaty, but the specific obligations around consultation of sale would not be the case for a private sector shareholder. What I can say is that what we do in the end will be clear—just like when the Labour Party was proud of itself it was clear because they came to the House with boxes with the name “Labour” all over them, and now they have ripped the name off.
Overseas Investment Rules—Sales of Crafar Farms and China Free-trade Agreement
3. Dr RUSSEL NORMAN (Co-Leader—Green) to the Minister for Land Information: Did New Zealand’s Free Trade Agreement with China influence his decision to approve the sale of the Crafar farms to the Shanghai Pengxin Group?
Hon MAURICE WILLIAMSON (Minister for Land Information): Ministers were satisfied that Milk New Zealand Holdings met all the relevant criteria under the Overseas Investment Act 2005. Ministers can have regard only to the criteria and factors that are outlined in that Act. Every application is decided on its individual merits, and the outcome would be the same even if New Zealand did not have a free-trade agreement with China. The Overseas Investment Act requires the Overseas Investment Office to treat all applications on an equal basis, regardless of the country of origin of the applicants.
Dr Russel Norman: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. That was, I think, a fine statement of general principles, but I was asking about a specific Minister—this one—and his decision in a specific case. He did not address that primary question.
Mr SPEAKER: I must have misheard the answer, but I thought I heard the Minister say that the outcome would have been the same, regardless of whether New Zealand had a free-trade agreement with China or not, which is another way of saying that it did not have any impact on the decision.
Now if I am wrong there, the Minister had better correct me very rapidly, but it appears I am not wrong.
Dr RUSSEL NORMAN: Thank you for that interpolation. Why, then, did he tell Mark Sainsbury on Close Up on 27 January that when considering the Shanghai Pengxin Group’s bid there were certain requirements that New Zealand had to follow in relation to the New Zealand - China free-trade agreement?
Hon MAURICE WILLIAMSON: Because in the New Zealand - China free-trade agreement we have given China most favoured nation status. That means that if an application from a Chinese investor met all the criteria of the Overseas Investment Act, which it did, and we were then still to decline it, I think that would send a very, very bad signal to China about our relationship with it.
Dr Russel Norman: How does the Minister put the two answers to those two questions together? On the one hand he said it had no influence on his decision, and on the other hand he has gone to some length to tell us how important it was to his decision.
Hon MAURICE WILLIAMSON: With great ease.
Dr Russel Norman: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. It was a pretty important and, I thought, substantive but simple question: how does he put them together? He just said “point of ease”. That is not really an answer.
Mr SPEAKER: No, no, the Minister said “With great ease.” was his answer, and I have got to confess that that is a perfectly accurate—or perfectly reasonable—answer to the question asked. One of the problems when members ask how a Minister can do something or explain something or compare something, that is the kind of answer they risk. There are other ways of wording that kind of question to get the answer the member is seeking.
Dr Russel Norman: Is it the Speaker’s ruling that that kind of answer is acceptable now in this House?
Mr SPEAKER: It has been for an awful long time. I can remember one Minister, in particular— no longer in this House—who, on more than one occasion, gave that kind of answer. Members need to think about their questions, and, when they are shaping a question in their mind, need to be aware that if they ask how a Minister can do something, it is not the smartest way to ask a question, because it risks that kind of answer. The remedy is in the member’s hands: to ask questions that avoid that kind of answer.
Dr Russel Norman: Was Shanghai Pengxin Group wrong when it stated in its application for the Crafar farms that should its bid be turned down, this would adversely affect New Zealand’s trade relationship with China and the New Zealand - China free-trade agreement?
Hon MAURICE WILLIAMSON: I think it is fair to say that if a bid met all of the criteria of the Act, and in many cases over-met all those criteria, then there would be adverse implications if the Government was to decline that bid. Frankly, I do not even know what grounds the Minister would be able to do that on without being challenged by judicial review.
Dr Russel Norman: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. This was a question about “Was Shanghai Pengxin Group wrong …”. The Minister simply did not address that part of the question. He gave us, I thought, a very valid answer in relation to general Government policy. I was asking, “Was Shanghai Pengxin Group wrong …”. I mean, he did not talk about that.
Mr SPEAKER: There are a number of dilemmas about that. I do not want to be unhelpful to the member, but the Minister is not actually responsible for Shanghai Pengxin Group. It is one of the dilemmas that he is not responsible for what it may say. Now you have asked him for his opinion on it, and he has given his opinion on it. Again, it is difficult for me to be harder on a Minister with that kind of question. I apologise to the member, because I realise I am not being terribly helpful to him, and I do not want to be unhelpful. But I just cannot ask Ministers to do more than the Standing Orders require of them.
Dr Russel Norman: Has he received any advice from the Overseas Investment Office regarding a visit to the office by a senior Chinese Government diplomat late last year, and did that Chinese
Government official raise any issues around the New Zealand - China free-trade agreement if the Shanghai Pengxin Group’s application was turned down?
Hon MAURICE WILLIAMSON: No, and therefore it is not worth speculating on the second part.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: If Shanghai Pengxin Group had no background—
Hon Members: Penguin.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: “Pengxin”, I said. I know you cannot speak Chinese.
Mr SPEAKER: Order.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Well, if he wants to interrupt and show his ignorance—
Mr SPEAKER: We do not carry on like that. Admittedly, we do not encourage interjections [Interruption] —I am on my feet—when members are asking questions, because it does tend to lead to disorder. But it is no excuse to go with an exchange across the House. The member may now ask his question.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: If Shanghai Pengxin Group did not have any background in farming of this nature, to the extent that it required Landcorp to become a tenant farmer in our own country, something the Prime Minister says he frowns on, then how could it have possibly passed the economic test in the first place?
Hon MAURICE WILLIAMSON: I am going to be a bit guarded in answering in too much more detail. This matter is still before the court. The judge will be ruling on Friday, and therefore I do not want to take it any further other than to repeat once again that all of the criteria under the Act, including the question the member raises about a track record in farming—and Shanghai Pangxin Group has a track record in farming. But other than that, I think it is unwise of me to get into more detail.
Dr Russel Norman: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. This question and these issues were canvassed at some—
Mr SPEAKER: Oh, is this a point of order? I beg your pardon.
Dr Russel Norman: This is around the sub judice defence that the Minister just used. These questions went at some length last week in this House. The Prime Minister answered questions about them without seeking this. The Minister himself came to the House during the Address in Reply speech and gave a long speech—
Mr SPEAKER: There are certain questions that can be asked, and the Minister has answered certain questions. But the Minister is perfectly at liberty to, as further detail is sought around reasons why and justifications—the Minister is not unreasonable in being cautious, since the matter is either before the court or about to be before the court. Ministers must—in fact, are required to— pay attention to the matter of sub judice. So it is not unreasonable.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Seeing as you are effectively saying that he can plead the sub judice rule, but you did not at the time of my asking the question rule it out, do I get my question back?
Mr SPEAKER: No, no. The member had his question answered, and that is the end of the matter.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My point of order is this: how is the Minister able to plead the sub judice rule now, when, on a far broader range of questions last week, he and the Prime Minister did not?
Mr SPEAKER: The member is asking a question, not making a point of order. The issue of order is simple: Ministers from time to time recognise that matters are before the court, and therefore choose not to give further detailed answers. They may answer to a certain point, and then choose not to go any further, and that is quite proper when matters are before the court. In fact, it is required of us to be cautious when matters are before the court, and Ministers have to make that judgment with each question. I mean, it would be unfair to not answer any questions. There is a certain point a Minister can go to, to do with matters that are not seen to, in any way, risk
compromising what is before the court. The Minister has chosen to do that up to a point, but then the Minister has drawn the line about going into further detail, and that is not unreasonable.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Minister put that at issue when he said that the application met all the criteria, one of which is the economic good to New Zealand. He put it at issue. It was not ruled out then. Now he is hiding behind the sub judice rule. He cannot, surely, do that.
Mr SPEAKER: And neither can members accuse Ministers of hiding behind the sub judice rule, because points of order are not meant to make accusations. Points of order are meant to be issues to do with order, and the member raised a valid point of order. But the rules remain that Ministers have to judge that matter. On some occasions the Speaker does, and on this occasion I have got no reason to, in any way, doubt that the Minister is being reasonable in not wishing to go any further into the detail of the matter because it is before the court, and that is not unreasonable.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I have a feeling that both you and the right honourable gentleman have misunderstood the comments that have been made by the Hon Maurice Williamson, who I think did not invoke the sub judice rule about the possibility of influencing the court, but invoked more the rule around prejudicing the Crown’s position. I think there is a difference, and I think it is important we understand that.
Mr SPEAKER: Either way, matters that are before the court are considered to be sub judice, and have been for a long time. Now, that does not mean that they cannot be mentioned. The honourable member will recollect that at the last Standing Orders Committee we had quite lengthy consideration of the issue, to try and make sure that members could raise matters that were before the court. But they are meant to alert the Speaker if they are going to do so. On this occasion a Minister has chosen not to give further comment, and I think we should respect that. I think it is a matter that we should respect, for whatever aspect of the sub judice issue.
Dr Russel Norman: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I promise this is my last thing. The issue is about consistency. It is fine to use sub judice—I would not say the word “hiding”, like my colleague—but there has to be consistency about the application. So, if we ask one question and the Minister says “I’m happy to answer that.”, but then we ask a similar question and he does not like it, so he says “Oh well, sub judice—I can’t answer it.”, that creates a problem for keeping the Government to account.
Mr SPEAKER: I hear the member, but it is my assessment that that is not the case. I can imagine members would get frustrated if that were the case. There are certain questions to do with the mechanics of a decision—what has happened, and why it might have happened—that Ministers would be prepared to answer. But once you get down to the reasons why a certain decision may have been made, and get down to, for example, the economic arguments and that kind of issue, beyond the fact that the Overseas Investment Office considered that the economic arguments had been met—that is a simple fact; it announced that. But once you ask the Minister to get down into detail beyond that, I am not surprised the Minister may invoke the sub judice rule at that point, because that is a different level of consideration of the issue, in my opinion.
Dr Russel Norman: Is it common practice for senior diplomats from foreign countries to visit the Overseas Investment Office to lobby on behalf of specific applications, and if that were the case, would the Minister expect to be informed?
Hon MAURICE WILLIAMSON: Given I am not aware of it ever happening, obviously I have not been informed.
Dr Russel Norman: Has he or his office received any advice from other Government Ministers or Government officials regarding the turning down of the Shanghai Pengxin Group’s bid and any adverse impact that may have on our trading relationship with China?
Hon MAURICE WILLIAMSON: No. This decision was taken purely on the merits of the application and the recommendation to me and the Associate Minister of Finance. Both of us signed
off on that recommendation. Although I do talk to my colleagues across the board on a range of issues from time to time, this decision was not based on any of those conversations.
Whānau Ora, Minister—Confidence
4. Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First) to the Prime Minister: Does he have confidence in his Minister responsible for Whānau Ora in fulfilling the objectives set out in the Relationship Accord and Confidence and Supply Agreement between his party and the Māori Party dated 11 December 2011?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): Yes.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Does the Prime Minister remember, on page 2, the phrase “evolving focus”, and can he tell us what that means for the future for Māori?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Yes; in fact, I have it in front of me. It means delivering better results for some families and individuals who are clearly not doing as well as the Government would hope.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Would the Prime Minister tell us whether this “evolving focus” of Whānau Ora continues to include the funding of family reunions, TV broadcasters, or the performing arts, and how will that improve the benefits for Māori?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I cannot comment on the individual items that the member has quoted, because some of those are contested. But what I can say is that the basis of the programme is to deliver better results. I think history shows at the moment that we have had many Government agencies working with these families on a siloed and isolated basis, and it has not actually worked terribly well. So let us try something new.
Welfare Reforms—Proposal in Other Jurisdictions
5. ALFRED NGARO (National) to the Minister for Social Development: What reports has she received about proposed welfare reform in other jurisdictions?
Hon PAULA BENNETT (Minister for Social Development): I have seen recent reports that in Australia a number of changes are taking place in the welfare space that are similar to this Government’s proposals. One involves young people, particularly teen parents, where they will be required to be in education once the child is 1 year old or their benefit will be completely stopped.
Alfred Ngaro: How is the Government supporting teen parents in New Zealand?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: This Government has made the single biggest investment in teen parents—$14.9 million—to support vulnerable teen parents and their children. And from July we will be giving them even more support, contracting service providers to provide a full, wraparound service to them and help with education, money management, childcare, budgeting, and parenting advice.
Alfred Ngaro: Has she seen any reports that recommend we follow Australia’s lead here in New Zealand?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: Yes, I have seen support for the Australian welfare reform that teen parents are expected to be in education when their child is 1 year old or their benefit will be cut. The report suggests we emulate the Australian model here in New Zealand. This support is reported in the Gulf News and was from the member Jacinda Ardern.
Election Advertising—Prime Minister’s Radio Live Show
6. GRANT ROBERTSON (Deputy Leader—Labour) to the Prime Minister: Does he stand by his statement that “the PM’s Hour” on Radio Live on 30 September 2011 was an “election free zone”; if so, why?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): Yes, because that statement was made at the beginning of the show in order to indicate that neither I nor my guests would be discussing the upcoming election.
Grant Robertson: Who had control over the content of the Prime Minister’s Hour—he and his office, or Radio Live?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Radio Live had sought advice from the Electoral Commission, so gave me riding instructions to make sure it was an election-free zone. I certainly chose the guests because they were guests I thought would be of interest to New Zealanders. At the time, given we were in the middle of contesting the Rugby World Cup, people like Richie McCaw were of great interest to the New Zealand public.
Grant Robertson: Given that answer, did the communications manager from his office rewrite the brief for the show and also write the email asking for an opinion from the Electoral Commission that was actually sent in Radio Live’s name?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Not to the best of my knowledge.
Grant Robertson: I seek leave of the House to table an email dated Tuesday, 27 September from the communications manager of the Prime Minister’s office where it states that he has made some tweaks to the brief and gives the details of an email that was subsequently sent in Radio Live’s name.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is no objection. Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Grant Robertson: Did the communications manager from his office rewrite the brief for the show and also write the email asking for an opinion from the Electoral Commission that was eventually sent in Radio Live’s name?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Not to the best of my knowledge.
Grant Robertson: Did his communications manager say, after receiving the Electoral Commission opinion on the show: “… they have been pretty clear about putting the responsibility on the broadcaster, which is useful.”; if so, what was it about that statement that was useful?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Not to the best of my knowledge, but as the member will know, the matter is a matter between the Electoral Commission and the broadcaster.
Grant Robertson: I seek leave of the House to table an email from the communications manager in the Prime Minister’s office, dated Thursday, 29 September 2011, where he says: “But they have been pretty clear about putting the responsibility on the broadcaster, which is useful.”
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is no objection. Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Bail Legislation—Minister’s Priorities
7. Dr CAM CALDER (National) to the Minister of Justice: What are her priorities in regard to bail laws over the coming three years?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS (Minister of Justice): This Government is committed to bail laws that will help make New Zealand safer, protect the public, and keep victims at the heart of our criminal justice system. We will change bail laws to extend the reverse burden of proof requirement for people with previous serious convictions to people charged with kidnapping, sexual conduct with a child under 12, sexual conduct with young persons under 16, aggravated burglary, and assault with intent to rob, in addition to the existing offences already covered. The reverse burden of proof will also apply to people charged with murder, or serious class A drug offences such as manufacturing or dealing in methamphetamine, regardless of any previous offending. This means that they must prove that they are not a risk to the public or to the trial process.
Dr Cam Calder: Why is the Government making these changes?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: We know that more than one-third of defendants arrested for these crimes commit further crimes while on bail. This is why it is so important to deal with them properly. These changes will build on the work this Government has already achieved, and we are reversing Labour’s decision, which made it easier for defendants to get bail. These changes will get the balance right between public safety and a defendant’s right to be considered innocent until proven guilty.
8. Hon DAVID PARKER (Labour) to the Minister of Finance: Does he have confidence in The Treasury?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Associate Minister of Finance) on behalf of the Minister of Finance: Yes, but like many Governments before us, that does not mean we agree with every piece of Treasury advice.
Hon David Parker: Given that when his Government came to office Treasury predicted the economy would grow 7.4 percent over the following 3 years, and it grew only 1.2 percent, is it the fault of Treasury’s forecasting or the Government’s economic management?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I think a couple of events that have occurred since that date may have escaped the member’s attention, including the global financial crisis and also the Canterbury earthquakes. Just like any forecaster, Treasury had to make its best estimate at a given point in time, without necessarily being aware of those two events, which were at that stage still ahead of it.
Hon David Parker: Given that substantially after the 2008 election the Minister of Finance trumpeted Treasury’s forecast of 36,000 extra jobs in the year to March 2012, and took this as credit to his Government, is the fact that only 10,000 extra jobs have been created so far the fault of Treasury’s forecasting or the Government’s economic management?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I am not sure exactly where the member gets those numbers from, but I can refer him to the fact that in the year to December 2011, there were 34,000 net new jobs in the economy.
Hon David Parker: Are the recent sharp falls in business and consumer confidence linked to his Government’s continued trumpeting of rosy forecasts that never eventuate?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I think I have seen criticism from the Opposition recently that the Government is being too pessimistic in its forecasts, and I see today from Mr Parker we are perhaps too optimistic. Probably the most likely impact on business confidence, as I think most New Zealanders understand, would be the precarious situation in Europe, and in particular southern Europe, which, of course, all New Zealanders are watching with great interest.
Disability Care, Payment—Family Caregivers
9. CATHERINE DELAHUNTY (Green) to the Minister of Health: What is the total cost of legal action spent to date by his Ministry to oppose the claim that family members have the right to be paid to care for adult disabled children?
Hon TONY RYALL (Minister of Health): According to the Ministry of Health and Crown Law, the total cost of this ongoing legal action to date is just under $1.4 million. I am advised this covers some 6 years.
Catherine Delahunty: Did his ministry consider an alternative strategy to litigation after losing at the Human Rights Tribunal and losing at the High Court on this matter?
Hon TONY RYALL: The member will be aware that this case is currently before the courts, so I am limited in what I can say. However, I must tell the member that the strongest advice that we received from the Crown Law Office was that this ruling had implications for other parts of public policy and public support, and that is the reason why the Government has made the decision that it has.
Catherine Delahunty: Does he agree with the Ministry of Health that we can have “no idea” how many families would take up the offer of paid work for care if the policy was changed?
Hon TONY RYALL: I think we are getting rather close to some of the matters that are before the courts, but what I would say is that, clearly, the Ministry of Health’s calculations of the financial impact are based across a range of scenarios, and it would be correct to say that we would not know exactly how many people who are currently not being supported by public funding would switch to be supported by public funding if the rules changed. So from that point of view, that is correct.
Catherine Delahunty: How can his ministry say that fixing this discriminatory policy would be “fiscally unsustainable” if the costs are not known?
Hon TONY RYALL: The costs are not known exactly, because there are a number of variables that produce a range of results. But what I can say to that member is that the Government has nothing but admiration for the people who support their families in these very difficult circumstances. However, Governments of both hues have recognised that there are some very serious implications for Government support across a wider variety of areas than just this.
Sentencing, Aggravating Factors—Application to All First Responders
10. CHARLES CHAUVEL (Labour) to the Minister of Justice: Do fire-fighters, ambulance officers, and the small number of other types of first responders legally required to attend and assist in accident and emergency situations deserve the same level of legal protection from assault as police and prison officers when they are carrying out their duties; if not, why not?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS (Minister of Justice): Yes. All citizens have the same level of protection from assault under New Zealand law. Section 196 of the Crimes Act 1961 makes it an offence for any person to assault any other person. This offence has a maximum penalty of 1 year’s imprisonment. The Government wholeheartedly supports this law.
Charles Chauvel: If the Minister is correct and the law already provides all citizens with an adequate level of protection for assault, what is the rationale for her advancing of the Sentencing (Aggravating Factors) Amendment Bill, which confers particular and special protection on only two classes of occupation?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: Well, the member is quite wrong. His question is around protection of the law and that is in relation to the offence itself, which is under the Crimes Act. The bill that he is referring to refers to sentencing, which is another factor.
Charles Chauvel: Are we to understand from the Minister’s answers that she is saying that the Sentencing (Aggravating Factors) Amendment Bill will make no difference whatsoever in practice, since, as she has already told the House, the law provides adequate and equal protections to all classes of person for assault?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: No. What I am telling the House is that the Sentencing Act is different from the Crimes Act.
Charles Chauvel: Will the Minister support my proposal to instruct the Committee of the whole House to consider my amendment to the Sentencing (Aggravating Factors) Amendment Bill to extend the same level of courtesy, respect, and protection to firefighters, ambulance officers, and other emergency medical first responders; if not, why not?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: In relation to sentencing and the paper that that member has referred to me, yes, I will support that.
Racecourse Safety—Racing Safety Development Fund
11. CHRIS AUCHINVOLE (National) to the Minister for Racing: What announcements has he made relating to safety on racecourses?
Hon NATHAN GUY (Minister for Racing): Last week I announced the opening of the next funding round of the Racing Safety Development Fund. It provides $1 million per annum to support
projects that improve the safety and upgrade facilities at racecourses, and I invite all racing clubs and the racing code bodies to submit applications for funding.
Chris Auchinvole: How significant is the issue of racecourse safety for the racing industry?
Hon NATHAN GUY: Racecourse health and safety continues to be an important issue for the industry. Racing is a potentially high-risk activity and the health and safety of those involved in racing and of the animals is paramount.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Apart from announcing the annual round of the racecourse safety fund, something that yours truly started, could he tell us what he has done about taxation for racing or the racing stakes money, which is seriously down since National took over?
Hon NATHAN GUY: If you have a look at the primary question, in my opinion this is very wide of the primary question. I am very happy, however, to answer the question.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Was that a point of order or was that an answer? [Interruption] I am on my feet. I am taking it as a point of order, and it should have been raised as a point of order. I accept that the question was about safety, but I thought it was not unreasonable. The reason why supplementary questions must follow a primary question is to ensure that Ministers have the information. On this particular occasion, the nature of the right honourable gentleman’s question was such that the Minister would have the information, because it asked about what he had done about matters other than safety. So although the Minister may not have detailed information, I thought it not unreasonable to allow him to answer it, because he may wish to boast about what he has done—and far be it from me to prevent the Minister from being able to do that. So, in so far as he can answer the question, I call the Hon Nathan Guy.
Hon NATHAN GUY: At the moment I am busy engaging with the chair of the Racing Board. I am looking forward to meeting up with the racing codes and already I have attended three racing events. People are in my ear raising all sorts of issues, and I am taking some time to evaluate those issues, working closely with the Racing Board to understand the outcome of those issues, and looking forward to a single strategy in the future.
Boards, Government Appointments—NZ On Air
12. CLARE CURRAN (Labour—Dunedin South) to the Minister of Broadcasting: Does he believe that appointing the Rt Hon John Key’s electorate chair Stephen McElrea to the board of NZ On Air was appropriate?
Hon CRAIG FOSS (Minister of Broadcasting): Yes, as I do for all current members of the NZ On Air board.
Clare Curran: Have the expectations placed on NZ On Air board members to conduct themselves in a politically neutral manner and avoid conflicts of interest been met by Mr McElrea during his time on the board of NZ On Air?
Hon CRAIG FOSS: The board chair tells me he has full confidence in his members. I have full confidence in the chair, and therefore the board.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. It was a very straight question about a particular member, and having—
Mr SPEAKER: The member knows full well, having listened to the question, that it asked an opinion about a member’s behaviour. The Minister answered in the way he saw fit: he said that the chair of the board has confidence in the behaviour of the member and the Minister himself has confidence in the chair. That may not have been exactly the answer the member wanted, but that is not an unreasonable answer.
Clare Curran: Was Mr McElrea’s political connection to the Prime Minister considered during the appointment process?
Hon CRAIG FOSS: The process for all board appointees follows the standard due diligence process in place for all Crown entity appointments. Vacancies on the NZ On Air board are
addressed using the regular process outlined by the State Services Commission and the Cabinet Manual, which has been standard since the introduction of the Crown Entities Act in 2004.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I think I’ll just say ibid.
Mr SPEAKER: I think on this occasion the question did ask whether a certain matter was considered. Now, the Minister is directly responsible for appointments and it would be reasonable that the Minister may know such information, so I invite Clare Curran to repeat her question.
Clare Curran: Was Mr McElrea’s political connection to the Prime Minister considered during the appointment process?
Hon CRAIG FOSS: I am confident that full processes were handled for this appointment, as they are for all Crown entity appointments, including the gentleman in question and all other members of the NZ On Air board.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Again, it was quite a direct one. It may be that you could interpret that as a yes or a no, or somewhere in between, but I do not think anyone over here could tell whether the political connections had been considered.
Mr SPEAKER: The honourable gentleman has been around this place near as long as I have, and political appointments on boards are not new. It would be quite normal for the standard appointments procedure to consider all those—whether or not political affiliations can be compromising. And if the standard procedure is followed then I guess that matter was considered. I cannot force the Minister—unless I am wrong there. If I am wrong there, the Minister had better correct me, because what I am indicating is that, yes, any political relationships would have been considered to make sure that they would not unduly compromise the appointment. Now, if I am wrong there, the Minister had better correct the—[Interruption]
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I just want to say thank you.
Hon David Parker: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The problem with the answer is that we are left guessing, as you are left guessing in your interpretation of the answer from—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member will resume his seat. Look, I do not want to be too silly about this but we all know that even I could rattle off all the political appointments under the previous Labour Government, and questions could be raised as to whether there were any compromises. I am sure there could be cases raised where—and so there is nothing new about this. The point I am making as Speaker is that the Minister has said the procedure followed was standard. Therefore, those matters would have been—[Interruption] What the member is trying to tell me as Speaker is that under Labour such considerations were not part of the standard process.
Hon Members: Oh!
Mr SPEAKER: Well, if that is not the case, then the answer is reasonable.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. We do appreciate your explanations, because, frankly, what you have said is that the Minister should have no difficulty in answering yes, but he will not answer the question. Frankly, you have told him twice that that would be normal, and, therefore—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! We are not going to spend more time on this silly point.
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: That’s right.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The Minister may have all sorts of reasons why he answered the question the way he did. It is his decision to answer the question the way he did, but it is perfectly obvious from the way he answered the question that all considerations—including political considerations—would have been taken into account, because that is the way it has always been.
Clare Curran: Has he or any other Minister had any communication with Mr McElrea regarding the child poverty documentary; if so, what was the content of that communication?
Hon CRAIG FOSS: I cannot actually answer for any other Ministers, but as far as this Minister is concerned, no. I have met Mr McElrea once at a social function prior to Christmas. That is, as far as I can recall, the only communication I have had directly with him.
Clare Curran: Given Mr McElrea complained about the child poverty documentary on 17 November, before it was screened, as admitted by the Prime Minister in media reports and as has been revealed in Official Information Act documents, does not this action constitute political interference; if not, why?
Hon CRAIG FOSS: Again, I am confident that the processes and the workings of NZ On Air are adequate, as pursuant to the rules, regulations, and Acts that they are operating under.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I think we are having a repeat of previous points of order. Of these questions, one might have been slightly loose, but that was a very precise question. You might think that he said no; I might think he said yes. Maybe you could do what you did before and tell us what he meant.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! What I should do is put the honourable member on the spot and ask him—if he says it was a very precise question—to repeat the question, because the question actually asked the Minister for his opinion about a certain course of action. That is what the question asked. The Minister gave his opinion. It might not have been quite the opinion members wanted, but the Minister gave his opinion about how he sees that matter. The Minister’s answer was that he believed that the way the members of the board had carried on was quite proper, in his view. The question sought an opinion: what the Minister thought about a certain action that had taken place, whether that represented—what was it—a conflict of interest, a compromise, or something—
Hon Trevor Mallard: Political interference.
Mr SPEAKER: —or political interference. The Minister answered it in the way he chose to answer. I cannot ask him to answer it exactly the way the members want him to answer, since it asked his opinion. If it had sought facts, and the facts were not given, I would have much more opportunity to insist the Minister give the information, but it sought an opinion from the Minister. The Minister gave an opinion that was a reasonable opinion in relation to the question asked.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Again, I want to thank you. You indicated that the Minister indicated it was quite proper. We could not get that from his answer.
Clare Curran: I seek leave to table an email from Stephen McElrea to the chair of NZ On Air and the chief executive of NZ On Air, dated 17 November, complaining about the child poverty documentary before it was screened.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is no objection. Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.