Questions and answers - March 7
(uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing)
WEDNESDAY, 7 MARCH 2012
QUESTIONS FOR ORAL ANSWER
QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS
1. DAVID SHEARER (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does he stand by all his statements?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): Yes.
David Shearer: Does he stand by the statement that “I need to be able to look New Zealanders in the eye and assure them that the money they spend in tax is being spent wisely and as much as possible is going to front-line services.”?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Yes.
David Shearer: Does he think it is a front-line service for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade to pay $340,000 to a change management adviser to manage the axing of 305 jobs?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Governments do take advice from external consultants, and when the spend is in the order of magnitude that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s is, it may well be absolutely in its interests to have sought that advice so that it can make appropriate changes.
David Shearer: In light of his answer, does he agree with the change management adviser’s helpful suggestions to staff facing the loss of their jobs that they take a hot bath, pray, do yoga, or get a pet, because “a pet’s love is unconditional”?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I have not seen the report, nor have I seen the context it was made in. But when it comes to Moonbeam, yes, her love is unconditional to me.
David Shearer: Does he consider it a wise use of taxpayers’ money when, at the same time as he is axing jobs, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s spend on consultants has more than doubled from $4.5 million to nearly $10 million since he became Prime Minister?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Firstly, it is important to understand, when the Leader of the Opposition makes the claim about axing of jobs, we are going through a consultation process at this stage, and that decision has not been made. That decision may, though, lead to savings in the order of $20 million to $25 million—maybe more. We will see that in the fullness of time. In terms of consultants’ fees, again, there is always a wide variety of reasons. But when it came to spending money on consultants, the Olympic gold medal used to go to the previous Labour Government.
David Shearer: Is it wise use of New Zealanders’ money to have three police officers investigating his so-called teapot tapes complaint when police are being told to make savings of around $300 million and burglary clearance rates are around 20 percent?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: It is my expectation that the police will investigate complaints when they are made by members of the public. I stand by the principle that principles are very important, and I say to the Leader of the Opposition that if he was in the position where he was illegally taped, we would see how he felt about it.
2. PAUL GOLDSMITH (National) to the Minister of Finance: What reports has he received on the performance of the public service?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): Today Treasury released a report on benchmarking back-office functions in 31 State agencies. The report shows that in many instances the costs of functions like property management, human resources, and information and communications technology are higher than international benchmarks and higher than the costs of similar Government agencies in New Zealand. The report concludes that savings of about $250 million could be made if poorer-performing agencies raised their performance to the agency median. Last year we announced that starting from 1 July this year agencies will be required to find $980 million of savings over 3 years. They have had a couple of years of looking at this data to understand their own organisations and work out what decisions to make, and now they are starting to make those decisions.
Paul Goldsmith: Why is improving the performance of the Public Service important?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Simply because New Zealanders expect a good level of public services. We owe it to many vulnerable New Zealanders who are totally dependent on our public services to do a good job, and in a time when money is tight we are making every effort to ensure we can continue to deliver a good level of public services, even if that has to be done with less money.
Chris Hipkins: Does he stand by the Prime Minister’s statement that “a new National Government is not going to radically reorganise the public sector. … Few problems are solved by significant reorganisations—in fact, many more tend to be created.”; and if so, how does he reconcile that statement with the reality of 2,500 job losses, multiple departmental mergers, the closure of regional offices, and his promise today of yet more to come?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Yes, I do stand by the Prime Minister’s statement, and the Government has actually not gone for large-scale structural reform. What we have done is work through with the Public Service a better understanding of its own organisations. We have put a strong focus on maintaining public service, on developing the leadership needed to make change, and on giving them the tools to do it. The time has come now, though, where they are starting to make changes. I have to say that the Labour members appear to be the only people in New Zealand who believe that the Public Service is exempt from all the pressures that have applied to households and businesses right through this country.
Paul Goldsmith: What progress has the Government made in improving front-line services?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Just to use a couple of examples, the public health service is now completing 27,000 more elective operations this year, compared with when we took office, and recorded crime rates have dropped by 7 percent in total per head of population. Those are some signs of progress, but there are a lot of other areas in the Public Service where we need to make even more progress, and we will continue to do that even though money is tight. We are not just making savings; we are also going to improve results.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Given that Prime Minister Holyoake had about five people in his department, and the present Prime Minister has about 126, when are we going to see some cuts from the Prime Minister’s department in terms of staff?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I would have thought the member would have a slightly better understanding of what the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet does these days, including, for instance, the operation of the Governor-General, which was handled differently back in Keith Holyoake’s day. But I can assure you that the Prime Minister is cooperating at least as much as every other Minister with the need to be careful how money is being spent.
State-owned Assets, Shares—Prioritisation of Individual New Zealanders
3. Dr RUSSEL NORMAN (Co-Leader—Green) to the Prime Minister: Does he stand by his statement about asset sales that it was the Government’s intention that “every New Zealander who wants shares gets them”?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): That quote was attributed to me in a Stuff article, but is in fact incorrect. The quote was actually—
Hon Members: Oh!
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Well, the quote was actually a question posed to me by Duncan Garner, from TV3, to which I responded “That’s what we are working our way through”—obviously—“at the moment. But the intention is that for the retail distribution, that opportunity for mums and dads to buy, to be absolutely at the front of the queue.” I stand by that statement.
Dr Russel Norman: How will he ensure that every New Zealander who wants shares gets them, when half of all adults have an income of less than $550 a week? How will these people be able to afford to buy shares in the newly privatised companies?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I say to the member that just because he repeats something that was a question from Duncan Garner does not mean that it was a statement from me. Secondly, it is important to understand how New Zealanders might buy shares. Let me run the member through that, because it will be useful for him. Firstly, they could buy them through an institution like the New Zealand Superannuation Fund, and on that basis every New Zealander in the New Zealand Superannuation Fund will be having shares bought on their behalf, regardless of their income. That probably answers your direct question. Secondly, New Zealanders may buy them through their own funds in the form of the KiwiSaver accounts, of which there are 1.8 million and they are growing by a substantial amount each month. Thirdly, iwi may buy them collectively through their own resources, which may have come from a Treaty settlement. Fourthly, we are seeing indications from community trusts that they would want to buy them; again, that would probably cover off some quite low-income New Zealanders. Finally, there will be a retail offering, which is where a New Zealander may buy them directly, either through a broker or directly, with their own retirement savings. So there is quite a wide range of ways that a New Zealander may choose to buy shares in the mixed-ownership model.
Dr Russel Norman: How will individual New Zealanders be able to buy shares when half of all New Zealanders have an income that is less than $550 a week? How will those individual New Zealanders be able to afford to buy shares in companies that they currently own?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I could, if the member wanted me to, take him through the broad outline of how that process might work, but, fundamentally, the way it would work would be through either a broker or a pre-allocation process and a pre-registration process where New Zealanders will be able to work out how many shares they want, up to probably a certain amount. That process would work. We saw that with Contact Energy. It might see tens of thousands of New Zealanders wanting to do that. Secondly, when the member says that half of all New Zealanders have an income of $550 a week, he must recognise that there are an awful lot of New Zealanders who are, for instance, on superannuation, and therefore their income is relatively low, but that does not mean that it represents their asset base, which could be considerably higher. Secondly, it may mean that the person is at university or at school studying. Again, their income levels could be low, but that does not necessarily mean that their income in the future will not be high. Thirdly, if one has a look at someone, for instance, who has a KiwiSaver account, then they will be having to make investments on a weekly basis.
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: If he cannot guarantee that ordinary Kiwi mums and dads will be able to afford to buy shares, how on earth can he guarantee that those same Kiwi mums and dads will be at the front of the queue?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I think we will see considerable interest from Kiwi mums and dads. That has certainly been the case when there have historically been floats, from Auckland Airport right
through to the Port of Tauranga, right through to TradeMe, which recently had the mixed-ownership model effectively applied to it and it was massively oversubscribed. There is $100 billion in deposit in New Zealand at the moment, so we know that there is a considerable amount of cash sitting out there, and in my view the risk to this process is not that there are not enough people wanting to buy shares; the risk to this process is that there will be quite widespread interest, and making sure everyone gets his or her allocation will be the challenge.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: If it is true that mum and dad, and iwi, and family trusts may subscribe and may oversubscribe, then how will corporations, foreign or domestic, obtain even one share under his promise?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Again, I would not want to get in front of a process that has not even started yet, but if we were to take a hypothetical example, I think, from memory, Contact Energy had about 100,000 individual retail investors. I might be wrong but it was in that order of magnitude. Again, if you sat around and said that—off the top of my head—they bought up to about $5,000, that is normal for a retail offering. I am sure the member can do the maths. Basically, 100,000 people at $5,000 each is $50 million. That is relatively small when you consider that, as an example, Mighty River Power has a value of about $3.5 billion, and the overall offering, therefore, at 49 percent, would be about $1.5 billion.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I have listened to all the permutations, but the fact is I have asked him how, if the three categories he has outlined oversubscribe, any corporate will get even one share, because they, after all—the three groups—
Mr SPEAKER: The member’s question was perfectly understandable, and the Prime Minister was answering it in what I perceived to be a perfectly rational way, explaining how many shares might be sought by different sectors, and the overall availability given the size of these assets. It seemed to be a perfectly rational answer to the question.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My question simply is if a certain circumstance happens, then how an overseas or domestic corporate can get even one share. That is the thrust of this question.
Mr SPEAKER: The member may have asked a question that he wishes to get a particular answer out of, but there is no guarantee he will get a particular answer out of a hypothetical question. The Prime Minister was answering the question in a perfectly rational manner.
Dr Russel Norman: Does the Prime Minister accept that the vast majority of mums and dads— New Zealanders—will not be able to afford to buy shares in these partially privatised companies?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I think it depends on how you define “vast majority”, because if you take, for instance, KiwiSaver accounts, there are 1.8 million, and that tells you that an awful lot of people actually have a KiwiSaver account. If you consider that the New Zealand Superannuation Fund and ACC are buying on behalf of all New Zealanders, then, no, I do not accept that logic. So it depends on where you are going. But let me raise this one point. It is important that New Zealanders understand what the member is advocating. Russel Norman is saying he wants the New Zealand Superannuation Fund to invest in the Australian economy and not in the New Zealand economy—
Dr Russel Norman: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. There was nothing in that question that was about Russel Norman. The Prime Minister simply introduced that. It had nothing to do with the answer.
Mr SPEAKER: The member, in fairness, though, has kept repeating—I have listened carefully to his questions, and the theme of the questions has been pretty similar right the way through. The Prime Minister has tried to explain, in response to the member’s questions, the way he sees access to these shares being available to New Zealanders. In that last answer there, the Prime Minister went a bit further to explain how he sees the outcome of the implication in the question. I would not let him go on for too long, but I think the risk when members keep asking the same question over and over again is that, when it is being answered, a Minister is going to say—and I cannot stop
them from going that step—that the implication of the question is this. I would have stopped the Prime Minister had he gone on for too long, but I do not think it was totally unreasonable.
Dr Russel Norman: Does he accept that what John Key is saying is that he will take the assets away from all New Zealanders who currently own them, against the wishes of the majority of New Zealanders, who oppose the privatisation scheme, and when you take property from people against their wishes it is called raupatu?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: This may come as a huge relief to the member, but I am not about to start talking about myself in the third person. I will leave that for other Prime Ministers who used to have that affliction.
Hon Bill English: And thank God for that!
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: And thank God for that, yes, exactly. Secondly, no, I do not accept that. Majority control of these companies will be held by New Zealanders. I think the vast bulk of the shares will be bought by New Zealanders, and we will be purchasing on behalf of New Zealanders an additional $22 billion approximately of assets over the next 5 years. What the member is saying is he wants New Zealand to go into deeper debt. What the member is saying is he wants to limit the opportunities for New Zealanders to invest in New Zealand. I think, on that basis, the member is misguided.
Dr Russel Norman: Is it an accurate description of his policy to say that he cut taxes on upperincome earners, resulting in an increased Budget deficit, and he then used the deficit to justify the privatisation of public infrastructure, which will then be sold to the people who can afford to buy them—the very same people whom he gave big tax cuts to?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No.
Youth Guarantee—Increase in Places
4. SIMON O'CONNOR (National—Tāmaki) to the Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills
and Employment: What progress has been made in expanding the Youth Guarantee Scheme to provide more 16 and 17 year-olds with fees-free tertiary training this year?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment): 2012 will be the biggest year yet for the very successful Youth Guarantee scheme. A total of 9,616 places will be available in 2012 for 16 and 17-year-olds as a result of the Government’s more than $100 million investment in Youth Guarantee in 2012. That encompasses fees-free tertiary places at levels 1 to 3 for 16 and 17-year-olds and the trades academies. The Youth Guarantee scheme gives young people the opportunity to gain practical skills and a career, particularly those at risk of dropping out of school.
Simon O'Connor: What are the priority areas for Youth Guarantee places for 16 and 17-yearolds?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Youth Guarantee places available through institutes of technology, polytechnics, wānanga, and private training establishments will give priority to trade areas such as carpentry, engineering, horticulture, plumbing, gasfitting, and brick-and block-laying. In addition, enrolments have trebled this year, with 1,936 learners studying at 16 trades academies, which is well up on the 625 who participated last year. Numbers are set to increase further when another five trades academies are opened later this year by my colleague Minister of Education, Hekia Parata. I am delighted that different parts of the education community are pulling together to offer more choices for our young people. Over a third of all secondary schools are now part of a trades academy partnership, for example.
Economic Forecasts—Minister for Economic Development’s Statement
5. Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE (Labour—New Lynn) to the Minister for Economic
Development: Does he stand by his statement that “the global financial crisis and the Canterbury earthquakes were not projected in any of those forecasts”?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister for Economic Development): Yes, I stand by my full quote in reply to a question about a forecast in Budget 2009. That quote was: “Some of the forecasts since we came to office have changed”. The member may well be aware—I am not sure—that the global financial crisis and the Canterbury earthquakes were not projected in any of those forecasts in 2009 to the extent they have occurred. That is the nature of forecasts. As the member may recall, the first Canterbury earthquake did not occur until September 2010, and the more significant one was on 22 February last year. In addition, the global financial crisis has been a moving feast since it began. For example, at the beginning of this year there was a whole new crisis in the eurozone.
Hon David Cunliffe: Before the Canterbury earthquakes began, was GDP above or below Treasury’s December 2008 forecast, and by how much?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I do not have that particular example at hand, but I am sensing that the member is saying it was below. As I pointed out, one of the other bigger things that have been going on is the global financial crisis, which has been making it very difficult, I am sure, for forecasters all over the world to find out exactly how things should go. But the good news for the member is that we have had growth in nine of the last 10 quarters, and New Zealand has been seen as riding out these crises relatively well.
Hon David Cunliffe: Speaking of which, are the latest GDP figures above or below the forecasts made immediately after his Government came to power in December 2008 during the depths of the recession, and by how much?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I am sure again, by the way the member has asked that question, that he is assuming they are below, and the point I would make again is the same point as in response to the primary question. It is that the Canterbury earthquake has occurred subsequently, and also we have had the situation with the moving feast that is the global financial crisis. I am not sure of the point the member is seeking to make, but the point I would make is that the Government, under the leadership of the Prime Minister and the finance Minister, has done a very good job in managing its way through those crises.
Hon David Cunliffe: If GDP was below those forecasts, why did he tell the House, in answer to question No. 8 on 29 February that “The pre-election update last year forecast the current account deficit to widen by about just under $5 billion over the next 4 years. The main reason for that, apart from export prices coming off their record highs, is the Canterbury rebuild”, when Treasury’s Preelection Economic and Fiscal Update ascribes only one-quarter of the change to that?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: As has been pointed out in response to a question in the House on this matter, in 2016 the deficit is projected to be 6.9 percent of GDP, of which Treasury now estimates about 1.7 percent is due to the Christchurch earthquake rebuild. But again, I would point out to the member that these are all estimates and forecasts, and they will no doubt continue to be refined as the years go on.
Hon David Cunliffe: In light of these events, in what year did the record number of New Zealanders permanently emigrate to Australia, and why did they leave?
Mr SPEAKER: The Hon Steven Joyce is not really responsible for emigration, but if he—
Hon Tony Ryall: We want to know every individual case.
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Yes, I think it is reasonably far from the primary question, but I would point out, again, that there have been significant numbers leaving, particularly from Christchurch over the last 12 months as a result of the earthquake. I do not have the particular figures.
Hon David Cunliffe: I seek leave to table this document from the Parliamentary Library, which indicates that only 25 percent of the deterioration in the current account forecasts can be ascribed to the Canterbury earthquakes.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document from the Parliamentary Library. Is there any objection? There is no objection. Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Hon David Cunliffe: I seek leave to table data from Statistics New Zealand, which show that the year in which the record—
Mr SPEAKER: Statistics New Zealand always has a title to its data releases.
Hon David Cunliffe: Yes, the net permanent migration data series—
Mr SPEAKER: I thank the member.
Hon David Cunliffe: —which shows that the year in which a record number of New Zealanders emigrated to Australia was, in fact, 2010.
Mr SPEAKER: We are not going to seek leave for that, because members all have that information.
Hon Lianne Dalziel: Is he concerned that repeated delays in the rebuilding of Christchurch will threaten the Government’s much-vaunted return to fiscal surplus in 2014, and if so, what action is he taking to address the failure of the insurance market, which appears to be one of the remaining key problems for the rebuilding effort?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: That is possibly more of a question for the Minister of Finance. The point I would make is that the reality in Christchurch is, as we know, that there are a number of factors impinging on the speed of the reconstruction. Not the least of those is the ongoing seismicity that is occurring, which the member will be aware of, and which has the effect of moving construction back at times. There are also other challenges, such as the news that may come out of the royal commission in regard to building codes. All those things have to be worked through. I am confident that my colleague the Minister for Canterbury Earthquake Recovery is right over the top of these issues and is constantly updating his colleagues accordingly.
Auckland Council—Financial Management
6. Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First) to the Minister of Local Government: Has he been in communication with the Auckland Council over financial management issues, and if so, on what occasions this year?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH (Minister of Local Government): I have not had any communication with the Auckland Council on issues of financial management that the member has been raising in the House. I have met and had discussions with the Auckland Mayor, Len Brown, on a wide range of local government issues, just like I have had meetings with dozens of mayors throughout the country on those issues.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Relating to his powers under section 254 of the Local Government Act 2002 and his meeting with the council officers last Friday afternoon, is he in receipt of reports of Deloitte receiving significant consulting fees and major Auckland Council projects written in the 2012 draft long-term plan containing all major policy initiatives and spending priorities commissioned by the council’s chief financial officer, Andrew McKenzie, despite Mr McKenzie being the client for both the consultancy work and the audit by Deloitte of the council’s financial affairs?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: Yes, I did meet with Mayor Len Brown last Friday. The bulk of the discussion was actually in my role as Minister for the Environment around the spatial plan. There was no discussion of the abstruse issues that the member has been raising. I have received no documents on those issues as the member claimed in the House. Again, I simply invite the member, if he has concerns about the financial issues with the council—
Rt Hon Winston Peters: You’re the Minister.
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: I’m actually—
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Do your job.
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: It is ridiculous. On that basis—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The Speaker is not the Minister.
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: On that basis, you could have questions on every one of our 78 councils. The member makes reference to the section in the Local Government Act that has a very
high threshold. In fact, the major lectures I have had from members opposite have been about intervening too early in councils’ affairs, and that is why I say the member should do the responsible thing and lay a complaint with the Auditor-General if he has got real concerns.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Related again to his powers under the 2002 Local Government Act, has he received any reports that the largest projects for Auckland Council consultancy work involve information technology on which Deloitte is charging fees in excess of $3,400 plus GST per day per senior consultant, and that a further $20 million of Auckland information technology infrastructure, which chief financial officer Andrew McKenzie is in charge of, will be tabled before the council this week?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: No, I do not have any more knowledge of that matter than of any of the other thousands of matters that are before New Zealand’s 78 councils. If the member has a concern, he should take that up with the mayor and elected representatives of the Auckland Council; or if he is dissatisfied with their response, the proper channel to go to is the Auditor-General.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Relating to those same section 254 powers, does he not understand the massive conflict of interest in being both a consultant on high consultancy fees and the auditor of those consultancy fees—where is the probity in that—and that being the case, when he was there last Friday, what did he do about the fairness and propriety aspects involving chief financial officer Andrew McKenzie and his—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! We are now departing from what the Minister can possibly be responsible for. The member asked the Minister whether he had received any reports on those matters. It is a perfectly legitimate supplementary question. The Minister has indicated he has not received any reports on those matters, and, therefore, asking him why he did not interfere in the operational affairs of the Auckland Council is nothing to do with the Minister’s responsibility. He cannot interfere in that. I invite the member to rephrase his question. I do not want to deprive him of his question.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Does the Minister regard himself as having had no reports or information whatsoever on the impropriety of consultants being their own auditors, which is surely outside the Local Government Act?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: The only information that I have had has been the accusations that have been made by the member in the House. I have repeatedly invited him to take those up directly with the Auckland Council, or with the Auditor-General, and it remains my opinion that that is the proper course of action. The only intervention powers I have as a Minister have a very high threshold, and the only times that they have been used in financial affairs is where they have followed a negative report by the Auditor-General.
Welfare Reforms—Young People Not in Education, Employment, or Training
7. MIKE SABIN (National) to the Minister for Social Development: How will the Government’s recently announced changes target young people not in education, employment or training?
Hon PAULA BENNETT (Minister for Social Development): The changes we have announced target up to 14,000 at-risk 16 and 17-year-olds, most of whom are not yet on a benefit but are on a collision course with the benefit system. We are going to contract with youth service providers to work with these young people to place them in work-based learning, education, or training. Potentially Youth Guarantee places, which my colleague referred to in his earlier question, will pay providers on their success in working with and placing the young person in education, training, and work-based learning a financial bonus.
Mike Sabin: What has been the impact of the global economic recession on young people?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: Since the Government took office in late 2008, we have seen those not in education, employment, or training—“neets”—rise from 10.9 percent in December 2008 to 13.1 percent in December 2011, which is a rise that we would rather not have seen, I am sure.
However, before the opposite side start jumping up and down, from 2004 to 2008 the “neet” rate actually rose, fluctuating between 10.3 percent and 12 percent, when we had a labour market that was essentially crying out for workers, which is why we have got to target these young people. They have been left behind. We can and we must do better by them.
Mike Sabin: How will at-risk 16 and 17-year-olds be picked up by the system?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: We know that around 90 percent of these 14,000 young people will end up on a benefit unless we ensure they continue in education, training, or a work-based opportunity, or even in some cases get themselves into it. But currently we do not know where they are, and that is the reality. In some places we do, where we have schools in real time giving that information to service providers, but it is patchy and not happening consistently enough. We will be changing the rules so that schools are directly and in real time letting a service provider know when that young person has left school so that we can connect to them quickly and in an appropriate manner so that we can then wrap those services around them.
Jacinda Ardern: Does she accept that her targeting of solely 16 and 17-year-olds is leaving young people behind with Youth Transition Services saying that her changes to their contracts will mean that up to 60 percent of the young people they are dealing with now will no longer be covered?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: I think we have identified why we are targeting those 16 and 17-yearolds, and really clearly—and hopefully the member is starting to get that—that they really are those who are most at risk. But different branches of Youth Transition Services work in different ways. For example, the one in West Auckland will tell you that 70 percent of those young people they work with are 16 or 17-year-olds. There will also be a small percentage that are able to work outside of that, because we recognise there needs to be a little bit of flexibility. But for them to target where we most need it I think is necessary and will give us the right kind of results for those young people.
Jacinda Ardern: How much of the $17.15 million that has already been drawn down to fund information technology changes for her youth package was for her payment card, which on her own estimates will affect only 2,800 people?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: I do not have the breakdown of that in front of me, but what I can tell the member is that the information technology systems that we are building up alongside the youth payment and alongside the sorts of changes in the first bill are also those that will be going into the bigger welfare reforms. So we are actually setting the whole system up. We are using this as the first tranche of that, but they will be actually used in the whole reform process.
Gaming Machines—Government Policy
8. DENISE ROCHE (Green) to the Prime Minister: Does he stand by his comment that the Government has a “sinking lid policy” for pokie machines?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): Yes, I stand by my statement that overall there is a sinking lid on pokie machines. The number of pokie machines has fallen since the introduction of the Gambling Act 2003. The number of class 4 pokie machines has declined, from over 25,000 to just over 18,000.
Denise Roche: Will he retract his claim that the Government has a sinking lid policy on gambling, considering that Auckland’s total number of pokie machines has reduced by only 18 machines in the last year, while the Government is negotiating with Sky City to increase the total number of its machines by up to 500?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No, and the member is getting ahead of herself in terms of what negotiations could, might, or might not be on the table with Sky City. But my point is that in terms of Auckland, where there is a sinking-lid policy, even if there was to be a slight increase in the number at Sky City as a result of the deal for the New Zealand International Convention Centre, overall there has been a reducing number since the 2003 Gambling Act has been in place.
Denise Roche: Does he accept that he is claiming success for the efforts of local authorities to reduce small numbers of pokie machines in clubs and pubs, while he is actually undoing their good work by negotiating with Sky City to significantly increase the number of machines in its casino?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Firstly, I do not accept that Sky City is significantly increasing its machines; secondly, I do accept that local government has the primary responsibility in terms of that policy; and, thirdly, I think if one takes a step back and looks at the environment in terms of harm minimisation, certainly the research we have indicates that harm minimisation takes place best, if you like, or is maximised, in a casino as opposed to a licensed pub that preys on low-income people, as we see often in South Auckland and west Auckland.
Denise Roche: Why is he increasing the number of pokie machines at Sky City, when Health Sponsorship Council research shows that gamblers in casinos were more likely to be at-risk or problem gamblers than gamblers in pubs and clubs?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Firstly, I do not accept that logic, and, secondly, I think if the member has a look at the proliferation of pokie machines, for one moment, in Auckland, the member will actually see that the vast bulk of them are in low socio-economic areas in parts of west Auckland and South Auckland. In my opinion, having the greater concentration of them in casinos makes sense. I also happen to think that the overall economic benefit of a $350 million investment in a convention centre in Auckland makes a lot of sense. You see, the people on that side of the House who are making lots of noise are really saying they do not want the thousand jobs for its construction, they do not want the 900 jobs to run the convention centre, they do not want the 144,000 extra visitor nights that will occur—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I think the answer has gone on for a sufficient time.
Denise Roche: Can he confirm his party has received large financial donations from Sky City but not from the trust whose machines—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I accept the member is a new member and would not be aware that the Prime Minister is not responsible for anything that his party might have done. He is responsible only for matters relating to him as Prime Minister. I do not want to deprive the member of a supplementary question, so she is welcome to reword the question.
Denise Roche: I will table some information, if I may. One is the Health Sponsorship Council’s Casino Gambling in New Zealand report, which shows that gamblers in casinos are more likely to be problem gamblers than gamblers in pubs and clubs. This is dated February 2012.
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.
State-owned Energy Companies, Sales—Confidence and Supply Agreement with United
9. Hon CLAYTON COSGROVE (Labour) to the Minister of Finance: Does he stand by the statement made on his behalf in answer to Oral Question No 1 on 1 March 2012, that “I do know what is in the coalition agreement” and, if so, does he agree that the United Future-National confidence and supply agreement does not require United Future to vote for the Government’s asset sales legislation?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): Yes, and no.
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: Does he agree with the Hon Peter Dunne that it would be “unacceptable” for privatised power companies to be able to hock off their assets to foreign buyers, and if so, why is his Government not including any provisions in its legislation to prevent that?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: That issue has been discussed. The Government has made a number of statements about how these companies would behave under mixed ownership, and we do not think they need a legislative barrier.
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: Does the Government intend to even consider, or possibly act on, the findings of the citizens committee that has been established by concerned citizens in the seat of Ōhariu to assess the case for asset sales?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Well, we get the benefit of the Labour Party’s advice in the House every day. Some of it we consider; a lot of it we dismiss just because it is wrong-headed or it comes straight out of the 1970s.
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: Has he been approached by the United Future party or Mr Dunne himself with a request to postpone the asset sales programme in light of the announcement of a launch of a petition for a citizens initiated referendum on that issue?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I do not think I have been approached on that particular issue by Mr Dunne, but we have regular discussions about the policies around mixed ownership. Mr Dunne has taken a close interest in those. We also discuss the progress on both legislation and the commercial processes that go with it, and Mr Dunne is doing a good job of representing his party’s point of view.
Game Animal Council Bill—Benefits for Recreational Hunters
10. TODD McCLAY (National—Rotorua) to the Associate Minister of Conservation: What benefits will the Game Animal Council Bill bring for recreational hunters?
Hon PETER DUNNE (Associate Minister of Conservation): The Game Animal Council Bill will bring two main benefits for recreational hunters. Firstly, the establishment of the council will improve the management of game animals—namely, deer, tahr, chamois, and wild pigs—and will include improvements in hunting opportunities and the quality of the game trophy resource. The second main benefit will be to provide an independent hunting-focused advice stream to the Minister of Conservation on issues that affect that sector.
Todd McClay: What feedback has he seen regarding the introduction and first reading of the Game Animal Council Bill?
Hon PETER DUNNE: The feedback has been extremely positive, including support from the New Zealand Deerstalkers Association, the Game and Forest Foundation, the Fiordland Wapiti Foundation, the Game Council New South Wales, hunting guides, the hunting media, many nonaffiliated hunters, and even non-sector interests such as Fish and Game New Zealand and people in the recreational fishing sector, as well. In fact, many people have told me that this council is the thing they have been waiting 60 years to see established.
Kevin Hague: Can the Minister confirm that all of the advice received from the Department of Conservation has been that the proposed Game Animal Council is likely to be harmful to conservation and to our native plants and animals?
Hon PETER DUNNE: No, I cannot confirm that. But what I can tell the member is that the bill was developed out of a long period of consultation. It began during the term of the previous Labour Government, it actually had over 4,000 public submissions presented to the game animal panel, and the result of that was that panel’s recommendation that a big-game hunting council be established, which is given effect in this legislation.
Todd McClay: I am interested to know: what is the background to the Game Animal Council Bill and how did it reach this stage?
Hon PETER DUNNE: This bill is the culmination of work that began as part of United Future’s 2005 confidence and supply agreement with the Labour-led Government to develop a national pest management strategy. That saw the establishment of a game animal panel chaired by the Hon Margaret Austin, and 4,000 submissions to it. Its recommendation was that a big-game hunting council be established. During the last term of Parliament under the current Government we have been able to bring that to the point where the bill was introduced last week. So there is widespread support on both sides of the House for this development.
Housing New Zealand Corporation—0800 Number for Tenants
11. Hon ANNETTE KING (Labour—Rongotai) to the Minister of Housing: What response has he received to the “Smarter. Faster. Fairer” tenancy service which provides an 0800 phone customer service centre response to people with housing needs?
Hon PHIL HEATLEY (Minister of Housing): Since the 0800 service was set up under Labour in 2003, it has now grown to handle almost a million calls a year, which seems like a pretty good response to me.
Hon Annette King: Does he stand by Housing New Zealand Corporation’s claim very recently that the new “Smarter. Faster. Fairer.” 0800 service to Housing New Zealand Corporation clients will provide a better and bigger service through just one phone call, and with customers getting help straight away?
Hon PHIL HEATLEY: Well, clearly, statistically it shows that more and more people are using the 0800 service since it was begun in 2003 under Labour. It is becoming more and more popular. Almost a million people are using it; they are voting with their fingers.
Hon Annette King: What is his response to the social worker who contacted him recently, outlining her experience with the new 0800 call centre service under a National Government, which involved her making nine phone calls and two personal visits to a Housing New Zealand Corporation office before she got to leave a message on a staff member’s answerphone, after waiting 7 minutes on the line to leave that message?
Hon PHIL HEATLEY: As I said, there are almost a million calls a year now. In this particular case the corporation shares my view that it dropped the ball. This is unacceptable. It has assured me that it will be working hard to ensure there is a better standard of service in the future. But I have to say that given the amount of calls to the 0800 service, this could, in fact, be Labour’s most popular initiative ever.
Hon Annette King: What impact will the loss of 70 jobs from Housing New Zealand Corporation and the closure of its offices, except for arranged appointments for housing needs assessment, have on his new “Smarter. Faster. Fairer.” service to Housing New Zealand Corporation clients?
Hon PHIL HEATLEY: Clients are now getting a much better service. When they want to know how much rent they owe or whether they can get their window fixed, they can pick up the phone rather than wander down to the bus stop, wait half an hour, pay a fare, go into the office, and wait for an appointment just to say the same thing. So there is much improvement, and, as I say, it is so popular we simply have to take that at face value on the statistics.
Hon Annette King: Does he agree with the Housing New Zealand Corporation spokesperson who said today: “Our customers now feel comfortable. They have a relationship with Housing New Zealand, not Mary Brown, the tenancy officer.”, and if so, could he explain how it is possible to have a relationship with a corporation rather than a person?
Hon PHIL HEATLEY: The 0800 number does help with the relationship, because people can get answers quickly. I do know there is room for an improvement, because her colleague Shane Jones wants it to be changed and improved by turning it into an 0900 number. I actually think that is inappropriate and we will not be doing that.
Hon Annette King: What a weak answer!
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member knows she should not start a question that way.
Hon Annette King: Is he aware that members of Parliament who carry out considerable constituency work on behalf of Housing New Zealand Corporation clients have been told that under his new, smarter, faster, fairer policy, they will no longer have direct contact with a Housing New Zealand Corporation manager and must now deal with the 0800 call centre, and is this the more efficient service that he envisaged?
Hon PHIL HEATLEY: For very simple queries I encourage members of Parliament, State house tenants, and others working on their behalf to use the 0800 number. Where there are more
complex queries, then they are more than welcome to sit down with tenancy managers and work these through.
Hon Annette King: I seek leave to table an email to the Hon Phil Heatley on 5 March from a social worker expressing her dissatisfaction with Housing New Zealand Corporation’s new processes—not the Labour Government’s; the new processes—under his watch.
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.
Accident Prevention Awareness—Idea Nation Programme
12. JAMI-LEE ROSS (National—Botany) to the Minister for ACC: What initiatives are underway to help raise awareness about falls in the home?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS (Minister for ACC): Recently, ACC announced Idea Nation, a competition encouraging people to contribute ideas to help make New Zealand homes safer and reduce the physical, social, and financial costs of falls in the home. Half of all falls happen in the home, and falls make up over 40 percent of home injuries. They can cause significant disruption to people’s lives and lead to lost productivity for thousands of businesses. The competition will be open for 1 month, from 12 March until 13 April 2012, and all New Zealanders are invited to send in their ideas.
Jami-Lee Ross: Why is ACC focusing on falls in the home?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: Good question! Falls are the leading cause of injuries in the home among working-age New Zealanders. Each year more than 100,000 working-age New Zealanders fall in their homes. The social and economic cost of these falls is around $1.8 billion a year. Most falls occur when people are doing everyday things such as walking up or down steps, carrying the washing, or getting in or out of the shower. Idea Nation calls on New Zealanders to apply their No. 8 fencing wire mentality in helping to reduce the physical, social, and economic costs of these falls.