Questions and Answers - May 30
QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS
Water Management—Prime Minister’s Statement
1. Dr RUSSEL NORMAN (Co-Leader—Green) to the Prime Minister: Does he stand by his statement that “efficient water management is a big part of New Zealand’s competitive advantage and our clean and green brand”?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): Yes.
Dr Russel Norman: Does he agree with the OECD country report 2011 that “As an exporter of resource based goods and services, [New Zealand’s] brand relies on the environmental integrity of its output and policies.”, and is his Government achieving that?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I think that is one of the factors. I also agree with the OECD when, in 2010, we were rated as having the second-to-best water quality, by Yale and Columbia.
Dr Russel Norman: Is the Prime Minister aware that the Yale report that he just quoted from has now been updated and our ranking has moved from second to 43rd, and does his Government take credit for the movement in our ranking in the Yale report from second to 43rd?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I would need to look at that particular report and which bit he is taking out of it. Overall, what I can say is that if you look at New Zealand, we rank pretty well on most of those categories. And if you go and look at the 2011 Global Green Economy Index, New Zealand is ranked first out of 27 countries for overall performance, which includes, amongst other things, leadership in green tourism.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Can the Prime Minister confirm that in his Government’s first four Budgets there has been an almost sixfold increase in the amount committed to freshwater clean-ups over the previous four Budgets, involving new initiatives for Lakes Ellesmere, Rotorua, Rotoiti, and Taupō; lagoons like Waituna, Wainono, and Wairarapa; and rivers like the Manawatū and the Waikato; and does not this action, more than words, speak volumes about his and his Government’s commitment to improving freshwater management?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Yes, I am aware of that, and all that it demonstrates is that National in Government cares more about water quality and water standards than Labour did when it was in Government.
Dr Russel Norman: I seek leave to table the Yale Environmental Performance Index from January 2012 showing New Zealand at 43rd—no longer second.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? Did I hear objection? There is objection.
Dr Russel Norman: Does the Prime Minister stand by his statements when, twice in this House last year and then again today, he has relied on the Yale report to justify his Government’s environmental performance—and his former Minister for the Environment relied on it on a number
of occasions, as well—even though the updated figures show that under his Government New Zealand has fallen from second to 43rd in freshwater quality?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I am not sure that I would characterise it as relying on it; I am saying that it is one particular indicator. What the Government has relied on is what it has done. As opposed to Labour, which did very little, National has introduced a National Policy Statement for Freshwater; established the collaborative Land and Water Forum, which is going well; appointed Environmental Canterbury commissioners, who have delivered an operative water plan for Canterbury; launched the Fresh Start for Fresh Water clean-up fund; passed regulations for metering 98 percent of water takes; doubled the fines for non-compliance with resource consents; and increased the funding to improve our water to almost six times what it was under the previous Government. That is what I have relied on.
Te Ururoa Flavell: Kia ora tatou. Can I ask how he will ensure that councils and governing bodies respect the unique relationship that whānau, hapū, and iwi have in respect of their kaitiaki obligations and responsibilities throughout their rohe; and does he agree with the Land and Water Forum that there should be better recognition given to iwi tikanga and values in the National Policy Statement on Freshwater Management?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: That is somewhat a matter for local government, but what I can say is that the Land and Water Forum, with the wide participation in that grouping, is allowing for a very collaborative process. It has written two reports. The third report will come out in November. But from talking to a variety of different members of that Land and Water Forum, including environmental groups themselves, I find that they are very optimistic about the results they see and the actions that are being taken.
Dr Russel Norman: In reference to his earlier answer about the national policy statement, why did his Government decide to weaken substantially the National Policy Statement on Freshwater Management, against the advice of the Land and Water Forum and against the advice of the board of inquiry that had been established to make the recommendation on the National Policy Statement on Freshwater Management?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Cabinet always considers a wide range of factors. We felt at the time that what the national policy statement had come up with was the best reflection of a balanced approach to what we were trying to achieve.
Dr Russel Norman: How will his Government’s plan to subsidise dairy intensification in Canterbury and elsewhere, through both the irrigation fund that has been mooted by the Government and the very large subsidies to greenhouse emissions coming out of the dairy sector, result in cleaning up our waterways and help to protect New Zealand’s clean and green brand, the foundation of our economy?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Intensification of itself could worsen the problem if there were not a number of other steps being taken. But, again, if you go and talk to the participants in the Land and Water Forum, what they are saying is that both Federated Farmers and Fonterra are taking a much more responsible view towards that intensification. One of the members of one of the major environmental groups said to me last week that, in principle, if there were to be major irrigation in the South Island, he would be supportive of a very large scheme, because he thinks that, in terms of intensification, that would actually help in terms of offsetting it. And, in general, if irrigation takes place, it takes pressure off the aquifers. So, overall, it is a balanced approach.
Dr Russel Norman: Does he believe that his approach of talking about a balance between the environment and the economy—so, essentially, trading off a bit of environmental degradation for a bit of economic growth—is the right approach to take, or should we take the approach that the environment is the foundation of our economy and we should stop degrading it because that will, fundamentally, undermine us in the long run?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No. What I think is important here is establishing how we can grow the economy while ensuring that we preserve our environmental credentials. I think that, on balance,
for the most part we are doing that. In fact, if you go and have a look at areas of science, the global greenhouse gas alliance is a great example. We are increasing, potentially, the methane and nitrate emissions that may come from agriculture, because of intensification, but we are offsetting those through the scientific research that we are doing through the greenhouse gas alliance. If the member wants to go back to the Stone Age, where we do absolutely nothing, that is fine, but it will not pay for the many wish lists he comes up with every day.
Dr Russel Norman: Why is it that every one of the Government’s big economic policies, the winners that this Government is picking to subsidise—whether it be deep-sea offshore mining, fracking, dairy intensification, or subsidising greenhouse gas pollution via motorways—involves degrading the environment?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I would reject that. There has been quite a substantial increase in areas of the economy where there is no impact at all on the environment. If the member wanted to come and support us on the national convention centre being brought to us by Skycity—or if the member had wanted to get out there and support us when we brought the Hobbit movies with their 3,000 jobs to New Zealand—I would look forward to it. But the member probably will not do that. He will just carry on whingeing, like he normally does.
2. DAVID SHEARER (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does he have confidence in his Minister of Education?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): Yes.
David Shearer: Does he agree—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I have to call the member. I must say, with all the noise, I did not even hear what the Prime Minister said. I trust the answer was “Yes.”, so we will go to the Leader of the Opposition.
David Shearer: Does he agree with his education Minister that it is good news that the schools are only losing up to two teachers?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I think that needs to be seen in the context of what the Minister said. [Interruption] Well, I can take any couple of words out of context if I want to. What the Minister was saying is that there is an absolute limit to the number of teachers that a school could lose. What she was also saying, though, very importantly, is that there will be 962 schools that will potentially gain a teacher, there are 230 schools that will potentially gain two teachers, and there is well over $100 million going into professional development to help the 50,000 teachers who are there. I think if we go and ask New Zealand parents whether they want to see professional development supporting quality teaching in this country, I think you will find that the answer from most of them will be yes.
David Shearer: Is the Prime—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The House will come to order. I must be able to hear these questions. I know my hearing is not great, but the noise is pretty loud, and I must be able to hear these questions.
David Shearer: When he said yesterday that he was aware of the impact of the changes made to staffing ratios when Budget decisions were made, why did he personally intervene in this issue only on Monday this week to limit staff losses to two?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: As we made clear yesterday, there has always been a transition process that was going to take place, and it made sense as we wrote to the schools last Thursday, and it made sense, actually, for that transition to be in conjunction with them, but because we wanted to allay the fears that some parents could have, we have made it clear that it is limited to two fulltimeequivalents. But this may be the piece of information that Labour does not want out there, and that is that the performance of New Zealand students on average did not change between 2000 and 2009
when it came to reading. For the vast bulk of that time, Labour was in Government. If one looks at the Programme for International Student Assessment study and other international studies—
Mr SPEAKER: I think we have had sufficient answer to the question asked.
David Shearer: Is he saying that by increasing class sizes he will be able to improve the educational learning of our children?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: What I am saying is that between 2000 and 2009 the reading performance of New Zealand students on average did not change. What I am saying is that the performance in the Programme for International Student Assessment and other international surveys of student achievement have remained relatively static over the past decade, despite the fact that we have hired 6,000 extra teachers. We now have approximately 50,000 teachers, and maybe it is time to give those teachers a bit more support to get quality teaching outcomes.
David Shearer: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. That was actually a pretty straight question: did he consider increasing class sizes improved child learning quality?
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member has just pointed out that he asked “Does he consider that …”. The Prime Minister in answering gave information about the impact of the number of teachers employed on pupil achievement, and I think that was a reasonable answer to the question asked because the question asked was a little bit tongue-in-cheek. The Prime Minister pointed out the facts of the matter about the number of extra teachers, and therefore the reduction in classes seemed to have no impact on learning outcomes. That seems to be a reasonable way to answer the question. I call the Leader of the Opposition—
Hon Paula Bennett: He’s laying down the facts; they don’t like the facts of it.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I want to hear the Leader of the Opposition’s question.
David Shearer: Can he and his education Minister give parents an assurance that school staffing entitlements will not be further reduced after the end of the third year?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: We will work our way through that in the fullness of time. But what is interesting is that there will be an election and quite a number of Budgets before then.
David Shearer: Does he agree with intermediate school principal Barry Roberts, who said in response to the changes announced yesterday that “Instead of death by shooting, it’s death by strangulation and hoping we’re not going to notice the difference.”?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No, and let me go back to this basic point. Let us ask the most basic question for a moment. Are we all sitting around in this country saying that when there is no change in the average reading performance of our kids for over a decade, and when the Programme for International Student Assessment studies and others are showing there is no basic change, yet we have hired 6,000 extra teachers and had very low roll growth, we should just carry on and hire a few hundred more? If it has not worked for the last 6,000, it is probably not going to work for the next 6,000. The facts of life are that those guys left office with one in five kids unable to read and write properly, and they did not care. Well, we are actually doing something about it.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. You will observe that the Prime Minister received a question, then he phrased another question, proceeded to answer that question, and ended up with a rant and rave about the Labour Party. Surely that cannot be the way we conduct question time.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I—[Interruption] Order! I am on my feet. Again, I invite the right honourable member to listen to the question. The question asked whether the Prime Minister agreed with a statement from a school principal, I think, that the changes were not something to do with being shot but death by strangulation or something, from memory. He asked whether the Prime Minister agreed with that. The Prime Minister in his answer told the House what he did agree with. And if members want to ask questions of Ministers about what they agree with—whether they agree with certain fairly out-there statements, and that was a fairly out-there statement—the Ministers are at liberty to tell the House what they do agree with. I am not going to stop Ministers from telling the House what they do agree with over important issues like this. This is not just a game; these are
important issues. That is why members have focused on these issues. And the chance to get decent questions and answers in the House is an important part of our process. I think that was not an unreasonable answer to the question asked.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My hearing is as good as yours, for a start. I heard what the answer was in respect of the teacher’s comment, but then he raised a new question himself, and then proceeded to answer that and you never stopped him. Then he attacked the Labour Party, and you did not stop him doing that. He answered one question, the first one first, then phrased a question of his own, then he answered that, and that is not within the Standing Orders.
Mr SPEAKER: With respect to the right honourable gentleman, the Speaker is the determinant of that. Again, I can be of far greater assistance to members if questions do not ask whether Ministers agree with all sorts of statements from all over the place, because it is very hard to pin down Ministers when they are asked for their opinions. Ministers are at liberty to give their opinions if they asked for their opinions. I can be of much greater assistance if a question asks for information. The information can be very telling in itself, and that is where I can be of much greater assistance to members.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I seek leave to table a Programme for International Student Assessment report, which shows that 15-year-olds’ reading in New Zealand went from fourth in the world in 2006 to second in 2009.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is no objection. Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
David Shearer: Does he stand by his statement to Radio New Zealand National yesterday that as of Tuesday morning he had not had anyone specifically raise the issue of class sizes with him?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Yes.
David Shearer: I would like to table a number of letters addressed to John Key and copied to me expressing a great deal of concern about the increase in class sizes.
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.
Budget 2012—Effect on Debt and Interest Rates
3. SHANE ARDERN (National—Taranaki - King Country) to the Minister of Finance: How will Budget 2012 reduce New Zealand’s long-standing reliance on debt and help keep interest rates lower for longer?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Associate Minister of Finance) on behalf of the Minister of Finance: Budget 2012 will do this in a number of ways. Firstly, it keeps the Government on track for fiscal surplus in 2014-15, when we can start repaying debt. That is important in a world that is deeply concerned about debt. Secondly, it continues the Government’s programme to address our longstanding imbalances by building sustainable growth from savings and productive investment, rather than excessive debt, property speculation, and Government spending. Thirdly, the Budget reprioritises existing spending to invest significantly more in infrastructure, innovation, and skills. These are essential ingredients in giving businesses the confidence to invest, sell more to the world, and employ more staff. All of these things will ensure future growth does not rely on excessive debt and fast-growing Government expenditure. It will keep interest rates for homeowners and businesses lower for longer.
Shane Ardern: How have New Zealanders benefited from lower interest rates in the past 3 years?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Both households and businesses are now paying very significantly lower interest rates than they were in late 2008. For example, average floating home rate mortgages have fallen from almost 11 percent in 2008 to an average of 5.9 percent currently. For a family with a $200,000 mortgage, that is a saving of about $200 a week. Similarly, business lending rates have fallen from more than 9 percent to around 6 percent in the same period, so both households and businesses are benefiting from lower interest rates under this Government and its responsible economic policy.
Shane Ardern: What progress is being made in improving savings and reducing New Zealand’s reliance on debt?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I am pleased to report good progress is being made. Households and businesses have started to save and pay down debt. New Zealand’s household savings rate is positive, and it is forecast to increase to almost 4 percent by 2016. That is a significant turn-round, as household savings have been negative in almost every year, going back at least two decades. Although these higher savings do temper economic growth a little in the short term, over time they will leave New Zealand considerably better off and less vulnerable to economic shocks.
Shane Ardern: What reports has he received supporting the Government’s responsible fiscal approach in Budget 2012?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: The Minister of Finance has seen a number of reports supporting the Budget’s focus on getting on top of debt. For example, ratings agency Moody’s has said the deficit and debt forecasts in the Budget support the Government’s current triple A credit rating. It says that in the absence of further shocks, the Government’s overall fiscal position will improve considerably over the next several years. Standard and Poor’s has said the Budget is the latest step forward to consolidating the Government’s fiscal settings. Its stable ratings outlook reflect its expectation the Government will continue to consolidate public finances against the risks associated with the country’s high private sector external debt.
Whānau Ora—Prime Minister’s Statements
4. Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First) to the Prime Minister: Does he stand by his statement that Whānau Ora is aimed at “families who need significant support”?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): I stand by my full statement, which was: “In terms of the wider overall issues about Whānau Ora, that is aimed very much at families who need significant support and are using a multitude of different agencies, and the Government is looking at ways to improve the outcomes. Given the successful track record we have had in the past of being totally unsuccessful with those families, I would have thought that trying new ways was not a bad idea.”
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Does he believe that just some Māori families should be receiving significant support in the form of thousands and thousands of dollars in grants to develop plans to “promote who they are”, to “take control of their lives and move out of the status quo lifestyle”, and “to weave the strands of whānau together with the collective goal of reconnection”, and much more psychological babble like that?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I do not know where the member is quoting from, but I can say the overall ethos of Whānau Ora is to support vulnerable families and to try to get them to empower changing their own lives.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: How can he reconcile the fact that his Government is taxing paper boys earning a pittance, while he and the Māori Party are spending over $12 million of taxpayers’ money financing projects such as Whānau Ora helping a family to “promote who they are”?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: You are talking about very vulnerable families who are probably already incurring significant costs to New Zealand taxpayers. If we do not address some of their issues, all probability is that they will cost New Zealand a lot more.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: So which was the vulnerable family, or families, involved in the $60,000 Whānau Ora grant to conduct research and hold a community day at a sports club in Ōtaki, and how did they qualify to be in need of—to quote his words yesterday—“significant support”?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Individual cases need to be directed to the Minister for Whanau Ora.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Is he aware that hundreds of Whānau Ora plans, which are being prepared at great expense to the taxpayers, are plans that actually involve applying for further Whānau Ora funding to implement these very same plans?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I cannot confirm that. If the member wants to find out a little more he should ask questions directly to the Minister for Whanau Ora.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Is the Prime Minister saying therefore by that answer that he does not know what is going on in respect of the Minister in charge of Whanau Ora’s future plans; if that is the case, why has he not apprised himself of that as every other former Prime Minister would have?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No, I am saying that if the member wants to ask individual questions about specific cases, he should direct them to the Minister for Whanau Ora.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am asking the Prime Minister as Prime Minister of this country. I do not need to hear references as to whom I should ask the question, in respect of a specific Minister. I am asking the Prime Minister, the No. 1 Minister in this country, as to whether he agrees with these plans. I cannot get his answer from Tariana Turia—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The very reason why we have a number of Ministers covering a range of portfolios is that they have the detail on those portfolios. I do not think anyone has ever expected the Prime Minister to be able to cover all detail in all portfolio areas. That is the risk of directing questions to the Prime Minister on other portfolios—the Prime Minister may not have all the detail on those matters. That is not unreasonable.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. If that is the case, that is the Prime Minister’s answer. He does not need you to give it, with respect.
Mr SPEAKER: Order!
Rt Hon Winston Peters: No, let me finish.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! No, I am not going to listen to any more of this rant. The member will resume his seat.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Well, I’ll be back with another point of order, then. I am not going to be ramrodded out of this place.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! If the member carries on with this, he will just leave the House. It is his choice. I am not going to have that sort of nonsense. If the member wishes to pursue details about a particular portfolio, that is why we have Ministers—they can be asked. The Prime Minister cannot be expected to have detailed information in every portfolio area. The Prime Minister said he did not have that information, and that is a perfectly proper answer for the House. The remedy is in the member’s hands. If he wishes to pursue that issue, he can pursue it through questioning the Minister responsible for that portfolio.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. If that was the Prime Minister’s answer, he was open to give it, but he is not correct to then say that someone is offending against the House’s traditions under the Standing Orders by asking him and not the Minister. Let me give you an example. I asked about the Mongrel Mob in Dunedin. That Minister knew nothing about it and put a full-scale departmental research in place to find out whether I was right or wrong. Yesterday, the Prime Minister said that I was wrong.
Mr SPEAKER: Order!
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I’ve got a letter to you on that question.
Mr SPEAKER: No. Order! We are not going to take more time in the House on this. The member knows full well that Governments can transfer questions to other Ministers.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: But he didn’t transfer it.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Look, the member is normally very respectful of this House. I accept that he is grumpy, and grumpy with me. I accept that. But the Standing Orders— [Interruption] Order! I am on my feet. The Standing Orders must apply equally to all members, and all members know that if they question the Prime Minister on certain detailed portfolio areas the Prime Minister cannot be expected to have all the detailed information in every portfolio area. I do not recollect questions in the House to the Minister for Whānau Ora. I might have forgotten. Forgive me, I may well have forgotten, but I do not recollect—
Hon Trevor Mallard: You have forgotten, Mr Speaker. We do. We recollect.
Mr SPEAKER: In recent times, then.
Hon Trevor Mallard: It’s all right—last week!
Mr SPEAKER: Order! So I am not being unfair to the member, but the Prime Minister has answered that in that way, and that is a perfectly acceptable answer, and there is nothing that I can do about that.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Would it be in order, then, for every question that the Prime Minister gets, to be answered in this way: “Please refer that question to the Minister who is directly in charge of that portfolio.”? Would that be in order? I am asking the Prime Minister—and this happens in every other British democracy that I know of; every Englishspeaking democracy. The Prime Minister is required to either answer the question or say he cannot. But he cannot say that the member is acting improperly by not referring it to the Minister. That is why he was made the Prime Minister, for goodness’ sake!
Mr SPEAKER: Order! If the member got that impression I apologise to him because I am sure it was not intended to mean that the member was not addressing question time properly by not directing the questions to the Minister. That should not be implied. But what I am trying to point out to the House is that there are some limitations on questioning the Prime Minister over detailed portfolio areas. That is all I am trying to point out to the House. Members are absolutely at liberty to question the Prime Minister—that is their absolute right. But there are those limitations around what information the Prime Minister can have at his fingertips.
Budget 2012—Effect on Child Poverty
5. JACINDA ARDERN (Labour) to the Minister for Social Development: How many children will be lifted out of poverty as a result of Budget 2012?
Hon PAULA BENNETT (Minister for Social Development): Budget 2012 will build a stronger economy, which will drive employment growth, leading to strong and resilient families. As a consequence, children will be better off. That is what Budget 2012 is all about. There is not an official measure of poverty, so as such you cannot give a number.
Jacinda Ardern: Does she accept the Children’s Commissioner’s estimate that failure to invest in the early years of a child can come at a cost of $1 million to taxpayers per child; and if so, how much did the Government invest in children in this Budget to save the future cost of up to 270,000 children in poverty?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: I certainly dispute the numbers that the member uses, but the Children’s Commissioner’s $1 million for individual children I think depends on their circumstances. So I certainly would not say—and, of course, poverty is relative. Also, children can move in and out of poverty throughout their lives, as adults can, as well. So there are certainly some caveats around those kinds of predictions.
Jacinda Ardern: What appropriations in Vote Social Development, or in the Budget generally, address the issue flagged by the briefing to incoming Minister by the Ministry of Social Development, which stated: “around two in five poor children were from households where at least one adult was in fulltime employment”?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: I think what the member raises is also quite interesting, as what we are investing in in this Budget for those children, whom we see as important. What we saw certainly
is an increase when you look at health. So around rheumatic fever more money is going in there; and to those under-6-year-olds and their access to health, to their general practitioner, and to afterhours care as well. Certainly, what you are also seeing is a real investment in those intensive home visits in the early years, and that will make a significant difference. So I would say that this Budget certainly has raised a lot of issues. What we are doing, though, is targeting it, and targeting it to those children who need it most, instead of the kind of scattergun approach that we saw under Labour
Jacinda Ardern: Does she accept that according to the Unicef scorecard on child poverty, released today—in which New Zealand was found to spend 50 percent of the OECD average on a child’s early years, amongst other countries who have all experienced the same recession— “failure to protect children from poverty … is one of the most costly mistakes a society can make.”?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: I do think there is certainly money that should be invested in those early years, and this Government is certainly investing more than the previous Labour Government was in its years. So we are investing more in those children than actually ever has been before, and that is making a significant difference. That goes across health, across education, across certainly the Ministry of Social Development within Child, Youth and Family and Work and Income. But there is no doubt about it that all evidence presents that those who are in work have their children better off. I think that welfare reforms make a real difference to that.
Jacinda Ardern: If the Children’s Commissioner’s expert group on child poverty recommends targets to eradicate child poverty when it reports later this year, will she implement such targets; if not, why not?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: That is hypothetical. I am not going to pre-empt what that reports comes out with and as such make a judgment on it.
6. ALFRED NGARO (National) to the Minister for Social Development: How is the Government refocusing the Families Commission?
Hon PAULA BENNETT (Minister for Social Development): The way the Families Commission works is about to change. We are restructuring the commission. This will see its core activities streamlined through a leaner, more focused structure. It will be headed by a single commissioner, down from the original number of seven, and will take on a new role providing for independent monitoring, evaluation, and research to measure the effectiveness of initiatives across the social sector.
Alfred Ngaro: What will the main benefits of the new Social Policy Evaluation and Research Unit be?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: If we are going to make a difference for the families who are struggling, we need to be able to invest in interventions that we know will work and that have had full evaluations. This new unit will build a body of evidence that will allow policy makers, nongovernmental organisations, and anyone wanting to invest in social services to make informed decisions about which programmes are effective for New Zealand families.
Alfred Ngaro: What current activities will continue after the restructure?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: Firm decisions are yet to be made by the commissioner on the exact work programme for the core functions. However, I expect that its highly regarded family violence work will remain a core component throughout the change process.
Sue Moroney: Does her refocusing of the Families Commission include ensuring that the commissioner she appointed backed National’s position of opposing the extension of paid parental leave, when previously the commission had presented research to recommend extending paid parental leave to 13 months?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: It would be fair to say that, with an ex-commissioner actually now a Labour MP, actually that ex-commissioner might have agreed with a few things that Labour was
doing. I have no influence over what the current commissioner thinks, or puts out, or does, and, as such, he is independent and runs accordingly.
Economic Growth—Prime Minister’s Statements
7. Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE (Labour—New Lynn) to the Minister for Economic
Development: Does he agree with the Prime Minister’s statement “If you were really going to go out and buy a country, why wouldn’t you want to buy New Zealand?”; if so, why?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister for Economic Development): Yes; I think the member might find that that is what is known as a metaphor, which I would have thought that somebody who wrote poetry at Harvard might actually recognise. Even with my humble zoology degree, I can recognise a metaphor. The Prime Minister went on to explain that New Zealand is an amazing country—that on any relative measure across the world it is a great country. I think the point is that compared with many countries in the world New Zealand is doing very well. For example, we have grown in nine of the last 10 quarters. We are investing a huge amount in infrastructure at the same time that we are balancing our books, we are putting a lot of effort into boosting trade, and we are investing billions into higher education, increasing science and innovation funding, and doing the Government’s bit to help keep interest rates low.
Hon David Cunliffe: What does he think of the optics of trying to sell a country that has just seen a horrific 17 percent collapse in the value of goods exported, and where the main growth in exports is the thousand New Zealanders a week we are exporting to Australia?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I think the member is confusing the amount of goods with value. The reality is that in the calendar year 2011 New Zealand had very large growth in exports, both in value and in volume terms. That has come back a bit as commodity prices have come off this year, but there is still a very positive overall export scene, and the Government is working very, very hard to encourage businesses to become more competitive in the world, and to provide businesses with opportunities to get ahead, and will continue to do so.
Hon David Cunliffe: Does the horrific 17 percent drop in the value of goods exported mean that the Government was wrong to cut funding to promote exports to China, India, and the rest of Asia, as part of the $131 million per annum it has just slashed from Vote Economic Development?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: The member is an emotive actor, but the reality is that the Government did not cut the sorts of sums of money he is talking about, at all. He needs to understand that some appropriations finish when the events that the economic development appropriation is involved with finish. For example, the member may have spotted—and, in fact, I think he did—the Rugby World Cup, which occurred last year. At the end of that period the appropriations for the Rugby World Cup were no longer needed, Mr Cunliffe, and therefore we did not continue them. I know that the member wants just to fire hose money in all directions, but actually the Government, when appropriations are finished, stops them.
Hon David Cunliffe: To the “Minister for Rugby World Cup Tickets”, why would he sell—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! We do not start questions that way.
Hon David Cunliffe: Why would he sell New Zealand now, when the New Zealand Institute of Economic Research has just downgraded its growth forecast to a stagnant 1.5 percent, and is this the same logic as selling highly profitable power companies when near the bottom of the economic cycle?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I wondered whether the member would bring up the New Zealand Institute of Economic Research, because one of the interesting things about its report is that it suggests that economic growth will be slower than suggested by some of the other commentators— which it is entitled to believe—primarily because New Zealanders are saving more, and actually that will dampen economic growth in the short term. We do not agree, necessarily, with the quantum, but the point that the New Zealand Institute of Economic Research made was that New Zealand’s household and commercial debt, but particularly household debt, had built up hugely to
an imbalance while the previous Government—funnily enough—was in office, and it is now unwinding. So if there are any concerns about that actually slowing economic growth, they can only be sheeted home to the behaviour in the economy of the previous Government.
Hon David Cunliffe: I seek leave to table the full New Zealand Institute of Economic Research Quarterly Predictions report, made public today, which lists fiscal headwinds, slowing global growth, migration drains, and businesses treading cautiously as amongst the reasons for slashing again New Zealand’s growth output forecast.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is objection.
Hon David Cunliffe: How interesting. I seek leave to table a graph created by the Parliamentary Library that shows the huge growth in exports of New Zealanders to Australia since this National Government came to power.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document from the Parliamentary Library. Is there any objection? There is objection.
Question No. 8 to Minister
HOLLY WALKER (Green): I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Before I ask my question, I would like to raise a point of order and refer you to Speakers’ rulings 151/6 and 152/1 regarding the transfer of a question, where a question should not be transferred when only one Minister could be expected to have personal knowledge of the subject. My original question specifically addressed whether the Prime Minister stood by a statement. I think it is very difficult for another member to know what is in the mind of the Prime Minister.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! We are not going to go down this path again. I have heard this argument before. The question is fundamentally about students being able to borrow for living costs under the student loan scheme and the relationship of that to student allowances. Clearly, the Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment is in a position perfectly able to answer that question, so I do not think the House needs to waste more time on that.
HOLLY WALKER (Green): I seek leave of the House to transfer the question back to the Prime Minister.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought for that course of action. Is there any objection? There is objection.
Student Allowances and Loans—Prime Minister’s Statements
8. HOLLY WALKER (Green) to the Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills and
Employment: Does he stand by the Prime Minister’s statement yesterday that the amount a student can borrow for living costs under a student loan each week is “very similar” to the student allowance?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment): Yes, because for the majority of students undertaking postgraduate, master’s, or PhD study their allowance of $170.80 per week will be replaced by the student loan living costs of $172.51 per week, and that seems quite similar to me. Of course, the member also needs to take into account the accommodation benefit and accommodation supplements when drawing comparisons for individual students before and after Budget 2012 changes.
Holly Walker: Did he tell the Prime Minister, then, that there is a $72 difference between the $172 a week that a student can borrow for living costs, and the $245 maximum that they can receive on a student allowance with the accommodation benefit, and does he also consider those two amounts to be very similar?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Well, I think the member is, if I may say so, being slightly disingenuous, because she refers to the accommodation benefit with allowances but does not refer
to the accommodation supplement, which is available with student loans sometimes. For example— and it does vary for—
Grant Robertson: Sometimes.
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: No, it does vary for different students. Some of them are better off. For example, if you had a single 23-year-old with no children, not working, living away from home in Wellington, and the parents living together with no other full-time students in the household and a combined income of $42,000, then their allowance plus their accommodation benefit would be $212.51. Next year their student loan plus the accommodation supplement would be up to $272.51, depending on where they are living.
Holly Walker: Can he guarantee, then, that with the accommodation supplement, every student currently eligible for a student allowance for postgraduate study will have the same amount to live on each week as they have before these changes?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: No, I cannot guarantee that for every student, but what I can say is that a number will be better off. There are some who will be worse off, but I will make a couple of points about the transition measures that were announced at the time: firstly, students with current student allowance applications that start in 2012 and finish in 2013 will continue to be eligible until the end of that period; students who apply for student allowances in 2013 for an enrolment period that started in 2012 will not be affected; and students with a dependent partner or children can continue to receive a student allowance for up to 1 year until 31 December 2013 or until they use up their 200-week lifetime entitlement to student allowances, whichever comes first, in which case the student must be continuing the same qualification. So we have sought to place those transition measures in place, but the important point of the policy is that we are expecting that those who have gone on to postgraduate study in a master’s or PhD area will be earning on average between 20 and 50 percent more than a person who gets an undergraduate degree once they qualify. Those people will be expected to use the student loan scheme and therefore pay that back so we can reinvest in further tertiary education.
Holly Walker: How does he imagine a third-year clinical psychology student, who is required to work full time, 4 days a week, as an unpaid intern, attend one full day of classes, and complete assignments and exam preparation in the evenings and weekends, will survive on the $172 per week she can now borrow under the student loan scheme?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I need to clarify with the member. She is referring to a person studying at what level of study?
Mr SPEAKER: I invite the member to clarify her question.
Holly Walker: Third-year clinical psychology, as a postgraduate qualification.
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I cannot answer that particular member’s example, because it differs. The point that is being made through this question is that it varies depending on the person’s individual circumstances. So on the base allowance and the base student loan it is the same, but depending on their personal situation and their accommodation situation, it could be either more or less, and we do not know the answer to that question until we know that person’s absolute circumstances.
Holly Walker: How much longer will it take students of clinical psychology, or, indeed, teaching or other postgraduate qualifications, to pay back their student loans with the addition of the $172 extra per week they must now borrow to live, and how will that add to the country’s student loan debt burden?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Again, I cannot give the exact numbers for that. What I can tell the member, again, is that the postgraduate people whom we are talking about are going to earn on average significantly higher sums than not only the people who get an undergraduate degree but also people who do not get a degree at all. And we are asking those people—the ones who never go to university—to subsidise through their taxes 70 percent of the tuition costs of the students who go to university, to subsidise more than 40c in the dollar of the cost of their student loans, and in some
cases to also subsidise their student allowances. That is a very big subsidy from somebody who does not go to university to somebody who does and who actually could be earning anything between 70 and 100 percent more than that person once they leave university.
9. Dr CAM CALDER (National) to the Minister for Courts: What progress is the Government making on improving the collection of court fines and reparations?
Hon CHESTER BORROWS (Minister for Courts): Excellent progress. Last year the Collections Department started a data-match regime with the Inland Revenue Department and the Ministry of Social Development to locate defaulters on fines who had “gone, no address” and would not be located. They anticipated that they would recover about $15 million in the first year, but after only 7 months they have already recovered $16 million, and this is excellent progress.
Dr Cam Calder: Is this all that the Government is doing to improve the collection of fines and reparations?
Hon CHESTER BORROWS: No, it is not. Last year the Government passed the Courts and Criminal Matters Bill, which allowed for credit checks to be made by credit agencies to find out just who owed what on fines, principally to prospective borrowers from those credit rating agencies. This amounted to a further gain in fines collected from these defaulters. Also, next year the Collections Department will be able to suspend drivers’ licences for those people who owe traffic fines, and this will recover more money, while taking those negligent drivers off the road. Along with other matters, this will reinforce that fines are an effective sanction within our criminal justice system.
Schools, Class Sizes—Teacher to Pupil Ratios
10. Hon NANAIA MAHUTA (Labour—Hauraki-Waikato) to the Minister of Education: When did she inform Cabinet of the 2 FTTE cap on teacher losses and what is the estimated reduction in the savings she has budgeted from class size increases that this policy will have?
Hon HEKIA PARATA (Minister of Education): Talofa lava, Mr Speaker. To the first part of the question, as examples and concerns came to light early in the week, a group of senior Ministers was asked to look at the transition options and spell them out earlier, to alleviate many of the concerns raised. To the second part of the question, none, because the contingency fund for transition options had been set aside.
Hon Nanaia Mahuta: How much funding has she set aside in the contingency fund for transition costs, and is this enough to cover the cost of the two full-time teacher equivalent loss cap in each of the next 4 years?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: We have set aside between $10 million and $20 million in each of the next 3 years. We are unable to be more specific than that, because, of course, rolls will not be cast until September, as the member knows.
Hon Nanaia Mahuta: Will the amount of funding to be invested in better quality teaching be reduced as a result of her announcement yesterday; and will the commitment to work specifically with Christchurch schools remain?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: To the first part of the question, no, and to the second part, yes.
Hon Nanaia Mahuta: I seek leave to table a document that shows that only—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member must cite the source of the document first.
Hon Nanaia Mahuta: It is from the Ministry of Education, and shows that only 14 days have been set aside for Government consultation with the education sector in Christchurch to comment on the draft education renewal recovery programme.
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.
Chris Hipkins: Did Cabinet sign off on the new teacher staffing ratios, including the policy of merging technology staffing into the general staffing ratios, prior to the announcement being made on 16 May?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: Both proposals were taken to Cabinet and Cabinet approved them.
Chris Hipkins: Did she ask for, or receive, a list of the schools that would lose or gain more than one teacher as a result of the new ratios, prior to taking the policy to Cabinet for approval; if not, why did she not ask for that list?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: We have made it clear time and again that 90 percent of schools can expect to lose up to one, or gain one, full-time teacher equivalent, and that 10 percent would have a greater impact.
Chris Hipkins: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. With all due respect, that was not my question. My question was around whether she had asked for a list—
Mr SPEAKER: I invite the member to repeat his question.
Chris Hipkins: Thank you, Mr Speaker. Did she ask for, or receive, a list of the schools that would lose or gain more than one teacher as a result of the new ratios, prior to taking the policy to Cabinet for approval; if not, why did she not ask for that list?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: I did not ask for a list of the 2,436 schools. It was based on forecast modelling of their rolls now and what they might be in the future.
Chris Hipkins: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I wonder whether you would allow me to repeat the question a third time, because it still has not been addressed.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I believe that the Minister has answered it, because I think the answer was no.
Chris Hipkins: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I did not ask her about a list of all the schools. I did not ask her about the impact on all the schools. I asked her specifically to refer back to what she had referred to—the 10 percent of schools that would lose or gain more than one. That was what I was asking about—240 schools. She referred to all schools. That was not what I asked.
Mr SPEAKER: I hear the member’s point, but my interpretation of the Minister’s answer was no, and if I am wrong in that the Minister had better correct the impression gained. I heard the member’s question and the way that the Minister shaped her answer. I cannot dictate how Ministers should shape their answer, but from the way that she shaped her answer it appeared to me that she was saying no to the member’s question. If I am wrong in understanding that from what the Minister said, I invite the Minister to answer further, but I do not think she—
Chris Hipkins: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I think your interpretation of the Minister’s answer was very useful. However, it leaves the Opposition in an interesting position, where the Minister’s answer is not clear and we are left relying on your interpretation of it, because actually it is not what the Minister has said; it is what you have interpreted it as being. I actually think if that was what the Minister was going to stand up and say, that would be fine, but it is very difficult for us to go back and ask on a future date further questions of the Minister, when in fact it is not actually her answer that we have got; it is your interpretation of it.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: It is becoming quite a habit now for two things to happen. One is for the Opposition to assert that the answer given to a question was not an answer to the question asked, and for there to be some interpretation given of it. I think that is becoming a problem, frankly. But I would like to say in this case that the Minister said she did not seek a specific list of schools, and then went on to explain that the macro policy was discussed at Cabinet level. That is a perfectly legitimate answer to the most salient part of his question, which is all that can be expected.
Hon Trevor Mallard: The problem is—and I am sure that you will be able to interpret for the Leader of the House—that the Minister in fact did not refer to the 240 schools about which my colleague had asked, but to the 100 percent, the 2,400 schools. If she had referred to the 10 percent of schools or used the figure of 240, and had said she had not asked for that list, then, of course, we
would have accepted the answer. The problem was that she said she did not ask for a list of 2,400 schools.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I think this particular primary question was a very fair, straight question on a matter of some public interest, and that is why I have been quite careful to make sure answers are being given to this question—because it was an absolutely straight question seeking information. And the supplementary questions have been in pretty similar vein, and that was why I invited the member to repeat his question. My dilemma is that I cannot go on indefinitely inviting members to repeat questions, and that is why there came a point where I assisted by interpreting the Minister’s answer. I said that as I understood the answer given, the answer to the member’s question about whether she had sought information on the list of schools that would be losing teachers—how many teachers those schools would be losing—the Minister did not give an absolutely direct answer to it, and I accept that, but my interpretation of her answer was that she was actually in fact saying no in a roundabout way. When I stood and said that that was my understanding of her answer, the Minister nodded. So she has made it very clear to the House that that is in fact what her answer was saying. There is a limit to how much I can keep going back to Ministers and saying their answers are not clear. But it works reasonably well. I think that on this occasion members have got reasonably clear answers to their questions.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am not relitigating it at all but just now asking, going forward, whether it will be in order for members from this side, when we are submitting primary questions, to submit them in the form “further to the Speaker’s interpretation of the Minister’s answer”, because we have got an interpretation now that was not available without a nod and a wink to you from the Minister, when you made it clear.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: It probably does indicate the difficulty that we get into when there is too much generosity shown by the Speaker in trying to explain why a ruling has been made—
Mr SPEAKER: No, no. Order! I am not going to take more of this.
Hon David Cunliffe: From that generous member.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! This is a very serious matter. The question asked was straight. I would have preferred the Minister to answer the question. And the answer seemed to be very clear—no, she did not seek that information. That was very clear. Given the fact that the Leader of the House feels I have been too generous, I invite the member to repeat his question. The House deserves an answer to what was a very straight question.
Chris Hipkins: Did she ask for or receive a list of the schools that would lose or gain more than one teacher as a result of the new ratios, prior to taking the policy to Cabinet; if not, why did she not ask for that list?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: No, I did not.
Canterbury and Christchurch, Recovery—Funding for Resurveying
11. NICKY WAGNER (National—Christchurch Central) to the Minister for Land
Information: What steps has the Government taken in relation to land information to further help the rebuilding of Christchurch?
Hon MAURICE WILLIAMSON (Minister for Land Information): In Budget 2012, the Government has granted a further $800,000 in new operating funding to Land Information New Zealand for the 2012-13 year so that the vital resurveying of the Canterbury region can continue. The funding, which will come from the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Fund, will go towards restoring the survey control network that was badly damaged in the Canterbury earthquakes.
Nicky Wagner: How will the repair of the survey network help the rebuilding of Christchurch?
Hon MAURICE WILLIAMSON: Repairing the survey control network will allow property boundaries to be accurately determined. This will allow home and business owners to carry out land and rebuilding work. It will also allow infrastructure, such as roads, water, and waste-water networks, to be confidently designed and reinstated. It will also aid the mitigation and definition of
hazards such as flooding due to land subsidence. The Government is committed to rebuilding Canterbury following the devastating earthquakes, and this funding will enable infrastructure to be rebuilt and will help residents plan for their future.
Tax Credits—Advice on Changes Affecting Children
12. GRANT ROBERTSON (Deputy Leader—Labour) to the Prime Minister: When did he first find out about the changes to the tax credit for children, such as paper boys and paper girls?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): In all its detail, last Monday at Cabinet, but changes to a number of tax credits, including this one, have been through the overall Budget process.
Grant Robertson: Is he telling the House that the first time Cabinet or a Cabinet committee considered changes to the tax system was just a few days before the Budget, or is he saying that he just did not read his Cabinet papers, or any other Budget papers, before last Monday?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No.
Grant Robertson: Did either Peter Dunne or Bill English inform him before the meeting of Cabinet last Monday that the tax changes in the Budget would remove the tax credit for paper boys and paper girls?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I do not specifically remember them using the terms paper boys or paper girls, but what they did say is that it would remove the tax status for those who earn $2,340 from PAYE income. The reason they explained that—
Grant Robertson: Why did you say Monday? Was that on Monday?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Do not act like a buffoon. The reason that they said that was that this was brought in in 1978, when people were paper based and small employers did not want to have to go through all of the hassle of having to record very small employees. What ended up happening in those situations was that the situation has now turned around. We have electronic systems, the cost of filing for this was about 20 percent for every person, and the Inland Revenue Department costs were over and above that, so the thing was not worth it. Only half the people took it, and the people who largely took it came from well-off backgrounds, because their families had an accountant to do it. What the Government actually has done is say to all of the babysitters out there: “Hey, good news! Now when you get paid your—I don’t know—100 bucks more than that on Saturday night for your babysitting, or 50 bucks, guess what, you don’t have to pay tax on it.” That is what the Government has done. Under Labour, babysitters had to pay tax on Saturday nights.
Grant Robertson: What has changed about his view on taking income away from children since 2008, when, according to the Manawatu Standard, he borrowed money from a Palmerston North student to play a video game and said: “Make sure I pay you back. I don’t want to take any pocket money.”?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: We gave all of the babysitters and cash workers who earn under $2,340 a tax-free status. We did not do what Labour did in the 1980s when it brought in resident withholding tax and charged it to paper boys. I pay my debts. I remember with the Labour Party it took about 9 months to get it to pay back the credit card.
Grant Robertson: Given his lack of knowledge of these changes, and the debacle over class sizes, which of the following best describes his approach as Prime Minister to managing the Budget process: one, a spectator at a Blues Super 15 game; two, a disinterested bystander at a car accident; or, three, an audience member at a free-form jazz concert?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: None of the above. Someone who has to come to the House on Tuesdays and Wednesdays and answer questions from buffoons like him.
Grant Robertson: I am going to be seeking leave to table a document. I know that we do not normally table news articles, but this is from some time ago. It is from 16 August 2008, from the Manawatu Standard—
Mr SPEAKER: No, no, no. We do not—the member will resume his seat. We do not seek leave to table press clippings, even though occasionally they may have some entertainment value. That is not the purpose of tabling documents.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. We did not all quite hear, but I can see that it says—
Mr SPEAKER: No, order! The member will resume his seat. Order! We have had enough of that.