Questions and Answers - August 14
QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS
1. DAVID SHEARER (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does he stand by all his recent statements?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Acting Prime Minister): Yes.
David Shearer: Does he stand by his statement that people should not be hung up on the fact that teachers without qualifications will be able to teach New Zealand children at charter schools?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Yes.
David Shearer: Does he also stand by his statement: “It’s not the class sizes that matter; it’s the quality of teaching that we’re getting in our schools.”, and how can he guarantee quality of teachers when teachers will not actually need to be qualified?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: As the member knows, the issue of whether teachers are qualified is being discussed in the context of charter schools, which will offer an element of choice, although a very small element of choice, in the general school system. All other schools will continue to run with registered teachers.
David Shearer: When he said, after his U-turn on class sizes: “We have to find another way to go to lift those teacher quality outcomes. And we’ll go away and do that.”, was having teachers without qualifications what he had in mind?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: In respect of the State-run schools, no. In respect of the charter schools, it is an aspect of providing choices for young New Zealanders that are not currently available to them.
David Shearer: Did he read the advice from the Ministry of Education on charter schools, which said that “There is the challenge of ensuring that students are not put at risk by mentors who are not necessarily subject to professional licensing.”; if so, why is he putting students at risk?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Young New Zealanders in those terms are often working with adults who are not their parents but who are not subject to professional registration in the school system all the time. They go to music classes, they go to sports—well, in fact, they go on sports teams. They spend a significant, a material, part of their day with people who are not registered teachers but who, in my experience, do a very fine job of inspiring and motivating our young people.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Standing by his statements, why is the Prime Minister maintaining that the first he knew of Kim Dotcom’s name was the day before the police raid on Mr Dotcom’s mansion, when that mansion and Mr Dotcom were in his own electorate, Mr Dotcom’s staff had long ago visited the Prime Minister’s electorate clinic, making the Prime Minister possibly the only person in that electorate who had not heard of Mr Dotcom?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I do not know which statement the member is referring to.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. With respect, this was a question about the Prime Minister standing by his statements. If the Acting Prime Minister does not know the Prime Minister has made statements about Kim Dotcom, then I am absolutely astonished.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! That may well be the case, but the Minister answered the question. He said he was not aware of those statements, and that is an answer to the question—[Interruption] I am still on my feet.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am sorry; I was caught by your dipping, yet again. The point that I would like to make is that the Deputy Prime Minister was answering on behalf of the Prime Minister, and if he is saying that the Prime Minister does not remember making the statement, then that would be appropriate, but as the Acting Prime Minister, he should, I think, probably differentiate himself from the Prime Minister when he is answering in that way.
Mr SPEAKER: I think the member’s point of order is well made—that a Minister answering on behalf of another Minister, including the Prime Minister, is answering on their behalf, and the answer does indicate what the Minister to whom the question was put, in this case the Prime Minister, would have said, unless the Minister answering indicates they are not in a position to know that information. The Minister answering the question may wish to clarify whether he as the Deputy Prime Minister answering on behalf of the Prime Minister was not aware of such statements or whether, answering on behalf of the Prime Minister, the Prime Minister was not aware of such statements. The Minister may wish to clarify that.
Hon BILL ENGLISH: On behalf of the Prime Minister, I do not know what statements the member is referring to.
Mr SPEAKER: I thank the Minister. The Rt Hon Winston Peters.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: How can he—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I have called the Rt Hon Winston Peters.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: How can the Prime Minister stand by that statement, given the revelation in court that the FBI had been monitoring Mr Dotcom for 2 years prior to the raid on his mansion—in the Prime Minister’s electorate—and that the Prime Minister is the Minister in charge of the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I do stand by the statement.
Cost of Living—Reports
2. Hon TAU HENARE (National) to the Minister of Finance: What reports has he received on the cost of living?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): Inflation for the year to June came in at 1 percent—the lowest rate since 1999. Food prices fell 1.8 percent in the year to the end of July. Fruit and vegetable prices fell 6.6 percent. In that year the price of grocery food was down 1.7 percent, and the price of meat and poultry was down 1.6 percent. It is good to see that inflation is relatively low. However, many families still have difficulty meeting their weekly obligations. That is why we are focused on building a faster-growing economy that supports more jobs and higher incomes.
Hon Tau Henare: How do the latest consumer price figures compare with wage movements in the past year?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Although inflation has been falling, the economy has been growing moderately, and this has been reflected in moderate average wage increases. Annual inflation is running at about 1 percent. The average wage increased by 3 percent in the past year, or 2 percent more than inflation. In addition, floating mortgage rates, at around 5.75 percent, are at their lowest level in almost 50 years. This is giving New Zealand households a small amount of freeboard, which they appear to be using to reduce their debts and increase their savings.
Hon Tau Henare: How does the current level of inflation compare with that in 2008?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Inflation is considerably lower now, probably because of the aftereffects of the global financial crisis and a generally more competitive economy. Annual inflation in November 2008 was running at 5.1 percent. That was made up of 9 years of price increases of electricity, which added up to 72 percent; floating home mortgage rates of almost 11 percent; and, of course, the economy having been in a recession for almost a year. By contrast, the lower inflation we are now experiencing, combined with steady increases in average after-tax wages, means that the real spending power of the average wage earner is increasing slightly.
Hon David Parker: Over the past 2 years have ordinary-time wages, as measured by the Labour Cost Index, grown by 4.24 percent while prices, as measured by the Consumers Price Index, have grown by 6.28 percent?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I cannot vouch for exactly those figures. What I can tell the member is that the relationship between the average ordinary-time wage and inflation has meant that superannuitants have had a New Zealand superannuation increase in each of the last 2 years in order to maintain the value of New Zealand superannuation.
Unemployment—Current Rate and Increase From 2008
3. Dr RUSSEL NORMAN (Co-Leader—Green) to the Minister for Tertiary Education,
Skills and Employment: How many New Zealanders are unemployed and by how many has that number increased since the quarter immediately before National came to power in 2008?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment): The household labour force survey released last Thursday estimates that there are 156,400 unemployed. That is a difference of 62,500 from the third-quarter of 2008. It is important, of course, to note that one or two things have actually occurred since then: the small matter of the global financial crisis, the fact that we inherited an economy already in recession before the rest of the world, and the large earthquakes in Christchurch. I add those things because I would not want the member to end up on “Planet Labour” by mistake.
Dr Russel Norman: Given that before National came to power New Zealand had the eighthlowest unemployment in the OECD, and it has now slipped to 14th, why does the Government claim that New Zealand is doing relatively well compared with other developed countries, when, in fact, we are actually declining relative to other developed countries?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Again, unfortunately, it appears that the member has taken a wrong turn and ended up on “Planet Labour”, because the member neglects to note that the Canterbury earthquakes have had a significant impact on the New Zealand economy, and that is to be expected. We have also had the global financial crisis and a number of other challenges, in fact, including the Psa crisis. Despite that, the economy has added 77,000 net new jobs since 2009, and has been steadily growing despite the earthquake and the global financial crisis.
Dr Russel Norman: Why is the Key-Banks Government spending 75 percent of its transport infrastructure investment on new motorways, when studies show that public transport generates twice as many jobs per dollar spent compared with motorway building, and has much better economic and environmental returns?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: The obvious reason would be that people use roads and they have to be paid to use public transport.
Dr Russel Norman: Why is the Key-Banks Government fixated on risky deep-sea drilling as a jobs creation scheme, when mining is a very poor job sector—it employs only 6,000 people—while the Government is neglecting the jobs-rich manufacturing sector, which employs 247,000 New Zealanders and has shed 25,000 jobs under the Government’s watch?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: The member really does need to grow up a little bit. The reality is—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The question did ask why and therefore it is seeking the Minister’s view, but that is not an acceptable way to commence an answer.
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I was just pointing out that the member says that the mining sector is bad for the New Zealand economy, except that if you look at the unemployment rates by region around New Zealand, you find that the lowest unemployment rate is in a region known as Taranaki, which currently has a 3.8 percent unemployment rate. And if you want to look across the Tasman, the lowest unemployment rate is in a state called Western Australia, which happens to be very focused on mining and resources. So if the member wants to say that he is concerned about jobs for New Zealanders, he needs to turn round and go to some of these regions where the Greens have been protesting against opportunities for New Zealanders to have jobs, and renege on what he said previously.
Dr Russel Norman: Should not a Government that really wants to increase jobs be fixing the broken monetary policy to give our exporters and domestic manufacturers a level playing field against their international competition, and focus its efforts on industries that create jobs for New Zealanders rather than profits for foreign investors?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: The member seems to be advocating, as his economic policy, New Zealand taking a one-way bet against world currencies. Well, that generally ends in tears. If the member is actually concerned about jobs—actually concerned about jobs—he should visit places like Northland, which has the highest unemployment rate, hold a public meeting, and demand they support mining and exploration in Northland. He should go to Gisborne and tell them to support oil and gas and mineral exploration. He should support the Exclusive Economic Zone and Continental Shelf (Environmental Effects) Bill in the House today. He should support the Government building transport infrastructure, he should support our changes to the emissions trading scheme, and he should support our efforts to attract—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The answer is not an opportunity for a speech.
Su’a William Sio: Does the Minister accept that he is responsible for New Zealand’s continued high unemployment rate, despite thousands of Kiwis heading to Australia and a reported rise in job vacancies, because of his failure to provide skills training opportunities for New Zealanders?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: As I was saying to the other member, if the member is concerned about job opportunities for New Zealanders in this country rather than Australia, he should join the Government in promoting the opportunities for growth in this country, instead of, as Labour and the Greens are doing, opposing the opportunities for growth, opposing a convention centre in Auckland, opposing oil and gas exploration, and opposing the intensification of agriculture. Those are the things that create jobs.
Su’a William Sio: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am able to repeat the question again, and you will find that I do not believe that the Minister took the time to consider what I have asked for.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: We’d prefer you to repeat some of your comments from last week.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The honourable Leader of the House knows he should not be interjecting when a point of order is being considered. I think the question was seeking a Minister’s view on a certain matter, asking why certain things were happening. The Minister, in his answer, indicated that in his view one of the reasons was a lack of support for some things that he believed were creating jobs. Whether or not that is the answer the member was looking for—it may not be the answer the member was looking for—it is an answer to the question.
Dr Russel Norman: Why does this Government feel that it has any expertise or authority to lecture anyone on job creation when under its watch 65,000 New Zealanders have been thrown into unemployment, New Zealand has declined from the eighth-lowest unemployment in the OECD to the fourteenth-lowest unemployment, it promised to deliver 36,000 jobs last year and delivered half of that, and we now have the highest number of unemployed since 1994; on what basis does it have the right lecture anyone?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I am assuming I will get a little bit of time for the answer, Mr Speaker. The only person doing the lecturing in this Chamber is the Green co-leader Russel Norman, who
sits there and says that the only way to create jobs is to take taxpayers’ money and subsidise things that are not happening anyway, and, in the meantime, stop every economic opportunity that would help New Zealanders have jobs in this country. He would prefer to see their jobs exported to Australia and then whinge about it.
Mr SPEAKER: Question No. 4, the honourable—[Interruption] Order! The House has let off a bit of steam, but I want it to come back to order.
4. Hon DAVID PARKER (Labour) to the Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills and
Employment: How many people were employed in the manufacturing sector when he took office in 2008, and how many people are employed in the manufacturing sector now, according to the most recent data produced by Statistics New Zealand?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment): There were 272,000 people employed in the manufacturing sector in the September 2008 quarter, out of a total New Zealand employment of 2,194,000. The most recent data shows 247,000 people employed in manufacturing, out of a total employment of 2,227,000. It is interesting, though, that it was in decline in 2008, and was growing in 2010 and 2011. The unique aspect of 2008, of course, is that we had already been in a recession that had been domestically generated in 2008 by the previous Government, and the manufacturing sector grew in 2010 and 2011.
Hon David Parker: Are job losses in manufacturing contributed to by the high New Zealand dollar—[Interruption] Mr Speaker—
Mr SPEAKER: Order!
Hon David Parker: Are the job losses in manufacturing contributed to by the high New Zealand dollar; if so, what is his Government going to do about it?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Job losses in manufacturing are caused by a range of things. It is important to note that while jobs have been declining in the manufacturing sector, they have been increasing in sectors such as transport, primary industries, education, and health care over the same period. It is also important to note that they declined, as I said, for some significant period in the latter half of the time of the previous Government. I think the challenge is how to grow the highvalue manufacturing sector, and this Government is very focused on a range of initiatives in doing that—
Andrew Little: So what are you doing about it?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: —including the Advanced Technology Institute. I am happy to give you some information about that, Mr Little. The Advanced Technology Institute has been announced by the Government. It will be assisting firms by providing opportunities to research and increase their innovation, and help grow the value of their goods and products, and help them export.
Hon David Parker: Was Steve Rowntree, the head of products at Flotech, right when he said that a significant reason that his company was closing, with the loss of 61 jobs, was the strength of the New Zealand dollar?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I cannot make any particular comment about Mr Rowntree’s comments. Obviously, he is in a better position to judge his business than anybody else is. But it is important to note that there have been very significant opportunities for growth in New Zealand over the same period. In fact, as late as last week I noticed that IBM and Unitech have announced plans for 400 new jobs at Unitech in terms of the information and communications technology sector on the Unitech campus. I would also note that as late as yesterday the Stronger Canterbury rebuild alliance announced that it will need a thousand more—
Grant Robertson: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. That was a very direct question about a specific—
Mr SPEAKER: I think the member makes a reasonable point that it was quite a direct question, and in all the answer given, actually, the Minister did not mention anything to do with the dollar, at all. But the answer, I think, had gone on quite long enough.
Hon David Parker: Does he agree with the Prime Minister that current monetary policy is “working well”, given that under the current policy the high dollar is causing exporters to shut up shop and lay off workers, or was Ian Hunter, the co-owner of Canterbury Leather International, wrong when he said that the high currency meant his business was not competitive any more, prompting a loss of 55 jobs, or was Damian Camp, the Chief Executive of Pacific Aerospace, wrong when he said that the high Kiwi dollar had caused the laying off of 27 of his highly skilled staff?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: In answer to the first part of the member’s question, I think monetary policy is challenging for some employers at the moment, and particularly for people who sell in US dollars. But if they sell in Australian dollars—and, of course, many of our manufacturers and employers do—it is actually at one of the most competitive rates it has been for many a year. There is no doubt about it: the world economies have been changing dramatically. What I am saying is that there are opportunities for some and difficulties for others. If you look at some of the opportunities—[Interruption] Well, I will give you some of the examples that are there. Methanex, of course, has just created about 500 jobs—weirdly enough, in Taranaki, as it upgrades its operations there. We also have ait Communications in Christchurch, which has just won some contracts in the US. It has increased its staff to the extent that it now has 900 employees.
Child Poverty, Abuse, and Neglect—Submissions on Green Paper for Vulnerable Children
5. Peseta SAM LOTU-IIGA (National—Maungakiekie) to the Minister for Social
Development: What reports has she received on the public submissions on the Green Paper for Vulnerable Children about how to better protect our most vulnerable children from abuse and neglect?
Hon PAULA BENNETT (Minister for Social Development): Today we released a summary of submissions on the Green Paper for Vulnerable Children, and over 600 full submissions from various organisations. There has been a huge level of public debate on this. The number of submissions has been impressive, to say the least. At the 17 green paper meetings that I fronted around the country I was just hugely impressed with people’s willingness to come forward and actually give their opinions. This process has resulted in almost 10,000 submissions made by nongovernmental organisations, community groups, and members of the public, including over 2,000 from children and young people.
Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga: Why release the submissions summary and the submissions?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: Because of transparency. This was a very open and public consultation process, so I felt it was important to release as much of this information as possible. Ideally I would release all of the submissions, but many people provided very personal information, as they wanted to relate their own horror stories so that future children would have better outcomes, and I am going to respect them and this process.
Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga: What was the methodology for analysing the submissions, and how has it helped drafting the white paper?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: All submissions were given unique identifying numbers. Various ideas from the submissions were grouped into common categories, and the frequency with which each idea came up was recorded. This process allowed the team of analysts to describe the submissions’ common ideas and opinions, and indicated how often submitters raised a particular idea. These submissions are playing a significant role in the writing of the white paper.
Poverty Reduction—Minister’s Statements
6. JACINDA ARDERN (Labour) to the Minister for Social Development: Does she stand by her statement “I want to make sure the Ministry of Social Development is focused on its core responsibilities in the years ahead, in particular those families stuck in long-term poverty. I don’t underestimate the challenges associated with this, but I intend to make it a priority.”?
Hon PAULA BENNETT (Minister for Social Development): I stand by the full quote in its context, and that is: “The fact that a substantial group of deprived New Zealanders has continued throughout a decade of relative prosperity”—and I was saying this under the previous Labour Government; this was in 2008—“underlines the challenges we face in stopping that group from growing much larger, with harder times looming. I want to make sure the Ministry of Social Development”—and so on, as the member put forth.
Jacinda Ardern: How many children in New Zealand are currently living in poverty?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: There is in New Zealand no actual poverty line, so, as such, that is a very open question.
Jacinda Ardern: If poverty is her priority, has the Ministerial Committee on Poverty set any goals for poverty reduction during the four meetings it has held; if so, what are they?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: If the member has specific questions about that committee, she should address them to the chair of that committee, who, as she knows, is Minister English. However, I can say that there is a lot of work going on, amongst that, across a whole wide range. Whether it is from housing to education, it is getting things done, and that is the reality of it, instead of just worrying about measurements.
Jacinda Ardern: If poverty is her priority, why is it not one of her key platforms in her Green Paper for Vulnerable Children?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: I did see a press release from the member today saying that poverty is not in the green paper. That, actually, is factually incorrect. It is in the green paper, and it is certainly being addressed. It has come through in submissions, and I am sure the member can wait to see the white paper to see it in there.
Jacinda Ardern: If poverty is one of her priorities, why has she not done any work to establish a poverty line, as Unicef and other OECD nations have, to measure how many children are living in poverty in New Zealand?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: That member’s party had 9 years to do that, and did not. I do not see that as a priority—
Hon Members: Oh!
Hon PAULA BENNETT: Well, I do not see the measurement as a priority, and I will stand here quite willingly. What we have done is we have protected benefits for those who need them most. We have locked in CPI increases, we have insulated homes for those who need it most, and we have got under-sixes actually now getting free 24/7 medical care. We have protected those incomes for those who need them most, more than the previous Government did, and we shall continue to do so.
Housing New Zealand Corporation—Time Frames for Maintenance Requests
7. HOLLY WALKER (Green) to the Minister of Housing: What are Housing New Zealand’s time frames for responding to maintenance requests, and in what percentage of cases are those timeframes met?
Hon PHIL HEATLEY (Minister of Housing): I am advised that response times are determined by the urgency of work. This is categorised in three ways: urgent health and safety, which needs to be responded to within 4 hours, and recent results are 93 percent of jobs completed within that time frame; urgent responsive maintenance, which does not meet the health and safety criteria but is of an urgent nature, which should be completed within 2 working days, and recent results are 93 percent of those jobs completed within the time frame; and general responsive maintenance, which is work that includes general repairs and must be responded to within 10 working days, and 91
percent of those jobs have been completed within the time frame recently. Where work will take longer to complete, I am advised that the corporation ensures there is no health and safety risk at the property and, when necessary, supplies tenants with interim measures until the work can be completed.
Holly Walker: Does Housing New Zealand Corporation keep records of how many maintenance requests are outstanding at any given time; if so, how many are currently outstanding?
Hon PHIL HEATLEY: Housing New Zealand Corporation records all maintenance requests and, clearly, makes a judgment whether those are sensible requests and maintenance does need to be done. Clearly, it measures how many are responded to—in most cases it is well over 90 percent—so I would imagine it would have a record of what requests that have credibility have yet to be responded to. But I must say that not every request for maintenance is necessarily one that is credible, because sometimes people would like a couple of garages, some carports, or whatever, which may not fit within maintenance criteria.
Holly Walker: Can he confirm that the urgent health and safety maintenance that should be responded to within 4 hours can include correcting faults with toilets and drains; if so, why was a tenant in Invercargill, who discovered her toilet leaking in January, left to wait until August for it to be repaired, while black mould caused by the leaks spread from the bathroom to the hall and into a child’s bedroom, making her family sick?
Hon PHIL HEATLEY: With 69,000 houses there is a possibility that for some reason a request has not been attended to. I would not necessarily know about every request. What might be of interest to the member is that if it is a health and safety issue, the corporation will respond. But reasons for not responding can include being unable to contact the tenant to arrange a time, the tenant refusing contractors access, or that a specific product or material is required that needs to be ordered. I am not saying that was the case in this instance; I am unfamiliar with this instance, and this instance at this stage to me is just an allegation. I would be happy to pass it on to the corporation should the member pass me more detail.
Holly Walker: I seek leave to table a time line from that tenant outlining her communications with Housing New Zealand Corporation in the months from January to August.
Mr SPEAKER: The time line is prepared by that tenant? 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.
Holly Walker: Can he confirm that urgent health and safety maintenance that should be responded to within 4 hours can include fixing a broken exterior door or window; if so, why was a tenant in Porirua, who rang the 0800 number to request that a gap in her exterior window be fixed because it was making her house and her children cold, told that it was Housing New Zealand Corporation’s safety policy to leave gaps in windows so that smoke could escape during a fire?
Hon PHIL HEATLEY: As I say, I am not across all 69,000 State house requests, but what I can say is that urgent responsive maintenance is work that does not meet the health and safety criteria but is of an urgent nature—for example, the repair of a smoke detector when there are still other working smoke detectors in the home. This should be completed in 2 days. I welcome the member passing on those allegations; at this stage they remain just allegations. If it needs to be addressed, I am sure the corporation will address it.
Holly Walker: Given those examples, will he require Housing New Zealand Corporation to publicly report the number of outstanding maintenance requests at any given time to ensure that Housing New Zealand Corporation is not routinely breaking the law under the Residential Tenancies Act 1986?
Hon PHIL HEATLEY: No, I am comfortable with the corporation reporting to shareholding Ministers, and, more particularly, its board on its response times. Obviously, response times are over 90 percent, which is good. There is always room for improvement. If the member wants such
urgent attention given to State houses, why does she wait a couple of weeks until question time to raise it with me? Why does she not just contact my office or the corporation directly?
8. KATRINA SHANKS (National) to the Minister for Courts: What recent announcements has he made on the modernisation of our courts system?
Hon CHESTER BORROWS (Minister for Courts): August has already seen two more worthwhile steps taken towards modernising our court system. From this month, applications to challenge a fine can be made online, and last week I announced changes to allow disputes tribunal applications to be made online. Last year there were almost 50,000 of these two types of applications, and they were all made in hard copy. Moving these two applications to the internet is long overdue, and will save New Zealanders’ time and allow courts to offer a customer-friendly, cost-effective service that Kiwis expect.
Katrina Shanks: What other measures are already in place to make better use of new technology in the court system?
Hon CHESTER BORROWS: These two are just the latest in a long line of improvements this Government has made to bring courts into the 21st century. For example, we have introduced audiovisual links between courts and prisons for many criminal hearings, saving money and improving public safety, and we are just getting started with audiovisual links. We have moved to a national model for collecting fines, which has already cut overdue fines from 48 percent to 44 percent. And we are well on the way to delivering the electronic operating model to courts, which will remove 93,000 hours per year of needless paperwork from our justice system and allow it to be reallocated to more proactive work.
Charles Chauvel: Can the Minister confirm that in his coming announcement on permanent courthouse closures, officials have advised him to include the Ōpōtiki, Upper Hutt, Feilding, Rangiora, and Balclutha courthouses in the list of courthouses to be permanently closed?
Hon CHESTER BORROWS: No decisions have been made in respect of the review of court services around New Zealand. We are aware, for instance, that there have been courts closed obviously for seismic risk. We are grateful for the help and the way that those local communities have responded to those closures. We are expecting to make further announcements before the end of the year as to what shape the new courts model will be in.
Charles Chauvel: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I very carefully worded my question—
Mr SPEAKER: I think I can save some time. The member asked whether the Minister had received advice on the closure of certain courts, and the Minister, in his answer, made no reference to advice. He said no decisions had been made, but the question did not ask whether any decisions had been made. It asked whether the Minister had received advice in respect of those courts.
Hon CHESTER BORROWS: I have received advice in respect of court services around New Zealand. That advice has related to a number of courts, including the courts that were named by the member, but no decisions have been made yet and I am not in a position to progress that further.
Education, National Standards—Data
9. Hon NANAIA MAHUTA (Labour—Hauraki-Waikato) to the Minister of Education: Does she agree with the Prime Minister that National Standards data is currently “very ropey”?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister for Economic Development) on behalf of the Minister of
Education: I can confirm she agrees with the Prime Minister that as this is the first year of reporting national standards data, it provides a baseline from which improvements can be made. That is why the Minister announced last week a plan to do so. She has herself described the data as variable. This is because of the way schools have reported it, not because it is invalid. For example, some schools have presented it as graphs, some have sent in percentages or text, some have presented year-level information, and others have aggregated by school. The Government is
implementing a plan to ensure that national standards data is more useful and meaningful for parents, including the implementation of a consistent reporting format by school and by year level.
Hon Nanaia Mahuta: Is she confident that by publicly releasing inaccurate data in September under her Public Achievement Information initiative, parents will gain an accurate impression of how well their children’s learning is progressing, how effective a school’s teaching practice is, or how well a school is performing; if not, is that ka pai?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: It is not correct to say the data is inaccurate. The data is variable in its presentation, but it is still valid. It will show parents how their child’s school is achieving and progressing against the national standards in reading, writing, and maths. That will keep parents up to date on how their children are doing—which children are falling behind—and help the Government target resources to where they are needed the most.
Hon Nanaia Mahuta: Can the Minister explain to the House the difference between variable data and inaccurate data in relation to the way in which national standards are reported?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Well, I thought that I did do that in the answer to the first question, the primary question. It is because the variability is in the way the data is reported, not because it is not valid in itself. For example, some schools have presented it as graphs, others have sent it in as percentages or text, some have presented year-level information, while others have been aggregated by school level. That is the variability in the presentation of the data.
Hon Nanaia Mahuta: Is she aware that a recent Education Review Office report found one-fifth of schools were not fully implementing national standards, and how does she propose to standardise reporting by schools to ensure parents receive robust and accurate information about their children’s learning in a school, and what investment will be made in the moderation and overall teacher judgment element of that process?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: A number of those things are ongoing. I think it is important to note that we have not said that the national standards performance would be perfect straight away. The National Certificate of Educational Achievement was, in fact, the same, if members recall. It took 10 years to develop the high level of consistency and reporting that we now have. Similarly, the development of the curriculum—the world-leading curriculum—took time to develop. For national standards we are implementing a plan over the next few years to improve the quality of the data, along with a consistent reporting format, and that will be in place over the next couple of years.
State Housing, Auckland—Minister’s Visit to Symonds Street Property
10. NIKKI KAYE (National—Auckland Central) to the Minister of Housing: What reports has he received on his alleged visit to 44 Symonds Street earlier this year?
Hon PHIL HEATLEY (Minister of Housing): I have received a number of reports on this matter. On 2 August 2012 the Hon Annette King gave me the credit for new lino at the entrance of 44 Symonds Street, and I have to admit that I was delighted to imagine the residents enjoying their new, clean, sparkling flooring. However, a search in my diary and checking by my staff and the Housing New Zealand Corporation suggests that I have not visited 44 Symonds Street this year. In fact, as far we can determine, I have not visited 44—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I apologise to the Minister, but I cannot hear a thing with that level of noise. [Interruption] Order! I am on my feet. We will have a reasonable level of interjection.
Hon PHIL HEATLEY: In fact, I have not visited 44 Symonds Street as Minister, and I would welcome the member proving her claims to the contrary. So although the Symonds Street ministerial lino makes for a fascinating story, I am afraid I need to tell the House that it appears to be misinformed.
Nikki Kaye: What reports has he received on maintenance at 44 Symonds Street?
Hon PHIL HEATLEY: Although I cannot take credit for the lino, I am happy to inform the Hon Annette King that her assertion that this is the only maintenance on the flats in the last 4 years was also incorrect. In fact, I am advised by the corporation that in the 3 years from 2009 to 2011
over $350,000 has been spent on work in the flats. This is $150,000 more than the previous Government spent in the 3 years from 2006 to 2008. So can I say to members on that side of the House that instead of coming in here with tales about visits or fictitious stories about flats with no maintenance, maybe they could contribute to the solution and support us at every turn—instead of opposing us at every turn—to make State housing a better place in New Zealand.
Hon Annette King: When—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I want to hear this question.
Hon Annette King: When he said recently that he knew he was a very effective Minister because new lino had been put down at the foyer of 44 Symonds Street when he visited the flats, is he now saying that he is not a very effective Minister at all because they got the lino without his help; and did the tenants meet a Phil Heatley imposter or was it a linocut of him?
Hon PHIL HEATLEY: Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha! No amount of joking—no amount of joking—is going to get past—
Hon Annette King: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! Now the House will come to order. A point of order has been called.
Hon Annette King: That is a very, very unusual way of answering a question—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I accept it was unusual, but I did not hear anything out of order.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I wonder whether you could dig deep back into your history of understanding internal animal noises to identify the animal.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! We have had enough, we have—[Interruption] Order! The House will come to—[Interruption] Order! We have had sufficient.
Hon PHIL HEATLEY: No amount of joking about this gets past the fact that the member incorrectly said that I visited the place, and tabled documents in the House—or at least attempted to—and incorrectly said there was no maintenance. They may tell jokes and make jokes, but my point is this: media need to check very carefully when Annette King—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! That is sufficient. We are not going to have members attacking questioners in that manner. The Minister had made his point perfectly clearly without that.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am sorry; I had assumed that the Minister was going to correct his previous answer at this point.
Mr SPEAKER: The Minister had answered the question asked, and—
Hon Trevor Mallard: No, no, from the previous—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! That is not a point of order. The member knows that.
11. BRENDAN HORAN (NZ First) to the Associate Minister of Transport: Is he satisfied that everything is being done to maintain KiwiRail safety?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES (Associate Minister of Transport): Yes, and can I take this opportunity in Rail Safety Week to commend the great work that KiwiRail and the Chris Cairns Foundation are doing right now to raise awareness about the dangers around rail tracks and crossings for pedestrians.
Brendan Horan: How can he claim that rail safety is being maintained when rotten sleepers remain in place at critical locations on the rail network?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: I think it is worth taking this in context. There are some 7,000 hardwood sleepers that are showing signs of premature decay. That is 0.12 percent of the 6 million - odd sleepers in the network. KiwiRail is taking this very seriously. It has taken action to test, inspect, and replace the sleepers, and has assured me and the public that it would not run services if it considered that there was any risk to public safety.
Brendan Horan: How can he claim that rail safety is being maintained when almost 200 KiwiRail maintenance staff are being made redundant despite the backlog of maintenance, including thousands of rotten railway sleepers not yet replaced?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: Well, because the Turnaround Plan that KiwiRail is instituting is about business sustainability and putting precious funds to their best possible uses, but in no way, shape, or form is this compromising safety.
Brendan Horan: Given the extent of rotten sleepers at critical level crossings, will he take responsibility for any accidents that occur through a failure of those sleepers?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: I am not aware of any safety issues where sleepers are leading to safety issues. Of the two cases where sleepers that were decaying could possibly have caused derailments, they were not, as I understand it, near level crossings.
KiwiRail—Financial Targets in Turnaround Plan
12. PHIL TWYFORD (Labour—Te Atatū) to the Minister for State Owned Enterprises: What advice has he received on the likelihood of KiwiRail finding $3.85 billion from its own balance sheet as required by the Turnaround Plan?
Hon TONY RYALL (Minister for State Owned Enterprises): I am advised there is little likelihood that KiwiRail will find the $3.85 billion projected in the original 10-year Turnaround Plan, launched in early 2010. KiwiRail’s business has been affected significantly since that time by the Christchurch earthquakes, the Pike River mine disaster, and, of course, the economic downturn. KiwiRail expects to have a smaller amount of free cash-flow available for reinvestment in the business, and risks continue. However, it is clear that KiwiRail has a much greater understanding of its business drivers, and the company believes it remains on track to meet the original Turnaround Plan objective of viability.
Phil Twyford: Is he concerned that KiwiRail is laying off 181 workers and deferring network maintenance in order to meet the Turnaround Plan’s financial targets, when improving the state of the network is the very thing that will allow KiwiRail to reduce journey times and be more competitive with long-haul trucking?
Hon TONY RYALL: The board of KiwiRail is determined to achieve the objective of the Turnaround Plan. It is determined to maintain safety and it is determined to run this business efficiently. Part of that is making sure that its investments are returning against those objectives, and that is why it has made the decisions it has in respect of those infrastructure and engineering staff numbers.
Clare Curran: Does he support, in the light of the major faults identified in the Chinese - designed and built locomotives, the decision by KiwiRail’s board to not undertake a competitive tender on such a major capital acquisition; if so, why?
Hon TONY RYALL: Those decisions were managed by the board of KiwiRail and its executive. I have confidence in those people that they can turn round what can be described only as a financial basket case that this Government inherited. We are having to put $750 million of very hard-earned taxpayers’ money into this organisation. We expect to get a return for the taxpayers. We simply cannot carry on with an organisation that cannot balance its books, and that is what the Turnaround Plan is about.
Moana Mackey: Will he guarantee that the future of the Gisborne to Napier rail line will not be adversely affected by any requirement for KiwiRail to meet financial targets under the Turnaround Plan?
Hon TONY RYALL: The requirement is that there is freight on the line and in sufficient numbers to make the line viable into the future. That is what we are expecting. The Government is very well aware of the views of the Gisborne-Wairoa-Napier community in respect of that. At the same time, we must make sure that KiwiRail does get on a track to viability, because we simply
cannot have taxpayers having to put hard-earned money into this business year after year after year. That may be the sort of strange economics of the party opposite, but—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! No need for that.
Phil Twyford: Does he think that the Government’s Turnaround Plan for rail is working or not, given his earlier answer that KiwiRail will not meet the Turnaround Plan’s financial targets, given KiwiRail’s plans to sell the Hillside workshops, sell Tranz Rail, close the Gisborne-Napier line, cut the Capital Connection, the series of procurement disasters involving the rolling stock, and 7,000 rotting Peruvian rail sleepers?
Hon TONY RYALL: I think every Minister in this responsibility over the last 4 years would have told you that this has always been a very challenging task for the board of KiwiRail, its executive, and staff to meet the Turnaround Plan, and it continues to be a challenge. It is not without risks, but what I can tell the member is that at a time where there are significant demands on the Crown’s capital for schools, roads, and hospitals, we have put $750 million into this project, and, frankly, I think the spendaholics opposite would not be in a position to do anything else.
QUESTIONS TO MEMBERS
Transport, Napier-Gisborne—Submissions Received on Petition
1. MOANA MACKEY (Labour) to the Chairperson of the Transport and Industrial
Relations Committee: How many submissions have been received on the petition of Meng Foon “that the House of Representatives note that 10,240 people have signed a petition calling on KiwiRail and the Government to repair the Gisborne to Napier railway line, and that the House support this demand”?
DAVID BENNETT (Chairperson of the Transport and Industrial Relations Committee): The committee received one submission.
Moana Mackey: Is the reason that the petitioners have not been asked to provide a submission because Government members voted to block—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! That is not a supplementary question that is in order. That is a matter for the committee, not for the chair, and—[Interruption] No, the question is out of order, and the member will not interject when the Speaker is ruling.