Questions and Answers - August 15
QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS
Debt, Government—Minister’s Statements
1. Dr RUSSEL NORMAN (Co-Leader—Green) to the Minister of Finance: Does he stand by his statement that “we are firmly focused on keeping the Government’s overall debt as low as possible”?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): Yes. The Government believes it has made reasonable judgments about the appropriate use of debt. Through the recession we have borrowed extensively to support our public services and our income transfers to New Zealand families and households, as well as borrowing extensively to fund the rebuild of Canterbury. We made clear at the time of those large commitments that over time we would expect to stop borrowing more money and eventually reduce our debt. So we have had quite high levels of debt in the last couple of years—high levels of Government borrowing—but that is rapidly tailing off.
Dr Russel Norman: If the Government’s goal is to keep overall debt as low as possible, why is it planning to sell high-returning energy assets for about $6 billion, but then borrow a similar amount to build motorways with low or negative returns, which have not passed Treasury’s business case guidelines?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: There is no suggestion of the Government borrowing billions of dollars for motorways. The motorway investment is largely funded—or all funded, actually—from the dedicated road-user charges and excise tax that goes into the road-user fund.
Dr Russel Norman: Is the Minister aware of the 2011 briefing to the incoming Minister of Transport, which warns that there is a $5 billion - plus hole in the Government transport Budget over the next two decades, caused by its uneconomic motorway projects, which is similar to the amount it hopes to raise from asset sales?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I do not believe the briefing does say that. In fact, I think it is a bit of a time-honoured ritual that every incoming Minister of Transport gets told there is not enough money. Every incoming Minister of Transport, regardless of their party, tells the transport agencies to go and do a better job, and, almost inevitably, they do. Without significant increases in funding they are managing a large investment in roads, and the main reason for that is that most people drive cars and need good roads to drive on.
Dr Russel Norman: In light of the Minister’s answer, I seek to table the briefing to the incoming Minister, which says at—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! These documents are readily available. We are not going to have quotes from it for that purpose.
Hon David Parker: Did the Minister say: “Currently, the Government debt is still rising rapidly. Because we are running deficits, by 2014-15 we would hope that we were able to stop the increase
in Government debt …”; if he did say that, will he be stopping the plans by the New Zealand Transport Agency to borrow money?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Yes, I am pretty sure that I did say that; it sounds sensible to me. On the second issue, the Minister of Finance has to sign off any borrowing by the New Zealand Transport Agency, so yes, we could stop it.
Dr Russel Norman: If debt is such an important issue for this Government, why has it not reassessed the need for these motorway projects at a time of rising petrol prices and falling traffic volumes, rather than going ahead and giving itself the power to put billions of dollars on the public credit card to fund projects that have never been put through Treasury’s guidelines?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Well, the Government—both the previous Government and this Government—has done a number of assessments about the need for roads. I know that the member disagrees with some of the highway projects and favours pretty expensive rail projects that need massive public subsidies to make them work. We stand by our judgment. We believe that it will help the economy to grow and will provide better services for the public.
Maggie Barry: Has the Government succeeded in controlling the build-up of debt?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The answer to that, of course, is yes. When we came into Government in 2008 the briefings to the incoming Government showed that under the previous Government’s settings, net Government debt would reach 60 percent of GDP by 2026. As a result of the decisions that this Government has taken, we would expect net Government debt by 2026 to be around 0 percent of GDP, not 60 percent of GDP.
Dr Russel Norman: Is the Minister aware that most of the Government motorway projects have very poor returns—according to the Government numbers, for example, the Warkworth to Wellsford project would cost $1 billion to produce just $600 million in benefits, and that is a net loss—while the Budget shows that the energy assets have very good returns, well above the cost of Government borrowing?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I do not agree with the member’s numbers, but I would point out to him that it is a bit rich for the Opposition parties to campaign on dire poverty in Northland and a lack of economic opportunities, and then campaign against the most vital piece of infrastructure they need to develop their economy.
Maggie Barry: Has he seen any reports about policies that would increase the Government’s debt?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: There are so many of these reports that it is hard to keep up with them, but I can list just a few: 13 months of paid parental leave at 100 percent of the average male wage, universal student allowances for full-time tertiary students, and giving the in-work tax credit to beneficiaries, as well as the dole for all unemployed students over the summer holidays. Just this list of promises made by Opposition parties, particularly the Green Party, would cost $11 billion a year.
Dr Russel Norman: What is the logic in selling assets that produce healthy returns to the Government in the name of reducing debt, and then turning round and increasing Government debt by about the same amount to build uneconomic motorways?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Most of those statements are wrong, as the Government has said. In respect of debt, the sale of assets will mean that we can avoid borrowing another $5 billion to $7 billion in difficult global financial markets. Alongside that, the Government is overseeing pretty impressive fiscal restraint to make sure that we do not borrow any more than we need to to provide the public services that we are required to.
Dr Russel Norman: Is the real reason that the Government is planning to sell $6 billion worth of profitable strategic energy assets to avoid debt, and then borrowing about the same amount to build motorways that do not have an economic business case, that these policies are not driven by economics but by an outdated ideology from this Government, and for purely political reasons?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: No. If there is any outdated ideology, it is the ideology that says that we should spend as much as we like and borrow it all, and an ideology that is totally opposed to the private sector and economic development, as articulated by the Green Party.
Exports, Growth—Government Measures
2. JOHN HAYES (National—Wairarapa) to the Minister of Finance: What steps is the Government taking to help give businesses the confidence to invest, grow and increase exports?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): The Government has taken a number of steps to help New Zealand businesses become more competitive. These include reducing company tax, cutting taxes on work and savings, reducing costs to businesses, and passing on the benefits of public sector reform, such as a significant reduction in ACC levies. Today the Government set out the next steps in its business growth agenda by issuing the first of six progress reports; today’s one, called Building Export Markets, sets out the next steps the Government will take to assist export businesses.
John Hayes: Why is it important that the Government supports businesses in becoming more competitive and selling more to the world?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The key to more jobs and higher incomes is strong export businesses. We will not be able to thrive as a country in the next 10 years by selling things to each other. The Government recognises that a critical aspect of more growth and higher incomes is business confidence—that is, the confidence of a business to invest a bit more money and pay higher wages. We are working hard to turn round the decline in competitiveness that this economy suffered under the previous Government.
John Hayes: What are the main components of the Government’s business growth agenda?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: It is a very good question. Today we launched one component—the progress on export markets. There are more to come: documents covering innovation, skilled and safe workplaces, infrastructure, natural resources, and capital markets. These will all focus on assisting businesses to make the decisions that grow the economy. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I want to hear John Hayes’ question. [Interruption] Order! That is enough. Every member has a right to ask questions. [Interruption] Order! That is enough.
John Hayes: What reports has he seen on business confidence, particularly in the regions of New Zealand?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The ASB / Main Report Regional Economic Scoreboard for the March quarter ranks New Zealand according to 16 regional council areas. Among other things, it shows that the Tasman region has continued to edge up the scoreboard and now takes out the top spot. Businesses in the Tasman region are more likely to believe their assessment than the assessment of the Leader of the Opposition, who went there and told a very small audience that the Tasman economy was in poor shape.
Hon David Parker: If business confidence is a true indicator of economic performance in the regions, why is that they all losing record numbers of New Zealanders, 40 percent of whom are between the ages of 18 and 30?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: As we have discussed in the House before today, the key to turning round the choices that young New Zealanders have about where to live and work is to support the businesses and the workplaces that can provide them with opportunity, satisfying work, and reasonable incomes. That is why we are backing businesses to grow, and I cannot understand why the Opposition parties are against everything that is going to create jobs and incomes for those young New Zealanders.
3. DAVID SHEARER (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does he have confidence in all his Ministers?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Acting Prime Minister): Yes.
David Shearer: Why does he have confidence in Steven Joyce, when his new ministry has approved companies bringing in hundreds of foreign workers while New Zealanders are leaving New Zealand because they cannot find a job?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Well, the Prime Minister, I can assure him, has a great deal more confidence in Mr Joyce than that member has in Mr Cunliffe.
David Shearer: Why does he have confidence in Steven Joyce, who has overseen a skills exodus from the regions over the last year, with 2,200 people leaving Northland, 4,800 leaving Waikato, and 4,000 leaving the Bay of Plenty—all heading for Australia?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Mr Joyce is working with other Ministers on the Business Growth Agenda, which is all about turning round the destruction of this economy and its export capacity by that previous Government.
David Shearer: How can he have confidence in Steven Joyce, who devised the roads of national significance, about which the Ashburton Mayor, Angus McKay, said: “We are frustrated that the Government appears to have chosen to focus their expenditure on city motorways at the expense of the rural areas that generate a significant proportion of income for the country.”; and will he direct the Minister of Transport to give the rural areas a fair go?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The Government stands by the roads of national significance and would be keen to hear from the Labour Party just which roads of national significance it is against. Can I say that the Prime Minister asked the Minister of Finance, who represents the area with the two largest roading networks in New Zealand—Southland District and Clutha District—and he is very happy with the Government’s contribution to rural roading.
David Shearer: How can he have confidence in the Minister of Finance when he is increasing Government debt by billions of dollars to pay for marginal motorways that have a lower economic benefit than regional roads?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The Prime Minister does have confidence in the Minister of Finance, and I am keen to hear from the Opposition which roading projects it is against, because it objects— just one.
Hon Steven Joyce: Just one.
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Yes, just one.
Hon John Banks: Does the Prime Minister have confidence that all his Ministers have no confidence that he will be Leader of the Opposition in 3 months?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Ah, yes. I think the answer is yes.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! A point of order has been called. Order!
Hon Trevor Mallard: I think you might have been distracted during the question. It was a question about an area in which none of the Ministers has responsibility.
Mr SPEAKER: I have to confess the noise was such that I could not hear the question myself, at all. In fact, it does appear that the question was out of order. I apologise to the House that I did not hear that and deal with it at the time. But, given that, I am not going to invite the member to repeat his question. I think I have got to accept that I am responsible for that mishap in the House, and I will try to make sure it does not happen again.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: How can the Prime Minister have confidence in the Minister for Land Information, given his inaction over the unauthorised purchase of four farms by May Wang—the same May Wang who failed the good-character test to buy the 16 other Crafar farms?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The Prime Minister does have confidence in the Minister for Land Information. As, I understand, he is overseeing the Overseas Investment Office, which is dealing with those matters.
Export Sector—Access to Markets
4. SHANE ARDERN (National—Taranaki - King Country) to the Minister for Economic
Development: How is the Government working to ensure our exporters are able to access international markets?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister for Economic Development): As the Minister of Finance mentioned earlier, today Mr Groser, Mr English, and I released the Building Export Markets progress report at the Wedgelock Equipment exporters in Upper Hutt. It outlined the initiatives the Government is taking to improve access to international markets by negotiating free-trade agreements, improving international air links, lowering taxation barriers, simplifying border processing, leading international trade missions, promoting international education, and so on. The report lays out the opportunities New Zealand has in markets—particularly such as Asia—and what needs to be done, and will be done, to boost our export performance and grow our economy.
Shane Ardern: Why has the Government released the export markets report first?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: The first report is important as it lays out the challenge for achieving the sort of growth that New Zealanders are seeking, which is about being much more closely linked into the rest of the world and taking advantage of our opportunities. Although the world has been going and continues to go through tough times, the growth in Asian incomes will occur rapidly over the next 20 years. So there will be job growth. The challenge for New Zealand and for New Zealanders—and, in fact, for the Opposition benches—is to ensure it occurs in this country, not in Australia or elsewhere. That will require us to take advantage of all our opportunities, whether it be in areas such as mining and oil and gas exploration, aquaculture, more intensive agriculture, highvalue manufacturing, tourism, and so on.
Hon David Cunliffe: Can the Minister confirm that of the 55 new projects outlined in the document, 47 of them are existing projects that are simply being repackaged, and only eight are, in fact, new?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Well, actually, the member has missed entirely the point, but he has been on holiday, so I understand.
Mr SPEAKER: Order!
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: He was having a go at me, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! It just does not help the order of the House. I accept the question, you know, had some political content, but it was a fair question.
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Well, I do not know that it was a fair question, but given that we are here, the reality is it is a progress report that outlines a series of initiatives— most of which, as I pointed out in the release of the report, are already under way; some of which are new—which are about preparing and showing a full range of projects that the Government is undertaking right now, and seeking feedback from the business sector, and, indeed, if he likes, from Mr Cunliffe, as well, so that we can actually continue to work with the business sector and grow our export market opportunities. All the reports, as they will be released, will be a mixture, Mr Cunliffe, of things that are already ongoing and new initiatives.
Hon David Cunliffe: Can the Minister confirm that of the eight new projects in the document, the majority are public relations or communications-related?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: If the member thinks that actually creating a stronger New Zealand story for our New Zealand businesses operating overseas—to pick just one of those initiatives— [Interruption] Well, it is hugely important. If the member took his time to go and talk to exporters, to talk to education institutions, and to talk to tourism organisations, they would tell him how crucially important that is.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I waited some time to see whether the Minister approached the question. The question was whether the majority of the new items, new projects, were, in fact, public relations or related ones—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! It seemed to me the Minister was not disagreeing with the questioner. He had the chance to disagree with the questioner and he did not. It seems he was basically confirming the questioner’s point.
Whānau Ora—Review of Whānau Integration, Innovation and Engagement Fund
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First): My question is: what prompted the urgent review of the Whānau Ora Whānau Integration—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I want to hear the Rt Hon Winston Peters.
5. Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First) to the Minister for Whānau Ora: What prompted the urgent review of the Whānau Ora Whānau Integration, Innovation and Engagement (WIIE) fund when she is on record as having said, in relation to the Mongrel Mob’s alleged use of WIIE funds, “everything they have looked at shows the money was used for proper purposes.”?
Hon TARIANA TURIA (Minister for Whānau Ora): The fact is that there has been no urgent review. This was business as usual, because, as one would expect with any new project, the ministry has been undertaking regular reviews to ensure that the operations of Whānau Ora have been running well.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Why did it take so long to appoint an inquiry into New Zealand First’s repeated warnings of misuse of these funds and misuse of the expenditure?
Hon TARIANA TURIA: Given that there are 33,000 individuals of New Zealand descent participating in Whānau Ora, we have had no reason to conduct a full review of the use of that funding.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Well, given that every allegation thus far has been a coconut, what confidence can the public possibly have in Te Puni Kōkiri’s review of Whānau Ora, given that this is the very same agency handing out the money in the first place?
Hon TARIANA TURIA: The only allegation that was identified was, in fact, identified by the police in Dunedin, not by New Zealand First. Every other allegation that it has made has not been proven.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Is the Minister not aware of the circumstance of the Palmerston North women’s refuge, and will she now seek an independent review by the Office of the Auditor-General to look into this fund and other Whānau Ora spending, to ensure there is rigorous, independent scrutiny; if not, why not?
Hon TARIANA TURIA: In regard to the Palmerston North women’s refuge, when it was discovered that there were issues regarding its funding, that particular funding was not given to it.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I asked about an independent review by the Auditor-General’s office, not one—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member asked whether the Minister was not aware of the matters to do with the women’s refuge in Palmerston North. That was the first part of his question. The Minister answered that, and she is not obliged to answer more than one part of a supplementary question. The member does have a further supplementary question, should he wish to use it.
Te Ururoa Flavell: Has she read reports in the New Zealand Herald this week about Whānau Ora, and does she agree with the newspaper that Whānau Ora has, among other things, helped to reduce expulsion rates at Ngāruawāhia High School, opened the doors to decent housing to whānau in Northland, supported whānau of disabled people in Northland, and instilled a sense of identity to whānau in the Waikato?
Hon TARIANA TURIA: I think that what the New Zealand Herald’s stories do, which have been told by the families concerned, is say that of the 33,000 people who are participating, if there are any issues that have been highlighted they are minimal.
Infrastructure Investment—Minister’s Statements
6. Hon DAVID PARKER (Labour) to the Minister of Finance: Does he stand by his statement “The Government is committed to investing in modern infrastructure that helps build a faster-growing economy with more exports and more real jobs, without borrowing more from overseas lenders”?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): Yes.
Hon David Parker: Under the Land Transport Management Amendment Bill, will the New Zealand Transport Agency be borrowing to pay for modern infrastructure?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: In fact, the New Zealand Transport Agency has arrangements that allow it to do some borrowing now to smooth out the profile of projects.
Hon David Parker: Is the reason his Government plans more borrowing to pay for infrastructure because he has failed to grow jobs and exports?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: No.
Hon David Parker: When he said he was selling State assets instead of borrowing to pay for infrastructure, was he misquoted and did he actually mean he was selling assets and borrowing to pay for infrastructure?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Well, as outlined in the last Budget, the Government is setting up the Future Investment Fund. The proceeds of the share sales will go into that fund. Some commitments have already been made against that fund, particularly the rebuilding of our schools. That will enable us to borrow $5 billion to $7 billion less. I am still waiting to hear from the Labour Party as to whether it plans to buy back the assets with borrowed money.
Cyberbullying—Law Commission Report
7. TIM MACINDOE (National—Hamilton West) to the Minister of Justice: What reports has she received on the potential impact of cyberbullying?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS (Minister of Justice): Cyberbullying has a wide-reaching impact now, increasingly online and in the digital world. Our young people, whose lives are increasingly enmeshed in social media, are particularly at risk of cyberbullying. In May I asked the Law Commission to fast track its recommendations—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I apologise to the Minister but I simply cannot hear the answer. I know my ears are not great, but I need to be able to hear the answer, and the level of interjection is unreasonable on a question that is a perfectly fair question.
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: In May I asked the Law Commission to fast track its recommendations on harmful digital communication as part of its report on new media. Those recommendations have been released today in the commission’s report on rights, responsibilities, and regulations in the digital age.
Tim Macindoe: What steps will the Minister consider to address the harm being done through cyberbullying?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: The Law Commission has made a range of recommendations. We will consider all the recommendations. In particular, we will consider creating a new offence targeting offensive, indecent, or obscene digital communication that causes harm. We will also consider changing existing laws to make sure provisions apply to digital communications, and we will consider making it an offence to incite a person to commit suicide, whether or not the intended victim attempts suicide—[Interruption] I must say I would have thought the Labour Opposition would take this seriously.
Mr SPEAKER: Order!
Andrew Little: Will the cyberbullying laws prevent a Minister from trawling through a citizen’s personal details and making them public to score political points?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: Well, of course, there have not been changes made yet and we are looking at the recommendations. But I would have thought that that member would want to be involved in serious discussion on this, not silly comments like that.
Tim Macindoe: Mr Speaker—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I want to hear Tim Macindoe.
Tim Macindoe: Why is cyberbullying such a concern for the Government?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: Bullying is no longer confined to the classroom or the playground. Bullies are targeting—which, I have to say, has been evidenced by the behaviour today from the Opposition—their victims by cellphone, instant messaging devices, and social networking websites. I have to say that the worst of it is under the guise of anonymity. We must not underestimate the devastating effects of this new form of bullying, particularly on young schoolchildren. It has shown that it increases truancy, failure at school, and emotional problems of many young people such as depression, self-harm, and suicide. Again, it is absolutely very concerning that the Labour Opposition does not take this situation seriously.
Transport Funding—New Zealand Transport Agency Projected Borrowing
8. PHIL TWYFORD (Labour—Te Atatū) to the Minister of Transport: How much is the New Zealand Transport Agency expected to borrow for land transport projects in each of the three financial years after the Land Transport Management Amendment Act comes into force?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE (Minister of Transport): As the available revenue for each of the 3 financial years after the Land Transport Management Amendment Act comes into force is currently unknown, no specific answer can be given. Since 2010 a facility has existed for short-term borrowing by the New Zealand Transport Agency to smooth out the pay-go system of funding, as was provided in the 2008 amendments to the Land Transport Management Act 2003. The shortterm facility is currently set at $250 million. Any further borrowing over that has to be, and will continue to be, approved by the Ministers of Transport and Finance.
Phil Twyford: Is the plan to allow the New Zealand Transport Agency to borrow—the new plan, that is, not the existing power to borrow merely for cash-flow purposes—a response to the projected $1.5 billion shortfall in the National Land Transport Fund by 2020 or the scenario of a $4.5 billion shortfall from 2021 to 2030?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: No, in fact the capacity for the New Zealand Transport Agency to borrow has existed for a very long time. The member will be aware that the Northern Gateway Toll Road, a project that was consented, designed, built, and funded by debt by the previous Government, was done outside of the National Land Transport Fund. What this bill allows is for those sorts of projects to be completed inside the National Land Transport Fund.
Brendan Horan: If the New Zealand Transport Authority has the power to borrow for major roading projects, will a similar borrowing mechanism apply to public transport including KiwiRail; if not, why not?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: All Crown entities have a capacity to borrow, but that is constrained by section 106 of the Crown Entities Act, which requires that the appropriate Minister and the Minister of Finance agree to that borrowing.
Phil Twyford: Does he agree with the Prime Minister when he said: “The Government has to stop borrowing so much money; if we don’t quite frankly New Zealand will be downgraded and interest rates will go up for all New Zealanders.”; if so, why does he want to borrow to fund projects, many of which have such low benefit-cost ratios?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: The question is based on the member’s own view and assumption about things. The reality is that there is no plan for the course of action that the member is asserting is going to take place.
Phil Twyford: Does it make economic sense to borrow to fund the Pūhoi to Wellsford “Holiday Highway”, which has a benefit-cost ratio that barely breaks even and costs $1.7 billion, when a $400 million upgrade would fix its congestion and safety problems?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: Although I disagree with many of the assertions made in that question, I would say that I think that providing a stronger link to Northland, where there is so much poverty yet so much economic potential, is a good idea.
Phil Twyford: Does he remember a set of projects of national significance handpicked by the National Party in the 1980s called Think Big, which left the country saddled with debt for decades afterwards; and did he ever imagine that they would return from the dead as the roads of national significance?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: I think that is a completely erroneous sort of comparison. Some analysis of those projects will show that the member’s assertions are wrong, but I would say that the city rail link in Auckland certainly sounds like a project that would fit the bill he describes.
Health Personnel—Voluntary Bonding Scheme
9. Dr JIAN YANG (National) to the Minister of Health: What progress can he report on the Government’s Voluntary Bonding Scheme, which incentivises and rewards graduate doctors, midwives and nurses in hard-to-staff regions and specialities?
Hon TONY RYALL (Minister of Health): For the 4th year in a row registrations for the Government’s hugely successful Voluntary Bonding Scheme have attracted great interest, with a total of 2,300 health graduates now accepted on to the scheme. The scheme encourages New Zealand health graduates to stay in New Zealand after graduation. This year we have accepted all 510 health graduates who applied for the bonding scheme.
Dr Jian Yang: What payments have been made under the scheme so far?
Hon TONY RYALL: Payments totalling almost $3 million have been paid out to 278 graduates who have completed their first 3 years on the Voluntary Bonding Scheme, and more payments will be made as these young people bring forward their claims. These graduates will join the 1,000 extra doctors and over 2,000 extra nurses working in our public health services, as compared with 4 short years ago.
Hon Maryan Street: How is it, then, that the Resident Doctors Association has described the administration of the scheme as being like shifting sands, making up the rules as they go along, and that some 17 only of the 100 who should have received payment by August 2012 received it?
Hon TONY RYALL: First of all I would say that that is what you would expect from a union that opposes the Government at every opportunity. The fact is that we have got lots of young people receiving benefits under this scheme as part of the Government’s plan, which has delivered over 1,000 extra doctors and over 2,000 extra nurses into our public hospitals.
Housing New Zealand Corporation—Time Frames for Maintenance Requests
10. HOLLY WALKER (Green) to the Minister of Housing: Does he stand by his answer to written question 04915 (2012) where he stated that the Housing New Zealand Corporation, “does not distinguish between response and completion times” for maintenance requests?
Hon PHIL HEATLEY (Minister of Housing): Yes. However, after I spoke last night with the member who raised this question, I checked with the corporation and it told me that this arises from the nature of its relationship with regional contractors, who in turn let work to subcontractors. The corporation informs me that it holds the main contractor responsible for delivering the performance expectations that I outlined yesterday. It does not necessarily have visibility of what “subbies” are doing. So a “subbie” may respond to a job on Monday and complete it on Monday, or they might respond to a job on Monday but complete it on Tuesday. The important thing for the corporation is that the job is completed.
Holly Walker: So when he told the House yesterday that 93 percent of urgent health and safety jobs are completed within 4 hours, did he actually mean that Housing New Zealand Corporation had simply responded to those requests in some way, not that the work had actually been completed?
Hon PHIL HEATLEY: My advice from the corporation is that that measure is about completion, so it would expect an urgent health and safety job to be completed within 4 hours. If that was not done, then the contractor would be outside the agreement—as I indicated yesterday, 93 percent are completed and 7 percent are not—and therefore the contractor would be held to account for this. If there are cases like that, and clearly there are some, then I think the corporation should know about them, and I would love to hear from the member.
Holly Walker: Is it acceptable that the request of a Wellington mother who asked for large holes in her lounge floor to be repaired in August 2011 would be included in that 93 percent after a mere phone call from Housing New Zealand Corporation, when in fact she had to wait more than 7 months for the holes to be fixed and still has issues with mould and rotten carpet on the floor, which have led her children to develop skin infections?
Hon PHIL HEATLEY: I accept that that may very well be the case. I know that the member is sincere on this issue. The reality is that in that situation, if that is the case, Housing New Zealand Corporation would not be working to its own standard and contractors would not be working to the standard of Housing New Zealand Corporation, and it needs to know about that case and investigate it.
Holly Walker: Is there not a big difference between answering a call or engaging a contractor or subcontractor, and actually ensuring that the work is completed, and what is the average time that elapses between when an urgent health and safety job is lodged and when the work is actually completed?
Hon PHIL HEATLEY: As I outlined, Housing New Zealand Corporation requires certain types of urgent or non-urgent maintenance to occur within a time frame. For example, for urgent health and safety work the work has to be done within 4 hours. If it is done in 2 hours or 3 hours or 4 hours, Housing New Zealand Corporation does not necessarily have visibility on this, because that is the subcontractor’s job more often than not. What it has visibility on is whether it is completed within the 4-hour time frame. So you cannot measure an average time. What you can measure is whether a contractor directly has met the standards that Housing New Zealand Corporation has set. If they have not, Housing New Zealand Corporation wants to know about it, and I want to hear from the member so I can pass that on.
Hon Annette King: Mr Speaker—[Interruption] Very good. I am going to talk about lino. Is he aware that it took 4 years—
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My colleague on my right just made an outrageous suggestion about one of our colleagues, and I think he should withdraw and apologise.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The Speaker did not hear it and the member is lucky.
Hon Annette King: Is he aware it took 4 years to have the hole in the lino replaced before he did not visit Symonds Street, Auckland, and is that the standard he expected when he campaigned in Opposition against slum landlords?
Hon PHIL HEATLEY: As I made clear yesterday, as far as I am aware, the member made up— [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I apologise to the Minister. I say to the Labour front benches on this occasion that that noise is unnecessary.
Hon PHIL HEATLEY: As I said yesterday in the House, as far as I am aware, the member made up the idea that I visited Symonds Street, and she made up the idea that there has been no maintenance. So I do not think this House or journalists can take the member at her word in any scenario.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] I am on my feet—I am on my feet. To suggest that a member’s word cannot be taken is out of order. I ask the Minister to withdraw that and to now actually come closer to answering the question. If I recollect correctly, the Minister was asked about the time involved in getting this famous piece of lino laid at this particular location, and I do not think the Minister even approached answering that. I would ask the Minister to withdraw that comment and answer the question.
Hon PHIL HEATLEY: I withdraw and apologise. I have no confidence in the information that the member is giving the House, and so I cannot comment.
Immigration New Zealand—Labour Market Testing
11. DARIEN FENTON (Labour) to the Minister of Immigration: Does he have confidence in Immigration New Zealand’s labour market testing?
Hon NATHAN GUY (Minister of Immigration): Yes.
Darien Fenton: Why has Immigration New Zealand allowed an increasing number of overseas workers into New Zealand over the past 3 years, despite 57,000 more New Zealand residents being unemployed and available to fill jobs than in 2008?
Hon NATHAN GUY: The member should be aware that the approval in principle process is showing that since 2007-08 to 2011-12 it has declined by well over 50 percent, and also the number of temporary work visas has declined by 44 percent from 2007-08 to 2011-12, which shows to me that the process is indeed working in a tight labour market.
Darien Fenton: I seek leave to table a graph from the library that shows the number of people unemployed, and shows that there are 57,000 fewer jobs since National became the Government.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document from the Parliamentary Library. Is there any objection? There is no objection. Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Darien Fenton: Is he aware that in 2007-08, when those overseas workers were brought into New Zealand, the unemployment rate was just 3.5 percent, whereas now it is 6.8 percent and 57,000 more New Zealanders are out of work than when he took office; if so, why is he bringing in overseas workers to fill jobs that 162,000 New Zealanders desperately need?
Hon NATHAN GUY: Yes, I am aware of those figures. It is interesting to note the member’s blog entry on Red Alert. I do not happen to read Red Alert, but one of my staff found this on 27 July. I just want to quote what the member said: “… we will need migrants to work in New Zealand — especially in areas of skills shortages …”. I agree with the member.
Darien Fenton: In that case, what made the jobs at 289 hospitality businesses that brought in overseas workers—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The Minister must be able to hear the question too. The member has not got the biggest voice in the House.
Darien Fenton: Thank you, Mr Speaker. What made the jobs at the 289 hospitality businesses that brought in overseas workers last year so highly skilled and specialist that Immigration New Zealand could not find New Zealand workers able and willing to do them?
Hon NATHAN GUY: As I have explained to the member before, employers need to demonstrate genuine attempts to recruit New Zealanders first, and then there is a process. I can go through that process for the member, once again. That process is simply that once employers have tried to establish whether there are New Zealand workers, they then consult with Work and Income to see whether there are New Zealanders available. Then they also need to consult with the unions, the guilds, and, importantly, the industry training organisations. Specifically to the member’s question on hospitality, the member should be aware that there are parts of New Zealand where they need to attract migrant workers. In some isolated parts of New Zealand, in the hospitality sector, it is difficult to specifically attract the likes of chefs.
Darien Fenton: Has he or the previous Minister of Immigration given any direction to Immigration New Zealand that it should tighten its labour market testing criteria, given the 162,000 Kiwis who are out of work; if not, why not?
Hon NATHAN GUY: I am very happy with the process that Immigration New Zealand follows.
Financial Reporting Requirements—Reforms
12. KANWALJIT SINGH BAKSHI (National) to the Minister of Commerce: How will the Financial Reporting Bill reduce compliance costs for small and medium size businesses?
Hon CRAIG FOSS (Minister of Commerce): The recently introduced Financial Reporting Bill overhauls financial reporting rules, and cuts compliance costs for small and medium sized companies. It will remove general purpose financial reporting requirements for small and medium companies. Small and medium sized companies should not necessarily have to produce the same complex financial statements that are required of large companies. Cutting down on expensive and unnecessary reporting obligations will assist to build a more productive economy.
Kanwaljit Singh Bakshi: What reports has he seen supporting the introduction of the bill?
Hon CRAIG FOSS: I have seen a report from the New Zealand Bankers’ Association welcoming the introduction of the bill. It has commended the Government’s decision to streamline financial reporting requirements. It acknowledges that this will support New Zealand business growth and development, which is vital to improving our economic performance.
Point of Order—Alleged Errors of Fact in Questions
Hon MAURICE WILLIAMSON (Minister for Land Information): I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I chose to wait until the end of question time to raise this point. It is to do with Standing Order 377, particularly Standing Order 377(1)(a), which says that questions must not contain “statements of facts … unless … [for example].” In question time today, in question No. 3, the Hon Winston Peters asked a question of the Acting Prime Minister: did he have confidence in me as Minister for Land Information for having given approval to May Wang to buy four farms? May Wang has never been given approval to buy any farms—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Order! [Interruption] No, order! Members have a right to ask questions. The member is correct that under the Standing Orders questions should not contain more alleged fact than is necessary to make the question intelligible. That question clearly required that bit in it to be intelligible. Whether or not the member’s question was right is something that can be dealt with in the answer. I mean, as Speaker I have tried to allow the House to flow during question time. There are many supplementary questions that do contain far more allegation of fact than the Standing Orders really envisage should happen. When that happens, I allow Ministers more leeway in answering those questions. The more unsubstantiated, the more politically loaded, the allegations of fact in the question asked, the more leeway and latitude I will give Ministers in responding to them. To me, that is the most appropriate way to handle this, rather than have the Speaker endlessly ruling out questions because the Speaker considers they contain one phrase too many of suggested supposed “fact”—in inverted commas—that may or may not be correct. Members cannot, though, raise by way of point of order allegations that other members have matters wrong. That is to be dealt with in answering the question. Points of order should not be used to challenge whether or not members are right. That is why you have not answered the question, because if a member in asking a question is wrong, the Minister answering can point that out, and that is a perfectly fair answer to a question. If I have misunderstood the member’s point of order, I am very happy to hear further.
Hon MAURICE WILLIAMSON (Minister for Land Information): Mr Speaker, I think you are absolutely right, were a question of that nature asked to the Minister of the portfolio, who should know the answer and should be able to respond. But the question today was asked to an Acting Prime Minister answering on behalf of the Prime Minister: did he have confidence in another Minister, and then an allegation that that Minister had done something. The assertion was
that the Minister for Land Information had approved the sale of those farms to May Wang. You could not expect an Acting Prime Minister to be on top of every portfolio on every matter, and therefore—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I invite the honourable Minister just to reflect on what he is putting to the Speaker, though. What he is asking the Speaker to be able to do is have sufficient knowledge of all matters to know whether the content of a member’s question is right or wrong, and the Speaker cannot do that. I mean, there is no way the Speaker is in a position to know whether or not a member’s question is right or wrong. That is why—I accept that when there is a Minister answering on behalf of another Minister, the risks of not being able to answer so accurately are higher. I accept that absolutely. xxxfo But there is no way, in my view, that the Speaker could have ruled that question out, because the Speaker is not to know the matters relating to whether or not the Minister for Land Information had approved a certain purchase or not. The Speaker has no way of knowing that. I think the question was in order, because it asked whether the Prime Minister had confidence in a Minister because of a certain event that the questioner believed had taken place. The Speaker cannot judge the accuracy of that. Although I fully accept that it related to a decision of another Minister, I think that all the House can hope for there is that Ministers answering questions, even on behalf of other Ministers, have sufficient information to correct matters if they think there is error contained in a question. But I do not see how the Speaker could have ruled that question out, because it was asking about confidence because of a certain event that the questioner believed had taken place. It was up to the Minister answering. If the questioner was wrong in believing that the event had taken place, it was up to the Minister answering to point that out. The Speaker cannot rule out questions on the basis of judgment as to whether they are right or wrong. I will hear further. I will hear first from the Leader of the House, the Hon Gerry Brownlee.
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE (Leader of the House): Thank you—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I have called the Leader of the House, and I want to hear from him.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: How about some fairness here.
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: Well, it is not a contest, I did not think.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: It is so.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The right honourable member—[Interruption] Order! I apologise to the Leader of the House. I will come to the member. The member may note that I have actually been defending his right to ask his question, and he should not interject when a point of order is being heard. I want to hear from the Leader of the House.
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: I think the first point I would make is that the Hon Maurice Williamson was not asking you to rule the question out. He deliberately waited until the end of question time to speak to you by way of point of order about the matter. Earlier in question time you made it very clear to the Hon Phil Heatley that, although he himself knew that he was not in a place, when the questioner asserted that he was in a place, the questioner’s word could not be contested. Similarly, I think that if Mr Williamson is now saying that, in fact, the information is wrong, it would not be inappropriate for the Speaker to at least give the opportunity to the questioner to withdraw and apologise for the assertion.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! No, no. I do not think I—[Interruption] No, no, I do not need further assistance on this. If a Minister feels that he has been—if a member, any member, feels that they have been wronged by any statement of any other member in the House, there is a standard procedure under the Standing Orders. Instead of the Minister raising a point of order to question the appropriateness of the question, the correct course of action would have been for the Minister to raise a point of order to seek to make a personal explanation. That would have been the correct course of action. I am sure the House would have granted leave for the member to make a personal explanation, because I can see that the member feels that there is an understanding left, in terms of the behaviour of the Minister in relation to a certain issue, that is wrong in the Minister’s eyes. I can
sense that. The Minister is perfectly at liberty to raise a point of order and seek leave to make a personal explanation, but not to question the right of a member to ask a question. That would be the correct procedure. Now I will hear the Rt Hon Winston Peters.
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First): The fact is that this Minister has raised a Standing Order, and then misused it. He had the full opportunity twice to lay out his case, even though he is erroneously reciting the nub of the question. I am happy to give him my question—it is written here—because what he said was his reason for a complaint is not part of the question. My point is—
Mr SPEAKER: Order!
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: You heard him; now how about hearing me? After all, I am the one who is being offended here, not you.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member will resume his seat.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Typical. This is typical.
Mr SPEAKER: The member had better be a little careful.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I understand the rules of this House.
Mr SPEAKER: Well, the member clearly—[Interruption] Order! The member will be leaving if he does not desist immediately. The member clearly does not, because the Speaker’s judgment was being questioned. The Speaker had ruled that the right honourable member’s question was absolutely in order. Therefore, the member has no right of grievance at all, because the Speaker has ruled that his question was in order. The matter that remains is should a member wish to seek leave, if a member feels they have been wronged by any statement made by a member, they can seek leave to make a personal explanation, and that is in the hands of the House. I will hear further from the Hon Trevor Mallard.
Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Labour—Hutt South): Yes, Mr Speaker. I thought you might have come to Speaker’s ruling 163/1 in this and indicated to the Minister concerned that, in fact, he did have a right to object at the time and effectively have that part of the question struck out, if he had taken a point of order in an appropriate way at the right time. That is my first point. The second point is that, of course, this is a ministerial action and not a personal action, and he does not need the leave of the House in order to tell the House what he did. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! No, no. Members should not be interjecting on a point of order. I read the Speaker’s ruling that the member is referring to, and I will investigate that ruling on the basis of the Standing Orders, to make sure that I am absolutely satisfied with that, because what is hugely important in this House is that the point of order process is not used to question statements by other members. During question time Ministers have the right to answer questions, and if there are errors in questions, the proper process is to deal with that while the question is being answered. If the matter relates to another member or Minister, those members have the right to seek the leave of the House. I want to avoid points of order being used to question what other members have said, because that tends to lead to disorder. However, I will undertake to further explore the issue that the member has raised in respect of Speaker’s ruling 163/1. [Interruption] Does the honourable Minister wish to raise a point of order? I had better come first to the Rt Hon Winston Peters.
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First): I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My point of order is that the Minister erroneously used a Standing Order and he should have been stopped, not given a chance to twice get out his erroneous explanation. That is my point of order, and I have got every right in this House as a member to tell you what that point of order is.
Mr SPEAKER: I thank the right honourable gentleman.
Hon MAURICE WILLIAMSON (Minister for Land Information): I seek leave to make a personal explanation on this matter.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to make a personal explanation on the matter that has been discussed. Is there any objection to that course of action? There is objection. [Interruption] There is objection. Point of order, the Hon Trevor Mallard. [Interruption] Order! A point of order has been
called. [Interruption] Order! No, the honourable Leader—[Interruption] Order! No, no, I am on my feet now, and the member must stop interjecting. Any member has the right to deny leave. It is most unusual, I say to those newer members, to deny a member the right to make a personal explanation. That may not be something well known to newer members, and I am prepared to allow the member to seek leave again.
Hon MAURICE WILLIAMSON (Minister for Land Information): I seek leave to make a personal explanation on this matter.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought for that course of action. Is there any objection? There is no objection.
Hon MAURICE WILLIAMSON: During our processing of an application by Natural Dairy to acquire the Crafar farms, it came to our knowledge that a consortium consisting of May Wang, Jack Chen, and others had already gone ahead and bought four dairy farms without seeking any approval at all from either the Overseas Investment Office or, indeed, the Minister. As we began process to make them divest themselves of those farms, we were notified by the courts in Hong Kong that charges of corruption had been laid against those people and a stay had been put on those farms as they were assets involved in the court case. Now that that case has finished and the stay has been removed, the Overseas Investment Office has decided to bring civil proceedings under section 47 of the Act to make those farms be down-sold. I repeat again: no approval was ever sought from anybody, nor was any approval ever given by a Minister or the Overseas Investment Office.