Questions and Answers - March 28
QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS
Economy—Business Confidence, Investment, and Growth
1. JOHN HAYES (National—Wairarapa) to the Minister of Finance: What reports has he recently received on business confidence, investment, and growth?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Associate Minister of Finance) on behalf of the Minister of Finance: I have received a number of reports showing that business confidence is continuing to be strong and positive. For example, ANZ yesterday published its latest business outlook survey. It confirmed that business confidence remains elevated, with a net 35 percent of businesses expecting general business conditions to get better over the year ahead. Also yesterday, Statistics New Zealand reported that spending on research and development by New Zealand businesses reached $1.2 billion in 2012, up almost 25 percent since 2010, and official data on Tuesday showed that the value of exported goods rose $290 million, or 8 percent, to $3.9 billion in February compared with February last year.
John Hayes: What observations did ANZ’s business outlook survey make about business confidence and the improving outlook for the economy?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: The business outlook survey growth indicator is pointing to 2.8 percent growth in the economy during the year ahead. After accounting for seasonality, there was a rise of confidence in March, which ANZ said was encouraging against the backdrop of concern about the drought. It noted that the current net 35 percent of businesses expecting better times in the year ahead is well above the historic average of 8 percent. It also noted the services sector, which accounts for nearly two-thirds of GDP, is now the most optimistic, followed by construction. Finally, a net 32 percent of firms are optimistic about their own business prospects, and that compares with a long-term average of 26 percent.
John Hayes: What does Statistics New Zealand’s research and development survey for 2012 conclude about investment in research and development?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Statistics New Zealand noted that the almost 25 percent jump in research and development spending by businesses to $1.2 billion was very widely based. In fact, the increase was observed across almost all industries. Total research and development spending across business, Government, and higher education was more than $2.6 billion in 2012, and that in itself is a 9 percent increase over 2 years. Statistics New Zealand noted that as a proportion of GDP, New Zealand’s research and development spending continues to be below that of many other OECD countries—and that is a long-term issue, but the trend is in the right direction—and that Government funding directed at business research and development has helped grow research and development by businesses.
Hon David Parker: Were the number of hours worked in New Zealand in the latest quarter for which there is data fewer than the number of hours worked when he took office, and is that because
the economy under National is not working for ordinary New Zealanders or is it because so many people have left for Australia?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I do not have that exact data to hand for the member, but I do know that he combs through the data to find convenient data at all times to continue to talk down the New Zealand economy. There is no doubt that there are still challenges in terms of job growth—and, in particular, in part-time jobs—in the New Zealand economy, but what we are seeing is increasing confidence. We are seeing faster growth, of around 3 percent year on year last year, which is actually bodes well for a continued pick-up in employment in the year ahead. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order!
John Hayes: What factors were behind the encouraging increase in New Zealand’s merchandise exports in February?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: With the normal caveats about monthly statistics, Statistics New Zealand reports that the $290 million increase in merchandise exports in February was led by an increase in exports to China, which is up by over $0.25 billion, or 49 percent, compared with February a year ago. Milk powder, pine logs, and sheep meat were amongst the main exports to China during February. It is important to be cautious. The ongoing drought is expected to have an impact on dairy volumes in the year ahead at least, although offsetting price movements will help contain those issues.
Dr Russel Norman: Why is he encouraging Kiwi mums and dads to invest in Mighty River Power when the value of those investments is in doubt due to the risk of the Tīwai smelter closing?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Investors in the Mighty River Power offer will make their own assessment as to whether to invest or not. But in terms of the matter the member raises, it has actually been well-known about the Tīwai Point smelter and the reliance that Meridian Energy places on it for many, many years, and these are not new issues.
Dr Russel Norman: Has Rio Tinto not got the Government over a barrel with regard to the Tīwai Point negotiations, because it knows that the Government has committed itself to the asset sales and now it is going to try to get as much money from the taxpayer as possible because Rio Tinto knows that if the smelter closes, the asset sales programme is bunk?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Well, whatever Rio Tinto’s view is, if it is as described by the member, that is not shared by the Government. In terms of his supposition at the end of his question, I do not think that is the case, at all.
State-owned Assets, Sales—Progress
2. DAVID SHEARER (Leader of the Opposition) to the Minister for State Owned
Enterprises: Is it the Government’s intention to proceed with the asset sales programme?
Hon TONY RYALL (Minister for State Owned Enterprises): Absolutely, yes. The programme of minority share floats, in a world of a deteriorating international debt crisis, is a very important part of the Government’s wider economic plan to help control debt and fund important social infrastructure like schools, roads, and hospitals.
David Shearer: Does he agree with Meridian Energy Chief Executive Mark Binns that if the Tīwai Point contract falls over, power prices and State-owned asset sale values will fall?
Hon TONY RYALL: I am not sure whether or not Mr Binns has made those comments. I would have to rely on what the member said. But what I would say to that member is that that is a decision that individual investors will be able to make, because that information will be made available. All the material information will be made available in the offer document for Mighty River Power. That is what the Government has always said, and it is an opportunity for analysts and investors to chew over the information, as they are now, and make whatever conclusions they want to draw.
David Shearer: What is his Government’s best estimate of the loss in the value of Mighty River Power in the event of the Meridian Energy and Tīwai Point deal falling over?
Hon TONY RYALL: I hope the member will appreciate that under the Securities Act Ministers are not able to speculate on the likely value of the various mixed-ownership model companies. But I would say this to New Zealanders, in light of what the Leader of the Opposition has said: I would not take investment advice from anybody who has—
Mr SPEAKER: Order!
Hon TONY RYALL: —a couple of hundred thousand dollars in a bank account—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! That answer will only lead to disorder.
David Shearer: Is the Government negotiating separately with Rio Tinto, and has Meridian Energy been kept fully in the loop on these negotiations?
Hon TONY RYALL: As the member will appreciate, the negotiations have been run by Meridian Energy up until recent times. They are continuing to discuss it this week. The Government was in contact with Rio Tinto to see what it might be able to do to bridge the gap in the short to medium term with a very moderate amount of money. The longer term is a more significant area. Meridian Energy is aware of the broad parameters of the Government’s discussions with Rio Tinto.
David Shearer: In light of the last part of his answer, how does his answer square with Meridian Energy’s advice to the select committee today that it has had no advice on the discussions between the Government and Rio Tinto?
Hon TONY RYALL: I am not able to comment, because I was not at the select committee, but I am aware that Mr Binns did say in the media stand-up that they were aware of the broad parameters. We look forward to continuing to discuss those matters. This is a very, very serious issue for New Zealand. The Government is determined to make sure that we can do what we can to assist those two companies to come to a mutually beneficial arrangement for the two.
David Shearer: Now that the Government has intervened, will it now promise to be transparent about the impact on electricity prices and State-owned enterprise sales values?
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Did the Minister adequately hear that question? Otherwise I can ask for the question to be put again.
Hon TONY RYALL: Yes, I did hear it. I think this Government is being very transparent, I would say to the Leader of the Opposition—transparent. All of these matters will be declared as material in the offer document for Mighty River Power. This is what we have said all along. These negotiations between Meridian Energy and Rio Tinto have been ongoing for 9 months. People have been very well aware of them. All material matters will be declared in the offer document.
David Shearer: How many people are employed, either directly or indirectly, through the operations of the Tīwai Point aluminium smelter?
Hon TONY RYALL: I think there is about 750 people who work at the Tīwai Point aluminium smelter, and there will be other people whose jobs are dependent on that. So it is quite a serious issue. But the Government has been in touch with Rio Tinto, because it recognises the seriousness of this issue, to say that if there is such a small gap in the short to medium term, we are prepared to see what we can do to bridge that, but the gap in the longer term is significant. I want to be very clear on this: this Government is not interested in subsidising a foreign multinational in the long term.
David Shearer: Does he agree with Brian Fallow, who wrote in the New Zealand Herald: “It is folly to press on, full steam ahead, with the partial privatisation of the state-owned power companies when the future of Tiwai Pt aluminium smelter is unresolved.”?
Hon TONY RYALL: No, I do not agree with that. I think the New Zealand electricity market is well capable of dealing with all the issues around Tīwai Point and these contract negotiations. There is no surprise, there is nothing new, to this issue in terms of uncertainty. What is important is to remember what this is all about. This is all about the mixed-ownership model as part of the wider plan this Government has to control debt and to continue investing in important social infrastructure.
Child Poverty, Abuse, and Neglect—Impact of Children’s Action Plan
3. MELISSA LEE (National) to the Minister for Social Development: What difference will the Children’s Action Plan make for vulnerable children?
Hon PAULA BENNETT (Minister for Social Development): As part of the Children’s Action Plan we committed to ensuring the very best outcomes for vulnerable children. The white paper identified care and protection family group conferences as an area that could be improved, highlighting the need for better integration and stronger engagement from health, education, iwi providers, non-governmental organisations, and families.
Melissa Lee: What advice has she received on the family group conference process?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: I have had advice that there are key areas we need to improve: practice can be variable, particularly recording parental objectives and responsibilities in plans; the need for greater clarity and accountability about the changes involved; the time frames within which these need to be made; and that there may be a need to legally require and specify what these plans require and contain. The family group conferences have been running for quite some time. We very much support them, but it is a good time to be looking at them and seeing how we can improve them to move forward.
Melissa Lee: How could the system work better in the interests of the child?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: There is work already under way. We are taking action. The reality is these children cannot wait. Child, Youth and Family has already commenced implementation of the new family group conference performance standards, which will begin to lift the quality, broaden the participation, and deliver meaningful plans for these children.
Police Resourcing—Savings in Personnel and Asset Costs
4. KRIS FAAFOI (Labour—Mana) to the Minister of Police: What specific warnings, if any, has the Government received from Police around service delivery in relation to line-by-line savings within personnel and asset costs?
Hon CHESTER BORROWS (Minister for Courts) on behalf of the Minister of Police: The Minister is not aware of any warnings, but she is aware that advice was provided in a briefing in February 2011 in which Police said they were making changes to improve performance and eliminate unnecessary bureaucracy. These changes were delivered successfully. It also said “should Police be required to find line-by-line savings in the future, there is the risk that service delivery could be impacted”. The Government has not asked Police to make such savings. In fact, since then there are now 600 additional front-line officers, police foot patrols were up 70 percent last year, crime is at a 30-year low, and we are just about to roll out 6,500 smartphones and tablets, which means that police will have more than half a million extra front-line police hours to invest in crime prevention every year.
Kris Faafoi: I seek leave to table a briefing paper to the Minister dated 9 February 2011, where Police advise the Minister of Police that there is a risk that service delivery will be impacted if they are forced to find further savings in personnel and asset costs.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There appears to be none. It can be tabled. Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Kris Faafoi: What was the dollar increase in costs for the Police from the new collective employment agreement negotiated in June last year?
Hon CHESTER BORROWS: I do not have that information with me today. I am sure the Minister will respond to any question that may be put to her when she returns.
Kris Faafoi: Has the increase that is needed to meet the renegotiation of the Police collective contract been met with new funding or within Police baseline funding?
Hon CHESTER BORROWS: I can say that I have not been briefed in respect of this line of questioning and cannot answer that question.
Kris Faafoi: I seek leave to table a briefing paper, dated, again, 9 February 2011, where the Police advised the Minister that wage risks beyond June 2012 have not been factored into Police forecasts, and that there is a risk that police may not be able to manage those costs within existing budgets.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There appears to be none. It can be tabled. Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Hon Phil Goff: Why did the Minister repeatedly tell me during the estimates hearing for Vote Police this year that there would be no closure of police stations, when that statement, made repeatedly, is patently untrue and misleading?
Hon CHESTER BORROWS: There are no plans to close police stations.
Hon Phil Goff: If there are no plans to close police stations, can the Minister please explain to me why there is a notice on the door of the Mount Albert Police Station at the moment that reads: “Closed permanently.”; why there is a notice on the police station at Blockhouse Bay that reads: “Closed permanently.”; and, why, in my own electorate of Mt Roskill, there is a sign that reads: “Temporarily closed.” but it has been that way for a month?
Hon CHESTER BORROWS: I have been advised that there have been no plans to close police stations. What I can say, of course, is—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I am trying to hear.
Hon CHESTER BORROWS: —that the new plans to roll-out technology amongst police will mean that they will be able to work in a far more mobile way. It is not bricks and mortar that catch crooks; it is cops on the road, and under this Government there are more cops on the road, for longer, catching crooks.
Hon Phil Goff: I seek leave of the House to table a number of documents. The first is a notice on the window of the Mount Albert Police Station, saying: “If you want community policing, go to Ponsonby on the other side of town.” That is the first photo.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that photograph. Is there any objection? There is none. Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Hon Phil Goff: The second photo here is from Blockhouse Bay. It has: “Yes, we’re open.” on the floor, and over the top of it, it has got: “This station has been relocated to Mount Roskill Police Station.” I seek leave to table that.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that. Is there any objection? There appears to be none. It can be tabled. Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Hon Phil Goff: Mr Speaker—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Order! A point of order is being heard; it will be heard in silence.
Hon Phil Goff: Since people were referred to the Mount Roskill Police Station, the third paper I seek to table is a photo on the door of the Mount Roskill Police Station saying: “This station is temporarily closed. We apologise for any inconvenience.”! We have been inconvenienced for 4 weeks.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that. Is there any objection? There appears to be none. It can be so tabled. Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Hon Phil Goff: I seek leave of the House to table a briefing to the Minister of Police, which says that you have to have a network of stations to provide visibility and accessibility to the public.
Hon Member: Dated?
Mr SPEAKER: A question has been asked about the date of that briefing.
Hon Phil Goff: Yes, the date of that is 9 February 2011.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: How did he come by it?
Hon Phil Goff: It is a briefing for the Minister of Police—oh, this Government leaks like a sieve.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Does the member want to know how it was acquired—or is leave sought to table the document? Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is objection.
Hon Phil Goff: I seek leave of the House to table a corrected transcript from the estimates hearing for Vote Police.
Mr SPEAKER: No, those transcripts are available to members.
Hon Phil Goff: No, they are not, Mr Speaker. The transcripts of evidence are not available publicly—only to the members of the select committee, as I understand it.
Mr SPEAKER: If the estimates hearing has been reported, the transcript will be available.
Hon Phil Goff: Why did the Minister repeatedly deny at the estimates hearing that the Police budget had been cut in real terms, when she knew from the briefing paper tabled by my colleague that the Police had warned the Minister of Police in that briefing document that ongoing cuts, which are represented in that budget, would lead to the failure of the police being able to deliver services, such as keeping their police stations open?
Hon CHESTER BORROWS: The Police budget has not been cut. It is over to the Police how they spend their operational funding. It could be that from time to time, for instance, shop-front police premises are relocated. They are not police stations. I was not giving evidence before that select committee. He will have to speak to the Minister of Police on her return.
Kris Faafoi: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I seek leave to table a photo of the Porirua community police base, taken this afternoon, which is closed to cut costs.
Mr SPEAKER: What proof is there that the station has been closed?
Kris Faafoi: Well, it is two doors down from my electorate office and it is closed.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that photo. Is there any objection?
Hon CHESTER BORROWS: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: I am dealing with a point of order.
Hon CHESTER BORROWS: In respect of the point of order, I was unable to hear the location of the premises—
Mr SPEAKER: Porirua.
Hon CHESTER BORROWS: And is it a shop-front police kiosk or is it a station?
Mr SPEAKER: I do not think that is important to the leave. The leave has been sought. I am putting the question. Is there any objection? Yes, there is.
Mining in Conservation Areas—Schedule 4 Land
CATHERINE DELAHUNTY (Green): Does he stand by his statement that “In 2010 I spelled out very clearly that we won’t be going into Schedule 4 land …”?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE (Leader of the House) on behalf of the Prime Minister: The Prime Minister stands by his full statement, which is: “In 2010 I spelled out very clearly that we wouldn’t be going into Schedule 4 land …”—
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First): I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! I apologise to the member. A point of order has been called by the Rt Hon Winston Peters.
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First): If you heard that question and saw what is on the paper today for questions for oral answer, how did you reconcile the two?
Mr SPEAKER: There was a very minor transposing of words. It was accidental by the member. I did not think that in any way it made any difference to the delivery of the question. The Minister has it on notice. I agree that it was not word for word, but members occasionally make very slight mistakes in this House, which I find—
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First): I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. No, this is not a mistake. There is a pattern emerging here where people are abandoning their questions, of which we have all got notice, before us all, and doing as they please.
Mr SPEAKER: The easiest way forward—because the member is obviously upset that it was not said exactly correctly—is that I am going to ask Catherine Delahunty to restate the question.
5. CATHERINE DELAHUNTY (Green) to the Prime Minister: Does he stand by his statement that, “In 2010 I spelled out very clearly that we wouldn’t be going into Schedule 4 land …”?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE (Leader of the House) on behalf of the Prime Minister: The Prime Minister stands by his full statement: “In 2010 I spelled out very clearly that we wouldn’t be going into Schedule 4 land or world heritage sites. The reason that the survey work is being undertaken as I understand it is because there are many other benefits that may flow from that data collection …”.
Catherine Delahunty: Given his promise that prospecting on schedule 4 land will not lead to mining there, why is there a mining permit currently being considered by New Zealand Petroleum and Minerals for schedule 4 land in the Coromandel?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: I think there is a difference between what are effectively recreation and hobby - type activities and large-scale mining. Recreation and hobby - type activities have been allowed on schedule 4 land since its inception.
Catherine Delahunty: Given that one company moved from a hobby mine to an exploration and now is applying to mine on schedule 4 land, is it not a reasonable conclusion that other companies will be expecting to do the same?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: They may well expect to make an application, but in this case there is no decision.
Catherine Delahunty: Given that National has made other promises it has broken, like increasing GST when John Key said he would not, should we take this latest promise with a grain of salt?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: I just want to point out that although the member might like to make those allegations, it is easy for me to also point out to her that during the term of the previous Labour Government there were six mining permits granted on schedule 4 land for 180 hectares of schedule 4 land. If that is not a breach of Green promise, I do not know what is.
Catherine Delahunty: Will the Prime Minister resign if he breaks his promise and allows mining on schedule 4 land?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: I am not an appropriate person to answer that question.
Catherine Delahunty: I seek leave to table a document prepared by the Parliamentary Library that shows a mining permit—not a hobby mining permit but a full mining permit—is being sought for schedule 4 land in the Coromandel.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is none. It may be tabled. Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
6. CHRIS AUCHINVOLE (National) to the Minister of Internal Affairs: What progress has been made on the review of Fire Service functions and funding?
Hon CHRIS TREMAIN (Minister of Internal Affairs): I received the report of an independent review into Fire Service functions and funding in December and released it in early February. Since then I have been meeting with key stakeholders and seeking feedback on the report. There has been a very positive response and a high level of consensus around many of the changes, especially those relating to the Fire Service mandate. Based on this feedback, a series of legislative and non-legislative changes are now being finalised.
Chris Auchinvole: What are the key initiatives the Government is considering as part of this review?
Hon CHRIS TREMAIN: We are still making final decisions, but the key initiatives will include, firstly, changes to the mandate of the Fire Service, to bring the legislation into the 21st century. Secondly, I am investigating ways of enabling the Fire Service to work more collaboratively and efficiently with other emergency services. Thirdly, we will be comprehensively looking into the future funding options. The independent reviewers indicated that more work needed to be done here. We will be looking at ways to improve the equity of the Fire Service levy by removing opportunities for levy avoidance.
Chris Auchinvole: Why are the changes to the Fire Service mandate so important?
Hon CHRIS TREMAIN: The Fire Service legislation is almost 40 years old, and firefighters now perform a much wider range of tasks than they did in 1977. However, they are still mandated only to fight fires. This means that firefighters are not legally protected nor legally required to perform tasks such as motor vehicle extractions, which they currently spend 18 percent of their time doing. These issues have been apparent for a long time. It is very important to maintain the momentum and consensus on this rather than let it fall by the wayside, as has happened with previous reviews.
7. DENIS O’ROURKE (NZ First) to the Minister of Immigration: Does he stand by his statement of 12 March 2013 “… last year we made changes to give priority to migrants who can make a real contribution to New Zealand, which we expect to lead to significant savings for the taxpayer …”?
Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE (Minister of Immigration): Yes.
Denis O’Rourke: Given that the new parent category now prioritises migrants with $500,000 settlement funds, how are they making a real contribution when they are adding to the Auckland housing bubble?
Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE: I will need to check with the Minister of Housing, but as I understand it everybody needs shelter and a house, not just Chinese people. But I do note that the BNZ-REINZ Residential Market Survey released recently “found no evidence of Chinese buyers snapping up large numbers of Auckland properties, despite reports to the contrary.”
Denis O’Rourke: How can there be significant savings for the taxpayer considering the impact of parent category migrants on New Zealand’s stressed health care system when 50 percent of all health care spending is spent on the elderly over 65-year-olds?
Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE: The savings mentioned in the question on 12 March refers to savings in social development costs, not health costs. Under the previous policy setting, some 24 percent of parent category visa holders were in receipt of emergency benefits. The changes the Government has announced but not yet implemented, will have, when fully implemented, savings of up to $34 million a year.
Denis O’Rourke: How can there be significant savings for the taxpayer when parent migrants of only 10 years’ residence without any requirement to work are entitled to full New Zealand superannuation at age 65?
Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE: As New Zealand residents, those people are entitled to the same superannuation benefits as all New Zealanders—and I stress that that is all New Zealanders
whether or not they have worked during their working lives. That includes being in New Zealand for 10 years, including 5 years over the age of 55. I do not see any inequity in that, and I think that is fair for those who can call themselves New Zealand residents.
Denis O’Rourke: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The question was specifically about how there could be savings when that was the case. The Minister did not even address that.
Mr SPEAKER: He went on to say there are probably no savings in the position of superannuation because they are treated the same as all other New Zealanders after 10 years. That question was addressed.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. If you check the Hansard, you will see that he most certainly did not give the answer you gave. He gave an explanation that said they were entitled to the same as anybody else who had lived in New Zealand all their life and did not work, but he did not say that there were no savings. You cannot just go and make it up as you please.
Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE: I am happy to elaborate on the answer if it will aid the member. The costs mentioned exclude New Zealand superannuation and therefore by inference the savings cannot come from that.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Is this a point of order or a reply?
Mr SPEAKER: It is a response to a point of order.
Denis O’Rourke: Does the Minister agree with a comment on www.skykiwi.com, the largest Chinese website in New Zealand, which says: “A fat pension for foreigners? Isn’t the New Zealand Government being rather stupid? Sounds rather stupid. The New Zealand pension system provides foreigners with the same entitlement as its own citizens.”?
Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE: No.
Denis O’Rourke: I seek leave to table a translation of the article from www.skykiwi.com, the largest Chinese website in New Zealand, from which the quotation in my last question was drawn.
Mr SPEAKER: It is something that is obviously not widely available. Leave is sought to table it. Is there any objection? There is objection.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I think there is still a Standing Order that says that points of order are heard in silence—certainly there is a Speaker’s ruling. I think there were about 15 National Party MPs interjecting during that point of order and I wonder whether you might draw their attention to the Standing Orders.
Mr SPEAKER: I think the member has himself very adequately and very helpfully drawn all members to a correct Standing Order that points of order will be heard in silence. I would be grateful if that would be adhered to by every member in the House.
Denis O’Rourke: Given that the parent category now prioritises $500,000 settlement funds or a guaranteed lifetime minimum annual income of at least $27,000, or about $40,000 for a couple, why are these people getting the same New Zealand superannuation, aged care, and health care entitlements as Kiwi taxpayers who have worked here all their lives?
Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE: The short answer is they are not until they become eligible under the New Zealand superannuation guidelines, which means that they need to be in this country for at least 5 years, and probably 10 or more.
Customs, Revenue Collection—Audit Systems
8. Dr PAUL HUTCHISON (National—Hunua) to the Minister of Customs: What work is the Government doing to ensure correct revenue is being paid on imports and exports?
Hon MAURICE WILLIAMSON (Minister of Customs): The Customs Service’s trade assurance arm works to verify that import and export entry data is accurate and to ensure the correct revenue is collected. I am very pleased to say these audits have resulted in an additional $48 million being collected for the Crown in just over 18 months. This supports the Government priority to responsibly manage Government finances.
Dr Paul Hutchison: What do the audit results reveal about the systems in place?
Hon MAURICE WILLIAMSON: They show that the systems the Customs Service has in place are working, and working really well. The integrity of data is critical, and a number of initiatives are under way within the Customs Service to make submitting import and export entry information even easier than it is now and electronic for all clients. Given the Customs Service collects around 15 percent of all Crown revenue, it is vital that these right systems are working well and are in place.
Genetic Engineering—Government Response to Report on Food Safety Risks
9. STEFFAN BROWNING (Green) to the Minister for Food Safety: What action, if any, is she taking in response to the recent Canterbury University study that found food safety risks from GE are not being considered adequately by regulatory bodies?
Hon NIKKI KAYE (Minister for Food Safety): I understand Food Standards Australia New Zealand is reviewing Professor Jack Heinemann’s study and will be publishing a response in due course. I intend to seek advice on that response once it is available.
Steffan Browning: Why is Food Standards Australia New Zealand not requiring specific testing for the health effects of foods that have new GE molecules to ensure that they are safe to eat?
Hon NIKKI KAYE: We have some very established processes in terms of Food Standards Australia New Zealand. I do note that it is standard practice for the Ministry for Primary Industries to review Food Standards Australia New Zealand’s advice on GM applications, so on the issue of testing I am very confident that we have got some very established processes.
Steffan Browning: I seek leave to table this report that shows that new genetically engineered foods are not being adequately tested.
Mr SPEAKER: Is this the report from the University of Canterbury?
Steffan Browning: It is. It was published in the most recent—
Mr SPEAKER: That is widely available to any member who wants it on the website.
Steffan Browning: I am not sure that it is, actually. It is in an academic journal.
Mr SPEAKER: I am advised it is on the University of Canterbury website.
Steffan Browning: Was Food Standards Australia New Zealand’s chief scientist, Paul Brent, wrong when he told Radio New Zealand this morning that Food Standards Australia New Zealand does not require companies to test foods with double-strand RNA molecules to ensure that they are safe to eat?
Hon NIKKI KAYE: I just want to make a couple of comments about the study—
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: Just answer the question.
Hon NIKKI KAYE: —and I will answer the question that Mr Browning has asked. But I think it is very important that the member is really careful when he quotes particular studies. We get hundreds of those studies. With regard to the testing—
Steffan Browning: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I could get into dialogue on this too, but that is not the actual answer to the question.
Mr SPEAKER: I think the way forward, because the Minister did say she would answer the question, is that I would appreciate hearing the question again, and then I will ask the Minister to address it directly.
Steffan Browning: Was Food Standards Australia New Zealand’s chief scientist, Paul Brent, wrong when he told Radio New Zealand this morning that Food Standards Australia New Zealand does not require companies to test foods with double-strand RNA molecules to ensure they are safe to eat?
Hon NIKKI KAYE: I very much doubt that he is wrong, but the point that I was trying to make to the member is that we get hundreds of studies. We will be reviewing that study, but there has been significant criticism of that study. I want to read out a couple of quotes about that study: “It is
disappointing that these authors continue to ignore the bulk of the scientific literature, but in this case they are even ignoring common sense.”
Steffan Browning: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. As I said, I can get into dialogue on the rights and wrongs of the different commentators on this, as well. I do not think that is—
Mr SPEAKER: The question has certainly been adequately addressed. If the member does not find the additional information of any use to him, then that is his privilege.
Steffan Browning: Will she commit now to halting any further approvals and withdrawing any existing approvals of GE foods with these molecules until testing regimes have actually been developed to prove that they are safe?
Hon NIKKI KAYE: No, I cannot guarantee that. There are several reasons. The first is we have a very established set of processes with Food Standards Australia New Zealand. The second is that with regard to the study that the member is actually referring to, the advice that I have had is that it will not necessarily be applicable to another GE application. The third thing that I would say is that it is very standard practice for the Ministry for Primary Industries to review Food Standards Australia New Zealand’s advice on GM applications. I think we can have confidence in our systems.
Economic Development, Minister—Statements
10. CLARE CURRAN (Labour—Dunedin South) to the Minister for Economic
Development: Does he stand by his answer to Oral Question No. 7 on Thursday, 21 March 2013?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister for Economic Development): Yes, particularly my statement that the information and communications technology sector is probably the sector with the highest demand for skilled workers, and my example of one website alone advertising 1,300 information and communications technology vacancies in Auckland alone.
Clare Curran: Has he or his office had any contact since last Thursday’s question time with Telecom board members or senior executives about the imminent job losses; if so, what was the total number of job cuts he was told would occur in 2013?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I spoke to the chairman of Telecom last weekend. I asked him where they were up to with their restructuring plans. He told me they were still in progress. He could not offer any numbers at that stage, because the board was yet to meet to consider them.
Clare Curran: Has Telecom informed him of its plan to reduce the workforce by 20 to 30 percent from each business unit, which would mean job cuts of between 1,500 and 2,300 employees?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: No. Telecom informed us this morning, just prior to releasing its statement, of what it was saying today. Could I caution the member to be very careful about those statements because she is talking about a publicly listed company. Last week in this House she suggested that there would 1,500 positions lost, and that has turned out this week to be incorrect. The numbers are significant.
Hon Trevor Mallard: No, no. That’s only to June.
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Well, that is—
Hon Trevor Mallard: That’s just the first tranche, they said this morning.
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Well, as I read the statement today, that is incorrect, and I just caution the member to be careful.
Clare Curran: I seek leave to table an email from a Telecom employee revealing the company’s plans to cut 20 to 30 percent of staff from each business unit.
Hon Members: Whom is it to?
Mr SPEAKER: Whom was the email to? The members are asking whom the email was addressed to.
Clare Curran: To me.
Mr SPEAKER: OK. Leave is sought to table that email. Is there any objection? Yes, there is. [Interruption] Order! Order! Supplementary question?
Clare Curran: Supplementary question.
Mr SPEAKER: Supplementary question—[Interruption] Order! I am trying to give Clare Curran a fair go at asking another supplementary question.
Clare Curran: Does his Government have a sector strategy in place to support the engineering technicians and professional support staff who will lose their jobs at Telecom, or is it just another example of his hands-off approach to job creation?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: The Government, as the member knows, has a number of ways in which it supports people in situations of job loss, including through the Ministry of Social Development and through skills-matching processes. We have, in fact, talked to Telecom from my office in terms of offering assistance in relation to matching workers who may lose their jobs from Telecom with the very high demand for other workers across the information and communications technology sector in New Zealand. We have, as I say, offered on that basis, but if the member thinks that a bureaucrat sitting down and planning where every individual goes is actually going to have an impact, she is particularly wrong.
Clare Curran: When will he admit that his Government is failing on job creation, given today’s announcement, and that 30,000 people have lost their jobs since he became employment Minister?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I will answer that question in two parts. For the second part, the member is simply incorrect, and, in fact, if you look at the quarterly employment survey, it has gone up 53,000 in the last 2 years. But the other point is that the member has to decide which argument she is running, because one minute she is saying telecommunication prices are too high and they must come down for consumers, and the next minute she is complaining when companies restructure to actually make themselves more competitive, control costs, and, presumably, get prices down. I know that in Clare Curran’s world you can both hold every job in place and keep prices down, but she is incorrect.
Fisheries Sector—Shellfish Catch Limits
11. SHANE ARDERN (National—Taranaki - King Country) to the Minister for Primary
Industries: What changes has he recently announced to shellfish catch limits?
Hon NATHAN GUY (Minister for Primary Industries): Last week I announced new catch limits for rock lobster, scallops, and surf clams. The commercial catch limit increases have the potential to grow the surf clam industry and could add up to another $20 million a year in export earnings. Increases for rock lobster catch limits will also generate over $3 million a year in export earnings.
Shane Ardern: Why has the Minister made this decision to increase catch limits?
Hon NATHAN GUY: These catch limit increases are based on new scientific information showing that large numbers of surf clams and scallops are available for sustainable harvest. This is another case of this Government’s focus on sustainable economic development. These economic opportunities and new jobs will benefit many regional communities, including Hawke’s Bay, Gisborne, Taranaki, Manawatū, and, of course, the Coromandel.
Government Communications Security Bureau—Process for Appointment of Director
12. GRANT ROBERTSON (Deputy Leader—Labour) to the Prime Minister: Was Ian Fletcher the candidate or one of the candidates named in the report to him from the State Services Commissioner following the panel interviews for the position of Director of the GCSB; if not, who suggested that Mr Fletcher be considered for the position of Director of the GCSB?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE (Leader of the House) on behalf of the Prime Minister: Yes.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! This is a question on notice. There are two specific parts to the question.
Grant Robertson: No, because the second one is “if not”. If the answer is “Yes”, then that’s fine.
Mr SPEAKER: Is the member happy with that answer?
Grant Robertson: I am extremely happy.
Mr SPEAKER: Then we will proceed.
Grant Robertson: Did the Prime Minister accept the first recommendation of the State Services Commissioner for the person to be appointed to the post of Director of the Government Communications Security Bureau, following the process begun in May 2011?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: My understanding is yes.
Grant Robertson: Did the Prime Minister either directly or indirectly intervene in the process for the selection of the Director of the Government Communications Security Bureau?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: The State Services Commissioner has the role of identifying persons who might be suitable for that role, then conducting appropriate discussions with those people, and finally making a recommendation to the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister ultimately makes that appointment, and, of course, there were discussions through that process.
Louise Upston: Would the Prime Minister please outline for the House the background of Ian Fletcher?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: Yes, I would like to do that. Before being appointed as Director of the Government Communications Security Bureau on the recommendation of the State Services Commissioner, Mr Fletcher was director-general of the Queensland Department of Employment, Economic Development and Innovation. He performed that role under the state Labor Government at the time. Prior to that, Mr Fletcher was comptroller-general and chief executive of the British Intellectual Property Office. Prior to that, Mr Fletcher was managing director international for UK Trade and Investment, a similar organisation to New Zealand Trade and Enterprise. The facts are that Mr Fletcher had a strong background that spanned across a number of countries, and he was appointed because he was the best candidate for the job.
Grant Robertson: In the first report from the State Services Commissioner on the recommendation for who should be the Director of the Government Communications Security Bureau, was Ian Fletcher in the top two candidates?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: My understanding is that there were no recommendations in the first report.
Grant Robertson: In the first report, were there two short-listed candidates recommended to the Prime Minister?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: My understanding is that in the first report there were no recommendations for appointment and there were, therefore, no one-to-four rankings supplied.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The question was very straight: were there two short-listed candidates?
Mr SPEAKER: The question was related more to whether there was any favoured ranking for those, and the Minister said that there was not.
Hon Trevor Mallard: No, it was a very straight question: were there two short-listed candidates? I could not tell from that answer whether there were or there were not. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Well, no, we are going to make progress. I am going to ask the member to ask the question again. I will listen very carefully to the answer, and I will then make a decision whether I think the question has been adequately addressed.
Grant Robertson: In the first report, were there two short-listed candidates?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: It is my understanding that there was no short list in the first report.
Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Labour—Hutt South): I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am aware that you have received an urgent question relating to $23 million worth of bank account details leaked by the Earthquake Commission, which has been revealed today. The names, the amounts, and the bank account details of hundreds of Christchurch people—
Hon Member: 2,000.
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: —2,000 Christchurch individuals, with money amounts totalling $23 million—have been revealed in yet another leak from the Earthquake Commission, which has become apparent only this afternoon. We are approaching Easter and we do need a level of assurance from the Minister responsible for the Earthquake Commission that he is on top of it. I cannot think of anything more urgent than ensuring that a Minister is ensuring the privacy of people’s bank account numbers.
Mr SPEAKER: I was dealing with this matter through question time. The advice I have received is that this was information that was available this morning prior to the lodging of questions, and on that basis I did not accept that it—[Interruption] Because it was the information that was—
Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Labour—Hutt South): I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I provided authentication that showed that this was available to the Opposition at only 1.23 this afternoon.
Mr SPEAKER: And the information that I have been given by the Clerk of the House is that it was available. The member may not have picked it up—
Hon Members: How?
Mr SPEAKER: I have not got that detail with me, but it was available earlier in the day. Therefore, on that basis—
Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Labour—Hutt South): I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The authentication that was given to you showed that it was available to the individual to whom it was leaked over a month ago. It was available to that person. That person followed it up with the Earthquake Commission. He asked the chief executive to respond. The chief executive did not respond. All the evidence about this massive breach came to the attention of the Opposition and, we understand, no media—yet—at 1.23 this afternoon.
Mr SPEAKER: Can I just seek some advice from the Clerk, because the authentication has not actually been provided to me, as the member states. It certainly has been provided to the Clerk of the House throughout question time. I will take just a minute to seek some advice. [Interruption] On seeking advice, and particularly on the basis that Mr Brownlee has indicated he is quite comfortable with the asking of the question, I am going to allow the question to proceed as an urgent question.
Earthquake Commission—Release of Personal Information
1. Hon LIANNE DALZIEL (Labour—Christchurch East) to the Minister responsible for
the Earthquake Commission: What action is he going to take to stop further Earthquake Commission breaches, in light of today’s revelation that they have sent claim details, including names and bank account numbers, to a claimant?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE (Minister responsible for the Earthquake Commission): The member speaking just before indicated that the Labour Opposition received this information at 23 minutes past 1. I left my office to come to the House today at quarter to 2, and that would mean that there was about 23 minutes or so in which those members could have told me prior to leaving my office that they knew about this breach. I have not been informed about the breach. I will certainly check it out and take whatever action is necessary to ensure that the Earthquake Commission does get on top of its system, so this sort of thing does not happen.
Hon Lianne Dalziel: Does he accept that, with over 2,000 names, bank account details, and the amount of the unpresented Earthquake Commission cheques wrongly released to a claimant, there is
systemic failure in the Earthquake Commission’s data system, and will he now take ministerial responsibility for this scandal?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: As I said, I am not aware of this. If the member was aware at 23 minutes past 1 and considers it to be the breach that it would it appear to be, I am disappointed that she did not contact my office to let me know that she is now in receipt of people’s private information.
Hon Lianne Dalziel: I seek leave to table, with the names removed—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! This is a point of order and it will be heard in silence.
Hon Lianne Dalziel: I seek leave to table, with the names removed from the emails and from the ANZ bank and from the individual claimants—I am not going to table the 2,000; I am talking about just a summary of what is there from the person who sent it to my office at 1.23 and my staff member, who gave it to me at 5 to 2 this afternoon.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that.
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I think that compounds the problem here. The member has now said herself that she did not get this information until 5 to 2. It is plain to everybody who has been either in the House or watching the proceedings that I have been in the House all of that time. I cannot possibly respond, and I think it would be irresponsible for the House to grant leave for private information to be laid on the Table of the House.
Mr SPEAKER: And I appreciate—[Interruption] Order! Order! I appreciate the point that the Minister is making. At this stage, the member has sought leave to table a document. It is in the hands of the House as to whether that document will be tabled. Leave is sought—
Hon Lianne Dalziel: May I give the House a reassurance that there is no private information on what I am seeking to table.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table—
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: In that case, what is being tabled?
Mr SPEAKER: What is being tabled is the information that she has received, but she has made it very clear that she has removed the personal names so that people cannot be identified.
Hon Lianne Dalziel: I will go through it individually. I have got the email to my office, which includes the email from EQC info mailbox that came to the person who has released this information to me. I have got the letter that he received from the Earthquake Commission, which shows that there are attachments, and the attachments are the stop payment requests from ANZ. There are no details on that, at all. There are the stop payment requests, and I have removed the names of the individuals and the serial number, which is their bank account number. I have done the same with this form as well.
Mr SPEAKER: And that is a very, very full and adequate explanation of what the member is attempting to table. Leave is sought to table those documents. Is there any objection? There is none. They can be tabled. Documents, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.