Questions and Answers - May 8
QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS
Question No. 1 to Minister
Dr RUSSEL NORMAN (Co-Leader—Green): I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. This question was originally to the Prime Minister. I seek leave of the House to have it transferred back to the Prime Minister.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: No, you can’t do that.
Mr SPEAKER: Well, he can seek leave of the House to do anything. It is very easily resolved. Leave is sought to transfer the question. Is there any objection? There is.
Dr RUSSEL NORMAN (Co-Leader—Green): I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! This is a point of order and it will be heard in silence.
Dr RUSSEL NORMAN: It concerns the problem of how we are to ask questions of the Prime Minister, because if we ask a generic question, like Mr Shearer’s question No. 2 today, then you have ruled that because it is a generic primary we cannot expect specific answers. But when we ask specific questions of the Prime Minister, he transfers them to other Ministers. How are we to hold the Prime Minister accountable on specific issues if he will not answer specific questions?
Mr SPEAKER: Can I ask the member to refer to Speakers’ rulings, particularly 151/1, 151/2, and others that clearly say it is the prerogative of the Government to determine who answers the oral question. Does the member wish to continue?
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First): I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My simple question seeking clarification is this: how on earth are we going to find out whether the Prime Minister agrees with Mr English when in fact the Minister of Energy and Resources is going to answer? The whole thing is impossible at this point in time.
Mr SPEAKER: As I have just alerted to Dr Russel Norman, it is the Government’s prerogative—and it has been long established for many years—to determine whom it sees fit to answer the questions. There is the ability for the Speaker to decline a transfer in the event that I perceive that transfer to be something that would avoid the question being answered satisfactorily. I have had a look at this. I am quite determined that the Government has correctly transferred this question. If the member wishes to continue to ask it, he will do so now.
Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Labour—Hutt South): I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. There appears, therefore, to be an error in the wording of the question. The question was to the Prime Minister and asked whether he agreed. You are absolutely right that it can be transferred, and there is a lot of precedent for that, but what has happened in the recent past under your rulings and the rulings of the Speaker before has been that there has been an opportunity to reword the question. The question would then have been reworded, if that proper negotiation had occurred, as “Is he
aware whether the Prime Minister agrees?”. The Rt Hon Winston Peters is absolutely right that the question is about the state of mind not of Mr Bridges but of the Prime Minister.
Mr SPEAKER: And again I refer the member to Speaker’s ruling 152/5 that there will be necessary textual changes to a question once it has been transferred. This question has been transferred and if the member wants to ask the question he will proceed to do so now.
Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Labour—Hutt South): I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Will you therefore confirm that the Hon Bill English—
Hon Lianne Dalziel: Trevor! Sorry, Trevor. It’s changed.
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: Sorry?
Hon Lianne Dalziel: It’s been changed. It’s changed on the yellow sheet.
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: Sorry, I apologise, Mr Speaker. There appears to have been yet another change that has occurred here.
Power Prices—Minister of Finance’s Statements
1. Dr RUSSEL NORMAN (Co-Leader—Green) to the Minister of Energy and Resources: Does he agree with the Minister of Finance that New Zealanders are not paying too much for electricity?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES (Minister of Energy and Resources): Yes, I do. I also agree with the Minister of Finance’s recent comment that a lot of us do not like the power bills we get, but the one thing that will be worse and more wasteful will be politicians running the electricity system. That will look cheap for a while, and then you will find that the technology has not been upgraded, that the new generation that we need has not actually turned up, and then there will be a big spend by the Government to subsidise something and the prices will all go up.
Dr Russel Norman: How much has the annual electricity bill of a typical Kiwi family increased by under his Government?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: By about half as much as it did under Labour and the Greens. It has gone up by about 4.5 percent, not 8 percent, under this Government. So, in fact, although we saw massive rises under Labour and the Greens, we have halved that steep rise under this Government.
Dr Russel Norman: I seek leave to table a document prepared by the Parliamentary Library showing that electricity bills have risen by $372.80 per year under this Government.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that paper prepared by the Parliamentary Library. Is there any objection? There appears to be none. It can be tabled. Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Dr Russel Norman: Given that electricity prices rose at six times the rate of inflation in the past year, has the National Government been effective at bringing power prices down?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: Yes, because, as I have already said, we have halved the massive, steep increases we saw under Labour and the Greens.
Brendan Horan: What action is the Minister going to take for the people of Tauranga, as statistics produced by his own Government show their power prices are rising 15 percent faster than the national average rise?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: I am going to continue to ensure, as Minister of Energy and Resources, that we have an increasingly competitive system. The member might like to know that in Tauranga the main retailer is TrustPower, where it provides a cheque back to consumers of $375 a year. That is $3 more than Russel Norman says the prices went up by last year.
Dr Russel Norman: Given that power bills for the average family did increase under his Government by $372 per year, what is more important to his Government: profits for electricity company owners, or power prices for Kiwi families and businesses?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: Prices for Kiwi families.
Dr Russel Norman: Why is the Minister comfortable with the constant increase in power prices under his Government’s electricity market settings, when there are better alternatives that would result in cheaper power for Kiwi households and businesses?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: Because we are ensuring an increasingly competitive system. We came into Government in 2008. We had a comprehensive review of the system. We made a raft of changes, and, as the Electricity Authority said very recently, we have seen in the last year increased competitiveness in the retail market, increased activity on the futures market, and improved hydro management in response to a dry year. So we are doing the right things to make this an increasingly competitive market.
Dr Russel Norman: If the Minister’s actions have been so successful, why have prices increased at six times the rate of inflation over the last year?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: Well, let me give the member an example of how successful they have been. Some 700,000 people have switched since we introduced What’s My Number. In Auckland, you can go from the most expensive to the least expensive retailer at the moment and save $343; in Wellington, $418; in Christchurch, $618; and in the South Island, in Balclutha, $485.
Dr Russel Norman: Does he agree with the Commerce Commission’s independent Wolak report that electricity companies are overcharging by $700 million a year on average?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: My understanding is that that was based on very old data, but, to the extent that the member asked the question, no, I do not agree.
Dr Russel Norman: Why do you not agree?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: Because it is based on old figures. Mr Wolak based it on northern hemisphere examples rather than on what is happening in this country, and we are a world away and have a very different set of circumstances from the examples he used.
Dr Russel Norman: Why is it that the Minister prefers to listen to the advice from the electricity companies that they are not overcharging, rather than listening to the advice of the independent report from the Commerce Commission, which found that the electricity companies are overcharging by $700 million per year?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: Well, I already answered that in my earlier—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! I want to hear the answer.
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: I already answered that question in my earlier answer.
Dr Russel Norman: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My question was: why is he listening to the electricity companies, rather than the Wolak report, which was commissioned by the Commerce Commission?
Mr SPEAKER: And the Minister answered that by saying that he had already answered that reasonably in the earlier question. That is quite satisfactory.
Dr Russel Norman: What assurance, if any, can he offer New Zealand families and businesses that before the 2014 election electricity prices will return to the levels that they were when he entered office—when will they return to the original levels?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: I offer them my absolute assurance and conviction that our market is becoming increasingly competitive, and you see that in the very sharp deals that you can get all around New Zealand at the present time.
Brendan Horan: I seek leave to table domestic electricity prices as released by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.
Mr SPEAKER: Well, if it is released by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, is it freely available to all members on its website? Yes, it is.
2. DAVID SHEARER (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does he stand by all his statements?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): Yes.
David Shearer: Does he stand by his commitment to Grey Power in 2009 that his electricity policies would “help constrain electricity prices” and “see fewer stories about electricity retailers putting up power prices ahead of inflation”?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Yes.
David Shearer: In light of his answer, does he think it is fair that New Zealand power prices rose more than five times faster than inflation in the last year; if so, why?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Firstly, power prices are rising much more slowly under a National Government than under a Labour Government, but part of the cost increases was the increase in transmission, which is necessary to improve the national grid.
David Shearer: Does he consider residential power prices in New Zealand are too high?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: They are somewhere in the middle of the pack, I think, when it comes to around the OECD. What I can say is that the changes that the National-led Government has made over the last 4½ years are increasing the competitiveness of the market. That is helping to deal with the issues of the rampant price increases that we saw under Labour. But I would say that if I was to implement the sort of policy I saw announced by Labour and the Greens, what I can be sure of are a few things—that the predictions—
David Shearer: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The question was adequately answered, thank you.
Mr SPEAKER: If the member is happy with the answer, we will move to the next supplementary question.
David Shearer: Does he agree with Consumer magazine that “Effective regulation is needed to ensure consumers get a reasonable deal. We are yet to see it.”?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I do not agree with the last bit. I think we are seeing effective regulation. What I can say is that what we are not seeing are the 101,000 bogus signatures that were on a petition—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! That is not necessary.
David Shearer: Does he agree with his energy Minister that the Bradford electricity reforms introduced 15 years ago “did not have a chance to bed in”; if so, how many more years will it take before these electricity reforms bed in?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I am not sure which electricity Minister the member was referring to— there has been a number over time. But if it was Mr Bridges, then absolutely, because he is the face of the future, my boy.
David Shearer: Does he agree with the Minister of Finance, who said, in response to questions about electricity prices being too high: “if you look at those returns being generated particularly out of the electricity market, the Government has taken the view that the market is not as competitive as it should be.”? That was this year.
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Well, I would need to see the full context of the speech and what happened, because the Opposition has a bit of a habit of cutting and pasting these things. But, yes, in principle, I find myself more often than not agreeing with the Minister of Finance.
David Shearer: Does he have any policies that will guarantee power prices dropping in the next 18 months; if so, which ones?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Well, I do not think it is possible to guarantee that power prices will drop. I think we can certainly guarantee that we have a market that is more competitive than the one we inherited under Labour. We can also certainly guarantee that if Labour was to ever implement its policy along with the Greens, there would be a number of issues for New Zealand. One of them certainly would be that the ability—
David Shearer: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. That was a very adequate answer, but he was talking about our policies. I was asking about his policies.
Mr SPEAKER: The question has been adequately addressed. Are there any further supplementary questions? Otherwise I move to question No. 3, the Honourable—[Interruption] Order! Order!
Government Financial Position—Reports
3. Hon KATE WILKINSON (National—Waimakariri) to the Minister of Finance: What reports has he received on the Government’s finances?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): Treasury has this week issued Crown accounts for the 9 months to 31 March. The operating deficit before gains and losses for this period was $5 billion, which is $273 million smaller than the forecast back in December. Net core Crown debt is $1.4 billion lower than the forecast, at 27.9 percent of GDP. This illustrates that the favourable patterns of good control of expenditure and gradually increasing revenue are bedding in. The Budget next week will confirm the Government remains on track to surplus in 2014-15.
Hon Kate Wilkinson: What are the main reasons for Crown accounts being better than expected?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: They are slightly better than expected, and the reason is improved revenues and ongoing careful management of expenditure across the public sector. Core Crown tax revenue was $535 million higher than forecast, due to PAYE on wages and salaries being $187 million above forecast and tax on other income of individuals around $406 million above forecast. Core Crown expenses were slightly below forecast. This is encouraging and broadly consistent with the quarterly employment survey released yesterday, which showed hourly earnings are up 2.1 percent in the year to March and employment growth of 1.8 percent in the year to March.
Hon Kate Wilkinson: What does the Government’s financial performance say about the track to surplus, and how will this deliver benefits to New Zealand households?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: These numbers released the other day indicate that the Government is on track to surplus, consistent with Budgets over the last couple of years. By comparison, the 2009 Budget indicated net Government debt would exceed 60 percent of GDP or more than twice current levels by the early 2020s if we have maintained the spending track at that time. The benefits to households come both in the improvement in public services, despite the fact that money has been tight, and, secondly, in lower interest rates for longer because the Government is spending carefully. New Zealand households are enjoying the lowest interest rates since 1964, and the Government, of course, will do what it can to ensure that that situation continues.
Hon David Parker: Given the Reserve Bank Governor’s warning about rampant house price inflation and the effects of increased lending on the exchange rate, and an already enormous current account deficit, will he acknowledge, as the Governor of the Reserve Bank did again today, that a capital gains tax would help significantly?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: No, because that member’s version of a capital gains tax would not cover most housing. I do not know why Labour persists in the belief that a capital gains tax that exempts housing is somehow going to make a difference to housing.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Is it a fact that the overseas aid announced in Budget 2012 has been massively underspent by $94 million, and how many other Budget 2012 items have been deliberately manipulated to get an artificial result of the type he is boasting today?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: There is no deliberate manipulation, but I would imagine that in the overseas aid budget, like many others across the public sector, Ministers and officials have become much more aware of the need to focus their expenditure on what is effective, rather than just on spending more and more money. I would congratulate the Minister of Foreign Affairs on showing the same tendencies as are benefiting the whole public sector.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: If that is the case, what was the background behind the 2012 announcement that had the expenditure at $94 million more than is currently being spent, or was there no work done at all about that budget, and, if that is the case, why did he announce it in 2012?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I cannot answer the member’s question in detail. What I can say is that there has been discussion in past Budgets about how to ensure that the reasonably significant increase in foreign aid would sit with guaranteeing effective expenditure. If the member wants more detailed answers, then he is free to put in a written question or seek the answers through a select committee.
Hon Kate Wilkinson: What reports has he seen about changing data in relation to key economic policies?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I have seen one report regarding the Government’s share offer programme. It confirms earlier suggestions by the Opposition that public opposition to this policy was overwhelming. In fact, the referendum, which they said had over 400,000 signatures, turned out to have 100,000 signatures on it that were not real—an error rate of 25 percent, which, even for Labour and the Greens, is pretty high.
Power Prices—Increases and Minister’s Statements
4. Hon DAVID PARKER (Labour) to the Minister of Finance: Does he stand by his statement regarding the electricity market that: “Public monopolies will always rip off the consumer”; if so, by how much have residential power prices excluding lines charges gone up in nominal terms since November 2008 according to the Ministry of Economic Development’s Domestic Electricity Prices Survey?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): In answer to the first part of the question, I stand by my full statement, which was this: “It ignores risk. Under the previous Government they did have a pretty risk-free environment. They pumped up prices 72 percent in seven or eight years. We are making it a riskier environment by adjusting the market to make it more competitive and that is going to mean it is hard to make those sorts of excessive returns. Public monopolies will always rip off the consumer.” That is why we reject a scheme that would establish a public monopoly in electricity generation, as proposed by the member asking the question. Monopolies simply cannot and do not do better than competition. In answer to the second part of the question, according to the measure the member proposes, since this Government has been in power, prices have risen by that measure by 18 percent. Under the equivalent measure, under his stewardship they rose by 100 percent.
Hon David Parker: Why have residential power prices not dropped in the last few years but instead risen, given that demand has slumped due to the recession, and carbon prices have crashed?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The member is now mixing up measures. Of course, as he knows, one of the significant drivers of residential prices in recent years has been the line charges and transmission charges. He should be agreeing with that, because his Government started out on the process of the large-scale investment in upgrading our transmission capacity. Someone has to pay for that in the end, and that has flowed through into power prices. At the same time, there is downward pressure from slackening of demand and a collapse in carbon prices. But I have to say that under that member’s emissions trading system policy, households would pay an extra $500 per year, which is well in excess of the cut that he is promising them.
Hon David Parker: Why, despite household demand falling, is New Zealand one of just two OECD countries in the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment data that have seen power prices increase since the recession?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: As I have pointed out to the member before, the investment of something like $3 billion or more in the transmission grid was required in order to provide for reliable supply, and the cost of that has been flowing through to consumers. But the idea that a Government department is going to make better decisions is one that very few New Zealanders find credible. In fact, I think it is only the Opposition that believes it.
Hon David Parker: Why does the Minister believe that hydro generators should keep the windfall profits they make from public water under the current pricing system, rather than passing them through to Kiwi families and businesses, as Labour is proposing?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Because we do not agree with those assertions. In fact, if the member looks at one measure of the profitability of hydro companies—that is, the share prices of TrustPower and Contact—they have dropped over the last 5 years. In the case of both companies, their share prices are lower than 5 years ago, which proves exactly the opposite of the point the member is trying to make. There are not super profits, and the decline in demand is reducing the value of those companies.
Science and Research Funding—National Science Challenges Initiative and Budget 2013
5. Dr CAM CALDER (National) to the Minister of Science and Innovation: What initiatives has the Government announced to invest more in science?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister of Science and Innovation): On Wednesday last week the Prime Minister and I announced 10 National Science Challenges, along with an additional $73.5 million over 4 years from Budget 2013 to help fund those challenges. This is on top of the $60 million allocated as part of Budget 2012. The National Science Challenges will take some of the biggest science-based issues and opportunities facing New Zealand and tackle them by drawing together scientists from across institutions and disciplines. Targeting these specific challenges will help the country get greater value from the $1.3 billion investment this Government makes in science and innovation annually. If these challenges are achieved, they will create a major and enduring benefit to New Zealand. The funding for National Science Challenges forms part of a wider internationally focused growth package to be announced in next week’s Budget.
Dr Cam Calder: What are the subject areas of the National Science Challenges?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: The Government has identified 10 challenges, which cover research to protect the environment, improve the health of New Zealanders, and advance our economic growth. They are ageing well, a better start, healthier lives, high-value nutrition, New Zealand’s biological heritage, our land and water, life in a changing ocean, the deep south, science for technological innovation, and resilience to nature’s challenges—and do they not hate it? The challenges were chosen by a peak panel chaired by the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor from submissions by scientists, institutions, and the public.
Dr Cam Calder: How does the funding of National Science Challenges lift the Government’s investment in science and innovation?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: National Science Challenges contribute to the very significant increases in funding for science and innovation that this Government has made since it has come into Government, from around $1 billion in 2009-10 to just over $1.26 billion now, despite the global financial crisis. That is under the leadership, of course, of the Prime Minister, who is very passionate about the investment in science. It includes programmes such as the Primary Growth Partnership, which we have developed; increases in the Marsden Fund, which were the first for many years; increases in the Performance-based Research Fund, similarly; research and development co-funding for businesses, which were established and grown under this Government; and funding for the development of Callaghan Innovation. Despite the global financial crisis, the Government has invested significantly more in science and innovation, and members can be confident that I am continuing to lobby the Minister of Finance for more money.
Question No.6 to Associate Minister
TE URUROA FLAVELL (Māori Party—Waiariki): I note, firstly, that the Associate Minister of Education is not present and the Minister of Education is present, and that there will be some
discrepancies in the question as to the “he” and the “she”. I seek leave of the House to ask the question, taking into account those small discrepancies.
Mr SPEAKER: That is certainly in order, but just bear in mind that you are still now addressing the question, technically, to the Associate Minister of Education. The member can proceed.
Schools, Partnership—Māori Student Achievement
6. TE URUROA FLAVELL (Māori Party—Waiariki) to the Associate Minister of
Education: Does he agree with Natasha Sadler from Ngāti Wai that the whānau-engagement aspect of Partnership Schools Kura Hourua provides an opportunity for improved educational outcomes for Māori children; if so, has he heard this view from other Māori organisations about this policy?
Hon HEKIA PARATA (Minister of Education) on behalf of the Associate Minister of
Education: Yes, I do agree with Ms Sadler, and I have heard this view from numerous other Māori organisations. For example, Te Maru o Ngā Kura ā Iwi o Aotearoa submitted to the Education and Science Committee that “Kura Hourua … have the ultimate opportunity to create a model of excellence for those groups of learners the system has routinely failed and neglected.”, and “Māori organisations will come in in big numbers, as will Pasifika. And the reason is simple: they want to be architects of their own futures and destinies.”
Te Ururoa Flavell: Could the Minister please provide some feedback that he has received from Māori submitters about the opportunities that partnership school kura hourua offer for Māori students, over and above what she has mentioned already?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: There was significant feedback during the select committee process, but also separately, about the opportunities to have flexible hours, to have flexible programmes, and to be able to use teachers who were not registered with teachers’ qualifications but who, through their reo and tikanga, have in the past added and will continue to add value to the educational opportunities of Māori students.
Te Ururoa Flavell: What procedures will kura hourua partnership schools be expected to follow if a teacher is suspected of possible serious misconduct that has occurred either prior to or during their current course of employment?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: As is the case with every other school in New Zealand, sponsors will be responsible for providing a safe environment for pupils and staff. For any employees, sponsors will be responsible for investigating and addressing suspected misconduct in accordance with the relevant employment health and safety legislation. If suspended misconduct relates to registered teachers, then sponsors will also be required to follow the procedures in the Education Act 1989 relating to referral to the Teachers Council.
Chris Hipkins: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I did not want to interrupt the exchange, so I waited until the end, but it would be useful if the Minister who was answering the questions could clarify which Associate Ministers she was answering on behalf of, because there are in fact three Associate Ministers of Education. She could have been answering on behalf of Dr Pita Sharples or John Banks, and it would be useful for the House to know exactly whom she is answering on behalf of.
Mr SPEAKER: That is over to the Minister. [Interruption] Order! It is over to the Minister to clarify. In my mind it was fairly clear that she was responding to that question on behalf of the Hon John Banks.
Health and Safety, Workplace—Task Force Statement
7. DARIEN FENTON (Labour) to the Minister of Labour: Does he agree with the statement from the Report of the Independent Taskforce on Workplace Health and Safety established by his Government in June 2012 that “the fact is that a lot of bad things happen to people at work in New Zealand”?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES (Minister of Labour): Yes, absolutely. Can I take this opportunity in the House to thank the task force for its thorough and comprehensive work.
Darien Fenton: Does he accept the task force’s statement that a cause of our broken health and safety system is labour market liberalisation; if so, how will the Employment Relations Amendment Bill and more liberalisation of workplace rights reduce the death and injury toll in our workplaces?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: I think what the task force was referring to was the failure by successive Governments to implement the Robens approach fully and to see that organisationally bedded in. But unlike, perhaps, the member opposite, I think we can hold two thoughts simultaneously in our minds and both ensure flexible labour markets and be pro-jobs whilst also having more stringent health and safety standards.
Darien Fenton: How will cuts to meals and rest breaks in his Employment Relations Amendment Bill help improve workplace health and safety?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: It will actually ensure in certain instances—people who do not go off the job, ensure that there are actually very unsafe instances. But the fact of the matter is that although the member may not like it, the vast majority of New Zealanders and employers will not notice anything. It is simply about not being overly prescriptive and having, I think, some sensible, common-sense flexibility in the system.
Darien Fenton: If the original reason for the cuts to meals and rest breaks legislation was breaks for air traffic controllers, which have long since been resolved through negotiation, why does he think these changes are still needed?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: As the member well knows, these issues come and go.
Hospital Emergency Departments—Waiting Times
8. BARBARA STEWART (NZ First) to the Minister of Health: What is the average waiting time in hospital accident and emergency departments?
Hon TONY RYALL (Minister of Health): I am advised that the Ministry of Health does not collect a national figure for the average time waiting to be seen, but the latest results of the emergency department health target is that 93 percent of patients were treated, admitted, and discharged from an emergency department within 6 hours. I did do a ring-around this morning, and can advise a couple of hospital average lengths of stay in emergency departments—that is, the average time a patient spends in the emergency department, including getting their treatment. At the North Shore Hospital the average time a patient spends in its emergency department has decreased by nearly 4 hours since 2008, from 7½ hours to 3½ hours. I am told that the average length of stay including treatment at the Whakatāne Hospital emergency department is just over 2 hours, and at the Christchurch Hospital it is 2¾ hours. I do have to say to the member there will occasionally be times when patients experience a longer-than-anticipated wait in an emergency department, which may be the result of a combination of factors, such as the seasonal flu.
Barbara Stewart: What does the Minister have to say to 82-year-old Mr John Francis Cornell who, after being taken by St John Ambulance to Palmerston North Hospital, waited for more than 9 hours without being seen?
Hon TONY RYALL: I ask the member to bring that case to my attention and I will look into it. I have to say that 9 hours is way outside the 6-hours expectation that one would really expect in an emergency department. I have to say that we will look into that because that is an unacceptable performance.
Barbara Stewart: Would he personally expect to be seen by a doctor within 9 hours of waiting at a hospital if he was suffering bleeding from the bladder and he has said that this is unacceptable?
Hon TONY RYALL: That is completely unacceptable, and, yes, I would expect to be seen. That is the reason why the Government has instituted the target requirement that patients be treated and seen within the emergency department within 6 hours at 95 percent. I would say to the member that if she brings that case to me, I will check the circumstances and will make sure that what she has
been advised is correct, and we will make sure that that sort of case is brought to the attention of the district health board. It is completely unacceptable.
Barbara Stewart: Will he acknowledge that the Government’s initiative to provide “Better, sooner, more convenient care” is actually poorer, later, and much less convenient?
Hon TONY RYALL: No. As that member well knows, we have massively improved the level of service that New Zealanders are getting in emergency departments and in their hospitals. That member will recall that it was only 5 years or so ago that old people lay on hospital trolleys in corridors at the North Shore Hospital under bright fluorescent lights for more than 3 days on end.
Hon Annette King: Does he agree with Mike Ardagh, the designated emergency department health target champion, who said recently that there is no standard measure for readmission into hospital after discharge from the emergency department within 6 hours and there ought to be; if so, is he going to do something about that measure?
Hon TONY RYALL: If that was the circumstance now, it was certainly the circumstance when that member was Minister of Health for 6 years. What I can tell the member is that—
Hon Annette King: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I asked a straight question. It is nothing to do with what happened when Labour was in Government. Either he has an answer for it or he does not.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Does the Minister require the question to be repeated again? Would the Minister please answer the question.
Hon TONY RYALL: Hospital readmission rates are measured generally across the sector. What I can assure the member, as I am sure she was told by Professor Ardagh, is that we are working with clinicians in developing a suite of quality measures to indicate the level of performance within hospital emergency departments. Things are certainly improved from what they were when that member was Minister of Health and people waited for days on end in hospital emergency departments.
Budget 2013—Dementia Care
9. Dr PAUL HUTCHISON (National—Hunua) to the Minister of Health: What reports has he received regarding improved services for dementia patients?
Hon TONY RYALL (Minister of Health): New Zealand faces a rising tide of dementia as people live longer. Whether it is a family member, a friend, or even personally, dementia will touch all of our families. I have seen many positive responses to the Government’s recent announcement of extra dementia services, and this is the third year in a row that this Government has provided extra funding for dementia. This means that over the next 4 years the Government will be investing over $100 million more into dementia services—almost certainly the largest increase in funding for dementia care in our nation’s history.
Dr Paul Hutchison: What are some of the specific dementia services that this significant extra dementia funding supports?
Hon TONY RYALL: There will be a $12 million increase in funding for dementia bed subsidies over the next 4 years. This is important because it encourages further investment in dementia beds, remembering that it is projected that the number of New Zealanders with dementia will treble over the next 40 years. There is going to be another $2 million invested to support dementia awareness programmes and to support clinical teams in early detection of dementia, and a further $1.2 million over 3 years will be invested in dementia-related training for health care workers. Despite very tight financial times, our Government continues to make health investment a top priority, including early detection and support for serious long-term conditions like dementia, which are important to New Zealand families.
Afghanistan—Deployment of Crib 19
10. Hon PHIL GOFF (Labour—Mt Roskill) to the Minister of Defence: Does he agree with reported statements that New Zealand Defence Force personnel in Crib 19 were sent to Afghanistan without full pre-deployment training, given that their commanding officer believed they were not adequately prepared but felt he had no choice but to deploy them anyway?
Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I will be answering this question on behalf of the Minister of Defence, but I would point out that there are aspects of this question that could refer to a suppressed coroner’s report, which we cannot refer to in this House. In recent days Mr Goff has either deliberately released some of that material or inadvertently done so. I do not think we should exacerbate the act by speaking of it further in this House. What I will do is attempt to answer his question from general information that I have been able to pick up today from the Ministry of Defence in order to answer this question.
Mr SPEAKER: Of course, the responsibility for the content of the answer is the responsibility of the Minister, and he can certainly say that it is not in the public interest due to a suppression order if he so chooses.
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE (Minister for Canterbury Earthquake Recovery) on behalf of the Minister of Defence: The commanding officer made no such comments. Mr Goff is relying on the comments of a warrant officer who was one of more than 16 instructors who prepared Crib 19 at the collective training centre. The commanding officer of Crib 19 was confident that they were ready for deployment into the theatre, where further in-location specific training took place.
Hon Phil Goff: Was it correct that pre-deployment training was reduced from 5 weeks to 3 weeks because of Rugby World Cup commitments, which meant that training outcomes were not achieved, and that it was reported to the New Zealand Defence Force that this introduced “considerable risk” to that deployment?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: The commanding officer was satisfied that they were suitably trained to be deployed into the theatre. Further training was given to Crib 19 in theatre. The situation is that the commanding officer of the outgoing unit has to be satisfied that the incoming unit is operationally capable, just as the commander of the incoming unit has to be similarly in a position to assert capability. In addition, the combat training trainer who went to Afghanistan to complete that in-location specific training required for troops in Afghanistan was satisfied that they were competent. The line that Mr Goff is taking is completely unreasonable and terribly disrespectful to those troops.
Hon Phil Goff: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. You will recall—
Hon Gerry Brownlee: Rubbish.
Hon Phil Goff: Mr Speaker, I am raising a point of order and the Minister I am questioning is speaking during it—
Hon Gerry Brownlee: Well, shut up your own members.
Hon Phil Goff: —and he is still doing it.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Silence will be maintained while Mr Phil Goff gives his point of order.
Hon Phil Goff: As you will recall, my question was very specific. By reducing pre-deployment from 5 weeks to 3 weeks and therefore not achieving the training outcomes, did the Defence Force have reported to it that this introduced considerable risk? It is very specific. None of those things were answered.
Mr SPEAKER: Is the Minister in a position to answer the specificity of the question? He is not.
Hon Phil Goff: Of course not. Did the extension of Crib 19 from the usual 6 months to 8 months, without any provision being made for leave because of that extension, again caused by the Rugby World Cup, leave personnel exhausted at the end of that deployment, thereby also introducing further risk?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: Crib 19 knew before they left New Zealand that their deployment would be extended. Further, leave provisions were made for Crib 19, and on the last point I do not have enough information to comment.
Hon Phil Goff: Why was Romero Base combat outpost in Bamian denied the extra medical training resource, which was described as “essential”, and given only one set of defibrillating pads, which was described as insufficient if more than one wounded person needed resuscitation?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: I am not in a position to answer that question.
Budget 2013—Student Achievement
11. SIMON O’CONNOR (National—Tāmaki) to the Minister of Education: What recent announcement has she made about the Government’s commitment to support parents and communities to raise educational achievement?
Hon HEKIA PARATA (Minister of Education): Today I have announced that this Government is investing $80.5 million over the next 4 years to help support parents and communities in playing their role to lift the educational achievement of young people. Of this funding $63.6 million has been committed to Positive Behaviour for Learning. This very successful initiative provides tailored programmes for parents, teachers, and schools to address challenging behaviour in children and young people. The $63.6 million investment over 4 years means that an extra 200 primary and intermediate schools will be able to participate in Positive Behaviour for Learning over the next 4 years, and it will be available to all secondary schools by 2016.
Simon O’Connor: What other initiatives has she recently announced to better support parents?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: This Government recognises and values the contribution parents make to their children’s schools through boards of trustees. Boards of trustees are operated by parents and are critical to the success of our schools. That is why this morning I also announced that we are investing $14.5 million over the next 4 years to support boards of trustees—this being an increase in funding of 86 percent. This Government also wants to ensure that all parents are well informed and engaged in their children’s learning, and that is why we are investing $2.4 million into a new Connecting Communities initiative, which will focus on providing information to families, whānau, aiga, and communities to enable them to confidently engage with their early childhood services and schools, and we are encouraging parents to stand in the elections for boards of trustees.
Government Communications Security Bureau, Director—Appointment Process
12. GRANT ROBERTSON (Deputy Leader—Labour) to the Prime Minister: Does he stand by his answer to Written Parliamentary Question No 4253 (2013) that he “neither agree[s] nor disagree[s]” with State Services Commissioner Iain Rennie that the phone call he made to Ian Fletcher about the position of Director of GCSB should have been made by Mr Rennie; if so, what view other than agreement or disagreement does he have?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): I stand by the answer, and I do not have a view on Mr Rennie’s statement.
Grant Robertson: Should Iain Rennie have made the phone call to Ian Fletcher rather than the Prime Minister himself?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: That is a matter of interpretation.
Grant Robertson: What is the Prime Minister’s interpretation of that question?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Well, now you ask, I am comfortable with the phone call I made.
Grant Robertson: Did he discuss the possibility of Ian Fletcher taking up a position in the New Zealand Public Service when he met him for breakfast on 17 June 2011, just 3 days after he had approved the interview panel for the Government Communications Security Bureau director position?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No.
Grant Robertson: What did he discuss with Mr Fletcher at the breakfast meeting on 17 June 2011?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Largely policy issues in relation to what was happening with economic development in Australia. [Interruption]
Grant Robertson: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Members on the other side of the House were wondering whether there were more questions. There certainly are, Mr Speaker—
Mr SPEAKER: That is not a point of order.
Grant Robertson: —so could I seek the leave of the House to ask a further question?
Mr SPEAKER: The member can seek leave. Leave is sought to ask an additional supplementary question. Is there any objection? There is.