Questions and Answers - June 4
QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS
1. Dr RUSSEL NORMAN (Co-Leader—Green) to the Prime Minister: Does he stand by all his statements regarding Government policy?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): Yes.
Dr Russel Norman: Does he stand by his statement that the Auditor-General’s report into the Skycity deal vindicates his Government, given that the Auditor-General’s response to his claim was not to agree with him, but rather to state: “we have established deficiencies on the part of both officials and Ministers.”?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Absolutely, and the reason for that, as the member will be aware, is that the Auditor-General’s report was divided into three parts. The first part of it was focused on my involvement, and I was totally and utterly cleared and vindicated in that. That was my only involvement.
Dr Russel Norman: I seek leave to table a legal opinion by constitutional lawyer Stephen Franks, principal at Franks and Ogilvie, outlining serious legal deficiencies in the Government’s Skycity deal. The opinion is dated 16 May 2013.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that legal opinion. 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: Does he agree with Mr Franks’ view that the agreement with Skycity is “arguably unlawful” and “skirts important constitutional safeguards”; if he does not understand this constitutional principle, will he read the central case on the issue, the case of Fitzgerald v Muldoon?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No, but I am sure what Mr Franks would find unlawful is someone coming in and telling the New Zealand public that they have 100,000 signatures—
Mr SPEAKER: Order!
Dr Russel Norman: Does he agree with Mr Franks’ view that “The ability to ‘purchase’ a dispensation from regulation sits uncomfortably with the rule of law.”?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No, and no more than Labour would agree with that, given it did exactly the same deal back in 2001.
Dr Russel Norman: Does he agree with Mr Franks that “Case law discourages anything … to fetter Parliament’s … power to legislate on future matters,”; if so, will he reconsider the aspects of the Skycity deal that do exactly this, such as the 35-year clause?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No.
Dr Russel Norman: Is this backroom deal with Skycity—along with the cancelling of democracy in Canterbury, taking away the rights of carers to have their day in court, giving
Bathurst Resources the keys to our conservation estate, stopping free speech at sea, granting the Government Communications Security Bureau the power to spy on us, and failing to act in good faith to reform MMP—not indicative of a Government that will not let our democracy stand in the way of special favours for its friends and donors?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: If the Government was doing that I might be inclined to agree with him, but it is actually not correct. If one looks at, for instance, the changes to people’s ability to protest at sea, the ability is very much there. There is a safety area that actually makes sense to all parties. When it comes to the Government Communications Security Bureau, the member sits on the Intelligence and Security Committee and is well and truly aware that, in fact, the Government Communications Security Bureau has been carrying out activities under an agency relationship for a long period of time. In fact, all we are doing is clarifying the law, so there is no change in position there. There is no backroom deal with Skycity; it has been totally transparent. And even though the member does not like to hear it, my role in that was totally cleared by the Auditor-General.
Dr Russel Norman: Yeah, right!
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Would the member just ask his supplementary question.
Dr Russel Norman: Will he listen to Otago University law professor Andrew Geddis, Canterbury University law professor Philip Joseph, former Prime Minister and Law Commission head Sir Geoffrey Palmer, current New Zealander of the Year Anne Salmond—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I am having trouble hearing the question. Would the member please start the question again.
Dr Russel Norman: Will he listen to Otago University law professor Andrew Geddis, Canterbury University law professor Philip Joseph, former Prime Minister and Law Commission head Sir Geoffrey Palmer, current New Zealander of the Year Anne Salmond, and many, many other New Zealanders, who have raised concerns about the Government riding roughshod over New Zealanders’ democratic rights and over our constitution?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I would not agree with the point that they are making. I would have to look at all the different contexts. They may not be in exactly the same place. But the bottom line is that the Government was elected under a mandate it took to the people. It has absolutely stuck to that mandate. When it comes to these issues, the Government has presented them to the people of New Zealand. The people who are riding roughshod over the rest of New Zealand are the Greens, who have played economic sabotage with the country and do not seem to care about that.
Dr Russel Norman: Given that answer, can the Prime Minister point to exactly where in his election platform he promised that he would remove from family carers of disabled people the right to go to court to challenge the lawfulness of Government actions?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I would have to go back and look at all of the particular details, but, from memory, the Government made it clear we would look at the matter. Let us understand exactly what the Government did in that legislation, which is that it said, rightfully so, that it would address the issues raised in the Atkinson case. It also gave the right to pay family caregivers when they were looking after an adult disabled child. But the Government also said that there has been a very longstanding position—a very long-standing position—where there was, arguably, a line drawn about where the State’s responsibilities start and finish and where family responsibilities start and finish. This Government is actually moving the country to a place that only two other countries in the world are in, and we happen to be doing something that Labour never did in office.
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 statement that his Government has a “100 percent record” on the minimum wage; if so, how does he explain the now $6 an hour - plus gap between Australia and New Zealand, after Australia raised its minimum wage to NZ$19.80 an hour?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Yes. The Government has been raising the minimum wage within the bounds of what we think is possible to ensure that we preserve people’s work. If we look at the minimum wage in New Zealand, it is $13.75. That is half the average adult working wage. That puts us at the highest average in the OECD. We also have the significant payments, which we have maintained throughout the difficult times, of Working for Families. As I pointed out in the House last week, if somebody earns $40,000—
Dr David Clark: The widest gap between rich and poor ever.
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Well, you may not want to hear it, but if you want to let me give the answer, I am more than happy to do so. OK, so if you go and have a look at someone who earned the minimum wage of $13.75 an hour for 40 hours per week and who was bringing up three children, that person would earn just a touch under $29,000 a year. They would pay $4,500 in tax, and by the time they got their Working for Families payments and accommodation supplements, they would receive over another $20,000-odd in the hand. That makes New Zealand, in the relative scheme of things, reasonably generous for at-risk and low-income New Zealanders.
David Shearer: Why does he think a minimum wage worker deserves $3 in Australia for every $2 they would earn in New Zealand for doing exactly the same work?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Firstly, there are different issues in each country. There are different costs—the inflation rates being significantly higher in Australia. For a period of time, they have had higher levels of interest rates. But one of the most important points is that there is a balancing act here between making sure that people get pay rises and making sure that people do not lose their jobs. If the member believes there is no correlation between the two, he is not only demonstrating that he does not understand economics, but he is equally free to go and tell New Zealanders on the campaign trail that he wants to put them in the dole queue, because that is the simple message you will be sending them.
David Shearer: Is he aware that Australia’s unemployment rate is lower than New Zealand’s, despite a higher minimum wage; if so, does not that confirm the Department of Labour’s finding in 2004 of “positive employment responses” to minimum wage increases under the last Government?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Yes. I am surprised that the member is spending so much time wanting to quote Australia, because if one looks at a few things that have happened in Australia recently—let us just look at those. Firstly, its unemployment rate is on the way up. Our unemployment rate has been on a track lower. This Government is going to get New Zealand back into surplus by 2014-15; the Australian Government is likely to get back into surplus by only 2016-17. The BNZ believes that this country will grow faster than Australia in the next few years. And I notice that the member does not get on his feet any more and ask about people leaving for Australia, and the reason is that they are not leaving in droves any more; they are responding to New Zealand. In fact, maybe the member should—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! That is a sufficiently long answer.
David Shearer: Given that he said in 2008 of New Zealanders leaving for Australia that it was a vote of no confidence in Helen Clark’s Government, what does he say to people now, given that the number is 43 percent higher today?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Well, yes, some people have left for Australia—a lot more—
Hon Members: Oh!
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Well, I am glad they are cheering, because a lot more of them left under a Labour Government numerically. [Interruption] Yes, they did—yes, they did. By the way, if it is such a bad place to live—[Interruption] Well, if it is such a—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! That is a very unsatisfactory interjection coming from over on that side.
David Shearer: Supplementary question.
Mr SPEAKER: Supplementary—
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No, I have not finished—no, I have not finished. And if it is such a bad place to live, under such a bad Government, then maybe someone with Australian citizenship will want to go back to Australia, rather than live under this Government in New Zealand.
David Shearer: Is he aware that McDonald’s, KFC, Starbucks, Pizza Hut, The Warehouse, Farmers, Kmart, Bunnings, and Countdown are not implementing his youth minimum wage rates; if so, does that mean that major corporates actually care more about New Zealanders’ cost of living than the Government does?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Yes, I am aware of that. I think the important point to note here is that this is the minimum wage. You are not actually required to pay that wage, and the vast bulk of New Zealand workers are paid well and truly above the minimum wage. But here is a very simple point: if you are 16 or 17, under this Government, the message is that an employer may give you a chance to get a job. You see, these people on the other side of the House, they do not want to give employers any incentives—
David Shearer: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Prime Minister answered the question in the first sentence. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! If the member is happy with the answer, then we will proceed to further supplementary questions.
Hon David Parker: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. We have got into the habit of having long speeches from Ministers in answers, and it always requires a point of order from us to bring the answer to an end—
Mr SPEAKER: No. [Interruption] Order! That is not right, and if the member wants to have another look at the recording earlier, he will see that I brought the Prime Minister to heel only about two questions ago, when I felt the answer was quite long enough.
Government Financial Position—Return to Surplus and Reduction in Debt
3. PAUL GOLDSMITH (National) to the Minister of Finance: What progress is the Government making in reaching its fiscal targets of returning to surplus in 2014/15 and reducing net government debt to 20 percent of GDP by 2020?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): The Government is on track to meeting both of those targets. Budget forecasts show a surplus of $75 million in 2014-15 and net debt peaking at 28.7 percent of GDP in the same year before falling to 17.6 percent of GDP in 2021. Taking on more debt over the past few years has been appropriate to support our future economic growth and to cushion New Zealanders and their families from the worst effects of recession. But, at the same time as taking on the debt, the Government has laid out a path back to surplus and, furthermore, a path back to reducing Government debt back to levels that we believe are prudent.
Paul Goldsmith: Why is it important that the Government gets back to surplus and starts repaying debt?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Although the level of Government debt is well below that of many other Governments that we compare ourselves with, it is important that we keep Government debt low in order to offset very high household debt and to ensure that we can manage through another recession. Net Government debt is still rising today by around $130 million a week and will reach $70 billion in 2016-17, up from around $10 billion just 5 years ago. That is the equivalent of around $15,000 for each and every New Zealander. We simply believe that it would be prudent to return Government debt to lower levels so that we are better able to reduce the pressure on interest rates rising sooner than they otherwise would, and reduce pressure on an exchange rate that is already higher than is comfortable for us.
Paul Goldsmith: What recent reports has the Minister received on Government finances?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Treasury today issued the Government Financial Statements for the 10 months to 30 April. They show that a stronger economy and the tax reforms of 2010 are
underpinning more tax revenue. Combined with the Government’s responsible control over expenditure, this has restricted the deficit to less than $4 billion for the 10 months, which is $600 million less than was forecast in the Budget just a few weeks ago. Tax revenue is around $3.1 billion higher than the corresponding period last year. This is one of a number of indicators that New Zealanders have some well-earned confidence and optimism about the future.
Paul Goldsmith: What are some of the risks to the Government’s improving finances and the brighter outlook for the economy?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: There are some risks in the global economy. Europe still has deep-seated and long-term debt problems and productivity problems. The US economy looks to be recovering, but it is unclear just how robust that is. China faces risks of both lower growth and problems with excessive credit. In Australia there seems to be a sharper than expected downturn in mining investment, which could lead to Australia having lower growth rates over the next couple of years than in New Zealand. So there are global risks and also domestic risks if the Government does not stay on track with this moderate, consistent, and long-term economic policy.
Hon David Parker: Does he agree that his claims to fiscal responsibility are undermined by his refusal to address the superannuation entitlement age well in advance, so that people have time to prepare, given that costs of superannuation have increased by $3 billion, from $7 billion to $10 billion per annum, in the last 5 years, and that in just 2 years’ time the cost of New Zealand superannuation to the taxpayer will be more than the entire cost of preschool, primary, intermediate, and secondary education?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: No, I do not agree. Of course, no one is proposing changes in the age of eligibility in a way that would affect the costs of superannuation over the next 2 years. The Government has been so busy dealing with the large and rising costs of law and order and welfare, which got out of control under the previous Government. Fortunately, we are having some success in bringing those long-term costs under control.
Hon David Parker: Well, then, if the Minister does not agree with the Labour Party, does he agree with Gareth Kiernan of Infometrics, who said: “If Key is genuinely interested in what’s good for the future of the country … [and his] decision-making is not dominated by his own ego, he would recognise his mistake about the retirement age and stand down.”; if not, why not?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Yes, I do disagree with him. The Government made some very clear undertakings. I know that it is not the style of the Opposition parties, but we have said that we would not change the age and we will not. At the same time, as I pointed out to the member before, there are other long-term costs where the failures of the previous Government meant that they have got out of control, particularly for welfare and law and order. The Government is implementing a range of innovative and, in some cases, world-leading policies to bring those costs under control. That, of course, will help our ability to meet superannuation obligations in the future.
4. Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First) to the Prime Minister: Has he recently had reason to have lost confidence in any of his Ministers; if so, why?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): No.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Did he or his office question the Minister of Revenue as to how a Dominion Post journalist received inside information, leading that journalist to write on 5 February this year: “A ministry briefing leaked last night”—
Hon Members: When?
Rt Hon Winston Peters: —last night—“suggests Novopay needs a fundamental redesign.”, and outlining that the Inland Revenue Department—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Will the member please continue with his question. [Interruption] Order! Will the member please continue with his question.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Down here we can hardly hear a thing, because of the noise.
Mr SPEAKER: There were interjections, I acknowledge that to the member, but they were not that loud. They are often substantially louder than that. Would the member please start his question again.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Did he or his office question the Minister of Revenue as to how a Dominion Post journalist received inside information, leading that journalist to write on 5 February this year: “A ministry briefing leaked last night suggests Novopay needs a fundamental redesign.”, and outlining that the Inland Revenue Department had installed a senior manager and small teams of payroll experts at the Ministry of Education to sort out the Novopay mess?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Well, I certainly have not. I am not aware of my office doing such a thing. From what the member seems to be saying—I have not read the article; I presume I may have read it at the time, but I do not have it in front of me—it does sound like it is quite possible that a journalist could have information on that, simply because it was in the public domain anyway that Novopay was going to be substantially reworked.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: As Prime Minister and Minister responsible for the GCSB, did he or his office investigate the leaking of an internal survey on the Government Communications Security Bureau to a Dominion Post journalist, outlining how low the morale at the bureau was, as reported in the Dominion Post on 16 October 2012?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No, not to the best of my knowledge.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Has he directed his staff to investigate how a journalist from the Dominion Post obtained the information that led to a report that Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee members were being muzzled from asking detailed questions on the Dotcom saga, as reported in the Dominion Post on 13 December 2012?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: As Prime Minister and chair of the parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee, does he believe there is a leak in that committee and, if so, who does he believe is that leak—Mr Shearer, Mr Norman, Mr Banks, the Prime Minister himself, or the remaining member of that five-member committee who wrote of the Government Communications Security Bureau on 24 October last year: “I am starting to feel very uncomfortable.”?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No, I do not think there is a leak. It is possible that someone has made an indiscreet comment, and, if they have, I am sure that they would regret that.
5. Hon DAVID PARKER (Labour) to the Minister of Finance: Does he stand by his statement that the proposed reductions in ACC levies is a “stealth tax cut”; if so, does he agree that by keeping levies higher than they need to be, ACC is operating as a stealth tax; if not, why not?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): Yes, I stand by my statement in the context that it was made, where the member labelled ACC levies as a stealth tax. I do not agree with the member’s second point. Last month the Budget signalled ACC levies will fall by $300 million in 2014-15 and by around a billion dollars in 2015-16. This is a direct result of a much-improved performance by ACC. The Government has been keen to ensure that its much-improved performance on rehabilitation, which is the core of its activities, is well bedded-in before we have considered passing some of the benefits of that back to households and businesses.
Hon David Parker: Is it correct that if he implemented the reduction of $700 million in ACC levies for this year and next, as recommended by ACC, an operating balance before gains and losses surplus would not have been forecast for 2014-15 in his most recent Budget?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: No, not necessarily, because, as I pointed out to the member before, there is no single decision that means the Government achieves surpluses, and it makes its Budget decisions as a package—for instance, you could argue that if we had not given schools up to $80 million in increased operational grants, we would not have posted a surplus. But, of course, that is not how the Government approaches the issue. The Government has had a different view from ACC
about the future funding track, because we wanted to ensure that its better performance was well embedded and that we could reduce the number of changes in the levy—for instance, not have levies go down and then have to put them up again.
Hon David Parker: Well, then, if other revenue and other expense items were unchanged but he implemented the reduction of ACC levies, as recommended by ACC, is it correct that an operating balance before gains and losses surplus would not have been forecast for 2014-15 in his most recent Budget?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: No, because we could say that about every single decision, as I have explained to the member. What we do know for sure is that if ACC had continued to be run as it was by the Labour Party, as a political tool, we would be nowhere near surpluses today, because it was losing hundreds of millions of dollars.
Hon David Parker: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My question could not have been more specific—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! And I invite the member to ask his question again.
Hon David Parker: If all other revenue and expense items were left unchanged and if he had implemented the reduction of ACC levies, as recommended by ACC, is it correct that an operating balance before gains and losses surplus would not have been forecast for 2014-15 in his most recent Budget?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: No, for exactly the reasons I stated in the previous answer, when I also said no. That is because that is not the way the Government makes Budget decisions—either this Government or the previous Government. What I can also repeat is that if we had left ACC running as it was under the previous Labour Government, losing billions of dollars a year, we would certainly not have surpluses.
Hon David Parker: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Again my question has not been addressed. My question said: “All other things being equal, if you changed this, if you had accepted the ACC advice, would you not have reached surplus?”. The Minister does not want to admit it, but that question is directed specifically, and I would like the Minister to be required to answer that question, not what he wanted the question to be.
Mr SPEAKER: I accept that the answer is not according to the design or the wishes of the member, but the Minister when he started his answer disputed that. He simply said no and then gave some reasons.
John Hayes: What reports has he seen on proposed stealth taxes?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I have seen a proposal to increase taxes under the emissions trading system by up to $500 per household. This report has puzzled me, because the same people who are proposing to put up taxes on electricity by $500 per household have told the public they are going to reduce the cost of electricity by $300 per household. Both of those policies cannot be right.
Hon David Parker: Is the Minister aware that if the system of pricing electricity moved to a basis of production cost plus return on capital, the cost of carbon would not flow through to all electricity, and the total cost of carbon and electricity prices would decrease?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: No, I am not sure what the member meant, and I was not aware of it. I was not aware of it. What I can say is that it is puzzling that the same two parties are promising to put up electricity prices by $500 a year with one policy, and reduce it by $300 a year with another policy.
Sue Moroney: Why did he ignore official ministry advice in the regulatory impact statement that keeping ACC levies artificially high would “negatively impact on … economic growth and reducing costs for business.”?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The Government considered that advice but did not agree that the levies were artificially high. What it did agree on is that ACC had done a good job of turning round the fact that under the previous Government rehabilitation rates for injured workers got significantly worse, and that meant that ACC was making large losses. It has over the last few years significantly
improved the rehabilitation rates. Now that we believe that the damage done by Labour has largely been fixed, we can start to reduce the levies.
Canterbury, Recovery—Housing New Zealand Properties
6. NICKY WAGNER (National—Christchurch Central) to the Minister of Housing: What progress has the Government made in repairing or replacing the over 5,000 Housing New Zealand homes damaged or “munted” by the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH (Minister of Housing): The repair and replacement job from the Christchurch earthquakes is a massive undertaking involving hundreds of millions of dollars. The first phase, which started on 4 September 2010, involved 27,000 emergency repairs to make properties safe and functional in the immediate term. The second phase involves the substantial long-term repairs on 5,000 homes so they are brought up to full standard. That work is well under way and will be completed by the end of 2015. The third phase, announced on Friday with the earthquake recovery Minister, Gerry Brownlee, was the construction of 700 new houses to be built on sites where home are uneconomic to repair or are “munted”, as I think Cantabrians call it. This programme will involve a new house being built—a new house being built—every single working day from now until the end of 2015, and it is the largest and fastest Government house-building programme ever in Christchurch’s history.
Nicky Wagner: How has the settlement of the Housing New Zealand Corporation’s $320 million insurance claim helped to advance this work and get a better outcome for Christchurch’s highest-need citizens?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: The insurance settlement has made an enormous difference to both the pace and the quality of the rebuild. Previously, each house had to be individually assessed, quotes checked with the insurer, and work done to repair the house to its pre-earthquake status. This was both slow and cumbersome. The Housing New Zealand Corporation now has the flexibility with the insurance money in the bank to reconfigure its housing stock for today’s needs. That means more one, two, and four-bedroom homes, rather than just rebuilding the old three-bedroom ones. It means moving to a mixed and denser housing model, and it means that we invest simultaneously in safer, drier, and warmer homes. It means that by the end of 2015 not only will we have the same number of houses as we did pre-earthquake but they will be better in terms of being safer, warmer, and drier.
Nicky Wagner: Will all the 700 new houses be retained by the Housing New Zealand Corporation?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: No. We are taking the opportunity to rebuild a lot more houses on the land where older homes are being demolished, and we want to take the opportunity to move to mixed housing and to expand community social housing. I notice members opposite interjecting. It shows how little they care for the poor people of Christchurch whose homes have been affected by the earthquakes. Some of the houses will be onsold to low-income families as affordable houses, and others will be sold to community social housing providers as part of the Government’s broader programme of expanding community social housing.
Child Protection—Children Present in Methamphetamine Labs
7. JACINDA ARDERN (Labour) to the Minister for Social Development: What advice has she received about the number of methamphetamine labs that have been found by Police to have children present, and how many of these children have been subsequently removed by Child, Youth and Family Services?
Hon CHESTER BORROWS (Associate Minister for Social Development): on behalf of the
Minister for Social Development: I can advise that, as per the written response to her written question, these numbers are not gathered centrally on a crime-specific basis. The interventions that
are made on a house by house, case by case basis are done according to a protocol signed up to by police, and child safety is at the forefront of those decisions.
Jacinda Ardern: Does Child, Youth and Family Services have a formal protocol for children found living in homes with methamphetamine labs; if not, why not, and when can we expect to see one?
Hon CHESTER BORROWS: Interventions that are made with the police as a result of crimes committed are conducted in respect of a protocol that was drafted in 2010. It is currently being reviewed at the moment, and ongoing discussion between police and Child, Youth and Family Services specifically in respect of methamphetamine labs is part of those discussions.
Jacinda Ardern: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I asked specifically about the Child, Youth and Family Services protocol. The police protocol I am aware of—it has been around since 2009—but there is no Child, Youth and Family Services protocol—
Mr SPEAKER: Would the member, please, just repeat the question. It might not have been heard correctly.
Jacinda Ardern: Does Child, Youth and Family Services have a formal protocol for children found living in homes with methamphetamine labs; if not, why not, and when can we expect to see one?
Hon CHESTER BORROWS: My understanding is that there are discussions going on currently between the police and Child, Youth and Family Services as to a memorandum of understanding that would form the basis of that protocol. Currently, they are in discussion. The protocol that is being operated on at the moment is a generic criminal memorandum of understanding protocol that operates between the police and Child, Youth and Family Services but is not crime-specific.
Jacinda Ardern: How long will it take for her department to settle on a protocol to protect these children, when more than 480 children have been found in meth labs already, the police have had a protocol for several years, and Child, Youth and Family Services has said that it has been working on one for more than 12 months now?
Hon CHESTER BORROWS: As I understand it, there have been 384 children who were found in 199 methamphetamine labs. In the same time frame of those offences, the police have referred 250,000 children to Child, Youth and Family Services for dealing with and for consideration of intervention, not including those young children on the premises where family violence has occurred. In terms of what the time frame would be for the completion of that protocol, I do not have that information in front of me, except that it is urgent for the department. It is working with the police currently. That is the way that it should be, bearing in mind that when we are dealing with these sorts of matters, the police has one role and Child, Youth and Family Services has another role.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. One could not be other than concerned to have a Minister answering questions in a way that denies Parliament information on the basis that there is some sort of protocol, and then giving a figure for the number of children who are found to be present at a methamphetamine lab discovery—right? [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I am trying to understand what the point of order is.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: It is that he knows how many children were found when there was a meth lab discovery, but he cannot say how many were removed. We are being deliberately denied knowledge essential for parliamentarians to make a decision here.
Mr SPEAKER: The Minister at all times, in my mind, has addressed the questions adequately. He said right at the start, from the first question, that the information as requested was not gathered. We have moved on from that question.
Jacinda Ardern: Does she think it is acceptable—
Hon CHESTER BORROWS: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. To clarify in terms of the point of order made by the previous speaker, Winston Peters, the numbers that the member Jacinda
Ardern, in asking her question, referred to were not referring to the same period as the numbers of children I was referring to. I was talking about the execution of search warrants, the discovery of 199 methamphetamine labs, and 384 children found in those labs. It was not part of the same question, but it did relate to the number I later gave her—250,000.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! And that is now becoming another answer to the question.
Jacinda Ardern: Why do the police collect information on how many children are found in homes with methamphetamine labs, but Child, Youth and Family Services, which is charged with the children’s care and protection, does not collect that information?
Hon CHESTER BORROWS: It is not true to say that Child, Youth and Family Services does not collect that information. That information is collected on a region by region basis, as matters are intervened in on a case by case basis. If that information were collected nationally, it would not change the protocol, it would not change the response, and it would not change the outcome for those children living in that situation.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. That is the precise point of my original point of order. Now we are being told that the information is available region by region. The Minister has had 3½ hours for his department to find out, region by region, the total number. Why is Parliament being denied this important information?
Hon CHESTER BORROWS: Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: Does the member want to speak to the point of order?
Hon CHESTER BORROWS: That was not the subject of the original question.
Jacinda Ardern: Just for further clarification for the Speaker, I asked that question on notice. I have asked it in written form before and been denied that information by the Minister.
Mr SPEAKER: At the end of the time, it is now for Parliament, the House here, and the public to judge the quality of the answers that have been given. I have become increasingly confused by the answers that have been given, but that being the case, the Minister started by saying that information was not available—it was not gathered in that form. He has then proceeded to give further information, but maybe that was sourced from police rather than Child, Youth and Family Services. So if the member wishes to ask further supplementary questions—
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am sorry, but the fact is that this is a very particular, specific question on notice, and, apparently, has been asked before in writing, and it is about how many of these children have been removed by Child, Youth and Family Services as a result of methamphetamine lab discovery by the police. We started off with “Well, you can’t have the information, because that is subject to a protocol.”, and then we got to “Well, yes, the information is available region by region.” If that is the case, surely the Minister can tell us, after 3½ hours of time to prepare, what, region by region, that all adds up to.
Mr SPEAKER: It is not my job here to design the answer for the Minister. The Minister started a question, and at that stage the House actually accepted his answer: that such information as requested was not gathered. Subsequent supplementary questions have gleaned some information. I can do no more today with the particular answer that has been given by the honourable Minister.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I think you were right at the beginning, and you were right in the first part of your—
Mr SPEAKER: I thank you.
Hon Members: Ha, ha!
Hon Trevor Mallard: Well, credit when it is due.
Mr SPEAKER: Would the member please come to his point of order.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I am now getting to the second point, and that is that in the past, Speakers have advised Ministers to get their offices to use old-fashioned technology, like a phone, and get on the phone to the regions to get the answer.
Mr SPEAKER: We are moving forward now. If there are no further supplementary questions, we are going—[Interruption] Further supplementary questions?
Jacinda Ardern: Does she think it is acceptable that there are reports of children being found in meth labs and being removed by Child, Youth and Family Services, only to be returned to caregivers who, after being bailed, have continued to cook meth with children in the home; if not, what will she do about it?
Hon CHESTER BORROWS: I am not aware of such a case specifically. If it was drawn to the Minister’s attention, then she would certainly have that investigated. My understanding is that when a clan-lab has been searched and children are located, they are taken into care. They may be put back, they may be given to other members of the family, or other caregivers may be found for them, as is appropriate for that particular situation.
Schools, Partnership—Use of Closed State School Sites
METIRIA TUREI (Co-Leader—Green): Tēnā koutou e te Whare. My question is to the Minister of Education and asks—[Interruption] Thank you, Mr Mallard.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Can we just proceed with the question please.
8. METIRIA TUREI (Co-Leader—Green) to the Minister of Education: Will the Education Amendment Bill allow private businesses to set up charter schools on the sites of closed state schools?
Hon HEKIA PARATA (Minister of Education): Tēnā koe. The Public Works Act, not the Education Amendment Bill continues to govern the process for the disposal of any surplus— [Interruption]
Metiria Turei: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Sorry, with all the chatter from this side of the House, I could not even hear the Minister start her answer.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Order! There was substantial noise from many parts of the House. I could not hear the start of the answer. Would the Minister now start the answer.
Hon HEKIA PARATA: Tēnā koe. The Public Works Act, not the Education Amendment Bill continues to govern the process for the disposal of any surplus Crown land including, where relevant, schools.
Metiria Turei: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My question had nothing to do with the Public Works Act. It was a question expressly about whether or not provisions exist in the Education Amendment Bill. I would like an answer to my question.
Mr SPEAKER: That does not seem unreasonable to me. I can see the connection with the Public Works Act, but would the Minister please attempt to answer the question. She has had the question—or her office has certainly had the question—for 3 hours.
Hon HEKIA PARATA: In order for closed State schools to become available for other purposes of the kind that are being asked in this question, they have to be subject to the disposal mechanisms of the Public Works Act.
Mr SPEAKER: So we take that to be a yes.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. You cannot take that to be a yes, because the Minister said no to your statement. We cannot waste the public’s time and Parliament’s time with that sort of response.
Mr SPEAKER: I do not believe that is the case.
Metiria Turei: Can the Minister confirm that she told Cabinet earlier this year that “The most practical options for the first partnership schools are renting premises, including existing educational buildings such as a closed State school or by a private school converting to a partnership school.”?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: No, I cannot confirm that. I would have to investigate the member’s assertion.
Metiria Turei: I seek leave to table a Cabinet paper signed by Hekia Parata on 13 February 2013, saying that the most practical options for partnership schools are existing educational buildings such as a closed State school or a private school converting to a partnership school.
Mr SPEAKER: That is sufficient information. Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is none. Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Metiria Turei: How many of the schools closed in Christchurch were done so purposely, so that private businesses could take them over as charter schools; if none, will she rule out the use of those closed Christchurch schools for private businesses to make a private profit from as charter schools?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: To be clear, the Education Amendment Bill is focused on partnership schools, not on charter schools, which the member keeps identifying them as. The Education Amendment Bill is about partnership schools. Partnership schools are yet to be considered for approval or not. What is happening in Christchurch is on a completely separate time line to partnership schools.
Metiria Turei: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My question was twofold—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I suspect that the Minister did not hear your question clearly. Would you please ask the question again.
Metiria Turei: How many of the schools closed in Christchurch were done so purposely, so that private businesses could take them over as charter schools; if none, will she rule out the use of any closed schools in Christchurch for private profit charter schools?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: In answer to the first part of the question, none.
Metiria Turei: Does her own signed-off plan to give closed State schools to private businesses to make a profit under charter schools, and her plan to convert private schools into fully funded charter schools not show this policy for what it really is, which is an attack on public education and a back-door plan to give private schools more and more public money?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: No.
Chris Hipkins: Will she give the people of Christchurch a guarantee that she will not approve the opening of a partnership school on a school site where she has closed a public school?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: No, I will not give guarantees of that nature, because they are two separate policies, and the whole point of schools is that they be used for educational purposes. They are quite separate decision processes.
Budget 2013—Science and Engineering Funding
9. SIMON O’CONNOR (National—Tāmaki) to the Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills
and Employment: What investment has the Government made in new funding for science and engineering in Budget 2013?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment): As part of the $130 million in new funding initiatives for tertiary education announced in Budget 2013, the Government is investing an additional $17.9 million in science tuition and $9.3 million in engineering tuition, an increase of 2 percent funding per full-time equivalent. Science and engineering degrees have been the subject of under-investment in the past, and industry demand for skilled engineers and scientists remains high. The Government has made investment in these areas a priority in the last 2 years, recognising that scientists and engineers are key drivers of innovation and productivity, and are crucial for growth in our economy.
Simon O’Connor: How is this part of the Government’s wider commitment to science and engineering?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: The increased funding as part of Budget 2013 builds on recent announcements committing the Government to providing an additional 1,000 engineering places at universities and polytechnics. This puts us on track to achieve our goal of producing an extra 500 engineering graduates per year by 2017. The increase in funding is also on top of the $159 million committed to engineering, science, and research - led learning in our tertiary institutions announced
in last year’s Budget, which demonstrates this Government’s ongoing commitment to investing in areas that will help grow our economy and retain our international competitiveness.
Simon O’Connor: Why is the Government focusing on increasing science and engineering funding?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: New Zealand has historically had an undersupply of engineers. In fact, we have been training only about half the number we require and about half the OECD average for many, many years. We have also recognised the need to increase our investment in training scientists to help fuel the innovation required to grow our economy. Compared with Australia, we subsidise engineering, science, and other degrees with high capital costs much less than those with lower capital costs, like arts and humanities degrees. The Business Growth Agenda outlines the actions the Government is taking to build a more productive and innovative workforce, giving Kiwis the skills they need to compete in a complex and dynamic global environment.
Employment Relations—Collective Bargaining
10. DARIEN FENTON (Labour) to the Minister of Labour: What advice has he received about the effect on wages of changes to collective bargaining in the Employment Relations Amendment Bill?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES (Minister of Labour): I have not received any advice on the member’s specific point. The changes are fundamentally about improving the efficiency and fairness of the bargaining process not pushing wages one way or the other. I would not expect these changes to have a significant impact on wages.
Darien Fenton: How will his changes in the Employment Relations Amendment Bill improve wages, given his department advised that removing the 30-day rule will allow employers to pay less to new workers performing the same work?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: If the member had listened to my answer, I made it clear that I do not think it will particularly push wages one way of the other. Actually, you can make a very strong argument that through improved efficiencies and productivity, that leaves more money in an employer’s pocket to pay higher wages.
Darien Fenton: How will wages be improved when his bill will enable employers to fine workers 10 percent of their pay for taking partial action and reduce pay below the minimum wage, regardless of how much time is actually lost?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: I do not accept that at all. I think actually what these changes do do is level the playing field so that, actually, employers have the same sort of rules and processes that unions have had for a very long time. I know that in Ms Fenton’s Arthur Scargill - like world that is not right, but, actually, on this side, we believe in a level playing field between the parties, and that is what we are providing for.
Darien Fenton: Does he agree, then, with his department’s advice that enabling employers to opt out of multi-employer collective agreements is inconsistent with New Zealand’s obligations under ILO Convention 98, and could result in an investigation by the ILO for breach of a fundamental convention?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: No, not at all, but in a couple of weeks I am going with my new “bestie” Helen Kelly to the ILO in Geneva and we will be able to ask it then what it thinks.
Warm Up New Zealand: Healthy Homes—Home Insulation
11. KANWALJIT SINGH BAKSHI (National) to the Minister of Energy and Resources: What recent announcements have been made about home insulation for those most in need?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES (Minister of Energy and Resources): That is a much better question. As part of the Budget this year, I announced $100 million of funding over 3 years to the new Warm Up New Zealand: Healthy Homes programme. In conjunction with third-party funding, Warm Up New Zealand: Healthy Homes will target low-income households for home insulation, particularly
those families with children and high health needs, and will insulate at least 46,000 homes at no cost to the households.
Kanwaljit Singh Bakshi: How does this new programme build on the success of Warm Up New Zealand: Heat Smart?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: Warm Up New Zealand: Heat Smart has been a game-changer. By the time the programme ends later this year, 230,000 homes will have been insulated. Through the scheme, the Government has helped create awareness about the benefits of insulation. Most New Zealanders now understand that insulated homes are healthier and easier to heat.
Māori Economic Taskforce—Minister’s Statements
12. RINO TIRIKATENE (Labour—Te Tai Tonga) on behalf of Hon SHANE JONES
(Labour) to the Minister of Māori Affairs: Does he stand by his statement regarding the Māori Economic Taskforce that “These developments led to immediate outcomes that have supported whānau through the recession. They have also laid a foundation for the long-term growth of Māori business, work force and communities”; if so, why?
Hon Dr PITA SHARPLES (Minister of Māori Affairs): Yes, most definitely. The work of the task force has resulted in a number of demonstrable successes. Importantly, without these types of interventions, whānau and Māori businesses would undoubtedly have been worse off through difficult economic times.
Rino Tirikatene: How can he stand by that statement when the median income for Māori was 93 percent of the overall median income in 2008, and has now, in 2013, fallen to 85 percent of the overall median income?
Hon Dr PITA SHARPLES: The good news is—and it is not that good—that there has been a decrease in the last quarter in the rate of unemployed Māori, both Māori youth, by 2 percent, and general Māori, by 1 percent. But, you know, none of us enjoy this low rate, and, clearly, the country has to do more about it.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The question was about median incomes. That was not referred to. What was referred to was—
Mr SPEAKER: I invite the member to ask the question again.
Rino Tirikatene: Certainly. How can he stand by that statement when the median income for Māori was 93 percent of the overall median income in 2008, and has now, in 2013, fallen to 85 percent of the overall median income?
Hon Dr PITA SHARPLES: Despite the ventures that we have created—in export for Māori, trade training, and helping homes that are in poverty—this is the situation that exists. It is not good; none of us like it, but it is the reality. We are always the first off, last on. So this is what happens. While everything else grows, Māori come last.
Rino Tirikatene: Why is he claiming that whānau have been supported through the recession when in the Te Tai Rāwhiti - Tūranga region and across Ngāti Kahungunu weekly real per capita income for Māori has fallen by 14 percent, while real per capita income for non-Māori has increased by 3 percent?
Hon Dr PITA SHARPLES: It is very lucky that it has not fallen further. But, because of our interventions, it is in a better state. For example, trade training, Māra Kai, Warm Up New Zealand: Healthy Homes, cadetships, marae—these are all things that we have put into place to take care of these things. We have increased Māori business exports, and when you do that the money trickles back to the hapū and the iwi—
Hon Members: Oh no!
Hon Dr PITA SHARPLES: Oh yes! Honey—take the honey contract that has gone to China. It is produced by the people along the river, along the villages, and they get the benefits of that when it comes in—[Interruption] No, this is the reality. You have got to increase the economic trade, as well as the imports, to develop more trade in order to make it work.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My point of order is simply this: first of all, we have had a long explanation of why things are not happening; then he started to blame you.
Mr SPEAKER: The answer was certainly long enough. The Minister was asked what initiatives have supported whānau, etc., and he gave adequate examples.
Rino Tirikatene: Does he support the target of his Government colleague Steven Joyce to raise median incomes for Māori to that of the overall population by 2040; if so, does he think that 200 years since the signing of te Tiriti is an acceptable time frame for Māori to achieve parity in this country?
Hon Dr PITA SHARPLES: Absolutely, and that is why we have created He Toki ki te Rika, as well as He Kai Kei Aku Ringa—both of those. The first person to start things down in Christchurch was from the Māori Party, where we gathered all the builders together, and Ngāi Tahu, Te Puni Kōkiri, and all those for He Toki ki te Rika. In addition to that, now we have He Kai Kei Aku Ringa, and that is a joint venture between Māori and the Crown to develop initiatives based on education and everything else to increase Māori productivity. If you do not do that, you ain’t going to succeed. You cannot just pick out one thing. And so education becomes a very important arm of that development.