Questions and Answers - August 1
QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS
GCSB, Review of Compliance—Investigation into Leak and Release of Information
1. GRANT ROBERTSON (Deputy Leader—Labour) to the Prime Minister: On whose authority did his Chief of Staff request that the Parliamentary Service provide access to information relating to Ministers and their offices and “any other relevant material requested” and did this take place after the Henry inquiry was told that Parliamentary Service would not release the information requested?
Mr SPEAKER: [Interruption] Order! Before I call the Minister, my office has been advised that this answer may be longer than normal.
Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister for Economic Development) on behalf of the Prime
Minister: First can I congratulate Mr Robertson on his dancing last evening—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Would the Minister please just address the question.
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: The Prime Minister’s chief of staff was acting with the Prime Minister’s authority when he asked Parliamentary Service to supply information relating to Ministers and their staff to the Henry inquiry. The member will be aware that the publicly released terms of reference for the inquiry clearly stated that stage one would include reviewing communications and copying equipment and records, log books, and any other material considered relevant to the persons and/or their officers who had, or were likely to have had, access to the compliance review report. At no point was it expected or desired that a journalist’s records would also be included in the inquiry. It is wrong that they were and the Prime Minister is extremely disappointed that the journalist’s records were sent to the inquiry. Let us be clear about what happened here: Parliamentary Service sent records that were not asked for to the inquiry, and that is a serious mistake. The Prime Minister’s chief of staff asked Parliamentary Service to release information relating to Ministers and staff only, not a journalist. He did so because he was giving consent to release the information for Government Ministers, as flagged in the terms of reference. The Prime Minister also made it clear himself that he expected Ministers to comply. He notes that these issues are now before the Privileges Committee.
Grant Robertson: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. That was a very long answer from Minister Joyce acting for the Prime Minister, but it did not respond to the second leg of the primary question.
Mr SPEAKER: I think that on this occasion that is a reasonable point that is being made. Can the Minister on behalf of the Prime Minister respond to the second part of the question: did this take place after the Henry inquiry was told by Parliamentary Service not to release the information requested.
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: My advice is that Mr Eagleson emailed Mr Thorn on 9 May—and, of course, that email was tabled in the House yesterday—to confirm that the Prime Minister wished
him to make available the inquiry records in relation to Ministers and their staff. That is the instruction he is referring to in the primary answer.
Grant Robertson: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am sorry; that still does not answer the second leg of the question. The second leg of the question asked whether that took place after the Henry inquiry was told that Parliamentary Service would not release the information. All that Mr Joyce did then in his further answer was tell us something we already knew about an email from 9 May.
Mr SPEAKER: It would be helpful if the Minister on behalf of the Prime Minister could address that particular fact. It is a primary question that was on notice.
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I understand, Mr Speaker. My understanding is that this email occurred at the point where it was felt that Mr Eagleson would need to clarify that the Prime Minister and Mr Eagleson, as his chief of staff, had given permission for Ministers to be accessed, and that was first. So I think we can assume that might have occurred after originally being told that they needed that clarification so it would be available.
Grant Robertson: So, to completely clarify, the Henry inquiry was told by Parliamentary Service that it would not release the electronic information and it did release that information only after Wayne Eagleson sent an email on behalf of the Prime Minister?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I am not sure I can be as emphatic as the member would like me to be. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order!
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: But I think that certainly we can take from the email that the chief of staff felt that he needed to clarify for Parliamentary Service that there was indeed a request to make available on behalf of Ministers.
Grant Robertson: Did the Henry inquiry request and receive swipe card data for Andrea Vance on her movements in and out of this building after Wayne Eagleson’s email on the Prime Minister’s behalf requesting any other material be provided by Parliamentary Service to the Henry inquiry?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I do not have that chronology to hand, but what is clear—
Grant Robertson: Oh yes, very convenient.
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: No, what is very convenient is your question, Mr Robertson. What is clear is that Mr Eagleson in no way asked for that information, so whether it was supplied before or after is entirely incidental to Mr Eagleson’s email.
Grant Robertson: When the Prime Minister said in answers to my written questions that his office became aware of the existence of emails between Andrea Vance and Peter Dunne discussing the Kitteridge report “as a result of a conversation with the Parliamentary Service”, why was his office communicating directly with Parliamentary Service about records retrieved for the Henry inquiry?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I think it is fairly straightforward. Mr Eagleson had told Parliamentary Service that it was entitled to provide the information with regard to Ministers. As we all know, there was some concern expressed, I think from Mr Dunne or from his office, about that information being supplied and so, therefore, there was further conversation again, I suspect, wanting to know whether that information could be supplied and, subsequently, there was obviously a conversation with Mr Dunne. But this is all in relation to the Minister’s information and it was at the point where the Minister’s information was not able to be supplied that the clarification was sought.
Grant Robertson: Is he aware of section 6(2) of the Parliamentary Service Act 2000, which states: “The Parliamentary Service is not an instrument of the executive government.”; if so, why did his chief of staff on his direction instruct Parliamentary Service to provide “any other relevant material requested by the Henry inquiry” to the inquiry?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Because it was in relation to Ministers who had had a ministerial warrant that the Prime Minister had provided to them. The Prime Minister had made it clear to all
his Ministers that he expected them to comply with the inquiry and supply and authorise to supply the relevant information. Mr Eagleson was following up that instruction with Parliamentary Service.
Hon David Parker: It doesn’t wash.
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: It does wash and you should pay attention.
Grant Robertson: Why does he think it is appropriate for his chief of staff to put pressure on Parliamentary Service to release electronic records that it had originally declined to release to the Henry inquiry?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Two points in response to that. Firstly, it was actually in regard to Ministers who held a ministerial warrant, and they hold that because they enjoy the confidence of the Prime Minister, and he had made it clear that information needed to be provided to the inquiry. The second point is the contradiction—just a short time ago in this House the Opposition were baying for those emails between Mr Dunne and Ms Vance to be released. Suddenly they are holier than thou about the privacy of that information. You cannot have it both ways, Mr Robertson.
Grant Robertson: Is it correct that Peter Dunne received the Kitteridge report as the leader of a support party—as an MP in this House—not as a Minister, as the Minister has just stated?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I am not aware exactly on what basis he received that report, but what I can tell you in relation to the emails and the information is that it was in relation to this matter as there was a ministerial warrant.
Grant Robertson: Given that this is his inquiry and it was on his instruction that his chief of staff ask the Parliamentary Service to access the electronic and phone records—and that when his chief of staff speaks to someone, they are speaking to him—why will he not just take some responsibility for a fundamental breach of the rights of MPs and journalists in this building?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: The Prime Minister was making inquiries about his Ministers in the ministerial inquiry. It was not about their capacity as MPs, it was not about journalists, and, with the greatest respect, the irony of the situation is that the Opposition has been baying for this information and is not happy for it to now be released.
Chris Hipkins: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. On several occasions now the Minister has gone well beyond what had been pretty serious questions to him and has started to attack the Opposition. This is—
Hon Annette King: Every answer.
Chris Hipkins: In every answer that he has delivered he has attacked the Opposition. Previously in this House we actually had a standard that suggested that Ministers did not do that.
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: In relation to that last question it contained any number of suppositions and made a political accusation, and I think I was entitled to make a political response. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I do not need any further assistance. On this occasion I think that the answer to the question was adequate and certainly not out of order in any way.
Grant Robertson: I seek leave of the House to table an email from Wayne Eagleson on 9 May this year, at 4.39 p.m., to Geoff Thorn, in which he confirms that the Prime Minister would like the Parliamentary Service to make available inquiry team records and other relevant material requested.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that email. Is there any objection to that course of action? There is none. [Interruption] I apologise. There was objection. It will not be tabled.
Grant Robertson: John Banks objected.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! That is every member’s right in this House.
2. MAGGIE BARRY (National—North Shore) to the Minister of Finance: What reports has he received on business and economic conditions in New Zealand?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Associate Minister of Finance) on behalf of the Minister of Finance: There have been a number of reports in recent weeks that show business conditions are improving
and confidence amongst New Zealand companies is increasing. For example, just yesterday the ANZ issued its ANZ Business Outlook survey for July. It confirmed that overall business confidence increased three further points in the month, with a net 53 percent of respondents expecting better times ahead. This is the highest level of business confidence since April 1999, or more than 14 years. Perhaps not coincidentally, that was when National was last in Government. ANZ noted: “The latest lift in confidence is symptomatic of a broader expansion of the economy than we have seen previously.” It included a demonstration of confidence in the manufacturing sector, which increased five points to a net plus 44 percent.
Maggie Barry: What contribution do the medium-high tech and high-tech manufacturing sectors make to New Zealand’s economy?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I am pleased to advise that the Minister for Economic Development released the High and Medium-High Technology Manufacturing Sectors Report today, which outlines the substantial and growing contribution these two sectors make to the New Zealand economy. The medium-high tech sector exported goods worth NZ$2.8 billion in 2012. Exports by the high-tech sector grew from $139 million in 1991 to $1.4 billion last year. This sector has got a faster growth trajectory than the New Zealand wine industry. Within the Government’s Business Growth Agenda there are 58 specific initiatives to assist the high-tech manufacturing sector grow even larger so that it can continue to assist in providing higher incomes and more jobs for Kiwi families.
Maggie Barry: What is the current state of the manufacturing sector, particularly compared with 2008?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Since the beginning of 2009 the manufacturing sector has grown by 9.2 percent. That is a significant turn-round from 2008, when manufacturing shrank by 12 percent in just 1 year. Since 2009 non-food manufacturing export volumes have grown by 14.6 percent. In 2008, by way of contrast, they fell nearly 6 percent. Finally, in June this year the BNZ - Business New Zealand Performance of Manufacturing Index was in solid expansionary mode at 54.7. This is the highest June result since 2004. It compares with 35.8 in 2008. So although individual firms are undoubtedly facing challenges, the sector as a whole has made a lot of progress since the crisis of 2008.
Maggie Barry: Has he received any reports of complaints about new investment in New Zealand manufacturing, which is creating new jobs and helping families to get ahead?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Well, yes, I have. I have seen a rather extraordinary press release criticising companies like Heinz, McCain Foods, and Call Active for shifting hundreds of jobs to New Zealand from Australia. Nothing seems to ever please the authors of this release. Having spent months complaining erroneously about a crisis in New Zealand manufacturing, they then criticise companies that want to move here and invest in manufacturing jobs. It seems their dislike of foreigners even extends to turning up their noses to companies that want to create jobs for Kiwi families. This mindless opposition to manufacturing moving here from Australia illustrates that this side of the House favours jobs and growth while the Labour Party and their mates in the Greens oppose every initiative to create jobs.
GCSB, Review of Compliance—Investigation into Leak and Release of Information
3. Dr RUSSEL NORMAN (Co-Leader—Green) to the Prime Minister: How many emails did Wayne Eagleson and the Henry inquiry send to Parliamentary Service regarding the Henry inquiry and on what dates were those emails sent?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister for Economic Development) on behalf of the Prime
Minister: I can advise the House that Mr Eagleson sent two emails to the Parliamentary Service regarding the inquiry, one on 9 May and the other on 23 May. I am advised that the Henry inquiry sent a total of 39 emails to the Parliamentary Service between the dates of 29 April and 6 June. I am
happy to table a document now for the member that shows the breakdown of those dates and those emails.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is so sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is none. It will be tabled. Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Dr Russel Norman: Will the Prime Minister table the emails themselves?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: One of the emails from Mr Eagleson was tabled yesterday. I am happy to table the second one today. In relation to the emails of the Parliamentary Service, obviously it is a very high number. I would suggest the member put that request down in writing.
Dr Russel Norman: How many of those emails were in relation to Andrea Vance’s records, and were those emails in relation to Andrea Vance’s records from Wayne Eagleson and/or the Henry inquiry?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Firstly, in relation to Mr Eagleson’s emails, the first one the House has seen. The second one is a very, very short email, which simply says “Thanks for that.”, or something along those lines and is not in relation to Ms Vance. In relation to the Parliamentary Service, I have not seen all those emails on behalf of the Prime Minister, but I have been provided with two. One, again, I think the House has already seen, and the second makes it particularly clear that it did not want the call logs for two “numbers of interest”, which were Andrea Vance’s numbers. It was particularly quite clear that it was not seeking those numbers.
Dr Russel Norman: Is the Prime Minister concerned to find out that the Henry inquiry received Andrea Vance’s swipe card records on the authorisation of the general manager of the Parliamentary Service?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: As you know, the Prime Minister was very concerned about that, and he made it very clear at the time that became public that he was concerned that that information had been provided.
Dr Russel Norman: I seek leave to table an unpublished answer to a written question that establishes that it was the—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Can the member just clarify again what he is seeking to table?
Dr Russel Norman: It is the answer to written question 08498—
Mr SPEAKER: No, no. Order!
Dr Russel Norman: —which is not published. It is not available to the members of the House.
Mr SPEAKER: Yes, there is a 3-day stand-down before that information becomes available—
Dr Russel Norman: Yes, and I am—
Mr SPEAKER: The easiest way for me to sort this out is that I will put the leave and it will be over to the House as to whether it is then tabled. Leave is sought to table an answer to a written question that is in the 3-day stand-down period, so it would normally not be available. It is over to the House. Is there any objection to that course of action? There appears to be none. It can be so tabled. Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Dr Russel Norman: Does the Minister consider that it is plausible that the Henry inquiry received Ms Vance’s swipe card records after the OK given by the general manager of the Parliamentary Service—the highest officer within the Parliamentary Service—while Ms Vance’s phone logs were released to the Henry inquiry by a low level contractor?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: It is apparent that the second part of Ms Vance’s phone logs was released by somebody who was not authorised to do so. In fact, as we know, the inquiry made it clear the moment it received that information that that was not something that it had sought. We also know that it had not been opened at any stage by the inquiry.
Dr Russel Norman: Given that we now know that the release of the movement records was escalated all the way to the general manager of the Parliamentary Service, does he consider that it is much more likely that the Henry inquiry was actually given the phone records—the phone records of a journalist—due to the pressure that was being applied by the Prime Minister’s office on the Parliamentary Service?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: No, absolutely not. I reject that assertion absolutely and entirely. The Prime Minister is on record all the way through, making it absolutely clear that he did not consider it appropriate for either the swipe card access or the phone logs of the journalist to be provided. Note that that is now a matter for the Privileges Committee, and I think it is appropriate that the Privileges Committee investigate that and have the opportunity to make the decisions that it sees fit.
Dr Russel Norman: Given that the journalist’s movement records were released because it was considered a security breach issue, does the Prime Minister now take responsibility for the fact that his inquiry—acting under his mandate—has asked for and received Fairfax journalist Andrea Vance’s building access records, on the basis that investigative journalism is now a security breach?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I completely reject that assertion by the member as well. The Prime Minister has made it clear in regard to the building access records that at the moment he was made aware of that, he thought it was absolutely inappropriate. He also made it clear all the way through that the information being sought was in relation to the Ministers and not in relation to the journalist.
Grant Robertson: Is it correct that Andrea Vance’s building access records were released by the Parliamentary Service after Wayne Eagleson sent an email to it saying that it should release any other material requested by the inquiry?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: As I said in answer to a previous question—and I do not have the exact chronology—again, it is not relevant, because the chief of staff made it very clear that the information he sought was in relation to the Ministers and their staff, not in relation to the journalist.
Sexual Violence Prevention—Funding
4. MELISSA LEE (National) to the Minister for Social Development: What announcements has she made to support sexual violence crisis services?
Hon PAULA BENNETT (Minister for Social Development): Yesterday we announced funding of $1.37 million over 3 years to support the Auckland Sexual Abuse Help Foundation. The funding will contribute towards sexual violence crisis services it provides in Auckland and northern districts: a 24/7 telephone support service, a call-out team of specialist trauma counsellors, an acute crisis counselling service, and court preparation and support services.
Melissa Lee: What different will this make for the Auckland Sexual Abuse Help Foundation?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: As part of this funding there is an increase of $190,000 per year, and that is a significant rise in funds for them. The 3-year contract, as well, will provide certainty, which the organisation asked for and we were pleased to be able to deliver. This funding is from multiple Government organisations and part of a joint agency approach to sexual violence. On that note I certainly want to acknowledge my ministerial colleagues, and particularly ACC, the Ministry of Justice, and, of course, my own Ministry for Social Development, which came to the party and were able to make this happen.
Melissa Lee: What other announcements has she made to support the sexual violence services sector?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: What is real is that we have got a much bigger problem than one organisation in Auckland can deal with, no matter how significant it is, and that we need to work on more sustainable funding solutions for the sector. I recognise that it has struggled at times to actually get the funding so that it can provide the services to those victims who are in real need. I will add that this is the first time there has been a lead Minister who has actually stepped up for this
sector and tried to actually make a difference across. I have commissioned an in-depth review, which will look at the efficiency of funding provisions—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I am now having trouble hearing the completion of the answer by the Minister.
Hon PAULA BENNETT: It is kind of easy for Labour to sort of sit there and—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Just—
Hon PAULA BENNETT: —bark, but it did not make a difference when it needed to most. So there is a lot of work to be done in that area. We will be looking at the efficiency of funding provisions, what drives that demand for services, service duplication, and gaps in the sector. These recommendations will actually mean that it is sustainable, not ad hoc like it has been in the past, and will make a difference to those victims who need it most.
Sue Moroney: I wish to table the petition in my name that was put before the Social Services Committee and that called on the funding to be—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! The member is now seeking to table something that is freely available to all members and has been presented to a select committee. Question No. 5, Phil Twyford. [Interruption] Order! [Interruption] Order! If members want to stay for the completion of question time, I would appreciate some cooperation with interjections.
5. PHIL TWYFORD (Labour—Te Atatū) to the Minister of Housing: Does he stand by all his statements?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH (Minister of Housing): No. I made a statement earlier in the year that I thought Labour was genuine about its concerns about housing affordability. I was clearly mistaken, having seen Labour’s policy and its opposition to freeing up new land in Auckland.
Phil Twyford: How many of the 3,703 empty State houses—up 40 percent since January last year—are in the wrong place or are the wrong size, and how many are down to his incompetence in getting the 1,290 Kiwi families in urgent need into homes?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: One thousand of the increased number of what the member calls vacant State houses are due to earthquake risk. Let me explain. Five hundred of those are earthquake-prone homes, like those in this city of Wellington. I am proud that this Government has said that it is unacceptable to have State housing tenants in buildings that are earthquake-prone, multi-storey buildings in this city, where, having had shakes today, I think we would be putting people at risk. A further 500 homes are those that are being repaired in Christchurch, and that is absolutely essential if we are, at a rate of one new home per day, urgently replacing those. I would also point out that what the member calls vacant homes, are hundreds of homes that have been let but the tenants have not yet moved in. That is a misrepresentation.
Hon Members: Oh!
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: Well, do the members opposite not—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! That is quite a sufficient answer to that question.
Phil Twyford: Why is he content to let Housing New Zealand staff take the blame, for example, when it said recently that staff need more coaching on how to manage the vacancies process, and when will he take responsibility for the shambles created by him trying to turn Housing New Zealand into a real estate firm?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: The actual number of vacant properties that are ready to let, that is, they do not need repairs and there is not a commitment for a person to move into the property, is about 400, which is about the same number as when the previous Government was in office. That is 0.5 percent of the 70,000 State houses. I was in Australia just last week, and there are equivalent vacancy rates in New South Wales, Queensland, and Victoria. The performance of Housing New Zealand, in terms of the management of its stock, is focused on getting as many families as possible safely into those homes we own.
Phil Twyford: Why did he say that the Government would be sticking to its guns on the housing accord legislation, when just this morning Auckland Council said it cannot see anything in the bill that will ensure that affordable housing is built?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: The legislation that we have before Parliament specifically makes reference to the housing accord. If the member reads the housing accord, it very specifically makes mention of affordable houses. If we want to give the accord legal weight and we want more affordable houses in Auckland, the member opposite would vote for the legislation that enables us to achieve that goal with Mayor Len Brown.
Phil Twyford: Does he agree with Westpac economists who said today that the Reserve Bank plan to restrict low-equity mortgages will “hobble first home buyers while helping property investors, ensuring [that] house prices keep marching higher,” and why will he not support Labour’s policy of a temporary exemption for first-home buyers, which is the kind of thing the Prime Minister was advocating only a few weeks ago?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: The Reserve Bank has not yet made its decisions about its loan-tovalue ratio approach, but I would note that the first suggestion that we should be using tools other than just putting up interest rates for financial stability was actually made by members opposite. When the Reserve Bank Governor has confirmed what he will be doing, what I can assure the member opposite is that this Government will be absolutely committed to standing behind firsthome buyers. I would point out also that the best thing for improving home ownership is low interest rates, and we have got the lowest interest rates in 50 years.
Phil Twyford: When will he and his Government abandon their tired old 1980s supply side fixation on the housing crisis, promoted by Don Brash and the other hand-picked Chicago school dinosaurs on the Productivity Commission, and when will he realise that the solution lies in the kind of balanced supply and demand approach advocated by Labour?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: I am surprised that the member opposite refers to Murray Sherwin and Professor Sally Davenport as dinosaurs in regard to their recommendation that to improve housing affordability—
Hon Member: They certainly are.
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: Well, they appointed them.
Grant Robertson: Of course they’re dinosaurs.
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: Murray Sherwin was appointed by the members opposite to senior roles in government. The fundamental point is, is housing supply at the core of the challenge we face about houses? Yes, it is, and we are going to build a lot more houses.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Is the Minister aware that in the USA, the EU, the UK, Japan, and China interest rates are now at 1 percent or lower, and that New Zealand’s interest rates are five to six times that, so when in the last 50 years was New Zealand ever in that situation, of having interest rates five to six times higher than the rates of those five capital centres of the world, and why does he keep repeating the misnomer that we have the lowest interest rates in 50 years?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: I have checked the records and the last time interest rates were as low as they are now for New Zealand home buyers was in 1964, before I was born. For dinosaurs like Mr Peters—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member will withdraw that comment.
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: I withdraw that comment, but I would note that the reason New Zealand’s interest rates are not as low as they are in the US and some other countries is that our economy is actually in far better shape.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Does the Minister not understand that interest rates are all relative, and is it not a fact that our interest rates are five to six times higher than in the following markets: USA, EU, UK, Japan, and China. That being the case—even “Big Ears” can understand that—why does he keep on repeating that we have the lowest interest rates in 50 years?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: The reason I keep repeating that New Zealand has got the lowest firsthome mortgage interest rates in 50 years is that they are the lowest—they are! I would much rather have a growing strong economy with joblessness coming down, with strong economic growth, than I would have, compared with the countries that the member mentions. Finally, in respect of interest rates, I think they are the single-biggest factor that affect the costs for New Zealand families and we should be proud they are so low. When the member was a Minister last—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I have a point of order.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. You will recall that I asked the Minister as to whether he understood the fact that interest rates are always relative.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! No.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Well, I have not finished my point of order.
Mr SPEAKER: I will give the member a bit more time.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Well, Mr Speaker, that is the question I asked and I am still waiting for the answer.
Mr SPEAKER: No, the member will resume his seat. The member asked two questions. That was the first part of his question, and the second part of his question was why the Minister continued to repeat that New Zealand has had the lowest interest rates for some period of time. The Minister chose to devote his answer to the second question that was raised in the supplementary question.
Electricity Market—Alternative Approaches
6. JONATHAN YOUNG (National—New Plymouth) to the Minister of Energy and
Resources: Has he received any reports on alternative approaches to the electricity market?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES (Minister of Energy and Resources): Yes, I have. I have seen criticisms of proposals to move New Zealand to a single-buyer model for electricity: “It is like rebooting your computer and starting out with all the same problems again. Why do it? It does not do anything in terms of competition. I do not see any advantage in a single-buyer system. Why do it?”. These comments were made by Professor Frank Wolack in Wellington this week, the same professor on whom the Opposition relied so heavily—in fact, championed—in its so-called policy to tackle power prices. I would recommend the Opposition finds a new expert—one who actually agrees with them.
Jonathan Young: What other comments did Professor Wolak make in his address on the electricity market this week?
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The Hon Simon Bridges, in as far as he has ministerial responsibility.
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: Well, I am glad the member asks. Professor Wolak told the audience that he had never said—
Grant Robertson: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Minister does not have responsibility for Professor Wolak, and he began to tell us what Professor Wolak had said. He has no responsibility for—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! When I accepted the question, I decided the question is in order, but the Minister, in answering the question, can answer in as far as he has ministerial responsibility. [Interruption] I will accept a point of order from the Hon Simon Bridges.
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: Speaking to the point of order, I have responsibility for the policy in the electricity markets, and that is what I am addressing.
Mr SPEAKER: That is right, and if the Minister, when he gets a chance to answer the question, can address it within his ministerial responsibility, that is perfectly OK. Is there a further point of order?
Chris Hipkins: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The issue is just the wider issue, not with regard to the specific question, of whether a Minister can now be questioned simply on what someone else has said, whether they have ministerial responsibility for that or not. That is actually
something that we would probably quite welcome on this side of the House: that we can now question Ministers on anything that anybody has said.
Mr SPEAKER: I think the interjection that is coming confirms my thoughts too. It is quite common that Ministers are asked to make comment on a statement, particularly when it is in reference to a report of which the Minister received, which was a report by this particular gentleman. Can the Minister please address the question. Does he wish it to be asked again?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: If it could be asked again—thank you.
Jonathan Young: What other comments did Professor Wolak make in his address on the electricity market this week?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: There were a number of comments that I would agree with made by the professor. He told the audience that he never said New Zealand generators were making excessive profits, and that such a claim is extremely difficult to make. The Opposition might want to amend its dubious claims in newsletters, pamphlets, and the like that generators are making super-profits. The professor also reinforced this Government’s message that politicians should not be involved in setting prices in the electricity market, citing international examples where prices have been kept low by politicians and the result has been power shortages. I am proud to be part of a Government where security of supply has simply ceased to be an issue that dominates the headlines, unlike the 9 years of the Labour Government.
Moana Mackey: Does he also agree with Professor Wolak’s comments that under the New Zealand market excessive prices are extracted by generators, especially residential customers when water is short, that generators can and do exercise unilateral market power without colluding, that this is similar to what happens in other hydro-dependent markets, and that it is hard to get competition to constrain these excessive prices when the generators are vertically integrated with the retailers as they are in New Zealand; if so, what is he planning to do about it?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: Well, I suggest that anyone watching should listen to the podcast he made, where he made precisely the opposite points that the member makes. He resiled from comments about excessive profits, and what he made very clear was, actually, rather than—
Grant Robertson: Stop making it up.
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: I am not making this up, Mr Robertson. This is exactly what he said: what was necessary, rather than some radical policy—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! The Minister was asked a question. He has a right and a duty to answer it, and I want to hear the answer.
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: What the professor made absolutely clear was that rather than a policy prescription pretty much like what Labour is proposing, incremental reform and pro-competitive policy, just like this Government is implementing, is what is required.
Jonathan Young: What is the Government’s approach to the electricity market, and is it working?
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: It had better be a point of order.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I just want to make sure that despite that seeming like an Opposition question, it does not come off our numbers.
Mr SPEAKER: The member is very lucky to be allowed to be here at question time with a point of order like that. Will the Minister please answer the question.
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: Well, it is hard to be heard over the braying seals opposite—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Just answer the question, please.
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: It makes it very difficult. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I am not going to put up with this level of noise for much longer. A member may well be asked to leave the Chamber if this sort of interjection and barrage continues. Would the Minister now simply answer the question.
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: Precisely as Professor Wolak advocated this week, this Government is not following some wacky, radical plan. We are implementing over time pro-competitive policy in the electricity market so that today New Zealand has the highest consumer switching rates in the world, delivering real benefits—more than 790,000 switches. There have been four new retailers in the market in the last couple of years, bringing the total of independent retailers to 14, with 22 in total. We are seeing also major retailers altering their marketing and pricing strategies in order to compete. This Government is doing what works and is continuing it.
Moana Mackey: Does he believe that privately owned generators using older hydro assets should be able to keep the extra returns they make from the public water resource as the cost of new generation increases and drives up the long-run marginal costs?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: No, because as Professor Wolak I believe also said about the issue of water, the Opposition policy, in so many words, is economically illiterate. The fact of the matter is actually using water has an economic opportunity cost, which makes it very important that we put prices on these things, and there are huge capital costs involved in building hydro power— something that the Opposition and David Parker accepted in Government and somehow now do not.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! That answer is quite long enough.
Government Security Agencies, Legislative Reform—Prime Minister’s Statements and
7. CLARE CURRAN (Labour—Dunedin South) to the Minister for Communications and
Information Technology: Does she agree with the Prime Minister that opponents of the proposed GCSB and telecommunications interception capability and security bills are “politically aligned” and “misinformed”; if so, are Microsoft and Google “politically aligned” and “misinformed” when they say the Telecommunications (Interception Capability and Security) Bill would slow innovation and economic growth and keep new innovative services out of New Zealand?
Hon AMY ADAMS (Minister for Communications and Information Technology): I agree with what the Prime Minister actually said, which was that a lot of people who would go along to the protests on the weekend about the Government Communications Security Bureau and Related Legislation Amendment Bill would be politically aligned or, with the greatest of respect, misinformed. With regard to comments made by Microsoft and Google in relation to an entirely separate piece of legislation, no, I do not agree with their views.
Clare Curran: I seek leave to table—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! This is a seeking of leave.
Clare Curran: I seek leave to table a list of submitters on the GCSB bill, which links to the Telecommunications (Interception—
Mr SPEAKER: That list of submitters will be available—
Clare Curran: No, no. The list draws the link between the GCSB bill and the Telecommunications (Interception Capability and Security) Bill.
Mr SPEAKER: It is easy to resolve. I will put the leave that that document be tabled. Is there any objection? There is.
Clare Curran: I seek leave to table a list of submitters to the Telecommunications (Interception Capability and Security) Bill, which draws the link with the GCSB bill.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is so sought. Is there any objection? There is.
Clare Curran: I seek leave to table a list prepared by the Parliamentary Library of the number of media articles that have drawn that link between the two bills.
Mr SPEAKER: I think that is getting very marginal, but because it is Thursday I will put the leave. There is objection.
Clare Curran: Is she aware that innovative New Zealand information and communications technology companies, such as Catalyst and others, preparing to invest in cloud capability say that
the Telecommunications (Interception Capability and Security) Bill and the GCSB bill are creating investment uncertainty and mistrust in New Zealand - based cloud services for overseas customers?
Hon AMY ADAMS: No, I am not. But what I would say to that member is that she needs to be aware that the obligations on service providers exist under the 2004 legislation, which the Labour Government passed, and those obligations continue under the proposed Telecommunications (Interception Capability and Security) Bill, which is now before this House. I would point out to that member that if there is an innovation impact on New Zealand from these bills, which I do not accept, the same would apply in Australia, in the UK, and in the US. We are hardly out of step with the rest of the world in this regard.
Clare Curran: Did she consult with major service and technology providers such as Google, Facebook, and Microsoft before she bought this current version of the Telecommunications (Interception Capability and Security) Bill to the House; if not, why not?
Hon AMY ADAMS: Personally, no I did not.
Clare Curran: Does she agree that it is unacceptable that there has been no advice provided by the GCSB to the select committee hearing the Telecommunications (Interception Capability and Security) Bill, and that the committee has blocked the GCSB from being asked to appear, and if that is acceptable to her, why is she condoning a process where legislators are expected to make decisions blindfolded?
Hon AMY ADAMS: Firstly, the proceedings of the select committee are matters for that committee. But, no, I am quite happy with that process, because the Telecommunications (Interception Capability and Security) Bill—
Hon Phil Goff: The Minister instructed the committee. That’s what happened.
Hon AMY ADAMS: Well, that might be how it worked under you, Mr Goff, not under us. The Telecommunications (Interception Capability and Security) Bill—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Would the Minister please complete the answer.
Hon AMY ADAMS: The Telecommunications (Interception Capability and Security) Bill relates to the obligations that telecommunications companies have, so it is appropriate that they were the focus of the bill and the hearings. The legislation does not in any way change the right of any agency to access any communication. That will always be dealt with under separate legislative provision and will require a warrant or other lawful authorisation. Nothing in the Telecommunications (Interception Capability and Security) Bill changes that, despite the scaremongering from “Chicken Little”.
Clare Curran: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My question was quite specific. It said: “Does she agree that it is unacceptable—
Mr SPEAKER: I heard the question.
Clare Curran: I have not heard an answer.
Mr SPEAKER: No, the question was far longer than that, and it had numerous legs to it, and the Minister has addressed that question.
Clare Curran: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I put it to you that the Minister has not answered the question—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I have just ruled, for the benefit of the member, that I consider the Minister has addressed the question. To further raise it is trifling with the Chair, and that is a serious matter. Has the member got a further supplementary question?
Clare Curran: Has she sought or received advice on the impact of the Telecommunications (Interception Capability and Security) Bill on the cost of doing business in New Zealand and its impact on the information and communications technology industry; if not, why not?
Hon AMY ADAMS: Yes.
SuperGold Card—Expansion of Programme
8. Dr PAUL HUTCHISON (National—Hunua) to the Minister for Senior Citizens: What recent announcements has she made regarding the SuperGold card programme?
Hon JO GOODHEW (Minister for Senior Citizens): [Interruption] The members opposite should await their applause. I am delighted to have recently announced that the SuperGold programme has surpassed 10,000 business outlets. In the last 18 months the number of participating businesses has nearly quadrupled. The continued growth and success of this programme means that older people can now get real value from their SuperGold cards. The real growth, as shown on that graph, has been under this Government.
Dr Paul Hutchison: What types of new businesses have been added to the programme recently?
Hon Members: The Green Parrot.
Hon JO GOODHEW: I am happy to inform the House that the Green Parrot is not one of the new businesses. During May and June this year, a SuperGold business recruitment campaign, targeting the health and well-being sectors, was undertaken. The campaign attracted over 1,200 new businesses to the programme, including dental services, pharmacies, physiotherapists, optometrists, chiropractors, and nutritionists, as well as home heating and insulation providers. Around 45 percent of these new businesses are located outside of the main centres.
Public Transport, Auckland—City Rail Link
9. IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY (Labour—Palmerston North) to the Minister of Transport: Can he guarantee that 50 percent of the funding for the Auckland City Rail Link will come from central government?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE (Minister of Transport): It is not appropriate to talk about the rail loop as a separate project, but rather as a package of projects that the Government has announced it will have an involvement in with Auckland Transport. Those discussions are continuing at the present time. They are designed to work out the sort of cost-sharing arrangements that might be put in place, and when they have concluded, they will be reported publicly, and the member will be able to make his own assessment.
Iain Lees-Galloway: Was Mayor Len Brown misinformed, or simply misled, when he said on 27 June: “The Prime Minister has said 50-50, he has said the government will put up half”?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: I can only repeat my previous answer, which was that we have a suite of projects planned for Auckland. Discussions are ongoing with Auckland Transport about how they may be funded.
Iain Lees-Galloway: Well then, who should Aucklanders believe: the Prime Minister, who told Len Brown that it would be a 50:50 split; or the Minister, who today is dancing on the head of a pin?
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I think that my colleague is misleading the House.
Mr SPEAKER: The member will be lucky to see the balance of question time.
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: This is one occasion where I do agree with the Hon Clayton Cosgrove. If I could dance on the head of a pin, he and I could be in the circus, with him as Parliament’s greatest comb-over.
Mr SPEAKER: The Minister now has not addressed the question that was asked.
Iain Lees-Galloway: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: I have not, I cannot, and I will not dance on the head of a pin.
Mr SPEAKER: No, no. It is Thursday afternoon, but the question asked who Aucklanders are to believe, etc.
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: No, that was only part of the question.
Mr SPEAKER: No, the point to which the Minister is referring is actually a point of order. [Interruption] OK, I accept the point the Minister is now making.
Iain Lees-Galloway: Well then, Minister, who are Aucklanders to believe: the Prime Minister who promised 50 percent funding to Len Brown, or this Minister who cannot give a straight answer to save himself?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: The last part of that question is completely out of order. I reject it, and I will not answer the question any further.
Mr SPEAKER: In actual fact, I apologise to the Minister because I should have ruled that question out of order.
Iain Lees-Galloway: Who are Aucklanders to believe: the Prime Minister, who said that the Auckland rail link would be 50 funded by central government; or this Minister?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: Any comments that the Prime Minister has made about funding relate to the package of projects we are negotiating our way through with Auckland Transport. When those discussions are completed there will be a very fair and equitable arrangement between central government and Auckland Transport. Mr Brown, as Mayor of Auckland, is doing a very good job of understanding that it is internodal transport that is important for Auckland, not just the fixation that Labour has with the rail loop.
Iain Lees-Galloway: Why does the National Party find it so difficult to simply take the stance that the Labour Party has and make a commitment to Auckland to 50 percent fund the Auckland rail link?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: Largely because the Labour Party has said no more roads of national significance, no tunnel across the harbour, no extension of the Auckland-Manukau Eastern Transport Initiative and the East-West Link, no work on State Highway 16, no work on the intersections up by Albany, but a rail loop at 50 percent of cost. That is not an answer for Auckland’s transport needs.
10. RICHARD PROSSER (NZ First) to the Minister of Conservation: Does he stand by all his statements?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH (Minister of Conservation): Yes.
Richard Prosser: Does he stand by his statement on 18 July this year that “I am totally satisfied that 1080 is the most effective tool that we have to be able to ensure survival of many of New Zealand’s iconic native species,” given that 1080 is known to kill all oxygen-breathing organisms including native birds?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: Yes, I do. There was a very substantive inquiry by the Environmental Protection Authority into 1080. It concluded that it was safe and the most effective tool. I would also draw to the member’s attention the report by the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment that drew the same conclusion. Those members who advocate a ban on aerial 1080 are indirectly writing a death sentence for many of New Zealand’s birds, like kiwi, and they would also put key export industries at risk, given the importance of 1080 for controlling TB amongst New Zealand’s animal herds.
Richard Prosser: What reports, if any, has he received concerning a number of kiwi hand-raised by—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! To be fair to the member, his microphone came on very late in the question. Would he start that question again.
Richard Prosser: Thank you, Mr Speaker. What reports, if any, has he received concerning a number of kiwi hand-raised by the Department of Conservation and fitted with tracking equipment being killed by the 1080 that was dropped by the Animal Health Board in the Whirinaki State Forest in the winter of 2012?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: I do not have information on that specific incident, but what I can say to the member is that if you look at the programmes where aerial 1080 is used and you look at the bird survey figures 12 months later, 2 years later, and 3 years later, the evidence is overwhelming
that for birds like kiwi, like kākā, like kōkako, and like so many of our robins and other birds, all of those populations increased because 1080 kills pests like possums and rats, which are such a huge risk to New Zealand’s native birds.
Richard Prosser: What precautions is he taking to ensure that no native species—kea, in particular—are killed in a planned aerial 1080 drop to be carried out this year by the Department of Conservation over almost 114,000 hectares of conservation land in the western Kahurangi, including parts of the Kahurangi National Park?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: That is one part of an area of about 1 million hectares that will be treated with 1080. The criticism by the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment is, in fact, that we should actually be doing more. I tend to agree with that view simply because, whether it be the Kahurangi National Park or whether it be so many of our other parks, the evidence is overwhelming that 1080 is the most effective tool for controlling the pests that kill our native birds.
Richard Prosser: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My question was specifically about what precautions he is taking—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I think on this occasion that particular part has not been adequately addressed, but—
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: Oh, point of order, Mr Speaker—
Mr SPEAKER: No. I am inviting the member to repeat the question.
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. At the beginning of my answer I said that I did not have information about the specific drop in Kahurangi National Park, which is what the member is now raising a concern about. I am more than happy to provide that detailed information, but it is a legitimate answer for a Minister on a very specific question, when there has been such a general opening question, to say that, no, I do not have information on that.
Richard Prosser: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. In fact, the lack of reference to specific information was to the previous question.
Mr SPEAKER: I think the easiest way forward is for the member to re-ask the question and for the Minister to answer it as he sees fit.
Richard Prosser: What precautions is he taking to ensure that no native species—kea, in particular—are killed in a planned aerial 1080 drop to be carried out this year by the Department of Conservation over almost 114,000 hectares of conservation land in the western Kahurangi, including parts of the Kahurangi National Park?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: Every year the Department of Conservation does dozens and dozens of these operations, and I do not have the specific information on that drop. What I would say is that the overwhelming evidence and the post-drop surveys show that the number of birds recovers very substantially after 1080 drops because we push back on the pests that are killing so many of our native birds.
Border Control—Joint Management System
11. MARK MITCHELL (National—Rodney) to the Minister of Customs: What is the Government doing to improve IT processes for importers and exporters?
Hon MAURICE WILLIAMSON (Minister of Customs): More good news. Today the Minister for Primary Industries, Nathan Guy, and I announced the launch of the Government’s $89 million Joint Border Management System. Importers and exporters can now submit shipment details electronically to a single point of contact through the Joint Border Management System trade single window, rather than dealing separately with multiple Government agencies.
Mark Mitchell: What are the benefits of the joint border management system?
Hon MAURICE WILLIAMSON: Over the next 10 years the Joint Border Management System will generate benefits of $450 million. Savings will be made through the reduction of data duplication, faster processing times, connecting directly to the system, and eliminating third-party transmission charges. The new system will also provide advanced risk management tools to support
the Customs Service and the Ministry for Primary Industries to protect New Zealand. In short, it will greatly benefit border stakeholders and the wider economy.
Child Poverty—Minister’s Statements
12. HOLLY WALKER (Green) to the Minister for Social Development: When she said, “Child poverty remains a serious issue, and … all standard measures show rates have been flat since 2009” was she publicly accepting that there are indeed standard measures of child poverty?
Hon PAULA BENNETT (Minister for Social Development): I have always said there are many standard measures. What there is not is an official measure for New Zealand.
Holly Walker: If child poverty is a serious issue, will she now adopt those standard measures she referred to as the official measures of child poverty and set binding targets to reduce them?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: I think the point that the member makes that I am going to pick up is that there are many standard measures and that this country would spend at least 12 months debating which one to use. I do not think the country needs that debate; what it needs is action on child abuse and neglect.
Holly Walker: How many families with children have been financially sanctioned since October 2010 under her welfare reform package, and what is the human impact on the children whose parents have had their benefits cut?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: I do not have that information in front of me. It was not in the main question. What I would say, though, is that it is also the length of sanction that is important. For the vast majority of them it is literally days, and in most cases they actually do not get money coming out of their account—or, in this case, not going in—because they re-comply before that actually happens.
Holly Walker: I seek leave to table this graph prepared by the Parliamentary Library, showing the dramatic increase in the number of families with children financially sanctioned since October 2010 to more than 8,000.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that particular graph prepared by the library. Is there any objection? There appears to be none. It can be tabled. Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Holly Walker: In light of her previous answer that she would prefer to focus on abuse and neglect, has she read the Child Poverty Action Group report showing a strong correlation between poverty and child abuse, and how does she expect to meet the Government’s target for reducing assaults on children without also setting targets to reduce child poverty, since the two are clearly linked?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: I have read part of the Child Poverty Action Group report. To be fair, I did not get it in advance like the member did or the media did, so I have received it only this morning. But what I can say is that actually we never debated whether or not poverty was a factor, but it is one of many. If you look at the reasons for child abuse and neglect—if one looks at sexual abuse, actually it is not because they are poor; it is because someone is pretty sick and has hurt a child, and that does not depend on their income. So I would say that poverty, unemployment, harsh parenting styles, poor educational attainment, mental health, fractured families, drug and alcohol abuse, and a history of having being abused as a child are all associated with child physical and emotion abuse and neglect, and simply looking at poverty would be negligent to those children who need us most.
Holly Walker: I seek leave to table the Child Poverty Action Group report Child Abuse: An analysis of Child, Youth and Family data released yesterday.
Mr SPEAKER: No. I presume it is a report that is freely available to all members.
QUESTIONS TO MEMBERS
Employment Relations Amendment Bill—Submissions Received
1. DARIEN FENTON (Labour) to the Chairperson of the Transport and Industrial
Relations Committee: How many submissions have been received on the Employment Relations Amendment Bill?
DAVID BENNETT (Chairperson of the Transport and Industrial Relations Committee): As a large number of submissions have been received, they are still being processed and final numbers are yet to be determined. However, we understand that there may be many thousands of submissions.
Darien Fenton: How many submissions have been processed and counted?
DAVID BENNETT: With the large number, the initial assessments are difficult, but I am aware that approximately 12,000 documents have been received. It is yet to be determined whether all of these are submissions.