Questions and Answers - August 28
QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS
Economy—Tīwai Point Smelter Subsidy
1. Hon DAVID PARKER (Labour) to the Minister of Finance: Why is the $30 million taxpayer funded subsidy to Rio Tinto being managed by the “Government Share Offers Programme” in the Treasury?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): The member is wrong on three counts: it was not a subsidy, it was not paid to Rio Tinto, and it is not managed by the Government share offers programme in Treasury.
Hon David Parker: Why was the refusal to release the background documents justifying the $30 million subsidy to Rio Tinto, which had been addressed to the head of Treasury, responded to by the director of the Government share offers programme?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: If the member is interested in the details of how Treasury is organised around these things, there is a group called the commercial transactions group, which has dealt with the failure of South Canterbury Finance and the buy-out of AMI, and is the group within which the share float programme is managed. It is actually the commercial transactions group that is in charge of any of the significant commercial transactions that the Government does. The $30 million is paid to New Zealand Aluminium Smelters, not to Rio Tinto.
Hon David Parker: I seek leave to table the Official Information Act request that was addressed to the head of Treasury, dated 21 August.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that particular letter. Is there any objection? There appears to be none. Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Hon David Parker: I seek leave to table the reply from the director of the Government share offers programme, dated 26 August 2013, which declined the request.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table the reply to that particular letter. Is there any objection? There appears to be none. It can be so tabled. Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Hon David Parker: How can he deny that the dominant purpose of the $30 million subsidy was to facilitate the sale of Meridian Energy given that the refusal to release information came from the Government share offers programme section of Treasury, despite the fact that the request for information was not sent to it?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The member is drawing a long bow. The Government has been quite transparent about the transaction. It has outlined the reasons why it entered into that transaction. One of the reasons is that it would create certainty for investors in Meridian Energy, but I can
assure the member that the decision was made by Ministers, and how the Treasury wiring diagram flows did not make any difference to the decision.
Hon David Parker: Did the $30 million smelter subsidy payment have any significant effect on the demand for electricity by the smelter?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Well, I am not exactly sure what the member means, but the finalising of the contract means that Meridian Energy has an option to reduce the amount of electricity that it supplies to the smelter in a couple of years’ time. Whether the smelter reduces its demand would depend on how much production it wants to continue with.
Hon David Parker: Does he understand that his $30 million interference in the electricity market is yet more proof that the New Zealand electricity market is uncompetitive, with the consequence of higher charges for other businesses and residential consumers?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: No, but if we are going to talk about the smelter, the member needs to explain to other Labour MPs that the biggest beneficiary of Labour’s policy on the electricity market would be New Zealand Aluminium Smelters. By far it would be the biggest beneficiary of any reduction in average electricity prices, because it sources its electricity from Manapōuri dam, which is probably once of the cheapest generators in the country.
Hon David Parker: If the smelter subsidy would have occurred irrespective of the Meridian Energy float, why is it that his Government did not offer similar subsidies to Holcim cement or Norske Skog, both high energy users, to stop them laying off workers?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I did not say it would have occurred independent of the Meridian Energy float. But that member needs to explain why his policy to reduce power prices will primarily benefit New Zealand Aluminium Smelters, when I have seen calculations it could be worth up to $150 million per year to New Zealand Aluminium Smelters.
Hon David Parker: Is the real reason he is failing to disclose properly the facts behind the smelter subsidy from New Zealanders the same reason that he is refusing to properly discuss the effect on the electricity market and electricity prices—that is, if New Zealanders knew the truth, they would immediately see through the spin around the Meridian Energy sale?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: There is no spin. The Government has been absolutely clear about the payment—absolutely clear about the reasons for it. What that member needs to be able to explain is why his policy to cut electricity prices will hand the biggest single benefit to the smelter, and also explain whether it is Labour’s policy that no payment should have been made and the 800 workers should have been sacked, because that is what that member said a number of months ago.
Chris Hipkins: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. In a rather unusual turn of events, the Minister of Finance in his answers asked David Parker a number of questions. I seek leave for David Parker to be able to answer them. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member should bone up on the Standing Orders. He cannot seek leave on behalf of someone else.
Hon David Parker: I seek leave of the House to answer those questions. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I think on this occasion there were some questions, so the honourable member can seek leave; I will put the leave. Leave is so sought. Is there any objection? Yes, there is. [Interruption] Order!
2. Peseta SAM LOTU-IIGA (National—Maungakiekie) to the Minister of Finance: What measures is the Government taking to help prevent a repeat of the damaging housing bubble that contributed to significant economic imbalances in New Zealand in the mid-2000s?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): In the period between 2001 and 2007, house prices in New Zealand doubled, and the export sector went into recession in the middle of what was actually a global economic boom. As is now widely accepted, housing supply constraints are one of the major causes of housing bubbles. That is why the Government is working with the Auckland
and Christchurch city councils to increase greenfields and brownfields land supply, reduce the delays, costs and uncertainties of the Resource Management Act, improve infrastructure provision, and look to improve the productivity in the construction sector. The Government is giving effect to these through the special housing areas legislation, and two Resource Management Act reform bills this year, and we look forward to the Opposition support for these pieces of legislation, which improve housing affordability.
Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga: What effect does the Government expect these measures to have on housing supply, and what additional steps is the Government taking to directly support first-home buyers?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The Government and the Auckland Council have a common objective of more affordable housing, and have therefore agreed to the Auckland Housing Accord and to introduce supporting legislation to deliver fast tracking of consents in less affordable areas. The Auckland accord targets 39,000 housing consents over the next 3 years. This is up from fewer than 12,000 over the last 3 years. We expect that this will have some effect in slowing the rate of increase in house prices, because ideally we would like to see wages rise at least as fast as house prices so that houses can become more affordable. This is in addition to the Government’s recently announced moves to support first-home buyers.
Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga: What reports has he seen on Resource Management Act changes that are cutting red tape and freeing up land supply, and why does this matter for the cost of housing?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I have seen reports that say the Government’s Resource Management Act changes will give homeowners and developers the certainty and the confidence that they need to proceed with more investment in more houses on the ground at a time when we need them in order to slow down the rapid rise in house prices. I have seen one report that the cost of waiting for building and resource consents to be processed is between $1,000 and $1,600 per house, per week. That is money that must be recovered from the sale price, and directly contributes to making houses less affordable. That is why there is broad support, except from the Opposition, for the Government’s changes to resource management legislation to reduce the number of weeks, because every week we can reduce the length of that process we can save prospective homeowners between $1,000 and $1,600.
Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga: What alternative housing policies has he seen?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Land is around 60 percent of the cost of a house in Auckland, so it would be ridiculous for any housing affordability policy to fail to include a mechanism for delivering lower land prices. I have seen one of these policies. It does not talk about land supply, or infrastructure, or red tape, or construction sector productivity, and it is the Labour policy, backed by three of its leaders so far and no doubt will be backed by the next one.
Hon David Parker: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. If you are going to allow the Minister of Finance to quote Labour Party policy, could you ensure that he at least gets it right?
Mr SPEAKER: I appreciate the point the member is making, but it is not actually a point of order.
District Health Boards—Resourcing and Service Delivery
3. Hon ANNETTE KING (Labour—Rongotai) to the Minister of Health: Do all district health boards have sufficient resources to provide safe, quality health services?
Hon TONY RYALL (Minister of Health): Yes. My objective is that all patients receive highquality care. This is helped by having over 2,500 more nurses employed by district health boards across the country under our Government. As the member knows, from time to time, as we have seen in the Hutt Valley story in today’s Dominion Post, during the winter season of heavy demand and staff illnesses there are periods of extra pressure on staff.
Hon Annette King: In light of that answer, has he seen the press release a few moments ago from the New Zealand Nurses Organisation stating that the practice of care rationing to patients “is
widespread as DHBs and the nursing team are forced to do more with fewer staff and less money.”, and that “Fiscal constraints are creating a ‘a head in the sand approach’ to staffing issues in our hospitals.”; if so, when will he get his head out of the sand, or wherever it is, and listen to our valuable health professionals?
Hon TONY RYALL: I have not seen that press release from the nurses union, but what I do know is that in the term of this Government there are now 2,500 extra nurses working in our district health boards, together with extra funding averaging $500 million a year.
Hon Annette King: Has he been informed that acute mental health community services over all five localities at Waitemata District Health Board are required to reduce their expenditure by $1 million this year, with 16 positions to be lost, because of budget constraints; if so, what impact will these cuts have on patients?
Hon TONY RYALL: I am aware that the Waitemata District Health Board is looking at how it can best arrange its services in that community, and that is the reason why this Government gave it an extra $31 million in this year’s Budget, a total of $226 million extra for the Waitemata District Health Board over the last 5 years.
Hon Annette King: In light of that answer, has he been told that the acute response in forensic mental health services at Waitemata District Health Board is required to save $250,000 this year, and that the staffing at the adult in-patient units is to be reviewed to save $305,000 this year; if so, what impact would these cuts have on patients?
Hon TONY RYALL: I do not have the exact details of those changes, but what I do know is that this year we have given the Waitemata District Health Board an extra $31 million, and in the last 5 years it has employed 143 extra doctors and 302 extra nurses onto the front line of health care on the North Shore and West Auckland.
Hon Annette King: In light of that answer, has he been told that community, alcohol, and drug staffing at Waitemata District Health Board is to be reduced to save $436,000 this year, and that an NGO provider is to have its contract reduced by $232,000 this year; if so, what impact will this have on patients?
Hon TONY RYALL: Because we are giving the Waitemata District Health Board an extra $31 million this year, I am fully expecting that services will improve in those areas. This Government is focused on delivering more care for patients. That is one of the reasons that we have over 300 extra nurses and 143 extra doctors at the Waitemata District Health Board, and that patients no longer wait 3 days on hospital trolleys in corridors under bright fluorescent lights in the emergency department.
Hon Annette King: Has he been told that administration support for mental health services at Waitemata District Health Board is to be cut by 25 percent to save $1.19 million and budgeted sick leave is to be reduced from 10 days to 7 days to save $260,000, and do all these cuts measure up to his promise of better mental health services for people in Waitematā?
Hon TONY RYALL: I have never had an Opposition MP talking about cuts to administration and being opposed to them before. We are right behind any reductions in administrative staff and having the money put into better services for patients, with the extra $226 million that we have put into Waitemata District Health Board providing more services for patients.
4. SIMON O’CONNOR (National—Tāmaki) to the Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills
and Employment: What reports has he received on the performance of the Youth Guarantee scheme?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment): This morning I released the latest figures from the Tertiary Education Commission on the Youth Guarantee scheme. The Government established Youth Guarantee fees-free tertiary places in 2008 for students who find the traditional classroom environment challenging and were at risk of
dropping out of school. The 2012 results for Youth Guarantee show course completions at tertiary institutions that provide Youth Guarantee improved to 70 percent in 2012—up from 63 percent in 2010. Qualification rates have also increased from 48 percent in 2010 to a very impressive 64 percent in 2012.
Simon O’Connor: How many students were enrolled in Youth Guarantee in 2012?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: There were 8,900 students enrolled in Youth Guarantee fees-free tertiary education in 2012, and by 2015 the Government will be funding up to approximately 15,500 full-time equivalent student places. A large number of students involved in Youth Guarantee have had little previous achievement at secondary level. In 2012, 39 percent of them arrived at Youth Guarantee with little or no qualifications. In 2011 the Youth Training programme was merged into the Youth Guarantee scheme, and it is great to see that students of former youth training providers are producing significantly better results under Youth Guarantee. Credit achievement for that group has risen from an average of 24.8 credits in 2011 to 37.3 credits 1 year later—a 66 percent increase in just 1 year.
Simon O’Connor: What other steps is the Government doing to help young people succeed in education or work?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: When we came into office 4½ years ago too many young people were falling between the cracks between education and work. A couple of the initiatives we have taken include taking the pruning shears to the thousands of qualifications below degree level. In 2008 there were 6,000. We are on track to be down to 1,800 by the end of next year. At the end of it a hairdresser, a plumber, and a joiner will be able to complete the same qualification that is trusted by employers whether they do it at a polytech, at a private training establishment, or as an apprentice. We have set up vocational pathways in National Certificate of Education Achievement in schools and in Youth Guarantee providers. They list good subjects for young people to take at secondary school to set them up for a career in industry sectors. And we are rebooting industry training— creating New Zealand Apprenticeships, boosting overall funding, increasing the educational content, and untangling the spaghetti of industry training organisations that we inherited.
5. Dr MEGAN WOODS (Labour—Wigram) to the Minister of Science and Innovation: What reports or briefings has he received regarding the commercial future of KiwiStar Optics?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister of Science and Innovation): As I advised the member in my answer to written question No. 10617, as at 12 August I had received five reports containing information relating to KiwiStar Optics. The names of those reports are listed in that written question, which was lodged on 12 August. Since that time I have received one additional fortnightly progress update report that includes information relating to KiwiStar Optics.
Dr Megan Woods: Is Callaghan Innovation planning to license or sell KiwiStar Optics’ intellectual property, primary design, and/or rights to the Australian Government - owned Australian Astronomical Observatory?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I am not aware of that. I do know that Callaghan Innovation is looking for a range of options in terms of KiwiStar Optics’ future to encourage opportunities for that organisation.
Dr Megan Woods: How much public funding has KiwiStar Optics received since 2008?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I do not have that answer for the member in front of me. If she would like to put it down in a written question, I would be happy to provide that information.
Dr Megan Woods: Given that the Government invested $1.4 million in KiwiStar Optics in 2008, what returns can the New Zealand taxpayer now expect, given that Callaghan Innovation has refused to sign a major commercial contract?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Well, it is an interesting question the member raises, which, I suggest, suggests that she does not actually understand the issues that are there. Callaghan Innovation was looking at signing—
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I apologise. We have a point of order.
Hon Trevor Mallard: That was a very straight question. The Minister did not need to denigrate the questioner in the answer.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! It was a straight question. I would like the opportunity to listen to the answer. If we could hear from the Minister, then I will judge—[Interruption] I do not accept that there was a denigration at all.
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: As I was saying, I think there is a misunderstanding there, because the reason—[Interruption]
Hon Trevor Mallard: That’s not what you said.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Would you allow the Minister to answer the question.
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Well, I said I think the member has made a misunderstanding there. You can get me to repeat it as often as you like, Trevor, but I think she did. The point in regard to this is that one of the major reasons Callaghan Innovation did not want to sign that contract was the very significant fiscal risk that it believes it would have to take up for what was a fixed-price, fixedterm contract—[Interruption] He is back. It was a fixed-term, fixed-price contract that carried significant risk, so it could end up actually costing taxpayers more money, and there would be no return from it.
Dr Megan Woods: Does the Minister consider it Callaghan Innovation’s core business to shut down high-value science and manufacturing opportunities in New Zealand, as it has done with KiwiStar Optics?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Well, the member is simply incorrect. It has not done anything of the sort. What it is looking for is opportunities for KiwiStar Optics.
Dr Megan Woods: Selling it to the Aussies.
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Well, if the member is saying that it should never ever sell any of its capability to anybody, then Callaghan Innovation will always end up doing what it always did. What we are working on here is actually getting closer to businesses that need research and development support, and that is the whole principle of Callaghan Innovation. If the member disagrees with that, she is welcome to it, but I am very much in favour of it.
Hon Trevor Mallard: What value is there to the taxpayer by sending eight to 10 of our brightest and best scientists and technicians to Australia?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Nobody is suggesting that. I appreciate that is Mr Mallard’s view, but that is not what is being suggested.
Hon Trevor Mallard: That’s exactly what’s going to happen. He knows it.
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: No, it is not. It is absolutely wrong, Trevor—absolutely wrong.
6. Dr RUSSEL NORMAN (Co-Leader—Green) to the Prime Minister: Does he stand by all his statements relating to Government policy?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): Yes.
Dr Russel Norman: Does he stand by his statement from November 2011 that “Our environment is a valuable resource that we must preserve and protect. It’s a big part of our quality of life and it’s central to our international reputation, our primary sector, our growing tourism market, and our economy.”; if so, why?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Yes, because it was correct.
Dr Russel Norman: How does he reconcile that statement—that we must protect our environment—with his decision yesterday to open up the ancient tōtara forest of Pureora for mineral exploitation?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: If the member is talking about the submission around epithermal gold, that is because the belief is that there may be opportunities there. But, obviously, they have to be done in a way that is sympathetic to the environment.
Dr Russel Norman: Why has his Government opened up Pureora Forest Park for mineral prospecting in an area containing the last giant tōtara trees left in New Zealand—trees that are so old that they were old before the first Māori set foot in New Zealand, and that is one of the last strongholds of the kōkako?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I do not think anyone is suggesting that if there was to be mining for epithermal gold, it would take place in a way that would challenge or threaten those trees. That is not going to be something that would get the appropriate consent from the authorities, and it will not occur.
Dr Russel Norman: Can he explain exactly how it is compatible to mine for gold within Pureora Forest Park without disrupting the last remnant, ancient, 1,000-year-old tōtara left in New Zealand, and one of the last strongholds of kōkako?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: My understanding at this point is that there is no mining that is taking place. What is taking place is that there is an issue of looking at block offers, looking at a potential issue. As I said earlier, in the end that case can be made about anything that takes place in New Zealand. By definition there are wonderful and special things right across this country and in the seas that surround it. But we have in the past, and we will continue in the future, been able to balance those environmental protections that are absolutely necessary with the economic opportunities that present themselves with modern-day mining techniques.
Dr Russel Norman: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My question was specifically “How is it possible to do such mining?”, and I have heard no such answer to the question.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The question was adequately addressed by the Prime Minister.
Dr Russel Norman: Given that the national cycle trail is planned to pass through this ancient, towering rainforest, does he think that people will want to ride down the cycle trail through this fantastic piece of ancient rainforest while there is active goldmining under way?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Yes, I do actually, depending on, of course, how that takes place. People cycle round to Shantytown on the West Coast all the time to look at the old historical mining that has taken place there. I say to the member that he should not be too judgmental; from memory, one of the “100% Pure New Zealand” ads that has been filmed recently or pictures that have been taken was actually in front of an old quarry mine that was filled in.
Dr Russel Norman: Will he listen to the wise words of Hone Tūwhare writing about Pureora in 1978, who said “Stop your raping of the land”, and will he keep his drilling rigs out of Pureora?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No.
Minerals Exploration—Central North Island
7. LOUISE UPSTON (National—Taupō) to the Minister of Energy and Resources: What recent announcements has he made about mineral exploration in the central North Island?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES (Minister of Energy and Resources): Yesterday I announced the opening of the Epithermal Gold 2013 tender. The tender covers more than 8,000 square kilometres of the central volcanic zone across the Bay of Plenty and Waikato regions. Companies interested in exploring for minerals have until the end of January to submit bids for exploration—not mining, Mr Norman. Following the success of the first minerals tender in Northland, the Government is keen to promote further opportunities for exploration that could offer, down the track, far-reaching benefits to local communities and regional development.
Louise Upston: What reports has he seen on the development of mining opportunities in New Zealand?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: In the course of my duties I have seen reports that called exploration and mining “an essential feature of domestic and export growth,”. I have also seen anti-exploration development leaflets distributed in Wellington, and I have seen a muddled interview on The Nation in which the interviewee seemed intent on not holding a firm view on mining development. While the contestants on that side of the House are all over the show, on this side of the House we believe mining has been, and will continue to be, a strong contributor to building a more productive economy for all New Zealanders.
State Housing—Vacant Properties
8. Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Labour—Hutt South) to the Minister of Housing: What action is he taking to ensure that all available Housing New Zealand houses are tenanted?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH (Minister of Housing): The bulk of homes not tenanted are because of earthquake damage, earthquake risk, and Housing New Zealand’s major redevelopment programme. The first action I am taking is to get real pace into the Christchurch earthquake repair programme. The $320 million insurance settlement is enabling us to get on with the repair of the 5,000 homes that were damaged there. The second action is on earthquake buildings in places like Wellington. I am actually very pleased that we vacated buildings like the Gordon Wilson Flats, because after the most recent quakes there was significant damage that could have posed a risk to those tenants. We have got work well-advanced on strengthening a number of the State houses in Wellington and a programme of work to determine which can be economically repaired and which should be replaced. The third action announced in the Budget was a $2.9 billion investment, the biggest in more than 20 years, on improving our overall State housing portfolio. This massive programme of work will result in additional vacancies, particularly in areas where we are demolishing groups of old houses and rebuilding far more houses of better quality, more appropriately sized, on that same land.
Hon Trevor Mallard: What action does Housing New Zealand take to remove squatters from its houses and recover rent owed by former tenants?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: I am not familiar with any specific examples of squatting in any of the State houses. But the general intent would be, where people have been given a reasonable time to get out of homes—but if the member has got a specific example, I would be happy to have it drawn to my attention.
Hon Trevor Mallard: What action, if any, has he taken to ensure that the approximately $10,800 owed by one former State house tenant is paid?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: Unless the member gave me an example of the particular tenancy, then I am not aware of which example the member is giving. State houses have about 69,000 tenants, so it is not possible for me to give an instant answer on any one of those cases.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Has Housing New Zealand given any advice to Ministerial Services as to how to recover approximately $10,800 which was not paid when he squatted for over 6 weeks in a $2 million house owned by Ministerial Services?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: When I resigned as a Minister last year, myself and my family stayed in the ministerial house until the end of that term for my kids who were attending school in Wellington. Ministerial Services gave me consent to leave my personal belongings there until I established a new flat in Hill Street. I would note that it has long been the practice where Ministers resign—and as occurs when there is a change of Government, such as after the 2008 election—that families are given a reasonable amount of time to move. The time when my family moved out was less than 2 weeks after I resigned.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Mr Speaker—
Mr SPEAKER: The member has a right to ask questions, but I caution him to think seriously about treading into an issue like this.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I seek leave to table a document that shows that no rent was paid for that house.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is none. It can be tabled. Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Rt Hon John Key: Is it true that when National became the Government in 2008, I said to the outgoing then Prime Minister that she should feel free to stay at Premier House as long as she wanted, without rent, to allow a smooth transition and to allow her to pack up with her family?
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Just before that question is answered, I do not think there is actually any ministerial responsibility for the Minister. I think on this occasion—[Interruption] Order! The question has been asked, but I cannot see that there is a responsibility to the Hon Dr Nick Smith, as Minister of Housing, to answer that particular question.
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. You saw fit for me to answer equivalent questions about my circumstances in respect of my ministerial house, and so I think it is appropriate that I be allowed to answer the Prime Minister’s question.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! We are dealing with a question that was raised by the Prime Minister and asked to you as Minister of Housing. Are you seeking the right to answer that question?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: Yes, I am.
Mr SPEAKER: On that basis, I am going to allow the Minister to—[Interruption] Order! I have ruled that on the basis that the honourable Minister wants to answer the question, I am going to allow—[Interruption] If there are further interjections coming from that side of the House, I will be asking both members to remove themselves.
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: The attitude I have felt consistently from the Prime Minister, whether it was for the families and members opposite when they ceased to be Ministers or my own experience, was one of sympathy for Ministers’ families. I had children at school in Wellington, and I appreciated the Prime Minister’s office allowing those children to stay at school for the 2 weeks to the end of term.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Will he now set a good example to Housing New Zealand tenants by paying the $10,800 rent, as well as the un-reimbursed power, housekeeper services, weekly sheet changing and laundry services, security services, and gardening services from when he stayed in his $2 million former ministerial house after he resigned?
Mr SPEAKER: I call the Hon Dr Nick Smith, insofar as he as ministerial responsibility.
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: At the time, I sought advice from both Ministerial Services and Parliamentary Service. I was told that I would not be able to claim a parliamentary allowance for the period the Prime Minister gave me to relocate my family as a backbencher, and so I was not claiming parliamentary allowances for the period of grace that Ministerial Services allowed me for my family to move.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I wonder if you would be able to assist the Opposition in its quest to gain these efficiencies for the State by perhaps ruling that if a Leader of the Opposition publicly announces their intention to relinquish that position, and then fails to turn up to Parliament, that they may not also claim the ministerial salary and various other entitlements that go with that job?
Mr SPEAKER: Order! That is not a valid point of order, but it shows Parliament where we go to when anybody tracks this line of questioning.
9. Hon KATE WILKINSON (National—Waimakariri) to the Minister of Justice: What changes is the Government making to election laws following the inquiry into the 2011 election?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS (Minister of Justice): Yesterday I introduced the Electoral Amendment Bill that will implement improvements to our electoral system. The key changes include allowing greater use of the EasyVote cards to simplify and speed up voting processes and improve the accuracy and efficiency of scrutinising the rolls, providing for greater use of technology, including full online enrolment, using the Government’s RealMe electronic identity verification, and clarifying the law around list seats. The bill also provides that loans exceeding $15,000 will be subject to the same disclosure rules as donations. These are sensible improvements that ensure our electoral system maintains its high level of integrity.
Hon Kate Wilkinson: What other changes are being made as a result of the inquiry?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: There are a number of recommendations from the Justice and Electoral Committee that do not require legislative change. The Government is obtaining further advice from the Electoral Commission on a long-term strategy for voting technology, incorporating civics education into the New Zealand school curriculum, and expanding public civics education. The Electoral Commission will be ensuring that future public information campaigns about electoral matters provide sufficient information and are accessible to all voters, including disabled voters. The commission is looking at ways to expand phone voting for vision-impaired voters. I aim for the bill to be enacted by early next year. This will ensure the Electoral Commission has enough time before the 2014 general election to implement changes. It will also allow time for candidates and parties to be made aware of new requirements.
Digital Products, Prices—Response to Australian Inquiry
10. GARETH HUGHES (Green) to the Minister for Communications and Information
Technology: Has she finished working through how the findings and recommendations of the Australian parliamentary inquiry into digital product prices may relate to New Zealand; if so, will she be taking any action?
Hon AMY ADAMS (Minister for Communications and Information Technology): Along with my colleague Minister Foss we are continuing to work through the findings and recommendations of the Australian parliamentary inquiry. I recognise that this is an issue of similar concern in New Zealand, and accordingly I have directed my officials to work with their Australian counterparts so that advice can be informed by what response the Australian Government is likely to take to that review. It is important to note that these recommendations are still under active consideration by the Australian Government, which is currently in caretaker mode prior to the election.
Gareth Hughes: Does the Minister think it is fair that a recent survey of 100 common hardware and software products found that New Zealand consumers are paying on average 46 percent more than shoppers in the United States and that, for example, some laptops cost as much as three times more for New Zealanders than Americans?
Hon AMY ADAMS: As far as I am aware, the survey the member refers to is his own. But, actually, I am aware that there is a significant differential between the pricing of a number of digital products in New Zealand compared with what they can be purchased for in the US. This can be as little as 2 percent—for example, on the iPhoto for iPad product—or it can range up to more than 100 percent. So clearly there is a differential between what a similar product costs in New Zealand and in the US. That is an issue that the Australian committee has found cannot be entirely reconciled by differences in the cost bases supplying those products, and that is why it is an issue that I have directed my officials to continue to look at.
Gareth Hughes: I seek leave to table a survey of 100 products, prepared by my office, which shows a 46 percent average higher cost charged by Kiwis.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table such a survey. Is there any objection? Yes, there is.
Gareth Hughes: Does she think it is acceptable for companies to be charging consumers with geographic pricing, and for them to have to pay a premium, like the more than $1,000 for Adobe FrameMaker, just because they are downloading it in Wellington and not Washington?
Hon AMY ADAMS: What I think we have to be careful of is getting into the space of whether it is the role of Governments to tell businesses what they can, and should, charge for their products and how they should market them. So these are issues that have to be looked at with some caution. I would just point out that even within the Australian Parliament already there are notes of caution about how realistic it is for Governments to try to regulate and tell private businesses how they should sell their products and for what price. It is something that you would have to approach very carefully.
Gareth Hughes: Given that it is such a large cost for Kiwi businesses and Kiwi consumers, would the Minister support a Commerce Committee inquiry into inflated IT prices for Kiwi consumers?
Hon AMY ADAMS: Well, that is obviously a matter for the committee to work through and not one that I would want to prejudge. But I imagine the committee would want to carefully consider whether a New Zealand inquiry replicating the Australian one would add further to the debate. But if it felt that that was necessary, I am sure it is something that it will work through.
Gareth Hughes: I seek leave to table a letter from myself to the Commerce Committee requesting such an inquiry.
Mr SPEAKER: No. If any members are interested in that I am sure they can get hold of it.
Children’s Action Plan—Standards for Professionals
11. MIKE SABIN (National—Northland) to the Minister for Social Development: How will the Children’s Action Plan better protect children through greater screening and vetting standards for those working with children?
Hon PAULA BENNETT (Minister for Social Development): Outstanding—outstanding question. Legislation will be introduced in the next month to implement minimum screening and vetting standards for those people who are working with children. This process will be more comprehensive than the current police check that some do and others do not. It will include specific interview techniques, thorough referencing, police record checks, as well as looking into the history and behaviour of every one of those individuals. It will also mean checking former employers and wider community members about any concerns relating to the children that may have been raised during that process.
Mike Sabin: Whom will these new mandatory standards apply to?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: This will be mandatory for all Government agencies and Government-funded organisations working with children, but voluntary for community organisations. There are hundreds of thousands of people in that children’s workforce. We estimate all up that it is more than 370,000 people. In the core workforce we are talking about paediatricians; Child, Youth and Family social workers; and teachers. The wider workforce would mean nonteaching staff such as library reading-group leaders, for example, or Work and Income case managers.
Mike Sabin: How will these new restrictions keep dangerous, violent, and abusive people away from children?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: Alongside the new screening and vetting there will also be new restrictions on who they are allowed to employ. For example, there will be restrictions meaning that they cannot employ people who have serious convictions such as murder, manslaughter, sexual violation, assault on a child, and sexual conduct with young people. We simply have to protect our vulnerable children. For those who choose to ignore that restriction there will be heavy fines.
Jacinda Ardern: Will charter schools be compelled or will they just be expected to vet staff under her new vetting and screening requirements?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: They will be included in the law and they will be expected to and compelled, if that is the word the member chooses to use.
Jacinda Ardern: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. If I could have the Minister, perhaps, clarify. I asked whether or not it was mandatory, compelled—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The question was very clearly addressed for the member.
Jacinda Ardern: Will it be mandatory for charter schools to vet and screen their staff?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: I would say that actually if the member had answered my letter of 2 months ago where I offered to her to have a briefing on this, then she would have the answer. But since she chose not to get involved, yes, it will be mandatory.
12. DENIS O’ROURKE (NZ First) to the Prime Minister: Does he stand by all his statements?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): Yes.
Denis O’Rourke: Will he be using Peter Dunne’s Flexi Super scheme to cut superannuation taken before 65 as an excuse to break his election pledge that “I will resign as Prime Minister and from Parliament if I cut super”?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I am not sure if the member understands the principle behind Flexi Super, but if that policy was to be implemented, if any New Zealander wanted to continue to take their full New Zealand superannuation at the age of 65, that would be available to them. In my book that does not break any promises.
Denis O’Rourke: Does he agree with Grey Power president Roy Reid, who slammed the proposal as a cruel poverty trap, and that it is “… one of the more cynical, cruel and dangerous bits of stupidity I have heard in a very long time.”; if not, why not?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No, I think Roy was confused. He was clearly reading the New Zealand First manifesto.
Denis O’Rourke: I seek leave to table a letter from Grey Power on what it costs today for elderly people to live.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that letter from Grey Power. Is there any objection? There appears to be none. Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Denis O’Rourke: I seek leave to table a document from the Parliamentary Library based on a minimum income for healthy-living, older New Zealanders ageing in society—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! If it is a document prepared by the Parliamentary Library, it is available to any member who wants it.
Denis O’Rourke: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. It was a document prepared by the Parliamentary Library, based on that document.
Mr SPEAKER: Is it prepared specifically for the member?
Denis O’Rourke: It is.
Mr SPEAKER: On that basis I will put the leave. That is the easiest way to solve it. Leave is sought to table a document prepared by the Parliamentary Library specifically for Denis O’Rourke. Is there any objection to that document being tabled? Yes, there is.
Denis O’Rourke: Does the Prime Minister agree with retirement policy director Michael Littlewood, who said: “Those at the bottom end will not have the information they will need to make informed decisions and will have fewer financial choices. Having made their decisions, they will be stuck with them until they die.”; if not, why not?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Well, firstly, let me just remind the member that it is a discussion document, so let us see what happens from there. But I do agree with one thing Mr Littlewood said, and that is that, yes, if they elect to take their New Zealand Superannuation earlier at a lower rate, they would be stuck with that for the rest of their life. That is a decision that they would be making. But if one was just to take a 2-second step back and look at the merits of this type of policy, what it would show is that there is quite a bit of merit, as opposed to the crazy policy that the Labour Party is proposing, which is to raise the age of superannuation to every New Zealander by 2 years. The reason for that is that it may well be that someone who is in a very physical job actually cannot easily continue to work—
Hon David Cunliffe: Far-sighted leadership!
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Well, it would be really interesting whether, when David Cunliffe becomes the leader—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Order! The Prime Minister has given quite a long and lengthy answer.
Denis O’Rourke: Does the Prime Minister agree with retirement policy director Susan St John that the Flexi Super scheme could turn out to be a very expensive one for the taxpayer because many low-income people attracted to the option to retire at 60 on significantly lower rates would inevitably need social welfare top-ups; if not, why not?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Well, firstly, they would not have to retire. People who take New Zealand superannuation today do not retire, so it would be entirely up to them. Yes, of course they are all the sorts of things that have to be considered, but I would have thought that a lot of New Zealanders— some of them, as I say, who are in physical jobs—do not necessarily want to work until they are 65, because their body is breaking down, and it is more challenging for them to do so. Whereas there are many other people who are, for instance, not doing a hell of a lot. Say, for instance, they are in the New Zealand First caucus—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! And now that answer is quite sufficient, as well.
Denis O’Rourke: Given that I would much rather be in the New Zealand First caucus than the National one, I ask, does he recognise that the Dunne scheme amounts to a tax dodge to favour high-income earners, who do not need superannuation payments while still working and who are being taxed at a higher rate, and who will wait until they are not earning before taking more superannuation and paying less tax on it?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No, and I do not want to get terribly personal, but I do not know whether he has noticed that his leader is 68. He will actually be 70 at the next election—
Denis O’Rourke: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I have a point of order and I will hear it in silence.
Denis O’Rourke: I would appreciate the Prime Minister answering the question, rather than reflecting on the ages of people for whom he has no prime—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I invite the member to look at Hansard at the end of question time. He asked whether the Prime Minister recognised a tax scheme, and the Prime Minister started his answer by saying that, no, he does not.
Denis O’Rourke: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. What you have just said does not deal with the point of order that I raised. The point of order that I raised was that the Prime Minister has no prime ministerial responsibility for the age of any person in this Parliament, and I request that he specifically answer the question that I actually asked.
Mr SPEAKER: Two points on that. I have already ruled that the Prime Minister did specifically answer the question that was raised. With regard to the second point, I invite the member to have a look at the way he asked the supplementary question. He talked about the privilege of being in the New Zealand First caucus, rather than in a National caucus, as he prefaced his question.
Hon David Parker: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I would challenge that ruling, because the point that Mr O’Rourke made was in response to a quip by the Prime Minister—and it was not
offensive, but, you know, it deserved a response. It deserved a response. It did not justify the later reference that Mr O’Rourke complained about.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: Well, as someone who certainly does not want to prolong proceedings here today, I do think it worth noting that in the Prime Minister’s answer he simply pointed out a perfect example of the sort of dodgy tax behaviour that Mr O’Rourke was alleging some pensioners might engage in.
Tracey Martin: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I will hear from Tracey Martin.
Tracey Martin: My understanding is that we do not bring other members of this House into disrepute in any way, and I would suggest that Mr Brownlee’s suggestion—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! To mention a person’s age does not bring that person into disrepute, in my opinion.
Denis O’Rourke: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: I will hear the final point of order—let us hope that it is a serious one—from Denis O’Rourke.
Denis O’Rourke: It is a serious one. If the Prime Minister cannot answer the question, why does he not just say so?
Mr SPEAKER: Order! That is the sort of behaviour that will have the member not remaining in the House. I said to the member—and I invited the member to look at Hansard—the Prime Minister did answer the question.