Questions and Answers - September 5
QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS
Economy—Productivity and Competitiveness
1. JOHN HAYES (National—Wairarapa) to the Minister of Finance: What steps is the Government taking to build a productive and competitive economy in view of the contraction in the tradable sector and negative growth in manufacturing seen in the mid-2000s?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): A wide range of measures designed to build productivity and competitiveness, increase savings and exports, and increase productive investment. Much of the detail in this programme is set out in the Business Growth Agenda documents, which detail over 300 initiatives that support jobs and assist businesses to become internationally competitive. I would recommend to all of Parliament that those documents be read, because it is a thorough and comprehensive programme. I had been hoping we would get some suggestions from the current Labour leadership contenders about good economic policy we could add to it, but so far none have eventuated.
John Hayes: What evidence has he seen of improving competitiveness of New Zealand businesses?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: New Zealand businesses have done very well over recent years, given the headwinds of an elevated exchange rate, a domestic recession induced by the last Government, the global financial crisis, and a serious drought earlier this year. As I have gone around the country, I have had the same experience as I am sure all members have of companies telling us stories about how they have been able to innovate, and how they have become more flexible and more adaptable. Yesterday I received The Global Competitiveness Report, which showed New Zealand has risen five places in its ranking on competitiveness—
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Where are we?
Hon BILL ENGLISH:—to 18th in the world, which is still too low, as I am sure the member would agree. This does, however, for the first time put New Zealand ahead of Australia.
John Hayes: What areas requiring further work were identified in The Global Competitiveness Report?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The report identified a couple of areas that I think actually needed a bit more information about what is happening in New Zealand. The report referred to the supply of infrastructure. Well, we have one of the better planned, more certain infrastructure projects in the developed world—fully funded and rolling out, despite the fact that we have been at it for 5 years, for a further 5 to 7 years. Secondly, we were rated low on capacity to innovate. I think we should test that conclusion with whoever puts the index together, because we see plenty of evidence around the country that our businesses can and do innovate, and certainly a substantial and consistently growing Government investment in innovation.
John Hayes: What progress can the Minister report on growth in the manufacturing sector, particularly compared with the manufacturing sector’s performance in the mid-2000s?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The manufacturing sector has been the beneficiary of some political attention, including from Opposition parties, so I thought I would just check the facts on this. There is an index called the BNZ-Business New Zealand Performance of Manufacturing Index, which is actually a globally used index, and at the moment it stands at 59.5. Any value above 50 shows growth, and 59.5 is among the highest readings in the world. All five of the sub-indices are showing growth, including the employment index at 53.1. I thought that we should compare this with a time when manufacturing was apparently going quite well. In 2008 the performance of manufacturing index was 35.9, the lowest value in series history. I presume that was the result of the accumulated effects of the support of policies of the last Government, where it hit the lowest level ever in 2008. Now it stands at the highest level ever.
Hon David Parker: Is the Minister aware that the index that he has just quoted is dominated by the increase in construction manufacturing out of Christchurch, and that in truth, manufactured exports out of the primary sector are lower than they were in 2008 in real terms and lower than they were last year as well?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I would want to go and check the assertions the member makes, because I do not know for sure whether they are true or false. But it does seem odd that a party that says it represents working people thinks that a—
Hon David Parker: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Minister of Finance has said he does not know, and I think that is a sufficient answer. The rest is just political.
Mr SPEAKER: If the member does not want any further development of the answer, then I will accept that on this occasion.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: If the objective of the Government is to build a productive and competitive economy in view of the contraction in the tradable sector, as Mr Hayes so wisely asks, at what point will the Government do something to stop the rise in our dollar, which some economists say will go to US90c, or will it still persist with loan-to-value lending aimed at the hyper housing market of Auckland, but which [Interruption]—I said 2014—persists right around the country, even though there is not a housing crisis in those parts of the country?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I know the member has a real depth of knowledge on this topic, but I think we should try to get at least a pretty clear factual base. I think the member’s contention was reasonable that 6 months ago it looked like the dollar was heading to US90c, but actually since then it has dropped from the mid-80s—around US84c—down to US77c or US78c. That is actually not a bad place for the New Zealand dollar to be, so I would have to say at the moment that I do not think there is a problem for which we need his kind of solution.
Police—Reports on Street Prostitution in South Auckland
2. Le’aufa’amulia ASENATI LOLE-TAYLOR (NZ First) to the Minister of Police: What reports, if any, has she received from the Police concerning public harassment and intimidation from street prostitutes and their clients in South Auckland?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY (Minister of Police): I have not received any specific reports from police about public harassment and intimidation from street prostitutes and their clients in South Auckland. I have, however, received two reports regarding the Manukau City Council (Regulation of Prostitution in Specified Places) Bill, and both of these reports contain some comment on streetbased sex workers in Auckland.
Le’aufa’amulia Asenati Lole-Taylor: What does she have to say to parents in South Auckland who every day have to walk their children to school in order to protect them from street prostitutes, their pimps, and their clients?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY: I am aware of considerable concerns from the community around streetbased prostitution in some areas of South Auckland, and it is quite right that people should feel free
to walk on the streets and walk their children to school. However, street-based prostitution is not illegal. The police do actively patrol known trouble spots and they do work to diffuse any antisocial behaviour. But, look, if any member of the public feels that they are being harassed or intimidated, they should report that to the police, and I would expect that the police would take some action.
Le’aufa’amulia Asenati Lole-Taylor: Does the Minister think that it is concerning that there is such a high demand for very young girls to work as street prostitutes and that pimps are actively recruiting schoolchildren, some as young as 14 years old, and will she instruct the police to take action to prevent children in school uniforms on their way to and from school from being approached by men seeking to hire them for sexual favours; if not, why not?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY: First of all, I am unable to instruct the police, under the Policing Act 2008, but I am also aware that there have been concerns raised about under-age sex workers. The police, as I say, regularly patrol those hot spots. They have reported to me that they have found little evidence of under-age street sex workers, but if people do have evidence of that, they should make that available to the police. [Interruption]
Le’aufa’amulia Asenati Lole-Taylor: I have evidence, Maggie. I will table it soon.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I have called the member to ask a supplementary question.
Le’aufa’amulia Asenati Lole-Taylor: What does she say to local residents who have said: “The freedom of the street sex trade has become so predominant that no local resident is immune from being approached or intimidated by street sex workers.”?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY: As I said earlier, I am aware that there is concern, and I would say that that member should encourage that member of the public to come forward to the police with the evidence, so that they can take some action.
Le’aufa’amulia Asenati Lole-Taylor: Would she feel harassed and intimidated if she was asked, while walking down the street, “How much for a blow job?”
Mr SPEAKER: In so far as the Minister has some police responsibility, would the Minister like to attempt to address the question?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY: Mr Speaker, I am blushing.
Mr SPEAKER: I don’t blame you.
Hon ANNE TOLLEY: I have no ministerial responsibility.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I have a further supplementary question. Asenati Lole-Taylor.
Le’aufa’amulia Asenati Lole-Taylor: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Despite the fact that that may be funny, it is not a laughing matter out there, because that is the reality out there in South Auckland.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member has called a point of order, I assume, to table a document.
Le’aufa’amulia Asenati Lole-Taylor: I am seeking leave to table a letter from some of the parents in South Auckland, raising their concerns about what they have been faced with with regard to street prostitution.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that letter from some concerned parents in the area. Is there any objection to that being done? There is none. It can be so tabled. Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Businesses—Subsidies and Incentives
3. Hon DAVID PARKER (Labour) to the Minister of Finance: Does he agree that the Government’s review of telecommunications law which may benefit Chorus by up to $160 million and the $30 million taxpayer funded subsidy to the Rio Tinto-owned Tiwai Smelter are examples of corporate welfare; if not, why not?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): No, I do not agree with that or the member’s assertions. I regard them as examples of the Government making pragmatic, hands-on decisions, a
style that I know that member and his three leaders strongly support, and I thank the member for what might be one of his last questions.
Mr SPEAKER: Order!
Hon David Parker: Thank you, Mr Speaker. How can he justify doling out $30 million in corporate welfare for the benefit of Rio Tinto, when it posted a half-year profit of $1.7 billion and he did not even bother to ask it for a guarantee that the jobs at Tīwai would be safe?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: As we have explained before, the Government was asked to provide extensive subsidies to the aluminium smelter, both through transmission charges and a lower electricity price. We refused to do that, because it could have cost hundred of millions of dollars, and I believe it would have been a subsidy to the ongoing operation of Rio Tinto. The payment we made was a one-off incentive to get the contract signed. The contract has been signed, and I am surprised that while the Labour members’ leaders are campaigning around the regions for Government intervention to create jobs in those regions, they are—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! That is not part of the Minister’s responsibility.
Hon David Parker: Why are the rules different for companies like Rio Tinto, Skycity, and Chorus, which are already profitable companies that gain breaks from his Government after dinner or phone calls with the Prime Minister, yet other companies such as Norske Skog, Summit Wool Spinners, and Holcim cement that do not have the ear of Steven Joyce or the Prime Minister are forced to retrench and make staff redundant?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I think that the member would understand that the Government cannot— and certainly this Government will not—support every company that is under economic stress. On the basis of our strategic intentions, such as bringing forward the roll-out of ultra-fast broadband, supported, I understand, by the Opposition, we do occasionally make decisions to intervene in the market. We are quite happy to explain those interventions transparently and for the public and the Opposition to see all the rationales behind those interventions.
Te Ururoa Flavell: Would corporate welfare extend, then, to compensation or subsidies for ultra-fast broadband subcontractors affected by non-payment from Transfield Services, with some owed more than $1 million, and who have laid off most of their staff; if not, why not?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I am advised that relevant Ministers are inquiring into the circumstances to ensure that there is no action that the Government has taken or no aspect of its contract that prevents the fair payment of people who have worked hard, delivered their side of the bargain, and not been paid. I would point out, though, that the contractors have work—which of course, they deserve to have—because the Government put up a billion dollars in a market intervention in an openly negotiated contract with Chorus. As part of the roll-out of ultra-fast broadband, which we brought forward by 10 years, these contractors have the opportunity for work, but of course they should be paid.
Hon David Parker: Why is the Government intervening to keep a high price for copper broadband for Chorus now, when Minister Joyce refused this to Chorus’ competitors when he oversaw the granting of the ultra-fast broadband contract?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: It is a bit rich to have this member asking these questions while his leaders are out promising pork to every part of the country.
Hon David Parker: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. His irrelevant opinion is not an answer to the question.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Order! I invite the member to ask his question again.
Hon David Parker: Why is the Government intervening to keep a high price for copper broadband for Chorus now, when Minister Joyce refused this to Chorus’ competitors when he oversaw the granting of the ultra-fast broadband contract?
Hon Steven Joyce: It’s incorrect. It’s just incorrect. It’s incorrect. It’s wrong.
Hon David Parker: It is correct, Mr Joyce.
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I think the member is incorrect. The hard reality about prices for this infrastructure is that having made the decision to bring forward the roll-out of ultra-fast broadband by probably about a decade, that does bring forward the cost of meeting the capital investment— which is many billions; probably $4 billion or $5 billion—of that network. One way or another, the network has to be paid for. If it is not paid for, you do not get ultra-fast broadband.
Hon David Parker: Given that he is aware that many of the people laying the fibre for the Chorus ultra-fast broadband project have not been paid for weeks, how can he justify yet more corporate welfare for Chorus—a profitable billion-dollar company—when the people doing the actual work are not being paid?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I think that although the member may be trying to stick to his corporate welfare theme, the facts of this matter are that Transfield has a contract with Chorus, and Transfield is responsible for the payment of those contractors. Of course they should be paid, and I would expect that Ministers and Transfield will get to the bottom of that issue before too long. Contractors have every right to complain if they have not been paid for work that they have completed.
Oil, Gas, and Mineral Resources—Reports
4. JONATHAN YOUNG (National—New Plymouth) to the Minister of Energy and
Resources: What reports has he received on the petroleum and minerals sector in New Zealand?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES (Minister of Energy and Resources): Earlier this week the Minister for Economic Development, Steven Joyce, and I released The Petroleum and Minerals Sector Report. The report shows that the sector has been growing sustainably for a decade. Exports of petroleum and minerals have trebled since 2002. Over the last 5 years $1.9 billion in royalties and levies has been paid to the Crown, and investment in minerals exploration is at a historic high. Unlike the continuing confusion that reigns on the opposite side of the House, this Government—
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I have not got the Speakers’ Rulings immediately to hand, but earlier in the week we had quite a good discussion and very good reinforcement of those rulings from you as to what the member’s responsibility is as a Minister, and it did not include Opposition policy. He just headed right into that area then.
Mr SPEAKER: I am sorry, I did not actually hear where the Minister was heading— [Interruption] Order! Order! I fully accept the point that Mr Mallard is making, that no Government member has any responsibility at all for former Government policy. Does the Minister want to now conclude his answer?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: I certainly want to finish my answer. This Government is clear about its commitment to supporting the sustained growth of this sector.
Jonathan Young: What does the report say about employment in the petroleum and minerals sector?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: The report shows that the petroleum and minerals sector is the most productive in our economy, generating $333 per hour worked, compared with a national average of $48. Workers are paid over $100,000, on average, which is more than twice the national average, and employment in the sector has doubled over the last decade. We have seen real benefits in Taranaki, where the sector has had a transformative effect on the regional economy. The Government is keen to see other regions reap the benefits of such development.
Jonathan Young: What lies ahead for the petroleum and minerals sector in New Zealand?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: I am excited about upcoming activity and the ongoing investment in the sector. The summer ahead will be one of—and possibly the—largest on record for oil and gas exploration, with the industry expected to spend upwards of $600 million. Competitive minerals tenders will continue following the success of Northland 2012. The Government is committed to developing our resources in an environmentally responsible and safe way, to help build a more productive economy for all New Zealanders.
Brendan Horan: Given that the Deepwater Horizon disaster was from an exploratory well, cost US$16 billion, and used ships of up to 70,000 tonnage to clean up, can the Minister guarantee that the current New Zealand oil response fleet of three 8-metre aluminium dinghies will be sufficient to clean up any oil spill in New Zealand?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: I appreciate that this is a matter the member has experience in. He once got oil on his pink budgie-smugglers. But—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Order! Just answer the question.
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: —I can make it very clear that we have the processes and everything we need in place to do this properly.
Brendan Horan: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. That was absolutely ridiculous.
Mr SPEAKER: Well, I accept that. If the member was offended, that is a different matter. I asked the Minister to cease and he did so. Is there a further point of order coming?
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I know that I have not always been the person who has upheld tone to the highest level, but today I think we have been below the belt on two occasions where you could have intervened.
Mr SPEAKER: Certainly, on the last occasion I did intervene by saying that that was an unnecessary comment from the Minister, so I did that. It just does not help the tone of the House if people—any member—descends to that sort of level. It is unhelpful.
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: Do you want me to answer again?
Mr SPEAKER: No, I do not. The member has given his answer. We are moving on to question No. 5.
Welfare Reforms—Effect on Beneficiaries
5. JAN LOGIE (Green) to the Minister for Social Development: Does she have any concerns that the changes to welfare implemented by her this year are causing some beneficiaries trauma; if not, why not?
Hon PAULA BENNETT (Minister for Social Development): Yes, I have always got concerns, and I understand that change can be distressing for people, but, quite frankly, the alternative is to accept that the system, as it was, was as good as it gets, and I think we can do better.
Jan Logie: Why was a refugee mother from Burma with a 5-month-old baby ordered to attend a seminar about a military-style boot camp and warned that if she did not attend, her benefit would be reduced or stopped?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: Well, that should not have happened, quite frankly. Work and Income send out about 9 million letters a year. About 100,000 have been sent out proactively in the last 6 weeks. That is just for proactive appointments for people to come in. There was a sentence that said that if we had got this wrong or if she did not agree, she should come in or ring us to let us know. I apologise to her. She simply should not have got that letter, and we are looking at fixing that.
Jan Logie: Why was a woman told she could not buy tampons on a Work and Income payment card because they were considered “luxury items”?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: I have no evidence that that has happened. It is certainly not policy. They are not considered luxury items, and people can buy them through emergency food grants.
Jan Logie: Why are people who are attending Work for You courses being told they must have a cellphone, even if they cannot afford one?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: I have not seen any evidence of that. That has not been brought to my attention. If the member has cases like that, then she can certainly bring them to me and let me know.
Jan Logie: Why, just a few months after she sang the praises of grandparents caring for their grandchildren, was the Ministry of Social Development sending letters to these same grandparents telling them they must get paid work?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: Well, there are different circumstances for different people who are on benefits. Some will want to work, some can work, some will have part-time work expectations, some will have full-time expectations, and some will have exemptions. It will depend on the circumstances. We do look at the individuals, and there are individual circumstances. Some grandparents raising grandchildren can and want to work, and so they should, and, quite frankly, for some it just would not be suitable, and there are exemptions for them.
Jan Logie: Considering that beneficiary advocates on the ground are telling us that these cases are symptomatic of a culture of blame and suspicion that make it “near impossible for people to receive the assistance they are entitled to”, will she commission a comprehensive audit to ensure that what she says she expects of the front line is what it is actually delivering?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: Well, no, because for every example that that member can give, I can give another 10 of people who are grateful for the help that they are getting. They think that it is actually working better, they are getting faster appointments, they are getting more money spent to help them up front, and they have easier access to courses, support, and everything else that they need. So I do not think that that is something that is throughout the whole organisation at all.
Surgery, Elective—Waiting Times
6. Dr JIAN YANG (National) to the Minister of Health: What progress is the Government making in improving waiting times for elective services?
Hon TONY RYALL (Minister of Health): The Government is working towards having no patients waiting more than 18 weeks, once they are booked for a first appointment with a hospital specialist, by the end of next year. To help achieve this step, targets of no patients waiting more than 6 months, shortening to 5 months for a first specialist assessment, have been set. Because an extra 40,000 patients a year are now being seen by specialists, I am able to report that the number of people waiting over 6 months to see specialists has been reduced from around 23,000 in 2005 to, at June this year, only nine patients. Nineteen of the 20 district health boards had none.
Dr Jian Yang: What reports has he seen that show the tremendous progress that has been made with reducing waiting times?
Hon TONY RYALL: I have seen a number of reports confirming the dramatic reductions in the number of patients waiting over 6 months, but none has laid out the huge improvements as clearly as in the response to an Official Information Act request from the Opposition health spokesperson, Mrs King. Mrs King requested, under the Official Information Act, to know how many patients were waiting over 6 months for surgery and assessments when she was Minister in June 2005, and how many in June this year. The answer is an incredible 31,000 patients waiting over 6 months in 2005, and now—
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I listened to that supplementary question very carefully. The question asked what reports has the Minister seen. I am waiting for the identification of the report, not some sort of Official Information Act answer. That is not a report. We are waiting for that response, and thus far he has not got to it.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! If the Minister says that he has received such a report and he is detailing that report, that is in order.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The question asked for—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member will resume his seat. The member raised his first point of order and I ruled on that. If the member has a fresh point of order, I will hear it, but if the member is going to rise to his feet and relitigate that, then that will lead to disorder and I will be asking the member to leave the Chamber. If he has a fresh point of order, I am happy to hear it.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Well, I would like some clarification then, because I understood that the Minister would eventually, as you said, get to a report. Are you saying that he is yet to get to the point where he does come within the question he was asked?
Mr SPEAKER: No, I think, in fact, that the member was well and truly getting within that point, but if the member wants to listen a bit further, it might be clarified to his satisfaction. At this stage it has actually been clarified to my satisfaction. Would the Minister like to continue his answer.
Hon TONY RYALL: The answer is an incredible 31,000 patients waiting for over 6 months in 2005, and now it is 20. Earlier assessments and operations are better for the health of thousands of New Zealanders and their families.
7. Hon CLAYTON COSGROVE (Labour) to the Minister of Finance: Does he stand by all his statements?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): Yes. In particular, I stand by my statement in the House yesterday that I have listened to as much as I can stand of the Labour leadership—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! That is an unnecessary part to the answer.
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. It is quite common that when any Minister is asked whether they stand by their statements they are able to outline a statement that they stand by.
Mr SPEAKER: Yes, but when he is referring to statements that have been made involving the Labour Party leadership challenge, I do not think that that is part of ministerial responsibility. I have accepted his answer to the question, and we are moving on to a supplementary question.
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: Does he stand by his statement in his letter to State-owned enterprises in December 2009 that his Government is committed to “improving the performance of Stateowned enterprises”; if so, does he consider that he has improved the performance of Learning Media by having it join Solid Energy in the State-owned enterprises wreckage yard?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: We have worked very hard, actually, to improve the performance of State-owned enterprises. The fact is that in the case of Learning Media, the member is making the assumption that the Government can change the pressures and forces of what is going on in digital publishing, and, actually, we cannot. That business has struggled without the benefit of a monopoly contract with the Ministry of Education. It has made every effort that it could make, but it simply is not the kind of company that can survive in the market with the rate of change in digital publishing.
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: Given that it was a decision of his Government, via the Ministry of Education, to end the preferred supplier agreement with Learning Media, thereby significantly changing the market conditions that Learning Media operates under, why when he knew over 2 years ago that there were problems, and hundreds of thousands of dollars of salaries, by the by, did he not actively work with the board of Learning Media to develop a strategy to mitigate these issues and changes in market conditions, or does the lack of action simply mirror his inept handling of Solid Energy and is yet another example of him and his Government being asleep at the wheel?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: If the member knew anything about Learning Media, and I suspect that he does not, he would know that it has tried two particular strategies. One was to export our educational publications, which do have a level of global excellence, and the second was to buy CWA New Media, another digital publisher. Neither of those strategies has succeeded, and we are not willing to bail it out yet again. The previous Government bailed it out with several million dollars’ worth of capital—in fact, it might have been tens of millions of dollars’ worth of capital— and that strategy did not succeed either. The fact that this company has been owned by the Government does not mean that it is exempt from all the commercial pressures that come on any business.
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: Does he agree that he has made history as a Minister of Finance who has now overseen the collapse of two State-owned enterprises that were collectively valued at half a billion dollars 2 years ago but are now, through his own ineptitude, basket cases?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: No, I certainly do not accept that. I mean, if we want to go into the Government’s record, the Government has actually, because of circumstances, had to go and bail out a billion-dollar guarantee entered into by the Labour Government on South Canterbury Finance and buy AMI Insurance, which holds 30 percent of the Christchurch market. The fact is, I know that Labour is completely disconnected from economic reality, but Government businesses and other businesses have been under a bit of pressure recently.
Hon Annette King: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Going back to the previous question, the Minister said he was quoting from an Official Information Act report, which is an official document. I would ask that he tables it.
Mr SPEAKER: If the Minister was quoting from an official document—
Hon Tony Ryall: He was referring to it.
Mr SPEAKER: He was referring to an official document.
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: Why did he not ask for a guarantee for the Tīwai Point jobs up to 1 January 2017 when he was negotiating the deal with Rio Tinto as part of the $30 million payment that he made? Why did he not even ask for a guarantee of those jobs, given that he states that the jobs are secure?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I have explained to the member that it was never the Government’s intention to try to run Rio Tinto’s business. In fact, a guarantee of existing jobs at Tīwai Point may well increase the possibility that it shuts down. If the operator is stuck with providing the current number of jobs, it loses the opportunity we would all benefit from for it to further restructure that business so that it can survive. I know that the member would like to run every business in the country; we would not because we cannot. We believe that we have got the best deal possible, and we are going to stick to that deal.
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: I seek leave to table several reports from media organisations, including Jessica Mutch of One News, showing the litany of examples—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Such information is freely available to all members.
Clare Curran: Is he aware that the lead contender for the position of Māori Television chief executive, Paora Maxwell, was not considered suitable for the position by the recruitment company engaged to oversee the process and was not included on the shortlist, but that this decision was overturned by his close friend and board chair Georgina te Heuheu, and does this meet his test for an appropriate appointment process?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I am advised by the chairman that all the correct procedures have been followed. I would say to members of the Opposition that anyone applying for a job in the Public Service deserves a fair go on their merits. The Opposition seems to think that anyone applying for a job in the Public Service or a Crown-owned entity is fair game for its political games, and I think that is rather harsh on any candidate.
Clare Curran: Is he aware that Paora Maxwell has been in long-term debt to Te Māngai Pāho, which is the major programming funder for Māori Television, for money owed from his own production company, Te Aratai Productions; if so, does he think it appropriate that the board would appoint a chief executive in long-term debt to the station’s programme funder?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I do not know—
Te Ururoa Flavell: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Bearing in mind that no appointment has been made to Māori Television, is this line of questioning appropriate, in the sense that the appointment is still under consideration?
Mr SPEAKER: I appreciate the point the member is making. On this occasion, when I refer back to the primary question that was asked, which was whether the Minister stands by all his
statements, I have, with some reluctance, to be honest, ruled that the question is in order. Therefore, it is for the Minister to answer as he sees fit.
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I do not know the individual. I do not know anything about his circumstances. What I do know is that a strength of the New Zealand government system is that there is no political interference in the appointment of people to positions in the public sector. Unfortunately, the Opposition has seen fit to attack the process. The fact is that the chairman has assured me that proper procedure has been followed. If there was any evidence to the contrary, then I suppose we would look at it. I do not think that character assassination on someone who cannot do anything about it is the way to deal with public sector appointments, although it is not the first time the Labour Party has done it.
Clare Curran: Does he believe that the board should have accepted the offer of a briefing from the Television New Zealand Chief Executive Officer, Kevin Kenrick, given that Paora Maxwell left the company without a reference and under a cloud of financial and staff mismanagement?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Well—
Te Ururoa Flavell: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. There are a couple of issues that have arisen out of this line of questioning. The first point is about the process, but the second point, which I really want to focus on, is about what protections individual New Zealanders have in going through an appointment process when their past employment history is put in front of New Zealand society for all to see. They are applying for a job, they have not even been appointed to any position at the moment, and yet parliamentarians are able to follow this line of questioning, which for me is way out of order. It is one thing to move to the process, and another one to deal with the person.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: You will recall that there was an appointment made to a Canadian who claimed to have qualifications, and he had no qualifications whatsoever. Surely, we do not want to make the same mistake a second time. It may be embarrassing for some members of Parliament, but this is a transparent process and these questions are entirely proper. Of course, if the member is wrong, then she will have to live with that and the public opprobrium will come. But if she has got the facts, then she should be allowed to put them.
Te Ururoa Flavell: I acknowledge the comments by Mr Peters, but those discussions, those revelations, were made public after the appointment, not before the appointment, and that is the issue.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Well, now I think I have to intervene. The questions are about the process and whether or not the board of the Māori Television Service should take a briefing that is offered. It could not possibly take a briefing that is offered to do with an appointment after it has occurred. It has to be before, in order to make sure that the process is proper.
Mr SPEAKER: The way the questions have been asked has been more than about just process. They have certainly attempted to malign a particular candidate, and that is a matter for the member who was asking the questions. This is a place that is a democracy, and members in this House have the right to free speech, but that comes with a responsibility to be clear of the statements that a member is making in asking those questions. If a particular member of the public feels that he or she has been maligned by this House, there is a process by which they can seek to send a response to the House. I think we got to the stage where the question was asked and—
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. With respect, can I ask you whether it is in order for you to make a judgment as to a member’s motives when asking a question, as you just did.
Mr SPEAKER: No, I did not. I am going to ask Clare Curran—
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I do recall the question.
Mr SPEAKER: Well, if the Minister says that he recalls it, then he can move to answer it.
Hon BILL ENGLISH: It is a matter for the board as to what briefings it takes or otherwise. It is obliged to the candidates to follow fair process. Bear in mind that the make-up of the board is three Government appointees and four appointees made by the Māori Television Electoral College. So it
is not a Government-appointed majority; it is a mixed board. But whatever the make-up of the board, it is obliged to follow fair process.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Is the Minister aware of the serious failure of Public Service standards when politicians interfere in public sector appointments, which resulted in the resignation of both a Minister—
Mr SPEAKER: Order!
Hon Dr Nick Smith: —and a chief executive under the previous Government, and that the person at the heart—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I cannot see how that supplementary question relates to the primary question. Further supplementary question—[Interruption] Order! Further supplementary question, Clare Curran.
Clare Curran: Will he, as shareholding Minister, investigate the appointment process of the Māori Television chief executive and the board chair’s role in that process, and if that process is found to be inappropriate, will he ask Georgina te Heuheu to stand down?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The member is getting way ahead of herself. The board is in an appointment process. It is not complete. There has been no complaint to me from anybody about the nature of that process. Of course, people are unlikely to complain until they see the result. But as someone who was the beneficiary of an overtly political appointment in the Public Service, I would have thought that that member would be a bit more reserved in her criticism of others who are trying to do their jobs under intensive public scrutiny.
Inland Revenue Department—Child Support and Student Loan Compliance
8. KANWALJIT SINGH BAKSHI (National) to the Minister of Revenue: What recent initiative has the Government put in place to improve compliance with child support and student loan repayment obligations?
Hon TODD McCLAY (Minister of Revenue): Yesterday Minister Tremain and I announced a new information-sharing agreement where the Department of Internal Affairs will provide the Inland Revenue Department with contact details for adult passport renewals and applications. The Inland Revenue Department will use the information to contact New Zealanders living overseas who owe money to the taxpayer on their child support or student loans. The agreement is limited to contact information about overseas-based student loan borrowers who are in default on repayments and liable parents living overseas who are in default on their child support obligations, and whose contact details are out of date.
Kanwaljit Singh Bakshi: How will this information sharing encourage those in default to meet their repayment obligations?
Hon TODD McCLAY: The vast majority of people pay their child support payments or student loan repayments on time. However, it has become apparent that the principal reason why many New Zealanders living overseas fail to comply with these obligations is that they have, in many cases, simply lost contact with the Inland Revenue Department. Accurate contact details are crucial for ensuring overseas-based liable parents and student loan borrowers are able to meet their obligations, and the department’s experience is that 70 percent of borrowers in default begin to comply once they have been contacted. This common-sense measure will allow the department to contact these people and help them to meet their obligations to taxpayers and to their children.
Primary Industries, Minister—Statements
9. Hon DAMIEN O’CONNOR (Labour—West Coast - Tasman) to the Minister for
Primary Industries: Does he stand by all his statements?
Hon NATHAN GUY (Minister for Primary Industries): Yes.
Hon Damien O’Connor: Given the Minister’s regular statement that biosecurity and food safety are his No. 1 priorities, what has he done in the last month to address the issues of Psa in kiwifruit,
fish or sheep contamination in palm kernel expeller, Fonterra’s false botulism debacle, Russia’s blocking of New Zealand’s dairy imports, problems with meat certification, the sale of unlabelled irradiated tomatoes, “angry birds” in Auckland, and—today—possible black grass weed infestation?
Hon NATHAN GUY: Biosecurity is my No. 1 priority. Just today I was out talking to the industry about the Government-industry agreements to do with biosecurity, and I also note—and I am sure that the member will be pleased to know—that the Horticulture New Zealand President, Andrew Fenton, recently said that the Ministry for Primary Industries performance has lifted under his leadership and that its biosecurity system is now the best in the world.
Hon Damien O’Connor: He is on the way out too. Has he given—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! That is an example of what happens when the member starts with an interjection. If he could just ask his question.
Hon Damien O’Connor: Has he given formal notice to all food exporters of a change in protocol to notify the Ministry for Primary Industries of any potential contamination issue; if not, why not, given the 5-week delay of Fonterra notifying the Ministry for Primary Industries of the possible botulism contamination?
Hon NATHAN GUY: The latter part of that question will indeed be part of the ministerial inquiry. What I can tell the member is since 20 August the Ministry for Primary Industries has been implementing some new regimes to do with the dairy industry processing plants, and they are lifting regulatory presence in the manufacturing plants, lifting testing, and doing more regular reviews of their risk management programmes.
Dr David Clark: What concrete steps is the Minister taking to ensure his ministry is improving monitoring of all meat-processing plants to ultimately protect the jobs of people in regional New Zealand who are dependent upon them?
Hon NATHAN GUY: The Ministry for Primary Industries has a real focus on jobs in the regional economies. The Primary Growth Partnership is a great example, which that Opposition party should be supporting because it is generating a huge number of results, and a lot of those results and benefits are flowing through to regional economies.
Dr David Clark: What has the Minister said to his minder, the Minister of Science and Innovation the Hon Steven Joyce, on the importance of Invermay Agricultural Centre to the primary sector? [Interruption]
Hon NATHAN GUY: I could not hear what he said.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Can the member please, for the benefit of the Minister, repeat the question.
Dr David Clark: What has the Minister said to his minder, the Minister of Science and Innovation the Hon Steven Joyce, on the importance of Invermay Agricultural Centre to the primary sector?
Hon NATHAN GUY: Mr Joyce is not my minder.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. We have seen the Prime Minister say that Mr Joyce has been appointed—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! That is not a point of order. The question was very adequately addressed.
Voting—Local Body Elections
10 CLAUDETTE HAUITI (National) to the Minister of Local Government: What is the Government doing to make it easier to vote in local body elections?
Hon CHRIS TREMAIN (Minister of Local Government): Yesterday I announced that we will trial online voting at the 2016 local body elections. I am confident that online voting will boost turnout, as it is more convenient and will particularly appeal to young voters. Postal voting creates a
barrier for some people, and voter turnout at the 2010 elections was below 50 percent. Online voting will encourage participation, which is good for democracy.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The public of this country are soon to engage in a local body election. There is a great chance of confusion happening now, because the assumption of this question was that it was for the election that is coming this year. He is talking about the year 2016. Frankly, it is not relevant and it is likely to mislead the public when there is a low enough vote already—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! That is not a point of order. The question is in order, and the Minister was answering it in an orderly fashion. Does the Minister who was interrupted want to add any further to the answer?
Hon CHRIS TREMAIN: No.
Claudette Hauiti: How will the RealMe service be used to enable online voting?
Hon CHRIS TREMAIN: New Zealanders will be able to use the new RealMe service to prove their identity so they can vote online in 2016. This is safer and more reliable than postal voting. The Government is also making changes to electoral law to enable full online enrolment using RealMe.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Stop wasting taxpayers’ money.
Hon CHRIS TREMAIN: I understand the member has significant difficulties with information and communications technology and online voting would be beyond him, so do not worry about that in 2016.
Health Services—Heart Disease and Diabetes Prevention and Care
11. KEVIN HAGUE (Green) to the Minister of Health: Does he stand by his statement that “the Government is committed to improving health services for diabetes and heart disease, with a strong focus on prevention”?
Hon TONY RYALL (Minister of Health): Yes. As just one demonstration of this, in Budget 2013 we announced a $35.5 million boost of new funding over 4 years for New Zealanders with or at risk of developing diabetes, pre-diabetes, and heart disease. This is in addition to the other funding that the Government invests in initiatives to encourage New Zealanders to make healthy changes to their lifestyles.
Kevin Hague: Does the Minister stand by his answer to my previous questions in the House that this Government is investing the exact rational amount of funding—around $60 million this year— into diabetes and obesity prevention, even though his answers to my written questions show he has neither sought nor received any advice on the future costs of diabetes to New Zealand?
Hon TONY RYALL: Well, of course we are investing what we are able to invest in light of the financial constraints in which we operate. I have to say that in light of this year’s Budget investment of $35.5 million going into heart checks and diabetes management, I think that is a pretty good investment in tight times.
Kevin Hague: How can $60 million a year possibly be enough when current diabetes costs alone are already more than 10 times that amount and diabetes prevalence is growing rapidly, and how much of the $1.78 billion treatment costs projected by PricewaterhouseCoopers for 2021 does he anticipate preventing with that level of investment?
Hon TONY RYALL: The Government’s investment in preventing diabetes and heart disease goes beyond the $60 million that he talked about. It also includes the $35 million that we announced in this year’s Budget. On top of that, district health boards and primary health organisations are themselves investing in diabetes prevention. For example, in Northland additional funding under the Diabetes Care Improvement Package has been used to increase the availability of nurses, providing nurse education, and realigning kaiāwhina in mobile nursing services, and at the Whanganui Regional Primary Health Organisation it has begun a nurse-led clinical review to determine patient needs and tailor a package of care around the patients, including group education, self-management,
training, community outreach clinics, and workforce developments of multidisciplinary teams to support people in better managing their diabetes.
Kevin Hague: Why, then, has he, according to his own answers in this House and to written questions, and according to the Ministry of Health’s answers to questions on the estimates, in fact reduced funding for prevention from $70 million in 2008-09 to $60 million this year, and, of this, reduced funding for initiatives intended to actually prevent obesity in the first place by 29 percent, from $66 million to $47 million, when all recent research shows that diabetes prevalence is much higher than originally thought and obesity rates continue to climb?
Hon TONY RYALL: I just reject the characterisation of those numbers as the level of the Government’s investment in diabetes prevention. That is the reason why we do not use those figures; the investment is far beyond that. The reason why our prevention includes the significant boost of $35 million over 4 years in this year’s Budget is that we do want to assist in the identification of those with diabetes and pre-diabetes, in particular, not only as a way of assisting those with diabetes to better manage their diabetes but also to prevent people with pre-diabetes from moving into the diabetic state. That is the reason why this year’s Budget also included a big boost to Green Prescriptions, which enable doctors to refer people to exercise and diet support programmes.
Kevin Hague: Well, can the Minister confirm to the House that of that reduced prevention investment of around $60 million, a figure that prior to his answers today he has repeatedly used and the ministry has also used, fully $10 million is being spent this year on bariatric surgery?
Hon TONY RYALL: Yes, the Government is determined to increase the availability of bariatric surgery in New Zealand. We know that it has significant life-changing impacts for people, and it seems to make a lot of sense to me that we continue to expand the availability of that service to patients who benefit.
Banking Practices—Response to Loan-to-Value Lending Limits
12. PHIL TWYFORD (Labour—Te Atatū) to the Minister of Finance: Has he been advised which banks have put up their interest rates or bank charges since Loan to Value lending limits were announced?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): I have noticed media reports of some banks lifting rates. On inquiry, it appears that they are adding to their lending margins in response to action taken by the Reserve Bank some time ago to increase their capital weightings against lowdeposit loans. This is a quite separate and different measure from the restrictions on the number of low-deposit loans.
Phil Twyford: Can he confirm that none of the four big banks—ASB, BNZ, ANZ, and Westpac—have prioritised first-home buyers, and why does he think the Minister of House, Nick Smith, told the House yesterday that “The banks have said that they are going to give priority to first-home buyers.” when none of the big four banks have said that?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I am not aware in detail of what criteria the banks are applying. The Government has certainly prioritised first-home buyers with its changes to Welcome Home Loans and KiwiSaver subsidies. What I can say is that borrowers are enjoying an average floating mortgage rate at the moment of around 5.8 percent. In August 2008 it was 10.7 percent.
Phil Twyford: Did he ask the major trading banks to prioritise first-home buyers once the loanto- value ratio lending limits were announced; if so, what was their response?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: We held some discussions with the banks in order to inform the Government on its own policy in respect of first-home buyers, but the banks, clearly, do now reserve, and always have reserved, the right to make their own commercial decisions. I suspect some of them will try to differentiate and others will not.
Jami-Lee Ross: What statements has he seen in support of limits on high loan-to-value ratio lending?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Actually, I think that one of the first times that I heard about this idea was when it was mentioned by Phil Twyford, who apparently was the housing spokesman for the Labour Party, who believed that having restrictions on high loan-to-value ratio loans might actually help cool down the housing market. If he still holds that position, then certainly the Reserve Bank Governor agrees with him. I am still a bit of a sceptic.
Phil Twyford: I seek the leave of the House to—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! This is a point of order.
Phil Twyford: I seek leave to table the results of a survey of the major banks showing that none of the big four banks—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! What is the source of the document?
Phil Twyford: It was published in the New Zealand Herald.
Mr SPEAKER: Then that document will not be tabled. Has the member got a further supplementary question?
Phil Twyford: I do, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: Then he can ask it.
Phil Twyford: Why did he allow a full month to pass after signing off a memorandum of understanding giving the Reserve Bank to use loan-to-value ratio limits before he requested advice from officials on the impact of loan-to-value ratio limits on first-home buyers?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The impact of any of the measures under the macro-prudential regime has been discussed on and off, actually, for a couple of years. Certainly, when the Reserve Bank announced that it was going to formally consult, then we formally took advice so that we could discuss with the Reserve Bank the intriguing idea put up by the Labour spokesman on housing, Phil Twyford, that restrictions on loan-to-value ratio loans might actually cool down the housing market.
Phil Twyford: I would like the leave of the House to table a—
Mr SPEAKER: Excuse me. Is the member seeking to table a document?
Phil Twyford: Yes. I would like the leave of the House to table an answer to a written question—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member is now trifling with the House. Has he got a supplementary question? [Interruption] Order!
Phil Twyford: When the Prime Minister told the New Zealand Herald in June that “I don’t think it should be a tool that is used to write high LVR ratios for a bunch of rich people, and lock out a whole lot of first-home buyers.”, did he seek your advice first, and did you tell him that you had already signed off the memorandum with the Reserve Bank without an exemption for first-home buyers, making him look like a complete fool?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I think the foolish bit is well covered and will not be part of this answer. The Prime Minister was aware of the memorandum of understanding because, as I understand it, or as I recall, it was announced in the Budget in front of some 120 MPs, so it was not exactly a secret. The Prime Minister had some views about it and he has translated those views into changes in Government policy, which mean that within the restrictions that are now applied by the Reserve Bank, independently, first-home buyers have a better opportunity than they would have had to get a loan.
Phil Twyford: When will he admit that he has completely bungled the loan-to-value ratio negotiations and the result is that nearly 80 percent of first-home buyers now say that they have no hope of getting into their first home, thanks to this Government?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The answer to the member’s first question is “Never.” Secondly, firsthome buyers, under any set of rules, are better off now than they were in 2008. In 2008 a first-home buyer had to pay a floating rate of 10.7 percent for their first mortgage. Today, on average, they can actually get mortgages at 5 percent, less than half the rate when that Government was in power, and the average is 5.8 percent. So they are better off.
Question No. 6 to Minister
Hon TONY RYALL (Minister of Health): I seek leave to table a copy of an Official Information Act request asking how many patients were waiting more than 6 months for first specialist assessment and surgery for the years 2005 through to 2012—
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that particular document. Is there any objection? There is none. It can be tabled. Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Hon ANNETTE KING (Labour—Rongotai): Mr Speaker—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! This is a point of order.
Hon ANNETTE KING: Poor old Billy!
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! The member can raise her point of order, and it will be heard in silence—it will be heard in silence.
Hon ANNETTE KING: I seek leave to table every letter I wrote to every district health board asking how many patients were refused first specialist assessment for the years 2010-11, 2011-12, and 2012-13—the entire set of letters.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table the entire set of such letters. Is there any objection to that course of action happening? There is none. The member can table those letters. Documents, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.