Questions and Answers - November 13
QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS
State-owned Assets, Sales—Impact of Citizens Initiated Referendum
1. Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Will the results of the state-owned assets referendum in any way influence his Government’s policy to sell State assets; if so, how?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): No.
Hon David Cunliffe: Why is he so arrogantly continuing the fire sale of State assets when Treasury advice is that it will barely break even and that he has already wasted $1 billion of taxpayers’ money by rushing it?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I utterly reject the view that the Government has wasted any money. In fact, the Government has sold the share of the companies so far into what has been actually quite a strong market. The fact that the shares are trading either approximately, roughly, or below, actually, where they are at in the market place shows you that the taxpayer has actually maximised value.
Hon David Cunliffe: Why is the Prime Minister so arrogantly continuing his asset sales when the sales to date have transferred ownership of those assets from 100 percent of New Zealanders to just 2 percent, and does this not show that Kiwi mums and dads, far from being at the front of the queue, are not near the queue at all?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Firstly, the member is wrong—51 percent of the companies is owned by all New Zealanders. Secondly, my understanding is that the Superannuation Fund, ACC, and other major funds are shareholders of those companies, and they hold those shares on behalf of all New Zealanders. There is a huge number of KiwiSaver accounts. The member may remember those. They were set up under a Labour Government. They are owned by a wide range of New Zealanders. But here is an interesting one: there has been a number of referendums in recent times. One of them, for instance, was in relation to smacking, which was supported by 87.4 percent of New Zealanders. That was a policy pushed under a Labour Government and it “arrogantly” rejected it.
Hon David Cunliffe: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! This is a point of order. It will be heard in silence.
Hon David Cunliffe: I submit that the Prime Minister did not adequately address the question. The question was framed in terms of the number of New Zealanders who held shares in the assets, which, advice shows, has reduced from 100 percent to 2 percent, on average, between Mighty River Power—
Mr SPEAKER: Order!
Hon David Cunliffe: That is different—if I may finish, Mr Speaker—from what the Prime Minister referred to, which is the total share of the assets owned by institutions that may include some New Zealanders, rather than the number—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! That is a quite sufficient point of order.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. First, I reject any idea that that was a point of order. Second, of course, the question that was asked of the Prime Minister was prefaced in a way that may well typify the Leader of the Opposition, but it was hardly a way in which to elicit a reasonable answer to a question.
Mr SPEAKER: I thank both members for their points of view, which were probably in both cases not strictly points of order. But in this case, the question asked by the honourable Leader of the Opposition certainly does not need to be repeated. It was quite political in its phrasing and the Prime Minister had every right to respond to it in the way he did. The member may have further supplementary questions.
Hon David Cunliffe: Why does he think that seven out of 10 New Zealanders are opposed to the sale of Genesis? Does he think it is because New Zealanders are losing money, or are they just resentful that shares are being snapped up by foreigners?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: For a start off, the question actually posed by Reid Research Services on behalf of TV3 was wrong. I mean, Genesis, of course, is not being sold; a share of Genesis is being sold.
Hon Members: Ha, ha!
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Maybe the way to—[Interruption] Let me relive your past so that you can enjoy it, because we are certainly going to enjoy it on this side. Let us put it another way. This is not the first time, actually, that New Zealanders have heard about the mixed-ownership programme— no. During the 2011 election campaign, Phil Goff described the election as a referendum on asset sales. Russel Norman described the ownership and use of State assets as having become “the defining issue of the election”. The Mana Party said that a vote for National was a vote for asset sales. Well, guess what? We campaigned on it the whole way through, and we won with the largest result in National’s history under MMP and the largest result of any political party under MMP, and Labour got the worst result—
Mr SPEAKER: Order!
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Did the Prime Minister see the United Future party’s television campaign at the last election, paid for by the taxpayer—
Hon Member: Where’s the responsibility?
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Who the leader is? Oh, it is Mr Dunne.
Mr SPEAKER: Order!
Hon Member: Ministerial responsibility?
Rt Hon Winston Peters: You are the whip, so keep quiet, for goodness’ sake.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Let us hear the question.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Righto. Did the Prime Minister see Mr Dunne and the United Future party’s television advertising on water and water rights at the last election, paid for the taxpayer, and was it not a clear signal to the country that he was opposed to that privatisation programme—so where is the Prime Minister’s mandate?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No, but I did see the New Zealand Herald today, which was running yet again a picture of Winston Peters holding up a sign saying “No”.
Hon David Cunliffe: Given that more people in the last election voted for parties opposed to the assets sales programme than for parties supporting it, and given that over 327,000 New Zealanders have signed the anti - asset sales petition, does he agree that there is unease amongst New Zealanders about his asset sales programme?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I know that the member spent a lot of the 2011 campaign undermining the then leader. I mean, I think that that is the reason—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! The Prime Minister should answer. The question was political, but the Prime Minister can answer the question.
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I was answering the question. It was very germane to the answer.
Mr SPEAKER: Keep it within the Standing Orders.
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Let me put it another way, then. The member, while he was going about doing whatever he was doing while Phil Goff was getting lined up because the then finance spokesman was not doing his work, might have missed the commercials run by the Labour Party—
Hon David Cunliffe: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Given that you have already once recommended to the Prime Minister that he might actually address the question, rather than whatever his personal fears might be on the day, I would ask the opportunity to repeat the question.
Mr SPEAKER: On this occasion I am going to allow the member to repeat the question, but if he makes the question as political as he did on the first attempt, he can expect a reasonably political response.
Hon David Cunliffe: Given that more New Zealanders at the last election voted for parties that were opposed to the Government’s assets sales programme, and given that over 327,000 New Zealanders signed the anti - asset sales petition, does he agree that there is unease amongst New Zealanders over his policy?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: The election campaign in 2011 was dominated by this issue of the mixedownership model. National won that election with a comprehensive majority in any terms. This Parliament has faced on numerous occasions referendums for which there has been significant public opposition, and we do not even know, by the way, what the result of this referendum will be. But the most recent one was when 87.4 percent of New Zealanders opposed the smacking legislation. That was a policy pushed by Helen Clark, the Greens, and a Labour Government, and all that we can say is that Labour arrogantly ignored it. So when Labour members are in Government they just ignore things, and when they are in Opposition they roar like little tigers or lions, or whatever else it is over there that they do.
Hon David Cunliffe: Given that the Prime Minister’s wafer-thin majority looks like it is going to be hanging from the coat-tails of “Crazy Colin Craig”, who believes in binding referendums, does he propose to ignore the results of the next referendum, just like he has ignored and arrogantly refused all the others?
Mr SPEAKER: Again, in so far as there is prime ministerial responsibility, the right honourable Prime Minister.
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I am prepared to accept that I have got a narrow majority in Parliament, relatively speaking—it is 64 votes. But that is way better than David Cunliffe, who does not even have a majority in his own caucus.
Dr Russel Norman: Is the Prime Minister looking forward to receiving his ballot papers in the mail next week so that he can voice his view, albeit the view of a small minority, in favour of asset sales in the referendum?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Firstly, the member is prejudging the outcome, but what I will be saying when I receive my ballot papers through the mailbox is: “What a waste of $9 million of taxpayers’ money, which the Green Party could have seen spent on vulnerable kids or for a million other good reasons in the Parliament.” Secondly, I will say to myself: “Man, it was amazing the way that they tried to con the New Zealand public that they had signatures they did not have.”, and I will say to myself: “It is just another stunt from the Greens that will not work.”
Dr Russel Norman: Does he agree that it is important that all New Zealanders, even those like himself who are part of the small minority that supports asset sales, participate in our democracy under this legislation and exercise their right to vote in the referendum?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: It is up to people whether they wish to participate in an electoral stunt, but I will just say this to the member. This is what I want the member to do. When he is going on the radio and he is on TV, and all the various things he does over the next 3 or 4 weeks, I want him to say this. I want him to say: “I am voting against the asset sales referendum that has been put up.”— fair enough—“I will be voting no.”, or whatever he will be voting, and I want him to say to the New Zealand public: “I deeply apologise for being so arrogant as to ignore you on smacking.”, because
that is what that member did. He was part of the party that drove that. When it was about smacking, he said to the public—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I apologise for interrupting the Prime Minister. [Interruption] Order! I have a point of order from the Rt Hon Winston Peters.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. There is no way that that answer could possibly come within any Speakers’ rulings or Standing Orders because it did not address the facts of the matter. The facts were to do with the referendum. It was rather difficult to follow, particularly since it was that very man himself who got his party to actually vote totally against the result of the referendum itself and vote for the smacking legislation.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I have heard enough. [Interruption] Order! I have heard enough from the member, and on this occasion I do not agree with him. It was a very political question that was asked. It got an answer from the Prime Minister that could be justified.
Hon David Cunliffe: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I seek your clarification on that ruling as to why the Prime Minister’s response around the child discipline law was within his responsibility and relevant to the question. Was it the fact that he co-drafted—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member will resume his seat. The reason that I consider the answer was satisfactory is that the member who asked the question talked about a citizens initiated referendum. The Prime Minister was referring to an earlier one.
Hon David Cunliffe: What does he think is better value for money: the cost of running the antiasset sales referendum, which is $9 million or thereabouts; the $147 million that he spent on ticket clippers for the fire sale of State assets; or the $1 billion that Treasury says he and Bill English have wasted by the fire-sale rushing this sale of energy companies when the market could not absorb the shares?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Well, firstly, the member is just plain wrong, actually—
Hon Members: No, he’s not.
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: —as he was yesterday in question time, even though he does not actually want anyone to go and have a look at what he said—which is about the third or fourth time that he has been wrong, but do not worry, we will keep an eye on that. The Government has actually maximised the return that it got from these assets. It has actually sold them into a strong market. If the member is so in favour of referendums and thinks they should be binding, then he will adhere to the one that saw 81.5 percent of New Zealanders wanting the number of MPs to reduce to 99 and he will support the 87.4 percent of New Zealanders who did not want the smacking legislation. That member, like the Green member, cannot have it both ways. They cannot say: “I’ll ignore the public on the ones I don’t agree with them on, but I want to follow them on the ones I do.”
Hon David Cunliffe: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. With respect, I do not believe the Prime Minister addressed the right supplementary question there. It sounded like he was addressing—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! The member will resume his seat. If he wishes to raise points of order, I am happy to entertain them. But when it is an attempt to say he is dissatisfied with the answer, the way to do that is not by points of order; the way to do that is to ask further supplementary questions.
Dr Russel Norman: Has the Prime Minister seen Treasury’s Budget Policy Statement, which showed that the operating balance of the Government would be worse off by about $100 million every year going forward as a result of his asset sales programme?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: That is based on a number of assumptions. What is also true is that the Government will not have the $5 billion worth of debt that it would otherwise have. I know that the Green Party does not care about racking up debts on New Zealanders, but most New Zealanders actually do. And if the member thinks that having the Government owning assets that he believes can return above the cost of capital is such a great idea, he should just go out and buy every other
asset in New Zealand and fund them off the Government balance sheet. Oh, hold on, that is what he is proposing to do, actually.
Mr SPEAKER: Order!
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I apologise; I am sorry.
Mr SPEAKER: That answer is now satisfactory.
2. PAUL FOSTER-BELL (National) to the Minister of Finance: What reports has he received on the stability of New Zealand’s financial system?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): In a country with high household debt, financial stability is important. The Reserve Bank today issued its 6-monthy financial stability report, concluding that our system is sound. The banks are sufficiently capitalised and have strengthened their funding base, while non-performing loans continue to fall. The Reserve Bank notes that all our banks are meeting comfortably new international standards for minimum capital requirements. The banks’ core funding ratios are above the required level, and this makes them less dependent than they were on overseas borrowing, and more likely to be sourcing their funds from New Zealand deposits. Over the past 6 months the Reserve Bank has continued to improve its prudential regulatory framework.
Paul Foster-Bell: What are some of the measures the Reserve Bank has taken to manage risks around fast-rising house prices and increasing household debt?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: House prices and household debt levels are the product of decisions made by New Zealand households. However, the Reserve Bank has responded to the risks that this could pose in the future, firstly, by requiring banks to hold more capital against high loan-to-value ratio loans and, secondly, by requiring banks to restrict the proportion of high loan-to-value ratio housing loans. Higher capital requirements introduced in September this year were aimed at improving financial stability. The loan-to-value ratio lending restrictions introduced last month will directly limit the amount of high loan-to-value ratio lending the banks can undertake and the number of households with very high debt related to their house ownership. The Reserve Bank says in the report that it expects these measures to slow house lending and house price inflation somewhat and to reduce the potential risk to bank balance sheets.
Paul Foster-Bell: What lessons can the Government take from the rise in house prices in the last decade and what steps is the Government taking to reduce the risk of a house price correction?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: As the report points out, there are lessons for New Zealand from the experience between 2001 and 2007, during which house prices doubled. The Productivity Commission has shown that in those 6 years houses moved from costing around 3 times the disposable household income to costing 5½ times the disposable income—the worst deterioration in housing affordability in many decades. Interest rates by 2007 were over 10 percent. Households were spending significantly more than they earned. The current account deficit averaged a record 8 percent over the 4 years to 2008, and the export sector went into recession. We share the Reserve Bank’s concern that a repetition of the same set of circumstances in the housing market could be as damaging to the New Zealand economy as they were between 2001 and 2007. This is why the Government is working with councils to improve housing supply, particularly in those areas that need more low-cost housing, by freeing up land, speeding up consenting, getting better infrastructure, and lowering construction costs.
Phil Twyford: Is the Minister aware of comments today from the Registered Master Builders Federation suggesting that the fall in new-build inquiries is mainly from cashed-up buyers further up the sale chain, which means that exempting first-home buyers, as the Reserve Bank Governor has discussed, from loan-to-value ratio restrictions on building new homes will have little impact on the fall in new builds?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I am aware of the comments and I am also aware that building consent numbers continue to rise. I understand from the Reserve Bank Governor’s comments this morning that he is listening to the evidence from the building industry that the restrictions the Reserve Bank is putting on are having some effect in the short run on the supply of housing. We believe that the measures that the Government is taking to free up the supply of housing through special housing areas, changes in the Resource Management Act, reducing construction costs, and so on will in the longer run have a much more significant effect than the Reserve Bank loan-to-value ratio restrictions.
Paul Foster-Bell: What proposals has the Minister seen that are likely, if implemented, to increase risks to taxpayers?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: We have learnt from the experience of the financial crisis and the earthquakes that proposals that involve the taxpayer taking on risk can lead to significant losses for people who are paying PAYE every week. Insurance is one industry that by definition deals in risk. Insurance companies are paying out around $20 billion for the Christchurch rebuild, one of the largest insurance payouts ever in New Zealand’s history, and at least one local insurer, AMI Insurance, did not survive that disaster. So the risk of another State-owned insurer in that part of the market, for example, is that the risk would be totally concentrated in New Zealand—not spread across international industries—and that when things go wrong, it is the taxpayer who has to pay the bill. In the last few years that has amounted to billions of dollars. One would have thought that the experience of the last few years would rule out exactly the policy proposed by the Opposition, which is that wage earners should take on the business of insurance companies.
Phil Twyford: When he signed the memorandum of understanding with the Reserve Bank that ushered in high loan-to-value ratios, did he seek any advice on the impact on the new-builds sector; if not, does he accept responsibility for what the Registered Master Builders Federation is calling the “unintended consequence of a dramatic fall-off in new builds”, or is it all still the Reserve Bank Governor’s fault?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The figures do not indicate what the Registered Master Builders Federation is saying—that is, the consent figures do not indicate there is a fall-off at all, let alone a dramatic fall-off. Of course, if there is evidence to that effect, then the federation can put that in front of the Reserve Bank Governor again. I am pleased to see the member has finally become interested in housing supply, and we look forward to the support of the Labour Party for the Government’s programme, because it is focused on more supply of housing, faster.
Phil Twyford: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My question was asking the Minister whether he has sought advice—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] I do not need any help.
Phil Twyford: He did not address it.
Mr SPEAKER: The Minister did. He referred to the comments that you referred to—the question around comments about the Registered Master Builders Federation and the dramatic fall in—[Interruption] Order!
Phil Twyford: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Minister did not—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member will resume his seat. I have just completed telling the member that in my opinion the Minister did address the question.
Phil Twyford: He clearly did not.
Mr SPEAKER: The member may well say that. I do not agree with the member. On this occasion, the answer is to ask further supplementary questions if the member has them available to him, not to dispute a ruling by the Speaker.
Energy and Resources, Minister—Statements
3. BRENDAN HORAN (Independent) to the Minister of Energy and Resources: Does he stand by all his recent statements?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES (Minister of Energy and Resources): Yes, and can I congratulate the member on asking more questions in this portfolio area than the lazy member opposite—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! That sort of answer is certainly not going to help the order of this House.
Brendan Horan: Why did he say yesterday that he has “real confidence” in the electricity system, when Transpower’s outage left between 300,000 and 400,000 North Island households and businesses without power, in many cases causing computer damage and loss of revenue?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: Because they were connecting the South Island and North Island—a massive undertaking. They were testing it. They got the power back on within 2 hours—about an hour and a half, I think. But certainly I am not complacent about this, and this is why Minister for State Owned Enterprises, Tony Ryall, and I have asked for a comprehensive report from Transpower so we can understand in detail what happened.
Brendan Horan: The Parliamentary Library has identified over 200 reports of power outages in the past 10 months; is he happy that power cuts are virtually a daily occurrence on his watch?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: Of course power cuts are not desirable. The fact of the matter is we have some of the best security of supply in the world. Under the Labour plan, actually, we had put that in jeopardy.
State-owned Energy Companies, Sales—Public Support
4. Dr RUSSEL NORMAN (Co-Leader—Green) to the Minister for State Owned
Enterprises: Does he think the Government has a mandate to sell Genesis Energy when last night’s 3 News Reid research poll showed 68 percent of New Zealanders say the Government should not sell Genesis Energy and given that a majority of New Zealanders voted for parties that opposed his asset sales policy at the last election?
Hon TONY RYALL (Minister for State Owned Enterprises): Yes.
Dr Russel Norman: Why is he so determined to ignore the overwhelming majority of New Zealanders, who do not want the Government to sell these assets?
Hon TONY RYALL: Because the Government’s share offer programme was extensively debated and discussed during the last election campaign. The Leader of the Opposition at the time described the election as a referendum on the mixed ownership model programme. In fact, the member himself said that “the ownership and use of state assets has become a defining issue of this election”, so this Government is sticking to its programme. It is in the best interests of New Zealand because it helps us control debt and invest in important social infrastructure.
Dr Russel Norman: If, indeed, the last election was a kind of referendum on asset sales and the majority of voters voted for parties opposed to asset sales, then will he accept the results of that referendum, which is that New Zealanders do not want him to sell these assets?
Hon TONY RYALL: Clearly, this Government campaigned on its mixed ownership model programme—51 percent Government ownership, 49 percent on the sharemarket. Our party received the biggest vote of any party under an MMP election. But I have to say, his party opposite has to answer the question about why it ignored the referendum on hard labour for serious violent offenders—it ignored that one—why it ignored the referendum to cut the number of MPs, and why he himself sniffed at New Zealanders who voted against his smacking proposals.
Dr Russel Norman: Does he accept that in fact a referendum is the perfect tool to decide an issue where Parliament itself is virtually evenly divided in asset sales—61 to 60—and where the people of New Zealand have clearly expressed, by overwhelming majority, their opposition to asset sales?
Hon TONY RYALL: No.
Te Ururoa Flavell: Tēnā koe, Mr Speaker. Kia ora tātou. Why is the Minister continuing with the sale of shares in Genesis Energy before addressing the serious Crown breaches of the Tiriti o Waitangi as found in the Waitangi Tribunal’s report on the Tongariro National Park claim, which
stated that ngā iwi o Te Kāhui Maunga retain residual property rights and a right to development in the waterways impacted by the Tongariro power development scheme?
Hon TONY RYALL: The mixed ownership model is part of the Government’s wider economic plan to control debt and to continue investing in our New Zealand economy. I can advise the member that the Minister of Finance is in a direct discussion with the various parties to that action that he has taken, and he is currently undertaking a series of discussions with iwi affected by the Genesis Energy sale. As the member will know, the Supreme Court has made it quite clear that the mixed ownership model sales process is no impediment to future Treaty settlements.
Te Ururoa Flavell: Aside from his response, would he concede that the sale of Genesis Energy is actually a further breach of the Treaty, which could be prevented if the Government were to deal with the claims appropriately before selling shares; if not, why not?
Hon TONY RYALL: No, I do not agree with that. Principally, the reason for that is that the Supreme Court has considered those arguments and has made it quite clear that the mixed ownership model programme and the partial sale of these assets is not an impediment to dealing with legitimate Treaty claims. Certainly, this Government’s record is one that is unparalleled in the scope of work and achievements in that area, led by the Hon Chris Finlayson.
Health Services—Funding and Delivery
5. Hon ANNETTE KING (Labour—Rongotai) to the Minister of Health: Does he stand by his statements that “this Government has put an average of $500 million extra into the health budget each year” and “we are providing more services for New Zealanders faster and with better access, providing the services they need”?
Hon TONY RYALL (Minister of Health): Yes. This year’s Budget appropriations show that the operational spending has risen from $11.6 billion in Labour’s last Budget to $14.1 billion this year. That is an increase of $2.5 billion over this Government’s five Budgets—an average increase of $500 million a year. District health boards are increasing services for patients. Like the rest of the world, the country’s finances are still tight, and district health boards and constantly changing the mix of services and how they provide them within their increasing budgets as they look to make the best use of their available funding.
Hon Annette King: If there is sufficient funding and if there are more services providing faster and better access to services that people need, why after 5 years have headlines like these appeared in the media in the last 2 weeks alone: “SHDB kept lid on crisis”, “Risk of deaths”, “Health board apologises for poor care”, and this one from the Press “Patients in agony ‘dumped off lists’ ”?
Hon TONY RYALL: What I have learnt from that member and from others is not to believe every headline that you read in the newspaper, because, particularly in respect of that last headline, the Canterbury District Health Board has confirmed that no patients have been dumped off its list. This stands in strong contrast to the previous Government, which cut 1,000 orthopaedic patients from the Canterbury District Health Board waiting list in 2006. We expect patients to be treated.
Hon Annette King: When he made his claim in Parliament on 5 September that as of June 2013 only 20 patients were waiting longer than 6 months—nine for assessment and 11 for operations— did he receive that information from the Ministry of Health or from the district health boards themselves?
Hon TONY RYALL: I am not in a position to be able to give an exact answer on that. I would say that that information would have come from the Ministry of Health. It is quite a significant achievement that we have many fewer people waiting less than 6 months. It is a really big achievement by district health boards.
Hon Annette King: In light of that answer, who does know the real number of New Zealanders waiting longer than 6 months for surgery: district health boards like Waikato District Health Board, which said that as of June 2012 it had 376 patients waiting longer than 6 months; or MidCentral District Health Board, which said that it had 161 patients waiting longer than 6 months; or the eight
district health boards that said no such data is captured or collected, so therefore cannot be provided to him or to me?
Hon TONY RYALL: I would have to say that that member has put in hundreds of Official Information Act requests and what I have learnt is that I cannot rely on any question that she represents, because my experience was that that member circulated Official Information Act responses where she had changed the numbers. I actually cannot trust what she says.
Hon Annette King: Has he read a copy of the standard letter given to patients by district health boards, which reads: “Although it is clear that you would benefit from surgery, and your surgeon and GP would prefer it happens now, public hospitals in New Zealand can only accept patients on to their surgical waiting list if they can provide the surgery within the next 5 months.”? How many New Zealanders have received these letters and have been sent home and, according to a top orthopaedic surgeon, are living in agony and remortgaging their homes to pay for the surgery privately?
Mr SPEAKER: The Hon Tony Ryall—either of those two questions.
Hon TONY RYALL: I am really thankful that that member has raised the issue of how many people are getting to see hospital specialists and how many people are getting operations. I can tell that member that under this Government compared with her Government’s position 40,000 more people are getting to see hospital specialists—40,000—and 40,000 more people are getting operations. When she was Minister of Health fewer people got operations on a population basis; we are getting more.
Hon Annette King: I have a number of documents I would like to table. The first one is from the Ministry of Health, claiming that only 20 people are waiting longer than 6 months. Thank you, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: I think we will try to put the leave all together.
Hon Annette King: Yes. I then have an Official Information Act request from the MidCentral District Health Board, saying that it has 161 people waiting longer than 6 months, not 20. I have a letter from the Waikato District Health Board, saying that it has 376 patients waiting longer than 6 months, not 20.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Just describe the document.
Hon Annette King: Yes, I am. And I have a letter from the Auckland District Health Board, saying that it does not capture such data, so therefore it does not collect it. Therefore, the Minister has been misleading—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! That last part is not in order at all. Leave is sought to table four documents: a Ministry of Health letter, an Official Information Act request from the MidCentral District Health Board, a letter from the Waikato District Health Board, and a letter from the Auckland District Health Board. Is there any—[Interruption]
Hon Annette King: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I take offence at that comment from the Minister and I ask him to stand and apologise for it.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I did not hear the offence. If the Minister made an offensive comment—
Hon TONY RYALL: I simply asked whether they were doctored, like the one from the South Canterbury District Health Board.
Hon Annette King: Point of order, Mr Speaker. If we are going to play that game, I can play it as well.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! It is members’ time after question time that members are eating into. If the Minister had not used the word “doctored” and had used the word “altered”, it certainly would have been more satisfactory. The member has taken offence. I am surprised by that. Would the Minister please stand and withdraw and apologise.
Hon TONY RYALL: I withdraw and apologise.
Hon Annette King: Point of order, Mr Speaker. I am sorry, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Would the member please resume her seat. She has sought leave. I want to put the leave and then—
Hon Annette King: I did have one more I forgot. Do you want me to seek leave for that?
Mr SPEAKER: No, we will put the four I have described. Leave is sought. There is objection.
Hon Annette King: I have a letter from a district health board telling patients—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! All we need to know is which district health board it is from.
Hon Annette King: It is from the Canterbury District Health Board. Perhaps the Minister might like to see it.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Leave is now sought to table a letter from the Canterbury District Health Board. There is objection.
Better Public Services Targets—Immunisation Rates
6. Dr CAM CALDER (National) to the Minister of Health: What progress has the Government made on increasing immunisation rates?
Hon TONY RYALL (Minister of Health): I am pleased to announce that the latest Ministry of Health data shows that there is an unprecedented increase in Māori immunisation rates over the last 4 years. The end-of-financial-year data shows that 90 percent of Māori children and 95 percent of Pacific children are fully immunised by their second birthday. In 2007, under the previous Labour Government, only 59 percent of Māori children and 63 percent of Pacific children were fully immunised. This equates to a 50 percent increase over the term of this Government.
Dr Cam Calder: How have these improvements been made?
Hon Dr Nick Smith: By a change of Government.
Hon TONY RYALL: Well, first of all, by a change of Government. Secondly, these outstanding results are a tribute to the hard work of general practice teams, Well Child providers, community outreach groups, midwives, district health board immunisation staff, and the National Immunisation Register teams. Immunisation rates for Māori children have improved so much in the past 4 years that the Māori rates are now equal to, or better than, the New Zealand European rate in more than half of the nation’s district health boards. Part of this success has been scrapping the previous Labour Government’s approach, which set lower immunisation targets for Māori and Pacific children compared to European children. How indefensible is that?
Screen Production Industry—Performance
7. JACINDA ARDERN (Labour) to the Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage: When he stated “this is a golden age for the arts in New Zealand” was he including the current state of the screen production industry?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON (Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage): Yes, of course. When I asked Grant Robertson to recognise the golden age, I was referring to many areas where New Zealanders are excelling creatively. It includes music, where a New Zealander is No. 1 on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart for a 6th week and where Michael Houstoun has just finished his triumphal Beethoven tour. It includes literature, where a talented New Zealander won the Man Booker Prize and where we did so well at the Frankfurt Book Fair. It includes the screen production sector, where Top of the Lake received numerous Emmy Award nominations, the Edmund Hillary movie has received rave reviews, and Mr Pip has recently passed over $1 million in takings at the domestic box office. It includes the huge success of Sistema Aotearoa and the very strong orchestral sector. As Mrs Thatcher once said, I could go on and on and on.
Jacinda Ardern: Has he made any representations to the Minister for Economic Development over the need to address the crisis in the New Zealand screen industry; if so, what recommendations has he made?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: The Minister for Economic Development and I are always talking about ways we can protect the film industry. So, for example, a few years ago that
Minister, in conjunction with Mr Brownlee and the Prime Minister and I, looked at how we could protect New Zealand productions from Australian trade union thugs who wanted to wreck The Hobbit, and more recently I have been discussing with the Minister for Economic Development ways in which we can help the film production sector, which is facing a high dollar and some very swift international movements by foreign countries in relation to the incentives they offer.
Jacinda Ardern: Does he believe that the Large Budget Screen Production Grant Scheme is competitive?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: They are the very issues that I am discussing with the Minister for Economic Development at the moment. This is a very dynamic industry. Just today I received some information from California about its system, and those are the sorts of issues we are looking at. But we are concerned to see that there is a strong and vital screen production sector, and that it is protected from union thugs who would want to destroy it.
Rt Hon John Key: What actions did the National-led Government take to ensure that The Hobbit movies were made in New Zealand, and were they supported by all parties in Parliament?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: We undertook a number of matters, including making some changes to the labour law to ensure that Simon Whipp and Helen Kelly did not get their way to destroy The Hobbit in New Zealand. I remind Jacinda Ardern that it was Helen Kelly from the Council of Trade Unions who described Sir Peter Jackson as a “spoilt brat”, and I would also observe that his local MP, Annette King, did not say anything about it. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! Amongst the noise, I think I have a point of order.
Hon Annette King: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Perhaps my cousin would like to table evidence that I said nothing.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member will resume her seat. That is not a point of order.
Jacinda Ardern: Of the three issues that the screen industry raise the most consistently as having contributed to the current crisis it is experiencing, which does he plan to do something about—first, the exchange rate; second, the uncompetitive rebate regime; or, third, the infrastructure issues in Auckland?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: I do not know how one could table evidence of nothing, I say to my cousin. But I would say this to Jacinda Ardern: it is not within the power of the humble Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage to alter the exchange rate—
Rt Hon John Key: Oh, come on!
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: Oh, is it? Oh, right; OK. But what I am doing is looking at those issues with the Minister for Economic Development to ensure that we do have a vibrant industry.
Jacinda Ardern: Is he content that he is currently presiding over the arts portfolio while the screen industry is experiencing its worst downturn in two decades but all his Government has done is undertake a review, which took well over a year and produced virtually nothing in terms of solutions?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: That is a most revealing comment, because it indicates to me that 4 years on Labour is still bagging Sir Peter Jackson, who was the author of the review. There were a number of very good initiatives proposed. The point of the matter is that I am very proud of the way the arts and culture sector is going in New Zealand. As I have said, and I will say it again to the honourable member, who does not seem to have heard what I said, we are working with Film New Zealand and the New Zealand Film Commission on these issues.
Andrew Little: Tell that to the film industry workers looking for work.
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: I will say to Mr Little that his union thug mates will not be allowed to destroy the film industry.
Jacinda Ardern: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. [Interruption]
Rt Hon John Key: Supplementary question.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I have a point of order first.
Jacinda Ardern: I seek to leave to table the review of the screen incentives regime, which is what I was referring to—nothing to do with Sir Peter Jackson.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Is it something that is freely available to all members? It appears that it is, so I am not putting the leave.
Rt Hon John Key: Can the member confirm that over 5,500 jobs were created through The Hobbit movies, and can he confirm whether every political party supported the making of The Hobbit movies in New Zealand, or did the parties that were elected by the unions not do that?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: I can confirm that 5,000 jobs were saved, including in Rongotai, home of Annette King, the self-styled “MP for Weta Workshop”. I can also confirm, regrettably, that not all parties were supportive—when it came down to supporting Simon Whipp and union thugs or supporting the film industry, sadly they supported the former.
8. Peseta SAM LOTU-IIGA (National—Maungakiekie) to the Minister of Housing: What is the Government doing to improve the health and safety of its Housing New Zealand homes?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH (Minister of Housing): The latest initiative to improve the quality of our social housing is the $30 million driveway safety programme. New Zealand has an appalling record of a child being hospitalised every fortnight, and a child killed every 10 weeks, as a result of being run over in a driveway. This year we have audited the driveway safety of every Housing New Zealand home with young children. We are now progressively installing fencing, self-closing gates, warning signs, speed humps, and convex mirrors to prevent such accidents. This new programme will upgrade these 13,000 properties over the next 4 years and, complemented by the Safekids education programme, save young lives.
Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga: What reports has the Minister seen on this important Government childsafety initiative being undertaken through Housing New Zealand?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: The initiative has been commended by the Children’s Commissioner, by Safekids Aotearoa, and by Starship hospital. It also won the Australasian Housing Institute award for innovation at the institute’s annual conference. It further illustrates this Government’s commitment to smarter public services that benefit families and our community.
Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga: What reports has the Minister had on the state of the Government’s social housing stock in 2008, and what other initiatives are being undertaken to improve the quality of our social housing?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: I am advised that in 2008 there was a serious deficit in the maintenance and quality of our social housing stock, driven by policy focused on only the quantity rather than quality of our housing. In 2009 Phil Heatley initiated a major programme of home insulation, which has resulted in 30,000 warmer, drier homes, and by Christmas this year every State house that can physically be insulated will be insulated. Nor was our housing stock in great shape in respect of earthquake safety. We have a programme of upgrades that will see 650 buildings repaired or replaced by the end of 2014. That is on top of the 5,000 homes that we are repairing in Christchurch. These programmes, combined with the driveway safety initiative, involve an investment of $1.7 billion in improving the quality of our social housing, and will be further underpinned by the Housing Warrant of Fitness, which the Government has under development.
Schools, Canterbury—Proposed Closures and Mergers
9. CHRIS HIPKINS (Labour—Rimutaka) to the Minister of Education: Does she stand by all of her decisions regarding school closures and mergers in Christchurch; if so, why?
Hon HEKIA PARATA (Minister of Education): Yes; that is because my focus is, and always has been, on the children of greater Christchurch and on providing them with the best education possible in modern, fit for purpose facilities. The Government is absolutely committed to rebuilding
Christchurch. That is why we are investing $1 billion in restoring and renewing the education system over the next 10 years.
Chris Hipkins: Did she ensure that all of the available information informing her proposal to merge Phillipstown School and Woolston School was provided to the schools when the consultation period required under the Education Act began; if not, why not?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: Yes.
Chris Hipkins: Was she satisfied, in making her decision to merge Phillipstown School and Woolston School on the Woolston site, that those schools had been given all of the information they required to adequately participate in the consultation process required by law; if so, why?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: Yes.
Chris Hipkins: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. There was a second part of the question—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Supplementary questions should have one leg. The member— [Interruption] Order! In supplementary questions, if members put two legs in, the Minister can choose to answer one, and she did that quite satisfactorily.
Chris Hipkins: Why? [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: I think to assist—
Chris Hipkins: There was only one leg to that question.
Mr SPEAKER: It is impossible for the Minister to answer that question. The member has more ability than that.
Chris Hipkins: Why was she satisfied, in making her decision to merge Phillipstown School and Woolston School on the Woolston School site, that those schools had been given all of the information they required to adequately participate in the consultation process required by law?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: Because I provided Phillipstown and Woolston—they were involved in the same process—with all of the information related to property, roll growth, and demographics. We also funded community facilitation. We gave the principal time off. We had teacher-only days. We doubled the normal length of time for consultation. We provided a key official to provide information that they might need more of, and as soon as decisions were made we published those papers on the website. We published the interim business case, and as it was updated we made that information available also. In fact, the judge said in the judgment about Phillipstown that he was satisfied that the consultation had been carried out in good faith, but that in respect of the property costings we should provide a simpler version.
Chris Hipkins: Why has she decided to continue the consultation with Phillipstown School and Woolston School, given that the High Court ruled that her decision was unlawful and that the overwhelming view from the local community is that they do not want the schools merged, they have been through enough trauma in the past 3 years, and they want the Government to leave the schools alone so they can get on with the job of educating and supporting kids?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: In good faith, and as left open for me to do so by the judge in his ruling, I have decided to continue consultation. The judge said: “It is open to the Minister to continue the consultation. I deliberately use the word ‘continue’. The breach of natural justice can be corrected without requiring the consultation to start again.”
Public Sector, Performance—Reports
10. CLAUDETTE HAUITI (National) to the Minister of Internal Affairs: What reports has he received about global trends in improved public sector performance through transparency and shared information?
Hon CHRIS TREMAIN (Minister of Internal Affairs): New Zealand has been ranked an outstanding fourth in the 2013 global Open Data Barometer, released in London by the World Wide Web Foundation and the Open Data Institute. This is a real coup for New Zealand. The barometer is the first survey of global trends that ranks 77 countries on how they release public data and the benefits of those initiatives for citizens. New Zealand was commended for its Declaration on Open
and Transparent Government; for its release of open data, in particular, maps, land ownership data and census data; and for regular reporting. This ranking is real proof that we are lifting the performance of the public sector through transparency and shared information.
Claudette Hauiti: What other work is under way to make the Government more accessible?
Hon CHRIS TREMAIN: The open Government data work aligns with the Government’s Better Public Services targets, where result nine measures that New Zealand businesses have a one-stop online shop for Government support, and result 10 states that individuals can complete their transactions with the Government easily and in a digital environment. The Government Chief Information Officer is leading a range of initiatives through the Government ICT Strategy and Action Plan to 2017, which was launched in June of this year.
Climate Change—Commentary and Policy
11. Dr KENNEDY GRAHAM (Green) to the Minister for Climate Change Issues: Does he think the Government is doing enough to tackle climate change given the statement of Yeb Sano, head of the Philippines delegation to the UN climate talks that, “We cannot sit and stay helpless staring at the international climate stalemate. It is now time to take action.”?
Hon TIM GROSER (Minister for Climate Change Issues): First of all, may I reiterate, I know with the support of all members of this House, our sympathy for the people of the Philippines who have not only suffered but continue to suffer the after-effects of this tragedy. In respect of the substantive question, yes, I believe that this Government, which is managing the only emissions trading scheme in the world outside Europe, which is making a number of efforts internationally to assist struggle against anthropogenic greenhouse gas, and which is responsible for 0.14 percent of global emissions, is absolutely doing its fair share at least.
Dr Kennedy Graham: Will the Minister confirm to this House that combined pledges mean 54 billion tonnes of global emissions in 2020, way above the target of 44 billion tonnes, guaranteeing dangerous climate change such as Typhoon Haiyan, whose effects have moved Mr Sano to say: “I struggle to find words to describe how I feel about the losses and damages we have suffered from this cataclysm.”?
Hon TIM GROSER: Well, the supplementary question takes us into a very different matter of whether the international community—not the New Zealand Government, which was in the primary question—is doing enough. The only answer to that can be, no, it is not doing enough, and needs to do a lot more, which is why we need progress in Warsaw next week—
Hon David Cunliffe: So you’re not part of the international community any more?
Hon TIM GROSER: —on a comprehensive international agreement. To reply to Mr Cunliffe directly, New Zealand is doing a lot more than the vast majority of members of the United Nations Framework Convention of Climate Change.
Dr Kennedy Graham: So if New Zealand is doing its fair share to tackle climate change, why have our net emissions increased since 2009, and why do the recent projections show a 50 percent increase by 2040?
Hon TIM GROSER: Well, first of all, our international commitment in respect of the first commitment period is overwhelmingly likely to be met. Secondly, the emissions intensity of this country is increasing to be more and more carbon efficient with remarkable speed, about an average of 1.3 percent on a compound average growth rate. I think we are doing pretty well.
Dr Kennedy Graham: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My question did not pertain to the Kyoto 1 period of 2008 to 2012. It spoke about—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I heard the question. [Interruption] Order! I heard the question. It was not as clear as that until the member in his question phrased: “if New Zealand is doing its fair share …”, etc. The Minister cottoned on to that and used that as part of his answer.
Dr Kennedy Graham: If New Zealand is doing its fair share to tackle climate change, why have we signed up only to a paltry 5 percent reduction pledge, and why are we not doing our part to stop
dangerous climate change that will result in more events like the tragedy we are witnessing in the Philippines?
Hon TIM GROSER: Well, first of all, again, the underlying premise of the question, which is a fair premise, is about relative contribution, and since more than 100 members of the United Nations have made no statement about doing anything, that is the first part of my answer. The second part of my answer is that the member continues to misrepresent this Government’s position on this minus 5 percent target. This sits underneath our conditional offer to do a darned sight more, namely minus 10 to minus 20, provided we are satisfied that other countries come to the party.
Dr Kennedy Graham: How can we expect other countries to take the lead and reduce their emissions when we do not do our fair share and basically we are effectively freeloading?
Hon TIM GROSER: By following the lead that we have just given.
Moana Mackey: How can he say that we are doing more than other countries when New Zealand’s inaction is in stark contrast to the commitments made by our Pacific Island neighbours, and why did New Zealand sign the Majuro Declaration at the Pacific Islands Forum in September, a statement urging countries to set more ambitious emissions reduction targets, an action that lead Pacific Island leaders at the forum to believe that New Zealand would come up with tougher targets than were currently in place when we clearly had no intention of doing anything of the sort?
Hon TIM GROSER: Well, first of all, we need to examine very carefully the statements of these Pacific Island countries in terms of the underlying numbers and assumptions that they have put forward on the table. New Zealand is doing as much as any member, in my opinion, of the annex 1 countries. New Zealand has spent something like $600 million—I stand to be corrected on the precise number—with fast-start financing, helping predominantly Pacific countries move across to renewables and lower their emissions. I think New Zealand is doing a great deal in the Pacific pursuant to that declaration.
Public Safety—Street-based Prostitution
12. Le’aufa’amulia ASENATI LOLE-TAYLOR (NZ First) to the Minister of Police: What reports, if any, has she received concerning public harassment and intimidation from street prostitutes and their clients? Talofa lava. I would also like to acknowledge Papali’itele Peter Fatialofa’s family, who are farewelling him today at a funeral service in Manukau.
Hon ANNE TOLLEY (Minister of Police): I have not received any specific reports about public harassment and intimidation from street prostitutes and their clients. As I advised the House when the member asked a similar question in September, I have received two reports regarding the Manukau City Council (Regulation of Prostitution in Specified Places) Bill. Both of these reports contained some comment on street-based sex workers in South Auckland.
Le’aufa’amulia Asenati Lole-Taylor: Does she believe that a prostitute and their seedy client having sex in the yard of a private citizen constitutes a valid and legal business transaction; if so, why?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY: Well, I have no responsibility for that, but I am aware of a situation in Christchurch, and I have sympathy with the house owners. I do not think that anyone wants to have that happening in their backyard. However, they must not take the law into their own hands. Where they are concerned about unsavoury activities happening in their property, they should ring the police immediately.
Le’aufa’amulia Asenati Lole-Taylor: What does the Minister have to say, given her previous answer just before, to the residents of Manchester Street, Christchurch, who are having to shield their children from prostitutes having sex on their street, in front of their homes, and often on their own property?
Mr SPEAKER: Again, in so far as there is ministerial responsibility, the Hon Anne Tolley.
Hon ANNE TOLLEY: What I can say to the member is that the police are well aware of the concerns. They are working with the Prostitutes Collective and with the Christchurch City Council,
and they are trying to encourage those prostitutes to operate in a safer environment and a more appropriate environment. But I think it is pertinent to note that street prostitution is not illegal. I repeat again that if members of the community are feeling harassed or intimidated, or this activity is impinging on their own properties, then I encourage those people not to take the law into their own hands but to ring the police.
Mr SPEAKER: Supplementary question, Asenati Lole-Taylor.
Le’aufa’amulia Asenati Lole-Taylor: Taylor. Sorry, I did not hear my surname completely finished. I thought you did not finish—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Would the member ask her supplementary question.
Le’aufa’amulia Asenati Lole-Taylor: I am trying. Why are the police investigating a homeowner who simply defended herself whilst trying to remove a prostitute from her property?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY: My understanding is that a complaint was laid with the police and that the police are investigating that complaint, as I would expect them to do.