Questions and Answers - October 28
Questions to Ministers
Prime Minister—Communications with Blogger
1. Dr RUSSEL NORMAN (Co-Leader - Green) to the Prime Minister : Did he tell Cameron Slater that he recognised the mother of a car crash victim—a young man described by Mr Slater as “a feral”—from his Pike River meetings?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): Yes, as I stated publicly when this matter came up during the election campaign. I would note that I did not use the language paraphrased in Mr Slater’s stolen emails.
Dr Russel Norman : Was Cameron Slater correct to tell Television New Zealand that the Prime Minister texted Mr Slater to say that the Prime Minister recognised the mother of the dead car crash victim Judd Hall as being the same person he had encountered at Pike River meetings?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY : I do not believe that to be correct. I believe that the only conversation I had with him in my capacity as leader of the National Party was one on the telephone.
Dr Russel Norman : Why did the Prime Minister text Mr Slater to say that he recognised the mother of the Greymouth crash victim Judd Hall, described by Mr Slater as “a feral” who did the world a favour by dying? Why did the Prime Minister give that information to Mr Slater?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY : I do not believe I did. As I said, I had a phone conversation in my capacity as leader of the National Party and as part of that phone conversation the particular woman in question was raised. From memory, I said to him that I recognised her from Pike River. That was the extent of it, as I recall it. I do not have a copy of my text messages.
Dr Russel Norman : Is this the correct sequence of events: he was notified that Whale Oil had posted an answerphone recording of Mrs Hall on Slater’s blog, he listened to the recording and recognised Mrs Hall’s voice from the Pike River meetings, then he contacted Cameron Slater to tell him he recognised her?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY : No.
Dr Russel Norman : Given that he recognised Joe Hall as a mother from Pike River who had lost a son in a mining tragedy, why did he not put on his prime ministerial hat and offer his condolences over the death of another son rather than contacting his friend Cameron Slater to gossip about her instead?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY : I made it quite clear at the time that I did not know the particular details of this story. I just simply said in passing that I recognised her.
Dr Russel Norman : Will he now admit that he was the Prime Minister when he texted or phoned Cameron Slater to talk about a women who had lost all four of her sons; and will he say sorry to Mrs Hall?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY : No; I was leader of the National Party. What I said was that I recognised her, and that does not deserve an apology, just as the member himself was the leader of the Green Party when he went grovelling up to the Dotcom mansion.
Dr Russel Norman : I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER : Order! This is a point of order. I want to hear it in silence.
Dr Russel Norman : Standing Order 386 is very clear about the content of replies; they must not include statements of fact unless they are strictly necessary, and so forth. The Prime Minister chose to introduce things into the reply that are completely unnecessary to the reply.
Mr SPEAKER : I ask the member to equally look at Standing Order 380 with regard to supplementary questions: “Questions must be concise and not contain: statements of facts and names of persons unless they are strictly necessary to render the question intelligible and can be authenticated, or arguments, inferences, imputations, epithets, ironical expressions, or expressions of opinion …”. When I consider the content of the question, I do not consider the content of the answer to be out of order.
Dr Russel Norman : Why did the Prime Minister not behave like a Prime Minister on hearing that this was the mother who had lost four sons and actually offer condolences to that women, instead of contacting the attack blogger Cameron Slater to offer him information about this woman—instead of behaving like a Prime Minister who should have offered condolences?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY : The member should stop making things up.
Prime Minister—Communication with Blogger
2. Hon ANNETTE KING (Acting Deputy Leader—Labour) to the Prime Minister : Did Cameron Slater provide him with the information that led him to say on 12 February 2014 in Parliament regarding the Rt Hon Winston Peters that “I will accept that member’s word that he did not discuss untoward things when he went to the Dotcom mansion three times.”?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): No. As I said at the time, I can read. I believe the reference came from an item I read in the New Zealand Herald on 7 February 2014.
Hon Annette King : When he said on 14 February at a press conference regarding the specific details of calls he made to Cameron Slater that he would “have to go and look at my files”, were those files ministerial files or does he hold files regarding his interaction with Cameron Slater in his capacity as a husband?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY : I can certainly confirm that I am not married to him and I do not have any files.
Hon Annette King : Was Cameron Salter correct when he wrote last week that the Prime Minister is always the Prime Minister or he has double standards; if not, does he explain to Mr Slater when he texts and calls him that he only talks to him as a private citizen?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY : Actually, Mr Slater is correct about one thing: I am always the Prime Minister for areas where I have prime ministerial responsibility. I am also always the leader of the National Party. I am surprised that the member does not know that, because Helen Clark used to lecture this House about that difference all the time. But maybe the member does not remember that, or maybe this is the reason why Labour is polling so badly—
Mr SPEAKER : Order! That answer will not help.
Hon Annette King : That’s right, get stuck in.
Mr SPEAKER : Order! I have not called the member yet. Supplementary question—Hon Annette King.
Hon Annette King : Well, has he ever called or texted Cameron Slater in his capacity as Prime Minister?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY : No, I do not believe so.
Hon Annette King : Well, try this one, Prime Minister. Did he give instructions to his ministerial colleagues to avoid ministerial responsibility when asked embarrassing questions about contact with Cameron Slater; if not, is he aware that Judith Collins in July this year denied texts, phone calls, and correspondence with Mr Slater in her ministerial capacity?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY : In answer to the first part, no. The only embarrassing thing is the way that Labour performed in the election campaign.
Hon Annette King : In light of the review that is now under way into Judith Collins and the release of information to Cameron Slater, will she be excused if she uses the Prime Minister’s excuse that she was not acting as a Minister when she passed on information but she was acting as a private citizen?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY : That is not what the review is in relation to.
Social Housing—Housing New Zealand’s Role
3. DAVID BENNETT (National—Hamilton East) to the Minister responsible for HNZC : How will changes to Housing New Zealand help meet the Government’s objective of providing more quality housing to New Zealanders most in need?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister responsible for HNZC): The Government’s changes in social housing, which were well signalled in legislation last year, are focused on providing quality social housing to more New Zealanders—that is, housing in the right place, the right condition, the right size, with the right kind of support services for New Zealanders who most need them. These changes will put tenants’ needs at the centre of the housing policy, rather than the number of houses owned by one entity, Housing New Zealand Corporation. One way we are going to improve the quality of housing is to open up the social housing sector to other providers, as happens in almost all other developed economies, so we have more choices about where those who are in serious housing need can have those needs met. The Government will continue to maintain at least the current number of households eligible for income-related rents, which is around 60,600.
David Bennett : How does the Government’s programme to improve the performance of Housing New Zealand fit within its overall approach to delivering better public services to New Zealanders?
Hon BILL ENGLISH : Our overall approach with Better Public Services is to get better results for people, rather than have more programmes for Government departments, or, in this case, we will be measuring our success on meeting serious housing need, rather than on how much we spend on investing in State houses. We have found that what works for people when we get good results works for the Government’s books. With housing, our focus is going to be on ensuring that we have the kinds of choices that we need to ensure that those in serious housing need have their needs met but also that they can move to housing independence rather than being reliant on the Government for housing subsidies for the rest of their lives.
David Bennett : Over the past few years what steps has the Government taken to prepare for Housing New Zealand’s new approach to providing housing to those in need?
Hon BILL ENGLISH : The Government’s programme has been well signalled for the last 4 years. In 2010 we published a detailed report from the Housing Shareholders’ Advisory Group, in 2011 we set up the Social Housing Unit, which has spent $130 million on subsidies to the community housing sector already, and last year we passed the Social Housing Reform (Housing Restructuring and Tenancy Matters Amendment) Act 2013, opening up social housing to approved non-Government providers, and in April 2014 the assessment of social housing applications moved to the Ministry of Social Development.
Hon Trevor Mallard : Why did Housing New Zealand wait until just after the election to place four units in Waione Street, Petone, opposite the beach, which had been wrongly evacuated 2 years previously as earthquake risks and were the subject of hundreds of thousands of dollars of vandalism on the market?
Hon BILL ENGLISH : You would need to talk to Housing New Zealand, but I think it is an indication of the growing pressure on it to perform that it is now taking action to redevelop that site.
Hon Trevor Mallard : Why is Housing New Zealand favouring developers and landlords over ordinary Kiwi families wanting to get their first home, by requiring that all four of these units be sold as a block rather than individually, despite them being on individual titles?
Hon BILL ENGLISH : That is a very good question. We would be quite happy to see Housing New Zealand Corporation selling some of its units to hard-working Kiwi families who find those units affordable. But I would have to say, it has been under some constraint both from this Government and previous Governments stopping it from doing that. I have never really understood why that is the case, but I am happy to take up the member’s cause with Housing New Zealand Corporation.
David Bennett : How will the Government improve the way Housing New Zealand manages its portfolio to provide better housing for tenants?
Hon BILL ENGLISH : First, the Government certainly takes the view that with an asset valued at $18.7 billion we can do better than having too many people living in garages around New Zealand. We must be able to use that $18.7 billion better. Secondly, Housing New Zealand will start to realise that some of its houses are in the wrong place. In the past it has taken a bit long to change tenants over in its houses, because it will start feeling the pressure of other providers who may do a better job.
Hon Trevor Mallard : How is it good use of an investment to have four units empty for 2 years and subject to about half a million dollars’ worth of damage, when the fifth unit in the block, previously sold by Housing New Zealand, has had a tenant in it through that time under a sublease arrangement whereby that individual tenant is a Housing New Zealand tenant?
Hon BILL ENGLISH : Well, on the face of it, as the member describes it, that arrangement does not make a lot of sense and it is an indication of the amount of improvement of performance we can get from Housing New Zealand, and also an improved supplier of affordable housing to the market, under the reforms the Government is putting in place.
4. Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader - NZ First) to the Prime Minister : Is he committed to an open and transparent Government?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): Yes.
Rt Hon Winston Peters : Consistent with an open and transparent Government, when will the Prime Minister assure the public that at no time did his staff provide inappropriate services to the National Party whilst employed at the public expense?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY : That would be a matter for the party, but I do not have any advice or any evidence to support the idea that they have done anything other than act totally professionally.
Rt Hon Winston Peters : I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am asking the Prime Minister about his staff. That is not a matter for the National Party. It is to do with his staff, for whom he is responsible.
Mr SPEAKER : The difficulty I have with the question that has been asked and the answer that has been given is that it is asking now for a level of specificity that cannot be expected to be given by the Prime Minister in light of the very open and general question that was asked in the first place.
Rt Hon Winston Peters : I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My question asked whether, consistent with open and transparent Government—
Mr SPEAKER : Order! I have heard the question. [Interruption] Order! Resume your seat. I have already ruled, in respect of the first supplementary question, that in light of the generality of the primary question that the question has been addressed by the Prime Minister. The way forward is to continue to ask further supplementary questions but not to question the Speaker on the adequacy of the answer that has been given. I invite the member, if he wishes to, to ask further supplementary questions.
Rt Hon Winston Peters : I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am not contesting your ruling on the adequacy—
Mr SPEAKER : Then I will hear the fresh point of order.
Rt Hon Winston Peters : My point was that the Prime Minister’s answer was that it was a National Party matter. In my supplementary question, if you look at it, I am asking for an assurance about his staff, so it cannot be a National Party matter—or is he condemned by his own statement?
Hon Gerry Brownlee : I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. You would have to consider the entire answer, in which the Prime Minister said that he expected them to maintain professional standards at all times.
Mr SPEAKER : The way forward is the advice that I have given to the member. If he has further supplementary questions, he should ask them.
Rt Hon Winston Peters : Consistent with an open and transparent Government, when will the Prime Minister advise the public of all the facts pertaining to Mr Jason Ede’s services to the National Party whilst employed at the public’s expense?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY : When questions are appropriately asked, they will be appropriately answered.
Rt Hon Winston Peters : Consistent with an open and transparent Government, when will the Prime Minister give the public all the facts about—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER : Order! The difficulty I have is that it was only during about question No. 3 when a Government member again asked a supplementary question without leading with a question word. We cannot have one rule for Mr Peters—
Hon Gerry Brownlee : Yes, but he knows better. He’s been here a long time.
Mr SPEAKER : Order! I accept the right honourable gentleman should know better, but equally Mr David Bennett has been a member of this House for some time as well.
Rt Hon Winston Peters : Consistent with an open and transparent Government, when will the Prime Minister give the public all the facts about his staff’s services to the National Party’s Jo de Joux whilst employed at the public’s expense?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY : I have not seen any advice that would confirm that the National Party has done anything other than spend taxpayers’ money appropriately and legally.
Hon Dr Nick Smith : What did Brendan Horan say? Look at your own house.
Rt Hon Winston Peters : Is it not a fact—well, actually, we were exonerated, turkey.
Mr SPEAKER : Order! [Interruption] Order! That is a good lesson to that quarter of the House of what happens when you get an interjection through a question. Would the right honourable gentleman simply ask his supplementary question?
Rt Hon Winston Peters : Is Jo de Joux, a National Party campaign manager, deeply implicated in improperly acquiring services from his office’s staff?
Mr SPEAKER : I invite the Prime Minister, if he wishes, to answer, but I cannot see any prime ministerial responsibility in that question. I will leave it for the Prime Minister to answer it.
Rt Hon JOHN KEY : I have no authority for that, and I refute the proposition.
Social Housing—Housing New Zealand’s Role
5. PHIL TWYFORD (Labour—Te Atatū) to the Minister responsible for HNZC: How does he anticipate Housing New Zealand will operate within a contestable market for social housing?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister responsible for HNZC): I expect that it will participate successfully, but development of a contestable market is still some way off. The Ministry of Social Development currently holds around 62,000 income-related rent subsidies. From now on, a tenant can take that subsidy with them to a provider who best meets their housing, health, and employment needs, or offers better wraparound services where those are required or a better path back to housing independence. Housing New Zealand will find in a contestable market that it will be required to develop similar kinds of services. I expect that for quite a long time it will remain by far the largest provider of social housing.
Phil Twyford : Is he aware that social housing NGOs say that they do not have the resources to buy State houses, and how will he make up the difference between the likely sale prices and the funds that he has signalled will be spent on his Government’s pet projects and his other political promises?
Hon BILL ENGLISH : Well, I am sure there are some community housing providers who feel like they would not have the resource to buy the houses, but then they will not be obliged to. As long as they are registered as a community housing provider, they can work with others who own the houses and they can participate in this market without the need for large lumps of capital. I would expect that they will be providers who are most motivated, for instance, by wraparound services for the most complex clients, who could actually get a better deal there than they currently get, or for new clients who are not in Housing New Zealand houses but have serious housing needs to be met. With respect to the funding issues the member raised, I am not exactly sure what he means so I cannot answer the question.
Jami-Lee Ross : What reports has he received on the operation of contestable social housing markets overseas, and what does this say about Housing New Zealand’s role?
Hon BILL ENGLISH : New Zealand is a bit unusual in the way that we have run our traditional State housing. The Housing Shareholders’ Advisory Group report in 2010 pointed to a number of similar countries that run social housing markets. For instance, in the Netherlands there are 400 housing associations. In Canada the Crown specialises in financial support rather than the provision of houses and has a much more diverse range of housing providers. In the UK and Australia there are now large alternative providers to Governments that are doing a very good job of operating as mixed entities. Here in New Zealand we expect that Housing New Zealand will continue to play a major role alongside community providers, but it will no longer be the only provider.
Phil Twyford : Was he offended when his Cabinet colleague Paula Bennett launched an attack this morning on his failed housing policies when she said that sending people to live in caravans, cars, and garages, as his department has been doing for the last 6 years, was not suitable?
Hon BILL ENGLISH : No, I was not offended. In fact, I had a discussion with Ms Bennett along these lines: if you wanted to house an extra 1,000 people under the traditional model, it would cost you $500 million to build the houses and it would take 5 years. Under the new model, if you want to house an extra 1,000 people, it will cost $12 million a year in income-related rents, because they are $12,000 a year each in Auckland, and if the houses are available across the whole market, you could do it within a matter of months. Surely that is a better system for dealing with people living in caravans and garages.
Phil Twyford : Was he concerned when Treasury warned the Government that it is not possible to provide social housing at a profit, and when it advised exploring “how we can unlock the potential of Housing New Zealand’s asset base”, was he concerned that that advice suggested that the only way to develop an artificial marketplace in social housing was to flog off State houses and knock down prices to make it look viable?
Hon BILL ENGLISH : I am not sure whether the member understood the advice. Certainly, I do not recall the advice being put in exactly that way. The Government subsidises social housing very extensively. We spend $1.2 billion on accommodation supplements and $700 million a year on income-related rents, and we simply want to do a better job of it, because despite spending $2 billion a year in subsidies, there are thousands of people in serious housing need whose needs are not being met, and thousands of people in State houses who should be on the path to independence but are in long-term dependency. We care about the people more than the houses, and that is the difference between us and a Labour Party that cares more about State houses than people with serious housing needs.
Phil Twyford : Is it not nonsense to talk about a market in social housing when it is impossible to even enter the market without a massive taxpayer subsidy and virtually giving away public assets, and why did the Government deliberately conceal from the public at the election its plans to destroy a Kiwi institution that has been housing struggling families and giving young New Zealanders like the Prime Minister a decent start in life?
Hon BILL ENGLISH : The irony of that comment is that when we passed the social housing reform legislation—the Labour Party used to be progressive, because its members voted for that in 2013, which is when all this was laid out and debated. So it was hardly a secret. But, clearly, in the interests of Labour’s leadership contest, those members are reverting to their 1960s notions of State housing.
Question No. 2 to Minister
CHRIS HIPKINS (Senior Whip - Labour): I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I want to draw your attention to Speaker’s ruling 179/3, with regard to the correction of answers. We have a situation where the Prime Minister gave a very specific answer to Annette King’s supplementary question, and she has subsequently tabled information showing that that answer was incorrect. I wonder whether he will be now taking the opportunity to correct that.
Mr SPEAKER : As the member has had explained to him before, if any Minister, in answering a question, feels he wants to correct that answer, then it is the responsibility of the Prime Minister or the Minister to decide when to do that. The member is right: it should certainly be done at the earliest convenience, but it is not a matter for this House. It is a matter, in this case, for the Prime Minister if he deems it necessary.
Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): I assumed the question was in relation to the passing of information about a public servant. That is not a matter for the inquiry, as I understand it. The information in relation to Mr Feeley is absolutely a subject of inquiry, but I took the member’s question to be a completely different accusation.
Hon ANNETTE KING (Acting Deputy Leader - Labour): I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Perhaps we could clear it up if I was to repeat the question, because the Prime Minister—
Mr SPEAKER : No. [Interruption] Order! If the member was not satisfied with the answer, she had the opportunity at the time to ask another supplementary question. We have now moved well past question No. 2
6. CHRIS BISHOP (National) to the Minister of Science and Innovation : What reports has he received on the performance of New Zealand’s technology sector?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister of Science and Innovation): Last week I attended the release of the latest TIN100 report, the 10th annual report looking at the growth and success of New Zealand’s top 100 high-tech companies. The report notes that TIN100 companies now have $7.6 billion in annual turnover, which is an increase of $1 billion a year over the last 5 years. This growth in the face of challenging international conditions and an unusually high New Zealand dollar is very impressive, and those companies should be congratulated. It also shows the benefit of innovation and investment in research and development. Those TIN100 companies have lifted their investment in research and development a further 9.7 percent in the last year, reaching just under $700 million across the 100 companies.
Chris Bishop : How is New Zealand’s growing technology sector contributing to the wider economy?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE : A very probing question. The really impressive aspect of the TIN100 report and the companies contained in it is how well they are competing and succeeding on the world stage. Since 2008 TIN100 company exports have increased by half a billion dollars to $5.6 billion per year, or nearly 75 percent of their total turnover, and for the top 200 technology companies, exports are up to $6.1 billion a year. The report notes that this level of exports is higher than both meat and log exports. The Government is focused on assisting these companies to further increase their exporters by helping them increase their expenditure on research and development, on skills, and with infrastructure. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER : Order! If there are further supplementary questions—every member has a right to ask a question and a reasonable right to hear the reply without the level of interjection I was hearing from various quarters throughout that answer.
Chris Bishop : What is the Government doing to develop New Zealand’s growing technology sector?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE : A great question. The Government has made science and innovation a priority. Despite tight financial times, we have significantly boosted funding in research and development to a total of $1.5 billion by next year. We have established Callaghan Innovation, which, as the member will be aware, is based in the Hutt Valley, which helps innovative Kiwi businesses get their ideas out of the lab and into the market. Through the grant system we have encouraged private sector investment in research and development, with our goal of doubling business spending on research and development to 1 percent of GDP by 2018. Over the next 3 years we will continue to work to achieve that goal and assist our technology companies to be even more successful on the world stage.
Employment Relations—Impact of Legislative Reform
DENISE ROCHE (Green): My question is to the Minister for Workplace Relations and Safety and says: does he have any concerns that the changes proposed—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER : Order! Sorry. I am going to ask the member to start again and could I ask the Minister and Mr O’Connor to cease their interchange across the floor of the House.
7. DENISE ROCHE (Green) to the Minister for Workplace Relations and Safety : Does he have any concerns that the changes proposed in the Employment Relations Amendment Bill will weaken workers’ rights and therefore make it harder for workers to deal with workplace bullying; if not, why not?
Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE (Minister for Workplace Relations and Safety): No. I do not believe there are any provisions in the Employment Relations Amendment Bill that make it harder for workers to address workplace bullying. Workplace bullying is unacceptable now and it will remain unacceptable when the bill is passed.
Denise Roche : How strong a position would a worker being bullied by their employer be in, to even negotiate a tea break after his Government takes away this fundamental right with its anti-worker legislation?
Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE : I reject the premise in the question that this legislation is anti-worker. Tea breaks and meal breaks are a right set out in the Employment Relations Act, but for many, many years the law provided for some flexibility. That was removed and it took away some very sensible arrangements that needed to be made in places like sole-charge air traffic controls, night shift supervisors in service stations, and in health care settings where leaving the workplace would be inappropriate and unsafe. That is all we are doing. It is not an attack on workers.
Denise Roche : Does he consider that his Government is effectively acting as a bully by taking away the rights of some of the most vulnerable workers in New Zealand with the Government’s attack on Part 6A of the Employment Relations Act?
Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE : Mr Squeak—Mr Speaker. [Interruption] I withdraw and apologise before being asked.
Mr SPEAKER : Order!
Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE : And I did not mean to bully the Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER : Order! I am looking forward to the answer, so if I can hear it from Mr Michael Woodhouse.
Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE : The question is an attack on workers. It presumes that they are not capable of negotiating appropriate arrangements for themselves or that their unions cannot protect them if they feel they are being hard done by. Agreement must be reached. It is as simple as that.
Denise Roche : Is his Government not just paying lip-service to solving the problem of bullying in the workplace by launching anti-bullying initiatives on the one hand, while pushing through legislation that hurts workers and will make them easier targets for bullies, on the other hand?
Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE : I reject the question but I do acknowledge that WorkSafe has provided excellent guidance this year on the management and detection of bullying in the workplace, and although that has not resulted in an increase in bullying, it has certainly resulted in an increase in people feeling confident enough to speak up. I think that is exactly the sort of workplace framework this Government is looking for.
Denise Roche : I seek leave to table the research from Victoria University’s Centre for Labour, Employment and Work entitled Public Servants Want to Make a Difference, which actually says that—
Mr SPEAKER : Order! No further explanation is needed. It is a research document done by Victoria University. Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is none. It can be tabled. Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Hon Gerry Brownlee : I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Just in relation to this question, and I have left it until now to ask, is it appropriate that a question gets on the sheet that, in its second part, presupposes an answer to the first part? If you look at it, it says “therefore make it harder.” That is a supposition that is unreasonable for anyone to make prior to the first part of that question being answered. I am just suggesting that if we are going to get better answers to questions, as you are requiring, there needs to be greater scrutiny of the questions that are being put on the sheet each day.
Kevin Hague : The questions asks: “Does he have any concerns that the changes”, etc., and therefore “will weaken workers’ rights”, and therefore the point made by Mr Brownlee, it seems to me. actually is not valid.
Rt Hon Winston Peters : If someone wished to question what is in a question before this House, the time to raise it is before the question is asked, not be the last guy to wake up in the House—
Mr SPEAKER : Order! The member can resume his seat. The question has been raised before the question is formally asked in this House. It has been accepted. It is on the Order Paper. We are going to proceed with the question. But I will certainly have a look at the point that has been raised by the Hon Gerry Brownlee.
Employment Relations—Impact of Legislative Reform
8. SUE MORONEY (Labour) to the Minister for Workplace Relations and Safety : What are the major collective employment agreements currently under negotiation where there would no longer be a duty to conclude bargaining when the Employment Relations Amendment Bill is passed in Parliament?
Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE (Minister for Workplace Relations and Safety): It is not possible to give a definitive list. That would depend on the member’s definition of the term “major”, it would depend on the timing of the implementation of the bill, once it is passed, and it would depend on the conclusion of employment agreement negotiations presently under way, which is not able to be assessed.
Sue Moroney : I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. That question was on notice. This is the Minister formerly known as the Minister of Labour, and he should know what major collective employment agreements are being bargained for at the moment. It just defies belief that he does not.
Mr SPEAKER : Order! Again, it is one of these issues around ministerial responsibility. The Minister is not actually responsible for the stages of any of those major collective negotiations. He may well have been aware, and that is why the question has been accepted, but he certainly does not, in my mind, have ministerial responsibility in regard to those agreements.
Sue Moroney : Was the priority given to amending the Employment Relations Act determined by the fact that negotiations are about to take place to renew the collective employment agreement for 25,000 nurses working in public hospitals?
Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE : No.
Sue Moroney : Was he aware, then, that the Council of Trade Unions president, Helen Kelly, reported to nursing and teaching conferences that Deputy Prime Minister Bill English told the Council of Trade Unions that the Government would pursue the Employment Relations Act amendments because it had “Ministers around the Cabinet table who want more flexibility” when it comes to negotiating with teachers and nurses?
Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE : No, but I would agree that the bill, when passed, will be an improvement on the employment relations framework in this country, and I am not surprised that the Deputy Prime Minister is keen on having it passed.
Sue Moroney : Will today’s Court of Appeal decision confirming equal pay rights for female-dominated occupations enable him to update the Employment Relations Act to reflect that decision?
Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE : The decision of the Court of Appeal has only just been handed down. It behoves the Attorney-General and me to consider it carefully, and I do not think it would be appropriate for me to speculate on future changes.
Sue Moroney : Will he give a guarantee, then, that he will not pass legislation to undermine today’s decision, given Simon Bridges’ recent statement that the Government may “intervene in the proceedings”?
Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE : I do not believe the Employment Relations Amendment Bill, when passed, would undermine any decision of the Court of Appeal and, therefore, the question is moot.
Sue Moroney : I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The question was not about the Employment Relations Act specifically. It was “will he give a guarantee”—
Mr SPEAKER : Order! I heard the question. The essence of the question, “Would the Minister give a guarantee …”—he has not answered it specifically; he may want to. I would have thought it was fairly obvious from his answer that he was not about to give a guarantee. In my mind, the question has been addressed. He was never going to give a guarantee, which was the essence of the question, as I took it, from Sue Moroney. Before I call question No. 9, can I just clarify with the Hon Gerry Brownlee the point he raised earlier. Was it in regard to question No. 7 or was it in regard to question No. 8?
Hon Gerry Brownlee : 7.
Mr SPEAKER : I thank the member.
Canterbury Recovery—3K to Christchurch Progress
9. MATT DOOCEY (National - Waimakariri) to the Minister for Social Development : What recent reports has she received on the uptake of the Government’s 3K to Christchurch scheme?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY (Minister for Social Development): I am pleased to advise the House that since the 3K to Christchurch initiative started in July, over 600 people have been provided with an incentive payment to move to Christchurch to take up full-time employment. The scheme provides beneficiaries outside Canterbury with a one-off payment of $3,000 if they have a full-time job offer in Canterbury and are ready and willing to move there. The rebuild is creating thousands of new jobs in Christchurch, which has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country and is facing significant skills shortages. This scheme is a win-win. It provides practical help to beneficiaries to move off welfare, provides employers with motivated staff, and saves the taxpayer money by reducing welfare numbers.
Matt Doocey : What steps will the Government take to build on the success of the 3K to Christchurch initiative?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY : Given the success of this initiative, the Government plans to expand the scheme to help beneficiaries move from areas where there are limited employment opportunities to areas where employers are looking to fill jobs. While policy work is still under way for the expanded scheme, it will continue to focus on young people aged 18 to 24. The assistance provided by this initiative will provide beneficiaries with assistance to move by helping them with their travel, accommodation, and other set-up costs to help them get settled. We are focused on getting people off welfare and into jobs, and this initiative will help address some of the barriers people face finding work.
Television New Zealand—Outsourcing of Māori and Pacific Content
10. KRIS FAAFOI (Labour—Mana) to the Minister of Broadcasting : When did she first become aware of TVNZ’s plans to outsource its Māori and Pacific content?
Hon AMY ADAMS (Minister of Broadcasting): I received verbal advice on Friday, 17 October that Television New Zealand (TVNZ) would be making an announcement the following week about outsourcing some of its Māori and Pacific content.
Kris Faafoi : Does the Minister believe that TVNZ has a duty and responsibility to Māori and Pacific viewers, and does outsourcing current affairs programmes for that audience sit comfortably with the Government?
Hon AMY ADAMS : Well, TVNZ certainly has obligations under the Television New Zealand Act, which that member, I am sure, is familiar with. The Government’s concern in this space is to make sure that good quality content that is relevant to Māori and Pacific audiences continues to be available. The Government does not have a view on whether those programmes are better produced in-house or outsourced. We will, however, be very interested to continue to monitor whether there is any drop in the quality, the content, or the quantity of programming as a result.
Rt Hon John Key : Is some of the outsourcing that Television New Zealand is considering the outsourcing of Labour Party events that otherwise would have been hosted at Television New Zealand?
Mr SPEAKER : Order! There is certainly no ministerial responsibility for that.
Kris Faafoi : What advice has the Minister received that indicates that outsourcing Māori and Pasifika current affairs programmes will benefit Māori and Pasifika audiences?
Hon AMY ADAMS : Well, as I mentioned in the answer to the previous supplementary question, our interest is in ensuring that good quality, relevant content continues to be available. Whether TVNZ chooses to do that in-house or to outsource it is entirely a matter for TVNZ. I would note that this is not the first time that locally produced content has been outsourced. It has been quite a successful model that TVNZ has used in the past across a wide range of programming.
Kris Faafoi : Does this Government consider that current affairs programmes like Marae Investigates, Tagata Pasifika, Waka Huia, and Fresh are similar to shows like MasterChef New Zealand, My Kitchen Rules New Zealand, Dancing with the Stars, and Mitre 10 Dream Home, which TVNZ has also outsourced?
Hon AMY ADAMS : Well, as I continue to say, the Government’s interest from a broadcasting perspective is that good quality, locally relevant content is available, particularly reflecting things like ethnic minorities and Māori perspectives. We do not have a view on whether TVNZ is best to produce that in-house or to outsource it, but I note that it is still retaining the in-house production of Te Karere, and that this outsourcing model is a model that it has used a cross a range of programming across various contents, and applying it in this context is a similar approach from it.
Kris Faafoi : Is TVNZ’s decision to outsource a clear signal to the Māori and Pasifika communities that this Government does not care about current affairs shows for those communities, and that rather than quality content, they should be fed cheap and cheerful content?
Hon AMY ADAMS : The decision of TVNZ had nothing to do with the Government. We were advised under the no-surprises approach. It is entirely a decision that TVNZ has made. It is consistent with its obligations to us, but as a Government we will be very interested to ensure that the quality and content remains at an applicable level as it is now.
Peeni Henare : Can the Minister confirm that one of the primary functions of the Broadcasting Act 1989 is to promote Māori language and culture, and how does the outsourcing of Māori and Pasifika programmes by TVNZ help to achieve this function?
Hon AMY ADAMS : Well, again, it is the information, the content, that is being provided that is of relevance in that regard, not who makes it. Whether it is provided in-house or outsourced, the obligations are the same and TVNZ is entirely within its statutory obligations and its obligations to the Government to act in that way.
11. DENIS O'ROURKE (NZ First) to the Minister of Transport : What new infrastructure projects costing over $50 million will commence on the rail network over the next 3 years?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES (Minister of Transport): Although there is no one project over $50 million, the Government has in the 4 years to June 2014 funded $869 million of KiwiRail’s $1.2 billion capital expenditure. Over the last 7 years we have also funded almost $2.2 billion.
Denis O'Rourke : I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The question was specifically about the next 3 years not what has happened so far.
Mr SPEAKER : Order! The question was answered right at the start, so that is probably sufficient.
Denis O'Rourke : What new stations will be opened on the rail network in the next 3 years?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES : I would have to check.
Denis O'Rourke : What new lines will open on the rail network over the next 3 years?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES : I would have to check. Certainly, though, we have done a significant amount of work in upgrading electrification—some 2.2 billion in Auckland and Wellington.
Denis O'Rourke : Given that funding has already been set aside by the Waikato District Council for a new station at Tuakau, when will the current diesel commuter train service be extended south to Tuakau and Pōkeno as a means of extending an initial commuter service into the Waikato, where housing costs are much cheaper than in Auckland?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES : That is a level of detail the member should ask me in writing.
World War I Centenary—Commemorations
12. MARK MITCHELL (National - Rodney) to the Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage : What progress has been made on New Zealand’s First World War Centenary commemorations?
Hon MAGGIE BARRY (Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage): An excellent question, and we are indeed, I am happy to report, making excellent progress. Recently, along with Senator the Hon Michael Ronaldson, the Australian Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, we unveiled a tribute to the main body of troops who departed New Zealand from Wellington for service in World War I 100 years ago—8,500 troops and 4,000 horses. Then, along with the New Zealand veterans’ affairs Minister, Craig Foss, we unveiled a sign that marked the beginning of Ngā Tapuwae, a heritage trail project. The heritage trails will be providing information about New Zealand’s contributions to the First World War by providing heritage site locations where New Zealand played a significant role, and, at the same time, Lest We Forget was launched at the official start of Wellington’s First World War centenary programme.
Mark Mitchell : What progress has been made on the Pukeahu National War Memorial Park?
Hon MAGGIE BARRY : I am very pleased to inform the House that great progress has been made on that project as well. The Arras Tunnel in Wellington has been completed ahead of schedule, and the National War Memorial Park project has begun literally on top of this tunnel. Construction has now commenced on the Australia memorial opposite the National War Memorial and was inspected. Pukeahu National War Memorial Park is on schedule to be opened on Anzac Day next year.
Mark Mitchell : What activities are happening around New Zealand to mark the commemorations?
Hon MAGGIE BARRY : The number of activities and events listed by groups, organisations, and individuals from around New Zealand who want to be part of WW100 is increasing by approximately 30 per month—that is, one a day—and we now have over 700 listed. A further $5 million of lottery funding has been allocated this year and is contributing to a diverse range of imaginative commemorative projects, including exhibitions, local histories, musical and dramatic productions, commemorative events, digitisation projects, the restoration of memorials, and the creation of contemporary memorials—indeed, a very comprehensive programme of events for next year and the following four. Thank you.