Questions and Answers - October 30
QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS
Mr Speaker took the Chair at 2 p.m.
Economy—Interest Rates and Inflation 1. ALASTAIR SCOTT (National—Wairarapa) to the Minister of Finance: What reports has he received on the economy, particularly on the direction of interest rates and inflation?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): This morning the Reserve Bank Governor conducted his regular review of the official cash rate, which he confirmed will remain at 3.5 percent, which is low by historical standards. As I noted in the House yesterday, consumer price inflation at 1 percent is right at the bottom of the Reserve Bank’s target band, despite strong economic growth and real wage growth. The governor noted that New Zealand’s economic growth has been faster than trend over 2014, which has helped to reduce unemployment and added to demands on productive capacity. He added that low-interest rates, construction sector activity, and high net immigration continued to support economic growth. He said there will be a period of assessment before any further policy adjustment, which we think means that it will be some time before he raises the official cash rate.
Alastair Scott: What observations did the Reserve Bank Governor make about inflation and the outlook for the cost of living?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The governor noted that the consumer price inflation remained modest, right at the bottom of the bank’s target band, at 1 percent. The factors contributing to low inflation include subdued wage inflation and well-anchored inflation expectations, because we have a robust policy targets agreement with the Reserve Bank Governor. He also referred to weak global inflation, falls in oil prices, and the high New Zealand dollar. He pointed out that house price inflation has also fallen significantly since late 2013, partly due to interest rate increases and partly due to loan-to-value ratio restrictions. He noted that inflation remains low despite stronger growth.
Alastair Scott: How are the current low-interest environment and the growing economy being reflected in business confidence and investment?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I think the dawning realisation that interest rates will not reach the peaks that they did in 2008—in fact, they could peak at a much lower rate than the 10 percent they reached then—is good for business confidence. ANZ reported that business confidence rebounded in October above its long-run average. A net 27 percent of firms are optimistic about their general prospects, up 14 points on September, which may be related to the outcome of the general election. (uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing) These expectations are consistent with solid growth, good employment, and investment intentions among businesses. Statistics New Zealand numbers show that business investment increased by 7.7 percent in the year to June, led by investment in construction and infrastructure.
Alastair Scott: How do current interest rates compare with historical levels, and how is this being reflected in mortgage and business lending rates?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: It is usually the case that as the economy goes through a growth cycle, interest rates rise considerably. The Government has been working hard to do what it can to ensure that interest rates in this economic cycle remain lower for longer, because that would be good for households and businesses and prevent a build-up of imbalances. We are focused on tight fiscal policy, which has enabled interest rates to stay lower for longer, and we have also taken an active approach to sorting out the housing market, which has been one of the biggest drivers of mortgage rates in previous cycles. Average residential floating mortgage rates remain quite low, at around 6.7 percent, in this cycle, and the average business lending rate remains below 6 percent. Back in 2008 these equivalent rates were home mortgage rates of 11 percent rather than 6.7 percent, and business lending rates were 9.2 percent rather than the current 6 percent.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: How do New Zealand’s interest rates compare with those of Japan, China, the UK, Europe, and the US?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I know that the member does not like good news, but the good news is that New Zealand did not have a two decade recession like Japan, so our interest rates are higher. Our interest rates are a bit higher than the UK, which is a place where real incomes were cut by up to 10 percent as a result of the recession. They are a bit higher than the US, where the housing market collapsed and middle-class incomes have not moved for 10 years, so it is not a bad problem to have.
Social Housing—Availability and Accommodation Supplement 2. PHIL TWYFORD (Labour - Te Atatū) to the Minister for Social Housing: How many families with children have been subsidised through the Accommodation Supplement over the last six years to live at the Western Heights Caravan Park in Ranui she described as being not the right place “for children to be growing up in”?
Hon PAULA BENNETT (Minister for Social Housing): Given the time available, the Ministry of Social Development was unable to calculate the exact number of families with children who have lived at the Western Heights Caravan Park and received the accommodation supplement. If it would help the House, but I am not sure it does, that I give an estimate, I would say well over 1,000, to be fair. I have long acknowledged that Western Heights is a far from perfect place to live, but to take away from the people who live there the right to access the accommodation supplement would be to take away a basic entitlement that low-income people have to subsidised housing.
Phil Twyford: When she declared “We will house more people in social housing.” and that she counts people, not houses, can she tell the thousands of New Zealand families living in cars and caravans and garages exactly how many extra families her social housing policy will house over the next 6 months?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: I have been the Minister of Social Housing for weeks, not months, so we are still working our way through actual numbers on where that is at, but what I will say is that in April we introduced the income-related rent to be available to community housing providers. That is so it is not just used in State houses and can be used in other means of housing, which will open up that availability so that people have better options than just a State house that may or may not be available.
Phil Twyford: Why can she not tell the House how many extra people her policy will house, given that she stood there yesterday, after 6 years in Government, and declared “We count people, not houses.” and “We will house more people in social housing.”? (uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing)
Hon PAULA BENNETT: What we will be making available is more places through income-related rent, and I think the member can look forward to announcements around that in the near future. That will give some indication on what will be happening with the social housing market and how many people will be advantaged by that.
Phil Twyford: How does she expect to house even the 5,500 people on the waiting list, when, as the Minister of Finance said very recently, they only put enough additional income-related rent subsidy in the Budget to house 500, a tenth of the waiting list?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: As I just indicated, the member can look forward to announcements in the near future on the number of income-related rents that will be available.
Phil Twyford: When the residents of theRānui caravan park sent her packing at the public meeting in September last year, was it because they saw through her scapegoating of the caravan park after having done nothing to add more social or emergency housing over the last 6 years, or were they just being ungrateful?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: I have a lot of admiration for the people who are living anywhere in Auckland, actually, and particularly for those residents whom I knew well from being their member of Parliament for quite some years. What I will say, though, is that in the last figures I could find in the short period of time I have had since this question was put down, in August 2013 there were 28 people who lived at the park who were on the housing register. There were only 28 that were there. In June 2014, 162 people were living at the park, and 28 of them had dependent children. So, no, I certainly do not think they are ungrateful. I think they do a remarkable job in what are incredibly difficult circumstances.
Export Sector—Government Support 3. MARK MITCHELL (National—Rodney) to the Minister for Economic Development: What recent progress has the Government made on making it easier for Kiwi businesses to sell their products and services abroad?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister for Economic Development): I am pleased to advise the House that overnight the World Trade Organization gave the green light to New Zealand’s accession to the World Trade Organization Agreement on Government Procurement. The accession to the agreement, which took 2 years of negotiations, guarantees New Zealand companies access to bid for Government contracts in 43 countries around the world. Previously, New Zealand companies have needed to go through the often time-consuming and costly process of building offshore branches to be able to bid for those Government contracts. The agreement will remove the need for that, allowing them to do business with offshore Governments and Government agencies from a New Zealand base, creating more jobs and local investment in this country.
Mark Mitchell: What does this agreement mean for Kiwi businesses?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Accession to the Agreement on Government Procurement will give New Zealand businesses and exporters guaranteed access to bid for overseas Government contracts, worth around an annual US$1.7 trillion. The agreement currently covers 43 World Trade Organization members, including the major markets of the US, Canada, Korea, Japan, and across the European Union. That number will grow to 45 with the accession of New Zealand and Montenegro, and a further eight World Trade Organization member countries are currently in the process of joining the agreement, which will open up more markets for New Zealand companies. Acceding to the World Trade Organization Agreement on Government Procurement is one of the more than 350 actions contained in our Business Growth Agenda, and specifically one of the key initiatives identified in the export market stream, which is aimed at lifting the proportion of exports as a percentage of GDP to 40 percent by 2025.
Mark Mitchell: What other work is the Government doing to grow New Zealand exports?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: A lot of work, led by trade Minister Tim Groser, who works very hard for his country. We have signed free-trade agreements with Malaysia, Hong Kong, and ASEAN. (uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing) We are progressing well on agreements with Korea and with the Gulf Cooperation Council. Just this last weekend Minsters met again in Sydney to continue discussions on the Trans-Pacific Partnership. We are, of course, funding the promotion of our education and tourism industries. We have established the New Zealand Story, which is a new marketing framework to help our businesses leverage New Zealand’s brand and values on the world stage. As part of this year’s Budget, we have expanded the number of New Zealand companies that New Zealand Trade and Enterprise works with intensively from 500 to 700, recognising that an increasing number and range of New Zealand businesses are doing more and more of their trade offshore and looking to break into more and larger markets.
Sexual Assault Allegations—Roast Busters Case 4. KELVIN DAVIS (Labour—Te Tai Tokerau) to the Minister of Police: Does he believe the Police decision not to prosecute the Roast Busters has resulted in justice for the girls involved?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES (Minister of Energy and Resources) on behalf of the Minister of Police: It is not for the Minister to comment on the outcome of Operation Clover, as that is an operational matter for the police. However, what I can say is that I have been assured by the commissioner that the police undertook a thorough and professional investigation into what has clearly been a challenging and complex case. I accept that the decision not to lay charges has prompted a wide range of reactions, but I am assured that the victims have been the primary concern throughout the investigation and that this was a very carefully considered decision.
Kelvin Davis: Given that the police believe something happened in eight incidents involving seven victims and five suspects but just did not think they could secure a conviction, what is it that they believe did happen?
Mr SPEAKER: The Hon Simon Bridges, in as far as there is ministerial responsibility.
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: Clearly, these are operational matters for the police. It would be inappropriate, in fact, for the Minister to involve himself in the detail of this series of prosecutions or potential prosecutions. I think what I can say is that the victims were the primary concern. It was a very well-resourced operation. I have been assured, through the inquiries that have been made, that it was a thorough and professional investigation.
Kelvin Davis: Does the Minister of Police believe it is acceptable that the police cannot prosecute in this case?
Mr SPEAKER: Again, in as far as there is ministerial responsibility. I will leave it for the Minister to answer. It is a marginal call.
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: It is very clear that all prosecutorial decisions come under the Solicitor-General’s guidelines for prosecutions. They have got two tests involved there, and one is clearly whether there is a sufficient level of evidence. What has been clear here, through the media and also what I am aware of, is that it failed on that test.
Kelvin Davis: What changes does the Minister of Police believe he needs to drive to give survivors of sexual violence confidence they will have a better than average chance to see justice?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: Law reform in an area such as this, criminal justice, is for the Minister of Justice. I can certainly advise the House that there is a range of law reform matters going on, not in relation to a specific case or cases but in relation to the general area of criminal justice and sexual violence. This includes, following the Law Commission’s review of the Evidence Act in early 2013, a drafted Evidence Amendment Bill that will, for example, require the defence to give notice before trial that it intends to raise issues about a complainant’s previous sexual history, and also making a number of changes in relation to child and youth witnesses that will, we believe, result in the right kinds of changes. (uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing)
Sexual Offences—Pre-trial and Trial Processes 5. METIRIA TUREI (Co-Leader—Green) to the Minister of Justice: Will she ask the Law Commission to resume its work on alternative pre-trial and trial processes in sexual violence cases in light of the decision by Police not to prosecute those involved in the Roast Busters case; if not, why not?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES (Associate Minister of Justice) on behalf of the Minister of Justice: This is an area that the Minister is interested in taking some further advice on and then looking into. We are committed to supporting victims of crime, particularly victims of sexual violence, and therefore how they interact with the justice system is an area that is constantly being reviewed. We do not want to make decisions based on any single particular case, but the issues raised are of general interest and the Minister will be requesting further advice in this area.
Metiria Turei: How can the Minister not support the immediate resumption of the Law Commission review, given that there are seven formal complaints in the Roast Busters investigation and yet not one can pass the test in the Solicitor-General’s prosecution guideline of a reasonable prospect of conviction?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: As I have said, the Government is not going to react to a particular case, but these are important issues—there is no question of that. The Minister is certainly taking an open approach and seeking advice on these very important issues.
Metiria Turei: Does she agree with the President of the Law Commission, Sir Grant Hammond, when he said: “the Law Commission has been told that participants in criminal trials, both victims and defendants, find the current adversarial process to be very alienating and disempowering,”; if she does agree, is this not further evidence to ask the Law Commission to immediately resume its work?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: As stated, clearly they are matters the Minister is taking advice on. I think there are a fair set of issues that the member raises that do need to be looked into very carefully and closely. But I think in direct response to the member’s question about whether we in some way, shape, or form move to a different kind of system here—inquisitorial, for example—clearly something would have to be thought through very carefully. There are, as with any changes like this, real pros and cons. It is not entirely clear, for example, whether it would improve victims’ experiences or whether it would result in a higher conviction rate. So I think, as I say, these are things that need to be thought through carefully and, dare I say it, judiciously.
Metiria Turei: Does the Minister agree with the former Minister of Justice Simon Power when he said that it was worrying that only 10 percent or about 2,000 sexual offences were reported each year; if she does agree, is this not a good reason to ask the Law Commission to resume its work to improve the system so that victims are more comfortable with reporting cases?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: The low rates that the member talks about have been a concern for many years and I think rightfully so. That is why we have increased funding in terms of the support in these areas; that is why, as I have said, in a number of areas including a drafted Evidence Amendment Bill, we are seeking to make things simpler and easier for victims, and that is why also the Minister is seeking advice on the points raised in the primary question here.
Metiria Turei: Why will the Minister not ask the Law Commission to immediately resume its work when victims, lawyers, judges, and support services all agree that the current system does not work, and even esteemed members of our judicial system such as Dame Silvia Cartwright, who told the Law Commission: “If I had a daughter who was raped, I would strongly advise her not to go near the criminal justice system.”
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: As I have already said, these are very much matters that we are taking advice on. As I have also already said, we need to consider these matters carefully because there are pros and cons in relation to any system changes. Let me also say, though, that I think the Commissioner of Police has made it very clear that the police do want complainants and victims of (uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing) crime to come forward. I think women in New Zealand can be very clear that those matters will be dealt with with sensitivity, thoroughness, real professionalism, and the resources that they merit.
Marama Fox: Kia ora, e te Mana Whakawā. Does the Minister agree with Rape Crisis that the system fails survivors of sexual violence; if she does, how will she ensure that the system does deliver justice for survivors and their whānau?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: Of course the justice system works incredibly hard to support victims of sexual violence. We are constantly reviewing the way they interact with the system, and we are interested in ways in which we can improve the experience of complainants. I note, for instance, that there is much going on in relation to specialist court victim advisers, funding for victim support and rape prevention education also in this area. So it is something that is being worked on very hard indeed.
Businesses, Small—Government Initiatives to Support 6. STUART SMITH (National - Kaikōura) to the Minister of Commerce and Consumer Affairs: What is the Government doing to help small businesses access capital markets?
Hon PAUL GOLDSMITH (Minister of Commerce and Consumer Affairs): The National Government is committed to building and deepening access to capital for smaller high-growth businesses, and the recently passed Financial Markets Conduct Act is already making an impact. Many of the Act’s growth-focused initiatives took effect from April this year, such as enabling equity, crowdfunding, and peer-to-peer lending. Under new regulations a New Zealand company may raise up to $2 million in 12 months from licensed crowdfunding platforms. This creates more funding options for smaller and potentially high-growth businesses.
Stuart Smith: Have any businesses taken advantage of these new funding avenues?
Hon PAUL GOLDSMITH: Yes, I am advised that a number of businesses are benefiting from these new regulations. I am aware of one company that has recently raised $700,000 in fewer than 2 weeks through crowdfunding. The Financial Markets Conduct Act is just another example of the National Government making it easier for New Zealand companies to do business through our Business Growth Agenda to grow their businesses, create jobs, and, ultimately, to improve living standards in New Zealand.
Trans-Pacific Partnership—Scope of Negotiations 7. Hon PHIL GOFF (Labour - Mt Roskill) to the Minister of Trade: What are his bottom lines for New Zealand becoming a party to the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement?
Hon TIM GROSER (Minister of Trade): I can assure the member that there is a very clear bottom line, and that is that when this negotiation, which has many moving parts, settles down, if it ever does—and we can see exactly what we are expected to do and exactly what we will get in return—unless it clearly is in our view in the net national interest and we are confident we can carry that debate, we will not be a party to the agreement.
Hon Phil Goff: When successive New Zealand Governments have committed themselves strongly to the principle that the Trans-Pacific Partnership must be high quality and comprehensive, will he sign up to a deal that does not meet that standard by continuing to allow damaging market access restrictions on major New Zealand exports, such as dairy and beef; if so why?
Hon TIM GROSER: The only deal that I would recommend to our Cabinet, and through it to this House, is that we accept and pass the enabling legislation. It would be a deal that addresses all of our issues on a comprehensive basis, without any exceptions for our important export industries.
Hon Phil Goff: In the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, will he compromise on New Zealand’s sovereign right to legislate for legitimate public policy goals in areas like health and the environment; if not, how will he guarantee New Zealand’s right to constrain actions by foreign corporates that are detrimental to our public policy goals? (uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing)
Hon TIM GROSER: Well, the answer in principle is very clear. We will not sign agreements that do not allow legitimate public policy regulation in the public interest in the future. The devil will be in the detail in describing that, and it is an extremely complicated issue.
Hon Phil Goff: Will he protect New Zealand’s absolute right to prevent the promotion of a harmful product like tobacco by pushing to exclude tobacco from access to investor State disputes procedures, and what support within the negotiations would there be for a stance of that nature?
Hon TIM GROSER: Well, this is one of the most sensitive issues in these negotiations, as the member well knows. With the strong support the New Zealand Government has given to Australia on a case that, although not arising from these negotiations, arises from a previous negotiation, we will ensure that we maintain a position whereby any future Government can maintain very strong anti-tobacco legislation.
Hon Phil Goff: Why are groups in New Zealand with the public interest at heart, such as medical professionals, not given confidential access to draft texts when the United States reports indicate that multinational corporations have access to such texts in areas where they have vested financial interests?
Hon TIM GROSER: Well, I cannot comment on how other Governments seek to invite their stakeholders into their consultation process. All I can say is that we have, in respect of this negotiation, the most effective and fullest form of stakeholder consultation, and if other groups feel they wish to engage in a more serious consultation, they know where to come.
Hon Phil Goff: When the Minister has the right under Trans-Pacific Partnership rules to provide negotiating texts in confidence to relevant groups outside the Government, why has he not taken advantage of that right to ensure that core groups like medical professionals are properly informed about the issues under negotiation?
Hon TIM GROSER: We are trying to make this negotiation a success, and the member is well aware that there is some quite heavy politics here and that full disclosure to certain parties is likely to lead this to go immediately into the public debate on an ill-informed basis before the deal has been done. We are very conscious of the interests of New Zealanders in protecting themselves from such legislation, and we will continue to take a very responsible approach in this negotiation.
Hon Phil Goff: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The critical part of my question was to provide draft negotiating texts—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I listened very carefully to the question because it was quite a substantial question. The Minister has adequately, to my satisfaction, addressed the question that was asked.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: When will the Government abandon its policy of evasion, obfuscation, and secrecy and tell the New Zealand public exactly what concessions and sacrifices the New Zealand Government has already agreed to in the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations?
Hon TIM GROSER: Well, happily, we do not have a policy of evasion and obfuscation to abandon.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: How can he claim to be part of an open and transparent Government when there has been zero public scrutiny and zero input publicly into the terms that New Zealand is agreeing to in the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations, as evidenced in his answers today?
Hon TIM GROSER: Well, I would invite the member to reflect on his own extensive experience in Government, and he will be well aware that in the process of forming positions, they are held under strict confidentiality until the decision is taken. Then there is a process of full accountability, and this will be no different.
KiwiRail—Safety 8. MARAMA FOX (Māori Party) to the Minister of Transport: What advice has he sought from KiwiRail about how they will increase awareness of the general public around railway tracks and require drivers to reduce speeds when travelling through residential areas following the tragic death of a young man in Te Kūiti on Sunday night? (uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing)
Hon SIMON BRIDGES (Minister of Transport): Firstly, can I express my condolences to the family at this sad and difficult time. As the Minister of Transport I take the public safety of the rail network very seriously, as does KiwiRail. To keep people safe on the rail network, KiwiRail has advised me that it is working with local communities to ensure that measures such as fencing and signage are in place, as well as carrying out educational initiatives focusing on raising awareness of the risks around the rail corridor.
Marama Fox: Mehemea ka kitea i tere rawa te haere o te tereina i Te Kūiti, he ngā whakaaro o te Minita ka tīmatahia e ia, kia kore ai te iwi whānui e whara? [If excessive speed of the train is found to be an issue in the Te Kūiti case, what actions does the Minister plan to initiate to ensure greater public safety?]
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: I appreciate what I think is a fair and sincere question. I do not, however, intend to pre-empt the inquiry’s investigations that are going on by certainly the police, by KiwiRail internally, and also by a coroner. Certainly, though, I can assure the member that I will consider any actions coming out of the investigations once they have been completed and reported to me.
Prime Minister—Statements 9. TRACEY MARTIN (Deputy Leader—NZ First) to the Minister for Women: Does she support the Prime Minister’s statement on election night that “I will lead a Government that will govern for all New Zealanders”?
Hon LOUISE UPSTON (Minister for Women): Yes.
Tracey Martin: In what specific ways will the Minister for Women ensure that women fully benefit from the Prime Minister’s aspirational statement?
Hon LOUISE UPSTON: There are many opportunities for women to contribute more to our economic growth. In particular, it is about making sure that women are aware of the opportunities in growing industries. Construction is a great example. The construction industry is growing and is expected to be in double digits by the year 2017. So there is an opportunity for us to work with industries, employers, and women, of course, to make sure that they are aware of those opportunities.
Tracey Martin: What priority does the Ministry of Women’s Affairs give in its work programme for 2014-15 to the issue of sexual violence and abuse against women and girls?
Hon LOUISE UPSTON: Any violence against women is abhorrent, and I am committed to working with the other Ministers in the sector—the Minister of Justice, the Minister of Police, and the Minister for Social Development—to ensure that we have a work programme that is not just about dealing with victims of sexual violence but actually preventing it in the first place.
Tracey Martin: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Just for some clarification, both the questions I have asked—one, in what specific ways; and, two, what priority—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Just make the point of order please.
Tracey Martin: I am not confident that the questions have been answered by the Minister—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I can assist the member. In the first case, there is no doubt in my mind that the question was answered or addressed. In the case of the second one, I think the way forward would be to invite the member to ask the second question again with regard to the priorities of the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, and allow the Minister to answer it.
Tracey Martin: What priority does the Ministry of Women’s Affairs give in its work programme for 2014-15 to the issue of sexual violence and abuse against women and girls?
Hon LOUISE UPSTON: There is a group of Ministers who will work together in the space of sexual violence. It will build on the work that was done in the previous Parliament. As the Minister for Women, I will proudly play an active part and will make that a priority for the year ahead.
Tracey Martin: What specific steps is the Ministry of Women’s Affairstaking to address the prevalence of sexual violence against women—specific steps? (uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing)
Hon LOUISE UPSTON: I have been in the role of the Minister for Women for 2 weeks. One of the things that I will be focusing on in the weeks and months ahead is focusing the work of the ministry into the areas that count for New Zealanders. It will be aligned with the Government’s priorities. But I will make this commitment to the member: it is clear in New Zealand that sexual violence is intolerable. I have also said in my speech in the Address in Reply debate in this House that I welcome any very practical comments and solutions from any member of this House who has a solution that they believe will reduce and prevent any sexual violence against any woman of our land.
Tracey Martin: In light of that answer, and in recognition that as a new Minister she will have been briefed on previous work, what steps is the Ministry of Women’s Affairs taking to improve the capacity of Government agencies to identify and appropriately deal with violence against women and the sexual abuse of women and girls?
Hon LOUISE UPSTON: I want to reiterate the comment that I made in my previous answer: I will proudly work with the other Ministers who are involved in this important work, and I will be working on the priorities with the ministry according to the work that has already been undertaken, to work with our plan going forward. As I have said, as a new Minister those decisions have yet to be made, but I will take those commitments seriously, and, at a later point, I would be more than happy for that member to put a question in writing. As I have said, give me more than 2 weeks and I will happily share that with the member, and I would very, very happily share any contribution to solving this issue that you might have.
Health and Safety, Workplace—Port of Tauranga 10. IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY (Labour - Palmerston North) to the Minister for Workplace Relations and Safety: Does he agree with Port of Tauranga corporate services manager Sara Lunam that they are “not responsible for other companies’ employees on Port of Tauranga”?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister for Economic Development) on behalf of the Minister for Workplace Relations and Safety: No, not necessarily at all. It would depend on the detailed arrangements between the Port of Tauranga and the lessees of its facilities and the activities that they undertake. The Health and Safety in Employment Act sets out the duties of employers, persons in control of places of work, and contracting principals, and it is quite comprehensive. Further, the new Health and Safety Reform Bill—
Chris Hipkins: Speak up.
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: —currently before the House, makes it clear that all those who have influence on—well, be quiet and you will—[Interruption].
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The members are complaining that they cannot hear, but if they continue to interject and yell at the Minister, then they have no chance.
Chris Hipkins: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The interjections actually started when members could not hear the Minister. He was actually heard in silence for the first half of his answer, and people could not hear him.
Mr SPEAKER: That is no excuse for then continuing with that level of interjection. I am going to invite the Minister to start his answer again, and I request from my left-hand side a reasonable level of silence to allow the answer to heard.
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: No, not necessarily at all. Under current law, it depends on the detailed arrangements between the Port of Tauranga and the lessees of its facilities and the activities that they undertake. The Health and Safety in Employment Act sets out the duties of employers, persons in control of places of work, and contracting principals, and it is quite comprehensive. Further, the new Health and Safety Reform Bill, which is currently before the House, makes it clear that all those who have an influence on health and safety outcomes in the workplace have a shared responsibility to keep workers safe, and they need to consult and coordinate with each other to make sure that happens. (uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing)
Iain Lees-Galloway: Will he state for the record that there will be no change in the Health and Safety Reform Bill to the responsibilities of principals and owners of workplaces for the health and safety of all workers on their sites, and no erosion of the worker participation provisions?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: That bill is currently before the Parliament—in fact, I understand, currently before the Transport and Industrial Relations Committee. It would not be appropriate for the Minister at this stage to say what will or will not happen to that bill while it is currently before the select committee.
Iain Lees-Galloway: Is he concerned that the increased casualisation of the workforce is resulting in increased accidents at our ports, with 25 of the 26 accidents and both of the deaths at the Port of Tauranga relating to employees or contractors not directly employed by the port; if so, what will he do to reduce the casualisation of the workforce?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: The health and safety of workers at the port, and, in fact, at any other workplace in New Zealand, is non-negotiable. It does not matter what the contracting arrangements are, the responsibilities are there and they must be met. There are a number of investigations going on at the moment by WorkSafe New Zealand into accidents that have occurred at New Zealand ports, and the regulator will absolutely take enforcement action if that is what is required.
Iain Lees-Galloway: Does the Minister accept that the majority—the overwhelming majority—of accidents and deaths have involved people on casualised contracted employment arrangements, not direct employees of ports?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I would be very interested in reading the member’s data. That is not my understanding, but I have to say that I have not actually been briefed on that. It certainly has not been raised, but I think that if the member looks, he will find that there have been issues of workplace injuries and fatalities under all sorts of employment arrangements.
Iain Lees-Galloway: Will he undertake to do a full sweep of site inspections, as was done for the forestry sector, to stop the shameful toll of seven deaths and 133 serious accidents that have occurred at our ports in just the past 3 years?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: It is clear that any workplace fatality is unacceptable, but we have, in fact, set up a new regulator, WorkSafe New Zealand, which was established in December 2013 to take a stronger monitoring role and to enforce compliance with the law. I can advise the member right now that WorkSafe is undertaking a number of investigations of incidents at New Zealand ports, and it will take the action that it believes is appropriate. It will be briefing the Minister on a regular basis as to any other action that it believes needs to be taken from a policy perspective.
Iain Lees-Galloway: That’d be a “No”, then?
Mr SPEAKER: Order!
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. That is the second or third time the member has got up and tried to characterise the answer. This is a serious subject, and I think the flippancy with which he is approaching it is inappropriate.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! It is indeed the second time that I have noted the member stand up and start his supplementary question that way, which is unacceptable. I warned him last time not to do it, and he has continued to do it. I am very tempted to complete this line of questioning and certainly, if that habit was to continue from that particular member, that would be the action I would take. On this occasion I will give him the benefit of the doubt.
Iain Lees-Galloway: Does he consider appropriate rest and meal breaks to be necessary for port safety; if so, why is he pursuing changes today to remove minimum entitlements to rest and meal breaks from the Employment Relations Act?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: The member is incorrect in his assertion. Nothing in the Employment Relations Amendment Bill affects the obligations on employers to keep their workers safe. Any member who represents that is misrepresenting the bill in the House this afternoon. It is up to employers and employees in the bill that is yet to pass the House to negotiate what breaks are (uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing) reasonable for their workplace, but employers must meet the health and safety obligations in their workplace at all times. [Interruption]
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The member has again characterised the answer immediately after—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! On this occasion there is a difference. The member has interjected—it was not a helpful interjection, and I accept that—but it was not as if he did it at the start of his question, which was the issue I addressed earlier.
Public Transport, Wellington—Rail Upgrades 11. PAUL FOSTER-BELL (National) to the Minister of Transport: What progress is being made on Government-funded metro rail upgrades in Wellington?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES (Minister of Transport): Last week it was a privilege to help pour the foundations for the last of the 640 masts carrying new electrification hardware between Redwood and Muri, a part of the wider Wellington metro rail upgrade project. This part of the project is more than 2 years ahead of schedule and will help provide a more reliable and efficient service. The $88 million upgrade project represents a significant part of the Government’s $485 million investment in Wellington metro rail. These investments have helped Wellington remain our leading example of metro rail, with 95 percent on-time performance and customer satisfaction.
Paul Foster-Bell: What other milestones have been reached in the Wellington metro rail upgrade project?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: The Government’s $485 million investment has also paid for the upgrade of the rail network to power the Matangi fleet and the purchase of Matangi trains, for improvements to reduce service delays, for the extension of the electrified network to include Waikanae Station, and for the completion of Wellington’s new train maintenance depot. This Government is committed to the continuing success of metro rail in Wellington as well as in Auckland, where we are investing nearly $1.7 billion for the upgrading and electrification of the rail network.
Health Promotion Agency—Potential Conflict of Interest 12. KEVIN HAGUE (Green) to the Minister of Health: Is he satisfied that all conflicts of interest that arose by the head of Food and Grocery Council Katherine Rich being a member of the Health Promotion Agency were managed in accordance with the provisions of the Crown Entities Act 2004; if so, why?
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN (Minister of Health): Yes; because there is no indication to the contrary.
Kevin Hague: How specifically has Mrs Rich or the Health Promotion Agency managed her conflicts, when according to the agency’s minutes she has never ever recused herself from a discussion or decision of the board, even one involving alcohol, sugar, or tobacco?
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: I think that is very much the point. I have had the Ministry of Health review all those minutes, and it tells me that there is nothing inappropriate in the conduct of any board member in the context of the Crown Entities Act 2004.
Kevin Hague: I seek leave to table the minutes of the Health Promotion Agency board from July 2012 to July 2014.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table those particular minutes of the Health Promotion Agency. Is there any objection to those minutes being tabled? No, there is not. They can be tabled.
Kevin Hague: Does he agree that there is an untenable conflict of interest in the same person who submitted to the Health Committee against the plain packaging of tobacco also participating in a Health Promotion Agency discussion aimed at promoting the plain packaging of tobacco?
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: No. (uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing)
Hon Dr Nick Smith: What conflict of interest did Green MP Steffan Browning have in advocating homeopathy as a solution to the Ebola epidemic?
Mr SPEAKER: I do not believe there is any ministerial responsibility for that question.
Kevin Hague: Will he ask Health Promotion Agency chair, Lee Mathias, why Mrs Rich was allowed to participate in discussions about junk food, tobacco, and alcohol when the Crown Entities Act requires members with conflicts of interest not to take part in any discussion or decision of the board relating to, or otherwise participating in, any activity of the entity that relates to a matter where a conflict of interest may exist?
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: As I answered earlier, we have had a look at those minutes. They have been reviewed by ministry officials, and the advice from them is that there is no conflict.
Kevin Hague: I seek leave to table ahard-copy version of aPowerpoint presentation from the State Services Commission, dated February 2014, explaining to members of Crown entity boards what their legal obligations were.
Mr SPEAKER: On the basis that it may not be that easily obtainable by members, I will put the leave. Leave is sought to table that particular hard copy of a Powerpoint presentation. Is there any objection to that piece of paper being tabled? There is not. It can be tabled.
Kevin Hague: Will he investigate the Health Promotion Agency’s management of Mrs Rich’s conflicts, including the role of the Health Promotion Agency chair, Lee Mathias, given that Ms Mathias appears to have allowed Mrs Rich to participate in discussions where her role as a lobbyist conflicts seriously with her role as a health promoter?
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: I disagree with the assertions in that member’s question.
Kevin Hague: Does—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member still has a right to ask questions.
Kevin Hague: Does Mrs Rich retain his confidence, given that she has never even once declared a specific interest in any agenda item on the agendas of the Health Promotion Agency, has never recused herself from any discussions or decisions, and clearly has not managed her conflict in accordance with the Crown Entities Act?
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: That is absolutely incorrect. When Katherine Rich applied for that position, and when she was appointed, she declared her potential conflicts of interest. They were recorded in the Cabinet paper. My advice to the Green Party is to stop focusing on issues that do not advance quality health care for New Zealanders; start focusing on how we are going to get increased access to quality health care across the population. That is the real issue, and that is what I am focusing on as Minister of Health.
Dr Megan Woods: What were the circumstances that led him to receive the direct communication from the chair of the Health Promotion Agency regarding Katherine Rich that he cited in the House last week when he said: “She has always been an ethical member of the board. As chair I have always had confidence in her contribution.”?
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: The circumstances were the sustained and ridiculous personal attacks on Katherine Rich by the Green Party, which prefers to focus on ridiculous stuff like treating Ebola with homeopathy rather than on the key issues facing New Zealanders in the pursuit of quality health care.
Dr Megan Woods: Did he consult with any other organisations or persons regarding the suitability of Katherine Rich on the board of the Health Promotion Agency; if so, which organisations or persons?
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: Her appointment went through a Cabinet process, and all the appropriate processes were followed.
Dr Megan Woods: Did the Minister consult with any other Ministers about the role of Katherine Rich on the board of the Health Promotion Agency; if so, whom?
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: Yes; Cabinet. (uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing)