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Questions and Answers - November 5

Questions to Ministers

Prime Minister—Statements [Sitting date: 05 November 2014. Volume:701;Page:1. Text is subject to correction.]

1. Hon ANNETTE KING (Acting Deputy Leader—Labour) to the Prime Minister : Does he stand by all his statements?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): Yes.

Hon Annette King : In the Speech from the Throne, he stated that his Government’s plan includes higher incomes for New Zealanders. What percentage wage movement does he envisage would be fair for hard-working Kiwis over the next 3 years?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY : One that is in excess of the inflation rate.

Hon Annette King : In light of that, does he think an increase of 70 percent a year would be fair, because pay rises of this magnitude have recently been described by the Minister of Finance as just market corrections?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY : I assume the member is talking about some of the pay increases that chief executives at mixed-ownership model companies have received. I do not know the composition and make-up of their pay, but I suspect that in fact what has really happened is they have not had a 70 percent increase in their salary; they have probably had a combination of stock options and other parts of their payment, and also an incentive payment reflecting the performance of the company. Actually, you do get those kinds of moves—both up and down—with chief executives, but that is not something that goes in terms of just their straight salary increase.

Hon Annette King : How does the Government justify a pay increase of 70 percent, or $900,000, for the chief executive officer of Mighty River Power as just a market correction, but a $2 an hour increase of the minimum wage paid to the lowest-paid New Zealanders as unaffordable?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY : The Government does not justify it, because the justification is required by the board of directors and the chairman of the company. Actually, I have not done this exercise, but if members opposite want me to, I will go away and have a look at the incentive payments made to other chief executives under the previous Labour Government. I am pretty sure you will find that when Meridian Energy was run by Keith Turner, 16 percent of the company was sold in the form of Southern Hydro, and there were proceeds of $1.5 billion and a $600,000 million profit. I may be wrong, but I am pretty sure that Keith Turner got a tidy little bonus for doing that.

Hon Annette King : Does he stand by his statement: “We’d prefer that we were a more equal society with less inequality.”? If he stands by that, what will he do to ensure that the 43 percent of workers who did not receive a pay increase in the last year get even a fraction of a 70 percent pay increase that the Mighty River Power chief executive officer got last year?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY : Yes, and I honestly thought we had dispatched that ridiculous argument when we dispatched David Cunliffe. If we want to go back and have that argument again, the member will know that what she is talking about—unless she is just reading out what the research unit gave her—is the labour cost index. She will know the labour cost index is not a measurement of the way the salaries are adjusted. She will know, because I am sure she researched it then, that it was absolutely identical under the 9 years of the Labour Government and that 40-odd percent of people under the labour cost index did not get a change in their salary.

Hon Annette King : Well, answer this, Prime Minister: how will a homecare worker on $15.20 an hour go about getting a market correction in their pay packet when it is the Government that provides the funding through Vote Health and has refused to increase the health budget to meet cost pressures, as outlined in the Treasury papers released recently?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY : The member is defeating her own argument, because this Government has increased the health budget every single year we have been in office.

Hon Annette King : I seek leave to table the Treasury papers showing that it only made a contribution towards cost pressures in health.

Mr SPEAKER : I am going to let the House decide. I am not sure it will add great information to members, but the House can decide. Leave has been sought to table some Treasury papers. Is there any objection? There is none. They can be tabled. Documents, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.

2. Prime Minister—Statements [Sitting date: 05 November 2014. Volume:701;Page:2. Text is subject to correction.]

2. METIRIA TUREI (Co-Leader—Green) to the Prime Minister : Does he stand by all his statements?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): Yes.

Metiria Turei : Does the Prime Minister stand by his statement to Radio New Zealand on 22 October that about 15 percent of kids in decile 1 to 4 schools were “clearly in need” of breakfast at school for a variety of reasons, including “they are unsure if they are going to get a lot of lunch or dinner”?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY : Yes, but if the member was to quote me from the entire interview, she will also acknowledge that what I said was that was a very anecdotal number.

Metiria Turei : What do principals tell him are the reasons why children come to school without breakfast or lunch?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY : Truthfully, there is a wide variety of reasons, but it is not for me to analyse them. What it is for me to do is to show leadership, and that is exactly what the Government did in partnering with Fonterra and Sanitarium to provide breakfast in schools for every child who wanted it.

Metiria Turei : Does the Prime Minister believe that the State should also provide lunch at school for the 15 percent of children in decile 1 to 4 schools, who he has said are clearly in need, if their parents cannot, for whatever reason, provide them with that lunch?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY : I do not believe that the number of children who go to decile 1 to 4 schools who do not have lunch is 15 percent. I have asked extensively at the decile 1, 2, 3, and 4 schools I have been to. Quite a number of principals actually even reject the notion that they need break fast in schools. Those who do take breakfasts in schools tell me that for the odd child who does not have lunch, they either give them some more breakfast or provide them with lunch. But what they have said to me is that the number of children in those schools who actually require lunch is the odd one or two.4

Metiria Turei : Does the Prime Minister believe that the State has a responsibility to provide food—breakfast and lunch—for hungry children in schools, when their parents cannot, for whatever reason, provide it?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY : I believe that parents have a responsibility to provide lunch. What I do acknowledge is that sometimes schools will provide a lunch if one is not provided. As I said to the member just before, the evidence I see from the principals I ask—I go to a lot of schools and I ask every principal that question, and I ask every teacher I can that question—is that the number of children who turn up without lunch is extremely few.

Metiria Turei : If the parents cannot provide lunch and schools are unable to provide lunch, and he will not have his Government provide lunch, then who will feed these hungry kids?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY : I have not found a single principal who will not provide lunch for a child who is actually hungry.

3. Economic Growth—Reports [Sitting date: 05 November 2014. Volume:701;Page:2. Text is subject to correction.]

3. DAVID BENNETT (National - Hamilton East) on behalf of ALASTAIR SCOTT (National - Wairarapa) to the Minister of Finance : What recent reports has he received on whether recent economic growth is creating capacity and inflation pressures within the economy?

Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): Treasury’s latest monthly report notes that although the economy is growing near capacity, inflation is running below expected levels. This can be partly explained by falling prices in the tradable sector, due to a strong New Zealand dollar and weak international inflation. They also note that the housing market is cooling. Increases in house prices are slowing, with the annual increase in the year to September down to 4.1 percent and the number of sales lower than a year ago. All of this indicates that cost of living increases will remain in check while the economy continues to grow and support more jobs and higher incomes.

David Bennett : How is the current low inflation environment, combined with continued high levels of business and consumer confidence, influencing the outlook for employment and investment?

Hon BILL ENGLISH : Positively. We have reported today that the unemployment rate fell to 5.4 percent in September, down from 5.6 percent in June. There were 18,000 more people employed in the September quarter, and the labour force participation rate—that is, the number of people available for work, which is already at historical highs, and higher than most other countries in the developed world—actually increased fractionally to 69 percent. Statistics New Zealand noted that rising employment is more than keeping up with growing population, at a time when the population is growing at a record level. Although business and consumer confidence have come off their highs, they remain at elevated levels. There are strong employment intentions among businesses. For example, the quarterly survey of the New Zealand Institute of Economic Research reported that a net 18 percent of firms expect to increase staff numbers, and the ANZ job advertisement series shows that job ads are at their highest levels since 2006. All of this is promising for more new jobs, in addition to the decreasing unemployment rate we have seen today.

David Bennett : How does the Minister expect the current positive economic outlook will benefit New Zealand households and families?

Hon BILL ENGLISH : It has always been the Government’s view that the figures from month to month or quarter to quarter are not that important. What matters is the longer-term trend. We have an opportunity to lock in sustainable growth, with relatively low interest rates and relatively low inflation, at a time when the economy continues to grow. In its pre-election fiscal update, Treasury forecast around 150,000 extra jobs by mid-2018. It also predicted the annual average wage to increase by around $6,600 to $62,000 over that period. This will have a positive impact for households if cost of living increases remain low and we can continue to support good conditions for best business investment and new jobs. All of this will help household budgets.

4. Export Sector—Performance [Sitting date: 05 November 2014. Volume:701;Page:3. Text is subject to correction.]

4. Dr DAVID CLARK (Labour—Dunedin North) to the Minister of Finance : Why did he claim yesterday that exports as a percentage of GDP were 33 percent and rising when Hon Steven Joyce reportedly stated on 20 October that there has been a lack of progress in the past three years?

Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): In regard to progress, both Mr Joyce and I have both said this is a challenging target. I made the comment yesterday because real exports, as a percentage of real GDP, which are the basis of the Government’s target, were 33 percent in 2013, up from 31.9 percent in 2009. The member might not like it but this is according to the Statistics New Zealand expenditure on gross GDP series. According to Statistics New Zealand real exports have eased to 32.7 percent of GDP in the year to March 2014, but they are still above the 31.9 percent level of 2009, and that has been in the face of quite challenging conditions for exporters. They have handled them very well showing that they are becoming globally competitive and increasing their productivity.

Dr David Clark : Why did Steven Joyce contradict the Minister’s claim that exports were 33 percent of GDP by saying on 20 October that exports were actually 30 percent of GDP?

Hon Steven Joyce : Point of order. [Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER : Order! This is a point of order—[Interruption] Well, I hope it is, but either way it will be heard in silence.

Hon Steven Joyce : I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I understand that when this question was being verified earlier today no reference could be made of the quotation in that regard that Dr Clark has just suggested. For him to bring it up as a supplementary question after he could not actually find any reference in trying to get his primary question through today I think is trifling with the House.

Mr SPEAKER : Order! I appreciate the point the member is making. I believe that the member’s question is still in order. It is going to give some licence to the Minister as he answers it. I will invite the member to ask his question again.

Hon Gerry Brownlee : Has he changed the question?

Dr David Clark : No, no.

Mr SPEAKER : Order! I am inviting the member Dr Clark to re-ask the question for continuity purposes.

Dr David Clark : Why did Steven Joyce contradict the Minister’s claim that exports were 33 percent of GDP by saying on 20 October that exports were actually 30 percent of GDP?

Hon BILL ENGLISH : He did not say that.

Dr David Clark : I seek leave to table a document where it is reported—

Mr SPEAKER : Order! I just need the document please. If it is a media report, it will not be—

Dr David Clark : Yes, it is.

Mr SPEAKER : Do not bother.

Dr David Clark : Why did the Minister say in the building exports market report that exports were 30 percent of GDP?

Hon BILL ENGLISH : As I have pointed out, the basis of the Government target is real exports as a proportion of real GDP, and those are rising. I cannot comment directly on the reference the member is making, because I have not seen it recently. [Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER : Order! [Interruption] Order! The member will resume his seat. The level of interjection I am receiving from the Labour corner here is unacceptable. I certainly do not want to be asking any members to leave , but unless it settles down I will be doing so.

Dr David Clark : I seek leave to table a copy of a report signed by Bill English and Steven Joyce where both state that exports are 30 percent of GDP.

Mr SPEAKER : I just need the source of the document.

Dr David Clark : It is the Building Export Markets report from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.

Mr SPEAKER : On the basis that it may not be freely available, the House can determine that. Leave is sought to table this particular Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment report. Is there any objection to it being tabled? There is not. It can be tabled. Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.

Dr David Clark : It’s because the Minister has not read it.

Mr SPEAKER : Order! Just ask the supplementary question.

Dr David Clark : Why is the Minister attempting a statistical stitch up by changing the measurement of exports to volume, given that he used a different value-based metric of exports in the foreword to the Building Export Markets report when he set out the goal and did so again as recently as July this year in Parliament?

Hon BILL ENGLISH : Again, I cannot comment on that, because I have not seen it recently, but I can say to the member that I want to thank the member for helping to clarify the basis of the Government target. I know he is disappointed that despite difficult conditions our export sector has made considerable progress in improving its real contribution to our economy, and under current Government policy we would hope to see that exports become an even larger proportion of the real economy.

Dr David Clark : Will the Minister now concede that his new volume-based measuring statistic would place more importance on the volume of possession held by the USA Eagles in the first half of a recent test match than on the value of the All Blacks’ 43 points on the scoreboard?

Mr SPEAKER : The Hon Bill English, in so far as there is ministerial responsibility.

Hon BILL ENGLISH : Where the member does have a technical point is that it is not strictly volume; it is deflated prices, which is slightly different in an economist’s mind but not that different. Either way, the deflated value of our exports as a proportion of the real economy has been growing and will continue to do so, I would hope.

Dr David Clark : Is the Minister aware that his newly adopted volume-based measure has not dipped to 30 percent at any time this century?

Hon BILL ENGLISH : Actually, I did not hear the assertion that the member made, but given his determination to try to prove that our exporters are hopeless—

Chris Hipkins : I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.

Mr SPEAKER : I can anticipate the point of order, but I will hear it.

Chris Hipkins : If the Minister did not hear the question, the right thing to do would be to ask for it to be repeated—

Mr SPEAKER : Order! I invite the member Dr David Clark to ask the question again.

Dr David Clark : Is the Minister aware that his newly adopted volume-based measure has not dipped to 30 percent at any time this century?

Hon BILL ENGLISH : No, I was not aware of that. But given the member’s determination to try to talk down our export sector, despite—

Dr David Clark : I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I fail to see how that in any way addressed my question, which is a very straight question.

Mr SPEAKER : A number of the questions that have been asked have been politically loaded, talking about statistical stitch ups, etc. This one is in the same vein—maybe not to the same extent, but I do not think the member can expect to ask relatively robust questions and then ask for an almost sanitised answer from the Minister.

5. Government Policy—Development [Sitting date: 05 November 2014. Volume:701;Page:5. Text is subject to correction.]

5. Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First) to the Prime Minister : Is his Government committed to evidence-based policy-making?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): Yes.

Rt Hon Winston Peters : Well, if that is the case, why does his Government not demonstrate its commitment to evidence-based policy-making by collecting comprehensive information on the extent of foreign ownership of New Zealand land and housing? [Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER : Order! The member has the right to ask the question.

Rt Hon JOHN KEY : Sorry, could I just ask the member to repeat it? It was very muffled—

Mr SPEAKER : Order!

Rt Hon Winston Peters : If that is the case—that the answer is in the affirmative—why does his Government not demonstrate its commitment to evidence-based policy-making by collecting comprehensive information on the extent of foreign ownership of New Zealand land and housing?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY : Well, we do collect information. We collect it through both the Inland Revenue Department, which has a register of foreigners who are required to file a return because they own a rental property in New Zealand, and we do record it in relation to the Overseas Investment Office when it approves sales of land above the threshold, which is—whatever it is—4.5 hectares or 5 hectares. So we do gather quite a lot of information.

Rt Hon Winston Peters : How can the Government be collecting “quite a lot of information” when in the answer nothing referred to housing whatsoever, and why does the Government not have a proper house and land register, like other countries have?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY : I hate to burst the member’s bubble, but when someone files an Inland Revenue Department tax return because they own a rental property in New Zealand, that is a house.

Rt Hon Winston Peters : Does the Prime Minister not understand that that is only a rental? What about the other forms of ownership, and what steps will the Government take over the next 3 years to limit the transfer of New Zealand land and housing into foreign ownership—even though the trader over there likes it?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY : Well, the Government has policies in place through the Overseas Investment Act that we believe are set broadly in about the right place. Although we acknowledge that there are some foreigners who come to New Zealand and purchase land and assets, we believe that is in the best interests of New Zealand’s economic growth. That is why land sales to foreigners and house sales to foreigners merrily and happily continued every single time he was on this side of the House.

Rt Hon Winston Peters : Not true.

Rt Hon JOHN KEY : Yes, it is.

Rt Hon Winston Peters : Given the Chinese Government’s priority—[Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER : Order! The member has a right to ask the question so that I can hear it.

Rt Hon Winston Peters : Given the Chinese Government’s priority and crackdown on corruption, what precautions is his Government making to ensure the proceeds of corruption from that country do not go into New Zealand land and housing?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY : Well, the Overseas Investment Office goes through a thorough process when it assesses the merits of a purchaser, but we are not responsible for any illegal activity that might take place in another country.

Rt Hon Winston Peters : Why does the Government consider that selling even more of New Zealand’s productive capacity to foreigners is a path to prosperity?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY : Well, that is because if one looks at the history of foreign investment in New Zealand, we can point to many examples, actually, where foreign investment in New Zealand in even land has been very important for New Zealand. Take the wine industry. We all know that the member has quite an interest in the racing industry. Well, the racing sector has quite a lot of investment from overseas, and last time I looked, the member, when he was the Minister for Racing, was slapping those people on the back and congratulating them on what they were doing for this country.

Rt Hon Winston Peters : Would the Prime Minister give us one example that he just claimed happened when I was the Minister for Racing—just one?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY : I do not have all the snaps and happy pictures taken of him when he was the Minister for Racing and wandering around, but I am sure if he wants to open up his holiday snaps to me, I will be able to find an example of him patting some foreign owner who was in New Zealand, who also owned a bit of bloodstock here, and happily shaking hands.

Rt Hon Winston Peters : Why does the Prime Minister think he can get away with an answer like that when he has not got one shred of evidence to make the assertion, and is it his view that everybody should be running around getting photo opportunities like he does?

Mr SPEAKER : In so far as there is some prime ministerial responsibility, I will leave it to the Prime Minister.

Rt Hon JOHN KEY : I am happy with my photo opportunities. If the member is not happy with his, well, he has to live with himself.

6. Medicines—Access [Sitting date: 05 November 2014. Volume:701;Page:6. Text is subject to correction.]

6. BARBARA KURIGER (National—Taranaki - King Country) to the Minister of Health : Has he received any reports on access to medicines?

Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN (Minister of Health): Yes . Pharmac’s annual report was tabled on 4 November. It shows that last year the Pharmaceutical Management Agency funded 26 new medicines and widened access to a further 35, benefiting an estimated 42,885 additional patients in that year. This is part of the $795 million that Pharmac spent on medicines for New Zealanders last year.

Barbara Kuriger : How has Pharmac helped address the costs of health care in New Zealand?

Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN : In its first year of managing the nationally consistent list of hospital medicines, Pharmac has secured savings to district health board hospitals of $3.65 million. I am advised that that figure is expected to double in the coming year. Moreover, I am advised that as of 1 November 2014 Pharmac’s medical devices programme has listed more than 5,000 possible medical devices across a range of categories, including wound care, laparoscopy, and interventional cardiology. This activity will deliver savings to district health boards worth a minimum of $9.7 million over 5 years.

7. Social Housing—Commentary and Initiatives [Sitting date: 05 November 2014. Volume:701;Page:7. Text is subject to correction.]

7. PHIL TWYFORD (Labour—Te Atatū) to the Minister for Social Housing : Does she agree with the Dominion Post that “The Government’s social-housing plan is unclear not only in its details but in its fundamental aims,”; if not, what are the Government’s plans and fundamental aims?

Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister responsible for HNZC) on behalf of the Minister for Social Housing : No , I disagree with it. Our aims are, first, to make it easier for more people to get into social housing; secondly, to provide a better pipeline that enables them to move on from social housing when they cease to need it; and, thirdly, to ensure that the Government’s large landholdings in our metropolitan areas can contribute to the longer-term problem of limited supply of affordable housing for all New Zealanders, not just those who need social housing.

Phil Twyford : Who is correct on how many they will sell: Bill English and Nick Smith when they have talked about up to 20 percent of the stock—

Hon Dr Nick Smith : We said that a year ago.

Phil Twyford : —John Key—you missing me, Nick? I will get back to you.

Mr SPEAKER : Order! It is not helpful for interjections to come from my right-hand side as Mr Twyford is asking his question. He can start his question again.

Phil Twyford : Thank you. Who is correct on how many they will sell: Bill English and Nick Smith when they have talked about up to 20 percent of the stock; John Key when he said: “less than the numbers that have been bandied around,”; herself when she said it could be thousands; or David Zussman, from the Monte Cecilia Housing Trust, who says: “We’re told 25 percent seems on the high side and the next breath it’s ‘a few houses’ or is it a thousand or thousands? We’ve no idea ... There’s too many gaps, too many guesses.”?

Hon BILL ENGLISH : The member will just have to wait and see, because, as we have all pointed out, the Government is yet to make decisions about that particular number. But that is going to be much less important than the other number, which will be the number of income-related rent subsidies available, and they will be increasing. So, for instance, if we want to house 1,000 extra people under Labour’s model, it costs roughly half a billion and takes 5 years, because you have got to build the State houses. Under our model it will cost around $12 million to $14 million, and if the houses are available, we can do it within a matter of months. So the number of income-related rent subsidies available will matter more than the number of houses owned by the Government.

Phil Twyford : Who is correct on whether the money will be reinvested in social housing: Bill English when he said: “There’s not much point in rebuilding stock with it, and it could go in for the consolidated fund.”; Bill English when he said: “Certainly for the foreseeable future as much as we can.”; or John Key when he said: “The better question to ask is: ‘Will it be used to develop new social housing?’, and the answer to that is ‘maybe’.”?

Hon BILL ENGLISH : As the member has pointed out, there are a lot of opportunities to use any money from sales, but I would say to the member that the most important piece of money is going to be what is available to provide for more people in serious housing need. I know that Labour is having trouble understanding this, but it will no longer be dictated by the number of State houses owned by the Government. We will be able to determine, independently of the number of State houses owned by the Government, how many people we are willing to assist. And, of course, if there is any money we can apply from the sale of State houses to housing affordability and social housing improvement, we will do so.

Phil Twyford : Does she agree with the Prime Minister that the Government’s social housing reforms will not amount to subsidising private landlords because “the only people who can get income-related rents are community housing providers or Housing New Zealand.”; if so, why has the social housing unit left the criteria open to for-profit community housing providers and for community housing providers to utilise private landlords rather than owning their own social houses?

Hon Dr Nick Smith : Housing New Zealand does it now.

Hon BILL ENGLISH : Yes, as the former Minister for Housing and Construction said, the Housing New Zealand Corporation does that now. It uses so-called private landlords and, of course, the member may not be aware, but the Government spends $1.2 billion a year on a thing called the accommodation supplement. I do not know whether the Labour Party knows about that, but that is all paid, pretty much without exception, to private landlords. I know that the Labour Party is against that, but I can tell you that the 300,000 families who receive it are somewhat in support of it.

8. Schools—Internet Access [Sitting date: 05 November 2014. Volume:701;Page:8. Text is subject to correction.]

8. Dr JIAN YANG (National) to the Minister of Education : What recent announcements has the Government made about improving internet access in schools?

Hon NIKKI KAYE (Associate Minister of Education) on behalf of the Minister of Education : This morning the Government announced $5.4 million of new funding to enable access to upgrades for improved wireless connectivity for more than 400 schools. Many of these are small schools and the investment will be a significant boost for students and teachers. These schools will now have access to better quality connections and more flexible learning environments. This retrofitting of 400 schools is another investment on top of the $700 million already provided by this National-led Government to enable fast, reliable internet connections to improve learning.

Dr Jian Yang : Which schools will benefit from this announcement?

Hon NIKKI KAYE : The schools that will benefit are located right across New Zealand, including Northland. From Clifton Terrace School in central Wellington, which the Associate Minister visited this morning, to Ngataki School in Kaitaia, the list of schools is now available on the ministry website. The ministry will be contacting schools across New Zealand to offer them access to this upgrade. This is another great initiative by this National-led Government. Our Government is focused on ensuring that New Zealand children, no matter where they live, have access to quality online learning.

9. Health Promotion Agency Board—Potential Conflict of Interest [Sitting date: 05 November 2014. Volume:701;Page:8. Text is subject to correction.]

9. KEVIN HAGUE (Green) to the Minister of Health : Has he asked Health Promotion Agency Board member Katherine Rich whether she ever used the services of public relations adviser Carrick Graham to write attacks on public health advocates and researchers which were published on the Whale Oil blog; if not, why not?

Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN (Minister of Health): No; because as the Minister of Health I am focusing on the things that matter to New Zealanders.

Kevin Hague : Will he investigate the serious allegations that Katherine Rich hired public relations adviser Carrick Graham to write attacks on public health experts, which were published on the Whale Oil blog?

Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN : I have asked my office to have a look at the Whale Oil blog to see whether they can find any evidence of ex or current members of Parliament using that blog to attack others. The only document they were able to come up with is a guest editorial dated 2 March 2013, written by one Kevin Hague MP.

Kevin Hague : Supplementary—

Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN : I seek leave to table a guest editorial written by Kevin Hague MP.

Mr SPEAKER : If it is available on a blog, it is available to all members.

Kevin Hague : How serious would an allegation against Katherine Rich have to be before he asked her whether it was true or not?

Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN : Look, I think it would be very serious if an ex or current member of Parliament was using the Whale Oil blog to attack others, and that is why I would like to table this guest editorial—

Mr SPEAKER : Order! We have already been through that.

Kevin Hague : Does he agree that the important work of the Health Promotion Agency in reducing harm to New Zealanders from tobacco, alcohol, and unhealthy foods would be undermined if a board member wearing another hat were to be involved in attacks on public health experts in these areas?

Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN : It is always undermining when ex or current members of Parliament use blogs to attack others, and I think we have all had enough of dirty politics. It is not nice to have that reminder today of Mr Hague’s previous involvement in just such a practice.

Kevin Hague : Does he agree that if the allegations against Katherine Rich are true, then this would be incompatible with her continuing to serve as a member of the board of the Health Promotion Agency?

Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN : What I do agree with is that it is incompatible for Mr Hague to ask these questions, with him being the author of a guest editorial on the Whale Oil blog—

Kevin Hague : I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The questions that I have asked have been ones that have not been politically loaded in any way at all, and they deserve some answers. This Minister has failed to provide any at all. Every answer has just been a swipe at me.

Mr SPEAKER : I cannot accept that the questions asked have not been politically loaded. I think that in the case of the last question asked there is a reasonable point that the question was not addressed by the Minister. I am going to invite Kevin Hague to ask the last question again. As for the others, I think they have been answered satisfactorily—they have been addressed—but I will allow the member the benefit of the doubt with regard to the last question.

Kevin Hague : Does the Minister agree that if the allegations against Katherine Rich are true, then this would be incompatible with her continuing to serve on the board of the Health Promotion Agency?

Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN : I disagree with the assertions in his question.

Dr Megan Woods : Why did he wait until 23 October 2014, the date he had to answer his first oral question on the topic in the House, to check with the chair of the Health Promotion Agency as to whether Katherine Rich had conducted herself as an ethical member of the board?

Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN : Because I was too busy getting around the health sector, focusing on the issues that matter to New Zealanders, rather than wallowing in this trivia.

Dr Megan Woods : When did he or his predecessor first have concerns raised with them about a potential conflict of interest or allegations of misconduct by Katherine Rich?

Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN : As I recall, it was on 23 October, when Kevin Hague asked the first of his 32 questions on this topic, and he has not asked a question on anything else to do with health in this Parliament.

10. Pike River Mine Disaster—Government Response [Sitting date: 05 November 2014. Volume:701;Page:9. Text is subject to correction.]

10. Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR (Labour—West Coast - Tasman) to the Prime Minister : Does he stand by his promise with regards to the families of the Pike River tragedy to do “everything we practically could to get the bodies of the victims out”?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): Yes.

Hon Damien O'Connor : Is the Prime Minister aware of the report by international underground mine experts Bob Stevenson and Dave Creedy, who concluded that “Major hazards can be eliminated or satisfactorily controlled to ensure risks are reduced to as low as reasonably practicable, using best-industry practices.”, and another report by WorkSafe and Mines Rescue that there are no technical or safety barriers standing in the way to re-enter the Pike River mine drift, and, therefore, does he consider that any decision by Solid Energy to abandon plans to re-enter and recover the drift to the Pike River mine makes a lie of his assurances to the families?

Mr SPEAKER : The right honourable Prime Minister; any of those questions.

Rt Hon JOHN KEY : I am aware that there is a wide range of views about the practicality and safeness of re-entry of the drift into Pike River mine.

Hon Damien O'Connor : Why did the Solid Energy representative who was in charge of the Pike River mine and the Chief Inspector of Mines lead the families to believe, in September 2013, that a credible and feasible plan had been agreed to and that work on the re-entry would start, and what has changed their minds?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY : Well, I cannot speak for the company, but what I can say is that they embarked on that process because they believed it to be the appropriate course of action.

Hon Damien O'Connor : Has the Prime Minister received a briefing from Solid Energy on whether it will progress the plans to re-enter the Pike River mine, and if it has indicated that it will not, what will he do about it?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY : Personally, I have not.

11. Border Control, SmartGate System—Passengers Processed [Sitting date: 05 November 2014. Volume:701;Page:10. Text is subject to correction.]

11. Dr SHANE RETI (National—Whangarei) to the Minister of Customs : What reports has she received regarding the number of people using the border clearing technology SmartGate?

Hon NICKY WAGNER (Minister of Customs): I receive regular updates on the uptake of SmartGate, which the National-led Government introduced in 2009, and I am very pleased to report that 10 million people have now used the technology. We have a new 1-week record of 76,000 people, which was set last week, and we are rapidly approaching the record of 1 million people every 3 months. SmartGate is making a great contribution to Better Public Services, and it is allowing the Customs Service to deploy its officers where they are needed most.

Dr Shane Reti : What is the Government doing to further improve border processing for travellers?

Hon NICKY WAGNER : Four nationalities can currently use SmartGate, and I am hoping to announce a fifth before Christmas. Over time, more countries will be able to use the technology. Recently, the age of eligibility was lowered from 16 years to 12 years, allowing more passengers to use SmartGate. The Customs Service is investigating options for further gates and a new-generation technology, which has been trialled successfully.

12. Climate Change—Minister’s Statements [Sitting date: 05 November 2014. Volume:701;Page:10. Text is subject to correction.]

12. MEKA WHAITIRI (Labour—Ikaroa-Rāwhiti) to the Minister for Climate Change Issues : Does he stand by his statement on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s 2014 report “We will use the findings from these reports to help develop policies and to take action to mitigate our greenhouse gas emissions and to adapt to the effects of climate change”?

Hon SIMON BRIDGES (Acting Minister for Climate Change Issues): Yes.

Meka Whaitiri : What action will he take to realise the findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that the world will need to nearly totally phase out fossil fuel use by 2100?

Hon SIMON BRIDGES : We are taking many actions. Of course, we are one of the only countries outside the EU to have a comprehensive emissions trading scheme. Then there is a broader range of complementary measures designed to reduce our emissions and also to adapt to climate change. I would be happy to go through of those measures, but it would take some time.

Meka Whaitiri : Based on that reply, what will he do to prevent New Zealand’s climate-friendly businesses continuing to close or relocate overseas, like LanzaTech or the numerous biofuel companies that left when his Government repealed the biofuels obligation?

Hon SIMON BRIDGES : I am glad the member asked because, as announced earlier this week, I am delighted about a renewables initiative in Southland, about other initiatives in other parts of the country, including heavy-vehicle fuel initiatives that the Government through the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority has been sponsoring. Of course, there is a wide array of other things going on, like a solar firm that has been helped by our Government to export solar into Pacific Island nations as part of a $100 million programme exporting renewables around the Pacific that we have put in place.

Meka Whaitiri : How can New Zealanders have confidence his Government will take action to implement policies that will seriously tackle climate change when it has weakened the emissions trading scheme twice since taking Government, refused to restrict the flood of international carbon units, and repealed the restriction on new fossil fuel - powered electricity generation?

Hon SIMON BRIDGES : I disagree with the member. Take the electricity example for a start—we are now at 79 percent renewables for the year to date in our electricity system. That is the highest in a very, very long time, making us well on target to reach our 90 percent goal by 2025. In relation to the emissions trading scheme, of course, we have done a number of things recently to make it a very workable system, including transitioning the emissions trading scheme to effectively a domestic-only scheme from May 2015. In May this year, of course, we closed an arbitrage loophole that threatened the integrity of the emissions trading scheme.

. Parental Leave and Employment Protection (Six Months’ Paid Leave) Amendment Bill—Purpose [Sitting date: 05 November 2014. Volume:701;Page:11. Text is subject to correction.]

1. POTO WILLIAMS (Labour—Christchurch East) to the Member in charge of the Parental Leave and Employment Protection (Six Months’ Paid Leave) Amendment Bill : Why did she draft the Parental Leave and Employment Protection (Six Months’ Paid Leave) Amendment Bill?

SUE MORONEY (Member in charge of the Parental Leave and Employment Protection (Six Months’ Paid Leave) Amendment Bill): I drafted the bill in response to research and evidence showing that bonding and attachment between a parent and baby in the early months improved that child’s life outcomes, that supporting breastfeeding to 26 weeks improved that child’s health, and that supporting women to retain their connection to paid work increased their economic independence and workplace productivity. Work subsequently undertaken by the Government Administration Committee confirmed that extending paid parental leave to 26 weeks is a cost-efficient way to promote great outcomes for families and New Zealand society.

Poto Williams : Are you planning any other amendments?

Mr SPEAKER : It is a marginal question, but I will let it go. [Interruption] Order! It relates to the bill. Bringing the Speaker into the question was not useful. I am going to allow the member to answer it.

SUE MORONEY : Despite the sound social and economic arguments for 26 weeks’ paid parental leave for all in its current form, the bill will be defeated by National, so I am proposing an amendment that I expect all parties can support. It extends paid parental leave to 26 weeks for parents of newborn twins or triplets, parents of babies born prematurely, or parents of babies born with a disability. These parents face the greatest financial pressures to return to work before it may be in the best interests of their families to do so. My new proposal reduces the cost to just $6 million in the next financial year.

ENDS

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