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Questions and Answers - December 4


QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS

Islamic State Conflict—Defence Force Deployment 1. Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First) to the Minister of Defence: Has the Government given instructions to the Defence Force to begin preparations for deployment to the Middle East against ISIS?

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE (Minister of Defence): No, there has been no decision on any deployment to the Middle East beyond existing missions.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Is he aware as Minister that soldiers from Second First Battalion and 1 Battalion are in Waiōuru right now and that the Defence Force has, using its words, “made its own determination to prepare troops for a possible deployment to the Middle East”; if so, why would they do that?

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: Post the discussions that took place in the House yesterday, I did ask that question of the Defence Force. They explained to me that in line with what they had previously stated, and published, I think, by the New Zealand Herald on Tuesday morning, they were looking at matters that could not be done in a hurry if they were asked to answer the question. But no instruction has been issued; no decision has been made. No soldier should anticipate any deployment at all.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Is he concerned that the army would begin such large-scale preparations for war engagement, bringing together soldiers from across New Zealand to conduct annual weapons qualifications and laws of armed conflict training, feeding and housing those troops away from their home camps, and sizing them up for expensive new body armour at great expense to the taxpayer, all without instructions from him to do so, and without the army informing him of what it is up to?

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: I would be more worried if the army was not engaging in training and simply lolling about the place, resting up, hoping nothing happens.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Is it likely that the Government will deploy a company-sized force of infantry to Iraq to combat the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS); if not, why is a company-sized infantry force being trained inWaiōuru right now?

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: Despite the assertions of the Rt Hon Winston Peters, the Government has ruled out engaging in combat in Iraq. Further, we have made it very clear that if we were to be engaged in the fight against ISIS, it would be on the basis of intelligence, humanitarian aid, and capacity building for the Iraqi forces. All of those points were made in the Prime Minister’s speech on 5 November, which I am sure the member has read.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Is it not true that the Commander, Joint Forces—the commander when our forces are deployed overseas—is now threatening soldiers training for Iraq that they will be (uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing) charged if they talk to media or members of Parliament about the pre-deployment training they are currently conducting?

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: Given that there is no decision to deploy troops to Iraq, I really cannot comment on that. It is simply speculation, much like the ferry touched the bottom. [Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: Order!

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Is it not a fact that he as Minister cancelled his planned visit with the Commander, Joint Forces to the troops currently undergoing training for Iraq so that he could deny any knowledge of the true preparations for war that are going on?

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: No, that is absolutely incorrect. I was actually recently in Halifax and Washington with the Commander, Joint Forces. Tomorrow I will be at the Devonport naval base for a passing-out parade for young naval ratings and officers.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I did not ask about Halifax. I did not ask about Devonport. I talked about the troops currently—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member will resume his seat. The question started: “Is it not a fact …”. The Minister immediately answered to say no, it was not a fact.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My fact was to do with a specific locale or site.

Mr SPEAKER: The member has had plenty of time—[Interruption] Order! I am on my feet. The member has had plenty of time to frame his questions. He started his questions with “Is it not a fact …” and then went on about cancelling a visit. The Minister, when he rose to his feet, said no. Effectively, he was saying it is not a fact.

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: Speaking to the point of order, it is, of course, a very well-known fact that the Rt Hon Winston Peters has a lot of trouble understanding what—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! And that is not a valid point of order.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Mr Speaker—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! Is this a supplementary question?

Rt Hon Winston Peters: No, Mr Speaker.

Mr SPEAKER: Then before the member starts, I just want to clarify whether the member is in anyway contesting a ruling I have just given, or is he raising a fresh point of order?

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I am raising a fresh point of order, because the question that I sought to ask had to do with only one specific location, and I got two locations that were never referred to.

Mr SPEAKER: Order! I have ruled that the Minister addressed the question. If the member has further supplementary questions, he should use them. But to continue to relitigate once I have given a ruling will lead to disorder.

District Health Boards—Health Benefits Ltd 2. Hon ANNETTE KING (Deputy Leader - Labour) to the Minister of Health: How many days passed between his 6 November press release stating that Health Benefits Limited was making “good progress” and his announcement that HBL would be wound down?

Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN (Minister of Health): My release on 6 November stated that Health Benefits Ltd has made good progress in developing savings plans for district health boards, but that those cases have to be implemented and it is important to get this process right. My press release of 20 November announced the next steps in that process. That was 14 days ago.

Hon Annette King: If Health Benefits Ltd was making such good progress, to quote the Minister, why did he decide to can the project before it made the $700 million in savings promised by the Government when it was established?

Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: As I said in that press release, it had made good progress in describing the business cases, but things have now moved to a new phase and we have got to work (uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing) out the best way to implement those business cases, hence the decisions made in the press release of 20 November.

Hon Annette King: If Health Benefits Ltd has finished its work, as he claimed on Radio New Zealand National recently, why did it issue its statement of intent for 2014-15 through to 2017-18, which was presented to this House in August, just over 3 months go?

Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: A lot has happened since that time. It has become apparent to me that as we move into this implementation phase, we have to consider the best possible options for implementation, and that is why those decisions have been made.

Hon Annette King: Will the Minister please itemise to the House today exactly what projects, apart from latex gloves and a banking contract worth, together, about $8 million, have Health Benefits Ltd made to reach the $400 million in savings that he keeps quoting?

Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: We have got a number of projects there. We have got banking, insurance, telecommunications, vehicle fuel, office equipment, dialysis, orthopaedics, and prosthetics. I could go on and on, but that is a good starter for you.

Hon Annette King: Was the $100 million of health funding taken directly out of district health boards’ budgets, which should have gone to services for New Zealanders but was instead used to prop up a bloated, bureaucratic, secretive Government-created agency, a good use of scarce resources; if so, why?

Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: It is actually a good use because that $100 million has produced $300 million of savings, and that is going into more doctors and nurses, more operations, and more cancer care, unlike when Mrs King was Minister. She had an extra $2 billion but produced 2,000 fewer elective operations a year. So I think actually she could have learnt from this experience.

Hon Annette King: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am sorry, but this question was not about me being Minister 8 or 9 years ago—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! When I considered the tone of the question, which talked about “bloated, bureaucratic, secretive” agendas etc., I considered the Minister had every right to respond the way he did.

Hon Annette King: Does he think, in light of his decision to close down Health Benefits Ltd, that there ought to be a review into its operations to see whether there are any lessons that could be learnt to avoid wasting precious health dollars in the future?

Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: No.

Hon Annette King: I seek leave to table a Health Benefits Ltd document called Stronger Together and table it as a souvenir of Government incompetence.

Mr SPEAKER: Is it a document that has been made freely available to members?

Hon Annette King: A long time ago.

Mr SPEAKER: It has still been made freely available to members. I do not intend to put the leave.

Economic Programme—Support for Families 3. CHRIS BISHOP (National) to the Minister of Finance: How is the Government’s economic plan helping New Zealand families?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Associate Minister of Finance) on behalf of the Minister of Finance: The Government’s economic programme is helping New Zealand families in a number of ways. This includes, in particular, ensuring the economy is growing and supporting more jobs and higher incomes. Members will recall that Budget 2014 in May invested almost half a billion dollars more in the well-being of New Zealand’s children and families. This comprehensive package included extending paid parental leave to 18 weeks, increasing the parental tax credit from $150 a week to $220 a week, extending free doctors visits and prescriptions to children under 13, providing another (uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing) $155 million for early childhood centres, and setting aside more than $33 million extra to help vulnerable children.

Chris Bishop: How is the Government’s focus on supporting a growing economy translating into more jobs and higher incomes for New Zealand families?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: The latest gross domestic product data shows our economy grew by 3.9 percent over the four quarters to June 2014. That puts New Zealand amongst the faster-growing developed economies in the world. By comparison, figures out just yesterday in Australia, for example, showed its economy grew by a respectable 2.7 percent in the four quarters to September. New Zealand’s growing economy is supporting more jobs and higher incomes. In the year to September an extra 72,000 new jobs have been created across New Zealand, and average hourly wages rose 2.3 percent over the last year, compared with the cost of living rising by just 1 percent over the same period.

Chris Bishop: What other indicators confirm that the growing economy is helping New Zealanders to get ahead under their own steam?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I can point to a number of additional indicators that are helping New Zealanders get ahead under their own steam. Firstly, unemployment is continuing to fall. At 5.4 percent the unemployment rate is now the lowest since March 2009 and well ahead of Australia, where unemployment is sitting at 6.2 percent. Secondly, mortgage interest rates are expected to remain lower for longer. The average floating mortgage rate is around 6.7 percent, yet it is considerably lower than the level of almost 11 percent back in 2008. Finally, New Zealand’s household savings rate has now been positive for 5 consecutive years—something that has not happened since the early 1990s. In fact, before 2010 household savings had been negative in all but one year since 1995.

Chris Bishop: How do some of the key economic indicators affecting New Zealand families compare with the situation the National-led Government inherited 6 years ago?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: We have certainly made good progress. On just about every score, economic indicators affecting household budgets are better now than they were 6 years ago. I mentioned that the cost of living, for example, increased by just 1 percent in the last year. In late 2008 consumer price inflation was running at more than 5 percent.

Iain Lees-Galloway: That’s when National was in Government.

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I would count that one back, if I were you. As I have also mentioned, New Zealand’s economy is now growing quite strongly and the outlook is for further solid growth into the future. Back in 2008 the economy was mired in recession, nearly a year before the global financial crisis struck. It is little wonder, then, that Kiwis are voting with their feet—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! The level of noise coming from my left is simply unacceptable. I am sorry to interrupt the Minister. He can complete his answer.

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: It is little wonder, then, that Kiwis are voting with their feet, and either staying home or coming home. Net migration from Australia to New Zealand was positive in the month of October, for the first time in 21 years.

Grant Robertson: How are New Zealand families being helped by the lowest rate of homeownership in 60 years, housing costs increasing far faster than incomes, and the fact that the average house price in Auckland earned more in a year than the average worker did?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I will pick out the second part of that member’s question to answer. He is wrong, because in actual fact the survey he refers to talks about how people are spending more on their houses but they are paying down their mortgages.

Grant Robertson: Is he still committed to his promise to increase average annual full-time wages by $10,500 a year; if so, how is that helped by the annual growth in average weekly earnings slumping to their lowest level in 4 years?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I think the member is referring to a Treasury projection for the period 2017-18, but, nevertheless, it is very important that real wages increase— (uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing)

Grant Robertson: Are you committed to that?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Just listen, Mr Robertson. You might pick something up. It is important that real wages increase, and under this Government that is exactly what is happening, whereas under the previous Government—

Grant Robertson: So that’s a no, then.

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Just give it a minute, Grant. You have had your turn. Under the previous Government, prices were rising faster than wages. Under this Government, wages are rising faster than prices.

Mr SPEAKER: Order! Before I call the next question I just want to remind all Ministers, particularly, that it is not acceptable to use simply a Christian name. I acknowledge that the Minister was responding to an interjection, and the interjection was probably not helpful to the order of the House, but it is absolutely expected at all times that members will be addressed properly in this House.

Housing—Foreign Ownership of New Zealand Property 4. PHIL TWYFORD (Labour—Te Atatū) to the Minister for Building and Housing: Does he stand by his statement “I am open to having more information on overseas ownership, but I do not favour a register”; if so, why?

Hon PAULA BENNETT (Minister of Local Government) on behalf of the Minister for Building and Housing: Yes, and he stands by the full statement, which I think answers the second part of the question. The Minister is open to having more information on overseas ownership but he does not favour a register. For it to be accurate it would need to trace not only the 80,000 houses per year that are sold but the 1,000,000 - plus people who come and go from New Zealand. That is because a significant number of overseas homeowners are people who are in the process of gaining residency and for the register to be accurate it would need to raise people’s immigration and residency status.

Phil Twyford: Does he still think that a register of foreign buyers is crude and xenophobic now that the Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance think it is an idea that is worth looking at?

Hon PAULA BENNETT: What the Minister of Finance said yesterday was perfectly in line with what I said, which is that we are open-minded about whatever gives us more information. That is certainly what the Minister of Finance said as well. I noticed that the Minister of Finance also stated the point that the problem, particularly with the Auckland market, is that there is not enough supply and to free up supply we need to look at the land that is available, we need to look at local government’s rules and regulations as to how we are issuing consents and freeing up land, and that, without a doubt, would have the biggest influence on house prices.

Phil Twyford: Will he advise the Minister of Finance what he told the House that a foreign buyers’ register would be a waste of money and would cost many millions of dollars, now that the Minister of Finance thinks it is an idea worth considering?

Hon PAULA BENNETT: Obviously the member is having trouble understanding, so what I would say is that the Minister of Finance—[Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: Order! Again, it is an example of the disorder that can be created with an answer from the Minister. Would the Minister address the question as asked.

Hon PAULA BENNETT: So what happened was that, actually, the member—[Interruption] Oh, that is rather—

Hon Member: I hope that was on tape. cHon PAULA BENNETT: Yes, I hope that is, because that is not really nice towards—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! Answer the question, please.

Hon PAULA BENNETT: So—[Interruption] Yes, I am sure you would do that to a man, would you not. So, what I would like to say is that, actually, the Minister of Finance, as I have already stated, was quite clear that he is not calling for a register. He is saying more information is good. I (uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing) think we all agree on that. But what we do not think is that it is the main reason we have house prices where they are.

Phil Twyford: Supplementary question. [Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: Order! I have not called the member yet. [Interruption] Order! [Interruption] Order! Comments coming from both sides have not been helpful, I accept that. I am now calling Phil Twyford to ask a supplementary question.

Phil Twyford: Now that his Government is open to the idea of a register of offshore speculators, will he also listen to what New Zealanders are saying and adopt the policy of the Australian Parliament and the New Zealand Labour Party restricting residential property ownership to residents and citizens?

Hon PAULA BENNETT: Well, as we have seen, it does not work in Australia. What we are more interested in is increasing supply of both affordable houses and others so that we can see those New Zealanders who want access to the market have access to it, and that is actually working alongside local government making sure we have got the Resource Management Act in the right place and that is this Government’s focus.

Phil Twyford: Why did it take an Australian parliamentary committee and a press release from Andrew Little to change the Government’s mind when the Reserve Bank had already called for the collection of more data, all the Opposition parties in this House called for controls on offshore speculators, and 83 percent of New Zealanders asked for a register; or is this just a poll-driven recognition that that Government’s housing policy has failed and has become an electoral liability? The member can try to rewrite the words of the Minister of Finance yesterday, but they are not factual, what the member has said. We stand by what we have said. We stand by where we are, and we are interested in seeing New Zealanders have better access to affordable housing in Auckland.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: In the light of that Minister’s answer I move—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! Is this a point of order or a supplementary question?

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Yes it is. In the light of the Minister’s answer, I move for the register for foreign ownership bill that is in my name be pulled from the ballot and debated right now.

Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member has been here a long time. He needs to seek leave to do that.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I have.

Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member needs to do things properly.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: Sorry, Mr Speaker. My apologies. I seek leave, in light of the epiphany that the Minister has just expressed on behalf of the Government, for the bill standing in my name to be pulled from the ballot and debated by Parliament right now.

Mr SPEAKER: Order! I will put the leave, and the House will decide. Leave is sought for that particular course of action. Is there any objection? There is objection.

Student Achievement—Investing in Educational Success Programme 5. Dr JIAN YANG (National) to the Minister of Education: What reports has she received about support for Investing in Educational Success from the secondary sector?

Hon HEKIA PARATA (Minister of Education): Tēnā koe, Mr Speaker. I was delighted to hear yesterday that secondary school principals returned a vote of 88.2 percent to include the new roles of our Investing in Educational Success initiative in the secondary principals’ collective agreement. This follows the similarly strong vote from secondary teachers. We look forward to these new roles being filled in the first communities of schools to get under way in term 1 next year, which will contribute to our goal of every young New Zealander getting the best education possible.

Dr Jian Yang: How will Investing in Educational Success lift achievement for all kids?

Hon HEKIA PARATA: Investing in Educational Success helps ensure that we keep and share the very best teaching expertise in our classrooms, as well as develop and grow the leadership of our schools. The clear endorsement from the secondary sector shows it understands the real (uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing) potential of Investing in Educational Success to lift kids’ achievements through sharing the very best of what happens in classrooms across all schools.

Dr Jian Yang: How will Investing in Educational Success encourage innovation in the teaching profession?

Hon HEKIA PARATA: Applications have opened for the new $10 million Teacher-led Innovation Fund, and there has been significant interest already. The fund will allow great ideas to be put into practice and shared across schools by providing the time and resources for teachers to undertake practical research with other teachers. This Government is supporting innovative ideas in the classroom and backing teachers to win.

Health Promotion Agency Board—Potential Conflict of Interest 6. KEVIN HAGUE (Green) to the Minister of Health: Why did he ask the Ministry of Health to review the minutes of the Health Promotion Agency regarding Katherine Rich’s conduct when the Ministry of Health is not the agency responsible for determining whether board members have acted appropriately at meetings?

Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN (Minister of Health): Because to date the member has asked 59 written and oral questions about Katherine Rich. My office initially advised me that if current trends continue, I will have to answer a further 8,732 questions from the member about Katherine Rich before the next election. But on checking, that figure is actually 1,255. It is the role of the ministry to assist me in dealing with this large and pointless workload.

Kevin Hague: Can he confirm that Katherine Rich, acting in her role on the board of the Health Promotion Agency, has never declared a conflict of interest with any specific agenda item, or withdrawn from discussion or participation on any agenda item?

Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: This is going to get very tedious. We have covered this in the previous 59 questions, but the answer is still no.

Kevin Hague: What actions will he take, given that the Health Promotion Agency minutes and Katherine Rich’s own statements show that she has never recused herself from a meeting or a discussion of the Health Promotion Agency board, in which she has an interest, which she is obliged to do under section 66(a) of the Crown Entities Act 2004?

Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: I will take exactly the same actions I have outlined in the previous 59 answers.

Chris Hipkins: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. On a regular basis Ministers are asked questions in the House that relate to material they have provided in written question answers. It cannot be acceptable for them to simply say: “I have already answered that in a written question.” Ministers are answerable at question time in the House, and to suggest otherwise is ludicrous.

Mr SPEAKER: I think that on this occasion it would be helpful if the Minister had actually said he was going to take no action. That would have been more helpful to the House. But the Minister was absolutely responsible for his answer, and his answer certainly addressed the question. It is for members of this House and the public to be satisfied as to the quality of the answer, but the question has been addressed.

Chris Hipkins: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. To get further clarification from you, are you suggesting that if a Minister has made a statement in another forum—whether it be a media stand-up or a written parliamentary question or an Official Information Act request—they can simply say: “I have already answered that in some other forum.” and get off the hook from answering oral questions in the House?

Mr SPEAKER: No, I am saying that in this particular case, in response to the question that was asked, the Minister has addressed the question. I have acknowledged—[Interruption] Order! [Interruption] Order! If the senior whip is going to continue to interject when I am on my feet giving a ruling to him, I will be asking him to leave the Chamber. I have said that the answer given, (uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing) whilst it may not be the most helpful to the House, has addressed the question. That is the end of the matter.

Kevin Hague: How does the Minister reconcile the answer he has just given the House, and his continued acceptance of Ms Rich taking part in Health Promotion Agency board discussions on board agenda items about tobacco and alcohol, with section 66(a) of the Crown Entities Act, which says: “A member who is interested in a matter relating to a statutory entity—(a) must not vote or take part in any discussion or decision of the board or … otherwise participate in any activity of the entity that relates to the matter;”?

Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: Because under section 67(1) of the Crown Entities Act, it states: “The board must notify the responsible Minister of a failure to comply with section 63 or section 66, and of the acts affected, as soon as practicable after becoming aware of the failure.”, and I have had no such notification.

Kevin Hague: Can the Minister confirm that the only way Ms Rich is allowed to participate in any way in issues that she has an interest in under the Crown Entities Act is if her chairperson, Lee Mathias, grants in writing, prior to the meeting, an exception to the requirements of section 66(a) and records that in the annual report, and can he also confirm that no such exceptions are recorded in the annual reports?

Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: Section 66(a) says: “A member who is interested in a matter relating to a statutory entity … must not vote or take part in any discussion or decision of the board or any committee relating to the matter, or otherwise participate in any activity of the entity that relates to the matter;”. Frankly, I am very confident that Lee Mathias has managed all this absolutely appropriately. If the member has concerns about her integrity, he should air them outside the House, which I do not think he will.

Kevin Hague: Does the Minister agree that the reason there are strict rules around the management of conflicts of interest on Crown entities is to avoid exactly the situation currently playing out in the Health Promotion Agency, where a tobacco and alcohol lobbyist participates in decisions that could impact directly on the bottom line of the businesses they represent?

Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: No, I totally disagree with the premise of his question.

Kevin Hague: Given the Minister’s comments that he is confident that all matters related to conflicts of interest have been well managed, will he now ask the State Services Commission to check whether Katherine Rich acted appropriately in the management of her interests as a member of the agency’s board, given the commission has the statutory authority to do so, whereas the Ministry of Health does not?

Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: No, because there is no need to.

Local Government Commission—Confidence 7. RON MARK (NZ First) to the Minister of Local Government: Does she have confidence in the Local Government Commission?

Hon PAULA BENNETT (Minister of Local Government): Yes.

Ron Mark: Will she continue to have confidence in the Local Government Commission if councils that believe that their consultation process was biased and predetermined call for a judicial review, and will she apply the three strikes rule to the Local Government Commission if this third attempt to force an unwelcome amalgamation fails like the previous two have?

Hon PAULA BENNETT: In response to the last part, I understand that the member has a stance where he disagrees. That is his right. Actually, all of the Wellington region do not necessarily agree with him. I welcome the debate. I have confidence in the Local Government Commission. We will see what the process is. [Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: Order!

Ron Mark: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. [Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: Order! It is a point of order. It will be heard in silence. (uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing)

Ron Mark: The assertion that was just thrown at me across the House by the Minister of Defence was that I am a double-dipper. Can I assure the House that I resigned my appointment as the mayor. I am not double-dipping—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member has taken an opportunity [Interruption] Order! The member has taken the opportunity, but it is not strictly a point of order. We will now move to the supplementary question.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. If that Minister is allowed to get away with that comment, there is going to be disorder in this House. It is a serious—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member will resume his seat. [Interruption] Order! I hope the member will take some time to study the Standing Orders and Speaker’ Rulings over the Christmas break. If the member Ron Mark was offended by the remark, he could have risen to his feet and said that he was offended, and on that basis I would have asked for the remark to be withdrawn. The member took his point of order, used it incorrectly, and managed to state what he wanted to state to the House. I think that clarified the matter. But in future, if members are taken aback by a remark, then there is an appropriate process to go through.

Ron Mark: Will she retain her confidence in the Local Government Commission when it makes assertions that the Wairarapa cannot afford to govern itself because many of its people work in Wellington, some people in Wellington own houses in the Wairarapa, and because they will not be able to afford the irrigation project when she knows that the Greater Wellington Regional Council is not funding that project without assistance from her Government’s wonderful and insightful irrigation acceleration fund?

Mr SPEAKER: Order! Bring the question to a close.

Hon PAULA BENNETT: I think the answer to that is yes. What the Local Government Commission has done is put out a draft plan. It is a draft plan, so now it seeks the voices of the people. I say let them be heard. Submit. Have differences of agreement on points as you like to. This should not be done through this House. It is independent. It has put its draft plan forward. Let the voices of the Wellington region be heard through the proper process.

Marama Fox: Does the Minister agree with the Human Rights Commission that unless positive steps are taken, Māori representation in local government will continue to languish well below the proportion of Māori in the population; if so, what advice has she received from the Local Government Commission about increasing Māori representation?

Mr SPEAKER: That is a question that is relatively wide of the mark of the original. I will allow it if the Minister is—

Hon PAULA BENNETT: I will answer it. Yes, I certainly agree with the sentiment that unless positive steps are taken then Māori representation in local government will continue to languish. I just do not necessarily think it is the role of central government to actually facilitate that.

Marama Fox: Does the Minister believe that Basil Morrison was being jocular when he suggested that “Local boards ensure the local is preserved in local government.” in light of the proposed reorganisation; if not, in what way does this proposed reorganisation preserve local authority?

Mr SPEAKER: Either of those supplementary questions can be answered by the Minister.

Hon PAULA BENNETT: The local government commissioner is independent. I certainly have read his statements about the local being in local, and I think that you can just see it in local boards that they are certainly locally represented.

Hon Trevor Mallard: Why did her Government remove the right of the citizens of each of the territorial local authorities in the Hutt to decide whether their cities amalgamate?

Hon PAULA BENNETT: Because we think it is important that the region decides as a whole.

Mr SPEAKER: Supplementary question to Trevor Mallard. [Interruption] Order! Would the member to my left show some respect to his colleague who is asking a supplementary question. (uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing)

Hon Trevor Mallard: In light of the Minister’s expressed preference for a coordinated approach, will she support the local government approach where they have divided the economic development responsibilities that used to sit in one city—Wellington City—into four local boards?

Hon PAULA BENNETT: Where we are different—and where we differ—is that I think it is up to the local people to decide how that structure is. I do not see it as being a central government position. The Local Government Commission has put forward its proposal. I understand that the local councils are talking about the four combining. Let the people be heard, and let there be a debate on where it currently is.

Budget 2014—Geological Data Projects 8. BRETT HUDSON (National) to the Minister of Energy and Resources: What update can he give on new data acquisition projects to support geological prospectivity signalled in Budget 2014?

Hon SIMON BRIDGES (Minister of Energy and Resources): Today I was delighted to announce that aeromagnetic surveys will be the main focus of the $8 million investment to provide more comprehensive data on our mineral resources in New Zealand. Following surveys of Northland and the West Coast in recent years, the focus will now shift to a $6.4 million programme of aeromagnetic surveys and geotechnical studies in Nelson-Marlborough, Southland, and parts of Otago. Once completed, survey coverage will increase to around 30 percent of New Zealand’s total land area, and $1.6 million will also be spent on petroleum data projects, including a national project to audit well outcomes and gather additional frontier basin data.

Brett Hudson: What are some of the benefits of data acquisition?

Hon SIMON BRIDGES: It has multiple benefits. It provides comprehensive information to potential investors and it helps New Zealand compete in the international market for petroleum and mineral exploration. As we continue to see in our competitive tender processes, good data can tip the balance of investment decisions in our favour. It also has, of course, many public-good applications in fields such as geological mapping, geological hazard assessment, forestry, agriculture, and horticulture, as well as mineral exploration.

Islamic State Conflict—Defence Force Deployment 9. Hon PHIL GOFF (Labour - Mt Roskill) to the Minister of Defence: How many New Zealand Defence Force personnel have begun training and preparation for deployment to Iraq, and when was he first advised that training had begun?

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE (Minister of Defence): There has been no decision to deploy troops to Iraq. I have not been advised that New Zealand Defence Force personnel are training to deploy to Iraq.

Hon Phil Goff: How does he match the answer that he has just given to the House with a statement from a spokesperson for the Minister of Defence on Tuesday—and I want to read it because it is in quote marks; the first part is not, but the second is—that Gerry Brownlee had confirmed that Defence Force personnel had begun training, and the spokesperson said that “some training and preparation on a contingency basis” had begun? That was his spokesperson on—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! The question has been asked.

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: That is right, and that training is about language and culture and various other things, and, as I explained yesterday, we have 100 personnel in the Middle East. We have not made a decision to deploy to Iraq and we are not training people to deploy to Iraq.

Hon Phil Goff: If he keeps saying that no decision has been taken, why did John Key tell Tony Abbott, when he was in Australia, that 40 to 100 New Zealand Defence Force personnel would be deployed to Iraq?

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: Well, now we are really scraping the bottom of the barrel. I was with the Prime Minister in Australia and what I can tell the member over there is that a discussion (uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing) was had on the basis that if New Zealand was to contribute to the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, then it would be on humanitarian grounds, in intelligence capacity, and in capacity building for Iraqi forces, and, if requested by the Iraqi Government, then we may partner with the Australians with numbers in and around those limits.

Hon Phil Goff: Oh, come on. Weasel words—weasel words.

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: Not weasel words—very direct.

Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order!

Hon Phil Goff: What did he as Minister of Defence tell the American Secretary of Defence on his recent visit to the United States about what the likely military contribution of New Zealand to Iraq would be? And there is a record of—

Mr SPEAKER: Order!

Hon Phil Goff: There’s a record of that, and I’ll be asking for it.

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: Yes, OK. We know that when Phil gets records, he often alters them to his own story—a long record, at that. We discussed a number of things, not the least of which was the current circumstances surrounding the Secretary’s own position, and I made it very clear to him that we appreciated the friendship that he has extended to New Zealand over a period of years.

Hon Phil Goff: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I asked a very specific question, which was what did he tell the Secretary of Defence about what the likely contribution of New Zealand to Iraq would be. The Minister did not even address that.

Mr SPEAKER: I will hear from the Hon Gerry Brownlee before I rule.

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: What I did say to him was that we had people in the Middle East at the present time looking at the prospects around capacity building. I explained to him that we would be most likely to join with the Australians if a decision was made, but made it very clear to him that no decision was made at this point.

Hon Phil Goff: Why would he deploy Kiwi soldiers to Iraq and put their lives at risk when that can do nothing to resolve the fundamental problems underlying the ineffectiveness and incompetence of the Iraqi army, which has been disclosed as having a level of entrenched incompetence to the extent that military leaders are politically appointed, military officers buy their commission—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! Bring the question to an end. [Interruption] Order!

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: Well, I will point it out to the member once again that we have not made a decision to deploy. I am most interested that the member has that information. They are the sorts of things that concern me also.

Primary Sector Development—Initiatives Targeting Young People 10. DAVID BENNETT (National - Hamilton East) to the Minister for Primary Industries: What reports has he received on initiatives to help attract young people into the primary sector?

Hon NATHAN GUY (Minister for Primary Industries): Last week I visited St Paul’s Collegiate School in Hamilton to turn the first sod on its new centre of excellence for agriculture, science, and business projects. St Paul’s is working closely with industry and the Ministry of Education to develop a template for a new agribusiness programme. Students who choose the agribusiness programme will be able to use this fantastic new facility in 2015. This is a great initiative, which shows what can be achieved when schools, industry, and the Government work closely together.

David Bennett: What initiatives does the Government have under way that will help attract new talent into the primary sector?

Hon NATHAN GUY: We know that we will need around 50,000 extra workers by 2025, and a big part of that is attracting them into the primary sector because of the importance of the New Zealand economy. Also, we need to make sure that we are doing our utmost—working in our (uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing) schools—to ensure that we are attracting the youngest and brightest into the primary sector. We have a lot of work happening across Government already. One of the examples that I can share with the House is theEnterprising Primary Industries Career Challenge for year 10 students to get involved in, to try and attract their peers into the primary sector. The Government cannot do it on its own, and nor should we. We can do more achieving this together and I congratulate St Paul’s on its investment and decision.

Māori Language (Te Reo Māori) Bill—Māori Language Advisory Group 11. Hon NANAIA MAHUTA (Labour—Hauraki-Waikato) to the Minister for Māori Development: What concerns regarding the Māori Language (Te Reo Māori) Bill have led to the announcement that a Māori Language Advisory Group is required to provide independent advice to him while the bill is being considered by the Māori Affairs Committee?

Hon TE URUROA FLAVELL (Minister for Māori Development):

Hon Nanaia Mahuta: In light of that response, what scope will the advisory group have to change the policy intent for the bill, and if this is the intention, why does the Minister not just pull the bill?

Hon TE URUROA FLAVELL:

Hon Nanaia Mahuta: Therefore, does he believe that the proposed representation of Te Mātāwai between iwi, Māori language experts, and educators is fairly balanced to achieve effective outcomes in language revitalisation; if not, why not?

Hon TE URUROA FLAVELL:

Peeni Henare:Tēnā koe e te Minita. How does he expect submitters through the select committee process to give their views on the bill, when his separate advisory group could substantially change policy settings without any public input into his separate process?

Hon TE URUROA FLAVELL:

Hon Nanaia Mahuta: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. That last supplementary question was quite specific. There was a lack of clarity with regard to how public input will be made into the separate process that has been commenced by the Minister.

Mr SPEAKER: I think the member is making a reasonable point. I am going to ask Mr Henare to ask the question again for answering by the Minister.

Peeni Henare: Ki a koe anō e te Minita, how does he expect submitters through the select committee process to give their views on the bill when his separate advisory group could substantially change policy settings without any public input into his separate process?

Hon TE URUROA FLAVELL:

Hon Nanaia Mahuta: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I accept the Minister’s clarity around the role of the select committee in this process. However, the supplementary question was very specific with regard to the separate process that the Minister has engaged in.

Mr SPEAKER: I accept that, but we have now had two goes at it. The member may not be satisfied with the answer. The Minister, in my opinion, has addressed it, I accept not to the satisfaction of the member on this occasion, but after two goes I can do no more.

Gambling—Harm Minimisation and Host Responsibility 12. DENISE ROCHE (Green) to the Minister of Internal Affairs: Is he doing enough to prevent problem gambling and ensure gambling venues comply with their host responsibility requirements given an Internal Affairs mystery shopper campaign found that 101 out of 102 venues failed a test regarding host responsibility?

Hon PETER DUNNE (Minister of Internal Affairs): Yes. Although the mystery shopper exercise has shown that improvement is needed to ensure gambling venues and casinos are fulfilling their host responsibilities regarding problem gamblers, I am generally satisfied with the work being done. There are a range of measures in place to improve practice to prevent problem gambling and (uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing) improve host responsibility. For example, Department of Internal Affairs officials are reviewing the training that venue staff receive from the gaming machine societies to ensure that that training is effective. I should say in respect of the exercise that both the class 4 sector and casino operators have broadly accepted their need to improve on their host responsibility obligations and will be working closely with the Department of Internal Affairs to ensure this happens.

Denise Roche: Will he strengthen our gambling laws on host responsibility, given that compliance is so poor that the undercover operators used by the Department of Internal Affairs were able to go up to bar staff and beg for more money and then go back to gamble, with no intervention?

Hon PETER DUNNE: The Gambling Amendment Bill (No 2), which is currently on the Order Paper and making remarkably slow progress, makes some steps in this regard. There is a Gambling Amendment Bill (No 3) recently introduced to Parliament. I have also signalled that in the context of this rather fast-moving area of change a wider review of class 4 gaming societies may be in order.

Denise Roche: If the Minister is really serious, will he support our Green Party changes to the Gambling Amendment Bill (No 2) to introduce real-time player tracking and pre-commitment cards, given that these have been proven to reduce problem gambling overseas; if not, why not?

Hon PETER DUNNE: No, because there are a number of unfounded assumptions in the member’s question.

Denise Roche: Why, given the terrible record of compliance by gambling venues, is he making this situation worse with his bill, which will give venue operators a financial incentive to ignore problem gambling?

Hon PETER DUNNE: The legislation does no such thing. All the member does by making that sort of a comment in a question is demonstrate her lack of understanding of it.

ENDS

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