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Questions and Answers - February 12

QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS

Economy—Reports 1. CHRIS BISHOP (National) to the Minister of Finance: What recent reports has he received about what progress the Government is making to support more jobs and higher incomes?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Associate Minister of Finance) on behalf of the Minister of Finance: I have seen several reports, particularly since this House last sat before Christmas, confirming that the growing economy is continuing to support more jobs and higher incomes. For example, Statistics New Zealand last week reported that in the past year another 80,000 jobs were created across New Zealand. The labour market participation rate increased to a record 69.7 percent, and unemployment, at 5.7 percent, is lower than in most other developed economies. Average weekly wages rose 2.5 percent in the calendar year of 2014, compared with consumer price inflation of just 0.8 percent in the same period, and we also now know that mortgage interest rates will stay lower for longer. So the growing economy is helping New Zealanders in many ways, but, of course, there is always more work to do to lock in those gains over the longer term.

Chris Bishop: In light of forecasts of further strong economic growth, what is the outlook for inflation and interest rates?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Both inflation and interest rate pressures are low, and they are expected to remain that way now for the foreseeable future. The Reserve Bank noted in its latest official cash rate review that low global inflation and the impact of sharply lower oil prices will continue to increase New Zealand households’ purchasing power and will lower the cost of doing business. Headline annual inflation is expected to be below the bank’s 1 to 3 percent target band through 2015 and could become negative for a period, before moving back towards 2 percent. In the current circumstances the Reserve Bank expects to keep the official cash rate on hold for some time. Of course, that will be welcomed by both homeowners and businesses. Future interest rate adjustments will, of course, depend on the emerging flow of economic data.

Chris Bishop: According to the official statistics, how do the latest average wage increases compare with inflation, and how does this compare with historical movements?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: The quarterly employment survey, which successive Governments have used to set New Zealand superannuation, for example, shows that average weekly wages rose 2.5 percent in the 12 months to 31 December. As I mentioned earlier, this is above the annual inflation rate of just 0.8 percent. In the past 5 years, average wages have increased by 15 percent, and they are forecast to keep rising faster than the cost of living. This contrasts with the position in 2008, when wages were struggling to keep pace with consumer price annual inflation of more than 5 percent.

Chris Bishop: What policy measures has the Government announced that will distribute dividends from the growing economy to New Zealand families and children? (uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing)

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: A number of important changes will take effect in the next few months that will help families and children. For example, from 1 April, paid parental leave will increase by 2 weeks to 16 weeks and by another 2 weeks from 1 April of next year; the parental tax credit will rise from $150 a week to $220 a week, and the entitlement will increase from 8 weeks to 10 weeks; and the Government’s newHomeStart scheme will help around 90,000 Kiwis into their first home over the next 5 years. From 1 July, children under 13 will have access to free general practitioner visits and free prescriptions, and the average ACC levy for a private motor vehicle will fall by around $130 a year. These are just some of the policies this Government is introducing to support families, on the back of a strong economy and good fiscal management.

Dr David Clark: Can the Minister please tell us by just how much the wage gap with Australia has grown since his Government promised to close it in 2008?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I do not have those numbers to hand, but I can tell the member—and this contributes to that explanation for those numbers—that more and more people are moving to this side of the Tasman rather than to Australia. In fact, for the first time since 1990—the first time since 1990—more people are moving from Australia to here than from New Zealand—

Dr David Clark: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My question was very specific: how much has the wage gap with Australia grown? There was no politics in it. If the Minister does not know, he should just sit down.

Mr SPEAKER: Order! It is my job to adjudicate when an answer goes on for too long. The Minister answered immediately by saying that he did not have the information with him, and that is acceptable. He then did give quite a long answer, which was not adding information to the question that was asked by the member, and I accept that, but it is still my job and not Mr Clark’s job to judge the length of an answer.

Primary Growth Partnership—Value for Money 2. RICHARD PROSSER (NZ First) to the Minister for Primary Industries: Does he believe the Primary Growth Partnership provides value for money to taxpayers?

Hon JO GOODHEW (Associate Minister for Primary Industries) on behalf of the Minister for Primary Industries: Yes. As the member will be aware, last year an independent report by the New Zealand Institute of Economic Research estimated that the Primary Growth Partnership will add $6.4 billion per annum to New Zealand’s economy by 2025. The report further concluded that the Primary Growth Partnership has the potential to achieve an additional $4.7 billion per annum by 2025 if all the research and development is successful, the aspirational stretch of the Primary Growth Partnership programmes is achieved, and the innovations are widely taken up. That is why my answer is yes. This makes a 30-year benefit-cost ratio for Government funding of 1:32. That confirms what great value the Primary Growth Partnership programme is.

Richard Prosser: How much of the $322 million of taxpayers’ funds committed to the Primary Growth Partnership by the Crown has gone to overseas-owned companies?

Hon JO GOODHEW: I do not have an answer to that question. It has a level of technical detail that I would have preferred to be laid down in the primary question.

Richard Prosser: How much has gone to the following partners: PGG Wrightson, which is now majority Chinese-owned; the majority Japanese-owned ANZCO Foods; and Norske Skog Tasman, owned by Norwegian and other overseas interests?

Hon JO GOODHEW: What I can tell the member is that the benefits to New Zealand, as have been calculated by the independent report of the New Zealand Institute of Economic Research, are considerable. This country has many businesses that have some capital input from overseas, but it is the New Zealand economy that benefits significantly from the money that is invested into quality programmes that will achieve great benefits in primary industries for New Zealand. (uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing)

Richard Prosser: Who owns the intellectual property of the programmes: the New Zealand taxpayer, who funds them through the partnership, or the private entities, some of which are overseas-owned?

Hon JO GOODHEW: The recent report by the Office of the Auditor-General identified to us that intellectual property and the identification of the benefits of that are important parts of the clarification that the Ministry for Primary Industries needs to continue working on. We have taken that feedback from the office on board, and that will be the case.

Richard Prosser: Given that answer, will the Minister now give the House an assurance that changes will be made to the Primary Growth Partnership scheme to ensure that the New Zealand taxpayer will benefit directly from the ownership of intellectual property; if not, why not?

Hon JO GOODHEW: I reiterate my earlier answer to the member, and I also add to that that there have been learnings since the beginning of this significant programme of benefits to primary industries in New Zealand—an exciting programme that looks to deliver great benefits to New Zealand. The Office of the Auditor-General’s report is largely positive, but it does point us to some areas where we can improve. That is not a surprise, but it is an encouragement to the Ministry for Primary Industries.

Skycity, Convention Centre—Costs 3. Hon ANNETTE KING (Deputy Leader—Labour) to the Minister of Finance: In light of his comments that a taxpayer bailout is his “least preferred” option, how much is he prepared to spend to save the SkyCity deal?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Associate Minister of Finance) on behalf of the Minister of Finance: I would like to simply point the member to the answer given by my colleague the Minister for Economic Development yesterday to an exceedingly similar question: “I have been clear all the way through that our least preferred option is to provide any funding to Skycity for the convention centre. We are in the process of discussions, and I am not prepared to conduct those discussions in the public domain, as that would undermine our position.”

Hon Annette King: In light of that answer, when he said in the House on 12 November 2013 that for a “little, if any, investment by taxpayers,” New Zealanders would get an international-standard convention centre, how big did he envisage the “little” investment was going to be, and did that also include an international standard that was not an eyesore?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Yes, to the latter part of the question. In terms of the first part I refer the member to the primary answer to the primary question. But the clear position of the Government, the Minister for Economic Development, the Minister of Finance, and the Prime Minister is that actually our least preferred option is to provide any funding to Skycity. However, there have, of course, been other positions this week. In fact, when asked whether the Government should contribute funds to the convention centre, one response was: “You could probably say, you know, for the overall benefit, yes.”, and speaking of “little” that was one Andrew Little on Newstalk ZB.

Tracey Martin: Can he assure the New Zealand public that any decisions around potentially giving millions of dollars of taxpayers’ money to Skycity will not have been affected by the tens of thousands of dollars Skycity has donated to the National Party, such as the $60,000 donation recorded in 2005?

Mr SPEAKER: In so far as there may be some ministerial responsibility, the Hon Steven Joyce.

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I am not sure of the ministerial responsibility, but I think the answer would be yes anyway.

Hon Annette King: In light of his comments yesterday, when did he advise all other Ministers that a taxpayer bailout of Skycitywould require a cut to their budgets to stump up for cash for a business that made a $66.6 million profit in the last 6 months? (uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing)

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I think the member is actually mischaracterising the Minister’s comments yesterday, but nevertheless it is clear that it is the Government’s preference that our least preferred option is to provide any funding to Skycity. No proposal has been received from the Minister for Economic Development to the Minister of Finance, at least that I am aware of—and I think I may have been aware of it if it had occurred—and in the meantime we will just see how it goes.

Hon Annette King: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.

Mr SPEAKER: Point of order, the Hon Annette King.

Hon Annette King: Do not sound so weary, Mr Speaker. This is a really good point of order. [Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: Order! I am looking forward to it with—[Interruption] Order! [Interruption]

Hon Annette King: Well, a second point of order, Mr Speaker.

Mr SPEAKER: No, well—[Interruption] Order! We will deal with the first point of order first, which I am looking forward to with anticipation and excitement.

Hon Annette King: Yes, Mr Speaker. I have taken your advice in terms of very tight questions. My question asked when the Minister of Finance advised all Ministers that there would need to be a taxpayer bailout if they were required to provide money to Skycity, and the Minister did not answer that.

Mr SPEAKER: He did. He disputed that he had had those discussions with the Ministers, as I understood the answer. In my opinion he definitely addressed that question.

Hon Annette King: Will he guarantee today that he will not support further gambling concessions to Skycity to save the deal?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: The Government has confirmed that there will not be further concessions in any further law changes.

Hon Annette King: How many hip operations could be undertaken and how many State houses could be built for the $128 million dollars that Skycity is demanding from the taxpayers, and would it not be of more benefit to New Zealanders to invest it in them rather than in a multinational company that is making huge profits?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: The member presumes way too much in her statement and it is highly hypothetical. But if she is concerned about that, I would talk to her own leader, who actually was on the radio this week saying funds should be contributed to Skycity. [Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: Order! The interjection level coming from both sides is now unacceptable.

Hon Annette King: If the Prime Minister will not listen to him—the Minister of Finance—will he listen to the 22,000 New Zealanders who in just the past 1 day have signed Labour’s petition opposing a taxpayer bailout of the Skycity deal?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I need to point out to the member that the Government’s position is entirely consistent. The Prime Minister has made it clear that it is his least preferred option to provide any funding to Skycity. The Minister of Finance has made it clear that our least preferred option is to provide any funding to Skycity. The Minister for Economic Development has been saying since December last year that our least preferred option is to provide any funding to Skycity. I appreciate that on close examination those three statements may sound very different, but I have done some analysis in my office by placing them side by side and they are, in fact, the same.

Hon Annette King: Is he prepared to match the contribution to the Skycity bailout raised yesterday from the public, who showed what they thought of the Government’s idea by donating $41.20, two bottles of water, and a lime Fruit Burst lolly?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I would point out that, as we have been clear about all the way through, negotiations are continuing. Our least preferred option is to provide any funding to Skycity. It is fair to say that the member’s leader is well ahead of her in that he signalled the other day that he would be prepared to give more than the amount of money that the member’s question has just raised. (uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing)

Hon Annette King: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I do not think that the member heard my question or understood it, and I am very happy to—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! No. I am sure he did hear it. It was whether the Minister gave a guarantee that he would match the public contribution. He clearly said he was not prepared to give that guarantee, because it is still in the stage of negotiation.

Hon Steven Joyce: I seek leave to table a transcript of Andrew Little with Larry Williams on Newstalk ZB—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! Transcripts are freely available to members if they want to get them.

Skycity, Convention Centre—Advice on Television New Zealand Land 4. DENISE ROCHE (Green) to the Minister for Economic Development: What advice did officials provide about how much more valuable to SkyCity the TVNZ land sold to it for the siting of a convention centre was, once that land was used as the site of a hotel?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister for Economic Development): The first thing I would point out is that the site, of course, has not yet been used for a hotel. Negotiations are ongoing regarding the final layout, cost, and size of the convention centre complex. With regard to the plans submitted to Auckland Council by Skycity at the end of last year, I am advised that there is a potential benefit to Skycity of a change in location, but, as the final form of the convention centre is still being negotiated, I cannot at this stage provide an estimate of that benefit. But I have been clear to our negotiators that I would expect that anything that gave that benefit to Skycity would be a cost that they would need to take account of.

Denise Roche: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My question was on notice, and it specifically asked about the advice that was given about the change in the land value, not about any other sort of advice that he has had since. It was about the advice that he received before the deal took place.

Mr SPEAKER: Again, as I interpreted the Minister’s answer, he said there could well be an increased value because of subsequent use, but it was impossible at this stage to put a figure on it until the plans were finalised as to what that site would totally be used for. I think that the question has been adequately addressed, and I suggest that if the member wants to take the matter further, tease it out now with good supplementary questions.

Denise Roche: Why did he not work out how much more the deal was worth to Skycity with the hotel on Television New Zealand (TVNZ) land before the deal was signed, given that officials said it made the deal much more valuable to Skycity?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I am not sure what the member is driving at, because, actually, there has been a proposal for the hotel to be on a different site—and I would stress that Skycity already had its own site for a hotel it is basically proposing to shift from one part of the site to another part of the site—and until that proposal was made, it would have been difficult to anticipate the need for putting a value on a proposal of that nature. I have been quite clear to the member in the answer to the primary question that I believe there probably is a value out of that, and that that value should be accounted for in any subsequent negotiations.

Denise Roche: How is it that his deal allowed Skycity to acquire a prime piece of central Auckland real estate, discounted at taxpayer expense, and somehow a year later Skycity comes back asking for even more handouts?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I am sorry; the member is incorrect. I am not sure where she got the idea there was any sort of discount, but, actually, as I understand it, Skycity has paid something in the order of—I do not know—$16 million or something, which was a commercial valuation on the site, firstly. I think TVNZ is currently using the money to renovate its facilities in Auckland, so it obviously got the value from it. And in terms of where the hotel goes on the overall site, that is something that we would negotiate with them in terms of any value they would obtain from that. So I just do not know what the member sees as the massive issue here. (uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing)

Denise Roche: Did the Minister’s lawyers advise not to include clause 11.47 of the convention centre agreement, which effectively allows Skycity to plan a bigger and flasher centre to renegotiate the whole deal; if so, why did he include it?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I am sorry; I think the member is incorrect. There was a deal that was done for a convention centre at the value of $402 million. That is finally confirmed at the time—

Iain Lees-Galloway: That’s not what you told the public at the time.

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: —listen to me—a construction agreement is signed, at which point the concessions that are in return for the convention centre would come into force. Prior to that time, either party could withdraw from it. What Skycity is saying is that it has got a bit more expensive and it is worried about that, and it wants to negotiate with the Crown. What we have said is that we will listen to them and that we will have the discussions, but that any money would be our least preferred option. That is the whole of the week, I do believe, in the media.

Denise Roche: Is he embarrassed that he negotiated a deal that allowed Skycity to walk away with a large chunk of prime public land for its own hotel and to completely change the size and cost of the so-called free convention centre.

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I am sorry; much of what the member is saying in her question I just completely disagree with. The simple thing the member needs to understand in this is that that company already had some land set aside for a hotel. It has proposed to shift the location of that hotel as part of its latest proposed facility for the consent, so that, actually, the convention centre works a bit better on the site. We will make a judgment on that, and assess the value of that, and that will form part of any further discussions.

Denise Roche: Why will he not just admit that he and Mr Key have been played by much better gamblers, and it is time to fold ‘em and walk away?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I am not sure that it is news that the Greens oppose a convention centre in Auckland, but obviously we will choose to disagree, as I think we have since roughly 2009.

Dr David Clark: Does he have any absolute and specified negotiating bottom lines beyond which he will walk away from the convention centre deal?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE: As I said to the member yesterday, I am not prepared to conduct the negotiations in public, because that would actually make the Crown’s position weaker, and I would prefer to have a stronger position and have the option of conducting those discussions and then reporting back the result of those discussions to the House.

Dr David Clark: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am just asking for your assistance. I think the member has misunderstood my question, which was whether he has any—it was a yes or no. I do not want the nature of them—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member will resume his seat. The member’s question was whether there were any bottom lines, and the Minister clearly, in answering, said he was not prepared to reveal his position on a negotiation that is still proceeding.

Cricket World Cup 2015—Benefits 5. MATT DOOCEY (National—Waimakariri) to the Minister for Sport and Recreation: What benefits does he expect to be delivered by the Government’s support for the Cricket World Cup?

Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN (Minister for Sport and Recreation): Tonight’s opening ceremony for the International Cricket Council Cricket World Cup in North Hagley Park, Christchurch, is the start of a wonderful 6-week festival of international cricket. The global television audience is over 1 billion, with an expected 30,000 visitors to New Zealand and 239,000 visitor nights. It is expected to inject around $50 million into the New Zealand economy. There will be ongoing benefits for New Zealand through the raised international profile that the tournament brings to this country. Three hundred thousand tickets have been sold for games in New Zealand, so be in quick. (uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing)

Matt Doocey: What has been planned for the opening ceremony of the tournament?

Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: The opening ceremony will be free to attend, with live music and several enormous games of backyard cricket. It is going to be great. The ceremony—[Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER: Order! I am going to ask the Minister to start his answer again. I cannot hear it because of the level of noise from my left.

Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: The ceremony will be free to attend, with live music and several enormous games of backyard cricket. It is going to be a great ceremony. That ceremony and the opening game will help show the world that Christchurch is open for business and provide Cantabrians with a great opportunity to show their support for the Black Caps and the tournament. Frankly, it is time the Labour Party backed this tournament.

Hon Trevor Mallard: Is it correct that the shot involving the Prime Minister for the opening ceremony had to be reshot six times because he kept on dropping the ball?

Mr SPEAKER: In so far as there may potentially be ministerial responsibility, I will ask the Minister.

Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: No; as per usual, he hit it out of the park. But what I can say is correct is that although Mr Mallard bags the Cricket World Cup, he is quite prepared to accept the invitations and even wear the tie.

Matt Doocey: What leverage and legacy benefits will be provided by co-hosting the tournament?

Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: The Government has been focused on a coordinated leverage and legacy programme, including helping New Zealand businesses develop international connections and showcasing New Zealand industry, culture, and expertise, to further drive trade and visitation opportunities. There is also an educational programme for primary and intermediate schools called Cricket Smart. The Cricket World Cup is a huge opportunity for all New Zealanders.

Clayton Mitchell: Does he believe that Kiwis without Sky TV should get to see all of the Cricket World Cup matches live considering that $5 million of taxpayers’ money has gone into funding the event, yet only a selection of games will be available free to air; if not, why not?

Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: I have not had a single email on that issue, and I think New Zealanders are just really thrilled that we have got this tournament coming to New Zealand. There are still tickets available and there are going to be key games shown on Prime Television, free to air.

David Seymour: In view of all this, can the Minister think of any sporting tournaments or ceremonies where it is not the role of the Government to fund with taxpayer money?

Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: I am sure there are some, but I am not going to get into it here.

Primary Industries, Ministry—Confidence 6. Hon DAMIEN O'CONNOR (Labour—West Coast - Tasman) to the Minister for Primary Industries: Does he have confidence in his department?

Hon JO GOODHEW (Associate Minister for Primary Industries): on behalf of the Minister for Primary Industries: Yes. In particular, I have confidence in the support that the Ministry for Primary Industries provides to all in the primary sector. As an example, today, a medium-scale adverse event has been declared across most of the east coast of the South Island. There are still tough times ahead for many farmers, but farmers are resilient, and today’s announcement confirms that this Government and the Ministry for Primary Industries will back them through this.

Hon Damien O'Connor: How can he have confidence in his department when the Auditor-General has found that his officials could not yet show what the $322 million committed and the $129 million spent so far on the Primary Growth Partnership have achieved; and of the six programmes fully audited, it said “It is too soon to observe any economic benefit.”? (uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing)

Hon JO GOODHEW: Well, the Minister has confidence in the Primary Growth Partnership, but also in understanding that this is a long process. The Auditor-General’s report showed that the reporting that is currently under way could be made more simple for the average reader in the street and we have certainly taken that on board. But I remind the member that there are not only detailed websites, quarterly reports, a regular newsletter, an annual expo, presence at the Fieldays, programme steering groups, quarterly progress reporting, and annual plans and audits to show the public of New Zealand what they will get over the long term. As I have already explained today, the New Zealand Institute of Economic Research report, out to 2025, shows the billions of dollars that will actually be available to the economy of New Zealand, but this is a long-term gain, not a short-term political gain.

Hon Damien O'Connor: Does he still consider the Primary Growth Partnership to be his “flagship policy” to double the value of exports by 2025, given that halfway through the programme his ministry cannot show what has been achieved?

Hon JO GOODHEW: The Primary Growth Partnership is but one of the things that this Government is working on to achieve our export double. The member is remiss in thinking that it is as simple as just one project. In fact, under the Ministry for Primary Industries and also the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the development of export markets, the development of food safety security—all of these play into the ability of New Zealand to meet that export double. We also know that the research and development that is going on in the primary industry sector will help us achieve that. I am sure that during the fullness of time and with all of the monitoring and reports that I have already outlined to the member, progress will be seen. The New Zealand Institute of Economic Research was an independent report and it predicted what we would gain from this.

Hon Damien O'Connor: What other areas of Government funding would allow the spend of $129 million without any identifiable economic benefits and, in the words of the Auditor-General, “No ability to show what PGP as a whole has achieved.”?

Hon JO GOODHEW: There were some learnings in the Office of the Auditor-General report, but it was largely a positive report, and it acknowledged that in the fullness of time the independent auditing of these projects, which in fact is made available, will show the gains we have already had. There are 16 projects under way, two projects have completed successfully—

Hon Damien O'Connor: Not successfully.

Hon JO GOODHEW: Yes, successfully. I can certainly assure the member that the STIMBR project was completed successfully. The member should spend a little bit more time reading all of the documented evidence that these projects are going well.

Hon Damien O'Connor: Is it not true that the Primary Growth Partnership programme is nothing more than corporate welfare on a massive scale, and why should taxpayers have any confidence that their money is being spent responsibly when shonky deals like this and theSkycity convention centre deal are now nothing more than standard National policy?

Mr SPEAKER: I call the Hon Jo Goodhew—either of those two supplementary questions.

Hon JO GOODHEW: I think when the public of New Zealand look at Precision Seafood Harvesting—a sustainable fishing programme that has won three different innovation awards and the people’s choice award for its technology because it catches fish alive and unharmed—they will see it is just one example of how important and how successful the Primary Growth Partnership project has been for New Zealand and will continue to be. Only the member seems to be completely lacking in confidence.

Social Housing—Funding and Initiatives 7. ALFRED NGARO (National) to the Minister for Social Housing: What recent commitments has the Government made to improving social housing?

Hon PAULA BENNETT (Minister for Social Housing): The Prime Minister recently announced a comprehensive social housing reform package that will ensure that more people in (uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing) need get access to social housing. For too long Governments have focused on the number of houses they owned rather than how many people they are housing and what kinds of lives they are leading. We will ensure there are more social housing places than there are now, and that is starting with an extra 3,000 income-related rent subsidies over the next 3 years.

Alfred Ngaro: Why is the Government focusing on tenants rather than the number of houses Housing New Zealand owns?

Hon PAULA BENNETT: Because tenants care about having a roof over their heads and accessing the services that they need, rather than who owns their house. Community housing providers are well established and already provide around 5,000 social houses around the country. We will grow the community housing sector by selling 1,000 to 2,000 Housing New Zealand properties over the next year. This builds on the changes that we made last year to give the sector access to income-related rent subsidies. That change means that community housing providers now have a guaranteed income stream from the Government that will help them grow and gives their tenants access to housing help previously given only exclusively to State housing tenants.

Alfred Ngaro: What statements of support has she seen for the Government’s social housing reforms?

Hon PAULA BENNETT: I have seen support, and that is always good to see out there. It was at the Community Housing Aotearoa conference. A speaker talked at length about this. He said: “Tenants with high and complex needs may be better off being transferred to a community housing provider …”, and also: “We are committed to … [community providers] having access to the Income Related Rent Subsidy, to capital grants, and stock transfer.” Ironically, that is exactly this Government’s policy; however, that was from Phil Twyford last year as the housing spokesman.

New Zealand Defence Force—Deployment in Iraq 8. Dr KENNEDY GRAHAM (Green) to the Minister of Defence: Will he assure the House that no New Zealand troops will be engaged in active military combat in Iraq during the term of this Government?

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE (Minister of Defence): I can do better than to quote from the Prime Minister’s speech given to a national security forum on 5 November 2014, where he said: “Today I’m ruling out [New Zealand] sending SAS or any troops into combat roles in Iraq,”.

Dr Kennedy Graham: Despite the Prime Minister’s assurance of 5 November 2014, how can he give us an assurance that our people will not be engaged in active combat when the Canadian troops who are already in Iraq in a training capacity have been forced to engage in two combats this year alone?

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: I would caution the member about making a lack of distinction between the activities that the Canadians are undertaking at the moment. They do have people there who are in assist missions. We have no intention of being in those.

Dr Kennedy Graham: Will his Government be criticising Iraq, when its Foreign Minister visits tomorrow, for the ethnic cleansing of Sunni civilians in Iraq, which Human Rights Watch explains has led to the rise of militant groups such as Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), or will New Zealand not be standing up for that kind of human rights tomorrow?

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: The Government in Iraq at the moment is still relatively new, and the efforts that we note from Mr al-Abadi, the Prime Minister, and his colleagues are those of trying to bring interests of both Sunni and Shi’ite Muslims together, and we would support them in that. There is no point in looking back at atrocities that may have been committed by past Governments going back well beyond the Saddam Hussein regime.

Dr Kennedy Graham: If the criterion for possible military engagement in Iraq is to “nip in the bud organisations that appear to be funding ratbags around the world”, when will the Minister be getting advice on military engagement against the Saudi regime, which appears to be funding them? (uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing)

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: This is once again a case of the Green Party members not reading everything that is said in the context in which it is said, but selectively taking it out to suit their particular view of the world. What I said yesterday was that if we were to make a contribution—and it remains an “if”—it would be to training Iraqi security forces, because they want to take on that fight to, as I said, nip right in the bud the ISIL-Daesh phenomenon in that part of the world. I think that if you look even at what happened in Australia yesterday afternoon, some of the head in the sand positions being taken by the Green Party are frightening for New Zealanders.

Dr Kennedy Graham: Is this the day before New Zealand goes to war; if so, should the matter not be debated in this Parliament to assure the New Zealand people that our use of armed force is internationally lawful and politically wise?

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: If the flag the member waved at the front of that question is one that he wants to take to the streets, he is going to find very few people following.

National Library—Changes to Curriculum Topic Loan Service 9. JACINDA ARDERN (Labour) to the Minister of Internal Affairs: What are the expected savings per year as a result of the changes to the National Library curriculum topic loan service?

Hon LOUISE UPSTON (Minister for Land Information) on behalf of the Minister of Internal Affairs: I am advised that the improved service that will be offered by the National Library is not about saving money; it is about delivering more books and more information into more schools for more students. The National Library has 622,500 books available to schools and these books will continue to be available. Savings specific to the curriculum topic loan service have not been finalised, as operational implementation decisions are still being worked through. However, the Department of Internal Affairs’ 2014 4-year plan has signalled a preliminary estimate of savings from the new National Library Services to Schools strategy of $0.392 million per annum.

Jacinda Ardern: Did the Minister or the Department of Internal Affairs specifically consult on this change with teachers or with the School Library Association, whose president recently stated that “These cuts are going to have detrimental effects on the learning of children.”; if not, why not?

Hon LOUISE UPSTON: I can confirm that the review that was undertaken in 2012 included at least 59 teachers, school librarians, the education sector, as well as Government experts, who were engaged in a series of external focus reviews and interviews undertaken as part of that review. I do want to put on record that this is not a cut to the service; this is the ability for the National Library to deliver more information and more books in more schools, and that will provide better learning opportunities for more of our children.

Mr SPEAKER: Order! The level of chatter in the House is unacceptably high.

Jacinda Ardern: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Minister referenced a proposal document put before 59 teachers in 2012. Would it be—

Mr SPEAKER: What is the point of order?

Jacinda Ardern: I am seeking that she table the document she referenced.

Mr SPEAKER: If the Minister quoted from an official document, a request has been made to table it.

Hon LOUISE UPSTON: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I spoke about the review that was undertaken in 2012.

Mr SPEAKER: There was no official document quoted in the answer.

Jacinda Ardern: Can she guarantee that every school will have equal access to the online resources the Minister claims will replace this service, given that the School Library Association has said in an open letter that the “new online initiative does not take into consideration those schools that have limited access to computers and poor internet connections.”, including rural and low-decile schools?

Hon LOUISE UPSTON: I want to confirm that the National Library is providing targeted programmes to support priority school communities around access to not only the existing books (uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing) that they have. Additional information will be provided as a result of the service. I want to give an example of one of the pieces of information that is not available currently but will be available through the additional services from the National Library. The Alexander Turnbull Library resources are currently being digitised. One example of information that will be available to all schools across New Zealand is the diary of a soldier who served at the front line in World War I. That will be in addition—there is no cut. There is no cut to the books being available.

Jacinda Ardern: If the current curriculum topic loan service—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! I am again having trouble hearing the question. I ask Jacinda Ardern to start again.

Jacinda Ardern: If the current curriculum topic loan service is so out of date that it is being replaced, why, according to the National Library’s own annual report, did the service lend close to one million items in the last year alone, which was an increase on the year before for a service that the Minister is proposing will no longer be available to teachers?

Hon LOUISE UPSTON: I do want to make it very clear that this is an enhancement to the services that are available to students. Our children learn in very different ways and through many different mediums from those we learnt through. In addition to the books that they currently receive—in addition—they will have access to a much broader range of material and information that support our children in the way they learn, and their thirst for knowledge will be provided for in a way that is not currently provided.

Jacinda Ardern: I seek leave to table a petition of 18,196 New Zealanders calling on Peter Dunne to—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! There is a process for the tabling of petitions in this House. [Interruption] Order! I am advised by the Clerk that leave can be sought to do what the member is asking, so I will put the leave. Leave is sought to table this petition, signed by some 18,000 people. Is there any objection to that course of action? There is objection.

Broadband, Ultra-fast and Rural—Progress 10. MELISSA LEE (National) to the Minister for Communications: What is the current status of the rollout of the Government’s Ultra-Fast Broadband and Rural Broadband initiatives?

Hon AMY ADAMS (Minister for Communications): Yesterday I was pleased to announce that as at the end of 2014 the Ultra-fast Broadband Initiative project is 43 percent complete—7 percent ahead of schedule—and 570,000 end-users are now able to connect. Connections have quadrupled in the last 2 years and now sit above 11 percent, well ahead of expectations for this stage. For the rural programme, the build is also progressing well with approximately 250,000 rural households now able to benefit from faster broadband.

Melissa Lee: How is rural New Zealand benefitting from the upgrade of the fixed-line network occurring as part of the Rural Broadband Initiative?

Hon AMY ADAMS: The largest part of the Rural Broadband Initiative is the upgrade to fixed-line services and cabinets, which makes up around 80 percent of the Rural Broadband Initiative spend and gives speeds of up to 30 megabits a second. On average, 500 rural households every week are having their copper broadband upgraded. In addition, more than half a million New Zealanders every month are now able to make mobile calls in rural New Zealand that would not have been possible without this programme.

Question No. 11 to Minister

Police, Minister—Briefings 11. Hon DAVID PARKER (Labour) to the Minister of Police: On how many occasions, if any, has he alerted the Prime Minister or his Office to a matter of significant public interest which he has been briefed on by his officials since his appointment? (uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing)

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE (Minister for Canterbury Earthquake Recovery) on behalf of the Minister of Police: The Minister has spoken to the Prime Minister in his office on a number of times about important police matters, including on how police continue to help bring about further reductions in crime, which, of course, is of prime public importance.

Hon David Parker: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Yesterday we had the Minister of Police claiming that significant public interest meant that he ought not to have to answer questions. Unless we from the Opposition are able to ascertain how broad this somewhat ill-defined concept is, how do we hold the Government to account in respect of whether it is being open with the public?

Mr SPEAKER: It was a question on notice. I would have hoped for a more specific answer. The answer was—[Interruption] Order! The answer was given that it was a number of times, so the question has certainly been addressed—I accept not to the satisfaction of the member asking the questions. The way forward now is for the member to ask incisive supplementary questions, and in view of the circumstances I will allow the member an additional supplementary question.

Hon David Parker: Thank you, Mr Speaker. On how many occasions has he alerted the Prime Minister or his office to a matter of significant public interest on which he has been briefed by his officials since his appointment?

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: The Minister receives briefings from his officials on a weekly basis, and as issues come up that are of prime public importance, of course, he discusses them with the Prime Minister.

Hon David Parker: Does the Minister not know how many times he has advised the Prime Minister of issues of significant public importance since his appointment as Minister?

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: In our organisation of Government, Ministers speak with the Prime Minister very frequently, something, I know, that would not be the norm for our opponents. The other point I would make is that it is abundantly clear to anyone reading this that the member is trying to get around to asking questions that he knows answers cannot be given to, and therefore I would simply say to him again that when matters of prime public importance do come up that are able to discussed, then of course they are discussed with the Prime Minister.

Hon David Parker: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. That was not my question; my question was whether he knew how often he had raised matters of significant public interest since being appointed.

Mr SPEAKER: And as I recall the answer, effectively it was on numerous occasions, so they are not calculated or collated in a way that he can give a specific answer.

Hon David Parker: Did any of those instances relate to Mr Sabin; if so, on what dates did those occur?

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: I refer the member to the answer given to a question that related to this matter, in fact, yesterday in the House.

Hon David Parker: What public interest is being benefited from the Minister refusing to provide the dates on which he or the Prime Minister was briefed?

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: It may surprise the member over there that we consider a number of things that the police are doing to be of prime public importance. It may be speed reduction on our roads. It might be the increase of blood-alcohol testing. It could be apprehensions for various levels of crime. It could be all sorts of new initiatives that the police want to bring in in order to reduce crime. Of course they are discussed. On numerous, numerous occasions those matters are discussed.

Hon David Parker: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. It is now evident that the Minister is not addressing the question that I raised, which was what public interest is benefited from his refusal to advise the dates on which he advised the Prime Minister.

Mr SPEAKER: I disagree with the member. The Minister was giving an answer to that. It was interrupted, certainly, by the member taking a point of order. I do not know whether the Minister wanted to complete his answer, but he was addressing the question that was asked. (uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing)

Hon David Parker: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. With respect, I would ask you to review the answer that was given, when you have the opportunity later, because, with respect, that is not what he was doing.

Mr SPEAKER: I accept the invitation from the member. I will certainly review the question and the answer that was given. I always do. But on this occasion I have ruled and the member needs to proceed with a supplementary question.

Hon David Parker: When did he or his predecessor, Minister Tolley, first learn that the MP being investigated was a National MP?

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: I am not able to answer that. I can answer in my own capacity, and that was when it was in the newspaper in December.

Transport—Urban Cycleways Programme 12. JONATHAN YOUNG (National—New Plymouth) to the Minister of Transport: What is the Government doing to support the development of urban cycleways across New Zealand?

Hon SIMON BRIDGES (Minister of Transport): A lot. We are investing $100 million across 4 years in the Urban Cycleways Programme—the biggest investment any Government has ever made in urban cycleways. The programme leverages a range of funding sources, meaning that high-quality projects are getting under way much sooner than would otherwise have been the case. When completed, the Urban Cycleways Programme will have supported the investment of up to $320 million to create a safe, user-friendly cycleway network across New Zealand’s urban centres.

Julie Anne Genter: I seek leave to table advice that was provided to the Minister by his officials that they should be investing $260 million into urban cycleways—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! The document has been described. The source of the document, please.

Julie Anne Genter: It is from the New Zealand Transport Agency. It was released under the Official Information Act to the Green Party.

Mr SPEAKER: So it is not publicly available on a website?

Julie Anne Genter: No.

Mr SPEAKER: I will put the leave. Leave is sought to table that particular document. Is there is any objection? It can be tabled.

Jonathan Young: What recent announcements has he made on the Government’s investment in urban cycleways?

Hon SIMON BRIDGES: I was excited to announce recently that the Urban Cycleways Programme will see $37 million worth of projects get under way in Auckland, Hamilton, Palmerston North, Wellington, Christchurch, and Dunedin. The first 13 cycleway projects across these centres were prioritised because of their value to commuter cyclists and their additional benefits to recreational riders. With the first set of projects under way this year, the Government is getting started on changing the face of cycling in New Zealand.

Denis O'Rourke: When will the Minister give some genuine priority to replacing the hundreds of dangerous one-way bridges on State highways throughout provincial New Zealand?

Mr SPEAKER: That is some distance from the original question, but it is Thursday afternoon and I will be generous. I will allow the Minister to answer it.

Hon SIMON BRIDGES: It is always a pleasure to get a question from the member. Unlike the Labour Party and the Green Party—

Mr SPEAKER: Order! Just answer the question.

Hon SIMON BRIDGES: I can tell the member that with a Government policy statement investing more money in transport and land traffic than ever before, we will certainly be making improvements over the next 3 years in that area.

Jonathan Young: What are the benefits of the Government’s investment in urban cycleways?

Hon SIMON BRIDGES: They are manifold, and that is why this Government is committed to investing $100 million to accelerate the development of urban cycleways across the country. The (uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing) Government recognises that commuting by bike has health benefits, and it takes pressure off other transport networks. Many people also consider safety concerns, so we are building cycleways to a standard that is safe and provides real incentives for commuters to get out of their cars and on to their bikes.

ENDS

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