Questions and Answers - February 18
QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS
Prime Minister—Statements on Housing 1. ANDREW LITTLE (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does he stand by his statement that the Government is planning to sell state houses to “encourage and develop more diverse ownership of social housing”?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): Yes, and I think the Government’s approach going back over a number of years is well summarised in a speech to community housing providers, which says: “Our vision for that is to have Housing [New Zealand], local authorities, and a bigger, stronger community housing sector working in partnership to deliver more social housing, more diverse types of housing, and a broad range of services. We are committed to your members having access to the Income Related Rent Subsidy, to capital grants, and”—interestingly enough—“stock transfer.”, which would be the selling of houses. Funnily enough, that speech, which could have been given by me, was in fact given by Phil Twyford in July of last year.
Andrew Little: What does it say about his programme when the Salvation Army says that it does not have the capital to buy these houses and the Bay Community Housing Trust says that the only price that it will pay for them is “free”?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: We all know that some people want things for free. Some people want consulting services for free until it is pointed out.
Andrew Little: What does it say about his programme when the Salvation Army says it cannot manage these properties any better than Housing New Zealand without a large Government subsidy?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: The way I would summarise it would be that I would say to community housing providers that they “have real strengths in supported affordable first-home ownership and also in providing specialised supported living.”, like the Salvation Army; that “Tenants with high and complex needs may be better off being transferred to a community housing provider”, and I agree with that; that “Diversity, competition and collaboration can stimulate innovation”; that “You can leverage private sector investment”; and that you can “combine housing with social services that support high-needs tenants” when you use community housing providers. I have quoted for you verbatim from Phil Twyford’s speech to the Community Housing Aotearoa conference.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! That will be sufficient.
Andrew Little: Just waiting for the walrus to quieten down over there. Does he stand by his statement—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The Leader of the Opposition was only responding to an unsatisfactory interjection from my right. (uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing)
Andrew Little: Does he stand by his statement on Radio New Zealand that some proposals to onsell ex-State houses to private developers “might be agreeable” to the Government; if so, why did he guarantee over and over again that these homes would not end up in developers’ hands?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: What the Government has made quite clear is that if it sells social housing to community housing providers, the expectation is that they would keep those and maybe further develop those. That would be part of the contract. But of course it is quite possible that the Government could sell some social houses to a community housing provider, who then says that they are going to develop that area, have three or four times as many houses, and a few might be sold off as affordable housing. There would still be more housing available and more people through. This is a Government that cares about the most vulnerable and is doing something about it. I strongly suggest that the member reads Phil Twyford’s speech—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order!
Andrew Little: Was Paula Bennett correct to refuse Official Information Act requests “for analysis on the benefits or disadvantages of social housing being provided by NGOs rather than Housing New Zealand” because “the information does not exist”; if so, why does that information not exist?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: The member would need to direct that question to Paula Bennett. I do not have those details.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Referring to the Prime Minister’s unchecked comment “consultancy services for free”, is he aware of a member of Parliament from his own caucus who owes large sums of money far higher than Mr Little’s piffling amount—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! The member needs to know that a supplementary question must relate to the text of the primary question.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My point of order is that when he put that into contention—not relevant to the subject put up by Mr Little—he put it into contention and I related it to that. You did not check him; he talked about consultancy services for free—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! When I am on my feet the member must resume his seat. I will listen very carefully to the question. If it relates to a supplementary answer that we heard the Prime Minister give, that will be acceptable, provided that there is, equally, ministerial responsibility.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Is he aware, regarding his unchecked comment “consultancy services for free”, of another member of Parliament from his own caucus who owes large sums of money, far greater than Mr Little’s, and why is he in a glasshouse throwing stones?
Mr SPEAKER: Order! There is no ministerial responsibility for a caucus member.
Grant Robertson: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The issue we have—I am sorry it is so tiring—is that the answer that Mr Key gave you allowed to stand. Had you said that the Minister is not responsible for that and ruled it out, then perhaps that would be an even state of affairs. But Mr Peters was merely asking a question about a matter that the Prime Minister had, somehow or other, claimed responsibility for by using it in his answer.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member needs to understand that any question raised in this House to a Minister must be related to ministerial responsibility. There is no ministerial responsibility that the Prime Minister holds for members of his caucus.
Grant Robertson: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I accept that ruling. The question, then, is what is the status of answers where the Prime Minister gives an answer for which he has absolutely no responsibility? At that point he opens himself up for supplementary questions about those answers.
Mr SPEAKER: And I accepted that. I said in the first instance to the Rt Hon Winston Peters that I would not accept his question. Then, when I reconsidered and he rephrased his question, I accepted that it related to the answer that had been given by the Prime Minister. So we accept that (uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing) point. Then it was asking about a matter on which I ruled that there was no ministerial responsibility.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Having regard to the Prime Minister’s comment and the Speaker’s ruling, has the Prime Minister been briefed on an amount of debt owing; if so, why is he in a glasshouse throwing stones?
Hon Simon Bridges: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. No ministerial—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! A point of order has been called. The Hon Simon Bridges.
Hon Simon Bridges: Again, there is no ministerial responsibility for that.
Mr SPEAKER: And I accept that point.
Andrew Little: So is this where we now stand: the buyers say they cannot afford to buy, the managers say they cannot do a better job, the Government has not done its homework, and the social housing programme does not create one new social house? Is this good policy or just ideology?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: To summarise the position, I share a vision “to have Housing [New Zealand], local authorities [having] a bigger, stronger community housing sector working in partnership to deliver more social housing, more diverse types of housing, and a broad range of services.”
Grant Robertson: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Would the Prime Minister resume his seat. Again, I have a point of order and I expect to hear this in silence.
Grant Robertson: I am just wondering whether or not you consider that the Prime Minister has ministerial responsibility for Phil Twyford’s excellent speech.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! No, I do not need assistance from the Prime Minister. The question was “Is this where we stand?”—that is the way the Leader of the Opposition started his question. The Prime Minister is certainly at liberty to then read from a speech, regardless of who that is from, if he thinks that explains the position. [Interruption] Order! I have ruled on that matter. Is it a fresh point of order?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I was just finishing my answer—
Mr SPEAKER: No, I think we have heard enough from the Prime Minister.
Andrew Little: Given the statement that the houses he plans to sell are the wrong size and in the wrong place for New Zealand’s social housing needs, how many of them will become better sized or better located for social housing when they are sold to someone else?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: On the advice I have, about 9 percent of Housing New Zealand homes are one bedroom, and the demand is about 30 percent. So I find it interesting that the member is essentially saying that we should keep the same housing stock, that we should not look to bring more people into the market, and that we should not reconfigure it. But it summarises the absolute shambles we ended up with when Labour was running the show, and the only definition of whether there was a community house or not was whether there was an absolute number, not the condition it was in or whether it was fit for purpose. The member needs to read Phil Twyford’s speech. He sums it up well.
Andrew Little: I seek leave to table a letter from the office of the Hon Paula Bennett that has the quote I alluded to in my earlier question about not having—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The date of that letter, please.
Andrew Little: It was received on 15 December in an office. It is undated by—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! That will do. I will put the leave on a letter from Paula Bennett’s office received on 15 December. Leave is sought to table that particular letter. Is there any objection? There is none. It can be tabled. (uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing)
Household Savings—Reports 2. JOANNE HAYES (National) to the Minister of Finance: What recent reports has he received about the latest trends in savings levels by New Zealanders?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): I have seen a Statistics New Zealand report from 30 January that shows New Zealand households had positive savings for 5 consecutive years to March 2014. This has not happened since the early 1990s. The figures show that before 2010, household savings had been negative in all but 1 year since 1995. Household savings have totalled $11.6 billion over the last 5 years, a major turnaround on the $15.5 billion of borrowing—or what economist call dissaving—over the 5 previous years. This is the result of the resilience of our households and Government policy that is encouraging savings and a rebalancing of the economy.
Joanne Hayes: Over the past 6 years, what steps has the Government taken as part of its economic plan to encourage households to save more and to reduce borrowing and consumption?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: One step was to encourage the Leader of the Opposition to pay his bills—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! If the member would just address the question that has been asked without referring to—[Interruption]—Order!
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The Government has taken a number of other steps to rebalance the economy as well. One of those measures was a comprehensive tax package in 2010. This included across-the-board reductions in tax on savings and work, alongside an increase in tax on consumption and property investment. We have also continued to provide subsidies to the KiwiSaver scheme, as implemented by the previous Labour Government, which give New Zealanders additional avenues to save and invest, and in particular the Government share offer programme gave New Zealanders the opportunity through KiwiSaver, and directly, to invest in what they believe are sound long-term investments.
Joanne Hayes: What role do fiscal savings, as part of the Government’s wider programme of economic reform, have in rebalancing the economy?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Fiscal restraint removes pressure from the economy for higher interest rates and higher inflation, and helps keep the cost of living increases low. The Government operating deficit has shrunk significantly from 9 percent of GDP in 2010, half of which went into supporting the people of Christchurch after the earthquakes. This has helped contribute to overall national savings, which Statistic New Zealand calculates are around $14.2 billion. Along with the Government’s programme of microeconomic reform through the Business Growth Agenda, this is creating conditions where businesses are investing, and current signs for increases in real business investment are encouraging.
Joanne Hayes: What are the economic benefits of a strong national savings rate?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: New Zealand has a track record of relatively low national savings, and we are not quite sure why that is even now, but higher savings tend to help keep inflation and interest rates lower. For instance, better savings will be contributing, at least, to mortgage rates that are still just above 50-year lows. Higher savings enable domestically sourced investment, and that is helping drive New Zealand’s solid economic growth. For instance, there were 80,000 more jobs last year, paying wages that, on average, are growing faster than the cost of living.
Dr Russel Norman: Has the Minister seen reports that the savings of New Zealanders held in trust by the Superannuation Fund are at risk from the fund’s investments in fossil fuels—reports such as the recent speech by the head of the OECD, which referred to fossil fuel reserves as “stranded assets”?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: No, I have not seen those reports, but the New Zealand Superannuation Fund has ethical investment guidelines. According to all the monitoring of its decisions, it complies with those guidelines.
Dr Russel Norman: Has he seen reports from the International Energy Agency, the World Bank, the OECD, and the United Nations warning that at least two-thirds of discovered fossil fuels (uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing) will have to stay in the ground to avoid catastrophic climate change, wiping much of the current value off the fossil fuel sector; and will he hence discuss possible divestment options with the New Zealand Superannuation Fund as a result?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: No, I have not seen those reports, but it is possible that the Intelligence and Security Committee will scrutinise those at its first meeting with its new membership. We do not share the same anxiety as the Greens about the use of fossil fuels, but we would expect the Superannuation Fund to take into account the risks to future profits for the companies in which it invests.
Dr Russel Norman: Did he see the recent warning from the Governor of the Bank of England, who said that the vast majority of fossil fuel reserves are unburnable if global temperature rises are to be limited to below 2 degrees Celsius, and hence will he heed his call for investors such as the Superannuation Fund to begin divesting from the riskiest coal companies, as the Norwegian fund has done recently?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: It is ironic that Norway might be disinvesting when the main source of its sovereign wealth fund is, of course, endless oil out of the North Sea. So that position seems somewhat contradictory. We would expect, again, the Superannuation Fund to take account of the real risks. The fund can do a certain amount of speculation about the impact of climate change—no doubt that is built into some kind of probabilities that it calculates about the risks of the investments that it has. But the Government does not intend to direct it in any way around fossil fuels.
Dr Russel Norman: Does he believe that it is ethical for the Superannuation Fund to be investing over $676 million in fossil fuel companies, effectively taking a bet that the world will take no action to avoid catastrophic climate change?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Yes I do, in just the same way that it is ethical for that member to pull up at a petrol pump and fill his car up to keep it going for the week. Fossil fuels are just part of our way of life. The Greens do not like them but continue to use them. The Superannuation Fund should take into account any future risks it sees. I have to say that the risks of fluctuation in prices of fossil fuels seem to be much greater and more immediate than the long-term impacts of climate change, with 50 and 60 percent reductions in the prices recently. We would certainly expect the Superannuation Fund to be taking account of that in its investment decisions.
SuperGold Card—Review of Public Transport Scheme 3. Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First) to the Associate Minister of Transport: When will the targeted review of the operating mechanisms of the SuperGold Card free off-peak public transport scheme be completed?
Hon CRAIG FOSS (Associate Minister of Transport): I expect final decisions on the review will be made before 30 June 2015 and I am confident that New Zealanders will continue to enjoy the transportation benefits of the SuperGold Card.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: If the SuperGold Card review started in October 2009 and was meant to be completed within 5 years, is it fair to continue giving Fullers ferries exclusively $1.5 million in SuperGold Card funding when Explore Waiheke has been transporting a large proportion of SuperGold Card holders at Explore Waiheke’s expense over the last 4 months?
Hon CRAIG FOSS: Any new entrants to that particular service after the moratorium was put in place took commercial risk and are making decisions to take passengers as they see fit.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Did Auckland Minister Nikki Kaye and Minister for Senior Citizens Maggie Barry alert him and his colleagues that the SuperGold Card Waiheke ferry funding will not cost the taxpayer any more than the current $1.5 million; if so, is the Government comfortable with protecting a foreign monopoly against a legitimate New Zealand competitor who thought the review was going to be completed in 2014? (uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing)
Hon CRAIG FOSS: My colleagues have been very robust in their representation from their various portfolios and their local electorate interests and their interest in the management of the SuperGold Card.
Electricity Market—Competition 4. TODD MULLER (National—Bay of Plenty) to the Minister of Energy and Resources: What update can he give on competition in the New Zealand electricity market as a result of the Government’s reforms?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES (Minister of Energy and Resources): I can confirm that a record seven new electricity retailers have entered the retail electricity market since January of last year—more than any previous year. In 2012 and 2013 three new retailers entered the market, and in 2011 two new retailers. This brings the total number of retailers to 21 and the total number of retail brands to 27. This is great news for consumers who continue to have more power to choose the innovative and competitive services they want. The entry of new players also continues to put competitive pressure on existing retailers.
Todd Muller: In what other ways are consumers benefiting from increasing competition in the electricity market?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: It is clear that competitive pressure from mid-sized retailers is having a very significant effect. In the last couple of years the big four retailers have been consistently losing market share to the mid-sized players: approximately 100,000 consumers have moved from big retailers to mid-sized retailers since 2013. Also, I am very pleased that so far three of the five largest retailers have publicly said they are holding the energy component of their prices this year. The Government believes that competition is the best way to keep downward pressure on prices, and we will continue to promote competitive and innovative measures in the electricity market for the absolute benefit of consumers.
Accident Compensation—Levies 5. GRANT ROBERTSON (Labour—Wellington Central) to the Minister of Finance: Does he stand by his statement that “ACC is one of many decisions that add up to whether there is a surplus or not a surplus”; if so, was the decision to reject officials’ advice and keep ACC levies $178 million higher than they need to be a decision made to achieve a surplus?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): Yes and no.
Grant Robertson: In reference to the last part of that answer, why did the then Minister for ACC, Judith Collins, say to Cabinet that “reductions to ACC levies impact on the Government’s fiscal strategy to balance the books.” if the Government’s long-promised surplus was not the reason that levies have been kept higher than they need to be?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Because in making that decision the Government takes into account a range of considerations just in the same way it has to weigh up, for instance, the impact on the deficit of providing an increase in operational funding for our schools or more money for our hospitals. If you pass the money to the hospital you have a bigger deficit and it makes it harder to get to surplus, and ACC is no different. Generally, the Government has taken a more conservative view than officials about increases and decreases in the levy.
Jami-Lee Ross: What benefits will New Zealanders receive in the next few months as a result of this Government’s improved management of ACC?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The main benefit they will have is the security of knowing that the ACC scheme has now been stabilised after the mess it was left in by the previous Labour Government with multibillion dollar losses. As we announced in Budget 2014, ACC’s improving performance has meant that annual levies for households and businesses have fallen by close to $1 billion per annum since 2011-12 and, in addition, we have indicated further levy reductions of $480 million in (uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing) 2015-16. By then we will have reduced ACC levies by almost $1.5 billion per annum—actually bigger than a small tax cut.
Grant Robertson: Why did then the Minister for ACC, Judith Collins, defend the inflated ACC levies by saying “because we need to get to surplus” and “we believe the surplus is something that is very important” if the reason for making New Zealand workers pay $60 more than they need to and businesses $1,500 more than they need to is simply a way of trying to reach his long-promised surplus?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Of course, the decisions about the ACC levies have an impact on the surplus—and the member seems surprised that that has been referred to—in the same was as increases in the health budget have an impact on the surplus. Part of the job of any Government—as it was for the previous Labour Government—is to make the decisions about where you can make progress. In the case of ACC, this is a $1.5 billion in levy reductions at the same time as achieve surpluses, just as in the same way we try to manage the health system with relatively small increases because we want better health services and we want a surplus—and at the moment we are getting both.
Grant Robertson: When he said that the National Government would post “a meaningful surplus”, does he think New Zealanders would expect that to be the result of competently managing and growing the economy, rather than ripping off workers and businesses with hiked-up ACC levies?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: It is not the right day for the Labour Party to be talking about ripping off the workers. I mean, at least the workers pay some levy, whereas Andrew Little did not pay any of the bill.
David Seymour: Does the Minister find it ironic to face accusations of divergent objectives and political meddling in ACC when it was those members who removed competition, renationalised it, and created the whole situation in the first place 15 years ago?
Mr SPEAKER: In so far as there is ministerial responsibility—[Interruption] Order!
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Well, what the Government is responsible for is not the past policies of the Labour Government but for fixing up the tragic consequences of those policies, which were an unstable ACC system in 2008 losing billions of dollars. It is now performing so well that we are on track to cut levies by $1.5 billion and, for example, all those older people who have a car, which they register every year, will find that the cost of registering a car drops by $130 from 1 April this year.
Grant Robertson: Does he not think that reaching a surplus in May by unnecessarily hiking ACC levies, which will see businesses paying $1,500 a year more than they need to, actually breaks his promise to deliver a meaningful surplus, given that it is nothing more than a desperate attempt to rescue the Government from yet another dismal deficit?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: No, I do not agree with any of that. Businesses and, I think, a lot of New Zealanders with an interest in ACC are pleased that they have got a stable, sustainable scheme that is rehabilitating more people more quickly than ever, and, as a result of good stewardship by the ACC board and the respective Ministers, ACC can now drop levies to the point where car registration costs will drop by $130 a year.
Community and Voluntary Sector, Minister—Statements 6. CLAYTON MITCHELL (NZ First) to the Minister for the Community and Voluntary Sector: Does she stand by her statement “You and your charities are core in our life of caring and sharing, and drive our cultural expression and community based development. This investment of time, effort and energy not only helps our country to function, but also contributes to the strength and resilience of our communities, making them better places for us to live.”? (uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing)
Hon JO GOODHEW (Minister for the Community and Voluntary Sector): Yes. Charities are the heart and soul of our communities. To support them, my priorities include improving the public’s trust and confidence in the more than 27,000 registered charities in New Zealand.
Clayton Mitchell: In that case, how can she explain a situation where a 117-year-old bowling club that allows local schools to use its facilities and actively encourages local business teams to participate is being threatened with losing its charitable status—its lifeline to funding—and, therefore, its ability to simply provide for the community?
Hon JO GOODHEW: What I do know is that Charities Services works with every registered charity. In particular, when a charity notifies Charities Services that it is changing its rules, Charities Services will get back in touch with that charity if in any way its change of rules might preclude it from remaining a registered charity. This process happens over a period of time in which the rules are explained to the charity, and it can then weigh up its decision to change its rules to determine whether, in fact, it will continue to remain a charity or not. In the end, the decision around its rules remaining within the ambit of a registered charity is its own.
Clayton Mitchell: Why can the Government not do something to rectify the situation given that it amended the Charities Act in 2012 specifically to include the promotion of amateur sport as a charitable purpose?
Hon JO GOODHEW: I believe that I already indicated to the member in my previous answer that in fact Charities Services is working with that organisation. Charities Services is also working with other sporting bodies, and, as I have already indicated, when a sporting body indicates to Charities Services that it wishes to change its rules, it will receive guidance as to whether that rule change will continue to allow it to remain charitable. The law change in 2012 said that in order for an amateur sporting body to be within the realm of a charity, its intention had to principally be for the benefit of the community through education or through health. Therefore, it remains up to the organisation to determine whether any changes to its rules will take it outside of principally working in that area.
Clayton Mitchell: Why are you making it so hard for sporting groups to obtain funding by removing their charitable status—they are the lifeblood of our communities?
Hon JO GOODHEW: It would appear that the member has not been listening. What we are doing for the 27,000 charities is providing guidance to them when they seek to change their rules as to whether those rule changes will allow them to remain a registered charity—just sticking within the ambit of the 2012 extended law.
Poto Williams: Does she support the Government’s policy to charge charities for police checks; if so, how does charging charities hundreds of thousands of dollars a year for a service that is currently free help them to carry out the good work for our community?
Hon JO GOODHEW: This is a matter for the Minister of Police, but nevertheless I seek the indulgence of the House in that it very much concerns the community and voluntary sector. In order to assist the member I am able tell her that submissions on the Policing (Cost Recovery) Amendment Bill are currently being considered by the Law and Order Committee. Many of these submissions ask the police to consider case by caseexemptions for vetting fees, particularly for organisations that have many volunteers, and, of course, the Law and Order Committee will report back in May 2015. So I am watching this closely.
Prisons—Audiovisual Links 7. TODD BARCLAY (National—Clutha-Southland) to the Minister of Corrections: What announcements has he made regarding the Government’s initiative to roll out Audio Visual Links in our prisons?
Hon Peseta SAM LOTU-IIGA (Minister of Corrections): Yesterday I announced that the $10.68 million project to install audiovisual links in our prisons has been successfully completed. Twelve prisons that hold remand prisoners have the technology, along with Auckland prison, which (uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing) holds the highest-risk prisoners. This technology allows for prisoners to attend court appearances without leaving the confines of prison. The audiovisual network is used mainly for procedural hearings, such as list appearances, call-overs, and bail hearings. The technology is particularly useful for remand prisoners, who typically have more court appearances. This smart use of technology in our prisons allows our corrections staff to focus more on prison security and offender rehabilitation rather than transporting prisoners to and from court.
Todd Barclay: What benefits will the justice sector see from this investment in the wider use of audiovisual links in our prisons?
Hon Peseta SAM LOTU-IIGA: Good question. Around 40,000 remand hearings take place each year. Each appearance requires considerable resources in transporting prisoners to court, some over long distances. It also carries a degree of risk. By ensuring that more appearances occur via audiovisual link, within prison complexes, potential public risks are reduced. The benefits of appearing via audiovisual link include reducing escape risks, transport costs, and the risk of contraband being smuggled. Prisoners will also spend more time in rehabilitation and reintegration activities, as they do not have to leave prison. It is a great success, and I look forward to that number of 5,000 remand appearances increasing as the newer site commences its audiovisual link connections.
Employment Relations—Zero Hour Contracts 8. IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY (Labour—Palmerston North) to the Minister for Workplace Relations and Safety: Is the definition of zero-hour contracts in his review of employment standards permanent, part-time employment agreements with no set hours of work?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister for Economic Development) on behalf of the Minister for Workplace Relations and Safety: As I mentioned to the member in yesterday’s question time, the term “zero hour contract” means different things to different people. It is, of course, not defined in New Zealand law, and one of the things that we will look at with the review is the different ways in which it has been described. Some people appear to apply it to all casual contracts, others to certain types of casual contracts, and still others to the part-time employment agreements of certain types as well. The Minister is primarily concerned with reported practices where mutual obligations are unbalanced, and has asked officials to go and talk to workers, unions, and businesses to identify specific issues and concerns so they can be addressed. The important thing is to address poor employment practices and ensure we maintain a fair and flexible labour market.
Iain Lees-Galloway: Will he support an amendment to the Employment Relations Act to give permanent part-time employees certainty about their hours of work?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: If the member is referring to his proposed member’s bill, I have had a look at it and, unfortunately, I do not think it would deal with the issues that he is suggesting that it would deal with. I think that is one of the challenges of just sort of roaring in and quickly trying to come up with an answer. I think we need to look at it properly and make sure that we get the answer that is actually going to deal with practices that we are all concerned about.
Iain Lees-Galloway: Why does he insist on saying that people taking a stand against zero hour contracts want to ban casual contracts, when this is not the case?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I think there are some different approaches that different people are taking when they are using the term “zero hour contract”. And I think—
Hon Member: Different people in the Government seem to be taking different approaches.
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Well, no—I appreciate that Labour members have a view, but, as they find out from time to time, theirs is not the only view in New Zealand society, and actually other people have slightly different views and we have just got to work our way through it. There is no great conspiracy in this; it is just about looking at the situation and addressing particular issues that are there with particular types of agreements. (uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing)
Iain Lees-Galloway: Why does he insist on conflating two separate issues—zero hour contracts and the deduction of wages—when customers drive off without paying for petrol, given that, in the words of his own pollster, David Farrar: “The latter issue could occur no matter how many hours you are contracted for, and it is misleading to conflate those issues.”?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: The simple reality is that we are looking at employment standards generally at the moment, and there have been a number of issues raised in recent months that need to be included as part of that review, and so we are doing it. There appears to be some sort of weird conspiracy about the fact that we are doing it, but the member’s point is completely lost on me.
Iain Lees-Galloway: Why will he not just deal with zero hour contracts, rather than making misleading and confusing statements to distract people from the real issue?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: It would be very interesting to take up the member’s suggestion for just dealing with zero hour contracts, because I have read his bill and it appears that he wants to ban zero hour contracts by insisting that employers put some hours in the contract. And the way the bill is written, it seems to me that all employers that wanted to have zero-hour contracts could simply put 1 hour in the contract and continue on their merry way. That is why you have to be very careful as you look at these issues, to make sure that you come up with answers—
Iain Lees-Galloway: That is what the select committee process is for, Steven.
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Well, actually, you do not put dodgy bills to a select committee and waste everybody’s time.
Exclusive Economic Zone—Legislation 9. DAVID SEYMOUR (Leader—ACT) to the Minister for the Environment: Is he confident that the Exclusive Economic Zone and Continental Shelf (Environmental Effects) Act 2012 is fit for purpose, in light of the Environmental Protection Authority rejecting both the recent ironsands and phosphate seabed mining applications?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH (Minister for the Environment): The exclusive economic zone law is new, and prior to 2012 New Zealand had no regime for regulating the environment in our vast oceans. I am confident that the purpose of the Act is sound. It is about New Zealand being able to take up the opportunities for economic development in the exclusive economic zone, subject to appropriate environmental controls. The Government is taking a careful and considered view on other amendments to the Act. There will not be a knee-jerk reaction to the two consent decisions referred to. Both the Environmental Protection Authority and my ministry, in their briefings to me as the incoming Minister, raised a number of implementation issues with the Act and flowing from this we will be progressing amendments to make the new regime more practical and workable.
David Seymour: In the Minister’s view does the Act currently give enough weighting to the potential for creating investment, jobs, and growth in provincial areas of New Zealand such as that defined by the boundaries of the Northland electorate?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: The vast exclusive economic zone actually affects the bulk of New Zealand’s electorates and represents an area of about 23 times the size of New Zealand’s land area. That is why it was such a significant decision for our Government to be the very first in New Zealand’s history to have some environmental rules in that space. Any new law that I have been part of, in my 25 years in Parliament, always requires some finessing and that is why this Government—
Grant Robertson: That’s right. Every one that you’ve been part of does.
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: From my recollection, right through the last 9 years, and I will tell you what. We have fixed up a fair share of that Government’s mess-ups—just to mention the $4 billion ACC loss that landed on my plate when I became the Minister. We will be doing some sensible finessing of that law that will work for Northland and the rest of New Zealand. (uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing)
Business Growth Agenda—Support for Small Businesses 10. KANWALJIT SINGH BAKSHI (National) to the Minister for Small Business: What initiatives have the Government implemented through the Business Growth Agenda that assist small business?
Hon CRAIG FOSS (Minister for Small Business): Small businesses benefit from an environment that gives them confidence to invest and grow. The Business Growth Agenda is working to create a competitive and productive economy that supports both the export-focused and domestically focused small businesses. The Business Growth Agenda has introduced a number of changes that have made it easier for small businesses to export, to innovate, to raise capital, and to build skilled and safe workplaces. Some of the Business Growth Agenda initiatives helping small businesses are the roll-out of ultra-fast broadband, the reduction in personal and company tax rates, updating New Zealand’s intellectual property settings, implementing the voluntary 90-day trial, and reducing unnecessary financial reporting costs for small businesses, amongst many other initiatives.
Kanwaljit Singh Bakshi: What initiatives have been implemented to enable new ways for small businesses to access funding and capital?
Hon CRAIG FOSS: Small businesses now have the opportunity to raise capital through changes brought in last year around crowdfunding and peer-to-peer lending. New Zealand leads the world in the ease of setting up a small business, but these changes create even more opportunities for more start-up businesses as it gives them more options to raise funds and capital. This helps small businesses grow and employ more people. I do note I am very pleased that Labour has embraced National’s changes by using crowdfunding itself to try to raise funds for its operation.
Jacinda Ardern: By how much has he reduced the compliance costs for small business in recent times?
Hon CRAIG FOSS: In the primary answer I mentioned changing some of the financial reporting costs for small businesses, so the vast majority of small businesses will not even have to produce full generally accepted accounting practice financial accounts, as they had to in the past, and as they had to under 9 long years of the Labour Government.
Jacinda Ardern: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am sure you will applaud me for my very straight question, which simply asked by how much has he reduced compliance costs for small business.
Mr SPEAKER: But I think to expect a dollar value on that—when you consider the complexity and variation of different businesses around New Zealand, it would be impossible to expect the Minister to give that figure.
Jacinda Ardern: Is the Speaker indeed right that the complexity is such that the Minister will not even be able to achieve his own public service target of reducing compliance costs by 25 percent, when he has no idea of the impact of anything he has done to date, or is it more to the point that he has not done anything to date?
Hon CRAIG FOSS: What I do know is that the complexity of a capital gains tax on small businesses would absolutely take off the amount of compliance, time, resource, and finances that small businesses would have to use and utilise to comply with such an initiative, as outlined by the Labour Party—
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I apologise to the Minister.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: With respect, the Minister was not asked about anything to do with a capital gains tax. He was asked a very direct question, allowed by the Speaker’s prior comments, and I would ask him to come back to the question he was asked.
Mr SPEAKER: The difficulty I have is that the Minister could comment on the essence of the question, which was around a Better Public Services aim of 25 percent and whether that target would be met. I think that is the essence of the question. (uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing)
Hon CRAIG FOSS: We are well on progress to achieving our Better Public Services aim of 25 percent. Help is on the way. The member should just wait and see. What is not happening is a capital gains tax for small businesses to try to work out what part of the couch they use to do all their daily accounts.
Defence Force, Minister—Statements on Deployment of Troops Against ISIS 11. Dr KENNEDY GRAHAM (Green) to the Minister of Defence: Does he stand by his statement “I’ve made it very clear that we don’t intend to have combat troops in Iraq once you go beyond the wire that’s what you’re involved in”?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES (Minister of Energy and Resources) on behalf of the Minister of Defence: Yes, and this was made clear by the Prime Minister on 5 November last year, when he stated that New Zealand troops would not be sent into a combat role in Iraq.
Dr Kennedy Graham: So when the Prime Minister said more recently than that that he could not rule out soldiers going beyond the wire, was the Prime Minister misleading the public?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: No.
Dr Kennedy Graham: Has Tim Keating, the Chief of Defence Force, been instructed to rule out New Zealand troops going beyond the wire and engaging in active combat, during his meeting with the club’s defence chiefs in Saudi Arabia today?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: As the member is well aware, no decision on deployment has been made. We have made quite clear that we are not deploying in combat roles were a decision to be made. But, obviously, in the event of a decision being made to go to Iraq, personnel may, for example, be in transit. Iraq, we know in generalised terms, is at a heightened level of danger, so protective action cannot be entirely ruled out.
Dr Kennedy Graham: Has Tim Keating been instructed to raise the issue of the flow of money to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant from Saudi Arabia, a country also known for its celebration of public beheadings?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: I am not aware of that level of detail.
Dr Kennedy Graham: Is the club meeting in Saudi Arabia requested by, or even acknowledged by, the United Nations Security Council; if not, what is the legitimacy of the meeting in terms of the United Nations Charter?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: That is a legal question that I do not have to answer.
Dr Kennedy Graham: Can he guarantee that no New Zealanders will engage and potentially be killed in active combat in Iraq?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: I think the member knows quite well now that no decision on deployment has been made. We have been quite clear that were a decision in the positive to be made, troops would not be in combat roles and they are not going beyond the wire. But as I have already said in answering the member’s question, Iraq is a dangerous place and even behind the wire there are some risks, so protective action cannot be entirely ruled out.
Deployment of Troops Against ISIS—Agreement 12. DAVID SHEARER (Labour—Mt Albert) to the Minister of Foreign Affairs: Will New Zealand troops operate under a status of forces agreement if they are deployed to Iraq?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES (Minister of Energy and Resources) on behalf of the Minister of Foreign Affairs: No decision has been made on whether to deploy troops in Iraq. Were such a decision to be made, clearly discussions would then need to occur, to work through what legal arrangements would operate.
David Shearer: Is it true that both New Zealand and Australia’s strategic assessment as to the likelihood of green on blue attacks—those are attacks on our trainers—has been assessed as high?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: I am not aware of that specific fact. (uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing)
David Shearer: Has the New Zealand Government discussed with the Australian Government the use of private contractors as force protection for New Zealand troops, should they be deployed in Iraq?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: Of course, we discuss many things with our Australian friends. We know here that it is quite clear that we have not made any decisions to deploy anyway, so those kinds of questions are hypothetical.
David Shearer: Can he categorically rule out, then, the use of private contractors as force protection of New Zealand troops deployed to Iraq, if they are deployed to Iraq, even if Australia and the United States do rely on them?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: We have not even, with respect to the member, reached a decision on deployment yet. That, as has been made quite clear, is a decision that will be discussed next week. So it is not appropriate at this time to be answering what are, in effect, hypothetical questions.
David Shearer: Is it true that Australia and the United States till have now been negotiating on New Zealand’s behalf on our possible deployment to Iraq, given that New Zealand does not have diplomatic representation in Iraq, and Dr al-Jaafari’s visit to New Zealand last week was the first time that New Zealand and Iraq had discussed the possibility?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: New Zealand negotiates on its own behalf and will make a decision in the interests of New Zealanders, but we are not going to do what the member seems to be arguing for, and leave the heavy lifting to everyone else on matters as important as this, and the human rights of other people.