Questions and Answers - February 25
QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS
Prime Minister—Statement on Deployment of Defence Force to Iraq 1. METIRIA TUREI (Co-Leader—Green) to the Prime Minister: Does he stand by his statement “Get some guts and join the right side”?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): Absolutely I do.
Metiria Turei: Will the Prime Minister take his own advice to “Get some guts” and stop negotiating a trade deal with Saudi Arabia, a regime that executes children?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No.
Metiria Turei: How does the Prime Minister reconcile negotiating a trade deal with Saudi Arabia, where children are imprisoned for life and publicly flogged, while claiming the suffering of children as a justification for going to war?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: The New Zealand Government, through successive foreign Ministers and through the ministry, for a long time has advocated strongly for human rights and stood up and made clear our concern when we see those incidents. That does not stop us from negotiating free-trade agreements with countries about which we have some concerns about their human rights. We have done that over successive Governments.
Metiria Turei: Why will the Prime Minister not make any trade deal with Saudi Arabia conditional on the Saudi Arabia regime halting the execution of children?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: As I said earlier—I stand by my answer to the last question—we advocate strongly for human rights, but that is not a condition for which we set a free-trade agreement, nor has it been for the Labour Government. But, of course, we would also need to look at the conditions and the claims the member is making and check the veracity of them.
Metiria Turei: Will the Prime Minister take his own advice to “Get some guts” and make the $20 million in aid he gives to Indonesia each year conditional on the Indonesian regime not shooting dead children in their school uniforms?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Again, we would have to check the veracity of the member’s statements; they sound fairly outrageous. Again, I stand by the same record, which is that New Zealand gives humanitarian aid because the aid is actually aimed at supporting the people who are most in need. Like many countries, they cannot always necessarily control who is in charge.
Metiria Turei: Can the Prime Minister explain, if child soldiers are a reason to go to war in Iraq, why then not go to war in Nigeria, where Boko Haram has kidnapped hundreds of children and recently murdered a 7-year-old girl by using her as a suicide bomber? (uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing)
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: The Government is outraged by what we see in Nigeria with Boko Haram. We continue to follow the principles that we are also following in Iraq and Syria and Libya and other countries, which is in relation to the diplomatic and humanitarian work that we do. The Iraqi Government in particular has asked for help in relation to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), and we believe that in doing that not only we are supporting the people of that region but we are actually supporting New Zealanders themselves. I heard the member saying to the press gallery words to the effect that we should live in some cocooned world where we do nothing because somehow New Zealanders will be safe. Well, I am sorry about that but New Zealanders travel and there are domestic terror threats from ISIL, whether that member wants to accept that or not.
Metiria Turei: So is the Prime Minister telling this House that he will accept taking economic benefits through trade deals from countries like Saudi Arabia and Indonesia and others where children are routinely tortured, where they are imprisoned, and where they are murdered by those regimes, and he thinks he is doing it in New Zealand’s name?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I am simply making the point that there are many countries in the world that New Zealand has free-trade agreements with—and has negotiated those across successive Governments—about which there are human rights concerns that we have, and we raise those issues.
Budget 2015—Social Development 2. ANDREW BAYLY (National—Hunua) to the Minister of Finance: What are the features of the new social investment approach the Government will use in Budget 2015 and in future Budgets?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): The social investment approach is an extension of the way this Government has operated in the social sector for a while—for instance, with the investment approach to welfare and the formation of Children’s Teams. Now we are making it part of the Budget process as well. What we are talking about here is using the best information available to understand which people where need our services the most, whether the current interventions are actually helping those people or undermining their resilience, and testing whether with different interventions we can do a better job of getting results for our families and communities. For too long Governments have measured success in respect of the social needs of our population by how much money they spend, rather than by what results they achieve.
Andrew Bayly: How will changes through the social investment approach benefit New Zealanders who rely on public services?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: In the first place it requires a much better understanding of the individual and unique needs of those who use our public services—for instance, now we can understand the achievement progress of every single child in our primary schools. As a result of the welfare liability we have a much richer understanding of which people are on a benefit for a long time and the reasons for it. As a result of our social housing reforms we already have a much better understanding of the needs and aspirations of State house tenants and also of those people who are waiting for a State house. So those people are all going to benefit from the Government having a better understanding of what their needs are and, therefore, more capacity to meet those needs.
Andrew Bayly: How is this new approach related to the Government’s Better Public Services programme, and will providers come from only the Public Service?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: It is directly related to our Better Public Services programme because that is all about achieving meaningful results. If I can use a couple of examples, there has now been some improvement in hospital admissions due to rheumatic fever, a disease we should not have in New Zealand. Achieving those results has involved both the Public Service and non-governmental organisations in a much more cooperative effort to identify those at-risk populations and take action. Another is our efforts to reduce recidivism. In respect of the new prison to be opened in Auckland, actually we are paying not for rehabilitation programmes but for actual reductions in (uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing) recidivism. The private organisation running that prison will work with iwi and the public sector to achieve less recidivism.
Andrew Bayly: How will the social investment approach help deliver better fiscal results for the Government?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: This is a Government that believes that what works for the community is what works for the Government’s books. So every time we keep a teenager on track to stay at school long enough to get a qualification or have one more person pulled off the track of long-term welfare dependency, we get an immediate saving, of course, and an immediate benefit for those individuals and for the community, and a long-term saving in taxpayers’ money.
Prime Minister—Statement on Deployment of Defence Force to Iraq 3. ANDREW LITTLE (Leader—Labour) to the Prime Minister: Does he stand by his statement that “We recognise ISIL is not a short-term threat and there is a lot of work to be done in the long-term”; if so, does he accept this means New Zealand’s deployment may last longer than 2 years and involve more than training?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): Yes; and no.
Andrew Little: Is sending 16 trainers and support troops for a maximum of 2 years the absolute limit of New Zealand’s involvement in Iraq, even if the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) is undefeated, or does he agree with Gerry Brownlee that mission creep is like a force of nature that cannot ever be ruled out, and UK Foreign Secretary Hammond, who says that this is a generational war?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Yesterday the Government laid out clearly its contribution of military capability in Iraq. That is the extent of what I see us doing, and it is a shame that the Opposition did not have the courage to support it.
Andrew Little: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Prime Minister in the heat of his presentation yesterday got away with alleging or implying that members of the Opposition did not have guts or did not have courage. To say it explicitly is against the Standing Orders, and I would like for you, Mr Speaker, to call him to account.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! The comments made yesterday were certainly robust. I do not think they were out of order. I do not think that on this occasion the answer is out of order, but I do not actually think it has addressed the question that the member asked. So I am going to ask Andrew Little to—[Interruption] Order! It is not helpful when I am on my feet for a whip to continue to interject. I am—[Interruption] Order! I am going to ask Andrew Little to re-ask that question.
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Point of order.
Mr SPEAKER: Well, no, I have ruled. I am asking Andrew Little to ask that question again.
Andrew Little: Is sending 16 trainers and support troops for a maximum of 2 years the absolute limit of New Zealand’s involvement in Iraq, even if ISIL is undefeated, or does he agree with Gerry Brownlee that mission creep is like a force of nature that cannot ever be ruled out, and UK Foreign Secretary Hammond, who says that this is a generational war?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: That is the expectation of our military contribution.
Andrew Little: Now that US and Canadian troops have already moved from training operations to combat operations, will he give New Zealanders a 100 percent cast-iron guarantee that the same will not happen with our troops?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Firstly, I think the member is incorrect. In fact, actually, the Canadians and, I think, the Australians started with the premise that they would be there to advise, assist, and accompany. The New Zealand Government has made it quite clear that we will not be sending in combat troops, unlike Labour, who sent the SAS combat troops to Afghanistan.
Ron Mark: If the Prime Minister feels so strongly about “showing some guts” and “not standing by whilst atrocities are committed”, why did he not just deploy the SAS in a combat role to help (uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing) take out high-value ISIL targets, without having to expose our infantry trainers to the unnecessary and inherent risks that lie in training Iraqi soldiers?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I think that is quite interesting because I think the member Mr Mark, a former military man, is actually showing that he disagrees with his leader and the position that he took yesterday.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The answer should be to the point and address the question that was asked. The Prime Minister began with a very contentious statement, demonstrably false, as everybody knows, and you should stop him.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The trouble with the question is that it was not a clear, concise question. It was a very—[Interruption] Order! It was an elaborate question that gives the ability for the Prime Minister to respond that way. If the member had simply asked why the Government did not decide to send SAS troops in combat, that would have been a clear question and we could have got an answer. But when members embellish the question like that, they give the answerer the opportunity to give an answer that addresses the question not to the member’s satisfaction. If members could only learn to ask concise supplementary questions, they would get a better answer.
Ron Mark: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Mr Speaker, might I ask you, in later times, to read my Hansard and reconsider the consequences of that decision that you have just given?
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! I can assure the member that I will reread the Hansard, as I assure the House I do after every question time.
Ron Mark: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: Can I just clarify—is this a fresh point of order?
Ron Mark: Yes, most certainly, Mr Speaker. Mr Speaker, could I ask you to allow the Prime Minister to finish his answer, because he was only part-way through when he was cut short?
Mr SPEAKER: If the Prime Minister wishes to continue his answer, he is welcome to do so.
Andrew Little: Can the Prime Minister give New Zealanders—
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! I will hear the point of order, but it is getting to the ridiculous stage when we are getting points of order now that are leading to disorder in this House.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Mr Speaker, my colleague asked a question, and I contend that the Prime Minister was not answering it. It is not sufficient that he does not bother to answer it at all, and that is what I am asking you to rule on.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I have, if the member would only concentrate on what is going on—I have already—[Interruption] Order! [Interruption] Order! I have already ruled that the Prime Minister addressed the question that was asked.
Andrew Little: Can the Prime Minister give New Zealanders a 100 percent—[Interruption]—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! If these interjections are going to continue, I will be asking the right honourable gentleman to leave the House. Now I am going to ask Andrew Little to restart his question.
Andrew Little: Can the Prime Minister give New Zealanders a 100 percent cast-iron guarantee that the Iraqi soldiers New Zealanders train will not use that training to help the Hezbollah terrorist group and the al-Assad dictatorship, as they are currently doing?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I do not think, realistically, one can say that some person could not go off and do something else, or their own thing. In reality, that is an impossible thing for any person to do. But what I can do is say that the Iraqi Foreign Minister made it clear in my meeting—and I suspect he made it clear in the meeting that the member had as well—that security is their No. 1 priority. They need help. And actually we should provide them that help, as I pointed out yesterday, not just to help them stand up against the people of ISIL—who would attack Iraqi nationals and others—but actually because they are standing up to protect New Zealanders. And that member is better positioned than any other New Zealander, as Leader of the Opposition, to understand the threats and the risks to New Zealanders. And that member knows, like I know, that the risk to New (uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing) Zealanders increases the stronger ISIL is. I stand by my statement yesterday—he should back the right thing.
Andrew Little: Given that Australian special forces are already working with Iraqi units accused of war crimes, can he give New Zealanders a 100 percent cast-iron guarantee that the Iraqi troops we train will not be using that training to commit war crimes?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: The member is asking me to give guarantees that no leader could, but what I can be sure of is that we are following something that will, in my view, in a small way, make a contribution to ensuring that ISIL is weaker, and that protects New Zealanders more.
Andrew Little: Does he seriously think that there is any chance that his objective of “Sunni, Shi’a, and Kurds harmoniously sharing power and working together in Iraq” will be achieved in 2 years; if not, does that not mean a longer, larger commitment will be needed, or is he just going to give up?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I do not know whether it can be achieved in 2 years, but what I do know, and what I have been saying for a very long period of time, is in fact the strongest thing that can happen to stand up against ISIL is actually a Government in Iraq that is inclusive. Secondly, as I have been saying, it actually is a long-run process, but that is why we are applying so many different parts to this, and that includes humanitarian support, it includes diplomatic support, it includes the work we are doing on the United Nations Security Council, and it includes some military capability.
Andrew Little: Has he not seen the plaques around this Chamber—Malaya, where New Zealand’s involvement began with cargo planes and ended 17 years later, and Viet Nam, for which the National Government said sending troops was the price of being in the club, and the cost was 8 years of a quagmire? Has he not learnt the lessons of history—poor planning, lack of strategy, and lack of judgment lead to mission creep and disaster?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Firstly, there will not be poor planning when it comes to our troops going toTaji air base. I am quite confident that if you look at the work that the Chief of Defence Force is doing, and the work that will go in there, it will be a well-planned mission. Secondly, I genuinely believe the member, with a weak argument, does a disservice to all of those who fought in these battles for the values and principles that underpin New Zealand. As I said yesterday, and I stand by this, the member is taking politics over people.
Employment—Reports 4. Dr SHANE RETI (National—Whangarei) to the Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment: What reports has he received about employment growing across New Zealand?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment): The household labour force survey released earlier this month showed an additional 80,000 more people in work than a year ago. What was particularly pleasing was the broad-based nature of that job growth across a range of regions. Over the year, Waikato saw an increase of 17,400 jobs, Canterbury 15,800, the Bay of Plenty 15,600, and in Northland, a region that has historically struggled, 7,500 additional jobs were added in one year. To put that into perspective, Auckland, a region that is ten times larger in terms of working population, saw an increase of 22,400 jobs, so the Northland growth is very impressive. There is, of course, much more to do but this Government’s plan is boosting jobs, investment, and growth across New Zealand.
Dr Shane Reti: How is Northland performing compared with the rest of the New Zealand economy?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Yesterday’s ANZ Regional Trends report highlighted that Northland recorded the strongest annual rate of economic growth in the country in December, up 5.1 percent from a year earlier. It also posted the largest increase in merchandise exports in the December quarter, lifting 9.1 percent, with exports up 20 percent from a year ago. In addition, a strong 5.7 percent rise in employment ranked Northland second across all the regions— (uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing)
Grant Robertson: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member has a right to raise a point of order.
Grant Robertson: The Standing Orders require answers to be concise and to the point. If Mr Joyce wants to be the Northland candidate for National, I am sure it would have him.
Mr SPEAKER: That is not a valid point of order, ruined by the latter part of the point of order. Does the Minister wish to continue?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Yes.
Mr SPEAKER: I invite the Minister to bring his answer to a conclusion.
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Certainly, Mr Speaker. We acknowledge, of course, there is more to be done, but what is clear from these figures is that the Northland economy is growing strongly under this Government.
Dr Shane Reti: What other proposals has he seen to grow regions like Northland?
Mr SPEAKER: In so far as there is ministerial responsibility, the Hon Steven Joyce.
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: In contrast to the positive policies that are seeing growth in Northland and other regions around the country, I have seen policies that would halt the roll-out—
Denis O'Rourke: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! It is a point of order and I expect it to be heard in silence.
Denis O'Rourke: The question was about regions like Northland, not about Northland itself, and the Minister is talking about Northland—and should not be.
Mr SPEAKER: The question was more about other policies, so I am going to allow the Minister to continue his answer.
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: It is very interesting. In contrast to the positive policies of the Government in regions like Northland, I have seen policies that would halt the roll-out, for example, of ultra-fast and rural broadband, policies that would cancel the construction of vital infrastructure like core roading projects that connect regions to our big cities, policies that would discourage businesses from hiring new staff by getting rid of 90-day trials and the starting out wage, and policies that would introduce an expensive capital gains tax, and reject—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I can sense where the answer is going, and there is no ministerial responsibility there.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: If any of the Minister’s answers are remotely true, why did a leading New Zealand economist recently describe the capital of Northland, Whangarei—Mr Reti’s electorate—as a zombie town, and if he is so confident, why does he not settle in Northland himself?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I did not realise the member still lived there, but I can inform the member that this Government is strongly encouraging the growth of Whangarei and Northland, and it is succeeding.
Finance, Minister—Statements 5. GRANT ROBERTSON (Labour—Wellington Central) to the Minister of Finance: Does he stand by all his answers to Oral Question No 4 on Tuesday, 24 February 2015?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): Yes.
Grant Robertson: With respect to his statements on prudent policies, how much lower would debt levels have been had he not gone ahead with his 2010 cut to the top tax rate?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: No lower—in fact, debt probably would have been a bit higher, because when you take into account all the decisions made about tax cuts after the 2008 election, our tax package has resulted in a net increase in revenue compared with what the Labour Government expected to collect.
Grant Robertson: Is it in fact correct that the cost of his reduction to the top tax rate has so far been around about $5 billion, and how is it prudent to pursue policies like that? (uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing)
Hon BILL ENGLISH: No, the member is wrong. He may forget that actually the first thing we did when we came in as a Government was cancel tax cuts that were on the books, quite significant ones that were put in place by the previous Government, simply because they could not be afforded. The net effect of all the decisions around tax packages is that they collected more revenue than the Labour Government expected to collect, and, more important, we have now got a tax system that is well-balanced; favours incentives on work, savings, and investment; and taxes consumption and property more, and that is a good result.
Grant Robertson: I seek leave of the House to table a document prepared by the Parliamentary Library, which shows the cost of the top tax rate cut in 2010 to be $4.7 billion to this day.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that particular document from the Parliamentary Library. Is there any objection? There is none. It can be tabled.
Grant Robertson: Is he aware of any New Zealand Government that has run up so much debt in so little time as his Government has?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I have not checked back, but I am not aware of any other New Zealand Government that has dealt with the Christchurch earthquake. On “Planet Labour” perhaps it happens all the time, but in New Zealand it has happened only once, and, actually, it has generated something like $15 billion or $16 billion extra of debt. Yes, it would be better if we did not have to deal with that, but I am certainly not going to follow the member’s advice, which is to cut spending so that we can accommodate the Christchurch rebuild. That would be nuts.
Superannuation—Rate Changes 6. TODD MULLER (National—Bay of Plenty) to the Minister for Social Development: What is the Government doing to support older New Zealanders receiving New Zealand superannuation?
Hon Member: Not much.
Hon ANNE TOLLEY (Minister for Social Development): Quite the contrary. As a result of the annual general adjustment, superannuation and veterans pension payments will grow 2.07 percent from 1 April 2015. This year’s increase is in line with the Government’s commitment to keep the married couple rate at least 66 percent of the average wage. It means $11.68 extra each week for married superannuitants and $7.59 a week for those living alone compared with increases last year. Including this increase, New Zealand superannuation and veterans pension payments will have increased by 31.01 percent since April 2008, which is double the consumer price inflation of 15 percent in that time.
Todd Muller: How will other beneficiaries benefit from the annual general adjustment increase?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY: Benefit payments to around 440,000 New Zealanders will also increase on 1 April 2015: an annual general adjustment of 0.51 percent. That annual general adjustment will see a 0.5 percentage increase to benefit rates, student allowances, student loan living costs, and the foster care allowance, an increase to rates and thresholds for supplementary assistance like the child disability allowance, and also an increase to the threshold for the community services card. In 2011 we passed legislation to make sure that benefit payments increase each year in line with inflation, and this increase will benefit thousands of New Zealanders receiving a wide range of assistance through Work and Income and StudyLink, to keep up with the increase in living costs.
David Seymour: Given the Minister’s desire to preserve these levels of benefit for superannuitants, has she seen any reports from, for example, Treasury of what percentage of GDP will be required to do so as the current workforce heads into retirement?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY: No. (uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing)
Housing Market—Impact of Sales on Banks 7. PHIL TWYFORD (Labour—Te Atatū) to the Minister for Building and Housing: Does he agree with KPMG that banks are warning that the “significant deals done at ridiculous pricing” for New Zealand land and property could spell disaster for them?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Deputy Prime Minister) on behalf of the Minister for Building and Housing: On the face of it, no, I do not actually agree with KPMG, although I am not exactly sure what it means. If banks feel that they are lending money on “significant deals done at ridiculous pricing”, then they should not be, and it would be their own fault if it led to disaster. But, in fact, they are subject to a fairly detailed supervisory regime that is intended to ensure that they do not take significant risks at ridiculous pricing in their lending.
Phil Twyford: Does he agree with KPMG that “ ‘The risk for New Zealand is that, while all this money comes flooding in and creates over inflated prices, New Zealanders are forced to buy at these over inflated prices.’ That was leading to a sense of hopelessness among some young people about ever owning a home.”; if so, why will he not do something about that flood, instead of just tinkering with the Resource Management Act and selling off State houses?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: KPMG has not produced much evidence to back up the statement that there is “a flood of investment”. You do not have to go too far, though, to find a young couple who do find it a struggle to buy their first home, particularly in Auckland. They can buy them a lot more easily in other centres. That is why the Government is focusing strongly, and increasingly successfully, on improving the flexibility of supply of land, the reduction of consenting costs, and the reduction of building costs, so that we can have more affordable homes, particularly for low and middle income earners, who have actually had a problem for quite a while, and it is good that the member has now noticed.
Phil Twyford: What is he doing about the pressures of offshore speculators driving the price of housing out of the reach of young first-home buyers and creating a risk to the whole economy?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: We are doing what we have described many times in this House and that is, as a top priority, focusing on expanding the supply of land and the more ready availability of low and moderate value homes, particularly in the Auckland market, which we are doing through special housing areas. We will have the opportunity to do this through more rapid development of the State housing areas in Auckland. We are getting good cooperation from the Auckland Council. As indicated by the number of consents, we are starting to make some real progress, but there is a lot more to do.
Phil Twyford: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My question asked what the Government is doing about the pressures of offshore speculators. That was not addressed in the answer.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! It was. The Minister then went on and said exactly what the Government is doing. Whether or not that, in the member’s mind, is a satisfactory answer, clearly the question was addressed.
Phil Twyford: Now that the banks and KPMG say that offshore speculators are a problem and now that Tony Abbott’s centre-right Government in Australia has announced a tax on foreign buyers, a register of foreign property ownership, and tough penalties for those who break the law, will he reconsider his policy, or is this just another case of him being right and everyone else being wrong?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: No, it is a case of focusing on the highest priority, the issue that will make the biggest difference. The fact is that in Australia the work being done to put together a foreign buying register has had absolutely no impact on house prices in their main cities, whereas actually the underlying issue is supply. That is why we continue to focus on it. You can, of course, make some adjustments to demand but it is the case that in a strong economy, where incomes are rising and interest rates are at 50-year lows, people are willing to pay more for houses. In that respect it is a sign of success. (uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing)
Phil Twyford: Is it a sign of success when the ASB Bank says that Auckland house prices are now “a critical financial stability issue”, meaning that people’s debt levels are getting too high to handle a fall in house prices and the Reserve Bank warns of a sharp correction in house prices, and is it time for him to admit that the Auckland housing market is out of control and his policy has failed?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: No. The ASB Bank of course has the choice of not making silly lending decisions and stoking along the market if it is believed that that is what is happening. It should not be taking big risks with shareholder capital and depositors’ money. I am pleased the member has now noticed there is a challenge in the housing market, because the Government started working on it 4 years ago with the Productivity Commission inquiry, followed by the special housing areas legislation, which Labour opposed. But others, such as the Auckland Council, are working constructively with the Government and we are starting to make some real progress. The member should support the Government’s efforts, instead of opposing them.
Small Businesses—Access to Government Procurement Process 8. SARAH DOWIE (National—Invercargill) to the Minister for Small Business: What measures has the Government implemented to support small businesses in accessing the Government procurement process?
Hon CRAIG FOSS (Minister for Small Business): Each year the Government spends approximately $39 billion with third-party suppliers, accounting for approximately 19 percent of our GDP. This expenditure covers a wide range of goods, from services for contracts for prisons to IT systems, social services, research, and, of course, the rebuild of Canterbury. To ensure that small businesses have the opportunity to bid for and supply Government contracts, the Government procurement policy has been structured to ensure that it is open, fair, and transparent. To assist small businesses further, the Government has implemented—[Interruption] listen carefully; you may learn something—the Government Electronic Tenders Service to ensure that businesses can easily find and bid for Government contract opportunities. This new service went live last July. I encourage all small businesses to register and get on the Government Electronic Tenders Service website.
Sarah Dowie: What else is being done to help small businesses access all-of-Government contracts? [Interruption]
Hon CRAIG FOSS: Grab your pen. A range of other initiatives has been developed to assist small businesses. These include the development of Government Model Contracts for low-value and low-risk procurement to create standardised, simple, plain English sets of conditions for contracts of common goods and services, and a supplier online resource centre has been created to assist small businesses to navigate their tendering process. New Zealand Trade and Enterprise has developed a programme called Better by Procurement, which aims to improve tendering proficiency and the strike rate for New Zealand suppliers.
Sarah Dowie: What proposals has he seen that could mean small businesses have less time to tender for all-of-Government contracts?
Hon CRAIG FOSS: I have seen proposals to introduce additional and complex new tax compliance on small businesses. If small and medium enterprises in New Zealand had to spend extra time working out how to comply with complex new taxes such as a capital gains tax, then they would most certainly have less time for businesses and tendering for contracts. Sadly, for New Zealand’s small and medium enterprise businesses, that is exactly a proposal from—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! That will not help the order of this House.
Jacinda Ardern: Will he commit to increasing the proportion of procurement undertaken by small business to 20 percent, as Labour has committed to do?
Hon CRAIG FOSS: I welcome the question from the member. Over 107 Government agencies are part of the procurement policies of this Government. But I do note the policy of the Labour (uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing) Party that the member mentioned is actually restricted to only Public Service departments, the New Zealand Defence Force, and the New Zealand Police. So in no way would they get the 20 percent of Government spend on that.
Jacinda Ardern: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Minister did not answer the question as to whether or not he too—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! My difficulty is that I actually had trouble hearing the question because of the level of noise. I am going to invite the member to repeat the question.
Jacinda Ardern: Will he commit to increasing the proportion of procurement undertaken by small business to 20 percent, as Labour has committed to do?
Hon CRAIG FOSS: As part of those commitments that Labour has committed to, actually its commitments to achieve that 20 percent—which I checked out earlier—would actually be restricted to only Public Service departments, the New Zealand Defence Force, and the New Zealand Police. So, on that basis, I could not commit to such a number.
Primary Industries, Minister—Statements 9. RICHARD PROSSER (NZ First) to the Minister for Primary Industries: Does he stand by all his statements?
Hon JO GOODHEW (Associate Minister for Primary Industries) on behalf of the Minister for Primary Industries: Yes. In particular, he stands by his statement that the Ministry for Primary Industries is doing a fantastic job on the ground in responding to the localised incursion of Queensland fruit fly. This morning there were around 180 field staff working on location in Auckland, with more staff coordinating aspects of the response from the Wellington head office. I also want to take this opportunity to thank members of the public for their patience and cooperation.
Richard Prosser: Does he stand by his statement that “We have stepped up a very quick response to this detection of one Queensland fruit fly in Auckland at the moment.”; if so, was he expecting that more fruit flies would be detected?
Hon JO GOODHEW: Yes, it is expected that there will often be, in the localised area—and that is why I referred to this as a localised incursion—further fruit flies detected. That is why we are looking to determine that they are within that area, otherwise the area that has been covered with this incursion response will be changed, should there be any elsewhere. But this is entirely what we would expect.
Richard Prosser: Does the Minister believe that the continued use of the green lane, direct fast exit pathway is wise, given his own department’s assessment that “Fruit fly is most likely to arrive with plane passengers bringing in infested fruit in luggage.”?
Hon JO GOODHEW: Analysis shows us that the direct exit lane, or the green lane as it is known by passengers coming through, in fact has a much higher level of compliance—sticking to the rules, in other words—than the other tracks through the airport. We know that having Ministry of Primary Industries officers who are in touch with every passenger coming through, the use of dogs, and the use of high-risk application of X-rays are all part of the way in which we put the taxpayers’ money to good effect to detect, and have the highest possibility of detecting, any incursions. No biosecurity system is ever 100 percent, but we are focused very much on where the highest risk is.
Richard Prosser: Can the Minister confirm that the Ministry of Primary Industries’ pest and diseases hotline is operational during business hours only, so that if someone finds a Queensland fruit fly they are encouraged to leave a message or call back on the next business day; if so, given that the number of fruit flies detected is now five and increasing, does he agree that the hotline should be operated 24/7; if not, why not?
Hon JO GOODHEW: I have heard some claims to that effect. I can assure the member that the hotline, the pest line, that we have at the Ministry of Primary Industries operates 24/7, and then we have a further triage off to the Queensland fruit fly line, which is operated from early in the (uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing) morning right into the evening. But what we are doing, again, in a thoughtful and measured response, is that every single call that comes in is triaged and the calls that represent the highest risk of new information are treated first. I am sure the member might not be surprised to hear that if somebody rings us from the West Coast of the South Island, a place too cold for fruit flies, thinking they may have seen a fruit fly, their call will be a little lower priority than one from someone in the next street over to where we have found other flies.
Richard Prosser: Does the Minister believe that biosecurity risks are active only during business hours; and, further to that, what can he tell the House regarding the potential activity of biosecurity risks on public holidays?
Hon JO GOODHEW: This—from the member who thinks we should fumigate everything and everyone at the airport—in fact, is a ridiculous question. I have already answered the member, had he but listened. The pest line is 24/7, there is careful triage of every call that comes in, and prioritisation for those who represent the information we need to deal with swiftly.
Richard Prosser: Can the Minister tell the House which would be the greater amount: the cost of instituting 100 percent biosecurity inspection of all incoming passengers, luggage, mail, and freight, or the cost of losing the three-quarters of New Zealand’s economy that depends on primary production through not instituting such essential biosecurity measures?
Hon JO GOODHEW: The member seems to have missed the point. There are a number of ways in which we can have the biosecurity system that this country depends upon. X-rays are but one of those measures. X-raying high-risk entry through the border is the way we are operating at the moment. In addition, there is 100 percent screening of international arrivals using dogs, currently. But the member must also remember that there are signs everywhere, that there is education, that we have a Ministry of Primary Industries officer speak to every passenger. He must realise that 100 percent X-ray screening is a not a silver bullet.
Richard Prosser: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I listened very carefully to the Minister’s answer. The question was very straightforward. It was whether the Minister could tell the House which would be the greater amount. That matter was not addressed.
Mr SPEAKER: Could the Minister just address that part of the question.
Hon JO GOODHEW: Any biosecurity incursion represents a very great and many millions of dollars’ worth, or more, threat to this country. I believe that the money that is spent on biosecurity is well spent. I would add for the member that we had 100 percent X-ray screening from 2000 to 2008. We also had varroa, painted apple moth, didymo, and Asian gypsy moth, so maybe the member is mixing up what he is comparing.
Chris Hipkins: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I would like to ask you to consider something that has come up a number of times today during question time and in a number of previous question times, and that is that, increasingly, we are seeing Ministers at the beginning of their answer or during their answer attacking personally the person asking the question. I accept that there is going to be an element of political exchange in question time, and a very political question will draw a very political answer, but where a member is asking relatively straight questions that do not attack the Minister and do not actually have that political element in them, it is not inappropriate for the Speaker to perhaps rule out of order an answer that begins with an attack on the questioner. Otherwise, it is going to be become a very one-sided question time if this practice is allowed to continue.
Mr SPEAKER: Allow me to have a look at the point the member is making. If it is a blatant attack, I normally do rise to my feet and tell the Minister answering the question that it is not appropriate. Today there has been, as the member refers to in his point of order, the normal political exchange. I will go back and review Hansard. I do not think there is anything that has been out of order warranting my early intervention, but it is something that I appreciate the member raising, because the political barb at the start tends to then create more disorder to this House. (uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing)
Prime Minister—Statements 10. Hon DAVID PARKER (Labour) to the Prime Minister: Does he stand by the statement made on his behalf last year about his contact with Mr Liu that: “As Prime Minister and the leader of the National Party, Mr Key attends a number of functions up and down the country which are attended by a large number of people. While we don’t have a record of who attends these events, Mr Key recalls seeing Mr Liu at various functions, including a dinner as part of a National Party fundraiser”?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): Yes.
Hon David Parker: Why did he omit to disclose that the various functions included a private dinner withDonghua Liu at Mr Donghua Liu’s own home?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I did not.
Hon David Parker: Did he know that Mr Liu’s citizenship application was then in process?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No.
Hon David Parker: Were immigration issues discussed that night?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: The dinner the member is referring to was a fund-raising dinner. I went there in my capacity as leader of the National Party. That was the capacity I was in, quite obviously.
Chris Hipkins: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Regardless of the capacity in which the Prime Minister originally attended the dinner, if he discussed ministerial matters such as immigration matters, then he was attending in his capacity as the Prime Minister.
Mr SPEAKER: No, no. [Interruption] Order! We have learnt that the Prime Minister attended the dinner. It is for the Prime Minister to judge on what basis he attended that dinner, whether it was as the leader of a political party or as the Prime Minister. He has determined to answer in that way. That is an acceptable answer. I can understand that it may not satisfy the Opposition, but that is a legitimate answer to the question that has been raised. Further supplementary—[Interruption] Order! I just want to be able to hear the questions.
Hon David Parker: Was his private meeting with Donghua Liu before or after the private meeting that took place between his Minister of Immigration, Michael Woodhouse, and Donghua Liu?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I simply do not have those details. You will have to put it down in writing.
Prime Minister—Statements on Human Rights 11. CATHERINE DELAHUNTY (Green) to the Prime Minister: Does he stand by his statement “we’re actually going to stand up for human rights…”?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): Yes.
Catherine Delahunty: Does he agree with Amnesty International that Māori and Pasifika children are suffering human rights abuses here through systemic discrimination that is forcing them into poverty?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No, I do not think I accept that characterisation. What I would say is that there is demonstrated evidence that Māori and Pacific children need more help, and this Government has been giving them a tremendous amount of help over the last 6½ years.
Catherine Delahunty: Will he stand up for the human rights of Māori, Pasifika, and other children in poverty and at least ensure that they are provided lunch at school?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: If the member is asking us whether we are going to be backing the bill introduced by Hone Harawira and transferred to Metiria Turia, the answer is no.
Catherine Delahunty: Does he believe that all children have the right to lunch at school?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I think it is the responsibility of parents to ensure that children are fed. I think we should congratulate the vast, overwhelming bulk of New Zealand parents and caregivers who do an outstanding job of making sure that happens.
Catherine Delahunty: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I asked whether the Prime Minister believed that all children have the right to lunch— (uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing)
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! The member may want to design an answer satisfactory to her question; that is not the way question time occurs. On this occasion the Prime Minister has addressed the question.
Skycity, Convention Centre—Advice to Minister on Costs 12. Dr DAVID CLARK (Labour—Dunedin North) to the Minister for Economic Development: What was the “range of price escalation” for the New Zealand International Convention Centre as recorded in advice to the Minister dated 26 February 2014?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister for Economic Development): As is clear in the other released documents that were written around that same time, the figure was a net $30 million to $40 million. It was the Government’s expectation at that time that any additional costs would be, effectively, designed out in a subsequent preliminary design stage. As we all now know, the preliminary design came back on 15 October at a much wider cost differential, and that was put into the public domain before the end of last year.
Dr David Clark: Has he sought and received a revaluation of the land that Skycity acquired from Television New Zealand for the purposes of building a convention centre and upon which Skycity now intends to build a five-star 300-bedroom hotel; if not, why not?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: No, I have not to this point, but I have made it clear in response to questions from Green Party members that we will absolutely be taking into account any changes that are to Skycity’s benefit and calculating that into the overall value of the centre and what we will accept for the concessions that Parliament has legislated for.
Dr David Clark: Can the Minister give an assurance that the originally proposed column-free design for the large convention space will be retained?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: It is interesting—I collect a lot of criticism for designing it personally and, obviously, in the instance I might not be designing the exact placement of columns in the convention centre. Look, we will assess for the member, at the time, the next iteration of the preliminary design, and the public will get the opportunity to assess that, and we will all be able to decide whether that constitutes the international convention centre that we are all seeking for Auckland.
Dr David Clark: In light of that answer, did Skycity seek assurances he would not be involved in the convention centre construction process, and was it because it was concerned to avoid further “Gerry-mandering”, “John-mandering”, and “Joyce-mandering”?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I have news for the member: I have no intention of being involved in the construction of the convention centre. It is fair to say I am not the most adept at carrying a hammer and wielding a hammer, but I would defer, of course, to my friend Mr Brownlee, who does have some experience in that regard, but I can inform the member he does not intend to be spending his time constructing the convention centre either.