Questions and Answers - March 18
QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS
Wages—Growth 1. JAMI-LEE ROSS (National—Botany) to the Minister of Finance: What reports has he received on progress the Government has made in supporting higher wages for New Zealand families?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): I have seen several reports confirming that the growing economy is continuing to support more jobs and higher incomes. Statistics New Zealand figures show that in 2014, 80,000 new jobs were created across the country. Average wages rose 2.5 percent last year, so average wages have increased by more than 20 percent since late 2008 to $56,000, compared with the rate of inflation over the same period of around 11 percent. Also, the labour market participation rate is at a record 69.7 percent.
Jami-Lee Ross: What is the expected trend for wages and unemployment over the next few years?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Any expected trend in an economy is subject to the risks that economic forecasts will not turn out exactly as predicted, but the current forecast shows that unemployment is expected to fall from its current level to 4.7 percent over the next 2 years. By mid-2019, 153,000 more people are expected to be in work, and over roughly that time through to the latter half of 2018 the average wage is expected to increase from $56,000 currently to $62,200. Of course, one of the risks to that forecast is lower inflation than has been expected, because if inflation is lower, then generally you would expect that the dollar value of expected wage increases is a bit lower than the forecast.
Jami-Lee Ross: What are some of the factors driving recent job and wage growth in the New Zealand labour market?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The main factor is business and consumer confidence. Current signs are encouraging. Business investment increased from $30.5 billion in 2010 to $38 billion in this last year. The ANZ Business Outlook survey shows business confidence is currently buoyant, with a net 34 percent of firms optimistic about the general economy. On average, forecasts show the economy growing by just under 3 percent a year over the next 5 years, following annual growth of between 2 and 3 percent over the past 3 years. So that is a picture of moderate and sustained growth leading to moderate and sustained increases in incomes.
Jami-Lee Ross: What steps has the Government taken to help take-home wages for New Zealand families increase faster than the cost of living?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The most important steps the Government takes are those steps that support the confidence of businesses to invest and put more capital into their business, and to therefore, in the long run, be able to pay higher wages. The Government does not influence that directly. However, we can contribute by, for instance, showing fiscal restraint and persisting with 18 Mar 2015 Oral Questions Page 2 of 15 (uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing) economic reform. This enables interest rates to stay lower for longer but enables businesses to improve their competitiveness and therefore their ability to pay higher wages.
Housing, Affordable—Costs of Construction Materials 2. ANDREW LITTLE (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does he stand by his statement that reducing tariffs on construction materials will save “about $3,500, for a new home”; if so, when will new home buyers see these savings?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): I stand by my full statement last year that removing tariffs and duties is expected to save around $3,500 on the construction of a standard New Zealand home. Officials estimate the removal of anti-dumping duties is expected to provide the majority of the savings—around about $2,600. The remaining $900 of savings is expected from the removal of tariffs. In respect of the second part of the question, I am advised that the benefits could take some time to completely pass through to new homeowners as building businesses develop new supply arrangements offshore.
Andrew Little: Has he read the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment report Housing Affordability: Outlook and Opportunities, which states: “any cost reductions from the removal of tariffs and duties, … is likely to be captured by developers rather than passed on to consumers.”; if so, why does the centrepiece of his 2014 Budget give thousands to property developers and nothing to families?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Firstly, it was not the centrepiece of the Government’s Budget. No, I have not read that report, but we live in a competitive world in housing, and any removal of duties and tariffs does actually help reduce the cost and therefore is likely to be passed on to consumers. The second thing I would say is that I checked with Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment officials before I came to the House this afternoon, and they advised me that they continue to stand by the view that the savings are in the order of magnitude of the $3,500 that they indicated to the Government at the time the announcement was made.
Phil Twyford: It’s not what they said in writing.
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Yes, it was, my boy. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! It is not acceptable for this chatter to go on between both the front benches.
Andrew Little: In view of the fact that he has not read the report—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I will ask the member to start again.
Andrew Little: Thank you, Mr Speaker. In view of the fact that he has not read the report, has he perhaps been advised of another passage in the report, which states that the price impact of the Government’s special housing projects is “negligible”, and why does he insist on using piffling half-measures against a full-blown housing crisis?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: There is not a housing crisis. There is certainly a demand for houses, and that in part reflects the fact that the Government is doing such a good job that New Zealanders are no longer leaving for Australia in droves like they did when Helen Clark was the Prime Minister.
Andrew Little: Given that under his watch Auckland house prices went up by $91,000 last year alone, rising more than—
Hon Dr Nick Smith: They doubled under Labour.
Andrew Little:—35 times faster than the median family income, Dr Smith, is he at all surprised that homeownership is at its lowest level in generations?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: The Minister for Building and Housing is quite right in his interjection. House prices doubled under Labour, interest rates were driven to 10.9 percent, the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet spent 5 years providing advice to Helen Clark on what to do about the housing issues in Auckland, and, as per normal, Labour did absolutely nothing about it. This Government has set about solving those issues. Interest rates are lower, a hundred special housing 18 Mar 2015 Oral Questions Page 3 of 15 (uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing) areas have been established, and house construction is taking place at levels that are now back where they were in 2008. We are getting on top of the problem.
Andrew Little: Is he aware of the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment report’s conclusion that a large public sector house building programme is the “Most likely means to overcome the majority of Auckland’s dwelling shortfall inside 10 years.”; if so, when is he going to get real on housing and sign up to Labour’s KiwiBuild?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I would be very surprised if that was the conclusion drawn by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment. But if the member really thinks that the Government getting out there building houses is the solution to the housing problem, then why does he not suggest that the Government should be out there building schools, hospitals, roads, and everything else? Because it does not. The private sector does it, and it does it very successfully.
Andrew Little: Now that his own officials are recommending he adopt KiwiBuild, will he drop his ideological blinkers and get on with actually building affordable homes, or is he putting politics before families yet again?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No, we will not be adopting Labour’s failed policies. I predict over the course of the next 6 to 12 months—Mr Parker knows what is coming; he is quiet as a little church mouse these days—most of the policies that Labour did announce will be gone by lunchtime, morning tea time, and anything else.
Andrew Little: In light of the answer to that question, I seek leave to table the report of the Ministry of Business, Innovation—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! No, that report is available to all members to source.
Roading, Auckland—Pūhoi to Wellsford Route 3. DENIS O'ROURKE (NZ First) to the Minister for Economic Development: Does he stand by his statement to RadioLive’s Duncan Garner yesterday, in respect of starting the Pūhoi to Wellsford Motorway, that “2016 sounds like a pretty good date to me”?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister for Economic Development): I thank the member for his question, and I absolutely do. The New Zealand Transport Agency expects construction of the Pūhoi to Wellsford motorway to start in late 2016 and to take around 5 years, which is fantastic for the people of Northland. Pūhoi to Wellsford will open up Northland to economic development and tourism by providing a critical link between Northland and the rest of the country. Yesterday I happened to be in the north of Northland, and they were telling me it could not come soon enough, which is why it is important they support a good local who understands the needs of the north and who does not just fly in and fly out on his helicopter.
Denis O'Rourke: Can the Minister please tell the House when the board of inquiry was held on the 19 kilometre Warkworth to Wellsford section of the Pūhoi to Wellsford motorway, which is vital to the economic future of Northland?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: That part has not yet happened, as the member may have noticed. Pūhoi to Warkworth has, and it is expected to start construction next year, which is very exciting. And I remind the House that before this Government came along, the commitment of the other side was to stop a four-lane motorway in a paddock outside Pūhoi and never extend it further.
Denis O'Rourke: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The question asked whether the Minister would tell the House when the board of inquiry was held. That was not addressed at all.
Mr SPEAKER: It certainly was addressed. He said it has not occurred for that particular section, and then referred to the section that it had been. The question has been addressed.
Phil Twyford: Can he confirm the New Zealand Transport Agency’s advice that at this stage, in respect of the route between Warkworth and Wellsford, there is no indicative route available and no start date for construction; if not, is he announcing that a route has been set and a start date has been confirmed?
Mr SPEAKER: The Hon Steven Joyce—either of those two supplementary questions.18 Mar 2015 Oral Questions Page 4 of 15 (uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing)
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: This will come as no surprise to the member, also known as the “member against the ‘Holiday Highway’ ”, as he calls it—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Just answer the question.
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Well, it happens to be true. The answer to the question is that no, that particular part of the route has yet to be set, but the people of Northland know that this Government is committed to Pūhoi to Wellsford, and the Labour Party hates Northland, which is why they threw Willow-Jean Prime under the bus. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I am wanting to call the next supplementary question, and we need a bit of assistance to do so.
Denis O'Rourke: Following on from Mr Twyford’s supplementary question, can the Minister please tell the House how construction of the Warkworth to Wellsford motorway could start in 2016 when there are no detailed plans for this vital and difficult section of road, and no resource consents or designations for it, either?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: The member is creating a straw person and then trying to shoot it down. The Government has committed that the Pūhoi to Warkworth section will start in 2016. That is what we have said, and the member is trying to talk about Warkworth to Wellsford. Believe me, that will happen under this Government, provided the people of Northland and the people of New Zealand continue to support us.
Denis O'Rourke: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: If the point of order is that the question has not been addressed, the member is wrong, so he does not need to raise that as a point of order. Has he an alternative point of order?
Denis O'Rourke: I seek leave to table the February 2015 Tai Tokerau Northland growth study, in which these road priorities are listed and which states that resource consents for only the Pūhoi to Warkworth section have been done.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that particular document. Is there any objection? There is none. It can be tabled.
Denis O'Rourke: When the Minister told Duncan Garner and the people of Northland, concerning building the motorway all the way to Wellsford, from 2016: “That’s my plan, that’s the Government’s plan.”, can he explain how the Government will able to build the key Warkworth to Wellsford section for just the $42.3 million listed in the draft Auckland regional land transport plan through to 2024-25, when that section of road will cost at least a billion dollars?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Let me explain this to the member. There are two sections of the road. One runs from Pūhoi to Warkworth, and the second one runs from Warkworth to Wellsford. And when we say we are starting construction next year, it is on the first half of the road, as has been said now for some time, including in our pre-election policy. For Mr O’Rourke to come up today and say: “Well we’re not even sure about Warkworth to Wellsford.”, I am pleased he is proposing to join us in support of this road, because his leader is wandering around Northland saying it is not even important in Auckland and somehow Wellsford is not part of Northland.
Denis O'Rourke: Given it was bridges over troubled waters last week and, realistically, only half of a motorway this week, which actually misses Northland completely, can Northlanders expect any more half-baked promises next week to build routes further north and especially through areas of particularly low resilience, such as at Brynderwyn and Te Hana?
Mr SPEAKER: Order! It is meant to be a concise supplementary question. If there is ministerial responsibility, I call the Hon Steven Joyce.
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Presumably I get a little latitude with the answer. This Government is unambiguously supportive of having a decent motorway link between Auckland and Northland, and that will bring great economic development for the region. I do not know what the member is trying to achieve, but in case he does not know it, his leader is wandering around Northland saying that he is in favour of doing things for Northland. Meanwhile, Mr O’Rourke is down here arguing against bridges, arguing against highways—18 Mar 2015 Oral Questions Page 5 of 15 (uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing)
Mr SPEAKER: Order!
Ron Mark: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I know you have ruled once before about people referring to members not in the House, and I did let that go initially, but the moment he referred to the present tense, then that member is out of order.
Mr SPEAKER: No. Order! There is no Standing Order that says you cannot refer to absence from the House. It has been a long-term convention in this House, and I accept the point the member is making, that it is unhelpful and will lead to disorder if members do refer to the absence of any member.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. It was incorrect for Minister Joyce to refer to the Rt Hon Winston Peters as wandering around Northland. He is, in fact, flying around in a helicopter.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! That is not a point of order, either. [Interruption] Order! I think Mr Brownlee is going to get a lesson for the disorder that he now causes by raising such a point of order.
Ron Mark: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. That is my point, and I am going to ask you to reflect, because other members who have—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! The member will sit down. That is not a point of order, either. Is there a further supplementary question?
Denis O'Rourke: When will this Government honestly admit to the people of Northland that the only way it can be made to keep any of its many election promises is by voting in Winston Peters and not some naive National Party no-hoper?
Mr SPEAKER: Order! There is absolutely no ministerial responsibility for that question.
Prime Minister—Statement on Schools 4. METIRIA TUREI (Co-Leader—Green) to the Prime Minister: Does he stand by his statement that the principals of decile 1 to 4 schools he has visited have told him “the number of children in those schools who actually require lunch is the odd one or two”?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): Yes, because that is what principals have told me.
Metiria Turei: How can it be correct that only the odd one or two kids in low-decile schools require lunch when KidsCan says that, on average, 23 percent of the children in the schools it works with are in need of lunch every day?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Well, I believe it to be true, and one of the issues I raised with the Minister of Education today was to ask her whether she, in her travels as the Minister of Education in the last 3½ years, had had the issue of lunch in schools raised with her. She told me that it has either never been raised or has been raised extremely infrequently.
Metiria Turei: Is the Prime Minister telling the House that the low-decile schools that he has visited do not have the same needs as other low-decile schools that KidsCan works with?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: What I am telling the member is that, firstly, the Government has been working with a number of private sector organisations to provide breakfast in schools, and about 800—791, I think—schools out of 2,500, approximately, have taken that up. Secondly, I think there will be some children who go to school without lunch, but I think that number is actually relatively small. In some cases it will be one or two; in some cases it will be a few more, but I do not think it is as widespread as the member is purporting it to be.
Metiria Turei: I seek leave to table a document from KidsCan showing that it is now feeding 15,000 students a week across 448 schools, an average of 33 children in each—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The document is now being described. The date of the document would be useful.
Metiria Turei: The date of the document is 3 March 2015.
Mr SPEAKER: March 2015—is there any objection to that information being tabled? There is none. It can be tabled.18 Mar 2015 Oral Questions Page 6 of 15 (uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing)
Metiria Turei: I seek leave to table a document prepared by my office on the schools that John Key visited from 2013 to 2014, showing that of the decile 1 schools and decile—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! No, I—[Interruption] Order! The member will resume her seat. This is an effective way of making a political statement. It does not have the purpose of informing the House. It will not be tabled.
Metiria Turei: Which of the decile 1 and 2 schools that John Key visited—Māngere Central, Waimate Main, Flaxmere, Huntly, Huntly College, Manaia View, Pt England—told him that only one or two of their kids needed feeding every day, when each of those schools have a lunch programme provided by either KidsCan or some other charity in their community?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Well, by definition, I suppose, if they already have lunch provided, then actually they would not raise the fact that they need lunch, so that is rather self-defeating. Secondly, it may be lost on the member, but I have been the Prime Minister since the end of 2008. The question the member asked was for the 1 year from 2013. But in the interests of trying to get to the bottom of this debate, at 1.41 this afternoon I took the liberty of ringing the Minister of Education. I said: “Please ring for me three schools that are decile 1 or 2 and ask them how many kids have not come to school today with lunch.” That was done completely randomly and with no information. Here are the facts. Phillip Heeney of Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Te Waiu o Ngati Porou, Ruatōria, a decile 1 school—people are free to ring the school—
Metiria Turei: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! Every member has a right to raise a point of order. It will be heard in silence—[Interruption] Order! The member will resume her seat. I repeat, because I was interrupted, that every member has a right to raise a point of order. This one will be heard in silence, but I sincerely hope that it is a valid point of order.
Metiria Turei: That was not an answer to the question that I asked. I asked—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member will resume her seat. It is very much an answer to the question the member asked. She can shake her head, but it is me who has got to adjudicate on this. It was a very full answer; it was quite a lengthy question. The House will later on today devote a considerable amount of time to this issue, and I feel it is in the interests of the House that the Prime Minister be allowed to complete his answer.
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: As I said, at 1.41 p.m., with absolutely no knowledge, these are the facts. At Te Waiu o Ngati Porou school, Ruatoria, decile 1, how many children came to school today without lunch—answer, zero. Barbara Ala’Alatoa, Sylvia Park School, decile 2—one to two kids, maybe. Iain Taylor, Manurewa Intermediate—decile 1 school, roll of 711—maybe 12. Yes, there is an issue where some children come to school without lunch. That number of children is relatively low.
Metiria Turei: So why, then, did the Prime Minister refuse my invitation to visit Windley School this morning, where we fed with peanut butter and jam sandwiches, some 50 kids at lunchtime; where Windley School says it feeds some 50 every day, Kelvin Road School some 50 every day; Cosgrove Primary up to 40 kids every day; Hay Park around 12 kids lunch every day; and Kelston Girls’, which was recently on Campbell Live showing just how serious the problem is—why will he not come with me to visit those schools that do have a problem so that he can see it for himself?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: As I said to the member last week when she was trying to tell this House that 90 percent of children went to school without lunch, and had to then come back and apologise for being wrong, I am happy to go to a school of my choosing. Secondly, I note that the member, when she tweeted the picture, did so with an apron for the KickStart Breakfast programme that the Government is running. This is a Government that has provided 3.4 million breakfasts. This is a Government that is working with the private sector to help deliver that, from Fonterra through to Sanitarium. They are the same breakfast programmes where principals tell me—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The answer now is long enough.18 Mar 2015 Oral Questions Page 7 of 15 (uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing)
Metiria Turei: I seek leave to table a document from the Parliamentary Library showing that the GST on $1.29 is 19c not 2c.
Mr SPEAKER: Again, the purpose of tabling documents is to inform the proceedings of the House. Members know current GST rates. I am not about to put that leave.
Metiria Turei: Why does the Prime Minister continue to mock and downplay the seriousness of the problem, maintaining yet again that only the odd one or two kids need lunch at school when schools know he is wrong, KidsCan knows he is wrong, and more important, the kids who come to school hungry know he is wrong?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: The Government has been very focused on this issue for a long period of time. It is actually proud of its record. It has extended Fruit in Schools for a huge number of children. It provides breakfasts in schools alongside the private sector. This is an issue that, as I said to the member and I repeat again, I raise with pretty much every school I go to, and the same response is what I always get—about 15 percent of kids want to take up the breakfast programme, a very small number need lunch, and when they come to school without lunch the school provides them with lunch. It does so out of its breakfast programme for the odd lunch it provides. At the end of the day I think the member actually does a disservice to the fantastic parents and caregivers out there, the overwhelming bulk of whom actually do provide their kids with breakfast and lunch. They do a damn good job, and the member should stop telling them that they do not.
Metiria Turei: Given that the Prime Minister missed the opportunity this morning to talk with parents, charity workers, and the kids over a lunch programme, will he commit to visiting Windley School—and if not Windley School then to any school that KidsCan suggests he goes to visit—and making the peanut butter and jam sandwiches for the kids—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! The question is too long. The Prime Minister can answer the essence of the question.
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I have been to numerous schools where KidsCan has been in operation. I have been to those schools with Julie on numerous occasions. This is actually the Government that gave KidsCan $500,000 more for raincoats, and $900,000 more to deal with headlice. We are providing extensive support. But I will say this. I went to one of the schools where every child was given a raincoat, and, yes, we fully supported that. The argument around that is that children do not have raincoats. So I actually asked about 20 of the kids: “Do you own a raincoat?” Every single child told me: “Yes.” So it is great they have got another one, and we support KidsCan and we are giving them money, and we think they are a great charity, and they are doing good work, but just because you give kids a raincoat does not mean they did not own one beforehand.
Jobs—Reports on Growth 5. Dr SHANE RETI (National—Whangarei) to the Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment: What reports has he received on job growth in New Zealand?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment): I have received a number of positive reports highlighting strong job growth across New Zealand. Today’s Jobs Online report is just the latest. It was released by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment and shows that skilled job vacancies advertised online were up nearly 6 percent in the past year to February. This follows the recent household labour force survey, which highlighted that 80,000 new jobs have been added to New Zealand’s workforce in the previous year, with 180,000 more people in work now than when we came into Government in 2008. This highlights that the Government is focused on the issues that matter to Kiwi families. Our economic policies are encouraging business investment right across New Zealand, and it is this investment that leads to more jobs and higher wages for New Zealanders.
Dr Shane Reti: How is job growth in the Northland region compared with the rest of the economy?18 Mar 2015 Oral Questions Page 8 of 15 (uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing)
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: The most recent household labour force survey statistics showed that 7,500 new jobs were added in the Northland region in the last year, which is an impressive 11.1 percent growth rate. To put this growth in perspective, the entire country grew 80,000 jobs last year, so the Northland region generated nearly 10 percent of those. Even more impressive is that of those 7,500 new jobs, 6,600 of them—or nearly 90 percent—were full time, with the balance part-time roles. Nobody is saying the job in Northland is done, but we are making very good progress.
Grant Robertson: In the light of that answer, can he confirm that his much-trumpeted figure of 7,500 new jobs in the Northland electorate turns out to include not only ones where people were employed for 1 hour a week but also thousands of jobs that are not even in the Northland electorate, or are his ghost jobs just joining his ghost roads in Northland?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: The member needs to do his work. The figures, as has been clear since they were first released, relate to the Northland region. We have been very clear that they are for the Northland region. It is about the Northland economy, which is now strongly growing under this Government. As for those jobs that he refers to of 1 hour a week or more, I should clarify—he obviously did not listen to the previous answer—that 6,600 of those jobs are reported by Statistics New Zealand to be full-time jobs. The member should be careful which commentator he reads.
Dr Shane Reti: What reports has he received on the types of roles the 7,500 new jobs in the Northland region are?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: The household labour force survey data shows the increase of 7,500 new jobs in the Northland region in the last year are from a broad range of occupations, including a 3,500 increase in managerial roles, a 1,800 increase in technicians and trade workers, a 1,600 increase in sales workers, a 1,000 increase in clerical and administrative workers, a 300 increase in machinery operators and drivers, a 200 increase in labourers, offset by decreases in professionals and community and personal service workers. Overall, it is encouraging to see positive signs of a turn-round under this Government in the Northland region.
Wages—Growth 6. GRANT ROBERTSON (Labour—Wellington Central) to the Minister of Finance: Can workers still expect that the average wage will rise to $62,000 in the next three years, as he stated during the period of the election campaign in 2014; if so, what annual percentage increase will be required to make that a reality?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): Treasury forecasts show the average wage rising to $62,200 by September 2018. That information is available to the public, it was available to that member, and he could have included it in his election speeches, but he chose not to. Whether workers can expect that to happen is subject to all the same uncertainties as any economic forecast. These forecasts have annual growth in the average wage of 2.9 percent a year in nominal terms and 0.8 percent in real terms. Treasury’s latest forecasts actually show slightly stronger real wage growth over the next few years, so households could have slightly greater spending power, or less, depending on the relationship between inflation rates and their actual wage settlements.
Grant Robertson: Give his promise before the last election that his party’s policies would make those forecasts a reality, is he now guaranteeing to New Zealand workers that there will be a 3 percent average pay rise over the next 3 years?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: No, and I doubt that anyone would believe such a guarantee from a Government. I do not think anyone who voted in the last election overwhelmingly for National, ahead of Labour, thought that they were voting for a guaranteed set of pay increases. That, of course, for any individual family or worker will depend on the business that they are in, the productivity, the negotiation process, the success of that business, the export prices, the exchange rate—any number of uncertainties. We made the point that on average wages are rising. Labour campaigned that incomes were not rising, if not falling, and it lost the election.18 Mar 2015 Oral Questions Page 9 of 15 (uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing)
Grant Robertson: Given his statement on Sunday on TV that he made his promise that the average wage would rise to $62,000 as “part of a political debate”, does that mean that promise means absolutely nothing now that the election is over?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: If the member believes that wage increases in New Zealand can be guaranteed by a politician’s promise, he knows less about economics than I thought he did. Actually, Mr Robertson, wages cannot be guaranteed by anything politicians say. What we did point out was that all forecasts showed consistent, moderate increases in incomes in New Zealand. That is turning out to be the case. We believe it will continue, and we believe the Government can take measures to support it. Incomes are rising in New Zealand. That member tried to persuade workers that incomes were falling, and it is one of the reasons he lost the election so badly.
Grant Robertson: In light of that answer, could the finance Minister tell us what percentage figure of wage increases constitutes a moderate wage increase?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I can tell him that we have described these forecasts, which imply a 2.9 percent a year increase in nominal terms. I would say that is moderate. Some people might think it is very large. Some people might think it is by no means large enough. But I think it is fair to describe the economic forecasts about wage growth in New Zealand as consistent, moderate increases.
Benefits—Teenage Parents 7. BARBARA KURIGER (National—Taranaki—King Country) to the Minister for Social Development: What reports has she received on the number of teen mothers receiving a benefit?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY (Minister for Social Development): The number of young mothers aged 16 to 19 requiring a benefit has almost halved since 2009. This means better lives for these families and fewer long-term beneficiaries. There were 48 percent fewer teen mums on main benefits at the end of 2014, compared with 2009. Teen parents spend an average of 19 years on a benefit, and have some of the highest lifetime costs of any group on welfare, let alone the social costs. These statistics show that they are taking full advantage of the support and the opportunities provided by this Government, which is great news for these young families and for taxpayers.
Barbara Kuriger: What else is the Government doing to support teen parents?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY: Our major investment in youth services is enabling these young people to take part in education and training, to give them the tools that they need to get into employment. It is helping young people on benefit manage their money better, and we do want to extend that to 18 and 19-year-olds. Childcare assistance is also helping teen parents to access education and attend parenting courses. We have put $6.2 million into supported housing for teen parents, and this means support by trained staff for teen parents and their children 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. We all want to see these young mums and dads become successful, independent people, with children who are thriving.
Darroch Ball: With one of the pathways out of benefit dependency being education, how is she planning to address the fact that, according to the Association of Teen Parent Educators New Zealand, 87 percent of teenage mothers and virtually all teenage fathers are missing out on education, especially in Northland, where teen pregnancies are on the increase?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY: I am not sure where those statistics come from, because they are not what we are seeing. In fact, we are seeing that this Government has put an enormous amount of money into supporting teen parents through teen parent units, the numbers of which have doubled throughout the country, and the huge work that is going into putting support around them and getting them into education. So I would contest those figures.18 Mar 2015 Oral Questions Page 10 of 15 (uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing)
Roading, Northland—Bridges 8. PHIL TWYFORD (Labour—Te Atatū) to the Minister of Transport: Does he agree that the Government’s Northland bridges policy was “absolutely” the idea of National by-election candidate Mark Osborne as he claims?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister for Economic Development) on behalf of the Minister of Transport: Strictly speaking, it is the National Party’s bridges policy, but I am sure the Government will enjoy putting it in place. We have a great candidate in Mark Osborne, with great ideas to ensure that the future of Northland is a prosperous one.
David Shearer: Hasn’t answered the question.
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Give me a chance. The Pūhoi to Wellsford road of national significance will open up Northland for economic development and tourism. That is why Mr Osborne has advocated strongly to Ministers that the next logical step is upgrading single-lane bridges on the Twin Coast Discovery Highway to ensure Northland is ready for the influx of new visitors and business that the Pūhoi to Wellsford highway will bring. Mr Osborne’s commitment also reflects priorities identified by the Northland Regional Council in the region’s draft regional land transport plan.
Phil Twyford: Was he disappointed that Mark Osborne, who he claims is a strong voice for Northland and, wait for it, actually lives in Northland, could not even name the taxpayer-funded bridges when asked about them by the media, given that they were supposedly his idea, that he announced the policy, and that he could even see one of them from his house?
Mr SPEAKER: Order! There is absolutely no ministerial responsibility for statements made by Mr Osborne.
Grant Robertson: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. In the answer, the extremely long answer, that the Minister gave, he made a number of political points that had absolutely no relationship to his ministerial responsibility. He also, in terms of the original question, did not, in fact, give an accurate answer to the original question anyway. Mr Twyford is allowed to ask supplementary questions that come from the Minister’s answers, and that is what he did.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! No, on this occasion I cannot agree. I accept one or two points that the member is making. I think the answer did not strictly address the question that was raised. That is true. I think the answer did contain an element of politics. That is also true. But that does not give licence then for the member to ask a question that is simply out of order, in that there is no ministerial responsibility.
Chris Hipkins: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Can I just clarify that we are not relitigating this matter.
Chris Hipkins: I am asking for some further clarification.
Mr SPEAKER: Well, on this occasion I will accept it, but only marginally.
Chris Hipkins: Thank you, Mr Speaker. When this matter was raised previously it was in relation to the Prime Minister and whether he was answering questions as the leader of the National Party or as the Prime Minister. You previously indicated that where the Prime Minister gave answers that related to decisions that he had taken as leader of the National Party but he gave those answers as Prime Minister, he could be questioned on those. So I am just wondering whether you could clarify. Mr Joyce, as a Minister, was answering with party political material. It, therefore, would seem completely at odds with your earlier ruling to suggest that he cannot now be questioned on that.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: I think that raises an interesting thing for you to consider. The primary question that was accepted today, and the primary question that was accepted the previous day, as mentioned by Chris Hipkins, and, indeed, the question accepted today with regard to the question to the Prime Minister, all really go to the same sort of point. I think we should have either one thing or the other. Either questions in the House should relate to ministerial decisions or decisions or 18 Mar 2015 Oral Questions Page 11 of 15 (uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing) comments made by Ministers as Ministers in their portfolios, or we just have carte blanche and we have an hour of campaigning every day.
Mr SPEAKER: While I am in this position, I hope we do not end up with an hour of campaigning every day. In this particular situation—I accept the point the member is making—it is a thin line that I need to judge, and in fact the Prime Minister, if he is answering the question, needs to judge in what capacity he is answering the question. If the Prime Minister decides to suggest he is answering in his capacity as the leader of a political party, that is his prerogative to do so. The reason I am comfortable with a question along these lines being on the Order Paper is that the Government on Tuesday last week took the opportunity to very much make this a Government initiative when it raised a Government question asking the Minister of Transport about the bridges. But in this particular supplementary question the member asked “Is he disappointed with the comments of Mr Osborne?”. Under no circumstances can I find any way that allows that to have a ministerial responsibility. If the member wants to use a portion of the Minister’s answers and get it into order as a supplementary question, good luck to him, but he certainly did not achieve that in this supplementary question.
Denis O'Rourke: What are the names of the 10 State Highway bridges to be two-laned in Northland?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: The Minister is more than happy to share those with the House. There is, of course, the Kaeō River Bridge, which his colleague the Minister for Economic Development was passing over yesterday; there is the Waihou River Rangiahua Bridge; there is the Taipā Bridge; there is the Tirohanga Stream Bridge; there is the Taheke Bridge, No. 569; there is the Waimamaku River Lowes Bridge; there is the Waimamaku River Hallahans Bridge; there is the “Darby and Joan” Kauri Bridge; there is the Andersons Bridge; and there is the Matakohe River Bridge, also known as the Hardies Bridge. Incidentally, I heard that somebody was asked to name them yesterday. I understand they got seven out of the 10 right on the first shot, although I did not need the TV, and then Annette King—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The continuation of this answer will not help the order of the House.
Phil Twyford: Has he as transport Minister advised Mark Osborne, the man who announced his policy on the bridges, of the names of each of the 10 bridges, given that he could not name them when asked by the media last night?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: It is important to know that, actually, it was the Minister standing as the spokesperson on transport for National and the candidate who announced the 10 bridges together. He has been advised of them. As I said, yesterday he got seven out of 10 on the first go. As I also said, the deputy leader of the Labour Party was very supportive of him and said: “Many longstanding MPs in this House could not name all the bridges in their electorates.”
Phil Twyford: Was not the real source of the bridges policy Steven Joyce and Crosby/Textor’s Jo de Joux, and why does he not just come clean with the people on this?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: The Minister has spoken to his colleague the Minister for Economic Development, who is also very enthusiastic about roading for economic development in Northland. He is very encouraging of the project that this Mr Osborne, candidate for Northland, has brought up. The only thing we can be sure of about Mr Twyford’s line of questioning is that there is one party in this House that is in favour of developing the roading network in Northland. It ain’t the Labour Party and it certainly is not the New Zealand First Party.
Phil Twyford: Does he see anything wrong with a candidate proposing $70 million of taxpayer spending, the Minister seeking only general advice from officials—in his words—approving them without seeing any cost-benefit analysis, and then the candidate announcing that spending in order to win him votes?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: That sounds like a lot more analysis than the Labour Party went through in 2005 over the interest on student loans.18 Mar 2015 Oral Questions Page 12 of 15 (uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing)
Phil Twyford: Which of these best describes his bridges policy: “Brazen, shameless, cynical and more than a little desperate”, John Armstrong in the New Zealand Herald; “it sends a destructive message … that this is how things now roll under John Key.”, Matthew Hooton; that it amounts to corruption, Andrew Geddis; that it shows that the Government is “Highly biddable, and, to be blunt, a bit weak.”, Rob Hosking in the National Business Review; or the New Zealand Herald editorial, which said the bribe was “insulting on so many levels”?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: In response to that litany of armchair quarterbacks, including one of whom has subsequently apologised for his column, I would make the following comment—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! It was a long question. It deserves an answer, and I am looking forward to it.
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: So two points. The Minister’s colleague the Minister for Economic Development was in Northland yesterday, and the Northland people were very, very enthusiastic about these projects. They wanted to know whether they could be built more quickly than 6 years and wanted to know which ones would be done first. But also this is a continuation of a programme that this Government has been running right around this country. If you want to talk about the Kōpū Bridge in the Coromandel, or the Kurow Bridges in North Otago, or the Kawarau Bridge in Queenstown, or the Waiwhakaiho Bridge in New Plymouth, or the Normanby Bridge in Hāwera, or the—
Mr SPEAKER: The Minister will resume his seat. I have heard enough.
Disability Care—Services 9. STUART SMITH (National—Kaikōura) to the Minister for Disability Issues: What is the Government doing to improve the lives of families with disabled children placed in out-of-home care?
Hon NICKY WAGNER (Minister for Disability Issues): Today I am announcing the start of public consultation on the review of voluntary out-of-home placements under sections 141 and 142 of the Children, Young Persons and Their Families Act 1989. All parents want the best for their children, and in a small number of cases of severely disabled children who can no longer be cared for at home, they are cared for in voluntary out-of-home placement. The decision to place a disabled child in out-of-home care would be a difficult decision for any family, and the review will ensure that the process supports families and puts the needs of the child first.
Stuart Smith: How can disabled children and their families have their say on the future of out-of-home care?
Hon NICKY WAGNER: There will be a number of opportunities for disabled children, their families, caregivers, service providers, and New Zealanders to have their say. Throughout the consultation period, which runs to 29 May, people can make submissions in writing or online, and we even have available an easy-read format, or they can join a Facebook closed discussion group or attend a stakeholder meeting, which will be held throughout the country. We want to draw on the experience of disabled children and their families, and find out how the system can help them better.
Internal Affairs, Department—Security of Personal Information 10. CLARE CURRAN (Labour—Dunedin South) to the Minister of Internal Affairs: Is he confident that the Department of Internal Affairs manages New Zealanders’ personal information, documents and records effectively and safely?
Hon PETER DUNNE (Minister of Internal Affairs): Yes, I am.
Clare Curran: Does he have confidence that the Department of Internal Affairs has effective oversight of risks in IT functions and security across Government agencies, and that appropriate levels of assurance are in place?18 Mar 2015 Oral Questions Page 13 of 15 (uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing)
Hon PETER DUNNE: Yes, I do, for a number of reasons. One is that in late 2012 the Government Chief Information Officer, who is also the Secretary for Internal Affairs, carried out a review of publicly accessible information systems, and, as a result of that review, some changes were made, including the appointment of a Government Chief Privacy Officer.
Clare Curran: Has he seen any recent reports from the Department of Internal Affairs that identified high-level risks leaving Government networks vulnerable to attack, including security controls not functioning, a lack of ability to investigate malicious activity, and insecure information transmitted over the Department of Internal Affairs and “Desktop as a Service” cloud-provider networks; if so, when?
Hon PETER DUNNE: I constantly receive advice from the Secretary for Internal Affairs in his capacity as the Government Chief Information Officer. Given the sensitivity of a lot of that advice, it would be inappropriate to go into detail in this House.
Clare Curran: Which specific IT security functions within his department are currently compromised as a result of a lack of funding?
Hon PETER DUNNE: I think the best way I can answer that question is to refer the member to my previous answer.
Clare Curran: Can he guarantee that under his watch no Government IT system has gone live without accreditation from the New Zealand Institute of Safety Management and sign-off from the chief executive officer?
Hon PETER DUNNE: I assume the member is referring to the chief executive officer of the Department of Internal Affairs in her question, and the answer to that would be yes.
Clare Curran: Will he support my Electronic Data Safety Bill, which has its first reading today, to select committee in order to restore public confidence that people’s information that is held by the Government is secure, private, and well-managed, given that he expressed support for this bill when it was first drawn from the ballot and before he was the Minister?
Hon PETER DUNNE: The short answer is no, because the bill was drawn from the ballot before work that I referred to in one of my earlier answers in late 2012, which addressed the very issues the bill seeks to address, and which therefore makes the bill utterly redundant.
Dairy Farming—Environmental Concerns 11. CATHERINE DELAHUNTY (Green) to the Prime Minister: Does he stand by his statements regarding dairy conversions that the debate should be driven by the “capacity for maintaining and improving the environment”?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): I stand by my full statement, which was: “What should drive that debate is … the capacity for maintaining and improving the environment …”. So I cannot tell you whether there are too many conversions taking place or not enough.
Catherine Delahunty: Does he agree with Waikato Federated Farmers that Landcorp and others should consider halting the conversion of upper Waikato land into dairy farms because the addition of thousands more cows will undermine its work for water quality downstream?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I am just not in a position to comment on that. I have not seen those particular comments. What I do know is that the Government sets a national water standard and that standard has been well received by people. It is a good yardstick for what should actually happen.
Catherine Delahunty: Does he agree that Landcorp’s conversion of land in the upper Waikato and the addition of another 29,500 cows over the next 5 years on that land will neither “maintain nor improve the water quality”, which is already too dirty to swim in?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No, I do not think I could agree with that statement. I think what is worthy of introducing into this is Dairy New Zealand’s Dr Rick Pridmore, who publicly stated last year: “The best thing about the Government’s new standards is that they are the result of more than 60 scientists working together… We all have a stake in this—and if we do it right, we can still manage to sustainably grow dairy farming.”18 Mar 2015 Oral Questions Page 14 of 15 (uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing)
Catherine Delahunty: Does this not show that the Government has failed to protect water quality with its standards when it is left to Federated Famers to call for a moratorium on dairy conversions?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No.
Catherine Delahunty: I seek leave to table a table showing the 85 percent increase in the number of dairy cows nationally between 1990 and 2013. It is a table prepared for the Green Party by the Parliamentary Library.
Mr SPEAKER: On the basis that it may not be freely available and may be useful for the House, I will put the leave. Is there any objection to the tabling of that table? Leave has been denied.
Businesses, Small—Reports on Government Initiatives 12. JONO NAYLOR (National) to the Minister for Small Business: What reports has he received about support for measures the Government has taken to assist small business?
Hon CRAIG FOSS (Minister for Small Business): According to the latest Mind Your Own Business (MYOB) business monitor survey of over 1,000 small and medium businesses, 65 percent trust this Government’s management of the economy, up from 63 percent just prior to the election. The Government’s handling of the economy and our sensible policies have been identified as some of the reasons that New Zealand’s small and medium businesses continue their approval of this Government. This Government will continue our support for small and medium enterprises. We are committed to delivering on our policies through the Business Growth Agenda, the Better for Business programmes, and, of course, all those that help support small and medium enterprises to grow more and employ more Kiwis.
Jono Naylor: What measures is the Government undertaking to help support small and medium businesses?
Hon CRAIG FOSS: This Government is delivering on a number of measures to support growth of small and medium businesses. These include making it easier to employ staff by implementing the 90-day trial, the starting-out wage, simplifying the way small businesses interact with the Government via the New Zealand Business Number, rolling out ultra-fast broadband, reducing personal and company tax rates, and reducing compliance costs under the Better Public Services targets. These policies and others show again that this Government is better for business.
Jono Naylor: What factors would stifle the growth of small and medium business?
Hon CRAIG FOSS: According to the MYOB report, small and medium businesses want to focus on growth, innovation, and employment. The last thing small businesses need is to have to spend more time, effort, resource, and money on things such as new and complex taxes, unionised workplaces, and large minimum wage increases. Those factors are, in fact, still proposed by the Labour Party.
Jacinda Ardern: Has he received any reports from small business representatives or small businesses themselves supporting the Government’s decision not to further reduce ACC levies by $350 million in line with ACC’s recommendation last year?
Hon CRAIG FOSS: Just last night, actually, I was at a function for about 130-odd small businesses in Hawke’s Bay. And a few of them—we did discuss, actually, the $1.5 billion of ACC reductions that have already been announced, banked, and locked in by this Government. Those same organisations also talked about the need for certainty, transparency, clarity, and a sustainable accident compensation system within New Zealand, which would not happen if in fact the member were to get her political hands on setting the levies of ACC.
Jacinda Ardern: Can the Minister explain how ACC was incorrect in proposing to the Government that it would be sustainable to reduce ACC levies by $350 million for small and medium sized enterprises?18 Mar 2015 Oral Questions Page 15 of 15 (uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing)
Hon CRAIG FOSS: If that member had been listening via various question times over the last week, she would have seen, and probably heard, that the decisions that are around the levy settings are actually a decision of Cabinet—such as the $1.5 billion decision in ACC reductions that have already occurred.
Jacinda Ardern: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I specifically asked the Minister to explain—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member will resume her seat. The question was asked, it was a legitimate question, and on this occasion the answer addressed the question.
Jacinda Ardern: Is he saying that ACC was wrong to assert that levies could sustainably be reduced for small and medium sized enterprises?
Hon CRAIG FOSS: Well, part of that question you should address to the ACC Minister, but, in fact, small and medium sized enterprises in New Zealand are enjoying the benefits of the $1.5 billion per annum—now locked in—reductions of ACC, while balancing the need to have a strong, sustainable ACC system that brings certainty to small and medium enterprises in New Zealand.
Jacinda Ardern: Will he ask the Small Business Development Group, at its next meeting, whether it supports ACC’s proposal that levies for small and medium sized businesses be lowered immediately by $350 million?
Hon CRAIG FOSS: In my ongoing discussions with members of that group and, in fact, with many, many others in the small business community, they all value the $1.5 billion reduction of ACC levies they are already enjoying and banking. Of course, businesses always like lower costs, but at the same time they like transparency, certainty, and sustainable agencies of Government such as we have with ACC now.
Jacinda Ardern: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Small Business Development Group is meeting in the Minister’s electorate very soon. I simply asked whether he would put one question to it.
Mr SPEAKER: I agree, and I am going to invite the member to ask that question again.
Jacinda Ardern: Will he ask the Small Business Development Group, at its next meeting, whether it supports ACC’s proposal that levies for small and medium sized businesses be lowered immediately by $350 million?
Hon CRAIG FOSS: I would very much prefer not to pull or drag that group into some political sphere. It provides good policy advice and discussion, in fact, in and around other issues, such as locking in the $1.5 billion reduction of ACC levies that have already been locked in. But I welcome that member’s interest in the Small Business Development Group, and she could read many of its reports. In fact, it would be quite good if she came in and supported its position, for example, on the 90-day trial.