Questions and Answers - April 28
Questions to Ministers
1. CHRIS BISHOP (National) to the Minister of Finance : What reports has he received about lower than expected inflation in New Zealand?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): Statistics New Zealand last week released the Consumers Price Index for the March quarter. It showed that the CPI fell by 0.3 percent in that quarter, following on from a fall of 0.2 percent in the previous quarter, which means that on an annual basis consumer prices increased by 0.1 percent in the year to March. As an example of how quickly things change, as recently as December Treasury was forecasting that annual inflation to March would be 1.3 percent. At the same time, though, as we are seeing low inflation—in fact, very low inflation, which is usually associated with low growth in the economy—we are in fact seeing solid, real economic growth. Latest figures from Statistics New Zealand show the economy grew 3.5 percent in the last year, among the fastest in the developed world.
Chris Bishop : What is contributing to lowering inflation?
Hon BILL ENGLISH : As I pointed out, usually you would expect low inflation to be associated with a slower-growing economy, but that is not the case. By far the biggest contributor was the fall in the price of petrol, which fell by 11 percent in the March quarter. We are not the only country with low inflation. The fact that the tradable sector saw prices reduce by 2.8 percent over the last year—that is, inflation in our tradable sector was minus 2.8 percent—shows that we are effectively importing low inflation. This is proving to be good for households, because it enables family budgets to go further. It also is a promising signal for businesses that want to invest, because it signals that interest rates will be lower for longer. This is one of the factors that is underpinning good levels of confidence among our households and businesses.
Chris Bishop : What are the impacts of lower than expected inflation on the New Zealand economy?
Hon BILL ENGLISH : They are, almost in every respect, positive. It is an unusual position we have, where solid economic growth is combined with very low inflation. The combination of the two means it is more likely that unemployment will keep falling, and it is more likely that we will be able to sustain ongoing, real growth in wages. Lower than expected inflation also suggests there is a bit more capacity in the economy to grow moderately, for longer than we might have previously expected.
Chris Bishop : What are the implications of lower than expected inflation on Government revenue?
Hon BILL ENGLISH : Although low inflation is helpful for businesses and households, it makes the job of reaching surplus a bit more difficult. Very low inflation means, for instance, prices are lower and less GST is collected. It also means that nominal wage increases are a bit lower, so less tax is paid on them. We will see what effect it is going to have on Government surpluses when Treasury publishes its latest forecasts through the Budget, but lower inflation is going to make it less likely that New Zealand will reach surplus for the 2014-15 year. Regardless of whether that number ends up a bit over or a bit under, we have achieved a significant turn-round from very large deficits.
Fletcher Tabuteau : Given this supposedly wonderful low inflation rate, lower consumer spending, and subsequent lower GST revenue, in this context can the Minister explain to New Zealand households why the Government is continuing to manage a worsening debt burden, and this is supposedly a good thing?
Hon BILL ENGLISH : New Zealand’s debt burden has continued to grow while we have been running deficits, and the point of that has been to assist the rebuild of Christchurch, which is heading for a total cost of $16 billion in contribution from the Government, as well as to maintain entitlements when the Government has less revenue than the expenditure commitments that it has made. However, we are satisfied we are on track to balance our books and to begin repaying that debt.
2. Hon ANNETTE KING (Deputy Leader—Labour) to the Prime Minister : Does he stand by his statement that “There’s always a risk with third-term Governments that they get arrogant. There’s always a risk that they veer off into a space they haven’t been, and start surprising their supporters”?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Acting Prime Minister): Yes. It was an observation based on watching the third term of the previous Labour Government.
Hon Annette King : Was pulling the hair of a woman worker in a cafe arrogant, veering off into a space where he had not been before, or just totally inappropriate behaviour?
Hon BILL ENGLISH : As the Prime Minister has acknowledged, it was totally inappropriate behaviour, for which he apologised to the young woman concerned and, I might say, well before public attention was drawn to the matter.
Hon Annette King : Does he think that in modern New Zealand it is OK to describe repeated and unwelcome pulling of a young woman’s hair as banter, horseplay, joking around; if not, why has he attempted to minimise his weird behaviour?
Hon BILL ENGLISH : The Prime Minister has not attempted to minimise the behaviour; he has acknowledged the inappropriate nature of that behaviour and dealt with the issue when it was drawn to his attention.
Hon Annette King : Was the National Party warned of his hair-pulling behaviour before his actions became public; if so, when?
Mr SPEAKER : In as far as there is prime ministerial responsibility, the Hon Bill English.
Hon BILL ENGLISH : Of course the Prime Minister had an indication about the behaviour, because the young woman raised it with him and he apologised to her. I might say that the Prime Minister has, through intensive interaction with the public over a long period as leader of the National Party and as the Prime Minister, observed almost always the highest standards of appropriate behaviour.
Hon Annette King : Was there any communication between his office or his staff and Rachel Glucina or the cafe owners following the breaking of this story?
Hon BILL ENGLISH : I have not had the opportunity to establish whether or not that is the case, so I simply cannot answer that question.
Hon Annette King : Does he stand by his statement that he “needs to be better at reading the tea leaves” when making decisions about how he will behave in public; if so, how often does he use tea leaves for advice?
Hon BILL ENGLISH : Yes, the Prime Minister does stand by that statement. I might say that part of the Prime Minister’s disappointment at these events—
Grant Robertson : He did it!
Hon BILL ENGLISH : —and the inappropriateness of his behaviour is that in almost every other respect his interaction with New Zealanders is positive.
Hon Annette King : What is the difference between his behaviour and that of Aaron Gilmore’s?
Hon BILL ENGLISH : They are different circumstances and have both been dealt with appropriately.
Hon Annette King : I seek leave to table a Facebook post on the National Party’s website—
Mr SPEAKER : Order! [Interruption] Order! I do not need any further assistance. It is available to all members if they want to look for it.
Rt Hon Winston Peters : Putting aside the numerous Parnell cafe incidents, how does the Acting Prime Minister explain the countless photographs of Mr Key stroking young girls’ hair, and what psychological condition is that?
Hon BILL ENGLISH : I reject all the imputations of that question. The Prime Minister has a track record that I know Opposition parties resent, and that is of very positive interaction with the whole range of the New Zealand community. In this case he has acknowledged the inappropriateness of his behaviour and dealt with it well before it came to public attention because, in his view, if the young woman felt that way about the behaviour, then it clearly was not appropriate and he had to deal with it.
Rt Hon Winston Peters : Putting aside the Parnell cafe case, what about the numerous other cases where he has not apologised at all? How does he explain that?
Hon BILL ENGLISH : Almost without exception the interactions the Prime Minister has with the New Zealand public are not the subject of complaints. In fact, more than any other Prime Minister, he is open to those interactions and they are positive. If anyone felt that he had acted inappropriately, they are able to raise that issue and, I think, as indicated by this incident, the Prime Minister will take responsibility for his behaviour and apologise accordingly.
Hon Annette King : Has the Deputy Prime Minister ever advised him that he undertakes such behaviour in public?
Hon BILL ENGLISH : Very generally, the Prime Minister has been able to conduct a very positive relationship with the broader public without the benefit of advice from the Deputy Prime Minister.
3. METIRIA TUREI (Co-Leader—Green) to the Prime Minister : Does he stand by all his statements?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Acting Prime Minister): Yes, in the context in which they were made.
Metiria Turei : Why did the Prime Minister not rule out doing a trade deal with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) should ISIL become a State and form a Government?
Hon BILL ENGLISH : I am unaware of such a statement.
Metiria Turei : Why do beheadings by ISIL mean that the Prime Minister will send troops to fight them but beheadings in Saudi Arabia mean he leads a trade delegation there?
Hon BILL ENGLISH : Saudi Arabia is a sovereign nation that conducts diplomatic and trade relationships with the whole world, including many developed countries. ISIL is a self-declared terrorist organisation that has set out to destroy the nation States that it chooses to try to inhabit and invade. If the Greens cannot tell the difference between ISIL and Saudi Arabia, then it probably would be a good idea to do a bit more homework.
Metiria Turei : When the Prime Minister said: “New Zealand is not going to turn the other way. We’re actually going to stand up for human rights…”, is that consistent with sending a trade delegation to a country where women cannot leave the house without a male relative, cannot drive, and cannot vote in the elections?
Hon BILL ENGLISH : Yes, it is. New Zealand chooses to trade with a number of countries that have different views about human rights than we do. In fact, it is the case that when you read the UN reports on human rights in New Zealand we probably would not trade with ourselves if we felt that we were going to adopt a pure standard of moral high ground. In the case of, say, China and Indonesia, particularly in Indonesia, where there is a very topical issue right now, it is our view that continuing to conduct relationships with these countries and trade with them is more likely to have an impact on their human rights views than having nothing to do with them.
Metiria Turei : Does the Prime Minister still believe that it is acceptable for Governments to lash women for being raped and behead people for being homosexual because “they are taking it against their own citizens”?
Hon BILL ENGLISH : Of course it is not acceptable, and trading with them is not an endorsement of the criminal punishment system in Saudi Arabia.
Metiria Turei : Does the Prime Minister consider the lashing of rape victims to be a gross human rights violation or, to quote him, a “human rights discrepancy”?
Hon BILL ENGLISH : The Greens will eventually, I think, learn that you can influence people without lecturing them. Of course, the Prime Minister is going to Saudi Arabia to carry out constructive discussions about securing a trade agreement, which will help to lift incomes in New Zealand and deal with some of the poverty problems that the Greens consistently point out. We have the opportunity to raise human rights issues with the Saudi Arabian Government consistently through ongoing dialogue, as we do in a formal way with the Chinese Government and others. The Prime Minister, of course, is going to conduct himself appropriately to achieve what is in the best interests of New Zealand, as well as influencing the Saudi Arabian Government, although I have to say that it is unlikely that views he holds about the issues the member raises are going to lead to significant change in the Saudi culture.
Metiria Turei : I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. That was an answer to a question but not to mine.
Mr SPEAKER : Order! I listened very carefully to the question and to the answer. The question has been addressed.
Metiria Turei : Will the Prime Minister live our values on the international stage and delay signing a free-trade agreement with Saudi Arabia until it commits to meeting its own obligations under the human rights conventions that it has signed, such as the convention against torture and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women?
Hon BILL ENGLISH : No, he will not be following the Greens’ advice on this. If we were to pursue that course of action, we would have a great deal fewer free-trade agreements than we have. As I have said, part of New Zealand’s values is that, actually, we talk to people, and if we continue to trade with them we may be able to influence them more than if, as a small country at the end of the world, we decide to have nothing to do with them.
4. Dr JIAN YANG (National) to the Minister of Education : What recent announcements has she made that will ensure young New Zealanders get the right resources and investment they need for educational success?
Hon HEKIA PARATA (Minister of Education): Tēnā koe, Mr Speaker. This Government has invested the most money ever in education. Continuing our commitment to the educational success of young New Zealanders Minister Kaye and I were pleased to join the Prime Minister in making a pre-Budget announcement that there will be a further $244 million to build seven new schools, expand four existing schools, and add another 241 classrooms across the country. This investment is in addition to the $1.137 billion for Christchurch schools and the $450 million for business as usual in the school property portfolio. Together these commitments ensure that schools are increasingly future-proofed so that Kiwi kids can learn in modern learning environments fit for our 21st century students.
Dr Jian Yang : Where will students benefit from this demonstration of the Government’s commitment to ensuring all kids can do their very best at school?
Hon HEKIA PARATA : This $244 million spend includes the first phase of the Government’s commitment to invest $350 million in Auckland schools. Two of the seven schools are primary schools in Auckland at Kūmeu and Scott Point. We will also open Rototuna Senior High School in Hamilton; a primary school at Rolleston, near Christchurch; and three kura kaupapa Māori in Whakatāne, Gisborne, and Hastings. Significant expansions are planned for Hingaia Peninsula School in Auckland, Papamoa College and Golden Sands School in Papamoa, and Shotover Primary School near Queenstown.
Dr Jian Yang : What other investments has the Government made in education that will lead to educational success for young New Zealanders?
Hon HEKIA PARATA : As well as this $244 million spend, the Government committed $359 million in Budget 2014 for investing in educational success by lifting the quality of teaching and leadership in our schools. As part of that investment I was pleased to announce last week a further 129 schools forming 18 new communities of schools. This makes just over 220 schools and 85,000 students participating. We are right on track with this exciting initiative.
5. GRANT ROBERTSON (Labour—Wellington Central) to the Minister of Finance : Has he ever described achieving a surplus in this year as an “artificial target”; if not, why not?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): Yes, it is a somewhat artificial target, in that there is not a single dividing point between the Government’s books being in good shape or not being in good shape, if only because of the potentially significant variations in forecasts. For instance, in the last 4 or 5 months inflation has turned out to be significantly lower than was anticipated just back in December. So the Government is making good progress on getting its books in order. There will continue to be fluctuations in forecast, particularly of tax revenue.
Grant Robertson : If getting into surplus in 2014-15 is an artificial target, why was it the No. 1 promise made by National in its publicity material to voters at the 2014 election?
Hon BILL ENGLISH : It was not the No. 1 promise, in fact, because New Zealanders know that fiscal surplus is not an end in itself. The point of the target has been to get control of Government expenditure and ensure that we get good value for the PAYE that New Zealanders hand over at the end of every week, and we have been able to achieve that through Better Public Services and consistent movement towards surplus and the ability to repay debt.
Grant Robertson : I seek leave of the House to table this document—
Mr SPEAKER : Order! The member will resume his seat. I will not be putting the leave.
Jami-Lee Ross : What was the state of the Government’s finances when National first came into office in 2008?
Hon BILL ENGLISH : When we first came into office we were faced with the legacy of a Government that increased spending by 50 percent in its last 5 years in office. So in fact we inherited—[Interruption] Well, the Labour Party has forgotten this. We inherited a $3.9 billion deficit for 2008-09 and Treasury was forecasting never-ending deficits, and that is before the Christchurch earthquake and the recession. The deficit peaked at $18.4 billion, and we are making considerable progress in reducing that and moving to surpluses.
Jami-Lee Ross : What progress has the Government made in turning the Government’s finances around?
Hon BILL ENGLISH : What is just as important is the progress we have made on Better Public Services, because this Government has taken the view that what delivers results for communities delivers results for the Government’s books. So while we have run relatively tight Budgets, we have focused strongly on getting results for the taxpayers’ money that we already have and addressing long-standing and persistent social dysfunction, which drives much of Government spending. This approach is working. We are getting better results in our communities in terms of lower crime, fewer young people going through our courts, a 40 percent reduction in the number of sole parents under the age of 20, and reducing long-term costs of welfare dependency. And as a result of that, Crown expenditure in the current year is about $4 billion lower than we thought it would be 3 years ago, when we set our surplus target.
Grant Robertson : Does he recall his own statement: “Getting back to surplus is one of the most important contributions the Government can make to increasing genuine national savings and building a more competitive economy.”; and how does he reconcile that with his new-found belief that it is just an artificial target?
Hon BILL ENGLISH : Yes, I do recall that statement, and I will continue to make that statement. But unlike the member, the Government is not obsessed with a particular point target. We are headed in the right direction. We are achieving what the Government wants to achieve, which is improved public services and protection of the most vulnerable, at the same time as supporting a growing economy. We are moving in the right direction towards surpluses and reduction in debt.
Grant Robertson : In what way is the New Zealand Herald wrong when it said that when it comes to the surplus “promises are promises”, and that his and the Prime Minister’s reputation will be damaged if the Government does not achieve a surplus it has promised for two election campaigns?
Hon BILL ENGLISH : I just disagree with it. In the first place, it does not know what the numbers might actually be, and we will not find that out until October this year. Secondly, it is pretty clear that the Government has Government finances under control and we are headed in the right direction. A lot of New Zealanders have confidence in that. We are not going to let the pursuit of any particular number in the operating balance stop us from making good decisions for the progress of the New Zealand community and the New Zealand economy.
Grant Robertson : If he is not interested in a particular number for the surplus, why did he go to New Zealanders and promise a $372 million surplus?
Hon BILL ENGLISH : We have always indicated that we wanted to get to surplus. That is clear. That is proven to be a very effective anchor for public services and community expectations. The actual number, of course, is a product of the independent forecasting capacity of the New Zealand Treasury. We do not pick a number, and, as I have said to the member before, we are not going to make random cuts to entitlements and public services just to satisfy him about a particular surplus number.
Grant Robertson : Does he agree with the New Zealand Herald that John Key has “indulged in smoke and mirrors to make a surplus or deficit in the tens or hundreds of millions of dollars seem inconsequential.”, and why has he promised to New Zealanders for two election campaigns that the Government’s books would be in surplus, only to now decide that it is an artificial target?
Hon BILL ENGLISH : I do disagree with the New Zealand Herald. The member needs a bit of context to this. The deficit reached $18 billion. The most recent forecasts for the 2014-15 year close that from minus $18 billion to minus $500 million. That is dramatic progress by any standard, and the Government has done that at the same time as improving public services. I know that the member really resents the fact that we have been able to improve public services and get the Government’s books in order, but that is what we will continue to do.
Social Development, Minister—Statements
6. DARROCH BALL (NZ First) to the Minister for Social Development : Does she stand by her statement “The latest benefit figures show a further year-on-year decline as the New Zealand economy improves and welfare reforms continue to support families”?
Hon JO GOODHEW (Associate Minister for Social Development) on behalf of the Minister for Social Development : Yes.
Darroch Ball : Does the Minister find it acceptable that provincial areas have fallen well below the average decrease in beneficiary numbers, and one case, Taranaki, shows an increase in benefit numbers over the last 12 months, while this Government’s priorities of Auckland and Canterbury have benefit numbers decreasing at over twice the rate of regional New Zealand?
Hon JO GOODHEW : Although I do not have the regional figures in front of me, I am able to answer on behalf of the Minister that we are taking an approach of investing assistance and resources to those people whose future is affected by their being on benefits. This approach varies from region to region, but the figures across the country do not lie. The number of jobseeker support clients reduced by 4 percent, over 5,000 people. The number of long-term jobseeker support clients reduced by 6 percent, over 4,000 people. These people are, even if the member does not realise it, found across all of New Zealand.
Darroch Ball : Why has the Minister not prioritised high youth unemployment rates in our regions, given that a recent study found that 15 to 24-year-olds made up a bigger share of total unemployment here than in any other OECD country, and 9 percent of them are still now unemployed and looking for work?
Hon JO GOODHEW : This Government has most certainly not turned its back on young people who are unemployed. Never before has a Government put so much support into young people to keep them in education, to keep them in training, to assist those who are sole parents—
Mr SPEAKER : Order! I am getting interruptions from my right-hand side here. The difficulty is that we are having trouble hearing the answer because the Minister is talking directly to the member rather than facing the microphone. Would the member please complete her answer.
Hon JO GOODHEW : Thank you, Mr Speaker. Yes, I will stand closer to the microphone so the House can hear my answer. Unequivocally, this Government is assisting young people into work. Our legislation around employment relations also gives them a chance to get into work. However, it will always be more difficult for a young person to get their first job, which is something that certainly has not occurred to members on the Opposition benches.
Roading, Christchurch—Western Corridor
7. MATT DOOCEY (National—Waimakariri) to the Minister of Transport : What progress has the Government made on the Western Corridor, which is part of its Roads of National Significance programme for Christchurch?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES (Minister of Transport): The Prime Minister and I recently turned the sod of the Russley Road section of the Western Corridor project. This is the second to last section to be built as part of the Western Corridor road of national significance. The $112 million project includes construction of a gateway bridge, and a new interchange at the Russley Road and Memorial Avenue intersection, which is ranked as the second-highest high-risk intersection in the country. The project will deliver necessary safety improvements by separating highway and local road traffic, and provide a visual welcome for visitors to Christchurch as well as to those returning home.
Matt Doocey : What benefits will the Western Corridor deliver for road users? [Interruption]
Hon SIMON BRIDGES : It is great to see the excitement around this project. There will be many benefits in terms of quicker travel times, safety, and greater accessibility for walking and cycling. When completed, this corridor will better connect Christchurch International Airport with commercial and industrial hubs to the north and south of the city. The project is a really important one for the economic growth of Christchurch—indeed, of the South Island—and the project is also an important part of a wider $900 million roads of national significance package within Christchurch.
8. PHIL TWYFORD (Labour—Te Atatū) to the Minister of Finance : Does he stand by his statement that the Government has effectively left nothing “undone” to tackle sky-rocketing house prices in Auckland?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): Yes, in the context that the statement was made, which was a reference to the work that the Government has done with the Auckland Council, which is the primary decision maker in the Auckland housing market. It was referring to any steps that would have an “immediate impact”. However, I am confident that the measures the Government is taking will improve housing affordability over time. There are not too many steps you can take that have immediate impact—for instance, working with the council to build on the 100 special housing areas around the country; specific projects on public land, including three in Christchurch and forthcoming announcements in Tāmaki; taking off tariffs and duties on building materials; further reforms of the Resource Management Act to encourage councils to deliver long-term improvements in land supply; significant reforms of social housing, opening up the market to community providers; and much more efficient use of the Government’s extensive landholdings, particularly in Auckland.
Phil Twyford : Was he consulted on the title of the Reserve Bank Deputy Governor’s speech: “Action needed to reduce housing imbalances”; if so, what did he take the action called for to mean—was it the kind of action that has seen Auckland house prices go up on average by more than $300,000 on his watch?
Hon BILL ENGLISH : No, I was not, but the speech outlines a range of actions that the Government has taken. The member needs to understand here that the local council makes the decisions because the decisions affect the local residents. That is exactly what happens. The member opposed the special housing areas legislation. Why did Labour oppose the special housing areas legislation if it thought that the Government should get on and do things? That legislation has been of great assistance to the council in encouraging the supply of a lot more land into the Auckland market, and we look forward to the member’s support in the future for further measures that the Government intends to take.
Phil Twyford : Does he agree with the Prime Minister that house prices are not overvalued; if so, how does he reconcile that with the fact that there is currently the biggest gap in affordability between Auckland and the rest of the country since the Massey index started 25 years ago, while homeowners in the region have to cop loan-to-value ratios and higher interest rates because of his failed policy?
Hon BILL ENGLISH : Auckland is reaping the rewards, as we all are, of a planning philosophy going back to the mid-1990s, which that member supported, that was designed to stop Auckland growing. We have legislated over the top of that ridiculous planning philosophy in order to allow Auckland city to grow. That is what is working.
Phil Twyford : When the Reserve Bank and commentators are calling house prices a risk to the economy, first-home buyers are locked out of the market, and offshore speculators are making a killing, how is it acceptable to throw up your hands and say that there is nothing else to do?
Hon BILL ENGLISH : As I said to the member, the comment he is referring to was made in the context of the work that is being done between the Auckland Council and the Government to have immediate impact on the housing market. If the member would like to enlarge his view he should talk to the Auckland Council about how willing it is to allow the Government to take the council’s decision making off it, because, actually, we are not willing to take the council’s decision making off it. We have to work with that council because the decisions it makes affect local people. We are working together; we have made significant progress. Of course it is not fast enough, but we can only go as quickly as the Auckland Council will actually go.
Phil Twyford : Is the reason he said there is nothing left to do that the reality is that this is now a tired old Government that has run out of ideas?
Hon BILL ENGLISH : No, that is simply not correct. As the member may well know, the Government is working with what is a lengthy pipeline of development. Just by way of illustration, it was not uncommon in Auckland to take 10 years to get a new subdivision—it was not uncommon. We are now getting those subdivisions through, in some cases, in less than a year. That is simply how long it takes. Even if the Government wants to build thousands of houses, it still needs the consent of the Auckland Council to build those houses, and they have to be built consistent with the Auckland Unitary Plan, which that member’s voters want to see in place.
9. JAN LOGIE (Green) to the Minister for Women : Does she consider it her job to advocate for all New Zealand women?
Hon LOUISE UPSTON (Minister for Women): Yes.
Jan Logie : Should female hospitality workers have to put up with unwanted touching from customers; if not, why did she publicly defend John Key’s repeated hair-pulling of Amanda Bailey, describing it as “light-hearted”, rather than address her complaint?
Hon LOUISE UPSTON : The Prime Minister has taken responsibility for his actions and has apologised to the person concerned. I want to take this opportunity to highlight the fact that it is an issue, any time anyone, male or female, is subject to words, texts, messages, or touching that is unwelcomed, and that, absolutely, they should stand up, they should comment, and they should express that. Also, it is important for anyone who sees that or who is around that behaviour, whether it is in a workplace, a home, or in the community, to speak up.
Jan Logie : Then why did the Minister not speak up last week or again when asked by the media on Tuesday to make a statement in defence of the safety of women in workplaces?
Hon LOUISE UPSTON : As I said, the Prime Minister took responsibility for his actions and I was not going to comment on his statement.
Jan Logie : Who will stand up for women’s rights in New Zealand if the Minister for Women publicly dismisses a woman’s complaint of harassment in order to protect the Prime Minister?
Hon LOUISE UPSTON : At no stage did I dismiss the concerns of any individual. Actually, one of my priorities is to make sure that New Zealand girls and women are safe, and I have extended the hand across this House on more than one occasion to say that if any other member has suggestions as to how we can do this better, I would be open with all ears. I am pleased that that member has taken the opportunity to do that and I welcome any further discussion that you might have.
Water Safety—Shark Cage Diving
10. CLAYTON MITCHELL (NZ First) to the Minister of Conservation : Is she at all concerned about the health and safety of pāua divers and other recreational water users around Stewart Island in relation to shark cage diving permits?
Hon MAGGIE BARRY (Minister of Conservation): Yes.
Clayton Mitchell : Can the Minister then tell the House on this special day, which marks 20 years since Cave Creek, whether a full health and safety risk assessment was conducted prior to the Department of Conservation’s decision to issue permits to two great white shark cage diving operations around Stewart Island; if not, why not?
Hon MAGGIE BARRY : The two shark cage operators in the Stewart Island area have been operating for about 7 years. There were no restrictions whatsoever on their activities until last December, at the point when the Department of Conservation issued permits to two of those groups, with very strong stipulations as to how they should behave and conduct themselves to be eligible for those permits.
Clayton Mitchell : Does the Minister feel that the public consultation on the conditions of shark cage diving permits was predetermined, given that the submissions closed 2 days after the draft permits were released to the two operators?
Hon MAGGIE BARRY : No, it was not predetermined.
Clayton Mitchell : Would the Minister consider halting great white shark cage diving operations at Stewart Island if it was proved that the safety and well-being of the people of Stewart Island and the sharks were in question, regardless of the permits; if not, why not?
Hon MAGGIE BARRY : The permits have been in place since December of last year. The season, as it were, for sharks coming into our waters ends at the end of May and resumes again at the beginning of December. When the Department of Conservation issued the permits to the two people last year, it said that it would review it at the end of the season, which is what it is going to do. It will then review it again at the end of the next diving season. If there are any issues that need to be dealt with regarding the issuing of permits or regarding the safety of the great white sharks—which is why I, as the Minister of Conservation, am involved in this issue, because it is under the Wildlife Act—then those issues will be dealt with and evaluated when the reviews are done. The department signalled that from the very beginning.
Clayton Mitchell : Supplementary question.
Mr SPEAKER : No, the New Zealand First allocation has been used up.
Clayton Mitchell : I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I would ask, in light of the—
Mr SPEAKER : Could we have the point of order, please.
Clayton Mitchell : The point of order is we have just recently had a new member in the House, which would entitle us—
Mr SPEAKER : Order! The adjustment will be considered by the Business Committee today and may apply from tomorrow onwards.
Border Control—Drug Screening
11. MARK MITCHELL (National—Rodney) to the Minister of Customs : How is the Government making criminals pay for better drug screening at the border?
Hon NICKY WAGNER (Minister of Customs): Money received under the Criminal Proceeds (Recovery) Act has been used to purchase a new, state-of-the-art, hand-held drug analyser for the Customs Service. In the past 6 months, the Customs Service has used the analyser to conduct over 3,200 substance tests at the borders, with over 1,200 substances indicating positively for drugs. This means that over 1,200 packages of illegal drugs including methamphetamine, cocaine, and methylene dioxy-methyl amphetamine have not made it on to the streets and have not caused harm to our communities.
Mark Mitchell : What are the advantages of the new border-screening technology?
Hon NICKY WAGNER : The hand-held drug analyser can identify more than 11,000 substances almost instantly, and that means that quicker action can be taken against criminal importers and more customs officers’ time can be freed up to focus on additional enforcement work. With over 1,200 packages of drugs not making it on to our streets and not causing harm in our communities, I am pleased that the criminals’ ill-gotten gains are now being used to stop more drugs at the border.
Trans-Pacific Partnership—Release of Information
12. Hon DAVID PARKER (Labour) to the Minister of Trade : Will he now release the Government’s objectives and the latest offer it has tabled in respect of each chapter and each annex of the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement?
Hon TODD McCLAY (Acting Minister of Trade): Our negotiators are working to get the best deal for New Zealanders. That objective would not be advanced by publicly declaring New Zealand’s hand to our negotiating partners. All Trans-Pacific Partnership members have agreed to keep negotiating texts confidential. That includes the annexes.
Hon David Parker : Is he aware that the European Commission has undertaken to publicly release both its offers and its objectives for each chapter and annex of the European equivalent to the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership between Europe and the USA?
Hon TODD McCLAY : Yes. Partly in response to the Ombudsman’s recommendation, the European Commission has made available publicly a range of position papers and early texts that have been tabled from part of the EU’s negotiations with the US. Our assessment is that the material released by the European Commission is fairly generic, and New Zealand’s negotiators have already made available our own material on the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement.
Hon David Parker : Does he accept that his Government’s excessive secrecy around the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement is feeding public distrust?
Hon TODD McCLAY : No, I do not accept that. What I do accept, though, is that the process that the Government is following under the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations is exactly the same process that was followed for the China free-trade agreement. Back then, when Mr Goff was the Minister for Trade Negotiations, he went through a consultation. There have been two public consultations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement. Secondly—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER : Order! I am getting to the stage where I am going to be asking a member on this side of the House to leave. The level of interjection means that I cannot hear the answer. Would the Minister please continue.
Hon TODD McCLAY : Secondly, when that party opposite was in Government, it was in favour of trade agreements that were of a high quality for New Zealand. Those members are the ones who are causing grief. They should support this negotiation and support New Zealand businesses when it comes to the high-quality agreement that the Government has said must be negotiated before we will reach a commitment.
Mr SPEAKER : Before I call a supplementary question, I say that I have given a warning to those on my left-hand side. I will act on it.
Hon David Parker : Does he accept that his lack of transparency is contributing to the concern expressed by public health doctors about the possible effects of the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement?
Hon TODD McCLAY : This is not an agreement that has been negotiated in secret; this is an agreement that has been conducted in the same way as every other trade negotiation that has taken place by parties on both sides of this House—firstly. Secondly, when it comes to the concerns raised, New Zealand is not prepared to negotiate on the fundamentals of the Pharmac model. The Government has been clear from the start that it will strongly resist proposals that would increase the price New Zealanders pay for their medicine. We are taking a careful approach to pharmaceutical patent issues to ensure that the agreed outcome does not affect the fundamentals of medicine access in New Zealand.
Hon David Parker : Does he accept the criticism from the Anglican and Catholic bishops of New Zealand as to the Government’s lack of transparency when last week they said: “the lack of transparency … [is a matter] of great concern. The sense of unease stretches across the community, …”? Or have they got it wrong too?
Hon TODD McCLAY : When that member on the opposite side of the House last spoke on a trade issue it was around the China free-trade agreement. At the time New Zealand had $2 billion worth of two-way trade with China; today we have $20 billion. The Government is interested in a high-quality agreement under the Trans-Pacific Partnership that will provide good market access to New Zealand businesses and secure income for the country and will also provide jobs for New Zealanders. I invite him to go back and look at earlier speeches from members of the Opposition when they were in Government and join the party.