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Questions and Answers - August 18


Questions to Ministers

Economy—Diversification

ANDREW LITTLE (Leader of the Opposition): My question is to the Prime Minister—[Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER : Order! I now require some settling in this House.

1. ANDREW LITTLE (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister : Does he stand by his statement that “New Zealand has a diversified economy”, given that 82 percent of the growth in exports since the beginning of 2009 has been in dairy and wood, while manufactured exports have fallen by $1.3 billion?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): Official data from Statistics New Zealand shows that between January 2009 and June 2015 New Zealand exports grew by just over $1 billion, but I have news for the member: I am advised that it is not the case that 82 percent of this growth in exports has been in dairy and wood. In fact, the real number is 20 percent, and I am advised that it is not the case that manufactured exports have fallen by $1.3 billion. In fact, they have increased by $138 million, or 13 percent, over the period that the member refers to. So I would say yes, New Zealand has a diversified economy, and I would also say that, like always, we should never believe the dodgy statistics that Labour brings to the House.

Andrew Little : Why has he failed to invest in diversifying the country over the past 7 years by backing research and development, investing in rural transport, and improving training for our young people; and why did he increase irrigation subsidies that encouraged more milk production instead?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY : Despite what the member says, in fact, every single year that this Government has been in office it has invested more money in science and innovation. We have a highly diversified economy, and that is one of the reasons why it is doing well.

Andrew Little : Given the 500 jobs lost at Fonterra, the 1,100 lost so far at Solid Energy, and the now 7.5 percent unemployment rate in Taranaki—the highest in 21 years—was it a good idea for his Government to concentrate regional economies on just a few basic commodities?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY : Well, I reject the proposition that we have done that. In fact, what we have done is enable the regions to diversify, and they have done that. The member might want to go around and ask the tourism operators around the region whether they are having a record time. The member might want to go out and look at information and communications technology businesses, around being supported by the roll-out of ultra-fast broadband and the Rural Broadband Initiative. The member might want to look at the science and innovation that has been rolled out around the country. The food industry—there are many parts of the economy that are diversified. What is not diversified is the Labour Party, which has a one-track mind and thinks that everything is either dairy or housing. [Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER : Order! The level of interjection is now unacceptable.

Andrew Little : With unemployment rising for the last three quarters and 50,000 more people unemployed today than when the member became Prime Minister, when will unemployment return to pre - John Key levels and where will the jobs come from?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY : I do not have the numbers with me, but I know that over the past couple of years the number of jobs created in New Zealand is well in excess of 100,000. There are more people in work under this Government than there has ever been in the history of New Zealand.

Andrew Little : Given that dairy prices are so low, that manufactured exports are well below the level that he inherited, that the Canterbury rebuild has peaked, and that retail sales have stalled, how can he seriously regret the view of the leading bank economist that there will be no job growth in the second half of this year and that growth will slow below 2 percent?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY : If the member came to the House with the correct facts we could take him seriously. The BNZ-Business New Zealand Performance of Manufacturing Index has increased 33 months in a row—[Interruption] It is 34 months; I stand corrected—34 months in a row. I know that the member wants to talk the New Zealand economy down, because he somehow thinks the doom and gloom is going to help his failing prospects, but I can assure the member that it will not—it will not—and that is why in the “Mood of the Boardroom” they did not rate him very highly.

Mr SPEAKER : Order! [Interruption] Order! Now the noise is coming from my left rather than the right, but it still must settle.

Andrew Little : When he says that beef, fruit, wine, and tourism are growing, why does he not be straight with New Zealand and admit that growth across all those sectors is just $2.3 billion, while the collapse in dairy will cost the economy $8 billion? Tell the truth—he has put all the eggs in one basket, and I am not talking about the poultry industry, either.

Rt Hon JOHN KEY : Again, the member comes up with dodgy statistics one more time, and that is why it is very hard to take him seriously. But, yes, actually lots of other parts of the economy are doing very well. The member gets up on his feet and says that because international dairy prices are down—something that the Government cannot control—it is our fault, but because international beef prices are up, that is nothing to do with us. Well, he cannot have it both ways. [Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER : Order! Would the two front-benchers—at the second request—please settle.

Prime Minister—Statements

2. Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First) to the Prime Minister : Does he stand by all his statements?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): Yes.

Rt Hon Winston Peters : Does he stand by his statement of October 2011 that the proceeds of selling public assets like Air New Zealand and power generators will go, in his words, “into a new Fund, called the Future Investment Fund.”?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY : Yes.

Rt Hon Winston Peters : Can the Prime Minister confirm that his asset sales fund is being used to buy “assets that are long-lived, are here in New Zealand, and are owned by the Crown on behalf of all taxpayers.”?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY : As a general characterisation, I would say that is correct.

Rt Hon Winston Peters : Well, then, how does he reconcile the two answers he has just given when the Government’s contribution to the Chinese-led offshore Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank of $140 million—New Zealand dollars—is coming from his Future Investment Fund?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY : New Zealand has long been a participant in putting capital into bodies like this, and actually that is a very good thing to do, because that collective capital will be used to build infrastructure projects right across the Asian region, which, actually, New Zealand companies may well also get an opportunity to participate in. The capital is used to support those projects and one day it will probably be returned to New Zealand taxpayers.

Rt Hon Winston Peters : If that is the case, then why did the Prime Minister not give the right answer the first two times, and, more important, will he confirm to hard-working New Zealand taxpayers that another $561 million is now, by underwriting, having to be put against the Crown accounts for that purchase?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY : I do not think that the member really understands basic accounting. To be blunt, we put money into ACC and the superannuation fund, and that is also equity in those entities. We are putting equity into the Asian bank that is owned by New Zealand taxpayers, who own that equity.

Rt Hon Winston Peters : If that is true, why did he not tell the public the truth when he made those statements about it being all here in New Zealand, and, with provincial New Zealand—indeed, much of New Zealand—struggling, does he not feel that, like with charity, nigh on $700 million ought to be spent at home in this country?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY : For a start off there is no guarantee that the additional capital that is ever drawn on New Zealand would actually come out of the Future Investment Fund. That should probably strongly suggest that it probably would not, given the fund is starting to run down. But this is an asset held on the New Zealand balance sheet. That is at home.

Economic Programme—Policies and Results

3. JONATHAN YOUNG (National—New Plymouth) to the Minister of Finance : How is the Government supporting the economy’s resilience and long-term economic outlook?

Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): Lower dairy prices and ongoing uncertainty in some global markets underlines the importance of New Zealand’s economic resilience, which has increased in recent years. Household savings have lifted. More households have been more focused on paying down debt. New Zealand’s banks are well capitalised. New Zealand’s net international investment position, which measures our international indebtedness, has strengthened from 85 percent of GDP in 2009 to 64 percent of GDP today, a significant reduction in our international indebtedness. The Government, of course, is supporting this resilience through responsible fiscal management.

Jonathan Young : What recent reports has he received on the outlook for the New Zealand economy, particularly in the banking sector?

Hon BILL ENGLISH : Rating agency Standard and Poor’s released a ratings update for New Zealand financial institutions last week. It affirmed the issuer credit ratings of 11 financial institutions and lowered its credit ratings on 13 financial institutions. Standard and Poor’s said these changes reflected increased risks from rising house prices in Auckland and were not due—not due—to risks specific to any institution. It said that although rising housing prices in Auckland meant higher risks of a house price correction, this increase is off a low base, and a sharp correction remains unlikely. Standard and Poor’s pointed to New Zealand’s resilient economy and banking regulation as supporting a banking system that is low risk by global standards.

Jonathan Young : What do other international ratings agencies say about New Zealand’s economic outlook?

Hon BILL ENGLISH : There have been a number of reports from other rating agencies recently. Moody’s affirmed its AAA rating of New Zealand banks and said its outlook for the New Zealand banking system is stable, based on banks’ healthy capitalisation, strong asset quality, and stable profits. Last week Fitch Ratings affirmed its AA sovereign credit rating with a positive outlook, noting that the New Zealand economy and banking sector are relatively well positioned to weather a cyclical downturn in the dairy market. Later this month Standard and Poor’s is expected to update its sovereign ratings for New Zealand.

Jonathan Young : What recent reports has he received showing continuing moderate growth over the next few years?

Hon BILL ENGLISH : Most forecasters are going through a re-rating of the economic outlook because it is softer. Today the ASB bank issued its forecast of growth at 2 percent for this year, 2015, rising to 2.9 percent in 2016. It points to the widely recognised challenges in some parts of the economy, including positives such as a rapid improvement in export-sector competitiveness, expanding tourism, strong employment growth, and lower interest rates. The ASB’s outlook is broadly consistent with Treasury and the Reserve Bank, which forecast growth of 2 to 2.5 percent for 2015.

Workplace Health and Safety—Progress since Pike River Mine Disaster

4. ANDREW LITTLE (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister : Does he stand by his statement made after the Pike River disaster that “We’re doing everything we can to make sure this tragedy isn’t repeated”; if so, does he agree with Olivia Monk, sister of Michael Monk who was killed at Pike River, that “there have been 291 deaths since Pike River in New Zealand, within the workplace, and that is unacceptable”?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): Yes; and yes that it is unacceptable. That is why the Government has conducted the most significant review of workplace health and safety in more than two decades. However, it should be noted that I am advised by WorkSafe New Zealand that since Pike River, the number of fatalities has been 233. I am further advised that in the 5 years prior to Pike River, there were 331 fatalities, so the number is trending down.

Andrew Little : In light of the presence around Parliament today of some of the families of the Pike River victims, is the real reason for the delay in the passage of the Health and Safety Reform Bill that there are internal divisions in the National Government and difficulties with support parties?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY : No. There is a genuine desire, and also a need, to work with our support partners to actually get the legislation correct. Actually, I stand by the Government’s record in health and safety, which has been to set up the Royal Commission on the Pike River Coal Mine Tragedy, to establish the High Hazards Unit, and to establish the Independent Taskforce on Workplace Health and Safety. We have introduced new underground mining regulations, we set up WorkSafe as a single-focus independent health regulator, we provided $35 million of additional funding, and we have boosted up to 167 the total number of health and safety inspectors.

Andrew Little : Does he stand by his statement that “There have been too many deaths on farms for there not to be changes.”; if so, would he guarantee that agriculture will be included as a high-risk industry under the Health and Safety Reform Bill?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY : Yes, I stand by my statement. No, I would not guarantee that agriculture with 20 or fewer employees would be deemed high risk. What the Government will do is take the best advice, and the Minister will be introducing that tomorrow.

Andrew Little : How many deaths have there been in the agriculture sector since 2010, and what is that as a proportion of the workforce in that industry?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY : I do not have that information with me. The member would need to put it down in writing, and I am more than happy to get the Minister of labour to give it to him.

Andrew Little : Given that around 290 more New Zealanders have died at work since the 29 deaths at Pike River, despite his promise of better laws—

Rt Hon John Key : I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Obviously, it is important that the House is not misled—

Mr SPEAKER : Order! [Interruption] Order! That is not going to help the order of the House. I heard the answer that the Prime Minister gave. The Leader of the Opposition is now quoting another figure. It is in order for the Leader of the Opposition to do so, but I imagine that the response will be fairly robust when the question is completed. I invite Andrew Little to complete his question.

Andrew Little : Given that around 290 more New Zealanders have died at work since the 29 deaths at Pike River, despite his promise of better laws, does he seriously think that he has done enough to protect Kiwis at work?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY : I think the member is deliberately misleading the House. The correct number is 233.

Andrew Little : Will he come to the workplace safety meeting today at 6 o’clock in the Legislative Council Chamber and will he look the Pike River families in the eye and tell them that he has done all he can to prevent other families from suffering losses like theirs?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY : I have met with the families on many, many occasions. I would be simply more than happy to reaffirm to the families that this Government has utterly stood behind the commitments that it has made, and I personally have utterly stood behind those commitments. They include setting up the Royal Commission on the Pike River Coal Mine Tragedy and establishing the High Hazards Unit, with 17 specialist inspectors to oversee the safety of our mining and petroleum sectors. We have established the Independent Taskforce on Workplace Health and Safety; we have introduced new underground mining regulations; we have set up WorkSafe as the single-focus independent health and safety regulator; we have provided $35 million of additional funding for the regulator, bringing total resourcing to $80 million per year; we have boosted the number of health and safety inspectors to 167; we have developed the health and safety charter in Christchurch to assist the Canterbury rebuild; we have introduced a safety assurance regime for adventure activity operators; we have supported the industry-led Forest Industry Safety Council; we have worked with industry to introduce the Safer Farms initiative to—

Mr SPEAKER : Order! Bring the answer to a conclusion.

Regional Economic Development—Progress

5. JOANNE HAYES (National) to the Minister for Economic Development : What progress is the Government making in its regional development programme?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister for Economic Development): Very good progress. The recent household labour force survey highlights that the economy is continuing to diversify and grow jobs in many regions over the past year, despite sharply lower dairy prices and other international uncertainties. There are 69,000 more New Zealanders working than a year ago, including 2,000 more jobs in Otago and Southland; 9,000 more in the Waikato and 3,900 in Manawatū-Wanganui, with strong growth in the red meat sector, for example, including the value of beef exports up around 35 percent in a year; 11,000 more in the Bay of Plenty, on the back of a strong rebound in the Kiwifruit industry; and 3,300 more in Gisborne and Hawke’s Bay, partly due to a strong and growing wine industry and also a strong and growing fruit industry. There has also been good growth in other industries, with tourism up 7 percent on the year, 24,500 more people in manufacturing, and international education up to now $2.85 billion.

Joanne Hayes : What is the Government doing to encourage growth in the regions?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE : We are doing a range of things. For example, we are investing in critical infrastructure, like the regional roading programme, the roads of national significance, and ultra-fast and rural broadband, to connect our regions with the rest of New Zealand and with the world. We are updating the regional business partner network and introducing regional business hubs to make it easier for businesses to access what they need to grow nationally and internationally. We are establishing regional research institutes. We are working closely with a number of regions to help them make the most of their opportunities and attract more investment for more growth and more jobs.

Joanne Hayes : What has been the response from regions on their opportunity for growth?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE : A very good response, including in the Manawatū-Wanganui. We had a very good turnout from local leaders to endorse the regional growth opportunities report in that region. Last month I was down on the West Coast—of course, they have their own examples of diversification, like the $120 million nutritionals plant currently being built by Westland Milk Products. We are investing in a range of infrastructure projects, like the Taramakau bridge, and the ultra-fast broadband in Greymouth and soon in places like Westport. I am working closely with the Buller mayor on a range of projects to attract new investment opportunities there. Also, last Friday I was in Hawke’s Bay. The feedback there was very strongly in favour of regional development. They are very focused on the Ruataniwha dam project and the Trans-Pacific Partnership, so they were a little surprised when their local MP was coming out and marching against the Trans-Pacific Partnership last weekend.

Prime Minister—Statements

6. METIRIA TUREI (Co-Leader—Green) to the Prime Minister : Does he stand by all his statements?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): Yes.

Metiria Turei : Does he stand by his statement to this House that Bryan Perry’s inequality report Household incomes in New Zealand is “the definitive study in this area and it is correct”?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY : Yes.

Metiria Turei : Does the Prime Minister agree with the report’s finding that 45,000 more children are living below the 60 percent after - housing costs standard poverty line?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY : I agree that Mr Perry has put out the latest report; it does show that increase; it also shows a plethora of different measures for poverty. He also goes on in the report to say that there is no evidence yet to support the view that inequality is widening out.

Metiria Turei : So is the Prime Minister suggesting that the fact of 45,000 more children living in poverty in just 1 year does not matter?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY : No.

Metiria Turei : Beyond the hardship measures that the Prime Minister is concerned with, is he saying to this House that he is committed to resolving the poverty suffered by those additional 45,000 children as set out in Bryan Perry’s report?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY : I think it is worthy of noting that there are literally hundreds of measures in the report. The member has quoted one, and that, in part, is because the median income has risen. But, yes, the Government remains committed to helping all New Zealand children.

Metiria Turei : Does the Prime Minister agree with the author of this report, the most definitive study in this area, that because the incomes of the bottom third of New Zealand families have not moved but housing costs for those families have increased substantially, there are now 45,000 more children living in poverty than before?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY : As I said before, there are many, many different measures in the report. There are many different ways of looking at it and cutting the numbers in different reports that are in there. What is clear and what the report says is that it is not clear yet that there is a trend of rising income inequality in New Zealand. Some of the data that the member mentions is a result of the median income rising.

Metiria Turei : Given that the Prime Minister’s economic plan has failed to prevent 45,000 more children now living in poverty, will he consider working with me and others on a cross-party consensus on child poverty alleviation policies?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY : No. I am happy to stick with the plan with the Government has got, which is actually working in my view. This is increasing benefits—the first time a Government has done that for 43 years. It is also around measures for a strong economy, because actually, as we know, when people ultimately can find employment and can move into employment, their average household income rises. It is one of the reasons why, through a strong economy and the welfare reform measures this Government has undertaken, we now have the lowest number of people on the equivalent of the old DPB since 1988. The measures are working. There are many ways of cutting the numbers in Bryan Perry’s report.

Irrigation—Canterbury

MATT DOOCEY (National—Waimakariri): My question is to the Minister for Primary Industries—[Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER : Order! [Interruption] Order! I am going to invite the member to start the question again once the interchange has finished between the two front rows.

7. MATT DOOCEY (National—Waimakariri) to the Minister for Primary Industries : How is the Government supporting irrigation in the Canterbury region?

Hon NATHAN GUY (Minister for Primary Industries): Last Friday I attended, with the Prime Minister and many other supporters, the opening of stage 1 of the Central Plains Water irrigation scheme in Canterbury. This scheme has the potential to create more than $1 billion in new economic activity. When all stages are complete, the scheme will irrigate about 60,000 hectares of dairying, arable, horticultural, and other livestock finishing land as well. The Government has supported this project through Crown Irrigation Investments, which has invested $6.5 million in stage 1 of the Central Plains Water scheme, and the Irrigation Acceleration Fund, which invested $5.3 million in the early stages.

Matt Doocey : Why is supporting irrigation so important for our region?

Hon NATHAN GUY : A very good question. The need for new irrigation and water storage has been highlighted recently by several droughts over the past couple of summers. I have seen for myself what a positive difference irrigation makes to rural communities and rural towns. It revitalises schools and is a huge economic driver as well. There is the potential for an extra 420,000 hectares of land across New Zealand to be irrigated by 2025, and that will create thousands of new jobs and boost exports by $4 billion a year.

Andrew Little : I seek leave to table a report from WorkSafe New Zealand confirming that there have been a total of 299 workplace deaths in New Zealand since 2010.

Mr SPEAKER : Leave is sought to table that particular document. Is there any objection? There is none. It can be tabled. Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.

Tim Macindoe : What are some of the environmental benefits of the Central Plains Water irrigation scheme?

Hon NATHAN GUY : That is a very good question. Water storage infrastructure often has real environmental benefits, because it means more consistent river flows in summer and it reduces the pressure on groundwater aquifers. In this particular scheme, 75 to 80 percent of the current groundwater takes will be replaced by surface or river flows, and, of course, that has a benefit to the tune of 15 to 20 percent of that water being estimated to flow into Lake Ellesmere/Te Waihora. So there are numerous environmental, social, and economic benefits from water storage projects in New Zealand.

Economic Programme—Policies and Results

8. GRANT ROBERTSON (Labour—Wellington Central) to the Minister of Finance : Does his plan A for the economy include negative per capita growth, rising rates of unemployment, credit downgrades for New Zealand banks, and the lowest levels of business confidence in 6 years; if so, why is he rejecting the call from 75 percent of business leaders in a recent survey for a plan B for the economy?

Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): No, the Government’s economic plan is based on an economy that is resilient and adaptive to the pressures of the global economy, and it is continuing to deliver higher wages, increasing employment, and a growing economy. If the business leaders did have a plan B, we would know because Labour would have plagiarised it by now.

Mr SPEAKER : Order!

Grant Robertson : How can plan A be working when there are 146,000 people unemployed today—11,000 more than at this time last year—and the unemployment rate is knocking on 6 percent and forecast to go higher, or is higher unemployment really part of plan A?

Hon BILL ENGLISH : The plan is working because the economy is quite rapidly making the adjustments it needs to make to the change in the global markets that we deal with. Dairy prices have dropped sharply, the exchange rate has quite quickly dropped by almost 20 percent against the US dollar, and interest rates are now falling—not rising as we expected them to—and this is going to flow through to stronger export performance, particularly in those markets like tourism where demand is strong, and continued growth in jobs and investment. The adjustments that one would expect to occur are occurring, and the Government should make sure that it does not get in the way of sensible New Zealanders doing the right thing under the pressure that they feel.

Grant Robertson : In light of the rosy picture that the Minister has just painted, how does he explain a string of business confidence surveys that show the lowest levels of business confidence in 6 years, the latest of which being from the Auckland Chamber of Commerce, which shows that only 15 percent of its members actually think that things will get better in the next year? How does he explain that, if everything—

Mr SPEAKER : Order! The question has been asked.

Hon BILL ENGLISH : If the member had been listening to my last answer he would have heard that I was not painting a rosy picture; I was painting a picture of an economy adapting to global forces that are impacting on us—the same as business confidence is. It was at a very high level and the world outlook has softened for New Zealand, and so business confidence is adjusting to that pretty quickly. But I can tell you that that confidence would certainly erode further if the Government followed that member’s advice and panicked about low dairy prices.

Grant Robertson : Can he confirm his statement in this House—which he also repeated at the “Mood of the Boardroom” last week—that the only plan B for the diversification of the economy he has is for it to occur as a result of falling dairy prices?

Hon BILL ENGLISH : As has been rehearsed many times in this House, the New Zealand economy has been diversifying for some time, but I would have to say that if the member does understand the economy, he would understand that when prices drop in one sector and, effectively, go up in another, like tourism, investment is going to shift from one sector to another. That is not an original idea; that is one I have plagiarised from the economists.

Grant Robertson : Having failed to find a plan B for the economy, is he now on to plan C, which is to break his promise about asset sales and begin to hock off what is left of our State-owned enterprises?

Hon BILL ENGLISH : I can assure the member that plan A is not copying and pasting other people’s policies. It is to stick to our policy for an adaptive and resilient economy, and of course we will be adjusting to circumstances, in exactly the same way that businesses and households today, particularly in some of our dairy-intensive provincial areas, are having to adapt very quickly to the changing circumstances.

Grant Robertson : Has he instructed boards of State-owned enterprises other than Landcorp to investigate selling down capital; if so, which ones?

Hon BILL ENGLISH : No, we have not instructed boards to sell down capital. We have instructed them to show respect for the capital they have, which is hard-earned from New Zealanders who pay their taxes, their rail fares, or their postage, and make sure that they are using it very carefully. We have also instructed them that if they have spare capital—that is, unutilised land, for instance—they should sell it, because they are wasting it, and that is hard-earned cash. It is hard-earned capital funded by New Zealanders’ cash.

Grant Robertson : In light of that answer, can the Minister of Finance confirm that he has just told the House that he is breaking the National Party’s promise to not sell any more assets?

Hon BILL ENGLISH : No, and we disagree with that member’s irresponsible policy that if, for instance, a Government-owned business has land it no longer needs, then it must hold on to it for ever because that is the policy. If it no longer needs land, for instance, in Auckland, we would rather it sells the land in Auckland so we can build houses on it, and that is exactly what we are going to do.

Rt Hon John Key : Can the Minister of Finance confirm that if Meridian were to sell an asset it held in Australia called Southern Hydro, that would be an asset sale?

Hon BILL ENGLISH : Yes, I can. Having listened to this line of questioning for some time, I went back to see whether, under the previous Labour Government, any assets were sold. I found out, much to my surprise, that it had sold $600 million of electricity assets in Australia—and apparently that broke its policy.

Retirement Commissioner—Confidence

9. DENIS O’ROURKE (NZ First) to the Minister of Commerce and Consumer Affairs : Does he have confidence in the Government-appointed Retirement Commissioner Diane Maxwell?

Hon PAUL GOLDSMITH (Minister of Commerce and Consumer Affairs): Yes.

Denis O’Rourke : Does the Minister agree with the Retirement Commissioner’s comment that New Zealand should be lifting the bar for immigrants on their entitlement to full New Zealand superannuation and that “uncomfortable, difficult things” have to be discussed?

Hon PAUL GOLDSMITH : I am not responsible for policy on New Zealand superannuation. The commissioner has an independent role to comment on all sorts of things. I disagree with some and I agree with others, but I retain confidence in her.

Denis O’Rourke : Is the Minister concerned that in the last 15 years almost 80,000 immigrants over the age of 50 years have been granted permanent residence and that the proportion of older immigrants is steadily increasing each year?

Mr SPEAKER : I call the Hon Paul Goldsmith, in so far as he has ministerial responsibility.

Hon PAUL GOLDSMITH : I suggest he refers that question to the relevant portfolio Minister, but I would say that the Retirement Commissioner’s work is very important. Raising the capability of New Zealanders’ financial understanding will make a big difference to this country.

Denis O’Rourke : Does the Minister think that the minimum residency requirement of only 10 years for entitlement to full New Zealand superannuation is still appropriate, or would he be willing to consider changing it for a fairer and more appropriate alternative?

Mr SPEAKER : Again, in so far as there is ministerial responsibility, the Hon Paul Goldsmith.

Hon PAUL GOLDSMITH : I would be happy to send that member a list of ministerial responsibilities. Which letterbox would he like me to send it to?

Health Services—Access to Elective Surgery

10. BARBARA KURIGER (National—Taranaki - King Country) to the Minister of Health : Can he confirm that the number of patients benefiting from first surgical assessments has increased from 261,226 in 2008-09 to 322,196 in 2014-15, and that this is an increase of over 60,000 more patients now receiving first surgical assessments each year?

Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN (Minister of Health): Yes, I can. When National was elected in 2008, increasing the number of surgical specialist assessments every year was a top Government priority. Now, new official figures show that a record 322,196 New Zealanders received their surgical first specialist assessments in 2014-15. This is a remarkable increase of 60,000, or 23 percent, on 2007-08. This is in part achieved by the over $500 million a year average increase in the health budget under this Government.

Barbara Kuriger : Can the Minister advise whether this positive growth of surgical specialist assessments is across the main specialties, and does he expect to continue to deliver further increases in the number of patients receiving these assessments?

Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN : This growth in surgical specialist assessments has been spread across the specialties, including ear, nose, and throat; ophthalmology; and cardio-thoracic specialist assessments. It also includes an increase in orthopaedic specialist assessments from 43,200 in the 2008-09 year to 55,526 being assessed in 2014-15. That is 12,000, or 28 percent, more being done. It is my expectation that district health boards will continue to deliver increases in specialist assessments, and that is supported by the extra $92 million the Government has invested for elective surgeries in the Budget.

Overseas Investment Rules—Farm and Forestry Land in Foreign Ownership

11. STUART NASH (Labour—Napier) to the Minister for Land Information : How many hectares of New Zealand agricultural and forestry land are owned or controlled by foreign interests?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister for Economic Development) on behalf of the Minister for Land Information : It is not possible to give an answer to that for a number of reasons, and let me take the House through them. Firstly, often overseas owners sell land back to New Zealanders. Consent is not needed to do this, and no record is kept. No. 2, overseas owners can change their status—for example, they can become New Zealand citizens or permanent residents. No. 3, overseas owners sell land to each other. No. 4, the Overseas Investment Office records grants of consent; it does not necessarily mean—

Mr SPEAKER : Order! The Minister will resume his seat.

Rt Hon Winston Peters : I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. If you look at the question, it required a simple answer, not a long, obtuse—

Mr SPEAKER : Order! The member will resume his seat immediately. I will be the adjudicator of how long a question is to be answered for, and that will be greatly determined by the measure of interjections that are coming from areas in this House. If there are interjections, then a Minister will certainly be given more latitude in responding to those.

Rt Hon Winston Peters : I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.

Mr SPEAKER : Order! Would the member please resume his seat. I have ruled on this matter, but I just want to give the member a warning that might be of some relevance to him. If he continues to relitigate that point of order, that is seriously disorderly, and I will deal with it appropriately. If the member wishes to raise a separate point of order, I am happy to hear it.

Rt Hon Winston Peters : I am not contesting what you have just said. What I want to know is: could I have some prior Speakers’ rulings or Standing Orders that reference the right of a Minister to go on and on, on the basis of—

Mr SPEAKER : Order! The member is in serious risk of being thrown out of the House on a second occasion for exactly the same reason. I have ruled that I will adjudicate the length of the answer, and that will be determined by the level of interjection that I perceive to be coming from any area of the House. Would the Minister like to complete his answer.

Hon STEVEN JOYCE : The fifth reason is that the Overseas Investment Office has records dating back to 1998 only, as prior to that time, consents were granted by the Land Valuation Tribunal, which kept no data. So for those five reasons, and more, it is not possible to provide an answer to the member.

Stuart Nash : Does the Minister for Land Information think it is acceptable that she can approve sales of New Zealand’s agricultural and forestry land without ever knowing the total number of hectares of New Zealand productive land that is going into foreign ownership or control?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE : The point is that we actually test every single transaction. In fact, this Government tightened up the Overseas Investment Office consent process by increasing New Zealand participation, protecting New Zealand’s economic interests, and limiting vertical integration. If the member would like to go over the history of some of these transactions and which Government sold what to whom, I am more than happy to indulge him.

Mr SPEAKER : No, that will not be necessary.

Stuart Nash : In light of the answer that the Government tests every sale, how many jobs have the 716 overseas investors, who promised to create jobs, actually created; if the Minister for Land Information does not know, why not?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE : I do not have the total, but I can give him an example that I think is an important example, because one of the transactions relates to a purchase of Carter Holt Harvey’s forestry assets. This is an important example of—[Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER : Order! [Interruption] Order! If I hear interjections of that level coming from two particular New Zealand First members, they will be leaving the House immediately.

Hon STEVEN JOYCE : So one example is the Carter Holt Harvey forestry assets, which included 3,380 hectares of freehold land that was purchased by Oji Paper Co Ltd, which, the member may be aware, is the operator of the Pan Pac Forest Products Ltd mill in Whirinaki. It employs very many New Zealanders and is developing those assets, so if he wants to continue down that line of attack—

Stuart Nash : Point of order—[Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER : Order! I have a point of order from Stuart Nash, and I certainly hope that it is not attempting to relitigate on the length of this answer.

Stuart Nash : I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Not at all, Mr Speaker. It was a very clear question. I had the answer within 2 seconds. Can I please ask—

Mr SPEAKER : Order! That is relitigating exactly what I have already handled. The member is very much in danger of having the same treatment as the others. Does he have further supplementary questions?

Stuart Nash : Does New Zealand not need a publicly accessible register listing foreign ownership and control of our agricultural and forestry land?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE : No, I do not believe so. What New Zealand needs is the ability to vet each transaction, which this Government does, just as other Governments did before it, to ensure that there is economic benefit for New Zealand. And the member knows, from his own electorate, that there are some very good examples of foreign investment in New Zealand and the Pan Pac Forest Products Ltd mill at Whirinaki is exactly one of those examples. It also owns foreign land for forestry purposes.

Mr SPEAKER : Order! [Interruption] No, I think that on this occasion the answer is certainly long enough.

Stuart Nash : Will the Minister for Land Information approve the sale to foreign interests of any of Landcorp’s 160,000 hectares of farms and forests; if so, why?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE : She cannot make hypothetical decisions on individual pieces of land, but she would probably be more careful than the Labour Government from back in 2004, which sold 170,000 hectares of the Kaingaroa Forest to a Harvard pension fund, and that particular transaction was authorised by one David Parker.

No. 4 to Minister

Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): I seek leave to table a WorkSafe New Zealand report that shows quite clearly that since the Pike River mine disaster, there have been 233 fatalities—

Mr SPEAKER : Leave is sought to table that particular document. Is there any objection? There is none. It can be tabled. Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.

No. 2 to Minister

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First): I seek leave to table an answer to an Official Information Act request, setting out that the Government is using the fund that was for only New Zealand asset purchases to buy assets offshore. It is all here.

Mr SPEAKER : Order! I am not sure what I am seeking leave to table, to be honest.

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS : Well, I will explain it again.

Mr SPEAKER : Please explain it briefly.

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS : Once more, very slowly, it is an Official Information Act answer demonstrating that the Government—

Mr SPEAKER : Order! Can I have it—[Interruption] Order! This is a particular response as a result of an Official Information Act request. Leave is sought. Can I just have the date of the document?

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS : 11 August.

Mr SPEAKER : 11 August, I presume, of this year.

Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS : Take a wild guess. Yes, this year, Mr Speaker.

Mr SPEAKER : Thank you very much. Leave is sought to table that particular document from 11 August 2015. Is there any objection to that document being tabled in this House today? There is none. It can be tabled. Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.

Dairy Farming—Landcorp Conversions in Waikato

12. CATHERINE DELAHUNTY (Green) to the Minister for State Owned Enterprises : Is he comfortable with Landcorp’s large-scale dairy conversions in the Waikato?

Hon TODD McCLAY (Minister for State Owned Enterprises): In general, yes, although I would note that Landcorp continues to consider a number of uses for that land, including dairy. However, fluctuations in international commodity prices are likely to impact on its financial performance, like many dairy farmers in New Zealand. Investment in dairy is generally undertaken on the basis of a long-term view on average dairy prices through time. The contractual agreement signed by Landcorp in 2004 means that Landcorp is contractually obliged to undertake land conversion activity on the Wairākei estate until 2049.

Catherine Delahunty : In the light of that answer, will this Government review the contract between Landcorp and Wairākei Pastoral and tell the public what options there are to stop the conversions, which will not only undermine farmers downstream and pollute the environment but also impact on Landcorp’s balance sheet?

Hon TODD McCLAY : That is an issue for the Landcorp board. It is the one that entered into that obligation, and it is the one that has the obligation through that contract. But I would say to the member that the time for a Government to visit that contract was in 2004 before it was signed. I do understand the Government at the time was consulted, and the Ministers gave their assent to that contract that has entered into force and will be in place until 2049.

Catherine Delahunty : What will it take for the Government to place a moratorium on Landcorp dairy conversions, given the overwhelming evidence they are economically risky and environmentally irresponsible?

Hon TODD McCLAY : Again, it is not for the Government to make that decision. As Minister I expect Landcorp to meet all of its environmental obligations anywhere it farms in New Zealand, including in the Waikato. We expect it to meet the full requirements of the Resource Management Act. This is a discussion I have had with the Landcorp board on a number of occasions. To the best of my knowledge, it meets those obligations and requirements.

David Seymour : Is it not a conflict of interest for the Government to be both the owner of a dairy-oriented company and the regulator of the environmental impacts of dairying?

Hon TODD McCLAY : No, it is not, although I would say to the member that this is not a dairy company; it is a farming organisation that has diverse farming interests across a spectrum of farming operations within New Zealand. Secondly, though, when it comes to the operation of Landcorp or any other farming entity in New Zealand, the Resource Management Act suggests—or dictates—that it is regional councils that have the competence that he is speaking of.

Catherine Delahunty : Is the Government ruling out selling off Landcorp farms to foreign owners rather than keeping this strategically important farmland in New Zealand hands?

Hon TODD McCLAY : Landcorp buys and sells farms all of the time—indeed, it has almost always done so. The Government expects it to manage its business well. We want to see a reasonable, fair return to the taxpayer. We do not want it to have unnecessarily high levels of debt that could put its business into some form of peril. This is, again, a conversation I have been having for a period of time with the Landcorp board.

David Seymour : Are there good reasons for the Government to be in the business of farming, and if there are, why stop there?

Hon TODD McCLAY : There are many reasons why the Government is involved in Landcorp. Some of them are good.

ENDS

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