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Questions and Answers - Sept 10


Questions to Ministers

Economy—Reports

1. ANDREW BAYLY (National—Hunua) to the Minister of Finance : What reports has he received on the New Zealand economy?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Associate Minister of Finance) on behalf of the Minister of Finance : The Reserve Bank this morning issued its latest monetary policy statement. The Reserve Bank indicated that economic growth has slowed since its previous forecast. It now expects growth of around 2 to 2.5 percent over the next 18 months, before increasing to 3.1 percent in the year to March 2018. The bank cut interest rates from 3 percent to 2.75 percent and signalled it may cut further. The bank expects inflation to be back in the 1 to 3 percent target range early next year. Lower interest rates, of course, support businesses wanting to invest and also help households with a mortgage.

Andrew Bayly : What are some of the drivers of the Reserve Bank’s economic forecast?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE : The Reserve Bank’s lower growth outlook was driven in part by a softer international outlook, particularly in Asia, which has led to financial market volatility and renewed falls in some commodity prices. This has been offset to some degree by expansion in the United States. Closer to home, the Reserve Bank also outlined a number of risks—in particular, the decline in export prices and lower business and consumer confidence. The bank also highlights several factors continuing to support growth domestically, including robust tourism, immigration, the large pipeline of construction activity in Auckland, and, importantly, the lower interest rates and the depreciation of the New Zealand dollar.

Andrew Bayly : Given global economic uncertainty, how is a lower interest rate supporting New Zealand’s economic resilience?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE : New Zealand’s independent monetary policy and floating exchange rate frameworks are natural buffers from which New Zealand is now benefiting, following recent volatility in the commodity prices and increased global economic uncertainty. Rising interest rates and exchange rates in the upswing of the economic cycle lean against growth, and reductions in the interest rate and exchange rate support the economy when growth slows. For example, US dollar exports that were worth NZ$100 in July last year are now worth around NZ$140. Exporters who were forced to become more efficient when the exchange rate was US88c have reaped the rewards now the exchange rate has fallen.

Andrew Bayly : What other reports has he received on the resilience of the New Zealand economy and how does that compare internationally?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE : Treasury has collated a list of which countries have, firstly, a broadly balanced Government budget; secondly, have net debt less than 40 percent of GDP; thirdly, have economic growth greater than 1.5 percent; and, fourthly, have scope to further cut interest rates should the economic situation worsen. New Zealand meets all of those criteria, and is in fact doing considerably better in some of them. There are only four other OECD countries in the world that meet those criteria. The others are Australia, Norway, Iceland, and South Korea. So by those measures the economy is well placed to deal with any turbulence in the international economy.

Health—Expenditure

2. Hon ANNETTE KING (Deputy Leader—Labour) to the Minister of Health : Why did he say on 29 July that core Crown health expenditure covers “most, but not all, inflationary pressures”, and why does he deny this shortfall is having an impact on patients?

Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN (Minister of Health): Because the Government is delivering 50,000 more elective operations, 60,000 more surgical appointments, 50,000 more medical appointments, faster cancer care, 5,500 more doctors and nurses, and free GP visits and prescriptions for 750,000 children. The big picture is that everyone knows that patients are getting more health services under National’s stewardship. The real question is why the member continues to deny that.

Hon Annette King : What was his response to the Rotorua GP who wrote to him this week outlining his horror at the refusal of a specialist appointment for his patient with an enlarged prostate, because the specialist could not see the patient within the required time limit, something the GP called “a schizophrenic approach”?

Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN : I read that letter last night, and I think the GP may have a bit of a misunderstanding of how the sector works, so I am writing back to him at the moment to discuss how we can best manage that prostate patient’s needs.

Hon Annette King : If the Minister has read the GP from Rotorua’s letter, did he note that the doctor says that this is not the only case he has had, that it is now happening on a regular basis, and that he describes the situation as “very serious” and “a scandal”?

Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN : Yes, I did read those comments, I noted them, and I am writing back to the GP.

Hon Annette King : Do you agree?

Mr SPEAKER : Order! No, I do not agree. I do not necessarily agree, but do not bring me into the debate.

Hon Annette King : If there is sufficient funding, why has an 85-year-old man who lives alone and finds household chores very difficult had his home help reduced from 1 hour a week to 1 hour a fortnight to save the district health board money?

Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN : I am not familiar with that particular case, but if the member would like to forward the details, I am very happy to look into it. As she has said before, it is better to help patients rather than to use them, as she continually does.

Hon Annette King : Why, if everything is as good as he claims, has the district health board written to this elderly man saying that demand is outgrowing available funding, which means that cuts have to be made, and it looks like it is going to be the old people affected first?

Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN : I have not seen that letter. I doubt that those are the words that have been used. But do not forget, this member has been publicly very supportive of health decisions made since the election. She supported the replacement of Health Benefits Ltd, she supported the commissioner in the Southern District Health Board, she supports free GP visits for under-13s, she supports more surgery, and she has even stated publicly that she thinks that, overall, we have got a very good health system and that it is working well.

Hon Annette King : I seek leave to table a letter from MidCentral District Health Board dated 24 August 2015 saying that demand for these services—

Mr SPEAKER : Order! There is no need to further describe the document. Leave is sought to table that particular letter from MidCentral District Health Board. Is there any objection? There is none, it can be tabled. Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.

Hon Annette King : Why should an elderly woman living alone who has multiple disabilities have her home help cut from 1 hour a week to 1 hour a fortnight on the grounds that it will assist people to stay in their own homes longer, something the woman has called “an affront to the elderly”?

Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN : I am not familiar with that case, but what I know is that back in 2006 the Labour Government took 367 people off homecare in Wanganui in one fell swoop, and then it did the same straight again in 2007. So I think that might make the member look a little bit—[Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER : Order! [Interruption] Order! The Minister can resume his seat. [Interruption] Order!

Hon Chester Borrows : I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. There was absolutely no way that we could hear the answer that the Minister gave to that last supplementary question. I would like the House to have the benefit of hearing that answer. [Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER : Order! No, I need no further assistance. There was a very significant interjection during that point of order. If I could identify that person, I would be asking that person to leave. I do not need any assistance from Grant Robertson. [Interruption] Order! The question was answered right at the start; the Minister then went on with further answering that did incite a fair reaction from the Opposition. That is not an excuse for the reaction from that side, but that is certainly what occurred. Both sides need to settle down with their answering if there are further supplementary questions.

Hon Annette King : Why does he keep saying that there is sufficient funding in district health boards when thousands of letters like this one are sent to patients every week saying that district health boards are able to take only limited referrals that are the most urgent?

Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN : Nothing has changed for decades. District health boards have had to prioritise the most urgent patients, and we are doing more all the time—more operations, more appointments, and better cancer care. We are actually doing a lot more than the previous Labour Government was doing. The answer to unmet need is actually to do more, which we are doing. That is the simple answer.

Hon Annette King : I seek leave to table a letter from Hutt Valley District Health Board dated 15 March 2015, pointing out what I said—

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

Health—Colonoscopies

3. Dr SHANE RETI (National—Whangarei) to the Minister of Health : Can he confirm that 36,076 colonoscopies were performed in the last financial year, a 12 percent increase on the year before?

Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN (Minister of Health): Yes, I can. The number of colonoscopies performed in the 2014-15 financial year rose by 12 percent on the previous year, up from 32,324 to 36,076. Additionally, the percentage of urgent colonoscopies being performed within the 14-day target increased from 55 percent in June 2014 to 75 percent in June 2015. This improvement shows that real progress is being made, and further projects are under way in district health boards to increase the number of patients being seen.

Dr Shane Reti : How is this increased volume of colonoscopies helping develop a possible rollout of the national bowel screening programme?

Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN : District health boards have been provided with additional funding to provide more colonoscopies, and we are working hard to boost the endoscopy workforce by increasing training and technology. The Ministry of Health is consulting with the sector on the next steps towards a possible national bowel screening programme. Already, more than 6,000 people have received a colonoscopy through the Waitematā District Health Board’s bowel screening pilot. Budget 2015 invested $12.4 million in extending the pilot to December 2017. Do not forget: Labour said that this was a priority but over 9 years, it did not put a single dollar into it.

Workplace Relations and Safety, Minister—Statements

4. CLAYTON MITCHELL (NZ First) to the Minister for Workplace Relations and Safety : Does he stand by all his statements?

Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE (Minister for Workplace Relations and Safety): Yes, I do, and I particularly stand by my statement earlier this week announcing that parents of preterm babies will be entitled to receive additional weekly payments for each week their baby was born prior to the 37-week gestation period. I want to acknowledge Mr Seymour of the ACT Party for his advocacy and the very good outcome for preterm parents.

Clayton Mitchell : Does the Minister stand by his statement in relation to zero-hour contracts on 12 July that it “is unfair and makes it difficult for employees to plan their financial and personal lives.”; if so, why?

Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE : In answer to the first part of that question, absolutely yes.

Clayton Mitchell : Is a job advertisement that reads “Hours will fluctuate. There is no guaranteed minimum number of hours per week.” something he would consider unfair for a job seeker; if so, why?

Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE : No, I would not consider that to be unfair, nor would I consider it to be what is popularly known as a zero-hour contract. That would be a casual agreement where there are no mutual obligations on either the employer or the employee regarding specific hours of work. Those types of agreements have been in New Zealand’s employment relations landscape for a very long time. The zero-hour agreements are not going to change that.

Clayton Mitchell : Is he aware that this Government currently employs Customs Service officers on variable-hour contracts, which is what the job advertisement I read in my previous supplementary question was for; if not, why not?

Mr SPEAKER : The Hon Michael Woodhouse—either of those two supplementary questions.

Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE : I refer the member to my previous supplementary answer. The important aspect of the unfair agreements that people describe as zero-hour contracts is where there is an obligation on one party but not on the other. The circumstances you describe would be either a casual agreement or an agreement for part-time hours with the opportunity to pick up other hours in the future.

Clayton Mitchell : No, that’s not true.

Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE : Well, if it is not true, then they would be casual agreements.

Clayton Mitchell : I seek leave to table a document that was sent through to our office this morning, an advertisement—

Mr SPEAKER : Order! [Interruption] Order! The member will resume his seat. If it is an advertisement, I would imagine that they will have put it in the papers, so it is available to all members if they want it.

Clayton Mitchell : I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.

Mr SPEAKER : A further point of order?

Clayton Mitchell : Just speaking to that point of order—

Mr SPEAKER : I will hear from the member, very briefly.

Clayton Mitchell : It is not very easily available. It was from 2014. This cannot actually be found. It was actually sent through by a member—

Mr SPEAKER : Order! I will be in a generous mood on a Thursday. I will put the leave to table this particular advertisement. Is there any objection? There is objection.

Clayton Mitchell : Is he aware that currently zero-hour contracts are of dubious legality, and yet under his Government’s proposed Employment Standards Legislation Bill these zero-hour contracts will be legitimised?

Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE : I reject the member’s question on two parts. Firstly, the description of the advertisement that he has just read out is not a zero-hours contract. It would probably be a casual agreement. And secondly, no—we will be banning the things that people describe as zero-hours contracts through the Employment Standards Legislation Bill.

Finance, Minister—Statements

5. GRANT ROBERTSON (Labour—Wellington Central) to the Minister of Finance : Does he stand by all his statements?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Associate Minister of Finance) on behalf of the Minister of Finance : Yes, in the context in which they were made.

Grant Robertson : Does he stand by his statement that the Government has “left nothing ‘undone’ to tackle skyrocketing house prices in Auckland”, given the Reserve Bank Governor’s call today for more to be done to address the lack of supply in the Auckland housing market?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE : If the member has been paying attention, the Government is working very hard on the Auckland housing market in areas such as combating speculators who are not meeting their tax requirements with bills which, I think, are currently before the House at the moment. There is also the work that is being done very much on lifting housing supply with special housing areas. In fact, housing supply more generally is at its highest level in just over a decade.

Phil Twyford : Where are those houses?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE : A lot of work going—as I just said, the highest level of construction in just over a decade. Also we have very significant investments going on in the social housing area. I think we are seeing a very significant housing response, and I note that the Reserve Bank Governor also notes very high levels of construction activity in Auckland currently.

Grant Robertson : In light of that answer, was the Reserve Bank Governor wrong when he told the Finance and Expenditure Committee less than an hour ago that the Auckland housing market is in dangerous territory?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE : Not necessarily at all, and I think that it is important for people to understand that if they are buying houses, you actually can pay too much for a house, and there are risks because although interest rates are very low at the moment, they do not stay low forever and people generally stay paying off their houses for a very long time. So I think it is appropriate for the Reserve Bank Governor to make comments about housing prices in Auckland, because people do not want to make the decisions to pay too much. But in terms of the Government’s supply response, it is the highest level of construction—

Phil Twyford : Since the GFC.

Hon STEVEN JOYCE : —since 2004, Mr Twyford.

Grant Robertson : Is the Auckland housing market in dangerous territory?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE : I am not going to paraphrase the Reserve Bank Governor’s comments.

Grant Robertson : No, I’m asking you.

Hon STEVEN JOYCE : My response to that on behalf of the Minister of Finance is that there is a very significant supply response in Auckland, but people do need to be careful about paying too much for house prices in Auckland, and therefore they should be concerned.

Grant Robertson : I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. That was an extremely direct question, which the Minister did not address—

Hon Gerry Brownlee : He said: “I’m not going to”.

Grant Robertson : No, he said he is not going to—

Mr SPEAKER : Order! [Interruption] Order! Can I just ask the member to have a look at Speakers’ Rulings, particularly 187(4). It might assist him before raising such a point of order. Further supplementary questions? Supplementary question, Grant Robertson—[Interruption] Order! Order on my right-hand side.

Grant Robertson : Laurel and Hardy are a bit upset.

Mr SPEAKER : Order! That is the sort of interjection that is totally unnecessary, and I invite the member to stand and withdraw that remark.

Grant Robertson : I withdraw. [Interruption] Ha, ha! Is he concerned about the level of debt being carried by New Zealand dairy farmers given that it has increased from $12 billion in 2003 to $35 billion today, and that dairy debt now accounts for 10 percent of our trading banks’ assets?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE : I am not sure that I would look to relate the 2003 levels to today’s levels because, actually, there has been a very significant increase in the size of the industry over that period and a very significant increase in production. I note that the general consensus is that those levels are not of a concern, but obviously, in their approach to increasing further debt at this point, I think all farmers will be very responsible about that.

Grant Robertson : Does he agree with the Reserve Bank Governor that a continuation of the downturn in China and having El Niño stretch further into the summer would lead New Zealand into recession, particularly noting NIWA’s view that there is a 80 percent likelihood of El Niño carrying on into the summer?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE : I do not think that the Reserve Bank Governor actually couched it in those terms. He was asked about things that could potentially cause a recession, and there are things that could cause concerns. One of those could be a prolonged El Niño, and there is another one that could be China, but I do not think that he was talking about them in particular as leading to those things. The good news is that the New Zealand economy is very resilient and we have the capacity to adapt and respond, and that is what we are actually seeing right now, in combination with both the changes to the exchange rate and the changes to the interest rates, and, of course, the Government has the continued opportunity to provide a fiscal response, given that our books are in balance.

Grant Robertson : How concerned is he then that the statement in his Budget in May that unemployment would drop below 5 percent has turned out to be completely wrong, with the Reserve Bank joining Treasury today in predicting that unemployment will go over 6 percent and stay there for some time?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE : I did not read it as saying that it would go over 6 percent and stay there for some time. Actually, it said that it would reach 6 percent, which is not necessarily a surprise given that we are currently at 5.9 percent. Obviously we are all keen for that to continue to come down. The way to do that is to encourage more investment in the New Zealand economy and in a range of industries, and that is what this Government is doing.

Kiwifruit Industry—Exports

6. TODD MULLER (National—Bay of Plenty) to the Minister for Primary Industries : What recent reports has he received on growth in kiwifruit exports?

Hon NATHAN GUY (Minister for Primary Industries): Recent reports show that Zespri’s total New Zealand - grown fruit and service payments are up 17 percent this year, to $939 million. The volumes of New Zealand - grown kiwifruit sales are up 11 percent, to over $95 million trays, and global kiwifruit sales are up 16 percent, to over $1.5 billion. Kiwifruit orchard prices are now higher than they were pre-Psa, and kiwifruit volumes are forecast to increase by about 36 percent, to 130 million trays in 2019-20.

Todd Muller : What is the Government doing to help support this growth in the kiwifruit industry?

Hon NATHAN GUY : The Government will continue to support the kiwifruit industry through research and development and by enabling greater market access. The Government has committed $25 million, in partnership with the kiwifruit industry, to assist with managing the impact of Psa, including new research. Under the Korean free-trade agreement, kiwifruit exporters will have duty-free access to the Korean market 5 years after its entry into force. New Zealand’s kiwifruit exporters paid over $20 million in duties last year. Through our trade deal with Chinese Taipei, all duties on kiwifruit will be eliminated over the first 3 years, with an estimated annual duty saving of nearly $15 million.

Flag—Design Process

7. JACINDA ARDERN (Labour) to the Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage : Was she, as Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage, consulted during the flag design process, and is she satisfied with the outcome as one of the responsible Ministers?

Hon NICKY WAGNER (Minister of Customs) on behalf of the Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage : No, the Minister was not consulted during the flag design process, which was deliberately kept at arm’s length from Ministers to ensure its independence. The Flag Consideration Panel was established to conduct an independent process to engage with New Zealanders about alternative flag designs and to choose four to appear on the ballot paper for the first referendum. Yes, the Minister is satisfied with the outcome. The Flag Consideration Panel has undertaken its work conscientiously and chosen what it considers the four best alternative flag designs.

Jacinda Ardern : Did she, as Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage, recommend any designers or artists for the Flag Consideration Panel; if so, who?

Hon NICKY WAGNER : No. The Flag Consideration Panel included New Zealanders with a variety of backgrounds and areas of expertise, and they took advice from designers.

Jacinda Ardern : Did she recommend anyone for the Flag Selection Advisory Group, a group that included the creative director from Nike; if so, who?

Hon NICKY WAGNER : As I am not the Minister concerned, I am unable to answer that question.

Jacinda Ardern : What is her response to those who have called for the “Red Peak” option to be included in the referendum?

Hon NICKY WAGNER : On behalf of the Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage—[Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER : There is a fair bit of noise coming from many parts of the House. Could the Minister start her answer again.

Hon NICKY WAGNER : There has been a robust process involving public input, and I am satisfied with the outcome. “Red Peak” was considered by the panel, along with a number of other designs, and the panel made its decision on the final shortlist. I am interested to see that the UMR Research poll of 1,000 New Zealanders ranked the “Red Peak” flag 37th out of 40—nearly the worst.

Jacinda Ardern : As the Minister who has apparently taken an objective view and in light of her role as Minister responsible for World War I commemorations, did she—

Hon Gerry Brownlee : I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The shadow Leader of the House has been very assiduous in the last couple of days in making sure that you considered answers to questions. That was completely out of order as a question. It does not meet any of the tests of the Standing Orders. It could easily be brought into line without the extra bits that were thrown into the middle.

Mr SPEAKER : On this occasion the Minister, the Hon Gerry Brownlee, is absolutely right. Can I ask the member to rephrase her question consistent with the Standing Orders, without the lead-in, which is causing some disruption.

Chris Hipkins : I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker—

Mr SPEAKER : I hope the member is not in any way questioning where we have just got to.

Chris Hipkins : No, I am not questioning that particular ruling. I am simply asking for consistency. You will note that Andrew Bayly, in his question today, began with a preamble for a Government patsy question. The same ruling must apply to all sides of the House.

Mr SPEAKER : Order! There are many questions that if I ruled absolutely strictly on, according to Standing Order 380, would not be acceptable in this House. I am relatively lenient, but when I get one like I have just had, which has clearly created some disorder, then I am required to rule. I will appear to be consistent as well, but if members consistently want me to toughen up and take out all qualifications on supplementary questions, I am happy to do so. But I suspect that about 80 percent of the supplementary questions asked so far would have been ruled out of order. So if that is the wish of Mr Hipkins, I ask him to consider it carefully. But if it is his wish, I am happy to comply.

Jacinda Ardern : Did she consult with the RSA as the Minister responsible for World War I commemorations, or, indeed, anyone else before she adopted a position in support of the Lockwood option, which she has been wearing as a badge since Monday and is hanging in the front of her electorate office? [Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER : Order! [Interruption] Order! If members on my right-hand side want to catch an early flight, I can assist. The question has been asked; the question is in order.

Hon NICKY WAGNER : I am not the Minister concerned, so I am unable to answer that question directly, but I am very pleased to see that the Labour Party is taking an interest in the referendum, and I hope it will support the right of every New Zealander to have an opinion.

David Seymour : Is the Minister concerned that colour-blind voters will, effectively, have only three options to vote for with the current line-up?

Hon NICKY WAGNER : No.

Building and Construction Industry—Employment of Women in Canterbury Rebuild

8. JOANNE HAYES (National) to the Minister for Women : What reports has she received relating to the benefits of employing women in trades and construction for the Canterbury rebuild?

Hon LOUISE UPSTON (Minister for Women): I was thrilled to launch the Ministry for Women’s report Getting it done: Utilising women’s skills in the workforce in Christchurch on Tuesday. This report presents the lessons learned in Canterbury, which can work in all parts of New Zealand to encourage employers, industry groups, training organisations, and schools to increase the number of women training and working in trades and construction jobs. The report was a collaboration between the Ministry for Women and its partners in Canterbury, including the Canterbury Employers’ Chamber of Commerce, Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology, the Stronger Christchurch Infrastructure Rebuild Team, and the National Association of Women in Construction.

Joanne Hayes : What evidence does she have that employing women in industries such as construction can be beneficial for businesses?

Hon LOUISE UPSTON : The Ministry for Women commissioned research in the year 2013 to better understand why women were not applying for construction jobs, given that there was a demand in Canterbury. Their research found that women were available and wanted to work, and they were open to working in construction, but there was a perception that these were jobs for the boys. Women employees bring benefits to businesses, such as stronger connections with customers, improved business performance, and greater diversity of leadership. Construction is one of the many growing industries where there is a shortage of women. However, over the past 2 years, the number of women in construction has more than doubled in Canterbury. I think that this is a great result for New Zealand women, for Canterbury, and for New Zealand.

Joanne Hayes : How can the findings from this report be rolled out to other regions around New Zealand?

Hon LOUISE UPSTON : With the high demand for skilled workers in industries varying from trades and construction to engineering and IT forecast to continue, some businesses are continuing to have difficulty in attracting skilled workers to fill these jobs. These industries are likely to drive New Zealand’s growth in the next 5 to 10 years, and it makes good business sense to attract more women to industries that have been traditionally male orientated. I encourage employers to learn from Canterbury the actions that they can take to attract and retain more women in their businesses and to look forward to ways to better utilise women leaders and talents when going through recruitment.

Sue Moroney : I seek leave to table a document from the Employment and Vocational Guidance Service. It is a poster, “Girls Can Do Anything”, from the mid—

Mr SPEAKER : Order! The member will resume her seat and stop trifling with the House.

Reserve Bank—Official Cash Rate

9. JULIE ANNE GENTER (Green) to the Minister of Finance : Does he have confidence in the Reserve Bank in light of today’s official cash rate cut which has now reversed 75 points of the 100-point hike it made in 2014?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Associate Minister of Finance) on behalf of the Minister of Finance : Yes.

Julie Anne Genter : Does he think that a panel of experts from across the economy, instead of only one Reserve Bank Governor, might make better decisions around monetary policy; if not, why not?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE : The suggestion that the member makes, of having a panel of people making the decision, is, I have to say, not the silliest suggestion in monetary policy we have heard from the Greens over the years, and many countries—

Mr SPEAKER : Order! Just answer the question.

Hon STEVEN JOYCE : I think the challenge is, though, the way the member phrases it, if I may be fair, because I think it is a very important point. The suggestion is that she is unhappy with the decision that the Reserve Bank Governor has made; therefore, she would shop around to find a group of people who would make a decision that she agrees with. The whole idea of having an independent Reserve Bank Governor and an independent process is that politicians may or may not agree with that process at some time but the decision is independent. On that basis, I could not support the member’s proposal.

Julie Anne Genter : Does he agree with Treasury’s advice to him that “The current single decision-maker approach poses risks”, and that “on balance, we think there would be benefits to moving towards a monetary policy committee in the future.”; if not, why not?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE : I am, of course, aware of that policy advice. But it is important to note that the New Zealand system has served us very well, I think, over the last 26-odd years. Yes, you could have a change at some point, but, again, I think that if you wanted to do it, and it is not a proposal that we are at all considering at this point, but if it was something that you wanted to do, you would have to do it for the right reasons and not because you disagreed. The member framed her primary question in such a way that suggested she was concerned about what had happened. In fact, in her press release today she was concerned about a mistaken decision by the Reserve Bank Governor. I just cannot agree with that.

Julie Anne Genter : Given that the Reserve Bank’s own analysis suggests that last year’s unnecessary official cash rate increases will have cost the economy up to $2.4 billion, why is he so complacent about the governance structure surrounding these decisions?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE : I am not remotely complacent, but, again, I think the member is just—I do not know whether she wanted to do this or whether she just inadvertently made the point I was making, in that she said that it was a wrong decision last year. I think that is a very interesting statement to make, because, actually, if you look at the situation that was in place last year, a number of those things have subsequently changed. I think it is very interesting that the member would seek to second-guess the Reserve Bank Governor in that way, because they can only make the decisions that they make at the time based on the information that is available at the time.

Julie Anne Genter : Is the Minister aware that we are basically the only OECD country that has this single decision-maker structure and that there are a whole number of other countries that use a broad panel of experts?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE : I said at the outset in one of my earlier answers that there are different ways of doing it. I acknowledge that. I am not saying that you would never want to move from that, but you certainly would not want to do that just because one or a number of members of Parliament had decided that in their view the Reserve Bank Governor had made “the wrong decision”. I do not believe that that has happened, and, actually, that would be the wrong basis on which you would make any decisions about independent monetary policy.

Julie Anne Genter : I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Mr Speaker, I seek your guidance on this. I am struggling because I do not believe that there has been any assertion in any of my questions that implies what the Minister is saying that I have said, and therefore he is changing his answers.

Mr SPEAKER : I think there has been some assertion, because if I go back to the previous supplementary question, the member inserted the words herself—“the unnecessary adjustment to the official cash rate”, etc. But the point that I think is fair is that on that particular occasion the question was not addressed, and I think it is really because perhaps the Minister did not hear it correctly. The way forward is to repeat that supplementary question to the Minister.

Julie Anne Genter : Thank you, Mr Speaker. Is the Minister aware that we are one of the only OECD countries to have this single decision-maker—[Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER : Order! I declared that I was not happy with the answer. It had not been addressed. That is it. So I am going to invite the member to ask it again—I do not expect interjection from the two Ministers on my right-hand side—and then the Minister can have the opportunity to answer.

Julie Anne Genter : Is the Minister aware that no other OECD country with a central bank gives so much legal power to a single official?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE : As I said previously, I am aware of that. Actually, as I said to the member in one of my earlier answers—this is on behalf of the Minister of Finance—actually, there is a range of ways in which that is done internationally. But the basis on which you would change that is not on the basis that a number of members of Parliament think that the Reserve Bank Governor had made the wrong or unnecessary decision in a previous year, which the member asserted in one of her previous questions.

Julie Anne Genter : Given that the only independent review of New Zealand’s monetary policy framework since the 1989 Act was put in place recommended changing the law in regard to bank governance, and that no other OECD country with a central bank gives so much power to a single individual, will his Government consider updating the law?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE : I thought I had answered that previously, but the answer is no, we have no plans to do so at this stage.

Tertiary Education Commission—Oversight of Tertiary Education

10. Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE (Labour—New Lynn) to the Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment : What is the name of the tertiary education institution he referred to in his answer to Oral Question No 9 yesterday that had its focused review “elevated to a full review”, and what is the nature of the allegations that his officials are now investigating?

Mr SPEAKER : Before I call the Minister, my office has been advised that this answer may be longer than normal.

Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment): The tertiary education system is under constant evaluation, with the Tertiary Education Commission and the New Zealand Qualifications Authority undertaking a range of different levels of review and investigations of tertiary education organisations at any one time. In the interests of natural justice these are not publicised until they are completed, or, indeed, for the majority where no issues at all are found, they may not be publicised at all. Six focused reviews were initiated in 2014 to look at tertiary education organisations that had some features in common with Te Whare Wanānga o Awanuiārangi and the Western Institute of Technology at Taranaki. As indicated to the member yesterday, five of those have been concluded completely satisfactorily with no concerns. The sixth investigation will come to a conclusion shortly. As I said to the member yesterday, at an appropriate time I would be more than happy to publicise the outcome of that investigation and name the institution involved, should there be a necessity to do so, but I do not consider it in the public interest to do so at this time before the investigation has concluded.

Hon David Cunliffe : Do the allegations against the institution currently still under an elevated review include inflated credit values for course delivery, such as an 11-month course being delivered and assessed in just 7 days?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE : I am not prepared to go into the details of that at this point, but as I said to the member yesterday, and also announced in my primary answer, the issues that we are talking about are with some similarity to what has been announced recently in relation to Te Whare Wanānga o Awanuiārangi and also Taratahi Agricultural Training Centre, so there will be some similarities in terms of funding commitments that may not have been met in terms of the amount of teaching that has been provided.

Hon David Cunliffe : Do the allegations against this institution include the enrolment of tutors as ghost students for more than a decade across a range of programmes?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE : My answer to that is exactly the same as the answer to the previous one. The member will be aware that the Taratahi Agricultural Training Centre had some issues with some tutors being enrolled in programmes and those moneys being paid. Those are both subject to a current Serious Fraud Office investigation but also have been announced in terms of the Deloitte review. In relation to the other investigation he is referring to, I am not willing to provide the details at this time, but I am happy to do so once the investigation is complete.

Hon David Cunliffe : In what year—in what year—was he first made aware of allegations of systemic credit and level rorting and of tutors being enrolled in courses to boost numbers and funding at Tai Poutini Polytechnic in Greymouth, and why has he not acted sooner, given that Search and Rescue Institute New Zealand says that as a result of this delivery lives have been put at risk?

Mr SPEAKER : The Hon Steven Joyce—either of those two supplementary questions.

Hon STEVEN JOYCE : The matters that the member raises are not, for his edification, the subject of any current review. I am aware of the issues that the Search and Rescue Institute raised—

Dr David Clark : What year?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE : I do not have the year in front of me. They were satisfactorily resolved at the time.

Hon David Cunliffe : Given that Tai Poutini Polytechnic is not the institution that his officials are still investigating, can he assure the taxpayers of New Zealand that he will now immediately order a further investigation into these allegations; if not, why not?

Mr SPEAKER : Again, either of those two supplementary questions.

Hon STEVEN JOYCE : The matters that the Search and Rescue Institute raised—and, again, any number of people raise any number of prospective issues, particularly in a competitive environment, of which this one is—as far as I am aware were addressed at the time. If the member has any new and recent information, I would be happy for him to supply it to me and I would have a look at it.

Hon David Cunliffe : How would the Minister respond to the acting general manager of the Search and Rescue Institute New Zealand, who says in a letter of today’s date: “How can training that formerly occurred over 1 year now all be taught and assessed in one 7-day period? Are the students aware that as search and rescue responders, their lives are being forsaken so the polytechnic can make money? How, despite previous complaints to TEC, to the Minister of Tertiary Education, and public notification of such occurrences, has this been allowed to continue for so long?”

Hon STEVEN JOYCE : The member may or may not be aware that that is a statement by a competitor, I believe, of that particular course, but again I make the offer that I made in the previous answer—

Grant Robertson : So it’s all right then?

Hon STEVEN JOYCE : No, I am just making the member aware that different people make different claims about competing providers at different times, but my invitation to the member is that, rather than grandstanding about it, if he would like to provide the information to me, I would be more than happy to investigate it.

Communications, Minister—Statements

11. RIA BOND (NZ First) to the Minister for Communications : Does she stand by all her statements?

Hon AMY ADAMS (Minister for Communications): Yes, in the context in which they were given.

Ria Bond : Does she stand by her statement yesterday on broadband speed that “So the residents of Southland should be very grateful that at least this Government is addressing it, something the Labour failed to do?”

Hon AMY ADAMS : Yes.

Ria Bond : If rural broadband speeds have tripled, as the Minister said yesterday, has the member of Parliament for Invercargill raised constituents’ concerns with her about internet services and Ms Dowie’s own concerns about officially reported broadband performance; if not, why not?

Hon AMY ADAMS : I cannot recall every item of constituent correspondence that I have had from colleagues, but I know that the member for Invercargill, like most members, wants to see better broadband rolled out in their communities because members understand the fundamental importance of connectivity in all our communities, and they understand that New Zealand’s thirst for connectivity is growing exponentially, which is exciting and which is why this Government has spent $2 billion on improving that very connectivity.

Ria Bond : I seek leave to table a letter written by Ms Dowie to Venture Southland, dated 25 June 2015, in which she outlines concerns—

Mr SPEAKER : Order! [Interruption] Order! I have just been advised by interjection that it is available on the internet. [Interruption] Order!

Ria Bond : It is not publicly—

Mr SPEAKER : Is the member saying it is not available on the internet?

Ria Bond : As far as I am aware, Mr Speaker.

Mr SPEAKER : Sorry, I cannot hear the member.

Ria Bond : As far as I am aware, it is not in the public domain.

Hon AMY ADAMS : I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The same member yesterday tabled a report from Venture Southland and assured us it was not readily available. It is readily available on the internet, and that letter is a part of it.

Ron Mark : I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.

Mr SPEAKER : Order! [Interruption] Order! This is a point of order.

Ron Mark : Thank you Mr Speaker. I am struggling, because what you just—[Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER : Order! It is a point of order.

Ron Mark : Thank you. What you just said is that during a point of order you were advised by an interjection—

Mr SPEAKER : That is right.

Ron Mark : —which is against the Standing Orders—

Mr SPEAKER : It is. [Interruption]. I do not need the member to assist in that way. It certainly is against the Standing Orders, but the point is that there has been one other occasion when I was assured that the document was not freely available. I put the leave, it was tabled, and I subsequently found out it was very easily available. So I think the member who is seeking leave needs to be very, very clear that if she stands in this House and seeks leave to table a document, I will be asking whether it is freely available. It is her responsibility to have ascertained whether it is freely available, and I warn all members in this case that the risk of then misleading this Parliament is serious. I invite the member Ria Bond to request to table the document again, but I will be asking whether she has done the homework to find out whether it is available.

Ria Bond : Has she seen a letter from her colleague Todd Barclay, drafted on 1 July, in which he raises concerns regarding her $300 million Rural Broadband Initiative, in which he stated—

Ron Mark : I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I know that in times past it has been very difficult when—

Mr SPEAKER : Order! Can I have the point of order quickly.

Ron Mark : We cannot hear because of the level of interjection, and we seek your protection—

Mr SPEAKER : Thank you. Well, then, if you could assist by giving some lessons to your members about asking supplementary questions and keeping them short, that would assist. [Interruption] Order! I did not hear the interjection, which is possibly just as well. I invite the member Ria Bond to ask her supplementary question, keep it concise, and I expect silence from my right-hand side whilst the question is being asked.

Ria Bond : Has she seen a letter from her colleague Todd Barclay, dated 1 July, in which he raises concerns regarding her $300 million Rural Broadband Initiative, in which he stated that it is not an effective solution?

Hon AMY ADAMS : Yes, I have seen the letter, and I do not believe that that member’s categorisation of it is correct at all. What he is doing is supporting the pitch for a new solution, under phase two of the Rural Broadband Initiative, and making the point that providers in his electorate want better connectivity. This Government agrees, and that is what we are doing. [Interruption]

Mr SPEAKER : Order! Again, the level of interjection coming from members on my right-hand side is to cease.

Māui’s Dolphin—Preservation

12. KEVIN HAGUE (Green) to the Minister of Conservation : Does she stand by her statement, “We are doing everything we can to protect the Māui’s dolphin”?

Hon NICKY WAGNER (Associate Minister of Conservation) on behalf of the Minister of Conservation : Yes.

Kevin Hague : How is the Government doing everything that it can to protect the Māui’s dolphin when the Minister of Energy and Resources has just proposed, as part of Block Offer 2016, new oil and gas exploration in 22 percent of the Māui’s dolphin sanctuary, where at least 14 reliable Māui’s dolphin sightings have been made?

Hon NICKY WAGNER : We have layered and sophisticated Māui’s dolphin protection mechanisms in place. They range from the core of the marine mammal sanctuary, and they have protections for trawling, for set-netting, and for seismic activity. Also, we are very focused on protecting the Māui’s dolphin in terms of seismic activity, and we have world’s best-practice protective regulations in seismic work within the marine mammal sanctuary, and we require compulsory adherence to the seismic code of conduct within the exclusive economic zone legislation.

Kevin Hague : Can the Minister explain how “doing everything it can” is consistent with the Government introducing additional risks to the Māui’s dolphin, such as exploratory oil drilling, as these permits will likely require, given that there are fewer than 55 Māui’s dolphins left in the world?

Hon NICKY WAGNER : As I have said, we are very focused on protecting the Māui’s dolphin. We do not believe that we are increasing that risk, because we have world’s best-practice protective regulations for the seismic work inside the marine mammal sanctuary, and outside it, we have compulsory adherence to the seismic code of conduct.

Kevin Hague : Is there any way she can possibly guarantee that new drilling will not cause a spill and cause harm to the critically endangered Māui’s dolphin, which it is her job to protect?

Hon NICKY WAGNER : As I have said, we have layered and sophisticated protections for the Māui’s dolphin. They cover the most important threats to dolphins, which are trawling and set-netting, and it is important to note that there have been no deaths from fishing since 2002. We also have ongoing research—the very best local and international research—and this year we are going to be introducing sea pods that actually listen to the dolphins and make sure that we can identify their exact range and their exact frequency. We believe that that will protect our dolphins.

Kevin Hague : I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My question asked about the risk associated with oil drilling—a point that was not addressed even slightly by the Minister’s answer.

Mr SPEAKER : The question asked whether there was any way that the Minister could guarantee a situation. Well, clearly a Minister cannot guarantee a situation—[Interruption] Order! The member did ask that in his question. The question has, without doubt, been addressed.

Kevin Hague : Thank you, Mr Speaker. I agree with your analysis of the answer. If she has the opportunity, as Minister of Conservation, to prevent oil drilling and seismic surveys in the Māui’s dolphin sanctuary, will she take it?

Hon NICKY WAGNER : I am not convinced that there are risks to the Māui’s dolphin, because we have the world’s best practice of regulations within the sanctuary and we also have compulsory adherence to the exclusive economic zone legislation.

Kevin Hague : I seek leave to table a map prepared by the Green Party’s parliamentary office today, which indicates the Māui’s dolphin sightings in the area of the proposed block offer.

Mr SPEAKER : I suspect that that information is very readily available, but I will put the leave. Leave is sought to table that particular map. Is there any objection? There is objection.

Question No. 11 to Minister

TRACEY MARTIN (NZ First): I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Can I ask you to reflect on an incident that happened here today with regard to my colleague Ria Bond. I would like you to have a look at the way that Ms Bond was treated by the House during her attempt to ask questions that she has every right to ask and also about some of the sexist remarks that were made by Mr Joyce, in particular with regard to a comment about “sweet pea”, and so on and so forth. If you could have a look at the tape and, perhaps, just reflect on how, in the future, we may be able to treat woman with more dignity in this House.

Hon GERRY BROWNLEE (Leader of the House): I think it may be a good idea if you were able to look at the tape. I know that you do regularly have a look and see just how things are going and how members are faring. I would also ask you to listen very carefully to that tape and, perhaps, indicate to some others in the House how you feel about it, because there was, most certainly, an unparliamentary remark made that was addressed to you. I accept that it is your choice to act on that or not, but I think there have been a few fractious moments and perhaps Ms Martin’s idea is not such a bad one.

Hon Members : Point of order.

Mr SPEAKER : No, I do not need any further assistance—[Interruption]. I do not need any further assistance, but I thank members for offering their assistance. I normally certainly take the time to go very carefully through the Hansard and review the situation to see some of the rulings that I have made. On this occasion I will look at the tape—I do not normally bother—but I am aware of a very unsatisfactory remark that was made across the House, which I did not hear at the time, but if I had heard it would have led to a very severe situation being reprimanded. There is a lot of interjection occurring from the House, particularly in the far corners of the House, which may get picked up on the microphones and get displayed publicly via the TV system, that are not heard by me as Speaker. I think members need to be aware of that, but I just warn all members that some comments made in the heat of the moment and some of the language used in the heat of the moment is totally unparliamentary and it must cease.

Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister for Economic Development): I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I just feel the need to respond to the comments from colleague on the other side of the House because she is incorrect and she has misheard. I think, for the benefit of the House, I would like to make the point that the comment I actually made was in reference to Mr Mark and it was “sweary bear”. That was what I was saying, which I have said before. So please, I did not make the comment that Tracey suggests I did.

Mr SPEAKER : Order! I have said to the House I will review the tape. I think that is the most appropriate way forward, and after reviewing the tape I will then decide whether any further action is required.

ENDS

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