Questions and Answers - Sept 17
Questions to Ministers
State-owned Enterprises—Financial Returns
1. DAVID SEYMOUR (Leader—ACT) to the Minister for State Owned Enterprises : Is he satisfied with the financial returns being achieved from the Government’s portfolio of State-owned enterprises?
Hon TODD McCLAY (Minister for State Owned Enterprises): In general, yes, although I would note that the performance of State-owned enterprises is varied for a number of reasons. Although the majority of State-owned enterprises are performing well and are returning reasonable dividends to the Crown, others are not. It is the Government’s expectation that State-owned enterprises be well managed, that they be of low risk, that they focus on their core business, and that they generate a return on investment for the taxpayer.
David Seymour : In light of the Minister’s answer that some variability is to be expected, has he considered that technological change is, in fact, systematically undermining the value of Government investments in State-owned enterprises? For example, digital technology is reducing the value of postal services, the internet is reducing the value of TV and radio stations, and fracking technology is boosting gas supplies and is damaging the viability of coal businesses.
Hon TODD McCLAY : State-owned enterprises face the same challenges as other companies that we have both in the New Zealand economy and around the world. The member is right that there are a number of changes that are likely to impact upon their businesses. This is a conversation that I, as Minister responsible, and the Crown are having with a number of those businesses, but I would note that in the case of New Zealand Post, there have been significant changes in the number of letters that are being posted by New Zealanders. New Zealand Post and its board are looking for a number of opportunities and ways to make sure that that business, although it is sustainable today, will remain so into the future.
David Seymour : In light of the Minister’s answer that all enterprises face challenges, could he address the significant difference between State-owned enterprises and private enterprise—that is, that the taxpayer provides the equity—and whether there is a Government strategy to deal with these technological challenges, or should the taxpayer just wait for the losses to mount?
Mr SPEAKER : Hon Todd McClay—any of those three supplementary questions.
Hon TODD McCLAY : No, that is not the case, although I would note that in the correspondence I receive—
Grant Robertson : By mail?
Hon TODD McCLAY : —from taxpayers, both by email and mail, and, of course, over the telephone for the member opposite, taxpayers are interested in a number of things. Yes, they enjoy the services that are provided. They want those services to be of a very high quality. But there are also many New Zealanders who are proud of the involvement that the Government has in these companies. As the Minister responsible, I am talking to all of the boards to make sure that they are aware of our desire for better and increased returns to the taxpayer.
2. STUART SMITH (National—Kaikōura) to the Minister of Finance : What recent reports has he received on the performance of the New Zealand economy?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): The June quarter balance of payments reported yesterday, and today Statistics New Zealand published the June quarter GDP. The measure of GDP expanded for the 18th consecutive quarter, rising 0.4 percent in the 3 months, taking the annual growth rate to 2.4 percent and annual average growth to 3 percent. The current account balance was a deficit equivalent to 3.5 percent of GDP for the year ended 30 June, and New Zealand’s net liability position, which measures the value of our overseas assets less our overseas liabilities, is equivalent to 62.2 percent of GDP, the smallest net liability position recorded since 1990.
Stuart Smith : What sectors drove the overall expansion in economic activity in the last quarter?
Hon BILL ENGLISH : The service industries, which comprise around two-thirds of the economy, expanded by 0.5 percent. Primary industry activity rose by 0.2 percent. This is a pretty solid pace of activity for an economy adjusting to the reduction in dairy income, and this kind of growth is providing sustainable opportunities for new jobs and higher incomes.
Grant Robertson : In light of his new-found interest in quarterly GDP figures, can he confirm that it is correct that GDP growth per capita in the first two quarters of this year is the worst since 2011?
Hon BILL ENGLISH : I would not be surprised. New Zealand has a fast-rising population because of the confidence of so many New Zealanders who have decided to stay home and New Zealanders who are coming home. At the same time, the economy has softened, so it is pretty obvious that per capita GDP is not going to be growing fast and may be shrinking at the moment.
Stuart Smith : What reports has he received on the outlook for the economy?
Hon BILL ENGLISH : Last week the Reserve Bank set out its latest quarterly economic forecasts, which expect over the next 3 years growth of 2.2, 2.8, and 3.2 percent through to March 2018. This growth will be underpinned by the benefits of a significantly lower exchange rate and interest rates that are—if not at—certainly headed towards the lowest interest rates in 50 years. So that is a reasonably solid outlook.
Grant Robertson : Is he satisfied that, based on figures released today, exports as a percentage of GDP are at their lowest level since 1997?
Hon BILL ENGLISH : No, we are not satisfied. In fact, part of the energy of this Government is its relentless drive for a brighter future for New Zealand.
Stuart Smith : What does the Reserve Bank forecast for employment?
Hon BILL ENGLISH : Job creation is pretty important for our households and communities. New Zealand has recorded 11 consecutive quarters of employment growth, with 69,000 more jobs created in the past year, and the Reserve Bank expects continued employment growth of between 1 and 2 percent over the next 3 years. It expects that the historically high labour force participation rate will persist—that is, we will continue to have a large proportion of our working population available for work.
3. Hon ANNETTE KING (Deputy Leader—Labour) to the Minister of Health : What inflationary pressures have not been covered in Vote Health since 2009/10?
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN (Minister of Health): The average inflation increase since 2009 has been 1.7 percent, while the average increase in the operating baseline for health in this time has been 2.6 percent. Only a National Government can both handle the country’s finances and deliver more health services.
Hon Annette King : Is it an honest approach for him to say on 29 July that health funding covers most but not all inflationary pressures and then on five occasions since, in this House, deny that he said it, slither around the answer, or blame the previous Labour Government of 8 years ago?
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN : Dear me, that sounds like it is inviting a political answer. Look, it is, but what I can say is that I do not think it is particularly honest for Annette King to come into this House and make it look like everything in the health system is bad when in actual fact when she is out in the community, she says that the National Government is actually doing pretty well. She also says that the decisions around the Southern District Health Board were the right ones, that the Health Benefits Limited decision was good—
Dr David Clark : Tell the truth.
Mr SPEAKER : Order! The member will stand and withdraw that remark immediately. [Interruption] Has the Minister completed his answer? Further supplementary questions?
Hon Annette King : Has he now been made aware that district health boards are cutting home help to frail old sick New Zealanders because they do not have the funding to meet the demand; if so, what is his response?
Mr SPEAKER : Again, either of those two supplementary questions.
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN : I think you will find that the member is referring to the situation at MidCentral District Health Board, where the budget has gone up by $98 million under this Government. I am actually well aware of this issue, and this Government and MidCentral District Health Board are determined to deliver the best possible home and personal care for patients there. I think she will find that this will all be sorted out.
Hon Annette King : In light of that answer, why should a 74-year-old sick and disabled woman, Catherine from Whangarei, who has written to him twice and he has not replied, have her home help cut from 3 hours a fortnight to 1 hour a fortnight; something her doctors called “elder neglect”—not MidCentral District Health Board but Whangarei?
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN : I am not aware of that case, but if the member would like to forward it to me, I will have a look at it, because we are determined that people receive the services that they deserve and that they need.
Hon Annette King : Well, in light of that answer, if he gets around to reading this woman’s—
Mr SPEAKER : Order! That sort of interjection into the question will cause disorder. I invite the member to start her question again.
Hon Annette King : If the Minister answers the woman’s correspondence, in which she tells him that she has lots of falls, lives alone, and has diabetes, will he then realise that tricky figures and finger-pointing are no replacement for sufficient funding and good care?
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN : As the member said herself, it is better to help patients than to use them. I suggest that she forward me those address details, and we will look into it, because, actually, if what Mrs King is saying is correct, it is unacceptable. So we have got to make sure that that person gets the right help. Mrs King would do a lot more good by picking up the phone, working collaboratively—as she claims to do when she is outside the House—and saying “Hey Jonathan, there’s an issue here with a sick patient.” But no—she cannot resist the temptation to make political capital out of it. It is very unfortunate.
Hon Annette King : Has he replied to Mrs Oliver, who wrote to him on Friday saying that cuts to home care for older people will lead to more injuries, more older people requiring residential care, and will cost the health system more—bad optics and even worse economics?
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN : Well, I get about 200 letters a week. I cannot recall that particular one, but once again, if Mrs King wants to be as collaborative as she claims when she is out in public, why does she not just pick up the phone and talk over this case—if there really is one there at all and if it is not actually a member of the Labour Party?
Hon Annette King : Why don’t you answer your phone?
Mr SPEAKER : Order! I do.
Climate Change—People Displaced
4. DENISE ROCHE (Green) to the Minister of Immigration : Does the Government have a plan to allow people displaced by climate change to relocate to New Zealand; if so, what is that plan?
Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE (Minister of Immigration): New Zealand acknowledges the concerns of Pacific Island countries and others around the impacts of climate change. The Government does not have specific climate-related immigration policies but New Zealand does a lot in this area through direct assistance and support to regional organisations.
Denise Roche : Is he aware that all the aid in the world will not stop small Island States from sinking if countries like New Zealand refuse to do our fair share in stopping the effects of climate change by cutting emissions by at least 40 percent?
Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE : Setting aside the hyperbole in the question, I think New Zealand does an extraordinary amount in mitigating and adapting the effects of climate change on sea level, in particular in the Pacific Island nations, where around $100 million is being spent converting their sources of energy from fossil fuels to renewables.
Denise Roche : Does he agree with the Prime Minister that we do not need a plan to deal with people displaced by climate change because “that’s not an issue that we’re going to face in the next year or two.”?
Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE : Well, yes, I do. The Pacific nations as well, first and foremost, want to stay in their home countries. To suggest that they all want to dash across to New Zealand to be saved is a form of colonial paternalism that I think does not do the Greens any good whatsoever.
Denise Roche : Does New Zealand need a plan to deal with people who have been displaced by climate change, given that the courts have already dealt with two cases where climate change was a factor in their seeking asylum?
Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE : As far as I am aware, the courts did deal with them by saying that climate change is not a criterion to be considered in the determination of somebody’s refugee status. If in the future it is untenable for some areas to live in their home countries, then an appropriate response would need to be developed at that stage and as part of a broader international response.
Denise Roche : What is New Zealand’s responsibility towards people displaced by climate change, given the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, has warned: “By 2050, we estimate that up to one billion people could be displaced by climate change.”?
Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE : As I said in answer to an earlier question, New Zealand’s response is an appropriate one of mitigation and adaption. If at some stage in the future it is a situation where some nations and some citizens find their situation untenable, then I am sure New Zealand will contribute to a global response in that regard.
Denise Roche : Does he believe New Zealand has a responsibility to help our Pacific neighbours who will be displaced due to rising sea levels and adverse weather effects?
Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE : Yes, and it discharges that responsibility in a number of ways—through its humanitarian response, including in immigration policies, where there are Pacific access categories of Samoan quota places for residency here in New Zealand. As I said, we make a significant contribution towards greenhouse gas mitigation through things like the global agricultural alliance and the specific investments that we are making into Pacific nations, and I think that is a very good record.
Denise Roche : What do you say to our Pacific neighbours whose homes are literally drowning? Do you think it is adequate to say that we do not need to do it now?
Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE : I certainly would not be giving that sort of paternalistic, colonialist, white person’s guilt response to it. I am not going to apologise for this country’s response now, and I am confident that future Governments will appropriately respond in the future.
Kevin Hague : I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Minister has responded to the question with a gratuitous insult that was not required to respond to that question.
Mr SPEAKER : No, I think—[Interruption] Order! I appreciate members may well be offended or alarmed by the answer, but when I consider the tone of the question, which said that some of our Pacific neighbours are literally drowning at the moment, etc.—I think that in light of the tone of the question an answer like that could almost have been expected.
5. PAUL FOSTER-BELL (National) to the Minister for Social Housing : How is the Government ensuring there is a diverse supply of social housing?
Hon PAULA BENNETT (Minister for Social Housing): The Government’s social housing reform programme is increasing the supply of housing that suits the needs of some of our most vulnerable New Zealanders. Since April last year, registered community housing providers have been eligible to house tenants and, of course, receive the income-related rent subsidy. Just this week, I opened eight brand new two-bedroom homes in Miramar, built by Accessible Properties. The tenants whom I met could not have been happier with the new homes that they are going to move into. That is 147 units completed by Accessible Properties, and more are on the way.
Paul Foster-Bell : How will the Crown’s land development programme improve social housing?
Hon PAULA BENNETT : Along with the work that the Hon Nick Smith, as well as others, is doing on opening up that land so that it is available for affordable housing, there will be a 20 percent component that will be social housing—or up to 20 percent. I am absolutely thrilled with this because I think that it will increase the number of houses that we have in New Zealand and in Auckland, obviously, which is the most important. Also, we see those community housing providers getting an opportunity.
Paul Foster-Bell : How is Housing New Zealand Corporation ensuring its portfolio is better suited to the needs of today’s tenants?
Hon PAULA BENNETT : Along with a very intensive maintenance programme and the work that Housing New Zealand Corporation has done on “warm and dry” in the last few months, where it has got a specialist team making sure that those homes have the right kinds of curtains and carpet and that there is extra insulation for those houses that need it, its rebuild programme is well under way. Just recently, along with Minister Bill English, Nick Smith also visited the Fenchurch development in Glen Innes. It was really impressive to see 11 new homes that have been constructed on a site where there used to be only three. This makes a huge difference to those tenants and to the types of houses that they are living in.
6. GRANT ROBERTSON (Labour—Wellington Central) to the Minister of Finance : Does he stand by all his statements?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): Yes, in the context in which they were made.
Grant Robertson : Does he stand by his statement of 6 September 2014, in relation to the sale of Lochinver Station: “We will not block that sale.”?
Hon BILL ENGLISH : I do not actually recall the context in which that statement was made. What I can say is that decisions made about that sale have been made consistent with the law, with the Minister exercising their statutory responsibility, knowing that, like the CraFarm decision, it could be reviewable by the court.
Grant Robertson : Which of the following statements is correct: Paula Bennett’s, who said that the large size of the Lochinver Station was a factor in the decision to reject the bid to purchase it, or Steven Joyce’s, who said it was a “ridiculously small amount of land” in the North Island?
Hon BILL ENGLISH : I think the member needs to understand the way that this process actually works. Anyone can have an opinion about any particular transaction, but the decision is actually made by two Ministers, who have to ensure that the application complies with, I think, 23 separate tests. The fact is that New Zealand has, by any world standard, a tough set of tests for anyone to be able to buy sensitive land in New Zealand.
Grant Robertson : Does he agree with Steven Joyce’s statement that opposition to the sale of Lochinver Station is “xenophobia”? [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER : Order! We are descending back to where we were last week, with a continual interjection going across the House between the front benches. It will cease.
Hon BILL ENGLISH : If he was making that statement about Labour Party opposition, then it certainly would be xenophobic because those members oppose anyone with a Chinese name buying anything in New Zealand. What else could he call it?
Grant Robertson : Does he stand by John Key’s statement that “we as a Government try to be both predictable and consistent and I think that’s really important when it comes to foreign investors.”, and how does he think that accusing anyone who opposes the sale of xenophobia, accepting 716 applications and now accepting one, might be inconsistent and hypocritical rather than consistent and predictable?
Mr SPEAKER : Order! That was a very long question.
Hon BILL ENGLISH : No, I do not believe that the Prime Minister is hypocritical. I believe that a party that pretends that it stands for diversity and welcoming of migrants, and then says that if you have got a Chinese name you are not allowed to buy a property, might meet the criteria the member referred to.
Dr Russel Norman : Does he stand by his statement that climate change presents a significant challenge to the country’s infrastructure, and therefore will he extend the sentiment in that statement to agree with Pope Francis, who said recently in his encyclical Laudato Si’ that climate change represents one of the principal challenges facing humanity today?
Hon BILL ENGLISH : Yes, and no.
Dr Russel Norman : Does he agree with the International Energy Agency, the World Bank, the OECD, and the United Nations, which have warned that at least two-thirds of discovered fossil fuels will have to stay in the ground to avoid catastrophic climate change, and, hence, will he support moves to divest from fossil fuels?
Hon BILL ENGLISH : I have not seen the advice given by those organisations. But probably the best thing the member can do to ensure those fossil fuels stay in the ground is to stop using his car, stop catching a bus, and bike everywhere—oh, and stay out of the airplanes.
Dr Russel Norman : Does the Minister understand that it is about structural change so that we can have low-carbon alternatives, and is it ethical for the New Zealand Superannuation Fund to be investing in fossil fuel companies, effectively taking a bet that the world will take no action to avoid catastrophic climate change?
Mr SPEAKER : Again, either of those two supplementary questions—the Hon Bill English.
Hon BILL ENGLISH : I think it is a kind of Green Party ethics that said it is a structural problem, about which they do not have to do anything in their personal capacity—like stop catching planes.
7. TODD BARCLAY (National—Clutha-Southland) to the Minister of Health : What are the next steps for the redevelopment of Dunedin Hospital?
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN (Minister of Health): The Government is committed to the redevelopment of Dunedin Hospital and to ensuring that the people of the Southern District Health Board region receive the future health services they need. The first stage involves investing $22.5 million to upgrade Dunedin Hospital’s intensive care unit and other wards, as well as for urgent hospital maintenance. In addition, I have announced today the appointment of the Southern Partnership Group to oversee Dunedin Hospital’s redevelopment. It is just a pity that Mr Clark could not stay in the House—
Mr SPEAKER : Order! The member does not need to go there if he wants to remain to answer a supplementary question.
Todd Barclay : How will the Southern Partnership Group deliver the upgrade of Dunedin Hospital?
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN : The Southern Partnership Group is responsible for working closely with the district health board to review current services and to prepare the service planning component of the business case. This is the same process as used for the current Christchurch and Greymouth Hospital rebuilds. The immediate upgrade and maintenance projects will ensure that services continue to be delivered while the planning for future redevelopments progresses. I would be delighted to brief Mr David Clark of Dunedin North on this issue, seeing he is missing this—
Mr SPEAKER : Order! I am going to ask the Minister to leave the House. I warned him earlier—[Interruption] Order! He knows full well that it is against the Standing Orders to refer to a member who is not in this House. The Minister has now finished answering the questions; he can leave the Chamber. Hon Dr Jonathan Coleman withdrew from the Chamber.
Mental Health Services—Mental Health and Sole Parent Employment Trials
8. CARMEL SEPULONI (Junior Whip—Labour) to the Minister for Social Development : Is she satisfied with the results of the Mental Health and Sole Parent Employment trials, given they cost $7.3 million?
Hon JO GOODHEW (Associate Minister for Social Development): on behalf of the Minister for Social Development : Yes. These trials are designed to assist people who are most at risk of long-term benefit dependency but who want to return to employment as quickly as possible. Therefore, a wraparound service is provided, including case management, employment placement, and in-work support to assist them. A full mid-point evaluation is still being undertaken and is due to be completed by the end of this year. The evaluation, once completed, will allow us to better understand what is working well with these clients and what changes we should be making. Unlike members opposite, this Government is committed to helping those who want to get back to work to get into the workplace, and we are willing to try some different approaches to achieve that.
Carmel Sepuloni : Does she think that $7.3 million was well spent, given that there were no improved outcomes from both of these trials compared with standard Work and Income New Zealand services?
Hon JO GOODHEW : As I have already said in my primary answer, the full mid-point evaluation is still being undertaken and is yet to be completed. What I do know is that the Government is not afraid to try some new approaches, and, therefore, in order to do so, we have to undertake the trials, let them get to the end of the time, and be evaluated properly.
Carmel Sepuloni : Given the failure of these trials, will she cease experimenting on people without their consent?
Hon JO GOODHEW : These people are all voluntarily in these trials—the member has obviously missed that point—so we are not experimenting on them. But what I have to say is that the Government is certainly saying “Just business as usual and leaving people on benefits without hope of getting into work is not our style.”, though it may well have been the style of the previous Government.
Carmel Sepuloni : I seek leave to table an Official Information Act request from the Ministry of Social Development dated 4 September, which states that there were no detectable improvements and there were also no consent forms, and clients did not know they were part of a treatment group.
Mr SPEAKER : It has been well described. Leave is sought to table that particular Official Information Act request. Is there any objection? There is objection. [Interruption] Order! I am going to issue a final warning to the front bench on both sides. If they are going to carry on an interchange during question time, then they will be asked to go outside to the lobbies to do it. We are not going to have questions interrupted by very senior members of this House taking a conversation across the floor of the House.
Carmel Sepuloni : Why has the evaluation been delayed for both the mental health and sole parent employment services by 6 months? Is it because the results are abysmal and the experiment has clearly failed?
Hon JO GOODHEW : No.
Carmel Sepuloni : Will she rule out a further extension of these trials, given that the results are abysmal and the experiment has clearly failed?
Hon JO GOODHEW : The member will just have to wait and see what the evaluation shows. However, what I can tell the member is that the Ministry of Social Development is certainly able to respond to finding out what is working well and what is actually getting people into work, and assisting these beneficiaries in their lives rather than being completely hell-bent on just leaving them on a benefit.
9. BRETT HUDSON (National) to the Minister of Energy and Resources : What recent reports has he received on the electricity market?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES (Minister of Energy and Resources): The latest energy quarterly released by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment today for the June 2015 quarter shows that the average residential electricity cost fell by 1.4 percent, driven by a fall in both lines charges and retail costs. The last time there was a fall of any kind was in late 2001. The largest factor in this drop in residential electricity cost was an increase in the effects of competition—that is, discounting by retailers. This Government believes that competition is the best way to keep downward pressure on prices, and the latest data shows competition action making a real difference for households.
Brett Hudson : What does the energy quarterly show in relation to electricity generated from renewable sources?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES : It makes clear that nearly 83 percent of electricity was generated by renewables in the last quarter. Hydro, geothermal, and wind were all up, and non-renewable generation was down by nearly 20 percent. Geothermal electricity generation in particular had a very good quarter. More than 1,800 gigawatts was generated from geothermal, the highest level on record.
Fletcher Tabuteau : How does the Minister respond to Northpower, which said that the rebalancing of transmission costs would have a material adverse impact on the Northland community’s social and economic well-being?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES : The transmission pricing methodology process that the Electricity Authority is running is independent and has an incredibly long way to go. It is looking at many options, so I would say to the people of Northland that it is far too soon to be jumping to those sorts of conclusions, which I appreciate the member tries to scaremonger on.
Mr SPEAKER : Order! That will not help the order of the House.
Fletcher Tabuteau : What has Electricity Authority chair Dr Brent Layton done to deserve $200,000 a year for a pricing methodology that makes regions like Northland subsidise profitable generators and foreign-owned energy intensive businesses?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES : Unlike that member, he has degrees. I think the other thing you will find is that he has made an excellent contribution to the electricity sector—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER : Order! I am hoping this is a point of order.
Denis O'Rourke : I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. It is to do with Standing Order 286. The Minister included personal references in relation to the person who asked the question, which should not be permitted.
Hon Gerry Brownlee : Mr Speaker, the question asked about what qualification he had, and he gave the answer. Presumably, the person asking the question is making a statement about the person who is the subject of it, which is also, I think, inappropriate in this House. It is quite inappropriate to bring a servant of the State from outside the House into question time. But clearly that comparison was made, and the Minister answered appropriately.
Denis O'Rourke : The particular point is that the Minister referred to qualifications in respect of the person who asked the question, which is completely irrelevant and is not permissible in the Standing Orders.
Mr SPEAKER : I do not think it is right, actually. I think the answer was perhaps not particularly helpful to the order of the House. However, given the tone of the question—“What qualifications did Mr Brent Layton have to receive his salary?”—the Minister took the opportunity of, effectively, saying: “Well, substantially more qualifications than the member.” I do not think that that is at all derogatory to the member. I think it is the sort of answer you may well have expected to a question like that. It is not a helpful answer, but my job is to see whether it addresses the question. It addressed the question. If members are not happy with it, I guess they should tighten up the conciseness of their supplementary questions.
Fletcher Tabuteau : Speaking to the point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER : No, I have dealt with that point of order. If the member has a fresh point of order, I will hear it, but I have dealt—
Fletcher Tabuteau : Could I seek leave to make a personal statement, Mr Speaker?
Mr SPEAKER : The member can seek leave. That is over to the House. You want to make a personal explanation about what?
Fletcher Tabuteau : I at no point referenced qualifications—
Mr SPEAKER : Order! No, no. The member wants to seek leave to make a personal explanation. I am inviting him to briefly describe it, and I will put the leave. [Interruption] No, the member—[Interruption] Order! I do not need that help from Mr Brownlee. I should not have to read the Standing Orders. The member has been here a long time; he now should understand the way this place works and the way the Standing Orders work. I doubt whether he has got a legitimate point, but if he wants to try it, he can. I would suggest that a quicker way forward would be to continue with his line of questioning.
Fletcher Tabuteau : Thank you, Mr Speaker. I actually asked what the—
Mr SPEAKER : Supplementary question, is it? [Interruption] Order! If the member does not know—[Interruption] Do you want to ask a supplementary question. [Interruption] Sorry?
Fletcher Tabuteau : Supplementary question.
Mr SPEAKER : Supplementary—[Interruption] Order! Supplementary question, Fletcher Tabuteau.
Fletcher Tabuteau : Why can the after-tax profits of Transpower New Zealand not be used to smooth electricity line charges?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES : Because it is a State-owned enterprise.
Ron Mark : Point of order.
Mr SPEAKER : Order! Before the member starts his point of order—and I want to hope that it is a genuine point of order—can I warn the member that if it any way relitigates the territory that I have just covered and ruled on, the member will be immediately leaving the House. [Interruption] Question number—
Tracey Martin : I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER : Again, I need to caution this member as well, in the same way. Fresh point of order, Tracey Martin.
Tracey Martin : Mr Speaker, I seek your clarification. With regard to Mr Tabuteau’s question, he did not ask—
Mr SPEAKER : Order! [Interruption] Order! The member will resume her seat. I did not issue the same warning I did to Mr Mark, so I will not act on it. I said that that matter is closed. I have ruled on it. If the member is then to—[Interruption] Order! To Mr Mark, I am on my feet. If members then take the opportunity to relitigate those decisions that I have made, whether they agree with them or disagree with them, they must accept them. To continue to relitigate leads to disorder, and as I have said to Mr Mark—I did not issue the same warning to Tracey Martin, so on this occasion I will not carry the matter further—in future, after giving a warning as severely as that, the only action I then have is to be asking members to leave. Question number 10—
Tracey Martin : I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER : Is this a fresh point of order? Is it in any way—
Tracey Martin : It is speaking to the point of order to ask for your clarification, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER : No, no, I have already dealt with the matter. The member will immediately resume her seat, otherwise she will be leaving the Chamber.
10. Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE (Labour—New Lynn) to the Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment : Does he require high standards of governance from tertiary education provider boards?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment): It is certainly my expectation that tertiary education organisations have a high standard of governance. In regard to requiring it, tertiary institutions are, of course, autonomous institutions. They have primary responsibility for their own governance and management. My ability to require such matters is, of course, subject to the provisions of the Education Act 1989.
Hon David Cunliffe : I seek leave to table a document compiled by the Parliamentary Library that sets out the duties and responsibilities of directors under the Companies Act 1993, in particular section 135(a) that requires—
Mr SPEAKER : Order! It does not need further description. I will put the leave. Leave is sought to table that particular document prepared by the Parliamentary Library. Is there any objection? Yes, there is.
Hon David Cunliffe : Speaking to the point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER : No, no. I put the leave. It has been declined.
Hon David Cunliffe : Does he believe that the board of the Taratahi Agricultural Training Centre has complied with its obligations under the Companies Act 1993 when Deloitte found serious and systematic breaches, such as 67 tutors being enrolled as students, multiple courses being under-taught and overcharged, and inflated attendance numbers while—
Mr SPEAKER : Order! The questions need to be concise.
Hon David Cunliffe : —its board chair publicly downplayed the board’s responsibility, saying that it was just mistakes, administrative errors, and a systems hiccup?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE : In regard to those matters, which are canvassed in a report commissioned by the Tertiary Education Commission, it is my responsibility to ensure through the Tertiary Education Commission that organisations meet their responsibilities. They have not in this case, and funding is being repaid. It is a matter for the board of that organisation to respond to the matters raised in the report, and, of course, I would note for the member that there is a Serious Fraud Office investigation currently being undertaken into some of these matters.
Hon David Cunliffe : Can he confirm that Mrs Mavis Mullins was a ministerial appointee to the board of the Taratahi Agricultural Training Centre in 2012, and that her elevation to the role of chair was confirmed by Ministers this year; and can he now express his confidence in her as chair of that organisation, given that she—
Mr SPEAKER : Order! That was two questions, and it is still going on. The Minister can answer either of those two questions.
Hon STEVEN JOYCE : I can definitely confirm that Mavis Mullins is the current chair of the organisation—I think that was one part of the question.
Hon David Cunliffe : I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The question was whether he can confirm that she was a ministerial appointment—
Mr SPEAKER : Order! The difficulty with this situation is that the question went on and on and on. The Minister has attempted to answer it. I advise members to keep their supplementary questions concise, and then I can assist them.
Hon David Cunliffe : Why did he say that he was “surprised and disappointed” at the level of issues at the Taratahi Agricultural Training Centre laid out by Deloitte, and is it because he has lost control of his portfolio and has no idea what is going on in that organisation or across the sector?
Mr SPEAKER : The Hon Steven Joyce—again, either of those two questions.
Hon STEVEN JOYCE : No, not at all. I have been aware of those matters for some time and have been fully briefed on them. My level of surprise and disappointment was that they had occurred.
Hon David Cunliffe : Can the Minister confirm his answer to a parliamentary question yesterday when he said that he had no idea that Barbara Kuriger MP was a member of that board?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE : No, the member is wrong. The member asked a two-part question; I answered the second part.
Food Act 2014—Requirements
11. SARAH DOWIE (National—Invercargill) to the Minister for Food Safety : How is the Government helping businesses understand the requirements of the new Food Act 2014?
Hon JO GOODHEW (Minister for Food Safety): Today I launched an online tool so that anyone providing or selling food can easily find out how the new food safety rules will apply to them when they come into force in March 2016.
Sarah Dowie : Why will this tool make the transition easier for businesses?
Hon JO GOODHEW : This online tool takes people through a series of yes/no questions to help people understand where their business sits on the food safety risk spectrum and which food safety rules will apply to them. This is necessary because the new Act is flexible in this space. It is designed so that people can manage food safety themselves in a way that best suits their business activities. It means that low to medium risk businesses will not be overburdened by the stringent requirements necessary for higher-risk businesses.
12. RON MARK (Deputy Leader—NZ First) to the Prime Minister : Does he stand by all his statements?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Deputy Prime Minister) on behalf of the Prime Minister : Yes, in the context in which they were made.
Ron Mark : Does he stand by his statement he made during the election campaign last year that said “Selling lots and lots of land to China I don’t think would actually deliver massive amounts of benefit to New Zealand.”; if so, why did it take him 12 months to reject the Shanghai Pengxin offer to purchase Lochinver Station?
Hon BILL ENGLISH : In answer to the first question, yes. In answer to the second question, the member should look at the Overseas Investment Act, which makes it very clear that the relevant Ministers make a decision about the land sale exercise and statutory responsibilities, and in order to approve a sale or otherwise, they have to look at the evidence around, I think, 23 separate tests. That is how the decision is made. The Prime Minister does not make those decisions.
Ron Mark : Given that he said when he was gathering votes in the election that “Selling lots and lots of land to China I don’t think would actually deliver massive amounts of benefit to New Zealand.”, why has the Government signed off on 50 land sales to foreign buyers in the last 6 months?
Hon BILL ENGLISH : Well, in the first place my understanding of it, to the extent one can know from approvals, is that the number of sales to people with Chinese-sounding names is probably pretty low. The other ones have been signed off because they passed the tests laid out in the Act, which was written and voted for by New Zealand First. If it does not like the consequences of the Act that it passed when it was in Government, then I suppose it should try to win an election to change it.
Ron Mark : If there is no substantial benefit in selling Lochinver to a foreign company, where is the substantial benefit in the Government’s allowing the sale of our largest beef exporter or half of Silver Fern Farms to a foreign company, or, for that matter, the Pinny Farms in Northland?
Hon BILL ENGLISH : Again, the Overseas Investment Act does not work on political slogans. It works by laying out 23 tests for sensitive land, and those have to be applied consistently to the individual proposal. These are two quite different transactions. You would not want to prejudge how they will be dealt with, but the tests for businesses are different from the tests for sensitive land, and that was what was voted into the law by New Zealand First when it was in Government and wrote the Act we are now applying.
Ron Mark : If this National Government is genuinely working for New Zealanders, as it said it was during the election campaign, why has it rubber-stamped the sale of 50 farms over the last 6 months and allowed farm sales that have effectively jacked up the price of New Zealand land such that New Zealand young farmers are being priced out of the market—[Interruption]—such that New Zealand young farmers are priced out of the market—Gerry?
Mr SPEAKER : Order!
Hon BILL ENGLISH : With respect to jacking up the price, I am not sure about the member’s familiarity with land transactions, but if the price is higher, it is being paid to a New Zealander. He may be opposed to New Zealanders getting a fair price for their farms, but the law that his party wrote says that if the particular transaction meets all 23 tests, then it is a legal and permissible transaction. We are administering law written by New Zealand First.
Grant Robertson : Does he stand by his statement in regard to the Lochinver Station sale that it would be a dangerous position to pre-judge the decision “and that could be reviewed by the courts”; if so, is he concerned by the statement by the Hon Bill English on 6 September 2014 in relation to Lochinver Station that “we won’t block that sale.”?
Hon BILL ENGLISH : No, not at all. We did not block the sale because a Government cannot block the sale. What it does is that two specific Ministers assess the proposition against the 23 tests laid out in the Overseas Investment Act. That is how the decision gets made. If we were asked to “block” the sale, we made it clear there would not be a political decision, as the Labour Party would make, to refuse to sell land to people with Chinese-sounding names, because we are not xenophobic like the Labour Party.
Mr SPEAKER : Order!
Point of Order—Speaker's Rulings
RICHARD PROSSER (NZ First): If a member raises a point of order in this House that contains an assertion, that assertion then leads yourself to pass a ruling based on that assertion, and that assertion can then subsequently be proven to be incorrect—
Hon Member : False.
RICHARD PROSSER : —false, will you take action against that member?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE (Leader of the House): It is not hard to work out what this is all about, and I would suggest that the member, rather than asking for clarification from the Speaker, take out his Standing Orders of the House of Representatives and go to Standing Order 359 to find that the person who was, I think, the person seeking a clarification over a matter, etc., etc. does have some remedy for his concerns.
Mr SPEAKER : From my point of view, and as I have said many a time in this House, I certainly go back and examine the way that the proceedings have gone. I acknowledge to this House that I sometimes make decisions that, in hindsight, I might not have wanted to make. However, they are made, and as I said earlier, when I make a decision, members may not have to like it but they have to accept it. I will assure the member that I will go back and have a look at the Hansard today.