Questions and Answers - Nov 17
Questions to Ministers
Economy—Diversity and Resilence
1. NUK KORAKO (National) to the Minister of Finance: What steps is the Government taking to support a more diverse and resilient New Zealand economy?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): One significant step is improving access for our exporters through trade negotiations. Alongside the recently completed Trans-Pacific Partnership, the Government is currently negotiating the ASEAN Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, involving 16 countries; the Trade in Services Agreement, involving 23 countries, reducing barriers to service exports; and the Environmental Goods Agreement negotiations, aiming to reduce tariffs on 54 environmental goods across 14 countries. A free-trade agreement with the European Union has recently been commenced. Just last week it was announced that exports to Chinese Taipei have increased 22 percent to $1.2 billion in the year since the agreement was signed with it.
Nuk Korako: What recent reports has he received pointing to an improving outlook for the New Zealand economy?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: It is pretty clear that the economy was softer than expected in the first half of 2015. Recent data is a bit more encouraging. The BNZ - BusinessNZ Performance of Services Index for October was 56.2, showing continuing growth in the service sector, which matters because it is 70 percent of the economy. The BNZ - Business NZ Performance of Manufacturing Index was also in expansion, at 53, showing growth in manufacturing for the 37th consecutive month.
Nuk Korako: What role is the Public Service playing in increasing productivity as part of delivering better services for New Zealanders?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: As I said, services are 70 percent of the economy, and the public sector is a significant proportion of those services. By tying the funding of public services to getting better results, we are lifting accountability for each dollar that is spent. We are starting to see results. The total welfare liability is now independently estimated at $69 billion, which is down $7.5 billion in the year to June 2014. About 2 percent of the reduction is due to reforms made by the Ministry of Social Development.
Nuk Korako: How is the Government’s continuing investment in better social services helping to support higher resilience?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: In one pretty important way, and that is our investment in young people. The Government has developed a number of new pipelines for young people, from school through training and into education, in particular the Youth Guarantee and Youth Service programme. In both cases we are seeing good results, and the number of young people not in employment, education, or training is as low as it has been for a long time.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: If any of that is true, why could he not tell his colleague who asked the question that in his numerous caucus or sub-caucus meetings, rather than come along and try to bore the House?
Mr SPEAKER: That is a very marginal question—the Hon Bill English.
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Purely for the member’s benefit, because he is known for conducting politics on the basis of being free of facts, and it is always useful for him to hear from us. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Question No. 2—[Interruption] Order! David Bennett, I am calling for order.
2. Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First) to the Minister of Finance: Does he stand by all his statements?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): Yes, in particular those that were intended to help that member’s understanding of the economy.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Does his statement “The commercial arrangements between the investors are not really the Government’s business.” mean that he is absolving the Government of any responsibility for the operations of the Companies Act and the Takeovers Act with respect to Silver Fern Farms; if so, why?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Yes, I stand by that statement. The Government is not responsible for the commercial arrangements entered into between Silver Fern Farms and the recent buyer. If there is any question of the Companies Act being breached, then that is a matter for the enforcement agencies.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Does he stand by his statement “hardened, long-term shareholders in Silver Fern Farms … voted overwhelmingly in favour of the transaction.”, and does that mean he supports board members failing their fiduciary duty to disclose to shareholders the true—
David Bennett: Say it outside.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I will—the true financial state of a company subject to sale to majority overseas interests; if not, why not?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The statement means what it says, and that is that a company that has suppliers who, I know, scrutinise it very closely ran a series of meetings for a shareholder vote. In fact, I think that, legally, they did not actually have to do that, but they did it. If there are any questions of directors not meeting their fiduciary duties, that is a matter for the shareholders, in the first instance, and the enforcement agencies otherwise.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: How can it be acceptable for shareholders in New Zealand’s largest meat exporter to be given documentation 2 weeks before the end of its financial year, when directors knew full well that that documentation was false and much, much worse than Silver Fern Farms’ true financial state?
Mr SPEAKER: It is a very marginal question. I will leave it for the Minister of Finance to answer it.
Hon BILL ENGLISH: That is simply an allegation that has been made, no doubt, to the member, and now by the member in the House. Anyone who has an interest in it can go and check that out, but, of course, the board would be required to meet its legal obligations of disclosure.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Why will National not act on the operations of the law in a conspiracy that is of wine-box proportions, designed to avoid the Takeovers Act and Companies Act, defraud shareholders led by company chief executive officer Dean Hamilton, the banks HSBC, CBA Finance Holdings, and Rabobank, the American investment bank Goldman Sachs, which got $10 million for the deal—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Bring the question to a conclusion.
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: —so-called independent advisor Grant Samuel and Associates, law firm Harmos Horton Lusk, and Silver Ferns Farms?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: To give the member credit, the original conspiracy that he was referring to actually was one, and it was a very complex one. In this case, I think it is a bit less obvious that there is the same kind of nefarious activity as was associated with the wine box. But if the member has allegations of that sort, he is free to broadcast them publicly outside the House and take them up with the people concerned.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: If that is the Minister’s challenge, then what exactly is his role as a senior Cabinet Minister, the Minister of Finance, in these matters?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: As I have pointed out, we do not have a role. I mean, I have had a role as a neighbour of some of the long-term shareholders who have been very motivated about the meat industry for a number of years. In fact, I have seen some of them quoted in the media recently, now satisfied with the state of the meat industry, which I never thought I would see happen. I would suggest the member take that up with shareholders.
Health Services—Inflationary Pressures, Impact
3. Hon ANNETTE KING (Deputy Leader—Labour) to the Minister of Health: What is the impact on patients and staff of not covering all inflationary pressures in health?
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN (Minister of Health): The impact from increasing Vote Health by $4.1 billion over our 7 years in Government is 5,500 more doctors and nurses, pay rises for nurses, and better access to services across the board. In recent years, while many nations froze or cut health funding, our increases have been amongst the biggest in the developed world.
Hon Annette King: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. It was a question on notice, and I asked: what was the impact of not covering all the—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! No. The question has been addressed, although, I accept, not to the satisfaction of the member. I will allow the member one additional supplementary question if she wants to use it.
Hon Annette King: In light of that answer why has orthopaedic surgeon Geoff Anderson spoken out publicly in the past few days, saying that it is harder now to get a knee replacement on the public purse than it was 4 years ago?
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: I do not know Geoff personally, but what I would tell him is that back in 2007 we were doing 8,439 orthopaedic operations; we are now doing 10,590. That is an increase of 25 percent. So I would be very happy to share those statistics with Mr Anderson. He is probably operating at the moment, but if you give me his email address I will send them to him.
Hon Paula Bennett: What reports has he seen that claim access to hip—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I am sorry to interrupt. I am just having trouble hearing the question. Would the Minister please start it again.
Hon Paula Bennett: What reports has he seen that claim access to hip and knee surgery has got worse, and how accurate are these?
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: Last Wednesday during question time Mrs King tabled Official Information Act documents that she claimed showed that access thresholds for hip and knee replacement had increased at Auckland District Health Board. She then followed up with a press release that got wide coverage, including a front page Dominion Post story. She claimed that the number of points needed for hip or knee access thresholds for replacement surgery had gone up from 50 to 70 points between 2013 and 2015. I was suspicious, as the number of hip and knee surgeries at the Auckland District Health Board had increased 30 percent over 7 years. After receiving a statement from the Auckland District Health Board a few days later saying that the hip and knee threshold had not changed from 50, I checked the tabled Official Information Act documents—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The answer now is miles too long.
Hon Annette King: Why would orthopaedic surgeon Geoff Anderson not tell the truth when he said he had one patient in her 50s in pain who risked losing her job and had been given the highest possible points he could give her, but she was still told no?
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: Well, I do not think the member should accuse Mr Anderson of not telling the truth, but I am not familiar with Mr Anderson or his district health board. I would be very happy if Mr Anderson wants to contact me directly.
Hon Paula Bennett: Could he please give an update of what the Official Information Act response that was tabled last week actually showed in its report to the House?
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: Tellingly, the Official Information Act responses that Mrs King tabled during question time did not show that the threshold has gone up at the Auckland District Health Board between 2013 and 2015. Fifty was the threshold in 2013, and it was still the threshold in 2015. The figure of 70 that Mrs King used in the House was just plain wrong.
Hon Annette King: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! This is a point of order. [Interruption] Order! I have not heard from the member yet. This is a point of order. I wish to hear it in silence.
Hon Annette King: The Minister has just said I was plain wrong—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I want the point of order.
Hon Annette King: My point of order is that I wish to re-table the Official Information Act response showing—
Mr SPEAKER: No. [Interruption] Order! No, the member is now trifling with the Chair. [Interruption] Order! Does the member have a further supplementary question?
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: Speaking to the point of order.
Mr SPEAKER: No, there is no need to speak to the point of order.
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: Yes, if the Minister is raising a fresh point of order we will hear it, but if the Minister is now—[Interruption] Order! My patience will not last much longer around this duel between the two. If the Minister has a fresh point of order we will hear it, but if it is attempting now to relitigate discussions that occurred, then I will take a very dim view of it. I would advise the member to remain in his seat.
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: I seek leave for Mrs King to be able to retable the—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! You cannot seek leave on behalf of another member.
Hon Annette King: Has he seen the Official Information Act responses from district health boards that show that 48,000 who needed a specialist appointment for orthopaedics have been sent back to their GP without having being seen since 2010-11?
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: No. As the member knows, there is no complete data set. We are the first Government to put that data together. All we do know is that there has been a 25 percent increase in hip and joint replacements under this Government. That is the only fact in this debate.
Hon Annette King: Does he realise that throwing around percentages and figures ignores the pain and suffering of people like Ken Smith of Napier, who was unable to walk or drive but could not get an operation and has paid $23,000 out of his retirement fund for knee surgery?
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: The only person in this House who throws around patients’ names here is Mrs King. All I can tell you is that the number of hip and knee replacements has increased 25 percent under this Government. We are doing more; that member was doing a lot less.
Hon Annette King: In light of the growing number of people forced to pay for surgery—and Mr Smith made himself public, not me—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Just ask the question.
Hon Annette King: —are Professor Bagshaw’s comments correct when he said we are slowly creeping into a privatised health system?
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: Mr Bagshaw has been a Government critic since about 1998, and he is wrong. What is really a shame about that front-page article is that it is written on the basis of an incorrect tabling of an Official Information Act response and incorrect facts provided by Mrs King to the press. I do not think they would like that much.
Hon Annette King: Is he being transparent with the public when he talks in percentage terms for increases in orthopaedic discharges when, in reality, the 34 percent increase since 2008 equates to an increase on average of 44 operations per year per district health board and includes all orthopaedic procedures, not just hips and knees, where the main problem is?
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: No, the member is incorrect. Hips and knees—there were 8,479 operations 7 years ago and today it is 10,590. The only person who is not being transparent is the person who tables false Official Information Act—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! That will not help the order of this House.
Chris Hipkins: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. We have had a series of issues over the past week about members making disparaging comments, questioning the word of other members, which has resulted in some fairly serious consequences for some members. Mr Speaker, are those rules going to be applied consistently? Repeatedly through the answers that the Minister just gave he questioned the word of another member.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I listened very carefully to the answers. Apart from the very last comment by the Minister, nothing, in my opinion, was out of order. The last comment made was not going to help the order of the House, and I admonished the Minister at the time.
Health Services—Elective Surgery
4. Dr SHANE RETI (National—Whangarei) to the Minister of Health: Can he confirm that elective orthopaedic surgical discharges have increased by 34 percent, from 18,240 in 2008 to 24,439 operations this year?
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN (Minister of Health): Yes, I can. The number of elective orthopaedic surgical discharges has increased by a third under this Government, thanks in part to our $4.1 billion funding increase over the last 7 years. Orthopaedic surgeries cover things like hip and knee joint replacements, which themselves have increased by 25 percent, from 8,400 to 10,600. This increase in surgery is a key part of National’s plan to improve health services to patients and demonstrates our efforts to always do more.
Dr Shane Reti: What other reports has he received about patient access to hip and knee joint replacements?
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: I received a report last week that stated that access to hip and knee joint replacements in our public hospitals is getting harder and that patients were having to wait in pain before reaching the threshold number of points required to receive surgery. Upon investigation, it became clear these claims were unsubstantiated and wrong. The claims were based on the threshold score patients required for such surgery in 2013 and comparing that to the average score of patients above the threshold who received surgery in 2015. These two statistics are not the same. Disappointingly, the member who made these claims was Mrs Annette King.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The past part will not be necessary. [Interruption] Order!
Dr Shane Reti: What other reports has he received about the performance of the public health system?
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: I have received a range of incorrect reports this year that have followed a similar pattern, including ones that stated that few GP clinics in Auckland were offering free visits to under-13s, that $1.7 billion had been cut out of the health budget, that signing the Trans-Pacific Partnership would cost the health budget $1 billion and kill New Zealanders, and even about individual cases such as the Northland woman who had her home-care support hours cut and who turned out to be a mental health patient. All of these claims were totally wrong and they were all made by the same member, Annette King. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] The interjection from my right is certainly not helping the order of this House. [Interruption] Order! I did not hear the interjection that came from my right, but I invite the member now to rise and ask her supplementary question.
Hon Annette King: So will the Minister contact Mr Geoff Anderson and tell him that he is wrong when he says it is harder to get a knee replacement now than it was 4 years ago? Instead of mouthing, just answer the question.
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: As I said in my previous answer, if the member would like to supply Mr Anderson’s email address I am quite happy to get in touch with him. I seek leave to table an email from the Auckland District Health Board to my office, explaining that its threshold score for patients to receive hip and knee surgery has remained unchanged since 2013. Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Mr SPEAKER: Question No. 5—[Interruption] Order! Question No. 5, James Shaw—[Interruption] Order! The conversation across the House will now cease.
Treasury—Policy Settings, New Zealand Businesses
5. JAMES SHAW (Co-Leader—Green) to the Minister of Finance: What advice, if any, has he received from Treasury in the last 18 months on the importance for New Zealand businesses of certainty about long-term policy settings?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): I regularly receive advice from Treasury on the importance of consistent longer-term policy, and the Government focuses on delivering as such. It is important, for example, to have consistency on climate change policies. It would be very disruptive if, for instance, we ditched the established emissions trading scheme for a carbon tax, heavily taxed agriculture without any proven technological solutions for reducing emissions, and suddenly announced we were trying to achieve carbon neutrality—whatever that is—by 2050.
James Shaw: What specific action has he taken since Treasury advised him that he should secure a greater degree of political party consensus on climate policies so that businesses can factor climate change into their long-term decision-making?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: In the first place, it is not actually Treasury’s role to give advice about the breadth of support in Parliament for particular policies, so in that case I actually just did not listen to it. Secondly, the Government has got a climate change position. It is outlining that at the Paris conference, as it has already outlined it here in New Zealand. From what I can see, there is a fair amount of political support behind that.
David Seymour: What would be the effect on long-term policy stability had the Government adopted an aggressive peak oil mitigation strategy when the Greens first raised that?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: It would be pretty disruptive, but I do not think that the Greens really expect anyone to take their policy positions too seriously. Often they are about symbolism and—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! I apologise.
Chris Hipkins: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Previous Speakers have ruled, and you indeed yourself have re-emphasised this ruling last week, about members using supplementary questions and Ministers using supplementary answers in order to attack another party. The question attacked another party and so did the answer. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! No, I do not need—I listened carefully to the question. I do not think it did attack. The answer may have got political, but the question, in my mind, was not an attack on a political party.
David Seymour: Point of order.
Mr SPEAKER: I need to know: is it a fresh point of order?
David Seymour: Speaking to the previous—
Mr SPEAKER: No, I do not need—I have ruled.
James Shaw: Why is this Government acting unilaterally to set climate policy when Business New Zealand has advised that its major companies group says that it wants more Government leadership on climate policy, clarity of direction, and cross-party agreement?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: By and large we are not acting unilaterally. For instance, this Government, when it came in in 2008, adopted the emissions trading scheme that was put in place by the previous Government—in fact, invented by the Green Party—because we thought in the end it was most logical to have a price. I understand that the Green Party position has now changed because the price is not high enough and there is not enough pain associated with improving carbon emissions. So we have not shifted ground, but the Green Party has, and it is a bit unfortunate because there was general consensus on the emissions trading scheme.
James Shaw: Why does he believe that New Zealand needs a 30-year plan for infrastructure but not for climate change, which will impact on infrastructure?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: We do have—in fact it is more than a 30-year target; it is a 35-year target, I think, of minus 50 percent by 2050, because, as we know, you know, it is going to take a long time for the world to heat up significantly, and it is going to take a long time to take the measures that might mitigate that.
James Shaw: Given that the Government has a target of a 50 percent reduction in emissions by 2050, what is contained in the plan to achieve that target?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The main tool is the one we adopted that was Green Party policy, and that is the emissions trading system, and that is the beauty of it—as demand for carbon credits rises, the price will rise. That has been happening. The price was very low. It has now risen quite a lot in the last couple of years, and it may well continue to rise. That is a sound long-term policy, which I think most parties agree with.
James Shaw: Does he agree with the Prime Minister in explicitly ruling out cross-party negotiations on achieving long-term policy stability on climate change, and does he think that business owners can take any comfort about what they can expect from the Government?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: We are always interested in discussing these issues, but on some of them there are just some deep differences, and on others the Green Party has changed its position, and it would be a bit hard to know. I mean, if the Green Party wants to can the emissions trading scheme and move to a carbon tax, that is a pretty big shift. It would certainly take a lot of talking to persuade the Government it was the right thing to do, and I actually cannot understand why the Green Party has changed its view.
James Shaw: So has he received any advice that changing climate policies every time there is a change of Government is a good idea for business, for farmers, or for the country?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I think that a feature of the New Zealand approach, at least, is the stability of core climate change policy—that is, the emissions trading system, and the electricity market, which promotes renewable energy. Those have now been in place for about 10 years. The major parties have tended to back that. The Greens did up until pretty recently, I think, so I would argue to Business New Zealand that there is pretty steady policy actually. Maybe it does not like the implications of it, but we are not changing it.
6. GRANT ROBERTSON (Labour—Wellington Central) to the Minister of Finance: Does he stand by his statement that “the Government would not be chasing around the unemployment numbers, 3 months to 3 months. We take a longer-term point of view because that is the realistic one”; if so, how many quarters in a row has unemployment risen?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): Yes. The unemployment rate has risen 0.1 percent in each of the past four quarters, after falling in each of the five quarters before that. Statistics New Zealand reports that over the past four quarters an extra 34,000 people have gone into work, the labour force participation rate has remained near record levels, and migration into New Zealand remains at record levels.
Grant Robertson: In light of his focus on the long term, how many New Zealanders are now considered to be long-term unemployed—i.e., they have been unemployed for 26 weeks or more?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I cannot give that member that number off the top of my head, but we evaluate that in great detail, actually, when the welfare liability is updated every 6 months, and that shows us not just who is unemployed today or who has been unemployed for a longer period but what the likely path is for those people over the next few months. We have a very proactive system in Work and Income New Zealand for dealing with them individually.
Grant Robertson: Why are there now 46,000 people who are long-term unemployed if he has so much activity going on to address their concerns?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Dealing with them one by one is about as precise a focus on them as you can get. Of course, that number has gone up a little bit because the economy has been a bit softer and there are record numbers of people showing up to the labour market. As the economy strengthens again, which looks likely, then that number may well come back down again.
Grant Robertson: Is it correct that the 46,000 long-term unemployed is the highest level since 1999, other than two quarters in 2012?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I would certainly want to investigate the number, because, as the member will be aware, in the welfare reform process there has been a lot of reclassification of people, and the product of that reclassification is that a lot more people are now regarded as available for work. They used to languish on the sickness benefit under the Labour Government, which decided they were hopeless and gave up on them. We do not give up on people like that. Even if they cannot get a job immediately, we try to help them get ready to get a job.
Grant Robertson: Given that the Australian economy was recently described as “a basket case”, with unemployment at 5.9 percent, why should that description not apply to New Zealand, now that we have a higher unemployment rate than Australia?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: To be fair to our cousins across the Tasman, “basket case” is probably exaggerating the challenges that that economy has. Our unemployment rates have been remarkably similar. Our GDP growth rates are pretty similar, even though we are really quite different economies. One measure of it, though, is that for the last 6 months we have had a net inflow of people from Australia—for the first time in a generation—which tells you something about what normal Kiwis think are the relative job prospects.
Grant Robertson: Why does he not get up front with New Zealanders about the fact that his policies have led to unemployment rising for four consecutive quarters and more New Zealanders spending longer out of work, and that for all of the glossy Business Growth Agenda, none of his policies are working?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Normal New Zealanders have been listening to that member say that alongside the manufacturing crisis, and they are not actually taking any notice of the ongoing negativity about the economy. The fact is that the economy has had a significant shock from the sharp reduction in dairy prices, and it is actually handling it pretty well. And we expect that as the economy strengthens, the employment numbers will gradually—and, I may say, slower than we would like—improve.
Budget 2015—Property Tax Reforms
7. CHRIS BISHOP (National) to the Minister of Revenue: What progress has been made on the Government’s investment property tax reforms announced as part of Budget 2015?
Hon TODD McCLAY (Minister of Revenue): Last week the Government passed the brightline legislation, which is an important tool to ensure property speculators pay their fair share of tax. The new brightline test requires income tax to be paid on any gains from residential properties purchased on or after 1 October and sold within a 2-year period, with the exception of the owner’s main home, inherited property, and transfers of relationship property. The brightline test is just one part of the Government’s approach to tightening the property investment rules.
Chris Bishop: How is the Government ensuring investors pay their fair share of tax?
Hon TODD McCLAY: The brightline measures, together with rules requiring buyers and sellers to provide an IRD number and for non-residents to also provide their foreign tax identity number and a New Zealand bank account, will help the Inland Revenue Department to better identify investors in New Zealand’s residential property market. The Inland Revenue Department will be watching transactions and will enforce income tax rules on those who might try to avoid their obligations outside the 2-year period. The Government provided the department with $29 million of extra funding in Budget 2015 to focus on property tax compliance. This will take the Inland Revenue Department’s total budget for work in this area over the next 5 years to $62 million, which is expected to generate an additional $420 million of tax revenue.
Chris Bishop: How will the residential land withholding tax support the brightline test?
Hon TODD McCLAY: Yesterday I introduced a tax bill that proposes a new withholding tax on sales of residential property by people who live overseas and go on to sell that property within the 2-year period of their purchase. This tax will act as a collection mechanism for the brightline test. The proposed residential land withholding tax will ensure the integrity of the tax system and it will bring the collection of the brightline tax into line with other withholding regimes. This proposal, together with the new brightline test and changes to collect better tax information about buyers and sellers of residential property, will help to ensure that everybody pays their fair share of tax on gains from property sales.
8. Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First) to the Minister of Health: Does he stand by all his statements?
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN (Minister of Health): Yes, in the context in which they were given. I especially stand by my statement that the number of patients in his Northland electorate receiving elective surgery has increased from 5,700 a year to 8,500 a year under this Government. Perhaps of even greater interest to the member is the 53 percent increase in elective surgery in the Auckland District Health Board, his district health board of residence.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Minister is trying hard, but he cannot conclude with an erroneous statement irrelevant to the question—and it is erroneous, and I can prove it.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! No. [Interruption]. Order! The member will resume his seat. There is nothing out of order with the answer that was given.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: If he stands by his statement that “Delivering more elective surgeries has been a priority for this Government” and that he has allocated more funding to the Northland District Health Board to deliver year-on-year increases in elective surgery, can he explain the 30 percent blowout in the Northland District Health Board’s current financial budget?
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: There is not a 30 percent blowout in the current financial budget.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: You don’t know. You don’t know.
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: There is not, sorry. The member has not got his facts right. [Interruption]
Rt Hon Winston Peters: You cannot say that, baldy.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I do acknowledge that the member was provoked by a member on my right. If David Bennett wants to continue interjecting, this is the very last warning that he is getting in this question time.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I will take it again, Mr Speaker. What assurances can he give the people of Northland that they will not lose vital health services due to the Northland District Health Board’s current budget blowout of 30 percent?
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: There is no budget blowout of 30 percent. In actual fact, Northland got an extra $23 million last year. Over 7 years the budget there has gone up $119 million. They are doing more elective surgery; they are getting more doctors and nurses. They have actually also got free GP visits for under-13s. Northland is doing very well and making a big impact, positively, on the health of the people up there—you should go and have a look.
Education, Minister—Independent Advice
9. CHRIS HIPKINS (Labour—Rimutaka) to the Minister of Education: Does she have confidence that she is receiving quality independent advice from her officials?
Hon HEKIA PARATA (Minister of Education): Yes.
Chris Hipkins: Has she received advice indicating that the vast bulk of support for students with special needs who are sitting National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA) exams has been going to students at the wealthiest schools; if so, why has that huge inequity not been addressed?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: The member is fully versed on that, because I have answered that in written questions to him—so yes, I have provided those answers. The member is also aware, as is the House, that I have said repeatedly that we are not yet in a good enough place but that we have improved significantly. However, the House needs to be aware that having softened the criteria by which schools can apply and having provided support for schools to apply, we cannot make schools apply—98.4 percent of all applications were approved. Schools need to apply, and we will work with them to be successful.
Chris Hipkins: How is it equitable for only 450 students at decile 1 to 3 schools to gain that support, whilst over 3,000 students at decile 8 to 10 schools got the same level of support in the past year?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: As I answered very fully in my answer to the primary question, it is a matter of schools applying.
Chris Hipkins: Why did staff in her office require ministry officials to change advice in a briefing to her that indicated that the changes she implemented over the past year have not addressed the huge inequity between those who receive special assessment support with the NCEA exams?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: I saw and signed the final report, and, again, as the member is fully aware, since he has the email exchange, none of what he alleges is true.
Chris Hipkins: Does she believe that it is acceptable for the Education Review Office to change its independent recommendations after consultation with the Ministry of Education; if so, what is the purpose of having the Education Review Office as an independent agency?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: Again, as the member is aware, because he is in possession of the letter that the chief review officer provided in response to those scurrilous allegations about the professional integrity of herself and her office, which that story has alleged, it is very much misplaced. It is a matter of fact that the Education Review Office and the ministry talk to each other. The Education Review Office, as an independent evaluative agency, makes assessments that have implications for the policy and operations of the ministry, so it would be nonsense for it not to ensure that it was serving the education sector well.
Chris Hipkins: Is she satisfied that she is getting value for money from the 200 percent increase in the Ministry of Education’s public relations budget, in light of the growing number of revelations that it is using this extra resourcing to operate war rooms to reduce embarrassment to the Government?
Hon HEKIA PARATA: I think it is more important that the sector feels it is getting value for money, and the sector tells me—
Hon Members: They don’t.
Hon HEKIA PARATA: Well, of course, the member speaks only to a particular element of the sector, whereas I, of course, speak to and listen to the full range, and they are getting value for money.
UN Climate Agreement—Australia
10. DENISE ROCHE (Green) to the Minister for Climate Change Issues: Did New Zealand oppose Australia’s effort to try and remove the “climate change displacement coordination facility”, which would have created a body to help people escaping the effects of climate change, from the draft text of the UN climate agreement?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES (Acting Minister for Climate Change Issues): No.
Denise Roche: Given that the US, British, and French Governments all support the creation of a body to deal with people displaced by climate change, does he think New Zealand is on the right track by supporting Australia’s opposition?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: Yes, I think New Zealand is on the right track.
Denise Roche: Given that there is already relocation under way for people from Fiji, Papua New Guinea, and the Solomon Islands because of climate change, does he agree with the Prime Minister that we do not need to do anything about people displaced by climate change because “that’s not an issue that we’re going to face in the next year or two.”?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: Yes, because although we accept that climate migration is an issue, it is an issue, we think, that is for the future, and a future concern.
Denise Roche: Does he agree with Minister of Immigration, Michael Woodhouse, that establishing domestic policy to deal with climate change migration is a “paternalistic, colonialist, white person’s guilt response”?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: Yes.
Small Businesses—Online Safety
11. MELISSA LEE (National) to the Minister for Small Business: What Government resources are available to help small businesses keep themselves safe online?
Hon CRAIG FOSS (Minister for Small Business): Businesses can be victims of online scams, as well as individuals. Online scammers and fraudsters use all sorts of tricks and scams to steal from small and medium enterprises. During International Fraud Awareness Week, which is part of an international initiative to raise awareness of scams and promote safe online practices, I would encourage small businesses—[Interruption]—and many members opposite to utilise the resources available to them, such as using Connect Smart, which promotes online safety for businesses; using the Companies Office to check out the integrity of a New Zealand business, or not; taking note of warnings from the Commerce Commission; and using the Scamwatch website to see what is currently being pushed out there. Whether or not you are a small business or an individual, any online claim that seems too good to be true most probably is.
Melissa Lee: What can small businesses do to prevent becoming victims of online fraud?
Hon CRAIG FOSS: New scams appear almost constantly and they are becoming increasingly sophisticated. By taking sensible precautions, businesses can avoid becoming victims. Employing a few simple online safety tips could be the difference between a successful business and a struggling one. No one wants to see their hard work and all the time and effort that they have put into their business stolen. I encourage all businesses to get up to speed, and to view information and communications technology security as being as important as the security of their buildings, office, and equipment.
Deported Offenders—Supervision Regime
12. JACINDA ARDERN (Labour) to the Minister of Justice: On what date did she or her department instruct the Parliamentary Counsel Office to begin drafting the legislation to create a supervision regime for deported offenders that will be debated today?
Hon AMY ADAMS (Minister of Justice): I instructed officials to work with the Parliamentary Counsel Office to begin drafting the legislation as a priority following Cabinet’s confirmation of the policy on Monday, 27 October as, pursuant to the Cabinet Manual, drafting instructions cannot be given until then. I instructed officials to begin developing the policy following the initial advice on the issue in February of this year.
Jacinda Ardern: Why did her Government begin drafting this legislation so late when she knew about this issue as early as December of last year?
Hon AMY ADAMS: Firstly, the member is wrong. I first received advice on this issue in February of this year. The drafting of the legislation is very different from the development of the policy. That began as soon as I became aware of the issue.
Jacinda Ardern: If the Minister knew this was an issue only in February, why did her Government progress the extended supervision order legislation in April last year—a law that applies to returning offenders as well—but this bill, instead, will go through a rushed, flawed, last-minute process?
Hon AMY ADAMS: There were a number of issues that changes to the public protection order and the extended supervision order regimes were intended to address, one of which was about returning offenders, but I can point out to that member that offenders have been being deported to New Zealand for years and years and years without any supervision. No member in this House was unaware that that was happening. That has always been the case and, unlike Labour, we are doing something about it.
Jacinda Ardern: How many offenders have entered New Zealand in the last year due to being deported from Australia, when her Government knew it was an issue, and cannot be subject to this monitoring regime because of its late entry into Parliament?
Hon AMY ADAMS: I do not have the number covering the last year, but I can tell that member that it was considerably less than the estimated 700 that arrived under the Labour Government with no supervision.
Jacinda Ardern: Can the Minister confirm that the rate of offenders coming back into New Zealand now is five times higher per month than it has been in recent years?
Hon AMY ADAMS: The advice I have is that prior to Australia’s policy change the numbers coming to New Zealand were around 60 to 100 a year, and the predicted number now is around 250 to 300 a year. However, members should note that that also includes people who are being deported back to New Zealand not because of their convictions but because of bad character grounds. That was not previously included, so not all of that increase is about deported offenders. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! If the members wish to have a discussion they are welcome to do so outside the Chamber