Questions and Answers - 2 November 2016
• ORAL QUESTIONS
QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS
Building and Housing, Minister—Confidence
1. ANDREW LITTLE (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does he have confidence in his Minister for Building and Housing, given the nearly 8,000 shortfall in new houses in Auckland in the past year?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): Yes, I do have confidence in the Minister, and I think the member really should take a good look at the facts. Statistics New Zealand reported this week that almost 30,000 residential building consents were issued across New Zealand in the year to September. That is more than double what they were 5 years ago, and momentum is increasing. Of these, nearly 10,000 consents were in Auckland, which is almost three times the number just 5 years ago.
Andrew Little: What impact has the $273,000 increase in Mount Roskill house prices over the past 2 years had on young people there hoping to buy their own home?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Obviously, for any first-home buyer a rise in house prices has some impact, but, of course, the most substantial impact for those young people in Mount Roskill probably is, firstly, that they are paying interest rates that are at record lows. For someone borrowing $300,000, let alone, potentially, a bigger mortgage in Auckland, that saves them thousands and thousands and thousands—I think $16,000 in the hand. Secondly, as we can see today from the very strong employment growth in New Zealand, the good people of Mount Roskill are probably finding it a lot easier to get a job. Thirdly, I think the good people of Mount Roskill probably saw last week that this is a country that is No. 1 now in terms of ease of doing business. We have some of the best economic statistics in the OECD, and they have probably got a little bounce in their step. So the member might want to talk New Zealand down, but I do not think the people of Mount Roskill are.
Andrew Little: Given Quotable Value says that the median Mount Roskill house has increased in value by $2,300 each week for the last 2 years, how are young people meant to save for a deposit for their first home?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: There are a number of ways, of course, that we do that. The first is with a strong employment market with very low interest rates—that certainly helps them. Secondly, KiwiSaver HomeStart will, without doubt, help young people. Thirdly, if you look at the comprehensive plan that we have got, obviously what is happening there is that you are seeing an enormous construction boom now happening in Auckland. In fact, if anything, the reason the member did not ask a question on housing yesterday was that, as he knows himself, he is actually starting to run out of puff on it.
Todd Barclay: What reports has he received confirming employment growth in the construction sector, which is being driven by a building boom across much of New Zealand?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: What an outstanding question. As part of the latest household labour force survey, Statistics New Zealand today reported that the number of people employed in the construction sector increased to a whopping 226,000 in September. That is 21,000 more construction jobs than 2 years ago, and 55,000 more than 5 years ago, confirming that the building sector is indeed booming. These extra construction jobs contributed to New Zealand's overall unemployment rate falling to 4.9 percent in September, the lowest level since December 2008. Across New Zealand, there are a total of 35,000 more jobs than just 3 months ago, and 30,000 fewer people unemployed. Over the past year, 144,000 more people are in work. What a day of great celebration for the Government.
Andrew Little: Why, under his Government, are 80 percent of adults under 40 in Mount Roskill renters, with just 20 percent owning their own home? What is there to celebrate about that?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I do not know the relative statistics as to what it was like 10 years ago, but I suspect it has not actually changed dramatically in that period of time. But what is true is that if you look at Mt Roskill, it is actually becoming—there is no question—a wealthier electorate there in Auckland. If you look at the massive construction boom that is now taking place in Auckland—as I said just a moment before; I will not bother repeating it for the House—there are a huge number of extra people who are working in the construction sector. We have interest rates that are at a 60-year low and we have very strong employment growth. The people of Mount Roskill and New Zealand are quite chipper about the outlook for New Zealand.
Jacqui Dean: What measures has the Minister for Building and Housing overseen as part of the Government's comprehensive plan to increase the number of houses being built?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Yet again, another outstanding question. There have been many parts of the Government's comprehensive housing plan. We have set up the billion-dollar Housing Infrastructure Fund. We have created over 200 special housing areas for around 70,000 new homes across the country. We have extended legislation to enable special housing areas to be created for another 3 years. We have expanded the KiwiSaver HomeStart scheme for first-home buyers. We signed off on a National Policy Statement on Urban Development, and we are getting the Auckland Unitary Plan under way. The plan was so comprehensive that yesterday the Labour Party gave up on housing, because it can see that the market is stabilising and that construction is booming in Auckland.
Andrew Little: Talking of special housing areas, how many of the exactly 18 affordable homes that have been built in Auckland special housing areas are in Mount Roskill? Would he be surprised to know that, actually, it is zero?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: If the member is asking a question that he says he knows the answer to, he is really wasting the House's time asking the question. But the reason he is asking the question is that his numbers are always so dodgy and proven to be incorrect. It is not 18 houses. As of 2016, in Auckland 1,300 homes have been completed in special housing areas, 2,200 building consents have been issued, 2,458 new sections have been created, and 7,170 new sections have been granted resource consents. I go back to what I said earlier: the reason the Labour Party did not ask yesterday is that it has given up—
Mr SPEAKER: Order!
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Is the Prime Minister aware that the Three Kings Quarry housing project would put 1,300 new homes in the Mt Roskill electorate, a large portion of which would be affordable, and that the lead opponent of these homes over the past 5 years has been the former chair of the local board, Mr Michael Wood, the Labour candidate? [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! It is question time, not a football match.
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Well, it could be, because we are kicking all the goals. I was aware of that, actually. I was aware of that and, you know, I would not expect anything different, because it is the same Michael Wood who does not believe in dodgy deals, expect he has done one with the Greens to get himself over the line—or, at least, he wants to but because his potential leader is so worried, he is offering $1.4 billion worth of light rail, which, actually, the former member for Mt Roskill does not even support.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! We are moving into an area where there is no prime ministerial responsibility.
Andrew Little: Getting back to matters of fact—[Interruption] Oh, it hurts, it hurts! Why, after 8 years of his Government, has the homeownership rate fallen to its lowest level in 65 years?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: There are a number of factors as to why homeownership rates around the world have been falling, but I think we can see, by the construction numbers, the consent numbers, and the employment numbers that we have seen, how much construction is now taking place. We can see that the elements of the plan are not only actually working in Auckland but, I think, starting to work around New Zealand, and I am confident that the housing markets will stabilise over time and more supply will be there.
Andrew Little: When is he going to stop dragging the chain and admit that Labour's plan to build 100,000 affordable homes for first-home buyers is the only way to restore the Kiwi Dream?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I suggest that the people who believe that Labour is going to build 100,000 homes go there on the light rail that they believe is going to be delivered to Mount Roskill in the next 3 years.
• Prime Minister—Statements
2. RON MARK (Deputy Leader—NZ First) to the Prime Minister: Does he stand by all his statements?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): Yes, particularly the one I made yesterday when I said that after New Zealand First's performance yesterday in the House I could not wait for Winston to come back.
Ron Mark: In light of his recent trip to India, does he stand by his statement in relation to fraudulent agents that he "won't be raising it" but "expects it to be discussed"; if so, why did he not raise the issue when he met with Prime Minister Narendra Modi?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Because that is not single biggest issue that I would discuss with Prime Minister Modi. That is because about 30,000 students each year come from India and the absolutely overwhelming bulk of them come into New Zealand legally and with the appropriate paperwork. The fact that there are a few unscrupulous agents in India is a matter, of course, to be dealt with and that is why we are putting extra resources in India while we will be putting more pressure on the institutions themselves to know their agents. But I really do not think it would be the No. 1 issue to talk to the leader of India about when we can talk about free trade and a variety of other issues.
Ron Mark: So can you tell the House again why you did not raise this issue given that 35,230 student visa applications have been processed in connection to education agents that have had an alert or a client warning placed on them by Immigration New Zealand's Mumbai area office since 2010?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I do not have all those details, and if he wants the specific details he really should go and put it down to the appropriate Minister, but I make the simple point that, yes, there are people who apply and whom the system correctly picks up and rejects. The vast, overwhelming bulk who come here are people who are lawful and entitled to be here and, hopefully, get a very good education, and some of them stay and some of them go home. But, in the end, the way for us to make sure that we protect the integrity of our system is that people follow the rules. If they do not follow the rules, then we have a way of dealing with that. I am pretty confident that, overall, the system works well.
Ron Mark: I seek the leave of the House to table a document entitled "Total number of education agents that have an alert or client warning since 2010". The date is 20 October; the source is an Official Information Request (OIA) response from Immigration New Zealand.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that particular OIA response. Is there any objection to it being tabled? There is none.
Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Ron Mark: Can he tell the House again why he did not raise the issue, considering that Immigration New Zealand has conducted 70 investigations into fraudulent activity regarding international students since 2010, resulting in 265 students being liable for deportation? Why did he not raise it, considering that?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: There was a discussion with the Indian Prime Minister about the benefits of export education and about the benefits that New Zealand institutions, which do a very good job, can bring to helping educate those young people. There was certainly feedback that those young people are enjoying their experience in New Zealand. I do not think it would be for me to go to the Prime Minister of India and say to him that he should go and sort out a couple of his agents. It would be nice if he did not have anything else to do all day, but given that he has got 1.27 billion people to look after, he is probably just a little bit busier than Mr Mark is.
Ron Mark: I seek the leave of the House to table a document entitled "Total number of investigations by Immigration New Zealand into international students since 2010". The date is 20 October; the source is an OIA response from Immigration New Zealand.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that particular OIA response. Is there any objection? There is none.
Document , by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Ron Mark: If more than 163 student applications have illegally entered New Zealand via fraud, and that is only in the 2015-16 financial year, then why did he not think it was an important enough issue to raise in those discussions with the Prime Minister of India?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Because in the discussions I had with the Indian Prime Minister, there were some big objectives we were trying to achieve, one of which is advancing a free-trade agreement with the country that is going to be the most populated by 2026. Yes, there are one or two agents in India that are not following the rules, and that is why the Government has beefed up its representation there. But the member last week was on TV bleating about the fact that I should not be going to India, and today he is in the House bleating on about the fact that I did not ask the questions he liked.
Ron Mark: I seek the leave of the House to table a document entitled "Total number of student visa applications that have entered New Zealand via fraud, 2015-16 financial year". The date is 20 October; the source is an OIA response from Immigration New Zealand.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that particular OIA response. Any objection? There is none.
Document , by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Ron Mark: If the New Delhi area office declines 60 percent of partner student applications after an investigation into "convenience-based marriages" by student visa applicants, why did he not think that that was an important enough issue to raise with the Indian Prime Minister?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: The fact that there are applications that are being declined—and I simply make the point that they are being declined by all countries, from what we can see, that are offering export education opportunities—actually shows you that for the most part the system is working.
Ron Mark: I seek the leave of the House to table a document entitled "Analysis report on the convenience-based partnerships at New Delhi area office". The date is 11 August 2016. The source is an Official Information Act (OIA) request from Immigration New Zealand.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that particular OIA response. Any objection? There is none. It can be tabled.
Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Ron Mark: If the Mumbai area office is circulating a weekly fraud update uncovering weekly cases of fraudulent activity through dispersal letters, bank documents, recycled bank documents, and imposters pretending to be someone else, among others, why did he not consider that this was an important enough issue to discuss with the Prime Minister of India?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Some people could make the case that the member is trying to pretend he is the leader of New Zealand First. Anyway, I digress for a moment. The main issue here, of course, is that, as I said earlier, no one is arguing that there are not some agents in India who are acting inappropriately, and we would be concerned if our office was not picking them up—but the vast overwhelming bulk are. We have increased the number of people in India to help deal with that, and we are dealing with the individual institutions. The vast overwhelming bulk of the 30,000 Indian students who come to New Zealand have arrived here with the appropriate paperwork, and professionally. The number who are looking at deportation is about as small as the New Zealand First caucus, from what I can see.
Ron Mark: I seek the leave of the House to table a document entitled "Weekly fraud updates at Mumbai area office from 28 March to 8 July 2016". The date of this document is 20 October 2016. The source is from an OIA request to Immigration New Zealand.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that particular document. Any objection? There is objection.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. It might be a better course of action for the member to table the entire OIA response, which, of course, is a document that proves to him that the New Zealand Government is on top of this particular problem, and it would save the House a lot of time.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] I do not need assistance from either member. That is not a point of order. It would certainly be more helpful than tabling documents after every supplementary question—which he is doing, in my mind, more to strengthen the political point he has made in his question, which is not the purpose of tabling a document. I have started putting the leave. If there are many more, it would be better, I think, if we hold it until the end and we put them all in one go, if I decide that they are relevant. But I do point out that the basic function of tabling a document is to provide further information to members. Everything that has been tabled so far by leave of the House has actually already been announced in the supplementary question that the member has given to the Prime Minister, so it is not adding any further information to members.
Ron Mark: Oh, it is.
Mr SPEAKER: I am on my feet, Mr Mark. It is not providing any further information. It may be reinforcing the information the member is making in his supplementary question, but that is not the point of tabling a document.
Ron Mark: Speaking to your point—
Mr SPEAKER: No, there is no need to speak to the point. I have made a decision. Does the member have a further supplementary—
Ron Mark: I seek leave to make a clarifying statement, because what you have just impugned is my reputation.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Leave is sought for the member to make a clarifying statement. Is there any objection? [Interruption] There is objection. [Interruption] Order! It was not a personal statement the member was seeking to make.
Ron Mark: Is it not a fact that, despite the Prime Minister's assurances, fraud is rife in the Indian student market and it is affecting the reputation of our export education market, and yet he is too weak to raise the issue to the Indian Prime Minister's attention and/or even attempt to address the problem that is contained in these documents here?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Far from it—125,000-odd students came to New Zealand last year, and about 30,000 came from India. The number of students that have been identified in New Zealand who could be deported because there could be irregularity with their documentation is a very tiny, tiny fraction of that. It is not even in the hundreds, let alone the sort of number the member seems to be claiming. The system is clearly working, because we are picking up the issues. Actually, overall, this is an industry worth well over $3.5 billion to New Zealand, and it works well. We know that the member represents the party that does not want to engage with the rest of the world, but he not should keep his head in the sand.
Denis O'Rourke: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Standing Order 386, "Content of replies". states: "(2) The reply to any question must be concise and confined to the subject-matter … and not contain … discreditable references to … any member of Parliament". This is not the first time the Prime Minister has made discreditable mentions of the New Zealand First caucus, which has got nothing to do with any of his questions.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Can I remind—[Interruption] No, I do not need assistance. Can I ask the member, when he returns to his office, to have a look at Standing Order 380. It also mentions that the supplementary questions are to be concise, without opinion or epithet. [Interruption] Order! When the last question was asked, it referred to, effectively, saying that the Prime Minister was too weak. If a member asks a question like that, he will get a robust response.
Ron Mark: Noting those answers, Prime Minister, can you not understand how most New Zealanders will see that your failure to raise these issues and the serious matters contained in your own department's documents leaves this Government to be seen to be treating Indian students as cash cows and letting them be seen as being exploited, with our global reputation on human rights being brought into disrepute? Because that is the situation we are in, Prime Minister, all because you failed to raise—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The general debate takes place after question time. I remind the member that supplementary questions must be concise.
Ron Mark: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I have to say that I find that difficult to understand when I look at the answers and the length of the answers that you have consistently allowed your National Party colleagues—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member will resume his seat. The answer clearly relates to the question. If the question is long and full of opinion, like that question, it inevitably leads to a longer answer, and then we get a complaint from Mr O'Rourke about the length of the answer. If the member could practise his supplementary questions so that they are more in line with the Standing Orders—
Ron Mark: You've been pandering to them all day.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! If the member wants to stay to enjoy the balance of question time, then he will not interject when I am on my feet.
Denis O'Rourke: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: Just before I call the member, I want to be absolutely clear. The member has raised a point of order. I have given a ruling both to Mr O'Rourke and to Mr Mark—and to the whole House. If the member intends to relitigate the answers that I have given, then I will deal with that very, very severely, and it may be that I ask the member to leave. I just want to make that clear. If the member is going to raise a fresh point of order, he is, of course, entitled to do so.
Denis O'Rourke: This has nothing to do with a previous point of order. The point of order I raise, Mr Speaker, is that you said in your answer that I raised a matter relating to the length of the answers by the Prime Minister. I did no such thing. My point of order was about the content—concerning references to the New Zealand First caucus. It had nothing to do with the length, and I would ask you to withdraw that comment.
Mr SPEAKER: I appreciate that the member may not have heard it, but I said to the member that when a supplementary question puts in political points like "The Prime Minister is too weak to raise an issue.", then it is likely that you will get a very robust response back, as indeed has happened today. Question No. 3—
Rt Hon John Key: I didn't answer the question.
Mr SPEAKER: The Prime Minister has pointed out that he has not had an opportunity to answer the question. I will ask the Prime Minister to answer the question.
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No.
3. DAVID BENNETT (National—Hamilton East) to the Minister of Finance: What reports has he received on the economy?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): Earlier today Statistics New Zealand released its latest data on employment and wages. Unemployment has fallen to 4.9 percent, its lowest level since the global financial crisis, supported by a 1.4 percent lift in employment and a 1.2 percent lift in hours worked in the September quarter. In the last year, 144,000 jobs have been added to the economy. The labour force participation rate has reached 70.1 percent, which is the highest level in the 30-year history of the household labour force survey, and New Zealand's employment rate—that is, the proportion of the population in employment—is now the second-highest in the OECD.
David Bennett: How are rising wages and low inflation putting more spending power in the pockets of New Zealand households?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Statistics New Zealand reports that average weekly wages increased 1.9 percent in the last year, led by wage increases for nurses, primary school teachers, and the police. Over the same period, inflation was just 0.2 percent, which means real increases in New Zealanders' wages. This confirms that the economy is generating higher incomes and more jobs for families and households.
David Bennett: How is broad-based economic growth helping to support regional growth?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: One aspect of the statistics that is particularly pleasing is the falling unemployment rate in many regions, particularly the West Coast, Manawatū, Whanganui, Northland, and the Waikato, with a number of regions having unemployment under 5 percent and some even under 4 percent—a testament to the excellent efforts of the Minister for Economic Development, the Hon Steven Joyce, as well as the resilience of our resource-based regional economies. There are some other aspects of the release that are positive. There are fewer unemployed women, down to 5.1 percent from 5.4 percent. The unemployment rate for Māori and Pasifika is still too high, but both have dropped by about 2 percent over the last year.
David Bennett: What reports has he received showing how elevated business optimism is supporting a strong investment outlook for New Zealand?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: No one gets a job unless a business decides to take the risk of hiring a person, and employment does not go up unless they take the risk of hiring an extra person over and above the staff that they already have. The ANZ Business Outlook survey reports a net 38 percent of businesses are optimistic about their own prospects for the year ahead, and 21 percent of them are expecting to hire new staff. Importantly, a net 19 percent intend to invest. These expectations for more investment and more jobs are above the long-term average. Residential and commercial building intentions are particularly strong.
Grant Robertson: Can the Minister confirm that today's release shows that there are 3,000 more actual people unemployed than there were at the start of the year?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: That may well be the case, but fortunately there are a lot more people in work, and for those who are not in work, there are two things going for them: one is that they are in one of the faster-growing economies in the developed world, so the opportunities are as good here as anywhere, and, secondly, for those who are not in work and are in the welfare system, the Government has in place a comprehensive process to support those people getting back into work.
• District Health Boards—Funding
4. Hon ANNETTE KING (Deputy Leader—Labour) to the Minister of Health: Does he agree with Professor Max Abbott who said, "Ten DHBs are in financial strife despite big moves to increase efficiency and extend services the best they can. I think it does suggest that more funding is required to health generally and also mental health"; if not, who is out of touch, Professor Abbot or him?
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN (Minister of Health): The only person who might be out of touch is any former Minister in a Government that ran up $160 million of deficits in 17 district health boards (DHBs) who now complains that a greatly reduced deficit of $60 million is out of control. As the member knows, health has remained the Government's No. 1 funding priority. That is why we have invested an extra $2.2 billion in health over the next 4 years for new initiatives and to meet cost pressures and population growth. This Government has also increased mental health and addiction services funding from $1.1 billion to over $1.4 billion.
Hon Annette King: If Professor Abbott is wrong and half our DHBs are not in financial strife, how does he account for the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Ophthalmologists' comments that all DHBs have a significant backlog of patients needing follow-up eye appointments, with as many as 7,000 in one DHB alone and—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I remind the member that questions need to be concise.
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: Obviously, in ophthalmology there are one or two DHBs that need to lift their game, but you have got to place that against the background of greatly increasing demands. So, in terms of injections for glaucoma, the demand for those injections, because we have got this new technology, has increased by three to five times. But the background is that in ophthalmology we are doing a 100 percent uplift in operations and appointments compared with a number of years ago. So it is actually pretty good.
Hon Annette King: Can he confirm that the college had asked him for more resources for public hospital eye clinics, for training specialist nurses, and for more ophthalmologists in March 2015; if so, what action has he taken to address the disgraceful situation of Kiwis losing their sight through poor ministerial oversight?
Mr SPEAKER: Either of those two supplementary questions.
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: I have not met a group of doctors in the whole time I have been involved with healthcare that has not wanted more resources. That is how it goes. But that letter I had from the ophthalmologists actually was focused more on them wanting more decision-making rights over prioritising patients. So there were a range of issues they were discussing. But, of course, people want more resources all the time, and the answer to that is there has actually been an extra $4.2 billion that has gone into the health sector over the last 8 years.
Hon Annette King: Did the Health and Disability Commissioner advise him that he had been made aware of the serious situation and unacceptable delays in eye treatment in the Southern District Health Board (Southern DHB) in mid-2015; if not, when did he become aware of the problem?
Mr SPEAKER: Again, either of those two supplementary questions.
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: I would have to check my notes.
Hon Annette King: Why did he require $10 million in efficiencies from Southern DHB in 2015-16 when it was running a $34 million deficit, was unable to treat serious eye conditions in a timely manner, and was struggling to keep up with orthopaedic surgery and doing fewer elective operations in 2015-16 than in 2008-09 under a Labour Budget?
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: Look, I think the case of Southern DHB has been well canvassed. As you know, we sacked the district health board last year—a $42 million deficit down to $35 million this year and it is improving with a sustainable plan.
Hon Annette King: Why is he refusing to front up and be interviewed on the disastrous neglect of eye treatment around New Zealand—something the college did tell him about in March 2015, 18 months ago?
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: Well, look, that is just completely incorrect. I have answered a number of questions from the media on that. I did a stand up outside in the lobby yesterday. So the member is actually misleading the House on that one.
Mr SPEAKER: Order!
Hon Annette King: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I take exception to that, and I could table, from Radio New Zealand, the refusal by that Minister to go on.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! Speaker's ruling 47/4 is quite clear that you cannot say that another member is making things up. So I require Jonathan Coleman to stand and withdraw the last part of his answer.
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: I withdraw and apologise.
• Greenhouse Gas Emissions—Reduction Targets
5. Dr KENNEDY GRAHAM (Green) to the Minister for Climate Change Issues: Will the Government's proposed approach to accounting for forestry and other land uses from 2021 reduce the quantity of greenhouse gas emissions New Zealand is liable for after 2021, when compared with the existing accounting approach; if so, by how much?
Hon PAULA BENNETT (Minister for Climate Change Issues): Although we have a proposed approach, the detail of how it would work, how we would transition to it, or even confirming whether we will stick with the proposed approach have not been decided yet. So it is not possible to answer the member's question as it is based on hypotheticals.
Dr Kennedy Graham: I seek leave to table New Zealand's proposed accounting approach outlined in a Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI) briefing dated 13 November 2015, received under the Official Information Act (OIA), to demonstrate that it is more than hypothetical.
Mr SPEAKER: I just need to check—is it freely available if members want it?
Dr Kennedy Graham: No, it was obtained under the OIA.
Mr SPEAKER: That does not actually answer my question. I will hear from the Hon Paula Bennett.
Hon PAULA BENNETT: It is actually available on the UN website. We put it there in November last year.
Mr SPEAKER: Then in that case, I will not be putting the leave. Further supplementary questions?
Dr Kennedy Graham: Does the Minister believe that her preferred approach for forestry accounting under the Paris Agreement—even if it is hypothetical in the sense that it has not been finalised—would have environmental integrity through a reduction in net emissions?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: It would depend on how we transition to it and what the rules and details are around it.
Dr Kennedy Graham: Does she accept, given the details in the MPI document, that the timing of this preferred accounting approach could mean that it appears that New Zealand's emissions would reduce despite no actual emission reductions taking place in the real world?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: I am told that the timing of them looking at it in 2020 is based purely on the Paris Agreement coming into force then and the new rules after Kyoto, not necessarily because it is line with when we might have a whole lot of trees being cut down.
Dr Kennedy Graham: As a general judgment on her part, does she accept that if Governments reduce emissions on paper but not in the real world, where climate change affects real people and ecosystems, the real world will be significantly worse off?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: It is my judgment—and, actually, I have said publicly a number of times—that I am very interested in how New Zealand does reduce its emissions. It is part of the work that is going on now that we have got, through a variety of task force advisory groups, even some of the work that the member is involved in internationally as well—which is part of what we want to do to actually reach that 2030 target, as well as looking at forestry and planting more trees, and, equally, looking at international markets. So do I want to reduce emissions in New Zealand? Absolutely.
Dr Kennedy Graham: Does the Minister accept that the proposed rule changes in the MPI document, if accepted, would unjustifiably write off nearly a year's worth of greenhouse gas emissions from the Government's books?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: It would completely and utterly depend on how we would transition to it. As the report says, averaging is a worthwhile discussion to be having, and we are concerned that we want to see more trees being planted as they are being chopped down. At the moment there are disincentives for that, so we are looking at what we can do, and averaging is one way to get over that. There are other consequences of doing it, which I freely admit, and that is part of the work that is going on at the moment. Decisions have not been made.
Dr Kennedy Graham: Would she be concerned about the possibility that other countries, including bigger emitters, would follow New Zealand's example and simply change the rules of the game so that they can avoid doing something about climate change themselves as well?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: I am certainly advised by the officials who are working internationally and who are looking at the Paris Agreement rules, now that we have got them in place, that a number of countries are looking at exactly what we are looking at, and it is what they need to do. So we are looking domestically, through phase 2 of the emissions trading scheme, and we are also looking at what the rules of engagement, if you like, will be now that the Paris Agreement has been signed and ratified.
Dr Kennedy Graham: If the Government were to succeed in getting these preferred rules accepted and then implemented the proposed accounting rules, would it make its 2030 climate change more ambitious in order to compensate?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: It would depend, as I have said, on what those rules end up being and on what the transition is, but certainly all of that will be made transparent and, I am sure, will be openly debated.
• Student Loans—Overseas-based Borrowers
6. SARAH DOWIE (National—Invercargill) to the Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment: What progress is being made on recovering student loan debt from overseas-based borrowers?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment): Good progress. As part of the ongoing overseas-based borrower compliance campaign, last week the first data match under the information-sharing agreement with the Australian Taxation Office was made, locating contact information for around 10,400 student loan borrowers living in Australia. With more than 90 percent of loans in default held by borrowers living overseas and a significant majority of those believed to be in Australia, this tool will be a huge boost to enable the Inland Revenue Department to get in touch with borrowers who have been hard to track down and those who are deliberately avoiding their obligations.
Sarah Dowie: What results is the compliance campaign delivering?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: The campaign has achieved good results over the last year, including a 32 percent increase in repayments from defaulting borrowers and an additional $100 million being collected in the year, with collection overall through the campaign passing $300 million since it began. I expect that this initial information-sharing agreement will see a further improvement in that figure over the next year. What is more pleasing is that the Inland Revenue Department is reporting a turn-around in attitudes amongst overseas-based borrowers who have previously been reluctant to engage with the department. It seems to now be getting through that if you leave the country for a few years, you cannot leave your student loan behind and hope it goes away.
Sarah Dowie: Why is the Government encouraging overseas-based borrowers to meet their obligations?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Overseas-based borrowers are just 15.2 percent of student loan borrowers, but they represent more than 91 percent of the total amount of debt in default. So if those who stay in New Zealand can pay, it is important that those overseas also meet their obligation to taxpayers, who have supported their study, and allow the same level of support to be available for the next generation of students. It is important for borrowers to know that being overseas does not mean the loan goes away, and they are encouraged to get in touch and get on top of their loans. To assist with this, we have made it easier for borrowers to contact the Inland Revenue Department and easier for them to make payments from overseas.
• Anti-Money Laundering Legislation—Compliance Costs
7. GRANT ROBERTSON (Labour—Wellington Central) to the Minister of Justice: On what date was the decision taken to delay the introduction of legislation to implement Phase Two of the Anti-Money Laundering legislation, and what are the specific "compliance costs" that "average mums and dads" will face as a result of the implementation of that legislation?
Hon AMY ADAMS (Minister of Justice): There has been no formal decision to delay the introduction of the bill. A decision was made on 25 October to put out an exposure draft, which means that the introduction is now likely to occur next year. As I told the member yesterday, this has not delayed our target date for the legislation to be enacted, which is by far the more relevant date. In answer to the second part of the member's question, the compliance costs involved in net present value terms have been assessed as being up to $1.6 billion over 10 years.
Grant Robertson: Can she confirm the official advice that she has received, that of the $1.6 billion of criminal funds being laundered in New Zealand 56 percent involves the purchase of real estate, and 26 percent involves the work of accountants and lawyers, the three groups that are the focus of phase two of the reforms?
Hon AMY ADAMS: With the information in front of me in the House, no I cannot. But that could well be right. We certainly know that lawyers, accountants, and real estate agents are the sectors identified by the Financial Action Task Force on Money Laundering and our own financial intelligence unit as being sectors to be covered, which is why we have committed to them being covered in phase two of the reforms.
Grant Robertson: I seek leave of the House to table a Ministry of Justice briefing note from July 2015 entitled "Phase 2 of the Anti-money Laundering and Countering the Financing of Terrorism Reforms", which has those figures I had in my question.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that particular document. Is there any objection? There is none.
Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Grant Robertson: Why did she reject the advice of officials in June 2015 to immediately begin policy work on implementing phase two of the reforms?
Hon AMY ADAMS: Actually, in July 2015 I announced that we were starting the initial scoping work of the reforms, and the advice of officials actually had us on a time frame of the legislation being enacted in late 2018. We are now committed to having it in place significantly before that.
Grant Robertson: Why, 3 years after phase one was brought into force, 2 years after the Government was warned by President Xi of corrupt money from China entering New Zealand, and a year after officials asked her to begin work immediately is she still standing by, allowing billions of dollars of corrupt money to come into New Zealand?
Hon AMY ADAMS: Far from standing by, this Government is getting on with ensuring the regime is in place as fast as possible, and, actually, faster than officials recommended. But I reiterate that $1.6 billion of compliance costs over 10 years is significant, and the fact that this Government cares about things like compliance costs and their impact on business is why we are the No. 1 country in the world for ease of doing business, and a big part of the reason unemployment has now dropped to 4.9 percent.
Grant Robertson: Is not the real threat to mums and dads that hundreds of millions of dollars of criminal funds are being laundered in New Zealand through the real estate market, which is leading to massive house price increases and locking first-home buyers out of the housing market?
Hon AMY ADAMS: The member is blithely ignoring the fact that we already have the entire financial sector, which almost all real estate agents' transactions go through, covered, and I think that if you asked ordinary New Zealanders whether they were worried about $1.6 billion of compliance costs landing on them, they would be very concerned and they would want the Government to proceed carefully.
• Primary-care Services—Funding
8. Dr SHANE RETI (National—Whangarei) to the Minister of Health: Can he confirm that primary-care funding has gone up from $667.2 million in 2008-09 to an estimated $892.7 million in 2016-17, an increase of about 34 percent, and what improvements to primary-care service does this increase deliver?
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN (Minister of Health): Over the last 8 years under this Government primary-care funding has increased by around $230 million, including an extra $25 million in this year's Budget. We have also brought in free visits for children under the age of 13, with over 780,000 children benefiting from free doctors visits and prescriptions. The numbers of prescriptions dispensed has increased by 23.9 percent, showing that the removal of costs has improved access to medicines. And, of course, fewer children under the age of 13 are presenting to emergency departments, which shows that these investments are all paying off.
Dr Shane Reti: What specific services is the Government delivering to address serious but preventable diseases such as rheumatic fever?
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: Reducing rheumatic fever rates is one of our Better Public Services targets, and recent figures show a 37 percent decrease in new cases. Although we are tracking in the right direction, it is an ambitious target, and we need to continue to do more. This week my colleague Anne Tolley and I announced an awareness campaign to recruit and train around a hundred young people, mainly Māori and Pasifika aged between 11 and 19, to talk about how we prevent rheumatic fever. The youth campaign is part of the $65 million the Government has invested in the fight against rheumatic fever.
• Community Groups—Client Details, Funding
9. JAN LOGIE (Green) to the Associate Minister for Social Development: Is she confident that requiring community groups to hand over individual client details as a condition of funding will result in better outcomes for people who access those services?
Hon JO GOODHEW (Associate Minister for Social Development): Yes, I am confident that the collection of client-level data will result in better outcomes for those accessing the services funded through the Ministry of Social Development (MSD).
Jan Logie: Does she think that an MSD employee, say, struggling to pay the bills and feed the kids, will be more or less likely to get budgeting help if their details are shared with Government?
Hon JO GOODHEW: I think the member's fears are unfounded, because what I can say is that there are robust procedures for the gathering of personal information. The Ministry of Social Development has been working closely with the Privacy Commissioner and the Government Chief Privacy Officer to ensure that clients' privacy rights are protected. It does the member no service, nor the people accessing these services, to create unfounded fears.
Jan Logie: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I was not talking about my fears—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! I was distracted at the time the member asked the question, so I did not hear it clearly. I invite her to ask it again.
Jan Logie: Does she think that an MSD employee, say, struggling to pay the bills and put food on the table, will be more or less likely to go to get budgeting help if their details are shared with Government?
Hon JO GOODHEW: I think that that MSD employee should not have any fears that their private information will be shared for any other purpose than to provide an excellent service to them for their needs at the time.
Jan Logie: Does she think a media personality or rugby player beating up his partner will be more or less likely to voluntarily get help if his information is shared with Government?
Hon JO GOODHEW: The whole premise behind MSD requiring the providers of services to collect client-level data is to make sure that New Zealand's most vulnerable people get the services that they need, and that those services deliver to them an efficient and effective outcome. I believe this member is simply scaremongering.
Jan Logie: Does the Minister not understand that the trust and confidentiality at the heart of social work, budgeting, and counselling will be undermined by requiring community organisations to hand over individuals' data to Government?
Hon JO GOODHEW: I absolutely reject that. In fact, we have had tragedies in New Zealand where children or adults have been harmed or have died and, in retrospect, people have said that they fell through the cracks. Often, that has simply been because client-level data was not shared.
• Better Public Services—Announcements
10. TODD MULLER (National—Bay of Plenty) to the Minister for Social Development: What recent announcements has she made on the Government's progress on Better Public Service Result one?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY (Minister for Social Development): As part of the Government's regular Better Public Services update, I announced that the number of working-age people on a main benefit fell below 280,000 at the end of March 2016 for the first time since 2008, and the future cost of the benefit system has fallen by $3.6 billion in the last year. Since we refreshed the target, the number of people on a benefit has fallen by around 15,000, and if we look back to 2011, this number has fallen by around 51,000. I also note today's announcement that unemployment has fallen below 5 percent. This Government is committed to helping people off welfare and into work so that they and their families can succeed.
Todd Muller: What announcements from Budget 2016 will contribute to continuing this downward trend?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY: Budget 2016 included $111.5 million over the next 4 years to support more people into sustainable employment. This includes funding for intensive work-focused case management for 120,000 clients; the extension of the Youth Service, which helps young people at risk of long-term benefit dependence; and allows us to trial some different ways of working with target groups, including working with district health boards and Corrections. We are absolutely committed to investing in the things that work, and trying new initiatives to support more people into long-term, sustainable employment.
• Light Rail, Auckland—Support
11. PHIL TWYFORD (Labour—Te Atatū) to the Minister of Transport: Does he support light rail from the Auckland city centre along Dominion Road to reduce congestion and improve urban amenity along the route?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES (Minister of Transport): I support transport solutions that are delivered at the right time, provide the best value for money, and are based on evidence. The recent Auckland—
Hon Annette King: What about the bridges? Are they on time?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: —well, just wait—Transport Alignment Project that the Government and Auckland jointly undertook shows that some form of rapid transit, whether it is bus or light rail, will be required on the Auckland isthmus between 2028 and 2038. Officials are currently looking into the best options. It is important that officials do this work before politicians leap in, because, as we have seen with Labour and internationally recently, light-rail projects are highly susceptible to multibillion-dollar cost blowouts.
Phil Twyford: Has an actual business case been done on the Prime Minister's suggestion that fast buses be used instead of light rail, or is this just another example of the Government's stream of consciousness approach to dealing with chronic congestion in Auckland, which is costing the city billions of dollars in lost productivity?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: No, that is the point here: no business case has been done on anything, and that is why it was so stupid to make a $700 million promise that overnight became $1,400 million, and may well be $2 billion before they are finished. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I do not need the assistance from members to my far right. [Interruption] Order! David Bennett. Order! Mr Bennett might think it is a joke; I am quite serious. Members have a right to ask a question, and if the members are delayed from asking that question and not given the opportunity to hold the Government to account, that is a serious matter. If I need to ask somebody from that quarter to be leaving the House to get some control, I will not hesitate to do so.
Phil Twyford: Does he agree with the Auckland central access plan that investing in more buses would cost $9.5 billion and generate safety concerns, while light rail would cost less than half that and improve safety and travel time reliability; or does he support Parmjeet Parmar's plan to fix congestion by building more bus stops?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: Those figures sound highly inflated. I think the point of all of this is for us to have officials and experts actually go away and analyse the options before we make promises that go from hundreds of million to billions, without any sense of what the true costs and the benefits of it all are.
Phil Twyford: Will he confirm that in the negotiations on the Auckland Transport Alignment Project, the council wanted light rail in the first decade, but he and Bill English insisted on pushing it back so it would not happen until after 2028?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: What I confirm is that unlike the way the Labour Party may have acted when it was in office, there was no political interference. This was a process that was about officials and experts working through this rationally and on the basis of evidence, and they came out with 2028 to 2038. On this side of the House we work through the evidence before we make promises.
Marama Fox: Will the Minister look into a study to rejoin the Wairoa to Gisborne rail link, providing vital infrastructure to the region?
Mr SPEAKER: It is a fair way from the original question, but I will give the Minister a chance.
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: Oh—let us see what happens.
Phil Twyford: Why does his Government keep playing politics with Auckland transport when, according to the Ministry of Transport, delays in the average morning commute have gone up by 25 percent since 2012?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: Here is what I call playing politics: making a $700 million promise that overnight becomes $1,400 million, without any evidence, without any benefit-cost ratio—basically, on the back of the envelope stuff. That is what I call playing pork-barrel politics.
Phil Twyford: Can he confirm that National is taking its typical five-step approach to Auckland transport: one, trash the project; two, let several years go by; three, blame others for the problem; four, let more years go by; five, belatedly admit that Labour's policy was right all along.
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: What I can confirm is that the Government and Auckland have the best relationship in regard to transport that they have had in a very long time. That is because we have joined together, we have done the analysis, and we are investing billions of dollars. We have an indicative plan to spend a further $24 billion over the next decade in an integrated way—roading, public transport of a variety of forms. We are a strong Government in infrastructure that is making a real difference when it comes to transportation in Auckland.
• Customs Drug Detection Equipment—Investment
12. MARK MITCHELL (National—Rodney) to the Minister of Customs: What announcements has she made regarding the Government's investment into front-line drug detection equipment for Customs?
Hon NICKY WAGNER (Minister of Customs): Last week I announced the roll-out of 14 FirstDefenders. This is a mobile drug-detection device, which uses a laser to analyse the substance, often without needing to open the packaging. The device was purchased with over a million dollars from funding from the Criminal Proceeds (Recovery) Act, so Customs' hard work in seizing drugs and catching criminals has paid off. We are using assets taken from the criminals to purchase tools that will help seize more drugs and catch more criminals.
Mark Mitchell: How will these devices enhance Customs' capabilities to protect the border?
Hon NICKY WAGNER: The FirstDefenders will be vital equipment for our front-line officers, making drug detection quicker, safer, and more efficient. They are portable, they are easy to use, and the samples are matched against the database of 11,000 illegal substances to prove an accurate match within seconds, without having to go to the lab. Customs will share this latest capability with partner agencies to help broader drug-enforcement work.
Mark Mitchell: What reports has she received on Customs' recent meth interceptions at the border?
Hon NICKY WAGNER: Customs' largest ever meth seizure was announced last week. It was $176 million of meth seized from shipping containers in July, after a 16-month investigation. It was international collaboration, the use of intelligence, and new technology, which results in better risk assessments and increased operational efficiency and successful drug detection.