[Sitting date: 13 June 2012. Volume:680;Page:2894. Text is incorporated into the Bound Volume.]
Hon DAVID PARKER (Labour) to the
Minister of Finance: Will total superannuation spending be higher than total education spending in the month of June 2016 using the same assumptions as in his latest Budget projections?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance)
: I presume the member means some kind of monthly comparison, but the Government does not have monthly forecasts for superannuation and education spending. For the year to June 2016 total core Crown expenses for education are at $12.42 billion and are forecast to be slightly higher than total superannuation spending at $12.37 billion. Superannuation costs are rising by about $700 million a year. Half of the increase has come from the increase in the payment rate, and the other half comes from increases in the ageing population.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. This was a question that was down on notice, which asked for a specific understanding using the projections. It did not ask what was held in the Minister’s office. It was asking him to give a reply to a very specific question. I would like you to rule that the Minister should have got the advice that would have led him to be able to answer the question.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER: With regard to the member’s point of order, Speakers’ rulings are quite specific, and I refer the member to Speaker’s ruling 167/5, which says that “A member cannot demand a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer”. It is not specifically the same, but it does require a very specific answer. The Minister, who did respond on this occasion, gave some reasoning around why he was not able to provide that answer. The member has more supplementary questions with which he can pursue that.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I would like also to refer you to the recent rulings of Mr Speaker Smith where he has said that where there is a primary question, there is an expectation that Ministers get the material required in order to answer that question.
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The member may recall that I answered the question by saying that the Government does not have monthly forecasts. So if we do not have the forecasts, then it does not matter how much notice is given; it is not possible to go and get them.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER: The question was specific, but it asked for something 48 months out from here. The Minister has answered that he does not have monthly reports. I think we will accept that that is a response to the question.
Hon David Parker: Why did the Minister say at the Finance and Expenditure Committee this morning that to change the age of eligibility from 2020 onwards would not make any difference, when it would make superannuation more sustainable, would improve the Government’s fiscal track, and would give New Zealanders proper notice of a change that Treasury, the IMF, the OECD, and the Labour Party all say is necessary?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: That is not what I said at the select committee. I did say that it will not make any difference between now and then. The member seems to advance his idea of increasing the age of eligibility as a way of paying for extravagant promises over the next few years, and that simply cannot be true. Or is he suggesting that he is going to cut national superannuation before 2020?
Hon David Parker: Does he agree with the Retirement Commission’s 2010 review that says that “decisions will need to be announced and legislated well in advance.” and that, without this, “more severe changes might need to be taken later, putting the long-term future of NZS itself at risk.”?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: No, I do not agree with everything the Retirement Commissioner says. In this case, the Government has made its position quite clear.
Hon David Parker: If the Government is not looking at increasing the age of eligibility for superannuation, what does he prefer to do instead: increase future taxes, increase future borrowing, cut the level of superannuation and tax people more if they have saved more, or, perhaps, all of the above?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Well, we are going to do a couple of things that that member’s party refuses to do. One is deal with the large costs of long-term welfare dependency, and they are enormous costs. The second thing we are going to do is grow the economy, because unless the cake is bigger, it will not matter how you slice it; people in retirement will get less than they should.
Hon David Parker: Given that within 4 years the cost of superannuation is getting close to 20 times the cost of the unemployment benefit, can he not see that this is yet another important issue on which his Government is out of touch, with no plan to remedy it?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: No, I do not agree with that, but I am intrigued by the member’s continued references to changes in national superannuation in the near-term, before the age of eligibility change he is recommending for 2023. If the member is worried about the rise in costs in the next 4 years, what action is he proposing to take about that? Let us know.
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: Could I ask the Minister as to whether or not it is a fact that the National Government is only grudgingly holding on to its present position in respect of superannuation, given its past record on this matter, because otherwise it knows it will be toast at the next election?
Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Reaching for the Standing Orders, that question is completely out of order—for both the answer and the question.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER: I do not see the ministerial responsibility for what the member asked. Are there any other supplementary questions?
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. What was the problem with that question?
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER: I have ruled that I could not—[Interruption] I am now responding. The member should sit down. The member has asked me to respond. I am happy to respond. The member should sit down. I did not see the ministerial responsibility, and therefore it is out of order.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. He was answering questions on superannuation. I asked him a question on superannuation. How did you make that distinction?
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER: Whether or not any political party ends up as toast surely is not a matter of ministerial responsibility.