Questions to Ministers
Climate Change—Green New Deal
1. Dr RUSSEL NORMAN (Co-Leader—Green) to the
Prime Minister: Does he agree with the United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, that: “By tackling climate change head-on we can solve many of our current troubles, including the threat of global recession”; if so, how will he respond to the Secretary-General’s call for a Green New Deal?
Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister)
: Yes, I do agree with Ban Ki-moon that the world must tackle climate change, and that New Zealand must play its part, but I am of the view that in terms of tackling the global recession, and given the size and severity of that recession, it will take much more than just good climate change policy.
Dr Russel Norman: Why did he tell
Investigate magazine that maybe the climate sceptics are right, and does he accept the scientific evidence of human-induced climate change—yes or no?
Hon JOHN KEY: Yes, I do agree that human-induced climate change is real, and I simply pointed out—if the member wants to go and read the whole quote—that it is quite important that countries have flexibility in their climate change legislation. The reason is that one needs to be adaptable as the science firms up, and be able to tackle the new issues as they come along.
Charles Chauvel: Is the Prime Minister concerned that in appearing to continue to call into question international science on climate change, as he does in this month’s
magazine, he will cause reputable groups other than Greenpeace to follow Greenpeace’s example yesterday and withdraw from participation in the emissions trading scheme select committee process?
Hon JOHN KEY: Firstly, if Greenpeace does not want to come along and give a submission to the special select committee on climate change, I say that is its loss. Secondly, I would assume that someone who is very interested in climate change can also read and would go on and read the full quote, which stated: “But at this stage I think it would be irresponsible of us not to play our part when it comes to climate change,”.
Dr Russel Norman: Does he agree with the Australian Treasury’s conclusion that taking a “wait and see” approach to climate change, which does not seem too far from what the Prime Minister is proposing, will make our economy suffer in the long term as global investment flows go elsewhere. In other words: “If we snooze we’re gonna lose.”?
Hon JOHN KEY: We are not taking a “wait and see” approach. We are putting together a select committee and charging it with the responsibility of coming up with
the right response to climate change, and making sure there is balance between our environmental responsibilities and our economic opportunities. But if any party wants to take responsibility for snoozing and losing, it would be the Labour Party, which, for 8 years, talked a big gain when it came to climate change and actually delivered zippo. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: The member has a right to ask a question.
Dr Russel Norman: Is the Prime Minister confident that the commitment he expressed just now to addressing both the climate crisis and the economic crisis is shared across his Government, in light of his Minister of Finance’s statement to the Finance and Expenditure Committee last week that “I think one crisis at a time might just do most Governments.”?
Hon JOHN KEY: One would expect the Minister of Finance to be primarily focused on the global recession, because it is a very significant issue. That is what he is doing, and what a fine job he is doing of placing New Zealand in the best position that is possible. From the Government’s point of view, the member can rest assured that it is taking a serious view when it comes to climate change, but it will have a balanced response.
Dr Russel Norman: Has the Prime Minister had a conversation with the Minister of Tourism about the Government’s own research that shows New Zealand’s clean and green reputation is worth more than $1 billion per year in export earnings; if so, will he make the kind of Green New Deal investments needed to protect that clean and green reputation, such as riparian planting, and fencing off streams and rivers?
Hon JOHN KEY: I can assure the member that the Prime Minister often has conversations with the Minister of Tourism. He finds him to be all ears and quite enthusiastic in his ideas. What I can say is that anyone who is engaged in tourism will understand the importance of the environment when it comes to New Zealand and promoting it. I think all New Zealanders do, and they take pride that we are an environmentally friendly country that wants to preserve our environment. That is one of the reasons the Minister of Tourism is very keen on a cycleway from Kaitāia to Bluff.
Dr Russel Norman: What are the—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: The member’s question must be heard.
Dr Russel Norman: What are the Government’s contingencies in the event that New Zealand’s $1 billion clean and green reputation collapses under the pressure of the previous years of inaction, which the Prime Minister has referred to, and what would be our perception of the lack of action at the moment, with the result being that our exports suffer? What is the Government’s contingency to deal with that risk to the New Zealand economy?
Hon JOHN KEY: The contingency is that the Government is going to work aggressively on producing a balanced response to environmental responsibilities and our economic issues. The member also needs to recognise that probably the biggest single risk to countries taking climate change policies seriously is the global recession. The leaders I have talked to, I can assure the member, are so focused on the recession that they are not particularly focused on climate change at the moment.
John Boscawen: Does the Prime Minister agree that the first priority is to review the cost and benefits to New Zealand of any policy action on climate change, and what is the Government’s timetable for completing such work?
Hon JOHN KEY: I can confirm that that was part of the confidence and supply agreement with the ACT Party, and that that will be occurring. I am not sure about the time frame needed to complete that work, but work will be done to ensure that we have a sense of the issue.
Dr Russel Norman: Does the Prime Minister agree that the Australian Treasury report, which is probably one of the most extensive studies that has been done so far, showed that the major cost to our economy will be if we do not take action quickly and hard—if we do not act hard and fast on climate change, then we will suffer economic costs and consequences as a result—and that the major risk to us will be if we do not take action quickly enough?
Hon JOHN KEY: It is my view that we have to take action, but we also have to take the right action. If the member’s inference, by using the term “hard”, is that we should simply tackle the issue of climate change with no reflection on the impact on our economy, I think that is unacceptable. I do not think the New Zealand public would support a position where our only focus was one of solving the problem of greenhouse gas emissions, and to hell with their jobs.
Hon PHIL GOFF (Leader of the Opposition) to the
Prime Minister: When will New Zealanders see any concrete results in terms of jobs saved or created as a result of last Friday’s Job Summit?
Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister)
: New Zealanders have already seen concrete action. They would have noticed last week that the ASB Bank announced a $1 billion job creation fund. Last week at the Job Summit, Stephen Tindall and the University of Auckland both generously agreed to offer $1 million for schemes to help keep workers in place. I think that the Leader of the Opposition might want to be parading tough in Parliament this afternoon, but when he was on the radio just the other day he was saying that he thought the Job Summit was a very good idea.
Hon Phil Goff: Is one of the big ideas to emerge from the summit—that of the 9-day working fortnight—in effect a 10 percent cut in wages for the workers concerned; or is it the Prime Minister’s intention that employers and the Government will provide some offset in terms of income assistance, so that the full burden does not simply fall on the worker?
Hon JOHN KEY: I can confirm that one of the ideas coming out of the summit was the 9-day fortnight. I can also confirm that at 12.30 tomorrow afternoon Rob Fyfe, Helen Kelly, and representatives of the New Zealand Council of Trade Unions, Business New Zealand, and the Industry Training Federation will be coming in to have discussions with Ministers about the workability of a 9-day fortnight. I can also confirm that even if workers are to take a reduction in their pay, we have always made the case that it might be a lot better for workers to hold hands and for all of them to keep their jobs, even if on a slightly reduced pay, than for some of them to lose their jobs.
Hon Phil Goff: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The question, as you will be aware, was very straightforward: is this big idea actually just a 10 percent cut in wages for workers, or will the Prime Minister offset that? That is a very straightforward question. Neither of those points was addressed in his answer.
Mr SPEAKER: I think that if the member were to think back to his question, he would remember he had an earlier part to his question that was answered. He cannot insist on the Prime Minister answering more than one part of the question. The member has the opportunity to ask more supplementary questions; I invite him to do so.
Hon Phil Goff: How did the Prime Minister reach the calculation that to build a cycleway would create 4,000 jobs at a cost of $50 million, when simple mathematics suggests that that represents $6,250 per job and takes no account of overheads or materials?
Hon JOHN KEY: That was the advice I received from people who had had a quick look at it. But the Leader of the Opposition will be aware that we now have officials
working on the cost and jobs of that particular idea. I think that it is an idea with quite some merit.
Rahui Katene: What actions will be taken to implement recommendation 7 from the Job Summit—namely, to ensure that Government services to Māori deliver effective results?
Hon JOHN KEY: Ministers will be working closely with our ministerial colleagues in the Māori Party to ensure that Government services are delivering for Māori, and we will be doing so because we acknowledge and recognise that Māori are at risk of being the group that is most heavily affected by the recession. If we look at the shape and structure of the Māori economy, we see that about 60 percent of that economy is outward-facing because of its exposure to forestry, fisheries, and agriculture. We also acknowledge that Māori workers are disproportionately represented in low-paid and unskilled jobs. Therefore, it is very important that the Government gets its responses correct.
Hon Phil Goff: Was the Prime Minister’s answer to the first supplementary question that the 9-day working fortnight was, in fact, a 10 percent reduction in wages, without any offsetting assistance by way of income support from the Government or employers? Was his answer to the second supplementary question that yes, the mathematics was absolutely wrong and this was a half-baked idea that he had not thought through?
Mr SPEAKER: The Hon Prime Minister may choose to answer one of those questions.
Hon JOHN KEY: My answer to the question was the answer I gave—
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I would like you to contemplate what you just said. It is not your role to—
Mr SPEAKER: The member will resume his seat. Experienced members like the Leader of the Opposition know they are entitled to ask only a single supplementary question. The honourable Leader of the Opposition asked two distinct questions. I could have pulled him up for doing that; instead, I tried to make my point by inviting the Prime Minister to answer one of the two distinct questions.
Hon Dr Michael Cullen: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I think you will find that if you look at a large number of rulings and a vast amount of practice—not the least of which are under the previous Government and the previous Opposition—many multiple questions were asked. There is nothing to prevent a member asking multiple questions. A Minister is required to answer only one of those questions. A Minister is not required to answer more than one of those questions, but may answer more than one if he or she chooses to do so.
Mr SPEAKER: I appreciate the honourable member’s point, but the point does not make my ruling wrong. The Prime Minister could well indicate that he wants to answer both questions, and the Speaker could allow him to do that. The point I was making is that he is required to answer only one of those two questions. They were two such distinct questions, and that I think is something we need to avoid when asking supplementary questions.
Hon Dr Michael Cullen: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I hesitate to rise again, but I think there is something of a danger creeping in here. Your ruling is quite correct, but I think the issue is whether there is a necessity for you to keep saying it on each occasion, rather than assuming that Ministers will know that those provisions are in the Standing Orders. I am sure they do know that, because they have been well briefed on that particular Standing Order. To use the rugby analogy, if the whistle was not blown more frequently than was perhaps necessary, one could allow the advantage to flow.
Mr SPEAKER: Points of order will be heard in silence.
Hon Rodney Hide: I think the issue with the question is this: Dr Cullen knows that it is quite in order to ask a question with two limbs, but they have to be limbs on the same tree. What we had with the Leader of the Opposition’s question was two different trees. I do not think that is acceptable, because that is asking two questions, not one question with two limbs.
Mr SPEAKER: I will hear the issue, because it is in the interests of the good order of the House that there is some understanding of how this is to be handled.
Hon Dr Michael Cullen: I think Mr Hide’s point was in some danger of being a legless contribution to the point in front of us. The member’s supplementary question clearly and directly arose out of previous answers by the Prime Minister. It is actually impossible to distinguish between supposed limbs and supposed trees. In any case, there were obviously two parts to the question—the point that you quite properly raised, Mr Speaker. The point I am raising is that Ministers can be left to their own devices to answer one or more questions as they choose. It is only if a member on this side of the House or some other member raises a point of order to say that the Minister addressed only one of those questions that you would quite rightly rule that the Minister had to address only one of the questions.
Mr SPEAKER: I thank the honourable member. OK, I will hear the Hon Peter Dunne.
Hon Peter Dunne: I just want to pick up on Dr Cullen’s point, because I think he goes to the nub of the issue. Mr Speaker, I draw your attention to Speaker’s ruling 159/6 and Speakers’ ruling 159/7. Speakers’ ruling 159/6 makes it clear that the opportunity to ask about two presumably unrelated matters in a supplementary question is not permitted, and Speakers’ ruling 159/7 makes it clear that if members ask multiple questions they run the risk of Ministers answering the parts that they regard as less important. I think that there is some merit in this. In this instance, the Leader of the Opposition clearly asked two unrelated questions, but equally the Minister could have simply made the choice as to which part he wished to answer. I am not sure that we need to keep drawing attention to the number of legs and the number of parts. I think members know full well what the rules are. I think that Dr Cullen’s point actually had some merit.
Mr SPEAKER: I thank honourable members. Members will be aware that I have been trying to assist the Opposition in holding the executive to account by requiring Ministers to answer questions. In that endeavour it is obviously helpful if questions are more simple, because then it is more possible to discern whether they have been answered. Of course, just as we do not want questions to be too long, we also do not want answers to be too long. It would be in the interests of the good order of the House if we could move more towards asking a single supplementary question. On this particular occasion, as the Hon Peter Dunne has pointed out, Speaker’s ruling 159/6 does make it clear that two separate matters cannot be asked in a single supplementary question. It was my view that the honourable Leader of the Opposition did ask about two separate matters in that supplementary question.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. If that was your view, then your ruling should have ruled out one or other of the questions—you made that clear—rather than coaching the Government as to how to answer it.
Mr SPEAKER: The honourable member has been in the House a long time and I think it is unreasonable, where two unrelated questions are asked, to expect the Speaker to choose which one should be answered. I think a bit of common sense is needed here.
Hon JOHN KEY: My answer to the earlier question was the answer I gave when I gave it. It is not for me to interpret it; it is for the Leader of the Opposition to do so.
Hon Phil Goff: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The initial questions were both quite specific. They were simple, as you have suggested. In both cases I put it to you, Mr Speaker, that an attempt was not made to address the question. Mr Speaker, you then invited me to put the question again. I did precisely that, and you heard the answer. The answer made no effort at all to answer the substantive points in the question.
Mr SPEAKER: I will invite the Leader of the Opposition to repeat the question, and ask one question.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: I have just ruled. I trust this is a new point of order.
Hon Trevor Mallard: It is absolutely a new issue. During that point of order, while the Leader of the Opposition was speaking, the Prime Minister interjected. You did nothing. Could you do something, please.
Mr SPEAKER: The honourable Leader of the Opposition will ask a single question.
Hon Phil Goff: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. This does not come off our quota of supplementary questions?
Mr SPEAKER: No, it is repeating the question.
Hon Phil Goff: If a 9-day working fortnight is adopted, will the entire burden of that fall on the worker losing 10 percent of his or her wages, or will supplementary assistance be given by the Government or by employers to offset that income loss?
Hon JOHN KEY: It is too early to tell that.
Hon Phil Goff: What is the current status of the New Zealand Skills Strategy developed by Business New Zealand, the Council of Trade Unions, and the Industry Training Federation, and how does he intend to progress that strategy in order to assist skills training?
Hon JOHN KEY: My understanding is that the strategy is still in operation.
Hon Phil Goff: In operation? It hasn’t started yet.
Hon JOHN KEY: It is a strategy, like a lot of strategies.
Hon Phil Goff: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Is it your advice to the House that if a person does not know the answer to a question, he or she is simply to say—
Mr SPEAKER: The Prime Minister was still answering the question. I gave the honourable member the chance to repeat a question a moment ago, and I asked him to be reasonable and fair in terms of the balance in this House.
Hon Darren Hughes: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. While you were on your feet giving a ruling, the Minister for Social Development and Employment repeatedly interjected on you. This is a matter that the Opposition has raised with you, and it is the second time a Government member has done it. I want to be given an understanding of what the rules will be this afternoon.
Mr SPEAKER: I must confess to having been very focused on the point of order raised by the honourable Leader of the Opposition, and therefore I did not hear anything going on in the background. Having not heard the interjection I say I cannot rule on it, but I ask members to not interject during points of order. The honourable Prime Minister was answering the question.
Hon JOHN KEY: In relation to the basic point about training anyway, I just make one point. It is that as Business New Zealand pointed out in its press release today—because training was such a big part of the summit—there was a remarkable degree of consensus between business, unions, and the Government on those ideas. We are now bringing them to fruition.
Hon Phil Goff: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Once again, the question, as you have suggested, was very specific. It was “What is the current status of the New Zealand Skills Strategy … ?”. Either the Prime Minister can address that or, if he does not know what it is, he should simply acknowledge that and—
Mr SPEAKER: The Prime Minister did answer about skills training, and I invite the Leader of the Opposition to ask a further supplementary question if he wishes to.
Hon Phil Goff: What is the current status of the New Zealand Skills Strategy?
Hon JOHN KEY: All I can say is that in terms of a skills strategy, we are working on one of those—
Hon Phil Goff: Not “a”—the skills strategy.
Hon JOHN KEY: You see, this is the difference. It is quite interesting, is it not? This is the difference between the National Government and the now Labour Opposition. Labour knows all about strategies, because for 9 years it devised strategies; it just did not have any action.
Hon Phil Goff: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. It may be appropriate that a straight and non-political question is answered with bluff and bluster, but I do not think it is. I asked what the status is of the New Zealand Skills Strategy—
Mr SPEAKER: The member will be seated. I ask the House to consider this. We are getting ourselves into some trouble here today, because members are interjecting loudly during points of order. That is absolutely, totally out of order. I accept that there is frustration in the House, though, because I believe that points of order are being used very liberally today. I have given the honourable member the chance to repeat a question earlier. I believe the Prime Minister did answer that question. It may not have been to the satisfaction of the Leader of the Opposition; I accept that. But he does have further supplementary questions and he can ask a further supplementary question, should he choose to do so.
Hon Dr Michael Cullen: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. As the Leader of the Opposition was concluding his comments and you rose to your feet, I think it was Mr Chester Borrows who yelled out: “Sit down.” I do not know whether he was saying that to Mr Goff, who was raising a point of order, or to you, as you were actually standing up. In either case, it was out of order. I think it is time that a strict approach was taken on interjections, even though that may affect some of my own colleagues during points of order.
Mr SPEAKER: The member makes a very good point. The honourable Leader of the Opposition should have sat down sooner than he did when I got to my feet, but I warn honourable members that they must not interject or I will have to ask them to stand, withdraw, and apologise for such interjections during points of order. I do not want to waste the time of the House, though.
Hon Phil Goff: I seek leave to table the New Zealand Skills Strategy, so that the Prime Minister can be better informed.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table a document—
Hon Paula Bennett: That is so last year.
Mr SPEAKER: I will ask the honourable Minister to stand, withdraw, and apologise for interjecting during a point of order.
Hon Paula Bennett: I withdraw and apologise.
Mr SPEAKER: I thank the honourable member.
Hon Darren Hughes: She’s the employment Minister.
Mr SPEAKER: We are still under a point of order. The senior whip may not have realised that his own leader, under a point of order, has sought leave to table a document. The senior whip may just acknowledge the position of his leader in seeking leave. Leave has been sought to table a document that purports to be a skills strategy. Is there any objection to that document being tabled?
Hon Dr Michael Cullen: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am sure that the Government is in so much trouble that it likes some light relief to be provided, but I have to object to your saying something “purports to be a skills strategy.” This is the
New Zealand Skills Strategy, which was agreed between the Council of Trade Unions, Business New Zealand, the Industry Training Federation, and the Government, and it should be being put in place right now, during this recession, as a matter of priority.
Mr SPEAKER: Honourable members, the dilemma is that although it is claimed to be a Government document it may not be a Government document, so I suggest to the honourable member that where leave is being sought, it should describe the document exactly. Now if the honourable member wants to re-describe it, I ask whether it is a document of the previous Labour Government. If that is the case, the House has a right to know that.
Hon Phil Goff: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. When, as Speaker, you say it “purports to be”, you draw the inference that it may be something else, which draws an inference about my honesty in tabling it. I think you should reconsider that wording.
Mr SPEAKER: If I have caused offence to the member, I apologise. I would ask him therefore to re-describe the document, so that the House can be absolutely clear what it is. If it is a Government document, the member must say it is a Government document, so that we know exactly what it is.
Hon Phil Goff: The document is the New Zealand Skills Strategy. It is the result of tripartite work—
Hon Bill English: That’ll do.
Hon Phil Goff: —between Business New Zealand, the Council of Trade Unions, and the Industry Training Federation, together with the Government. That is the document that the Prime Minister is obviously unaware of, and I seek leave to table it.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is objection to that document being tabled.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. You asked the Leader of the Opposition to describe in full the document. While he was doing that, the Deputy Prime Minister interjected. I want to ask again whether there are rules that used to apply, or—
Mr SPEAKER: The member will resume his seat. He may recollect that I did not take action against his own party’s senior whip when he interjected on a point of order that was being raised by his own leader.
Hon Phil Goff: I was seated, Mr Speaker, at that time.
Mr SPEAKER: I think the House should just take a deep breath. We move on to question No 3, in the name of Craig Foss.
Hon Phil Goff: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Again, you may have inadvertently misunderstood or misled the House. At the time that my colleague interjected, I had resumed my seat. That was very clear to me from where I am sitting.
Hon Simon Power: Following on from the approach that the Hon Trevor Mallard and the Hon Dr Michael Cullen have taken during this question time regarding people interjecting on points of order, we now have the situation where the Leader of the Opposition interjected on you, Mr Speaker, while you were on your feet.
Mr SPEAKER: I thank the honourable member. That is why I suggested that the House take a deep breath. The honourable Leader of the Opposition might note that a point of order does not cease when the member who is making the point of order resumes his or her seat. The point of order continues to be under the consideration of the House until a ruling is made by the Speaker. Just because the Leader of the Opposition had resumed his seat, that gave no right to his senior whip to interject on that point of order, because it had not been dealt with. The member should know that. I invite the House to come to question No 3, in the name of Craig Foss.
Question No. 3 to Minister
CRAIG FOSS (National—Tukituki)
: My question is to the Minister for ACC—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: I will ask the Hon Trevor Mallard, if that was an implication of someone—I am not even going to repeat what he said. He will stand, withdraw, and apologise now.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I withdraw and apologise.
Accident Compensation—Outstanding Claims Liability Report
CRAIG FOSS (National—Tukituki) to the
Minister for ACC: Has he received the latest 6-monthly valuation report of the ACC’s outstanding claims liability; if so, what does it state?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH (Minister for ACC)
: Yes, I have received the PricewaterhouseCoopers valuation of 31 December 2008. It shows that the liabilities of the Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC) have blown out to $21.9 billion. That is a deterioration of $2.6 billion on 6 months earlier, and a deterioration of $3.9 billion over the last year.
Craig Foss: What changes have occurred in ACC’s liabilities over the past decade?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: ACC’s liabilities in 2000 were $6.3 billion, and had declined over the previous 5 years—from 1995 to 2000—despite reductions in the discount rate over that period. The $15.6 billion increase in ACC’s liabilities during Labour’s term in Government—an amount in excess of the much lauded Superannuation Fund—puts a lie to the claim that Labour left the Government books in good shape.
Craig Foss: What is the underlying cause of the large increases in ACC’s liabilities?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: The fundamental driver has been increased costs, which were driven by cover extension, more generous entitlements, and cost increases to providers. These cost increases, as noted by Martin, Jenkins and Associates, were masked by buoyant economic conditions a few years back, but have now been brought into harsh focus in this recession. The cost of claims has more than doubled from $1.4 billion in 2000 to $3.2 billion this year. Ultimately this has to flow on into liabilities and into levies.
Hon David Parker: Does the Minister accept that the proportion of ACC liabilities that is unfunded has decreased substantially from 64 percent in 1999 to 45 percent in December 2008?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: I can confirm to the member that the liabilities of ACC increased by nearly $16 billion during the course of the last Labour Government and that over the last 3 years the solvency of ACC has significantly deteriorated. I draw the member’s attention to the report released by the Minister of Finance that pointed out that although these may have been masked—
Hon Dr Michael Cullen: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I was going to raise a point of order at the end about a different matter, but at this point I raise a point of order about the length of the answer, which is quite unnecessary given the very simple question that was asked.
Mr SPEAKER: The honourable member makes a fair point. I think the answer should be curtailed at that point, because it had gone on quite long enough.
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: The solvency—
Mr SPEAKER: No, no. I think we have heard sufficient.
Hon Dr Michael Cullen: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. This is the further point that I was going to raise. The Minister was asked a very simple question about the proportion of the unfunded liability—a comparison from 1999 to 2008. It was a very
simple question. Actually, a yes or no answer to that particular question was possible. The Minister went off into a long ramble while, incidentally, along the way, completely confusing the unfunded liability in 1999 with the total liability in 2008.
Mr SPEAKER: I invite the honourable member to repeat his question, and we will have the Minister answer it.
Hon David Parker: Does the Minister accept that the proportion of ACC’s liabilities that is unfunded has decreased substantially from 64 percent in 1999 to 45 percent in December 2008?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: No, I do not, and the reason I do not is that the—[Interruption] Oh, they are tetchy today, are they not? The member has failed to take into account the deterioration that has occurred in ACC over the last 12 months, when the liabilities increased by nearly $4 billion.
Craig Foss: Can the Minister give the House any examples of scheme changes that have been underfunded and have contributed to the blowout in costs?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: A good example is the area of physiotherapy. The previous Government made major changes in 2004 to provide no-cost services to ACC clients. The services were expected to cost $9 million per year, but they are already costing nine times that figure. Costs have risen from $58 million in 2004 to $139 million this year, and they are expected to reach $225 million in 2011. The current board advises that there has been no improvement in rehabilitation rates from that extra cost, and the board says that the policy is untenable.
Craig Foss: What other changes have contributed to the blowout in costs?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: The previous Government changed the medical misadventure provisions from those in the Accident Compensation Act in 1974 and was advised that those changes would add $9 million in costs per year. In fact, it is costing more than $40 million additional per year. Even last year, when the then Government knew that liabilities were blowing out and investments were going through the floor, the Government made 13 changes to the scheme that added another $75 million a year in additional costs.
Hon David Parker: I seek the leave of the House to table a document from the Parliamentary Library—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: It is my fault—I did not actually announce that it was a point of order the honourable member was raising, so I will let the Hon Annette King and whoever interjected off on this occasion. The Hon David Parker is raising a point of order.
Hon David Parker: I seek leave of the House to table a document from the Parliamentary Library that shows that the unfunded liability decreased from—
Mr SPEAKER: What is the document?
Hon David Parker: It is a document from the Parliamentary Library—
Mr SPEAKER: But what is it?
Hon David Parker: A table providing ACC’s estimated unfunded liability in both—
Mr SPEAKER: It would assist the House to know the source of the document.
Hon David Parker: I have already said it is from the Parliamentary Library. It is, in turn, sourced from Treasury documents, being the Government’s own projection.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Any—
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Can the member clarify whether the report includes the latest report from PricewaterhouseCoopers?
Mr SPEAKER: I will allow the member to respond to that.
Hon David Parker: Indeed, I can confirm that the figure I gave was based on an ACC liability of $22 billion.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Any objection? No objection.
- Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Corrections, Department—Confidence in Chief Executive
Hon CLAYTON COSGROVE (Labour—Waimakariri) to the
Minister of Corrections: Does she have confidence in the Chief Executive of the Department of Corrections; if not, why not?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS (Minister of Corrections)
: As the member will be aware, I have asked the State Services Commissioner to report to me on the very serious issues raised by the recent report of the Office of the Auditor-General in relation to the probation service. Until I have received the commissioner’s report, it is inappropriate for me to comment on my confidence, or otherwise, in the chief executive.
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: Would the Minister agree that her level of confidence in the Department of Corrections is fundamental in terms of the public having trust in the department to do its job?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: I would expect that the public would want to know that I have confidence in the department.
Todd McClay: Has the Minister received any other reports that have given her cause for concern?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: Yes. Under Mr Goff’s cavalier watch, just last year, it was acceptable for management to fly a prisoner—a senior gang leader—from Christchurch to Wellington to attend a meeting of the prison service’s management team. Under my watch, gangs are not going to be consulted on the running of prisons.
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: What is the Minister’s response to Mr Matthews’ saying to the Law and Order Committee this morning that he could not rule out legal action if he loses his job? If he is forced down that path, would not a strong contributing factor in any action for constructive dismissal be her bagging and gagging of him prior to the release of the State Services Commission report, which she herself requested?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: That member has made a lot of outrageous allegations both in this House and outside it. Not once has he been able to actually verify any of them. I do not take anything from what he has said today about what was said in the select committee. I do not believe a word of him. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Can I seek directions. Is the member seeking a supplementary question or a point of order?
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: First, a point of order. I seek leave to table a document, and, before you ask, Mr Speaker, it is a media report from the New Zealand Press Association that states: “Mr Matthews when asked”—
Mr SPEAKER: The member will resume his seat. We do not need to have an entire press release read out. Leave is sought to table a press release. Is there any objection? There is objection.
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: Does the Minister agree with Mr Matthews’ statement today that employers have a responsibility to be good employers and should not prejudge employees; if so, given her day-to-day working relationship with Mr Matthews, how does that fit with her reckless comments about him, which must have an influence on his employer, the State Services Commission, in preparing the report she requested, and thereby places at risk large sums of taxpayers’ money in a potential constructive dismissal case, which Mr Matthews told the select committee today he has not ruled out?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: I have not made reckless statements. In fact, I say to that member that the constant repetition of untruths does not make them true. That member should remember that.
Mr SPEAKER: The Hon Clayton Cosgrove.
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: Why is that member always so angry?
Mr SPEAKER: The member will ask his question—if his own colleagues are quiet enough to let him do so.
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: I have a supplementary question for the angry member. Does the Minister—
Mr SPEAKER: The member knows he cannot do that when asking a supplementary question. In fact, much of the noise as he sought to ask his question was coming from his own colleagues. Now that the House is silent I invite him to ask his question.
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: My colleagues were happy, though, I think.
Mr SPEAKER: The member will just get on with asking his question, if he is capable of it.
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: I am capable of it. Does the Minister agree with the
New Zealand Herald
that her “blunt criticism of the department and her refusal to back Mr Matthews means their working relationship is at an end, and will give his employer, the State Services Commission, little choice but to remove him.”?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: What I do agree with is that the report from the Auditor-General’s office is extremely important, and my first requirement is the public safety of this country. I am not going to put up with that sort of behaviour from that member, who comes down here, makes up stories, then repeats them as though they were true.
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I take grave exception to that comment. I made up nothing in that question. It was a direct quote from the
New Zealand Herald. The second point I would ask you to rule on is that I did not ask the member whether she agreed with anything else; I asked her whether she agreed with the definitive comment in the
New Zealand Herald that I had quoted. It was a precise question. I did not ask her whether she agreed with anybody else, but whether she agreed with the
New Zealand Herald.
Mr SPEAKER: The member has been here for many years and knows he cannot ask for a precise answer—a yes or no answer. That has been ruled by many Speakers. He cannot expect the Minister to give exactly the answer he wants. It was my view that the Minister did answer the question the member had asked. He will recollect that I have been very fair in enabling him to ask further questions where I have felt that the Minister has not answered the question asked, but today he has been putting assertions into questions. In fact, Speakers’ rulings point out that members cannot do that. If he expects a straight answer from a Minister, he cannot put that kind of assertion into questions. He sought an opinion and he got an opinion, and that is the end of the matter.
Hon Dr Michael Cullen: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: I say to Dr Michael Cullen that that is the end of the matter.
Hon Dr Michael Cullen: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: I trust this is a different point of order.
Hon Dr Michael Cullen: I want to pick up a particular word you used in your ruling, Mr Speaker. You said you were satisfied that the Minister had answered the question. I think this is the problem we are getting ourselves into. You have to be satisfied only that the Minister addressed the question. I think it would be safer ground if we were to revert to a very clear statement that that is what you are ruling on, because once you are in the business of trying to determine whether a Minister has answered the question, then the burden upon you of detail, in terms of what the Minister has said or not said, becomes
actually, in my view, impossible for the Speaker to assume. I think the previous rulings in that respect are a safer haven for you to occupy in this regard.
Mr SPEAKER: I take note of the point the member has made.
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Without wishing to waste your time, I did ask you to rule on another point, which was that the Minister had accused me of telling untruths in that question when I actually had quoted from the
New Zealand Herald
newspaper and asked her whether she agreed with it. I am not asking for a ruling on the point Dr Cullen raised. She accused me, effectively, of lying when I quoted from the
New Zealand Herald, and I ask you to take some action on that. It is unparliamentary and I take offence.
Mr SPEAKER: If the Minister accused the member of lying, I would ask her to withdraw and apologise for that.
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Could I just clarify whether the member is taking offence at my saying he has lied outside this House, or is it just at my saying he lied in this House?
Mr SPEAKER: Members cannot accuse other members of lying anywhere. It is simply unacceptable to accuse other members of lying. If the member did accuse the member of lying, I would ask her to withdraw and apologise for that.
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I accused the member of telling untruths. That is a truthful statement.
Mr SPEAKER: I think this is starting to play with words. If the member accused the honourable member of telling untruths, I would ask her to withdraw and apologise for that.
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: In which case, I withdraw and apologise.
Mr SPEAKER: I thank the member.
David Garrett: What steps, if any, has she taken to ascertain the competence, or otherwise, of the senior managers reporting to Mr Barry Matthews, and does each of those senior managers enjoy her confidence?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: As the member will be aware, the State Services Commissioner is undertaking a review of the parole situation and probation, but, for the member’s information, I can tell him that the Department of Corrections is already undertaking a review of how it has been operating and how it can best serve the public. So those issues are being dealt with.
Accident Compensation—Levies and
Shortfall in Accounts
MICHAEL WOODHOUSE (National) to the
Minister for ACC: What reports has he received on what impact the shortfalls in ACC compensation will have on levies?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH (Minister for ACC)
: I am advised that based on the latest valuations and no change in legislation or policy, the earners levy would need to increase 186 percent, from $1.40 to $4 per $100 of earnings, the motor vehicle levy would need to increase 129 percent, from $255 to $585, and the employers’ levy would need to increase by 71 percent, from $1.26 to $2.16 per $100 of earnings, over the next 5 years.
Michael Woodhouse: What impact would these levy increases have on the average family or employee?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: The average household income is $67,000, and, on average, it has two cars. Based on no change in policy or law, this family’s motor vehicle and earners levy would increase by $2,400 per year, or $46 per week, by 2013-14. In the case of an average employee with a private motor vehicle, the increase would translate into $1,400 per year, or $27 per week. Clearly, these increases are untenable, and that is why the new Government says change is required.
Hon David Parker: Why has the Minister not already adopted Labour Party policy and extended the date for full funding of historic claims from 2014 to 2019, which the Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC) estimated, in the briefing to incoming Ministers, would reduce employer levies in the coming year by 20 percent, and motorist levies by around 25 percent, or about $80 per annum?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: I note that Labour had 9 years to make that change and did not do so. The second point I would make is that the member’s numbers are wrong and do not include the latest PricewaterhouseCoopers report. The third point I would make is that changing the date has a minimal effect on the earners account, which is the account that will affect workers most adversely. The last point I would make is that by changing the full funding date, we do not address the underlying issues; all that we do is shift the debt on to the Crown’s balance sheet. We have to address the underlying cost drivers that were out of control under the previous Government.
Michael Woodhouse: Can the Minister—noting he has announced the levies for employers and earners for this year—advise the House when he will announce the levies for motor vehicles for this year, and what impact the latest valuation has on this levy?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: The Department of Labour has advised that I need to increase the motor vehicle levy this year from $255 to $376 in order to fully fund the scheme, based on these latest valuations. This increase is untenable in the current economic environment. I am looking at an amount that is significantly less, although an increase is inevitable—
Hon Maryan Street: The remedy lies in the Minister’s own hands.
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: The greatest remedy, which the previous Minister for ACC does not recognise, is that her reckless management of the accident compensation scheme translates into very large costs for ordinary New Zealanders, and she should be ashamed of herself.
Hon David Parker: What accident compensation and rehabilitation services currently received by injured New Zealanders does the National Government intend to cut?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: We need to have an open dialogue with New Zealanders about how extensive we want accident compensation cover to be relative to the costs, because a $2,400 increase per family is unacceptable. It was all very well for the previous Government to extend the scheme, but somebody has to pay for it. Ultimately, if the costs double—as they have done—that translates into a doubling of levies, and that is something this Government is not prepared to contemplate.
Michael Woodhouse: What changes is the Minister proposing to make to try to contain levies—
Hon David Parker: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I apologise for interrupting my colleague, but once again we had Dr Smith taking the opportunity to give the House a speech in response to a single-faceted question. If that is to be the rule of this House, that is fine, but I will certainly be one member who loads my questions to that Minister with 10 or 20 parts in order to have the same rights in this House.
Mr SPEAKER: The member has made his point. It is unfortunate that he interrupted another member asking his question. If the member is going to make a point of order, I ask him to please do so as soon as the Minister has finished answering. I ask Dr Nick Smith to try to keep his answers a little more brief, because it is hard for me to ask members asking questions to be more succinct in their questions, if the answers are too long. I ask the Minister to respond more briefly.
Michael Woodhouse: What changes is the Minister proposing to make to try to contain accident compensation levies and costs?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: Significant changes will be required to ensure the ongoing viability of accident compensation. A process is under way to reconfigure the board so as to strengthen its financial governance. Officials and ACC are reviewing the recent entitlement extensions, and changes like the one I have mentioned in respect of physiotherapists. I also propose legislative change to push out the date of full funding, and to enable better cost management of accident compensation.
Hon DARREN HUGHES (Labour) to the
Minister of Finance: What reports, if any, has he seen on the priority that business accords to investment in rail?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance)
: There are some positive reports, including one from the New Zealand Council for Infrastructure Development, but the most interesting support has come from the General Secretary of the Rail and Maritime Transport Union, Wayne Butson, who welcomed the Government’s announcement of a $115 million investment in rail as “a major boost for the rail system”.
Hon Darren Hughes: When the Minister was making that announcement and saying there would be cutbacks to the rail programme announced by Labour, does that mean he is reverting to KiwiRail’s view, which is that without taxpayer investment at least a dozen rail lines would have been closed in provincial and regional New Zealand; if not, can he tell the House which rail lines he considers to be marginal?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Labelling Labour’s press releases as a programme for investment is dignifying it somewhat. Labour did make a large number of undertakings about rail that amounted to billions of dollars, and there was about $120 million allocated to fund that
David Bennett: What reports has the Minister seen on alternative approaches to the funding of rail?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I have now, after some months of digging with the assistance of the Minister of Transport, seen reports that the unfunded commitments to KiwiRail and suburban rail networks by the previous Government were close to $3 billion. This Government has already made a start on an investment, which we believe makes sense, of $115 million, and we have yet to see whether the other almost $3 billion does make sense.
Hon Darren Hughes: Why has no new funding for rail projects been included in any of the economic stimulus measures to help business, when projects such as lowering the floor of the tunnels along the Kapiti coast would boost freight services, and electrifying the line from Waikanae to Palmerston North would boost passenger services?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The Government has been, I think understandably, reluctant to commit to investments that were made by press release from the Labour Government, and has set out to untangle the shambles that is KiwiRail after the Government’s very expensive purchase.
Hon Darren Hughes: Will the Minister ensure that the following lines are kept open in provincial and rural New Zealand: the Overlander passenger service, the main trunk line from Te Kūiti to Palmerston North, the lines in Northland, Taranaki, and Hawke’s Bay, the line from Napier to Gisborne, the Wairarapa line, and the lines from Picton to Christchurch, Greymouth to Hokitika, Invercargill to Bluff, and Invercargill to Wairio—can he confirm that those lines will be kept open?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I cannot even attempt to answer that question. I have simply been told that the new Government has to write out a cheque for $130 million for KiwiRail, when we have no idea, and it has no idea, what it is to be used for.
Hon Members: Rubbish!
Mr SPEAKER: The honourable members’ colleague is trying to ask a question.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Was the Minister aware, when the Government approved the purchase of Chinese locomotives, that of 20 of the same model bought 8 years ago by Malaysia only five are now running, compared with all 20 of the German locomotives that were bought by that country at the same time; if he was aware, why did he do that when they could have been assembled at the Hutt Railway Workshops using the same German engines as are going to be used by the Chinese?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: No.
AMY ADAMS (National—Selwyn) to the
Minister of Finance: What measures has the Government recently taken to lift the performance of KiwiRail?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance)
: We are moving to be much clearer with the KiwiRail board that this Government expects answers to questions like: “What is the $130 million of subsidy being spent on?”. At the same time, we have decided to invest in propositions put forward by that board that we believe make sense, such as the spending of $39.9 million on 17 new passenger carriages for the Tranz Scenic route, and $75 million for 20 new locomotives. We believe that this will help to lift KiwiRail’s performance on two key tourist routes, as well as its freight business.
Amy Adams: What rail spending commitments did the previous Government make?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Well, to define them as commitments is to somewhat dignify a stream of press releases issued during election year. It turns out that those press releases add up to commitments of about $3 billion, but not many people in the rail system have been able to tell us what they are for and what difference they will make.
Hon Darren Hughes: When considering the performance of KiwiRail, does the Minister believe that the Government will be a majority shareholder in KiwiRail in 5 years’ time, when the recession that he calls the worst in 90 years is over?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The Government is the owner of a business now that probably has no value, in fact has negative value, having just 8 months ago paid almost a billion dollars for it. We will have to keep this business and try to make it work, because no one in his or her right mind would be willing to pay anything like what the taxpayer has put into it.
Amy Adams: On what basis was the new spending approved?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: We have changed quite significantly the approach of Government to deciding these investments. Instead of issuing press releases in the hope that some day the money will show up to back them, we have decided to upgrade rail infrastructure where there is clear evidence that it will improve service and provide a decent return on taxpayers’ money.
Education Sector—Pay Parity
Hon CHRIS CARTER (Labour—Te Atatū) to the
Minister of Education: Is she committed to pay parity in the education sector?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY (Minister of Education)
: The Ministry of Education is about to begin negotiations for collective agreements, where this matter will be considered along with other employment conditions. Given that these negotiations are due to start soon, and that the parameters are still being considered, it would be improper for me to comment on employment issues of this nature.
Hon Chris Carter: Is the Minister intending to review pay parity in the education sector; if so, has she received or requested any advice on the matter?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY: I have received advice on a number of issues. But that member, who used to be the Minister of Education—and I know that it was a long time ago and that every day seems like a year—should know that it is improper to discuss
these types of employment matters through this forum, and that they are better discussed around the bargaining table between the Ministry of Education and the bargaining agents.
Hon Chris Carter: Can the Minister tell the House when her Government will begin negotiations with the New Zealand Educational Institute on the kindergarten teachers’ collective agreement, as the current agreement expired a week ago?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY: Soon.
Hon Chris Carter: If the Minister is not committed to pay parity, could she tell the House why she thinks a secondary teacher does a better job than a primary teacher?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY: That member may think it is a good idea to discuss these complex issues in question time, but I want the Ministry of Education to discuss them in good faith around a negotiating table.
Hon Chris Carter: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I made it quite clear in my question that it was not about whether a current negotiation is taking place. I clearly asked the Minister whether she believes in pay parity; she still has not given an answer to that. I also asked her whether she agrees that primary teachers do as good a job as secondary teachers—or kindergarten teachers, for that matter.
Mr SPEAKER: The member has just pointed out that he asked several things in his supplementary question. The Minister has made it clear that, prior to a negotiation round, she considers it not in the public interest to be specific about such issues as pay parity, which clearly are issues that will be handled in a payment negotiation.
Rahui Katene: What action will the Minister take to raise the pay rates for low-paid school staff, including teacher-aides, librarians, school managers, information and communications technology specialists, therapists, kaiārahi reo, cleaners, and school caretakers? Those staff often provide the glue to keep a school together.
Hon ANNE TOLLEY: The collective agreements that that member refers to are due to begin negotiations soon. Therefore, it would be most inappropriate for me to discuss that matter here in the House.
Question No. 7 to Minister
Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Labour—Hutt South)
: I am very reluctant to do this, but I seek leave to table a press clipping. It is from the
Malay Mail, which is probably not a newspaper that has general readership in the House, and it is headlined “Readymade train wreck”. It is about locomotives from the same source as the ones the Government has ordered, and it makes it clear that only five out of the 20 are still going 5 years later.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is objection.
Surgical First Specialist Assessments—Reports
Dr JACKIE BLUE (National) to the
Minister of Health: What reports has he received in relation to the delivery of surgical first specialist assessments, and what do the reports show?
Hon TONY RYALL (Minister of Health)
: I have received a report from the Ministry of Health that details the failure of the previous Government to maintain real access to elective surgery. The report specifically advises on the delivery of surgical first specialist assessments from 2000 to 2007-08. Over that period, the population of New Zealand rose by 9.6 percent; the number of New Zealanders getting a surgical first specialist assessment rose by 0.7 percent, or 0.1 percent a year.
Dr Jackie Blue: Why are surgical first specialist assessments so important?
Hon TONY RYALL: Surgical first specialist assessments are important predominantly because they are the gateway to an elective operation. Sadly, despite doubling the health budget, capacity in the public health system has not kept up with population growth—let alone ageing. Many of the thousands of New Zealanders for whom there has not been capacity were placed in the care of their general practitioner. For others, their specialist appointment may result in an alternative course of treatment, appropriate care, or peace of mind.
Dr Jackie Blue: What would the number of surgical first specialist assessments need to have risen by in order to match population growth?
Hon TONY RYALL: The number of surgical first specialist assessments in 2001 was 251,000. With a population growth of 9.6 percent to 2008, it is reasonable to estimate that there should have been an increase of over 24,000 such appointments to even try to keep up with population growth. In actual fact, the growth was only 0.1 percent a year, despite doubling the public health budget.
Iain Lees-Galloway: Why did the Minister fail to take the action required to remove tobacco displays from convenience stores, when any steps to reduce the uptake of smoking would reduce cancer rates and free up resources for surgical first specialist assessments?
Hon TONY RYALL: The Government made it clear, in quoting from the report of the Health Committee—unanimously agreed on by all members—that there is no international evidence that shows a clear link between banning tobacco displays and reducing smoking rates. On the issue of surgical first specialist assessments, I suspect that a lot more could have been achieved if the previous Government had not cut the budget for health just before the last election. Labour cut $50 million out of the health budget for next year, and $100 million out of the health budget for 2010-11.
DARIEN FENTON (Labour) to the
Minister of Labour: Does she agree with Prime Minister John Key’s statement on 9 February 2009 that “no raise at all in the minimum wage would have left the lowest-paid, most vulnerable workers with no increase to offset the costs”; if so, why?
Hon KATE WILKINSON (Minister of Labour)
: Yes; because the statement is correct.
Darien Fenton: Will the Government be supporting the Minimum Wage and Remuneration Amendment Bill that will give thousands of the lowest-paid, most vulnerable workers an increase to offset their costs; if not, why not?
Hon KATE WILKINSON: No, we will not be supporting that bill. Of course we stand by workers in ensuring that they are treated fairly, but this bill was rejected at select committee level. It would cause substantial problems through its practical effects and we will be voting against it.
Jacqui Dean: Has the Minister seen any reports regarding the minimum wage?
Hon KATE WILKINSON: Yes, I have seen a report from the Labour Party election manifesto that says that economic circumstances prevented it from committing to a $15 minimum wage. I have also seen a member’s bill in the name of Darien Fenton that demands a $15 minimum wage. I ask what secret economic improvements the member is aware of in the last 4 months that make committing to a $15 minimum wage a responsible course of action.
Darien Fenton: Can she explain to New Zealanders exactly why she does not think every Kiwi worker should get paid at least the minimum wage, and will not be entitled even to the measly $3.78-a-week increase that the Government gave to minimum-wage workers?
Hon KATE WILKINSON: We will not be supporting the member’s bill, for the reasons I have given. It is uncertain, it will add costs, it is not a practical bill, and it also takes away choice for people, such as entertainers. Would you like Dame Kiri Te Kanawa to be on the minimum wage?
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Just to make it clear, the Minister should not address you in her answers, as she did.
Mr SPEAKER: I thank the honourable member.
Housing New Zealand Corporation—Tenants’ Behaviour
TIM MACINDOE (National—Hamilton West) to the
Minister of Housing: What reports has he received about addressing serious antisocial behaviour by tenants living in Housing New Zealand Corporation properties?
Hon PHIL HEATLEY (Minister of Housing)
: I have received notice that the Housing New Zealand Corporation has served 90-day notices on five of its tenants in response to ongoing and serious incidents in Farmer Crescent. The Government supports the corporation getting serious about antisocial, violent, and intimidating behaviour. We do not tolerate houses being used for unlawful purposes. The previous Government turned a blind eye to gangs in State houses. The gangs have set up shop, and we are doing something about it.
Tim Macindoe: Why are 90-day notices being used, instead of taking action through the Tenancy Tribunal?
Hon PHIL HEATLEY: The Housing New Zealand Corporation will still use the Tenancy Tribunal for the vast majority of tenancy issues, but where there are ongoing serious issues of a violent and intimidatory nature—and there is a small number of these—the local community deserves a rapid and definitive outcome. We cannot expect witnesses to give testimony at the Tenancy Tribunal in front of people they have been severely intimated by and often live next door to. We are spending a fortune on upgrading a dilapidated State housing stock, which the Labour Government oversaw, and we are not going to have those doors kicked in and neighbours intimidated.
Jo Goodhew: What safeguards are in place to ensure that 90-day notices are not used out of context?
Hon PHIL HEATLEY: The decision to issue a 90-day notice will not be taken lightly by the Housing New Zealand Corporation. It has assured me that it will be a last option. The 90-day notices will be processed centrally, and the decision to issue one is made at a high level of the organisation.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Tell us about the nine kids and where they’re going to live. Where are the children going to live, Phil?
Hon PHIL HEATLEY: Trevor Mallard, who also shows intimidating and violent behaviour, might like to take note that 90-day notices will not be used inappropriately. I wish the Speaker would use one on him.
Mr SPEAKER: The Minister must not bring me into his answer. He should not attack other members of the House personally like that. I note the member interjected on him, but that is no excuse for a personal attack. I ask the member to stand, withdraw, and apologise for bringing me into his answer.
Hon PHIL HEATLEY: I withdraw and apologise to you and to the Hon Trevor Mallard.
Aid Programmes, Pacific—Discussion with Australia
Hon PHIL GOFF (Leader of the Opposition) to the
Prime Minister: Did he discuss with the Australian Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, New Zealand’s aid programmes in the Pacific?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Deputy Prime Minister) on behalf of the
Prime Minister: Yes.
Hon Phil Goff: Did the Prime Minister then explain to Kevin Rudd how changing NZAID’s goal of poverty elimination and its structure as a separate organisation, as Mr McCully advocates, would help improve coherence between Australia and New Zealand’s development programmes in the Pacific, when AusAID is set up with the goal of the elimination of poverty and a separate structure? How would it help coherence to change New Zealand’s model away from Australia’s model?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The Prime Minister did not discuss the details of internal Government discussions, and I am sure Mr Rudd would accept that it is up to us to decide that.
Hon Phil Goff: Does he share the view of Mr McCully that NZAID is akin to throwing $100 notes out of a helicopter door and calling it poverty elimination; if so, how does that square with consistent reports from the OECD’s respected Development Assistance Committee, which rates New Zealand’s development assistance strategy and programmes as amongst the best-focused and best-delivered in the world?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Mr McCully did not actually say what the member alleges. However successful NZAID is regarded to be, there is always the opportunity to improve.
Hon Phil Goff: I seek leave to table a statement in quote marks in the
New Zealand Herald in which Murray McCully says that NZAID is akin to throwing $100 notes out of a helicopter—
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that press statement. Is there any objection? There is objection.
Phil Twyford: Is it to be his Government’s practice that it acts before seeing the facts, as in the case of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, who has ordered two reviews of NZAID’s mandate and structure, while telling the
New Zealand Herald
that he has already made up his mind to change its focus from poverty elimination to economic development?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The Minister of Foreign Affairs is highly motivated to ensure that New Zealand’s aid is effective, and he is pursuing a course that ensures all the issues will be debated.
Phil Twyford: Does the Prime Minister agree with the editorial in this morning’s
New Zealand Herald
that “Government tampering” serves only to debase overseas aid; if so, will he intervene to ensure that his Minister does not meddle in the aid programme for political ends?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Several hundred million dollars of taxpayers’ money is spent through the aid budget, and any Minister of an incoming Government has the right to scrutinise it, particularly given that most of the other programmes we have been scrutinising have been found to be either in a shambolic state or badly administered.
Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE (Labour—New Lynn)
: I acknowledge the member Rahui Katene, who has just resumed her seat, and I say that the Labour Party stands
ready to participate in good faith in a review of the Foreshore and Seabed Act. We wish her and the National Government luck, recognising that the Māori Party voted against the original legislation for principled reasons, and that the National Party voted against it for principled reasons, just different ones. National thought that the legislation gave too many rights to tangata whenua; the Māori Party thought that it did not give enough. So I say good luck with the review. We will be happy to participate in it.
I want to talk about the Job Summit, which has been widely heralded. “The future of Key’s Government hangs on the summit delivering outcomes. Concrete practical proposals …”, stated Jenni McManus in
Business Day. Labour also welcomes any process that will get good ideas on the table for real New Zealanders. We think that the problems of the international recession are bigger than all of us, and, as we have said many times on previous occasions, we are prepared to take a bipartisan approach to finding solutions. We would have been happy to be in the room contributing ideas, but the Government has put politics ahead of policy in order to keep us out. But that does not stop us now from taking the ideas that many good-hearted New Zealanders have provided and working with the Government to see whether we can make some sense of them. I will mention just a couple of them.
But before I do that, let us just reflect on the fact that those who were at the Job Summit represented not all, but a section, of the New Zealand community. Vast swathes were excluded, including Pasifika. One participant reflected to me that it was kind of like the Remuera tennis club moving down the road to the Manukau TelstraClear Pacific Events Centre, and that most of the 160 captains of industry—who were all boys, and many of them King’s College old boys—were from a particular section of society. Actually, that does not matter, because it is the quality of the ideas that matter.
Let us see what these people have come up with. The 9-day fortnight is a very interesting idea. As I understand, and as the media were told, it was an idea that would surface before the summit was even held. It was an idea that was developed by the Government, and was, if you like, planted in the summit. Yet we have been told today by the Prime Minister that he still has no idea who will pay for the last day and that it is too early to say. I do not know whether the worker will pay, the Government will pay, or the employer will pay.
Hon Annette King: It will be the worker, I bet.
Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: I suspect it will be the workers, but let us wait and see. But if this is the lynchpin—the top idea from the top summit that will turn round the economy—then I think that members opposite are dreaming if they think this idea will do the trick.
Intranational migration to remove barriers between employers is a good idea, and we have been doing that. Keeping people in education—yes; that is what Schools Plus was about. Redundancy and transition support is a very good idea, because it means that workers will not bear the full brunt of redundancy. Enhancing the use of Māori iwi assets is a good idea—Māori are an important asset-holder. But how?
A freeze on rule-making by Government agencies has been suggested. Really? If we have no more rules on any subject, will that turn the economy round? It sounds good—politically sexy, perhaps—but really, really silly if one is running an economy or running a Government.
Boosting tourist traffic would be nice, but how will we do it? Accelerating energy initiatives and environmental and water initiatives sounds wonderful, but this is the same Government that is asking itself whether climate change even exists. Perhaps it had better make up its mind before it tries to sound green.
Streamlining regulatory approval for major projects might have some potential. Levelling the playing field for New Zealand firms for local and central government
procurement sounds good, too—Swazi Apparel comes to mind. That measure was something the previous Government worked on.
These ideas are not bad. The question is whether they can be formed into useful policy and whether, taken together, they will be enough in the light of the so-called rolling maul of dribs and drabs that is the antithesis of a strategic approach to a crisis that is the greatest in a generation.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: What would you do? Tell us what you would do.
Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: What would we do? We would have a programme that sets out the boundaries of where we would go, that said the total amount of stimulus that we needed, and that said how we would get the most use out of it.
The first thing we would not do is take tax cuts designed for working New Zealanders who desperately needed relief and give them to upper-income New Zealanders, who will save a great deal of that money rather than spend it. Tax cuts for upper-income earners are the last thing that one does if one is trying to get stimulus in the economy. The second thing one would do is to give New Zealanders, including New Zealand businesses, a sense of where the long-term direction is, rather than just short-term stabilisation.
Hon TONY RYALL (Minister of Health)
: The most interesting point that could be observed about that speech was the interesting dynamics between Shane Jones and Mr Cunliffe as the speech was under way. I am pleased to be able to take a call in the general debate in order to add my concern to the revelations from the Minister for ACC today that not only have New Zealanders had to put up with a deceitful previous Government hiding the facts regarding the true state of the Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC) but also the books have got so bad—
Hon Darren Hughes: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am sure you heard the National member on his feet refer to a group of members in this Chamber in a way that is not consistent with the Standing Orders. I think he should be asked to withdraw and apologise for doing that.
Mr SPEAKER: If I heard the member correctly, he referred to a Government being deceitful.
Hon Darren Hughes: In the Standing Orders it is clear that unparliamentary comments about a member or a group of members—in other words their party, which is clearly what the member meant—is out of order.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: It is a matter of public record that the Public Finance Act was breached and that two Ministers in the previous Government—namely, Maryan Street and Michael Cullen—knew of the blowout and did not include it in the pre-election fiscal update. So I think it is perfectly proper for my colleague to make reference to that very important breach of the Public Finance Act.
Hon David Cunliffe: Mr Speaker—
Mr SPEAKER: I have now heard sufficient on the matter, and I accept the original point of order raised by the Hon Darren Hughes that using unparliamentary language about a Government is the same as using unparliamentary language about an individual member. Therefore, I ask the honourable Minister to withdraw and apologise.
Hon TONY RYALL: I withdraw and apologise. A previous Government was less than open and frank with the public about the information it held. It was absolutely clear that Dr Cullen knew and that he did not tell anybody about what was going on—that we are aware of. Did he tell the rest of Cabinet about the debt? No, not a word.
Nick Smith was able to reveal today that the previous Government’s mismanagement of the accident compensation scheme will cost the average New Zealand family $2,400 a year—$46 a week—unless the Government takes action to stop New Zealanders from being lumbered with that liability. What has happened is that those members opposite,
when in Government, failed to keep the costs under control, so the burden will be visited upon hard-working New Zealanders through the increased taxes and levies they will have to pay towards accident compensation. As Minister Smith has said, people are looking at paying a significant increase in the motor vehicle levy. A motor vehicle registration will cost $510 if action is not taken. There will be a charge of $510 in motor vehicle levies for an average household with two vehicles. There will be a $938 increase in the earners levy. These big amounts of money will affect hard-working New Zealanders, and it is because of the previous Government’s mismanagement of the accident compensation system.
Labour’s mismanagement goes beyond the numbers. One of the most important roles of ACC is to help workers get back into work and to become independent again as quickly as possible. It is a fundamental responsibility of ACC. We know that if people stay on accident compensation or on benefits for a longer time than is appropriate, it is not good for them and it is not good for their families. That is why workers have always said that they want a strong focus on rehabilitation and on getting back to work and becoming independent.
What is stunning, appalling, and dreadful, if we look at page 6 of the PricewaterhouseCoopers report, is the fact that ACC is failing big time in helping accident victims rehabilitate and get back into work. One of the corporation’s fundamental responsibilities is to help workers get back into work and become independent. It is actually what Labour members used to go on about before they got comfortable after 9 years in Government and forgot about working people. They really forgot about working people in their 9 years in Government.
If Labour members were really concerned about what was going on in ACC, then why were they not dealing with the fact that workers were not getting quality rehabilitation and the chance to get back into work and independence quickly? There was not a word from Labour about what ACC should have been doing. Instead, Labour was letting the costs get out of control, making New Zealanders confront the fact that they might have to pay an extra $46 a week for accident compensation, but there was not a word about the failing efforts of ACC to get workers back into work and independence. It is quite clear from this report from PricewaterhouseCoopers that the cost of not getting workers back to independence and back into their jobs, which is where they want to be, is substantial, not only financially—it is estimated to cost about $700 million a year—but also in terms of the confidence and independence of those families, which is more important.
This Government says that the priority for ACC must be controlling its costs, reducing the burden on hard-working families, and providing decent support and rehabilitation for accident victims. What about getting them back into work and independence? I ask why that situation got worse during the best of times. That is what members opposite had when they were in Government.
That failed Government had the best of times. That Government had 9 of the best years in New Zealand, and if it could not get workers into work and back to independence after an accident, then that is a shocking indictment on its performance. Labour members used to stand up and say that we need to focus on rehabilitation, on services for accident victims, and on getting people into jobs. But this PricewaterhouseCoopers report shows that that party opposite failed the people whom it purports to represent.