Questions to Ministers
Recession—Prime Minister’s Statements
Hon PHIL GOFF (Leader of the Opposition) to the
Prime Minister: Does he stand by his statement that by early 2010 New Zealand will be coming out of the recession “reasonably aggressively”?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister)
: Yes, I stand by my full quote from March 2009, which is: “… I think by the end of 2009 early 2010 this time next year we’ll be starting to come out of that and I think starting to come out of it reasonably aggressively. I’m more optimistic about 2011 than 2010 but nevertheless I think 2010 will be positive.” Those statements have proved to be absolutely, entirely, 100 percent correct.
Hon Phil Goff: Two years into his Government does he take responsibility for the economic results that came out today, which were much worse than Treasury estimated 6 months ago, or will he continue to blame everybody else for his failure?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Well, I cannot take responsibility for a global financial crisis, although Michael Cullen once blamed me for it. I cannot take responsibility for an earthquake. I can take responsibility for doing something about leaky homes—the previous Government did absolutely nothing for homeowners—and I can take responsibility for New Zealand having the best tax switch it has had in 25 years.
Hon Phil Goff: Will he then take responsibility for the fact that a large part of that deficit was because this economy has not performed under his management over the last 6 months, as Treasury says?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I am glad we are coming into the Christmas period, because maybe Phil Goff can take a holiday, even if it will not be supported by—
Hon Phil Goff: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. You know that Ministers cannot start with that sort of gratuitous attack on a member who asks a question. Nor did that address the question. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: A point of order was called. I accept the basis of the member’s point of order. The only issue, though, is that he may recollect that his previous supplementary question was fairly blatantly political. I seem to recollect his saying something about the Prime Minister’s failure. Then the supplementary question that the member asked just now was more of a statement than a supplementary question. Where members make political statements, there is a limit to how much I can control Ministers in terms of their answering them with political statements. However, I would ask the Prime Minister to come to the substance of the statement as quickly as possible, please.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. How does he take responsibility for Treasury’s statement?
Mr SPEAKER: The member stopped just when the statement started, and I seem to remember that what followed was a fairly loaded statement. [Interruption] There are plenty of Speakers’ rulings that indicate that there are devices that are used to try to turn a statement into a question. Some former Speakers did not allow them, but I do. But I would ask the Prime Minister to please come to the substance of the statement in his answer.
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: New Zealand’s economic position relative to Ireland, Greece, Spain, Portugal, the UK, the United States of America, most of the European Union, and all of the OECD is stronger than it was. So, no, I cannot take responsibility for the global financial crisis, but thank goodness we have a leadership team that is taking New Zealand out of these difficult conditions.
Hon Phil Goff: When looking at the blowout in the Government’s deficit of $2.5 billion over the last 6 months, how much of that deficit can be accounted for by tax cuts for the wealthy, which it is now shown that he is effectively borrowing in order to pay for?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: None.
Hon Phil Goff: Can the Prime Minister tell the House how successful gimmicks like a cycleway and the Job Summit have been in reducing the unemployment and welfare rolls and as a way of contributing to creating new jobs and cutting expenditure?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Very. Although I am prepared to accept that things are not going brilliantly for the New Zealand economy, all I can say is they are going better than they are for the Labour Party.
Hon Phil Goff: Why did he yesterday describe the tax take as being slightly down, when the reduction in corporate tax has been a massive 28 percent over the last 4 months from what was forecast; is that not a sign that this economy is failing?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No, not if one looks at the way that corporate taxes are paid. They are paid on a provisional basis. Everyone understands that when the bad times initially come, corporate tax is higher, and that over a period of time it takes a while to catch up. The member will remember that under the Labour Government, corporate taxes were much higher than had been anticipated.
Rahui Katene: Is he aware that the Children’s Social Health Monitor released yesterday showed a dramatic rise in hospital admissions for Māori and Pasifika children for conditions with a social gradient over the last 2 years, and what actions will the Government take in a post-recession Budget to protect the most vulnerable children from such hardship?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I have not seen the document that the member is quoting from. What I can say is that the Government is trying to tackle those issues with a variety of different mechanisms, and in a variety of areas. Whānau Ora would be one good example of that, where we are trying to get in and support families at the grass roots in order to make a difference for those vulnerable children.
Rahui Katene: What consideration will he give to recommendations from the Māori Party, the Child Poverty Action Group, and the Alternative Welfare Working Group for the in-work tax credit to be extended to all low-income families as an immediate support for families on benefits?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I think that is very unlikely. The reason is that the fiscal cost of that would be significant. When the policy was introduced by the previous Labour Government, it was brought in because there was a recognition that we always wanted to make sure that working paid. The in-work tax credit recognises that, and National’s position at the time supported that.
Economic Outlook and Government Financial Position—Reports
CRAIG FOSS (National—Tukituki) to the
Minister of Finance: What reports has he received on the economic outlook and the Government’s financial position?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance)
: Today the Government released the Half Year Economic and Fiscal Update and its first Investment Statement. These documents show that economic growth will be steady, and show an improvement in the Government’s fiscal position, though the fiscal position this year is worse than was expected at the 2010 Budget. The figures confirm that the events of the past 6 months, particularly the Canterbury earthquake, and more subdued domestic recovery have taken this year’s deficit to the outer limits of what is acceptable to the Government. However, we remain on track to achieve surpluses by 2015-16, as expected in the Budget.
Craig Foss: What is New Zealand’s main challenge, as identified in the Half Year Economic and Fiscal Update?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Unquestionably our most significant challenge is to reduce the vulnerability to overseas financial markets that was caused by the extent of our overseas lending. Our main challenge is to increase national savings. The Government can play a role by producing more saving and less borrowing, and we can also encourage New Zealanders to lock in their change in habits over the past couple of years, a change that has indicated quite a dramatic shift to spending less and saving more. Early in the new year the Government will be hearing from the Savings Working Group, which was set up 6 months ago, and we will be considering decisions then.
Craig Foss: How will Budget 2011 take further steps to address the issues highlighted in today’s economic update?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Budget 2011 will lock in a reasonably sharp improvement from the significant deficit this year. In fact, the forecast today shows that we expect the Government deficit to halve in Budget 2011, reducing to around 2.8 percent of GDP. We will also be pressing on with our six-point economic programme, including extensive investment in infrastructure, increasing the efficiency of the public sector, and supporting business with innovation and trade. We will also be considering work from the Welfare Working Group and the Housing Shareholders Advisory Group, and we will be publishing the second
National Infrastructure Plan.
Craig Foss: What does the Government’s first Investment Statement show?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The Government’s first Investment Statement shows the extent of assets owned by New Zealand taxpayers, which New Zealand taxpayers have funded through paying their PAYE tax, their power bills, their petrol tax, and their road-user charges. The Crown owns $223 billion worth of assets. It is by far the largest owner of assets in the country—about five times the size of the New Zealand Exchange. By 2015 it expects those assets will grow by $33 billion, which includes investment in schools, hospitals, broadband, electricity generation, and roads; extensive rail investment; and accumulating financial assets. We owe it to taxpayers to manage this very large resource much better than it has been managed in the past.
Craig Foss: How do today’s economic projections compare with those of other forecasters?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: This morning the New Zealand Institute of Economic Research released the consensus forecasts, which are, on the whole, very similar to those of Treasury. They show growth of about 2.1 percent this year, rising to 3.5 percent next year. Probably more important, they show unemployment falling steadily to 5 percent over the next couple of years, and wage growth accelerating to about 3 percent in 2012-13, comfortably ahead of inflation.
Pansy Wong—Compliance with
Hon PETE HODGSON (Labour—Dunedin North) to the
Prime Minister: Does he stand by his advice to the House last Tuesday that he accepts former Minister Pansy Wong “made an unplanned and inadvertent mistake”?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister)
: Yes, because that was the finding of the independent McPhail report.
Hon Pete Hodgson: Would he be surprised to learn that having approved his Minister’s private travel to China in December 2008, Mrs Wong was greeted in Lianyungang by a large, pre-printed banner, which, when translated, read: “Warm welcome to New Zealand Cabinet Minister to visit and inspect our company”, and does he therefore still believe that the trip was private, and the mistake unplanned and inadvertent?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: To the latter part of the question, yes. To the former part of the question, no, because when one goes to China and one is an important person, often there are banners. I accept that that member would never have had one other than “Goodbye and see you later”, but members on our side of the House get lots.
Hon Pete Hodgson: Would he be surprised to learn that Mrs Wong then inspected that company and encouraged “the staff members of Hovercraft to be innovative and brave”, and that she wished “the company achieve a great success in the nearest future”; and, noting that her husband is a part-owner of that company, does it now occur to the Prime Minister that the trip to Lianyungang was motivated by matters other than attending the flower show, as Mrs Wong claimed?
Mr SPEAKER: The Rt Hon Prime Minister may answer, in so far as he has responsibility.
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No. It was acknowledged that Pansy Wong visited that company. Good wishes to people who work in companies are not unusual things to express.
Hon Pete Hodgson: Would he be further surprised to learn that while in Lianyungang city Mrs Wong met with the chief secretary of the city and “attended the signing ceremony of co-operation framework agreement between New Zealand Pure Natural Ltd and the people’s government of Niushan town, Donghai, and Lianyungang city”, all of this on a private trip he approved; and did he know that the majority shareholder of New Zealand Pure Natural Ltd is Sammy Wong, who was also there on a taxpayer-funded trip?
Mr SPEAKER: The right honourable Prime Minister, in so far as he has responsibility.
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No, I have no knowledge of that. But what I can say to the member, as I have said the whole way through, is that if the member wants to take anything to the Auditor-General or the police, he is more than welcome to do so, and the resignation of Pansy Wong from Parliament does not alter that one little bit.
Hon Pete Hodgson: Acknowledging that Mrs Wong’s resignation does not alter that fact one bit in respect of the possibility that public moneys may have been misused, will he now agree to refer these issues to the Auditor-General, showing leadership that he managed to discover with earlier Ministers but somehow not with this Minister?
Mr SPEAKER: The Prime Minister has no responsibility for members travelling on a private trip. I do not see why the Prime Minister is responsible for that issue.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Prime Minister has the ability as Prime Minister to refer anything he wishes to the Auditor-General, and he is being asked whether he intends to do what he did previously—for example, not all of Mr Heatley’s travel was ministerial travel and—
Mr SPEAKER: I have heard the member sufficiently. The Prime Minister may answer the question in so far as it is simply seeking his view of something, but it does not automatically mean the Prime Minister has the responsibility. I call the right honourable Prime Minister to answer the question in so far as he can.
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No. For me to do that would be to rely on the information that Pete Hodgson has, or thinks he has, and, actually, in my experience of Pete Hodgson, he is more often wrong than he is right.
Hon Phil Goff: As the Prime Minister has acknowledged he knew nothing about a second visit to a company largely owned by Mr Wong, does he still stand by his statement of 9 December that “there is no basis for further investigation”?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Yes, and if any member wants to take any allegations to the police or the Auditor-General, then they should feel free to do so.
Hon Phil Goff: Does he stand by his statement on 9 December that Mrs Wong’s misuse of a taxpayer-funded trip was simply “an innocent mistake” and that she was certainly fit to remain as a member of Parliament; if so, how does he explain the Wongs’ failure to come clean with Mr McPhail about the full extent of their business dealings while in China on a taxpayer-funded trip?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Yes, I stand by my statement. The Leader of the Opposition is making unfounded allegations.
Hon Phil Goff: Why was the Prime Minister in this morning’s media so keen to see referred to the Auditor-General unproven allegations against Len Brown, Mayor of Auckland, when he is not prepared to send proven allegations against the Wongs to the Auditor-General?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: They are not proven, and I am not the one sending them in the case of Len Brown.
Hon Pete Hodgson: I have a number of documents, which I seek leave to table. The first is called a supreme newspaper. It is a newsletter of Lianyungang Supreme Hovercraft Ltd dated January 2009. It is off a website that has subsequently been taken down, and, as well as the original Mandarin and photographs, it has an English translation.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is objection.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. When people object, they must say so. The Prime Minister cannot object by nodding.
Mr SPEAKER: I thought I heard the Prime Minister say yes. [Interruption] Well, I am sorry but the Speaker determines that matter.
Hon Pete Hodgson: I seek leave to table an extract from the New Zealand Companies Office database regarding New Zealand Pure and Natural Ltd, showing major shareholding by Sammy Wong and other shareholders, including Jenny Shipley.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is objection.
Hon Pete Hodgson: I seek leave to table a document from the Lianyungang City Overseas Exchange Association website congratulating Pansy Wong on becoming a new Cabinet Minister in New Zealand, dated 2 December 2008, and acknowledging that she will travel to Lianyungang towards the end of the year, which she did 3 weeks later on an unplanned trip.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is objection.
Prisons, Mt Eden and Auckland Central Remand—Private Management Contract Appointment
SANDRA GOUDIE (National—Coromandel) to the
Minister of Corrections:
What steps have been taken to ensure that the corrections system has better access to world-class innovation and expertise?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS (Minister of Corrections)
: This Government is committed to a world-class corrections system in New Zealand. To achieve that, we must have access to world-class innovation and expertise. Today I was delighted to announce that global services management company Serco has been selected to manage the Mt Eden Prison and Auckland Central Remand Prison. Serco has a strong track record in managing prisons, operating six adult prisons and two youth offender centres in the United Kingdom and Australia. I am confident that this new partnership will lead the way in delivering innovation and excellence across the entire corrections system.
Sandra Goudie: What benefits does the Government expect to obtain from the private management of prisons?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: One of the major advantages of private management is the ability to build performance incentives and penalties into the contract. It also allows the Government to target problem areas more effectively. The contract now being finalised with Serco will contain rigorous oversight and significant financial incentives to ensure that the company consistently delivers its services to a high standard. We also expect the partnership will lead to innovation and efficiencies that can be extended to prisons throughout the New Zealand corrections system.
Question No. 5 to Minister
Hon JIM ANDERTON (Leader—Progressive)
: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Question No. 5 was originally set down for the Prime Minister, to ask him about his specific commitment to achieving an economic step change for New Zealand. I am not sure that it is fair or relevant to ask that of the Minister of Finance. I do not know that he made such a commitment.
Mr SPEAKER: It is the Government’s responsibility who answers questions in respect of responsibility. The question is about New Zealand’s economic performance, and it seems not unreasonable that it be directed to the Minister of Finance.
Hon JIM ANDERTON (Leader—Progressive)
: When the Prime Minister promised a step change in economic performance, did the Minister of Finance believe that the step change—
Mr SPEAKER: That is not what the question in front of me actually says.
Hon JIM ANDERTON: The original question was to the Prime Minister, asking him about his promise—
Mr SPEAKER: With respect, the member has been in this place just as long as I have and knows that the final wording of questions is agreed with the Clerk’s Office. Some questions require rewording. I ask the member to ask the question as worded.
Economic Performance—Step Change
Hon JIM ANDERTON (Leader—Progressive) to the
Minister of Finance: Was it his objective for the National-led Government to deliver a step change in New Zealand’s economic performance, and if so, has such a step change been achieved?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance)
: Yes, it is our objective, although incoming National Governments always find they have to achieve this. In 1975 and 1990 the incoming National Governments inherited from the previous Labour Governments economies that were headed for recession with bad Budget positions. In hindsight, I wonder why we did not expect that in 2008, but—
Mr SPEAKER: As I read this question, it simply asks: “Was it his objective for the National-led Government to deliver a step change in New Zealand’s economic performance, and if so, has such a step change been achieved?”. There is nothing wrong with referring to past record, but the substance of the answer should not be an attack on other parties. This is a question on notice, and the answer should relate to whether the Minister considers—and there is no fixed answer to it—that a step change has been achieved. The other matter may be relevant, but it should not be the prime part of an answer to dump on the questioner’s party.
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Yes, it is our objective. In response to the member’s question of whether a step change has been achieved, I say that incoming National Governments achieved a step change in growth both in 1975 and in 1990, and we probably should have expected that it would be required in 2008.
Mr SPEAKER: The Minister has totally ignored the Speaker. We are getting close to Christmas and I do not want to deal in too severe a way with any member, but I ask the member to treat the questioner with some respect. As I understand it, the Minister has acknowledged that a step change in New Zealand’s economic performance was an objective. It ought not to be too difficult for the Minister to say whether the Government has achieved that, without going back and giving the House a history lesson, as he was doing. Given the question asked, that is not reasonable or fair. I ask the Minister to listen to what the Speaker is saying on this matter because members have a right to ask reasonable questions. This is not an unreasonable question.
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Yes, and this Government inherited an economy that was contracting and shrinking; in fact, the export sector started shrinking in 2005. Since then we have turned it round considerably, but there is a long way to go.
Hon Jim Anderton: Does the Minister of Finance believe that the step change has been brought about by giving $14 billion in tax cuts to New Zealanders earning over $100,000, meaning that the previous Government’s fiscal surpluses would change to the massive deficits revealed today?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The member is showing that he does not understand the legacy left by the previous Government, which was, in the 2008 Budget, a forecast of 10 years of deficits. The tax packages that this Government has produced since 2009 have been fiscally neutral—that is, income tax cuts have been paid for by increases in taxes or reductions in expenditure elsewhere. The member is simply wrong.
Hon Jim Anderton: Has the Minister of Finance seen figures released today showing that retail sales slumped by 2.5 percent after the GST increase to 15 percent in October, which went with rising prices, falling real wages, and higher unemployment; if so, how are those outcomes a sign of the economic step change that the Prime Minister promised?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I agree that the flat consumption is in sharp contrast to the record of the previous Government, when from about 2004 onwards the export sector was driven into the ground and New Zealanders went on a debt-funded spending binge. We make no apology for the fact that our policies are designed to turn that round by encouraging savings and exports. An increase in GST and an increase in the effective tax rate on housing will help us to avoid the same kind of binge occurring again.
Hon Jim Anderton: Did the Minister note that GDP in constant dollars rose by 1.2 percent from December 2008 to June 2010, compared with the 3.4 percent rise in the corresponding first 18 months in office of the previous Government; if so, is that again an example of the step change that the Prime Minister promised?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Given the global financial crisis that intervened and the damage done, including the damage done by that member, to our export sector, I accept that the first few years of growth under this Government have not been as high as we
would like them to be. However, we are putting in place the platform to turn round the damage done by the previous Government, to overcome the effects of the global financial crisis, and to strengthen our economy.
Hon Phil Goff: Given that he is refusing to take responsibility for the economic position he has had 2 years to influence and that he is blaming the previous Government, why did he describe on 18 December 2008 the economic position of this country he inherited from Labour as “reasonable” and why did his Treasury officials state in their briefing to him that Labour had “done a good job of getting the New Zealand economy in a position where it can respond well to economic shocks.”? Why does he not take responsibility for his own actions?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: In December 2008 that advice was wrong. The net debt position of the Government’s books was relatively sound, but Government spending was completely out of control. The export sector had been driven into the ground, there was a loss of confidence in investment, and debt was going through the roof. It has taken us all of the last 2 years to turn round the damage done by Labour to New Zealand’s economy.
Public Transport Investment—Effect on Congestion and Commuter Stress
GARETH HUGHES (Green) to the
Minister of Transport: What is his response to the finding of the IBM Commuter Pain survey that investment in public transportation is key to reducing congestion and commuter stress?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister of Transport)
: I note that improving public transportation, better management of the roading system, and providing greater flexibility to work from home are all cited by commuters in the survey as measures by which transport stress can be reduced. The good news is that the Government is very active on all of those fronts: firstly, investing nearly $2 billion in commuter rail in Auckland and Wellington; secondly, better managing the roading system by completing the Auckland and Wellington roading networks with projects like the Waterview Connection and Victoria Park to extract the full benefits from those networks; and, thirdly, wearing another hat, investing $1.5 billion in ultra-fast broadband to provide better telecommunications and encourage telecommuting from home, amongst other things, to reduce the need to travel around our cities.
Gareth Hughes: How can he reduce congestion for stressed Kiwi motorists when he has cut funding for every activity other than new State highways, including cuts of 26 percent for walking and cycling and cuts of 50 percent for public transport infrastructure?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: The member is simply completely incorrect in those assertions.
Gareth Hughes: How can the Minister claim to be providing for a balanced transport system when over 80 percent of new project funding since he became the Minister has been for new motorways?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I point out to the member that the roading system carries by far the vast bulk of commuters and freight movements through New Zealand—
David Shearer: What about the “Holiday Highway”?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: In fact, the highway referred to by the member opposite carries more traffic and more people per day than the entire Auckland commuter rail network currently. It is good that we are investing in commuter rail, because it has the potential to grow over time, but the member is deluding himself if he thinks that is the solution, given where we started from.
Gareth Hughes: Can he confirm that the majority of conventional economic benefits from the central business district rail loop in Auckland would be congestion reduction for road users?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Yes, I could. Unfortunately, the numbers are not as high as that, and it is not until we get out to the “transformational benefits”—which Treasury, for example, has rather severe doubts over—that we actually get to much larger benefit-cost ratios. But we will assess that project over time. It is important that we assess it carefully and with clear eyes because, as the member may have noted from earlier in this session, the Government has to be very careful fiscally.
Gareth Hughes: Given that the central business district rail loop will significantly benefit motorists, stimulate three times as many wider economic benefits as the Pūhoi to Wellsford “Holiday Highway”, and is supported by Auckland, will he now prioritise the central business district rail loop?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: The member is well ahead of himself in that respect. I point out to him that he is talking about notional future demand versus current demand in comparing two projects. Also, he is comparing a commuter project with an interregional roading project. The two are rather different. There are many questions to be answered in the central business district rail case before we even consider who might fund it—for example, exactly how many cars it might take off the road 5 years after it opens, which is not apparent from the business case and would seem to be reasonably important for something that is promoted as a congestion buster.
Gareth Hughes: Given the Minister has said that more analysis is needed, why did he commit billions of dollars to the Pūhoi to Wellsford “Holiday Highway” in March 2009 when the business case was not completed until 9 months later, in December 2009, and, as the Minister said only 4 weeks ago, “No work had been done on this project prior to it being confirmed as a road of national significance”?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I point out to the member that the nomination of a road of national significance is not the final shape of the project; it continues, of course, to be refined. Again, I refer to the difference between a notional project, which talks about projected possible demand in the future, and a project that is creating the demand and is under spec right now. It is quite obvious that the road that he keeps trying to compare with this commuter rail project has demand on it right now and needs to be addressed for a range of reasons, including safety, economic growth, and connection between Northland and the city of Auckland.
Gareth Hughes: When will the Minister admit that all the evidence demonstrates that public transport, like the central business district rail loop in Auckland, is a better way to cut congestion and reduce commuter stress than wasting billions on his uneconomic pet motorways?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I have to say I think that the member’s suggestion is reasonably adolescent. Debating which projects should proceed does not mean unquestioning support for any project on the grounds that one transport mode is good and another one is bad. We have to be slightly more mature than that.
Child Poverty—Government Action
Hon ANNETTE KING (Deputy Leader—Labour) to the
Prime Minister: In light of his statement of 9 February 2010 that “I worry that there are signs of an emerging underclass in New Zealand”, what action has his Government taken to reduce the number of children living in poverty since that statement?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister)
: The Government believes that paid employment is the best way out of poverty for children and families. This year we have been working hard to create jobs and grow family incomes by strengthening the New
Zealand economy, and repairing the damage done by a global recession and 9 sad years of a Labour Government. We have continued to run substantial deficits to fund social services that support children and families, including those in vital areas such as education and health, and to fund income support payments, like Working for Families.
Hon Annette King: What is his definition of an underclass in New Zealand?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: It is a New Zealand where the rungs on the ladder of opportunity are broken.
Hon Annette King: Has he read the comments from Unicef that “The overall picture painted by the updated 2010 Children’s Social Health Monitor is deeply concerning.”, and “That so many of our children are admitted to hospital for illnesses associated with socio-economic deprivation is a wake-up call for all New Zealanders.”; if so, does he agree with those comments?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No, and no.
Hon Annette King: Is he prepared to set targets for the eradication of child poverty in New Zealand, as urged by the Every Child Counts organisation; if not, why not?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No, but I am prepared to commit Government resources to try to lift children out of poverty. There are a number of things we can do. Firstly, we can make sure that every child has a decent education, and, of course, national standards are an important step in that regard. We can make sure that we reform welfare, so that so many young New Zealanders are not trapped in welfare dependency, as was obviously the case under the Labour Government. We can make sure that we have innovative ways of tackling these areas, and Whānau Ora is a great example of that. I could go on, but we have the adjournment debate sometime tomorrow, and members will want to go home tomorrow evening.
Hon Annette King: Did he read the recent article in the
Challenge Weekly newspaper by Garth George, a strong advocate of the Prime Minister and the National Party, who said “The measure of a society’s soul is the way it treats its most vulnerable members—children, … —and on this measure we fail miserably.” and “The gap between rich and poor is still widening rather than closing, depriving many of the right to live even a subsistence life and forcing many to work so hard that family life is non-existent.”; if so, does he agree with him?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No, I did not see the article. Yes, I agree with parts of what he said.
Hon Annette King: Does he agree with Presbyterian Support, an organisation that has been working for 100 years in the community, which asks “How can a small, relatively well-off country like New Zealand allow such a generous ration of misery for so many, when at face value there should be more than enough to go around?”
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: On face value I agree with Presbyterian Support. The question we have to ask ourselves as a country is how we address that issue, which is an important issue. One of the things we need to do is to deliver opportunity for those kids, because being poor does not rob someone of hope. What is absolutely required is a decent education. I personally am saddened that for 9 years I sat back and watched the Labour Government allow more and more young New Zealanders leave school unable to read and write properly. If I were a member of that Labour Government, I too would be deeply ashamed of what it did. I know that members opposite are scared and frightened of their record in that area, and embarrassed at this Christmas time, but, unfortunately, that is their record in office.
Hon Annette King: Does he still believe that Working for Families, which lifted thousands of children out of poverty in New Zealand, is communism by stealth?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: When it faced very high effective marginal tax rates of nearly up to 100 percent, yes, and that is why this Government changed it dramatically through its tax cuts. New Zealanders who faced that are very grateful for that change.
Hon Annette King: Did he say to a delegation of Church leaders whom he met in late November to discuss the future of welfare in New Zealand: “If we cancelled welfare to 330,000 people currently on welfare, how many would starve to death? Bugger all.”; if so, does he stand by that stupid comment?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I have no recollection of the comment. What I do have a recollection of—
Hon Members: Ohhh!
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I say to those members that if they want to hear the answer, they should let me finish. I have a recollection of two things: one was quite an extensive conversation about how we might reform welfare; the second was one of those Church leaders making a very offensive statement, and I having to correct him about it.
JONATHAN YOUNG (National—New Plymouth) to the
Minister for Communications and Information Technology: What progress has the Government made this week on the Ultra-fast Broadband Initiative?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister for Communications and Information Technology)
: This week has seen further significant progress. I have just returned from Manaia View School in Whangarei, where the first stretch of fibre has been put in the ground, marking the beginning of the nationwide roll-out that will see 75 percent of New Zealanders have access to ultra-fast broadband. Deals have been signed with two companies, covering 16 percent of the premises targeted. These areas will be completed by 2015. I am very pleased that this important infrastructure project is under way before Christmas. The benefits should be available to the likes of the children of Manaia View School early in the new year.
Jonathan Young: What progress has been made in other regions covered by the urban broadband policy?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Crown Fibre Holdings yesterday announced a further three parties that it will start to negotiate binding offers with for the roll-out of ultra-fast broadband infrastructure in the remaining regions. They are Enable Networks, covering Christchurch and Rangiora; Flute Network, a joint venture covering Dunedin; and Telecom New Zealand, covering all areas except those covered by the previously short-listed bids. This paves the way for further deals to be agreed to in the first quarter of next year and more regions to benefit from ultra-fast broadband.
Clare Curran: Why is the Government trusting Telecom to deliver the best ultra-fast broadband outcome for New Zealand, given its history of competition abuses, which is strewn with examples of non-compliance and obfuscation, including eight breaches of the Fair Trading Act since 2003, with fines and repayments totalling nearly $14 million, and one breach of competition law under the Commerce Act relating to Telecom’s high-speed data transmission offering, for which the Commerce Commission is reportedly currently seeking penalties of up to $25 million in the High Court?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: First, I point out to the member that no deal has yet been done with Telecom. I also point out that she probably needs to decide which view she has in relation to that. Publicly she said on 5 July of this year: “It is not in New Zealand’s interests for Telecom to be run into the ground and excluded from the biggest network build for the next generation.”, so I am not quite sure what the member’s view is.
Clare Curran: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Minister did not answer the question; instead he told me what I had said.
Mr SPEAKER: The member asked why the Minister was trusting Telecom for certain things. If I remember the Minister’s answer correctly, he said no deal had been concluded yet. He then pointed out that the member had suggested herself that Telecom should not be excluded from these things. The question asked for an opinion on why the Minister was trusting Telecom, and the Minister gave an opinion. It is difficult for me to ask for a more precise answer than that.
Clare Curran: I seek leave to table a media release from the Commerce Commission dated 18 June 2010, titled “1,300—
Mr SPEAKER: No, we do not table media releases as recent as that. Does the member have a further document that she wishes to table?
Clare Curran: I seek leave to table an article titled “Harsh penalty sends message”—
Mr SPEAKER: What is the source of the document?
Clare Curran: It was published on the Stuff website on 7 December 2010, and was written by Nick Krause.
Mr SPEAKER: I will let the member further describe the document. This is published on a Telecom staff website, is it?—[Interruption] Oh, the Stuffwebsite; I beg your pardon. No, we do not do that.
Marine and Coastal Area (Takutai Moana) Bill—Criticism and Durability of Framework
Hon DAVID PARKER (Labour) to the
Attorney-General: Is he aware of the widespread criticism of the Marine and Coastal Area (Takutai Moana) Bill from both Māori and non-Māori submitters, and does he have confidence that the bill will provide a durable framework for consideration of foreshore and seabed claims?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON (Attorney-General)
: Yes and yes.
Hon David Parker: Does the Minister intend to seek any assurance from the Māori Party that it accepts that the Government’s new foreshore and seabed bill will, if passed, fully and finally settle the legal framework for consideration of foreshore and seabed claims; and, if no such assurance is forthcoming, will he be willing to consider adopting the solution favoured by Labour, the Greens, the ACT Party, and many submitters—Māori and non-Māori—who say the issue of the threshold test, as well as that of unextinguished rights, ought to be referred back to the courts for statutory protection for access and non-alienation?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: I am not really quite certain where the Labour Party stands on this issue, because that may be the latest permutation but the submission by Dr Cullen—a very good submission—to the ministerial review panel emphasised the need for codification of the tests and said: “to wait upon protracted legal arguments developing in New Zealand jurisprudence in this respect would defeat the purpose of what many are seeking: both certainty and equity”. So in response to the second part of the member’s question, I would say certainly not, the suggestion is ridiculous.
Hon Tau Henare: What does he think these criticisms mean in terms of finding a durable framework for consideration of foreshore and seabed claims?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: As I said in answer to the member’s supplementary question, Mr Goff seems to criticise the inclusion of tests to determine customary title but, as I said, that contrasts with what the submission to the ministerial panel by the Labour Party said. That said that the tests should be retained. Mr Goff also seems to think that we should just leave everything to the courts to decide, and again
that contrasts with section 96 of the Foreshore and Seabed Act and Labour’s 2008 agreement with Ngāti Porou. So it is very hard to find out where the Labour Party stands on all this sort of thing. It is about as consistent as vomit.
Mr SPEAKER: I think the last part of that answer went over the top.
Hon David Parker: Will the Minister agree to amend the Government’s bill so as to require that any proposed agreement between Ministers and claimants to confer customary title under that bill would be referred to the courts for ratification as is currently required under the Foreshore and Seabed Act for negotiated agreements under that Act?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: Although the negotiated agreements deal with foreshore and seabed reserves, what I have said all along is that when the submissions have been concluded I will have a good look at them, and if there are issues that need to be addressed, they will be addressed. That is the sensible thing to do when one is dealing with submissions that are still being heard by the select committee. I know that, for example, Waikato-Tainui and Ngāti Porou are yet to make their submissions to the select committee.
Hon John Boscawen: What does he make of Mr “Quinten” Hay’s submission on the bill, or has he not bothered to read it?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: I think the member probably means Mr Quentin Hay, who is a former partner of mine in Bell Gully. If that is the person, I have not read it but I certainly will. Then I will give the member my considered view.
Hon John Boscawen: Was Mr Quentin Hay correct in his submission when he said that the Attorney-General must have been misreported in the comment—
Mr SPEAKER: The Minister has no responsibility whatsoever for answering whether someone was correct. The member can ask about his opinion on certain things but he cannot ask him to accept responsibility as to whether someone is correct, when the Minister has no responsibility for that person whatsoever.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I think that the second clause of the member’s question brought it in, because it went to whether—
Mr SPEAKER: I was about to let the member rephrase his question. I ask John Boscawen to rephrase his question to bring it within the Standing Orders.
Hon John Boscawen: Does the Attorney-General agree with Mr Quentin Hay, who said the Attorney-General must have been misreported in the comment that ministerial deals provided for in clause 93 are akin to the settlement of a private dispute, because the Attorney-General’s argument is “fallacious”?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: That sounds like Mr Hay. No, as I have said, I have not read the submission. With the greatest of respect to Mr Boscawen, I am always very wary of listening to selective quotation. I will read the submission and then I will give him my considered view.
Social Services—Contract Mapping
KATRINA SHANKS (National) to the
Minister for Social Development and Employment: How is the Government improving transparency of taxpayer-funded social services?
Hon SIMON POWER (Minister of Justice) on behalf of the
Minister for Social Development and Employment: Today the Government launched contract mapping, a new tool that locates Government funding across New Zealand. The website uses Google Maps to pinpoint every social service provider in the country. We are able to see who gets the money, what it is for, how much they get, and where we can find them. This tool means that policy makers, communities, and Ministers can immediately see
where services are funded, and will be able to identify gaps and overlaps in the community.
Katrina Shanks: How will contract mapping contribute to the Government’s priority of having coordinated social services?
Hon SIMON POWER: Significantly. Currently we have the Ministry of Social Development’s contract map. Early next year we will also add the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Education, and Te Puni Kōkiri.
Neurosurgery Services—South Island
Hon RUTH DYSON (Labour—Port Hills) to the
Minister of Health: Is he confident that the announcement of 10 November regarding neurosurgery services in the South Island will provide a sustainable service?
Hon TONY RYALL (Minister of Health)
: I have been assured that the configuration of the South Island neurosurgical services recommended by the expert panel is sustainable. Having said that, building the service will not happen overnight. A number of things have to click into place, such as staff being recruited at both the university and the district health board level.
Hon Ruth Dyson: What was his response to the letter from Canterbury neurosurgeon Ronald Boet stating that he would resign if the announced model was imposed on him?
Hon TONY RYALL: I do not recall receiving that letter. My comment would be that the important thing we need to do for the South Island is to have a service that is sustainable and that will provide for the future. That certainly is the recommendation that has come from the independent panel, and I think that would be very good for New Zealand. I know that policy has been welcomed by the member’s two colleagues from Dunedin.
Hon Ruth Dyson: What was his response to the letter from Canterbury paediatric neurosurgeon Martin MacFarlane stating that he would retire from his profession if the announced model was imposed on him?
Hon TONY RYALL: I am aware that a number of people around the countryside may not be happy with what is being proposed, but let us remember that the reason why this review was started was that the doctors could not agree and the district health boards could not agree. That is why a decision was made. If the member opposite is saying that the Labour Party’s position is that it wants a one-site service run from Christchurch, then I find that very interesting.
Hon Ruth Dyson: Why will children from the whole of the South Island have to travel to Auckland for neurosurgery; and does he care enough about them to act on their behalf?
Hon TONY RYALL: I do not think that all the children of the South Island will have to travel to the North Island for their neurosurgery. This is about providing a sustainable service for the people of the South Island. That is why it has been strongly endorsed by her colleagues from Dunedin.
Legal Aid, Public Defence Service—Progress
CHESTER BORROWS (National—Whanganui) to the
Minister of Justice: What progress has been made on the roll-out of the Public Defence Service?
Hon SIMON POWER (Minister of Justice)
: I recently officially opened the Papakura-Pukekohe Public Defence Service. Its opening was significant because it marked the completion of the roll-out of the Public Defence Service across the entire Auckland region. A formal evaluation of the Public Defence Service and feedback from judges, practitioners, and court staff indicate that the Public Defence Service is
operating well. It continues to provide clients with as good a level of legal representation as they would receive from the private Bar. It has led to a significant reduction in the number of jury trials, court time, and costs.
Chester Borrows: What plans, if any, does the Minister have to expand the Public Defence Service to other locations? [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Before I call the Minister, I say that I just could not hear the question, because of the interjections from across the front bench. Would Chester Borrows mind repeating his supplementary question for me, please.
Chester Borrows: What plans, if any, does the Minister have to expand the Public Defence Service to other locations?
Hon SIMON POWER: I am pleased to report that the Public Defence Service is expected to be up and running in the Wellington, Lower Hutt, and Porirua courts early next year, and in Hamilton and Christchurch by the middle of next year.
Questions to Members
Question Nos 1 and 2 to Members
- Questions, by leave, withdrawn.
Marine and Coastal Area (Takutai Moana) Bill—Submissions Received
Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA (Labour—Ikaroa-Rāwhiti) to the
Chairperson of the Māori Affairs Committee: How many submissions have been received on the Marine and Coastal Area (Takutai Moana) Bill?
Hon TAU HENARE (Chairperson of the Māori Affairs Committee): Four thousand, one hundred and seventy-eight.
Marine and Coastal Area (Takutai Moana) Bill—Requests for Oral Submissions
Hon PAREKURA HOROMIA (Labour—Ikaroa-Rāwhiti) to the
Chairperson of the Māori Affairs Committee: How many submitters on the Marine and Coastal Area (Takutai Moana) Bill have requested to be heard in person?
Hon TAU HENARE (Chairperson of the Māori Affairs Committee): Five hundred and twenty-two.
PANSY WONG (National—Botany)
: It was beyond my wildest dreams when 14 years ago, in 1996, a girl born in Shanghai, China, who grew up in a Hong Kong apartment where eight families shared a single kitchen and bathroom, delivered her
historic maiden speech as New Zealand’s first member of Parliament of Asian ethnicity. That dream is not mine alone, and it comes with expectation, responsibility, and hope. I have tried every single day to keep that dream alive, and to make sure that nothing should happen to dash that dream.
Recently, questions were raised about the use of my parliamentary travel entitlements. These questions related to a 2008 end-of-year trip to China and Malaysia. When these questions were raised I immediately resigned as a Cabinet Minister, and cooperated with a thorough and exhaustive independent parliamentary inquiry. This inquiry covered the use of my parliamentary travel entitlements over the past decade. The inquiry found that I had erred, and that my 2008 trip involved activity that, although unplanned and inadvertent, could be construed as being for private business purposes. I accepted the findings, apologised, and repaid the level of rebate attributable to that part of the trip. That amounted to $237.06 each for me and my husband.
That inquiry brought into sharp focus for me the fact that my political career has been an all-consuming one, right from the time I started as a list MP, servicing Asian communities throughout New Zealand, until today. I know my career would not have been possible without my husband Sammy’s unrelenting support. As a consequence, his business interests were severely curtailed, and in China were limited to Lianyungang Supreme Hovercraft, a business he became a minority shareholder in on 25 December 2008. That shareholding resulted from a historical minority interest in the Christchurch-based Pacific Hovercraft, which he was asked to help when it was going through difficult times. Both of those businesses are now defunct.
The past 14 years have passed without my having had time to stop and reflect. But the past 3 weeks have given me the opportunity to do so, and it will for ever weigh on my conscience that my continuing political pursuit has placed huge demands and constraints on my husband. I have decided that this will no longer be the case. Often my brother in Christchurch has told me that the Rt Hon John Key, our Prime Minister, is the person who can turn round New Zealand for a better future; I agree with him. It is apparent that my mistake has become a distraction to the Prime Minister and the Government. They must focus on the important and urgent economic, social, and environmental issues; it is not acceptable to me that I have become a distraction to this very important focus.
One of my political highlights in the general election of 2008 was to become the first MP of Asian ethnicity to win a general seat. I am privileged, humbled, and grateful to the constituents of Botany, who demonstrated that representation can be beyond ethnicity, and that New Zealand is a country of equal opportunity. The playing field is far from being equal, but anything is possible if one works hard for it. Together with the campaign team, we knocked on over 10,000 doors and increased Botany’s winning margin of 3,000 to over 10,000. Botany, you rock!
Between 2001 and 2006 the Botany electorate grew by 34 percent—four times the national average. It is a multiracial community, which reflects my belief that many people can live together in one community, many people with shared values. Economic and physical security, good education, and community spirit abound, and it is a great place to bring up children. Together we achieved the community desire of naming the new local board, Howick, and brought forward the opening of the skateboard park to resolve the conflict between residents and skateboarders. Schools, community groups, the police, and business associations are all working together to make Botany the best electorate in the country. I have enjoyed meeting so many good people through doorknocking and community activities, and that will be sadly missed. But Botany deserves an MP who can fully focus on its issues.
My enforced period of leave has given me the chance to reflect. I have had 14 years of unrelenting workload in the Public Service, and it is time to turn a page in my life’s journey to focus on personal and family priorities. My political pursuit has its roots in proving that my country is a land of equal opportunity, and that Asian New Zealanders can succeed in the highest office. Not being satisfied as a list MP, I set my sight on winning a seat; jumping down the 192-metre tall Sky Tower in 2002 was to show that determination. Two attempts to win the Auckland Central seat set the foundation for me to win the newly created Botany electorate in 2008. Then I was appointed to the Cabinet, the first Minister of Asian ethnicity. That year I was also named in the top 10 of overseas Chinese achievers by the international overseas Chinese media grouping based in many countries—yes, we can!
In my maiden speech 14 years ago I stated that for a long time Asian New Zealanders had not taken an active part in the planning of our nation’s future. They had not been vocal in expressing their aspirations for this country. They had confined their aspirations to themselves and their families. Our future generations need to be confident and proud of being New Zealanders, and need to enjoy the benefits of making their contributions as world citizens.
Much has changed and progressed in the last 14 years. Examinations in Chinese at Bursary level were introduced in 1998, after many years of community lobbying. Nowadays second-language learning is part of the school curriculum. Consultation documents for a code of community values first appeared in the Chinese language; nowadays official documents and communication are regularly presented in multi-language format. Immigration policy is important to ethnic communities, and consultation with them is now accepted. Celebrations such as the Lantern Festival and Diwali are held throughout the country, and people from all walks of life are participating. The early discussions of the Asian police strategy have now evolved into an ethnic policing strategy. The lobbying for Asian liaison personnel to be added into the police force has now been extended to recruiting Asian uniformed police. Workshops were held with the ethnic catering sector, with regard to major changes to food safety legislation. The first Asian health survey was launched by the then Health Minister, the Hon Bill English. Chinese traditional medicine practitioners and acupuncturists have made their views known, as accredited providers, with regard to regulation and ACC. In the establishment of the one Auckland City Council, there is a provision in the legislation to set up an Ethnic Peoples Advisory Panel. Asians now participate in the policy and decision-making process.
One of the more vocal and political movements was the 8,400-signature petition against the change made to extend the citizenship qualifying period from 3 to 5 years in 2005. A compromised change was made, as a result, not to extend the change to permanent residence holders at the time. Protest meetings were held when changes were made to raise thresholds of English language requirements, and after the lapse of thousands of overseas immigration applications. In 2008 thousands of Asians marched in Botany, protesting the killing in 9 days of three Asians. National’s promise of a tough law and order policy, as well as a promise of 600 additional police, were well-received. Asian New Zealanders are no longer silent bystanders; they make their views known and voices heard.
On a more sombre note, my ongoing involvement in two high-profile domestic violence cases, when two mothers were killed by their husbands, was a chilling reminder that these cases are just the tip of the iceberg. They resulted in one 5-year-old boy growing up with his grandmother in New Zealand, and “Little Pumpkin” being looked after by her grandmother in China. She and her grandmother were the main reason for me to stop by in China in 2008. These human tragedies prompted me to ask
the Ministry of Women’s Affairs to work with the Office of Ethnic Affairs to launch the intimate partner violence project in ethnic communities. My vision for ethnic New Zealanders is for them to be confident, equal, and proud.
The Office of Ethnic Affairs links up ethnic business people with mainstream businesses and relevant Government departments so they can be part of the solution for New Zealand’s economic growth. It is important in a modern, multi-ethnic society that Government departments adopt an ethnic policy framework to ensure that policy development takes into account the interests of today’s composition of New Zealanders. New Zealand can be proud that for 2 years in a row it has been named the most peaceful country in the world, because we celebrate diversity in faith and ethnicity beyond tolerance. We play an active part and are well respected in the world for our initiatives in interfaith dialogues. Our country has tremendous human resources, as long as we ensure that we see our ethnic New Zealanders for what they can add rather than for how they should conform to be Kiwi.
In my short 2 years as the first Minister of Women’s Affairs of Asian ethnicity, I have come to appreciate the international reputation of the status of New Zealand women on the world stage. It was exciting to lead a delegation to the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women’s conference, of 9,000 attendees. New Zealand played an active and effective part in fast tracking the establishment of the streamlined UN women’s entity; it should bring sharp focus to promoting gender equality. I also had the pleasure of presenting New Zealand at the APEC Women Leaders Network forum in Japan, and the women business leaders forum at the Shanghai expo.
Those two forums coincided with the relaunch of the celebration of Suffrage Day in New Zealand, when 117 years ago New Zealand women were the first in the world to gain the right to vote. We should do more to celebrate, acknowledge, and leverage our proud history. The Ministry of Women’s Affairs nowadays is sharply focused on increasing the number of women in boardrooms, especially in listed companies. It is time that the New Zealand Exchange followed Australia’s lead and introduced a gender disclosure requirement for listed companies. International literature and research findings have established that having more women on boards improves business performance.
Women in the economy is another area in which I look forward to seeing progress, by having more women in trade, flexible work-practice templates, and pathways for moving from low-paid jobs, and by tracking the income differentiation between graduate men and women. All those work streams contribute to the closing of the gender pay gap. I am pleased to observe that this year the gender pay gap between women and men dropped to 10.6 percent, the lowest level since the first annual income survey in 1998. I am proud of the continued, relentless Government efforts of introducing legislation as well as actions to eliminate violence against women. It is important that ethnic women are included in the task force, because it is unacceptable for any woman to be a victim of domestic and sexual violence.
Mr Speaker, I acknowledge you for restoring the decorum of the debating chamber. I came in as one of the class of 1996, the first MMP Parliament, and I acknowledge the remaining seven of that class. To the many supportive parliamentary colleagues, thank you for your goodwill and friendship. To the Clerk of the House, the Cabinet Office, the staff of Parliament, Ministerial Services, and Bellamy’s, and the ministerial drivers, thank you all for your services, and a special thank you to both my electorate and parliamentary office staff. To Jimmy Anderson, I wish you a happy and well-earned retirement from the VIP Transport Service.
My privilege and opportunity to be the first New Zealand MP of Asian ethnicity was due to the foresight of the National Party leadership. Nowadays, it is accepted that
ethnic New Zealanders can and will become parliamentarians. I am indebted to our Asian advisory groups and members of the Botany electorate—your support and commitment has enabled me to sustain the demand of public service. I am pleased to be labelled the Kiwi daughter of the dragon, by media in China, in playing a role in the fostering of relationships between New Zealand and China, as well as Asia. The journey has been remarkable and it is time for me to exit the political life. Sammy, I am coming home.
Dr KENNEDY GRAHAM (Green)
: I rise to address this report from the Standing Orders Committee on the pecuniary interests of members. The report reflects a considerable body of work, I think, on a very important subject. I have followed through this issue in the Standing Orders Committee and have been actively engaged in it in
recent months. Like the preceding speaker, Trevor Mallard, I thank colleagues for what has been a fairly cooperative exercise within the committee.
I am satisfied that the committee has returned a useful report. We shall be supporting adoption of the report and the changes to the Standing Orders that the report recommends. It is worth recalling that the review emerged from a recognition by the 48th Parliament that a particular affair in 2008 had caused public concern, and had, perhaps, eroded confidence in this nation’s legislature. The previous Speaker had requested the Privileges Committee to examine the rules surrounding the financial interests of members, and to make recommendations to ensure that the House was “not brought into disrepute” and impeded in its functions. Although I agree with Mr Mallard that the Standing Orders Committee succeeded—and rightly so—in keeping the review depoliticised, I think it is important to recall that it was highly sensitive political issues that provided the genesis for this whole exercise—namely, the Owen Glenn affair in 2008 that involved the leader of New Zealand First, the Rt Hon Winston Peters.
I recall the report of the Privileges Committee, which stated: “We recommend by majority that the Rt Hon Winston Peters”—I repeat, the Rt Hon—“be censured by the House for knowingly”—I repeat, knowingly—“providing false or misleading information on a return of pecuniary interests. We recommend by majority that the Rt Hon Winston Peters be ordered to file, within seven days of the House so ordering, amended returns for the years ended 31 January 2006, 2007, and 2008 covering any gifts, debts, or payments in kind that he has not previously registered.” So it is a reminder of the degree of sensitivity that prevails around this thing—this same gentleman is now struggling below the watery surfaces of public opinion to re-enter this House—to ensure that the House is no longer brought into disrepute. Let us continue in hope.
For its part, the Privileges Committee believes that the Standing Orders Committee of the 49th Parliament has reviewed the rules for the declaration of pecuniary interests; this is what we have been doing, and this is the fruit of our endeavours. We considered, of course, the purpose of the Register of Pecuniary Interests of Members of Parliament and found it to be sound. We went through a gamut of issues, which have been touched on by Minister Brownlee and Mr Mallard, such as beneficial interests in trusts, the issue of real property, the issue of interest rates, legal fees paid on behalf of members if they are involved in litigation pertaining to their parliamentary activities, airline upgrades, and other things. We in the Green Party are happy with the outcomes of all those issues.
But in my opinion the most important development coming out of the report is the agreement we have reached concerning the scope of what we mean by “pecuniary interests”, and Minister Brownlee touched on that. In short, there is a need to broaden the scope beyond the strict meaning of the word “pecuniary”; I think that was fairly clear. We discussed the possibility of omitting the word “pecuniary” entirely from the name of the register and just having it as “register of interests”, but it was very clear that that would go way too far for the purposes of the House. We would end up being obliged to declare whether we were influenced in any way by the Church of Scientology, the Climate Science Coalition, the doctrine of creationism, or maybe the Flat Earth Society. It would have been ridiculous. So I think it was the correct balance to make it explicit that members are required to declare some interests that may not be pecuniary or financial to them, but that are limited to certain specified interests. I think we got to the right conclusion.
I do not want to go into any more detail on the provisions of the report, but I will make three broad points before I conclude. The first is that the Privileges Committee expressed a number of principles that support the approach of transparency. I think the Standing Orders Committee endorsed that, and we in the Green Party certainly embrace
it. The first principle is that the onus is on members to make an honest attempt to recognise and declare all pecuniary interests—that is fine. The third principle—I am skipping the second principle for the moment—is that all distinct interests must be declared, regardless of whether they are channelled through a trust or third party, and that is fine. The fourth principle is that the approach in declaring interests should be, if in doubt, to declare them—and that is critical and fine, too.
The second principle, I think, is more complex. The second principle says that the House’s decision to administer its own regime for declaring interests, places a strong moral imperative on members to comply with the requirements in the spirit of the House’s own rules. I think, with respect, that that is one huge understatement. Administering one’s own regime when it comes to pecuniary or financial interests is always going to be problematic. I have personally always been somewhat apprehensive over any organisation—whether it is the New Zealand Law Society, today’s FIFA, or last century’s Ku Klux Klan—that decided to administer its own regime of self-behaviour. Although I think that all members of this House are acting with integrity and good intent when they undertake to administer their own regime, and to place upon themselves principles and standards of the highest level, I think that in the normal course of human events we nonetheless fall short. So I, personally, am always pretty apprehensive about self-administration of one’s own financial regime. When it comes to MP expenses, we have seen in the last few months a move away from self-administration towards the administration of the independent Remuneration Authority, and I wonder whether in due course we may want to reflect on this within that context, as well. That is the first point.
The second broad point is to remind the House that we have had a register of pecuniary interests for the executive, I think, for the last decade and a half, or thereabouts, and we have had one for the legislature for the last 4 years, or so. In each case, it is for the protection of individuals, both in the executive and in the legislature. But we lack comparable protection for the judiciary, and recently the saga of the resignation of former Justice Bill Wilson has prompted a member’s bill, on my own part, to record a register of judges’ pecuniary interests. That looks as if it may be well-received by both the Government and the Labour Opposition, and I look forward to collaborating with them in pursuing it later.
The final point is the relationship between public sector and private sector funds. I believe it is right and proper that public funds be open and transparent in terms of accountability and scrutiny. The public has a right to be assured that public funds are properly spent, and that public servants—in this case, elected MPs—are not in any way influenced through a conflict of interest. I think this report goes some way to meeting that goal.
But the same standards, in my view, need to be applied to private sector funding. If we have learnt anything from the global financial crisis of the past 2 years, it is that there should be no difference between the standards we proclaim for the handling of public funds and those there are for private sector funding. I myself do not discriminate between the taxpayer and the consumer, and I would be interested to learn whether ACT, the Association of Consumers and Taxpayers, shares this view. I ask why the individual New Zealander should insist on the strictest standards of transparency and accountability for public funds, but should tolerate a veil of opacity and secrecy for private corporate funds. We are all affected equally by both; we are all in this together.
The pure obscenity of the public bail-out of private corporations that have failed through corporate and individual greed, which masqueraded between the mythological walls of the free market, commercial risk, performance-based bonuses, and executive leakage, will stand as an abomination of the past two decades. It is time to insist on the
same levels of accountability, the same standards of transparency, and the same threshold of behaviour between the public and the private sectors.
KRIS FAAFOI (Labour—Mana)
: Te Atua alofa ma te agalelei, fakafetai, fakafetai, fakafetai lahi lele. Tokelau toku atunuku pele, fakafetai, fakafetai, fakafetai lahi lele. Mana, toku kaiga i Aotearoa, malo, fakafetai. Taloha Ni, Mr Speaker.
I am humbled, honoured, and proud to join this Parliament as the member for Mana and as a member of the Labour caucus. To the people of Mana, I say thank you. It is an honour to serve such a diverse and strong community. It is also an honour to be the first Tokelauan MP to serve in this House of Representatives. We are a small and proud nation who have the privilege and are proud of being New Zealanders.
It is also an honour to have my parents in the House today. They came to New Zealand to be Kiwis and to give their children the opportunity to live the Kiwi dream. To Mum and Dad, I say thank you—another dream has come true for your children.
This is not the first time I have spoken in this House. In 1994 Jim Anderton chose me as his Youth MP. That September day I arrived, not knowing that I had to give a speech. Flustered and nervous, I scrambled to write something on the spot. I also recall a young, well-spoken, ginger-headed Youth MP from up the line. He spoke enthusiastically and seemed comfortable in his surroundings. I am going to break my first Standing Order, because I say that Darren Hughes is not here today, but, 16 years on, nothing has changed.
To say that the Mana electorate is diverse is an understatement. At most street-corner meetings during the by-election campaign we saw different slices of life. From the well-established communities of Paekākāriki, Cannons Creek, Tītahi Bay, Pukerua Bay, and Raumati, to the emerging areas of Aotea and the growing suburbs of Whitby and Camborne, Mana epitomises the catchphrase “It’s got it all”. I again say thank you to the people of Mana. Their diversity of culture, needs, and opinions makes it a formidable challenge to serve as their voice in Parliament—one that I am determined to meet.
I thank my predecessor, the Hon Luamanuvao Winnie Laban. Winnie’s devotion to Mana and her hard work has made it a better place. I thank her and Peter for the support they have given me and my family during the journey that has led me here today—ia manuia.
I take this opportunity to acknowledge the other candidates in the Mana by-election. In particular, I acknowledge the Hon Hekia Parata and Jan Logie. On the whole, the mood on the hustings was genuinely friendly. Mana is one of the few electorates where spontaneous Pacific Island dancing is not an uncommon happening at campaign events. I am sure we are all glad that my former TV colleagues did not make it to many of those events.
I have not taken the well-trodden path to Parliament. Many others who sit in this House today, from right across the political spectrum, have been heavily involved in politics from a young age. I have not. Despite that, I have been a strong advocate for social justice. As a youngster, I was given the job by my father of delivering Jim Anderton’s pamphlets. There were hundreds of them—and I read them.
My mother, who worked in a factory for most of her life, was a proud member of the Engineers Union. Dad was the president of the Hoon Hay Working Men’s Club, where opinions flowed as freely as the beer. I was not scared to offer my opinion to those whom I disagreed with, even though they were much older and much wiser than me. Dad was also a long-time chair of the boards of trustees at Rowley primary school and Hillmorton High School. I had the pleasure of being the student rep with him in 1994. That was where I learnt the value of community involvement.
My parents came to New Zealand to invest in the potential for their family. As teenagers my Mum and Dad left the tiny Tokelauan atoll of Fakaofo in the 1960s. My father, Amosa, was one of the first scholarship students to leave for New Zealand. He went from a carefree lifestyle on a tiny Pacific atoll to a boarding school in Masterton. Dad, I do not know how you did it, but when I went hunting through your Wairarapa College yearbook, I noticed your nickname was Romeo, so I gather that you did OK. My mother, Metita, left as part of a repatriation scheme. She did not know she was leaving Tokelau until the day she left.
My parents departed their homeland at the age of 16. They left their loved ones, their culture, and their religion to seek a better life in New Zealand. Through hard work and sacrifice, and with some help from the State, they toiled to make sure their hard work counted for something.
My parents wanted to ensure their three sons and daughter were raised as New Zealanders. They also wanted us to hold on to the important aspects of their life that they brought from the Pacific. For me the Tokelauan custom of inati—sharing on the basis of need—is something that is ingrained in my DNA. I saw it firsthand in 2003 on my first visit to Tokelau. The men of the village set a large net to catch fish for all the families. It was then divided up to ensure that no family would go without.
That concept lies at the heart of Labour Party values. It is about the many, not the few. I believe in strengthening communities. I believe in equal opportunities. I believe in strong social services. I believe in a fair and decent living wage. I believe in building a strong economy.
I know that education is the game-changer. It provides opportunity, as it did for me. I grew up in an area not unlike Cannons Creek. It was rich—mainly in spirit.
For me, university was an extension of high school: I was expected to go. But when I got there, I did not enjoy it. It was foreign. I was not prepared for it and, what with having just a handful of mates from my school studying alongside me, I bailed. That forced me to think seriously about the future that I wanted to lead. I contemplated an internship at the factory where Mum worked, and where I had worked during uni holidays. The ladies on the production line told me not to take it, and that was some of the best advice I have ever been given.
There were other jobs, but instead I enrolled in a journalism course. To get me through my studies I worked as a cleaner, and I think you can tell a lot about a person by the way they treat the cleaner. I am looking forward to returning to my old workplace—to catch up with those who took the time to get to know me. I also hope that some of those who did not bother are there, too.
Only 2 years ago I was sitting in this House of Representatives, upstairs in the press gallery. I saw it as a huge honour to be a member of the press gallery, and I still do. But now I have really jumped the fence. The dynamic has changed, but I look forward to having a cordial relationship with all members, and I acknowledge those members who I worked with closely.
This might come as a surprise to many, but journalism is a noble trade. It is the pursuit of truth to inform citizens. The press gallery acts on behalf of New Zealanders to ensure transparency and accountability. But I needed to take a step in another direction—to get closer to those values of social justice. I found that as a journalist I was increasingly highlighting problems, issues, disputes and, at times, trivialities. And, after 10 years, I wanted to be part of finding some solutions.
Serving the people of Mana in this Parliament is one half of that goal; the other half is ensuring that I work hard to make sure its communities grow stronger. Those communities are diverse and so have diverse needs. But, as I have said before, we all want the same things. We want our workplaces to be fair. We want safer communities. We want our children to have the education and opportunities to succeed in jobs that we have not even dreamt of yet. We want access to quality health care and transport systems that suit us.
I want New Zealand to be an even better place for us to live in and raise our children. Our job as politicians is to keep them healthy. Our job is to inspire and stimulate their minds through education. Our job is to shelter them from harm. Our job is to encourage them to speak their minds.
During the campaign, I had the pleasure of calling in to see the staff and students at Postgate School. It is decile 4 with about 300 students, all from varying backgrounds and ethnicities. While having a cup of tea in the staffroom, one of the teachers told me that their school band—named TMI, for “Too many Islanders”—had been placed second in the battle of the bands competition just the day before. At the end of our tour, as we got closer to the school gym, we started to hear some music. It sounded pretty good and I thought that someone was blasting some tunes out of a stereo. But, no, it was the kids—it was TMI. They blew me away. They are so young and have such raw talent. It was exciting to think how far they could go if given the right guidance, investment, and encouragement. I was so impressed that I asked them to play at our election night celebration. They were one of the treasures we discovered during the election campaign.
Postgate School for me was a microcosm of the Mana electorate—diverse in its make-up. We do not rate up there as the richest electorate, and the people of Mana face
their own challenges. But we are a community full of exciting potential that, when invested in, could grow into something amazing.
There is much to be proud of in Mana. There are small volunteer community organisations like Pregnancy Help, which works out of an office in Cannons Creek to support new mums with the basics like nappies, clothing, and bassinets. There are large businesses like Whittaker’s in Elsdon, which is committed to the area, to its workers, and to producing a world-class product, Whittaker’s chocolate, that many Kiwis will be overindulging in this Christmas. There are the Norths rugby club and the Western Suburbs football club, and both know what it is like to be champions. There are the staff and students of Whitireia Community Polytechnic. That institution serves well not only its students but also its community, from its Māori and Pacific nursing courses to its specialised drivers’ training school. The focus on shaping students to meet local business and community needs has a lot to do with its success, and I look forward to Friday’s graduation ceremony.
Although there is much to be proud of, there is also much to be done. We must make our State homes in Mana better places to live in and ensure there are enough to go around. The social and health problems caused by cold, damp houses in Mana and elsewhere in New Zealand need to be addressed. It is not good enough that Porirua East is the rheumatic fever capital of New Zealand, and it is not good enough that we have rheumatic fever in New Zealand, at all.
We must roll up our sleeves to work with the many smart and determined local businesses and training and community organisations to find work for the 3,000 people in my electorate who do not have a job. We must find innovative ways to encourage them to take on those workers, but not at the expense of fundamental workers’ rights. We must look at ways to encourage more parents to feel comfortable about taking a larger role in their children’s education. We need to ensure that communities like Raumati have the public transport options they need and deserve and that are well overdue.
We must also make sure we reduce the harm that alcohol does in our community. One of my enduring memories of the campaign will be of a father who had had a few too many and who approached me after a street-corner meeting. He said that the booze was too cheap, that it was too easy to get hold of, and that he did not want his kids to do what he was doing. I could see the irony, but I could also see that he was right.
I am proud to be a member of a caucus and a party whose fundamental values are to make a commitment to and investment in New Zealanders. I take this opportunity to thank the many volunteers who dedicated a lot of their time and exhausted a lot of their energy during the by-election campaign. By-elections are different beasts. They attract a higher level of scrutiny and attention. So I say to those who were there every day that each day was a privilege. I say to Carol Hicks, Ferila Betham, Deborah Mahuta-Coyle, David Talbot, Litea Ah Hoi, Murdo McMillan, Andrew Beyer, and Shane Laulu that words struggle to express how thankful I am for their efforts. To Caroline Mareko and Elia Sefo, I say thank you. I send the love and the prayers of the Labour Party family to them both.
To those who came from outside Mana, I say many thanks. I also thank Young Labour, especially the crowd who made the big drive up from Dunedin. I say thank you to John Ryall and the team of Service and Food Workers Union members who gave us so much support. Meaole’s Marauders and Marlins, our hoardings team, needs a special mention. Everyone in Mana is glad that the hoardings are now down!
Thanks go to Andrew Little and the Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union. A special mention must go to Paul Tolich, Mark James, and Damon Rongotaua. I say to
the general secretary, Chris Flatt, and the staff of the Labour Party that we could not have done it without them.
To my new caucus colleagues, I say thank you for helping me become part of the team. To Phil Goff, I say that it was a privilege to work for him and to now to be a member of his caucus. Anyone who has worked for Phil knows the commitment and passion he has for New Zealand. I thank Phil Goff and Annette King for the support they have given me and my family.
To my family, I say thank you for your love and support. I say to my parents, to my wife, Gina, and my son, George, to Lance, Jenny, Jessicah, Jason, Anna, and my sister, Maria, and to the many uncles, aunties, cousins, nephews, and nieces who supported me—many of whom are here tonight—fakafetai lava. Only those who have sat in this House know the sacrifice, joy, and angst that families go through to get us here. So my thanks and love goes out to you all and, in advance, my apologies.
Last week, I received a letter of congratulations from Ward Clarke, my high school principal. I have two vivid memories of Mr Clarke. He espoused the value of the afternoon nap, and each year he delivered us this quote from William Penn, which always inspired me and which I would like to share as I come to an end. “I expect to pass through life but once. If therefore, there be any kindness I can show, or any good thing I can do to any fellow being, let me do it now, and not defer or neglect it, as I shall not pass this way again.”
Nō reira, ka nui te mihi ki ngā rangatira o Ngāti Toa, ka nui te mihi ki ngā whānau katoa o ngā moutere. Nō reira tātou mā huri noa i tō tātou Whare, rau rangatira mā, e te whānau, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā tātou katoa.
[Therefore, much appreciation to the chiefs of Ngāti Toa; all Island families appreciate the chiefs. So to us all, throughout our House, the many chiefs, and particularly the family, greetings to you, greetings to you, and greetings to us all.]
- Sitting suspended from 6 p.m. to 7.30 p.m.