Questions to Ministers
Beneficiaries—Number Compared with July 2010
Hon ANNETTE KING (Deputy Leader—Labour) to the
Minister for Social Development and Employment: How many working-age people are currently receiving a main benefit and how does this compare to July 2010?
Hon PAULA BENNETT (Minister for Social Development and Employment)
: The number of people who received a main benefit rose by 0.7 percent from July 2010, to 336,333 in August 2010.
Hon Annette King: Why did she not give New Zealanders the full picture of the August benefit numbers in her press release on Monday, when she claimed that over 6,000 beneficiaries came off a main benefit in August because they had found a job, but failed to mention that over 8,800 went on to a main benefit in that month, with over 4,000 of them going on a benefit for the first time?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: As the member has that information it is fairly evident that the information is transparent and it is out there. If the member had read the press release further, she would see that. It is pretty evident, because the member is reading it out in Parliament, as to why it is there. The numbers have been transparent. They are what they are, and that is where it sits.
Hon Annette King: Because she chooses the date to release the benefit figures, why did she release the figures on Monday at the height of the turmoil following the Christchurch earthquake—was it because the main benefit figure went up by another 2,233 in just 1 month, in contrast to the Australian unemployment rate, which has just dropped from 5.3 percent to 5.1 percent?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: A week ago I had a criticism from the Opposition that I was not releasing the figures soon enough, and now it seems I have released them too soon. That is the criticism that is coming from the other side of the House. Yes, as the press release said, the numbers did go up for August, but actually this is the lowest increase for 3 years, and we have also seen people going into work, as well as those who are unfortunately not able to.
Tim Macindoe: How many people cancelled their benefits in August 2010 because they found work?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: In August 2010, 6,596 people cancelled their benefits because they found work. This was up 19 percent from August 2009, and up 22 percent from the time when the member herself was in Government—22 percent from August 2007, which was before the start of the recession.
Hon Annette King: Does the Minister continue to use online job advertisements as an indicator of an improving economy; if so, has she seen the news story today quoting SEEK New Zealand, one of the companies she often uses in her press releases, which states that both job applications and job ads have gone down by 3.8 percent, indicating a further bump in the long road to recovery?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: Yes I do. We do look at that, and actually SEEK today advised that it had 33 percent more jobs for August this year than it did last year. I think, though, as the member quite rightly points out, we can slice and dice it however we like, but it is about people, it is about them trying to get jobs, and it is about offering them the right assistance.
Hon Annette King: In light of the Prime Minister’s answer in the House yesterday, is the Minister prepared to advise the Government to insert provisions in any urgent legislation relating to reconstruction in Canterbury that requires construction companies to undertake training of the 1,000 beneficiaries she has identified in the region who have some skills in construction and building, and who could be used in the earthquake clean-up, thereby giving them a chance for long-term future employment?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: Policy work about that is ongoing and still under consideration.
Hon Annette King: Will she waive any of the new requirements brought in by her recent social security amendment Act for Cantabrians facing severe hardship arising from the earthquake—for example, the requirement to complete a budgeting course if they need a hardship grant more than three times in the year—if not, why not?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: The member misrepresents what was said to be a budgeting activity after beneficiaries have received three hardship grants. Yes, there are special circumstances relating to victims of this earthquake, and we have made changes with those. Some of the changes are about civil defence payments and some are about special-needs grants—and, yes, I think that is appropriate.
Earthquake, Canterbury—Cost of Damage
AMY ADAMS (National—Selwyn) to the
Minister of Finance: What reports has he received on the cost of damage from the Canterbury earthquake?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance)
: Preliminary advice from Treasury estimates that the total bill for earthquake damage could be about $4 billion. This figure incorporates the damage to residential buildings and property largely covered by the Earthquake Commission; the damage to commercial buildings largely covered by private insurers; the damage to local government infrastructure, some of which will be covered by insurance carried by local government; and the cost of damage to central government assets. I would caution that this is still a very early estimate, and as more information becomes available we will have a better capacity to focus on the total cost. I
must say, though, that right now the Government is not focused on getting the total cost right; that may take years, perhaps. It is focused on restoring to people their homes, businesses, jobs, and schools.
Amy Adams: Who will pick up the bill for the damage?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: In the first instance, insurance companies will pick up a large proportion of these costs. The Earthquake Commission has significant reserves, significant enough to cover the larger estimates of its costs, including reinsurance. Private insurers have reassured us that their own reserves and reinsurance arrangements will be adequate. So far the Earthquake Commission has received 36,000 claims, and it expects this to rise to around 100,000 claims in coming weeks. It is receiving great cooperation from telephone companies and from the Accident Compensation Corporation and others who have helped to augment the Earthquake Commission’s call centre capacity, and therefore its ability to take and process claims.
Amy Adams: What advice has he received on how the earthquake will affect economic growth?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: First of all, any advice on economic growth cannot and does not capture the cost to individuals of the severe disruption and concern that they have. Treasury advises that the earthquake is likely to lower GDP growth over the next 2 or 3 months. However, it expects that in the 12 months beyond that, the earthquake will have a net benefit on GDP. If members can imagine the large amounts of cash that have been held in reserve by insurance companies, then they will understand that. The Earthquake Commission will be saved by, for instance, the sale of shares owned overseas, and that money will be injected into the Canterbury economy. So we would expect there to be a positive effect over the next 12 months or so.
Amy Adams: What are some of the other costs that people may face as a result of the earthquake?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Obviously businesses and employees face a loss of potential income because of, for instance, damage to stock held by a business, or simply because the workplace has closed. That is why the Government has set aside initially $15 million for a wage subsidy for quake-affected businesses and workers. In the first day and a half since the subsidy was announced, Work and Income has received about 342 calls from employers, 36 formal applications, and, in fact, the first few applications have already been approved. We expect this to grow quickly over coming days. I have also spoken to the chief executives of the main banks, who have confirmed that they will do what they can to accommodate the special needs of their personal and business customers in Canterbury.
South Canterbury Finance—Inquiry into Collapse
Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE (Labour—New Lynn) to the
Minister of Finance: Will he agree to a full public and independent commission of inquiry into the collapse of South Canterbury Finance?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance)
: No. We do not see anything to be gained by such an inquiry at this time. In the first place, the Government needs to focus what is actually a very small resource of people and expertise on getting value for the taxpayer, who has paid out $1.6 billion, and now we need to recover somewhere between $1 billion and $1.2 billion, which is a high priority for us. Secondly, should any issues arise around fault, or cause, or responsibility for what has gone on with South Canterbury Finance, there are any number of regulatory agencies that could investigate those questions. Finally, the Government will be shortly releasing proactively all the relevant papers that can be released, subject to commercial confidentiality, which will
allow the member to scrutinise in detail all judgments and processes followed by the Government.
Hon David Cunliffe: Was the process used to place Allan Hubbard and Aorangi Securities into statutory management fully sound and transparent, including in respect of all potential conflicts of interest?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I actually do not have ministerial responsibility for that decision.
Hon David Cunliffe: What reports from KordaMentha did Treasury receive on South Canterbury Finance using its acceptance into the guarantee scheme to attract more investment and to increase its loans, and when were those reports received?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I cannot answer the question in detail, but I can point out to the member, as I stated yesterday in the House, that the evidence shows that most of the concerning lending activity of South Canterbury Finance occurred before October 2008. There was some small growth in lending after that. Finance companies had to pay a fee for any growth in lending, and both the previous Labour Government, which put the guarantee in place, and the National Party, which supported it, did so partly with the intent that lending could continue, because if lending stopped the whole country would have stopped.
Hon David Cunliffe: Can the Minister confirm that, in fact, it was he and his Cabinet that decided to admit South Canterbury Finance to the scheme; if so, did his Government ever consider using its powers to appoint a statutory manager in respect of South Canterbury Finance, either prior to April 2010 or before placing it into receivership?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The member will know that the way that the delegation of the guarantee worked meant that, in fact, Cabinet did not make decisions about what went into it. As set up by Dr Cullen, the delegation was given to Treasury, and Treasury made the decision. We supported that process of making decisions.
Hon David Cunliffe: Why was the eventual recapitalisation deal for South Canterbury Finance not agreed, given reports that a multi-hundred-million-dollar private equity injection was available to reduce taxpayer liabilities?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The member is simply reporting, as he did yesterday, on some market speculation. There have been many versions of market speculation. I advised the House yesterday that no proposition was put before the Government that Treasury and its advisers would have supported that allowed the recapitalisation of South Canterbury Finance prior to its receivership.
Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga: What lessons can usefully be learnt from the crisis and the use of the Crown guarantee in response?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I think the lesson that can be learnt is that the guarantee was effective, as it was in a number of other countries, such as Australia and Canada—that is, the guarantee was put in place in order to ensure that the financial system did not tip over, with the very substantial costs that would go with that. As I pointed out yesterday, New Zealand may get through the guarantee with a net cost of somewhere between $200 million and $400 million; in other countries where such guarantees were put in place—for instance, Ireland—the costs have been tens of billions of dollars. In New Zealand’s case, we should be pleased that there has been a relatively low cost so far, enabling us to maintain a financial system through the global financial crisis.
Hon David Cunliffe: If the Minister was quoting from an official document in citing the numbers of $200 million to $400 million, I seek that he table it.
Mr SPEAKER: I will check with the Minister. Was the Minister quoting from any official document? No, he was not.
Hon David Cunliffe: I seek leave to table a Treasury estimate that indicates that the residual cost to the taxpayer is $800 million, not $200 million.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is no objection.
- Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Marine and Coastal Area (Takutai Moana) Bill—Attorney General’s Statement
METIRIA TUREI (Co-Leader—Green) to the
Attorney-General: Does he stand by his statement that the Marine and Coastal Area (Takutai Moana) Bill “treats all New Zealanders including Māori without discrimination”?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON (Attorney-General)
Metiria Turei: Does he agree with the then Acting Attorney-General that this bill creates discrimination on the basis of race because Māori customary title is weakened by a range of conditions, but freehold title is not?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: I acknowledge the Acting Attorney-General’s report. He said that such limitations as existed on customary title in comparison with other forms of title were reasonable, and he referred to issues relating to access and alienability, which are the very points that I have been discussing with iwi and hapū around the country. Iwi and hapū do not want customary title to be alienated, and they accept the need for public access.
Metiria Turei: How is treating title differently on the basis of race not discrimination on the basis of race?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: Customary title is different from freehold title, but the fact that it is different does not mean there is discrimination. It is a very valuable form of statutory title, which has been developed. As the member would know, in the Ngāti Apa case, the Court of Appeal held that the scope of customary title could range from what it called usufructuary rights to something approaching fee simple. We have looked at the incidence of ownership and we have brought together various incidents in this new form of customary title. That is not discriminatory, and it reflects what iwi and hapū have been asking for.
Metiria Turei: Does he think it is fair that Māori customary rights can be overruled by mining concessions, but the 12,500 private titles in the foreshore and seabed cannot?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: With mining interests we are trying to deal with transitional arrangements as we transition from a form of Crown absolute ownership to a no-ownership regime, and one has to have transitional arrangements in those circumstances. As to the 12,500 private titles, I remind the member of what I said yesterday, which was that two wrongs do not make a right and that removing the rights of landowners, including Māori and Pākehā who have freehold title, simply creates another injustice.
Metiria Turei: Will there be any restrictions on those 12,500 private titles in the foreshore and seabed being sold into foreign ownership?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: There will be restrictions so that if, for example, there is a proposal to sell a farm, then presumably that will have to go through the approval processes and appropriate channels. What we are dealing with is the proposition that there will be no new freehold title in the area we are talking about.
David Garrett: Would it be an offence for iwi holders of customary title to charge, or attempt to charge, for access to the beach; if so, which specific clause in the bill would that offend against, or does he not know?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: Yesterday I took the member through the various parts of the bill that make it clear that it is not possible to charge for access to
the common marine and coastal area. I said to the member yesterday that if someone tried to do that, there are regulation-making powers that will enable the Minister of Conservation to deal with the issue. I do not know what more I can say.
Hon Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am listening to the member most carefully, and I think it is very interesting to hear what he said yesterday. But the question specifically asked whether it was an offence, and nowhere did the Attorney-General address that.
Mr SPEAKER: The member has got me a bit there. The member’s party has one more supplementary question, and I will listen carefully if it is used on this question. I believe that the Attorney-General has pointed out where it is contrary to the bill and, assuming the bill becomes law, then I presume that it would be against the law to do so. I presume that is what the Minister was saying. But if the member believes that greater specificity is needed, I will listen very carefully to any further supplementary question.
David Garrett: Would it be an offence for iwi holders of customary title to charge, or attempt to charge, for access to the beach; if so, which specific clause in the bill would that offend against, or does he not know?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: As I have said, yesterday I pointed out to the member the provisions that make it quite impossible for iwi or hapū to charge. I also referred the member, and I can point out the various parts, to clauses 118, 119, and 120, which enable regulations to be made, and regulations could be made to deal with those issues as well.
Hon Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. You gave us the opportunity to ask a second supplementary question in order to have the issue addressed. We have used two supplementary questions. The question asked whether it would be an offence to charge for access to the beach. The Attorney-General has gone on to say that there are clauses that set out the rights. The question asked whether it would be an offence to charge. I think we can take it from the Attorney-General’s answer that it would not be an offence, but it is very hard to know because he did not address the question.
Mr SPEAKER: With respect to the honourable member—it may be that the honourable member has a deeper knowledge than I do, and I apologise for my deficiencies if that is the case—the dilemma I perceive is one of debate around the answer given. The question was commendably direct; I absolutely agree. The Minister has answered it in so far as he interpreted it, and I do not perceive the Minister is trying to dodge the question, but I might be wrong. It seems to me that it is more a matter of debate around the meaning of the Minister’s answer. I am not sure that that can be seen as refusing to answer the question. With some of these issues, maybe the answer is not quite as clear as the member would like, but it seemed to me that the Minister established which clauses make it illegal to block access to the beach. He established which clauses provide for regulations to be made that could cover matters relating to charging for beach access. As Speaker, I do not have sufficient knowledge to know whether that is an absolutely perfect answer to the member’s question, but it seems to me that it is not an attempt to evade the question. I am happy to hear the member if he feels that I have totally misunderstood this.
David Garrett: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. With respect, in my view it is an attempt to avoid the question, and for this reason: the question has been very carefully worded, as you have noted, and it refers to an offence. You have said, correctly, that you cannot know because you have not looked at clause 64, but we have. I can assure the House that nothing in the clauses cited by the Minister yesterday refers to an offence. That is the first point.
Mr SPEAKER: The dilemma now is that the member is debating the answer that the Minister has given, and I cannot allow that. I am not a lawyer and I accept my
deficiencies, but I recognise the honourable member is a lawyer, as is the Attorney-General. I think the Attorney-General has listened carefully to the question asked, and I think he believes that he has answered it. I cannot judge the quality of his answer. It would be a big call for me to disagree with the Attorney-General. It does not seem to me that he tried to dodge the question. Whether or not that satisfies the member, this matter will be around for a while. If the Minister’s answer is deficient, then it will be possible to devise a question in the future to test it still further.
Hon Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I do not want to delay question time, but this is quite important. The ACT Party has only two supplementary questions a day. The issue is not what a particular clause states or whether a particular clause allows charging for access to the beach, which is the Attorney-General’s point. The issue is whether it is an offence to charge. That was the question. Does this legislation set out that it is an offence to charge? There is no way that the Attorney-General addressed that point.
Mr SPEAKER: I hear the honourable member and I fully accept the inadequacy of my knowledge. This is a serious issue where there is a genuine public interest. The question asked whether it was an offence to charge for use of the beach; certainly if access to the beach goes over private land, then people can charge for that. I presume, in fact, the question was deficient in that regard, but the Attorney-General chose not to use that as an out. The Attorney-General has listened to the question and I ask him in the interest of good faith whether he could help the House. My dilemma is that I am not a lawyer and I cannot judge the adequacy of the Attorney-General’s answer. There is a public interest in this. The question was very direct as to whether it was an offence. I invite the Attorney-General to assist the House.
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: I am pleased to; I am here to help. I referred to Subpart 3 of the bill, which relates to regulations that may be made. The Governor-General may, by Order in Council, on the recommendation of the Minister of Conservation make regulations, for example, for the safety and protection of members of the public who exercise rights of access, or for prescribing offences. So it could be an offence. It depends on the circumstances and whether the regulations are made.
Mr SPEAKER: This time we have had an answer.
Metiria Turei: Does the Attorney-General understand that if approved by the Overseas Investment Office, foreshore and seabed held in private title can be sold into foreign ownership?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: Yes, I do.
Metiria Turei: So why then does he think it is fair to restrict the customary rights of Māori in the foreshore and seabed, but to continue to allow the possibility for New Zealand’s beaches to be sold into foreign ownership?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: As I have already said, two wrongs do not make a right. These titles exist now, and unilaterally taking away from Māori and Pākehā who have freehold titles in areas that encompass the foreshore and seabed is discrimination.
Te Ururoa Flavell: Tēnā koe, Mr Speaker. What evidence did the ministerial review panel chaired by Chief Judge Taihākūrei Durie rely on in concluding that the Foreshore and Seabed Act 2004 failed to balance the interests of all New Zealanders in the foreshore and seabed, and that it was discriminatory and unfair; and how does he think the 2010 bill will fare under the same scrutiny?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: The ministerial review panel relied on a wide range of evidence, both national and international, that was submitted to the panel. The submitters included business interests, local government, iwi, hapū, and various other groups. The panel also looked at New Zealand case law, including the Ngāti Apa
decision. I cannot predict how the ministerial review panel will necessarily respond to what has been proposed, but I think it will acknowledge that those fundamental rights of access to justice have been restored, and that the ability of iwi and hapū, called applicant groups, to apply to the court to have those rights tested has been restored. Those two things were removed under the 2004 Act.
SuperGold Card—Government Commitment
Hon DARREN HUGHES (Labour) to the
Minister of Transport: Does he stand by his statement that “the Government is totally committed to the SuperGold Card”?
Hon NATHAN GUY (Associate Minister of Transport) on behalf of the
Minister of Transport: Yes.
Hon Darren Hughes: Can he tell us when the review of the SuperGold card will actually result in some decisions, given that it has already missed its May and July deadlines, causing real concern amongst the hundreds of thousands of senior citizens who use the SuperGold card, particularly for off-peak public transport travel?
Hon NATHAN GUY: The report will be completed very soon.
Hon Darren Hughes: Is the Government committed to the current definition of off-peak travel services, so that our senior citizens can continue to benefit from free public transport off-peak?
Hon NATHAN GUY: The SuperGold card entitlements that superannuitants receive will not change.
Hon Darren Hughes: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My question was different from asking about the entitlements that senior citizens receive. It asked whether the Government was committed to the same definition of off-peak travel services, which is one component of the entire SuperGold card. That was the point of my question.
Mr SPEAKER: The Minister answered that entitlements will not change. That was a pretty clear answer.
Hon Darren Hughes: Can I speak further to the point of order?
Mr SPEAKER: I will hear the honourable member further, indeed.
Hon Darren Hughes: One of the aspects that has been identified by the Minister, in the review that he has asked the Minister of Transport to do, concerns the issue of the definition of off-peak transport—the definition of those hours—
Mr SPEAKER: What I invite the member to reflect on, though, is that he asked a question, and the Minister gave, on the face of it, a reasonable answer. He said the entitlements would not change. The member has knowledge that suggests that maybe the review was looking at layers below the entitlements, so it is quite obvious what the next supplementary question should be. We do not need to have a point of order to sort that out.
Hon Darren Hughes: In respect of his complaints about the cost of the scheme going from $18 million to $22 million, has he complained to the Minister of Finance that it was possible to find $1.7 billion of taxpayers’ money as a gift to South Canterbury Finance investors, but he could not find $4 million for our senior citizens to continue to travel off-peak for free?
Hon NATHAN GUY: I am sure that that member would assume that the operators should not make a profit under the scheme. We want to ensure that we look after superannuitants. As I have just mentioned in the answer to the previous supplementary question, there will be no changes for superannuitants under the existing scheme. There has been wide consultation. We are working through those processes now, and I look forward to receiving the final report.
H V Ross Robertson: Can the Minister therefore tell the House how the Government’s objectives for senior-citizen mobility and community participation will be enhanced by forcing transport operators to charge a 20 percent top-up for local bus services in Dunedin?
Hon NATHAN GUY: Yes, there is some discussion going on about the level of subsidy, and that has been widely consulted on with regional councils and operators and with the likes of Grey Power and Age Concern. So far, from the 14 regional councils that have been consulted through this process, we are getting very, very positive support back.
Earthquake, Canterbury—Government Assistance
TIM MACINDOE (National—Hamilton West) to the
Minister for Social Development and Employment: What is the Government doing to support the Canterbury community through the earthquake recovery?
Hon PAULA BENNETT (Minister for Social Development and Employment)
: Today we announced that a special community response round will take place for Canterbury; $7.5 million has been put aside to provide one-off grants. The criteria will be simple: funding will be granted to groups that are facing additional demand for services as a result of need from people who are affected by the earthquake and that are supporting the well-being of Canterbury residents. The applications will open on Monday, and they will be responded to as they come in, instead of waiting for an end date for applications.
Tim Macindoe: How is the Government ensuring that those impacted by the earthquake have access to counselling and trauma support?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: Yesterday we announced $2.5 million for counselling and trauma support. The demand and the intensity of the support needed is only beginning to emerge for many. It is clear, though, that people are tired, feeling very frazzled, and feeling the effects of the earthquake and the aftershocks that keep coming, as well. We are making sure that help is available to them at all levels. So far we have had more than 40 extra counsellors fly into Christchurch, and that is just the beginning of the need.
Tim Macindoe: Can the Minister update us on the progress of the Government’s helpline?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: The 0800 779 997 Government helpline is being run through Work and Income throughout New Zealand. I went and saw one of the call centres here in Wellington this morning. The staff are certainly doing some incredible hours and some incredible work. So far they have had a total of well over 8,500 calls, with more than 700 of them received just today. They have made contact now with over 14,000 outbound calls to senior citizens, beginning with those whom they believed were living alone, to see whether they can help. They are now starting to reach out to those on invalids benefits and those whom they know have illnesses to make sure that they are OK, as well. Of the ones whom they are unable to get hold of, so far they have made over 200 home visits to those people to check that they are all right.
Hon Annette King: What provision has been made by Work and Income to assist Cantabrians who work in the casualised workforce—for example, home-care providers who have been unable to provide their service because of the earthquake, so therefore are not receiving their usual income or getting the employer top-up, but their outgoings remain the same?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: Provision has been made for that through the civil defence payment, which is at the same rate as the unemployment benefit, including the married rate, and can be made available to those with a loss of income because they are unable to work because of the earthquake.
Tim Macindoe: What other support has the Government given to those who are supporting the clean-up?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: Yesterday I visited some of those Canterbury University students who are out shovelling silt and cleaning up the roads around them. Those students were mobilised through Facebook and I believe that today so many turned up that some had to be turned away. The Prime Minister and I were talking the other night in support of those students who are doing such a great job and we thought that just a wee payment of $5,000 would help them with some of their transport costs, to buy the equipment that they need, and to feed them, which is probably the best way to get to students.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Give them all As!
Hon PAULA BENNETT: The member on the other side of the House is yelling out that we should give them As. We also hear that school students who cannot be at school at the moment because schools are closed are turning up. There are many, many hundreds of New Zealanders fronting up and wanting to help at this time, and we all certainly thank them for that.
Education, National Standards—Support of Trustees
Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Labour—Hutt South) to the
Minister of Education: Does she stand by all of her statements in answer to oral question No. 8 yesterday?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Deputy Prime Minister) on behalf of the
Minister of Education: Yes.
Hon Trevor Mallard: How does she reconcile her statement to the House yesterday that she did not say that applause while she was on stage at the New Zealand School Trustees Association conference was a sign of support for her national standards, with her statement to the House on 24 August 2010 that “… at the annual conference of the New Zealand School Trustees Association, the president of that association, who along with her executive has been extremely supportive of national standards, got a standing ovation.”?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The second statement is factually correct. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: The House could not hear the answer. I apologise to the honourable Minister and ask him to repeat the answer.
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The second statement is factually correct.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Why, then, did she go on to say on 24 August: “That was a very good sign that the 600 representatives at that conference were supportive of the executive’s stance.”—that is, its stance on national standards?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Because she believed that it was. It is interesting to hear that member making much of what might have happened at a conference. I can recall his fronting up to public meetings of a thousand people who opposed his policies—
Mr SPEAKER: That is not necessary to answer the question.
Hon Trevor Mallard: How does she reconcile an ovation for Lorraine Kerr’s 21 years of service as a trustee with the Minister’s claim that that ovation was for Anne Tolley’s national standards?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The Minister did not claim that it was an ovation for her national standards. She said that it was an indication of what is factually correct, and that is broad support among boards of trustees for national standards.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Going back to a previous supplementary question, why, then, did she say that that ovation for 21 years’ service was “a very good sign” that the 600 representatives supported her national standards?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I presume it was because the Minister believed that that was the case, and there is plenty of evidence from around the country that it is the case.
Hon Trevor Mallard: When she said yesterday that the 20 letters she has received this year—to June—from boards of trustees were not expressing any discontent with the national standards, had she read the letter of 4 February, which states: “I’m not alone in having other concerns about the proposed changes, the lack of a trial, the threats to school boards, the un-thought-through demands on busy teachers, and who this will benefit.”, or the email of 19 February, which states: “I am now of the belief that there is enough wrong with the new standards that you must take action to correct them. Rolling them out as currently proposed is wrong.”, or the letter of 23 February, which states: “There are ramifications from these”—
Mr SPEAKER: I think the questioner has made his point.
Hon BILL ENGLISH: From what the member read out, there were people who had concerns, questions, and advice for the Government. None of them actually said they were opposed to the national standards in the way that the Labour Party is. I understand that Labour is committed to abolishing national standards.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I seek leave to table the letters to the Minister of Education this year, which she has released to me under the Official Information Act, all bar one of which show opposition to the national standards.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table those documents. Is there any objection? There is objection.
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. If the member had just got up and asked for leave in the normal way everyone does, then we might have granted it. But he used the opportunity to make a speech.
Mr SPEAKER: I am aware that some Speakers have been very strict on this, putting real constraints on what can be said when leave is sought to table a document. Rather than doing that, I have taken the approach of limiting the kinds of documents for which leave to table can be sought, but also of making sure the House is aware of what the documents are. In this case, because of the questions, I guess that members would have been aware of what the documents were. I believe that members do need to be able to describe the documents to the House, and I would rather have it that way; I have put constraints on which documents leave can be sought for, but a reasonable description, when leave is being sought, to enable members to make up their minds is, I think, not unreasonable. That is why I did not intervene at that point.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I seek leave to table letters and emails to the Minister from between 1 January this year and, I think, 13 May this year, being the total of those that were released to me as being from members of boards of trustees or from boards of trustees during that period.
Mr SPEAKER: It seems to me that that is the same leave that was sought a moment ago.
Hon Trevor Mallard: It is, but it is in the terms asked for by the Minister who denied it.
Mr SPEAKER: OK. To assist the House not to waste any more time on this, I will put that question. Is there any objection to that leave being granted? There is objection.
Earthquake, Canterbury—Canterbury District Health Board’s Actions
Dr PAUL HUTCHISON (National—Hunua) to the
Minister of Health: What reports has he received on the Canterbury District Health Board’s actions following the Canterbury earthquake?
Hon TONY RYALL (Minister of Health)
: I have received many reports and seen firsthand the comprehensive and immediate response of Canterbury health
professionals, from front-line staff through to management. District health boards from around the country are rallying in support of Canterbury, including extra health protection officers from the Wellington, Nelson, and Southern district health boards, nurses from the West Coast, and as well extra medical officers of heath, and emergency management and water sanitation staff. The primary-care sector too from around New Zealand is supporting general practices, pharmacies, and non-governmental organisations. Supporting the Canterbury District Health Board is the top priority of the public health service.
Dr Paul Hutchison: Has he been advised of any particular priorities for the Canterbury District Health Board in the next few weeks?
Hon TONY RYALL: When visiting Christchurch Hospital a visitor could not fail to be impressed by the professionalism and calm of the over 6,000 staff employed by the Canterbury District Health Board who are delivering critical health services in response to the earthquake. They, like all locals, have their own personal situations to deal with, whether their homes have been lost or damaged, and more particularly the stress and concern that arises as the tremors continue. A critical matter has been to ensure that the stress and anxiety of staff in this challenging time is taken into account, particularly in rosters, and to ensure that they have enough time to deal with their personal situations at home. Every other district health board has prepared a list of staff who are prepared to go to Christchurch at immediate notice in support of the Canterbury District Health Board. I cannot speak highly enough of the contribution of our health professionals there, in both the community and the hospitals, in response to this challenge.
Marine and Coastal Area (Takutai Moana) Bill—Māori Party Support
Hon DAVID PARKER (Labour) to the
Attorney-General: Given his answer yesterday that he agreed with the Prime Minister’s statement earlier this year, “in the end if we can’t reach an agreement then the status quo will remain”, what acknowledgment, if any, has he received from the Māori Party that the new legal framework for settling foreshore and seabed claims will be “durable”?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON (Attorney-General)
: The Prime Minister’s statement about the status quo referred to what might happen if a replacement regime could not be agreed on. The Government has developed a replacement regime that balances the rights and interests of all New Zealanders. The Māori Party has indicated that it is going to support the bill, so the issue of remaining with the status quo does not arise.
Hon David Parker: Will the Government stay with the status quo under the existing Foreshore and Seabed Act if the Māori Party refuses to accept the new legislation as a full and final settlement of the legal framework to deal with foreshore and seabed claims?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: I have already said that the Māori Party is supporting the bill—and I am not surprised that it is, because the bill deals with certain fundamental matters. It restores the right of access to justice that was lost under the 2004 Act. It restores uninvestigated customary title, and it recalibrates the tests for determining customary title. These are very good advances and I believe they will be seen to be a durable and lasting solution.
Te Ururoa Flavell: Tēnā koe, Mr Speaker. Does the Minister know of any precedents of law seen to be durable in the public eye, coming back to Parliament to be revisited because of a change in time or circumstance?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: There are many examples. For example, the limitation law that was recently passed was a great day for black-letter law. It updated the law of limitation for the first time in 60 years to respond to particular needs. Another
example would be the excellent bill that had its first reading last night to repeal the Military Manoeuvres Act 1915 because of changed circumstances. The copyright legislation is another example. It began life as the Statute of Anne in 1714. Since then there have been numerous amendments with the march of technology.
Hon David Parker: How can the Attorney-General claim that the new legal framework for determining foreshore and seabed claims will be “durable”, to use his word, when the Māori Party is saying it will have another go in the future, even before his bill has had a first reading?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: It will be durable because it deals with the fundamental issues of access to justice, restoration of uninvestigated customary title, and tests that are more realistic than those set out in the 2004 Act. Political parties may have different views, depending on the passage of time. For example, a Darren Hughes - led Labour Party in 2040 may have a different view—
Mr SPEAKER: Order!
Hon David Parker: How can the Minister claim that he has—
Mr SPEAKER: I apologise to the honourable member. I say to National members on this occasion that the interjection level is so high that I cannot hear the questioner, even though he is right beside me.
Hon David Parker: How can the Minister claim that he has reached any meaningful agreement with the Māori Party to settle foreshore and seabed issues, when, as soon as this bill has passed, it will seek to change it?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: I doubt whether it will seek the change of the right of access to justice and the restoration of uninvestigated customary title, because those are fundamental matters that that member’s Government took away from a significant section of the New Zealand public—[Interruption] and Mr Jones should be disgusted with that—and this legislation restores it.
Hon David Parker: When the Attorney General said “I don’t think people want to be relitigating this every decade,” was he ruling out National agreeing to any substantial change to his foreshore and seabed legislation in the foreseeable future?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: I think the Prime Minister has made that more than tolerably clear—that we are very happy with the package that has been brought together. We believe that it is a significant improvement on the 2004 Act, which was discriminatory in the ways I have endeavoured to outline in answers to questions. It represents a durable and just solution to this problem, which was mucked up in 2004.
Earthquake, Canterbury—Effect on Transport
Mr SPEAKER: Please, both sides of the House now: I have called Dr Jackie Blue and I ask for some courtesy to be shown to her.
Dr JACKIE BLUE (National) to the
Minister of Transport: What updates has he received on transport in and around Canterbury following the earthquake and numerous aftershocks?
Hon NATHAN GUY (Associate Minister of Transport) on behalf of the
Minister of Transport: This morning the Minister visited Lyttelton Port of Christchurch, and the port is damaged but operational. The fuel and coal terminal is OK. That is very important for the city, to keep supplies coming in. A small number of points on the State highway network continue to be closed. Repairs are currently progressing well on the State Highway 1 Chaney’s Road on-ramp, and it could be open to traffic by the end of the week. Repairs on the other points are under way, and most will reopen, even if in a limited capacity, in a couple of days.
Dr Jackie Blue: How will the Government contribute to the rebuilding of roading infrastructure?
Hon NATHAN GUY: The New Zealand Transport Agency is prepared to assist with the rebuilding effort following natural disasters. It has done so many times in the past. A dedicated contingency budget is available, and sits at $94 million for the current financial year. The funding assistance rate for the councils is set in proportion to the level of damage and the councils’ ability to contribute. It is too soon to tell how much will need to be spent on Canterbury roads, but, in conjunction with the rebuilding of the water and waste-water systems underneath the roads, we all know that the cost will be considerable.
DARIEN FENTON (Labour) to the
Minister of Labour: Is she currently considering any changes to employment law that were not included in the changes announced at the National Party conference; if so, what are they?
Hon PANSY WONG (Minister for Ethnic Affairs) on behalf of the
Minister of Labour: Despite the fact that the hard-working Minister is attending to the earthquake devastation in her patch, some issues are being considered to improve the operation of New Zealand’s employment laws. Specifically, a number of issues are under consideration—
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I apologise to the member; I took a second to get up, because I was slightly confused. I think the member is answering on behalf of the Minister of Labour, so I do not think she can get up and say the hard-working Minister is in Christchurch. I mean, that is something that just could not possibly be part—
Mr SPEAKER: Order!
Hon Trevor Mallard: —of what she is saying—
Mr SPEAKER: No, the member will resume his seat.
Hon Annette King: He’s just showing off.
Mr SPEAKER: No—I am on my feet. I listened carefully. The Minister was reasonably brief in the bit that was out of order, and she was going on to answer the question, I think, remarkably well. It would behove the member to listen while a useful answer is on its way, and I congratulate the Minister that at least the first part was mercifully brief. The Minister is answering the question.
Hon PANSY WONG: Mr Speaker, would you like me to take it from the start?
Mr SPEAKER: No, I would like the Minister to pick up from where she left off.
Hon PANSY WONG: Specifically, a number of issues are under consideration, including but not limited to the review of Part 6A of the Employment Relations Act, a review of workplace flexibility laws, and changes to collective bargaining.
Darien Fenton: Is she considering any of the following options mentioned in her July 2010 Cabinet paper entitled
Proposals to Amend the Employment Relations Act 2000 and Related Work, which included the contracting out of personal grievance provisions, reviewing the passing on provisions, reviewing temporary and fixed-term contracts, and the reintroduction of the separate youth minimum wage?
Hon PANSY WONG: Being a very thoughtful and responsible Minister, she is taking time with her decisions. There is a lot on the plate of the Minister of Labour, but all those issues will take time to be considered. Overall rights will be balanced very well between employees and employers, for the benefit of economic growth in New Zealand.
Darien Fenton: Does the option of the contracting out of personal grievance provisions mentioned in her Cabinet paper mean that employers could potentially set
different personal grievance terms for different employees; if so, will she rule out such a change?
Hon PANSY WONG: As a very responsible and thoughtful Minister, all considerations are being taken into account. It is important to have a very fair balance between all employees and employers, for the benefit of economic growth.
Darien Fenton: Given that she has previously ruled this out, will she now assure the House that the reintroduction of a separate youth minimum wage, as mentioned in her Cabinet paper of July 2010, is not an option that this Government will ever consider?
Hon PANSY WONG: A responsible and democratic Minister does not rule out anything without due consideration, which would take into account all the issues for the benefit of employees and employers equally.
Darien Fenton: Is she refusing to rule out these options because the Government is actually considering making some of these changes, or has she just learnt from recent experience that any decision that she makes may be overruled by ACT anyway, as was her recommendation to limit the 90-day trial extension to workplaces of fewer than 50 employees?
Hon PANSY WONG: All decisions made by this Government are collective decisions, unlike those of the previous Labour Government, which were dictated to it by the previous Prime Minister.
Earthquake, Canterbury—Department of Building and Housing Advice to Landlords and Tenants
KATRINA SHANKS (National)
: To the Minister of Housing, how is the Department of Building and Housing working to keep landlords and tenants informed of their rights and responsibilities—
Mr SPEAKER: I apologise to the honourable member. I think this time it was the Labour front bench. I could not hear Katrina Shanks ask her question, and I must be able to hear it.
KATRINA SHANKS (National) to the
Minister of Housing: How is the Department of Building and Housing working to keep landlords and tenants informed of their rights and responsibilities following the Christchurch earthquake?
Hon PHIL HEATLEY (Minister of Housing)
: Thirty percent of Christchurch’s population lives in rental accommodation, and since the earthquake on Saturday, the Department of Building and Housing contact centre has dealt with 300 calls from landlords and tenants seeking information about their rights and obligations in respect of their rental properties. Questions mainly relate to matters of rent when properties are damaged, ability to exit fixed-term tenancies, and processes for getting repairs completed. The department is ensuring that there are no unnecessary barriers to tenants receiving bond refunds once tenancies have ended, and, when required, the department is proactively contacting landlords to ensure the speedy release of bonds. Canterbury refunds are being prioritised and paid out ahead of other refunds. Christchurch staff are providing on-the-ground information and advice to landlords and tenants through the five emergency contact centres, as well as through the Linwood Community Link centre. Staff from other areas are assisting in providing phone-based mediation services to resolve any disputes, and the Department of Building and Housing has also advised local MPs of landlord and tenant rights and obligations, plus key landlord and tenant organisations. It is also targeting advice and information to those affected, and coordinating with other agencies to deliver advice.
Katrina Shanks: What is the Housing New Zealand Corporation doing to assist those who are currently homeless?
Hon PHIL HEATLEY: The corporation has been identifying emergency accommodation for State-home tenants, homeowners, and private renters whose houses are deemed unsafe. Accommodation has been found in hotels, motels, camping grounds, and private residences. It is also looking at ensuring that any State houses that are being upgraded and are currently vacant are done up as soon as possible so that those who qualify for State housing can move into them. It is great to see that the officials are now at a point where they can actively explore options on how we can work with the private and community sectors in the wider Canterbury and surrounding regions to identify longer-term housing options for people who are without a home to live in.