Questions to Ministers
Foreshore and Seabed Act Review—Iwi Ownership
DAVID GARRETT (ACT) to the
Attorney-General: Further to the Prime Minister’s answer to oral question No. 3 yesterday, what are “the concerns that New Zealanders had about solely having Crown ownership of the foreshore and seabed”, and how does the Government’s proposal to legislate for iwi ownership of the foreshore and seabed alleviate these concerns?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON (Attorney-General)
: Many concerns have been raised—for example, that the Foreshore and Seabed Act violates property rights, the rule of law, citizens’ right to go to the courts for justice, and the principle of having one law for all. These were the concerns raised by, among others, the then ACT Party leader Richard Prebble in 2004, when his party opposed the current legislation. Mr Prebble also prophesied that the Act would do great and lasting damage to racial harmony. The Government’s proposal protects property rights and removes the discriminatory elements of the current Act.
David Garrett: Will the proposed legislation weaken the test in section 50 of the Foreshore and Seabed Act 2004, which requires, in order for customary title to be granted, uses or practices to have been carried on since 1840 that are integral to tikanga Māori; if so, in what way will the test for customary title be weakened?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: The overarching test will be exclusive use and occupation, without substantial interruption. The test has some emphasis on tikanga Māori. I do not believe that the overall changes will be very great, at all.
Hon Jim Anderton: Does the loss of sole Crown title of the foreshore and seabed in any way reduce the rights of any New Zealander in relation to the foreshore and seabed?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: No.
David Garrett: Does he agree with the Prime Minister when he said yesterday in relation to the foreshore and seabed: “We are not giving it away.”; if so, what will iwi have to pay for the 10 percent of the foreshore and seabed that he estimates they will get?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: Yes.
Hon Jim Anderton: If the loss of sole Crown title of the foreshore and seabed is not going to reduce the rights of any New Zealander in relation to it, why is the National Government doing it?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: I gave the answer to that in my answer to the primary question. It is because there was substantial concern among a significant section of the public that the 2004 Act is discriminatory. It removed the right of access to justice for a significant percentage of New Zealanders, and it removed uninvestigated customary title, and those matters needed to be addressed.
Hon Jim Anderton: Does the Minister think that New Zealanders are more concerned about Crown ownership of the entire Northland coastline, from Maunganui to the North Cape and down to Hokianga, or more concerned about Professor Margaret Mutu’s statement: “we own it”?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: I think that most New Zealanders are very concerned about ensuring that a significant percentage of the New Zealand population
has access to justice and has the right to at least be able to try to prove their case in court. That is what this legislation change is all about.
Hon John Key: Did Michael Cullen’s submission on behalf of the Labour Party contain most of the changes recommended under the proposed new foreshore and seabed legislation?
Mr SPEAKER: I am not sure whether the Minister has responsibility for Michael Cullen’s submission. The Prime Minister may reword his question.
Hon John Key: What reports has the Attorney-General received about Labour’s submission by Michael Cullen about proposed changes to the foreshore and seabed legislation, and do they look a lot like the changes that the National Government is proposing?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: I have received very, very positive reports indeed. Dr Cullen’s contribution was extremely positive, and many of the proposals that he suggested have indeed been incorporated, because they go a long way towards alleviating the problems caused by the Stalinist Act introduced by the previous Labour Government. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: I say to the Hon Trevor Mallard and the Hon David Cunliffe that I have been on my feet for some time now. OK, a little bit of noise is fair enough, but it cannot go on indefinitely. When I get to my feet it will stop, and members will not call other members hypocrites.
Mining in Conservation Areas—Prime Minister’s Intentions
Hon PHIL GOFF (Leader of the Opposition) to the
Prime Minister: When he told Parliament in February that “the Government will also be looking at regulations that may be preventing natural resources being used most productively” and that it would “make significant changes to schedule 4”, was his intention to allow mining in national parks and protected areas?
Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister)
: Our intention was to explore the possibilities in this area and to see whether they were economically valuable, could be achieved in an environmentally sustainable way, and would be acceptable to the community.
Hon Phil Goff: When Gerry Brownlee came to him in 2009 with a proposal for a step change in the economy by allowing mining on national parks and in protected areas, did he encourage or discourage Mr Brownlee?
Hon JOHN KEY: I encouraged Mr Brownlee to go out there and ask New Zealanders whether it could fit within that environment.
Hon Phil Goff: Is it not true that in his speech made the day before Mr Brownlee’s Cabinet paper went to Cabinet, he told this Parliament that actually he intended to go out and mine those national parks and that is what his message really was?
Hon JOHN KEY: No.
Hon Phil Goff: Why did the Prime Minister yesterday, and on many occasions, blame officials for the 10 February Cabinet paper that proposed mining in 467,000 hectares of national park land, when that Cabinet paper was signed by Gerry Brownlee and Kate Wilkinson, was promoted by both of them in Cabinet, and was supported by the Prime Minister himself?
Hon JOHN KEY: If that the member wants to talk about a Government that blames officials—well, he was part of one for 9 years that won the world cup for the event!
Hon Phil Goff: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I can tell by your frown that you understand that it is out of—
Mr SPEAKER: The member knows he cannot seek a point of order and speak like that. I will hear his point of order, but he is lucky. Members should settle down a fraction.
Hon Phil Goff: You will be aware that there was no effort made in that answer to answer the specific question that was asked of the Prime Minister.
Mr SPEAKER: The Speaker is considering a point of order and there should be silence. Members know that—especially senior members on both sides of the House. I believe that the Prime Minister did take a part of the question very much out of context in answering it, and made no attempt, therefore, to really answer the question. So I invite the Prime Minister to answer the question, rather than just take a part of it totally out of context.
Hon JOHN KEY: It is not a matter of blaming officials; the paper was prepared by officials.
Hon Phil Goff: Did the Prime Minister ever personally favour mining in the Paparoa National Park, the Coromandel, and Great Barrier Island?
Hon JOHN KEY: I favoured going through the process that we went through.
Hon Phil Goff: Does the Prime Minister still believe that mining in national parks, the initiatives in the Job Summit, the 2025 Taskforce, and plans to become an international financial service centre will achieve step change in the New Zealand economy and catch up with Australia, as he promised New Zealand?
Hon JOHN KEY: No, I do not think mining in national parks will, because it will not be taking place. But many of the other things the member discussed are works in progress and will make a difference. But if the member wants to give me 10 minutes I am happy to list all the things the National Government has done to lift performance to take New Zealand out of the recession. They include—and I can start if he wants—reforming the labour laws, which will be going through this Parliament, cutting personal taxes instead of waiting for 9 years, reform of the Resource Management Act, dealing with the situation in Environment Canterbury—
Mr SPEAKER: I think the House has heard sufficient of that answer.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I know that members are not allowed to interject when you are on your feet but I think two members clapped the Prime Minister when you were. Is that allowed?
Mr SPEAKER: I think the honourable member should just reflect back on his own behaviour in the last 5 minutes, before he raises points of order about what people do while the Speaker is on his feet. We will not say any more.
AMY ADAMS (National—Selwyn) to the
Minister of Finance: What progress is the Government making in getting the economy growing and helping Kiwi families get ahead?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance)
: Very significant progress. The Government is working to get this economy on its feet, because the previous Government ran it into recession in early 2008. Annual GDP growth is currently about 1.9 percent. The Government is putting in a range of policies to lift sustainable economic growth, such as infrastructure investment, new trade deals, science and innovation investment, plans for broadband, very significant tax reform, and sweeping regulatory reform—all of which will help create new jobs and raise New Zealanders’ living standards.
Amy Adams: What recent reports has he received on trends in consumer prices faced by Kiwi families?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The latest CPI showed consumer prices rose 0.3 percent in the June quarter, mostly due to tobacco price increases, with annual inflation to the end of June of 1.8 percent. Food prices actually fell 2 percent, which was the largest fall since 1960. Electricity prices increased 2.9 percent in the year ended May, and floating
home mortgage interest rates are still at near-historic lows, at around 6 percent. These are well below what consumers faced 2 years ago. There will be some one-off price increases in the next few months, such as a GST increase in October, for which beneficiaries, superannuitants, and Working for Families recipients will be fully compensated.
Hon David Cunliffe: When he said he was “helping Kiwis get ahead”, was he referring to the latest Dun and Bradstreet
Consumer Credit Expectations Survey, which shows that 36 percent of New Zealand households are having to use credit cards to pay the bills for everyday expenses?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I think the figures show that New Zealand households are learning that they need to be very careful about debt. This country has a huge appetite for debt. At the moment New Zealanders are being careful with their spending; they are tending to reduce debt. The good news is that export prices and performance are up. That is the rebalancing the economy needs.
Amy Adams: How will the Government’s tax changes in October benefit some of those most in need?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The tax package will leave someone on the average wage about $15 a week better off, and an average family $25 a week better off. For superannuitants the news is even better. The married rate for a couple on New Zealand superannuation has increased by about $100 a fortnight since late 2008—an increase of more than 11 percent. The married rate for New Zealand superannuation will increase by another $40 a fortnight from 1 October, reflecting the impact of personal income tax cuts and an adjustment to compensate for the GST rate increase. This will take the married rate to $1,022.12 a fortnight—up by $140 dollars in just 2 years.
Hon David Cunliffe: Which of the following does the Minister consider to be his Government’s greatest achievement in helping Kiwis get ahead: achieving 5.9 percent inflation by pushing up the rate of GST from 1 October; promising a step change by excavating national parks, then burying the idea; attacking working conditions through the fire-at-will bill; cutting science funding and the research and development tax credits to strangle innovation; or proclaiming the perfection of his own Government’s monetary policy when it is crippling exporters?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Our most significant achievement was to grab this economy by the scruff of the neck after the previous Government had run it down while the rest of the world enjoyed a decade of prosperity. We protected New Zealanders from the sharpest edges of the recession, and now we are putting this economy back on its feet. One personal achievement of mine was to show up to “Mood of the Boardroom”—which that member mysteriously failed to do.
Amy Adams: How do the most recent trends in consumer prices compare with those that consumers faced in 2008?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Just about every measure has improved significantly since 2008. In the few years running up to 2008, inflation peaked at 5.1 percent in the year ended September 2008, with no compensation; electricity prices increased by 72 percent in the 9 years ended 2008; the price of petrol reached $2.11 for 1 litre of 91 octane, and it is now about $1.75; Labour put in place an emissions trading scheme that would have doubled the cost on households; and the official cash rate was at its peak of 8.25 percent and floating mortgage rates were almost 11 percent. New Zealand’s hard-working families are much better off now than in 2008.
Economic Development, Minister—Cabinet Papers Submitted in Last 6 Months
Hon DAVID PARKER (Labour) to the
Minister for Economic Development: How many Cabinet papers has he in his capacity as Minister for Economic
Development submitted to Cabinet during the last 6 months which were not related to mining?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE (Minister for Economic Development)
: I am surprised this question got through, because it should have been clear that the Minister for Economic Development never takes Cabinet papers related to mining to Cabinet. The member should have asked that question of the Minister of Energy and Resources. In my capacity as Minister for Economic Development I have submitted 14 papers to Cabinet in the last 6 months, because—
Hon David Parker: None as Minister for Economic Development.
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: —all as Minister for Economic Development, my friend—unlike the other side of the House I am not fixated on mining.
Hon David Parker: What new moves has he as Minister for Economic Development proposed to fill the hole left by his mining blunder, given that John Key said in December last year that members will see a lot of economic development moves by this Government in 2010?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: I totally reject the concept of it being a blunder. The mining industry will grow in this country. Further, I could list work related to the wine industry, the food and beverage industry, the leveraging programme from the Rugby World Cup, the output class of training through New Zealand Trade and Enterprise, the realignment of New Zealand Trade and Enterprise’s grant scheme, the aquaculture industry, the various missions that we are running into China this year, the New Zealand Venture Investment Fund, the Square Kilometre Array—it goes on and on. We are a very active, economically focused Government.
Jonathan Young: How many oral questions in his capacity as Minister for Economic Development has he been asked by the Opposition in the last 12 months?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: That is a most excellent question. I can say that I have been asked one, and the question from the member opposite now makes it two.
Mr SPEAKER: I am not sure that the Minister is responsible for questions an Opposition might ask, and I was a bit remiss, I think, in allowing the question, but never mind. I apologise to the Hon David Parker for that.
Hon David Parker: Does the Minister agree with commentators that his inept mining moves from a step change to a giant U-turn show that he has no credible plan to bridge the gap between New Zealand and Australia, which had stabilised under Labour but, contrary to National’s election promise, is now growing wider and wider?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: It is fascinating that the member should say the New Zealand economy had stabilised against Australia’s, when for the last 5 years of the previous Government our export receipts went into the negative, year after year after year. The current Government has a clear programme to grow many sectors of the New Zealand economy, and if time allowed, and the member asked one more question, I would give him a very good example.
Hon David Parker: I am happy to give that opportunity. Has he presented any Cabinet paper on any specific measure to develop New Zealand into an Asia-Pacific hub for financial services?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: That is a matter being considered by Ministers at the moment. In due course—
Hon Members: Ha, ha!
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: Well, we have been the Government for about 20 months, and one of the things we have done is find $21 million to fund a programme that the previous Labour Government had on the books for 7 years and could not move. It is the Food Innovation Network New Zealand, and I quote Professor Ray Winger, who said it has been “frustrating at times working with the Labour Government. These
things are no-brainers, and they appear to have none themselves.” He finally went on to say: “Thank God we’ve finally got a Minister who can cut to the chase and get the job done.” That Minister is me.
Jonathan Young: How much interest in Cabinet papers has he received from the Opposition in the last 12 months in his capacity as Minister for Economic Development?
Mr SPEAKER: The member must realise that the Minister has no responsibility for any activities by the Opposition. He may have reporting responsibilities, but he does not have any primary responsibilities. I invite the member to rephrase his question to bring it within the Standing Orders. Given that I allowed him to get away with the first one, which did not meet the Standing Orders, I cannot let him get away with this supplementary question. I invite him to reword it.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I know that it is unusual for me to assist a junior backbencher from the National Party, but he asked how many the Minister had received. The Minister is responsible for what he receives.
Mr SPEAKER: I will listen to the member’s question again. If I got it wrong, I apologise.
Jonathan Young: How much interest in Cabinet papers has he received from the Opposition in the last 12 months in his capacity as Minister for Economic Development?
Mr SPEAKER: I have to disagree with my learned colleague the Hon Trevor Mallard, because the question was not exactly as the member implied. It was as I thought. It referred to interest from the Opposition in those Cabinet papers, and the Minister has no responsibility for that. I will give the member a moment to reword his supplementary question, because I do not want him to lose it. If he is ready to ask it now, that is fine.
Jonathan Young: What reports has he received of interest in Cabinet papers from the Opposition in the last 12 months in his capacity as Minister for Economic Development?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: I am advised that until today there was none.
Hon David Parker: How can—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: I have called the honourable member’s colleague.
Hon David Parker: How can his Government be expected to have any credibility on closing the gap with Australia, when he conceded at the select committee that the Government has no specific timing or targets by which it can be held accountable, and when it clearly has no credible plan?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: I think that is a total misrepresentation of a very long dialogue that took place at the select committee. I suggest to the member that by establishing in 20 months an economic growth agenda for New Zealand we are making a great deal more progress than the previous Government did, which took the economy backwards for the last 5 years of its term.
Mr SPEAKER: Question No. 5—
Hon David Parker: Supplementary question, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: I apologise. The member must be more on the ball than that.
Hon David Parker: What are the targets and timing for closing the gap with Australia?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: We have made no secret of the fact that we see it as an aspirational goal to reach—
Hon Members: Oh!
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: Well, he asked for timing, and I am about to give it. It is an aspirational goal to reach Australia’s GDP income per capita by 2025. That has
been well articulated by numerous National Ministers and, indeed, the Prime Minister over a long period of time. I am sorry that the member has not been awake to hear it sooner.
GST—Removal from Healthy Foods
RAHUI KATENE (Māori Party—Te Tai Tonga) to the
Minister of Revenue: How was he able to make any estimate of the cost of taking GST off healthy foods when in his view defining what those healthy foods are is a real problem?
Hon PETER DUNNE (Minister of Revenue)
: On the face of it the member’s question may appear reasonable, except that I did not make any such estimate. The estimate that I made was of the cost of removing GST from fresh fruit and vegetables, which is a lesser figure. That estimate was made on the basis of figures used by Statistics New Zealand in calculating the rising costs of those items in the Consumers Price Index.
Rahui Katene: Has he read my bill, which defines “healthy foods” as including fruit and vegetables, breads and cereals, milk products but not cream, lean meats, and legumes; if so, does he still stand by his statement that taking the GST off healthy foods is not viable, due to the problem of defining healthy foods?
Hon PETER DUNNE: Yes, and yes. The reality of the member’s bill is that it introduces a number of terms that will be difficult to quantify in practice. For example, what is “lean meat” as opposed to “non - lean meat”?
Rahui Katene: What analysis have his officials undertaken of the computerised model introduced in December 2009 by the Australian Taxation Office, and does he agree that such a model makes GST food and beverage compliance extremely easy to manage; if not, why not?
Hon PETER DUNNE: The Inland Revenue Department has not spent a great deal of time analysing the ways in which other countries remove certain items from the GST net, simply because it is not New Zealand’s policy to have a non-universal GST. When one looks at the experiences of defining some of these items in the Australian and the British context, one sees that we would be extremely unwise to follow suit.
Hon Phil Goff: Why is the Minister prepared to push up taxes and prices on goods that the Government does not want people to consume, like tobacco, but not prepared to drop taxes and therefore prices on healthy foods like fresh fruit and vegetables, when recent studies prove that this action leads to higher consumption of things that are good for people and is a very effective means of addressing the big obesity problem in New Zealand?
Hon PETER DUNNE: The answer is very simple: the products the member refers to are not easily defined. “Healthy foods”, “fresh fruit and vegetables”, or whatever other terminologies members choose to apply are very imprecise and difficult to categorise, and simply make for ineffective law.
Employment, 90-day Trial Period—Dismissal Process
Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Labour—Hutt South) to the
Minister of Labour: Was it the Government’s intention when it introduced the 90-day employment scheme that the usual requirement to communicate the reasons for dismissal in writing to the employee after they are dismissed does not apply when an employee has been dismissed during their trial period?
Hon KATE WILKINSON (Minister of Labour)
: Firstly, I thank the member for the endorsement that the 90-day trial is actually an employment scheme. But in answer to the question, yes, there is a very narrow exemption from the requirement under section 120 of the Employment Relations Act to provide a written statement requested
within the 60-day and 14-day requirement, but we have made it very clear that this does not affect the good-faith requirements to be communicative and responsive. In practice, we expect that fair and reasonable employers will tell employees why a job did not work out.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Was it her intention, when introducing the 90-day provision, that an employer would have no obligation to supply a reason for dismissal to an employee or former employee?
Hon KATE WILKINSON: It was our expectation that a fair and reasonable employer will tell employees why a job did not work out. The intent of the policy was that employers did not have to go through the legal rigmarole of providing formal written decisions.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Is she satisfied that the legal change she made has met her intention as she expressed it in the first part of her last supplementary answer?
Hon KATE WILKINSON: I am satisfied that the law is working very well. We have had it in place since March 2009, and the sky has not fallen in.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. This is a relatively simple one. It was a very careful question about an answer to a supplementary question, asking whether the Minister’s intention had been fulfilled by the law, not whether the law was working generally well.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: She said yes.
Hon Trevor Mallard: No, she did not.
Mr SPEAKER: Members should not interject while the Speaker is considering a point of order. If I remember correctly, the member asked whether the Minister is satisfied that certain things took place. I understood from the Minister’s answer that she said yes to that. She may not have said exactly “yes”, but her answer gave that indication.
David Bennett: What was the Government’s intention when introducing the 90-day trial period, and has it been achieved?
Hon KATE WILKINSON: The Government intended to create opportunities for New Zealanders to get into jobs, and the evidence indicates that the trial period is delivering jobs. That is why we are moving to extend the trial period to all workplaces.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Was it her intention, when introducing the 90-day provision, that a successful claim of unjustified termination would not be able to secure either reinstatement or compensation for the loss of employment?
Hon KATE WILKINSON: It was the intention in relation to the 90-day trial that a fair and reasonable employer will tell employees why a job did not work out. It was there to create opportunities for new employees to get their foot in the employment market. If the employment relationship did not work out, then it could be terminated.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Again, it was a very careful and very specific question, which went to—
Mr SPEAKER: To save the time of the House, I invite the member to repeat his question, because it was quite a specific question in respect of claims of unjustified dismissal.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Was it her intention, when introducing the 90-day provision, that a successful claim of unjustified termination would not be able to secure either reinstatement or compensation for the loss of employment?
Hon KATE WILKINSON: It was the intention of the trial period that it restricts the taking of an unfair dismissal case only in the first 90 days.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The question went to the issue that if there was a successful claim of unjustified termination, an employee would not be able to secure either reinstatement or compensation for loss of employment. The
question was not about when a claim could be taken, which was what the Minister answered about. It was a question about whether an employee could get compensation or reinstatement in the 90 days.
Mr SPEAKER: As I understood the Minister’s answer, she implied that an issue of unjustified termination could not arise in the 90 days. I understood that that was the intention. If I have misinterpreted the Minister I invite her to correct me, but that was my understanding of the answer. I believe it answered the member’s question, because it pointed out that that could not occur during the first 90 days of the trial period.
David Bennett: What other reports has the Minister seen on how the 90-day trial period may apply?
Hon KATE WILKINSON: Yesterday I saw a statement from Phil Twyford that “6000 employees could be subjected to the 90 day period at the stroke of a pen”. However, as an Auckland member he should know that section 108 of the Local Government (Auckland Transitional Provisions) Act 2010 makes it clear that all employees who take jobs with the Auckland Council or any related agency are to be considered for the purpose of any statute as having continuous employment. Those employees would not be able to enter into a trial period. I suggest that the member might have more luck in getting an electorate if he actually read the legislation he was protesting against.
ALLAN PEACHEY (National—Tāmaki) to the
Minister for Infrastructure: What progress is the Government making with its multibillion-dollar infrastructure programme?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister for Infrastructure)
: Good progress, while supporting thousands of jobs across New Zealand and helping the economy to grow faster. Today the Government announced that it would take the next steps towards a public-private partnership for building and maintaining some new schools. If the proposal proceeds, the school land would be owned by the Government, and the boards of trustees would remain wholly in charge of the governance and day-to-day running of the schools. Officials will now prepare a stage two business case, which will include a decision on specific schools. The tender process could start early next year, subject to Cabinet approval.
Allan Peachey: Why is the Government considering public-private partnerships for building and maintaining some new schools?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The Government manages over $200 billion worth of assets on behalf of the taxpayer, and we are willing to make use of any tool that will help us to do that. Public-private partnerships are proven internationally as a tool that can make a positive difference to the use of taxpayers’ assets. In April the Government announced that it intends to commission a new prison at Wiri, to be built and operated under a public-private partnership. Post-implementation reviews of public-private partnerships overseas have found that often there is better financial risk management and better operational risk management, and, in the case of schools, sometimes higher educational achievement.
Allan Peachey: What are the benefits of public-private partnership - type procurement of school property?
Hon David Parker: It hides the Government’s deficit!
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Actually, it does not, because the public-private partnerships stay on the Government’s books, and the member would know that if he knew what he was talking about. The main benefit is that—
Hon David Parker: No, you have to borrow less money.
Mr SPEAKER: The Speaker does not borrow any money.
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The member should do his homework; it stays on the Government’s books. The main benefit is that, potentially, principals and boards of trustees can get on with teaching without worrying about maintaining school property. But the Government is progressing cautiously in this area. The second-stage business case will be an opportunity to ascertain just what benefits there would be to principals and boards of trustees, as well as what benefits there might be to the Government and, ultimately, of course, to the New Zealand children who are educated in these schools.
Mining in Conservation Areas—Removal of Land from Schedule 4
Hon CHRIS CARTER (Labour—Te Atatū) to the
Minister of Conservation: Why did she sign off on a Cabinet paper which proposed removing 467,517 hectares of land from schedule 4 of the Crown Minerals Act?
Hon KATE WILKINSON (Minister of Conservation)
: After a stocktake of schedule 4, officials recommended this figure. At the time, the Minister of Energy and Resources and I were satisfied with the recommendation as an initial basis for discussion at Cabinet. As the member knows, Cabinet subsequently reduced the proposal to a net total of 5,000 hectares from schedule 4, and finally decided to remove nothing from schedule 4 and to add 12,400 hectares.
Hon Chris Carter: How does she reconcile her support for the removal of over 5,000 hectares of land from schedule 4 protection with her statutory obligation under the Conservation Act to act as an advocate for the protection of New Zealand’s unique natural heritage?
Hon KATE WILKINSON: Quite easily.
Nicky Wagner: What additional protections for conservation land have been agreed on by the Government?
Hon KATE WILKINSON: All land added to certain classes of protected areas will now be automatically added to schedule 4 without the need for a separate process. We will also require that significant applications to mine on public land are to be publicly notified. This was an issue that emerged from the submissions process, which shows that we were listening. This process has led to some significant gains.
Hon Chris Carter: How does she reconcile quite easily her support for the removal of over 5,000 hectares of land from schedule 4 protection with her statutory obligation under the Conservation Act to act as an advocate for the protection of New Zealand’s unique natural heritage?
Hon KATE WILKINSON: I have always said that I was happy to have a discussion paper—it was always a discussion paper, not a decision paper—happy to go out to the public for feedback, and then happy to listen to that feedback.
Hon Chris Carter: Why did not she, as the Minister of Conservation, approach John Key to scrap the Government’s mining plans on protected schedule 4 land, rather than leaving it to Gerry Brownlee to do so, as Mr Key told us happened yesterday?
Hon KATE WILKINSON: I think the member is making some misguided assumptions. There were many, many discussions with Cabinet Ministers and members about the submission process, the discussion paper, and the public feedback that followed.
LOUISE UPSTON (National—Taupō) to the
Minister of Education: What recent announcements has the Government made to get schools ready for ultra-fast broadband?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY (Minister of Education)
: At the end of last month, the Minister for Communications and Information Technology and I announced the names of the next 239 schools to receive Government-subsidised network upgrades in preparation for ultra-fast broadband. These upgrades are being funded by the $37.5 million that the Government invested into making schools broadband-ready in Budget 2010.
Louise Upston: How many schools has the Government offered upgrades to in total?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY: With the addition of the 239 schools whose names were announced last month, this Government has offered upgrades to 353 schools. That is huge progress over 21 months in the first term of this National-led Government. It also compares favourably with the previous Government, which took from 2003 until 2008 to upgrade 259 schools. I look forward to making further announcements about upgrades again next year.
Employment, Sick Leave Policy Changes—Minister’s Statements
DARIEN FENTON (Labour) to the
Minister of Labour: Does she stand by her statements that concerns raised about the Government’s proposed changes to sick leave policy are “ridiculous” and “laughable”?
Hon KATE WILKINSON (Minister of Labour)
: Absolutely. I believe that the specific comments I referred to as being ridiculous and laughable came from the Council of Trade Unions, which stated that health care costs would escalate, and from the Green Party, which stated that everyone would get pulled out of bed when they were sick. Those statements are ridiculous and laughable.
Darien Fenton: Has she told her Cabinet colleague Peter Dunne that his concerns that this policy is unworkable are ridiculous and laughable?
Hon KATE WILKINSON: We do not intend to create legislation that is unworkable and, actually, the discussion that is going on at the moment is very, very helpful. But perhaps I can assist the member, because not all of the comments have been critical. Today’s
Press editorial describes the proposal as being “eminently sensible and worthwhile”, and then it goes on to state: “The measure is clearly aimed at those employees, known at practically every workplace, who consistently take days off, allegedly for sickness but in fact for what is strongly suspected to be no genuine reason. For some, these days of ‘sickness’ often happen to fall on Fridays or Mondays.” This is really just being practical and clarifying the law.
Keith Locke: Why is she changing the law to account for what she has just said about people who persistently take off a Monday or Friday, when the present law already enables employers to require a medical certificate for a 1-day absence if the employer has “reasonable grounds to suspect that the sick leave being taken by the employee is not genuine”; surely that applies to people who persistently take off Mondays and Fridays?
Hon KATE WILKINSON: This is a small suggested change that merely simplifies the current law. It might not get used much at all, but it is there if required by the employer.
Darien Fenton: Does she stand by her statement that “Ultimately, the employer must make arrangements to pay for the doctor’s visit. No one is going to go to those lengths for the sake of it.”; if so, what is the point of this unworkable policy?
Hon KATE WILKINSON: Yes I do stand by those comments. The point of the policy to give an extra tool in the tool kit of employers in cases where an employee is taking, or suspected to be taking, a sickie. Whether it is used will be remain to be seen, and whether it is workable I am sure will be subject to careful select committee scrutiny.
Keith Locke: How does requiring employees to drag themselves off to a doctor for a 1-day migraine or stomach bug improve the health outcomes for those particular workers?
Hon KATE WILKINSON: The proposal does not mention that at all, and does not actually require that.
Darien Fenton: Given that the Minister has already confirmed today that employers are already able to require proof of sickness or injury within 3 days if they have reasonable grounds to suspect that the sick leave is not genuine, is the change this Government is proposing to allow employers to require proof on unreasonable grounds?
Hon KATE WILKINSON: No; we do not insist on unreasonable grounds for anything. Employment law should be based on what is reasonable and what is fair to both the employer and employee.
Canterbury Water Management—Hurunui
COLIN KING (National—Kaikōura) to the
Minister for the Environment: What will be the implications for the applications for the Hurunui water project, the Hurunui water conservation order, and the Hurunui River plan of the proposal by commissioners to impose a moratorium on water takes under the Environment Canterbury (Temporary Commissioners and Improved Water Management) Act 2010?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH (Minister for the Environment)
: The commissioners’ rationale is that advancing the massive $300 million Hurunui water project ahead of finalising a plan for the river and before decisions on the proposed water conservation order amounts to putting the cart before the horse. They also want to give the new Hurunui Zone Committee, under the Canterbury Water Management Strategy, the opportunity to develop a balanced approach to the development of the Hurunui. I have approved the proposal as it provides a window of opportunity to provide for a far more sensible approach to water management in Canterbury.
Colin King: How has the Environment Canterbury (Temporary Commissioners and Improved Water Management) Act enabled a better process for managing the Hurunui River?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: Firstly, the powers for a moratorium do not exist in the Resource Management Act, so the steps today are possible only because of the Environment Canterbury (Temporary Commissioners and Improved Water Management) Act. Secondly, the purpose of the moratorium is to enable a comprehensive plan to be put in place for the Hurunui ahead of major consents being considered. This would take many years under the existing Resource Management Act. But the Environment Canterbury (Temporary Commissioners and Improved Water Management) Act enables that plan to be brought together quickly so that we are not unrealistically deferring considerations of major consents. The third way the special legislation helps is that it aligns the processes of the water conservation orders on the Hurunui with the plan and the major consent. It is one river, and having the water conservation order being considered separately to the plan makes absolutely no sense.
Brendon Burns: Given that the already unsafe water quality of the lower Hurunui River now requiring a moratorium is paralleled by many other Canterbury rivers and streams, will he halt other new water schemes until tough new environmental rules are in place, or would that totally disrupt the Prime Minister’s growth strategy and projects such as Synlait’s Chinese takeover and Fonterra’s new milk plant at Darfield?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: The Government is committed to balanced development of Canterbury’s water resources, and that means resolving some of the environmental challenges that were totally neglected over the last decade, when not one step was taken to deal with any of the water issues in Canterbury. This has meant that this Government
is having to take some of these steps. I find it ironic that the member is calling for a moratorium on other rivers when he campaigned and voted against the very legislation that enables a moratorium to be put in place.
Colin King: How will this decision support the work of the Canterbury Water Management Strategy and the Hurunui Zone Committee approved last Friday by the commissioners?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: This decision breathes life into the Canterbury Water Management Strategy and the work of the zone committee, which has only just been approved by the commissioners. The moratorium enables that zone committee, under the strategy, to develop a balanced plan for the river without being gazumped by a massive scheme that was approved under a separate process. This Government is committed to developing the irrigation potential of the Hurunui River, but it wants to ensure that this is done in a careful and balanced way.
Colin King: Was Russel Norman correct when he claimed that “we mustn’t forget that if the Government hadn’t run roughshod over democracy with the ECan Act we might have a water conservation order on the Hurunui River by now.”?
Hon Darren Hughes: Point of order—
Mr SPEAKER: I think I can anticipate the honourable member’s point of order. The Minister has no responsibility for a statement made by Dr Russel Norman. I will allow the member a chance to rephrase his question.
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The member’s question asked whether the claim was correct. I have responsibility for the Environment Canterbury (Temporary Commissioners and Improved Water Management) Act, so I think it is perfectly proper for a member to ask whether a claim that is being made publicly is correct.
Mr SPEAKER: It is if the member asking the question makes it very clear early on in the question that that is what the member is seeking. I invite Colin King to repeat his question.
Colin King: Has the Minister read any reports claiming that we would already have a water conservation order on the Hurunui River if the Government had not run roughshod over the democratic process?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: No, the claim is totally incorrect. The water conservation orders under the Act—and if the member opposite looked at the Act he would see this—have the decisions made by the tribunal and by the Minister. The councillors of any regional council have absolutely no role in water conservation orders, and I think it is completely incompetent for members like Russel Norman, who makes all sorts of claims about water, to get such basic facts of law wrong.
Mining in Conservation Areas—Public Support
KEVIN HAGUE (Green) to the
Minister of Energy and Resources: Can he confirm that, as reported on Radio New Zealand, the Government believes it has public support to expand mining on conservation land?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE (Minister of Energy and Resources)
: Yes. The recent schedule 4 debate has revealed that New Zealanders are generally keen to see New Zealand take advantage of its considerable mineral endowment, and a number of polls back that up.
Kevin Hague: Can he confirm that according to the Government’s own summary of submissions, just 1.5 percent of submitters support more mining taking place on public conservation land?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: That may well be the case, but I can also report that a TV3 poll in May showed that 53 percent were opposed to mining on previously
protected land, and 40 percent were in favour of it. Similarly a Television One poll in April 2010 showed that 44 percent supported such mining. I can also say that in February 2010 the Leader of the Opposition, Mr Phil Goff, said: “I think most New Zealanders want to see a balance. They want to see some areas that are less sensitive in the conservation estate available to environmentally sensitive mining.” That is a quote from Phil Goff, the Leader of the Opposition. [Interruption]
Hon Dr Nick Smith: I seek leave, noting the interjection by the Leader of the Opposition, to table the previous Government’s approval of a mine in the Paparoa National Park in 2006.
Hon Darren Hughes: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I just want to clarify whether this document applies to land that was schedule 4 land within that national park, because that is germane to the point that is being made.
Mr SPEAKER: I invite the Hon Dr Nick Smith to clarify the matter.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: The document that I wish to table is the approval by a former Minister of Conservation, Chris Carter, for mining in the Paparoa National Park.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is objection.
Kevin Hague: How can the Minister seriously contend that 1.5 percent of the submissions gives him a mandate to expand mining on public conservation land—or is he now calling on the selective use of polls for that mandate, as opposed to the opinions that were solicited through the discussion document?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: I am not pretending.
Hon Nanaia Mahuta: Can the Minister justify the huge time and expense of his stocktake discussion, when all it showed was what the public had already been saying, which is that schedule 4 land is simply too precious to mine; and will his U-turn decision extend to other precious parts of the conservation estate?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: I will answer the first part of the question: yes.
Hon Nanaia Mahuta: Why was non - schedule 4 land with significant mineral potential in Northland and the West Coast not investigated in the first instance before he proposed mining in our precious national parks, and will he guarantee further consultation to seek a mandate to mine these other areas?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: In answer to the first part of that question, that was not part of our stocktake.
Kevin Hague: Where is the Government’s mandate for more mining in conservation areas, when 99 percent of submitters to the Government’s discussion document, when asked about that issue, said they opposed the Government’s research programme because “the investigation programme would inevitably lead to the opening up of additional conservation areas to mining”?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: I think it is quite clear from this debate that there has been a line drawn in the sand between the most highly protected areas of the conservation estate and other parts of the country that are Government-owned. It is our intention that this particular industry will be part of future economic development, and we are backing it with the aerial magnetic survey.
Kevin Hague: Does he honestly think that New Zealanders will buy his bizarre spin that the 1.5 percent of submissions on one side of that line in the sand that he has just referred to constitutes a mandate to expand mining on public conservation land—what we might call, I guess, an aspirational hole?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: I think they would do so just as much as they would accept the complete absurdity of suggesting that 32,000 submissions represent the views of all of New Zealand.
Dr JACKIE BLUE (National)
: My congratulations go to John Key, Kate Wilkinson, and this National-led Government on the planned extension of the 90-day trial period to all businesses. National is a party that backs business and backs workers, because we know that without jobs and growth, New Zealand and New Zealanders will not get ahead.
Having a job is crucial to people’s self-esteem and to giving them choices and independence. That is why this Government has had an unrelenting focus on getting people into jobs. We make no apology for that—none whatsoever. The extension of the 90-day trial period to all businesses is about getting people into jobs and giving employers the confidence to take on new staff. An increase in the number of jobs where jobs are not currently available does not magically appear out of thin air. A business needs to see the opportunity to expand and it is important that it needs to be confident to create those new jobs. The hysteria that has surrounded the announcement has been quite astonishing. Anyone would have thought that sweatshops had been introduced. On the contrary, this is a step forward, not a step back.
Previously the 90-day trial was for small to medium sized businesses with fewer than 20 staff. Our nation’s backbone is small to medium sized businesses. The fact is that 99 percent of New Zealand businesses, which employ 60 percent of our workers, are small to medium sized.
Hon Maryan Street: No, no, the figures are wrong.
Dr JACKIE BLUE: Not according to the Human Rights Commission. The member should read its report. These businesses generate a big part of our wealth. When they prosper, we all prosper.
National’s plans for small to medium sized businesses link with National’s plan for growing the economy. The 90-day trial period was an integral part of our election manifesto in 2008. It was aimed at small to medium sized businesses, because they are crucial to our economy. Many small businesses do not have the human resources of larger companies. The 90-day trial will now be extended to all businesses, and that can only be good for people needing jobs, for businesses, and for New Zealand.
A recent review found that half of all employers had used a trial period when hiring workers. In relation to the last employee that an employer had hired on a trial basis, 40 percent of employers said they would not have, or were unlikely to have, hired that person without having a trial period. To put it another way, without the 90-day trial, 40 percent of businesses would most likely have not hired that person. That is an excellent outcome.
The evaluation suggests that employers view dismissals during the 90-day trial period as being unfavourable, and actively try to avoid them. Indeed, dismissals were not given on the 89th day, as some cynical members and unionists might have predicted, but were given mainly in the first few weeks. The evidence is clear from the evaluation that employers were not out to exploit those employees who were hired under the 90-day trial.
I challenge members opposite. If unscrupulous employers have been using the 90-day trial period in an unethical manner, then I ask why those businesses have not been named and shamed. The fact is that, in general, employers have acted responsibly and workers have been treated fairly. It is important to note that the 90-day trial can only be entered into by a written agreement between the employer and the new worker at the beginning of the employment relationship.
I was interested to read the Human Rights Commission’s recent publication
What Next? National Conversation About Work. The publication blows a few tired old myths
out of the water and exposes a few truths. The first truth is that work is a critical source of well-being and identity, and that is something the Government absolutely agrees with.
Dr Rajen Prasad: Who didn’t know that? What’s the myth that blows?
Dr JACKIE BLUE: It is a truth, not a myth.
One myth exposed was that all bosses are bastards. It was the observation of the Human Rights Commission that the “employers we met, especially in smaller businesses were more likely to treat their staff as extended family than as labour units.” The article went on to state that many of the employers the commission spoke to were responsive to the needs of their employees, such as family responsibilities, emergencies, and other life events, and were devastated by the emotional trauma of redundancies when they had to lay off staff. It is hardly the comment one would find in a Charles Dickens novel.
Another myth was that workers are slackers. The Human Rights Commission found that there was universal enthusiasm by employees not just for the socialisation of work but also for the tasks, functions, and professionalism required of them by change in the labour market.
So the hugely respected Human Rights Commission, after meeting hundreds of employers and hundreds of employees, found—wait for it—happy employers and happy employees. It is not the sort of picture that unions want to paint.
The extension of the 90-day trial is about opportunity. It is about giving people the chance to find a job.