Questions to Ministers
Economy—GDP and International Investment Position
NIKKI KAYE (National—Auckland Central) to the
Minister of Finance: What recent reports has he received on the economy?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Associate Minister of Finance) on behalf of the
Minister of Finance: Last week Statistics New Zealand issued gross domestic product data, as well as statistics on New Zealand’s international investment position. Despite considerable global uncertainty, the New Zealand economy grew faster than had been
forecast in the first 6 months of this year. An upward revision to the March quarter was balanced with lower than expected growth in the June quarter, which reflected a patchy performance across different sectors. The statistics also confirmed that we are making progress in reducing our net international liabilities, the combined amount that the Government, households, and businesses owe to the rest of the world, although there is still some way to go.
Nikki Kaye: How did economic growth in the first half of 2011 compare with Treasury’s forecasts in the Budget?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Gross domestic product increased by 1 percent in the first 6 months of 2011, despite that lower than expected growth in the June quarter. This took annual growth to 1.5 percent. Supported by a strong agricultural sector, this is above Treasury’s Budget forecast of 0.5 percent growth for the first 6 months of this year. There was also further positive news last week, with Fonterra announcing a record payout for 2010-11 of $8.25 a kilogram. This will inject about $10.6 billion into the economy.
Nikki Kaye: What did the latest statistics on New Zealand’s international investment position show?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: They showed we are making progress, through the Government’s clear plan to reduce New Zealand’s longstanding reliance on foreign debt and build faster growth around savings and exports. As at 30 June, New Zealand’s net international liabilities stood at $140 billion, or 70 percent of GDP, which is the lowest level since 2004. Although this is still quite high, it is certainly better than the peak of almost 86 percent of GDP 2 years ago. The latest figures incorporate some revisions from Statistics New Zealand to include better estimates of New Zealand assets held abroad.
Question No. 2 to Minister
Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Labour—Hutt South)
: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Just before we get to this question, I apologise for not getting to your office sooner to give notice of it. This question was originally set down to the Prime Minister. It was transferred, and it is the right of the Government to transfer. But the question was about the Prime Minister’s opinion on the Prime Minister’s statement. My question to you, Mr Speaker, is that in the redrafting, as it went to the Attorney-General, it appears to have been transferred to now seeking the Attorney-General’s opinion on the Prime Minister’s statement, rather than the Attorney-General’s opinion on the Prime Minister’s opinion on the Prime Minister’s statement. I think that quite changes the sense of the question.
Mr SPEAKER: I hear what the member is saying. The question as it is now asks whether the Attorney-General agrees with the Prime Minister’s statement, and the member wanted it to ask whether he agrees with the Prime Minister’s opinion on the Prime Minister’s own statement. The dilemma with trying to construct a question that way is that there is no way the Minister can answer that particular part of it. But given that the substance of this question is asking in how many of these cases the prosecution relies on evidence from warrantless filming, etc., it would seem to me that the substance of this question—and this is why the transfer was allowed—can readily be answered by the Attorney-General. That is why the question was allowed to be transferred.
Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Labour—Hutt South)
: Of course, the question was deliberately detailed in order to get that, but I just highlight to you that when questions are transferred, I think it has normally been good practice to consult with the questioner as to whether the questioner is happy, not with the transfer but with the reworded question, when rewording occurs. I do not think that happened on this occasion.
Mr SPEAKER: If that did not happen, I certainly apologise to the member, because I well understand that normal practice.
Video Surveillance—Covert Footage from Private Property
Hon DAVID PARKER (Labour) on behalf of
Hon PHIL GOFF (Leader of the Opposition) to the
Attorney-General: Does he agree with the Prime Minister’s statement that “there are at least 40 trials and 50 investigations where those investigations currently - the video surveillance equipment’s been turned off and yeah I don’t think - that will harm those trials in my view”, and in how many of those cases does the prosecution rely on evidence from warrantless filming from private property without the owner’s consent?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON (Attorney-General)
: As to the first part of the question, yes, I agree with the Prime Minister’s full statement. As to the second part of the question, the phrase “evidence from warrantless filming on private property without the owner’s consent” could refer to evidence obtained either by so-called over-the-fence filming from private property into a suspect’s property, or filming carried out on a suspect’s private property without a warrant to enter that property. It is highly unlikely that any of the cases mentioned rely on evidence from warrantless filming from private property without the owner’s consent.
Hon David Parker: Does the Attorney-General know why a response was never forthcoming to the written offer made by Labour in November 2010 to facilitate the passage of the Search and Surveillance Bill, which conferred powers, subject to the better protection of press freedoms and the tidying-up of Serious Fraud Office powers?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: Yes, I do. I have made very detailed inquiries because I was quite hurt by the statement made by Mr Chauvel on
Morning Report that I was lazy and indifferent. The record—
Hon Trevor Mallard: Oh, you sensitive wee flower.
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: I am a sensitive soul, as Mr Mallard says. The letter was actually sent—
Hon Shane Jones: Man up.
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: Man up. The letter was sent to Mr Power. It was copied to Ms Collins and me. It is not customary practice, at least on this side of the House, for those who are sent copies to respond. It was also blind copied to a fellow from the media freedom committee, but Mr Parker inadvertently sent us a copy of that reference as well. The reality of the matter, I say to Mr Parker, is that Mr Power did answer the letter and said he would get back to him.
Hon David Parker: Mr Speaker—
Hon Simon Power: I did. I said I’d got it and I’d get back to you.
Hon David Parker: Get back to me—a year later.
Mr SPEAKER: Will the Hon David Parker please ask his question.
Hon David Parker: What advice, if any, did he give to his ministerial colleagues about the desirability of progressing the Search and Surveillance Bill, which provides the necessary statutory authority for surveillance, rather than letting it languish on the Order Paper for 11 months?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: My colleague Mr Power has been an excellent Minister of Justice, and we will all greatly miss him.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Blame Simon—he’s going.
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: I am not blaming Simon, at all; I am proud of him. He is a valued friend and parliamentary colleague. The reality of the matter is that until the Supreme Court decision was released there was no appreciation of the issue of lawfulness having been raised, particularly—
Charles Chauvel: That’s nonsense.
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: —I say to Mr Chauvel—given 15 years of Court of Appeal jurisprudence that upheld this particular activity.
Hon David Parker: Given the discretion the court already has to admit illegally obtained evidence in serious cases, will the Attorney-General undertake that he will interfere with the Supreme Court precedent as little as possible, and consider the approach favoured by Labour?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: I can certainly undertake that what we are doing here is dealing with the issue of lawfulness. Admittedly, an earlier draft that was sent to Mr Chauvel and uploaded 5 seconds later on Red Alert did refer to the issue of reasonableness. What we are dealing with here is that very limited question of lawfulness. It will still be open to people to object under section 30 on the grounds of reasonableness.
Charles Chauvel: Can the Minister confirm the advice of officials this morning that the consultation draft of his Video Camera Surveillance (Temporary Measures) Bill has been substantially redrafted in response to reaction to it; if so, when does he think he will make available a copy so that people can submit intelligently on it at the select committee at 9 a.m. tomorrow?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: The answer is yes. Last week, which was an adjournment week, quite apart from signing a number of deeds of settlement to advance our excellent progress on Treaty settlements I consulted widely a number of interest groups, including the Human Rights Commission and the Law Society. As a result of that, I did respond. I will talk to the member after question time to facilitate that, provided he gives me an undertaking that he will not upload it on to Red Alert before it is formally tabled in the House tonight.
Mr SPEAKER: Before I call the member, unless I heard totally incorrectly, the question asked was not unreasonable. It contained an allegation that the bill had been redrafted, but asked when a redrafted version might be available. If there is no redrafted version, it would be helpful for the House to know, but it was a fair question. It would be reasonable for the House to be told when the bill might be available.
Hon Simon Power: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Actually, the Attorney-General, unless I completely misheard him, said he was happy to meet with the member after question time and go through the issues with him.
Charles Chauvel: Speaking to the point of order—
Mr SPEAKER: No, I do not think I need any help. This is a matter that I am dealing with. That does not help the House in terms of when the bill might be available. It is certainly a generous offer of the Attorney-General, but this is a matter in which there is significant public interest and it would be helpful for the House to know when a bill, if it has been redrafted—it may not have been redrafted—might be available.
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: There were two parts to the supplementary question. I answered the first part fully. I am not required to answer the second part, but I did say to Mr Chauvel that I will consult him after question time with a view to making a copy of the bill available to him. As I said, my concern is compliance with the Standing Orders and ensuring that they are followed. I make that—
Charles Chauvel: Point of order—
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: Sit down; I have not finished. I am quite happy to make that offer.
Mr SPEAKER: The Hon Chris Finlayson will get to his feet and apologise for that comment. He must not use the point of order procedure to attack the member like that.
Keith Locke: Point of order—
Mr SPEAKER: I am dealing with this first matter.
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: I apologise. But I was not raising a point of order—
Mr SPEAKER: I appreciate the member doing that.
Keith Locke: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I think the Attorney-General has not really addressed your point about when the bill will be made available to the House. There are more parties in the House than Labour and National, and we want to know—and I think the question addressed that—when it will be available to the House.
Mr SPEAKER: I apologise for taking the time of the House on this, but it is a matter of public interest. It seems the Attorney-General has indicated that when the bill is tabled in the House it will be available, and if there is any departure from that, I should stand corrected. It would appear that that is when it will become available to the member.
Charles Chauvel: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. This relates to the issue that you raised with the Attorney-General. The select committee is due to meet, as we understand, at 9 a.m. tomorrow. We have learnt from the Attorney-General that a substantially redrafted bill now exists. No one has seen that bill. If you could just hear me out, Mr Speaker. I accept that he answered the first part of my question, as he was required to do, but he chose to go on and address the second part. I think there is a strong public interest in people knowing, given that they will be before a select committee at 9 a.m. tomorrow, what they will be submitting on.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Speaking to the point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: I will hear the Hon Trevor Mallard briefly.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I think we run the risk of being tied up in our own rules here. We are aware that there is a high likelihood of the House taking urgency on this legislation at some stage this afternoon or this evening, in order to get the bill on to the Table and off to the select committee. For that reason it cannot be tabled, according to our rules, until urgency is taken. I wonder whether you could ask the Attorney-General whether he would be prepared, either through the National Party website or Red Alert, to—
Mr SPEAKER: The member knows I cannot do that. Further questions can be asked of the Attorney-General about what he might be prepared to do. It was just that on the basis of that supplementary question I wanted to make sure the issue of whether a copy of the bill might be made available to members—that part of the question—could be answered. But the Attorney-General has undoubtedly satisfied that part of the question, and the House should now move on.
Charles Chauvel: Can he confirm the advice of officials this morning that the principal reason for not inserting the relevant safeguard sections from the Search and Surveillance Bill into his temporary measures bill is that the drafting exercise is too complicated to complete in the time available?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: Yes, I can. It is my understanding that the cross-referencing involved would result in a 20-page bill and I am advised by the officials, including parliamentary counsel, who I do not think spoke to Mr Chauvel and Mr Parker this morning, that that is the case.
Charles Chauvel: Will the Minister seek in any way to prevent the select committee from considering the idea of inserting the relevant safeguard sections of the Search and Surveillance Bill into the temporary measures bill so as to provide a statutory basis for police video surveillance, given that that bill has been through a proper select committee process and has the support of a majority of members of Parliament?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: With respect, I do not think that is a matter for me; I think that is a matter for the committee.
Charles Chauvel: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Minister will have carriage of the bill and my question was quite precise: will he do anything to seek to prevent the select committee from considering the issue I raised?
Mr SPEAKER: The Minister in answering said that was a matter for the committee, and that is a reasonable answer. He has indicated he is not going to do anything to interfere with the committee in that regard.
Charles Chauvel: With respect, I am not sure that is an entirely accurate summary of the answer. But I wonder whether I could raise a question of leave of the House. I seek leave to table a Supplementary Order Paper I have drafted that would insert the relevant provisions of the Search and Surveillance Bill into the temporary measures bill. Further, I ask the leave of the House that the Supplementary Order Paper be referred to the Justice and Electoral Committee on the same basis as the temporary measures bill may be referred to it, in light of the Attorney-General’s undertaking to do nothing to obstruct—
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is being sought for two purposes here: first for the tabling of this draft Supplementary Order Paper. Leave is sought for that purpose. Is there any objection to that? There is objection.
Medicines—Access and Funding
TIM MACINDOE (National—Hamilton West) to the
Minister of Health: What investment has there been in new, and wider access to, medicines for New Zealanders since 2008?
Hon TONY RYALL (Minister of Health)
: I am pleased to be able to advise the House that the Government has increased its spending on medicines by $180 million over the last 3 years, fulfilling an important promise that we made in 2008. So far this has resulted in New Zealanders receiving an additional 4.2 million prescriptions and in better access to medicines for around an extra 180,000 people each year. This is part of the $1.5 billion of new funding this Government has put into the public health service since 2008.
Tim Macindoe: How is this investment benefiting New Zealanders?
Hon TONY RYALL: I am advised that in the last 3 years, since the change of Government, Pharmac has funded 59 new medicines and widened access to another 68 medicines. Before this investment, many patients had to pay the full cost of these medicines or go without them. They include new treatments for advanced lung and kidney cancers and for cardiac and respiratory problems, and wider access to medicines for diabetes and high cholesterol. And we cannot forget Herceptin, which the last Government would not commit to funding. More than 750 women have received this publicly funded medicine since 2008. These medicines are making a real impact on the lives of hundreds of thousands of patients.
Economy—Prime Minister’s Statements
Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE (Labour—New Lynn) to the
Prime Minister: Is it his policy to “muddle through” the current economic uncertainty?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister)
: No, the Government has actively taken a number of steps to ensure New Zealand can minimise any fall-out from global economic events. For example, we have set a faster track back to surplus and we have limited debt to under 30 percent of GDP. We have front-loaded our borrowing programme during favourable market conditions, which will cover the Government’s obligations over coming months should markets show signs of tightening, and the Reserve Bank has ensured it can provide temporary liquidity to sound institutions. It
does not mean we are immune to any global events, but we are certainly in a lot better shape than the one we inherited from that hapless Labour Government 3 years ago.
Hon David Cunliffe: Given the answer to the primary question was no, it was not his plan, does he then agree with the sentiments he ascribed to his Minister of Finance this morning that it was sufficient for New Zealand to muddle through the current economic turbulence; or does he aspire to a better plan?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I have never said the words in the quote that the member has just said. In fact, I have the quote in front of me. The question from Rachel Smalley was “Do you believe a double-dip recession is on the horizon?”, to which I said “while the atmosphere and the mood is very dark in the United States”—by the way, that is the place where the President has Camp David as a retreat—“and in Europe, … we may just muddle through”, “we” being the world, not New Zealand.
Hon David Cunliffe: I seek leave to table a transcript of the Prime Minister’s response to that question from TV3’s
Mr SPEAKER: We do not table transcripts from TV shows.
Hon David Cunliffe: Does he recall the Minister of Finance giving a speech in 2009, wherein he said “we want to do better than just muddle through”; and, 2 years later on, with growth of just 0.1 percent, and 47,000 more people out of work than when he came into office, is it not time he delivered on this aspiration?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Yes, I recall that speech. Notwithstanding the earthquakes that have taken place in Christchurch, which have clearly had an impact on the economy, we have grown at 1 percent for the first half of this year. The OECD average has been 0.3 percent for the first quarter, and 0.2 percent for the second quarter. It might be worth thinking about what those quarters looked like in 2008: March was minus 0.2 percent, June was minus 0.6, September was minus 0.6, and December was minus 1.2. That is a remarkable set-up from that hapless Labour Government.
Hon David Cunliffe: I seek leave to table a document. It may assist the Prime Minister’s memory if I were to table this graph of GDP statistics, which shows the change in trend since—
Mr SPEAKER: What is the source of the document?
Hon David Cunliffe: Statistics New Zealand and the Parliamentary Library.
Mr SPEAKER: It is prepared by the Parliamentary Library, is it?
Hon David Cunliffe: The Parliamentary Library and Statistics New Zealand.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is objection. [Interruption] A point of order is being dealt with, and it will not be dealt with that way.
Chris Tremain: What economic conditions did the Government inherit in 2008?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: That is an excellent question. When the Government came into office in late 2008 we inherited the following economic conditions: inflation was 5.1 percent, mortgage interest rates were 10.5 percent, food prices had gone up 11 percent, the economy had gone backwards for four quarters in a row, Treasury was forecasting deficits for ever, and debt was meant to go to 60 percent of GDP and never come back down again. That was the going-away present that Labour delivered an incoming National Government. I am proud to have led a Government that has turned that situation round.
Hon David Cunliffe: When the Prime Minister promised New Zealanders an “aggressive” recovery and that the country would come “roaring” out of recession, did he mean that 3 years later he would be muddling through, and growth would be crawling along at 0.1 percent, well below the rate of population growth?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Again, I did not say “roaring”, so the member, if he wants to quote me, should get the facts and read them out properly, as well as the full quote, as
he knows well. Relatively speaking, we are doing pretty well—not as well as we would like; of course we would like to do better. I am reasonably confident about quarter three and four growth.
Hon John Boscawen: Has he seen the IMF
World Economic Outlook report, projecting New Zealand’s real GDP growth between 2006 and 2016 at just 0.8 percent per annum; if so, rather than muddling through, is he prepared to reconsider his decision to shelve the last two 2025 reports, which outlined a plan for New Zealand to boost its growth?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No, I have not seen that report, but what I would say is let us have a little bit of context about the last 3 years, at least. We have had a global financial crisis, which has affected—
Hon David Cunliffe: Oh, it’s always someone else’s fault.
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Well, if David Cunliffe really thinks New Zealand can be the only country in the entire world that would be immune from the global financial crisis, then I think “Camp David 1” should swap over to “Camp David 2”, because he is clearly not demonstrating any form of leadership. Secondly, if one looks at the earthquakes, and the economic impact of those, which has been enormous on the New Zealand economy, and then within that context one looks at what is happening in New Zealand, I think one can take a view that says we are starting to do better and are improving within that environment. We have grown for eight of the last nine quarters, we will be back in surplus by 2014-15, our debt is one quarter of the OECD average, we have interest rates at a 45-year low, unemployment is starting to fall, we have created 45,000 jobs, and I think in the context of that environment, it is not too bad.
Hon David Cunliffe: Why is the Prime Minister content to roar about the success of the Rugby World Cup and the record dairy payout, outside the Chamber, but barely able to squeak about the performance of his Government—because it is all someone else’s fault, such as the global recession or previous Governments—when he gets into the Chamber?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I was actually slightly conscious that I was roaring inside the Chamber, but, for the purposes, let us go through it one more time. We have grown in eight out of the last nine quarters—not bad. We have interest rates at a 45-year low—not bad. Unemployment is starting to fall—not too bad. We are likely to create 170,000 jobs in the next 4 years, we have reformed the Resource Management Act, and, by the way, we are on track to win the Rugby World Cup.
Hon Members: Yay!
Mr SPEAKER: That is enough.
Hon David Cunliffe: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. It was a little difficult—
Mr SPEAKER: Now, look. The House will come to order. It has had its fun, and will come to order. The member will resume his seat—
Hon David Cunliffe: It was a little difficult to hear—
Mr SPEAKER: I thank the honourable member; I just want the House to settle down for a moment. Now, it is a point of order the honourable member wishes to raise.
Hon David Cunliffe: It was a little difficult to hear with that background noise, but I was wondering whether I heard the Prime Minister say when he will return to surplus—
Mr SPEAKER: That is not a point of order. The member knows that.
Hon John Boscawen: Does he consider it satisfactory that the International Monetary Fund is projecting a lower 10-year growth rate for New Zealand than for 148 other countries, all of which have been affected by the global financial crisis, including Australia at 1.6 percent per annum and Singapore at 2.6 percent per annum; if not, when can New Zealanders look forward to his Government implementing the recommendations of the 2025 Taskforce?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: About as soon as we look forward to decriminalising cannabis. I have not seen that particular report, so I cannot tell the member that detail, because the context of it would need to be seen. What I can tell the member is that in the last 6 months—if we just look at the last 6 months as an example—we have grown at double the rate of the OECD average.
Hon John Boscawen: I seek leave to table a graph—
Mr SPEAKER: The House must settle down.
Hon John Boscawen: I seek leave of the House to table a graph prepared by the International Monetary Fund showing projected growth rates over a 10-year period from 2006 to 2016, putting New Zealand at the 148th slot.
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.
Mining in Conservation Areas—Denniston Plateau
KEVIN HAGUE (Green) to the
Minister of Conservation: Does she have confidence in her Department’s management of the conservation values at risk from the application by Bathurst Resources to mine the Denniston Plateau?
Hon KATE WILKINSON (Minister of Conservation)
: Yes. The department is currently assessing the applications of Buller Coal, previously under Bathurst Resources, and will take into account the impact on conservation values in any future decisions.
Kevin Hague: Why did the Department of Conservation play no part at all in advocating for, or even providing information about, the conservation values of the Denniston Plateau in the resource consent hearings?
Hon KATE WILKINSON: The department did submit on some matters but did not engage further, as it considered the environmental issues it is concerned about can best be managed through the access arrangement and concession processes and provisions.
Kevin Hague: Does the Minister agree with the resource consent commissioners when they said “it is abundantly clear that large scale mining is poised to invade the entire Denniston Plateau coal reserves which if unchecked, will totally destroy the ecosystems which are present.”, and does she not believe it is essential that the access agreement that is being applied for is publicly notified?
Hon KATE WILKINSON: In relation to the public notification, I can advise that if the department intends to grant the Denniston concession application, then public submissions will be invited, and the public can be heard again should it reach that stage.
Kevin Hague: Is the Minister concerned that the departmental employee who was leading the work on preparing and implementing the department’s strategy in relation to this application has now been employed by Bathurst Resources?
Hon KATE WILKINSON: I am aware that a Department of Conservation employee has accepted a job with Bathurst Resources. He had no role in processing the applications and was never a decision maker. He also acted entirely appropriately and alerted management to his change of employment, to ensure that any conflict of interest could be avoided.
Kevin Hague: Will the Minister instruct the department to audit the decisions and actions taken in the development of its position on the Bathurst Resources application, to ensure that there has been no conflict of interest—something that the department has refused to do?
Hon KATE WILKINSON: I have no reason to instruct the department or arrange such an audit.
Kevin Hague: Will the Minister instruct the department to restart the process of developing its approach to defending conservation values on the Denniston Plateau, so that Bathurst Resources does not know the entire strategy—something, again, that the department has refused to do?
Hon KATE WILKINSON: I do not believe that that is necessary.
Kevin Hague: How many more gamekeepers should the public expect to become poachers, now that they are losing their jobs as a result of her Government’s savage cuts to funding for conservation?
Hon KATE WILKINSON: I do not accept any of the premises of that question.
Kevin Hague: I seek leave to table the decision of the commissioners appointed by the West Coast Regional Council and Buller District Council dated 26 August 2011 in respect of this application.
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.
Hon Damien O’Connor: Can she give an assurance that the restructuring at the Department of Conservation will enable staff to continue to properly monitor the other 82 mine licences on conservation land on the West Coast—something they do take very seriously in order to protect the environment, and we should applaud them for that—while enabling jobs to continue in the region?
Hon KATE WILKINSON: I am assured that the department can continue to deliver on such work. Can I say I agree with the member when he says we have to be realistic about the way we get to a new, cleaner, greener economy, and it is through the smart, wise use of high-quality hydrocarbons—a very good quote, I say to Mr O’Connor. For the Green Party to oppose every mine is just ridiculous.
Hon Dr Nick Smith: Has the Minister received reports of Labour MP Maryan Street saying Labour is opposed to this mine proceeding, whereas Damien O’Connor has said Labour supports this mine proceeding; if so, do those reports clarify just what that Opposition party’s position is?
Hon Rick Barker: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Minister has no responsibility whatsoever for any of those matters.
Hon Simon Power: Mr Speaker—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: A point of order is being considered. I will hear the Hon Simon Power.
Hon Simon Power: Unless I heard my colleague incorrectly, he asked whether the Minister had seen any reports that indicated two members’ views on the same issue. She does have responsibility for reports that she may, or may not, have seen.
Mr SPEAKER: Although I acknowledge that the question is clearly constructed to get round the fact that the Minister does not have responsibility for any Opposition views, what troubles me is that it is such an obvious attempt to create for a Minister a responsibility that the Minister definitely does not have. If there was substance in the reports that the Minister was responsible for, then it would be reasonable to allow that question, but I do not think I should allow it. It takes the artificial construction of questions to an unreasonable extreme, and I think the Hon Rick Barker has a valid point.
Hon Simon Power: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. That being your ruling in respect of that question, I just ask you not to be too hasty here and to give a bit of thought to the construction of a question to a Minister that asks whether the Minister has seen any reports in respect of a particular issue. You might say, as you did in your ruling, that this is at the margin of ministerial responsibility and Opposition politics, if
you like. But in the end a Minister’s responsibility to say whether he or she has seen those reports has been a legitimate way of putting questions to Ministers—for the Opposition, for that matter, as well—in the time I have been in the House. I just ask you to make sure that we do not now find ourselves in a situation where, more broadly, that becomes an issue for the House.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I may find myself losing leave as a result of this, but I concur with the view of the acting Acting Leader of the House, or whatever his current position is. I think we can get too narrow here. There is a long-term tradition of being able to cause trouble, but it is part of the thing in this House that you cannot take the politics out of it. I think you might be trying to do that. I also think it would be just as in order to ask the Minister whether she has seen any reports on the ACT Party’s proposal to use Department of Conservation land for growing Don Brash’s dope on, or something similar.
Mr SPEAKER: I think I have heard sufficient, and I appreciate the contributions of both the Acting Leader of the House and the shadow Leader of the House. This is an important issue, in that we do not want to narrow the scope for questioning Ministers. My trouble with this question is that it was so blatantly constructed to ask the Minister about Opposition policy, which is not the Minister’s responsibility. That is why I have said, on this occasion, I believe it really stretches the Standing Orders too far. But I do not intend to make it out of order to ask Ministers about reports; it is just that sometimes members get away with it by not specifying the reports. One of the dilemmas with this question is that the member who asked the question was very specific about the reports he wanted the Minister to comment on, and that they were clearly to do with Opposition policy. I believe that just takes it too far. I do not want to see us lose the ability to question Ministers through trying to take it too far, and that is why I have ruled the question out.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I wonder whether you might furnish the House with a written indication of how you are going to proceed with these things, or how you think they should be proceeded with, from this point. I note that Charles Chauvel’s questioning today, and many of the other questions that have been asked today, referred to Opposition policies and asked Ministers to comment on those policies. That was very evident today in Charles Chauvel’s questioning, so I think to shut this question down, when it might be easily answered—the answer might be something that you shut down, but the question itself should be regarded as perfectly reasonable.
Mr SPEAKER: I believe I have dealt with this matter. In the case the member is referring to, the Attorney-General had clear responsibility for the issue relating to the supposed report that Charles Chauvel was referring to. In this case, I do not think that the Hon Kate Wilkinson would claim she has any responsibility whatsoever for what the Hon Maryan Street might have said about an issue. And that is the difference. I think we just have to be careful that by taking this approach too far, we do not spoil it. I think it is important to be able to question Ministers through referring to reports, as the Acting Leader of the House has emphasised today, and as has been supported by the shadow Leader of the House. I think it is important, though, that we do not destroy that ability through taking it to a ridiculous point. On this occasion the Minister clearly has no responsibility whatsoever for the issues contained in any report about what an Opposition member might have said.
Local Authorities—Financial Reporting
Hon DAVID PARKER (Labour) to the
Minister of Local Government: Does he stand by his statement “We require councils from the next election onwards to put
out a financial report in plain English. … I think if we had had that reporting procedure some years back, we might not have got ourselves into some trouble with councils”, in light of the increase in the gross debt of the Auckland City Council during the mayoralty of John Banks?
Hon RODNEY HIDE (Minister of Local Government)
: Yes, I do.
Hon David Parker: Is the Minister aware that under John Banks, rating increases for the Auckland City Council were held at falsely low levels by the greatest-ever increase in debt—
Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. This line of questioning really does cause us, I think, to reflect on your most recent ruling, because there is clearly no point in asking this Minister what he thinks about a mayor’s policy; he has no responsibility for that. If the other question was blatantly trying to get into political point-making, there could be no better example than what we are being given by David Parker at the present time. The question should not be allowed to stand.
Hon David Parker: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: I will hear briefly from the Hon David Parker.
Hon David Parker: He has not heard the full extent of my question, and it plainly does have ministerial responsibility.
Mr SPEAKER: The Speaker has heard sufficient, and the Minister has no responsibility whatsoever for the actions of the Auckland mayor. He has no responsibility whatsoever. The member will recollect that some actual thought went into the primary question to try to get it in order, and I ask the member, likewise, to try to make sure his supplementary questions are in order.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. With due respect, I know what it is in the end of this question, and you do not. I find it extraordinary that you are ruling out a question from a senior member, who has taken some time to construct a question that goes to ministerial responsibility, before you have heard it.
Mr SPEAKER: I am certainly not going to remove the question from the member. I ask him to repeat his question, but to please make sure it is in order.
Hon David Parker: Is he reinforced in the concern that lay behind his statement given the reality that in New Zealand’s largest city council, Auckland City Council, rates were held at falsely low levels by increasing council debt by the greatest amount ever in New Zealand’s history, from $322 million at 30 June 2008, to $1,149 million at 30 June 2010—an increase of over a billion dollars in 2 years under John Banks?
Hon RODNEY HIDE: No, funnily enough, and the reason is that ahead of the reforms, Treasury functions across the various councils in Auckland were amalgamated, and Auckland City Council took on that role. So it borrowed $416 million, which it then on-lent to other councils, saving them considerable money because we had just one council. The Auckland City Council also borrowed another $215 million on behalf of Metro Water, which the council then on-lent. If that is netted out, we will find that the trend for debt in the Auckland City Council is exactly as predicted. In fact, Auckland City Council, in taking on that function ahead of the amalgamation, saved Auckland ratepayers some considerable money.
Hon David Parker: Does the Minister still hold with his other statement that councils “take on debt largely without the awareness of ratepayers. They can actually delay the … consequences of that debt for some years, and we are now having to deal with some councils that are being forced to put up rates.”, and does he enjoy the irony as much as I do that the worst-ever borrower in the history of local government is now the intended lifesaver for ACT and John Key is telling National voters to vote for him?
Hon RODNEY HIDE: I do stand by that statement. But, actually, as I said—and the member may not have heard my answer—in the case of Auckland City Council, they
were borrowing on behalf of all of Auckland and actually lent the money on, again saving the cost of the additional borrowing for those councils. I would have thought that was a good thing and, in fact, a far-sighted move by mayor John Banks.
Hon David Parker: Has the Minister considered allowing councils to fund deficits, like the one created by John Banks, with a tax on cannabis, in keeping with the latest puff of genius from the ACT Party?
Hon RODNEY HIDE: Unfortunately, it is impossible to answer that question without repeating myself, and that shows us the danger of a member preparing his questions ahead of hearing the answers and actually getting caught out with questions that do not bear any resemblance to the Auckland City Council’s final accounts, which showed us that what that member is saying is not true.
Hon David Parker: I seek leave to table a document showing that the Auckland City Council’s debt—
Mr SPEAKER: The source of the document?
Hon David Parker: A concerned ratepayer, drawn from the Auckland City accounts. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: A point of order is being heard.
Hon David Parker: I seek leave to table that document showing council debt increasing from $322 million to $1,149 million over that 2 year period, not all of which is—
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document from a concerned ratepayer. Is there any objection? There is objection.
State Housing, Auckland—Upgrades and New Houses
PESETA SAM LOTU-IIGA (National—Maungakiekie) to the
Minister of Housing: What plans does the Government have to increase and improve State housing in Auckland?
Hon PHIL HEATLEY (Minister of Housing)
: Today I am pleased to announce that over the next 5 years the Housing New Zealand Corporation will build or acquire up to 1,400 additional new homes in Auckland, and we will upgrade 14,500—14,500—existing properties, which is nearly half the current State housing stock in the region.
Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga: How do these plans impact the Government’s commitment to work with third sector providers of social, affordable, and niche housing?
Hon PHIL HEATLEY: Currently a number of old, cold, and mouldy State homes are sited on large quarter acre sections in Auckland, and they have been for a decade. Where appropriate, the Housing New Zealand Corporation will subdivide these properties to provide a mix of new fit-for-purpose State housing, to work with the third sector to assist it to provide more social and niche housing, and also to increase the supply of land available for home buyers, including first-home buyers.
Rahui Katene: What plans has the Government made to invest in more four-bedroom houses to better reflect the demographic being served in Auckland, which includes more larger Māori and Pacific Island whānau?
Hon PHIL HEATLEY: The State housing stock is overwhelmingly made up of three-bedroom homes, which is the wrong size to meet current need, as the member points out—that need is, basically, one and two-bedroom homes for people who are living alone but also homes with four or more bedrooms for large Māori and Pacific families. The Housing New Zealand Corporation will be building and acquiring homes of those sizes—absolutely. I have also asked the Social Housing Unit to partner with iwi and other third sector providers to provide adequately sized social housing across New Zealand and, of course, across Auckland.
Moana Mackey: When he talks about community housing organisations taking over social housing from the Housing New Zealand Corporation—and, in the case of the Tāmaki Transformation Programme, providing 50 percent of the social housing, with the Housing New Zealand Corporation having the other 50 percent—will those community housing organisations be given the funding for the income-related rent subsidy so that the tenants in those properties do not see their rents going up as he pushes them from a Housing New Zealand Corporation property, where they pay only 25 percent of their income to a community housing sector property where the sector cannot afford to provide that same level of subsidy?
Hon PHIL HEATLEY: I never said a bunch of those things. I said that in places like Tāmaki, where there are large quarter acre sections, we will subdivide, building new State houses perhaps on one half of the section, and selling the other half to a community housing organisation or a first-home buyer to raise funds. That is what I said. On the issue of income-related rents, we have said to social housing providers that we do not intend to transfer income-related rents to them at this time. We may consider that at a later date. I would be interested to see, if Labour does that, where it would get the money from.
Carol Beaumont: Why are the residents of northern Glen Innes who are to be relocated not being given the opportunity to return to their current community once the redevelopment work has been completed, as was the case with the Ladies Mile and Kings Road developments?
Hon PHIL HEATLEY: That is usual across New Zealand when there is a State housing development. It has happened over a number of years, though under the previous Government there was very little redevelopment. Certainly, the option is often given to tenants to either move into alternative State housing permanently or relocate back. Often, they want to go to where they have been relocated because they have settled. Sometimes when they see the new State houses, they want to move back. Usually there is a bunch of options, and I would expect that would happen in this case.
Auckland District Health Board—Te Whetu Tawera Acute Mental Health Unit
GRANT ROBERTSON (Labour—Wellington Central) to the
Minister of Health: Does he believe Te Whetu Tawera, the acute mental health unit of the Auckland District Health Board, is functioning to a high standard; if so, why?
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN (Associate Minister of Health)
on behalf of the
Minister of Health: Yes, because an independent report completed last month on Te Whetu Tawera has found that overall the service is functioning to a high standard. I am also aware that the Mental Health Commission visited the service and agrees with the findings of this independent report.
Grant Robertson: Why did Associate Minister Jonathan Coleman tell the
New Zealand Herald that the unit was functioning to a high standard when assaults at the unit tripled between 2009 and 2010, with 213 assaults over the past year, including 131 on staff?
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: That is actually a separate issue to the core question of whether the unit is functioning at a high standard. The independent evidence backed up by the Mental Health Commission says that it is, in direct contrast to how it was functioning under the Labour Government.
Grant Robertson: How could Associate Minister Coleman say the unit was operating to a high standard when bed numbers have had to be cut in order to ensure staff safety, and it is not possible to fill staff vacancies, because of fear of safety issues?
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: The reason that it has been difficult to recruit staff to that unit is that under the Labour Government morale in that unit plummeted.
That is backed up by two reports, in 2007 and 2008, that were very critical of clinical management there and the lack of action of the last Government. This latest independent report shows that there has been a marked improvement in the culture and in the way that patients are managed. Under this Government there has been real improvement at that unit, and the evidence backs that up.
Grant Robertson: Can the Minister really tell the House that there has been improvement under his Government when assaults at the unit tripled between 2009 and 2010, with 213 assaults over the last year, including 131 assaults on staff? How is that a unit functioning at a high standard?
Hon Dr JONATHAN COLEMAN: What I can say is that the independent, objective reports show that there has been dramatic improvement under this Government, in marked contrast to the absolute mess that the Labour Government had left that unit in when we came into Government.
Grant Robertson: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. This will be a little bit difficult because that was not a question that I had written down; it was a response to a supplementary answer. I do not believe that the Minister addressed my question, which asked how he could make the statement about the unit operating at a high standard given those statistics.
Mr SPEAKER: The member should just reflect on what he said. He asked the Minister how he could make such a statement. The Minister’s answer was because of this independent report. That is a perfectly legitimate answer to that question. There is not a lot I can do about that.
Video Surveillance—Covert Footage from Private Property
KEITH LOCKE (Green) to the
Minister of Police: In how many trials completed this year have the Police submitted covert video footage obtained on private property; if any?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON (Attorney-General) on behalf of the
Minister of Police: There is a preliminary point I want to make. I note the question refers to evidence submitted, and that will include evidence ruled admissible and also evidence tendered but ruled inadmissible, for example, because of an objection under section 30 of the Evidence Act. I am advised the New Zealand Police do not have that information readily available. There are approximately 2,000 indictable criminal cases heard in the District and High Courts each year, and thousands of summary prosecutions; to provide that answer would require analysis of each of the cases. That is a substantial piece of work and it is outside the scope of parliamentary question time.
Keith Locke: Does the Minister agree with the Attorney-General, who said in response to an earlier question today that before the Supreme Court ruling of 2 September on the unlawfulness of police use of covert video surveillance that there was “no appreciation of the issue of lawfulness having been raised,”?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: Yes, although if he was to be exact, the Attorney-General could possibly also have referred to comments made in the Law Commission report, but instead he was focusing mainly on the 15 years of Court of Appeal jurisprudence upholding this activity.
Keith Locke: Is the Minister saying that she received no advice from police that there had been a High Court ruling on 7 October 2009 relating to the Operation Eight case that covert video surveillance was unlawful?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: Yes, she would have received that report. She would also have received a report that the High Court allowed that evidence in under section 30 of the Evidence Act. She would also have received a report of the decision in the Court of Appeal that upheld the lawfulness.
Keith Locke: If she did receive advice that there was a determination of the illegality of covert video surveillance evidence, even if it was allowed in this particular case, what did she do to ensure that the police would not be acting illegally in the future by engaging in covert video surveillance?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: She would have been relying at all times on the advice of the Crown Law Office, which has had the carriage of this criminal litigation on behalf of the Government. She would also have known that the case was going through other levels of the court system—first, the Court of Appeal and, subsequently, the Supreme Court.
Keith Locke: Does the Minister agree that because the police continued to use covert video surveillance they were essentially flying in the face of court rulings, and does she agree with the Chief Justice’s comment in her operation case ruling on 2 September that there had been “deliberate unlawfulness” by the police in conducting filming and that this “is destructive of an effective system of justice”?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: I will not answer that question, because it seeks a legal interpretation. I would think it would be very unwise in this place to start commenting on judgments—be they of the Chief Justice, Justice Blanchard, or anyone else.
Education, National Standards—School Charters and English Language Learners
SUE MORONEY (Labour) to the
Minister of Education: How many letters has the Ministry of Education sent to schools in the past eight weeks requiring a specific statement that refers to National Standards to be included in their charters?
Hon PAULA BENNETT (Minister for Social Development and Employment) on behalf of the
Minister of Education: I am advised that 93 letters have been sent.
Sue Moroney: How many of those school boards of trustees have submitted their charter along with a statement that they have submitted the required national standards targets under duress?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: I am not sure how many boards have put “under duress” on their charters, but I am advised that of the 1,942 charters that have been analysed, 93 percent are compliant.
Sue Moroney: After much negotiation.
Mr SPEAKER: Order!
Sue Moroney: Did the Ministry of Education’s planned training of limited statutory managers go ahead yesterday; if so, how many people undertook that training?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: I am not sure. I am sorry I cannot answer that question.
Sue Moroney: Does she think that a recent edict from her Ministry of Education that students with English as a second language and those funded by the Ongoing and Reviewable Resourcing Scheme be included in national standards data will make schools more welcoming of those students or more likely to avoid enrolling them?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: I think that schools, boards of trustees, and teachers are all there to try to benefit children and to make sure that they are doing well, whether or not they are under Ongoing and Reviewable Resourcing Scheme funding or have special needs. I am very confident that they see those children as individuals with individual needs.
Sue Moroney: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I specifically asked a question about whether the Minister saw the inclusion of students funded by the Ongoing and Reviewable Resourcing Scheme and those with English as a second language in national standards data as helping schools to make students more welcome or as making schools more likely to avoid enrolling them. The Minister made no reference at all to including them in the national standards data.
Hon Simon Power: Speaking to the point of order.
Mr SPEAKER: I will hear briefly from the Acting Leader of the House.
Hon Simon Power: The Minister did specifically answer the question by saying words to the effect that she would expect them to be welcomed into the school whether or not they are funded by the Ongoing and Reviewable Resourcing Scheme, and that they would be treated as individuals by the boards, staff, and everybody else who is at the school.
Mr SPEAKER: I think that is a fair point. The question asked an opinion, and the Minister gave her opinion, which was pretty close to the question asked.
Sue Moroney: I seek leave to table a letter dated 24 August 2011 from the Ministry of Education to schools stating: “The amendment required to your school charter is to include the following target”.
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.
Sue Moroney: I seek leave to table a letter from the Ministry of Education, from an organisation known as the national standards inquiry team, informing schools of national standards and reporting to parents on the progress and achievement of students who are English language learners.
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.
Primary Growth Partnership—Successful Bids
JONATHAN YOUNG (National—New Plymouth) to the
Minister of Agriculture: Has he seen any reports on recent initiatives that boost research in the agricultural sector?
Hon DAVID CARTER (Minister of Agriculture)
: I have. Last week the latest successful bid for Primary Growth Partnership funding was announced. This is a $19.5 million project funded 50 percent by the Government and 50 percent by a research team led by Ballance Agri-Nutrients. It is hoped that the project will help transform the traditional use of fertiliser. It will have a real focus on minimising the environmental impact of fertiliser applications.
Jonathan Young: How does this initiative build on agricultural sector research?
Hon DAVID CARTER: This initiative brings the total support to agricultural research in the last 2 years through the Primary Growth Partnership to $493 million. Nine different projects, including dairy, forestry, red meat, and aquaculture are now under way. Industry has committed $266 million and the Government has committed $227 million to support these projects. This is the largest-ever injection of research funding into our primary sectors, and it shows that this Government has real, solid commitment to the growth of the New Zealand primary industries.
Income Gap, Parity with Australia—Effect of Labour Market Deregulation
DARIEN FENTON (Labour) to the
Minister of Labour: By how much, in today’s New Zealand dollar terms, has the wage gap between New Zealand and Australia grown since the Employment Contracts Act 1991 deregulated the labour market?
Hon KATE WILKINSON (Minister of Labour)
: I am advised that the calculation that the member asks for is fraught with problems from a mathematical point of view, and that two people working out the same question are likely to come up with two
different answers, based on differences in currency, conversion, CPI purchasing power, etc. That said, the Department of Labour has provided some numbers showing that the difference in the wage gap is around $100, in today’s terms, from what it was 20 years ago. It also advises that the largest gap in wages occurred under Labour in 2006.
Darien Fenton: Does she agree with Professor Ray Markey of the Auckland Institute of Technology’s Work and Labour Market Institute, that “There is virtually no evidence in New Zealand, for example, or even overseas that a reduction in the coverage of collective bargaining or in the coverage of unions will improve workplace performance. In fact, there’s some evidence which goes the opposite way.”?
Hon KATE WILKINSON: I neither agree nor disagree with that quote, but can I say that we do appreciate the value of unions in improving the productivity of the workplace; we accept that. But in relation to collective bargaining, what we are trying to do is to focus on a labour market that is flexible and that is conducive to economic growth and to wage growth.
Darien Fenton: Does she agree with Business New Zealand chief executive officer Phil O’Reilly that employment relations need to be flexible in order to drive productivity; if so, why is Australia more productive, and with 30 percent higher wages, despite having a stronger union movement and centralised wage fixing—a system called modern awards?
Hon KATE WILKINSON: Yes, I do agree with that sentiment of Mr O’Reilly from Business New Zealand. Unless the member is totally ignorant of what happens in Australia, she should be aware that they are very rich in minerals.
Darien Fenton: Which factor does she believe has had the most influence on the hundred thousand New Zealanders who have chosen to leave New Zealand for Australia, under her Government—Australia’s higher wages and better holiday conditions, or the Christchurch earthquake and Australia’s different climate, as she suggested on Radio New Zealand this month?
Hon KATE WILKINSON: There are a number of reasons why people are leaving to go to Australia, and there are a number of reasons why people are leaving Australia to come to New Zealand. Some of those reasons do include the earthquake.
Darien Fenton: Does she think, as our Prime Minister does—and as he has said today—that Australia should just give us a coalmine and that would be the answer to the wage gap and the thousands of people who are fleeing to Australia?
Hon KATE WILKINSON: I can say that certainly if we were richer in minerals, then we would have a better economy.
Questions to Members
Railway Workshops, Petition—Request for Submissions
CLARE CURRAN (Labour—Dunedin South) to the
Chairperson of the Transport and Industrial Relations Committee: Has he requested any written submissions on the petition of George Laird, signed by nearly 14,000 people, calling on the Government to retain the Hillside and Woburn workshops?
DAVID BENNETT (Chairperson of the Transport and Industrial Relations Committee)
: I have not requested any written submissions on this petition.
Clare Curran: Did he, as chair, put a motion to the committee that a submission be called for from the petitioner or a representative of the petitioner, and did he rule that Michael Woodhouse voted against it?
Mr SPEAKER: This is starting to get into territory that is a matter for the committee. I think that is starting to get into dangerous territory. I will give the member another chance to reword her question, should she wish to.
Clare Curran: Did he, as chair, put a motion to the committee that a submission be called for from the petitioner or a representative of the petitioner?
DAVID BENNETT: What the member may have done as chair is a matter for the committee, and it is not in order to be questioned in the House in that way.
Mr SPEAKER: I will seek some advice on this. I may be wrong, but I thought the second supplementary question asked what the chair had done, not what the committee may or may not have done in relation to a matter. I will just seek advice to make sure I am not wrong in allowing that what the chair may have done could possibly be questioned. My understanding is supported by the advice I have just received. The chair cannot be questioned on what the committee may have decided to do with regard to any motion, but if the chair put a motion to the committee, the chair can be questioned on that because that is an action of the chair. I invite Clare Curran to repeat her question, because I think it was in order.
Clare Curran: Did he, as chair, put a motion to the committee that a submission be called for from the petitioner or a representative of the petitioner?
DAVID BENNETT: Any calls for written submissions are for the committee and are a matter for the committee to decide, not the chair. I have not asked for a written submission from that petitioner.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I think you ruled that the question was in order, and the question asked whether the chair put a question to the committee.
Mr SPEAKER: A point of order is being considered. We do not get into debate while a point of order is being considered. I think the point of order is a reasonable point of order. I sought advice on whether the question was in order. The question asked the chair whether he had put a submission—or a motion, was it—to the committee that a submission be called for from the petitioner. I do not believe that that has been answered. The chair has told the House he has not called for submissions, but whether the chair put a motion to the committee is a matter the chair is able to answer, and I believe the question deserves to be answered.
DAVID BENNETT: The matter is still in front of the committee and any discussions in the committee are held within the committee until the time it is reported back—
Mr SPEAKER: Had the question asked what the committee had done and what the committee decided in response to any motion of the committee by the chair, then the chair’s response just now would be perfectly correct and proper—that any decisions of the committee are not matters that the chair is responsible for in this House until the committee reports. But whether the chair puts a motion to the committee is an action of the chair; it is not a decision of the committee. If the chair did something on instruction from the committee, that is another matter, perhaps, but if the chair on the chair’s own initiative put a motion to the committee, it seems to me it is in order for that to be answered, and I do not see the big mischief in answering such a question.
DAVID BENNETT: I will have to check that, because I would like to see what was actually said within committee and I do not have that in front of me at the moment.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Far from me it—far from it—I will start again. I am slightly dumbstruck because this is a matter on which there have been a series of questions as to whether a particular question relating to a member was—
Mr SPEAKER: If a member claims they cannot recollect, which is what the member is telling the House, I have to, as Speaker, accept the member’s word. The House can make its own judgment about what it thinks, but as Speaker I must accept the chair’s word that he cannot recollect with precision. He obviously wishes to make sure
he informs the House correctly and I have to respect that answer. But others can interpret it how they like.
Government Superannuation and National Provident Funds, Petition—Request for Submissions
GRANT ROBERTSON (Labour—Wellington Central) to the
Chairperson of the Commerce Committee: Has she called for submissions on the petition of Allen Hair, on the annuities payable to members of the Government Superannuation Fund and the National Provident Fund; if not, why not?
Hon LIANNE DALZIEL (Chairperson of the Commerce Committee)
: Yes, we have asked the petitioner to provide a written submission. We have received four unsolicited submissions from other organisations, three of which have requested to be heard.
Grant Robertson: Did she put a motion to the committee to call for those submissions to be heard before the House rises?
Hon LIANNE DALZIEL: Yes, I did.
SUE KEDGLEY (Green)
: Tēnā koe, Mr Speaker. It is a pleasure to kick off the valedictory season in this Parliament.
I am what you might call an accidental MP—someone who ended up in this House by accident, not by design. I casually agreed to put my name on a Green Party list for the 1999 election, at a time when the Green Party was polling at zero percent. The next thing I knew, Jeanette Fitzsimons was on the phone to me telling me that I had just become an MP. So the first few weeks passed in something of a blur, but, even so, I did feel that I was participating in a moment of history in being part of the first group of Green MPs to be elected to Parliament. Jeanette and the late Rod Donald were wonderful mentors to their new and very green MPs. We had then, and still have today, a very supportive and egalitarian culture, which I suspect is rare in the political world. I recall a meeting with Telecom, shortly after we were elected. I felt they were trying to lead us up the garden path, so I gave Rod a gentle kick under the table. I thought afterwards, imagine a newly elected backbencher kicking Helen Clark or John Key under the table. But that was the sort of relationship we had, and still have, in the Green Party.
I did take a while to get the hang of Parliament. I remember nonchalantly deciding one day to vote to change the title of the apprenticeships bill to the modern apprenticeships bill. No sooner had I uttered the words “7 votes in favour” than out of the corner of my eye I saw Trevor Mallard roaring up the House towards me yelling “Get outside!”. I airily refused and wondered what on earth all the fuss was about. It turned out that thousands of copies with the old title had already been printed, and now, thanks to my change of vote, would have to be thrown out.
Another amusing memory was when I persuaded Nandor, at the very last moment, to vote against the microchipping of dogs bill. All hell broke loose, because his was the casting vote that defeated the bill, and no one had warned the Government about his sudden change of heart. An outraged Prime Minister was on the phone, and even the normally serene Jeanette Fitzsimons was apoplectic, but we could hardly conceal our delight that we had spared hundreds of thousands of dogs from being needlessly microchipped.
Shortly after we arrived in Parliament, the Green Party negotiated a moratorium on genetic engineering and a royal commission of inquiry. Jeanette and I spoke at literally
hundreds of meetings around the country, and helped organise mass protests and marches. But despite huge public support for the moratorium, the Government lifted it in 2003. I recall the furious reaction when the Green MPs walked out of Parliament in protest. Nevertheless, I am proud of the fact that we helped ensure there are no genetically modified crops growing in New Zealand—so far, at least.
One of my first acts as an MP was to accept an 80,000-signature petition from SAFE—Save Animals from Exploitation—which called for sow stalls to be banned. I climbed into a sow stall to demonstrate how cruel it was, and was ridiculed for doing so, I might add. So it is gratifying that a decade later the Government has finally agreed to get rid of sow crates.
Another early highlight was our successful campaign to save the Overlander. I took the Overlander on what was to have been one of its last journeys, and arranged to collect our Save the Overlander petitions along the way. Everywhere the train stopped there were huge crowds of people clutching petitions. At Ōtorohanga people brought their petitions in a century-old wheelbarrow, and, at Te Awamutu, no sooner had the guard explained over the intercom that we were going through the King Country, which was home to two famous New Zealanders, Jim Bolger and Colin Meads, than there was Colin Meads standing at the station supporting our petition, and the train went wild.
I said in my maiden speech that I wanted to represent people who were fighting for safe food, animal welfare, public transport, natural health, and other green issues. And that is what I have done. I may not have represented a geographic constituency but I have certainly represented an issues-based constituency, and the thousands of people who contact me about food and other issues are testament to that. Some people tell me they see me as their voice in Parliament, and I feel humble to have fulfilled that role.
I have also been a voice for animals in this House, and I am proud to have put food and animal welfare on the political agenda. When I first raised animal welfare issues, MPs cracked jokes and rolled their eyes as if to say “How can you expect us to take such a trivial issue seriously?”. So it is fantastic that it is no longer a laughing matter. But, even so, hundreds of thousands of factory-farmed animals spend their entire lives locked inside cages in conditions of almost unimaginable cruelty. And the Animal Welfare Act still protects the interests of animal owners, not the interests of animals. So it was disappointing that my member’s bill, which would have amended the Act, was defeated in Parliament.
When the Green Party came into Parliament our ideas seemed radical, even loopy, and we were swimming against the tide. But now many of our ideas are widely accepted, and we are swimming with the current. We have even managed to break down the stereotype of morris dancing, mung beans, and sandals—that stereotype—and we have shown that we can bring about change as an independent party, even when we are not part of any formal coalition. And even when we have not succeeded in getting legislation changed, we have helped to change attitudes. My 36,000-signature petition calling for mandatory country-of-origin labelling of food was rejected by Parliament, but it has helped to raise awareness of where our food comes from, and forced supermarkets to introduce voluntary country-of-origin labelling.
Perhaps my greatest frustration as an MP is the fact that this Parliament has no jurisdiction over most aspects of our food. We have handed over control of this vital issue to an Australian-based organisation, Food Standards Australia New Zealand, where we have one vote out of 10. I am all for closer relations with Australia, but, surely, cuddling up to Australia need not involve handing over great chunks of our sovereignty to Australian-dominated organisations, or becoming the seventh state.
But despite such frustrations I have hugely enjoyed my time here, working with MPs from all sides of this House, particularly in select committees. I enjoyed chairing the
Health Committee. It was extremely satisfying to have my flexible working hours bill become law, and satisfying to have worked with the Labour Government to secure funding for six successful projects, including an organics advisory service, a $12 million Nutrition Fund, and working on healthy food guidelines for schools—even though these have since been thrown out for no good reason, so as a nation we are doing nothing to improve our eating habits, which are fuelling the epidemics of obesity, type 2 diabetes, and dietary-related diseases. Other highlights include working with the Government on the Natural Health Products Bill, initiating inquiries into ambulance services, natural health, obesity, type 2 diabetes, and the future of bees, and even helping to save Wellington’s trolley buses and the Johnsonville line.
But I would like to devote the rest of my speech not to my own achievements but to some observations about democracy. We tend to be somewhat complacent about democracy, but parliamentary democracy, like everything else, needs constant renewal or it will become stale, and tired, and less and less relevant. There are some days in Parliament when I think it has become all of those things.
In particular, I despair about the polarised and confrontational way that we so often do business in this House. Much of the time it is trench warfare in here. MPs gather for question time as if for a military confrontation. The aim is to do battle, to defeat the enemy on the other side, not to debate or listen. The heavy hitters, the point scorers, the alpha males lead the charge, and hurl abuse at the other side, so question time, which ought to be the showcase of our democracy, routinely degenerates into a pointless scoring match. The rest of us have become so used to this belligerent behaviour that we end up thinking it is normal and acceptable.
But outside of Parliament many people find this behaviour childish and off-putting. A group of 14-year-olds observed question time in 2002 and wrote a report about it. MPs mocked each other, shouted at each other, interrupted each other, and seemed to have no respect for each other or for different opinions, they wrote. There was no sense of working together toward anything. They called on MPs to stop the bullying behaviour, and develop a more cooperative culture instead. Naively, I suggested we set up a cross-party working group to look at their report and ways of improving our working culture, but this went down like a lead balloon, and nothing much has changed since then. So, unfortunately, there seldom is constructive dialogue or really thoughtful debate in this House, and much of the time no one is really even listening to our debates.
On the other hand, away from the cameras, in the select committees a lot of tremendous cross-party work takes place, in a mostly constructive and positive working environment. A total of 106 bills have passed one or more stages under urgency in this Parliament—most of them not urgent, at all—and there is urgency, of course, tomorrow. I think the excessive use of urgency, with the bypassing of select committees and public submissions, undermines our democracy and fuels a growing distrust and disillusionment with politics, which is eroding people’s confidence not just in politicians but in our entire political system.
Not long ago, under first past the post, Parliament often operated as an elected dictatorship, with the executive completely controlling this House and ramming its agenda through Parliament. Thanks to MMP, this is no longer the case. When Governments are forced to negotiate with smaller parties, they cannot completely control this House or the select committees, which now have some measure of power and influence. But, even so, the executive still controls a great deal of what Parliament does, and I believe that the House needs more independence so that it can counterbalance the power of the executive and better hold Governments to account.
Mr Speaker, you have tried to make Ministers answer questions, and to make the Government more accountable, and I congratulate you on that. But I would still like to see more independence for the Speaker, and a rule, such as exists in the UK, that the Speaker is elected by a free vote of Parliament and severs all party affiliations.
MMP has made Parliament far more representative, it has breathed new life into our democracy, and it has brought in new parties, new ideas, and new ways of working. But more changes are still needed, I believe, if we are to make Parliament more modern and more capable of responding to the challenges that confront us. We live in a time of rapid change, yet our Parliament is a 19th century institution, hidebound by rules and conventions, and it still operates quite a lot of the time like an old boys’ club. So I believe that a major overhaul is needed of the way that Parliament works, to make it less remote and more relevant and accessible to ordinary New Zealanders. I believe we owe it to New Zealanders to lift our game, leave behind the tribal warfare and the adversarial way in which we so often do politics, and adopt a more constructive approach.
We live in a time of financial and ecological crisis. The glaciers are melting, bees are disappearing, the oceans are acidifying, and everywhere there are signs of ecological collapse. Our global financial system is teetering on the verge of collapse, too, and our society is growing more unequal by the year. Yet in Parliament far more energy is spent on trying to win the daily media battle than on grappling with the crises that confront us. The media, too, often seem more interested in scandals and the trivia of politics than in serious policy issues or debate. All the focus is on the battle between warring parties—who is winning, who is losing, who is up, who is down—rather than on how we are going to steer ourselves out of the mess that we have created.
The problem is that for a healthy democracy we need an informed electorate. But if there is less and less serious content in the media, people will not be sufficiently informed to make an informed choice at the ballot box. Diverse and independent media are critical for a healthy democracy. Worryingly, we are one of the only countries in the world without mainstream public service television, and even our outstanding public service radio is limping along on the back foot, with its funding frozen indefinitely, forced to sell off its grand pianos to survive. Four overseas-owned companies control most of our media, and we have one of the most deregulated media environments in the world, with no rules around foreign ownership, cross-media ownership, or anything else. So there is actually nothing to stop Rupert Murdoch, or anyone else, from taking over any, or all, media in New Zealand, or setting up a Fox-type television channel that pushes a particular political barrow and does not even pretend to be impartial. I believe we need to review our media ownership rules and set up a strong and more independent media monitor.
The growing influence of corporate lobbyists also concerns me. Lobbyists operate in secret, so it is almost impossible to work out who is lobbying whom in this place, and on whose behalf. In other countries, the activities of lobbyists are publicly disclosed on a register of lobbyists, and I have been seeking to bring transparency to lobbying here, through a member’s bill. Corporate donors and lobbyists have far greater access to Government than ordinary New Zealanders, and some, I believe, are able to exert undue influence on policy and legislation as a result. The problem is that they pursue the vested interests of the corporations they represent, not the public interest, so the growth of lobbying is shifting the political landscape in favour of corporate interests, at the expense of the public interest.
Finally, I want to salute the unseen workers of Parliament: the friendly security guards, the cleaners, the cooks, the Hansard staff, and all the courteous and patient people who keep this institution going. Special thanks to the magnificent librarians, who have provided me with so much invaluable information over many years.
Thanks to all the people from various organisations I have worked closely with over the years, some of whom are here today—SAFE, GE-Free New Zealand, the Soil and Health Association, the Safe Food Campaign, the Nurses Organisation, the Service and Food Workers Union, the Charter of Health Practitioners, Alcohol Action, Grey Power, and many others—I could go on and on. I would have achieved little without their collaboration and support.
Thanks to all my fantastic colleagues and friends in the Green Party caucus. It has been fantastic being with you all for the last 12 years. And thanks to the wonderful and talented Green Party staff, and, in particular, the person I call my secret weapon, Dr Meriel Watts, and—how to describe him—the wonderful Kevin List. Thanks to all my hard-working and supportive executive secretaries, from Dr Sean Weaver, Dr Charlie Chambers, Councillor Iona Pannett, through to Angela McLeod. Thanks to the students who have worked with me as interns over the past decade, to my family—my mother, my late father, my sister and brother, my stepchildren, my extended family—and to my wonderful family of friends, many of whom are here tonight. My greatest support has come from my family, especially my incredibly supportive and political astute husband, Denis Foot, and my awesome son, Zachary Kedgley-Foot, who from a young age has had to put up with a mother who is a politician.
It has been an enormous privilege being a Green MP, and now it is time to hand the baton to another generation. It is incredibly comforting to know that Keith and I, as the last of the original Green MPs, leave the party in such good heart, and that another group of talented and energetic New Zealanders is waiting in the wings for their turn in Parliament. Thank you very much.
- Sitting suspended from 6.05 p.m. to 7.30 p.m.