Questions to Ministers
Economy—Fiscal and Economic Challenges
1. DAVID BENNETT (National—Hamilton East) to the
Minister of Finance: What reports has he received on New Zealand’s fiscal and economic challenges?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance)
: This afternoon Treasury released long-term fiscal projections to 2050, as required under the Public Finance Act. These show that the Government’s operating balance and Budget will be in pretty much continuous deficit for the foreseeable future. Global recession and significant increases in Government spending in recent years have contributed, along with the effects of an ageing population. This Government has decided to maintain public services, and focus on growing the economy, in order to deal with these challenges.
David Bennett: How would stronger economic growth improve the long-term outlook?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The Government’s revenue base ultimately rests on New Zealand’s capacity to earn, rather than on any particular set of tax rates. We have decided to shelter the economy through the rough edges of recession over the past year, but this is not a long-term option. Improving economy-wide productivity gives by far the most beneficial contribution to the trade-offs New Zealand faces in the future.
Hon David Cunliffe: If he is so concerned about the long-term fiscal outlook, including the challenges of providing sustainable superannuation, why did he stop pre-funding the New Zealand Superannuation Fund, and will he concede that by doing so he has made the problem worse and pushed a huge burden on to our kids?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: No, I certainly do not accept that. As I have explained in the House many times, the reason the Government stopped making contributions to the fund is that we would have had to borrow all the money to contribute to that fund, and, at the time, New Zealand was somewhere near the outer bounds of the amount of money
it could borrow without affecting our credit rating and making debt more expensive for everybody.
Hon David Cunliffe: If the Minister is so concerned about the long-term fiscal outlook, is he concerned that by failing to make polluters properly pay and by giving generous subsidies for companies like Rio Tinto, his emissions trading scheme loads even further debt on to future generations?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: As my colleague has pointed out, the effect of the Government’s moderate and balanced emissions trading system is actually less than that of the previous Government over the next 10 years. In the long-term context the Government gets to make all sorts of decisions that have to balance the long-term interests of New Zealanders with the short-term impacts of a recession or the shorter-term impacts of an emissions trading system. We are happy with the balanced decisions we have made.
David Bennett: How much will taxes have to rise to keep public finances under control?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: It is important to keep in mind that the information Treasury has published today is a set of theoretical projections. They show that, in the absence of any other policy change, stabilising public debt would require tax collection to be around 10 percent higher than under current policy. That is around a $5 billion annual tax increase in today’s terms and clearly not where this Government wants to head. We want to constrain Government spending to effective public services, focus on growth in the economy, and make sure we have the most efficient tax system that we can.
David Bennett: Why has the outlook deteriorated relative to the previous set of projections in 2006?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Part of the benefits of this long-term report is that we get to see how the outlook changes over time. Back in 2006 Treasury’s similar projections showed that the Government would probably be in surplus for the next 25 years. Just 3 years later we find ourselves in persistent deficits with at least 8 years until surpluses. This is a product of probably two things that have happened since then. One is the global recession, which of course has had quite a big impact on Government revenues. The other has been the large increase in Government spending over the last 3 or 4 years under the previous Government.
Hon ANNETTE KING (Deputy Leader—Labour) to the
Prime Minister: Does he have confidence in all his Ministers?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Acting Prime Minister)
: Yes. They are talented people who are working hard for New Zealand.
Hon Annette King: Why would he have confidence in the Minister for ACC, who told this House yesterday that under Labour’s 2001 Act sexual abuse claimants had to show a mental illness to be eligible for support from the Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC) when in fact the Act states “mental injury”; and is it not disturbing to have a Minister who either is prepared to mislead the public or does not know the difference between mental illness and mental injury?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Yes, the Prime Minister does have confidence in the Minister for ACC. He is dealing with probably the biggest mess that the previous Government left, and he is showing admirable progress in the face of very complex and challenging issues.
Hon Annette King: What confidence can he have in the Minister for ACC, who continues to refuse to listen to experienced health professionals who are telling him that the approach ACC is taking to sexual abuse victims is unethical and, according to the
Association of Psychotherapists, requires people who have been raped or sexually abused to be diagnosed as “mad” before they can receive help?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I think the association is probably just getting carried away there. [Interruption] Well, that is a fairly old-fashioned kind of diagnosis, actually. But Opposition members cannot have it both ways. One day they are accusing the Minister of meddling in the affairs of ACC and in clinical decision-making, and the next day they are accusing the Minister of not stepping in to override clinical advice that he has been given.
Hon Annette King: Has the Minister for ACC informed him that up to 75 percent of the professional health workforce undertaking sexual abuse diagnosis for ACC may no longer be permitted to diagnose victims; and has he explained what impact that will have on victims who are waiting to receive help?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: It is not automatically the case that everything that has been said about this issue has been accurate. The ACC board has moved to make sure that the practices of the accident compensation scheme are consistent with the law passed by the previous Labour Government. Plenty of vigorous discussion is going on between ACC and the providers over whether the scheme does comply with the law. But the board has no choice but to make sure that the scheme complies with the law that Annette King’s Government passed.
Hon Annette King: Is he aware that many counsellors who are currently undertaking accident compensation counselling work are refusing to implement the Minister for ACC’s unethical guidelines; and will he step in to require the Minister to reach agreement with clinicians before he implements the new system, rather than treating the victims of sexual abuse as guinea pigs in his experiment?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The member’s sincerity would be a bit more obvious if she did not try to make political capital out of this.
Hon Annette King: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I take exception to that comment. These questions were put down in good faith and in honesty. He implied that I do not care about this issue, and I take exception to that.
Mr SPEAKER: I hear the honourable member. I make the point that the primary question that was put down did not indicate where the questioning may go. It asked whether he has confidence in all his Ministers. However, that being said, I accept the point of order the honourable member made. The Minister, in answering the question, should not in any way question the integrity of the questioner.
Hon BILL ENGLISH: As the member well knows, the guidelines are not the Minister’s guidelines. They are ACC’s guidelines, and they were formed on the basis of expert, clinical advice. The fact that the member calls them “the Minister’s guidelines” tells us she is politically motivated over this issue when she should be trying to solve what is a serious and complex issue.
Lynne Pillay: As victims of crime are a priority for this Government, has the Minister for ACC informed him of what will happen to victims of sexual abuse and rape who do not want to be re-victimised by having to retell their horrific stories over and over, to qualify for counselling?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The Minister for ACC does keep the Prime Minister informed about the consequences of policy decisions. Some of those decisions are made by the Government and some of them are made by the ACC board, but any clinical decisions are made on the basis of expert clinical advice.
Lynne Pillay: Is he aware that the new guidelines, which the Minister for ACC is supporting, will mean that despite the police, health professionals, and local sexual abuse experts supporting a victim, that a victim’s right to accident compensation
counselling can be denied by an official in Wellington who has not even met the person; if so, will he require the Minister to reconsider his policy?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I am a bit surprised that the member raises that issue. It has always been the case with the accident compensation scheme—including during the 9 years under the previous Labour Government—that officials somewhere deny coverage for something that is not actually covered by accident compensation.
Hone Harawira: Does he have confidence in the Attorney-General and in the Minister of Māori Affairs to lead the repeal of the previous Labour Government’s oppressive and discriminatory Foreshore and Seabed Act 2004?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The Prime Minister does have confidence in the Attorney-General and the Minister of Māori Affairs on this particular issue. The National Government has listened very carefully to the case the Māori Party has put, and it has also listened to the many iwi around the country who were not listened to by Labour.
Rahui Katene: Does the Prime Minister agree that in working together the Attorney-General and Minister of Māori Affairs are demonstrating the willingness of the Crown to enter into respectful and mana-enhancing Treaty relationships with iwi and hapū, and does this give substance to the articles in the nation’s founding document—te Tiriti o Waitangi?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The answer to that is yes. But, of course, discussions about mana-enhancing policy do not always mean agreement. I have to say that the constructive tension that sometimes exists around that is much better than the bad blood that Labour obviously feels from seeing the Government work with the Māori Party successfully.
John Boscawen: What confidence can the Prime Minister possibly have in his own Minister of Finance, under whose status-quo projections New Zealand will owe over 200 percent of GDP by 2050; and why will he not agree to cutting wasteful Government expenditure and increasing competition in health and welfare to avoid this economic catastrophe?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: In the first place, the projections are based on no policy change. But, of course, the Government is making policy in those areas and is working with the member’s party, which, of course, has more robust views than National does about competition in health and education. But we can learn something from his party, and I am sure that he can learn something from us.
Dr RUSSEL NORMAN (Co-Leader—Green) to the
Minister of Finance: Does he stand by his statement that “water assets will not be privatised as a result of the restructuring” of local government; if so, how does he reconcile it with Cabinet’s decision to allow “ownership” of water infrastructure by the private sector?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance)
: I can confirm that water assets will not be privatised as a result of local government restructuring. The Government is proposing some changes to the maximum permitted concession period, from 15 years to 35 years.
Dr Russel Norman: Can the Minister confirm that Cabinet’s decision to allow private sector interests to own and operate water infrastructure for 35 years at a time means that water infrastructure can be in private ownership for the rest of his lifetime; if that is not privatisation, what is it?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The Greens were party to a policy change by the previous Government that allowed all of those things to occur for 15 years. If that was not privatisation supported by the Greens, then what was it?
Dr Russel Norman: Can the Minister confirm that the reforms to water management announced yesterday are very similar to those that preceded the massive failed water privatisation under the Thatcher Government in the United Kingdom?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: No, I cannot confirm that. The principal change that was announced yesterday was that the kind of arrangement that the member seems to object to now, but that the Greens agreed to under the previous Government—that it could last for 15 years—can now last for 35 years. Thirty-five years makes a good deal more sense, because the lifespan of water assets is much longer than 15 years. Local government faces up to $10 billion of expenditure on water assets over the next couple of decades. It is the Government’s view that local government needs to have available all of the tools that it can to make sure that ratepayers can get good value for money out of a very large investment.
Hon Shane Jones: Is the Minister satisfied that Auckland ratepayers want the new council to lose control of the management of water services and want the privatisation of that infrastructure, given that a poll earlier this year found that 85 percent of Aucklanders oppose the privatisation of water assets?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: That member was another member of the previous Government, which permitted exactly these arrangements, but only for the impractical period of 15 years. The arrangements are no different in principle; it is just that they can apply for a more sensible period of time.
Mr SPEAKER: Just before we continue, I say the member’s question was about the polled attitude of Aucklanders, not about legislation that the member himself might have supported. I wonder whether it is possible for the Minister to respond to the part of the question that was about the attitude of Aucklanders, which was the substance of the question.
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Polls about the privatisation of water are irrelevant, because these changes are not about privatisation.
Sue Kedgley: Is he aware that the 5 years following the Thatcher Government’s privatisation of water in the UK saw 18,000 households have their water supply cut off, and what, if anything, will his Government do to prevent the same thing from happening in New Zealand?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: In answer to the first part of the question, no, and in answer to the second part, water services will be provided by the Auckland Council in exactly the same way as they are provided by Auckland councils now.
Jeanette Fitzsimons: Can the Minister clarify whether he is telling the House today that the only change the Government intends to make to the water provisions of the Local Government Act 2002 is to change the number “15” to the number “35”; if that is not the only change, then what else, exactly, is the Government planning to do?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: It is not the only change, but it is certainly the main change. I am happy to provide the member with whatever information is publicly available about the details, but by and large the same regime that exists currently is to stay in place. The reflex criticism that anything that the Government does is privatisation does not seem to be working to scare the public in the way that the member might have hoped it would work.
Metiria Turei: Is the Minister aware that the 8 years following the Thatcher Government’s privatisation of water in the UK saw privatised water companies prosecuted 260 times for pollution of the water source, and what, if anything, will his Government do to make sure that that does not happen under his changes to the Local Government Act?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: It is probably indicative of the state of the current Opposition that its members are relying for most of their policy analysis on policy that was put in place 30 years ago, in a country on the other side of the world.
Mr SPEAKER: The question asked whether the Minister was aware of a certain outcome of a policy that, I accept, was implemented a long time ago, but that does not necessarily mean that abuse of the member who asked the question is a fair answer. I think the Minister should, when answering, make some reference to the particular situation in the UK that the member asked about, if the Minister has any information on it.
Hon BILL ENGLISH: No.
Dr Russel Norman: In light of these examples from 30 years ago, does he accept that water privatisation was an abject failure in the United Kingdom; if so, why is he initiating New Zealand’s heading down that path, when he himself acknowledges it is old policy that does not work?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: No; and we are not doing so.
Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE (Labour—New Lynn) to the
Minister of Finance: Does he stand by all his recent statements?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance)
Hon David Cunliffe: How does he reconcile his comment that “I didn’t have a pecuniary interest in the trust, I never have had, I don’t now and I don’t have any other interests in it.”, with the finding of the Auditor-General that “In our view, Mr English has an indirect interest in his family trust, because of his relationship with the likely beneficiaries.”?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The Auditor-General looked at all the documents and information on that issue, and actually concluded that the test that was put to me was one that I dealt with correctly. The Auditor-General took the view that a different test should have been used.
Hon David Cunliffe: Does he agree with Massey University’s political marketing specialist, Claire Robinson, who thought his TVNZ 7 ad promoting TVNZ 7’s “in plain English” programme so “strongly favoured National and was so unbalanced it should not air”?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: No, but I have made a public comment that if Television New Zealand wants people to watch the programme, then using a politician to promote it may not work very well. I notice that it is now going to use a clip of that member to promote it, which means that no one is going to watch it.
Mr SPEAKER: I call the Hon David Cunliffe. [Interruption] I say to the Government backbenchers, on this occasion, that I have called the Hon David Cunliffe.
Hon David Cunliffe: Mr Speaker—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Forgive me; I apologise to the honourable member. I was serious about that; I expect a little courtesy to a member when he is called to ask a question.
Hon David Cunliffe: Does he stand by his statement that his “integrity was intact after the saga”, when polling showed that 54 percent of New Zealanders do not believe he acted with integrity, and 62 percent said his actions have damaged his credibility?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: No, but I will be checking whether that—
H V Ross Robertson: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am sorry to interrupt the Minister, but from my position on the backbench I was not able to hear what the Hon David Cunliffe asked. I would like it to be repeated. We are under a constant barrage, and it is very difficult on this side of the House to hear the questions. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: I am on my feet, and a point of order is being heard. There will not be any interjections. I am not sure I can totally accept that last point that the member made, because during question time, apart from that last occasion, most of the noise is not normally coming from there. I believe that where a question is very provocative it is unreasonable for me to expect members to be silent. I expected courtesy and silence when the member started asking his question, and we finally got that. I insisted on it. But if a question is provocative, I cannot insist that members do not react to it.
Hon Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Just to be helpful to the House, and to ensure that there is quiet, maybe the member could explain whether that was a Rick Barker poll—
Mr SPEAKER: The member will resume his seat forthwith. [Interruption] I am on my feet, and there will be no further interjection. We will not have points of order like that, thank you.
Hon BILL ENGLISH: No, and I am not quite sure why they blame Rick for the poll. I mean, Phil Goff signed it off, Darren Hughes stuck up for it—
Hon David Cunliffe: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker.
Mr SPEAKER: I can well—[Interruption] I apologise to the member. A point of order has been called, and it will be heard in silence, or a Government member will be taking an early shower.
Hon David Cunliffe: You had, as I recall, already reprimanded the vertically-challenged Minister over there—
Mr SPEAKER: That is the end of that point of order. Members may not have liked the question that the Hon Bill English was asked, but it came within the Standing Orders, and the answer that was given bore no relationship to it. I ask the honourable member to please answer the question.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Hon Bill English answered the question with the word “no”.
Mr SPEAKER: I beg your pardon; I misheard that answer.
H V Ross Robertson: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Under Speakers’ ruling 27/7 members are to use the full names of members of the House, and are not to refer to them by a single name or a nickname. In the case of Mr English, he referred to the Hon Rick Barker only as “Rick”, and he knows that that is incorrect. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: There will be silence. This is a tense issue, I accept. I think the point is well made, and I would ask all members to respect it. I sit here day after day and hear a certain member continually being called by their first name across the House by way of interjection, and that should stop, too—not looking at any one in particular. I think the House should settle down. It has been pointed out to me that the Minister did in fact answer, however brief the answer may have been. But he should not have gone on to add that totally irrelevant material. Does the Hon David Cunliffe have a further supplementary question?
Hon David Cunliffe: No, but I am happy to repeat the last one—
Mr SPEAKER: Nice try, but, no, we will not have that.
Crime, Organised—Assets Recovery Unit
SHANE ARDERN (National—Taranaki - King Country) to the
Minister of Police: Is she aware of any new initiatives in the fight against organised crime in this country?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS (Minister of Police)
: Yesterday the Commissioner of Police and I announced a major new weapon in the fight against organised crime and the production of methamphetamine. A new team of 22 hardened investigators is being
formed by the police to hunt down and seize the millions of dollars in profits from organised crime.
Shane Ardern: Why do we need a specialist team to carry out this work?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: Over the past decade or so, gangs in this country have evolved into sophisticated criminal businesses, which make tens of millions of dollars per year, mostly from selling P methamphetamine. Gang bosses have grown very rich. Their ill-gotten gains include farms, houses, cars, boats, and other assets. Organised crime is a business, and this Government intends to put it out of business.
Shane Ardern: Why are you going to do this to the assets that are confiscated?
Mr SPEAKER: I would point out to the member that he must not bring the Speaker into his question. I ask him to repeat his question without doing that.
Shane Ardern: I will repeat the question. Why is the Minister going to do this to the assets that are confiscated?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: We are going to do this because organised crime is all about profits. We want to take the profits off criminals and use those profits against them. We will use the money from criminal assets to help to fund initiatives such as rehabilitation for P addicts, Youth Aid programmes, and other initiatives that stop young people from joining gangs. Our message to crime bosses is clear: this Government is not going to support them, we are coming after their businesses, and the New Zealand Police is being given every tool to help to destroy them.
David Garrett: Is she monitoring the effectiveness of anti-gang legislation in South Australia, and does she have any plans to recommend such legislation here?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: Yes, I am keeping an eye on it. The last time I checked, I understand that there were some issues in relation to a Supreme Court challenge to that legislation in South Australia. I will be meeting with my counterpart in South Australia next month, and I will certainly ask how that is going.
Question No. 3 to Minister
JEANETTE FITZSIMONS (Green)
: I seek leave to table two documents in relation to question No. 3. The first one is an extract from the proceedings of the House of Commons, which discusses the conditions of the UK water privatisation.
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.
JEANETTE FITZSIMONS: The second one is an advisory document by Lobina and Hall from the University of Greenwich, which gives a very detailed analysis of the economic, social, and environmental cost to the UK taxpayer of the privatisation of water.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is none. The document may be tabled.
- Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Hon RUTH DYSON (Labour—Port Hills) to the
Minister of Health: Does he stand by his statement “I have to say, having sat through question time today, I think the decisions and announcements that are being made are entirely defendable and make sense.”?
Hon TONY RYALL (Minister of Health)
: In response to a question about reports from Nick Smith on accident compensation funding changes to a programme to prevent over-80s from falling, yes, I did make those comments and I stand by them.
Hon Ruth Dyson: Will he review the evidence from Norway and British Columbia that shows that for every dollar invested in the falls prevention programme New Zealand saves $2; and will he then ask his colleague Nick Smith to reinstate the falls prevention programme?
Hon TONY RYALL: I am not aware of the veracity of the figures quoted by the member, because I have experience of relying on the figures that that member quotes. What I can say is the Government is concerned about the injury prevention situation in New Zealand. Since the injury prevention strategy—
Mr SPEAKER: I apologise for interrupting, but there was concern over what the Minister said. I ask the Minister whether he actually alleged that the member had not been telling the truth about figures.
Hon TONY RYALL: No, Mr Speaker, I did not say that. I said that I have had some experience of the veracity of some of the figures the member gives.
Mr SPEAKER: I thought that the Minister had used the word “lying”, and that would be totally unacceptable. If the Minister denies it, then I totally accept his word. I ask the Minister to be careful about questioning the integrity of a member.
Hon TONY RYALL: Since the Injury Prevention Strategy was launched by the member in 2003 to some great fanfare, the frequency of falls amongst the over-75s has continued to rise, according to the latest available information.
Hon David Parker: That’s because there are more people over 75.
Hon TONY RYALL: The frequency—that is, on a per head of population basis—has continued to rise, so it obviously needs more than one programme.
Nicky Wagner: What programmes contributing to falls prevention does the Ministry of Health fund?
Hon TONY RYALL: I am advised that the Ministry of Health funds a number of programmes. One is with Age Concern, which in turn funds a number of falls prevention programmes, such as the Steady As You Go programme in Otago, which provides exercise and falls prevention for up to 300 people at any given time. Other falls prevention programmes include, for example, Stay On Your Feet Canterbury, run by the partnership primary health organisation, and in the Wairarapa, there is the Whoops! programme.
Hon Ruth Dyson: Does he have any evidence that the cancellation of the falls prevention work and the shifting of the cost of preventable falls to the elderly will be anything other than a disaster?
Hon TONY RYALL: That is a very difficult question to answer because of the way that it is phrased, but I can tell the member that if someone has a fall, his or her costs are met by the Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC), and the ACC has made some decisions about that programme. But the fact that the number of falls amongst the over-75s has continued to rise, despite that member’s Injury Prevention Strategy, indicates that the issue is far more complex than just one programme.
Hon Ruth Dyson: How many more elderly will be admitted to hospital in extreme pain and will require surgery and rehabilitation as a result of the cancellation of the falls prevention programme, and what will be the increased cost to our health system and to New Zealand taxpayers?
Hon TONY RYALL: I do not have that information, of course, but I can tell the member that she launched the Injury Prevention Strategy in 2003 with the goal of reducing the number of falls in those over 75, and the figure has gone up in every year since she launched it. That is the reason why we need a multiplicity of programmes and approaches, not just one.
SIMON BRIDGES (National—Tauranga) to the
Minister for Tertiary Education: What recent announcements has the Government made about the Youth Guarantee?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY (Minister for Tertiary Education)
: Recently I announced the allocation of the first Youth Guarantee places for next year. They have been split amongst 28 providers across the country and will see 2,000 sixteen and seventeen-year-olds who are not currently in education, training, or work participate in a range of vocational programmes free of charge at private training establishments, institutes of technology, and polytechs.
Simon Bridges: Why was a decision made to start the Youth Guarantee next year?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY: A decision was made at the Prime Minister’s Job Summit earlier this year to jump-start the Youth Guarantee in order to meet the needs of young people, who are some of the most vulnerable people during an economic downturn. The places have been allocated to regions with the highest need, based on the number of young, unemployed people in the population and the high-quality proposals. This has seen, for example, 810 places go to Auckland, 244 places go to Canterbury, 175 places go to the Waikato, and 164 places go to Otago-Southland.
Jacinda Ardern: How does she reconcile her statement that “the decision to speed up the Youth Guarantee is reflective of the Government’s commitment to providing education and training opportunities to younger New Zealanders who may find it difficult to find employment in these tough times,” with her decision to cap the number of places available in tertiary education, which means that around 6,000 young people are being turned away from training at polytechs and institutes of technology alone?
Hon ANNE TOLLEY: I say two things to that member in answer to that question. First of all, it was that member’s own Government that instituted the cap on tertiary institutions. Second, the figure of 6,000 students is mere speculation based on mid-year projections that in actual fact have not come true.
Hon SHANE JONES (Labour) to the
Minister of Local Government: Will his proposed local government reform facilitate private ownership or management of council assets?
Hon RODNEY HIDE (Minister of Local Government)
: The focus of the proposals is not to facilitate private ownership of existing council assets. They do, however, make it easier for the councils to use private sector management of council assets where this best suits council needs. In the context of water services, the councils must retain control of policy and pricing. The councils can already contract any aspect of the operation of all or part of a water service. That was the rule under the previous Government; it will remain the rule. The change announced yesterday simply extends the period of the contract from 15 years to 35 years to reflect the life of the assets being invested in.
Hon Shane Jones: Given the importance of water infrastructure to Auckland, could the Minister tell the House who owns water?
Hon RODNEY HIDE: Maybe I could ask the MP—
Mr SPEAKER: The interesting thing about this question is that, strictly, water is not the Minister’s responsibility, at all. Water is not owned by anyone. I guess the member may have meant certain water, not just water at large. I invite him to make the question more within the Standing Orders, then perhaps we can get an answer.
Hon Shane Jones: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. In the Minister’s response, it was he who focused on water infrastructure. It was he who raised the notion of private enterprise.
Mr SPEAKER: I have pointed out that the member’s question asked who owns water. That is certainly not the Minister’s responsibility. I invite the member to reword his question to make more clear what he wants answered.
Hon Shane Jones: In the changes to the Local Government Act 2002 to address the concerns of the Minister in relation to infrastructure, and the use of that resource called water, what ownership rights does he imagine will be recognised, and ought to be recognised, to protect the public’s interest in water?
Hon RODNEY HIDE: I will do my best. I am happy to have two goes at the answer, if I have misunderstood the member’s question.
Shane Jones: Well, you were too scared the first one.
Hon RODNEY HIDE: Look at this big boy!
Mr SPEAKER: Not while a microphone is open will I have that kind of interjection made back. The Minister will just answer the question, please.
David Garrett: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. As I understand the Standing Orders, it is contrary to them to suggest that a member lacks courage.
Mr SPEAKER: That is a fair point. It is not helpful when members make that kind of interjection. I invite the Hon Rodney Hide to answer the question.
Hon RODNEY HIDE: I will do my best to answer the member’s question. To make it clear to the House and to the public of New Zealand, there are no Government plans to privatise water services. Ownership of water assets, under the proposals, would revert to the councils at the end of any management agreement; thus the councils would retain ultimate public ownership. What has changed is that the period has gone from 15 years to 35 years. I note also that there are over 1,800 private water supply schemes registered with the Ministry of Health—that is 1,800. They are privately owned schemes that existed under the previous Government and will continue to exist.
Hon Shane Jones: It is a pity he is focused on plumbing and not water.
Mr SPEAKER: Order!
Hon Shane Jones: Is the Minister actively supporting the plans for a $1 million super-city bash in the Auckland Domain, and how does he reconcile that with his concerns about council-related spending being wasted on non-core activities?
Hon RODNEY HIDE: To continue with the ownership of water, it is true that the water in the pipes will be owned—
Mr SPEAKER: The member’s question asked—[Interruption] I am on my feet. The member’s question may not have been very usual, but it sort of related to the primary question, and I ask the honourable Minister to please not just ignore it but answer it. I think he has a fair bit of licence in answering it.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. In order to be answered properly, a question needs to be somewhat intelligible. I think asking the Minister whether he is happy about a bash, a domain, and various other bits and pieces just invites the Minister to take the opportunity to further elaborate on what he thinks the member might have been asking.
Hon RODNEY HIDE: I will explain my confusion. The primary question was this: will his proposed local government reform facilitate private ownership or management of council assets? The question is about council assets. I then got a question about who owns water—
Mr SPEAKER: I apologise to the Minister. I must say to the Hon Shane Jones that he knows full well that I am hearing a point of order but he has continued to interject; if
he does that any further at all, he will lose one supplementary question. I do not need to hear further on this matter. The question was a fair stretch from the primary question—I accept that absolutely. That said, though, I think it should not be ignored totally. It seemed to refer to a celebration that is allegedly being planned, and, certainly, that is a long stretch from the assets of the council. One could perhaps argue a linkage, and that is why I am giving the member the chance to answer it.
Hon RODNEY HIDE: I am all for Auckland celebrating and having fun. I have to say that Auckland has been doing that ever since the last election. With the new super-city, Aucklanders will have every reason to have a lot more fun than they ever did when Helen Clark and the Labour Party were in power. They killed off fun and laughter, not just in Auckland but right through the country.
Moana Mackey: Why were social or pensioner housing assets not included in his list of core local government functions, and what specific representations did he receive from the Minister of Housing advocating for their inclusion?
Hon RODNEY HIDE: They were not included because that was Cabinet’s decision. I have worked very closely with the Minister of Housing on this issue, and also, indeed, with the Minister for Social Development and Employment. I know that is a surprise, because under the previous Government everything was decided from the ninth floor.
New Zealand Superannuation—Legislative Changes
CHESTER BORROWS (National—Whanganui) to the
Minister for Social Development and Employment: What reports has she received about recent legislative changes to superannuation?
Hon PAULA BENNETT (Minister for Social Development and Employment)
: I have received correspondence from many who welcome the changes. There is one letter in particular that I want to highlight a passage from: “Thank you, thank you, thank you for the changes. We have children and grandchildren living overseas and want to be part of their lives and the littlies while having adventures ourselves. This change in legislation opens new doors for us and we are both extremely grateful.” I wish them all the best on their golden age OE.
Chester Borrows: How will these changes make it easier for senior citizens to travel and still access superannuation entitlements?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: The new law changes the general portability payment policy that has been in place since 1990, making it fairer. It was not changed under Labour; it was changed under this Government. Older New Zealanders are celebrating the changes this National Government has introduced. We are committed to ensuring that older New Zealanders get the freedom they deserve in their retirement.
Su’a William Sio: What impact will this Government’s decade of deferrals have on the entitlements of superannuitants and veterans pensioners who travel or retire overseas?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: None.
H V Ross Robertson: Tēnā koe, Mr Speaker. Did the Minister consult the Minister of Finance regarding the analysis from Treasury, released a day after the Budget, showing that the Minister’s plan to defer payments guts the Superannuation Fund by 50 percent, and advising that it will never be able to catch up; and can she give an assurance to superannuitants and veterans who travel or retire overseas that their entitlements will not be affected as a result of this shortfall?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: Yes.
Roading, Kapiti—New Zealand Transport Agency Decision
Hon DARREN HUGHES (Labour) to the
Minister of Transport: When will the New Zealand Transport Agency make a decision on the roading issues through Kapiti that they are currently consulting on?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister of Transport)
: I am advised by the New Zealand Transport Agency that strategic decisions on that particular piece of road, and also the whole Wellington-Levin corridor project, will be made before the end of this calendar year.
Hon Darren Hughes: Why has the Government not included any proposals to push electrification of rail further north to Ōtaki, Levin, or Palmerston North in this transport plan, given that it is prepared to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on roads that shave a few minutes off travelling time?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Of course there are transport projects in both modes proceeding on the Kapiti Coast, with electrification proceeding to Waikanae, but it is very important that we develop a strategic plan for State Highway 1. It is our most important national route and carries the most traffic and freight through the district at the same time, and that must be done.
Hon Darren Hughes: Which option has the member for Ōtaki communicated is his preferred option for the roading proposals through Kapiti?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: He actually has not communicated his preference. He has been active on behalf of his constituents in ensuring that the consultation goes well and he is undertaking a number of public meetings himself, some of which I have attended. The important thing is that this is a very difficult project to look at through the Kapiti district, and it is a pity that it was not done some time ago. Unfortunately, we are now faced with trying to come up with a strategic plan where if it had been endorsed by the previous Government for the State highway, we would not have the difficulty we have now in trying to get a plan through the district.
Hon Darren Hughes: Why did National campaign on agreeing with Labour about the Western Link Road being a local road, Transmission Gully, and the electrification of rail, only to get into office and push proposals that no one in the community had ever heard of?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: That perhaps shows the member’s age, because this particular project has been discussed as early as the mid-1970s and before, and that—
Hon Darren Hughes: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am sure that if I made derogatory reference to the Minister’s advanced age and elderly status, you would pull me up.
Mr SPEAKER: I hear the honourable member, and I ask the Minister to please not make such comment on the question, and to come quickly to the answer.
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I am sorry; the attractiveness of the member’s youth overtook me in answering the question. I point out to the member that the potential alignment through the Kapiti district has been talked about for many, many years. Unfortunately, the previous Government did not develop a strategic plan for the State highway through the district. The member and certainly some on the Kapiti Coast District Council are now trying to say that that particular decision should be postponed. The difficulty with that is, as we are seeing, it makes it very difficult for people who have properties along prospective routes if they do not know what will happen.
Schools—Fruit in Schools Funding
Dr CAM CALDER (National) to the
Minister of Health: How many schools were due to lose their Fruit in Schools funding by the end of term 2 this year, and why was this?
Hon TONY RYALL (Minister of Health)
: I am advised that 113 schools were due to lose their Fruit in Schools funding by the end of term 2 this year, with a further 152 by Christmas. This was because under the previous Government’s Fruit in Schools programme schools would receive fruit only for a maximum of 3 years. I am advised that after 3 years in the Fruit in Schools programme these low-decile schools were expected to become self-sustaining in the provision of fruit. That approach was never going to work.
Dr Cam Calder: What decisions has the Government made in relation to Fruit in Schools?
Hon TONY RYALL: In June this year the Government announced it would continue funding the Fruit in Schools programme until the end of 2009 while we looked at ways to reduce the high administration costs of the programme. Of the total cost of around $12 million a year, only around half was actually spent on fruit. I am pleased to advise today that the Government has decided to continue the Fruit in Schools programme, but it is reducing the administrative overheads. This will free up more than $4 million a year, which will be put towards helping more young New Zealanders access cheaper doctors’ visits under the Very Low Cost Access programme.
Hon Ruth Dyson: Can he confirm that he actually took part in the select committee inquiry into type 2 diabetes and obesity that recommended that the funding for Fruit in Schools be extended, which the Labour-led Government then did; extending it for the second time since it was launched by the then Minister of Health, Pete Hodgson?
Hon TONY RYALL: Yes, I was on a select committee that looked at type 2 diabetes. We were unaware at the time that the previous Government would move to cut significant amounts of money out of public health programmes, including a reduction of $3.3 million in the “Get Checked” Diabetes Aotearoa programme.
Ministerial Accommodation—Homes Leased from Family Trusts
Hon PETE HODGSON (Labour—Dunedin North) to the
Minister responsible for Ministerial Services: When a memo between two internal affairs officials of 3 February 2009 stated that “we sought advice from the 9th floor whether leasing from a family trust was appropriate” and were subsequently advised that it was subject to three conditions, who determined those three conditions and when?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE (Acting Minister responsible for Ministerial Services)
: The Minister has advised the member previously on 22, 23, and 24 September that the memo implied something that was not correct. Advice was not sought from the ninth floor, three conditions were determined by the general manager, executive Government support in late November 2008, and the Auditor-General has examined all the circumstances in relation to this matter and has determined that there is no need for a further inquiry.
I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. In order to make it somewhat easier—
Mr SPEAKER: The member should just make his point of order, not—
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: I am just explaining why I am doing this in the middle of a question. I have a document here from Janice Calvert, who is the general manager, executive Government support, making it very clear that advice was not sought from the ninth floor on this matter. I seek leave to table that document.
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 Pete Hodgson: What reasoning, if any, did officials offer him for changing the criteria for one Minister, given that less generous criteria had applied until that time?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: The criteria used by the persons who were responsible for making the determination were the same criteria that were set down by Helen Clark in a previous Government.
Hon Pete Hodgson: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I just need a bit of advice. The Minister has answered that last question in the same way that he has answered it on a number of other occasions. I am in possession of written proof, by way of answers to written questions, that there were no such criteria in the document that the Minister refers to. He continues to assert that there are; I have it as a matter of parliamentary record that there are not. I wonder what I ought to do about that.
Mr SPEAKER: The dilemma we have here is that the member—and I realise he is doing it respectfully—is litigating the answer. I suggest to him that where a matter like this can be pursued through questioning, he put down a primary question. If that is not answered correctly and honestly and that can be proved, that is a serious issue. The dilemma is that in supplementary questions it is a bit more difficult for the procedures and processes, if you like, to be quite as precise. But in circumstances where it is a very formal occasion in the House, such as a primary question on notice, with time to get an accurate answer to it, if it can be proved that such a question is answered wrongly—obviously incorrectly, or dishonestly in particular—serious consequences could flow from such a formal situation. I can only suggest to the honourable member that he think about how he uses questions, if he is concerned about the quality of the information he is receiving by way of answers.
Hon Pete Hodgson: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Thank you for your advice. You will have noticed that I put down a particular question with some detail in question No. 12 today, simply because at an earlier time that, too, had been the subject of, in my view, less than fulsome responses from the Minister. However, I wonder whether you can help me. Is my only recourse to raise it as a matter of privilege if a Minister has wittingly misled the House? Is that my only recourse, and in this case is that what you are advising me to do?
Mr SPEAKER: I realise that the member is trying to ask a very straight and genuine question. It is not laden with abuse of any member of the House or anything else, and that is why I am allowing some time to be spent on it. If in answering a supplementary question a Minister gets something wrong, that would not normally be considered to be a breach of privilege, because anyone can make mistakes in answering questions that are not on notice. Where a breach of privilege can occur is in a formal situation—for example, where a member seeks the leave of the House to make a personal explanation, and then wilfully misleads the House. A breach of privilege can occur there. Where a question is on notice, and it can be proven that a Minister misled the House and that he or she refused to correct an answer, then I would have thought that was also a fairly formal situation. It is a formal situation that may impede the operation of the House that can become a breach of privilege, not simply making mistakes in giving answers. With this particular question on notice, I accept that it is a straight question. The dilemma I have as Speaker is that it seems that the Minister, in answering the question, is refuting some of the information in it, and that is what makes it difficult for me as Speaker to help the member any further. But he does have a further supplementary question.
Hon Pete Hodgson: Precisely where did the criterion of a weekly rental not exceeding $700 per week come from?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: When the National-led Government was formed, the administration known as executive Government support made it clear to us that there was a rental cap in place, and we chose not to extend it. It was the cap that was in place through the years of the previous Labour-led Government.
Hon Pete Hodgson: Can the Minister confirm that the cap that he refers to is the cap that applies not to a property in which a Minister may have an interest but, indeed, to property that has been put forward to the Government from the real estate industry as a whole?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: I can confirm that these matters have been extensively looked at by the Auditor-General, who has found that there is no need to look further. I also say to the member that the conditions were determined by the general manager, executive Government support in late November, and the Auditor-General has confirmed that that was an appropriate course of action.
Hon Pete Hodgson: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. It is simply that the question was not addressed. The question referred to a criterion as to which type of real estate the cap applied to.
Mr SPEAKER: I hear the honourable member. The question, as I recollect, asked whether the cap of $700 a week, referred to in an earlier answer, applies to properties where there is a relationship with the owner of the property, or whether it applies to properties where there is no third-party relationship. I accept that the Minister did not appear to make any attempt to answer that specific question. It does not relate to the particular matter before the Auditor-General. Now, the Minister may not have that information; that is a perfectly fair answer if he does not have the information. But I think he should acknowledge that, rather than just avoid answering the question.
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: I do not want to avoid the question, so understanding what the member was asking goes to the heart of the whole matter, which is the issue of the pecuniary interest. That has been investigated by the Auditor-General, and the Auditor-General concluded that the three criteria used by the general manager, executive Government support were, first, that an independent market valuation had to occur; second, that the rental had to be inside the rental cap; and, third, that Ministers had to certify that they had no pecuniary interest in the trust. The interesting thing about the Auditor-General’s report, of course, is that it has highlighted the two standards of scrutiny: the one applied by the Parliamentary Service, and the other by Ministerial Services. The important thing is that the Auditor-General has found that Mr English did not act inappropriately.
Mr SPEAKER: I accept absolutely what the Minister has just said; the only thing is that that was not what the questioner asked.
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: Yes, it was.
Mr SPEAKER: In relation to a cap the Minister referred to in an earlier answer—I believe, of $700 a week—the member asked, rightly or wrongly, whether that cap applied in a situation where a member may have had an interest of some kind in the property in question, or whether that cap applied to properties where there was no relationship. Have I picked up on the Hon Pete Hodgson’s question correctly? That is my memory of it. He was not asking particularly in relation to Mr English’s situation, but was asking a general question: did that cap apply in one situation or the other? The Minister may not have that information at hand. I fully accept that, because it would be quite possible that he does not have it. But I believe that a general question is being asked about the situations in which that cap applied. Because of the public interest, I think it is reasonable for the Minister to either indicate that he does not have that information or answer the question, because it does not relate specifically to Mr English. It asked in what circumstances that cap applied.
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: I did answer the question appropriately by saying three criteria were used to determine whether the cap applied to a particular property, and I made that very, very clear to the House in my answer. I will repeat the criteria again, if you wish. The first point, in relation to the property, was that an independent
market valuation had to occur. The second point was that the cap was not to be exceeded in the ultimate payment. The third, and important, point is that the Minister had to be able to certify that there is no pecuniary interest. In the case that the Opposition wishes to pursue, despite the finding of the Auditor-General that there was no need to discuss the case further, all of those criteria were met.
Mr SPEAKER: I believe I have pursued the issue on behalf of the member as far as I can support his question today. Members can judge for themselves the quality of the answer given in relation to the specific question that was asked, but I think we have spent sufficient time on that matter today.
Hon Pete Hodgson: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I wish to make two quick points. The first is that I thank you for your efforts; they have been considerable. The second is that I note that the Standing Orders have not been complied with in respect of question No. 12, because there was no effort to seek to address a supplementary question. Now, I do not want to take the matter any further than that. I will come back after the adjournment and we will do it again. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: I think this is not helpful to the good order of the House. I think the member asked a reasonable question. I sought to have an answer given to it. The Minister answered as he saw fit, and I think we have pushed that matter as far as is reasonable. Members are perfectly at liberty to ask further questions in the future, should they wish to do so.