Sittings of the House
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Deputy Prime Minister)
: I move,
That the House do at its rising adjourn until 2 p.m. on Tuesday, 10 February 2009, and that the sitting programme for 2009 recommended by the Business Committee be adopted. It is unusual for Parliament to have two adjournment debates so close together. If members can recall, the last one was held before the general election. That does not mean we should not thank people who were thanked then but have had to work hard since, so on behalf of the Prime Minister, the Hon John Key, I thank all those staff in this complex who executed a smooth change of Government. As I understand it, over 1,000 people were shifted. Some were not shifted very far: staff in Dr Cullen’s office packed up their boxes one day and a few days later unpacked them at exactly the same desk, as part of
my office. From what I could see there was generally patience and persistence all around, which ensured that the shift went as smoothly as it possibly could.
An awful lot has happened since the last adjournment debate. As a result of the general election a tired, muddled, and scandal-ridden Labour administration was pushed aside with a decisive margin by New Zealand voters, and a pragmatic and fresh National Party was brought into power. Within a week, National created a Government that had the support of Parliament through arrangements with three support parties: the ACT Party, the Māori Party, and United Future. On behalf of Mr Key I stress to Parliament and to the country how committed National is to ensuring that those governing arrangements work. On his behalf I thank the leader of the ACT Party, Rodney Hide, and his board and MPs; the leader of United Future, Peter Dunne; and Tariana Turia and Pita Sharples, the leaders of the Māori Party.
I thank Tariana Turia and Pita Sharples in particular for their willingness to grasp a historic opportunity, and for the gracious but direct way in which they negotiated the arrangements with a party that neither they not their supporters have traditionally had a strong relationship with. When the Government changes, the MPs tend to be locked up in the Beehive for a while, and I must say that after forming a Government and doing what we needed to do to get the Government up and running, I was very pleasantly surprised to get out of Wellington and out among the people who voted in the election. Among those who voted for us and against us there has been uniform support, if not pleasure, at the arrangement that has been made between the National Government and the Māori Party.
The one group that is not happy about it is the Labour Party, and that is for a very simple reason: it has to understand the hard, cold truth that many Māori voters have more aspirations than Labour was able to tolerate. They have more will to do better, more will to self-determination, and more will to escape the trap of dependence that they had politically on the Labour Party and on the Government and Government assistance, which they have had far too much of. I expect that the Labour Party will continue with its particularly nasty vendetta against the Māori Party. We do not always agree with the Māori Party, and I am sure that over the next 12 months as this Parliament gets busy there will be differences between National and the Māori Party. But in the spirit of the historic arrangements made in the week after the election, there will be a relationship of mutual respect that New Zealand will benefit from.
Parliament has also been busy passing legislation that is critical to helping New Zealanders through this recession and to raising our long-term growth prospects. We passed the tax cuts legislation, which is part of a very substantial stimulus to the New Zealand economy that started with the 2008 Budget presented by the previous Government and the 1 October tax cuts, and now includes the tax cuts legislated for 1 April. As was presented in the Budget Policy Statement this morning, that adds up to a $9 billion stimulus to the economy, which is as large as any stimulus package internationally.
Hon David Cunliffe: Three-quarters of it from Labour.
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Well, it has happened in less dramatic circumstances, because we have not had a banking collapse. We had a general election at a time when any incumbent Government would have been making these decisions. But it gives the opportunity to cushion people from the worst effects of recession.
However, there is a price to pay for that stimulus, and again the picture presented in the Budget Policy Statement today is of forecasts of ever-increasing debt and substantial fiscal deficits. Those forecasts are unacceptable to the National-led Government, and we will be moving to take a longer-term view to ensure that future workers and taxpayers in New Zealand will not be overburdened by ever-rising debt.
Parliament will face some challenges next year, and I hope it will be able to rise to those challenges. The year 2009 will be a very tough year—a very tough year. Unemployment is set to rise to at least 6.5 percent. The Government’s books will be in the red for the foreseeable future. Families and businesses will have a growing sense of insecurity because of the loss of jobs and because of their vulnerability to international and domestic economic downturn. Parliament will be led by this Government to implement the plan to turn that round; it will start early in the new year with the Government’s introducing legislation to amend the Resource Management Act.
Parliament can expect to see from this Government a sense of urgency in dealing with long-term issues that have sapped the confidence and the dynamism of the New Zealand economy. It was OK when the world was going fine and New Zealanders were spending up large, but the economic outlook now demands a sense of urgency, focus, and leadership. That is what the National Party will bring to Parliament next year. We will be looking to build broad coalitions of support in order to take every single step we can to improve our economic prospects and to build the confidence of those who will invest in the New Zealand economy.
There will be a number of driving factors, but a simple one that I think even Opposition members can understand is that every New Zealander who loses a job will not get it back until someone invests in this economy. We will do every single thing we can to protect people from job losses in the short term and to lift the chances that they will get a new job from a dynamic and growing economy. If the Opposition with its petty politicking wants to stand in the way of a recovering New Zealand economy, it can. It will not matter, because the National-led Government has a sound majority in this House, and we will use that majority in order to improve the well-being of New Zealanders.
I want to make one particularly important point, which was debated during the election campaign. During the election campaign National was committed to supporting the existing entitlements of beneficiaries, national superannuitants, and those on Working for Families. The Labour Party will find that its scare campaign was wrong. Despite the outlook, we are sticking to those entitlements and to National’s promises. Next year we will execute that because that is what New Zealand needs.
Hon PHIL GOFF (Leader of the Opposition)
: That talk from the Deputy Prime Minister, Bill English, about protecting superannuitants was all a bit rich. He was the last man in this House to cut superannuation, which he did in 1998. I tell Bill English that the only reason why he might be able to assure superannuitants that their benefits will not be cut is that the man sitting just behind me, Michael Cullen, put aside more than $13 billion in the Cullen fund. The fund guarantees that they will get that payment and, for those who are about to retire, that they will have the entitlement they have been paying taxes towards.
It was an interesting speech from the Deputy Prime Minister. It started off with the normal party politicking—“It was all your fault.”, and “What’s the Opposition doing about the crisis?”. Well, Mr English, you’re in the Government now, and we would like to know whether there was a sense of urgency—
Hon Bill English: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My raising a point of order means that the member sits down. We have had a number of points of order in this session pulling up the Leader of the Opposition for a breach of the processes of this House that no one else is allowed to commit, and he has done it probably 10 or half a dozen times; that is, using the term “you”. Parliament has been around a lot longer than Mr Goff, and it has always had that rule. He should be required to keep to it, particularly when the Speaker has ruled three times, I think, on that matter in respect of him during this short 2-week session.
Hon Dr Michael Cullen: Mr Speaker, you may recall me actually touching upon this point the other day, when I pointed out that there are three different ways in which the word “you” is used. If this Parliament is going to cut all of them out, then that makes a nonsense, because what Mr Goff said was: “Mr English, you’re in the Government now …”. Nobody could possibly read that to mean a reference to you, Mr Speaker. It is a reference to Mr English, and that is normal English usage.
Mr SPEAKER: In fact, the Hon Bill English is quite correct. The usage that is not allowed under the Standing Orders—and I repeat this for the benefit of all members of the House—is to say, for example: “Mr Bloggs, you did something.” That is not disallowed because it includes the Speaker in the debate; it is disallowed because it leads to more personal debate, and that is unacceptable. The Standing Orders are quite clear: the only occasion on which members can use the word “you” is in a situation where one might be saying “one” in older grammar. I remind the honourable Leader of the Opposition that it is not acceptable to address a member on the other side as “you”—as in, “you” did something. That is outside of the Standing Orders. I invite the honourable Leader of the Opposition to continue.
Hon PHIL GOFF: After 2 weeks of urgency, we would have expected the Government to show some sense of urgency and to present this country and this Parliament with its plan for addressing the impact on New Zealand of an international economic downturn. There has been no such plan. For 2 weeks we have debated light bulbs and justice bills—bills that experts in sentencing say will make no difference, at all. We have debated serious matters. We have debated matters relating to jobs, and to stripping away the right of working people to not be sacked without due cause and without due process to call upon. Yes, we have talked about job security, but this Government has been taking away job security. The member Mr English talks about investment and about jobs. The first thing this Government did in this Parliament was to undermine the emissions trading scheme and scrap $400 million worth of investment in forestry—investment that would have created jobs right across provincial New Zealand.
Then there were those 46 jobs it has destroyed by undermining the biofuel industry in New Zealand. Gerry Brownlee brought the bill on that into the House. He had a letter from a former president of the National Party, Sue Wood, and one from the gentleman who ran BioDiesel Oils (NZ) Ltd, and he had not read either of them. I give credit to David Garrett from the ACT Party, who sat in the House, who listened, who probably read the letter, and who said: “My personal view is that the Opposition is right. This is a bad move, but I have to vote with my party.” I suggest to you, Mr Speaker, that if Mr Brownlee had read that letter, if he had not been so lazy, if he had done his homework, and if he had understood that what he was saying about the unsustainability of biofuels produced from tallow was just nonsense, we would not have had that bill before the House, at all. I will come back to some of those issues.
The other thing I say to “Mr 20 Percent” about investment is that, yes, he talked about investment in short-term jobs. He wiped out jobs in forestry and bio-diesel. He wiped out the thousands of jobs that would have been created by retrofitting houses to make them healthier. So in the short term he did damage, but in the medium term he did damage as well, because the key thing that would have turned round our economy in terms of our savings culture was KiwiSaver. This National Government has gutted KiwiSaver. Its members said their changes would make it possible for more people to invest in KiwiSaver, but when they were asked what money they had put aside for those thousands more people who would come in, the answer was zero—absolutely zero.
If Mr English wants to talk about investment in the medium term, he should know that every industrial company in this country knows that research and development is vital to New Zealand being innovative and competitive in the world. We had two great
funds for doing that. The first was the 15 percent tax credits that would have helped those information technology companies to get on their feet, be innovative, compete in the world, and be creative—and the Government scrapped it. The second was the New Zealand Fast Forward fund. We know that, despite not mentioning agriculture once—or was it once, I ask Mr Carter—in the Speech from the Throne, this country relies on agriculture as its primary sector. We know that the fund would have enabled our primary sector to go forward into the future with real confidence, and to compete in the world on the basis of sustainability. But the Government undermined the sustainability part of the fund as well, and scrapped it. So it is just nonsense that Bill English should come into this House and talk about short-term jobs, which he has already destroyed, and the medium-term future, which he has totally undermined.
I now begin more traditionally and thank all of those who work in this place and who help Parliament to function as it does. I thank those from your office, Mr Speaker. Through the Clerk, I thank the Clerk’s Office. I thank the Hansard reporters for the job they do. They work very hard writing down things that sometimes do not make much sense—even to the National members who say them. I thank the security staff and the messengers—both groups do a great job around this place—Bellamy’s staff, the cleaners, and the people who, when we sit in urgency, are waiting downstairs to begin their job that supports their family at a low rate of pay, when we are going home. I also thank our executive, our clerical, and our electorate office staff. If we are sometimes so busy around this place that we forget to say thank you to those people more often, I ask them to please accept this as our acknowledgement of, I think, the whole House’s appreciation of what they do for us.
I thank the families of parliamentarians too. All of us are volunteers here; we are here because we want to be. Our families do not volunteer for our career choice, and sometimes they suffer because of it. I want to wish all the families of parliamentarians a peaceful and an enjoyable festive season—hopefully, with their partners, or their fathers or mothers—and one in which the families can have some quality time with them.
For me, the last fortnight has been remarkable in one particular positive respect, and that is for the quality of the maiden speeches given by Labour’s 13 new parliamentarians. Their speeches were both passionate and sincere. They told the House of their journey through life, of how they came to be in this place, and of the support they had from their families. They told us about their values, their beliefs, and what they wanted to accomplish by being here. I think the Labour class of 2008 is a truly remarkable, talented, and diverse group. But what stood out for me were the things they had in common, such as a strong belief in and a commitment to a fair and a decent society, a tolerant and an inclusive community, and New Zealand as a country that enables and encourages every one of our people and every one of our children to rise to their full potential. They talked about promoting opportunity and achievement, they talked about not leaving the disadvantaged behind, and they talked about a sustainable environment. Those maiden speeches were the highlight of this last fortnight.
Sadly, the only other thing the past 2 weeks will be remembered for is that a new and arrogant Government came in here and immediately abused parliamentary and democratic procedure. There was no reason for most of those window-dressing bills to have been forced through this Parliament without the normal scrutiny of a parliamentary select committee, and without the democratic right of New Zealanders to participate in legislation by being able to make their voices heard on what was proposed. That was not window dressing; that was creating the perception of action where, in fact, no action was occurring.
I say to Mr English that in the Budget Policy Statement, he himself—if those were his words—set out that the previous Labour Government achieved the best fiscal
position of any country in the OECD: the lowest levels of debt and the best opportunity to get out there and protect New Zealand jobs and New Zealanders. The new Government has squandered these 2 weeks. It has had no plan, and it has acted arrogantly by forcing through legislation that does not advance the interests of New Zealanders but that sets them back. Despite all of those things, I want to wish New Zealanders the best Christmas that they can have. Thank you very much.
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE (Leader of the House)
: That very cheery Christmas message was from the Hon “Phil-in” Goff, who is in the last stages of his honeymoon as leader of the Labour Party.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I would have thought you would get to your feet yourself when members are addressed in that manner. Proper names are to be used.
Mr SPEAKER: I apologise to the Hon Trevor Mallard, but I was distracted and I did not actually hear that. Now if the Hon Gerry Brownlee did improperly address another member, I would ask him to correct that.
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: I did, Mr Speaker. I apologise for that, but I ask for some licence in a debate like this. [Interruption] No, I withdraw and apologise. There you are; how touchy Opposition members are about the future prospects of the Hon Phil Goff.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am sure you are aware that members cannot refer to points of order that have been ruled on. You have ruled on a point of order, it has been dealt with, and the member cannot go back to it.
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: Speaking to the point of order. I was simply responding to the heckling I was getting from the other side of the House.
Mr SPEAKER: I say to the Hon Trevor Mallard that I think we can, at times, be a little too pedantic. His point is correct, but I did not think the honourable member was being particularly disrespectful in his comment. I invite the Hon Gerry Brownlee to continue his speech.
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: The basic thread of Mr Goff’s message to the House this afternoon was that the Labour Party cannot believe that there was an event on 8 November that left them on the Opposition side of the House. He stands here, attacking the Government today, and mouthing some sort of Homer Simpson defence for his party’s own appalling performance. That defence essentially is: “I was not there. It did not happen. It can’t have been me.” The fact is that Labour members were there, it was them, and it was a Labour Government that got the boot on 8 November because New Zealanders did not like the sort of arrogance that Mr Goff so ably just displayed, backed up by Mr Mallard, who, of course, cannot stand the fact that even though the party has had a huge reshuffle he still sits on the second bench of the Labour Opposition.
This week has been an interesting week, insomuch as all that the Labour Opposition members have been able to do is to speak about why their policies were so good and how arrogant it was for National to dare to consider changing them. I can tell members that it will be a long 3 years for Labour members as the legacy they have left this country—the dreadful figures that have been documented—is dealt with by National.
I want to talk about the comments Mr Goff made about KiwiSaver. Anyone listening to him would assume that the entire workforce of this country had somehow had something taken off it. Far from that being the case, most members of the workforce in this country were not part of KiwiSaver under the Labour Government’s regime. But I tell members that in 3 years’ time most of the workforce in this country will be part of the KiwiSaver regime that National strongly, strongly supports.
I would like future Labour Party speakers in this debate to explain the huge gaping hole in accident compensation—the huge gaping hole that Labour just missed, the huge
gaping hole in the funding that somehow Labour did not see, the nearly $4 billion of underfunding over the last few years that Labour apparently knew nothing of. That was the middle line of the Homer Simpson defence: “It did not happen.” Well, it did happen, it is real, and Labour is responsible for it.
I hope a Labour speaker this afternoon talks about the dreadful state of the deficits in our health boards. There is no comment. There is not a whisper. There is not a whimper. Labour members know what a terrible mess they have left inside those health boards. As we go through the weeks ahead picking apart the various programmes that the previous Government had in place, I am sure we will discover more of those sorts of little snippets that will have a huge effect on the economy all the way through.
This week we heard Mr Goff say that the National Government had destroyed the opportunity for New Zealand to have a more sustainable economy. This Government has introduced two bills in that respect: the Energy (Fuels, Levies, and References) Biofuel Obligation Repeal Bill and the Electricity (Renewable Preference) Repeal Bill, which dealt with the thermal ban. Both of them were designed entirely to improve the carbon dioxide output figures for New Zealand.
One of the interesting things is that the previous Labour Government presided over some of the biggest increases in carbon dioxide emissions for this country, yet throughout that time it was telling New Zealanders that the Government had a sustainable message. There were massive increases over those 9 years. David Parker, the previous Minister of Energy, sits there smirking. He was the Minister responsible for renewable energy, but thermal energy massively increased under his watch. Members opposite have an arrogant view that if one could trundle on to the world stage and talk about how good one is, people will believe it. Well, the record is very, very poor indeed.
I also join with other members of the House in offering congratulations to you again, Mr Speaker, and also to extend Christmas wishes to the long list of people that Mr Goff read out. That was the only good bit in his speech, when he recognised all the many people around this Parliament who work to make the place run on an even keel. We thank all the staff who help us in our various capacities. As Mr Goff mentioned, there is also a great need to thank our families back home, because they make it possible for us all to be here. I say to the National new members who gave their maiden speeches this week that it was, in political party terms, one nil. I say it was well done, guys; it was absolutely superb! Their contribution will be to the smooth running of government over the next few years, and I am sure they will enjoy it.
Hon Phil Goff: Tell us about your poor management of the House this past fortnight.
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: If the member wants to make those sorts of comments, that is not adroit of him, because the one thing I notice is that whatever this Government puts on the Table, it manages to pass without any difficulty whatsoever. In the new year, we will see whether my 100 percent record is interrupted in some way. This is also the time of year when the sorts of petty comments that come from the other side of the House need to be set aside.
I make the following comments, because there may not be another occasion for me to do so. I would like to—
Hon Phil Goff: The deputy leader of the National Party isn’t going to maintain his position on the front bench, in my view.
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: Is that right? Well, Mr Goff, all I can say is that if you are still here at this time next year—
Mr SPEAKER: Order!
Hon Dr Michael Cullen: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Unfortunately, we are now not to use the term “you” in any circumstance apparently, and I am afraid Mr Brownlee did just that.
Mr SPEAKER: The Hon Dr Cullen is absolutely right. The honourable member must not use “you are” in that sense. I ask the member to desist from that.
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: Thank you, Mr Speaker; and I thank Dr Cullen, too, for his continued tutelage. I learn so much from him, day by day.
I was about to say that these occasions are not ones where we should rap our opponents over the knuckles, and because there may be no other opportunity to do so, I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the former Prime Minister, Helen Clark, and to acknowledge her former deputy, Michael Cullen. Although we have these scraps across the Chamber and hold quite strong policy differences, it is not unreasonable to acknowledge the considerable amount of work they have contributed to the running of this country over a period of years. I extend to both of them my sincere Christmas greetings and all the best for the New Year.
It remains only for me to turn to the Clerk and say—
Hon Darren Hughes: What about the rest of us?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: Well, Dazza, I’m sure you have been a really good boy this year, and on the 25th if you don’t get up too early—
Hon Phil Goff: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I am sure you know what my point of order is. You heard that, and I know that the Deputy Prime Minister would want you to pull the member up.
Mr SPEAKER: The member will desist.
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: I accept that, Mr Speaker, and I will put it this way. I say to the Hon Darren Hughes that I notice that he has been a very good fellow throughout the year and I am sure that on 25 December, when he wakes up in the morning, goes down and looks under the Christmas tree, Father Christmas will have brought him—
Hon Darren Hughes: You will have eaten all the chocolates!
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: That was good. I was simply going to say I am quite confident Father Christmas would have brought him another pair of long pants.
I wish the Clerks all the best for the Christmas period. Their work in the House is very considerable, as I know only too well, as well as is that of the other agencies that help to run things. To you, Mr Speaker, I say: all the best, and a very merry Christmas.
Hon ANNETTE KING (Deputy Leader—Labour)
: The year 2008 has been a roller-coaster ride for many New Zealanders and probably for many members of this House. Certainly it has been for Gerry Brownlee in the last 2 weeks; he has not known whether he is Arthur or Martha. But 2008 has seen many highs and many lows, celebrations and sorrow, and the funny and the sad.
The year 2008 started with New Zealand mourning the death of Sir Ed Hillary, the greatest New Zealander of our time. Although conquering Mount Everest is what he is remembered for by many people, his achievements are much, much more than that. In fact, I believe he came to epitomise the values that New Zealand holds dear: courage, compassion, leadership, and loyalty. His famous words “we knocked the bastard off.” are now part of the New Zealand vernacular. I also think they are part of our New Zealand psyche, because all over the world, when we go out and compete as a small nation, we like to think that we too can knock the bastards off.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: We did on 8 December.
Hon ANNETTE KING: I can assure Gerry Brownlee that there is one more of them that Labour will conquer in 2 years, 10 months, and 5 days.
There were a number of very sad deaths in 2008. I want to acknowledge the death of two New Zealand police officers who died while in the service of their country, and also to acknowledge the tragic death of Superintendent Steve Fitzgerald, one of New Zealand’s foremost road safety campaigners, who was killed on his bike a few months ago.
On a lighter note, New Zealand had some wonderful achievements in sport. We got gold medals at the Olympics. The All Blacks are back on top, where they ought to be. New Zealand is the world champion in rugby league. And we had the almost-win by Wellington in the Air New Zealand Cup. That comment was especially for Ruth Dyson.
Barack Obama is the US President-Elect, and he has brought hope that the war and the conflict in Iraq will be brought to an end. He has turned on the light in the US in relation to climate change, just as the National-led Government in New Zealand turned the light off.
But perhaps the greatest worry for New Zealanders in 2008 has been the deteriorating global economic situation. The reality is finally hitting home that this little country at the bottom of the world will not somehow or other avoid the fallout. And it is hitting home that the previous Labour-led Government left this country in a very strong position to get through the downturn. Those are not just the words of members of the Labour Party; those are the words of commentators and economists around New Zealand. Dr Cullen took the jibes and the sneers from John Key and Bill English when he applied fiscal prudence in this country, when he reduced our debt, when he invested in our infrastructure—in roads, rail, and public transport—when he invested in our schools and our hospitals, and when he set New Zealanders on a road to saving. Helen Clark took the jibes and the sneers when she insisted that we invest in our social infrastructure in this country, as well—when she insisted that we put in place policies that support our families.
No amount of gilding the lily by the National Government about the shape of the economy now in New Zealand will wash, because National went into the election campaign with its eyes wide open. In fact, the
New Zealand Herald’s
Porkometer had National spending $2 billion more than the Labour Government had promised this year—$2 billion more. National members went in with their eyes wide open.
On 8 November New Zealanders had the chance to choose a new Government, and they have spoken. We have the new faces that so many people said we need, but, by Jove, they are ageing fast. After 2 weeks in Parliament, John Key has gone from being the Energizer Bunny to being Bugs Bunny. He is saying: “What’s up, Bill? What’s up, Bill?”. The bags under the eyes have appeared. The 5 o’clock shadow has become permanent. After just 2 weeks in the House, the National members are starting to look like last week’s leftovers. I say to those who are watching today that they should tune in in 1 year’s time and have a look at what those members look like then.
Labour members have promised New Zealand that we will keep the National Party in Government honest. National members promised the people of New Zealand a brighter future. We ask whom this brighter future is for. I do not believe that when the voters of New Zealand looked at those billboards up and down New Zealand proclaiming a brighter future, they knew there was a caveat on it: a brighter future except if one is a KiwiSaver; a brighter future except if one is a worker; a brighter future except if one is a low-paid New Zealander; a brighter future except for the forestry industry; a brighter future except for anything made in New Zealand; a brighter future except if one is an innovative business; and a brighter future as long as it has nothing to do with addressing climate change. I think that a brighter future is fast becoming a dimmer, dumber present under a National-led Government.
We had National’s Speech from the Throne. It was to be the blueprint for the next 3 years. But where was the vision? There was no road map for the next 3 years. Do members know what it turned out to be? A pot-pourri of the political scabs that the National Party has been scratching for the last 2 years. We got a whole lot of political scabs that National has been scratching up and down New Zealand. That is what National members said was a vision.
We were promised 100 days of action. What did we get? We have had 100 days of reaction. We have gone from going for growth to going, going, going, gone. Up and down New Zealand hundreds of jobs have been lost after just 2 weeks of the House sitting under the National-led Government. Heaven help New Zealand! What will we have in 3 years? Let us have a look at where the jobs have gone. In 2 weeks this Government has got rid of jobs in forestry. In 2 weeks it has got rid of jobs in the biofuels industry. In 2 weeks it has got rid of jobs in insulating and retrofitting houses. After 2 weeks I make this prediction: National will destroy KiwiRail. I suspect that Bill English has already been to the board of KiwiRail and told it there is to be no more money, no more borrowing. What does that mean? It means that KiwiRail in New Zealand is doomed to failure. Just 2 weeks is all it took to start destroying New Zealand.
We have spent 2 weeks in this House passing legislation that is unnecessary. As Phil Goff said, it was nothing but window dressing. It was flimflam and a whole lot of blatherskite. [Interruption] And we are hearing a fair bit of it from that end of the House right now. I listened to speaker after speaker from the National Party promise New Zealanders that when the Bail Amendment Bill was passed we would see the end of violence on our streets—that we would not see another senseless murder of the likes that occurred this year in a dairy in South Auckland. I tell National members that it is our job to keep them honest. We will be watching everything that happens in New Zealand. The National Government has made those promises. It has led New Zealanders to believe that the actions it has taken in these 2 weeks mean that this Christmas New Zealand will be the safest place in the world—because it has passed an Act that does absolutely nothing.
I conclude by joining Phil Goff in saying how much I have enjoyed working with so many people in Parliament this year, including my own staff, but also, of course, the many, many people who serve us as members of Parliament. I make particular mention of the press gallery. When in Government we say that we love to hate them, but in Opposition we hate to miss them! So I do want to mention the press gallery. Finally, I want to say a big thankyou to two very important people in the Labour Party, Helen Clark and Michael Cullen. We say thank you from the bottom of our hearts for the wonderful work and the service you have given New Zealand over the last 3 years and before.
SUE KEDGLEY (Green)
: On behalf of the Green Party I congratulate you, Mr Speaker, on your new role. I thank the Clerk’s Office for its excellent management of this House. I thank our brilliant and hard-working staff, everyone who supported the Green Party this year, the activists we work with on many issues, and all of the staff in Parliament who support us in this place—the travel office, security staff, select committee staff, Hansard reporters, messengers, Bellamy’s staff, cleaners, and, of course, the wonderful librarians in the reference library. We wish them all a wonderful and well-deserved Christmas break.
On behalf of the Green Party I welcome all new MPs who have joined us in this House. We welcome the commitment and passion they bring. Parliament feels energised by their presence here. The Green Party has already signalled its intention to work constructively with all parties in this House wherever we can find common ground. We
intend to be a positive, principled political force in this House, focused on the future and the world our children will inherit rather than the next election cycle.
But we have been alarmed, frankly, at some of the undemocratic goings-on in this House over the past few weeks—bills tabled in the dead of night, introduced before MPs have had the opportunity to read them, and rammed through the House without any select committee scrutiny. We hope this does not signal a new and unwelcome pattern of undermining democratic processes of this House that former colleagues fought jealously for. We need to remember that our Parliament does not have the safeguards and checks on the abuse of power that other Parliaments have. We do not have a written constitution, a second House, or formal separation of powers between the executive and legislature. That is why under the old first-past-the-post electoral system many democratically elected Parliaments ended up as elected dictatorships. MMP, with the presence of a range of parties in Parliament, is a safeguard against a Government’s ability to ram its agenda through Parliament in an undemocratic way. So the Green Party will vigorously campaign to keep MMP next year.
The year 2008 has been a good year for the Green Party. We have emerged strengthened and invigorated by the presence of three more MPs in the House, and pleased to be the third-largest party in our Parliament. We have clocked up many impressive achievements this year, such as the passage of the Waste Minimisation Bill, and, of course, we had five members’ bills passed into law in the last term.
But we are worried at the continuing focus of the House this year on short-term issues at the expense of long-term threats to our very survival. We are worried that this was a year when the global financial meltdown crowded out debate on all other issues and put climate change on the backburner, when the reality is that the meltdown of ice on the North and South Poles will have far more impact on our future than any banking collapse. The American Government has spent more than US$4 trillion this year in response to the financial crisis, but meanwhile 40 million more people have been plunged into chronic hunger this year as a result of the global food crisis. The money that Governments have pledged to bail out the banks would have financed the world’s Millennium Development Goals many times over, but instead of meeting them, many Governments have failed to meet even the commitments they pledged at the World Food Security Conference this year.
Earlier this week I attended a conference in Asia on climate change and food security, along with three colleagues from this House. It was a chastening experience to represent New Zealand at a conference on climate change. Our clean, green image is pivotal to our identity as New Zealanders, as well as being worth billions of dollars to our economy. It was, frankly, offensive and embarrassing to have to admit that our Government was backtracking on climate change and has not even decided whether it is real, and that our much-cherished clean, green image is fast becoming something of a sham.
Let me assure this House that Asian parliamentarians are not sitting around debating whether climate change is real; many Asian countries are experiencing the reality of climate-induced natural disasters on a routine basis. Floods have destroyed crops in many countries this year, Indonesia and Viet Nam are experiencing six to seven major climatic disasters every year, and the Himalayan glaciers are rapidly receding, which is affecting rivers and water supplies throughout the Asianregion. The Viet Namese Government is well aware that climate change could devastate the most fertile food-producing areas of Viet Nam and affect 20 million people living in its low-lying coastal areas. Bangladesh knows that a 1 metre rise in the sea level would inundate 17 percent of its country, destroy much of its food bowl, and displace 15 million people, while
people from the Maldives islands told us that climate change will cause their low-lying country, like many Pacific nations, to disappear off the face of the Earth.
Asian parliamentarians are not sitting around discussing whether climate change is real. They know that once global warming really kicks in, no country will be immune from its effects, and they know that millions, or more likely billions, of poor people living in developing countries will be the hardest hit. They will suffer the terrible consequences of a problem they did not contribute to, and they will have no choice but to continue to live in disaster-prone areas.
There was an interesting debate at the conference about the idea that countries with high per capita emissions, such as New Zealand—with the sixth-worst carbon footprint in the world—should have added global responsibilities for combating climate change and assisting low carbon emitting countries, and a special obligation to take in the millions of climate change refugees who will need somewhere to live. So even if we were to follow the advice of Rodney Hide and put our collective heads in the sand, we would not be immune from the devastating global effects of climate change. We will be called to account by future generations, and we will be called on to assist the billions of people who will suffer if we do not respond quickly enough, not to mention the large numbers of climate refugees who may turn to New Zealand as a safe haven to escape to.
But instead of thinking about these issues, we are debating in this Parliament whether climate change is real. How embarrassing! Our Government is trying to weaken the post - Kyoto protocol regime, systematically overturning all the progress we have made on sustainability issues and climate change, undermining our renewable energy industry and our biofuel industry, and getting rid of the billion-dollar home insulation fund, to name but a few. Frankly, I cannot understand why the Government is doing this. Members of National and ACT have children, so why are they condemning their children to an uncertain and perilous future? How will they explain to their children that when they were in Government they procrastinated and dithered in the face of the greatest threat the world has faced?
Let us face it: the world is in a precarious state. The glaciers are melting, the oceans are becoming more acidic, the bees are disappearing, and everywhere there are signs of ecological collapse. Our forebears did not realise the environmental consequences of many of the actions that they took. They did not realise that pesticides would poison our earth and our rivers, or that chlorofluorocarbons would destroy the ozone layer. But we do. We know that all too well. We are fully aware of what will happen if we do not reduce the impact of climate change. We will have no excuses to fall back on. Let us hope that after our much-needed Christmas break, when, hopefully, we will all be refreshed, this Government will have a change of heart, and that 2009 will see New Zealand back on track again, able to hold its head high in global conferences and meetings around the world, meeting our global obligations and our obligations to our children, and facing the challenge of climate change head-on.
Hon RODNEY HIDE (Leader—ACT)
: Merry Christmas, everyone.
Hon Parekura Horomia: Where’s your jacket?
Hon RODNEY HIDE: Sadly, the police have it and are doing forensics on it as we speak; so merry Christmas, everyone. It is a very special time of year, because we who are fortunate enough to now have a break and spend time with our family and our friends get to value it, but we also get reminded about what a wonderful country we live in. We get to reflect on the past year, and for each of us, and for our country, on the year ahead. It is interesting, also, even in the context of this debate and of the election campaign, when we reflect on the arguments and the debates that we have, that it is easy to focus on what divides us. But when one looks across New Zealand, including New Zealand politics, what we agree on is far greater than what we disagree about. It is well
to remind ourselves in New Zealand how much we share a view of our country, what is important, and what we need to achieve. Of course, there is a political debate about how best to go about that, and we are so lucky to live in a democracy where we can actually have that debate out in the open and let the people of New Zealand decide on that every 3 years.
I particularly congratulate all the new MPs. Yes, I thought the 13 new Labour MPs were fantastic in their maiden speeches, but I thought all new MPs gave outstanding speeches. They are in a funny place and they will be able to reflect over Christmas on what they are in for. I wish each and every one a fabulous year next year, because they are very privileged to be parliamentarians on whatever side of the House they are on.
I particularly, again, acknowledge the Rt Hon Helen Clark and Michael Cullen. I think we should respect people who attain high office in New Zealand, and who have done so for so many years. We had a lot of disagreements about policy decisions, but never about their commitment to New Zealand or, indeed, their intelligence or ability to work hard. I wish them a good break, and also congratulate Annette King and Phil Goff on assuming the leadership. I think they showed us in our Parliament, and in our politics, how these transitions can occur with dignity and with a sense of renewal for the Labour Party. I wish them—well, not too much success—a good break. It is important, as Phil Goff often remarked in the House, that we have a good, robust Parliament. So I wish them success in Opposition in order to test the Government in every way.
Mr Speaker, I wish you every success. I think your job will be a challenging one—it always is. The Speaker sets largely the personality of Parliament, and makes such a difference to the way Parliament acts, the dignity with which our Parliament operates, and, indeed, the way in which New Zealanders reflect on our Parliament. We have been fortunate with Speakers past, and I think we will be fortunate with you, sir. I wish you and your team a very, very merry Christmas. We look forward to working with you in the new year.
This year has been John Key’s year and the National Party’s year. They came through with a fantastic election campaign and election result, and I think they have made a good start—an excellent start—as the new Government. Also, due to the nature of MMP, they have support parties: the Māori Party, United Future, and the ACT Party. So far it has been an interesting and a positive experience to work with the different political parties. I think National has learnt from Labour about MMP and about how one needs to work with the other parties in order to get a good result to hold and to have a stable and secure Government. John Key and his team have learnt that, indeed, from Helen Clark and Michael Cullen.
I wish the Greens well. It must be disappointing that yes, they did well, but, again, they did not quite make it to Government. I tell them not to worry—we know how that feels. I look forward, again, to working with the Green Party, along with the other parties, in order to get a better result. I look across, particularly, to my friend Keith Locke. We have done a lot of work together in Epsom, and long may that continue.
Looking ahead to next year, New Zealand confronts some economic challenges. As New Zealanders we all wish the best for the country. We will have some robust debates about the best way forward, and that is as it should be.
It is important for the new Government that we have set a target to close the income gap with Australia by 2025, and to have a productivity growth of 3 percent per year. That is a big stretch, but it is clear that we have set a goal, which is to bake a bigger cake and to achieve prosperity. The question I will ask when we are looking at whether policies are a good idea or a bad idea is: will they make the waka go faster? Will they actually expand the cake or will they make it smaller? That is a good first question that
we should ask ourselves of what we recommend: will it actually help New Zealanders prosper and succeed in the world, or will it hold us back? Clearly there is much to do.
We all have an interest in local government. The royal commission will be reporting—that was something the Labour Government set up—and that will be a challenge for us, for Auckland, for Parliament, and for me as Minister of Local Government. I look forward to reaching across the House and talking about the results of the royal commission, and trying to make Auckland work, not only for the good of Auckland but also for the good of New Zealand. Again, I think we all have an interest in local government that works, and works well.
Funnily enough, we also largely have agreement—although we might debate this about particular legislation—about the need for good legislation, and agree that often in the past we have not done as well as we might have. In fact, with my Regulatory Responsibility Bill the best help I got was actually from—
Hon Dr Michael Cullen: What about the last 2 weeks?
Hon RODNEY HIDE: Sorry?
Hon Ruth Dyson: You didn’t start very well in the last 2 weeks. Where were the regulatory impact reports?
Hon RODNEY HIDE: Well, it is interesting to ask about the regulatory responsibility reports. I was quite interested in getting one on the emissions trading scheme, which we never saw—I never saw it. So we have all been guilty of this.
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: Well, you’re the Minister.
Hon RODNEY HIDE: Clayton Cosgrove calls out that I am the Minister. He is actually right: he is not the Minister. I thank Labour for the help I got at the Commerce Committee in considering this issue, and for the recommendation from National and Labour to set up a task force. Again, it must be in our best interests to provide, if we can, a better framework for the making of laws and regulations in New Zealand. It would be great if we could work as a Parliament in order to get a better result. I think we can do better, and I am not pretending that we have all the answers. I think that as a Parliament we can work towards that.
As is traditional, I thank all the people who work in Parliament. There is almost an army that is silently and politely looking after us. I particularly thank, of course, the ACT team. It has been a challenge for our staff to move into Government and get up to speed with the processes and systems we need to be in Government. We have not found that easy, but we have been blessed with some staff who were trained by the previous Government. I thank Dr Cullen for that; he did a good job.
I also acknowledge and thank all the candidates who stood for the ACT Party in the 2008 election. It is very selfless to stand for a political party with no hope of getting elected, but simply to fly the flag because one believes in the cause. I think that is also true for the Māori Party and for the Green Party, particularly because we are smaller parties in our representation but we put up a lot of candidates who stand for what they believe in. They know they do not have a chance of getting into Parliament. I certainly thank them and all our members and supporters.
Let us hope that all of New Zealand has a great Christmas and a safe one. We recognise that, yes, we face tough economic times. But is it not amazing at this time of year to reflect on the fact that all the things we really cherish at Christmas time are actually not about money but about family, friends, and a wonderful country that we live in and share? We truly are blessed.
I also address the gallery to wish all the journalists a merry Christmas. The party that the press gallery put on last night was a bit quiet, but I think that might have been a consequence of TV3’s broadcasting tapes that were made secretly of MPs at a party. It
has had a chilling effect on nights out! But to all the journalists who are eagerly up there reporting our speeches, I say merry Christmas. Thank you very much.
Hon Dr PITA SHARPLES (Co-Leader—Māori Party)
: Last Saturday night we celebrated the Māori Sports Awards in Rotorua. A blond-haired young man took the stage and was awarded Disabled Māori Sportsperson of the Year. Eighteen-year-old Ngāpuhi man Cameron Leslie stunned us all with his gold medal swim at the Beijing Paralympics a few months ago. Cameron has a quadruple limb deficiency—missing both legs below the knee—so he relies completely on his upper body strength to do the laps. But “impossible” is not a word in his vocabulary. In accepting his award, Cameron said: “I may not look the most Maori here but if it wasn’t for the Maori in me, I wouldn’t be the person I am today.” It was a wonderful moment. The skills, the success, and the whakapapa of this young paralympian made it truly a moment of pride for us all; pride that knowing who one is, having the cultural strength of one’s identity, is to be cherished as a foundation for our lives.
It is the inspiration of stories like this that sustains us in this House, giving us the determination to make a difference; to make a difference to the lives of New Zealanders so that they can achieve their aspirations, so that they can experience the sweet taste of success, and so that they can be assured that their hard work can reap rewards. The adjournment debate is a time to acknowledge the toil of those who take up the seats in this Chamber.
I start by acknowledging you, Mr Speaker, the boy from Matakohe Primary School who has been elected by the House of Representatives as its highest officer. The role of Speaker is vital in progressing the programme of Parliament, and implicit within that is the need to command the respect of the House. You have made a very good start this term, and we look forward to your leadership in the debates to come.
I acknowledge, too, the calibre of your deputy and assistant Speakers; the expertise of Mary Harris, the Clerk of the House; the staff of the Office of the Clerk, including those who assist us in the Chamber, the Hansard service—tēnā korua to the two sitting there—and the Table Office; legislative counsel; the incredible team of librarians; and all the other staff who help to make our work in this House so efficient.
The last month has meant an avalanche of work for those involved in relocating MPs and their staff to new offices—the furniture, the phones, the computers, the photocopiers. We wish to thank them all for taking such good care of us and our treasures in the move.
The Māori Party pays particular tribute to our interpreters, who assist in bringing te reo rangatira to the floor of the House. Ngā mihi ki a koutou.
In fact, we thank everybody involved in ensuring that we can do our job, including the cleaners who daily come into our rooms.
The year 2008 was the year in which we lost Rangitihi Rangiwaiata Tahupārae, the first officially appointed Kaumātua o te Whare Parliament. We will greatly miss Tahu. His knowledge of whakapapa, his mastery of spiritual, cultural, and historical dimensions, and his capacity to provoke thought were legendary and contributed greatly to our reputation as a Parliament. Tahu used to say: “Never let anyone finish your words.” It is a statement that we could well remember in the debates in this House.
We acknowledge our respect for all those who serve as members of Parliament, including those who have not returned to this House. The sacrifice that each made on behalf of New Zealanders is enormous, and we appreciate the dedication they gave to their role in this Chamber, on select committees, on reviews, in ministerial offices, and even on the rugby field as part of the parliamentary team. In particular, we recognise the person whom we regarded as the elder statesman of the House, Winston Peters, who has been such an influential figure in politics for well over 30 years.
We have a saying: “Mate atu he tētē kura, ara mai rā he tētē kura—when one fern frond falls, another rises.” The last fortnight of maiden speeches has stunned us all—I heard most of them from my room—with the vivacious energy of the youth, the rich fabric of people nurtured in their culture, and the impressive and diverse range of skills that have already been introduced into the
But there is one commonality that stood out for me in those speeches: the profound respect and gratitude that each member expressed for the enduring loyalty of their loved ones, their partner, their children, their parents, and those who have passed on but will forever provide a guiding light to the members of the House. We must always stay strong to our pledge to our families—that whānau ora remains uppermost in our actions for all New Zealanders, including our own nearest and dearest. Whānau ora is the culmination of all that we would want for our families: to be living life to the fullest, free of any form of violence, educated for every challenge, thriving not just surviving.
It was the commitment to whānau ora, to eliminating poverty, to social justice, and to advancing Māori social, cultural, economic, and community development that gives Māori Party members every confidence in our relationship agreement with the National Government. We have signed up to a relationship in which we trust there will be every opportunity for the aspirations of our people to be heard. We acknowledge there will be challenges—this first fortnight has already brought some of these to the fore—but we also recognise and respect the leadership exhibited by the Prime Minister in inviting us to participate in the decision-making process. We are sure that there will be many opportunities for us to consider the “agree to disagree” provisions, and we thank John Key for helping to make this happen.
The ministerial pathway feels like a steep learning curve for us at this point, but one that we are absolutely committed to in our passion to serve our people well in Māori affairs, education, health, the community and voluntary sector, justice, and social development.
I take a moment to acknowledge Tariana Turia, Hone Harawira, Te Ururoa Flavell, and Rahui Katene for their constant dedication and sacrifice on behalf of the Māori Party. They, in turn, know that their strength is founded on the commitment from their staff here in Parliament, their electorate staff, and, of course, the 23,500 workers of the Māori Party, who this year gave so much for the kaupapa of a strong and independent Māori voice in Parliament.
The Māori Party in Parliament appreciates each and every person who walks in through these rubber doors: the messengers; the security staff, who watch out for us; the Copperfields and Bellamy’s staff, who feed us; and the ministerial and Parliamentary Service staff, who pay us. They keep us happy and meet our every need.
Hei kōrero whakamutunga māku, ka mihi ahau tuatahi ki a John Key me tōna tīma. Nā koutou te tatau i huakina kia riro ki a mātou te Pāti Māori ētahi tūranga mahi Minita, nā reira, tēnā koutou, tēnā koe John. Atu ki tēnā, ka mihi ahau ki a Helen Clark rāua ko Michael Cullen. Kua oti pai ā koutou mahi i ngā tau kua pahure ake, e Helen tēnā koe. Helen Clark, you have done our country proud—thank you. Ki ngā mema katoa o tēnei Whare, tēnei taha o te Whare, tērā taha o te Whare, ki ngā mema katoa kei konei kei roto i te Whare, kia pai ā koutou rā Kirihimete. Ko te tūmanako ka noho whānau koutou katoa i tēnei Kirihimete, tēnā koutou, tēnā tātou katoa.
- [An interpretation in English was given to the House.]
[To end my address, I acknowledge John Key and his team in the first instance. You opened the door to ministerial roles for us, the Māori Party, and we thank you for that, John. Further to that, I pay a tribute to Helen Clark and Michael Cullen. Your work in the past years has been completed well. Thank you for that, Helen. To all members of
this House, on this side and that side, to all members present, may your Christmas Day be a good one. The hope is that your family remain as one at this Christmas; greetings to you, and to us all.]
Hon PETER DUNNE (Leader—United Future)
: I begin my expressing my warmest congratulations to you, Mr Speaker, on the way you have carried out your duties as Speaker in the short time that you have been in the Speaker’s Chair. One of the earlier speakers made reference to the fact that the Speaker provides a tone for the House. I think that the tone you have provided in recent weeks bodes well for the future during this term of Parliament. I extend that sentiment to your fellow presiding officers. It has been a comfort to see the sure-footed way in which you have all gone about your duties in a time when everyone has been getting to grips with new responsibilities.
In the short time that this Parliament has been together there has been a particular highlight for me, and that has been listening to all of the maiden speeches from new members right around the Chamber. I think that we have seen not just a high standard of performance, and not just an energetic standard of performance or a commitment from people who have a particular perspective to bring, but we have seen the next generation of political leaders in this country emerge. The things that struck me as most fascinating were twofold. Firstly, there is the point that Dr Sharples alluded to: the vigour and the passion with which they told their stories. Secondly, I remember that when I gave my maiden speech many years ago, we were encouraged not to talk about our individual backgrounds but to talk about our electorates and some of the issues that affected our constituents, and about what we hoped to achieve on their behalf.
Hearing the new members talk about the reasons why they are here, the experiences they have had, and the diversity of those experiences sets a new tone, and I think it gives a real flavour to this House and its future. It makes it clear that although the new members have their political boundaries and their political convictions, they also bring a perspective that extends beyond that. I think that bodes very well for the system of Government that we will have. I congratulate every single one of the new members on what has been a sterling performance, and I say to their elders in their respective parties that the new members have served notice that they are to be forces to be reckoned with in the years ahead. I give my congratulations to all of them.
To colleagues who have returned after the general election, I give my congratulations. Most of us find ourselves sitting in different places. I do not actually do so, funnily enough, but it has been interesting to watch everyone adapt to a new role. And despite the vigorous differences that there have been in the last few days on particular legislation, I sense there is a greater spirit of preparedness to cooperate in this Parliament than there has been in previous Parliaments. I may well be proven to be wrong on that; I hope I am not. But I get a sense that people now see that the MMP system, which has been criticised by a number of people for a long time, does work, is here to stay, and can be made to operate constructively. I pay particular tribute to my colleagues in the Māori Party, the ACT Party, the Green Party, and the Progressive Party for the way in which those of us who are in the self-styled MMP parties have cooperated and worked successfully together in the last Parliament. I look forward, despite the new configurations, to that type of relationship continuing in the future.
While we are here today to debate the issues of concern and are now debating, as we always do in this rather arcane way, whether to have a Christmas break, the rest of New Zealand outside this building is getting on with life. If we go out on to Lambton Quay at lunchtime, we find a throng of pleasantly panicked people who are not worrying about the bills before this House or the great issues that we worry about, but who are worrying about whether they can get the Christmas shopping done in time, whether the holiday arrangements will be made, what will the weather do, and what sort of a year lies ahead.
I think sometimes we need to take that reality check ourselves, because every single one of us, to some extent, faces those same issues.
The staff whom we take for granted, in the nicest way, to assume the running of this Parliament—the messengers, the Clerk’s Office, the media, the Hansard staff, our own staff, the catering staff, and the security staff; all of the people who make this village of Parliament tick—will have those same pressures upon them. Some of us might be in the privileged position of, theoretically at least, knowing when these sagas will come to an end and when the House will rise. We used to be able to rely on Jonathan Hunt’s Christmas bookings for that; some of us now need to know that in more sophisticated ways. But the staff who serve us, those who are always here to clean up afterwards, figuratively and literally, do not know that. They are on call and they are guessing all the time, as they try to plan not just their work lives but their own lives, their home lives, and their family lives around that. I think we should acknowledge them and thank them for their forbearance and their patience.
With regard to our own families, who, as I think the Leader of the Opposition said, did not sign on for this job but came to it often by virtue of a press-gang, and who have to endure our comings and goings, our peculiar mood swings, and our pressures, this is a time not just to thank them for their support but to say we really recognise and commend them for their courage, their steadfastness, and their determination in giving us the opportunity to do what we do. I think we should salute the parents and the families of all members of Parliament for that commitment. And we should salute the children also, who certainly did not choose this environment. I remember, when one of my children was very young, that one of his friends apologised to him, saying how sorry he felt for him about me. When the reason for that was teased out, it was that I had only one set of clothes, a dark suit, because that was all his friend had ever seen me wear. We realise then how abnormal our lifestyles must appear to be to many other people, yet we expect our families to be there for us. We often disregard the impact that this environment has on our children, and I think this is a time just to think on that, to say thank you to them, and to wish them the best that we can for the year ahead.
Other speakers have alluded to the fact that this country faces enormous challenges over the next little while. I do not think this is the occasion to go into those challenges in any great detail, save to say that the Government and the Opposition will have parts to play in helping this country to work its way through all of them. The Government will put forward a programme to Parliament, Parliament will debate it, the Opposition will test it, and in time the Opposition will put forward its own alternative programme, which then can be subject to test and debate. That is the nature of the democratic process.
One of the things we should be proud of in this country is that we are able to go through that process in a relatively civilised way. It is extraordinary to me that the fact that we have seen most reference made to regarding the change of Government related to the physical shifts that it imposed. It suggests to me that the process of democratic change in this country is relatively smooth when the biggest obstacle is the physical one relating to people shifting offices. Other countries change Governments at the point of a gun or go through a huge upheaval, such as we are seeing in the United States at present. In New Zealand it comes down to a significant number of shifts being made in one complex over a weekend. Although that is not to diminish the effort of those who pack the boxes, who carry the boxes, and who unload them, I think it puts the consequences of democratic change in New Zealand into perspective.
I conclude by simply wishing all members of the House a very peaceful and happy Christmas. It has been a long year, and for some members it has been a more rewarding one than for others, but it is a year that I think we can look back on with some
satisfaction in the course of our history as a country. We can mourn the loss of great leaders like Sir Edmund Hillary and the loss of the many of our own friends and family members who perhaps have passed away as well. But we can come back here in the new year, hopefully refreshed, reinvigorated, and dedicated to continuing to do, all of us, the very best job that we feel we can for this country. If we are able to achieve that, then the people of New Zealand who are out there at the moment doing their shopping or getting ready for Christmas will have much more to thank us for than all the bills we could ever pass, all the questions that could ever be asked, and all of the performances that take place in this Chamber. I wish everyone has the very best Christmas, and I give my best wishes to all members.
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Labour)
: I join my colleagues in thanking everyone who works on behalf of all of us around this place. I particularly thank my own and my colleagues’ former ministerial staff. We often talk about the trauma of Ministers transferring and leaving office, but it is actually just as bad for many of the staff, as well. I am grateful that nearly all of my non-political staff have found new appointments. Perhaps it is a pity that the one who is working for Rodney Hide did not go to work for Gerry Brownlee instead. He might have been saved quite a lot of errors over the last couple of weeks. Indeed, when I heard Mr Dunne referring to Parliament as a village, I was tempted to interject and ask what that would make Gerry Brownlee, but I will leave it at that.
I also say that there was a slightly surreal air when listening to Mr Dunne talk about the trauma of a change of Government. Of course, Mr Dunne’s perpetual political career of a highly leveraged political buy-out continues unabated under the term of this Government. Let me assure him that there is a difference. When Government members leave office, their staff pack their boxes. When they arrive in Opposition, they unpack the boxes themselves. That is one of the key differences that occurs almost immediately in that regard.
Let me congratulate the National Party upon its election victory, which was a comprehensive one in the election campaign this year. But I think its members should be very careful about misinterpreting the basis of that election victory. The election victory was based on what one might call, slightly indelicately, the “underwear principle”; that is, it was time for a change. It was not won upon the basis that one wanted different underwear; it was simply a time for a change of underwear. What that meant was that one cannot claim that people were voting for a 90-day provision in employment law, or that they wanted higher-energy-using incandescent light bulbs, or whatever it may be.
In fact, practically none of those issues were ever mentioned by all the people I met. There were two issues that by far dominated the debate. One was just that people felt that it was only right and proper in a democracy that the Government should sometimes change. They felt it was bad for democracy for the same Government to continue for ever in office. It was as simple as that. People had no particular reason, and were pushed to find reasons when asked to do so. The second issue, undoubtedly in Auckland in particular and especially amongst ethnic communities, was of law and order. Everything else was way down below that in terms of the issues that people were deciding upon in this election campaign. It is not a mandate for any particular policies that National has put into operation.
Today, with the release of the half-yearly economic and fiscal update, Government members got a serious reality check. Their response was to curl up into the foetal position and hope it would all go away. The National Party lived through this year in a self-created bubble of fantasy, one in which New Zealand did not have a debt problem. Well, that is news! Who created the debt problem? New Zealanders created the debt
problem, over a long period of time. New Zealanders are the people of New Zealand, and we have one of the highest rates of debt in the world as a proportion of GDP because we have not been saving. I do not know who said that. I think it was—
Hon Annette King: Mr Hayes.
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: It was Mr Hayes, was it? Who created it? If he was referring to Government debt, this outgoing Labour Government left one of the lowest debts as a percentage of GDP in the developed world. We halved the debt that we found, despite the National Party criticising every Budget I presented for actually running too big a surplus. So members should not talk to me about debt and who created it, and where we are going in that regard.
Those members went around saying that the economy was in such a good state that they could promise whatever they liked, and they out-promised the Labour Party by well over $2 billion. That was not according to us but to the
New Zealand Herald’srunning total, which it then abandoned because it became too embarrassing to keep running up the total as the National Party’s promises continued to pour out. How is Mr English paying for these promises? He is paying for them out of the $1.75 billion annual allocation that he now says was not there for a prospective Labour Government. He keeps saying that we had allocated every precise promise, year by year—no. Some were coming out of the $1.75 billion annual allocation, just like all of those members’ promises were supposed to be coming out of that allocation. Even after the briefing the Government got after the election, Mr Key said there was nothing to worry about, the Government did not need to change a thing, it was not Armageddon, and everything was all right; it would just carry on and everything would be sweet and lovely.
That self-delusion seems to continue unabated now that those members face the stark reality. The numbers in today’s release are already out of date. The mid-point forecasts in today’s release are already out of date. The assumption of trading partner growth is actually very close to the bottom scenario. That means that gross debt will rise within the forecast period from 17 percent when we left office to 38 percent of GDP. That is higher than what the previous Labour Government inherited in 1999. In the projection period beyond that, it is forecast to rise to 57 percent of GDP—right back to where we were in 1990. No wonder Mr Muldoon was Mr Key’s boyhood hero! This is a Government whose current fiscal projections look like what we should have had under Muldoon. But, of course, he never gave us proper fiscal projections, because he was scared to do so as he knew what they would mean.
According to today’s projections, the entire fiscal progress made by Labour over 9 years will be more than wiped out in the next 4½ years, and the Government has no plan to deal with this at all—no plan. It says it will bring infrastructure forward. The only thing those members can cite is an extra $1.2 billion over and above what we were spending on broadband. For what? To bring fibre-optic broadband to the home. Why? To drive productivity. What does bringing fibre-optic broadband to the home have to do with productivity in business? How does granny downloading photos of the kids faster increase productivity? How does helping those people who use the Internet for pornography to download it faster have anything to do with productivity? How does helping people to play computer games on the Internet faster have anything to do with productivity? It could, theoretically, actually lower productivity in the New Zealand economy, if that is where we are going. And of course—[Interruption] I may have just sparked off some personal reflections in that regard; if so, Mr Speaker, I withdraw that particular element.
The one thing the Government announced is that it will not proceed with increased investment in rail. It sort of said it would review it, but did Mr English go to the KiwiRail board yesterday and say: “No more money for you, and no more borrowing
for the KiwiRail system.”? What was the advice that the Government should have got, and that I got? It was that if there was no further increase in investment over the next year or two, within a year KiwiRail would not be able to deliver existing services to existing clients, because its rolling stock would be so out of date. It is older than Mr Hayes, in terms of the useful life of that material. There is a massive investment programme that we would have brought forward, because investing in rail increases efficiency, increases productivity, and saves us greenhouse gas emissions.
What has the Government done about skills? It has not brought forward the integrated skills strategy in the workplace. It has done one thing; it has removed the requirement for national standards to be reviewed by the Regulations Review Committee. That is its entire contribution to upgrading New Zealand’s skills. It has withdrawn KiwiSaver savings; it has demolished that. It has withdrawn innovation funding. That is the programme of growth.
There is no plan, other than the promise: “This will be addressed in the 2009 Budget.” So Mr English is already going out and getting himself measured for the tracksuit for the “Father of all Budgets” in May 2009. National members should never have been so foolish in the lead-up to the election. They did not tell people what they must have known was true, that the—
Hon Member: Like you didn’t tell us about ACC!
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: I was being more pessimistic than the National Party about the future of the economy. I heard debates where Mr English said: “No, it’s all right. Don’t worry about that. We don’t need to worry.” Well, let me paraphrase something I once said that is often misquoted. Let me say that it is now National members’ problem. They won. We lost. Digest that and come up with a plan!
CHRIS TREMAIN (Junior Whip—National)
: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. It is interesting to see Labour’s legacy cast in the Economic and Fiscal Forecasts December 2008.
Hon Members: Oh!
CHRIS TREMAIN: I seek leave to table the Economic and Fiscal Forecasts December 2008, which show deficits of—
Mr SPEAKER: The member will sit down for a moment. I alert the member to the fact that when he raised the point of order he did not actually start speaking to a point of order. That led to disorder. I will allow the House a moment to settle down, and invite the member to commence his point of order again.
CHRIS TREMAIN: I seek leave to table the Economic and Fiscal Forecasts December 2008, which show the legacy of the Labour Government—
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table the Economic and Fiscal Forecasts December 2008. Is there any objection?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Labour)
: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Can I just clarify that this is a document that is going to be tabled by the Minister of Finance in any case.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave has been sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is no objection.
- Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Mr SPEAKER: I acknowledge the kind thanks that members have extended to the many people who make the efficient functioning of Parliament possible. I also pay a brief tribute to them myself. First, I offer my real appreciation to my Deputy Speaker and Assistant Speakers—Lindsay Tisch, the Hon Rick Barker, and Eric Roy—for their commitment to the job. I think that they are making a pretty darned good team. I offer our thanks to Madam Clerk and her office for all the services they provide for the
sittings of this House and here at the Table, and for the processing of the bills passed by the House. I thank the compilers of
Hansard, and the interpreters who assist us. As I mention the interpreters, I acknowledge our late kaumātua, John Tahupārae, who sadly passed away before the opening of this Parliament. To the radio and TV technicians who produce the radio and television coverage for all sittings of the House, I offer our thanks. To the clerks of the select committees and the other committee support staff, I offer our thanks. They do a great job for all of us.
To the Parliamentary Service—to General Manager Geoff Thorn and his team—I offer our thanks. They had a huge job to do following the election. The new members’ induction, as has been mentioned by other colleagues, was a massive logistical exercise of shifting almost every member, I think, in the complex to new offices. To the security staff, to the Serjeant-at-Arms, Brent Smith, and his team, and to the Chamber and gallery officers—especially to our Serjeant-at-Arms team for helping to facilitate the access of guests to the gallery during the maiden statements of new members—I say that I appreciated the way the effort was made to find room in the galleries for the guests who had come so far to hear those many fine maiden statements from our new members. With regard to the Parliamentary Library staff, I just acknowledge their ongoing brilliance. The Parliamentary Library is a gem.
I offer our thanks to members’ support staff, to the reception and visitor services, and to the telephonists and travel staff. Today I was told that the average number of times a single travel plan is altered in this House before the member travels is eight times. To those long-suffering travel office staff, I offer our thanks for the work they do. To the Bellamy’s staff, I offer our thanks for looking after us. To my own office staff—to Beryl, Trish, and the incomparable Roland—I extend my sincere thanks. Beryl is in her 23rd year of working with me, which is an extraordinary commitment. Sometimes I wonder—
Hon Ruth Dyson: Don’t ask.
Mr SPEAKER: I accept the member’s oral advice.
I also thank the Leader of the House, the Hon Gerry Brownlee, and the shadow Leader of the House, the Hon Dr Michael Cullen, whose knowledge of process and procedure—not to mention the Standing Orders—contributes very significantly to facilitating the business of Parliament. To all whips and leaders of the other parties, I say that the public often does not see the cooperation and work that goes on behind the scenes to facilitate the work of this Parliament.
Honourable members, may I say it is a very real privilege to serve as your Speaker. I thank you most sincerely for the generous respect you all have accorded me in my new role as Speaker. Although the debates have been at times robust and—as I think we have seen this afternoon—quite impassioned, they have at all times been of very high quality. At a time when things can get quite testy and ill humoured during urgency, I thank the House for the good-humoured way that it has conducted itself over these past 2 weeks. I think it brings credit to you all. To you and all your families, have a very happy Christmas, an enjoyable and safe holiday season, and go well—but not just yet.