Questions to Ministers
1. Dr DON BRASH (Leader of the Opposition) to the
Prime Minister: Does she have confidence in the Minister for the Environment; if so, why?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister)
: Yes, because she is a hard-working and conscientious Minister.
Dr Don Brash: How can she maintain confidence in the Minister, when in 2000 the Minister rejected any substantial reform of the Resource Management Act and ditched National’s bill to reform the Act, saying that it was “beautifully written and beautifully crafted”, and when we have now seen that very same Act force Meridian Energy to pull the plug on its planned 570-megawatt Project Aqua, a move that could ultimately plunge the country into another power crisis?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I note that Meridian Energy gave a whole raft of reasons for why it decided not to proceed with the application, and did not single out the Resource Management Act as an overriding contributor to that decision. What has confused me is not being able to discern, from a variety of conflicting statements from the National Party, whether it wanted the process rushed or not.
Jim Peters: Is the Prime Minister aware that the Canterbury Regional Council, the operative regional body, had no existent water plan, and that the reviewed bill before the House that deals with the Waitaki catchment provides for, and is, an equitable outcome framework plan?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Yes. I agree entirely with what the member has said. There was no water allocation plan existent in the Canterbury region, and the Government certainly felt, with the support of a number of other parties in the House, that it was important that there was such a plan before there was further progress with decision making.
Jeanette Fitzsimons: If the Resource Management Act was the problem for Meridian, can the Prime Minister explain why Meridian would have developed Project Aqua, given that the Resource Management Act had been in place for many years before Aqua emerged; and was it not, rather, that the amendment bill closed an existing loophole by requiring a proper minimum flow regime to be set for the river before Aqua consents were considered, and that that was the reason Meridian withdrew?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Certainly Meridian would be very familiar with the Resource Management Act. What the Government took into account, though, was that there did need to be a proper water allocation plan before a whole raft of applications could be considered, and it has to be remembered that not only was Meridian desirous of using water but so, also, were many farmers, for irrigation purposes.
Hon Richard Prebble: Is the reality not that, after 4 years of a Labour Government and, as she puts it, “a whole raft” of reasons, the country now faces power shortages, and why should we not hold her Minister and herself accountable?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Far from it. Project Aqua was not due to come on stream, had it succeeded, until 2009-12. Its early notice now gives plenty of time for other generators to come up with the extra capacity needed.
Gordon Copeland: Has the Prime Minister had any recent discussions with the Minister for the Environment regarding proposals to streamline the Resource Management Act to assist with future projects of national significance; if so, what was the outcome of those discussions?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: Virtually before the ink is dry on any resource management amendment bill going through this House, the Government, the Minister for the Environment, and other Ministers start looking at what other changes might be desirable, and that process has been going on for some time.
Dr Don Brash: Will the Prime Minister now be recommending to the Minister for the Environment the need for substantial reform of the Resource Management Act, including concepts like direct referral to the Environment Court, limiting objectors to only those actually affected by projects, and abolishing legal aid for objectors—a feature introduced by Labour in 2000—if not, will she take responsibility for the increased power prices, increased blackouts, and increased traffic congestion that this failure to act decisively will cause?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: The early notice given by Meridian of its change of plans enables both it and other generators to get on with ensuring that the necessary capacity is put in place. It is worth mentioning, also, that the Government has set up the Electricity Commission to ensure that there is security of supply for the future. I also entirely agree with Dr Brash when he said in Timaru recently: “It is important to ensure that the law respects those affected by Meridian’s actions.” I assume he meant by that that he agreed with Dr Nick Smith that there should be a robust process and that “a rushed decision would be a poor decision.”
Hon Ken Shirley: Why does the Prime Minister continue to express support for the Minister for the Environment, when she failed to implement the 10 recommended streamlining changes to the Resource Management Act developed by Simon Upton, given that the business community of New Zealand last week identified the Resource Management Act as the biggest obstacle to development in this country, and given that it is a prime reason for Meridian’s pulling out of Project Aqua?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: As the member knows, it is not the prime reason. I certainly never expressed confidence in Mr Upton, and the incoming Labour Government in 1999 expressly said there were changes that would have to be made to his draft bill.
Jeanette Fitzsimons: Will the Prime Minister give an assurance to the House that her Government will not introduce any legislation to further weaken environmental protection and public participation under the Resource Management Act?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: In issues of resource allocation and planning law the question is to get the balance right, and Parliament from time to time will want to address whether the balance is right in the law as it is being interpreted at the present time.
Dr Don Brash: Is the Prime Minister confident that under the current Minister for the Environment, Transpower will be able to get the resource consents necessary to upgrade the electricity grid around the entire country and gain the consents at reasonable cost, given that the Resource Management Act scuppered Project Aqua and that the consent process was reportedly costing Meridian Energy $4 million per month?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: It would be downright silly for me to prejudge the outcome of any planning application. What I do agree with is Dr Brash’s comment that the real issue is to ensure the decision-making process for Project Aqua was robust in ensuring the law was appropriate.
Auckland Transport Package—Reports
CLAYTON COSGROVE (Labour—Waimakariri) to the
Minister of Finance: Has the Government made any announcements in respect of the financial implications of the Auckland transport package; if so, what were they?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Finance)
: Today’s announcement confirms the main elements of the package announced in December: additional Crown funding amounting to $1.62 billion over 10 years from 1 April next year; changes to governance, including a new single transport entity; and changes to key planning documents. Details announced today also set up a clear pathway to improved transport outcomes in Auckland. A bill giving effect to those changes has been tabled, and is supported by both the Greens and United Future.
Clayton Cosgrove: Will the Auckland package have financial implications for the rest of the country?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Yes. For Auckland, the transport package means an additional $1.62 billion over 10 years for investment in transport initiatives, made up of $720 million from increases in road-user charges and excise duty, and a further contribution of $900 million from the Crown. For the rest of New Zealand there will be an additional $1.35 billion over 10 years, from increases in road-user charges and petrol excise duty, for devotion to road transport issues.
John Key: Why did the Minister not reveal in the December transport package the decision to increase petrol excise duty each and every year by the rate of inflation; and can he confirm that this latest “stealth” tax will cost the average Kiwi motorist half a cent per litre?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: The answer is that the release in December was structured very much around Auckland and on the initial moves around Auckland. In fact, there was an oversight in that regard. The matter had been discussed with other parties, who supported the measure. Indexation is necessary, because otherwise the excise duty will lose real value, year by year, in terms of roading. All the additional amounts will go into road transport, because only the portion—
John Key: There won’t be any additional amounts.
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: If the member would be quiet, he may learn something. Only the portion of the excise duty that goes on road transport will be indexed, not the portion that goes into the Crown account. If the member wants to have more roads, he has to learn to pay for them—that is the way life works in New Zealand.
Keith Locke: Can the Minister confirm that the joint officials group on Auckland transport showed that investment in public transport and demand management were critical to fixing Auckland’s congestion problems?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: It is clear that public transport and demand management will play a very significant role in the management of Auckland’s transport problems, but, given the nature of the shape of the city and the nature of traffic flows within it—which are not simply flows from the perimeter into the centre—it is also important there are major improvements in roading in Auckland.
Hon Peter Dunne: Will the Minister confirm that a critical part of this package is the introduction of a diversion of the petrol excise duty into direct roading costs over the next 10 years—which will be the most significant diversion to occur in the history of the country?
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN: Yes. All the 5c-a-litre increase announced for next year will go into road transport, and the indexation applies only to the amount that goes into road transport. So progressively over time the proportion of the total excise duty going into road transport will rise, as it has already done under this Government.
Spring Hill Prison, Waikato—Iwi Consultation
RODNEY HIDE (ACT) to the
Minister of Corrections: Who is conducting the inquiry to produce the report he has commissioned into how the Department of Corrections spent $1.3 million on iwi consultation for the proposed Spring Hill prison, and what are the inquirer’s terms of reference?
Hon PAUL SWAIN (Minister of Corrections)
: Inquiry is not the right term, and I have never used that word in this House in relation to this matter. I have asked the chief executive to report to me on, among other things, the consultation costs of Spring Hill, Otago, Northland, and South Auckland women’s prison. I have also asked about proposed consultation commitments in the future.
Rodney Hide: Will the Minister of Corrections ask the Auditor-General to investigate, given that the lands trust chief executive officer, Mr David Gray, wrote to the board on 7 June 2002 stating that the only interest in the Department of Corrections contract being protected were the interests of former staff member and Department of Corrections employee Haydn Solomon and a couple of his mates; if not, why not?
Hon PAUL SWAIN: No. The letter that the member refers to talks about a whole wide range of issues with that person’s employment, not just about the Department of Corrections. The correct place to have this sorted out, and to see whether the consultation process was fit and proper, is at the Environment Court, which meets in May.
Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. To clarify for the Minister, I never mentioned anything about the letter. This is a memo that David Gray wrote on 7 June.
Mr SPEAKER: That is not a point of order. The Minister certainly gave a direct answer to the member’s question.
Martin Gallagher: Can the Minister spell out to this House why he believes that comprehensive community consultation is critically important in the development of any new prisons?
Hon PAUL SWAIN: For a start, consultation is mandatory under the Resource Management Act. Beyond that, I think it is important with a project of this size, which has significant impacts on landscape, water, sewerage, traffic, and so on, that the wider community—be it Māori or non-Māori—has the opportunity to have a say. The Environment Court hearing in May will be the big test of whether the consultation process has been robust.
Hon Tony Ryall: How does the Minister explain that Mr Haydn Solomon, a former Department of Corrections staff member, is also listed on the schedule of those individuals who received substantial public moneys acting as consultants on this project?
Hon PAUL SWAIN: I am advised that at the first part of the consultation process, before any contracts had been entered into, a number of people, including that man, were employed as Department of Corrections staff in order to get the consultation going. Once the contracts for consultation were entered into he stopped being a Department of Corrections employee and, as I understood, took up a position as part of the contract.
Jim Peters: Why has there not been extensive inquiries made by your ministry, the Department of Corrections, into the extensive cost of consultation at Ngawha, and particularly in regard to the fact that there was an alternative prison site available for much less at Motatau?
Mr SPEAKER: The Minister can reply to everything except anything that refers to me.
Hon PAUL SWAIN: There was considerable investigation into which was the appropriate site in the north, and that member could well know that. The reality is that there has been a lot of consultation going on here. I do want to say this about the involvement of Māori: Māori have been prepared as a community to work in partnership with the Department of Corrections to make sure that Māori—and Māori make up 50 percent of our prison population—are able to be reintegrated back into the community. They are showing superb leadership in this and I am hoping that other parts of the community will follow their lead.
Ron Mark: If the Minister places so much importance on the consultation process with iwi, why has no one to date from either the Government or the Department of Corrections consulted iwi about the ending of the private contract for the management of the Auckland Central Remand Prison, or is it simply because he does not want to hear what they have to say because it is totally at odds with what he and his Government want to do?
Mr SPEAKER: This question was originally about Spring Hill prison. It is quite wide but if the Minister wants to make a brief comment he can.
Hon PAUL SWAIN: Because it is Labour Party policy.
Rodney Hide: Does he now accept that his own department took advantage of this trust board, which was in disarray, to pay Haydn Solomon and a few chosen Māori to provide a report to the Department of Corrections that said, on behalf of 35,000 Tainui: “Sure, put the prison in our backyard.”; if not, why not?
Hon PAUL SWAIN: No, because it is not true. The point is that at the Environment Court I understand there are only four objectives. One marae, out of over 130, has put in an objection. The Environment Court is the one that should work out whether those objections in the consultation process have been correct.
Employment Relations Law Reform Bill—Amendments
Hon ROGER SOWRY (National) to the
Minister of Labour: Is the Government currently considering any changes to the Employment Relations Law Reform Bill; if so, what are the details of those changes?
Hon PAUL SWAIN (Minister of Labour)
: The Employment Relations Law Reform Bill is currently before the Transport and Industrial Relations Committee. I will consider any changes the committee recommends in due course. In the meantime I am meeting with employer and employee representatives to discuss the issues arising from the bill.
Hon Roger Sowry: What changes to the Employment Relations Law Reform Bill was his colleague the Minister for Small Business, the Hon John Tamihere, referring to when he told the
National Business Review last week: “… we’ll see what Swainey and the boys can get up to now the girl’s out of the way for a little while … when ERA Bill gets reported back.”; and has he had any discussions with the Prime Minister, the Minister for Small Business, Mr Tamihere, and the previous Minister of Labour, Margaret Wilson, regarding those comments?
Mr SPEAKER: The second part of the question is in order. The first part relates to what another Minister might have done, but the member may comment.
Hon Roger Sowry: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The question was very carefully worded, and I am happy to repeat the wording for you.
Mr SPEAKER: Did the member say “reports”?
Hon Roger Sowry: I asked what changes he thought the Minister for Small Business, Mr Tamihere, was referring to when he said in the
National Business Review: “… we’ll see what Swainey”—which I presume is the Minister—“and the boys can get up to now the girl’s out of the way for a little while”—
Mr SPEAKER: I will allow the Minister to answer the question.
Hon PAUL SWAIN: Yes, I have seen the comments from the Minister for Small Business. I can advise that some of the first changes that “Swainey and the boys and the girls” may well be looking at are the provisions relating to vulnerable workers, given that the Minister for Small Business’s name may well be added to the schedule, following his comments last week.
Peter Brown: Is the Minister aware that Lianne Dalziel implied to submitters in Christchurch last week that clauses that the Council of Trade Unions objected to are likely to be withdrawn; couple that with the Hon John Tamihere’s remarks, why does the Minister not pull the bill now and put the whole thing to rest?
Hon PAUL SWAIN: I am not aware of those comments, because I, clearly, was not at the meeting. I am waiting to hear the report from the select committee, which I understand is due to report back in June.
Sue Bradford: Will the Minister consider changes to the bill that take into account the recommendations of the employment equity taskforce, once it reports back, and when is that report-back due?
Hon PAUL SWAIN: I assume that is another matter that will be considered by the select committee, and I will look at its recommendations in due course.
Hon Roger Sowry: Is the Minister prepared to guarantee now that there will at least be major, substantive changes to the Employment Relations Law Reform Bill, or its total withdrawal, in light of statements made by his colleague the Hon John Tamihere about the Government being “all ears” on the bill, and about “the overwhelming weight of displeasure being displayed with the bill” by submitters to the select committee?
Hon PAUL SWAIN: No. Firstly, the bill will not be withdrawn, but I sat on select committees for 9 years, and I do not recall one single bill coming back to this House without some form of change.
Hon Roger Sowry: Will the Minister be asking the Ministry of Economic Development to release the reports it produced on the Employment Relations Law Reform Bill, given the statement made by his colleague the Hon John Tamihere that “When the OIAs come through, you’ll see a whole range of issues that were on the table.”; if not, why not?
Hon PAUL SWAIN: I presume that when Official Information Act requests come through they will be released according to the Act.
Hon Roger Sowry: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The question actually asked whether the Minister would seek the release of those reports, because those Official Information Act requests have come through—well outside the time frame, now—and we are told that the Minister is the person who is holding them up.
Hon PAUL SWAIN: Speaking to the point of order, I am happy to look into the matter on behalf of the member, but I do not recall that. If Official Information Act requests are done according to the provisions of the Act, then the release has to meet the provisions of the Act.
Mr SPEAKER: That seems to clear up the matter for the member.
Security—Residency and Citizenship Legislation
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First) to the
Prime Minister: Can she give any assurances, given that citizenship and passport laws are currently being reviewed, that permanent and temporary residency laws will also be reviewed consistent with concerns over national security; if so, why?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister)
: The Immigration Act and policy have safeguards that provide for the decline of residence or temporary entry permits where there are character or security issues. The Act also provides for the revocation of permits if character and security issues emerge after the person is already in New Zealand, which the New Zealand Immigration Service was not previously aware of. The Government does not presently have these aspects of the law and policy under review.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Why would anyone have confidence in what the Government is doing, or proposes to do, when we have here a man called Zaoui, who, in the criminal chamber of the High Court of France—far superior to any authority that has been heard in this country—was, firstly, convicted of being accomplice to the falsification of administrative documents; secondly, possession of stolen goods; and, thirdly, participation in an association of criminals with intent to prepare a terrorist act; and if that is the case, and having regard to the article 1F(b) of the 1951 UN convention, what on earth is this man doing in our country?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: The member could also have added to that list the fact that the Swiss Government felt sufficiently strongly about Mr Zaoui’s presence to deport him to Burkino Faso, having, I understand, chartered a plane to do so. The facts around Mr Zaoui are quite well known. He was detained when he arrived in New Zealand, and he is still detained. A security risk certificate was issued against him, and it would be rather nice if the inspector-general was able to be in a position to get on with the review so that decisions can be made.
Dr Wayne Mapp: Will the Prime Minister be ensuring that the Minister of Internal Affairs briefs the National Opposition, as he has been requested, given the importance of this legislation in the war against terrorism and the need for a bipartisan approach on such matters?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I am sure that the Minister would be happy to brief the member and other interested members in due course. The matter is still being discussed within the Government, but it would seem certain to me that some changes will need to be made to legislation. Changes are being considered not only for issues around national security but also, I think, around last year’s publicity about people deliberately targeting New Zealand as a place to come on temporary visas to have babies and get them citizenship, which also raises questions of whether that sort of behaviour should be targeted in our law.
Keith Locke: Why, in the legislation just referred to, will it be possible for a passport to be taken away from a New Zealand citizen on national security grounds even when that New Zealand citizen does not have a criminal record and no charges are being offered against that person?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: There are grounds in the law now for revoking passports, and the issue the Government is considering is whether those grounds need to be widened. I might point out that in Australia there is a provision for the refusal and cancellation of passports where the Minister of Foreign Affairs is satisfied that the person might prejudice the security of Australia. Similarly in the United Kingdom, the Secretary of State can exercise his discretion on grounds of national security as to whether someone is entitled to have a passport. I also point out that the European Convention on Human Rights recognises national security as a ground for restricting the rights to freedom of movement.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Why would we have any confidence in what is about to be done by Government, when the fourteenth chamber of the Court of Appeal in Brussels—again, a far superior court to any that has heard any case in New Zealand—found that this man was guilty of being the head of a criminal association, possessed two blank passports and a Danish passport, all falsely, and convicted him; and when the article in respect of the 1951 convention, for Mr Robson’s sake, clearly states that where a refugee claimant has committed a serious crime outside the country of refuge before being granted refugee status, then he should not be entitled to refugee status? Why is this man still in our country and costing us hundreds of thousands of dollars?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: The member is correct in asserting that the decision by the Refugee Status Appeals Authority to regard Mr Zaoui as a refugee is not in itself grounds for him remaining in New Zealand. That decision must be judged alongside a decision yet to be made by the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security—because he cannot get to make that decision with all the litigation—as to whether the security risk certificate should be upheld.
Keith Locke: I seek leave to table the 213-page report of the Refugee Status Appeals Authority, which answers all the points that Mr Peters has just raised.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought for that purpose. Is there any objection? There is.
Social Development and Employment and Women's Affairs, Ministers—Confidence
SIMON POWER (National—Rangitikei) to the
Prime Minister: Does she have confidence in the Minister of Women’s Affairs and Acting Minister for Social Development and Employment; if so, why?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK (Prime Minister)
: Yes, because she is a hard-working and conscientious Minister.
Simon Power: Is it acceptable for the Minister of Women’s Affairs to call another woman an “irresponsible tart”, and what confidence should the New Zealand public have in a Minister who makes what the Prime Minister herself has termed “gratuitous and silly comments”?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: The word “irresponsible” was acceptable. The word “tart” was not, just as it was wrong when National Party bosses were reported as using that word about me at a party conference 2 years ago.
Dr Muriel Newman: If it is not acceptable for a Minister to call a member of Parliament a tart, is it acceptable that a situation has now arisen whereby, because the Minister’s comments have been broadcast so widely, she has brought not only all Ministers of the Crown into disrepute, but all parliamentarians as well; and does the Prime Minister not believe that the only honourable course of action for the Minister to take is for her now to apologise to this Parliament for the embarrassment and offence her comments have caused?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: I understand that the Minister has sent a letter to the select committee, and she has repeated in that her apology personally to the member. Needless to say, I did not get such a letter from the National Party 2 years ago.
Simon Power: How can she have confidence in a Minister of Women’s Affairs who falsely accused another member of using the word “scrubber” to describe women, but was quite happy to use the word “tart” to describe women?
Rt Hon HELEN CLARK: The use of silly and inappropriate words by members of Parliament would not be restricted to just those two. Unfortunately, it is quite a regular occurrence and, I imagine, will be as long as we have a democracy in a Parliament in this country.
BERNIE OGILVY (United Future) to the
Minister of Education: Is he satisfied that schools receive sufficient funding; if so, why?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Minister of Education)
Bernie Ogilvy: Is he satisfied that the total operating deficit of schools that are in the red has increased by over 50 percent, from $21 million in 1998 to $33 million in 2002, covering a massive 40 percent of all our schools, and that the average debt per school has increased from $24,000 to $32,000 over that same period; if he is not, why not?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I think the member will find that those numbers are relatively small differences in large amounts. Many schools now have an operating turnover of over a million dollars, and, frankly, being $5,000 over or under does not make much difference.
Lynne Pillay: What additional support have schools received since 1999?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: Quite a lot. There has been about $193 million, or 28 percent, more operational funding in schools in 2004, compared with 1999. Taking into account roll growth and inflation, the increase in that figure in real terms per pupil is 10.1 percent. There has been other funding such as an extra $57 million for laptops for teachers, $128 million a year for teachers over and above roll growth,$43 million in targeted literacy programmes this year alone, $87 million extra in teacher professional development, and in the coming financial year tens of millions of dollars for high-speed Internet access through Project Probe. This Government has been putting an enormous amount of extra funding into education, to the extent where the “member for Dipton” says that some schools are awash with cash.
Hon Bill English: Why did the Minister do a deal with the Post Primary Teachers Association to increase non-contact time for teachers but refuse to pay salaries for the teachers needed to fill the gaps, with the effect that many secondary schools are starting late 1 day a week, finishing early 1 day a week, illegally taking an extra day in mid-term break, and increasing class sizes significantly in order to cover the gap that he has left?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: The Government has put approximately a thousand extra teachers into secondary schools in order for them to focus on contact time, amongst a number of other issues. Some schools have chosen to run down their class sizes; some schools have chosen to have higher class sizes—
Hon Bill English: Increase it, not cut it.
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: No, some have chosen to run down their class sizes—to decrease their class sizes—and to offer fewer options. That is a call for the schools to make; it always has been.
Hon Brian Donnelly: Will the Minister confirm that in the Government’s response to the Education and Science Committee report on decile funding, it is stated: “Links between any resources and educational outcomes are difficult to identify and measure.”, and that it is therefore really not possible to claim, one way or the other, whether schools are receiving sufficient funding?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I would not rely entirely on that response, but I notice the Minister of Finance is nodding.
Bernie Ogilvy: What does the Minister expect the total deficit for schools in 2003 to be, noting there has been a downturn in foreign student numbers and, as he has pointed out, an increase, for instance, in the cost of information technology upgrades and in support staff salaries, which, together, will put further pressure on the financial position of schools?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: I want to indicate that I am never satisfied with the amount of funding, and that I will keep on working to get more and more funding, because I do believe it is appropriate that we, wherever possible, better resource our schools. But I think the member has to be a little careful with his facts. In 2003 the number of foreign fee-paying students in State secondary schools went up significantly, compared with 2002.
Accident Compensation Corporation—Ethical and Legal Practices
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First) to the
Minister for ACC: Is she satisfied that all of Accident Compensation Corporation practices are ethical and within the law?
Hon RUTH DYSON (Minister for ACC)
: The Accident Compensation Corporation is reviewing all programmes where provider discretion is permitted in the implementation of its programmes, because it is imperative that any such discretion is appropriately exercised. If the member has specific instances where he believes this may not be the case, I would be happy to look into it. Subject to that, yes, I am satisfied that the corporation’s practices are ethical and within the law.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Is the Minister aware that the LTD and the car she has are because she is a Minister, and it is not my job to do her job for her, and that being the case, why is Mr James Sowman, a pseudonym, writing to an accident victim, and why is her department denying that victim the Official Information Act request for the true identity of the so-called Mr James Sowman, and claiming that there is no public interest involved, when plainly they are involved in deceit?
Hon RUTH DYSON: I understand that that particular employee of Catalyst Injury Management Ltd used that pseudonym because he was afraid for his own safety.
Lianne Dalziel: What improvements has the Minister made to ensure the corporation’s practices are responsive and appropriate to claimants?
Hon RUTH DYSON: The development of the Code of ACC Claimants’ Rights, which took effect on 1 February last year, is one such measure. The code enshrines in law the requirement for the corporation to have high standards of service and fairness when dealing with claimants.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: If the Minister thinks her statement in response to my supplementary question is correct, why was that not said in the Seymour letter to the victim concerned, and are we to look forward to dealing with “Mrs Get Well” from the Ministry of Health and “Constable Stay Safe” from the police force, because there are no public interest factors supporting their revealed identity, as the Accident Compensation Corporation explained?
Hon RUTH DYSON: We do have a responsibility to ensure the ongoing safety of all public servants, and I support what would otherwise seem to be quite unusual measures to back that protection up.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I seek leave to table a document relating to a James Sowman dated 5 March 2004, where no such claim is made with respect to—
- Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Energy—Project Aqua Cancellation
JEANETTE FITZSIMONS (Co-Leader—Green) to the
Minister of Energy: What additional steps will he be taking to promote energy efficiency, energy conservation, and renewable energy following the cancellation of Project Aqua?
Hon PETE HODGSON (Minister of Energy)
: Several steps. The National Energy Efficiency and Conservation Strategy is being ramped up, and further details will be announced in the Budget. Second, the climate change projects mechanism has been highly successful in bringing on cleaner and renewable energy projects, and I will announce results equal to a little over a third of those of the Project Aqua later this week. Thirdly, details of a second, larger tender for projects to reduce emissions will be in the next Budget.
Jeanette Fitzsimons: Why does electricity consumption need to rise at all over the next decade or two, when numerous assessments show that at least 20 percent of current electricity use could be avoided with the use of cost-effective energy-efficiency technology?
Hon PETE HODGSON: I am sure it is true that we could improve our energy efficiency across the economy by about 20 percent; that is precisely the target that the Government sets. However, under the auspices of this Government, and particularly the Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance, the economy has been consistently growing at greater than 2 percent, and is likely to continue to do so.
Mark Peck: Is the cancellation of Project Aqua a set-back in the development of renewable energy in New Zealand?
Hon PETE HODGSON: At this stage it does not seem that the cancellation of Project Aqua will make it more difficult to achieve the Government’s renewables target, as most of the alternatives to it between now and about 2012 are renewables—namely, geothermal, wind, and small hydro.
Hon Roger Sowry: Does the Minister think it will be easier for wind turbines to obtain the necessary resource consents, given that the company Windflow Technology, with Mrs Fitzsimons as a shareholder, is facing objections from environmentalists to its Christchurch wind turbines on the basis that they are too noisy?
Hon PETE HODGSON: I draw the member’s attention to the largest wind project undertaken in New Zealand, a 90-megawatt programme behind Palmerston North. The application was lodged on a Monday, the hearings were on the Tuesday, the cross-examinations were on the Wednesday—all of this last year—and the consent was awarded on the Thursday.
Peter Brown: Is the Minister aware that there are billions of tonnes of coal in New Zealand, and that clean-coal technologies being developed here, in the USA, and in other places make coal much more environmentally friendly; if so, why does he not encourage greater use of coal to generate electricity and put New Zealanders’ minds at rest?
Hon PETE HODGSON: The answers are yes, yes, and because, on average, it is more expensive than alternatives.
Gordon Copeland: Is the Minister prepared to explore the possibility of a win-win situation for both conservation and energy at the Dobson hydro project, in an area of high rainfall and forecast high electricity demand?
Hon PETE HODGSON: I invite the member to give up his preoccupation with favoured sites and favoured technologies, and to look at the fact that if that project were to proceed, it would give us an increase in our electricity sufficient for about 5 months. What would he do after that?
Jeanette Fitzsimons: Will the Minister tell the country clearly that claims of clean coal are still a myth because no proven technology exists to reduce, let alone eliminate, the accelerated climate-change effects of burning coal?
Hon PETE HODGSON: Clean coal tends to mean two things, depending on which sort of audience one has. The clean coal that some people speak of is to do with sulphur, nitrous oxide, and particulates, and we do have clean coal - burning technologies available to us. However, the member is right that no one has even begun to invent how to get carbon dioxide out of coal combustion.
Gordon Copeland: Is the Minister prepared to cut some slack to line companies to enable them to invest in local generation plants and schemes without limit, and to sell that electricity directly to customers in their own areas, thus providing some much-needed competition for the large electricity generators?
Hon PETE HODGSON: I draw the member’s attention to a bill before a select committee at the moment in which existing thresholds for lines companies have been increased fivefold. If the select committee thinks that is a bit limited, then it may want to make it tenfold.
Jeanette Fitzsimons: What is the total expected time frame for Meridian Energy’s Te Apiti wind farm to be built and commissioned, now that it has received its resource consent—in just 4 days—and how many such wind farms could be built and operating by the time Project Aqua would have generated its first unit?
Hon PETE HODGSON: I think that a little less than 15 months is the correct answer to the member’s first question, and that a good deal is the correct answer to the second.
MOANA MACKEY (Labour) to the Associate Minister for Social Development and Employment: What trends have been identified in the number of people receiving the unemployment benefit?
Hon RUTH DYSON (Acting Minister for Social Development and Employment)
: There has been a nearly 50 percent drop in the number of working-age New Zealanders needing the support of an unemployment benefit since 1999. There are now under 79,000 working-age people on the unemployment benefit and the unemployment benefit hardship—the lowest level since 1987. This reflects New Zealand’s historically low unemployment rate of 4.6 percent—the sixth equal lowest rate of unemployment in the OECD.
Moana Mackey: What factors have contributed to the reduction in numbers receiving the unemployment benefit?
Hon RUTH DYSON: A strong labour market, Government support for job-rich growth through regional economic development, and a dedicated focus on quality case management and real job placements by Work and Income have all contributed to the near 50 percent drop in unemployment benefit numbers. That is in stark contrast to jurisdictions that have implemented work-for-the-dole and time-limited benefits, like Wisconsin, where benefit numbers have gone up by almost 30 percent in the last 3 years.
Katherine Rich: What trends have been identified in the number of people receiving the sickness and invalids benefits, and can the Minister explain why the number of people receiving them has dramatically increased under this Government?
Hon RUTH DYSON: The total number of working-age people on a benefit has dropped by over 55,000 since 1999. That means that total working-age benefit numbers have dropped by a number equivalent to the entire population of Napier. That is a real, total drop across all working-age benefits—unemployment, sickness, invalids, and domestic purposes.
Mr SPEAKER: I think the Minister should address the specific question that was asked. She can comment on that quite comfortably. The question can be repeated.
Katherine Rich: What trends have been identified in the number of people receiving the sickness and invalids benefits, and can the Minister explain why the number of people receiving them has increased dramatically under this Government?
Hon RUTH DYSON: As I indicated in answer to the previous question, the total number of working-age people across all benefits has decreased. However, there has been an increase in both sickness benefit and invalids benefit numbers, primarily due to improved diagnosis of mental health conditions—a strong contributor—and to our ageing population. That is exactly comparable to all other Western countries.
Judy Turner: Has the Minister considered making eligibility for an unemployment benefit for those under the age of 25 more consistent with student allowances by assessing them on the basis of their parents’ income; if not, why are students being treated differently by this Government compared to those on the dole?
Hon RUTH DYSON: No, that particular consideration has not been made.
Peter Brown: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I want to draw your attention to the fact that Katherine Rich asked her question twice, and the second answer was quite different from the first. Had the Minister not been pushed to answer it correctly the second time, we on this side would have been working on a totally wrong assumption. We would have made the assumption that sickness benefits had gone down. In fact, the reverse is the case.
Mr SPEAKER: That is not a point of order.
Peter Brown: That is quite frustrating on this side of the House.
Mr SPEAKER: That is not a point of order.
JUDITH COLLINS (National—Clevedon) to the
Minister for Courts: Does he agree “that the persistent labelling of Family Court proceedings as ‘secret’ was misleading and irresponsible.”, and “There is nothing secret about the Family Court at all,” as stated by Principal Family Court Judge, Peter Boshier, on 26 March 2004; if so, why?
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE (Minister of Fisheries), on behalf of the Minister for Courts: The Minister understands that Judge Boshier was responding to criticism that consistently portrays Family Court judges as insisting on “secrecy”, rather than merely following longstanding legislation that requires family proceedings that are of a personal nature to be kept private to the parties that are actually involved. To the extent that the criticism creates that misleading impression, the Minister agrees with him.
Judith Collins: Does the Minister also agree with the statement: “Its proceedings are open to scrutiny right now in a number of respects.”; if so, can he explain to the House what scrutiny Family Court proceedings are under right now?
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: Yes, I do, and I do not think I can do better for the questioner than echo the statement of Judge Boshier that judges have operated the court, as they have been required to do, to afford privacy to separating parents, particularly with young, vulnerable children. That is what Parliament has required of the Family Court, and that is precisely what the Family Court has endeavoured, to the best of its ability, to do.
Judith Collins: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Minister made no attempt to answer my question, which was about what scrutiny the Family Court is under in relation to the matters. The Minister gave absolutely no answer at all in respect of that.
Mr SPEAKER: I disagree. I think the Minister did address that particular question.
Georgina Beyer: What consideration is the Government giving to whether the Family Court could be made more open?
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: The Care of Children Bill, currently before the Justice and Electoral Committee, gives some consideration to what changes might be made to the legislation governing some proceedings before the Family Court. In addition, the recent Law Commission report
Delivering Justice for All also makes recommendations on this issue. The Government is giving careful consideration to the Law Commission’s recommendations and will respond in due course.
Stephen Franks: I ask the question again: does the Minister agree with Judge Boshier that: “There is nothing secret about the Family Court”; if so, why, given that no one outside the case that the Hon Nick Smith got involved in has been able to see the Family Court decision, despite claims that it vindicates that court’s order; and what is that if it is not a secret judgment from a secretive court?
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: The current balance in existing legislation between protecting the privacy of sensitive and emotional family disputes and recognising the public interest in those disputes was determined by Parliament when the Family Courts were established in 1980. This is longstanding legislation, and the Family Court itself should not be criticised for adhering to legislation enacted by this Parliament.
Stephen Franks: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. May I ask the question again, as no attempt was made to answer it?
Mr SPEAKER: The member can ask the question again, and I will then examine the answer. I remember what the answer was.
Stephen Franks: My question was a repeat of the original question: that is, does the Minister agree with the Principal Family Court Judge Peter Boshier that: “There is nothing secret about the Family Court at all,” when, in fact, the Family Court’s judgment in the case in which the Hon Nick Smith became involved has never been seen by anyone outside that case, despite claims that it vindicates the order of the court; and what else can it be but a secret judgment from a secretive court?
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: Yes, I do agree. There is a considerable difference between the word “secret” and the appropriate privacy that should be accorded to the proceedings of that court.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: How does the Minister think it helps public information and debate when, in the case of the judgment in respect of the Nick Smith Nelson case, the court decision does not disclose a very fundamental fact, and that is that the boy was subject to extreme violence, which is the reason he did not want to be returned to his parents? That is a fact.
Mr SPEAKER: I do not know that that question is the responsibility—
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: I am certainly not prepared to comment on the particularities of the case, but I would like to make one other comment to the questioner, and that is, simply, that the openness or otherwise of the Family Court will be considered subsequent to the release of the select committee’s report on the Care of Children Bill and as part of the Government’s consideration of the report of the Law Commission.
Judith Collins: Does the Minister agree that the Family Court should be required to make available meaningful statistics on the number of cases delayed; if so, why has he not required that to be done, despite his 4½ years in the position?
Hon DAVID BENSON-POPE: Not at this time. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Did I hear the member say: “Not at this time.”? That is an answer to the question. Whether members agree with it is another matter.
Dr ASHRAF CHOUDHARY (Labour) to the
Minister of Education: What steps is he taking to address boys’ underachievement in schools?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Minister of Education)
: This Government is committed to ensuring that all our children achieve to their full potential in education. We know that at secondary level boys are not doing as well as girls are. That is why I have put in place a programme to identify solutions for lifting boys’ achievement at secondary school. It includes research to identify programmes that result in improved achievement by boys, and the establishment of an external reference group of experts in boys’ education.
Dr Ashraf Choudhary: What information is available to schools and teachers to help them to identify and address areas of student underperformance?
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: There is actually an enormous amount of material available now: data from the literacy and numeracy test asTTle, from the National Certificate of Educational Achievement, and from the National Education Monitoring Project. The New Zealand Qualifications Authority and the Ministry of Education both have international data available. There is quite a lot of existing research analysis. The research shows some really interesting patterns. There is not much difference in achievement up to the end of primary school, but subject-based differences occur as boys and girls go through secondary school. It appears that the results start to come back together again at university.
Income Tax Bill
Instruction to Committee
Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE (Associate Minister of Revenue)
: I seek leave for the Committee stage of the Income Tax Bill to be a single debate on all the provisions of the bill, and for the preliminary provisions, parts, and schedules to be put as one question at the conclusion of the 3-hour debate.
The ASSISTANT SPEAKER (Hon Clem Simich): Is there any objection to that course being followed? There appears to be none.
Clauses A1 and A2, Parts A to Y, and Schedules 1 to 23
JOHN KEY (National—Helensville)
: I rise on behalf of the National Party to address the Income Tax Bill, which National is supporting. National started the genesis of this work back when it was in Government in the 1990-99 period. I doubt I will be the only speaker to mention the sheer size of this legislation, which is thousands—
Hon Member: Over 2,000.
JOHN KEY: —over 2,000 pages—the largest bill introduced to the House. It is an absolutely enormous bill, and an enormous amount of work has gone into it. I want to pay tribute to the advisers who have been helping the Finance and Expenditure Committee, and the officials who have worked very hard on it. The simple idea behind the bill, of course, is a rewrite of the Income Tax Act 1994 and to put into simple language—if there is such a thing—the tax code that operates in New Zealand and the basis under which New Zealand taxpayers will be required to adhere to tax law.
There are some interesting elements of the bill to which I want to make reference, but I want to make one very simple comment. The size of the bill, and the huge number of clauses contained within it, in some part are of the Labour Government’s own making. I say that because the top personal tax rate was increased when the Labour Government came into office in 1999 from 33c in the dollar—a fair, reasonable level of taxation, if I do say so myself—to a 39c rate. Why was the top personal rate of taxation increased? It was not because the Crown accounts required it. Last year alone, the operating balance excluding revaluations and accounting changes was $5.6 billion; this is truly a Government awash with cash. It was simply because there was a degree of envy—the Labour Government felt it was inappropriate that the entrepreneurs of New Zealand should enjoy such a lower level of taxation, so it increased the top personal tax rate.
Lo and behold, once the Minister had scuttled off to Cabinet with that wonderful idea of increasing the top rate of personal taxation, he was then besieged in his office with mountains of paper on how to address that change, and we now see it reflected in the Income Tax Bill. There are literally hundreds of clauses that have to reflect all the complexities added to our system by an increase in the top personal tax rate. All sorts of areas will be addressed during the debate this evening, no doubt, by numerous speakers on the concept of what impact that increase will have—for instance, on the split-rate fringe benefit tax and the like.
I want to draw a reference for the Committee on one point, which is that in the 1999 Labour credit card, one of the claims made by the Labour Government was that by increasing the top rate of personal taxation, only 5 percent of taxpayers would be affected. Well, we know that that has proved to be incorrect. Figures now released by the Inland Revenue Department show quite clearly that one in five full-time taxpayers now pay the top rate of personal taxation, and bracket creep—or fiscal drag as it is otherwise known; the situation where inflation drags people into a higher level of taxation—has caught out so many New Zealanders who maybe earlier on had not thought they would be affected by it.
Clayton Cosgrove: Where is the member on this bill?
JOHN KEY: I will come to that in a moment, but this is a long and drawn-out debate so let us enjoy it while we are in the early stages. That is quite an amazing statistic—that one in five full-time taxpayers will now be caught by the increase in the top rate of personal taxation.
This is a very wide-ranging debate, and I want to spend some time in talking about tax rates in New Zealand. They are applicable, because Part B of schedule 1 talks about the basic tax rate. Very interestingly, on Friday that wonderful international accountancy firm KPMG listed its world tax survey. It made very interesting reading for those who like to look at that type of data. The first thing I noted from that survey was that at the time the National Government left office in 1999, the average company tax rate paid in the OECD—that is right, by the top 30 rich nations of the world—was around 35 percent. Former treasurers in that National Government like Bill Birch and Bill English can look back and reflect on what a wonderful position they left New Zealand corporations in, because the company tax rate at that time was 33c in the dollar. We can compare that with the average company tax rate in the OECD, as shown in the KPMG survey, of 35 percent.
What was released on Friday in that report was very interesting. The average rate of company taxation in the OECD now is 29.96 percent—that is, it is under 30 percent. What is the average rate of company tax in New Zealand? It is still 33 percent. So under a National-led Government, business had a competitive advantage with other countries in the OECD; under a Labour-led Government, business is at a disadvantage to other OECD countries. It is a pretty simple message, and it is one of the reasons Don Brash boldly went out and told the business community a few weeks ago that we would lower the rate of company taxation when we regained the Treasury benches in 2005. That statement was greeted with such a warm response from companies because they know that company tax is a withholding tax, they know that company tax pays a significant role in encouraging investment in New Zealand, and they know that company tax is a cost on a business.
Secondly, when we look at that rate of company taxation we note a very interesting fact that 87 percent of all companies in New Zealand are small businesses. When those businesses are built, the building cannot be done with easy equity issuing on the stock market. They rely on their own capital and their own hard work, and on the reinvestment of profits that are earned in the business. So to allow New Zealanders to keep more of that income in their businesses, and to grow their businesses, we are allowing them to take an entrepreneurial spirit—to take a progressive approach to building a brighter and fresher New Zealand. I, for one, am quite happy to declare that I would like to see the company rate of taxation in New Zealand even lower than 30c in the dollar.
Darren Hughes: What rate? Give us a number.
JOHN KEY: The lower the better, I tell the member. That is what I would like to see for the rate of company taxation in New Zealand; the lower the better. Let us look at Ireland, which boldly took the step of reducing the rate of company tax to 12.5 percent, and what have we seen? The Irish miracle—the Gaelic miracle! It has been unbelievable. I suggest that in one of Mr Hughes’ long recesses he wanders off to Dublin and has a look at the economic miracle that has taken place through that great and bold step. If New Zealand could look at doing that, I suggest that the New Zealand business community would be so much better off, so I want to make particular reference to it.
I further want to make reference to the Minister of Finance’s comment when National declared that it would lower company taxes to 30c in the dollar: he was very scathing. I was quite surprised. Rather than welcome that as a wonderful and progressive idea for building a better New Zealand, he told the people of New Zealand that it would simply deliver all the benefits off shore. Of course, he was talking about foreign ownership of New Zealand companies. Quite surprisingly, when I sent him a couple of parliamentary questions that asked why he thought all the $600 million that would be released into the economy by the reduction of the level of company taxation from 33c to 30c in the dollar would take place off shore, he came back to me and told me that less than half would go off shore—and that it is not clear that even half would go off shore, because so many foreign owners of businesses in New Zealand want to retain that income in their businesses, and want to grow even stronger and better businesses in New Zealand.
So I think that that is quite a spurious argument. It really just goes on to tell us that the general fundamental belief under a Labour-led administration is that higher taxes are better—they allow more redistribution—and there is no progressive agenda along the line.
The next point I make is in relation to company taxation, and why company taxation rates should be coming down. I know that Mr Hughes is a bit confused about the fact that taxes actually can go down—
Darren Hughes: What number? Give us a number.
JOHN KEY: When one grows up in an environment where taxes only go up, of course one will think they can only go up. But we on this side of the Chamber have seen people who have taken the bold step of believing that any form of taxation can be lowered. I know that it has not actually happened on that side of the Chamber, but it has certainly happened on this side. We believe in, and have demonstrated, a lowering of the tax rate. Sixty percent of all New Zealand businesses earn under $38,000, and therefore are paying a higher level of taxation by paying the company rate than they would pay if they were taxed on a PAYE basis—and they themselves are over-taxed. That is another very good reason why the rate of company taxation should be lowered in New Zealand.
When we look across the specifics of this bill, and look at the general impact of taxation on New Zealand, we see that a very interesting question is raised about whether New Zealanders are over-taxed. I do not think it takes a helluva long time to work out the answer to that, when we look at the size of the surpluses the Government is running. Why is the Government running such significantly large surpluses?
Hon David Carter: Greed.
JOHN KEY: That is right.
Hon RICHARD PREBBLE (Leader—ACT)
: The ACT party has voted against the Income Tax Bill we are now debating in its Committee stage, and let me give members 2,307 reasons why the ACT party is opposed to this tax bill. The first is the number of pages of tax law that we are about to implement—2,307 pages of law are required for this Government to collect income tax. Why do we need so much law? The reason is quite simple: the Government is now taking 40 percent of everything produced in this country. The citizens of New Zealand would never voluntarily hand over 40 percent of everything earned, so we need 2,307 pages of what really are police State measures in order to be able—
Clayton Cosgrove: Oh!
Hon RICHARD PREBBLE: The member says “Oh!”. Under this bill the Inland Revenue Department can enter private property; it does not need any sort of permit from the courts. It can open up a person’s records. These most certainly are police State measures. The ACT party is opposed to the Government taking that amount of tax.
But let me give reason No. 2,308, and it can be found on page 2026, which states: “The basic rate of income tax for the taxable income of a Maori authority is 19.5 cents for every $1 of that taxable income.” The rate of tax for a non-Māori company is 33c, so not only do we have two laws in New Zealand but we have two different tax rates, depending on race.
Hon Harry Duynhoven: The rate of tax and the average rate of tax.
Hon RICHARD PREBBLE: I ask the member who is interjecting to run in New Plymouth on the basis that Māori ought to pay a lower tax rate than the general population, and see what happens to his majority in the next election.
Hon Harry Duynhoven: Mr Prebble, you know that is a fallacy.
The CHAIRPERSON (Ann Hartley): If the member speaks across the cross benches, it is very hard for the member to hear.
Hon RICHARD PREBBLE: I say to Mr Duynhoven that he should read page 2026, and he will see that I have quoted the bill accurately to him.
But if he would like to turn to page 2029, he would see the next reason that we should vote against that. It says—and I will read it to him given that he says this issue is a fallacy—that the rate of tax for every dollar of taxable income, on so much of the taxable income as is more than $60,000 a year, is 39c. That is the so-called “envy tax”, and is the way that this Government has increased income tax that it said would not be increased. Labour promised: “No rise in income tax for the 95 per cent of taxpayers earning under $60,000 a year.” Twenty percent of all full-time workers are now paying the 39c tax rate. The “envy tax” was never needed. We have had a surplus every year, yet the Government tells us that it is not its priority to cut income tax, and, unfortunately, so does National.
I say to this Committee that that rate of income tax should be cut and should be cut right now. One of the reasons for that is it is the investment rate; it is the rate paid by people who are actually investing, and creating the jobs and the growth that the two major parties say they want. The jobs and growth come from people investing, yet this Government hits those people with a 39c tax rate.
The ACT party makes no apology for pointing out that people on $60,000 a year are not rich; they are on a middle income. We also point out, as Don Brash did before he was an MP, that a couple on $100,000 a year, with children, pay 100 times more in tax than a couple on $25,000 a year who qualify for family support. Who thinks that is fair? Obviously, the Labour Party does.
CRAIG McNAIR (NZ First)
There were some submissions that the Finance and Expenditure Committee felt would enhance the Income Tax Bill. I will share with the Committee just one or two of the submissions that were very important to me, and that I am very happy to see accepted and taken on board.
I will share just one submission with the Committee this evening, and that was the one from Business New Zealand, PricewaterhouseCoopers, the Institute of Chartered Accountants of New Zealand, and the New Zealand Law Society. They submitted that a transitional provision should indicate that the provisions of the rewritten Act must be interpreted in the light of the corresponding provisions of the Income Tax Act 1994 and associated judicial interpretation, other than intended policy changes. They submitted that the transitional provision should also make clear that the rewritten Act is not intended to change the meaning and effect of the Income Tax Act 1994.
The officials agreed that the bill should contain transitional provisions and indicate that no change in the effect of the law is intended. Where the meaning of a provision in the rewritten Act is unclear or gives rise to absurdity, the old law is to be used as an interpretive guide to ensure that no unintended changes in law occur. Transitional provisions should not apply to notified changes in law arising in the rewrite, nor to subsequent amendments to provisions in the rewritten Act. The officials agreed with this approach, as it ensures that the plain words of the rewritten legislation have full effect from the commencement of the new Act. In conjunction with the Government wanting to promote retrospective legislation to correct unintended changes, these further transitional provisions will provide the level of protection sought by practitioners. I believe that was a critical provision in order to give certainty, and that the old law should be an interpretive guide in some way, shape, or form.
In speaking in the Committee stage of the Income Tax Bill, I will take a moment to mention, in relation to the last couple of speeches, the amount of time we have sat in the Chamber listening to different parties—namely, the National Party and the ACT party—say that income and company tax cuts are basically the answer to all of our problems in this country. I say to those members, John Key and Richard Prebble, that I believe that their way of thinking is just a little bit lazy. As a nation we have exports of roughly only US$3,600 per person. Mr Key mentioned how much of a success story Ireland is, but that country has an export strategy as well, and that is something we do not have and we need. So we need to look at Ireland’s US$19,000 per man, woman, and child and at Singapore’s US$34,000, and I say that because we need to have tax incentives for exporters, rather than always thinking that the answer to our problems is tax cuts for the rich. I firmly believe that.
I have to ask myself, after hearing John Key and Richard Prebble, whether the National Party and the ACT party have a vision.
Clayton Cosgrove: No.
CRAIG McNAIR: Members of the Government say they do not have a vision. I believe that the only vision the National Party and the ACT party have—mainly the National Party, because this is what its leader said once—is to have 10 million people living here in New Zealand, and to sell the rest of our State-owned assets, the last that we have. One asset that I am talking about is Kiwibank. New Zealand First has a bigger vision for New Zealand than that. The National Party needs to think about tax incentives for exporters, rather than just chopping the highest tax rate from 39c to 33c—and it does not even really want to do that. We want to encourage this Parliament and this Government to think outside the box. Instead of just thinking about tax cuts for the rich, let us give a 20 percent tax rate on new export net profit.
With regard to National’s thoughts on tax cuts for the rich and not helping the Kiwi battler, I will read a question that National’s associate spokesperson on finance asked the Minister of Finance. He said to Dr Cullen, in respect of Kiwibank: “… why does he not just admit that the people most happy with New Zealand Kiwibank are the other banks in the New Zealand system, which have managed to give that bank the poorest, most unprofitable, worst accounts?”. I agree with Dr Cullen, when he said: “That was certainly a very revealing question. New Zealanders who do not have large wealth and large incomes—according to the National Party’s deputy finance spokesperson—are people not worth having in one’s business.” I say that New Zealand First members have a better vision for the New Zealand Kiwi battler—not the Kiwi battler with three Jaguars in the garage, but the Kiwi battler who is earning $50,000 a year—and we have a better vision for this country as far as our tax system and our tax laws are concerned.
In closing, I say that New Zealand First does support this bill. One would have to question whether, with more than 2,000 pages, the bill is simplifying the legislation, but it is; tax legislation, obviously, is so complicated. New Zealand First supports the bill.
JOHN KEY (National—Helensville)
: I want to go back to the point that Richard Prebble first raised in his speech. It was the very interesting issue about the special rate of taxation applied to Māori trusts, at 19.5 percent. We live in a world where the Government wants us to believe that there is one rule for everyone. Well, I have been flicking through all 2,307 pages of the bill, looking for the rate of taxation for another sort of New Zealand business, at 19.5 percent. I have looked at clause after clause and I cannot find it, because the rate of taxation for a company in New Zealand is 33 percent.
When someone sets up a company in New Zealand, the Inland Revenue Department does not ask: “What do you think your average income will be?”. The department does not come to someone and ask: “Do you think you will be earning less than $38,000 a year, and therefore your income might be less?”. The department does not come to someone who sets up a personal trust, and ask: “Excuse me, Mr Key, do you think you will be earning less than $38,000 a year in your trust, and therefore the rate will be a different rate from 33 percent?”. No, the Inland Revenue Department taxes a company, whether it is small or large, a trust, whether it is small or large, and a partnership, at 33 percent. Readers of the bill may be just a little bit shocked at why there is a special, unique rate of taxation for Māori trusts, at 19.5 percent, and that is a very good question. I ask Mr Cosgrove why that is the case.
Clayton Cosgrove: You’re telling a story.
JOHN KEY: Yes, I am telling a story and I will be turning the pages, as well. I will tell members the reason. It is because it is deemed that the end-users of those trusts are unlikely to have income greater than $38,000 a year. Therefore, it is deemed that in the hands of the receipt holders it is pretty likely that their rate of taxation will be 19.5 percent. Rather than make them go through the hassle of having company tax withheld at 33 percent, and therefore having to make a claim on the Inland Revenue Department at 19.5 percent and receive the benefit, we may as well just get on with it and tax them at 19.5 percent in the first place. That sounds pretty logical to me. It is logical if it is a Māori trust. It is OK to assume that Māori trusts will earn less than $38,000 a year and therefore be taxed at 19.5 percent. But if I wander down to the Inland Revenue Department, in my home seat of Helensville, and say: “Can I please be taxed at 19.5 percent?”, they will laugh. They will show me the door. They will say: “Mr Key, yours is not a Māori trust. You can’t have a special rate of taxation. We’re not in the process of dishing out special rates of taxation to anybody who wanders in the door. If you were a Māori trust, then you could be taxed at 19.5 percent.”
When the Coordinating Minister, Race Relations, the Hon Trevor Mallard, does his review, I wonder whether this special rate of taxation will be on his radar screen. I predict that when this is exposed for what it is, as it truly will be—for the unusual position, shall we put it that way, compared to other trusts in the country, including other community trusts—I suspect that a very sensitive Labour Government will change the position. That is my prediction. If we start setting rates of taxation on what we believe the final end-user to be—incorporations and trusts—that is fine. I do not necessarily disagree that that cuts down on the paper work, the administration, and the hassle, but I say let us have it for everyone. Let us have that for the John Key family trust, if he thinks that that rate of taxation will be lower than 19.5 percent. [Interruption] I am happy to pay my fair share of taxation. But if my earnings will be less than $38,000, then I welcome the opportunity to tax myself at 19.5 percent.
Jill Pettis: One ornament on your mantelpiece would keep us in clover.
JOHN KEY: I am sorry; I cannot hear all the screeching that is coming from the other side of the Chamber. There is a whole lot of noise going on. What did Mrs Pettis say?
Jill Pettis: I have seen a picture of your mantelpiece in the paper.
JOHN KEY: I am sorry but the Inland Revenue Department does not tax mantelpieces. That is not what it looks at when it is taxing things.
CLAYTON COSGROVE (Labour—Waimakariri)
: That was an astounding speech from the member. I thought the member was better than that. I think that, in National Party terms, he is the moderate branch of the National Party. But we saw in that speech that his boss has pumped him up and punched him full of research notes, and he has made a speech that he does not really agree with in his heart of hearts. They pumped him up, punched him out there as the Opposition associate spokesperson on finance, and told him to run the race line, which he did. I am a bit disappointed because I think that bloke is not the worst National Party member in the Chamber. I think there are a helluva lot who are worse than him, but he disappoints me. If he does not know why the Inland Revenue Department would not accept a tax return in which he claimed 19.5 percent on his income alone, then he should not be Opposition associate spokesperson on finance. I think the Lexus, the BMW, and the mansion in Helensville, or wherever it is, would put paid to that.
Let me dispel the usual National Party line. Its members tried to raise this argument in the debate on the Taxation (Maori Organisations, Taxpayer Compliance and Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, when they talked about why it is that Māori authorities are taxed at 19.5 percent. They ran an argument, as did Mr Prebble, that this was outrageous, that it should be changed, and that they would change it. Why has the National Party not changed it since this scheme of arrangement has been in place since the 1950s? How many National Governments have been in place since the 1950s? There is silence. Who was in power during most of that period? The National Party. There is silence again.
I will tell members why that scheme of arrangement was put in place in the 1950s and endorsed by National Government after National Government. It is because the assets of a Māori authority, unlike a private or public company, are communally owned. Māori authorities are restricted in terms of their activities. They cannot sell those assets. They are restricted in what they can do with them. Also, 90 percent of the recipients, as Mr Key pointed out, are on the lowest rate of tax. But the National Party would have the listeners in this country believe that any recipients of dividends from a Māori authority pay only 19.5 percent, and if they earn extra income and go up into the top bracket, they pay only 19.5 percent, whereas the rest of us have to pay a different tax rate. That is not true. If they get a dividend from a Māori authority they pay 19.5 percent, and if they earn extra income and move to a higher tax bracket, then, like any other Kiwi, white, yellow, black, or brown, they pay the same rate of tax at the end-of-year wash-up—the same as everybody else. That is the truth for the benefit of Mr Prebble. That is the truth for the benefit of the National Party. I make this point again: it has been around since the 1950s, because it acknowledges the special arrangement, the communally owned and restricted arrangement, that Māori authorities have over their assets. So that put paid to that little bit of spice from the National Party corner.
As chairman of the Finance and Expenditure Committee, I want to pay tribute to committee members. I see that Dr Lockwood Smith is in the Chamber. He was on the committee throughout this tax bill, which, I believe, is the biggest bill to come before this Parliament, if not Parliaments in the Commonwealth. It seeks to do something that is relatively logical in taxpayer terms—that is, to simplify. I acknowledge Mr Prebble’s point, though. It is a bit ironic that we get 2,000 or 3,000 worth of pages of tax law that is designed to simplify, but it is. It does not rewrite tax law in terms of new policy. It does not attempt to promote any new policy areas. It attempts to simplify and make things easier for taxpayers.
I want to quote from that venerable tax commentator from PricewaterhouseCoopers, tax partner John Shewan. He likens the process to repiling a 100-year-old house. He said: “Sooner or later the old framework has to be rebuilt as it just doesn’t cope with current circumstances. That is the position the old Income Tax Act had got to. While the new Act will be a shock to fully depreciated tax advisers, it is a necessary exercise.” I think it is a necessary exercise. The process predates this Government. The process, I believe, to rewrite these tax laws, to make them simpler, and to give some certainty was started in 1994. The committee’s recommendation that the bill come into force on 1 April 2005 instead of 1 April 2004 was in order to give some transition and certainty.
Dr the Hon LOCKWOOD SMITH (National—Rodney)
: The Committee stage of this bill is very, very important for New Zealand. I am not 100 percent sure people will have gathered that yet. This bill is a complete rewrite of our Income Tax Act; some 2,000 pages of it. This particular bill deals principally with Parts C, D, and E of our Income Tax Act. Part C of the Income Tax Act sets out what income is, Part D of the Income Tax Act spells out the deductions that are allowed from income prior to payment of tax, and Part E of the Income Tax Act spells out the rules in respect of timing of income, because, obviously, decisions have to be made as to whether income relates to this year, next year, last year, or whatever. So this is hugely important.
This is a huge, fundamental rewrite of our Income Tax Act, and there have been many changes. I guess that hundreds of thousands of words have been changed in our Income Tax Act. If any of those changed words produce a different outcome in a court of law, our taxpayers may be caught out. This rewrite of the Income Tax Act started under the previous National Government, but Parts C, D, and E, which are fundamental parts dealing with income deductions and timing, have been dealt with by this Labour-led Government. If the thousands upon thousands of changed words change the Act’s meaning, then there are serious consequences for New Zealand taxpayers.
The Finance and Expenditure Committee heard from major submitters, including the Institute of Chartered Accountants and the Law Society. The committee heard that both those major organisations were deeply concerned about unintended changes to our law. They explained it this way. Let me try to make sure that the Committee understands what I am getting at. Let us say a taxpayer relies on this new bill when it becomes an Act. If that produces a different result from the previous Act that this replaces and the Government enacts retrospective legislation to change it back—because the Government has said that it does not intend to change any of the meaning—what happens to that taxpayer? Will the taxpayer face penalties? Will the taxpayer face use-of-money interest requirements? What will happen to the taxpayer if he or she relies on this new Act, as passed by this Parliament, with all the hundreds of thousands of word changes in it, and in fact it produces a different outcome from that which the old Act would have produced? The Government, I understand, has made a commitment that it will act retrospectively to change it back. But there is a further complication. This Parliament cannot bind a future Parliament. So who can give the taxpayers of this country an ironclad assurance that there will be retrospective legislation? If, after the next election we have a different Parliament here, how can—
Hon David Carter: And we will have.
Dr the Hon LOCKWOOD SMITH: I am sure there will be a very different Parliament here. Half the members opposite, those Labour, Progressive, Green, United Future, and New Zealand First members will be gone. That is pretty clear.
Let me come back to the very serious issue. I see Minister Duynhoven is now the Minister in the chair, and I would like him to comment on this. It was the specific concern of the Institute of Chartered Accountants and of the Law Society, and it is this: if taxpayers rely on the new law that will pass through Parliament—not tonight, but once it receives its third reading—to establish their tax liability, and if in fact it is different from the old law, the Government has said that it will retrospectively make an enactment to change things back to the old law. A prudent taxpayer may therefore say: “Well, hang on, I’d better not use this new Act, because if this new Act, according to my lawyers, changes things, the Government has promised to change it back to what it was. If I use the new law I may face use-of-money interest charges. I may face penalties it if takes a couple of years to sort out the issue.” So the prudent taxpayer says to his lawyers: “We had better use the old law.” That does not solve the problem either, because this Parliament cannot bind a future Parliament. So no matter what this Government has said about retrospective legislation to take things back to the old Act, in fact we cannot bind this Parliament.
I would like the Minister in the chair—I see that Minister Cunliffe is now back in the chair—to explain how a taxpayer should handle that dilemma. I will repeat it for him. The taxpayer is faced with using this new law, and his lawyers say that, in their view, it changes the requirements from the old law that this replaces, but in fact the lawyers say: “Hang on, the Government has said that if it does change the outcome it will retrospectively legislate to change it back to the old law.” But then the wise lawyer says: “But hang on, I can’t advise you that because obviously this Parliament cannot bind a future Parliament. So maybe the law won’t be changed back.” What law does a prudent taxpayer use? This new law, or the old law? I would like the Minister to explain how the Government plans to overcome that dilemma.
Secondly, I would like the Minister in the chair to address this particular issue. According to my notes, on 14 May last year, in front of the select committee, the Inland Revenue Department agreed to a schedule of intended changes. There are a limited number of changes that are intended that this bill should make to the tax law. According to the notes I took that day at the select committee, the Inland Revenue Department agreed that it would establish a schedule of the intended changes. I accept that it may have been done and I have not been able to find it. I have looked through Supplementary Order Paper 195, but it might be buried somewhere in the final version of the bill before the Committee. I would like to see exactly where it is so we can clarify for taxpayers the schedule of intended changes under this law.
The third point is that the major submitters—the Institute of Chartered Accountants and the Law Society—believe it would make sense to establish a formal committee to assess whether the law was changed; to try to establish, with experience, a consensus as to whether this bill that we are debating in Committee tonight has changed the law—because there are big changes. There were also last minute changes.
If we look at the bill as it was introduced, and the way it treats income compared with the bill finally before us tonight, we see there are big changes. The bill, as introduced, talked about counted income. We were told that counted income was a hugely important way of simplifying it all. Counted income is now gone out of this final version we have before us tonight. Now there is just income under subpart BD 1. There is just income—nothing to do with counted income. And now we have a whole extra range of steps in sorting out what income of a taxpayer will actually be taxed. All those changes were made at the select committee.
The argument of both the Institute of Chartered Accountants and the Law Society that a formal committee should be established to examine unintended consequences, I thought, made a lot of sense. I think that no members of this Parliament intend that this bill should change the law beyond those specific changes that are intended—the limited number of specific changes. The dilemma for taxpayers is that they need to know exactly what those intended changes are. I want to know where the schedule of those intended changes is in the bill. I want to know what has been done to establish this committee that would be able to form a consensus of the unintended consequences of the complete rewrite of the Act.
But I come back to the first point I made a moment ago, and that is, I believe, the dilemma a prudent taxpayer is in, for two reasons. I want to make sure that Minister Cunliffe can explain what should happen. The taxpayer is caught with the dilemma: does he or she use this new Act or the old Act? We are told the new Act is not intended to change anything, yet it might, and a court of law must, presumably, use the new Act. It was suggested that there should be a transitional provision. It was suggested, for example, that a simple transitional provision would state that, as a matter of statutory construction, the words and meaning of the 1994 Act can be used as an aid to interpreting the provisions of the new Act. This point, I believe, is very serious for taxpayers. If there is no such transitional provision, as was suggested—I think it was KPMG who suggested to the select committee that wording I used a moment ago; that as a matter of statutory construction the words and meaning of the 1994 Act can be used as an aid to interpreting the provisions of the new Act—how do legal advisers advise their taxpayers in using this new Act?
I want to be clear that this is understood. The dilemma is this: they have to use the new Act because that is the Act the courts will use in determining whether, ultimately, they are complying with the law. If, in fact, the new Act does change something, the Government has said it will introduce retrospective legislation to change it back. So legal advisers may say: “Hang on, if this looks like it’s changed things, use the old Act, because the Government is going to change it back anyhow. So we should base it all on the old Act, because if you use the new Act and don’t pay enough tax you’ll face penalties or use-of-money interest.” But the dilemma is, the lawyer might say, that the Government may not change it back, because this Parliament cannot bind a future Parliament.
How can the Minister in the chair assure taxpayers that they are protected, when this Parliament cannot bind a future Parliament? When these matters come into being next year, most of this Labour Government may well be gone, and this Parliament cannot bind a future Parliament. So taxpayers really must use this Act, and they face that jeopardy of use-of-money interest, penalties, and that kind of thing. I see no way around that. I think the Minister is prepared to answer those serious queries, because they are serious for taxpayers. I am very happy to sit down, if the Minister is prepared to answer those serious concerns.
Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE (Associate Minister of Revenue)
: I am pleased to rise and take a brief call at this point. Firstly, on behalf of the Government may I congratulate the Finance and Expenditure Committee on its extensive consideration of this bill and note that its recommendation to the House was indeed unanimous—all save the ACT party, and we look forward to hearing some more from ACT members as to their reasons. But the object of the bill has certainly been agreed.
There is no doubt that the original bill, going back to the last century and early part of this century, is vastly outdated. In its initial form it was only 200 pages long; it is now over 2,000 pages long. It has been layered over like the seabed being laid down by the tides, and its structure has become somewhat tortuous. So I think it has been accepted all around this Chamber that this exercise is not before time. It represents a very, very major input of expertise by officials and tax professionals, bringing us to the point we are at today.
I will reply in two groups to some of the issues the Opposition has raised, and I begin by addressing the points raised by my colleague Dr Lockwood Smith. The first question he raised was: what would happen if any word was different in this Act that would lead to a different outcome from the intent of the original Act? I note that the select committee has really done its work on this point, because there are a number of protections for taxpayers here. The first one is that the transitional provisions that have been implemented by the Government guarantee that, in an area of ambiguity, the intent of the old Act will prevail and should be read in by the courts. Secondly, that clarity, in terms of any intended policy changes, has been set out in the schedules, and I refer the member, with regard to his second question, to schedule 22A. The third point is that this whole bill has been scrutinised by an independent group of experts, and unanimously approved—and they are experts of some standing. They include the Institute of Chartered Accountants of New Zealand and the New Zealand Law Society—a panel chaired by no less than Sir Ivor Richardson.
So the Government is comfortable with that assurance that no legal loose ends remain. However, in case anything has slipped past this panel of independent and reputable experts, we have made several additional guarantees on the basis of the recommendations of the select committee. The first is that no penalties shall apply to any taxpayer who is disadvantaged. The second is that we would retrospectively change any inadvertent difference in meaning so that the original intent prevails. This is a “tidy-up” bill; it is not designed to change policy. Finally, we would ensure that there is an appropriate education programme so that the industry is fully conversant with the changes that have been made.
Dr Smith, of course, raised that old chestnut that no Parliament can bind its successors, and he is quite right. Under our constitutional conventions no Parliament can bind its successors, and that is true of the Westminster system from which this House springs. But there has been nothing new in that across successive Parliaments. Those are the constitutional constraints under which the previous Government operated, as well as this one. What is material here is that we have a near unanimous select committee report. We have support from all around the Committee, save one increasingly minor, soon-to-be extinct party. That gives a very good basis of assurance for members of the public looking forward—that our assurances repeated here today from the chair shall be upheld.
There are a number of other issues that have been raised by Opposition members, and this brief intervention allows me the opportunity to address some of the more egregious of them. Mr Key mentioned the fact that Labour’s pledge card in 1999 stated that only 5 percent of taxpayers would pay the top rate of 39c in the dollar. That was certainly true based on the data available at the time. I think it was 1997-98 data, which was the most recent available to us. Then Mr Key went and dropped himself right in the proverbial by saying that one-fifth of full-time taxpayers now went over that threshold. Now that was not the Labour pledge was it—full-time taxpayers? That excludes beneficiaries, and it excludes part-time workers. So I am afraid that it is no counterargument to take a completely different data set from that to which the pledge applies and then to assume that one has rebutted it. Mr Key will have to do a whole lot better than that as he continues his apprenticeship.
Mr Key then went to the next argument that the Opposition has been trotting out; that this debate is really about tax rates, not about the simplification of the Income Tax Act. Well, the presumption is wrong. This bill is, in fact, a simplification of the Act. But let us take the rates argument for a moment, just as those members have said. The latest OECD tax wedge data shows that for the average full-time worker we have the third or the fourth lowest combined tax wedge. That is a very interesting point, because it rebuts the presumption that we were, as Mr Key suggested, at an advantage when National left office and are now at a disadvantage. Quite the contrary, we are still at a considerable advantage. It is also interesting to note that in seeking to drop the company tax rate from 35 to 30 percent of tax, we are advised that the net effect would be that about 75 percent of the tax rebate would go to offshore investors. Now why should New Zealanders, who need that money for schools and hospitals, end up providing a cross-subsidy to foreign investors? I cannot see the point in that.
Of course, the fiscal cost of $500 million would need to come from somewhere. I am intrigued to know from Opposition spokespeople, as this debate goes on, where indeed it will come from by the time they have paid for that strike aircraft wing, scrapped the New Zealand Superannuation Fund, and done everything else they have been talking about. I think it was Mr Sowry who wanted to build a motorway from Auckland to Wellington. Just exactly where will their numbers balance? It remains to be seen. Mr Key also said that 60 percent of all New Zealand businesses have a net profit of less than $38,000, so the incentives are wrong. I am afraid that that is quite incorrect. The data shows that 60 percent of all New Zealand individuals earn less than $38,000. He has his numbers wrong, as usual, and he will have to do a lot better than that.
We moved on to an intervention from Mr Prebble. He argued that the tax burden was 40 percent of gross domestic product (GDP). I am informed that in fact the net tax burden is 32 percent of GDP excluding rates, or 34 percent including rates. It is good that we are having this debate. However, I would just urge the Opposition if it could use reason and evidence to support its arguments, the public listening in would be able to get further with its arguments. There is no point in accusing the Government of imposing a 40 percent of GDP tax burden, when in fact it is only 32 percent. As National said, there is no point arguing that we have a higher-than-average tax burden, when in fact ours is near the bottom of the OECD. Could we please stick to the facts if we are to indulge in the area of general tax policy debate?
I conclude with the point about Māori trusts. My colleague Mr Cosgrove has pretty well answered that; that this issue has been around since the 1950s. I warrant it was brought in by a National Government. Certainly it was endorsed by successive National Governments, and the last one did nothing about it. Now, in these post-Orewa days, National is having an attack of “holier than thou”. That is absolutely fascinating. National did nothing about it when it was in office, because it is there for very good reason. Ninety percent of Māori taxpayers earn on the 19.5 percent rate. The compliance costs of dealing with them as if they were on the 33 or 39 percent rates would be prohibitive. However, the 10 percent of beneficiaries not included will pay the full rate of tax just like anybody else when it comes to the end-of-year wash-up. There is no tax discount to Māori beneficiaries. There is no benefit to Māori taxpayers that any other taxpayer does not enjoy. Let us be specific: the Māori authority Dr Smith refers to has its purposes limited by the fact that it holds assets on trust. Therefore, the distributions that the authorities make to beneficiaries are quite rightly treated as a special case, and it is the net income of beneficiaries that counts for the end-of-year tax wrap. So we are agreed on the structure of the bill. We are agreed on the policy.
RODNEY HIDE (ACT)
: The ACT party rises to oppose this huge Income Tax Bill. I have to say that the one bit I do like is on page 2026, schedule 1, which states that the basic rate of income tax for taxable income is 19.5c for every dollar. That is a good policy; let us have it. It would be good to tax everyone at 19.5c, down from 39c, and down from 33c. The bit that gets me is that when members read that, they will suddenly realise that only Māori authorities get 19.5c. My question to Harry Duynhoven, who is not prepared to take a call but has plenty to say, is that if 19.5c is good for Māori, why is it not good for the rest of us? Year in and year out Michael Cullen has said that tax cuts were not a good idea for the economy and were not good for business.
Hon Harry Duynhoven: Are you suggesting raising the rate with a whole lot of associated compliance costs, because that’s what you’re suggesting—unless you have that. The Minister just explained it.
RODNEY HIDE: Poor old Harry Duynhoven, all the way from New Plymouth—
Hon Harry Duynhoven: No, not poor old, I’m not even old.
RODNEY HIDE: He is old; look at him.
The CHAIRPERSON (H V Ross Robertson): Order!
RODNEY HIDE: If he interjects on me and takes up my time, I am allowed to have a wee whack at the old man from New Plymouth. Harry Duynhoven asked about the compliance costs. If we all went to 19.5c and had a flat rate of tax, what do people think would happen to the compliance costs? This bill would go from 2,500 pages back to 200 pages, would it not? I ask Mr Duynhoven whether that would be fair.
Hon Harry Duynhoven: If you believe in a flat tax system.
RODNEY HIDE: He says it would.
Hon Harry Duynhoven: If you believe in a flat tax system, yes.
RODNEY HIDE: It would be fair if one believed in a flat tax system. Now we have the Chair telling Harry Duynhoven to pipe down and not to speak. I tell the Committee that I agree with that clause; it is great. I would just like it expanded to every authority and to every person being taxed in New Zealand. I ask the Hon Harry Duynhoven and the Minister in the chair, the Hon David Cunliffe, what is wrong with taxing at 19.5c in the dollar.
Hon Harry Duynhoven: You want a flat tax?
RODNEY HIDE: I want a flat tax.
Hon Harry Duynhoven: Well, that’s your view; that’s fine.
RODNEY HIDE: Harry Duynhoven said that it is fine to have a flat tax. Is it not fair that if a person earns twice as much money, that person should pay twice as much tax, not four or five times as much? In fact, it is quite odd that if a person earns twice as much, that person has to pay twice as much tax. That does not happen when a person buys his or her groceries. That person is not asked how much he or she made last week and is then charged double his or her grocery bill. But let us say that it would be fair that if a person earned twice as much, he or she would pay twice as much tax. I would like the Minister in the chair to explain why a person who earns twice as much should pay three times as much income tax. Harry Duynhoven, the Labour Government, the National Party, New Zealand First, and United Future all say that we should have a progressive tax system; that as a person earns more, not only does he or she pay more tax, but he or she would pay proportionately more tax. The ACT party says phooey to that. I tell Harry Duynhoven that we agree with a flat tax, or it could be called a proportional tax.
Brian Connell: What about flat Earth?
RODNEY HIDE: I do not know about taxing a flat Earth, but if Helen Clark hears that there is a flat Earth, I am sure she will tax it. They have taxed everything else, including my little cow that was farting, which was going to get a tax under this Government—flat, or otherwise. Why not have a proportional tax that is the same, no matter what income a person is paid?
CRAIG McNAIR (NZ First)
: I want to share with the Committee a little bit of background on the 19.5 percent tax rate for Māori organisations. Last year, during a debate on finance legislation, New Zealand First put up a Supplementary Order Paper proposing that the 19.5 percent tax rate specific to Māori trusts should be available to all New Zealand organisations. We were the only party to do that. The National Party is the one that implemented this tax regime back in the 1950s.
Rodney Hide: Ha, ha!
CRAIG McNAIR: As has been said earlier, the National Party has supported it year in and year out—[Interruption]
The CHAIRPERSON (H V Ross Robertson): I just remind members that, as longstanding members here, they know the convention about interjecting across the cross benches. It muffles the microphone, and I am having difficulty hearing the honourable member.
Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Mr Chairperson. The member is talking about the National Party of the 1950s. His own mother was not even born then.
Hon Harry Duynhoven: I think you are absolutely right, Mr Chairperson, and your ruling should be enforced. Mr Hide cannot have it both ways. He cannot mention me in the debate, challenge me, then raise a point of order when I answer him, then interject complaining to you, then interject on Mr McNair. He simply cannot have it both ways.
The CHAIRPERSON (H V Ross Robertson): Politics, as we all know in this place, is the art of the possible, and the possible that we will explore this afternoon is good order. There are over 400 Standing Orders and Speakers’ rulings that we have to work with, and I am craving the indulgence of members to understand that.
Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Mr Chairperson. You are quite right about the 400 rules—comparable to this Income Tax Bill—but I think we may assist matters in this way. If people want to call out and interject, and all the rest of it, there is an expectation that they should take a call rather than try to make a speech by way of interjection. Maybe you should point out that we are on a 3-hour slot and that Mr Duynhoven can stand up at any time, take a call, and explain his views on income tax.
The CHAIRPERSON (H V Ross Robertson): I thank the member. He is absolutely right, and Speaker’s ruling 56/1(3) applies. If members wish to take a call they can do so.
CRAIG McNAIR: I remind Mr Hide that though I was not born in the 1950s I can look at history, and that is what history tells me. I point out that, year in, year out, when National Governments have been in power they have supported this tax regime. National also started the treaty grievance industry of today. I remind the people of New Zealand that the National Party is a party that would sell the last of the State-owned assets—
Lindsay Tisch: I raise a point of order, Mr Chairperson. The member should concentrate on the issue under debate and not comment on National’s position, because he is way out of line. He does not understand what has gone on of recent times. We are debating the Income Tax Bill, and it is appropriate that you invite him to concentrate on the substance of the debate. That is what we are here for.
CRAIG McNAIR: Speaking to the point of order, Mr Chairperson, I outline the fact that I was reminding this Parliament and the New Zealand public who are listening—
Jill Pettis: You’re not allowed to refer to the listeners.
CRAIG McNAIR: Thank you. I was reminding the Committee of what the National Party is really like; I am talking about something that a National Government implemented.
The CHAIRPERSON (H V Ross Robertson): The member was OK in the point he made initially, but he started to stray when he brought the National Party into it. I ask the member to come back to the debate.
CRAIG McNAIR: Basically, I want to outline the fact that New Zealand First was the only party that last year put up a Supplementary Order Paper to make that specific 19.5 percent tax rate for Māori trusts available to all New Zealanders.
Hon DAVID CARTER (National)
: I accept the challenge made by the junior Minister in the chair, the Hon David Cunliffe, that National should front up with examples showing that if the New Zealand company tax rate were lower than Australia’s, it would affect the behaviour of international companies looking to come to New Zealand, and the behaviour of current New Zealand companies looking to go to Australia to take advantage of its lower company tax rate. I can give no better example than Air New Zealand, and I would be very grateful if the Minister would take this up with the Hon Dr Michael Cullen on the 7th floor, at the 6 o’clock tea break. Air New Zealand is a very good example of the way that companies adjust their business and where they operate. The Minister of Finance is now an 85 percent shareholder in Air New Zealand. Mr Cunliffe should be aware that Air New Zealand is currently involved in a tax dispute—it has been signalled on the front pages of all business papers in New Zealand—with the Hong Kong authorities.
Lindsay Tisch: He doesn’t read them.
Hon DAVID CARTER: Well, the member should read these papers, because the majority of Air New Zealand is now owned by the taxpayers of New Zealand. Following some very poor decision-making by Dr Cullen in not accepting interest from Singapore Airlines, the New Zealand taxpayer is now saddled with Air New Zealand. Air New Zealand restructured its affairs and based a company to lease aircraft in Hong Kong, for one reason only—namely, a tax advantage.
Dr Wayne Mapp: 15 percent.
Hon DAVID CARTER: There is a 15 percent tax rate for the company leasing aircraft in Hong Kong, and that is why Air New Zealand structured its business affairs that way. I tell Mr Cunliffe that is just one example of a company adjusting its affairs to make sure it gets the most advantageous tax rate it can. For Mr Cunliffe to argue that that will not happen if our tax rate is set at or below the current corporate tax rate in Australia is ignorance in its extreme.
I also want to pick up on the special tax rate for Māori authorities. I heard Mr Duynhoven interject across the Chamber saying it is a fallacy. I want the member to open the bill at page 2026,where it talks about the tax rate for policyholder income being 33c in every dollar, for trustee income being 33c in every dollar, for companies being 33c in every dollar, and for trustees of group investment schemes or funds being 33c in every dollar. Yet when we look at Māori authorities it reads as follows, for the benefit of Mr Duynhoven: “The basic rate of income tax for the taxable income of a Maori authority is 19.5 cents for every $1 of that taxable income.” Nothing could be clearer, for the benefit of Mr Duynhoven, or Mr Cunliffe, or every other member of the Labour Party, that this legislation cements in place a tax rate that is advantageous to Māori authorities. Nobody can argue against that.
But the question I have of the Minister in the chair, as I look through the 2,000-odd pages of the tax bill, is that I do not find a definition—
Hon Harry Duynhoven: Quote the next sentence I said, if you are not that ignorant.
Hon DAVID CARTER: Mr Duynhoven can take a call if he wants. What I have said is absolute fact, and if he had bothered to study the bill he would know that. I know that the bill is big, but he should look at page 2026. My question to the Minister is where in this tax legislation will I find a definition of “Maori authority”. I have looked for it and cannot find it, but I did not have the opportunity of working on the Finance and Expenditure Committee, and I accept that it may be in the bill. But it would be advantageous to have that answer.
BRIAN CONNELL (National—Rakaia)
: I am exhausted just looking at this bill, let alone reading it. I have to admit that I did not have the strength to carry it all down here—2,307 pages of it—but I was compelled by Mr Hide’s argument, so I looked at the page, and Mr Carter has also brought it to our attention as well. Mr Hide said the rate of tax for Māori authorities was 19.5 percent, which is a flat rate. I thought that was a pretty good idea. If Mr Hide said it, I thought that was good enough. Then Mr Carter said it, and I thought I had better look for myself. So I went to page 2026 and looked at Māori authorities in Part A, “Income tax”, of schedule 1, and I do not know what the debate is about. I do not know why Mr Duynhoven is calling out, because clause 2 states—and I will read it for Mr Duynhoven and others; it is quite clear—“Maori authorities. The basic rate of income tax for the taxable income of a Maori authority is …”
Rodney Hide: 19.5.
BRIAN CONNELL: Thank you. Mr Duynhoven also confirms it, so he knew about it all the time. So he concurs. The provision continues: “… 19.5c for every $1 of that taxable income.”
This legislation really is an epic. I was looking through some of the background notes before I came here, and I see that not only is it a huge undertaking, but it started with a rewriting of the Income Tax Act of 1976, and the first component was finished in 1994. I assume that was under a National Government.
Hon Harry Duynhoven: So was 1976.
BRIAN CONNELL: I thank Mr Duynhoven, because he has just called out what I was going to go on to say. The second stage was completed in 1996, but—
Hon David Carter: Good days—they were good days. They’ll come again.
BRIAN CONNELL: They were good days, but in the intervening time it has not been done. Now we are getting to the third stage and, hopefully, we will try to bring it to a conclusion.
I congratulate the Labour Government on introducing legislation that will have a flat tax of 19.5 percent, provided it applies to everybody. The Minister might want to take a call and clarify that point. I am sure that is what he meant when he shook his head in acknowledgment, saying it would be for everybody.
Hon David Carter: The Minister’s agreeing with it.
BRIAN CONNELL: He is agreeing with it. I think that would be an outstanding outcome.
Hon David Carter: An amendment should be made. Move an amendment!
BRIAN CONNELL: Oh, no—the Minister can clarify that. I will not need to.
I go on now to see that the key aim of the rewrite of the project is to produce tax legislation that is clear, uses plain language, and is structurally consistent. That sounds pretty good; I concur with that. I do not think there is much argument in the Committee about that: our tax legislation, and the wording around tax, is extremely confusing. It is so confusing that a huge number of people become non-compliant because they are either ignorant of our tax laws, or they simply do not understand them. What this creates is an industry for lawyers and accountants to work a vortex system, where a lot of activity is going on in a sub-economy, which is not growing this economy for the folk of New Zealand.
In framing this legislation, I also see the Government saying that it has been involved in public consultation. If that were the actuality of this Government’s process, then I say that that is sensible and timely, but I have severe doubts about this Government’s commitment to consultation. It says it consults, but the reality is that in most cases it is found wanting. I have found press release after press release from business community interests saying that this Government has not consulted them, when it says it has.
I see that the bill rewrites Parts C, D, and E and aspects of Parts A and B, and I have a genuine question for the Minister, as the commentary states it “re-enacts” but does not “rewrite” the remainder of the Act. I really do not understand what that means. Maybe the Minister in the chair could take a call and explain to us exactly what he means by that. I just find that a little confusing.
I notice that the Act will come into force on 1 April 2004, and I hope that is not an April Fool’s Day joke. If the Minister says it will happen on 1 April, I believe it will. The bill applies to income derived in the 2004-05 tax year, and in later tax years, or in the corresponding period. The explanatory note goes on to state: “Care has been taken in the development of the bill to ensure that it has the same outcomes as the current Act.” This is a very important issue.
Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE (Associate Minister of Revenue)
: I do appreciate the support of members opposite, including the National Party members. The only thing is that when they give support, they sometimes have a funny way of showing it. I understand that they will be voting for this bill, and I appreciate that, because the content is worthwhile. But I guess that also means they will be voting for the provision on Māori trusts—and why would they not? They did not change it the last few times they were in power. It has been around since the 1950s.
Hon David Carter: What is the definition of a Māori trust?
Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: I really wish Mr Carter would read the bill for himself, but it is on page 1878 in clause OB 1.
But let us get back to what is really being said here. I am afraid it is another example of “Brash disease” spreading throughout the Opposition caucus. It is really another attack on Māori, and I must say I am getting rather sick to death of this. People are using very generic legislation, and even legislation for purposes with which they agree and provisions for which they will be voting, but it does not stop them attacking people because of their ethnicity.
Now, if we are talking about who is actually paying tax and who is not paying tax, then I think we need to be talking about—
Rodney Hide: I raise a point of order, Mr Chairperson. I just ask you to caution the Minister. I think he has broken the Standing Orders already. He has talked about the “Brash disease”. I do not think you would allow us to talk about the “Clark disease”, which is far more virulent and dangerous. I do not think you would allow us to attack members of Parliament for attacking people on the basis of their ethnicity. That has not happened here today, but what Mr Cunliffe is doing is accusing us on this side of the Chamber of racism by using cute words to get around it, and I ask you to caution the Minister in the chair against going down that chute. In fact, my speech was that I loved the 19.5c; I just wanted it for everyone.
The CHAIRPERSON (H V Ross Robertson): I thank the honourable member for his contribution. I had been thinking along those lines, so I am glad he drew it to my attention, and it has been drawn to the attention of the Minister.
Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE: This Government does believe that the same rates should apply to organisations in the same situation. There is no parallel for the situation of Māori trusts, whose uses of the funds they hold in trust are limited. There is no parallel for the fact that 90 percent of beneficiaries have an income that is in the lowest tax rate. That is why they are being treated appropriately, and at the end of the year people pay the full tax wash-up.
If the ACT party wants to talk about who is and who is not paying full rates of tax, then they might wish to think about some of their own supporters. They might want to think about things like trust funds, or complex tax structures using series of shelf companies. I would be quite interested to hear Mr Prebble come back to the Committee and tell members about complex company structures that might not provide full information about people’s tax liabilities.
I would be interested to hear someone talk about how much tax the major banks are paying, for example. I would not want to say anything that was taxpayer-specific, but I would be very surprised if any of them were paying 19.5c in the dollar, and that is a matter that the Government—as Dr Cullen has said—has under investigation.
Before members start talking about Māori—and members opposite have mentioned the foreshore—let us remind ourselves about the substantial holdings of coastal land that some very high-wealth Pākehā individuals have.
- Sitting suspended from 6 p.m. to 7.30 p.m.
PANSY WONG (National)
: I am glad to see the Minister of Finance in the chair, because I am sure that he will be very happy to enlighten us on a few questions. We are here to debate the 2,000-odd pages of the rewritten Income Tax Bill. Not only is that the case, but Supplementary Order Paper 195 has also been tabled. I would like the Minister of Finance to take a call to address some concerns that I did not originally have, until during one question time the Minister said that the Inland Revenue Department was conducting a tax investigation into some New Zealand trading banks. We were assured that this bill, which the Finance and Expenditure Committee members put a lot of work into deliberating on, would not change taxation policy, but obviously the implication of what the Minister of Finance said during question time a few weeks back is that some of the income tax provisions we are now currently debating may, in effect, not be watertight. If that is the case, should the House hold back from passing the 2,000-odd pages of this bill?
Why waste a golden opportunity to make some changes to the legislation? After the Minister raised the issue of a tax investigation into the trading banks, I think it cast doubt in the public’s mind as to how watertight our income tax legislation is and how law-abiding our trading banks are. I think that to be fair to both the public and the trading banks—and apparently our Inland Revenue Department has been carrying out the investigation for a year—the Minister should take a call to persuade the National Party as to why it should continue to support this bill. Dr Cullen promises that the bill will not change taxation policy, but at the same time it seems to me that the Minister and the department have some doubts about the activities of the trading banks, in terms of whether they have been paying their proper tax bill. I think that is quite a serious issue, and that the Minister should take a call to tell us why the legislation is being rewritten, and to reassure us that the bill is not intended to change taxation policy. Some doubts are being cast on whether the provisions of the legislation are adequate to ensure that New Zealand taxpayers are getting good value, and on whether our trading banks are observing the tax legislation.
The Minister may also like to take a call to address this legislation in the light of the cancellation of Project Aqua by Meridian Energy. We heard representatives of the petroleum industry say on the news that they are very happy to come in and help in this situation by taking up more exploration activity, and will look to the Government for some encouragement to do so through a fiscal or tax provision. I wonder whether the Minister will take a call to say whether, in light of the looming energy crisis that faces New Zealand, the Government is to miss that golden opportunity to address some of those issues.
I took this early call firstly to ask the Minister to address, in particular, my first question relating to the investigation into trading banks in New Zealand—when that investigation may be concluded, and whether this legislation will be subject to very early amendment. Should we rush to pass 2,000 pages of tax legislation or wait for further amendments to come? But I have another question that the Minister may want to address. One of the provisions in this legislation relates to film production. I guess it relates to the very famous producer Mr Peter Jackson, and to
The Lord of the Rings. There has been some debate in public between Mr Jackson and the Minister of Finance with regard to how generous a tax concession Mr Jackson’s company received. I have read the provision that relates to the film industry and to film production, and I want to know what is deductible within it. I want the Minister to address that, and say whether the current provision within this tax—
Hon David Carter: You’ll get another call.
PANSY WONG: Exactly. I will continue to take calls and ask these serious questions, until the Minister stands up to address them. Mr Jackson reckons that the tax concession given to his film production company was not very generous. I want to know whether the Minister can assure us that the provisions relating to film production in this bill apply to everybody, and can tell us how generous they are.
The Labour Government always loves to claim credit—
Hon David Carter: King Kong.
PANSY WONG: Yes, he is King Kong. I want to know whether this legislation will be an encouragement for Mr Peter Jackson, who has started to work towards his next Oscar award, with regard to
King Kong. The Labour Government has claimed much credit for the success of New Zealand films, so has the provision been generous or was the tax concession —as Mr Jackson has said it was, as far as he was concerned—really chicken feed?
I remind the Minister that I have asked two questions. I have a third one, so it is really worthwhile for this Minister to take a call. My third question relates to Māori authorities. We know that last year the National Party voted against this, yet—
Dr Wayne Mapp: We voted against it.
PANSY WONG:—none the less, the Government, with the help of United Future, passed legislation to allow Māori authorities to claim a tax rate of 19.5 percent. The 19.5 percent was meant to apply only to Māori authorities, because there were restrictions on what they could do with their assets and on the way they could distribute profit. But I have been told some people believe that wholly owned subsidiaries of Māori authorities, which were not supposed to be entitled to claim the 19.5 percent tax rate, were restructured to take advantage of it. I say to the Minister that that is a very serious issue, because wholly owned commercial subsidiaries of Māori authorities are competing on a commercial basis with other private enterprise, and if they are claiming that tax advantage then it is not a level playing field. I think the public deserves to hear from the Minister that the 19.5 percent tax rate is applied only to Māori authorities, and he should categorically assure the public that wholly owned commercial subsidiaries of Māori authorities cannot take advantage of that rate. If they do, then it is not fair to other private businesses that have to pay income tax at the 33 percent rate.
My fourth question—this is why it would be worthwhile for the Minister to answer my questions—concerns the Minister’s championing of one economy between New Zealand and Australia. Maybe he would like to take a call to tell us why it is not desirable for New Zealand’s company tax rate to be the same as that of Australia.
I am pleased to see the Minister of Finance diligently scribbling things on his writing pad. I am sure that the public will be delighted to know that he will indeed take a call to address the four questions that I have raised. After all, we are debating a tax bill that is over 2,000-odd pages long, and I would like to think the Minister appreciates hard-working members asking appropriate questions in order to get his reassurance that this bill will not change any taxation policy.
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Revenue)
: I want to respond to one or two of the matters raised. I outline the fact, as Mr Carter will be aware—and I am very grateful to him, as one of my predecessors, for the work that was started under the previous National Government in terms of this rewrite programme, and to Mr Dunne, who was also a part of it—that there has been a very clear rule applied by successive Ministers that the kinds of issues the member has raised are not dealt with in the rewrite programme. If we wait to try to deal with every taxation issue that somebody wants to have addressed by way of legislation before we do a rewrite, we will never do the rewrite. Indeed, a large part of Supplementary Order Paper 195 actually incorporates the last taxation bill passed into the rewritten Income Tax Bill. The purpose of that is to make life easier for taxation practitioners, who will have access to one up-to-date full version of the legislation.
I will just take up a couple of points that the member raised. On the last point, as I have said many times to some leaders of business, if they want New Zealand to have a lower company tax rate—much lower than Australia’s—they should give me the other parts of the Australian taxation system, which they do not want to pay, either. For example, the Commonwealth of Australia has a 6 percent payroll tax. If we had a 6 percent payroll tax in New Zealand, we could probably halve the company tax rate. If we also had the Australian state payroll taxes, we could more than halve the company tax rate in New Zealand. That is without counting the capital gains tax, the inheritance tax, and the various other taxes that Australian businesses have to pay directly or indirectly. Of course, New Zealand business wants to just cherry-pick one little bit here, and leave all the other bits off. The offer is open; it is on the table for New Zealand businesses. They can come and talk to the Minister of Revenue, and if they want to have a really low company tax rate they have to give me the other bits that are paid in Australia. I have to say that, in terms of tax design, they are not as good as our system is. The design of our taxation is better than Australia’s in that respect. But if that is what is really important to businesses—if that is the teddy bear they want to take to bed with them at night—then they have to give me the little eyes and the funny nose to put on it as well, in order to make the thing up and make it look proper when they go to bed with it.
I will also deal with the issue of films. I am not allowed to know the total tax deduction that the financers of the film, not Mr Jackson, received. The financiers actually got the tax deduction, which is why Mr Jackson may well not know the total value of it—it was not his company that received it. All I know is that when National introduced legislation to remove that taxation loophole by grandparenting the existing provisions—it was then amended by the select committee, of which I had the honour to be a member—the Inland Revenue Department advised that the cost of the grandparenting provisions was between $300 and $400 million. The largest part of that is almost certainly in relation to
The Lord of the Rings. When I see the Oscars lined up, I see about $30 million for each of them. Will
benefit? That film will not benefit from the taxation loophole, because it was wiped out in 1999 by Mr Carter, myself, and various others. But
will benefit from the Large Budget Screen Production Grant Scheme, which is much easier to control than the taxation loophole, I must say, in terms of its cost. Probably, without the Large Budget Screen Production Grant Scheme we would have
without the ape, so to speak, and without everybody else appearing within the film.  The start will be the hard bit to do, really. I suppose the BNZ building—“Darth Vader’s tower”—is the most appropriate place to do that in Wellington.
In terms of the banks, that matter is all under the existing law, and remedial measures are not, and should not be, part of this bill. If we were to mix up remedial legislation, base protection legislation, and other changes with the income tax rewrite, we would never get the income tax rewrite done.
Hon PETER DUNNE (Leader—United Future)
: I was not going to take a call in this debate, but I listened very carefully to the member who spoke immediately prior to the Minister. One of the things she said that aroused my attention was that she was concerned this bill was being rushed. I should tell the Committee that this bill’s genesis goes back to the time when Robin Oliver, who is sitting to the right of the Minister in the chair, Michael Cullen, was a callow youth. Many of us have aged considerably during the genesis of this legislation. I was the Minister 8 years ago, and it was on my work programme at that stage, so it is hardly rushed legislation that we see in the Chamber this evening. In fact, if one thinks back over the tax reforms that have been made over the last 20 years, one realises this rewrite—which is, effectively, a rewrite of legislation first passed in 1913—is long overdue. [Interruption] It goes back to the genesis of income tax in this country in 1913, and the legislation has been repeatedly amended. This is the first substantive, plain-English rewrite in the history of that legislation. By my calculation, it is some 80-odd years since income tax began, so claims that this is rushed legislation are ever-so-slightly exaggerated.
I want to speak briefly about the issue of film tax. The Minister made some comments about that, and I recall the situation in 1999 particularly well, because I was the chair of the Finance and Expenditure Committee at the time. I recall the claims made to that committee by a variety of people in the film industry that, if we dared to tamper with the existing regime, which provided for the most generous write-offs previously known to humanity, then the film industry in New Zealand as we knew it would die. The select committee was, to put it mildly, somewhat sceptical about those claims. We called together the representatives of the film industry, of the Inland Revenue Department, and of Treasury. Mr Oliver and others—Dr Cullen, certainly—will recall that we had a round-the-table morning when we actually sorted out, with the Minister’s concurrence, the regime that we have now. All the dire threats that that would be the end of investment in films in New Zealand look a little hollow today, when we celebrate the success of Peter Jackson and
The Lord of the Rings, because that was at the time that
project was getting off the ground. The issue being raised was not just related to
and the grandfathering provision, but to the message that it would send thereafter. Since that time we have had
, and we are talking about
. I see there is talk now of
, which has been announced in the last couple of days as being another film likely to come to New Zealand.
The point I am making is that the film regime we now have may not be perfect, but it is a vast improvement on what we had previously, and there is certainly no great evidence—contrary to the member’s claims—that it acts as a disincentive to investing in New Zealand. In fact, the evidence is quite to the contrary of that. All the evidence we see and hear—at the Oscars in Los Angeles, and from other producers—is that New Zealand is a very attractive destination in which to make movies. That has nothing much to do with the tax system, and a lot to do with the scenery, the cost of labour, and the expertise of our film makers. So I think that that argument is a little spurious, as well.
Pansy Wong made some other points that I do not intend to go into. But I do find myself having to rise to defend the honour of a variety of past Ministers, including my immediate predecessor, the Rt Hon Wyatt Creech, who—I am sure—would be horrified at the accusation that he was party to rushed legislation in the Chamber tonight, given that he ceased to be the Minister in charge of the bill about 9 years ago. This is a long overdue rewrite. Our taxation laws were a mess, because of the complexity of the changes that have been made over recent years. The fact that the law and the drafting of it have not kept up with changes in style and form, and the fact that we could have arguments about form and substance in another context, all demonstrate that the rewrite is long overdue.
This bill has been through the Finance and Expenditure Committee; it has been considered ad nauseam. A Committee of the whole House process of this type is not unreasonable. The myriad number of taxation practitioners and those who follow these matters with interest will be desperately keen to see this project, which has had a “mists of time” feel about it, finally enacted. We are embarking on that process this evening, and I am delighted, at last, to see work that I thought would never be completed coming to fruition.
DEBORAH CODDINGTON (ACT)
: I will follow on from the Hon Peter Dunne, because he brought up the subject of
The Lord of the Rings. I ask the Minister to take a call and tell us whether, at the time, he actually supported that arrangement for
. We all know that the true story about the financing of that trilogy has yet to be written, and I remember the Minister—I am sure it was the Minister at the time—saying something like: “Every New Zealander should get a free ticket to this movie, because it was made on the backs of New Zealanders. We were very lucky it was a success, because if it had not been a success, we would have been taking a bath.” There are a number of questions to be answered, and the Minister knows exactly what I am talking about. Was the film signed off in the correct time frame in order to be entitled to those tax breaks? There are a number of things—
Darren Hughes: This is from the sleuth journalist.
DEBORAH CODDINGTON: Those members over there on the Government benches might jeer, but the Minister knows what I am talking about. He was not in favour of that. Of course we are all pleased about
The Lord of the Rings. Peter Dunne said that it is nothing to do with tax breaks that movies are made here. If that is the case, why has Peter Jackson lobbied this Government so hard for more tax breaks for film makers? Why does he say he will take his films somewhere else, if it has nothing to do with tax breaks? If that Minister is so informed on economic matters, why does he think that incentives do not work? Of course incentives work. Everybody knows that. One needs only half a brain to know that incentives work.
The ACT party is not supporting this bill, because we cannot support legislation that has in it such an “envy” tax—such ideological tax rates as that of 39 percent for any income over $60,000. There was no need to bring in that rate when this Government came into power. There was no need for that extra money in the coffers of the Government—as we have well seen with the operating surplus. It was just a way for this Government to say: “We will punish you because you are successful.” If people work hard, the Government will punish them instead of rewarding them and celebrating them. If people run a company that is doing well, the Government will not celebrate that, either. Why does the Government not give everybody a tax cut, right across the board? Why should there be a progressive tax rate, at all, if not just to punish the successful—those who work hard?
There is, however, one clause I can support—that is, clause 2 in Part A of schedule 1, “Maori authorities”. I applaud the Minister for that provision: 19.5c for every dollar of taxable income. That is a really good start, a very good start. I urge him to take that rate and apply it everywhere else. The Minister, when he took a call before, based his argument on the status quo of spending, but he has not taken into account the fact that this Government is spending far too much already. We have huge spending on “Nonsense Castle”. How many people are employed by the Ministry of Education? There are 360 Māori employees, for a start, and they are just 12 percent of the total number of employees in that ministry. Why on earth do we need to have as many people as that on the payroll at the Ministry of Education when we can give funding directly to students and pupils? We should let parents choose, and let communities decide and take the bulk of funding, which, after all, is taken from taxpayers to educate children. We should let the bureaucracy have what filters up through the system, rather than the other way around as it is at the moment, where the Government hands out all the money to the bureaucracy, and what is left—what filters down through the system—reaches the schools and the children who need the education.
Why should there be a Ministry of Women’s Affairs? If this Government supports that ministry so much, why does it not have a “Ministry of Men’s Affairs”? Why not? If a Ministry of Women’s Affairs is so good, why not have a “Ministry of Men’s Affairs”? It is, of course, just to keep people on the bureaucracy payroll. Women have gone so far now, we do not need to be pandered to, thank you very much, with a Ministry of Women’s Affairs.
Dr WAYNE MAPP (National—North Shore)
: Listeners tonight will be interested to know that National is supporting this bill. The reason we are doing so is that it is a consolidation and rewrite of the legislation. That is an important project. For instance, a former colleague of mine, currently teaching about tax, has written a book of some 1,200 pages—I have written a small portion of it—and he will be incorporating the outcome of this legislation, which I presume will have its third reading next week. So the professional community—accountants, lawyers, tax specialists, and tax agents—are looking forward to the passage of this bill. I am certainly conscious that it has been the work of many, many years to bring it to fruition.
Mr Dunne referred to the fact that it is the outcome or outgrowth of legislation from 1913. I must confess that I was under the impression that legislation went back to the 1890s for the first income tax Act. But the remarkable thing is that that early legislation had about 100 clauses and was about 30 pages long. Today we are faced with two massive volumes of well over 2,000 pages, yet every tax practitioner would be able to tell us that the core of the Act is still contained in just 20-odd clauses at the beginning of the legislation.
However, just because we are supporting the legislation, that support should not be interpreted—as the Government is most unjustly doing—as supporting its unreasonable and irrational policies. I refer members to an example of that. I was, frankly, amazed to hear the Minister of Revenue trumpeting about why New Zealand’s corporate tax rate had remained at 33 percent. That is quite remarkable at a time we have a surplus approaching $6 billion. Some might indeed liken the Minister of Finance to Scrooge, sitting on his piles of money unwilling to let any part of it go and wanting to amass and accrete more and more. Is he considering, perhaps, an $8 billion surplus next year but is unwilling to let any part of it go?
I have news for the ideologues of the left—those people represented by the personage of Dr Cullen—it is not the Government’s money; it is the product of hard-working New Zealanders, firms, and businesses, and the money the Government takes off those firms and businesses is money not available for investment. Now, the Minister of Finance says that people can have their 30 percent tax rate, provided they have every other part of the Australian tax system—capital gains, and so forth. He has forgotten about the accelerated depreciation allowances, which I can tell him many people would like to have.
But the real point is that the Minister is completely unaware of the concept of comparative advantage. Why does the Government not give New Zealanders and New Zealand companies a head start? Does it not realise that in many respects we are disadvantaged in New Zealand? We have a smaller economy, a smaller market, and a location further away from our markets—all of those things add costs to New Zealand businesses. Why not give those businesses a head start? That is the way to growth. The Minister must surely know of the experience of Ireland, which gave precisely that advantage to its businesses. Ireland is off the coast of Europe, isolated, and having to deal with the disadvantages of that, so the answer was to give people a special advantage, and if the 30 percent rate leads to an advantage for New Zealanders over Australians, frankly, I say: “Well and good.” That is actually what New Zealand business needs to sustain investment, jobs, and growth. I urge the Minister to take the message on board.
Hon DAVID CARTER (National)
: I will take the opportunity while Dr Michael Cullen is the Minister in the chair to get some answers to questions that I asked earlier when his junior Minister, David Cunliffe, was in the chair before the dinner adjournment. My issue was around this argument that has just been developed very well by my colleague Dr Wayne Mapp: the advantages of a tax rate of 30 percent, which is at least as good as Australia’s. David Cunliffe challenged us to give examples of why that would affect the behaviour of various companies.
He argued, it seemed to me, that if there were a difference in the tax rate, then companies would not be inclined to make decisions that mean they accept the generosity of Australia. Of course, I do not think that is right and I quoted to Mr Cunliffe an example, which I think the Hon Dr Michael Cullen might also like to comment on.
My simple question is why his airline, Air New Zealand, established its leasing arrangements in Hong Kong if it was not simply to gain the advantage of a far better tax rate. Would Dr Cullen like to explain to the Chamber tonight why Air New Zealand took the opportunity to establish its leasing company in Hong Kong, if it was for any other reason than that it saw it as tax advantageous? If he accepts that that is the reason, and I cannot see how even our Minister of Finance could argue that it was for any other reason, then it is surely logical that there are companies now in New Zealand that are considering Australia as a base for production because of advantageous company tax rates and, equally, that there are Australian companies that might be tempted to come to New Zealand if we had a similar tax regime.
The second question I want answered relates to the definition of “Māori authority”. We had quite a debate before the dinner break on the advantageous tax rate that is available to Māori authorities, with Harry Duynhoven initially interjecting that this Income Tax Bill did not give an advantageous tax rate to Māori authorities. That is clearly wrong and I think Harry Duynhoven has accepted that. I then asked the Minister to point me in the direction of where “Māori authority” is defined, and I thank him for pointing us to page 1878. As I read it, a Māori authority means a person who has made an effective election under clause HI 3, “Election to become a Maori authority”. I have to say, not having had the opportunity to work through the select committee, that I am none the wiser as to who has the ability to elect to be classified as a Māori authority and therefore enjoy a substantially advantageous tax rate.
I refer to my own area and the performance of Ngāi Tahu, and I would be grateful to know whether its commercial entities could be classified in an advantageous way to be described as a Māori authority. I certainly think that if that is the case, we need to have an understanding of where this definition extends. For instance—and I see the Minister taking an interest in this—Ngāi Tahu has just been involved in a full takeover of a publicly listed company, Shotover Jet. I would be horrified if that particular entity were now able to structure its affairs so that it was paying tax at 19.5 percent when a similar operation on the Kawarau River, for example, was facing a corporate tax rate of 33 percent.
The final point on which I want clarification from the Minister is that I note in the report from the select committee—and I acknowledge that I was not at the select committee and I have not been through the 2,300 pages in detail—that the work took place through 2003. At that time the Minister, whether or not he wishes to recall it, was part of a Government that was promoting the “flatulence tax” and I just want to make sure that nowhere in these 2,307 pages is there hidden away the wonderful idea that Mr Hodgson came up with regarding the “flatulence tax”.
Hon Dr Michael Cullen: Open it up and have a sniff.
Hon DAVID CARTER: I hope it is never to be seen again, and I look forward to the Minister’s comment and his confirmation of that.
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Revenue)
: On the member’s last point—yes, I can assure him about that. On the other point he raises, I will look into that and come back to him on the question of the subsidiary because I do not have that information to hand. I thank the member and indeed all colleagues for their cooperation on this bill. It would otherwise have been impossible to get this bill through, and the huge amount of work that has been done by successive Ministers, the department, the Parliamentary Counsel Office, and others would really have been for nothing.
Dr MURIEL NEWMAN (ACT)
: I take a call with regard to the Income Tax Bill and in particular I will draw the Committee’s attention to clause CB 1, which deals with the amount of money that people derive from a business. In particular it states that the amount that a person derives from a business is regarded as income of that person. There is an exemption for amounts of a capital nature. The Minister in the chair, Dr Michael Cullen, can correct me if I am wrong, but this is the clause where, if section 2, which is the exclusion, were removed it could be used to introduce a capital gains tax, as I understand it. The exclusion is there, so this clause does not include capital and therefore this bill does not introduce a capital gains tax.
But I will use this opportunity to talk a little about the fact that when a rewrite bill like this Income Tax Bill is in front of Parliament it is an opportunity for people to put up ideas and suggestions. A little while ago, under the Official Information Act, we asked the Minister whether anybody had been recommending capital gains taxes, or any other such mechanisms. We received a response indicating that Mr Copeland from United Future had written to the Minister of Finance to suggest that a capital gains tax on residential rental properties would be a good idea.
At the time, Mr Copeland was very concerned that people’s investment in rental properties was crowding out their investment in other business opportunities, so he suggested that the Minister of Finance might like to consider the idea of introducing a capital gains tax on rental properties. That would, of course, be of enormous concern to hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders who invest in rental property these days, often as part of their superannuation investments to help fund their retirement.
I am pleased to say that when the Minister’s advisers at Treasury looked at this request from Mr Copeland and considered the pros and cons of introducing a capital gains tax, they said it would be difficult because it would be quite hard to establish whether, when somebody invested in a rental property, he or she was investing in the long term—in other words with no intention to sell it—or in the short term, with a desire to turn it over, realise the capital gain, and maybe reinvest that money; in effect to trade in property. So the officials advising Dr Cullen suggested to Mr Copeland of United Future that at this stage a capital gains tax was maybe not the right thing to do.
But then they did go on to say that the depreciation rate on properties might be a more fertile area for the Government to look at, if the Government was going to consider trying to gain more income from the rental property investment market. So I understand that the Minister is looking at depreciation rates. He is now looking at halving depreciation rates on rental property investments—the amount they can claim back. I wonder whether the Minister wants to comment on whether this was partly stimulated by Mr Copeland’s suggestion, but I am pleased to see, as this very large Income Tax Bill goes through, that the spectre of a capital gains tax has been put in the coffin. Mr Copeland might like to reflect on whether raising these issues is sensible, given that it is discoverable under the Official Information Act.
GORDON COPELAND (United Future)
: I was somewhat surprised suddenly to find Muriel Newman talking about correspondence with Michael Cullen and subsequent Treasury advice, in the context of the Income Tax Bill. However, I think I probably should take a right of reply, just to cover some of the misinformation that is contained in the remarks she made.
First of all, let me say I think it would be a very sad day if people came to this Parliament with completely predetermined positions on tax issues. If we are endeavouring, as I am, to create a situation in New Zealand where we do not have investment distortions, where we do not have tax-driven investment coming into the economy in the wrong places—into places that are not productive—versus places where, according to market signals, that money should be going, then it is quite right and proper, and responsible, for a member of Parliament to raise those issues with the Minister of Finance.
I might say, to put the record straight, that United Future has no policy in relation to bringing in a capital gains tax on residential rental properties. I do think, though, that capital gains tax on share schemes, on share investments, on various trust funds, and on various insurance policies should be revisited if we are to get some kind of level playing field and to avoid investment distortions in terms of where people put their money.
I would like to make something else clear. The claim has been made, not only in this Chamber but also to the media and to property investors in this country, that somehow my letter to the Minister of Finance resulted in the Inland Revenue Department deciding to undertake a review of depreciation rates. The release given under the Official Information Act to the ACT party made it very clear that that was already on the Inland Revenue Department’s work list, prior to my correspondence coming in, and I do not think the two are directly connected in any way.
It is important to clear up that little matter and to say that the problem, however, still remains—that in my view we do have great investment distortion in this country. New Zealand’s economy and its companies could benefit if the existing anomalies around capital gains tax on investments on the stock exchange could be removed so that we could see a greater proportion of the nation’s savings going into that area. That is just a brief comment, but I thought it would be good to clarify those issues.
- The question was put that the amendments set out on Supplementary Order Paper 195 in the name of the Hon Dr Michael Cullen be agreed to.
A party vote was called for on the question,
That clauses A1 and A2, Parts A to Y, and Schedules 1 to 23 as amended be agreed to.
||New Zealand Labour 52; New Zealand National 27; New Zealand First 13; Green Party 9; United Future 8; Progressive 2.
||ACT New Zealand 8; Independent: Awatere Huata.
|Clauses A1 and A2, Parts A to Y, and Schedules 1 to 23 as amended agreed to.
- Bill reported withamendment.
Hon Dr MICHAEL CULLEN (Minister of Revenue)
: I move,
That the Income Tax Bill be now read a third time.
Mr SPEAKER: The debate is interrupted and set down, as an agreement from the Business Committee, for resumption on Thursday, 8 April, 2004.