[Sitting date: 10 May 2012. Volume:679;Page:2161. Text is incorporated into the Bound Volume.]
Questions to Ministers
Budget 2012—Wider Economic Programme
SCOTT SIMPSON (National—Coromandel) to the
Minister of Finance: How will the Budget on 24 May continue the Government’s long-term programme to build a more competitive economy?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance)
: At the same time as dealing with the consequences of recession and earthquakes, the Government has been focusing in recent years on building a long-term stronger economy for more jobs and higher incomes. Budget 2012 will continue that process with further investment in science and innovation, improving incentives on New Zealanders in the welfare system, increasing public sector productivity, and continuing with our considerable investment in long-term infrastructure.
Scott Simpson: Why is it important to build a more competitive economy?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: That is a good question. In the long run our incomes depend on the competitiveness of our economy, and those economies that have not paid attention to that, such as Greece, are finding their incomes dropping pretty sharply. We need to reverse a marked decline in competitiveness that occurred in the first decade of this century—that is, a decline in our ability to earn enough to maintain the incomes that we expect. This Government is committed to turning round that decline in competitiveness. It is a longer-term project, but it is well under way.
Scott Simpson: What measures has the Government taken over the past three Budgets to improve New Zealand’s competitiveness?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I will pick just a few measures out of a wide-ranging programme. We have reformed the tax system to shift incentives towards working, saving, and investing and away from borrowing, excessive consumption, and over-investment in housing. We have amended the bigger pieces of regulation that the Government writes—such as the Resource Management Act, the Securities Act, and the
Employment Relations Act—to help businesses make the decisions to invest and employ, because that is how we get more incomes and more jobs.
Scott Simpson: What progress has been made in building a more competitive economy?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Lifting competitiveness is a longer-term project, and it is a bit difficult in any given year to pick indicators of progress, but we can point to some. The economy has grown in 10 of the last 11 quarters, outperforming most other developed countries. Household savings are now positive, and, in fact, at higher rates than for about 20 years. Our overall debt to the rest of the world has fallen slightly, and we are headed towards surplus over the next 2 or 3 years.
Hon David Parker: Does he agree that the disappearance of $1.5 billion revenue from the Government’s books in the space of 6 months is a consequence of, in the Prime Minister’s words, “sticking to a plan that’s working”?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: No, I do not. As the commentary made clear when the Government accounts were released this week, some of that revenue, of course, will actually correct itself over the next few months. But let us just keep this in perspective. The member is fond of quoting Australia. The Australian Government had predicted a deficit of around $12 billion and ended up with a deficit of $40 billion in this current year, so a billion here or there is actually not too bad in the volatile world that we are dealing with.
Hon David Parker: Given that privatising the State-owned enterprises increases the Government’s deficit by about $100 million per annum and will not grow our economy, why does National have asset sales as the key plank of its economic agenda?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Well, it is not the key plank; it is a plank in lifting the competiveness of the economy. Of course, the fiscal effect of that has been estimated by Treasury. We just need to bear in mind here that these are commercial businesses where income is at risk. It can go up; it can go down. In fact, recent forecasts have had State-owned enterprise profits dropping by about half a billion dollars over the next 3 or 4 years. There is no guarantee of high returns on those assets. When we come to sell down 49 percent we will see how the market values those future income streams.
State-owned Energy Companies, Sales—2012 Budget Policy Statement Forecasts
Dr RUSSEL NORMAN (Co-Leader—Green) to the
Minister of Finance: Does the Budget Policy Statement 2012 show that the Government’s proposed asset sales programme would decrease the Government’s operating balance before gains and losses by nearly $100 million per year?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance)
: The Budget Policy Statement sets out a number of measures of the impact of these sales, and it does show a decrease in the Government’s operating balance before gains and losses. It also shows a significant decrease of between $5 billion and $7 billion in gross Government debt. It also shows a positive effect on the Government’s cash, because it pays more for debt than it gets in dividends from the 49 percent that it is selling. The conclusion, I think, of that is that when you look at the measures of the impact of the 49 percent sale of shares, it is about neutral over the longer term, but, of course, we will end up with less debt and better-performing companies.
Dr Russel Norman: So the Minister agrees that Treasury is forecasting that the Government’s asset sales programme would increase the Government deficit by $100 million a year, which has to be funded from somewhere, presumably by more debt?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: What we have said is that Treasury has done an estimate in the Budget Policy Statement. It is going to do another estimate, and I just make the same point again: there are a number of ways of measuring it. In the current
environment, less debt is better, when you see how toxic debt is around the world. If we can avoid borrowing in another $5 billion to $7 billion at the margin when we are already a highly indebted country, we believe that is a good thing to achieve.
Dr Russel Norman: Does he agree that the reason why the Government deficit will be $100 million a year worse as a result of privatisation is that the cost of borrowing is lower than the return on these assets, and hence the long-term effect of the privatisation will be to increase Government debt, because it has to fund the increased deficit?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: No, I do not agree with that. The member is confusing a number of different measures of the impact. But can I put this to the member: if the return on shares is guaranteed, then why is it not Green Party policy to borrow hundreds of billions and buy all the companies on the stock exchange?
Hon Member: It is.
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Well, maybe that is a policy. But that would be silly, because there is no guarantee of those returns, but you can guarantee you have to pay the interest on debt.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. With the greatest of respect, the Minister is on his feet, theorising and speculating about some other political party’s policy—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The Minister was not saying anything about any political party’s policies that I heard. He perhaps should not have said that if you want to do something—that is what he said. He said that if you want to do that, then you might as well borrow billions and buy a whole lot more companies. I do not think he alleged that was any particular party’s—
Rt Hon Winston Peters: He did. Look at the
Mr SPEAKER: The member will not interject like that when I am on my feet. If I am wrong, I will apologise to the member, but he does not need to interject like that. Courtesy in this House does matter.
Dr Russel Norman: Has the Minister seen what Roger Douglas admitted about the last round of privatisations, when he said: “I am not sure we were right to use the argument that we should privatise to quit debt. We knew it was a poor argument, but we probably felt it was the easiest to use politically.”?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: No, I do not agree with that. There was a set of circumstances then that actually had some similarities to now. At the time New Zealand had very high public debt, and our public debt cycles are over 30 years long. So once public debt goes up, it takes a long time to get it back down to where you started. This is one measure, but of course a more competitive economy, higher levels of growth, and the containment of Government expenditure are more important in the long run for containing debt. The sale of 49 percent in these companies will give us better-performing companies. They will provide New Zealanders with some better longer-term options for their increasing savings, and it will, at the margin, mean we borrow less money from volatile and difficult international debt markets.
Dr Russel Norman: Is Roger Douglas not saying here that the argument that says we have to privatise to reduce debt is not a good economic argument, and the only role for that argument is that, as Roger said, it was the easiest to use politically—that is, it is a political or a propaganda argument, not a good economic argument?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I do not know; you should ask Sir Roger.
Dr Russel Norman: Given that his Government has already clocked up a record $37 billion worth of debt in just 3 years, is it really responsible fiscal policy for the Government to permanently lock in hundreds of millions of dollars of additional debt because of the increased deficit from privatisation?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I just do not accept the member’s premise. The fact is that future income from these assets is uncertain, and that is always going to be the case, because they are commercial businesses. Future costs of Government debt are certain, and we are putting ourselves in the position that many other households and businesses have done across New Zealand, and that is to get our debt down so we can reduce the certain interest costs. We are doing that by selling to someone else 49 percent of assets that are actually a bit risky, and whose incomes will fluctuate over the years.
Dr Russel Norman: Given that last time round, when the National and Labour Governments previously embarked on a round of privatisation, they used debt to justify that privatisation, is he at all concerned that one of the architects of that process, Roger Douglas, is now on the public record saying that “We were wrong to use the argument that debt is the reason to privatise. The reason we used that argument was for political purposes. It wasn’t a good economic argument.”?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: It may surprise the member, but I take less notice of what Sir Roger Douglas says than he does. The fact is that there are a number of reasons why we believe this is an appropriate policy right now. One is that for one of the most indebted countries in the developed world, we can borrow less at the margin, the second is to provide better investment opportunities for New Zealanders who are increasing their savings, and, thirdly, we can get better-performing companies. As that member will know himself, these are companies that may be seen positively by the market because of their renewable energy content. Let us see.
Dr Russel Norman: I seek leave to table a page from the book
Out of the Woods by Reg Birchfield, which includes the quote from Roger Douglas that I have been using in question time about debt.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is objection.
Welfare Reforms—Minister’s Statements
JACINDA ARDERN (Labour) to the
Minister for Social Development: Does she stand by her statement that “Welfare is having the biggest reforms that this country has seen for decades”?
Hon PAULA BENNETT (Minister for Social Development)
: Yes, I stand by the part-quote, but in its context the full quote was “Let us be clear. Welfare is having the biggest reforms that this country has seen for decades, and the Opposition spokesperson cannot even get a main question in the House on it, and when we actually have a question she gets one supplementary question and she stuffs that up.” So I congratulate—
Grant Robertson: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. You have previously said that when primary questions are, as in this case, very straight questions about standing by a statement, the Minister answers the question. The Minister went on to talk about what primary questions a member has had. It is completely irrelevant.
Mr SPEAKER: I take it, though, that what the Minister was doing was completing the quote, and that seemed to be reasonable, because—[Interruption] Order! I am on my feet. I think it is not unreasonable for a Minister to feel that a very small part of a quote can give a misleading impression, and that is why often they will stand by their statement but say it was part of this longer quote, which is what I thought the Minister was doing. The fact that the rest of the quote may not have been that appealing to the other side of the House is not something I think I can intervene on, because the member chose to use this part of that quote. Where I would be concerned is if what the Minister has just said to the House was not part of a passage where this bit that is quoted came
from. But it seems that she has indicated that it is part of that passage. I will hear further from the member, who appears concerned.
Grant Robertson: The problem is that the extra bit that the Minister was quoting probably should have been ruled out yesterday, because it began speculating on whether or not the member who was asking the questions had been allowed to get previous questions. This was a question about the magnitude of welfare reforms. I do not see that the Minister bringing in that material was relevant at all.
Mr SPEAKER: I hear the member’s concerns, but when members choose to ask whether Ministers stand by a very few selected words from a quote, they run the risk of more of the quote being referred to. On this occasion, OK, I have some sympathy with the member; maybe with the answer yesterday—if it was yesterday—I was a bit slow in dealing with it. But it may well have been that the question that was being responded to may have had some provocation in it; I cannot recollect back to yesterday. But I think at this stage I cannot stop the Minister from referring to some more of that quote.
Jacinda Ardern: Given her view of the magnitude of these reforms, why did she give organisations only 14 days from presentation to bid on a $150 million package of youth services?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: Because we had the Welfare Working Group go out and do extensive submissions. We then had it going through the House many times. We have had—
Jacinda Ardern: 14 days for a tender.
Hon PAULA BENNETT: No, it was 4 weeks for the tender. It is 4 weeks for people to tender. Actually, out of that we have had 255 applications for that, so the NGO sector was quite capable of getting its tenders in.
Jacinda Ardern: Given her view of the magnitude of these reforms, why did the Ministry of Social Development have no answers for more than 20 of the 185 questions asked by tenderers, including what a parenting course should include, when contracts are meant to start in just 8 weeks?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: Because they are currently working that through with providers, so we want a degree of flexibility to discuss it with them. Actually, we have more faith in that sector and what it can do than, obviously, that member does. We believe that it knows these young people better than we do in this House, because it works with them every day, and it will be able to provide the kinds of services. We are giving the sector a degree of flexibility around that.
Jacinda Ardern: Given her view of the magnitude of these reforms, why was she unable to provide an answer on
Q+A when asked how many young people not in employment, training, or education would be affected by her reforms?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: That was actually not the question I was asked by that reporter; it was completely different. What we are seeing, though—and let me give the member some of the statistics—is that in the last 18 months we have seen unemployment for young people reduce significantly. At its height we had 23,500 on the unemployment benefit; we now have 14,000. There is a lot of work to do, we admit that, and that is part of these reforms.
Jacinda Ardern: I seek leave to table the transcript from the
Q+A programme last Sunday, which demonstrates that was—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member knows that we do not table transcripts from recent TV programmes. Does the member have a further supplementary question?
Jacinda Ardern: Given her view on the magnitude of these reforms, why was she unable to provide an answer to written question No. 01112, which asked the average time spent on the DPB—a figure that is surely important to the design of her reforms?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: I cannot remember that question in its solidarity, because I get a number of them, but it would be quite fair to say that the member’s questions do not often make sense and so I have to actually—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I am on my feet. The Minister will get to her feet and withdraw and apologise for that, because there is absolutely no justification when answering a question to accuse another member of their questions not making sense. That is unreasonable. I ask the member to withdraw and apologise.
Hon PAULA BENNETT: I withdraw and apologise.
Mr SPEAKER: I thank the Minister.
Jacinda Ardern: Given her view of the magnitude of these reforms, why was she unable, when asked by media, to produce any evidence to support her claim that the reforms would save $1 billion?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: As I described to the member yesterday, we have the Ministry of Social Development and we have Treasury, and they have been doing the modelling on this. They have got evidence of how they have done it. But, as I say, yes, this is new territory—this is new territory, ladies and gentlemen. We are doing the best modelling that we can on the facts that we have, but there are a number of factors outside of our control. We believe that $1 billion will be saved over 4 years. I personally think that there is a good chance it will be more than that.
Jacinda Ardern: Given these answers, when will she admit to New Zealanders that her reform package has been rushed, that she does not know much how it will cost or save, or how many people it will affect, and that she has little interest in the front-line view of what she calls “the biggest reforms that this country has seen for decades,”—or is it all smoke, mirrors, and camouflage?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: Always a bit of camouflage—roar! A bit of westie camouflage going on there. It would be fair to say—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I apologise to the Minister. I ask the Labour Party, which asked the question, to interject a little less, because I want to hear the answer. I am most interested in the answer to this question.
Hon PAULA BENNETT: I am actually thrilled that the Opposition spokesperson has finally woken up to the fact that there are welfare reforms going on. We have been discussing them for more than 2 years. We have actually been out there publicly. We have had the Welfare Working Group come out and discuss them. I mean, it took the member 6 months to actually remember that I am no longer the Minister responsible for employment. It actually took 6 months for her to wake up to that. She was still sending me questions. It is nice that you are back, it is nice that you are getting on board, but actually welfare reforms have been discussed by this Government for the last 3½ years.
Budget 2012—Welfare Reforms Targeting Teenage Parents
KATRINA SHANKS (National)
: To the Minister, how will the Budget—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I want to hear Katrina Shanks.
KATRINA SHANKS (National) to the
Minister for Social Development: How will the Budget 2012 welfare reforms support teen parents to provide better outcomes for themselves and their children?
Hon PAULA BENNETT (Minister for Social Development)
: Budget 2012 will ensure that all teen parents—those on benefits and, significantly, those who are not—will have childcare costs paid while they are studying. We know that the cost of childcare is a barrier for this group in particular. That is why we have allocated $80 million over 4 years to provide this support.
Katrina Shanks: How does this work build on the Government’s record of supporting teen parents?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: This Government has had the single biggest focus of any Government on supporting teen parents. In Budget 2010 we saw the single biggest spend on services for teen parents, of nearly $15 million. Our supported housing initiative—24/7 supervised care—over the last year has seen support for 71 teen parents and those who are most vulnerable. Nineteen teenage parent intensive case workers have in the last year been actively working with over 200 teen parents. And we have also increased the number of teen parent units; there are six more under this Government.
Katrina Shanks: Can the Minister provide an update on the youth services tender process?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: Yes, I can. From those very groups that the Opposition thinks are not up to it we have had a response from 185 providers, corresponding to 255 applications from around the country. They have put their hand up to actually work with and support these young people. What we are really getting cognisant of, though, is making sure that we have some providers that will look after just a few, so that we are getting into smaller areas as well as those bigger cities. So it is not just going to be all big providers; we will also see a number of smaller ones that can provide for a small number of teens, as well.
District Court, Judges—Number and Availability
CHARLES CHAUVEL (Labour) to the
Attorney-General: How many District Court Judges currently hold permanent warrants, and of those Judges, how many are unavailable to sit full-time in the District Courts because they hold other appointments?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON (Attorney-General)
: One hundred and forty-seven, and 10.
Charles Chauvel: Does he agree with advice from the Ministry of Justice that there is a surplus of 23
District Court judges to discharge the workload of the District Courts?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: That figure has been mentioned. For myself, I have doubts as to whether it is a correct figure. As to the number of judges, it will always depend on the circumstances. There are also questions about the correct geographical spread of judges—i.e., whether judges are sitting in the right place.
Charles Chauvel: Is the view from the Ministry of Justice more than just a figure; is it not, in fact, analysis that the ministry has conducted and communicated to both the Attorney-General and the
Chief District Court Judge, and if that is the case, has he formed a view on whether it is correct and robust analysis?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: No, it is nothing more than a preliminary draft. It was based on a number of assumptions, and there is more work being done on it.
Charles Chauvel: Is the
Chief District Court Judge wrong, then, to have described the Ministry of Justice’s view as advice, as she did in her letter to him dated 2 May 2012, where she clearly expressed real concerns that he appeared to have adopted that advice?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: It would be directly contrary to the public interest for me to comment on any communications—be they written or oral—between me and any member of the judiciary.
Charles Chauvel: In that case, when does he intend to resume granting acting warrants to retired District Court judges and to resume recommending the making of new appointments to that court?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: Well, I signed off on a few acting warrants for reference to the Governor-General a few days ago.
Charles Chauvel: Will he assure the House that neither he nor any of his ministerial colleagues has admonished any member of the judiciary not to speak publicly about Government policy proposals, or to make submissions to ministerial reviews or parliamentary committees, or to speak with members of Parliament, all actions that they as independent judicial officers are perfectly free to undertake?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: Well, I am not in a position to give any such assurance to the House, because I am unaware of what the member is talking about.
Charles Chauvel: If the Attorney-General did become aware of any such action on behalf of his colleagues, would he admonish those colleagues about the inappropriateness of such action?
Hon CHRISTOPHER FINLAYSON: The question is hypothetical.
Charles Chauvel: I seek leave to table a letter from the Chief District Court Judge to the Attorney-General dated 2 May 2012 setting out real concerns about what she says is the analysis and the policy of the Ministry of Justice to recommend no further appointments to that court except as are dealt with by attrition.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is objection.
Health Targets—Elective Surgery
Dr PAUL HUTCHISON (National—Hunua) to the
Minister of Health: What improvements have been made to the way that district health boards provide elective services for their patients, and what have been the results of these?
Hon TONY RYALL (Minister of Health)
: Doctors and nurses are taking a much greater role in running the public health service, and they are delivering an extra 27,000 elective surgeries a year. The Government is announcing today that we are backing their leadership with an extra $7 million investment into clinician-led productivity improvements. This will support 21 projects in 11 district health boards to improve the amount and timeliness of elective surgery. For example, by using lean thinking, clinicians have found that they can use small changes to make a big difference. They have found, for example, that keeping equipment in set places in operating theatres means less surgery time is wasted trying to find it.
Dr Paul Hutchison: How have elective productivity programmes improved services at the Bay of Plenty District Health Board?
Hon TONY RYALL: Good local members. Tauranga Hospital has reduced the number of same-day cancellations of surgery by 70 percent. Instead of a receptionist ringing patients to remind them of their surgery, a senior nurse is now calling patients to do a pre-assessment. If a person is too unwell for surgery, such as having the flu, they are rebooked and another patient is scheduled at short notice. This means operating theatres are not left standing empty because patients cannot turn up. This sort of lean thinking and positive action by our clinicians is making better use of doctors’ and nurses’ time and is delivering better services for patients.
Social Development, Ministers—Confidence
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First) to the
Prime Minister: Does he still have confidence in the Minister for Social Development and the Associate Ministers for Social Development; if so, why?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Deputy Prime Minister) on behalf of the
Prime Minister: Yes; they are both hard-working and competent Ministers who are working for a brighter future for all New Zealanders.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: How can he have confidence in Associate Minister Tariana Turia’s working for a brighter future, after it emerged today that a trust linked to the Mongrel Mob and arrests by the Dunedin police has been in receipt of Ministry of Social Development funding through Whānau Ora?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I understand that is a matter actually before the courts. I might say that Governments contract with literally thousands of organisations, and occasionally some of those organisations may transgress the law. If so, they are dealt with appropriately.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: How can he possibly have confidence in Mrs Turia when she has caused cuts of $700,000 in funding to Women’s Refuge, and has redirected that funding to groups and individuals who are clearly supporters of her Whānau Ora policies—
Hon Tariana Turia: Get it right!
Rt Hon Winston Peters: —such as the Mongrel Mob—and that is right.
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I am advised that, actually, Women’s Refuge has had significant increases in the time of this Government. Mrs Turia has been a strong advocate for improving family violence prevention programmes, and I am sure she will continue to look hard at how the money is spent. As I said before, the Government contracts with literally thousands of organisations. Where any of those organisations break the law, that will be dealt with appropriately, as this organisation appears to be.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Given that the Mongrel Mob in this case was the anti-violence group, how can he have confidence in the Minister for Social Development when she allows Ministry of Social Development funding to be siphoned off by her Associate Minister to dodgy, lucrative ventures that the Mongrel Mob are, rubbishingly, associated with?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: As I think the member might have pointed out, this is a matter that is actually in a court hearing right now, and I am sure the details of whatever offending is alleged will come to light. But I will repeat what I said before: Governments contract with thousands of organisations. If one or two of those organisations break the law, they will be dealt with appropriately, and among those thousands of organisations at any given time there are probably one or two.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Why did the Government not take heed of New Zealand First’s warning on this Whānau Ora policy, which was concocted without one piece of analytical evidence but purely from anecdotal evidence, and is he prepared to give anything to the Māori Party to keep it in his Government, no matter how embarrassing to the Māori people that party might be?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: We have learnt over the years to be a bit careful about New Zealand First’s warnings on oil spills, ferry-bottom scrapings, and all sorts of other conspiracies. The Government continues to support Ms Turia’s efforts to break the cycle of dependence and failure that is associated with government programmes for many of New Zealand’s disadvantaged families. Whānau Ora is an innovative way of looking at longstanding problems. It is showing some signs of success, and, frankly, we would rather try that than allow the perpetuation of dependency and dysfunction that blights too many of our families.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Seeing as he is putting it at issue, is he now saying that the BNZ bailout and the Adbro deal, which he supported, was all innocent, or that the wine box was all a case of innocence, despite all of his mates doing that, or that, for example, the ferry did not ground? Why does he not stop making it up as he goes along?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Well, I was not leaping to conclusions about those particular issues.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I apologise to the Minister. The member cannot interject: “You said it, sunshine!”, because the member is saying to the Speaker “You said it, sunshine!”, and I am not sure the Speaker did say that. I ask the right honourable gentleman to desist from that.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I apologise. You might be a ray of sunshine. Clearly, I have got the wrong person there.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Has the Minister finished his answer? He has.
Job Creation and Unemployment—Minister’s Statements
Su’a WILLIAM SIO (Labour—Māngere) to the
Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment: Does he stand by all his answers to Oral Question No 2 on 3 May 2012 on employment matters?
Hon PAULA BENNETT (Minister for Social Development)
on behalf of the
Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment: Yes.
Su’a William Sio: When will he stop using the Canterbury earthquakes and the financial crisis as scapegoats, and accept that this Government’s economic failures in response to those challenges have failed to provide jobs for the underemployed, the unemployed, and the 273,300 people who are jobless and who would take a job if there was one?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: I think that indicates why Labour lost the Christchurch Central seat if they do not think that the Canterbury earthquakes have had a significant impact on not just Christchurch but, actually, New Zealand. What I would point out is that we have seen dramatic increases. They peaked in January 2010. Since then we have seen, for example, the unemployment benefit figures reducing, and reasonably significantly. In April—just last month—we saw them go down by 2,000. We have seen the youth unemployment benefit figures also reduce. The household labour force survey itself peaked at 7.1 percent. It is 6.7 percent now—not as low as we would like it, but certainly things are improving.
Su’a William Sio: Given that in the last 6 months full-time work has fallen by 16,000, and part-time work has risen substantially, what proof is there that 170,000 jobs will be created, given that the 36,000 jobs that were supposed to be created by March of this year were not?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: That is the best modelling from Treasury: that it believes there will be 170,000 jobs. We certainly think that we are on track. I think what the member needs to see as well, though, is that, as I pointed out, we have seen that increase particularly due to the global recession, but what we have seen is it tracking down over time and we do believe that it will continue to get better.
Su’a William Sio: Does he agree that employment is the barometer of New Zealand’s economic health; if so, will he accept that last week’s household labour force survey at 6.7 percent unemployment—7.1 percent for women, 13.9 percent for Māori, 9.4 percent for Asian, 16 percent for Pacific, and 18 percent for youth—reveals that we have a very sick economy under this Government’s watch?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: There is absolutely no doubt about it—especially for youth, Māori, and Pacific—that we are seeing too many who are unemployed, but we have been seeing things improve as well. We are seeing more jobs coming on, we are seeing more people get them, and I think the focus is in the right place.
Su’a William Sio: Given Treasury’s job growth projections since the 2011 Budget were that the unemployment rate would be 5.7 percent in March, when, in fact, it rose to 6.7 percent, does he have confidence in Treasury, and the Minister in charge of that department, who said “A government can’t have a lot of impact on the job market. It is what it is.”?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: Yes.
Social Housing Fund—Successful Bids
MELISSA LEE (National) to the
Minister of Housing: What recent announcements has he made about funding from the Social Housing Unit?
Hon PHIL HEATLEY (Minister of Housing)
: Today I had the great pleasure of announcing, along with Minister Turia, the first tranche of projects to receive funding from the Social Housing Fund, which is administered by the Social Housing Unit. Eleven organisations have received funding totalling $7.2 million for projects valued at $15.7 million. They will provide 56 new homes with 160 bedrooms for people in need, from single elderly people to people with physical disabilities or mental illness and families in need of a helping hand, in locations from Northland to Christchurch.
Melissa Lee: What kinds of projects have benefited from this funding?
Hon PHIL HEATLEY: All 11 organisations have been successful because their projects have demonstrated they would meet a very real need in their communities. For example, the VisionWest Community Trust received $1.2 million to build 6 three- or four-bedroom houses for affordable rentals, the Nelson Tasman Housing Trust received $1 million for a similar project, the Kahungunu Executive in the Hawke’s Bay received $1 million to retrofit 10 three- or four-bedroom homes, and the Bays Community Housing Trust received $500,000 for five-bedroom homes on the North Shore. It is a very successful programme. We trust the community housing sector.
MAF Biosecurity New Zealand—Confidence
Hon DAMIEN O’CONNOR (Labour—West Coast - Tasman) to the
Minister for Primary Industries: Does he have confidence in Biosecurity New Zealand?
Hon DAVID CARTER (Minister for Primary Industries)
: Yes, I do have confidence in the Ministry for Primary Industries and its ability to manage New Zealand’s biosecurity. Systems are working, and, as an example, this afternoon the ministry is responding to a potentially serious biosecurity issue in Auckland. The ministry has initiated an immediate response to the find of a single Queensland fruit fly, which has been trapped in Mount Roskill.
Hon Damien O’Connor: How many front-line border staff have been cut since 2008, and what further cuts will occur under the proposed border security changes outlined in his 7 February Cabinet paper, including the proposal to make passenger checking less visible?
Hon DAVID CARTER: Reductions in front-line staff started in 2007. More recently the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, the Ministry of Fisheries, and the Food Safety Authority have gone through a very significant merger, and during that time some vacancies have not been filled. Those numbers will be adjusted according to volume flows of both passengers at airports and goods coming into New Zealand at the ports.
Hon David Cunliffe: What’s he hiding?
Hon DAVID CARTER: Absolutely nothing.
Hon Damien O’Connor: How can he possibly make biosecurity checks at Wellington Airport less visible, given that there has not been a sniffer dog there since October of last year?
Hon DAVID CARTER: Sniffer dogs are but one aspect of biosecurity protection. I am aware that at Wellington Airport, though the dogs were available, two dog handlers resigned in quick succession. A recruitment process is currently under way.
Shane Ardern: How will the Ministry for Primary Industries respond to the find of a Queensland fruit fly in Auckland?
Hon DAVID CARTER: The response is, firstly, to minimise any adverse trade reaction, and that is why the Ministry for Primary Industries is starting now to notify our relevant trading partners. Secondly, we need to quickly find whether this trapping is dealing with a single insect or whether a breeding population has been established, in which case an eradication response would be commenced immediately. Thirdly, the Ministry for Primary Industries has already initiated consultation and transparent communication with relevant key stakeholders.
Hon Damien O’Connor: Has he read the MAF Biosecurity New Zealand website’s report on the Queensland fruit fly, which it claims is the world’s worst fruit pest, and does he agree that “An incursion in key fruit-growing regions is likely to have a significant effect on the New Zealand economy with potential job losses and eradication costing millions.”; if so, does he agree that the cost of retaining a few dozen biosecurity staff pales in comparison with the huge potential effects of this potential incursion?
Hon DAVID CARTER: I am certainly aware of the very serious nature of this find in Mount Roskill. It is fair to work out that these trappings occur quite regularly—and finds at the border of fruit fly eggs, larvae, and insects. In fact, in 2007 there were 16 such finds, in 2008-09 there were 10 such finds, in 2009-10 there were nine such finds, and last year there four such finds. The important thing, having made this find, is how we react to it. Although it is a potentially serious issue, I do not think we should overreact if we are dealing with a single trapping. It is a very good example to Mr O’Connor and to the Labour Party of our biosecurity system working.
Hon Damien O’Connor: Does this Minister consider it a failure of the biosecurity protection, and will he inform his colleague the Minister of Tourism that his so-called SmartGate system, which allows tens of thousands of visitors from Queensland and Australia to walk straight into this country without a check, might not be so smart, and, in fact, may be the most disastrous initiative of a failing National Government?
Hon DAVID CARTER: I have already spoken to the Minister of Tourism, the Prime Minister, about this incident. But, as I point out to the member, the fact that this insect has been trapped and found in Mount Roskill is the way the biosecurity system is meant to work.
Steffan Browning: Why does the Minister not intervene to stop the importation of raw pig meat infected by porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome, given the potentially devastating impact on our rural economy?
Hon DAVID CARTER: I am not aware of any imports of meat infected by the porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome that have arrived in New Zealand.
Steffan Browning: Given that the High Court has just allowed the Minister’s previous permissions for meat infected by the porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome to come in, when will the Minister learn the lessons from
pv.Actinidiae and the varroa mite, and stop putting our economy and the livelihood of our farming families at risk?
Hon DAVID CARTER: Before any product is allowed to be imported into New Zealand, an import health standard is rigorously developed by the Ministry for Primary Industries. The final decision is not mine as Minister; it is one for the Director-General of the Ministry for Primary Industries to make. In this case New Zealand cannot continue to argue for freer trade access around the rest of the world if it is then going to impose unreasonable constraints on the import of products into New Zealand.
Steffan Browning: I seek leave to table this document, which shows the weight limit—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Before the member says what the document shows, we must know the source of the document.
Steffan Browning: MAF Biosecurity New Zealand, 17 March 2009. It shows that the weight limit—
Mr SPEAKER: Is this off its website? Is this off the MAF Biosecurity website?
Steffan Browning: Not that I am aware of, but—
Mr SPEAKER: OK, I invite the member to carry on.
Steffan Browning: It shows that the weight limit for imported pork, for potentially infected pork, is “somewhat arbitrary”.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is objection.
Steffan Browning: I would like to seek permission to table this document, which is an advertisement placed by New Zealand pig farmers in the
New Zealand Farmers Weekly, which—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! It has been in a publication regularly seen by members. We do not table advertisements from—
Hon Damien O’Connor: I seek leave to table from the Australian agriculture department a brief on the Queensland fruit fly, which is “the world’s worst fruit pest”, to show that this incursion is—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! We do not need a further speech. Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is no objection.
- Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I seek leave to table Cooke QC’s recent opening submission in a recent injunction case on the issue of the introduction of raw porcine meat, which debunks the Minister’s assurances.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table—what was the document again?
Rt Hon Winston Peters: Cooke QC’s opening submission in a recent injunction case in the court.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is no objection.
- Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Marine Reserve, Akaroa Harbour—Benefits
GARETH HUGHES (Green) to the
Minister of Conservation: What are the benefits of the marine reserve proposed for Akaroa Harbour?
Hon TONY RYALL (Minister of Health) on behalf of the
Minister of Conservation: I can inform the member that the benefits of a marine reserve include protection to sea life, as they are no-take areas. This means that nobody, including iwi and local fishermen, is able to collect fish or seafood from a marine reserve. In terms of the specific benefits of a reserve in Akaroa Harbour, the member’s question is one that the court has determined will need close consideration before a final decision is made on the proposal, and I think it would therefore not be in the public interest for me to comment further on that specific proposal at this time.
Gareth Hughes: Given that the Director-General of Conservation has argued for the Akaroa Harbour marine reserve and that it would be expected to increase visitor numbers and would likely contribute to the local economy, would the reserve not be good for the environment and the economy?
Hon TONY RYALL: As with all such marine reserves, there are arguments both for and against. There have been considerable arguments over a number of reserves, such that this Government, certainly, in its period of time has managed to see nine new reserves established in 3 years.
Gareth Hughes: Is it correct that New Zealand has only 0.3 percent of our waters in marine reserve, failing our 10 percent by 2010 target?
Hon TONY RYALL: It would be correct to say that it is around 0.3 percent if you took into account our 200-kilometre economic zone. But if you take into account the 12 nautical mile territorial sea, which I understand is the more internationally used measure, our marine reserves are at 12 percent marine protected areas. I think that is a very positive position to be in.
Gareth Hughes: Does the Minister still stand by her statement in 2010 that Akaroa Harbour is in a degraded ecological state, which makes it highly desirable for a conservation zone to be established in the harbour, and will she now approve the marine reserve application?
Hon TONY RYALL: As acting Minister I am not able to confirm what the Minister said, as quoted by that member. What I am able to say is that certainly as a Minister in the National Government this Minister has been part of the team that has overseen the creation of nine new reserves in 3 years, which seems to be a pretty good record against 17 reserves in 9 years under the Labour-Green Governments.
Interest Rates and Lending Practices—Legislation
Peseta SAM LOTU-IIGA (National—Maungakiekie) to the
Minister of Consumer Affairs: What progress is the Government making on tougher loan-shark laws?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES (Minister of Consumer Affairs)
: Really strong progress. I am glad that the member asked. I have attended a series—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I apologise to the Minister. If the Minister would just sit down for a moment. I do want to hear this answer. I am sure it is a very important answer.
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: I know this is a matter of high public interest that the members are interested in. I have attended a series of public meetings in Wellington, Auckland, and Christchurch in the last fortnight and I intend to also attend one with the Pacific Island community in Auckland later next week on the Credit Contracts and Consumer Finance Amendment Bill. So far there has been solid support for the comprehensive package this Government has put together and is currently consulting on to crack down on loan sharks and give borrowers greater protection. There are many credit companies that are transparent and responsible, but there are others that are not. The progress being made on this issue should signal to those unscrupulous lenders that their days are numbered.
Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga: What are the next steps for the draft law and proposals?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: This draft law represents the biggest change to consumer credit legislation in a decade, and it is important to get the details right. I have extended the consultation time frame to give people more chance to have their say. Consultation now closes on 25 May, and I urge anyone interested—clearly there is a lot of interest—to make a submission to the Ministry of Consumer Affairs. Can I personally thank the member who has asked the question, Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga, for his leadership in this area and his heartfelt work protecting the vulnerable against loan sharks.
Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. In all that noise from the National Party backbench, I lost the name of the person who was being thanked.
Mr SPEAKER: Order!
Hon Tariana Turia: Will the Minister be working closely with the Māori Party on curbing loan sharking parasites, given the Māori Party’s continued commitment to reducing social hazards, including gambling, tobacco, alcohol, and of course loan sharks?
Hon SIMON BRIDGES: It is my understanding that the Māori Party has been at the forefront on this issue for some time. It would be a pleasure and a privilege to work more with the Māori Party on this issue, given its track record when it comes to significant social issues and bringing them to the fore in this Parliament.