[Sitting date: 25 July 2012. Volume:682;Page:3883. Text is incorporated into the Bound Volume.]
Questions to Ministers
Statutory Holidays—Waitangi Day and Anzac Day
DAVID SHEARER (Leader of the Opposition) to the
Prime Minister: Does he stand by his statement “My expectations are that this will be a busy, hard three years’ work and we will need to deliver results for New Zealanders”?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister)
: On this side of the House, yes, and on the other side of the House, I am sure that David Cunliffe is very busy. He sees it as 3 years of hard work and is sure it will deliver a result.
David Shearer: Will he and his caucus deliver results for hard-working New Zealanders by supporting David Clark’s bill to have a day off on the Monday when Waitangi Day and Anzac Day fall on a weekend?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No.
David Shearer: Does he agree with Tourism Industry Association chief executive officer Martin Snedden, who said “Creating long weekends will boost New Zealand’s economy in relevant years by stimulating domestic tourism.”; if not, why not?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No.
David Shearer: Does he agree with Judith Collins that having a public holiday the following Monday undermines Anzac Day and Waitangi Day commemorations?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I think the Minister makes a very fair point.
David Shearer: Does he understand that hard-working New Zealanders think it is fair to have a holiday on the Monday when the public holiday falls on a Sunday?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I understand the concerns New Zealanders might have. I also understand the issues at stake. There are many people who would feel very, very strongly that Mondayisation would be taking away potentially from those very, very significant days. Let us say this—[Interruption] They are baying like a bunch of banshees, but you had 9 years in Government and you did not do anything about it.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Before I call Leader of the Opposition, I say that the Speaker did not have the last 9 years in Government.
David Shearer: In light of his last answer, could he answer how Christmas Day in 2010 was undermined by having a holiday the following week; and on that basis, would he consider taking Monday away when Christmas Day falls on a weekend?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I can understand why David Shearer is focused on Christmas Day, because that is the only day that David Cunliffe takes off from plotting. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I think some attempt to address the question should be made.
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I gave it my best shot. If one looks at the issue of Mondayisation, yes, there will always be a range of views. But I think there are many New Zealanders who would say that when it comes to Waitangi Day and Anzac Day, they are very significant, peculiar days to New Zealand, and therefore the honouring of those days when they occur makes sense. I know the Labour Party members want to take a holiday; it is pretty obvious from the amount of work they do not do. And good news: you are in for a lot longer holiday than you are planning.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I hope the Speaker is not in for a lot longer holiday than he is planning. [Interruption] Enough said.
State-owned Assets, Sales—Government Policy
Dr RUSSEL NORMAN (Co-Leader—Green) to the
Prime Minister: Does he stand by his statement that “we don’t favour one group over another”?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister)
: I stand by my full quote, which I made at the National Party conference about the National Party, which was “We have tolerance and respect for all New Zealanders and we don’t favour one group over another.” Although it is not part of my ministerial responsibility, the point I was making is that we are a broad church party and not aligned to a particular interest group such as unions.
Dr Russel Norman: Is not paying the brokerage fees of retail investors in the asset sales favouring the roughly 5 percent of New Zealanders whom Treasury expects to directly buy shares over the 95 percent of New Zealanders who are not expected to buy shares?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: The Government has a number of wide-ranging objectives in terms of the mixed-ownership model programme. One of those is to see as widespread ownership as possible, by as many New Zealanders as possible—for it to be as accessible as possible. I need to check the point about whether we are paying brokerage fees. I would be very surprised if we were doing that. We certainly have a loyalty bonus aimed at those New Zealanders, if that is what the member means.
Dr Russel Norman: Well, is he aware that there is $56 million in the Budget primarily to pay the brokerage fees to the selling syndicate; and why is it fair for all taxpayers to cover the brokerage fees of the 5 percent?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: I would need to check that matter. I am sure the member is probably incorrect in the assumption he is making. If he wants a detailed answer, he would be better to put down a question to the Minister responsible.
Dr Russel Norman: Why does the Government claim that asset sales are about mum and dad investors, when Treasury’s numbers show that, in fact, 95 percent of mums and dads would end up subsidising the 5 percent who can afford to buy shares?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Well, I am not sure Treasury’s advice does show that. In fact, I would reject that. I draw the attention of the member to the following, which is that of the last 219 initial public offerings that we looked at, the Government of the day gave retail incentives in 110 of them, and loyalty bonuses in 84. It is quite a widespread technique used everywhere. This member seems, I have got to say, to be quite incredible. Having spent the last year berating me for wanting to sell shares, theoretically, to foreigners, which is not what I want to do, he is now berating me for making sure I sell them to New Zealanders.
Dr Russel Norman: Why does the Government claim that asset sales would improve electricity market competition, when the electricity provided by the publicly owned
power companies is already 12 percent cheaper than that from the private providers, and privatisation would remove that anchor on the market, and, hence, we would likely see increased power prices?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Like many of the numbers that the member quotes, those are just rubbish. But if we go back to the broader issue, what really drives power prices is the structure of the electricity industry—something that this Government has reformed. That is why under the previous Labour Government power prices went up 72 percent while those members sat on their hands, and under this Government they have gone up 14 percent.
Dr Russel Norman: Why does the Government claim that asset sales would improve electricity market competition, when the restructuring that he just referred to was possible only because the energy companies were State-owned enterprises, and once they are made into mixed-ownership model companies the Government will lose the capacity to perform exactly that kind of restructuring where it moves assets around?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Competition in a market is competition amongst all participants. What the member has just said is absolute rubbish. He is saying that competition exists because we happen currently, as a country, to 100 percent own Meridian Energy, Mighty River Power, and Genesis, but he does not count competition that might be provided by Contact Energy, of which the Government has no ownership. That is a ridiculous argument.
Dr Russel Norman: Why does the Government claim that asset sales are about deepening New Zealand capital markets and getting Kiwis involved in the share market, and then go and decide to list those companies on the Australian stock exchange; is it because more Kiwis are leaving than ever before for Australia, under his administration?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Well, a cynic might say it is in case the member moves back. The Government has not made a decision yet about whether the companies will be listed on the ASX. But, as I have said publicly before, the advice is that that may be the right thing to do, not because we will see a lot of trading on the ASX—eight of the top 10 New Zealand companies are listed on the New Zealand exchange and the ASX, and the vast bulk of the trading in those companies takes place on the New Zealand exchange—but because the mandate of some Australian fund managers that buy shares on behalf of New Zealanders as well as others requires them to be listed on the ASX. Of course we can take that opportunity away, but, again, we would take away some of the price competitiveness that others might enjoy if they bought those shares.
Dr Russel Norman: Given that the Government has failed to convince New Zealanders of the arguments around asset sales, as shown by every major opinion poll, is that because the Government actually does not have very good reasons, and his approach now is to say “Rubbish!” to anyone who disagrees with him, and to tell the people of New Zealand: “We are simply going to force it down your throat.” in a Muldoonist way, just like previous National Governments have?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: There are many analogies one could draw with me, but Muldoon is probably not one of them. Let me run the maths past the member. There were a touch over a million New Zealanders who voted for the National Party at the most recent general election, where front and centre stage was this policy, and last weekend 79 protestors turned up to oppose it. And 1 million is greater than 79. If the member cared enough about it, he would have gone out in the rain and protested, but he was tucked up in his warm, insulated—thanks to the National Government—house, reading some leftie magazine he enjoys, instead of being out there protesting with the other 79.
Housing Affordability and Social Housing—Productivity Commission Report
PAUL GOLDSMITH (National) to the
Minister of Finance: What reports has he received on housing affordability?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance)
: Housing affordability is important for fairness and for allocation of capital in the economy. The Productivity Commission released a report on housing affordability that found that housing in New Zealand has become increasingly unaffordable over the past decade. Real house prices almost doubled between 2001 and 2007. In particular, it found that there is almost no building of houses that are affordable for New Zealanders in the lowest quartile of incomes. The commission found that this affects communities and puts pressures on the Government’s fiscal position, because the Government has very large subsidies to the cost of housing.
Paul Goldsmith: What are some of the factors behind housing affordability issues in New Zealand?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The Productivity Commission found that the price of housing has been driven up by a combination of rising demand and unresponsive supply. Housing prices boomed in the 2000s, backed by large Government transfers, strong population growth, and favourable terms of trade, but the supply of housing has been unable to keep up with demand. We agree with the Productivity Commission’s view that urban planning has played a critical role in constraining the supply of land and constraining the opportunity for higher-density development within cities.
Paul Goldsmith: Why does the Government regard the issue of housing affordability as a priority?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: If we left the situation as we inherited it from the previous Government, housing would be too expensive for young, lower-income, and migrant New Zealanders, who would find themselves locked out of the housing market and locked into poor and low-quality housing. This Government made it the first inquiry of the Productivity Commission when it was set up, and intends to follow through by working with local government and with the planning and development industry to improve housing affordability.
Denis O’Rourke: How confident is the Minister in the Social Housing Unit, when the Productivity Commission report on affordable housing states: “Although the formal objectives of the SHU are clear, its structure as a semi-autonomous body leaves room for unclear priorities, mixed purposes and misaligned accountabilities.”?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: We appreciate the advice of the Productivity Commission. The Social Housing Unit is a very early attempt to undo the substantial mess left in social housing by the previous Labour Government, with around about $5 billion worth of houses in poor condition, the wrong size, and in the wrong place. They are not enabling the taxpayer to help those New Zealanders who are in serious housing need and need assistance.
Denis O’Rourke: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The question was about how confident the Minister was about those issues. I do not think he answered that question.
Mr SPEAKER: That type of question asks for an opinion, and the Minister gave his opinion. He said that the views of the Productivity Commission were very valuable to the Government. Therefore, obviously, it takes the views quite seriously. When asking for an opinion like that, there is no particular answer to that kind of question.
Hon Annette King: Does he appreciate the advice of the chair of the Productivity Commission, who said recently that the Government’s budget for social housing aimed at making housing affordable for low-income New Zealanders is well short of the mark,
and does not meet current need, and that expanding the role of social housing is at the heart of addressing affordability?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I certainly do not agree with the last remark, because, actually, the heart of housing affordability is enabling all New Zealanders, not just that small minority who are in significant housing need. But in respect of the other remarks that the commissioner has made, yes, we broadly agree with them. I think even the member has made some useful comments herself in the last few weeks to the effect that if we want a proper allocation of capital in the economy, if we want to be more effective in the way that we assist New Zealanders with housing, we need to rethink the current models, and that is what we are doing.
Paul Goldsmith: What issues is the Government considering in preparing its response to the Productivity Commission’s report on housing affordability?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The Government is looking at all the issues raised by the Productivity Commission, which include land supply, resource and building consenting, development contributions, liability rules, cost of building materials, and industry structure. Actually, to that we would add the fiscal costs to the Government, which include all of the housing subsidies, the implicit subsidy in the ownership of $15 billion worth of Housing New Zealand Corporation assets, and the significant transfers through Working for Families and other schemes, which are there partly to help New Zealand households meet the excessive cost of housing.
Hon Annette King: If the Minister does agree with the chair of the Productivity Commission, why did he cut the budget for social housing over the next 3 years?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Well, I would contest the Minister’s view about the social housing budget being cut. Certainly—
Hon Trevor Mallard: She’s not the Minister yet.
Hon BILL ENGLISH: —the member’s views—she can put down a question to the Minister of Housing about the detail. But in the interests of getting more assistance for more New Zealanders more efficiently out of the Housing New Zealand Corporation, we are changing the way the money is used, which means less focus on some of the individual schemes the previous Government had in place, and more focus on having more larger providers of social housing.
Environment—Mackenzie Sustainable Futures Trust
GRANT ROBERTSON (Deputy Leader—Labour) to the
Prime Minister: When his office had a “quick look at the matters involved” with regard to the funding of the Mackenzie Sustainable Futures Trust, whom did they speak to and what documents did they look at to arrive at their conclusion that “we did not find anything that raised concerns to us”?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister)
: Between my office and the Minister for the Environment’s office a review was undertaken of the documents released to the member under the Official Information Act, the funding arrangements, and the scope of the work undertaken. From that review, we were satisfied that the matter did not warrant further investigation.
Grant Robertson: Why did he and his office not consider that the email from Guy Salmon on 6 September 2011 was a cause for concern, given that in that email Mr Salmon sought to pre-empt the outcome of the independent panel’s consideration of the trust’s application to the Community Environment Fund, an email that led a ministry official to say that the trust was “pressuring the ministry”?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: We would reject the assertions that the member has made. I make two points. Firstly, the Community Environment Fund funding was actually never used. I am advised that around 15 months passed between the trust initially seeking
Community Environment Fund funding and the final decision being made not to provide it. That might be rushed, in the Labour Party’s time and thinking, but 15 months is not rushed under this Government.
Grant Robertson: Why did he and his office not consider the statement from Guy Salmon in the email of 6 September 2011 to be a concern, when that statement reads: “Nick gave me to understand that he was going to establish collaborative processes as a specific priority to be funded in the forthcoming … round; however there was no sign of that on the application form. I worry that Nick is so overloaded that he has not actually been on top of looking after this project.”, and does that not sound like the trust believes that it was being considered differently from other projects?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: No. It sounds like a couple of things: firstly, concern that Nick Smith had an awful lot on his plate, which he did because he was a very busy Minister at the time; and, secondly, a genuine view from the Minister that he thought the right way to go was a collaborative approach—that that would be appropriate for that mechanism to be set up—and that possibly Community Environment Fund funding was the right way to actually fund that. I simply make this point: maybe Grant Robertson would like to go and ask Charles Chauvel what Charles Chauvel said—
Mr SPEAKER: No, no. Order!
Grant Robertson: Why did his office not consider that there may be issues of concern about the treatment of a trust chaired by a National Party MP, when a Ministry for the Environment official said in an email dated Monday, 29 August 2011 that the registering of the trust on the society’s register was managed in quick time as a result of “a special favour request”?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: There is nothing unusual about trying to establish a process to resolve an important issue. This issue was an issue of great concern. It had over 10,000 submissions. I simply say to the member: go and ask Charles Chauvel and see what he said at the Environmental Defence Society conference.
Grant Robertson: Does he accept that the funding of important and useful collaborative processes for dealing with environmental issues still needs to be subject to the proper processes and transparency?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: Yes, and that is why the Community Environment Fund in the end was not used to fund the project, as the member should know. I simply say to the member go and ask Charles Chauvel what he said at the Environmental Defence Society conference.
Grant Robertson: Does he believe on the basis of the investigation of his office that the Mackenzie Sustainable Futures Trust received the same treatment as other applicants for ministry funding, particularly in light of the Ministry for the Environment indicating in official documents that it had spent 200 hours of staff time on the trust application between March and October 2011?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: The trust did not get funding from the Community Environment Fund. The trust ultimately got funding at the discretion of the Chief Executive of the Ministry for the Environment. There is no question that the Government believed that the collaborative approach was the right way to go. It was estimated to be a tenth of the cost of going through a litigious process. It is also true that the ministry thought that a better way to go was through the court, and the Government thought that spending $2.6 million to resolve something that could be approved through a collaborative process was the better way to go. And I simply say to the member go and ask Charles Chauvel what he said.
Grant Robertson: Why does the Prime Minister think that Ministry for the Environment officials raised serious concerns about the funding of the project?
Rt Hon JOHN KEY: There were people within the ministry who did not like the collaborative approach and wanted to go to court—they wanted to go to court. They are welcome to their view, but we do not listen to every official’s view. And not so long ago I remember being in this House and hearing Helen Clark say she did not get any ideas from officials; she got them from the
Guardian. I say to the member go and ask Charles Chauvel what he said at the Environmental Defence Society conference.
Grant Robertson: I seek leave of the House to table three documents. The first of those is an email from a Ministry for the Environment official, dated Monday, 29 August 2011, that says that the societies register application of the trust was processed as a result of a special favour request.
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.
Grant Robertson: I seek leave of the House to table an email from Guy Salmon, dated Tuesday, 6 September 2011, to Jacqui Dean, in which he seeks to pre-empt the outcome of the community environment fund process.
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.
Grant Robertson: I seek leave of the House to table a time line developed by the Ministry for the Environment on funding of the trust, which includes the statement that the funds management team alone estimates that between March and October 2011 it spent an estimated 200 hours working on funding of the trust.
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.
Child Abuse and Neglect—Government Measures to Address
MELISSA LEE (National) to the
Minister for Social Development: What initiatives has the Government put in place to better protect children?
Hon PAULA BENNETT (Minister for Social Development)
: Protecting children from abuse and neglect is and has been a major priority for this Government. We have introduced a number of significant initiatives that are making a real difference. Just in the last few months, for example, we have announced the first roll-out of extra social workers in schools, and 96 more Child, Youth and Family social workers on the front line. The “failure to protect” amendment to the Crimes Act has come into effect, and the Privacy (Information Sharing) Bill is progressing through the House.
Melissa Lee: How is the Government supporting professionals working with children to recognise and respond to signs of child abuse and neglect?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: As part of our initiatives to better protect children, we funded NGO Child Matters to run 1-day workshops around New Zealand, providing training to health, education, and social service professionals to identify signs of child abuse. To date it has delivered over 96 workshops reaching over 2,700 professionals.
Jacinda Ardern: Can she confirm that her answers to written questions are correct, and that the number of child protection cases that Child, Youth and Family has deemed serious enough to prompt further action has increased over the past 4 years by 42 percent to almost 58,000 cases, yet the number of social workers in reality has increased only by 50?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: As I said, we recently made announcements of those 50, and we have got 96 who will be there overall. Yes, notifications have increased. Also, though, if you like, the false positives—so the number of notifications we get—
Jacinda Ardern: That’s further action required.
Hon PAULA BENNETT: I am just saying also those ones that we do not have to follow up. Over the last 8 years, from memory—I do not have the number in front of me—notifications have actually increased by about 400 percent overall.
Melissa Lee: What reports has she received that support the Government’s focus on protecting children?
Hon PAULA BENNETT: I welcome the coroner’s recommendations, which validate the initiatives we have already introduced and the work we are currently doing as part of the white paper on vulnerable children. None of the recommendations come as a surprise, as they have been raised in previous inquiries and in submissions on the green paper. A response will be coming forthwith.
Government Financial Position—Effect on Transport Projects
ANDREW WILLIAMS (NZ First) to the
Minister of Finance: Does the Government still intend to achieve a budget surplus by 2014/15; if so, how?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance)
: Yes; we want to achieve this by keeping firm control on the Government’s costs, which we believe is the situation at the moment. Budget forecasts show that the tax revenue, which is inclined to be more volatile, is on track for surplus in 2014-15.
Andrew Williams: Are cutbacks to major Government roading programmes such as the Ōtaki to Levin expressway—which was scrapped in favour of upgrading the existing highway, with the sudden saving of $300 million—now the only hope the Government has of getting anywhere near the target of a Budget surplus in 2014-15; if not, why not?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: No.
Andrew Williams: Can the Minister confirm that scrapping the four-lane expressway from Ōtaki to Levin will not be the first of a series of cutbacks to roading programmes in order to achieve a Budget surplus in the 2014-15 year?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Well, if the member wants to debate the details of what decisions have actually been made about the Ōtaki to Levin highway, then he could direct those questions more properly to the Minister of Transport. But what I have put out to the Minister is that decisions about roading are made on their own merits. They are not made in the context of the need for the Government to find money for the 2014-15 surplus.
Andrew Williams: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. In that last question I specifically asked whether it would be the first of a series of cutbacks to the roading programme. So I asked for an assurance that it would not be the start of a series—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The Minister, in answering the question, said that each decision on one of the roading programmes is made on its own merits, so there is no pattern. His answer made it very clear that this was not the first of anything; each decision is made on its own merits. I think he did answer the question.
Oil and Gas Extraction—Hydraulic Fracturing in Taranaki
GARETH HUGHES (Green) to the
Minister of Energy and Resources: Does he stand by his statement on the
Campbell Live 9 February programme on fracking that, “In Taranaki, it’s actually been done very, very well. There’s been no effect on the environment whatsoever”?
Hon PHIL HEATLEY (Minister of Energy and Resources)
: In context, yes; obviously, everything has an environmental effect. I am interested in environmental effects that are significant. As I understand it, the Taranaki Regional Council stands by its position. There have been no significant environmental effects caused by hydraulic fracturing in Taranaki.
Gareth Hughes: Is groundwater contamination at four Kapuni fracking sites, which has left water there unfit for potable water or stock use, an example of fracking that has been done very, very well?
Hon PHIL HEATLEY: Well, the statement is incorrect. In the past, some pits were used to receive fluids from fracked wells. However, I am advised that the fluid returns were highly unlikely to be the source. The monitoring undertaken shows this is a legacy issue. It happened in the past. It is highly unlikely to be associated with hydraulic fracturing, according to the Taranaki Regional Council, the only independent body in this debate.
Gareth Hughes: Is the common use of flare pits in Taranaki an example of fracking being done very, very well, or is it—as Alex Ferguson, the chief executive officer of Apache Corporation reportedly called it—abhorrent, noting that his fracking company would not use flare pits on the East Coast?
Te Ururoa Flavell: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Tēnā koe, Mr Speaker. I tērā wiki i kōrero au ki te Whare kia aro nui ki te āhuatanga o Te Wiki o Te Reo Māori. Kua rongo ake a “O-tacky”, kua rongo ake a “Tarra-nacky”. Ko tāku īnoi kia tika rā nō te whakahua o ngā īngoa Māori i tēnei wiki mō Te Reo Māori. Ko te ingoa e tika ana, ko Ōtaki, i tēnei wā ko Taranaki. Kia ora tātau.
[Greetings to you, Mr Speaker. Last week I said to the House that it should pay attention to the situation that relates to Māori Language Week. I have just heard “O-tacky” and “Tarra-nacky”. My plea is that the pronunciation of Māori names must be correct in this week for the Māori language. The proper name is Ōtaki and at this point in time it is Taranaki. Greetings to us.]
Mr SPEAKER: I appreciate the goodwill in the member’s point of order. It is not strictly a point of order, but under the circumstances I think his point is well made. Where did we get to? The honourable Minister is to answer. Does the Minister remember the question asked?
Hon PHIL HEATLEY: I am happy to answer.
Mr SPEAKER: The Hon Phil Heatley.
Hon PHIL HEATLEY: A number of groups have views on this practice and, indeed, on oil and gas exploration. Unfortunately, on the far right they want to bring out the bulldozers. We, as a party, are saying no. We want to be environmentally sensible and be safe. On the left side, they want to do nothing—that is, the Green Party. Fortunately, we in the National Party—and the Labour Party, which promoted deep-sea oil and gas exploration for 9 years—are sitting in the middle. We are taking a sensible approach.
Gareth Hughes: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. It was a clear question. It was not about what other people think about it; it was about what the Minister, who is meant to be regulating, thinks about flare pits in Taranaki. Is fracking very, very good, or is it abhorrent?
Mr SPEAKER: Order! [Interruption] Order! I hope the member is quite finished. The Minister explained how he saw those issues. He said that the Government is in the middle on those issues. That did not seem to be an unreasonable way to answer the question. I accept it may not have been exactly the answer the member was seeking, but it was not an unreasonable answer.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I wonder whether, in order to avoid some of the problems highlighted by Mr Flavell, “Kia ora Catherine” could translate for the member asking the question.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member has got me totally whacked there.
Jonathan Young: What reports has he seen of the Taranaki Regional Council’s response to allegations in relation to fracking in Taranaki?
Hon PHIL HEATLEY: Well, I have seen a letter written by the chief executive of the Taranaki Regional Council in May to the
Taranaki Daily News that states this: “One of Mr Hughes’ statements is an exaggeration going far beyond the facts as they stand, and the other two of his statements defy the facts altogether … An informed and considered public discussion of the pros and cons of hydraulic fracturing deserves better than this. The public has the right to expect integrity in such discussions.”
Gareth Hughes: In that context, does the Minister stand by his statement made to the
Press that he has full confidence in the ability of the council to manage fracking, when, in the context of that report it was disclosed that the Taranaki Regional Council was not even aware of 11 fracking well sites, and had to be alerted to them by the Ministry of Economic Development?
Hon PHIL HEATLEY: No. I am very proud that the ministry has a handle on what is occurring out there. I believe that the Taranaki Regional Council has the most experience in New Zealand in terms of managing this practice. I hope that its experience can be passed on to other councils across the country. However, if the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment comes back and says that there are ways that we can improve the practice, I would expect the Taranaki Regional Council and other regional councils across the country to take heed of that. I look forward to her report.
Gareth Hughes: How can the Minister keep saying that fracking is being done very, very well, when we have seen groundwater contamination, we have seen abhorrent flaring practices, and we have got a council that cannot even keep track of where the fracking wells are?
Hon PHIL HEATLEY: We have addressed the issues that he has raised except the water contamination issue. The Taranaki Regional Council asked Hill Laboratories to do water-quality tests on areas that were alleged to have been affected by fracking. It did this on the Cheal sites. Interestingly, the water was contaminated. It recorded that faecal coliforms were in the liquid, from paddock runoff. I am advised that the Taranaki Regional Council’s monitoring of water quality is ongoing. So on one side the Greens are quite correct: there was water contamination. What they do not tell the general public is that the scientists are saying it is faecal coliforms.
Gareth Hughes: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. That was a long answer, but the Minister is referring to a report. The Minister knows that it is a very specific well, and he did not even answer the question around the—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The member cannot seriously expect the Speaker to intervene on the basis of the supplementary question that he asked. It was a pretty loaded supplementary question expressing the member’s view—making the member’s view pretty clear—and there is no way we can tie a Minister down to a particular answer, given the nature of that question.
Gareth Hughes: I seek leave to table the Ngaere water study by Hill Laboratories on behalf of the Taranaki Regional Council, and I also seek leave to table its covering information statement from its website, which shows that the report the Minister referenced was about one well site, not the 30-plus—
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table those two documents. Is there any objection? There is no objection.
Documents, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Hon PHIL HEATLEY: I seek leave to table a letter from the only independent authority in this debate, the Taranaki Regional Council, with its not-so-flattering comments about Gareth Hughes’ representation—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is objection.
Child Health—Improved Services
Dr JIAN YANG (National) to the
Minister of Health: What progress has been made in providing improved child health services?
Hon TONY RYALL (Minister of Health)
: The Government has made strong progress in improving health services for children. Immunisation is now at a record level of 93 percent for 2-year-olds. There are free doctors’ visits for children under 6, day and night, 7 days a week, and a $24 million programme to address rheumatic fever, and we have rescued the B4 School checks programme, which has seen almost 140,000 children being given free health and development checks before they start school. The Government’s policies are not so much about closing the gaps as lifting for all, especially those most in need, and this is well demonstrated by the immunisation success story. While the immunisation rate for our children has lifted, the increase in the immunisation rate for Māori has lifted much greater, from 73 percent to 92 percent, and for children of Pacific Island ethnicity, from 80 percent to an unprecedented 97 percent. In terms of income—this is very interesting—the poorest income groups have exactly the same immunisation rate as the wealthiest groups: 94 percent.
Dr Jian Yang: What progress has been made with the new programme to reduce rheumatic fever, a Third World disease particularly prevalent in Māori and Pacific Island communities?
Hon TONY RYALL: I think the first point I need to make is that rheumatic fever can develop into a life-threatening heart disease and have the patient on 10 years of monthly penicillin injections. But this very serious Third World disease can be prevented, and it is one of the National-led Government’s key result areas to reduce the incidence of rheumatic fever by two-thirds by 2017. What I can announce today is that the largest initiative ever in South Auckland to deal with rheumatic fever will be launched on Friday. It is going to be opening at the Rongomai School in Ōtara, which will be the first of 18 school-based clinics in South Auckland. Clinics will open in Manurewa, Māngere, and Papakura schools. The clinics will check throats and skin infections, provide antibiotics, and provide access to services for healthy housing and injury prevention—a great achievement for New Zealand.
Barbara Stewart: What action is he taking to ensure that all rural areas, including Invercargill and Lumsden, have access to free after-hours urgent health-care for children under 6?
Hon TONY RYALL: As the member will know, the scheme is not compulsory, and the district health boards are negotiating that with various localities. We are currently at just over 90 percent of the country providing that access. That is a tremendous achievement for free after-hours health-care for under-sixes, and I look to progress in the southern region with those particular communities in the next while.
New Zealand - Australia Migration—18 to 30 Age Range
Hon DAVID PARKER (Labour) to the
Minister of Finance: Does he stand by his statement regarding migration to Australia “What’s the point of standing in the airport crying about it?”; if so, how many of the 158,167 people that have migrated to
Australia since November 2008, as reported by Statistics NZ, are from 18 to 30 years of age in number and percentage terms?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance)
: Since November 2008, 61,937 people aged 18 to 30—about 39 percent of the total. Yes, I do stand by my statement, because I think it is important New Zealand gets on with expanding industries, supporting businesses, and creating jobs, so that those young people feel like they have more choices in a country going ahead, not one that is spending and borrowing more than it can afford.
Hon David Parker: How can New Zealand prosper when so many of our youngest and brightest are choosing to work in Australia rather than contribute to New Zealand’s economy?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: New Zealand can prosper if, for instance, the Opposition supports the Government’s push to expand our oil and gas and minerals industries—exactly the industries that those young New Zealanders are going to work in in Australia. So if it is good enough for them to stay here, it is good enough for us to have those kinds of jobs for them.
Hon David Parker: When will he acknowledge that too many young New Zealanders are leaving because under his Government they lack hope and opportunity in New Zealand?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I do not accept that. The fact is in recent years the Australian economy has had higher growth rates than New Zealand’s. The migration flows between the two countries have generally correlated with those growth rates. The New Zealand Government is pushing to accelerate our growth rate in part by expanding the kind of industry that has been at the core of Australia’s success, and that is its resource-based industries, where those young New Zealanders are going to get those jobs. Why can we not have them in those jobs here?
Dr Megan Woods: Does he agree that the Canterbury rebuild offers opportunities for young Kiwis to stay and work in New Zealand; if so, how does the Government’s record of spending a paltry $8 million on post-earthquake skills training in Canterbury, out of a total of $42 million allocated, help young Kiwis get the skills needed to fill those jobs and stay in New Zealand?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I think there are two parts to that answer. In the first place, the Government looks to be heading to spend somewhere around $13 billion to $14 billion in Christchurch, and that will provide lots of jobs for young New Zealanders. Secondly, in respect of training places, there are more training places available than there are young New Zealanders willing and able to take them up, and we expect to maintain that situation for some time yet.
Hon David Parker: Given that National campaigned so vociferously on reducing the brain drain to Australia, why do his targets by which he can be held to account not include any target or milestone for closing the wage gap with Australia, nor for decreasing the number of New Zealanders moving from New Zealand to Australia?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The number of New Zealanders going to Australia can be measured every day. The one way to stem that flow is to support businesses that make the decisions to invest more and employ another person. That is why so many New Zealanders did not vote for the Labour Party in the last election—because they know that it does not take that approach.
Hon David Parker: Is he proud that the Statistics New Zealand figures show that National’s policies are turning Generation Y into “Generation Oz”?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: That is not what the figures show. I am very proud that National’s policies are turning round and repairing the damage done by the last
Government to this economy, and are building a brighter future for thousands of young New Zealanders.
Business Research and Development—Advanced Technology Institute
COLIN KING (National—Kaikōura) to the
Minister of Science and Innovation: How will the Advanced Technology Institute boost business-led research and development?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister of Science and Innovation)
: The Advanced Technology Institute is designed to be a one-stop shop for businesses’ research and development needs. It will support firms at different stages of development, from start-ups to established research and development performers, to innovate in response to domestic and international market opportunities. The Advanced Technology Institute will consolidate services that were previously only available across a number of entities, if at all. These include services such as product testing analysis and certification, research and development work, access to business research and development funding, commercialisation assistance, and intellectual property advice. The Advanced Technology Institute will also broker connections for businesses with the specialised expertise, equipment, and facilities they need to develop new or better products or services, whether located within New Zealand or further afield.
Colin King: How does the establishment of the Advanced Technology Institute and the Government’s commitment to science and innovation compare with the previous Government’s spending on research and development?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: Actually we have made tremendous progress given tight financial conditions. Total Government spending on research and innovation funding has increased dramatically since 2007-08. In fact, funding has increased 46 percent in that period, from $848 million to $1,241 million in 2012-13. We have also managed to increase the share of business-led research and development expenditure from just 8 percent of the total in 2009-10 to an estimated nearly 20 percent in 2012-13. Combined with these funding increases, the creation of the Advanced Technology Institute will help better link business and science and help create new, high-tech products and services, which are crucial to help New Zealand grow faster.
Canterbury Earthquake Recovery, Minister—Use of Powers
Hon LIANNE DALZIEL (Labour—Christchurch East) to the
Minister for Canterbury Earthquake Recovery: Why did he use section 27 of the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Act 2011 to amend the Canterbury Regional Policy Statement instead of using the Order in Council provisions of the Act or developing the recovery strategy or a recovery plan?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE (Minister for Canterbury Earthquake Recovery)
: I inserted chapter 12A into the regional policy statement to ensure that there was enough easily consentable land for new subdivisions in the Greater Christchurch area. I did so with the encouragement of, and in consultation with, local authorities. Section 27 was seen as the quickest way to ensure delivery of new residential sections on safe ground for the many people in Christchurch affected by New Zealand’s largest natural disaster. I am passionate about effecting as fast as possible a recovery for people in the Greater Christchurch area. I note that the judge said that he believed I had acted in good faith. I am pleased that the decision has left in place the new subdivisions that were fast-tracked by my decision. I will now consider fully what the judge’s decision means and what implications it has.
Hon Lianne Dalziel: Does he stand by his statement that the powers under the legislation are “essentially reserve powers and there will be checks and balances on the
use of these powers so the public can have confidence they are being used wisely and with restraint.”, and why did the court not think that he was using them wisely and with restraint when he acted outside the powers of the legislation?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: That is the current judgment and I accept that. However, there is going to be some consideration of exactly what that judgment means. What I would say is that there was a need for new subdivisions to be enacted in Canterbury quickly. Even the member herself was calling for that at a number of points, as were some of her colleagues. The urban development strategy, on which the change was based, was created through a very long consultation process that dated back to 2004. During that time there were numerous community consultations undertaken by the strategy partners and there were some 3,250 submissions on growth management options for the Greater Christchurch area. That resulted in plan change 1, which was promulgated in 2007. There were around some 700 submissions lodged in response to that, and there were hearings held throughout 2009. The matter was then taken to the Environment Court, and that is where it was stuck at the time of the earthquakes in 2010 and 2011. I worked after that very closely with the elected representatives to try to come up with a solution that did not mean that we were cherry-picking, through the Government legislation, exactly which subdivisions went where. We chose a solution that the community itself had chosen. The judge has said that we used the wrong provision. I cannot challenge that and I wish to say no further about that, but I would note that there are thousands of sections available now that would not have been available under any other process.
Hon Lianne Dalziel: Does the Minister agree that the court upheld the judicial review because the Minister had chosen an option that had none of the checks and balances that he had told the people of New Zealand would be in place?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: I think my answer to the previous question absolutely rejects that proposition. The fact is that I did not accept the lobbying of individual property owners. I did not accept the offers of individual property owners. Instead I accepted—
Hon Lianne Dalziel: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I did not interject or take a point of order during the very lengthy answer that we had before. The specific question that I asked was whether the reason for the court’s decision was the lack of checks and balances that he had said would be in place.
Mr SPEAKER: I accept the goodwill in the member’s point of order, but in the Minister’s answer I think he is being very careful not to comment on the legal implications of a judicial decision. It is not for a Minister to second-guess why a judge may have made a decision the judge has made. I think the Minister is trying to be very careful not to comment on the judge’s decision, not to offer reasons why the judge may or may not have made the decision made. That is why I allowed the Minister somewhat more latitude, and I am sure the experienced member would know that the Minister has to be very careful in that regard. I see it being quite difficult for the Minister to try to answer too precisely what the member has asked. Has the Hon Gerry Brownlee finished the answer?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: Well, I think so.
Hon Lianne Dalziel: Does the Minister recall identifying the checks and balances that he said would be in place and from which the public could take comfort: the four-person independent review panel, the cross-party forum, the forum of community leaders, appeal rights, and the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority being subject to the Official Information Act? And can he confirm that, in fact, none of those particular checks and balances were in play when he made his decision?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: If one was to dissect the Act and the various reasons for the powers, then all of those things would be true. But section 27 stands on its own and we believed that it was quite appropriate to move things in a rapid way. One of the extraordinary things I will point to in the judgment—and I make no comment on it—is that the judge has said that he felt that the decision was about matters that had existed prior to the earthquake event and would endure beyond the earthquake event, and therefore the recovery powers were inappropriate. Matters that were in place prior to the earthquake event were the faults underneath Christchurch, and, secondly, we would hope that all the decision made by the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority, in conjunction with local authorities, Ngāi Tahu, and other individual partners, do endure beyond this earthquake event. The judge has ruled that we used the wrong provisions under the Act.
Biosecurity Management—Government Initiatives
SHANE ARDERN (National—Taranaki - King Country) to the
Minister for Primary Industries: What recent announcements has he made to further improve New Zealand’s biosecurity system?
Hon DAVID CARTER (Minister for Primary Industries)
: On Friday I announced that 11 new biosecurity detector dogs would join the front line this year. This is a 42 percent increase in the number of detector dogs active at our border. Detector dogs and their handlers are another important part of our biosecurity system’s front line. The dogs’ visual presence at the airport is a big factor, and they are great at detecting seeds and plants that X-rays may miss.
Shane Ardern: What additional improvements is the Minister making to New Zealand’s biosecurity system?
Hon DAVID CARTER: I strongly believe that New Zealand’s biosecurity system is the best in the world, and that the Ministry for Primary Industries does an outstanding job. Having said that, neither I nor the Ministry for Primary Industries are content with simply maintaining this world-leading system. We are continually looking to make improvements, and they include such things as adding 40 additional jobs to the biosecurity front line in Auckland and Wellington next month, progressing the Biosecurity Law Reform Bill through the House, and progressing a number of Government-industry agreements. That is why biosecurity expenditure in the last year was the highest that it has been in the last decade, and almost double what it was in 2001.
Richard Prosser: Does he agree with the findings of the Sapere Research Group report into the outbreak of Psa in New Zealand that the lack of consistency in the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry staff’s individualised approaches led to “reactive and fragmented assessment of the risks of Psa across individual pathways”; if so, what action will he take to ensure there is greater cohesion between Ministry for Primary Industries staff in order to mitigate future risks?
Hon DAVID CARTER: Action has already been taken accepting the recommendations of that report. What it clearly demonstrated to me is that there does need to be substantially better engagement between industry and the Ministry for Primary Industries if we are to get the best possible outcomes for the biosecurity system. What Psa showed is that there were changing circumstances and that information was never fed to the people it should have been fed to at the Ministry for Primary Industries.
Personal Explanation—Comments Made at Environmental Defence Society Conference
CHARLES CHAUVEL (Labour)
: I seek leave under Standing Order 354 to make a personal explanation in respect of a reference to me earlier in question time by the Prime Minister.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought for that course of action. Is there any objection? There is no objection.
CHARLES CHAUVEL: The Prime Minister referred to comments that I made at a conference of the Environmental Defence Society some years ago, where I expressed a preference, in general terms, for collaborative dispute resolution procedures over litigation. I stand by those comments, but, obviously, they were made without any knowledge of the funding structure for the Mackenzie Sustainable Futures Trust, its membership, the involvement of Ministers or members in that trust, or the view taken by officials of the appropriateness of those arrangements.