Questions to Ministers
1. CHRIS TREMAIN (National—Napier) to the
Minister of Finance: In preparing for the Budget on 28 May, what role does he see for State services in rebuilding the economy?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance)
: The State services represent about 30 percent of the New Zealand economy, so the sector has a significant influence on New Zealand’s overall performance. When the private sector is tightening its belt, it is not sustainable or reasonable for State Service wages and salaries to continue rising at 3 or 4 percent a year, as some are doing now. These costs are falling on taxpayers, who are unlikely to be getting 3 or 4 percent pay rises this year.
Chris Tremain: What steps has the Minister taken to ensure that State services remuneration practices reflect the difficult economic environment?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The Government believes that it is important that wage expectations in the State services reflect the wider economy. Therefore, I have written to all Ministers, reminding them that we have a firm and consistent view on remuneration pressures. I outlined my view that we do not fund any remuneration pressures through the Budget process. We will be looking for State services pay restraint and productivity growth. There may be some groups who believe they have a special case on grounds of fairness or relativity. However, our overall expectation is that any remuneration pressures will be self-funded.
Grant Robertson: What does the Minister think that the reaction will be among police officers, social workers, prison workers, and other hard-working public servants to the news that they will be getting a pay freeze, but that there will be no cuts to Ministerial Services for the National Government and that under his Government 36 press secretaries are being paid more than $150,000 a year, which is twice as many as under the previous Labour Government?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: In the first case, the member is wrong. The police and social workers are working every day with New Zealanders who are feeling the stress of the recession, and in my view they will be much more realistic about State sector pay pressures than the Labour members are.
Chris Tremain: What recent reports has the Minister seen about the private sector labour market?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Treasury’s monthly economic indicators, which were issued yesterday, reported that the majority of firms have reduced staff numbers in recent months and expect to make further reductions in the coming year. Private sector wage and salary expectations, therefore, have fallen significantly in recent months. The
previous Government was focused on increasing the Public Service; this Government is focusing on increasing the services provided to the public.
Grant Robertson: Why does the Minister think it is acceptable to give himself an effective pay increase of $2,500 per year, while telling police officers, social workers, fire officers, prison officers, and other hard-working public servants that they have to accept a pay freeze?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: In the first place, there is no pay freeze. Chief executives have a clear direction from the Government that they should be looking for pay restraint and productivity gains. Secondly, all of the groups that the member has mentioned are benefiting from tax cuts. From 1 April someone on the average wage gets the equivalent of $18.50 per week, and that is a significant boost in after-tax income, which the person would not have got if he or she had voted for Labour, and that is why people did not vote for Labour.
Dr Russel Norman: Can the Minister confirm that according to answers to written questions, the State services saved $4.7 million last year through Govt3 sustainability initiatives; if so, is he concerned that these initiatives have been axed, and even mocked by the Prime Minister as being “hug a polar bear” initiatives, when they are actually saving taxpayers many millions of dollars?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: There were some very expensive and somewhat symbolic schemes that the Minister for the Environment has determined, quite sensibly, were not worth the money. I am quite sure that with the reduction in travel, conferences, and workshops, and the reduction in the production of useless, but large, strategies over the next 12 months, the State services will be emitting less carbon and causing less climate change than they have done over any of the last 9 years under the previous Government.
Dr Russel Norman: What is wrong with a State Service like the Inland Revenue Department saving about $1 million annually by reducing energy, minimising waste, and engaging in other kinds of “polar bear public displays of affection”, when it cost only $700,000 to actually make those savings? Is that not a good thing, because it saves the taxpayers’ money?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: There is nothing wrong with the Inland Revenue Department saving $1 million, except to say that over the next few years that will not be anything like enough.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Can the Minister of Finance give the House an assurance that all agreements currently entered into will be funded by the Government?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I can give that assurance. Because these are legally binding agreements, of course the Government will meet its legal obligations. However, that will create something of a problem of fairness. Quite large groups of State servants in this 12-month period will be getting substantial pay increases. About half of the Public Service will get pay increases, and a good number of those workers will receive increases of between 3 and 5 percent. I believe that the public will not be tolerant of those groups protesting that they are not getting enough.
Dr Russel Norman: I seek leave to table a document from the Inland Revenue Department, dated 25 February this year, which shows the savings it is making through its Govt³ sustainability initiatives.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is no objection.
- Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Hon PHIL GOFF (Leader of the Opposition) to the
Prime Minister: Does he have confidence in all his Ministers?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Deputy Prime Minister) on behalf of the
Prime Minister: Yes; they are hard-working and competent Ministers.
Hon Phil Goff: Is he confident that it was a prudent use of thousands of dollars of taxpayer money for his Minister of Education, Mrs Tolley, to take a helicopter joyride over Auckland, on the basis, she said, that she wanted an overview of the Auckland University of Technology?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: As the member will be aware, having formed an overview of the globe in his travels when a trade Minister, including an overview of South America just recently, where he was an extraordinarily influential figure at the conference that he went to, or so he told the media—
Hon Phil Goff: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. [Interruption] I understood that points of order were to be heard in silence.
Mr SPEAKER: That is a very good point, well made. We will hear it in silence. I thank the member.
Hon Phil Goff: The question was quite straightforward. It was specific to a particular Minister. We have not yet had the Prime Minister answer that question. I think it is time that he addressed himself to the question.
Mr SPEAKER: I am sure that the Hon Bill English will do that.
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I am absolutely satisfied that the Minister of Education has strong views about her role as a steward of public funds. The fact is that the Crown has substantial investments in tertiary institutions in Auckland. The previous Labour Government made a number of open-ended commitments that it did not fund properly, and the Minister of Education has to sort out the mess.
Hon Phil Goff: Can the Prime Minister explain what the benefits were, either for education or for the hard-working New Zealanders whose taxpayer money funded this jaunt, for the Minister to have this joyride; and how is this expenditure consistent with the Government’s demand for value-for-money expenditure?
Hon Gerry Brownlee: Better than a hug from Joe Biden.
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Yeah, I would ask who paid for that. It is quite normal practice for Ministers to take rides in helicopters. It is done all the time, because—
Hon Phil Goff: What did she see that she couldn’t have seen by car?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: What did that member see in South America that he could not have seen on CNN news? If the trip was paid for by anyone else and the value of it was over $500, then the Minister will declare it as a gift on the pecuniary interests register, just the same as I have done myself.
Hon Phil Goff: How does the Prime Minister reconcile the Minister of Education’s decision to sack 70 staff members at the Tertiary Education Commission in order to save money, with this cavalier use of taxpayers’ money, which could have been spent on strengthening education?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: It is not a cavalier use of taxpayers’ money; it is perfectly normal practice for Ministers. The redundancies in the Tertiary Education Commission were due to a decision made by the chief executive of the commission. Change in the Tertiary Education Commission was well signalled by National when in Opposition, because it was one of the most wasteful and useless expenditures of public money that the previous Labour Government invented.
Hon Phil Goff: Which of the following statements is correct: Dr Worth saying this morning that he was confident that he had done nothing wrong, or the Prime Minister saying last week that Dr Worth was stupid and unwise?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The Prime Minister laid out his expectations very clearly to Dr Worth, and he is satisfied that Dr Worth has met those expectations. I am still waiting to hear the apology from Labour for wasting hundreds of millions of dollars on the Tertiary Education Commission, when it is now getting up and complaining about a helicopter ride by a National Minister. When are you going to apologise for the enormous waste of public money—
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: I have recognised a point of order. There will be silence.
Hon Trevor Mallard: It is quite a long time since you have had responsibility for education matters, and asking you to apologise is, I think, inappropriate.
Mr SPEAKER: The member makes a perfectly fair point, but the exchange in question time is important for the moment.
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I would not want there to be any ambiguity. I was asking when Labour is going to apologise.
Mr SPEAKER: I appreciate that.
Hon Phil Goff: Is Dr Worth correct in saying this morning that “I am not on final warning” after his third conversation with the Prime Minister on Saturday night about non-disclosure of interests; if so, has “one strike and you’re out” as a high standard of ministerial behaviour become “three strikes and you’re not even on notice”?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The Prime Minister has made his position absolutely clear. He has set out his expectations of how Cabinet Ministers ought to behave, and Dr Worth has the obligation to meet those expectations.
Hon Phil Goff: Is the Prime Minister’s failure to effectively deal with Dr Worth because last year Mr Key himself failed to acknowledge his conflict of interest in holding shares in Tranz Rail?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: It is a bit rich to hear Labour talking about conflict of interest when, in Government, it had Parliament pass a law to, in the first place, make legal its illegal and fraudulent expenditure of taxpayers’ money on the pledge card; and, secondly, to write a set of rules for our electoral system that were explicitly designed to favour it when it was broke.
Hon Phil Goff: Will the Prime Minister act to remove Dr Worth from his portfolios if there are further undisclosed conflicts of interest?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The Prime Minister has stated many times that he has set out his expectations about how a Minister should behave, and it is up to the Minister to meet those expectations.
DAVID GARRETT (ACT) to the
Minister of Justice: Does he agree that the Mongrel Mob, Black Power, Hell’s Angels, and the Headhunters are primarily criminal organisations; if not, why not?
Hon SIMON POWER (Minister of Justice)
: Yes. That is why we have introduced legislation to make it easier to secure convictions against members of a criminal organisation.
David Garrett: How many patched Mongrel Mob and Black Power gang members were invited to the Drivers of Crime summit held last Friday, and why were they invited?
Hon SIMON POWER: Two currently patched members attended last Friday, but they did not wear any regalia. They were invited by the Minister of Māori Affairs,
Minister Sharples; I am advised that the Minister had been personally working with one of them to reduce youth violence in South Auckland.
Rahui Katene: Has the Minister read the Parliamentary Library research paper of 3 April 2009 that identifies that “Pakeha street gangs with interests in neo-fascism and white power tendencies grew stronger, particularly in Christchurch, during the 1990s.”, and how are these gangs being addressed within current justice sector policy?
Hon SIMON POWER: I have not read that paper, but I am familiar with the type of gang to which the member refers. The Government has swiftly introduced legislation that strengthens the existing law under section 98A of the Crimes Act and that seeks to further criminalise participation in organised criminal groups.
Hon DAVID CUNLIFFE (Labour—New Lynn) to the
Minister of Finance: Does he stand by all the statements he made on TVNZ’s
Q+A programme on Sunday, 5 April 2009?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance)
Hon David Cunliffe: Does the Minister stand by his comment that “the national cycleway is not going to happen in a hurry,” and that he “won’t be spending $50 million on it this year, or next year, or the year after.”? Will he now concede that the 4,000 jobs the Prime Minister promised the cycleway would create are unrealistic and that as a response to the recession it has already failed?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Yes, and no.
Hon David Cunliffe: Is the reason the Minister will not commit to funding cycleways—cycling from cloud to cloud—that it is too expensive, and will he confirm that this silver bullet from the Job Summit has become a “hug a polar bear” initiative: nice to have, but a luxury we can no longer afford?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The Minister is wrong about that; there will be funding—
Hon Members: Oh, oh!
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The fortunately former Minister is wrong about that; there will be funding for a national cycleway.
Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga: How have the Minister’s expectations of economic recovery, as discussed in the
Q+A interview, been influenced by earlier predictions about this economic cycle?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I am surprised that Opposition members believe they have some capacity to pick when recoveries are going to occur. In March last year Helen Clark informed us that the economy was holding up well and that no policy response was being considered. The next day Michael Cullen conceded that New Zealand might be heading for a shallow, technical recession. By August 2008 he had revised the outlook to be the most challenging since 1987. The following month he assured New Zealanders that the worst was over—a prediction that was premature, at best.
Hon David Cunliffe: Therefore, how does the Minister reconcile his statement that “we’re unlikely to aggressively grow out of” the recession with the Prime Minister’s statement that we will “come out of it reasonably aggressively”? How can the public have any confidence whatsoever in the Government’s handling of the economy when even the Prime Minister and his loyal deputy are in such stark disagreement?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The public have a high level of confidence in the handling of the economy because the National Government is now in charge of it, instead of a Labour Government. We are rolling out our plan, which is to protect people from the sharp edge of recession in the shorter term and to prepare the economy for growing rapidly as we come out of the recession. That is the only way we will be able to replace the jobs that are currently being lost day by day. I would have thought that Opposition
members would take our sharply rising unemployment much more seriously than they do.
Hon David Cunliffe: Does the Minister agree with Treasury’s recent warnings that an additional 60,000 people might lose their jobs and that the rise of unemployment could extend the recession and slow recovery? In light of this warning, does he stand by his comment regarding the Prime Minister’s optimistic predictions that he “wouldn’t want to say he’s wrong”?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Treasury is guessing. As I have said to the member before—
Hon David Cunliffe: Oh, they’re just guesses?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Well, it is guessing—no one knows quite what is going to happen. As I have said to the member before, we do not spend all our time sitting around redoing forecasts; we are getting on with an active and decisive programme that has strong public support. In fact, confidence in New Zealand’s economic direction is very high compared with almost any other developed country.
Economic Stimulus Package—Retrofitting Private Houses
Dr RUSSEL NORMAN (Co-Leader—Green) to the
Minister of Energy and Resources: Does he agree with the Green Party that providing Government assistance to insulate and retrofit private houses to make them warm, healthy, and energy efficient should be a key component of the economic stimulus package?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE (Minister of Energy and Resources)
: Generally, yes. Improving the insulation of a house by way of retrofitting has a positive impact on the health of its occupants, and can lead to energy efficiency.
Dr Russel Norman: Can the Minister confirm that we now have genuine cross-party agreement on this Green Party initiative to make people’s homes warm, dry, and healthy?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: It would seem that there is a degree of consensus in the House about this matter, but I point out that the Labour Party, which now makes a huge noise about this issue, failed miserably to fund a so-called billion-dollar programme while it was in Government. The Labour Government talked about a billion dollars, but that was just an illusion. There was no billion-dollar fund.
Charles Chauvel: Has the Minister read new section 223 of the Climate Change Response (Emissions Trading) Amendment Act, which came into force on 26 September 2008; if so, could he remind the House of what it provides?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: No; and I cannot.
Kevin Hague: Can the Minister confirm that there are around 200,000 Kiwi kids with asthma and a further 200,000 adults with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and that a great many of them stand to benefit substantially from the Green Party’s proposals for a Green Homes Fund that would make their homes warm, dry, and healthy?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: There is little doubt that far too many dwellings in New Zealand are under-insulated. The best estimates show that the figure approaches some 900,000 residences. It is further estimated that about 200,000 of those dwellings are very, very poorly insulated, and, generally, are occupied by people who are on lower incomes. There is no doubt that the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority programme that exists now is doing a good job in trying to lift the insulation values in those homes. The evidence is overwhelming that when people are in warm homes, they are healthier.
Kevin Hague: Is the Minister aware of any proposed project that will create more jobs faster per $1 million invested, while at the same time improving health and
reducing carbon emissions, than the Green Party’s initiative to make homes warm, dry, and healthy would create?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: I am aware that the Prime Minister made it clear after the Job Summit that he was particularly keen to investigate some energy-efficiency projects around home insulation. He has further asked me to instruct officials from the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority and the Ministry of Economic Development to provide advice to the Government on how that may be given effect.
Dr Russel Norman: Can the Minister confirm that this kind of Green New Deal investment is exactly what the World Economic Forum is calling for when it says “The international community faces the twin challenges of dealing with the most serious global economic crisis since the 1930s and negotiating an ambitious agreement on climate change. We suggest that the two agendas can and should be designed to be mutually reinforcing.”?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: I do know that the Prime Minister has said one of the aspects that is intriguing about the insulation of homes is that “it’s scalable across the country. …. you’ve got a situation where you’ve a workforce that’s ready to do that’’ because “the construction sector’s been slowing down … you do get health and social benefits;”. And there are some energy savings, which, of course, have a flow-on environmental benefit as well.
Charles Chauvel: Which of the following statements is correct: one, the previous Labour-led Government legislated via new section 223 of the Climate Change Response (Emissions Trading) Amendment Act to provide for a billion-dollar home insulation fund; two, the legislation was enacted by Parliament in September, after the time when it could be included in the 2008 Budget, and after the deadline for mention in the Pre-election Economic and Fiscal Update; three, the Government has misleadingly and consistently claimed that Labour’s programme for insulation retrofits was unbudgeted for and was therefore cut; or, four, all the above?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: There is nothing misleading about the claim that Labour failed to fund its billion-dollar promise to New Zealanders. That is just a fact. What is worse is that we had the then finance Minister and the then energy Minister trying to spend the money twice. Those Ministers said that any windfall profits from State-owned enterprises would go into new renewable generation, but everybody else in the previous Labour Government seemed to believe there was going to be a big pot of cash available for insulation. There was no cash, and as much as the Labour members might have legislated, until there is cash, nothing happens. Under Labour, nothing happened.
Charles Chauvel: I seek leave to table section 223 of the amendment Act, for the Minister’s benefit, so he can read it.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is.
Charles Chauvel: I seek leave to table a statement reporting comments by Dr Nick Smith that the insulation fund had not been provided for and was therefore cut.
Mr SPEAKER: I would like to seek clarification. Is this a New Zealand press statement?
Charles Chauvel: Yes. It is from the
Press dated 8 January 2009.
Mr SPEAKER: Can I appeal to members not to waste the House’s time. I put the leave request. Is there any objection to that statement being tabled? There is.
District Health Boards—Patient Travel Funding
Hon RUTH DYSON (Labour—Port Hills) to the
Minister of Health: What expectations does he have for district health boards to fund patient travel costs?
Hon TONY RYALL (Minister of Health)
: The Government expects district health boards to fund patient travel costs according to the travel policies that have been in place under the previous Government, and which this Government is continuing.
Hon Ruth Dyson: Does he expect to make more inaccurate announcements as he did on 29 March when he said: “The amount that patients can claim under the scheme hasn’t been reviewed for more than 20 years,”; or had he forgotten that an additional $36 million was added to that very fund after the last review 4 years ago?
Hon TONY RYALL: It is quite clear that the National Government has enjoyed a considerable amount of positive support from New Zealanders for its announcements on improving the National Travel Assistance Policy.
Hon Ruth Dyson: Will the Minister demand a Health Committee inquiry, as he did when the Capital and Coast District Health Board’s paediatric oncology service was last under threat and children and their families had to travel for their treatment; or will he concede that his noise then was nothing about children and their families, but purely political?
Hon TONY RYALL: Because the current paediatric oncologists are in place until August there is a period of time for a more durable solution to the ongoing challenge of providing a full range of paediatric oncology services at Wellington Hospital to be found.
Nicky Wagner: What changes, if any, have been made to the National Travel Assistance Policy under the new Government?
Hon TONY RYALL: The announcement from the Government that there will be increases to the policy has been long-awaited. There will be a 40 percent increase in the mileage contribution, which will go from 20c to 28c per kilometre, and we are increasing the overnight support up to $100 per night. This is the first increase in a number of years and it brings the rest of the country up to the rate paid in Auckland.
Hon Ruth Dyson: How can the Minister justify his decision to allow the MidCentral District Health Board to cancel the clinical services and mobile bus, and how can he justify the now required 100 kilometre journey on a substandard road, with no travel assistance, to the good people of Dannevirke? What happened to “no cuts in front-line services”?
Hon TONY RYALL: I am advised that the reason why changes have been made to the Dannevirke service is to improve the number of patients who can get a first specialist assessment. We know that despite the population of New Zealand growing by 10 percent in the last 9 years, the number of first specialist assessments hardly grew. But I can also say that I have been advised by the chief executive of the MidCentral District Health Board that 30-plus services are still being provided in Dannevirke.
Nicky Wagner: What actions has he taken regarding other vulnerable services in district health boards?
Hon TONY RYALL: There is no doubt, when we look at the situation of the paediatric oncology service here in Wellington, that the new Government has inherited a large number of vulnerable services mainly because of the health workforce crisis that has been ignored for some years. The new Government has asked district health boards to identify those vulnerable services and work regionally and nationally to ensure that front-line services can be improved.
Economic Stimulus Package—Housing New Zealand Corporation
TODD McCLAY (National—Rotorua) to the
Minister of Housing: Has he received any feedback on the progress Housing New Zealand Corporation is making with the 2008-09 component of the jobs and growth stimulus package announced earlier this year?
Hon PHIL HEATLEY (Minister of Housing)
: Yes. I have been advised by officials that the corporation is well on track with this year’s component of the jobs and growth stimulus package. Out of the $10 million of upgrade work injected, $1.1 million worth was under way as of early March. So far, 285 extra houses have been upgraded that would not have been if we had not injected the money. We are delivering for those families that we found were living in squalor, and had been living in squalor for some years.
Todd McClay: I will speak slowly for the benefit of the previous member for Ōtaki. What changes have occurred since the announcement made earlier this year?
Hon PHIL HEATLEY: Members will be aware that soon after this Government came to office we approved 475 net extra State houses by the end of this financial year. The stimulus package added on 69 extra State houses. Although we had targeted 475 new State houses, and we announced a further 69 new State houses, I asked Housing New Zealand to sharpen its pencil, and now there will be 475 new State houses, plus 86 new State houses on top of that.
Todd McClay: I will speak even more slowly, for the benefit of the previous member for Ōtaki.
Mr SPEAKER: The member will just ask his question.
Todd McClay: How is this work being allocated to areas under housing pressure?
Hon PHIL HEATLEY: The Māori Party colleagues who came to me had a particular concern about particular areas of significant need across the country. For example, South Auckland was of concern to them. We are adding an extra 94 houses in South Auckland by the end of this financial year, and 18 of them are coming from the stimulus package. We are doing up 186 houses by the end of this financial year, over and above what we would have done. We were very concerned, and the Māori Party members were very concerned, about tenants having lived in squalor for many years, and now they are to live in decent conditions.
Rahui Katene: What opportunity will there be for iwi to be involved in the jobs and growth stimulus package, and what consultations have taken place with iwi to this effect?
Hon PHIL HEATLEY: I have met with the co-leaders of the Māori Party on a number of occasions to discuss the benefits of the stimulus package for State house tenants who are Māori, and also for Māori and non-Māori tradespeople. The Māori Party members have local State house areas of concern to them, and I have welcomed their bringing to my attention iwi organisations that they believe could be involved in upgrading many of the State houses and building some of the new ones. That is $101.5 million worth next year. I hope to see some Māori businesses involved in that upgrade work.
Question No. 8 to Minister
Hon DARREN HUGHES (Senior Whip—Labour)
: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I note the absence from the House of the Minister for Tertiary Education. I understand she is in Queenstown, presumably in a helicopter. I seek leave for this question to be held over for question time tomorrow. I am seeking leave so that the Minister can return to the Chamber and answer the question.
Mr SPEAKER: I ask the member, when making a point of order in future, not to make that kind of derogatory comment about a person if he expects the point of order to be taken seriously. Leave is sought for the question to be diverted. Is there any objection to that course of action? There is objection.
Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Labour—Hutt South)
: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. It was made clear earlier by the Deputy Prime Minister—I think when he was
acting for the Prime Minister—that it was normal practice for Ministers to take helicopters—
Mr SPEAKER: The member will resume his seat—if the member wants to ask his questions he will resume his seat when I am on my feet. That was not a point of order.
Hon MARYAN STREET (Labour) to the
Minister for Tertiary Education: Does she believe that she has a good overview of Auckland tertiary education issues?
Hon Dr WAYNE MAPP (Associate Minister for Tertiary Education) on behalf of the
Minister for Tertiary Education: Yes. I am advised that the Minister has visited the campuses of Auckland University, the Auckland University of Technology, and the Manukau Institute of Technology. I am also advised that the Auckland University of Technology, at its own suggestion, took the Minister on a short helicopter ride so she could gain a greater understanding of the population growth in Auckland, the distances between tertiary sector institutions, and the ways the Auckland University of Technology intends to serve different communities within the Auckland region.
Hon Maryan Street: Can the Minister confirm that the helicopter ride over Auckland was the result of her misunderstanding the expression “A helicopter view of the issues”?
Hon Dr WAYNE MAPP: It will certainly be clear from previous answers that it was actually the Auckland University of Technology that made that suggestion. Of course, it should also be clear that the royal commissioners had to do a report on the spread-out nature of Auckland simply because it is so spread out and needs better governance.
Hon Maryan Street: Did the Minister take the helicopter ride over Auckland to avoid meeting with student leaders, who had been trying to meet with her for some time, and who, in desperation, had embarked on what they called “The Great Tolley Hunt: the Sounds of Silence”?
Hon Dr WAYNE MAPP: The Minister has been very active in the Auckland region, visiting numerous tertiary institutions; the Auckland University of Technology was determined to ensure that she had the clearest possible insight. The Minister is focused on ensuring that students and universities get resources, and not the bloated Tertiary Education Commission as was apparently the plan of the previous Government.
Hon Maryan Street: I seek leave to table an article from
Nexus, which I understand to be the Waikato University student newspaper, entitled “The Great Tolley Hunt: the Sounds of Silence”.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table a statement from a student newspaper. Is there any objection to that? There is objection.
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: I seek leave to table a map of Auckland to assist—
Mr SPEAKER: Order!
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: It is a legitimate point of order. I seek leave to table a map of Auckland. She does not know the distances so we are here to help.
Mr SPEAKER: The member knows that the last comment he made was not in order. Leave has been sought to table a map of Auckland. Is there any objection? There is objection.
Small and Medium Sized Businesses—Government Assistance
MELISSA LEE (National) to the
Minister for Economic Development: What is the Government doing to help small and medium sized enterprises?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE (Minister for Economic Development)
: In early February the Prime Minister announced a range of business support measures, which
included the business health check website and the BIZ helpline for small to medium sized enterprises. These are difficult times for small to medium sized enterprises, and the BIZ helpline is a free service that provides advisers able to answer some of the questions that people have that they perhaps cannot ask of their bank, accountant, or anyone else, for that matter. I can report that 968 phone calls were made to the helpline in February, and 980 calls in March—a 68 percent increase. That is a very large increase on the average rate from the previous 7 months.
Melissa Lee: What other measures has the Government undertaken to assist small and medium sized enterprises?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: Quite apart from the changes to the tax system, the business advisory BIZ helpline is also available to refer businesses that wish to engage with mentors, with those appropriate people to assist them. New Zealand Trade and Enterprise is paying the $100 registration fee usually charged. Since this offer was made available in February, 209 firms have been referred to Business Mentors New Zealand services, and 110 of those firms have contacted a business mentor. We believe that the scheme is of great value to many of those small businesses that are struggling at the present time.
Melissa Lee: Has the Minister received any reports about usage of the business health check website?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: Yes, approximately 400 firms have completed online business health checks. Since the website was available, 60 percent of the business health checks completed online are from firms in the Auckland region. Completing a business health check helps firms identify areas where they may be able to seek further assistance, and advice is given on that basis.
Internal Affairs, Minister—Ministerial Requirements
Hon PETE HODGSON (Labour—Dunedin North) to the
Minister of Internal Affairs: Can he confirm that as Minister of Internal Affairs he has met all the requirements of a Minister of the Crown as set out under “Conduct, public duty, and personal interests” in Part 2 of the
Hon Dr RICHARD WORTH (Minister of Internal Affairs)
Hon Pete Hodgson: Why, when I asked him last Thursday whether he was aware of issues surrounding WSBC—a company described by the director of the New Zealand Serious Fraud Office as “an associated entity”—did he advise the House: “I know nothing of these matters.”, when, in fact, the publication TGIF Edition had questioned him on those same matters and published the Minister’s remarks, in quotes, on 13 February—7 weeks ago?
Hon Dr RICHARD WORTH: The member is misquoting what I said. The question to me was: “Is the Minister aware that WSBC, a company that the director of the New Zealand Serious Fraud Office described as “an associated entity”, was thrown out of the Cook Islands last week, and that last Friday the Minister of Finance for the Cook Islands issued a press statement praising the role of the Pacific anti - money-laundering programme; and how does that reflect on his judgment?”. I answered: “I do not know of those matters. That is a different company. The company I was involved with was WSD Global”—I then said “Risks” but meant “Markets”—“Ltd, which is a New Zealand company.” There are a number of factual errors in what the member said, and, in fact, I challenge him to repeat those comments outside the House, as he has been invited to do by the media. [Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: I ask members to show some courtesy to the Hon Pete Hodgson asking his question.
Hon Pete Hodgson: Did the Minister when he wrote to the Hon Murray McCully on 23 December last year regarding his forthcoming trip to India, acknowledge or even allude to his shareholding in New Zealand Aviation, or in WSD Global Markets Ltd, or in the Indian Overseas Group; if he did not, why did he not?
Hon Dr RICHARD WORTH: I did not, and there was no need to do so.
Hon Pete Hodgson: Who was the Acting Minister of Internal Affairs when he was away from New Zealand between 24 February and 2 March, and why can I not find any public announcement of a portfolio change for that period, as is the norm?
Hon Dr RICHARD WORTH: I understand that someone was appointed in my stead. I believe it was the Hon Kate Wilkinson, and I do not know why the member cannot find that.
Question No. 11 to Minister
CHRIS AUCHINVOLE (National—West Coast - Tasman)
: My question is to the Minister of Energy and Resources. Has he received any reports about other recent biofuel developments?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE (Minister of Energy and Resources)
: Yes, I have. I am advised that last month Mobil Oil New Zealand Ltd started to retail—
Hon Dr Michael Cullen: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I have a feeling that the member read his first supplementary question, not the principal question. It might help the Minister if the member read the principal question, because he will not quite be quick enough to have got the answer to the supplementary question.
Mr SPEAKER: I think we should sort this matter out. I ask Chris Auchinvole to actually read the question that is on the Order Paper.
CHRIS AUCHINVOLE (National—West Coast - Tasman) to the
Minister of Energy and Resources: Has he received any reports about bio-diesel production in New Zealand?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE (Minister of Energy and Resources)
: Yes, I have. I am advised that last month Mobil Oil New Zealand Ltd started to retail a B5 bio-diesel blend at the pump in the Bay of Plenty on a trial basis. The bio-diesel and the B5 blend is produced from tallow that is sourced from the meat-processing industry in New Zealand. The trial provides another chance for the fuel to be part of the choice available to motorists in a world where we are trying to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Chris Auchinvole: Has the Minister received any reports about other recent biofuel developments?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: Yes, I have. I am advised that the Environmental Risk Management Authority has approved an application from the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority to allow E85, which is an 85 percent ethanol blend, for use in New Zealand cars. The approval paves the way for flexi-fuel cars—which cost little more than an ordinary petrol vehicle—to be more widely used in New Zealand. The approval will eventually allow oil companies to offer at the pump other options for flexi-fuel vehicle owners, thereby further reducing greenhouse gas emissions from the transport sector.
Chris Auchinvole: Has the Minister seen any comments about the future of biofuels in New Zealand?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: Yes, I have. When the Government moved to repeal the biofuels sales obligation last year, Pete Hodgson said that it would do enormous economic damage to a burgeoning industry and that it would be the end of a biofuels industry in New Zealand. I am very pleased to announce to members today that the
Opposition has been proved wrong—the biofuels industry is growing and thriving in New Zealand today.
Charles Chauvel: What advice, if any, has the Minister had on how much more biofuels development there would be had his Government not vandalised the biofuels obligation?
Hon GERRY BROWNLEE: The member asking that question seems to be completely without any understanding of the point of having biofuels in New Zealand. The previous Labour Government could not guarantee that biofuels sold under its obligation were produced sustainably. I believe that some 40 million litres—or approaching 40 million litres—of biofuel will be produced in New Zealand this year; that is far more than was projected while the member’s Government was in office.
“Three Strikes”—Proposed Legislation
Hon CLAYTON COSGROVE (Labour—Waimakariri) to the
Minister of Corrections: Does she agree that information released under the Official Information Act by the Department of Corrections indicates that not one of the 423 prisoners serving life sentences would have been stopped by the proposed “three strikes” law?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS (Minister of Corrections)
: If, when the member says “the proposed ‘three strikes’ law” he actually means the Sentencing and Parole Reform Bill, then the answer is yes.
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: Does she agree with her support party colleague David Garrett, who said in the first reading of the Sentencing and Parole Reform Bill that the victims of 77 murderers in jail “would be alive today if, at the time they were killed, this bill had been enforced. That is not arguable; it is simply arithmetic.”, a myth that he is continuing to mislead the public with even after he received the same advice from her department that proves it is not true?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: The bill is currently before the Law and Order Committee. I am sure that the committee, of which the member is deputy chair, will be able to take into account all those sorts of comments, and it may well bring about changes.
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I simply asked whether the Minister agreed with her support party colleague. Her answer in no way addressed the question. The question was “Does she agree with her support party colleague …” etc.; the Minister did not address that question.
Mr SPEAKER: It is difficult, when members ask for opinions, to get an exact answer, but I invite the Minister bring her answer a little closer to the question asked.
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: The bill is at the select committee. Who knows what will be in it when it comes out? I think the member should have a more open mind towards the bill, and what might be in it when it comes out of the committee, than he is showing now.
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I reiterate my point of order: where in that answer did the Minister come anywhere close to answering the question as to whether she agrees with her colleague? She ignored your ruling completely.
Mr SPEAKER: It is difficult for me to back the honourable member totally, because questions that ask whether Ministers agree are always difficult questions. It is not as if factual information is being sought; an opinion is being sought. The Minister is not going to express an opinion, if it is difficult for her, as Minister, to comment on this matter until the legislation is back from the select committee. It is difficult for me to say that the Minister is not answering the question, because where opinions are sought, the
member will get that kind of answer in response. I am afraid I cannot assist the member further on that.
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. [Interruption] Are we having points of order in silence?
Mr SPEAKER: Yes, they will be heard in silence.
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: Thank you. Without taking issue with your ruling, Mr Speaker, you made comments to the effect that the question required a complex answer, and that the bill was before a select committee, and the Minister could give an answer after that—or words to that effect. It is not complex, I would have thought, to answer a question whether a Minister agrees, or does not agree, with some proposition. It is very simple; it is probably one of the most simple questions asked in this House. To mince around the edges by talking about a select committee process, or what my view may be, or what others’ views may be, does not answer the simple question of whether the Minister agrees with a statement that has been made in this House, on the first reading of a bill, by a coalition support party member, Mr Garrett.
Hon Gerry Brownlee: I refer you to Speaker’s ruling 157/8, which basically states that a member cannot ask for a yes or no answer, nor expect such an answer. That is exactly what Mr Cosgrove is expecting. If he is not, then he has had an answer, because the Minister expressed an opinion about the question.
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: Speaking to the point of order—
Mr SPEAKER: No, I do not need to hear further points on this. The member Gerry Brownlee is absolutely correct. That is the correct Speaker’s ruling. Many Speakers’ rulings point out that a member cannot, in that kind of question, ask for a yes or no answer. Where I will back members absolutely in seeking information is when they put down a primary question that seeks information; I will endeavour to make sure this House is provided with that information. But where an opinion is sought, especially where a Minister is asked whether he or she agrees with someone else, ultimately, the Minister does not have any responsibility for what another honourable member may say. The Hon Judith Collins has expressed her opinion very clearly in saying that she cannot agree one way or the other until she knows what the legislation will actually do. I do not believe we can take that matter any further, and I invite the member to ask a further supplementary question.
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Without challenging your ruling, I would like to make it clear that I did not, in that question, ask for a yes or no answer. I simply asked—as I put it to you—whether the Minister agrees with her colleague. Mr Speaker, I assume you are setting a new precedent in the House that Ministers can go wide of the mark, whether answering a primary or a supplementary question, and avoid simply answering the question of whether they agree with a proposition. But that is your ruling, and I will respect it.
Does the Minister have a responsibility to ensure the public is correctly informed about legislation that is being promoted by her Government? Given that she had information from her department that Mr Garrett’s claims about the “three strikes” provisions within the legislation are incorrect, why did she choose to stand by and say nothing, and allow the New Zealand public to continue to be misled, instead of, as she should have done as Minister, setting the record straight?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: If the member had only done his homework, then he would know that I am not the Minister in charge of the Sentencing and Parole Reform Bill and that the Hon Simon Power is. If he would like to put down a question for that Minister, then I think he should do so.
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Official Information Act request—
Mr SPEAKER: There is noise on both sides of the Chamber, and I want to hear the member clearly.
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: I have a copy of the Official Information Act request. It was sent to the Department of Corrections and the information was released by the Department of Corrections. The Minister, as I understand it, has ministerial responsibility as the Minister of Corrections for the Department of Corrections, and I asked her a question in respect of that Official Information Act request. She has a duty, I would have thought, to set the record straight and, I presume, to stand by the information released by her own department. I was asking about the Official Information Act request.
Mr SPEAKER: The issue is a difficult one, because where a Minister says he or she does not have responsibility for a specific issue, I have to accept that. I cannot adjudicate on that matter as Speaker; I cannot say that that Minister has responsibility. The member’s primary question was indeed focused exactly on information from the Department of Corrections, but his final supplementary question became quite a complex question. I believe that it would be unreasonable to expect the Speaker to adjudicate—and, in fact, the Speaker cannot—when a Minister says he or she is not responsible for the particular matter raised in a question.
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I would be grateful for your ruling. You may wish to take some time to consider this point, and I will accept that if you do. Are you telling this House that a Minister does not have responsibility for information from, in this case, her department that has been released under the Official Information Act, and that she can therefore avoid making a comment on that information?
Mr SPEAKER: I am not saying that at all. What I am saying is that the Minister has said she is not responsible for the particular matters covered in that question, and, as Speaker, I cannot adjudicate on that. Speakers cannot adjudicate on that matter; that is the simple fact of the matter.
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: Does the Minister now accept that because of the information released under the Official Information Act from her department, the legislation before the House—which, presumably, she supports as a Minister in the Government—is now a cruel hoax on the public, and especially on the victims of crime, as it would not have saved a single life according to her department’s advice, which I assume she stands by and is responsible for?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: I keep saying to that member that he should wait until the bill comes back from the Law and Order Committee. He is a member of the select committee. Submissions will be made by members of the public. The bill is now before the select committee, and he is the deputy chair. He has the opportunity to hear the submissions. I really think that until the bill comes back to the House, the issue is a bit hypothetical, frankly.
David Garrett: Can she confirm that the difference, in effect, between ACT’s “three strikes” bill and the Sentencing and Parole Reform Bill is National’s addition of a requirement that an offender must, in addition to having been convicted of a listed offence, have been sentenced to imprisonment for at least 5 years?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: There is clearly a difference between the ACT policy and the bill as it was introduced. But after the select committee has finished with the bill, I am not sure what it will come back with, because that will be a matter for the select committee to determine.
Hon Clayton Cosgrove: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I just simply ask whether you will—and I presume that you will—give a considered ruling in respect of the Official Information Act request issue.
Mr SPEAKER: I do not believe there is a matter that I need to rule on. The honourable member has raised a point of order, and I have ruled on it. But I cannot adjudicate when Ministers say that they are not responsible for specific issues. It is for the public to judge whether the public thinks a Minister is evading his or her responsibilities, and it is for members of this House to judge that.
Dr Russel Norman: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. With regard to that point there is an issue here, because the Minister on the one hand said she had no responsibility for that bill and it was not her issue, and on the other hand, in response to Mr Garrett’s question, answered specifically about the bill. I ask how she can have it both ways. Either she says she does not have responsibility and hence does not answer Mr Garrett’s question, or she does have responsibility.
Mr SPEAKER: I would like members to keep silent while this interesting issue is being dealt with. The member is quite correct in what he says. It would have been interesting if other members had latched on to the Minister’s answer and pursued it further, because then members could have made it very clear that they were asking how she could answer a question that appeared to be in the area where she had previously said she had no responsibility. That is the kind of thing that I hope members will do in the future if they find that a Minister seems to be inconsistent in what he or she claims responsibility for, once the Minister has given an answer on a matter that he or she has previously claimed to have no responsibility for. I would have thought that it is then in the realm where members could pursue the material that the Minister had provided in that answer.
Hon Darren Hughes: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. As you know, the Opposition is given only a certain number of supplementary questions every day, so if Ministers stonewall, the Opposition becomes unable to take matters further. But picking up the point that you have raised, I ask whether you would be prepared to give the Hon Clayton Cosgrove a supplementary question, so that he can pursue the exact point that you have just told the House about. You have just advised us—[Interruption]
Mr SPEAKER: We are still on a point of order. I think it would be a little unfair if, having coached the House on how to perhaps deal with that situation, I was then to allocate further supplementary questions. I think the pursuit of this matter is for the future.
Hon Trevor Mallard: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. This relates to the issue that has just been discussed. I think the problem could have been solved if you had ruled out the supplementary question from the ACT member, because the Minister had already indicated to the House that she did not have responsibility. You accepted the question. If we are doing some coaching, then I think it could possibly go both ways.
Mr SPEAKER: That is an interesting point. I want to avoid ruling out questions if I can, because it would be unfortunate if I were to develop that practice too far. Members have raised an interesting issue, but I would like to see it handled more by members. If members feel that a Minister has been inconsistent in an area where members believe that the Minister has responsibility, once he or she has given an answer, then that opens up the territory.
Dr Russel Norman: I seek leave to ask an additional question of the Minister along the lines that you have put.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to ask an additional supplementary question. Is there any objection? There is objection.
Questions to Members
Accident Compensation Corporation—2007-08 Financial Review
Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Labour—Hutt South) to the
Chairperson of the Transport and Industrial Relations Committee: Was he under the impression that John Judge was chair of the ACC board when the committee resolved to invite him to its meeting of 12 March 2009 on the financial review of ACC for the 2007-08 year?
DAVID BENNETT (Chairperson of the Transport and Industrial Relations Committee): Yes. From reports in the public arena at that time, it was my impression that Mr Judge was the chairman.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Did he inform the committee that Mr Judge had not been properly appointed at that time, before the committee was informed of this by the Accident Compensation Corporation last week?
DAVID BENNETT: It would have been impossible for me to inform the committee, because, as I have just answered, I was under the awareness that Mr Judge was, in fact, the chairman.
Accident Compensation Corporation—2007-08 Financial Review
Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Labour—Hutt South) to the
Chairperson of the Transport and Industrial Relations Committee: Who advised him that John Judge was not available to attend the committee meeting held on 12 March 2009?
DAVID BENNETT (Chairperson of the Transport and Industrial Relations Committee): I did not ask Mr Judge to attend the meeting of 12 March, so it is not about whether he was available to attend. It was agreed, however, that the Minister for ACC would attend the meeting, and Mr Judge made quite clear at the select committee last week the reasons for his unavailability.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Was the Minister for ACC speaking on the chairman’s behalf when he advised the media that he—the chairman—had been advised that Mr Judge was unavailable?
DAVID BENNETT: I think the question goes to whether Mr Nick Smith was speaking on my behalf—is that what the member is asking? Well, in that case, Mr Smith cannot speak on behalf of the committee or the committee chair.
Accident Compensation Corporation—2007-08 Financial Review
Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Labour—Hutt South) to the
Chairperson of the Transport and Industrial Relations Committee: Did he phone the Minister for ACC on 10 March 2009 and discuss the matter of who should attend the financial review of ACC; if so, was it at the request of the Minister or the Minister’s office?
DAVID BENNETT (Chairperson of the Transport and Industrial Relations Committee): I cannot recall any phone calls made at that time, but there were discussions between the Minister and me around that time.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Did he call Dr Nick Smith or not?
DAVID BENNETT: I cannot recall any phone calls being made at that time, but we did discuss the issue.